Disclaimer: Buffy belongs to Joss. Mack belongs to Don. I belong to taxes.
Summary: Xander started his own War Against the Hellmouth. How the gang will see it?
Rating: R for language and graphic descriptions of violence.
Author's Notes: A huge, enormous thanks to Tenhawk and his input. This was supposed to be a mediocre fic in the back of my head, but now I think it might be worth reading. And to Keith for the comments and beta.
Feedback: YESSSS! PLEEEEAAAASEEE!
Book Three – Judas' Kiss Part 1
Fighting the Hellmouth ain't easy. Until I gained those memories, we fought mostly on the sidelines, helping Buffy to perform her Calling without dying, and even in that we messed up once.
Now, I have to respect her even more. Her supernatural strength and agility are what really helps out in the end, because I have to say, bullets are almost worthless. A .45 through the heart of a vampire has the same effect of being slapped by a pillow. Sure, head shots, kneecaps and family jewel shots have better results, but even with Bolan's marksman abilities and almost supernatural aim, hitting one of those in a fast moving target like a vampire is nearly impossible. The shotgun fares a little better, head shots are instant dust and trauma shots are better stoppers, but if I miss shot number one, I better pray for my aim to improve or I'll probably not be alive to reload.
I have thought on what ammo to use and what kind of weapons to use them on, but I still need two things to acquire them, number one is more money, since that first raid on the vampire nest only got me something along the line of five grand, and number two is either finding someone shady enough to buy them or raid something over in LA.
I could go with option number two point two, and that's what my memories are pushing me to do, but the old Xan-man is still puking on the concept of killing another human being, for whatever reason, aside from self-preservation, and assaulting a bad heart-beating guys nest goes against this particular preservation of self issue.
So, this self here is doing the smart (cough cough) thing and using his brains (double cough cough) to gain more money from the living impaired folks who dwell on my beloved(triple cough cough) city.
I've been on a stake (pun intended) out for the last five nights over a nest on Bleeker Street, the nest itself is an old house, two floors, with no humans inside. From my observation, there were six vampires living (or should be 'keep on dying', 'maybe not living enough' or something like it?) in there in the beginning of my stake(he he)out. Over the course of the next four days, I've dealt with three of them, following when they left the house and dealing with them separately with the utmost care in the world. One staked, one head shot with the .12 gauge and another flambé. On the fourth day, the remaining three probably figured something out, because they didn't leave the house, not even to feed.
I am at a privileged position, in a roof over two blocks away, with a Starlite scope, checking them out (five grand are good for something, after all). I have changed positions every day, never repeating the same position, so they probably haven't found me yet. I could probably keep on doing this for the next few weeks, until something happened, but I'm not as patient as Bolan is sometimes. So, it is time for me to do something about it.
A shadow detached itself from the ground where it had laid in for the last four hours, even before the sun had set, the gray patterned blanket that covered it and rendered it almost invisible against the background fell on the floor to the side. The man-shaped shadow carefully took the blanket and with precise motions, packed the scope inside it and left it to a side, hidden from view from the casual observer. If the mission was a success, he would be back to retrieve it. He picked the shotgun which was lying on the floor near his hand and holstered it in his back, on a special holster of his own design, grabbed a bag that was dropped in front and to the left of him and slung it over his shoulder. Then Xander moved to the staircase to his left, and climbed down, as silently as the King of Brood, Deadboy.
Dressing in black combat fatigues, face painted in black, hands encased in thin leather gloves, he looked more like one of the things he hunted than one of the good guys, but unless he crossed with Buffy, he would be safe.
I honestly don't know how to deal with Buffy, Willow and Giles. We've been hanging together, and I've tried to act the same as always, but Willow noticed something different in me. She thinks I don't know, but I've become way more observant those last days, so I can spot the sideways looks she gives me when she thinks I'm not paying attention. Perhaps my newfound interest in my classes has something to do with it.
If I ever meet Bolan, and if he's still alive, I'll thank him, excuse myself and punch him. He made me like school, fercryin' out loud. Sure, I still can't handle a few classes, but Math and Physics have become my major favorites. Too bad I can't say to my teachers that I keep on calculating ballistic trajectories and shots all the time in my head, just to pass the time. History is also a favorite nowadays.
But back to the gang. Willow has noticed, but whatever her suspicions, she didn't say anything to either Buffy or Giles. That's probably because Buffy hasn't cornered me and asked politely (ahem) and Giles isn't cleaning his glasses when he sees me (at least not more than usual).
Cordelia is another weird case. When we cross paths over at school, she isn't throwing barbs my way how she used to do. She seems . . . thoughtful.
Hah. Possessed by a super soldier and going nuts over it. Yeah, Cordelia, thoughtful. Wonder about what she's thinking.
Xander took his time to stealthily approach the house, hiding on every corner and shadowed hole he could find. He stopped a few feet from the house, hiding behind a parked car. Lifting a stone he had grabbed a few meters away, and with a mighty swing, he he propelled it through one of the house's windows, while pressing down on the car he was leaning on. The window crashed, and the alarm system started blasting at the same time. Before anyone could react, Xander had already moved, running straight to the back of the house. Arriving at the back door a few moments later, he picked the lock in under twenty seconds, while the vampires were probably checking the commotion at the front. He opened the door as silently as possible, drawing the shotgun from the back rig with the other hand, hearing three different voices cursing and yelling to the car owner, saying that they had nothing to do with the alarm blaring.
The demon hunter held the .45 in his left hand as soon as the door was opened, the cursing and yelling still going strong. He walked like a wraith through the darkened house, going to the living room in front, where the three house 'owners' were. He arrive there, no one noticing that he was there. He pointed the shotgun to a vampire's head, and started to squeeze the trigger.
At that moment, the owner cut the car's alarm, and for an infinite moment, silence reigned.
And the trigger got halfway to the end of its range. The resounding 'boom' made everyone around jump, except a now headless vampire and Xander. Even before the sound had registered in his mind, he had already moved the shotgun the side and slightly lower, and squeezed the trigger to the end. The shot wasn't exactly perfect, it picked the vampire turning to face his dusting friend, but the small lead pellets ripped half of his target's head off, dusting him.. Only one remained, but this one had two advantages, he was already moving and Xander's shotgun was empty.
The vampire vamped out, but instead of freezing, like the demon expected, Xander only aimed the .45 and squeezed the trigger twice. Bullets might not kill vampires, but nothing could resist having its brains splattered all over the wall. The vampire, a slim guy wearing some seriously outdated clothes, fell down on the ground, the body twitching like mad. Xander ended its misery with a stake through the heart.
Three dusted vamps, in less than ten seconds. Very good.
He then reloaded his shotgun and started searching the house.
Fifteen minutes later Xander was leaving the house once again by the back door, a bag hanging over his shoulder filled with cash, three notebooks, and some jewels. What he found out inside twisted his guts into knots.
Body parts. Those fuckers were selling body parts for feeding. God, the place was a fucking demon's supermarket storage. Livers, brains, hearts, blood; bagged, tagged and stored in freezers, with the basement as the butchery. How did they keep it going?
God, I wish I've never seen anything like it ever again.
But the problem is, I will, because that only made me renew my vows of hunting them until my dying breath.
Jesse died because of them, Buffy almost died because of them, the owners of the house died because of them. I say, NO MORE.
The Slayer's place is already set and chosen, so I will be the fucking Reaper of the Underworld.
Xander palmed the small pendant, the bone carved circle with the small Celtic cross design heating in his hand. He found it hanging in a holder in one of the house's rooms, probably belonging to a small girl. It was beautiful in its simplicity, and it held so much strength in the design that Xander's smile reappeared.
Bolan left the marksman medal behind to show his enemies that he was still fighting, it was a constant reminder that he wasn't defeated. Psychological warfare.
And Xander had found his own medal.
After retrieving his Starlite scope, Xander retreated back to the streets, shotgun in his hands and two bags on his back. After some minutes of careful walking, he saw Angel, and as an exercise in both stealth and cunning, decided to follow the vampire from a distance. From the looks of it, the vampire with a soul was patrolling, same as they did with Buffy.
Xander followed him for several city blocks, but he detected a huge flaw in Angel's patrolling habits: he never turned back to check his six. Good for Xander, he was hiding himself pretty thoroughly, but he wouldn't bet anything on vampiric senses, even at that distance, but pretty bad for the vampire. If he were using a sniper rifle, or even an assault rifle, Angel would be dust in less than a second. He would have to have a small chat with Dead Boy as soon as the opportunity presented itself. He didn't like the vampire, but he had to admit that he was a good ally to have in a fight.
Suddenly, the vampire looked to his side and ran. Xander quickened his pace, hiding in some bushes at the edge of the park where the souled vampire ended up. He watched Angel talk with a woman dressed in an old Victorian styled dress, and a small boy running, luckily in Xander's direction. The boy passed at his side, and Xander lunged and grabbed him, putting a hand in his mouth. The boy struggled for a few moments, and Xander murmured in his ear.
