Chapter Five: Halloween
"I can't believe this," I said. "I fucking hate Halloween, and now I've been conscripted into escorting some brats around so they can extort sweets from old ladies? God damn it, I think I preferred it when no-one dared talk to me."
"I bet we have to wear costumes too," said Jesse gloomily.
"Snyder said costumes were mandatory," weighed in Willow.
"Great, I was gonna stay in and veg," moaned Buffy. "The one night a year things are supposed to be quiet for me."
"I'll have to actually pay for a costume as well," I said with an expression of dawning horror on my face. "There's no way I'll be able to get anything shipped in from home now. Damn it."
I was too old to go running around in some stupid costume. I really was. That was a kid's game. It wouldn't have been so bad if I could have just worn one of my old outfits that I'd hung onto, but I was going to be stuck with some stupid trash bought from a costume shop. Wonderful.
"Halloween quiet?" asked Jesse as we walked into the student's lounge. "Huh? I'd have thought it'd be a big old festival for vampires."
"Not according to Giles," said Buffy. "He swears that Halloween is, like, dead for the undead." The girls sat down and I sat opposite them. "They stay in."
Jesse headed off to get a soda at that point as Willow looked at me. "So why do you hate Halloween anyway?" she asked, looking genuinely curious. "I mean, I know it's commercialised and all, but hate?"
"Memories," I grunted. "Pagan holidays being co-opted by Christians brings back some things I don't really want to think about."
"Halloween was a Roman holiday?" asked Buffy.
"No," I replied. "It was a Celtic holiday. Romans had Parentalia and Feralia, which were similar in a way, but Halloween is Celtic."
Willow had the history geek-out look on her face and opened her mouth to fire off another question before her expression suddenly shifted to a frown. "Jesse's in trouble," she said simply.
I twisted around to look and lo and behold it looked like Jesse was about to pick a fight with the school quarterback. Say what you will about American Football, but the players tend to be rather large, and the one Jesse was giving a hard stare to was no exception to that rule. Larry was not the smartest or most socially well-adjusted of teenagers, but he was certainly one of the largest I'd ever seen. Jesse was tall, yes, but Larry was also tall and had far more muscle than a seventeen year old should be able to carry. It was a mismatch.
Of course, I had no intentions of intervening in what was to come. Some lessons are best learned through pain, and being beaten by a schoolboy would be considerably less painful and far, far less dangerous than being beaten by a vampire. And I wasn't going to pick a fist fight with someone that much larger than me. When I have to fight someone larger than me, I go for the throat, the eyes, the joints. Doing that to Larry would get me into a ridiculous amount of trouble. It just wasn't worth it.
Unfortunately, Buffy was never one to see things that way, and she darted off to deal with the situation. Ah well. There'd be other opportunities to reel him in. Teenage boys were always quick to anger and Jesse was no exception; I'd get another opportunity sooner or later. The situation played out pretty much as you'd expect. Jesse moved to throw a punch but was quickly brushed aside by the much larger boy before Buffy bounced Larry off a wall and sent him scurrying away with his tail between his legs. All quite amusing, to be honest. Seeing some over-sized troublemaker getting bounced around by a tiny little girl will never fail to amuse. Never.
Jesse didn't seem to find it all quite as amusing as I did. Surprise. "Black eyes heal, Buffy," he snapped as he came within earshot. "Having a girl handle your fights for you? Not so much."
And then he stormed off in a huff. I laughed. I couldn't help it. It was too amusing. Ah, children. Such fragile egos. Maybe I could channel it into his training. That would at least be useful.
"I think I just violated the boy code big-time," said Buffy as she sat back down.
"Well, he violated the 'not picking fights with people twice his size' code, so how about we call it even, hmm?" I said.
"You're one to talk."
"I'm near impossible to kill; he isn't."
I also carried a variety of weapons at all times. Not a good idea to talk about that in public though. The times when you could carry a sword without anyone thinking too much of it are long, long past.
"Boys are fragile like that," said Willow. "Speaking of, how was your date last night?"
And that was my cue to zone out. I truly couldn't care less about Buffy's misadventures with the vampire formerly known as Angelus. She was being a fool as far as I was concerned, but she was old enough to make her own stupid mistakes. You don't learn from being cosseted. Adapt or die. That was a Slayer's life in a nutshell. She was a strange one as Slayers went, but she was still a Slayer and still had to deal with the situation.
Not that I could talk really. The amount of trouble I'd gotten into other the years by thinking with the wrong head was incredible. Darla and Kyros were just the recent ones. If you went all the way back to the beginning, you'd be able to come up with one hell of a tale of woe from my love-life. It's amazing the number of creatures out there that use seduction as a means to claim victims, it really is. I'd gotten better at avoiding them as I aged, but I still ran afoul every so often. Darla was the best example of that. At least I hadn't had Anyanka sent after me for a few centuries. That was some consolation. Being turned into a giant slug had been one hell of a nasty surprise.
And then I caught something from the conversation that aroused my interest. "That's a really stupid idea," I said. "You do realise that, right?"
"What?" asked Willow. "I think it's a great idea!"
"Watcher diaries will tell you all about what Angelus did to get his jollies," I said. "But, you know, unless Buffy's way more kinky than I realised, she ain't gonna want to have anything to do with that."
I probably deserved the smack round the back of the head that I got for that.
The costume shop was oppressively busy when I finally got around to going to pick up a costume. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to leave it to the last minute after all, but it had been pretty damned difficult to motivate myself to come and pick up a costume when I really, really didn't want to bother with it at all. I wanted nothing to do with the whole co-opted, commercialised mess, but Snyder had given his orders and who was I to argue? It really had been a chronically stupid idea to start my new identity out so young.
Of course, I could just not go. What could Snyder do? Give me detention? That's a lame punishment even for actual teenagers. An extra hour spent lounging around the school waiting to be let out wouldn't bother me one bit. It wasn't like I had a diary full of social appointments I had to be dealing with. No, I was pretty much free and clear of responsibilities in Sunnydale.
Then again, social workers. He could so very easily sic social workers onto me if I crossed him, and I just didn't need that sort of hassle. Playing nice with the social workers took some serious effort on my part; it was just too tempting to tell them to go fuck themselves when they started in on me, and it wasn't always easy to keep my story straight when I had so many life histories to choose from. Such a pain. I'd fought in God only knows how many major wars and I was being kept in line by the threat of paper-pushers. What a fall that was.
None of the costumes exactly leapt out and said 'wear me' as I worked my way around the cramped, over-crowded shop. Most of what was available was very generic. Not a great surprise really. A generic Dracula costume based on the Bram Stoker novel or one of the old Hammer Horror films would be cheap as chips to buy; a costume based on one of the latest crazes wouldn't be anything like so cheap. And there was no way in hell that I was going to wear a Dracula costume for very obvious reasons.
"Can I help you?"
