Justice League Xander:

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

Spoilers: "Chosen"

Summary: When Xander takes up the guns of a Western hero his father told him stories about as a kid to face off against the First Evil, he learns some hard truths about what being a hero is all about.

Author's note: This story is part of Justice League Xander, a non-sequential series inspired by Justice League Unlimited on the Cartoon Network. I've been inspired by many of the minor characters on the show that, not being a big DC Comics fan, I've been unfamiliar with until now. So special thanks to the writers, producers, and actors behind JLU for getting me interested in DC again in a way I haven't been since Batman: TAS. And thanks to Wikipedia for their detailed entries on all the DC characters, without which these stories wouldn't have been possible.

:8:

Xander saw them hanging on the wall of his parents' house ever since he was a kid. A pair of old Colt revolvers, mounted next to a white cowboy hat. They belonged to his great-grandfather, Greg Saunders. A real western hero, his father used to call him. A cowboy and a lawman. Xander's father used to love telling him stories about him when he was a kid. Stories about bandits, and outlaws, and frontier justice. Of course that was back when the old man had more blood than alcohol in his veins, before he gave up on life. But the pistols and the hat stayed on the wall, and they always reminded Xander of happier times. When he still looked up to his father, and he still believed in heroes. It took until he met Buffy before he believed in heroes again.

And now here he was again, looking at those guns and that hat. It was the night before the biggest battle any of them were likely to ever face. The First Evil and its army of Bringers and Turok-Han. Sunnydale was practically a ghost town. Even the most ignorant of its residents could feel something bad coming. Case in point, Xander's parents. He decided to check on them tonight, tell them to get gone, tell them goodbye just in case things didn't go well. But he was too late, they were already gone. They didn't even tell him they were leaving. He didn't know why that surprised him, it shouldn't have. He always thought of his parents as ignorant, misguided, but never uncaring. But they hadn't even tried to contact him, to make sure he was alright. The realization stung.

Xander walked around the house. The liquor cabinet was empty, the refrigerator was empty, the closets upstairs were all empty. But the guns were still hanging on the wall, like some forgotten souvenir that wasn't worth a second glance. Xander reached up and took them off the wall. "I guess you stopped believing in heroes too, huh Dad?" he asked the empty house. They hadn't been cleaned in a while, but the pistols still looked to be in working condition. Of course he'd need ammunition. There was a gun store in town, probably abandoned like everything else. Shouldn't be too hard to get in.

"I still believe," he said to himself. He slid the guns into his pockets, then he grabbed the hat off the wall and put it on his head before he walked out the door. He didn't look back at the house once as he got in his car and drove away.

:8:

The next morning Xander showed up at Buffy's all decked out. His great-grandfather's hat, blue Western style shirt with a red handkerchief tied around his neck, a pair of white jeans and black cowboy boots. The twin Colt revolvers were cleaned to a high shine, and sat in low slung holsters in Xander's new black leather gun belt. Everything stopped when he walked in, like someone hit the pause button. All eyes were on him. "What?" he asked, his thumbs casually hooked over his gun belt just behind his pistols. "I just thought I needed a new look. The whole pirate thing just wasn't working."

A few of the potentials smiled, genuine relief in their eyes. You could almost see them thinking 'If Xander's joking around, things can't be too bad.' A few others just looked at him like he was crazy. Spike rolled his eyes. Willow cracked a smile, but for the most part his friends didn't react much at all. They were used to Xander's strangeness, it was just par for the course by now. The pre-battle meeting continued with almost no interruption.

:8:

"Welcome to Sunnydale High," Robin said as the group arrived at the high school and started for their various positions. "There's no running in the halls, no yelling, no gum chewing. Apart from that, there's only one rule. If they move, kill them."

"If you have to go to the bathroom, it's to your left," Xander said, motioning with his arm as they passed the restrooms. "If you don't have to go to the bathroom, picture what you're about to face. Better to go now." No one took him up on his offer.

"Everyone remember their assignments?" Buffy asked. "Principal Wood with Giles, Xander with Dawn, Willow with Kennedy, Spike, Faith and the potentials are with me."