"Shh, shh. Don't worry, I'm a friend, I'll take you home. Shh, don't worry. Let me just hear what those two are saying, ok?"
The boy calmed down, but Xander kept his hand in the kid's mouth, while trying to hear what the duo was speaking. It was too far away, but he had to try.
That's when a sliver of motion in a rooftop grabbed his attention.
He was hidden enough from her, and she was too focused in the vampiric duo talking in the park to pay attention to her surroundings.
She turned around and went away after a few moments, when the woman tried to kiss Angel. The vampires talked for a few more moments, and the woman departed, leaving a stunned-looking Angel behind.
Xander thought in following her, but a bundle in his arms made him change plans even before they were started. Angel walked away, and Xander finally took his hand from the kid's mouth.
"Okay, buddy, where do you live?" he said, with a lopsided grin in place, but the black paint in his face did not make the boy get any less antsy and nervous.
Behind locked doors, in a now neat-looking room, a young man was counting the money bundles for the second time in a row. Twenty seven thousand dollars and change. He almost whistled the first and the second time.
His war chest was growing, thankfully, and now, with this cash, he could implement more of his plan. He put the money back in the bag and put it in his closet, locking it and storing the key in his wallet.
Next morning found Buffy, Willow, Xander and Cordelia at the same History class, the latter duo paying attention to the teacher and the small argument that had set in the room, the Slayer and the redhead trading a small note back and forth between them.
Probably about vamp lady from last night, Xander thought, losing focus from the lesson for a moment. He was still a bit miffed on not following her, but he couldn't let the kid walk back home alone. He focused back to the argument, just in time to correct something that Cordelia said wrong.
The lesson ended, and Xander was still musing on what the vampire woman wanted. An oddly-dressed vampire like that, that knew Angel, would surely mean bad news in the future.
Back in the hallway, the Scoobs banded together again.
"I don't know, I don't think so. They seemed pretty friendly," Buffy said back to Willow.
"Who's friendly?" Xander asked, feigning ignorance.
"No one," she lied.
"Angel and a girl," the redhead hacker answered back, gaining a scowl back from the blonde.
"Willow, do we have to be in total share mode?"
"Hey, it's me," Xander said, smiling. "If Angel's doing somethin' wrong, I wanna know," he said, and a hint of something more serious passed quickly over his face, and Willow noticed. "'Cause it gives me a happy!" he said, smiling, trying to distract his best friend, while they walked to the lounge.
"I'm glad someone has a happy," Buffy said, slightly pouting.
"You just need cheering up," the brunette teen said, "and I know just the thing! Crazed dance party at the Bronze!" he finished, doing some weird moves.
"I dunno," Buffy said, getting more and more depressed.
"Very calm dance party at the Bronze?" he tried once more. "Moping at the Bronze," he said, finally defeated by the look of Buffy. Then, suddenly, the hairs in his neck stood up in attention, and a weird feeling, that the boy generally associated when danger presented itself. Xander almost palmed the stake he kept hidden in the back of his pants.
"I'd suggest a box of Oreos dunked in apple juice, but maybe she's over that phase," a voice said from behind the Slayer, which turned around.
"Ford?" she asked, looking at the new arrival. Xander warily eyed the boy.
"Hey, Summers!" he said, and they embraced like old friends. That made Xander relax slightly. Just slightly.
"How ya been?" the guy, Ford, asked with a smile on his face.
"Oh, my God! What are you doing here?" Buffy asked, letting him go from the embrace, but keeping on hold both his hands.
"Uh, matriculating," he said, sheepishly.
"I'm finishing out my senior year at Sunnydale High. Dad got transferred."
"This is great!" the Slayer said, her somber mood vanishing completely.
"I'm glad you think so," he said back.
Since the Halloween Event, Xander's paranoia regarding the Hellmouth had multiplied a thousand fold, so the appearance of Buffy old 'friend' hadn't bided well with him. There are coincidences, but the Hellmouth isn't very much prone to those. So, he decided to include this Ford guy instantly in the 'non-trustworthy' part of his list of people, and that reflected in his face. He had yet to learn how Bolan managed something like constraint and straight faces.
"I didn't think you'd remember me," Ford said.
"Remember you? Duh! We only went to school together for seven years. You were my giant fifth grade crush," Buffy said, totally oblivious to her other friends for a moment.
"So! You two know each other," Xander said, his opinion of the newcomer completely on display in his voice.
"Oh! I'm sorry. This is Ford," Buffy said, suddenly remembering the Scoobies. "Billy Fordham, this is Xander and Willow!"
Xander nodded to the guy, which nodded back.
"Nice to meet you!" Willow said, giving Xander a small nudge with her elbow. He ignored her.
"Uh, Ford and I went to Hemery together in L.A. And now you're here. For real?"
"Dad got the transfer, and boom, he just dragged me outta Hemery and put me down here," the guy said, while they sat down on the couches around.
"This is great! Well, I mean, it's hard, sudden move, all your friends, delicate time, very emotional, but let's talk about me! This is great!" Buffy babbled, putting a hand on his knee. That only helped to add jealousy to Xander's paranoia. He decided then and there to follow this 'Ford' guy around from a distance.
"So, you two were sweeties in fifth grade?" Willow asked, smiling.
"Not even. Ford wouldn't give me the time of day," Buffy said, slightly disappointed.
"Well, I was a manly sixth-grader. I couldn't bother with someone that young."
"It was terrible. I moped over you for months. Sitting in my room listening to that Divinyls song 'I Touch Myself'," Buffy said, and suddenly realizing what she said and how it could be interpreted. "Of course, I had no idea what it was about," she completed, sheepishly.
Ford nervously scratched his temple. Xander just shook his head.
"Hey, are you busy tonight? We're going to the Bronze, it's the local club, and you have to come," the bottle blonde asked, changing subjects.
"I'd love to! But if you guys already had plans. . . Would I be imposing?"
"Of course not," Xander said with a straight face, surprising Willow, Buffy and the newcomer. He had to keep an eye on the guy, and the Bronze would be a good opportunity to check on him.
"Okay, then," Ford said, looking at Xander oddly. "I, I gotta find the admissions office, uh, get my papers in order."
"Well, you know what, I'll take you there, and I'll see you guys in French," Buffy said, seizing the opportunity.
"It was good to meet you," Ford said, before they walked away.
Xander smiled at them until they'd disappeared.. Willow then cornered him, or the closest of it that she managed while they were both sitting in one couch.
"What was that, Xander?" she asked. "And not only that, what happened to you this past week?"
"Not now, Wills. I have to go, we'll talk later," he said, standing up.
"Now, mister. Sit!" she said, with Resolve Face in place.
"I can't, Willow. Later," he said, walking away and leaving a flabbergasted Willow behind.
Xander tailed Ford for another hour, and he almost managed to follow the guy home, if it weren't for a small cross-over with Snyder the Troll right in the middle of the hallway while he should be in class. It got him a three-day detention, and he decided to forego the attempt for the moment. After the Bronze, he would try it again.
Lucky him, he got the first day with Ms. Calendar, so he sat in a computer at the back of the room, and started searching the net.
First thing he hit were the Sunnydale realtors, searching for an apartment. He had an exact idea on what he wanted, and after a few searches, he ended up with two, perhaps three possibilities. One was a major favorite, since it was pretty close to school and the Hellmouth. After taking notes in his notebook of the locations, he changed to the used cars dealers from town. After some quick searching, he ended up finding what he wanted, at a reasonable price. Third thing was exactly one thing that he always hated, but nonetheless needed: computers. He searched for approximately one hour, before making a decision on a desktop setup and a laptop.
Those being done, he cleaned the cache and the history of visited pages from the machine, and logged out of the network.
He then removed one of the notebooks he had appropriated last night from his backpack and started reading the pages with great care, trying to form an image of how the operation was being run.
I don't know if the Council is aware of it, but the demonic underworld runs pretty much like the human underworld. One of the notebooks I gathered from the house yesterday tells me a very interesting story.
First thing I noticed was a huge amount of sales to a guy or a place named Willy, both the cheap stuff and the expensive stuff. Second greatest client I imagine is a vampire nest, they gobbled almost all of the guy's supply of blood. Rest was evenly divided between several different clients, demon clans if I remember the names correctly.
Second thing I noticed is that the amount of money on those transactions was impressive. The twenty-seven grand was only the money they gathered from last week's deliveries. Where would they keep the rest of the money? I'll pay the house another visit.
Third thing is that there are some large pay-offs to some undisclosed third party, only identified by a letter, 'M'.
Wonder if the remainder of the underworld behaves as the mafia: racketeering, drug dealing, brothels, the works? I guess that my talk with DeadBoy will have to be accelerated.
Xander got out of detention with barely enough time to do what he needed for the day. He ran back home and managed to dodge his mother, grab his money bag and leave back to the street again. First stop was the car dealer, and after a lot of haggling on both parts, he ended up with a battered-up visually, but in good working condition dark blue van. He paid in cash for the car, so the guy delivered him the ownership papers after a few seconds, and he drove the car out of the lot.