I turned to face the man who had attempted to sneak up on me. He wasn't anything special looking, just a middle-aged man in decent condition. "I need a costume," I said. "Something that wouldn't be best suited for a small child like most of what I've seen here."
"Ah, of course, of course," said the man. "It wouldn't do for one of your age to wear such a thing. I understand."
It was all I could do not to laugh in his face. The presumption was understandable but still highly amusing. "Yes," I said. "I need something that would allow me to carry a sword as well."
The man perked up at that. "A sword?" he asked.
"Family heirloom," I said by way of explanation. "It doesn't get much use these days."
"What sort of sword?"
"Ah, well, I have a few costumes that could go with," he said. "A shame it isn't something larger. I have some very interesting costumes that a broadsword or something similar could go with."
I just looked at him evenly and waited for him to elaborate.
"Do you have any preference for costume period? Past? Present? Future?"
"Not past," I said. I wasn't interested in wearing some poorly made knock-off of something I'd worn or seen worn during my life. It would just be embarrassing. At least a poorly-made knock-off of something from a fictional future wouldn't be as noticeable.
"Hmm," he said. "Let me think . . . yes, I have something that should be perfect for you. Some sort of soldier from a post-apocalyptic world. You look like the sort of man that could handle it."
I restrained myself from rolling my eyes - barely - before I replied. "It's expensive, isn't it?"
"Frightfully so," he said. "It's a custom job and it took some time and expense to put together."
"You don't even know it specifically is and yet say it's a custom job?" I asked, sending a fierce glare the man's way. "You'd best not be trying to rob me."
"Ah, not at all. It was a friend of mine's work," he said. "He's an aficionado of the genre and talked me into funding the costume's creation."
I couldn't detect any dishonesty about the man beyond the usual shopkeeper's desire to make a sale even if the goods weren't ideal so I let it pass. "Very well," I said. "Let's see it."
He scurried off to the back of the shop to collect the costume and I simply waited. It was strange that he would devote so much time and effort to a single costumer when the shop was so busy, but if it was an expensive costume I could understand it. The other customers were almost entirely children and weren't likely to spend more than a few dollars on what they wanted and weren't terribly discerning or picky about either their costumes or the quality of the service. He was just a shopkeeper anyway, so why worry about it? Selling me a dodgy costume wasn't exactly going to play into a nefarious plot.
What he brought out wasn't too bad actually. Some sort of green body armour, a green helmet, a pair of sunglasses, some brown trousers, boots, and an assortment of plastic weaponry. It wasn't anything special, but I didn't care enough to question it outside of one rather blatant issue.
"I don't see how a sword goes with this," I said.
"Ah, but that's the beauty of it," he said. "Look at the weapons that come with it already. Would an extra sword be out of place? I think not."
He had a point. I paid my money and took the costume.
The costume was not comfortable. The fake body armour was both highly rigid and entirely the wrong size for me: too narrow in the shoulder, too long in height. Still, the rest wasn't too bad. On top of that, the helmet looked and felt terribly stupid and the trousers were also too tight and too long. The whole outfit was designed for a taller and leaner man than I. The shop owner, Ethan, had been playing games when he sold me it. I'd be having words with him when I took the costume back.
Most of the fake weapons were easily replaced by the real weapons I had stashed at least if nothing else. The stupidly large plastic handgun replaced by one of my Colts, the machete with a large dagger I kept, and so on and so forth. The only weapon I couldn't substitute was the assault rifle. A real FN FAL would have just been too easily spotted so I didn't keep one. I preferred Heckler & Koch weapons for when I needed something that could really deal the death anyway.
I got a few odd looks as I made my way across town to the Summers' house. No surprises there. The costume was quite odd looking and would have been even if it had fitted me properly. So much for not looking like a complete idiot. Ah well. Not like there were many people in the town whose opinions I gave a shit about really. Hell, there weren't that many people whose opinion I gave a shit about period. I just didn't need to be spending the next few centuries hearing about the stupid costume I'd worn.
The door was answered quickly when I arrived at the Summers' house. "Mrs Summers," I said with a nod.
"Ah, Xander, right? Come in," she said, her expression carefully neutral. "Buffy and Willow are still getting ready."
The house was your typical American home. Nothing really distinguished it from what you'd see in a million different homes across the country. It was nice enough - certainly better than the Harris household - but nothing distinctive.
"I was surprised to hear that my daughter had befriended you," said Mrs Summers. "The last I heard of you in LA, she wasn't your biggest fan."
"The feeling was mutual," I replied. "She's changed a lot since those days. Changed for the better, I think."
"She was a cheerleader," I said dryly. "It would have been hard for her to change for the worse."
"Hmm. I remember what happened with you."
"That doesn't surprise me. I imagine it was quite the hot news item at the time."
"That would be the understatement of the year," said Mrs Summers. "I'm not sure I like the idea of someone who did something like that spending time with my daughter."
That got a raised eyebrow. "If you really thought I was dangerous, we wouldn't be having this conversation. You wouldn't have allowed me into the house."
"I have to know," she said simply. "The fact that you're carrying a real sword - I worked in a museum once, I can tell - strapped to your back now doesn't exactly fill me with confidence."
Damn. I'd been counting on Sunnydale blindness to conceal that. If she could spot it, and she was as blind as anyone, then what? I couldn't exactly afford to go without it. It would be just my look to be attacked on the one night I wasn't properly armed. "It's a family heirloom," I said. "Do you really think a genuine gladius would be a useful weapon after this many years?"
Didn't even have to lie.
"Looks sharp enough to me," she said. Damn woman. "But that's not really the point, is it? You killed somebody with a sword and now you're running around carrying a sword. You have to admit, it doesn't look good."
"I'm not much interested in how I look to people."
She didn't even bother to dignify that with a reply. Gods above, it was ridiculous. I was far too old to be getting grilled by some girl's mother.
"Look," I said. "I'll defend myself if I'm attacked, but I don't go looking for it. I'm no danger to Buffy. Quite the opposite in fact. I'll make sure she gets away safe from any trouble if I can."
"And how do I know I can believe you?"
I shifted uncomfortably. "There isn't much I can offer there," I said. "You have no reason to believe my oath."
"It would make me feel better."
Well, if that's what it would take to get her off my back, it was no skin off my nose. "I swear on," and I stopped for a moment to search for something that would have meaning for us both if I swore on it, "my eternal soul that I am no danger to your daughter. Will that do?"
"A bit dramatic, but I suppose it's the best I can hope for."
I shrugged. It wasn't like she'd have accepted an oath on the lares or anything like that and an oath sworn on the Holy Bible would have meant little to me. I'd played at being Christian for a long time to fit into society, but that was about the limits of my beliefs on that front.
"Are you interrogating him, mom?" asked Buffy from the direction of the staircase. "He isn't my boyfriend, you know."