"So that leaves me and the dungeon master in the north hall?" Anya asked.

"We will defend it with our very lives," Andrew said.

"Yes, we will defend it with his very life," Anya added.

"And don't be afraid to use him as a human shield," Xander told Anya.

"Good, yes, thanks," Anya agreed.

"I just want to say how proud I am to die for this very special cause with you guys," Andrew started. "There's some, um—there's people I'd like to thank, both good and evil. Um, a shout out to my brother Tucker, who gave me the inspiration to summon demons and also—"

"Nobody cares, you little monkey," Anya said, grabbing the geek by the arm and pulling him down the hall with her. That left only Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles standing in the hall looking at each other while everyone else rushed off to their positions.

"So, what do you guys want to do tomorrow?" Buffy asked.

"Nothing strenuous," Willow said.

"Well, mini-golf is always the first thing that comes to mind," Xander put in.

"I think we can do better than that," Giles said.

"I was thinking about shopping. As per usual," Buffy said.

"Oh! There's an Arden B. in the new mall!" Willow suggested.

"I could use a few items," Xander said.

"Well, now aren't we gonna discuss this? Save the world to go to the mall?" Giles asked.

"I'm having a wicked shoe craving," Buffy said.

"Aren't you on the patch?" asked Xander.

"Those never work," Willow said.

"Here I am, invisible to the eye..." Giles complained.

"See, I need a stuff for my new look. New boots, a belt buckle with my name on it, and possibly a horse."

"Don't do the belt buckle thing Xander, that's so tacky," Buffy said.

"Maybe you could do a whole pirate cowboy thing, get a puffy shirt, a parrot..."

"The earth is definitely doomed," Giles muttered as he turned and headed for his position.

Xander gave Buffy and Willow both a hug before turning and heading for his own position. He drew his pistols and made sure they were loaded. He spun them once on his fingers and slid them back into the holsters.

Dawn was waiting for him in the hall. "You ready?" she asked.

"As I'll ever be."

:8:

War is organized chaos. Xander had heard somebody say that once. He never really understood it until now. Xander was picking off Bringers left and right. Apparently whatever mojo the First had over them may have allowed them to see with no eyes, but it didn't make them bulletproof, and for that he was thankful. He could hear screaming coming from the school's basement. People were dying, he knew that, but all he could do was the job he was assigned. Protect Dawn, take out as many Bringers as possible, keep the way clear for their escape. If they couldn't escape, they'd all die.

He had just put a couple of shots into a Bringer that was getting too close to Dawn when he heard running footsteps from inside the school. A lot of what happened after that was a blur. He remembered not seeing Anya, and seeing the look on Andrew's face, and putting two and two together. He remembered yelling for her, and he remembered Dawn dragging him away onto the bus. Giles jumped behind the wheel and they took off, barely keeping ahead of the sinkhole that was swallowing Sunnydale.

And then, just like that, it was over. The organized chaos gave way to stunned silence. The bus stopped and they all piled out. Xander found Andrew as quick as he could. "Did you see?" he asked him. He couldn't bring himself to say anymore than that.

"I...I was scared. I'm sorry."

"Did you see what happened? I mean, was she..."

"She was incredible. She died saving my life."

Xander bit his lip. He wanted to scream, he wanted to throttle the twerp and throw him in the sinkhole. Why did they pair her with Andrew? Why wasn't he there himself? Why couldn't he save her? What a waste. That's all he could think. Why her, why now, why like this? He wanted to cry out, but he just bit it back. Swallowed his pain, like he had always done. Pushed it down inside of himself. "That's my girl," he finally said, nothing but sad resignation in his voice. "Always doing the stupid thing."

"Looks like the hellmouth is officially closed for business," Faith said, looking out over what once was Sunnydale.

"There is another one in Cleveland. Not to spoil the moment," Giles said.

