Setting: Set in the continuation-verse, which picks up about three months after the end of "Chosen". So, spoilers for pretty much everything, including any "episodes" in this series that have come before it.
Notes: Here we go with my most ambitious 'fic project ... well, ever, basically. A virtual continuation of a show with a whole heck of a lot more story to tell. Since deciding to do this project I've discovered that there are, in fact, many Season 8's ... but this is the only one with the Jet Wolf Seal of Involvement, so that guarantees freshness. Or something.
Episodes are posted to www.btvschosen.com weekly, at 8pm EST on Tuesdays, all pretty and HTML'd with graphics and oo! Credits. We have credits, too. Eps will appear the following Friday or Saturday on ff.net. So if you don't want to wait all that extra time (and really, how could you?), the site is the way to go.
(25 June 2004)
Episode 8: "Refrain"
Story by: Jet Wolf & Ultrace
Written by: Jet Wolf & Ultrace
Xander turned at the first landing, taking the remaining few stairs with the same preternaturally steady pace that currently infused each action. The axe was gripped tightly in his right hand, and while it was not poised to strike at the moment, his arm muscles were bunched and tense, ready to spring to readiness in an instant.
The upper hallway was dark, but Xander didn't bother to turn on the light. He passed the first room without a glance, the unmade bed easily visible through the open door being one of the tidiest aspects of the room. Even the framed posters of old 50's movies hung crookedly from the walls.
Moving slowly but relentlessly, Xander approached the next door, this one closed. The stream of light pouring from beneath the crack glinted upon the edge of the axe, but Xander paid it no heed and veered left, continuing to follow the hallway.
One foot fell in front of the other, as Xander passed the next door, a relatively small room mostly filled with boxes, including several carelessly tossed atop a double bed that didn't appear to have been slept in for some time. The room was generic, no adornments, and could not have been linked to any particular individual.
Two doors next came into view, the one directly in front of Xander was open to reveal a spacious but currently unoccupied bathroom. The nightlight by the sink cast a cold, ethereal blue light into the hall, lending the carpenter a sunken and undead appearance. He didn't turn his head to the right, paid no attention to the other closed door, nor the brightly painted wooden sign hanging from it that read "Buffy's Room". Instead, Xander turned, slowly and methodically, continuing down the final stretch of hallway, toward the last door. It stood open, a bright light spilling into the hall along with the low but unmistakable sounds of music.
Almost reaching the end of the hall, Xander came to a stop and turned to the right. His hand tightened on the axe dangling at his side. The room was brightly decorated, almost every available inch of wall space consumed with posters for everything, ranging from rock groups to movies. The one exception was an area by Dawn's bed displaying a collage of color printouts of the Scoobies, including specially framed photographs of Joyce and Tara. Xander ignored these details, his empty gaze resting instead on Dawn's back.
The teenager sat at her desk with facing away from the door, fwipping a pencil in the air between her ring and middle finger as she leaned over an open textbook propped in front of her. As though sensing she was no longer alone, Dawn greeted, "Oh, hey, Willow, just the brain I needed to pick." The carpenter paid the words no heed, simply standing immobile in the doorway. "So I'm trying not to be a complete idiot here, but inverse functions—"
Finally glancing over her shoulder, Dawn noticed immediately that she wasn't addressing the redhead and she literally jumped out of her chair with a tiny squeak of alarm. "Xander!" she exclaimed, bringing her hand up to rest over her pounding heart. "I-I thought you were downstairs." She moved forward, concerned. "Did you need something? That soup maybe?"
Xander didn't reply, instead taking a step into the room. Seeming to sense something was amiss, Dawn halted and frowned in concern. "Xander?" Still the carpenter refused to respond, instead readjusting his grip on the axe. The movement attracted Dawn's attention, and she spotted the weapon for the first time.
"What are...?" Suddenly everything clicked into place, her eyes widening as she took a step backward, bumping into her desk. "Oh. Oh no," she muttered, shaking her head. "Xander, it's those singers. You don't wanna do this ..."
As though refuting her statement, Xander hefted the axe with intent.
"Come on! You can't!" the teenager pleaded, circling around, trying to negotiate a clear path to the door. "You're my favorite! You know, cuz you were the only one in the house who hasn't tried to kill me before!"