At that point, we were interrupted by a knock on the door. I was still somewhat stunned that the possibility of that had even been considered by Buffy's mother. I was . . . it would be wrong on an epic scale. It would be wrong enough if I was a normal adult, but I was older than the nation she was a citizen of! There aren't words in the English language to describe how wrong it would be for someone as old as me to get mixed up with a teenager in this day and age.
"Looking good, Buff," I heard Jesse say from the door. "And nice boo, Willow."
God damn, I should have gotten to the shop earlier, I realised at that point. Jesse got to the be The Man With No Name while I got to be . . . hell if I knew. Some nameless dweeb in green armour. And I really couldn't believe that I'd used the word 'dweeb' even in the privacy of my own mind. He was right though. Buffy did look good. The old-fashioned dress suited her a lot better than her normal attire did in my eyes, but maybe I was just getting old.
I spent the next several hours on autopilot. Escorting a bunch of snot-nosed brats around the streets of Sunnydale wasn't exactly a great or interesting task. A demon attack would have livened it up a bit, but they don't normally come out to play on Halloween for whatever reason. That left me with nothing more interesting to deal with than the occasional childish squabble and those were easily cut off before they amounted to anything by my drill sergeant impression.
We were approaching yet another anonymous house when I felt something in the air and stopped dead. The hellmouth was the great equaliser when it came to supernatural senses, but I was still getting cold fingers running up and down my spine right then. Something was happening. Something big.
And then the world went black.
I wasn't dead. That might seem a strange thing to say, but it was a bit of a surprise considering that one of the slavers from the Den had just unloaded half a magazine of 5.56mm into me from his assault rifle from point-blank range. I've survived worse in the past, sure, but I had a suit of working powered armour back then. Not much short of the first of God can kill someone in one of those things. In plain, old combat armour? Not gonna happen. You get that many bullets in you at that range, and it'll give, and you'll die. Painfully.
Okay, so I wasn't dead. No complaints there. Problem was, I wasn't even in the wastes anymore. Last I remembered I'd been in the rough, scrubby terrain near Arroyo delivering some good old fashioned death and destruction to scare the slavers away from the village, but this sure as hell wasn't the right place. I was in a town and there were roads that looked like they'd been maintained and cars that looked like they'd actually work and, hell, electric lighting! Actual, working electric lighting! Not something you see often in the wastes that. Even The Hub hadn't used its power so frivolously.
It just all looked . . . well, new. Everything was shiny and new and the decay I was used to seeing everywhere just wasn't present. Maybe I just wasn't seeing it because it was night, but, hell, I didn't think so. The electrics were letting me see pretty damn well, much better than I was used to seeing during night-time anyway. Was almost like day really. Quite incredible. I hadn't seen electric lights since I was kicked out of the Vault. Took some getting used to again, it did.
So I wasn't in Kansas anymore. Okay. So where was I and how the hell did I get there? I'd seen some strange things during my life in the wastes, but nothing that could explain that. Maybe it was the delusions of an old man about to finally break down and die? Hell, it'd explain a lot. Place was like paradise to someone used to the wastes. If my brain was going to break down and conjure up some place to escape to, that'd be the sort of place I'd end up at.
Course, that didn't mean I could slack off and just assume. Living in a world with twenty foot long scorpions and Super-mutants'll teach you to not just dismiss the strange stuff that sometimes pops up. Not like suddenly appearing in some really nice looking town missing a few holes in my chest was any weirder than the Master. Hard to top some sort of funky mutant thing that was, well, it's hard to do that guy justice with words. He'd started out as a man, but the Forced Evolutionary Virus had changed him. Wasn't nothing human 'bout him by the time I met him. He was part machine, part mutated animal, and part mutated human - and all weird. Anyone with a frigging brainwave monitor where their chest should be redefines weird.
Okay, that was new. A child-sized mutant - at least I think it was a mutant - with red, flaky skin and horns as large as my hands was eating a cat. A live cat. Okay. That one was new. Normally people at least killed the animal and cooked it before eating. Can give you all sorts of illnesses otherwise. Suppose you could combine the cooking and killing stages, but that's just cruel.
"Xander!" I heard a female voice yell from somewhere behind me. Sounded young.
Wasn't me, so I didn't turn to look. And then a hand appeared through my chest. That got my attention. I promptly whirled around and levelled my assault rifle at the person I found behind me: a pretty young redhead wearing some seriously skimpy clothing. Oh boy, if I'd been twenty years younger . . . and she wasn't some sort of weirdo. Ah, no time for that; she could be dangerous.
"What the fuck are you?" I barked, clicking the safety of my rifle off as I spoke.
The girl looked like she was about ready to wet her knickers. Weird. "I . . . I'm Willow!"
"That's your name," I said. "What are you?"
"You know, it's kinda rude to point a rifle at a lady," drawled a male voice to my left.
Shit. Ambush. I tried to spin around to get a shot off in time, and I moved a hell of a lot faster than my old bones should have allowed, but I caught a bullet in the chest that knocked me backwards. No penetration. Ha! That's what you get when you pick a fight with someone wearing armour and don't have armour piercing bullets. I was about to return fire when the girl jumped between us waving her arms like a lunatic. Okay, not an ambush.
"Stop!" she screeched. "You can't kill each other, Xander, Jesse!"
"Name's Albert," I said. "Not Xander or Jesse. Now what the hell is going on?"
"I don't know!" she said, her voice taking on the shrill edge of panic as she went on. "It's Halloween, we were all dressed up in costumes, and now we are the costumes."
"Right," drawled the man who shot me. He was a predator. Pure and simple. I'd seen his sort before. Faster than me on the trigger, too, I'd wager. Not a good combination. I'd never seen a gun like his before, though, and it not getting through my armour was a good sign if nothing else. "What's next? Santa Claus coming along?"
"Oh, hush," snapped the girl. "Does this look like the Wild West to you? Seen anything like this place before?"
Ha. She had some bite to her after all. "So, if this is a costume," I said, looking the girl up and down, a fine sight I must say. "What were you dressed as, red?"
"A ghost," she said with a delicate blush. Ha! Still got it! And with that that I had the pistoleer dead to rights. If she was a ghost, and it matched with what had happened earlier as insane as it was, then I had a clear shot on an unarmoured man. One twitch of my finger and he'd be dead as dead gets.
"Well, I think my business here is concluded," said the gunman. "Don't let me keep you."
"Oh no you don't, mister!" snapped the girl. "You are not running off and getting my best friend's body killed."
"No worries there," said the gunman with a tip of his hat. "I'm real good at not getting killed."
"You don't have the faintest idea what's going on here or what you're up against."
"I'll figure it out."
At that point a, well, I have no idea what it was ran past. Some sort of half-dog, half-man thing maybe? Who knows. It was pretty damn ugly whatever it was. Not a face you'd want to wake up to in the morning, that's for sure. I've seen toilets that are more attractive.
"Right," said the girl. "See now?"