He would have to make a few modifications to the car, but thankfully his uncle Rory, among other things, was an excellent mechanic. With one of his bases covered, he drove back to the house he had raided the previous night, and parked two blocks away. He walked casually to back of the house, putting his leather gloves on. Police tape wasn't present, so he simply opened the unlocked door once more and walked back in, and started a thorough check of the house, skipping the basement for the moment. He removed drawers, checked behind and below furniture, going from room to room, ending up in the master bedroom. He checked the closet, the bathroom, and finally he checked under the bed. Nothing.
He then proceeded to the basement. The freezers were there, and the faint smell of blood. He checked everything, but the place was clean.
The demon hunter then stopped in the middle of the room, eyes closed in deep concentration, retracing his steps through the house. Nothing in the living room, kitchen in disarray with the food rotting in the freezer, the utensils mostly gone to the basement to help with the butchering. Room number one, girl room, still mostly in shape, computer, closet, he found the celtic cross there yesterday. And he stopped the mind-walk.
He ran out of the basement, and into the room. Ashtray parked near the computer monitor, filled to the brim with ashes and cigarette butts, keyboard peppered with ashes and something looking like a dry blood spot.
Internet banking. I gotta say, these guys are pretty damn smart, they were making overnight deposits in on one of Sunnydale's banks and making the necessary transactions from the computer. I need to know what those vamps were doing, but this is way beyond my skills with a computer.
I'll need help, but the problem is that the only hacker that I know and trust is going to cause me enough trouble as it is.
But I need to know.
Xander grabbed the PC tower and disconnected it from the rest of the peripherals, and got out of the house with it under his arm. He checked the street again and walked back to his van, eyeing the neighboring house. The car he had 'triggered' last night was still parked in the exact same spot. If he ended up convincing Willow to help him, he would have to remember and ask about the address and the owners. After all, the police still hadn't raided the house.
He got back to his van, secured the PC in place and drove away.
Later that same night, Xander was playing pool with Willow and Ford over at the Bronze, his van parked nearby with his weapons held securely in a box inside it. He had only a couple stakes in his person and a silver dagger he had 'borrowed' from Giles. He tried to make some small talk with Ford to pry some information from him, but Willow kept on asking about his and Buffy's common past. The newcomer always answered them with a smile on his face, irritating Xander to no end, and making Willow giggle constantly. Ford aligned his shot and took it, expertly sinking the ball.
"Ford! You made it," Buffy said, arriving at the table.
"Wasn't hard to find," he shrugged.
"Buffy, Ford was just telling us about the ninth grade beauty contest, and the, uh, swimsuit competition," Willow said, with a smile plastered on her face.
"Oh, my God, Ford, stop that! The more people you tell, the more people I have to kill," she said smiling, fully immersed in her airhead side.
"You can't touch me, Summers. I know all your darkest secrets," he said, getting Xander's attention.
"I'm gonna go get a drink. Ford, try not to talk," she said, looking back to her two other friends at the pool table.
Buffy then went to the bar, and the trio saw her talking with Angel.
"Who's that?" Ford asked.
"That's Angel," Willow said.
"He's Buffy's boyfriend," Xander completed. He disliked the vampire, a lot, but at least he knew where he stood with him.
"He's not in school, right? He looks older than her."
"You're not wrong," Xander finished, taking the next shot.
Buffy walked back to the table, hands empty, Angel following a few moments behind.
"Didn't want that soda after all?" Ford asked, noticing the lack of beverages.
"Hey, Angel," Willow said to the souled vampire.
"Hi," Ford said, extending his hand.
"This is Ford. We went to school together in L.A.," Buffy said, taking care of the awkward introductions.
"Nice to meet you," Angel said, grabbing the offered hand.
"Whoa! Cold hands!" Ford exclaimed.
"You're not wrong," Xander repeated, which gained him a patented Buffy glare.
"So, you're here visiting Buffy?" Angel asked suspiciously.
"No, I'm actually here to stay. Just moved down."
"Hey, Angel? Do you wanna play?" Willow invited.
"Y'know, it's getting really crowded in here tonight and I'm a little hot. You wanna take a walk?" Buffy asked Ford.
"Um, sure. That'd be nice," Ford replied, not looking to Angel.
"Okay, then. I'll see ya tomorrow," Buffy said to the Scoobies, walking past Angel.
"Good night," Angel said coldly. Xander motioned with his eyes to the door. Angel nodded.
"We need to talk, Deadboy."
"Don't call me that. And about what?" Angel asked as he and Xander started to walk.
"Did your brain died when you did? What do you think I have to talk about with you?"
"Buffy and this new guy," Angel growled out.
"Give the breathing-impaired a cigar," Xander quipped. "Or better yet, don't. What would you do with it? Yeah, Buffy and Mr. General Motors."
"So, what about them?" he growled out again. Xander simply grated him completely wrong, with good reason.
"You didn't like the guy. And I ain't talking about jealousy."
"How did . . ." Angel started, but with Xander's head shake, he got back to the issue at hand. "You too?"
"Yeah. Look, I need you to follow him, you're better than me at this silent stakeout thing, and you can hear whatever the guy speaks from like three blocks away."
"It was my intention from the beginning. Why are you telling me this?"
Xander stopped, taking a deep breath. "Look, I don't like you. Never did, never will. I still think you're a coward, a menace, and a dust buster filler. But you have your uses and the girl I've sworn myself to protect loves you. So, I'm willing to give you a small chance. But be warned, fuck with me or mine and I'll dust you and make it painful," he said, extending his hand. Angel eyed it for a moment and shook it. "Damn, that moron was right, you do have cold hands. Now go," Xander said.
"We'll talk later," Angel said, walking back to the shadows and following Buffy's scent.
"You betcha. And Angel?" Xander said to his back, making him stop in place for a moment.
"Watch your six."
Angel turned back to reply, but Xander had disappeared.
While Xander and Angel were having their little argument, the reasons for their 'talk' were walking in the other direction.
"So, that was your boyfriend?" Ford asked after a few moments of silence.
"No. Yeah. Maybe. Could we lay off the tough questions for a while?"
"Sorry. So, what else do you do for fun around here?"
That's an interesting question, Buffy thought, but before she could reply, she heard a noise that she had learned a long time ago meant business.
"M-my purse. I-I, I left my purse at the Bronze. Could you get it for me?" she stammered, divided between looking at Ford and running to the alley where she heard the commotion.
"Uh, okay," he said, and started walking back.
"Good. Run! Thanks!"
Ford started to jog away, and a moment later, Buffy ran in the other direction, entering the alley. The fight started with a classical flying kick, releasing the woman the vamp was trying to bite. The woman, seeing her opportunity, ran away crying. Meanwhile, the vampire grabbed a trashcan and threw it at the Slayer, which dodged the flying dirt bomb with the grace of a ballerina. But her next move had nothing of graceful, she just grabbed the vampire by his collar and threw him away, much like he had done with the bin. The vampire landed face-first in the dirt, but was back on his feet in moments, a little shook up. He tried to swing a haymaker, but she ducked and kicked him almost at the same time. He tried again, and to prove his stupidity, Buffy just grabbed his hand and proceeded to pummel his face into demonic minced meat. She ended up the unfair fight by shoving a sharpened stake in his undead heart.
Score for the night: Slayer 1 X 0 Undead Asses, she thought.
That's when she noticed movement behind her.
"What's goin' on?" Ford asked, entering the alley.
"Um . . . uh, there was a cat. A cat here, and, um, then there was a-another cat . . . and they fought. The cats. And . . . then they left," she said. Not even an overcooked shrimp would believe such a story.
"Oh. I thought you were just slaying a vampire," he said, almost matter-of-factly.
"What? Whating a what?" she asked, faking it.
"I know, Buffy. You don't have to lie. I've been trying to figure out the right time to tell you. I know you're the Slayer," he said, seriously.
After leaving the Slayer back at her home, Ford walked back to a place called The Sunset Club, not noticing a moving shadow tailing him since after the slaying of the vampire some time ago. He knocked at the steel door, and the viewport opened for a moment, someone on the other side checking him out. It closed a moment later, and the door opened, letting Ford in.
From the looks of it, it was a small club, and Angel, even with all his abilities, would stick up like a sore thumb. So, he would have to wait for Ford to leave, and keep on tailing him then.
Meanwhile, the vampire brooded, and thought on the changes of an annoying teenager that saved the woman he loved.
At another corner of the town, a redheaded young woman was getting herself ready to sleep. Suddenly, a small knock was heard in the door that opened to her balcony, surprising her. She stood up and opened the curtains, relaxing when she noticed who it was.
"Xander! What are you doing here? Why didn't you use the front door?" she asked, not really focusing on what he was wearing.
"I think your mom wouldn't let me in, Wills, since I'm dressed like this, and it's kinda late-ish," he said, with his lopsided grin in place.
That's when Willow noticed the black commando look, and the . . . guns.
"Xander? Are those for real?" she asked, huge eyes checking the weapons.