Her reasoning fell on deaf ears, and Xander swung wide. Dawn easily evaded the deadly arc of the blade. "So much for that," she mumbled to herself, then louder cried out, "Willow!"
With a squeal, Dawn barely danced out of the way of Xander's second swing. Looking around desperately for something to use, the teenager grabbed a cheap gas station snow globe, happily welcoming the purchaser to Nebraska, from a small collection of them on her bookcase shelf, and hurled it at Xander with all of her strength. It connected solidly with his head, sending him staggering backwards and off-balance long enough for her to dart around him and into the hallway.
"Willow!!" Dawn yelled again, using her full and not unimpressive lung capacity. She raced around the corner at full-speed, just as Willow was tearing open the door to her own room.
The redhead stuck her head out, an irritated "What?!" breaking free before she spied Xander bringing the axe down at a lethal trajectory that was all but guaranteed to split the teenager in two. Almost without thought, Willow's extended her left hand. "Razbraic," she intoned.
The reaction was immediate. A flash of light exploded between Dawn and Xander, the shockwave sending the carpenter flying through the open door of the bathroom where he landed with a heavy thud against the tub. The axe had been wrenched from his hands, imbedding itself solidly in the wall between Buffy's room and the guest room. As for Dawn, she was tossed away from Xander, landing in a sprawl at the witch's feet. Willow bent down to help Dawn get up quickly, concern etched into her features. "I-I can't do a lot of magic," she explained. "The power— I might really hurt him, my control's not quite—"
Willow interrupted herself as she saw that Xander was already on his feet, struggling to free the axe from the wall. Utterly devoted to his task, he showed no sign of any emotion whatsoever. Glancing at Dawn, Willow asked, "I suppose you tried the reasoning thing?" Her eyes wide, Dawn nodded enthusiastically, and Willow shrugged. "Okay, running then," she concluded with almost cheerful resignation.
Shoving Dawn in front, the two ran for the stairs, Xander only a few paces behind with the axe held high. They turned sharply to the left, stumbling into the kitchen, Dawn making it to the other side of the island in its center and turning around.
"Look out!" she yelled, and Willow barely managed to jump to one side, narrowly avoiding the downward arc of the blade. Recovering quickly, Xander slashed with the weapon to the side, and again Willow dodged. Gritting her teeth, the redhead stepped forward, taking advantage of the opening Xander had left, and swung her cast into his midsection with all her might, trying to wind him. She succeeded, but his mental state, whatever such might have been, was beyond the physical aftereffects.
Conversely, Willow was not so lucky. She sucked air sharply between her teeth as her damaged wrist was jarred in the impact, turning ashen at the pain and cradling her wrist protectively. "Ow, ow, not smart, such ow," she gasped, blinking back tears.
It was now Xander's turn to take advantage, and he was raising his axe for a final strike, when a broom handle connected solidly with the side of his head. He stumbled backward. Positioned between the momentarily incapacitated Willow and Xander, Dawn held the broom like a club and shifted nervously from foot to foot. "Back off!" she threatened in a slightly wavering voice. "I don't wanna hurt you!"
Unphased, Xander brought himself to his full height, raising the axe once more when a fist lashed out from behind, numbing his hand and sending the axe clattering to the ground. Almost immediately, another blow followed which bonked him on the top of his head. Xander crumpled, landing next to his axe, unconscious but otherwise seemingly undamaged. Willow and Dawn glanced up to see Buffy standing in the doorway, Willow's laptop and a few books tucked safely under her arm.
"Honestly," Buffy smirked, "can't I leave you children alone for five minutes?"
Xander had been returned to the couch, still blissfully comatose. Willow was perched on the middle cushion, focusing on Buffy, who was pacing back and forth. Dawn was similarly watching her sister, having made herself comfortable on the arm of the couch.
"At least we know who the next target was," Buffy stated optimistically.
Sighing with relief, Willow looked considerably better than she had earlier, despite still shielding the cast with her other arm. "I'm glad you got here. Not really looking to be tomorrow's headline."
"So what're we gonna do?" questioned Dawn.
The Slayer had no definitive answer, and she turned to the redhead. "Will?"