"Right, so what's your plan, lady?"
"We need to find Buffy," she said. "She'll know what to do. And my name's Willow!"
"Who the hell calls their kid Buffy?" I asked. It had to be said.
She just looked at me. And then she shrugged. "Not my idea of a good name, either," she said. "But she's all supergirl and stuff, so she'll be able to tell us what to do."
Well, I didn't have a better plan. And neither did Mr. Quickshot, so along we went. Entire thing was beginning to spook me to be honest. Ghosts? Me not being real? Way over my head. Mutants were one thing, they had a proper, understandable reason to exist, but ghosts were something else entirely.
"Supergirl," I said. "Right. Very super."
Willow glared at me, but, honestly, if she was going to send us after some supernatural warrior-queen then it'd be nice if the warrior didn't take one look at us and flake out. It was pathetic really. Hardly a first for me though, Katja hadn't been half as useful in a scrap as she'd made herself out to be back in the day and hadn't lasted long at all when things turned serious.
"You're wasting my time," said the gunman calmly. Ha. Calm he might have been but that didn't mean he wasn't going to do anything nasty. I always hated dealing with that sort.
"I'm not!" said Willow, stamping her feet in frustration. "She, oh, she must have been caught in the spell too."
Before anyone could say anything else, something roared behind us. The gunman was, predictably, the first to react, his poncho whirling around him he turned on his heel and fired a shot that would have caught a man square in the heart. Unfortunately, what he was shooting at wasn't anywhere near as tall as a man and promptly scurried off after getting a bullet-delivered haircut.
"No! No shooting! They're just kids in there!"
"Don't look like no kids I've ever seen," said the gunman.
"And you don't look like any guy I've ran across before," I said. "Shit ain't making sense. Let's just go along with the girl till we know what's going on."
He gave me one hell of a long, hard look, but eventually he gave me an ever so slight nod of assent. I was seriously ready to just pull the trigger and mow him down by the time he nodded. Man was tripping all my instincts. People like him, you across them in the wastes, and chances are you'll never be running 'cross anyone else ever again. He was damn quick with that pistol of his and if he was a good shot even armour wouldn't save me a second time.
"Why are you so ready to believe her anyway?" he asked eventually as Willow moved over to the girl that had just fainted in front of us and kneeled beside her. "You don't strike me as the naïve type."
"I'm not," I said. "But none of this makes sense otherwise. I was a creaky old man having one last adventure and then suddenly I'm here and way quicker than I should be. Nothing's right. My armour don't even fit properly and it ain't exactly new."
He nodded and then looked to the girls. I followed his gaze and saw that the one that'd fainted was coming back round.
"Buffy, are you alright?" asked Willow.
"What?" asked Buffy.
"Are you hurt?" I asked.
Buffy goggled at me. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen anyone look so utterly clueless before. "Buffy, are you hurt?" asked Willow.
"Buffy?" she asked as she sat up.
"Great," moaned Willow. "What year is this?"
Buffy paused and looked at Willow as if she'd grown a second hand. "1775, I believe," she said.
"What!?" I barked. "That's . . . that's not possible. I was right with my first guess; this is some sort of delusion. I'm dying or dead or whatever."
"It isn't 1775," said Willow. "It's 1998."
The gunman had gone absolutely still. "That's no better!" I said. "Worse! A time before the war but when technology was good. Great delusion-fodder for someone who lives in the wastes. You'll be telling me you still have oil next!"
"Well . . . "
"A DEMON! A DEMON!" cried Buffy, leaping to her feet and moving to my side, pointing beyond my field of view. "A DEMON!"
I turned to face the 'demon' and actually dropped my rifle in shock. It was a car! A real, live, working car! With headlights and windows and everything! Suddenly, I felt very, very out of my depth. I'd saved the world once upon a time, but I had no idea how to deal with a world that wasn't post-apocalyptic. The nukes hadn't been dropped and I was centuries away from even being born. Not only was my wife not alive but she hadn't even been born yet. This wasn't my world. I was a fish out of water.
The gunman didn't look much better off than me. He still had his pistol in hand but he was immobile and his face looked very, very pale. I wondered what year he was from. Not mine, I didn't think, but who knew? I'd only ever been around the Western seaboard and a bit of the interior, and I really had no idea what the world was like outside of that area. Bad, I assumed, but it wasn't like we had much in the of mass communication a hundred years after humanity had virtually annihilated itself. Could be from Canada or the East for all I knew. Maybe even Europe.
"We should get inside," said Willow. "Come on, I know a place."
I collected my rifle from where it had fallen and followed along in silence.
I marvelled at the luxury of the house. Even the water merchants of The Hub couldn't have have afforded to live in such luxury. It was just something else entirely. Everything about the place oozed money to me. You just didn't see things like electric lighting in houses where I was from. Only Vault 13'd had that sort of stuff and that place was crowded, sterile, and just generally stuffy and isolated from the real world. Not that that was such a bad thing really. No-one's ever going to be worse off isolated from the wastes.
"Hello?" called out Willow as she followed me into the house. "Mrs Summers?" There was no reply. "Good, she's gone."
I heard the door click shut behind us and then, "looks clear," said the gunman, moving to stand by the door. "Nice house."
"Where are we?" asked Buffy.
"Your place," said Willow. "Now we just need to-"
Willow was interrupted by something banging at the door. I immediately went down to one knee and aimed my rifle at it. If anything came through, I'd drop it. The gunman had his pistol in hand, still, and was holding himself ready to deal with anything that came through. Nothing did and eventually we relaxed slightly.
"This . . . this could be me," I heard Buffy say from behind me, and I turned to face them, slightly curious. She had a picture frame in her hands.
"It is you," said Willow. "Don't you remember at all?"
"No! I-I don't understand any of this. Uh, uh, this is some other girl!" said Buffy, putting the picture frame back down. "I would never wear that low apparel, and I don't like this place, and I don't like you, and I just wanna go back home!"
She was almost in tears by the time she was finished. It was, quite frankly, the most pathetic display I'd ever seen. Even that fat old vulture Gizmo had been less of a snivelling wimp than that and he'd been barely able to get up from his chair and waddle to his bed under his own power.
"You are home!" exclaimed Willow before turning away from Buffy in disgust. "She couldn't have dressed up as Xena?"
I had not the faintest idea what she'd just said but I nodded anyway. Before I could try and wheedle some more information out of her, I heard a smashing sound from the direction of the door. My reactions were quicker than they'd ever been as I turned to face the sound and aimed my rifle at its location. A hand, a green hand at that, was sticking through the door where there had been a small glass pane. The gunman simply pointed his pistol out of the hole and opened fire. The hand withdrew immediately.
"Hey! What did we say?"
"I didn't shoot it," said the gunman, looking faintly disgusted. "I just scared the thing off."
He then cracked his revolver open and set about reloading it. Not a quick task that but he was working through it with the speed and accuracy of a pro. He'd only managed to slip a couple of bullets into the chamber when we heard the woman's scream though.
