Summary: Xander visits Buffy in an attempt to help her deal with the aftermath of Kendra's death. Sixth story in my "Straight Ahead" universe.

Disclaimer: These characters are all the property of their owners/creators (not me).

Rating: PG-13. Violence, language, and general intensity

Time Frame: Post second season, and flashback to the end of the second season (alternate timeline).

Archiving: Please do. . .but e-mail me at eilandesq@aol.com to let me know. . .I like to know where my stuff ends up. . .and I might want to see what else you have got.

Author's Note: I've been hinting at this throughout the previous stories in this series, so I thought it was time to go ahead and write it, particularly since I've gotten more than a few E-mails requesting it (thanks everyone! : - ) ). I would like to acknowledge the inspiration that posters on both the Buffy creative newsgroup and on alt.tv-BTVS have provided for this story, particularly the thread on possible "Buffy" guest stars, from which I am taking the descriptions of two of the major characters in this story.

SURVIVOR'S GUILT

Part I

AUGUST 12th, 1998

Buffy lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling, with Mr. Gordo cradled in her arms. She had lost five pounds since the end of the school year, and the loss was plainly visible on her already slender form. Dark circles were under her eyes, and even one who did not know her would have been able to tell that they had been there already for far too long. A nasty bruise was visible on her right cheek, and it was a sign of the degree of her deterioration that it had been there for two days without healing. She thought of rising, of making the trivial effort of applying enough makeup to cover the blemish long enough for it to heal, but after a moment she shrugged inwardly and remained where she was, awash in the numbness of her soul.

A soft knock came from her closed door, and Buffy looked at it in momentary annoyance. Her mother could be annoyingly persistent at times. In frustration at Buffy's state, she had threatened to have her committed to a mental hospital if she continued to refuse to eat, and Buffy had no doubt that she meant it. She accepted one meal a day in her room, ate as much as she felt like, then hid the remains until she could safely dispose of them. She looked at her clock-radio and realized that it was too early for dinner. She eased herself out of bed and walked over to the door and pulled it open without ceremony.

Xander stood there, his face grim. Buffy blinked and for a moment sounded almost normal as she asked, "What's wrong. . .is there another demon on the loose? It's too early for vampires."

Xander shook his head and replied, "No, Buffy. . .all's clear on the Hellmouth front." He took in her appearance in a glance and had to take a deep breath before continuing, "I'm here to talk to you, Buffy."

Buffy's eyes flared, and Xander shuddered as he realized that the relatively feeble glare that she was giving him was a genuine attempt to make him leave without further discussion; as it stood, it only increased his determination to stay as she grated out, "Xander, I think I've made my feelings on this matter perfectly clear. . .I'll deal with whatever supernatural nasties show up around here, but I don't want to talk to anyone outside of what's required for the job. . .not Willow, not Giles, not Angel. . .and not you. I'm the Slayer. . .I'm getting the job done. . .and that's all any of you have a right to expect from me."

Xander locked eyes with Buffy, and for once his intensity was superior to hers as he replied, "Buffy, in the last month, you've come within an eyelash of being killed three times. One time you got lucky and the idiot vamp tripped over a rock. Angel got there just in time to save you from that Naganis demon, and the other night. . .Buffy, any vamp that I can stake one-on-one shouldn't give you the slightest bit of trouble. . .but it did." Xander's tone was calm and precise as he repeated the damning facts, and the impact on Buffy was far greater than if he had been angry or sarcastic. She listened quietly as he concluded, "Buffy, the way things are going, you're not doing the job. . .you're marking time until you die. . .and that just won't do."

Buffy looked away from a moment, then turned back and snapped bitterly, "Fine! I'm off my game. . .but I still don't want to see anyone! I told Mom that. . .maybe you sweet talked your way past her, but I'm not buying. Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kick your ass down the stairs so I can be in peace!"

Xander looked at her calmly and replied, "Because a little over a year ago, Buffy, I let Dead Boy lead me into the most dangerous place in the world to save you from that damned prophecy. If you're determined to throw your life away, I can't stop you, but you at least owe me a few minutes of your time to listen to what I have to say. . .so that I don't have to feel that I risked my life just to watch you waste the chance I gave you to live without even trying to talk you out of it."