The brunette boy grimaced. "Yes, they are, Willow. And that's part of the reason for why I'm here. We need to talk."
The redhead dropped on her bed, and Xander leaned against the balcony's frame.
"W-what happened to you, Xander? Why the guns? Those things are dangerous!" she said, trying to control her own voice.
"I'll explain it all, Wills, but first I gotta ask you. How good you are at sniffing through the government, and not get caught?"
"Quite good," she said, still too focused on his guns to look at his face.
"Really good? Cause if we get caught, the Department of Justice will drop in Sunnydale like a bomb," he said, seriously.
"W-why, Xander? You didn't do anything illegal, did you? Cause that's just plain wrong, cause we do weird things to help Buffy, but I guess that none of it is wrong, unless the killing already dead guys, but if they are dead, can we be framed for murder? Oh, God, you didn't kill anyone, did you?"
Xander smirked, and put a finger to Willow's lips. "Shh, Willow. Breathe. I didn't do anything over-wrong, unless you can count stealing some cash from some dusted vamps and walking armed without a license."
Willow breathed, thinking on what he said. "This is wrong, Xan, b-but I guess it isn't way over wrong. B-but why the guns?"
"Back to my question. You that good?"
"I think so, yeah," she said, warily.
"Then start cracking, the answers will be forthcoming," he said. Willow opened her laptop and booted the machine, Xander kept silent during the process. Once she was connected, with a load of protection, backdoors and dirty tricks between her true computer self and her internet presence, she asked.
"Easy things first. Search for a guy called Hal Brognola. I believe you'll find some interesting things about him."
The hacker typed a few commands in the machine, and waited for a few seconds. Then her eyebrows jumped and she started typing furiously in the keyboard, while Xander just smiled. He risked a look to the monitor, and what he saw made him dizzy. She had three windows opened, and from the focused look on her face, it wasn't an easy task. She ended up removing the telephone plug from the machine. "WHAT. HAVE. YOU. GOTTEN. INTO. XANDER?" she asked seriously, face flushed, trying valiantly not to scream.
"What happened?" he asked, sheepishly.
"I was attacked. Or I wasn't. I made a simple query to a common search engine on the internet. As soon as the reply popped back, I got the attention of someone. They found my hops faster than I could blink. I tried to change servers, everything on the book of hackers and out of it, and they almost got me. I had to get out before they found me. Who is this guy?"
"I guess that Bear found your scent," Xander said.
"Bear? Wha. . . you don't mean 'THE Bear'?"
"You know him?"
"The guy is a LEGEND, Xander. He's like the best hacker on the planet, bar none. Some people even think he's like some kind of extra-terrestrial AI. What Bear have to do with this Bolognese guy? And you?"
"Hal Brognola is the head of one of the Justice Department's most black-out divisions, the SOG, Sensitive Operations Group. He only answers to the President, and he has authority enough on his cuffs to do whatever he thinks needs to be done to ensure national security. But I think I'm going way ahead of myself. Ok, easier things. Can you connect again?"
"I think so, they didn't find me. Wait up," she said, re-plugged the line and connected again. "Done. What now?"
"Search for another name. Mack Bolan."
She turned back slowly, and looked to him. She checked him from head to toe and back again, paying special importance to the guns on display.
"You dressed as him," she whispered. "You dressed as Mack Bolan."
Xander smiled humorlessly at her and grabbed a small item from one of his pant's pockets, giving it to her. She looked it over and over.
"Something went wrong, or right depending on your point of view. Once Ethan's spell ended, everyone turned back to normal, having just some residual memories. I kept the full deal, memories and abilities," he said.
"W-what happened?" she whispered again, still way too shocked for something more coherent.
Xander shrugged. "Don't know, I can just make some pretty wild guesses. First one, the other costumes were like templates, general ideas of what people would like to be, like Buffy's lady, or your ghost, no focus. I dressed as him, and I did have something of his. So, I guess that I short circuited the spell, and ended up with the whole enchilada."
"H-how do you know?"
"Suffice to say that I can stalk Dea . . . Angel up close and not be found. And until this afternoon, I had already bagged thirty two grand from two vampire nests."
"YOU STOLE THIRTY THOUSAND DOLLARS!"
"Willow, is something wrong?" came the voice of her mother from the outside, reacting to the screaming. Willow turned to the door, and said back, "N-no, mom, I-I'm chatting with an acquaintance at the net."
"Go to sleep, you have school tomorrow," the incorporeal voice replied.
"I will, mom," she said, and turned back around, finding an empty spot where Xander used to be. "Xander? Where are you? Don't do an Angel on me, mister!"
The young man appeared from the balcony, a shadow detaching itself from the blackness, as if made from the own night.
"Believe me now?" he said, smiling.
"Yeah, I do. How did you steal thirty two thousand dollars from vampires?"
And Xander told her what he did since the possession, and what he found out in the basement of the house. Willow got a little green from the description, but managed to keep everything in.
" . . . so, Wills, I think that the vampires are outgrowing the Council, they are using human tools and human methods to create a 'demonic mafia', for lack of a better description, right under our noses. That's why I came to you, I believe we have to step up and change to win, or at least try to, using the same methods, and a whole lot different set of rules."
The redhead was deep in thought. "And what about Buffy?"
Xander sat down at her side, a bit away so she wouldn't be poked by anything. "Buff does a good job, Wills, but she's like a bucket trying to contain an ocean. She needs help, help we're going to provide."
"We already do," she pointed.
"Not in the way I'm thinking. From what I could gather, this is either an isolated incident, or we've been fighting the small fish, while the white sharks are festering right under our noses."
Willow looked back to him, eyes wide. "What?" he asked.
"'Festering'? Bolan did more than give you a soldier's training, didn't he? That's why you've been doing your homework and paying attention to most classes, right?"
The brunette groaned, but added. "Yeah, he did. Can we go back to weird fish comparisons?"
Willow giggled. "Sure, fish away."
"Thank you. We need intel, and not the weird books in incomprehensible languages the Council provides us, since these fucks . . ." he got a light slap in his stomach," . . . sorry, these demons are jumping out completely of the supernatural fence and going lower."
"Lower?" Willow asked, curious.
"Wills, demons do what they do cause of their nature, it's like a lion hunting in the jungle, to them, it's survival. Humans do because we want to, not because we need to. Got me?"
"Yeah, so what we do?"
"Let's start slowly. I have the PC I got from the house secured in my van. I need you to hack it and tell me where it leads us," he said, standing up. "But first, I need you to check on someone."
"Ford?" she asked, already knowing.
"Am I that transparent?" he said, smirking.
"No, but from what you told me and your and Angel's escapade earlier on, I could tell. But he's just one of Buffy's old crushes. You sure he's problem?"
"Wills, me and Angel, we agree on something for once, and it is that what we are both feeling ain't jealousy," he said.
"Okay, not just jealousy. Besides, as I thought earlier, the Hellmouth ain't exactly prone to coincidences. So, check him out, please, and if it is nothing, I'll just annoy him and be done with it."
"No pummeling him till he's a puddle of blood in the ground?" she giggled.
"Nah, I'll leave that to Angel. He's way stronger than I am, and he heals faster from bloody knuckles," he smiled.
"Xander! Okay, I'll get cracking. Or hacking. Or cracking and hacking. Tell you tomorrow," she said, going back to her laptop.
"I'll give you the PC then. Bye, Wills," Xander said, and disappeared back into the night.
Willow went better than I expected, but I guess that all the implications hadn't sunk in yet. Let's hope that tomorrow she won't get nuts with me in front of the entire school and Buffy, cause I sincerely don't know how I would react.
On any other day, the call would have made Willow smile but today she jumped and turned around, to see Buffy and Ford arriving together.
"What's up?" Buffy asked, noticing the nervous hands.
"N-nothing," she said, trying to think on a good lie.
"Ok, Will, fess up."
"Are you drinking coffee again? 'Cause we've talked about this."
Willow almost dissolved into goo, but opted to laugh nervously. "It makes me jumpy. I have to go. Away," she said, already moving. Buffy just shook her head.
"Nice girl," Ford said.
"There aren't two of those in the world."
She turned the first corner down the hall, bumping into someone. Distractedly, she just said a subdued 'sorry' before trying to move around the other body.
"You can bump on me anytime, Wills," Xander said, grabbing her shoulders. She gave away a relieved breath, and took the opportunity to hug him. "Hey, what happened?" he asked.
"I just bumped into Buffy and Ford," she said, grabbing his arm and moving him to a more secluded spot.
"I haven't found anything suspicious about him. He has no paper trail, anywhere. Just an address here, a place called the Sunset Club," she said.
"This is strange. So, why are you so nervous?"
"Our talk left me worried about Buffy. A-and you, Xan. You're walking around armed, a-and you are entering vampire nests alone. You could die, Xander."
He sighed. The other shoe had dropped.