"Guess that's one for me then," I said. "Be back in a jiffy."
And then I was off, but not quick enough to miss Buffy's, "surely he will not abandon us?" Stupid girl.
What I found outside was some bizarre and massive bipedal, dog-like creature along with a rather curvy young woman in a form-fitting outfit that resembled nothing I'd seen in my travels. Well, whatever. The creature was obviously threatening the young lady, and, with what Willow had said in mind, I fired a three bullet burst into the ground near its feet. I suppose my rifle wasn't loud enough to scare it because it immediately started lumbering towards me. Well, I'd tried. My next burst caught it in the shoulder and the creature roared in pain before lumbering off into the night, clutching its shoulder all the while.
"Into the house," I barked at the girl. She didn't need telling twice. She was off as soon as the words left my house and I quickly followed, keeping an eye out for anymore trouble all the while. There didn't seem to be anything else in the vicinity, but caution was generally a good idea in that sort of situation.
"Cordelia!" exclaimed Willow.
"Wait a . . . what's going on?" she asked, casting a nervous glance at the gunman and myself as she spoke.
"Okay, your name is Cordelia, you're not a cat, you're in high school, and we're your friends," said Willow. "Well, sort of."
"That's nice, Willow," replied Cordelia. "And you went mental when?"
"You know us?"
"Yeah. Lucky me. What's with the name game?"
"A lot's going on."
"No kidding. I was just attacked by Jo-Jo, the Dog-Faced Boy. Look at my costume!" replied Cordelia, waving an arm clad in torn material around as she spoke "Do you really think that Partytown's gonna give me my deposit back? Not on the likely."
"So what's the plan?" asked the gunman. "We can't stay here all night. Ain't exactly a fortress."
Willow stopped and thought about it for a moment. "I'll go get some help," she said. "You guys stay here."
"Who died and made her boss?" asked Cordelia as Willow promptly ran through the wall.
"That would be her," I said. "Okay, cowboy, you'd best check upstairs and see if it's locked up. If we're going to be stuck here, we might as well be secure."
He raised an eyebrow at me, but after a moment of tense silence he simply nodded and left to do as I instructed. It was all I could do not to sigh in relief.
"You, Cordelia, help me barricade this door," I said.
"Who said I'd follow your orders, Xander?" asked Cordelia, looking outraged at the very idea.
"I'm not Xander," I said. "Don't know if you've noticed, but this isn't exactly a normal night. Now get moving."
She didn't budge. "If you're not Xander the psycho, then who are you?"
Now that got a raised eyebrow. "Psycho?" I barked. "Ha! Never been called that before. I'm Albert. And we have work to do, so hop to it, girl. No time for yap."
And so we went to work, though Cordelia looked less than convinced. We dumped a table in front of the door and a couple of chairs had joined it before Lady Useless spoke up. "Surely there's somewhere we can go?" she asked. "A safe haven?"
"You know the terrain, lady?" I asked. "Because I don't. The ghost-girl was our local and she's gone. We're stuck here just like she said."
"You would take orders from a woman?" she asked. "Are you feeble in some way?"
"Do I look feeble?" I asked, feeling somewhat put out. "I save the world and this is the thanks I get. Kids these days. No respect for their elders."
Actually, that made a nice change. Arroyo had been disgustingly respectful towards me. Actually, respectful didn't even begin to cover it. Obsequious didn't even cover it. They'd treated me like I was some sort of supreme being because I'd been the one with the skills back when things were hard at the beginning. That and the whole mess with the water chip and the Super-mutants, but whatever.
"You save the world? Please," said Cordelia. "You can't even find clothes with a decent colour scheme."
I was about to snap off a witty reply - well, I thought it was witty - when I caught a glimpse of the picture that Lady Useless had been looking at earlier and I stopped in my tracks. A closer look at the picture told me all I needed to know. Of the four people in it, one was Lady Useless, one was Willow, and another was the cowboy. It didn't take a genius to work out that the other guy in the picture was probably this Xander they kept talking about, or, in other words, me.
"She must be right," I said. "No delusion would be this well done. Shit. I was really hoping it was a delusion too."
"Your language is most uncouth," said Lady Useless.
"You just noticed?" I asked. "Christ, this makes no sense. How the hell could we have ended up here? Don't suppose you girls have any ideas?""
"I don't!" said Lady Useless. And on came the hysterics. Just what we needed. "I was brought up a proper lady. I-I wasn't meant to understand things. I'm just meant to look pretty, and then someone nice will marry me. Possibly a Baron."
I couldn't help but gawk at her. Honestly, she wouldn't have lasted five minutes where I was from. What could I say to it though? She was beyond my capacity for words.
"And I thought you were an annoying freak before!" snapped Cordelia. "If you think I'm going to risk breaking a nail to save your scrawny little neck, think again."
Lady Useless sniffed and crossed her arms. "I'd rather die than fight these low creatures."
Before I could say anything, a tall, dark-haired man came out of the door near Lady Useless. I immediately raised my rifle into position and fired a three bullet burst into his heart. I didn't recognise him and I wasn't taking any chances. My gut instinct said the guy was wrong, and I'd long since learned to listen to that. He staggered back and turned away slightly, but he didn't fall. When he faced me again, his face was all distorted and I could see fangs in his mouth. That was it. I unloaded the entire magazine into him at virtually point-blank range. He went down.
As I ejected the magazine and set about inserting a new one, Cordelia and Lady Useless screamed. Lady Useless was absolutely incoherant but Cordelia was gibbering something about angels. Whatever. Before I had my rifle reloaded, the man was up and, yeah, he looked pissed. "Oh, that's it," he said, and then he punched me. I'd never seen anyone move that fast and I'd never been hit so hard in all my life. I went one way and my rifle went the other.
The next few moments were a bit of a blur. I was seeing some serious stars after that hit and really wasn't with it. Next thing I knew, I heard a pistol firing and saw the bastard that'd punched me put down on his knees. I'd never know how, but I managed to get back to my feet right then and grab my rifle. Without a moment's hesitation, I smashed it butt-first into the bridge of the man's nose and he went down. And I kept slamming it down again and again. If he could survive having a near-full magazine emptied into him, one hit wouldn't keep him down for long. He sure as hell wasn't human and I had no idea what it was going to take to finish the bastard off. And all the while, Lady Useless kept screaming, though now it was more coherant. "Vampire, vampire!" she kept repeating.
"Think that should do it," said the gunman, eventually, breaking my red haze. I looked down and I had to agree. I'd made quite the mess of the bastard's face. He wasn't going to be giving us much trouble for a while.
"He was our friend," cried Cordelia.
"He's a vampire!" shrieked Lady Useless. "He has to be destroyed before he kills us all!"
"A what?" barked the gunman.
"He'll kill us all!" she cried, clearly beyond rational thought.