"We saved the world," Xander said. It came out like a statement, but it was really more of a question. It didn't feel like they saved the world. Bought some time maybe, but saved the world? No. Maybe it was because Xander had lost so much. His eye, the woman he loved, his home town. But for the first time in his entire life, he started to feel like maybe the world couldn't be saved. People could be saved, that's what heroes did. That's why Xander had put on this hat and took these guns. He figured if he was going to go out, he wanted to go out like a hero, like his great-grandfather. He sure didn't feel like a hero. Maybe he'd helped, but in the end he couldn't save the person who meant the most to him. So what good was saving the world when the people in it just kept dying anyway.

Xander stepped closer to the edge of the sinkhole. The air was thick with smoke and dirt. He pulled his handkerchief up over his mouth and nose. And there, in that moment, staring out at all that he'd lost, with a physical mask covering his face he felt like he could let the figurative one he'd been wearing his whole life slip a little. He cried for Anya, and he cried for himself.

Somewhere in the conversation around him that he had been ignoring, he heard Dawn's voice. "What are going to do now?" she asked.

She wasn't asking him, but he couldn't help but think, 'I wish I knew.'

:8:

Two years later

Somewhere in Africa

Leloni was scared. She was only fifteen, and had never even left her village before. Until two nights ago when two men came into her home and took her from her parents. She tried to fight them off, even broke one of their noses. But they threatened her parents, said they'd kill them if she didn't do what they said. So she obeyed. They threw her in the back of a truck, and they've been traveling ever since. She didn't know where they were going, or what would happen to her once they got there, but she had a bad feeling that it wasn't going to be good.

The sun was peaking through the green canvas that covered the canopy of the truck bed, that's the only way she knew that it was morning again. She heard a sound, like an engine, different from the truck engine. It seemed to be getting closer. She heard the men in the front of the truck talking. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but they sounded scared. Leloni slowly made her way toward the back of the truck and peaked out from behind the canvas flap. There was a white man riding a motorcycle behind the truck. He was dressed like a cowboy, with a big white hat and a red handkerchief covering his face. He caught Leloni's eye, and then reached down to his hip and drew a gun. Leloni quickly closed the flap and ducked down. A shot rang out, followed quickly by the sound of glass breaking and one of the men up front cursing loudly. The shot must have struck the wing mirror she figured. Perhaps this man was here to help her.

The truck came to a sudden stop, sending her rolling toward the front. Leloni rushed to the back again and looked out. There was a cloud of dust from the truck stopping so quickly on the dirt road. She could hear her captors getting out of the truck, but she couldn't see the cowboy. They came around to the back of the truck with guns drawn, looking into the dense jungle on either side of the road for the man on the motorcycle. Then a shot rang out, and one of her captors cried out in pain and dropped his gun. He grabbed his hand and Leloni could see that he was bleeding. Another shot, and the other man cried out. A moment later the cowboy came out of the jungle with a pistol in each hand. He looked at the two men for a moment, then holstered his guns. The men looked at each other, them rushed the cowboy, screaming and shaking their fists. The cowboy lashed out with his fist, and there was an audible crack as the first man went down. A kick to the midsection doubled over the second captor, and a quick punch to the face sent him to the ground.

Satisfied that they were both out of it, the cowboy approached the truck. He pulled the tailgate down and offered Leloni his hand. She held out her arms to show him that they were tied together at the wrist with thick rope. "Come on now," he said, pushing his hat up off his brow with one finger. "Those little ropes can't hold you. You can break them, can't you?" he asked, miming the motion with his own hands. Leloni could break the rope she knew, she had just been afraid of what those men would do to her parents. She pulled her hands apart and the rope snapped almost instantly. She couldn't be sure with the handkerchief over his face, but she thought the man was smiling. "Do you speak English?" he asked.

"Little bit," she answered. She had met a few Westerners before. Some of them came to her village, bringing food and medicine. They taught the villagers some English.

"What's your name?"

"Leloni."

"Well Leloni, it's good to meet you. If you'd like, I can take you some place safe. Some people, who can help you find your parents. They can also teach you more about what you are."

"What I am?"