"Look, Will," he spoke in hushed tones," last summer, if I hadn't helped, Buffy would be dead, the Master would have opened the Hellmouth, and we all would be dead. We all take risks, even when simply crossing the street. This time, I'm taking a way more conscious risk, with those memories and abilities, I can fight on an equal footing with the bastards, and we can help keep the world spinning for longer. How's that phrase . . . 'For evil to win, only thing a good man has to do is cross his arms'? I chose not to cross my arms, Will. And so did you."
Willow heard all that, and lowered her head. "I don't want you to die, Xander," she mumbled.
"Neither do I, Willow. But doing nothing, and having the power to do so, would kill me as well. I don't want to see anyone else dying, but to do that, I need a team. I need you, Willow," he said, extending his hand.
Willow remained mute for an interminable moment, eyeing the offered hand.
Shaking it could mean the death of her best friend and probably her own, but not shaking it could mean an entirely different kind of death, and that could be of the entire planet. Xander was right, if they could use all of their powers to help, perhaps, just perhaps, they could end up old enough and alive enough to see a world without the menace of the underworld. It was a vain hope, but hope nonetheless.
She grabbed the hand and squeezed it, hard.
"You have yourself a team, mister."
Later that day, Xander left Willow and the stolen PC at the hacker's home, and he went to search on Angel. He knocked hard on the apartment's door, the memories of the other time he had been there still clear on his mind.
Angel opened the door, the vampire using the door to hide from the sun.
"Deadboy. May I come in?" he asked, still at the threshold.
"Only if you stop calling me that, and last time I checked you didn't need an invite."
"Being polite for once," he said, and walked in. "So, how did it go last night?"
"He just left Buffy at home, and went to a place called the Sunset Club. I kept checking it till dawn, but he didn't walk out."
"You didn't enter?"
"Looked like a private club, and I wasn't exactly dressed for club hopping."
"Ha, Angel made a funny. What do you want me to do, die of laughing?"
"If I can, I'll learn humor just for that," he said. "Want something to drink?"
"Being polite for once," he quipped back.
"Sure, anything but the house special."
"I'll be right back."
Xander finally took a look at the apartment. It was tastefully decorated, spartan, but nice to live in. He checked for points of entrance and exits, and where to be if someone decided to invade.
Just to kill time.
"Here you go," Angel said, giving him a glass of orange juice. "So, aside from our common goal, why are you here?"
"Just checking how the other side lives," he said, sipping the cool juice.
"You were here already," the vampire said.
"Not paying attention to my surroundings at the time, had other things in my mind," he said, evenly. "Look, to be true, I didn't come here to talk about this, I came to talk about some things that grabbed my interest in the last few days."
"You know if the supernatural world has some sort of mafia?"
"Look, something happened to me after Halloween, I kept the memories and abilities of the guy I dressed as. So, I decided to use the experience in the fight since he was an expert soldier, and that gave me some ideas on how to improve our chances of survival, but I needed money for that. I raided two vamp nests so far, but in the last one I saw some things and gathered evidence that we're being stupid."
Angel invited him to sit, and he did.
"They were grabbing people from the streets and using them as a meat plant does, Angel. And that in the basement of an inconspicuous home here in Sunnydale. I killed two vampires with shotgun shots, another one with my .45, but no police came to check on it. Either no one called them, or they are being paid to look to the other side. I know that they are afraid of the night here, but I came back last morning and no one had appeared yet. And number two, I got three notebooks worth of financial balance, and there is a ton of cash flowing on them, with some huge pay-offs to someone or someplace named Willy and the other to a letter, M. This is way more organized than we believed."
"I don't know, Xander. I believe it is possible, we're not stupid, and we are survivors, no matter the how we survive. An underworld mafia is not that farfetched. I honestly don't know. And Willy is a who and a where, he's the owner of Sunnydale's demon bar."
"Every larger town has at least one, it's a place for vampires and demons to relax away from the streets, and to feed without killing. Or at least it was. Now, I'm not so sure. The one in LA that I know of is quite good, and it comes clean. I know the owner."
"I think we might pay this Willy a visit in the near future."
"I'll go with you," Angel said.
"I could use some back up, and I guess Buffy wouldn't agree much on how I'll deal with Willy. Second question, who was the Victorian Vamp?"
"How . . . " Angel took a deep, unneeded breath, and shook his head. "Trouble. She's Drusilla, one of Angelus' masterpieces. She's nuts, a seer and Spike's girlfriend."
"Nice resume. As if we didn't have enough trouble as it is. What's she doing around?"
"Spike's here, so would she, we'll have to be extremely careful with them around. Speaking of trouble, you got anything else on this Ford guy?"
"I spoke with Willow and she hacked around for info. The guy comes clean. Way clean."
"And that's weirder than weird."
"I agree, so I came to invite you to a little recon tonight."
"The Sunset Club. Oh, joy, going clubbing with Xander. Could my life get any better?"
"Keep on trying the humor stuff, Deadboy, you might hit it sometime. Twenty-oh-hundred I'll be picking you. Stay sharp," he said, stood up and left.
Angel looked to the door Xander had departed, a thousand questions in his mind.
I have to write this down or I won't believe it in the future, I sat down and talked with Angel. Yeah, I sat down and talked with Angel. And I did not threaten him this time. Sure, we traded some barbs, but I wouldn't be Xander and he wouldn't be Angel if we did talk with each other being entirely polite the whole time.
Anyway, why I did it?
Those memories. Sometimes, I think that having them won't be of much use if I keep on doing things I never thought I would do in my life, but Bolan's experience is not something to be discarded. He's still alive and kicking because of allies and teamwork. He's a loner, but he has very good backup and people to call upon if the shit hit the fan too heavily.
And Angel, aside from his shortcomings, is a force to be reckoned with, even if he needs threatening with a crucifix once in a while.
Once night fell in Sunnydale, if you were smart and had a heartbeat, you'd go home and stay there. If you were not, you were probably tagged as 'meal' and dealt with accordingly. Unless you were the Slayer or one of her friends, of course. So, said Slayer was walking side by side with Ford, going by school grounds again.
"And on your right, once again, the beautiful campus. I think you've now seen everything there is to see in Sunnydale," Buffy said, playing the part of tour guide.
"Well, it's . . . really. . ." he stopped, searching for words.
"Feel free to say dull," Buffy eased it up for him, with a smile on her face.
She was actually happy, she had an old crush walking around with her, who knew what she was, and was apparently fishing for more than friendship. The big question was, and Angel? Buffy was really pissed that he had lied to her, and one of the things she needed in her life was to trust whom she had around her.
"Okay, dull's good," Ford said, stopping her internal diatribe for the moment. He then looked around, finding something that ended the sudden dullness. "Or maybe not so dull. Is that more vampires?"
"Must be the weather," she sighed. What a lousy way to end a date.
Wait up. Strolling around at night, hunting for vampires, while showing the town could be considered a date?
Well, in Sunnydale, anything is possible.
She got a cross and a stake and showed them to Ford. He grabbed the cross, but he removed a stake from a back pocket, showing it to her. She smiled for a moment.
"Stay close to me," she said, all business.
She started hunting the vampire duo, going up a set of steps the vamps ran up, Ford right on her tail, stake ready. She checked her surroundings, not seeing the duo.
"Maybe they were just passing through."
"I don't think so," she said, turning around. That's when a pair of hands grabbed her from behind, making a startled Ford backtrack quickly. She dealt with it with an adapted judo throw, making the vamp woman fall flat on the ground. She didn't have the time to finish the vamp, her mate tackled the Slayer, making them both fall on the grass down below. Ford prepped his stake, but he led with the cross, making the vampire woman hiss.
Down below, Buffy killed her vampire after knocking him out, and she ran back up desperately seeking Ford. She found him crouched where the vamp was.
"Where's the other one?" she asked, senses fully alert.
"I killed her," he said coughing "I-I killed her and she just turned to dust. It was amazing," he said.
Yes, only in Sunnydale.
Willow sighed for the millionth time that night. It all started when they went to pick Angel. Xander was dressed in black jeans, a stylish black polo shirt, black combat boots and a black duster completing the ensemble, to hide his .45 and the tomahawk at his back, not counting the stakes. In resume, he was a copy of a vampire. When Angel opened the door to his apartment, the first look he gave Xander was quickly followed by a slight smirk. The brunette warrior noticed, and the endless barbs restarted.
"So, you're telling me that vampires don't have a dress code?" Angel said.
"Yes, they do. It's called ugly and outdated," Xander retorted back, stopping the van a block away from the place.
"Look who's talking, you're dressing as one of us."
"You call this ugly and outdated?" he said, fingering the duster slightly.
"No, I call this vampire-look."
"I have weapons to conceal, Deadboy. So not your case."
"I like black, okay?"
"Can we act like not-children that we are, gentlemen?" Willow said to the arguing duo.
"Tell the really-not-children there to do that, Wills."
"Xander, do shut up, please," the redhead hacker spoke in a tone baring no mistakes on its intent.
"Yes, Xander, do shut up, please," Angel said back, in a mocking tone.
"This goes to you too, Angel."