He was already moving. Slowly and sluggishly, he was getting up. Christ. "How do I kill it?"
"He's our friend," gibbered Cordelia.
Okay, no-one was offering anything useful. I finished reloading my rifle and levelled it at his head. "Don't move," I shouted. "Don't even think about moving."
"What the hell is wrong with you?" gasped the vampire. It was pretty hard to make out to be honest. No great surprise considering I'd just tenderised his face with my rifle.
"I'm not the one with fangs," I said. "Explain. Now. A name would be a good start."
"I'm Angel," he said quickly. Smart man. I wasn't in a mood to wait. "I'm a good vampire. Really. I have a soul. I'm no threat to you. I couldn't come in here unless I was invited."
"Cordelia?" I barked, not taking my eyes off the creature in front of me.
"He . . . Buffy said . . . it can't be true!"
"What did she say?" I hissed venomously. "Tell me."
"She said he was a vampire," she replied quickly.
"And did she say he was dangerous?"
"No," said Cordelia. "But vampire! Dangerous and vampire go together. Duh."
"I say we fill him so full of lead that he can't keep getting back up," said the gunman. "Save ourselves any more trouble."
"I'm inclined to agree," I said. "Got anything to say, Angel?"
"Look, Buffy's the Slayer," he said. "If I was dangerous, she'd have killed me not invited me into her home."
"This whole invite thing don't mean shit to me. You could be spinning any sort of story and I wouldn't know."
"It's true," said Cordelia. "They have to be invited to enter a home."
Well it all seemed to fit, and I was buggered if I knew how to finish the guy off anyway. Best I could tell, we were just pissing him off. Looked like he'd be up and about and able to kick the shit out of me in short order, so what else could I do? "Right," I said. "One dodgy move and I'll drop you, Angel. Till then, do what you will."
What a fucking situation. On one side, I had a guy who'd probably shoot me as quick as he'd shoot the enemy. On another, I had something straight out of a horror novel. And on the final, I had a couple of useless females that spent more time screeching than fighting. Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.
"So what's the story?" asked Angel from the corner he was lurking in.
"Psycho-boy's even more psycho than normal, dweeb-boy thinks he's Clint Eastwood, and slay-gal's turned into a living, breathing insult to feminism," said Cordelia with a bright smile. "Oh, and my date turned into a monster. It's a great night. Almost as good as the time an army of vampires chased me into the library."
Angel blinked. Yeah, that was about how I felt too. She did have a way with words that girl. And he was already healing up. Jesus. Damn good thing the Master didn't have vampire stock to build his mutant army from. Don't think even my old plasma rifle would have been enough against a Super-mutant army made from people that could heal like that before they were dipped.
"Look on the bright side," I said. "If whatever the hell did this could do this, it could probably have made us into stuff a whole lot worse."
Oh there was a thought. There might have been Super-mutants running around the town. Well, God help anyone that ran into those things. Wasn't much else going to, because I was loaded for bear, not giant monster that can soak up bullets like a sponge and keep on coming. And my armour wouldn't have lasted two seconds against one of their mini-guns.
"Oh, that's nice," said Cordelia. "Look on the bright side, we got a psycho with a gun instead of Godzilla. That's real nice."
Then the lights went out. I heard Lady Useless whimper, but before I could do anything I was consumed by a blinding headache. I couldn't help but let out an involuntary groan. And there was something up with the shadows. I couldn't figure it out, but something wasn't quite right.
"What's wrong?" asked the gunman.
"Feels like someone's stabbing an icepick into my brain," I grunted. "Hurts like no headache I've ever had before."
"Oh hell," said Angel. "I don't suppose you're good with a sword?"
"Pointy end goes in the other guy."
Honestly, swords. Who the hell used swords? I don't think anyone in the wastes knew how to properly use one of those things. Knifes, sure, but swords? What was the point? If you could find a sword that'd actually stand up to being used, you'd just get shot when you tried. Waste of time. Good way to get yourself killed though. My headache was getting worse and worse.
"It's another one of the freak-brigade?" asked Cordelia, her voice and expression making a lie of her irreverent word choice. The pain was almost blinding me as she spoke. "Oh great. Psycho boy really does have no end of enemies."
And then the front door exploded inwards. The man that stepped through looked like something out of a nightmare. He was an absolute monster. Not as large as a Super-mutant, but still way, way bigger than any normal man I'd ever seen. And he was wearing some sort of heavy, metal armour - plate, I thought, though I'd never seen such a thing in person - that made him look even larger. And he was carrying a sword, though that word hardly did the thing justice. It was a beast of a weapon.
"Roman, you look ridiculous," he said with a twisted smile on his face. And then he laughed. Christ, it sounded like he was gargling rocks.
The gunman's response was quick and simple. He immediately, and with absolutely blinding speed, fired all six rounds from his pistol into the man's chest. Didn't even knock him off-balance.
"What witchcraft is this?" asked the man, laughing all the while. "It is pathetic."
Well, I didn't know him, but he was giving me the shits. I levelled my rifle and let him have it on full auto. That, at least, knocked him off-balance. But that was about it. Maybe the armour protected him a bit. I didn't know. The ammo you find in the wastes isn't exactly the good stuff and I'd long since worked through what the Brotherhood had allocated me.
"Ah, that stings," he laughed. "Draw that sword. Fight like a man."
Well, I was buggered. Rifle was out of ammo, and ineffective anyway, so what could I do? Doubted my pistol could do much better and a knife somehow didn't seem to be the thing for fighting a sword that looked to be almost as big as me.
"On your back," said Angel. "The sword's there."
"I knew that," I said. I didn't, but, hey, it's easy to miss stuff when your world's being turned upside down.
Okay, my sword was a whole lot smaller than his. That just wasn't sporting. I tried to replicate his ready stance, but the whole thing was just awkward. I'd never so much as held a sword before in my whole life, and it showed. The man's mocking laughter really pissed me off too.
"If I'm to die, then I would at least like to know the name of my killer," I said from between clenched teeth.
"I am the Kurgan!"
And then he attacked with an overhand swing. I blocked it with the flat of my blade and it actually knocked the damn thing out of my hands. He brought the sword around and rested it on my shoulder. My life was seriously flashing before my eyes.
"There can be only one," said the Kurgan with a demented smile before lifting his sword away in preparation for a final, killing blow. It really wasn't how I'd planned on going out. What a night.
Course, I wasn't going out that easy. Before he could bring the sword down and cut my head off, I yanked my pistol out of its holster and put a bullet 'tween his eyes. That dropped him. Ha! Mess with the best, die like the rest.
"Never bring a sword to a gunfight," I said with a somewhat cocky smile on my face. Hey, can't blame me for being a bit giddy after a near-death experience. I turned back away from Kurgan. "Well, that-"
"I'll keep that mind," I heard an all too familiar force say from behind me.