Buffy paled, then looked at Xander and nodded once before stepping back and admitting him into her room, after which she moved over to sit on her bed. Xander pulled a chair over next to her, and they sat quietly before she turned to him and whispered, "All right Xander, I'm listening."

He looked at her for a long moment, then said what he came to say in the simplest terms possible: "Buffy, she wouldn't have wanted you to take it like this."

Buffy looked at him and laughed bitterly before whispering, "She wouldn't have wanted me to let her die, either." Her eyes shone with tears as she looked at her friend and continued, "I let her die, Xander. She needed me. . .and I let her die."

Xander resisted the urge to hug her, instead clasping her hands in his as he replied, "Buffy, Kendra died stopping the world from ending. . .and it just as easily could have been you. . .it almost was. You did the best you could, but if you don't get past this, it might as well have been both of you who died that day. . .and losing Kendra was hard enough. Losing you. . .I can't even imagine what it would be like."

Buffy closed her eyes, tears running down her cheeks as she whispered, "Damn it, Xander, I've heard the whole speech from Giles. . .I did my best. . .I couldn't have stopped it. . .so why do I feel like such a miserable failure? I had just gotten over the whole thing with Angel, the lives my weakness cost because of that. . .and then this came up. . .I never saw it coming."

Xander leaned over, and Buffy came easily into his arms, sobbing bitterly. As the two friends held each other, they remembered the events that had brought them to this time and place.


JUNE 3RD, 1998

Buffy prowled the park path quietly, looking for trouble; however, trouble didn't seem to be seeking her out on this particular night. Xander had offered to patrol with her, but she knew that he was seriously behind in Chemistry, and Willow had promised to keep him on the straight and narrow that night.

Buffy suspected that Angel still lurked about, keeping an eye on her well being even as they carefully avoided each other. She didn't sense him near her tonight, though, and it was just as well. . .no use having both of them being bored. She was contemplating packing it in for the night when she saw a figure several hundred feet ahead on the path. Curious, she continued along the path, wanting to see if it was a vampire, or some seriously clueless individual who had no idea that walking around in Sunnydale past midnight was a seriously bad plan.

As she approached the figure, she could see that he was tall, dark-skinned, and really bald. The dim lights in the park glinted off of the man's scalp, making it clear that he had no hair whatsoever. He wore a long duster like Spike favored before he skipped town. He had a walking stick, though Buffy had the feeling that he didn't need it for getting around. When she was within fifty feet of him, Buffy saw him look at her and give a faint smile: the oddness of the reaction made her tingle, and she was irrationally glad when she saw him breathing. . .the last thing she needed was another vampire in her life. . .it was quite crowded enough with them, thank you very much. She was about to call out to him when three vampires came out of the shadows and surrounded the man. Buffy cursed and ran over to the ominous scene, kicking one of the demons in the back and sending him sprawling. Another turned and faced her, leaving the stranger facing the remaining vampire. As she engaged the other two, she took an occasional peek at the stranger to make sure he was not in imminent danger of death. She blinked, startled at what she was seeing.

The stranger hefted his walking stick, clearly not needing it to stay on his feet, and used it like a Louisville Slugger on the jaw of the vampire approaching him, knocking the surprised demon onto its back. It recovered quickly and attacked again, only to find the stranger fending off its attacks without noticeable effort. As Buffy saw an opening in one of her opponent's defenses and stabbed through it, dusting the vampire, she saw the stranger sidestep a charge from the frustrated vampire, after which he pressed a stud on the stick, causing a point to spring out of its tip. As the vampire turned around, it found the point. . .which was made from wood. . .piercing its heart. It screamed and burst into dust.

The last vampire sized up the situation and ran. Buffy was preparing to give chase when the man tapped her on the shoulder, then offered in a deep baritone, "Allow me." He sized up the fleeing figure, then threw the stick like a spear: it flew directly into the vampire's back and into its heart, causing it to burst into dust and sending the staff/spear clattering to the ground.