She was met with silence until they arrived at the front door to the club.
"Okay, here we are. Any ideas?" Willow asked.
"Don't have any C-4 with me right now," Xander said, which got him an odd look from Willow. Angel simply shook his head and knocked on the steel door.
The viewport opened.
"We're friends of Ford's," the vampire said. The viewport closed and the door opened a second later.
"Smooth, Deadboy. Real smooth," Xander murmured under breath.
"Don't call me that," he growled, low.
"Kids," Willow warned.
"Yes, mom," Xander said, but as soon as he stepped into the club, the goofball persona slipped to the background and the acquired warrior instincts stepped into the fore. The gloomy atmosphere made all of said instincts jump a notch, and the muscles tensed for a brief second.
"Boy, can I say that I chose the right clothes for the evening," Willow said glumly, checking the people and the place, and eyeing her own bright colored shirt.
"Stay close to one of us, " Xander said, seriously.
"Stay close. Sure, as close as possible. Next time, I'll go with vampey-look. Matter of fact, remind me to buy some black clothes, and some goth make up," Willow babbled.
"I'll check up here, you two go downstairs," Angel said.
Xander nodded, and they walked down. Once down, he turned to Willow.
"You noticing a theme here?"
"As in 'Vampires! Yay!'"
"Exactly. Who would be so nuts?"
Xander's instincts made him turn around, almost bumping with an approaching woman.
"You guys are newbies, I can tell," the woman said.
Before Xander could weave a convincing tale, Willow spoke.
"Oh, no, we come here all the time."
"Don't be ashamed, it's cool that you're open to it. We welcome anyone who's interested in the Lonely Ones."
Xander then noticed the souled vampire approaching.
"The Lonely Ones?" Willow asked
"You don't know what you're talking about. Vampires are dangerous," Xander said.
"So many people have that misconception. But they who walk with the night are not interested in harming anyone. They are creatures above us. Exalted!"
"You're a fool," Angel said, and Xander gave him a look.
"You don't have to be so confrontational about it. Other viewpoints than yours may be valid, you know," the woman said, and walked away, annoyed.
"Nice meeting you," Willow said to a retreating back.
They turned to Angel.
"Smooth, Deadboy. Real smooth."
"Now nobody's gonna talk to us," the hacker said.
"I've seen enough. I've seen this type before. I mean, they're children making up bedtime stories of friendly vampires to comfort themselves in the dark."
"Is that so bad? I mean, the dark can get pretty dark. Sometimes you need a story," Willow asked.
"These people don't know anything about vampires. What they are, how they live, how they dress . . ."
A young man dressed exactly like Angel and Xander came down the stairs behind him and looked them up and down before continuing on.
"Shut up, DB. Let's get out of here," Xander said.
They walked out of the club, and once out of any eavesdroppers, Xander spoke again.
"Ok, does this speak kinda bad in regard of Mr. General Motors?"
"He likes vampires, and he's making a move on Buffy. There's something way wrong with this picture," Willow said.
"What do we do now? We could press him for his intentions, but we have to find him first," the vampire with a soul said.
"You mind keeping a look on the club tonight as well?"
"I will. You?"
"Gonna check on Buffy. Damn, we need cell phones if we're going to make this work."
"We deal with it tomorrow. Good luck, Xander," Angel said, and in a surprising move, extended his hand.
Xander looked to the extended hand, and for the second time in less than 48 hours, shook it again. "You too, Dea. . . Angel."
Xander and Willow entered the battered van, and Willow turned to him, while he drove away.
"Since when you and Angel are buddy-buddies?"
"We aren't. I was just being polite," he growled.
"Yeah, right," Willow said.
"Any info on the computer?" Xander asked, changing subjects.
"The computer itself comes clean. I was going to start on the internet side of things," Willow said.
"Good, want me to drop you at home?"
"Sure, I need to study a bit and sleep. You going back to school?"
"Probably. I'll check Buffy's hot spots first, see if I can find them."
"Take care, Xander, please."
"Sorry to beep you guys in the middle of . . . stuff, but it seemed really weird," Buffy said, entering the library, Giles and Jenny Calendar following right behind.
"No, you did the right thing. Absolutely," her Watcher said, somewhat relieved.
"You hated it that much?" Jenny asked, stopping dead on her tracks.
"No! But, but, uh, vampires on campus is, could have implications. Very, very grave . . ." Giles tried.
"You coulda just said something."
"Uh, honestly, I, I've always, I've always been interested in, in, uh, monster trucks."
"You took him to monster trucks?" Buffy asked, surprised.
"I thought it would be a change!"
"It was a change," Giles said. It was slightly . . . 'cool' as his charge used to say. Not that he would ever admit it.
"Look, we could've just left."
"Wha-what, and miss the nitro-burning funny cars? No, couldn't have that," he said. The company wasn't bad, as well.
"Okay, can we get back on the vampire tip here? These guys were here with a purpose."
"Yes, yes, and, uh, we must, uh, ascertain what that purpose is."
"Where's your friend?" Jenny asked Buffy.
"I sent him home."
"Good. Yes, the less he's involved in all this, the safer he'll be."
"He did bag a vamp his first time out," Buffy said, pride clearly displayed in her voice.
Giles then started moving books around, to give back the library some measure of tidiness.
"Gotta give him credit for. . . that," Buffy halted, her eyes widening.
"Something wrong?" Giles queried.
"Who's this?" Buffy asked, showing the picture she found on an open book to the couple.
"Um, she's called Drusilla, a sometime paramour of Spike's. She was killed by an angry mob in Prague," Giles said.
"Well, they don't make angry mobs like they used to, 'cause this girl's alive. I saw her with Angel."
"With Angel?" the Watcher asked, taken aback.
"Isn't he supposed to be a good guy?"
"Yeah. He is," Buffy said, downcast.
"I think maybe we need to read up on this nice lady."
"Well, some of my new volumes may be more helpful. Uh, my own research is . . ."
Before Giles could touch the door to his office, it exploded outward, producing a vampire from the inside. She tackled Giles, getting him and a running Slayer to tangle together and fall down on the floor. She jumped on the table and over the railing, disappearing over the stacks.
"Are you guys okay?" Jenny asked, helping the duo up.
"A book! It took one of my books!" Giles said, indignantly.
"Well, at least someone in this school is reading."
"He said he killed it. That's the vampire Ford said he killed," Buffy said, surprised.
"This is so cool!" Ford blurted after a while, having heard some weird things that the vampire woman, Drusilla, was saying to the dead bird. And Spike. Yeah, the guy was cool!
Spike turned around, seeing him.
"I would totally live here," he continued, walking out of the middle of the crates he had hid on.
"Do I have anyone on watch here?" Spike asked to the air, "It's called security, people. Are you all asleep? Or did we finally find a restaurant that delivers?"
"I know who you are," Ford said, not intimidated by Spike's presence.
"Yeah, I know who I am, too. So what?"
"I came looking for you, Spike. You are Spike, right? William the Bloody?"
"You've got a real death wish. It's almost interesting."
They were interrupted by Buffy's escaping vampire, which handed Spike the book she stole from Giles. The bleached blonde menace started leafing through it.
"Oh, this is great. This'll be very useful," he said, with glee. He turned to Ford. "So, how did you find me?"
"That doesn't matter. I've got something to offer you. I-I'm pretty sure this is the part where you take out a watch and say I've got thirty seconds to convince you not to kill me? It's traditional," Ford said, smiling.
"Well, I don't go much for tradition," Spike said, and slammed the book closed. He walked to where Ford stood, and lifted him by the ear.
"Wait, love," Dru said, putting her hand on his shoulder.
Spike relented. "Well?"
"Oh, c'mon! Say it! It's no fun if you don't say it," Ford said, not really noticing, or caring, about the danger he was in.
"What? Oh," the vampire just rolled his eyes. "You've got thirty seconds to convince me not to kill you."
"Yes! See, this is the best! I wanna be like you. A vampire," he said, almost giggling.
"I've known you for two minutes, and I can't stand you. I don't really feature you livin' forever. Can I eat him now, luv?" he asked the insane vampiress.
Drusilla shook her head.
"Well, feature this: I'm offering you a trade. You make me a vampire, and I give you the Slayer," the young man said.
Xander finished the rounds well after midnight, leaving the library and Buffy's house for last. The first was empty, lights out and all. The latter had light coming from the back door to the kitchen. He though on going back to the van and getting rid of the guns, but Buffy needed to know, if only to kick his ass.
He knocked on the back door, and opened it slightly. He saw Buffy nurturing a cup of something in her hands.
"Hey, can I come in?" he asked. That caught Buffy's attention, and she eyed him, noticing the black clothing. She shrugged, and he walked in, noticing the slightly relieved breath she gave away.
"What you doing out so late? It's dangerous around here, y'know?"
"I know how to take care of myself, Buff. No worries."
She stood up and walked to the living room. Xander trailed behind her.
"What's with the Angel look?" she asked, slightly irritated with the reminder.
"Don't you start, ok? I have my reasons, and it's part of why I'm here."