I turned around quick as I could, but before I could open fire he smashed the gun out of my hand with his sword - a move that just about cut a couple of my fingers off - and laughed at me. Well, I'd given it my best shot. Didn't look like there was much else I could do though. I couldn't see any weak spots to slip a knife into and I wasn't sure I would be able to move quickly enough to do so. In short, I was fucked.
Then Angel flew past and attacked the Kurgan. It was a valiant stand, to be sure, but it was pretty much futile. When one superhuman has a big sword and heavy armour and the other doesn't . . . well, it doesn't take a genius to figure out how it ends. Angel managed to land some wicked looking punches, but a sword through his gut pretty much brought an end to that little flurry. He would have been decapitated, but I owed him one for that little attack. I used my good hand to draw my knife and I then hurled it at the Kurgan. It wasn't a throwing knife, and I was a lousy shot with those nevermind anything else, so it just ended up clanging off his armour, but, hey, saved the guy who saved me if nothing else.
The Kurgan just smiled widely at me and advanced. The gunman fired out another round of shots from his pistol, but they just got ignored. As I backpedalled, I noticed that my ruined hand was healed. Was I one of the local freaks? Well, there was no time to ponder that.
"You've let yourself get soft, Roman. So very soft."
I resolved at that point to leave a note for my host if I survived. "Stop making so many damn enemies," it'd say. I'd saved the damn world without making enemies like this guy. And then I heard laughter, horrible, mocking laughter, and it seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
"Do you really think that I would allow you to kill my master?" said a voice, echoing from all corners of the house at once. And then more laughter. "Gutter trash like you?"
Angel was just about crawling up the walls and I couldn't blame him. The shadows were moving and there was an absolutely overwhelming feeling of wrongness in the air as they began to coalesce at a single point between myself and the Kurgan. And all the while, the mocking laughter continued. Eventually the shadows took on a human shape and then formed into a person. A tall man in a long red coat and a hat of the same colour. I could see a hint of fangs in the newcomer's mouth as he shot the Kurgan a mad, mocking smile full of arrogance.
The Kurgan reacted pretty much as you would expect a violent, sword-wielding lunatic to react to a challenge. He charged, sword held high in preparation for a decapitating strike. Then the man in the red coat just moved. One moment he was stood stock still and the next he had slammed his fist through the Kurgan's armour and out the other side through the pyscho's chest.
The Kurgan's mouth dropped open in shock and blood dripped copiously from it. That had to be it, I thought. Not even one of the freak patrol could survive having someone punch through their chest. I'd have been so lucky. The Kurgan stayed stunned for a long moment, but then his mouth curved into a truly insane smile and he laughed. And then he, in a movement that should have been impossible in his position, brought his sword around and lopped the red-coated man's head off in a single, one-handed strike. I almost cried. It just wasn't my day.
The Kurgan laughed as he pushed the red-coated man's body away. He laughed as he pulled an arm out of his chest. And then he fell back against the wall and stuck his freakishly long tongue at me. "You have many allies," he said. "But they're all as weak as you."
Well, with that in mind, I had only one option: I shot him again, right between the eyes. When he slumped to the ground, grin still plastered across his face, I approached and emptied the rest of my pistol's clip into his head at close range, reducing it to a bloody pulp.
"That should do it," I said. "Least I hope so." I turned back to the others. "Let's get the hell out of here."
There were no arguments there. I could see the fear in their eyes, especially in Angel's He knew something the rest of us didn't. Well, no time for an interrogation right then. We had to move. I gathered my weapons from where they'd fallen and then we moved out. It took some serious persuasion to get Lady Useless moving, but I eventually managed it.
"Arr, I'll be having ye money now," said the pirate, waving an extremely primitive looking gun at us.
I just stared. It was a true 'what the fuck' moment if there'd ever been one in my life. Of all the weird things that had happened that night, this one was the weirdest. Before I could react beyond gaping, the gunman stepped forward and, with a single punch, knocked the pirate out cold.
"That was far more satisfying than it should have been," he noted before Willow showed up again. I had no idea how she'd found us but whatever. We hadn't exactly worried too much about stealth.
"Guys, you gotta get inside," she said.
I looked around. Well, there were plenty of abandoned-looking warehouses in the area. I was plenty familiar with those if nothing else. Behind Willow, I saw a large gang of monsters coming alongside a couple of human-shaped things. Oh happy days. So much for outrunning the freak patrol.
Angel pointed out a warehouse and we followed. As we moved, the gunman sidled over ti me. "I'm almost out of bullets," he said quietly.
I frowned. "Shit," I said. "I haven't got much left either."
It was shaping up to be a very bad situation and I didn't see any way out of it. I hadn't exactly packed for a war and it wasn't like I could stop off at the nearest gun runner for more ammunition. Bad times.
We moved quickly into a warehouse and started barricading the entrance with what bits we could find, but it didn't take a genius to know that it wouldn't be enough. The stuff we were shoving in front of the door wasn't all that heavy to start with and we didn't have the time to really pile it up. Shit. A few minutes after we started piling up the barricade something started banging against the doors and it only took a few seconds before the barricade starting bulging. I tried to hold it in place with the gunman, but it was futile. We were human; they weren't.
"Go!" I shouted and we ran.
We didn't get far. Lady Useless was just slow and we couldn't just leave her behind no matter how tempting it was. Battered and short on ammo, we were subdued way quicker than I would have liked. Certainly not a moment for the memoirs, that's for sure. Even worse, I was being held in place by a bunch of child-sized demons as were the gunman, who looked absolutely mortified to be subdued by such small creatures no matter how inhumanly strong they were, and Angel.
Lady Useless, on the other hand, was in a much worse position. The blond vampire that had been leading the group of monsters was giving her his undivided attention and she was entirely defenceless. "Look at you," he said, backing her into some crates. "Shaking. Terrified. Alone. Lost little lamb." There was nowhere further for her to go. She was trapped. The vampire slapped her across the face. "I love it," he said.
"Buffy!" shouted Angel, but he wasn't getting free any time soon. These midget monsters were freakishly strong.
The vampire leaned into her, I suppose to drink her blood or something, but before he could do anything, the man in the red coat who'd protected me earlier walked through the wall in front of us with a mad grin on his face. Yeah, I'd be grinning too if I got my head cut off and was none the worse for wear. Bloody freaks.
"William the Bloody," he said, his grin growing even wider. "Spike. I've been looking forward to this."
"What?" snapped the blond vampire. "I'm kinda busy here if you haven't noticed, so if you don't mind-"
"Oh, but I do," said the man in red, pulling an ungodly large semi-automatic pistol out from beneath his coat. "Gutter trash like you should know when to keep your mouths shut."
Spike backed away at a rather spectacular speed. "Now steady on," he said, hands up in a placating gesture. "We can talk this out, right? Like civilised monsters? I have no bloody idea what you're talking about."
