All characters are the intellectual property of their respective creators and publishers; this story may not be sold or distributed on a profit-making basis.
Okay, this story takes place during late season 2, at the time Angel lost his soul and became Angelus again.
Okay, this story takes place during late season 2, at the time Angel lost his soul and became Angelus again.
With thanks to Gemini Love for the Beta.
Zeppo 2: Scooby Evolved
"That had better be everything, Willy," Xander glared at the bar owner. "You don't want me to have to come back looking for everything."
"Hey, the last thing I want is YOU angry with me," the bartender held up his hands defensively. "Not considering the stuff you're buying."
"Yeah, well, remember this: If Buffy finds out, I will hunt you down and hurt you in ways only I can."
"Was it really necessary to threaten him like that?" Cortana asked as Xander loaded the last box into his car: a fiberglass covering on the back made the Warthog look like a flash military-style 4x4. "He is our only contact."
"Willy's a snitch. He'd sell us out in a second to save his own neck." Xander climbed up into the driver's seat, started the engine and put the car into gear. "And if you keep talking to me in public like this, people are going to think I'm crazy. I'm the only one who can hear you, remember?"
The twilight streets of Sunnydale were all but deserted. The human population may have been unwilling to accept the truth about what went on in their town at night, but they weren't stupid enough to venture out after dark without good reason. The powerful halogen headlights pierced the gloom with ease as Xander drove across town towards the railway yard.
The low brick building had been used as a warehouse at some time, but had long since been abandoned. The old metal up-and-over door to the loading bay opened as the Warthog approached, and Xander drove in, the door closing behind him.
Bright strip-lights flicked on overhead, illuminating the nearly empty room: a small office area had been converted into living accommodation, while the rest was filled with boxes covered in tarpaulin. A small area set against one wall had been cordoned of with metal fencing as was full of tools and equipment needed to keep the Warthog running.
Xander killed the engine and sighed: his parent's marriage had finally imploded when his dad, in a drunken rage, had hit his mom hard enough to shatter her jaw. The social workers stepped in and had him arrested. The records from his mom's many ER visits and his testimony had been enough to send the senior Harris to prison for ten years. His mom's own drinking problem had been spiralling out of control for years, and she was ordered to attend a rehabilitation center until she dried out.
The judge had taken pity on Xander, and emancipated him rather than send him to a foster home. He was now a legal adult, with a generous allowance from the state as long as he stayed in full-time education. Xander had also sold the family home, putting most of the money in a trust fund that his mother would have access to when, or rather, if, she ever got out of rehab.
The rest had bought him the warehouse, which was perfect for his needs.
"I'm tracking two targets, twenty meters and closing." Cortana reported as two red blips appeared on the motion tracker, closing on a solitary blue, "They appear to be chasing someone."
"Nothing I can't handle," Xander raised his assault rifle and held it tight against his shoulder as he waited for the two vampires to round the last corner and come into view. He squeezed the trigger gently, and a trio of 7.65mm tracer rounds slammed into the first one.
It burst into flames instantly, crumpling into dust with a highly surprised look on its face.
Xander switched targets instantly, taking down the second bloodsucker with the same old, clinical position. He glanced at the motion tracker: the only contact was the scared young woman the vamps had been planning on having for breakfast.
"Nothing else in the area," Cortana sounded bored. "We should sweep west, then head back to base."
"Sounds like a plan," Xander stood, the dark green of his Mjolnir-II battle armor blending into the shadows. His feet left deep impressions in the soft earth as half a ton of man and advanced ceramic/alloy started jogging through the trees.
"What's up with fang-boy?" Xander looked at the confrontation going on between Buffy and Angel: they looked less like the normal lovey-dovey couple, and more like mortal enemies.
"It doesn't look good," Cortana sounded concerned. "It doesn't look good at all."
"If he's done anything to upset her on her birthday…" Xander raised the MA5B rifle to his shoulder and levelled the targeting radical dead center on Angel's chest.
"I strongly advise cautio,." Cortana stopped him from firing. "We need more information before we embark on a course of action from which there is no going back."
"Okay." Xander backed away into the night, "Time to go see Giles."
"What's going on?" Xander asked as he entered Giles' living room. The rest of the Scoobies where sat around the coffee table looking at him, "A job interview?"
"No, it's an intervention." Buffy looked at him, "How'd you do it?"
"Do what?" Xander went on the defensive.
"Ace the exams?" Giles cleaned his glasses, "You go from a C- average to an A+ over night. Did you use magic?"
"What?" Xander blinked, reprised, "No!"
"Then how did you do it?" Willow asked, "It is a little out of character."
"I just…" Xander stopped, realising that he couldn't bluff his way through it this time, "Ok, you want the truth? You can have the truth." He grabbed Willow's laptop from the table and opened it up. He reached around to the back of his neck and pulled out the data chip hidden below his hair, and plugged it into the USB port.
"See for yourselves." He spun the computer round so the screen faced the others.
"It's a little cramped in here." Cortana protested, her face filling the screen, "Nice to meet you all, face to face as it where."
"Cortana, the guys. Guys, Cortana, my new study-buddy." Xander made the introductions, "I still got some of the Halo stuff left over from Halloween."
"Including me." There was a flash, and the laptop emitted a cloud of smoke that condensed to form a foot-high representation of Cortana. "That's better," the AI smiled.