Willow didn't have one either and she shook her head. "I-I'm not really sure. I mean I can try a spell, something for breaking through mind control." She frowned, irritated at her own lack of complete information. "But I don't know if it'll hold, if it works at all, a-and if he hears them again ..."
"But we weren't affected, right? So I can still go and kick their feathery ass and be okay." The idea of kicking an ass of any sort, feathery or otherwise, seemed to instantly put Buffy in a better mood.
"Yeah it's gotta be male-specific," the witch agreed. "Every report I looked at pointed to the guy doin' the hack'n'slash."
A plan formulating, Buffy stopped pacing. "Okay, so then I go back to the club. See how good they sing when their heads are ten feet across the room."
"But can you kill them?" questioned Dawn. Buffy and Willow turned to look at her, and she clarified, "I mean, really kill them? If they're the Sirens from the myths then they've gotta be pretty hard to kill."
Hefting Xander's weapon of choice, the Slayer grinned. "Lucky for me, I've had a whole lotta practice."
Thinking him unconscious, no one was paying any attention to the carpenter when his eye suddenly opened. His face registered no more emotion than it had earlier, and his gaze fell on Willow, sitting right next to him and completely oblivious. Slowly but surely, Xander reached out his hand.
The backstage of the Vortex was nearly empty, save for the trio of women that composed Persephone's Tears. They were wearing unbelievably skimpy outfits that appeared to be brand new, despite somehow managing a very carefully orchestrated well-worn look. Seemingly oblivious to anything at all, Xander dragged himself into the area, his eye distant and glazed. Almost in unison, the women took note of his entrance and affixed him with their stares as he came to a staggering halt.
"He returns," stated Gia, her tone a cross between confusion and disbelief.
"He still lives," Kosia agreed in a similar timbre.
Parth addressed him with a pointed finger. "You, man. We bade you prove your love. We need blood. We need destruction. You cannot defy us. You must heed our call. You must submit."
Verbal demands not enough, she approached him slowly, her every movement a seductive private dance, all the while singing in a sweet, low voice. Xander continued to stare, not registering as she incorporated tantalizing and sultry hand gestures into motions that came as close as possible without touching.
After half a minute of such treatment, Xander blinked at the temptress and tilted his head. "Sure, it sounds pretty, but can you dance to it?"
Parth stopped in mid-movement. "What?"
"What with the—" Xander gestured to the Siren's outfit, "—and the—" he clumsily mimicked her hand motions, "—I give you an 'A' for effort. But the overall effect?" He shook his head. "Even Paula wouldn't be impressed, and let's not get started on Simon."
"He defies us!" Kosia hissed, her voice incredulous.
"No. He will not," insisted Parth. Almost on cue the three women began to harmonize. Their voices melded seamlessly into a melody which was both beautiful and terrible. They glided closer to Xander, three bodies acting as one.
For his part, Xander enjoyed the sights and sounds, but remained unwavering. He shook his head a little and tsk'd them. "Don't quit the day job, ladies."
"What witchery is this?" demanded Parth. "No man can resist us!"
"Not so much with the witchy woo, just a conk on my noggin." Xander pointed to the top of his head. "It made me sorta see things more clearly. Take you girls, for instance. Very nice attempt with the hair and the piercing and the thing," he complimented, waving his hand at them abstractly. "But now I can see what's really goin' on, and you're lookin' more like giant chickens." He briefly scanned them up and down. "Which, by the way... considerably less attractive."
The three creatures snarled at him. Whether by their will or the effect of a spell's disruption, their images became fuzzy and indistinct before reforming to reveal their true form. Xander's description painted a truthful picture; the Sirens were very tall birds with the exception of female heads and arms, and vaguely human-shaped chests. Even parts of their arms and heads sported a feathery appearance, and the tips of their fingers contained razor-sharp talons.
Wasting no time, they quickly advanced on Xander, Parth leading the way. She came within five feet and drew back a taloned hand to slash open the carpenter, only to find her wrist in the grip of another.
"If you girls are gonna be in show biz, you really need to learn how to take criticism," Buffy quipped.