"So, why are you imitating your worse enemy?" she asked in a mocking tone.
"Dea . . . Angel isn't exactly my enemy. I just don't like him for several different reasons."
"Yeah, right," she scoffed.
"Anyway, he's other part of why I am here."
"Wha . . . Why? Is something wrong? Is he . . ." she asked, worried.
"Not more than he already is. Relax, he's fine, I left him a couple hours ago. He was checking something for me . . . us."
"Checki . . . Ford. So, what is this now, a big conspiracy?" she asked, clearly annoyed.
"Hey, we worry about you, and we both thought that this guy was weird from the get go, okay? Willow checked him . . ."
"Her too? Oooh, soo good to know I have friends who go behind my back to check on my other friends," she said angrily.
"Because we do care about you, Buff. Come on, you gotta admit, the guy comes out of nowhere and suddenly he's your best friend?"
"I know him for seven years, Xand."
"You knew him, Buff. What about now? This is the Hellmouth we're talking about."
That deflated her. She stood mute for several moments.
"I-I don't know. I just don't know," she said, holding her face between her hands, saddened. Not thinking on it, Xander sat at her right and held her in an one-armed hug. Too late he noticed that his Colt was pressing against her side from inside his coat.
"W-what is this?" she asked. Xander let her go and tried to hide it, but in a bout of Slayer speed, she opened the coat, finally seeing the black pistol in the combat harness. "A-a gun? Why are you walking around with a gun, Xander?"
He just sighed again. She would be way worse than Willow.
"I think I gotta start from the beginning, Buff. You remember Halloween?"
"How could I forget?" she asked, eyeing him warily.
"Do you? Do you really remember Halloween? As in, can you speak French?"
"No, not now. After a couple days, everything else kinda vanished, thankfully. Why?"
"Because I can. Speak French, I mean. And some Russian, German, and Vietnamese. I can disassemble almost any weapon. I can take a shot using a sniper rifle from a kilometer away and hit a human eye without deviating an inch. Because something happened that Halloween, and I remember everything. Every memory, every ingrained ability, every dirt trick in the book and out of it."
"I dressed as a man called Mack Bolan. First, it would be just a simple soldier, I had the fatigues at home, but when I arrived at Ethan's, he had one of Bolan's marksmen medals on display. My father used to talk a lot about him, and I thought it would be cool to dress as him. So, I bought the medal, the rest you can imagine."
"Who's this Mask Mole?"
Xander cringed with the renaming, but he knew Buffy, she couldn't get it right even if she tried.
"Mack Bolan was a Vietnam veteran, a sniper in the army, one of the top soldiers our country ever produced. He was good, probably the best, but his father had some problems back here in the US with the mafia, so, he made some bad decisions and killed his entire family, leaving just Bolan's youngest brother alive, and committed suicide. Mack came back home for the funeral, and learned on what his father did, and why he did it. The police was doing nothing, they were bought, so he decided to take War to the Mafia doorstep. It was nasty, and the Mafia was almost extinguished from US soil. When the damage was truly and well done, the government offered him a chance. They faked his death, and created a new identity for him, making him and a group of selected individuals the black line of defense from the government."
"So, he's a killer?"
"No, he's the Executioner."
"Same thing," she said.
"No, it isn't. A killer has no compunction, no conscience, just a target and whoever stays in its way is fair game. Mack is a surgeon, he uses his guns with surgical precision. He never killed an innocent, Buff."
"So, you telling me that now you are like this super-soldier that can take the seed of a grape with one shot? Gotta remind you, Xander, bullets don't work in vampires."
"Yes, they do, if you cause enough trauma, or hit them in the right places."
"I still prefer the ages-old stake-trough-the-heart method," she said.
"Which works wonders, since all Slayers live out to be grandmothers," Xander said, effectively cutting her. "Look, Buffy, I didn't come here to fight, or to try and prove that my method is better or worse than yours, I just came here to explain several things, one of them is what happened to me."
Buffy sighed. "Look, Xander, I simply can't think on anything else right now. I have so many things in my head that I can't really focus on this one. Sorry."
"Everything. Everyone," she huffed, defeated.
"That's deep. Care to explain to the mentally impaired?" he said, with his lopsided grin in place.
"Angel lied to me. Ford lied to me. Willow lied to me. You lied to me. Doesn't anyone around me speak the truth anymore?"
Xander stopped for a moment. "Well, neither I nor Willow lied to you. I hid things for a while cause I didn't know how you would react. I still don't know, by the way. Willow hid her findings from you because she found absolutely nothing on Ford, and she wanted to know more before forming an opinion, but she was scared and you know how Wills thinks. Ford really lied to you, and if you want to, we can compare notes on why. As for Angel, what did he tell you?"
"He lied to me about one thing, doesn't matter now."
"Hiding vamp lady? Her name's Drusilla."
"How. . ." she was taken aback.
"I was at the other side of the park, I saw you at the roof and them talking."
Her shoulders dropped. "He said to me he had stayed at home, reading."
Xander was at a turning point in his life. He could either lie and crumble Buffy and Angel's relationship even further, or he could tell the truth, and make his friend perhaps happier again and continue to put his feelings at last. As a teenager, he truly wanted to lie, but the memories of the man he now had gave him a pretty great insight on human nature. It was better to have a true friend than a false love.
"I guess he didn't tell you the truth because he was the one who turned her into a vampire."
"He what?" she asked, still subdued.
"He told me that when he was Angelus, he did some bad things, one of them was turning Drusilla. She's nuts, and a seer, apparently. And to top it all off, she's Spike beau."
"Oh, great. Now I have a crazy girlfriend to worry about. Couldn't life. . ."
Xander put his hand in her mouth. "Shh, don't jinx us."
She nodded, but Xander's words had the great effect of taking some of the weight of her shoulders.
"And what about Ford?" she asked.
"Well, Mr. General Motors is a real piece of work. You see . . . "
Buffy was walking to the quad when a voice called her.
"Ford," she said, trying to sound as normal as possible.
"I had a great time last night. Well, an interesting time."
"Do you wanna go out again tonight?"
"Not busy," she said, neutrally.
"I sort of had an idea. It's a... It's a secret. Kinda wanna surprise you."
"I like surprises," she said, forcing a smile.
"Can you meet me here?"
"It's gonna be fun!" he smiled, and walked away.
"Oh, yeah. It will," she said after he had vanished from sight.
Xander and Willow were sitting at the stair steps at the hall, when Buffy approached from the back.
"Hey," she said for the duo. Willow stood up.
"Hey. L-look, s-sorry about . . ." the redhead started, but Buffy simply hugged her lightly, making her sag in relief.
"We'll talk about it later, okay?"
"Xander was telling me he told you about . . . well, everything."
"Yeah, we'll have words later, mister. But first we have other problems to solve."
"Did he give you a time?" he asked.
"Nine, at the quad."
"We'll be there. You want me to talk to Deadboy, or will you?"
The Slayer sighed. "I guess I will."
"Okay," the teen said, and watched a saddened Buffy leave.
"This got her real bad," Willow said.
"Yeah, it did. I'm going to hate myself for this, but I hope DB makes her feel better."
Willow looked at him as if he had grown another head.
Buffy walked slowly to the door, and knocked. After a few moments, the door opened slightly.
"Buffy?" Angel asked.
"Hey. Can I come in?" she asked. The vampire was so surprised that he froze for an interminable moment.
"Oh, sure. Please," he said, after his brain regained its function.
The door locked behind her lithe form with a soft click.
Ten to nine found Buffy arriving at the school's quad and sitting in one of the benches. She had done a quick patrol before arriving, not having any luck.
At nine o'clock sharp, Ford appeared, smartly dressed in all black clothes. He moved to her side, and sat down.
"Hey, are you okay?" he asked, noticing her slightly saddened face.
"Yeah. A few things in my mind, no biggie. Shall we go?" she asked, standing up.
"Sure," he said, and they started walking to a car.
"Where are we going, anyway?" she asked.
"My club," he said, opening the door for her.
"You have a club?"
"It's more like a bar, but it has a cool atmosphere. Dad helped funding it, and it's going okay for now," he said, closed the door and ran to the other side of the vehicle.
Buffy took a small cell phone out of her pocket, and speed-dialed a number.
"Mom, I'll get home late. . . Yes, Ford. . . No, mom . . . No, his club . . . Yes, mom, his. He owns it . . . Okay, I will. Bye," she said, and folded the small contraption. "Mom sends you a kiss."
"Thanks," he said, getting slightly nervous. The telephone call would complicate matters. "New phone?" he asked.
"Mom gave it to me, told me it was an early birthday present. Hah, I know it's just to control me."
"Mothers. You know how it is. You gotta remember to leave it in silence while you patrol."
They talked a bit while Ford drove to the club. Suddenly, he hit the brakes and grabbed his forehead. Thankfully, the street was relatively empty.
"FORD!" Buffy screamed. "What happened?"