The man in red aimed the pistol. "To think that trash like you would dare claim that I would sully myself by associating with filth like you."
"Jesus, Spike. I knew you were stupid, but this? Whole other level," said Angel.
"I have no idea what any of you wankers are talking about!"
"In the name of God, impure souls of the living dead shall be banished into eternal damnation," intoned the man in red with a mocking air. "Amen."
Before anything else could happen, the world twisted around me and then everything went dark.
Fuck! I'd been caught with my pants down, hadn't even been able to offer a token resistance to the fucking spell, and now a century of work had came crashing down around me. Alucard knew. How much he knew I didn't know, but even the slightest morsel of information was enough to blow all the work I'd put into escaping Hellsing to smithereens. And to top it off, I'd almost lost my head to a monster that'd been dead for years. When I caught the mage responsible, he would die a long, slow death.
I shrugged the children-turned-monsters-turned-children that were holding onto my sleeves off and evaluated the situation. Buffy was beating the hell out of Spike, the other vampire had been destroyed in the initial struggle, and the other hostiles had been completely neutralised by the termination of the spell. I was free and clear of any danger by the look of things.
It didn't take long for Spike to make a break for it and Buffy didn't look to be of a mind to give chase. I wasn't either, to be honest. I had a lifetime of memories to integrate and it wasn't going to be pleasant. Albert had seen the world after it had effectively ended. Living through the collapse of the Roman Empire really didn't have diddly on living in a post-apocalyptic hellhole.
"Hey, Buffy," said Jesse. "Welcome back."
"Yeah," replied Buffy. "You too."
"You guys remember what happened?" asked Cordelia.
"Oh yeah," said Jesse. "Very creepy stuff. It was like I was there but couldn't get out."
"Yeah, I know the feeling," replied Cordelia. "This outfit's totally skintight."
And we all appreciated it. When the bile stopped spewing, Cordelia was a very attractive young lady. Even if she was way too young for me.
"You okay, Xander?" asked Buffy. "You look kinda creeped."
"I'm fine," I said, snapping my attention back to the real world and away from the memories floating around my head.
"What was with that creepy guy in the red?" asked Cordelia.
"That's a subject for another time," I said. "Tomorrow in the library after school, I think."
Sooner would have been better, but I wanted to go through it once and once only and there was no guarantee I'd even be able to find Giles and Willow that night.
"You're actually going to tell us stuff about your past voluntarily?" asked Jesse. "I think hell just froze over."
"Kinda unavoidable now," I said with a grimace. "Come on, let's get these kids back."
The chat about Alucard was one that I really wasn't looking forward to. Who wants to be the one that tells a Slayer that there are vampires that could squish an army of her like so many bugs? So much fun and yet so little I could do to avoid it. Ah well. The whole gang gathered and I found myself tasked with the rather unenviable of dishing the goods.
"As you all know, I've been alive for a very long time," I started. "What some of you know, and most don't, is that I was once a member of the Hellsing family. Abraham van Helsing, to be exact, the founder of the line."
"And this matters, why?" asked Cordelia.
"Because the Hellsing family holds the leash of quite possibly the most powerful creature in the world," I snapped. "Alucard was operating at a tiny fraction of his true power last night and you saw what he could do then. He could make the Master look like a rank amateur without even trying."
"And they thought you were dead," said Giles. "This complicates matters."
"No shit," I said. "Finding out the Abraham van Helsing wasn't, strictly speaking, human? They'll be all over the place like white on rice sooner rather than later. I've been trying to avoid this for nearly a hundred years and one random wanker with a penchant for chaos ruined it all. He shows up again and I'm killing him."
"Whoa, whoa, time out," said Jesse. "Hellsing? Alucard? Explain, please."
"The Royal Order of Protestant Knights," I said. "Hellsing. They are the British Crown's response to the vampire threat. I founded it on direct orders from Queen Victoria."
"Like the Watcher's Council then?" asked Buffy.
I shook my head. "No," I said. "The vampires Hellsing faces are altogether more dangerous than the ones you face. They transcended their demon long ago and harnessed an altogether more potent source of power: human souls. First their own and then those of their victims. Incredibly unpleasant and also incredibly dangerous."
"They're not demons?"
"Not for at least a thousand years," I said. "They totally transcended the need for the demon at about that time, I think."
"So what can they do?" asked Jesse. "How strong are they?"
"Stronger than Buffy by a few orders of magnitude," I said. "I'm not joking when I say that a lot of them could rip her apart like she was made of tissue paper. Powers vary a lot from vampire to vampire though. I've seen telekinesis, teleportation, hypnosis, telepathy, regeneration, phasing, the use of demonic familiars, and probably a lot more that I'm forgetting. You really don't want to pick a fight with one. It's not worth it. Believe me, I know."
"How do I kill one?" asked Buffy. "Usual?"
"Stakes are generally effective," I said. "But decapitation's more reliable. Very few of them can regenerate from that." Buffy looked gob-smacked. "Yeah, I know. Hard to believe, but some can survive having their head removed. Remember last night? Alucard got his head cut off and was back on his feet by the time Spike had us. That was slower than usual for him. Hmm, what else? Oh, fire. Nothing likes being set on fire. Fire will kill most. Sunlight's no good though. Irritates their eyes something fierce, but that's about it unless they're really weak."
"Holy symbols work too," said Giles. "In fact, the use of firearms with blessed ammunition is the method recommended by the Council."
"That works," I said. "There are a few who can shrug holy stuff off, but they're damned rare. Blessed silver is the real killer. That's Hellsing's material of choice."
"If these super-vampires are so powerful, how come they haven't take over?" asked Jesse. "Vampires aren't exactly known for restraint."
"Because they're a bit noticeable," I said. "Things were a bit hairy when they first started popping up, but people got on top it eventually. There are organisations in place that force them to keep their heads under the parapet. That's where Hellsing comes in. And they have no interest in causing an apocalypse so they steer well clear of hellmouths."
"You still haven't told us who Alucard is," said Buffy.
"That's classified," I said. "But I can tell you that he's an extremely powerful vampire and that it would be a very bad idea to try and slay him. The only real limits to his power these days come from the magic that binds him into the service of the Hellsing family."
"And you think that your presence here will draw their attention," said Giles. "Possibly hostile attention."
"Oh, I doubt they'll be hostile," I said. "Well, maybe a little. A smidgen. More likely they'll try to drag me back to London. The head of the family is rather young yet, you see. She's not quite twenty yet and I'm quite sure that there are many who'd be more comfortably seeing an older man in charge than teenage girl. The fact that I'm not quite human by their standards and have been hiding from what they will see as my duty for decades . . . well, that just weakens my position if I go back. Politics. I'm not without my resources, however. They won't control me."
"I'll get in touch with the Council," said Giles. "Their influence is considerable and I would like to influence their position before other sources reveal this to them."
I nodded. "The rabbit's out of the hat now. No point in pretending otherwise."