Parth was far from amused. She jerked her arm away from Buffy, only to find the Slayer's hold stronger. Confused for a moment, the other Sirens were unsure of their next move. Parth tried a different line of attack, using her free hand to swing at Buffy, who was forced to release the creature's arm. The Slayer moved back quickly enough to avoid evisceration, but couldn't fully save her shirt.
"Ever consider a manicure?" suggested Buffy, taking note of the tear in her outfit. "Or maybe a nail trim down at PetSmart?"
Ignoring the Slayer completely, Parth turned back to Xander with a hiss, and the other two followed suit. The carpenter had retreated, and before the Sirens could close the distance again, Buffy interposed herself and launched her assault.
It soon became clear that the fighting skills and strength of the Sirens left something to be desired. Their swings at Buffy were sloppy and weak; no doubt centuries of controlling men with their voices alone had eroded much of their physical prowess. On the other hand, they were three, each of whom had razor-sharp claws for fingernails, and the Slayer had to worry about Xander. All of these details added up to neatly balanced scales, and the fact that the Sirens seemed impervious to physical harm was beginning to tip the odds uncomfortably against the Slayer.
Buffy ducked and weaved several strikes out of necessity; there was no telling how Slayer durability would hold up against those talons. The Sirens' attacks weren't well coordinated, so she was really only fighting one or two at a time. Slowly, however, the women were catching on and their old moves were coming back. The two lesser Sirens tried to rush her, and the Slayer executed a leaping cartwheel out of the way. Parth was waiting for her with a swing designed to rend entrails, but Buffy grabbed the arm easily by the wrist and used her other hand to bend it back at the elbow. Instead of a comforting snap, Buffy received only a dull thud from her hand's impact as the arm refused to sustain any damage.
Resorting to the basics, the Slayer relinquished the arm and decided instead to pummel Parth in the face with a sequence of blows. Despite the force behind her fists, the result was nothing more than momentary stunning of her avian opponent. Meanwhile, the other two had closed in on either side and were attacking the Slayer between then. With a momentary burst of inspiration, Buffy stepped back, grabbed Gia's arm in mid-strike and redirected it into Kosia's chest. Apart from irritating the pair, this also had no effect. By this time, Parth had recovered and was seizing the opportunity to land a shot in at Buffy's shoulder. The Slayer rolled with the blow but the attack still drew a trickle of blood.
Retreating slightly, Buffy focused on Xander, widening her eyes and jerking her head expectantly at the Sirens.
Catching the hint, Xander cleared his throat. "See, I've got it figured all out," he told them, "you're just tryin' to tempt me. And kill my friend," he quickly added. "But I got news for you: I've been tempted by stuff that's not good for me my whole life. Pop rocks. Molson's. Vengeance demons."
The Sirens spun toward the carpenter with hatred blazing in their eyes as their bodies began to quiver imperceptibly.
"Plus, being one of the only males around several dozen beautiful women? Believe me, my friends, I know temptation. This isn't it."
A screeching wail erupted from the Sirens' mouths, and they renewed their effort to go after Xander. Buffy was there first however, kicking, sweeping, slinging, and otherwise preventing them from being able to approach him. If their combat abilities had been sloppy before, they were downright pitiful now, unable to concentrate on anything other than trying to rip out the carpenter's throat.
Bolstered by the effect he was creating, Xander pressed onward. "As a matter of fact, the only thing you're temptin' me to do is go pick up a bucket of original recipe from Colonel Sanders," he stated with a cocky grin.
In mid-step, the Sirens toppled to their knees, shrieking, twisting – and dying. Parth, still ten feet away, made one last vain attempt to strike at him before the three of them imploded in a shower of magical sparkles and motes of light. After a few seconds, even these lingering fragments faded away.
Buffy moved to stand next to Xander. Both regarded the calm remnants of the scene they had just witnessed. A long moment passed.
"The disturbing part?" Buffy commented with a slightly worried frown. "Now I'm hungry."
"That's it, no more girly music for me."
Xander was standing near the entranceway to the living room, clearly irritated by the events of the past few days. Watching with varying levels of amusement were Willow, Buffy, Dawn, Giles and Hannah.