He was sweating and had his eyes closed shut. After a long moment, he straightened up, and looked to the Slayer, pain clearly reflected in his face.
"Headache. It gets me sometimes," he said, and started driving again, slower.
"Do you want to cancel? We could . . ."
"NO!" he yelled, and then got back in control. "N-no, it's ok. I've got some drugs for it at the club, it'll be ok. I've grown accustomed to it."
"If you say so," she said, but kept on checking him for the rest of the trip.
They parked quite near the alley, and walked the rest of the way, Ford somewhat stiffly.
"You sure you wanna do this? We could postpone, y'know."
"Nah, my relief is a few feet away. Besides, I wouldn't want to spoil your surprise," he smiled, and they finally arrived at the steel door. He knocked, and the door opened. They walked inside, and Buffy heard the door being locked, which sent a shiver down her spine.
"Welcome to the Sunset Club," he said. The place was apparently empty, and they started going down. When they arrived downstairs, Buffy looked to the side, seeing eight vampires, Spike among them, and a few humans being held hostages.
Two vampires appeared from the back of the alley, and stood guarding the locked door. A few minutes later, they saw three people arriving, two guys walking with hands holding each other shoulders' and a redheaded girl holding the free hand of one of them, all of them laughing really hard. They stopped a couple feet of the vamps.
"Hey, we want in," one of the guys said, still snickering.
"Private party," vamp to the right answered them.
"Hey, who woulda guessed? We're the party crashers!" the other one said, still smiling, and he lifted something that was hidden behind his leg. Vampire vision only had time to notice something resembling a couple tubes linked together, before his demonic world went dark, and the body crumbled to dust.
Willow let go of Angel's hand as soon as he had spoken the first phrase, and the souled vampire took the opportunity presented by Xander's decap shot and staked the other vampire.
Wasting no time, Xander opened the locked door, and Angel entered first, Willow staying behind for the moment.
"So, this was it? You offered me to a buncha vampires? What's in it to you?" Buffy asked, not really surprised, checking her surroundings for a moment. "Wait, wait. I know! You want to be one of them!" she said, in the sneering airhead tone she knew so well.
Ford was momentary unbalanced, but recovered quickly. "Pretty good, Buffy. How did you know?"
"Differently from you, I have some good friends. The big question is, why?"
"Cut the chatter, Slayer. You and I have some unfinished business," Spike said, rising from the couch he was in.
"Wait, wait. She needs to know," Ford pleaded for a moment.
Spike relented, he knew that the Slayer wouldn't try a thing while they had the hostages.
"I'm dying, Buffy. Know that time in the TV shows where the lead star has an inoperable brain tumor, and in a couple chapters he dies and is replaced by a new lead star? Well, it happened to me, only that I'll be replaced by vampire me."
Buffy looked him straight in the eyes. "I'm sorry, I really am, but you really don't know what you're doing. You'll go bye-bye and a demon will set up shop in your dead body. It won't be you, Ford. It'll be your body, but not you. This isn't TV, this isn't the movies. It's death, pure and simple."
"I'm willing to take the chance, Buffy. You know why? Because anything is better than what I'm going through. I look good, don't I? Well, let me tell you something: I've got maybe six months left, and by then what they bury won't even look like me. It'll be bald and shriveled and it'll smell bad. No, I'm not going out that way," he said, angrily. Buffy turned away. "I'm sorry, Summers. Did I screw up your righteous anger riff? Does the nest of tumors liquefying my brain kinda spoil the fun?"
Buffy turned back, facing him. "I'm sorry. I had no idea. But what you're doing is still very wrong."
"Okay, well, you try vomiting for twenty-four hours straight because the pain in your head is so intense, and then we'll discuss the concept of right and wrong. These people are sheep," he said, pointing to the hostages. "They wanna be vampires 'cause they're lonely, miserable or bored. I don't have a choice."
"You have a choice. You don't have a good choice, but you have a choice! You're opting for mass murder here, and nothing you say is gonna make that okay!" she tried.
"You think I need to justify myself to you?"
"I think this is all part of your little fantasy drama! Isn't this exactly how you imagined it? You tell me how you've suffered and I feel sorry for you. Well, I do feel sorry for you, and if those vampires start feeding, I'll kill you myself!"
"You know what, Summers? I really did miss you," Ford said, a hint of . . . something reflected in his voice.
The sound of clapping cut the argument like hot knife trough butter. "Better than some soap operas, but this is getting annoying. Okay, it's now time for me to score another Slayer. You wanna fight or you want me to kill them straight away?" Spike asked, pointing to the hostages.
"You know," Buffy said, with a slight sneer," for someone allegedly so smart, you should have seen a delaying technique from a mile away."
That's when the sound of a shotgun going off was heard outside.
As soon as Angel passed the threshold, Xander walked behind him, semi-crouched to present a smaller profile. He was almost sure that the vampires weren't carrying any guns, but why take the chance? He took a bead with the .45, aiming at the bleached blonde vampire, straight in the head. He was in process of squeezing the trigger when he detected a sudden rush of movement to his right. He shifted aim in less than a heartbeat, and two shots hit the moving target, one in the knee and the other in the junction between the femur and the pelvic bone, effectively killing any mobility that the vampire would have. So, instead of the lunge to kill the vampire intended, it ended up with the vampire, which Xander finally noticed was Drusilla, sprawled in front of him, her right leg almost destroyed. Xander simply pointed the shotgun to her neck and yelled.
The entire room obeyed.
"LET HER GO, WHELP, AND I'LL KILL YOU QUICKLY!" Spike bellowed, walking to the stairs, completely forgetting Buffy.
"Not a nice way to start a negotiation, Billy Idol Wannabe. How's about you let everyone free, and she lives to be dusted another day?" Xander said, gun unwavering and a cold steel tone in his voice.
Spike thought it over for a second. "Let them go," he said to the other vampires. "I said, LET THEM GO!" he yelled, when the vampires didn't obey at first.
The hostages were released, but from the five of them, only one walked away and climbed the stairs, shaking like a leaf. The others stood behind their captors, not a hint of fear on their faces.
"You guys are free as well," Buffy said, seeing their inaction.
"We don't want to go," one of the hostages, a young girl now a willing participant, answered for the rest of them.
"WHAT?" she screamed.
"It is our choice, we want to share our life with them, we want to be one of them."
"You'll only be food for them," Angel said, from upstairs.
"You here as well, Poof?' Spike sneered, eyes glued to Xander's.
"No, we won't. They will protect us," another one said, an almost reverent look in his face.
"Are you nuts?" Buffy said.
"We have made our decision," the girl spoke again.
Buffy took one last look at them, her mind in a huge turmoil. She looked to Ford, and the asshole was smiling. She almost clobbered him, but it wouldn't solve a thing.
"Don't worry, Ford. I'll give you your peace," she said, and turned away, climbing the stairs. They retreated to the door, Xander still pointing the gun to Dru's head and neck. Willow held the door open, and they walked out, locking the door behind. As soon as they were safe outside, Buffy crumbled, and started to cry. Angel grabbed her into a hug.
"Come on, let's go," Xander said, in a small voice.
Behind them, the door reverberated with the strength of vampiric fists.
The next night, Buffy was at the cemetery with Giles, Xander and Angel, placing flowers at a tombstone. Engraved in neat script were the dates of birth and death, and a name.
Buffy cried a little bit, but was soon comforted by Angel. Giles had taken a look at an armed Xander earlier, but he was silenced with a simple word, later.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to say," she said, looking to the grave.
"You needn't say anything," Giles said, coming closer.
"It'd be simpler if I could just hate him. I think he wanted me to. I think it made it easier for him to be the villain of the piece. Really he was just scared."
Xander would have snorted some time ago, but now he had to agree with her. Bolan's memories had shown him what evil truly was, and the guy wasn't evil, just a scared boy.
"Yes, I suppose he was," the Watcher continued.
"Why didn't he ask for help? Because of him, four people are dead."
"Five," Xander said, not a hint of malice in his voice, just a statement of fact.
"Yeah. Five," she repeated, in a low voice.
Xander approached her, and squeezed her arm lightly. "Want me to deal with it?" he asked.
She looked up at the compassionate brown eyes. "N-no. I promised him."
He shook his head and walked a bit away.
"Does it ever get easy?" she asked, looking to Angel.
He thought for a few moments, optioning for the truth. "Not really, no."
She shut up after that. A few seconds later, Ford jumped out of his grave, face morphed into his vampiric look. Buffy simply took a stake and shoved it into his heart. He looked down, saw the stake, and turned into dust, his mouth a caricature of an 'oh'.
"Let's go," Xander said after a few moments.
Once they were almost out of the cemetery, Xander's cell phone vibrated in one of his pockets.
"Yeah, Wills?" he asked. The other people that knew the number were around him.
"Come here, quick," she said, exasperated.
"What happened?" he asked, already quickening his pace. Buffy and Angel started running behind him, Giles following a few seconds behind.
"I finally cracked the bank accounts."
"What do I do with one point six million dollars?"
"Oh, shit," he murmured.