"Hey!" Willow protested, "That was my laptop!"
"I'll buy you a new one." Cortana shrugged off the remark; "It's good to be out of his head for a while. You do not want to know the sort of dreams he has…"
"HEY!" Xander protested, "Getting off topic here!"
"True," Buffy glared at him, "You lied to me, to us."
"I knew you wouldn't understand."
"The way I feel: I've always been the comic relief, the one who has to be rescued! You've got all your Slayer skills and senses, Giles has got a life time of training to fall back on, and Willow is on her way to becoming a fully fledged witch. I'm just the same old Average Joe I always have been. I didn't choose for this to happen to me, but it has, and I intend to make the most of it."
"I never realised you felt that way." Giles put his glasses back on, "What exactly did you keep from your experience?"
"I think you can explain this better than me." Xander looked at Cortana.
"More than likely." The AI nodded, "In March of 2525, on the orbital ONI Medical Facility above Reach, the 14 year old trainee Spartans underwent a series of drastic and inadvisable operations to dramatically enhance their skeletal, muscular, optical, and nervous systems. Of the original 75, a reported 33 survived the processes; 30 were lost, and 12 irrevocably crippled."
"I'm not sure I like the sound of this…" Buffy muttered under her breath.
"Try and remember that until a few mouths ago this existed as only the back story to a computer game." Cortana pointed out, "Xander was lucky: the Master Chief, the character he dressed as on Halloween, was the only know surviving member of the Spartan program. He was the most highly trained soldier ever produced by mankind. A little stupid and gung-ho at times, but still a good man."
"So what have you been doing?" Buffy asked, going back on the offensive.
"Killing vampires and demons." Xander shrugged, "They can't breach my armor, and a tracer round tends to either kill or set them on fire, so it's good against vamps as well as anything else. I've still got the rocket launcher and the Warthog, but I think that even the Sunnydale Police Department may have to admit to something going on if I start using a LAAG to dust vamps."
"I'm troubled that you didn't feel you could come to us with this." Giles rested his hands on the table, "Why didn't you?"
"Because I knew how Buffy would react." Xander finally sat down, "She hates guns, so I've done everything I can to keep out of her way." His eyes narrowed, "Speaking of which: what was going on between you and fang-boy tonight?"
"Did you and Angel have a fight?" Willow asked, concerned for her friend.
"He's changed," Buffy admitted. "He says that he doesn't want anything more to do with me."
"Knew I should have wasted him!" Xander's voice was low and full of anger, "I said he couldn't be trusted."
"That's beside the point." Giles stepped in before a fight started between Buffy and Xander, "We need to find some way to stop The Judge before he starts killing people. We know that 'no weapon forged can kill him', but little else."
"I've been doing some thinking about that." Cortana looked up from the table, "I have a plan. It's somewhat risky…"
The demon known as The Judge stood in the middle of the cinema lobby, surrounded by vampires, Angelus at his side. He held out his hands and drained the life force from those nearest to him; their bodies hitting the floor, dead.
"Angelus," Giles muttered, "This isn't good. If Angel has changed…"
"Then he's a threat." Xander was crouched down in his armor, MA5B in hand, "But I'll do as Buffy asked and let him live. For now."
"That's all I ask," the Watcher nodded. "Just till she gets used to the idea that he's not the man she loves anymore."
"Showtime, people," Cortana reported, making Xander step from cover and fire a burst of tracer-rounds into a cluster of vampire's guarding the nearest exit.
"Run!" Giles yelled, wavering the innocent bystanders though the door.
"Hey, ugly!" Buffy leaped up onto the concession counter, firing a crossbow bolt into The Judge.
"Foolish human!" The demon pulled the bolt out of his body and tossed it to the ground. "Do you not know that no weapon forged can kill me?"
"Yeah, well, that was then…" Buffy dropped the crossbow and lifted the Javelin rocket launcher Xander had given here, "and this is now!" She dropped the targeting radical dead center over the demon's chest and fired.
Angelus dived for cover as the shaped-charged warhead struck The Judge, blowing him into hundreds of little pieces. Scared, the vampire ran for the door, only to find his way blocked by an armored fist coming the other way.
"Get up so I can kill you again!" Xander looked down at Angelus, "What's the matter fang-boy? Cat got your tongue?"
Angelus bellowed with rage and tried to hit Xander, but his enhanced reflexes, and the added speed provided by the Mjolnir-II, allowed the Spartan to dodge the blow. He responded with a uppercut that caught Angelus in the ribs, lifting him off the ground.
"Xander, no!" Buffy ran over, "Don't do this!" Much to her surprise, Xander backed away without a word, leaving the vampire on his hands and knees.
"You expect me to thank you?" Angelus spat blood.
"No." Buffy kicked him in the ribs, "But if anyone's going to kill you, it'll be me." She pointed at the door, "Now go."
Angelus scurried for the exit without a word.
"So, are we cool?" Xander asked as they walked along the corridors of Sunnydale high school.
"I suppose so," Buffy nodded. "I'm not happy, but I can learn to live with it."
"That means a lot to me." Xander smiled.
"So did my laptop!" Willow protested, "Remind Cortana that she promised to replace it!"
"Trust me." Xander tapped the back of his neck, "She heard you."