At their snickers, Xander reemphasized, his tone leaving no room for discussion on the matter. "I mean it. You can keep your Liz Phairs and your Sarah Mclachlans and your Tori Amoseses." He jabbed his finger with authority. "From this point forward I'm sticking to manly music. Like the Pet Shop Boys and Prince and Men Without Hats, who have all got to be manly cuz of their names."
Standing nearby, Willow patted Xander's shoulder comfortingly, with maybe just a slight condescending touch.
Dawn had claimed one side of the couch, her legs curled up comfortably to the side. "I still don't get it though," she frowned. "They just ... poof? Because you ignored them?"
"It's sorta like they fed off temptation, you know?" Willow attempted to explain. "Men giving into it. It fueled 'em, kept 'em grounded on this plane. I-It's like an ongoing spell, and once it's broken ..." She flicked her fingers in the air, poof-like.
"So that's it, they won't be back again?" Dawn asked the room.
"No, they'll return eventually," replied Giles from the other end of the couch. "So long as men are prone to temptation, they'll have a source of power to draw from." He nodded his head slowly, as though confirming his own thoughts. "It will take some time, but they'll return."
On the other side of Xander, Buffy smirked. "Hooray for fuzzy-lined victories," she commented wryly.
"Well they're not gettin' any more power from me," declared Xander emphatically. "I hereby swear off temptation." Crossing his arms decisively, Xander made a stand. "I sway for nothing and no one."
"Think we got some Chunky Monkey in the freezer, want some?" Willow asked, jerking her head toward the kitchen.
"Ooo, Chunky Monkey!" enthused Xander, bounding into the kitchen, quickly followed by the girls. Hannah and Giles remained in the living room, watching the ice cream procession with deep amusement.
"So this is what passes for normal around here," remarked Hannah, rising from her position on the arm of the sofa and sinking into the cushion next to the Watcher.
"Yes, something like that."
Examining Giles carefully, Hannah commented, "Pretty exciting."
"I suppose," he replied off-handed. "One rather gets used to it after the first fifty times."
As though receiving verification, Hannah nodded sagely. "Ahh, so that's why you're so repressed."
Glancing up sharply, Giles stared at his ex-wife. "I'm sorry?"
"Come on, Rupert, it's me," she swatted his arm, leaning back comfortably. "In thirty years, you still haven't changed. Only back then you had a good excuse. What are you hiding behind now?"
Despite the flash of anger, Giles was mostly flustered, although the blonde simply watched him intently, seeming to absorb every detail. "I have responsibilities, I-I have people who depend on me and-and the new Council and—"
"And a plague of ulcers in your future," she completed, leaning forward again, taking his hands between her own and shaking them with each statement. "You need fun, you need to relax. You need to take me to dinner."
"Dinner?" Giles echoed, very clearly not controlling this conversation in the slightest.
Smirking, Hannah nodded slowly, spelling her words out very carefully. "Yes, dinner. You know, that meal one has, usually at the end of the day, typically involving some sort of main dish, a couple of sides ..." Her eyes became heavily lidded as her voice dropped to a low, flirtatious lilt. "Maybe dessert."
Giles sped past 'flustered' on his way to 'completely discomposed' as Hannah laughed out loud, thoroughly enjoying his reactions. "Oh good, you still blush," she cajoled, delighted with her discovery. "Now – take me to dinner."
With care, Giles gently retracted his hands, speaking with kindness and maybe the faintest tinge of regret. "Hannah, for all intents and purposes, you're my employee. I-I-It wouldn't be right, I couldn't—"
Waving her hand in the air, Hannah dismissed Giles' protest. "To hell with your improprieties speech; I didn't buy it before, I'm not buying it now. Come on..." She wiggled her eyebrows enticingly. "Nice juicy steak, grilled onions, baked potato ..."
"You're not helping," he accused with a laugh in his voice.
"Quite the contrary," replied Hannah with complete seriousness, "I'm helping more than you know."
Sighing, Giles finally relented, nodding his head. "All right,"
Also smiling, Hannah leapt to her feet, Giles following suit. She threaded her arm through his, and the pair headed for the door. "This is just what you need," she reaffirmed with confidence. "A nice relaxing dinner, good company, engaging conversation, and then afterward: skydiving."
"Oh come on," Hannah grinned, giving his arm a little shake. "You know you want to."