"You're strong. You're fast. You heal quickly. You dream at night about other girls fighting horrible creatures." Leloni's eyes grew wide. "That's why those men wanted you. They were going to take you to a shaman who was going to use your power to increase his own. You're a very special girl Leloni. You're part of a group of special girls all with special abilities, called slayers. The people I can take you to, they can tell you about your power, show you how to use it to help people. But only if you want to. It's your choice. Either way, they can take you back to your family."

Leloni felt overwhelmed. A moment ago she had been scared for her life, for her parents' lives. She didn't know what was going to happen to her. And now not only has she been rescued, but she might get some answers about what's been happening to her over the past two years. She couldn't help it, she rushed forward and wrapped her arms around the cowboy in a hug, burying her face in his shirt. The man returned the hug gently and soothed her while she cried.

"It's okay," he said. "You're safe now, I promise. I won't let anything happen to you." Something in the man's voice made her believe him.

:8:

Leloni rode on the back of the motorcycle, clinging to her savior for several hours until they arrived at a small village. Several people smiled and waved to the cowboy as they passed. Finally they stopped in front of one particular hut. A man stepped out with dirty blonde hair and a handlebar mustache. Half his face was still covered in shaving cream, and in his hands he held a straight razor and a teacup.

"Good to see you again, Vig," the man said in a British accent. "Looks like you've been busy."

"Nigel," Vigilante said, putting the kickstand down on his bike and stepping off. "This is Leloni, she's a slayer. A couple of the Shaman's goons had her."

"I take it they won't be a problem again any time soon."

"They'll be eating their meals through a straw for a while, I wouldn't worry about them. Leloni, this is Nigel. He's a Watcher, he can tell you all about the slayers. You can trust him."

"High praise," Nigel said, taking a sip from his tea. "Are you staying a while this time?"

"Just long enough to say hello to some people, then I have to go," Vig answered. "The Shaman is still out there, and he needs to be stopped."

"No rest for the weary, eh?"

"I'll rest when I'm dead. It was good meeting you, Leloni. I'll come say goodbye before I leave." She gave him another hug and watched as he walked through the village. A group of children ran up to him and started hugging him one by one.

"Well, you must be hungry," Nigel said. "Come inside, I can fetch you something to eat."

"Can you really tell me about...about what I am?" she asked.

"Yes, yes I can."

"Can you tell me about him?" she asked, looking back at the cowboy who saved her life.

"Ah, I guess he forgot to introduce himself. He does that a lot. He calls himself The Vigilante. Not a whole lot is known about him I'm afraid. Some say he was a Watcher, like me. That he went crazy when his slayer died and came to Africa to save as many slayers as he can. Others say he was there, at the battle with the First Evil, when all the slayers were awakened. All we know for sure is that he's been here in Africa since the awakening, finding slayers, helping them discover what they are. And he never stops, never rests. Personally, I think he's running from something. Something happened to him that was so horrible, that he's afraid to even show anyone his face again, afraid of making himself vulnerable."

"A little over dramatic, don't you think Nigel."

"Oh, Vig, I didn't see you standing there," Nigel said, turning toward the side of his hut where Vigilante had sneaked up on him.

"I'm taking off. Leloni, good luck."

"Vig, wait a moment. I received another telegram from Rupert Giles last week. He wants to know when you're coming back. He says, there are a lot of people who miss you and need you. Is there anything you'd like me to tell him?"

Vig seemed to think for a moment, pulling his hat down and lowering his head so the brim hid his face completely. "Tell him...Tell him that as soon as I've outlived my usefulness here, I'll come home. And tell him that I miss them too."

Vigilante climbed back onto his motorcycle and started it. He tipped his hat to Nigel and Leloni before cranking the throttle and disappearing in a cloud of dust.

"Maybe he's not running from something," Leloni said. "Maybe he's running to something."

"Trying to find what he lost, trying to find himself," Nigel pontificated. "Maybe. Whatever it is, I hope he finds it."

Leloni looked out at the trailing dust of her savior, her hero, and smiled. "Me too."

The End.