Buffy stared at the man in disbelief as he retrieved his staff and retracted the point, after which he walked up to the Slayer. He noted her stare and chuckled deeply, admitting, "All right, I know it's a cultural stereotype. . .but it's far more effective than just beating them on the head with a big stick, isn't it?"

Buffy took in the sight of the stranger with an eye to detail, now that the immediate threat was gone. He was about six foot four, and had to go at least 230 lbs., none of it apparently fat. He seemed to be about Giles' age, though the blatant lack of hair made it hard to tell: he could be anywhere from thirty-five to fifty-five. His voice was clearly educated, with a hint of something that Buffy felt should be recognizable, but which escaped her for the moment. She looked at him for a moment, then asked the first question that came to mind: "Who are you?"

The man chuckled again, then replied, "In a moment. . .let me catch my breath and tell you how much I am impressed with your form." Buffy blinked, then raised an eyebrow before the man continued, "You sized up the situation perfectly, drew two of the three attackers away from the presumably vulnerable target, and killed one quite quickly and would have done the same to the second. . .I just wanted to save time. It's an honor to meet you. . .Miss Summers."

Buffy blinked again, unnerved at getting such a Giles-like speech from a stranger, then pulled herself together and replied, "Thanks. . .I think. Now, would you mind telling me who you are and how you know who I am?"

The man smiled at her, revealing perfect white teeth that created a marked contrast to his dark skin, then replied, "I recognized you from Kendra's description, Miss Summers. . .my name is Samuel Zabuto."

Buffy felt a rush of relief as she realized why Zabuto's voice sounded familiar: it was obviously influenced by the years this man would have spent in England, receiving training as a Watcher. She smiled and commented, "Kendra told me about you. . .how is she?"

The Field Watcher smiled gently and replied, "She is well. . .I sent her to locate Mr. Giles, as time is of the essence." He looked at the Slayer grimly as he elaborated, "Though I have been anticipating meeting you at some time or another, Miss Summers, I think you will understand that Kendra and I have not come here on a social call."

Buffy nodded, all business now, and responded, "Yeah. . .I'm guessing that one of you found some nasty sounding prophecy about Sunnydale in one of those big, dusty books that I spend so much time avoiding, and you jumped on the first cargo plane here to help us deal with it."

Buffy saw Zabuto smile ruefully at the reference to Kendra's first appearance in Sunnydale before he replied, "Actually, we flew business class. . .the Council is being more forthcoming with funds lately. . .probably due to the scathing phone call I made to them about how inept they were at providing me with the information that Kendra needed to operate effectively in Sunnydale. They have been forwarding Mr. Giles' Watcher Diary entries to me, and we are up to speed as to what has happened in Sunnydale up to last week." He looked at her with concern and asked, "How are you coping with the aftermath of the whole matter with Angelus, Miss Summers?"

Buffy paused a moment, remembering that she needed to censor herself with this man, and replied, "O.K., I guess. . .I haven't seen much of Angel lately. We've been avoiding each other, for obvious reasons, and I've been busy with my Slayer duties." She looked at him with a certain amount of wariness in her eyes and commented, "I suppose you aren't too thrilled with the way I acted regarding that whole thing."

Zabuto frowned, then replied, "I admit that when Kendra first told me about it, and later when I learned about the breaking of the curse, I was inclined to look less than favorably at Mr. Giles' supervision of you; however, the entries from his Watcher's diaries make it clear how devoted Angelu-um, Angel, rather, has been to you, and how he has saved your life on several occasions. You had no way of knowing what would happen, and you have ceased to see him now that the danger is known. . .your behavior has been exemplary, particularly given the difficulties of your situation."

Buffy flushed, and looked down as she murmured, "Thank you, Mr. Zabuto." A thought occurred to her, and she commented, "Mr. Zabuto, you clearly can handle yourself, but Sunnydale is very dangerous at night. . .you shouldn't have come after me alone. What would have happened if those vampires had jumped you before you found me?"

Zabuto began to reply, but was interrupted by a familiar voice: "I would have come from de bushes and killed de vampires, den Mr. Zabuto would have chastised me for disobeying his instructions. I almost did, but den I would have missed out on watching you kill dem." Kendra walked out of the shadows, and Buffy walked over to her and clasped hands with her fellow Slayer before they turned back to the visibly annoyed Watcher.

"Kendra, I gave you specific instructions to seek out Mr. Giles. . .I don't need babysitting, thank you." Zabuto's tone reminded Buffy of Giles when she had ignored something he had said, and she was curious to see how the "by the book" younger Slayer would react.

Kendra raised a delicate eyebrow and replied, "I decided to save a little walking and used de telephone. Mr. Giles left a message saying dat he would be at de Museum of Natural History, and I knew dat de patrol route Buffy uses was in dat direction, so I caught up wit you and followed until de vampires showed up."

Zabuto looked at his Slayer for a long moment, then nodded and acknowledged the explanation with a curt, "Very well, then." He turned to Buffy and asked, "Miss Summers, could you lead us to the museum in question, please?"

Buffy winced, then replied, "If we have to." Zabuto and Kendra looked at her curiously, and Buffy laughed self-consciously and motioned for them to follow her as she elaborated, "Sorry. . .just bad memories. It all started with my mom agreeing to take in this exchange student named Ampata. . ."



* * * * *


The front door to the museum was standing wide open, rather odd for the hour in question. The three of them quietly entered, and located the building directory, which listed the location for the Archaeology Department, where Giles was supposed to be.

The doors to the Archaeology Department were standing wide open, and they were preparing to enter when the sensitive nostrils of the Slayers picked up a familiar smell: fresh blood. They looked at each other and burst into the room, finding Giles standing over a body.

The Watcher turned and greeted the newcomers with surprise and relief, "Buffy. . .Kendra? What are you doing here? I-" Giles noted the tall stranger standing behind the Slayers, and his eyebrows raised as he asked, "Samuel Zabuto?"

Kendra's Watcher nodded and replied, "It's good to meet you at last, Mr. Giles, but it seems that we have a more pressing situation to deal with." He indicated the body on the floor next to Giles.

Giles nodded, his face grim as he elaborated, "Dr. Douglas Perren, head of the Archaeology Department. He called me in yesterday to advise him about some pictoglyphs that he found on an archaic monolith, and I came back here tonight to talk to him. . .and found him like this." He nodded at the body, and Buffy, in spite of her experience with being around corpses, winced as she took in the sight of Dr. Perren. Nasty claw marks were visible all over his body, and his throat had been torn out. Worst of all, the top of his skull had been ripped off, and his brain was missing.

Zabuto nodded calmly, though revulsion was visible in his eyes, and asked, "The monolith?"

Giles frowned and replied, "Gone. Whoever did this broke open the loading dock doors and carried it out through there. . .it weighed several tons. . .whoever did this had proper machinery. . .or a lot of muscle."

Zabuto nodded again, as if this was no surprise to him, then asked, "Were you able to translate the pictoglyphs?"

Giles nodded and replied grimly, "Yes. . .I did. . .so you have come to the same conclusion?"

Zabuto nodded and explained, "The find was documented on a archaeology related website. . .my computer is set to flag such findings. . .a picture of the pictoglyphs appeared in the article. . .I was so hoping to be wrong."

Giles frowned and replied, "No such luck, I'm afraid. . .we have a serious problem."

There was the sound of a woman clearing her throat, and the Watchers turned to face an annoyed Buffy and a visibly concerned Kendra. Buffy locked eyes with her Watcher and asked, "Are you going to let us Slayers in on this situation any time soon? What does some big rock with squiggly writing on it have to do with some archaeologist having his brains ripped out?"

Giles frowned and replied, "We can't be sure until we get back to the library and do some research. . .but Mr. Zabuto and I seem to be in agreement. . .the artifact stolen poses a great risk to the entire world. . .it could end everything."

Giles paused, momentarily unable to continue, and Zabuto elaborated, "The monolith appears to be the resting place of the demon known as Acathla." He paused and continued, "If we do not find it before the demon is awakened, the world as we know it will end."

Buffy shuddered, then replied, "Then we shouldn't waste any time. . .let's get out of here. We can call 911 from a pay phone outside." The four of them left, leaving the carnage for the police to discover when they wandered in thirty minutes later.


. . .to be continued.

As always, comments are welcome and desired.