"But you promised..." Celia says weakly. "You promised..."

"We'll get him back," Buffy says, trying to sound encouraging.

"How?" Celia shouts, her fury coming back at full force once more. "McRae has him! He could take him anywhere Buffy! All that wasteland out there. You don't know your way around this town anymore! You left! They could have just..."

"Celia," Buffy pleads. "Please sweetie; just try to calm down."

"You can't make me! He's all I have can't you see that? Mommy and Daddy are gone! They're never coming back and Xander is... Oh god..."

"We have to think," Buffy insists. "Where would McRae take him?"

"I don't know," Celia retorts. "It's not like he stopped over for tea and puppets you know."

"Crumpets," Buffy corrects.

"What?"

"Tea and crumpets."

"Like it matters, I don't see any stuffed shirt English people around. Giles isn't here."

"How do you..?"

"Xander," Celia says rolling her eyes. "Bedtime stories? Were you listening to me or what?"

Buffy shakes her head at such anger that pours from Celia. This wasn't helping. They needed to think, and arguing never helped any sort of battle plan. She tried to think. Had she seen anything that might have been a vamp nest when she came back? Memory didn't recall anything in particular. From what she gathered off of Celia and a few other people she'd talked to on the base, McRae's hatred for Xander ran thick. She doesn't think that he would kill him right away. But where could they...

The answer comes to her with no explanation. She doesn't know where it came from. It just seemed to pop into her head, and for some strange reason, she knows she's right. She looks up to Celia who's pacing back and forth angrily.

"Where does Xander keep his back up weapons?" She asks.

"Over in the cabinet," Celia says pointing at the unassuming green steel tomb lined along the far wall. "That's his big stash."

Buffy gets up from the floor, marching purposely toward the weapons hold. He feet clomp along the concrete floor, each step bound with determination. She rips the lock off the door with ease and thrusts the doors open. She is taken aback for a moment by the size of the collection. Swords, crossbows, hand crafted stakes. Each weapon molded in exquisite detail, precise and beautiful. She takes a modern looking crossbow made of lightweight graphite, complete with scope, and straps it to her back. Along with a dagger and a vast supply of stakes, she feels ready. She marches back over to Celia and kneels to look her in the eye.

"Where exactly are you going?" Celia asks, her arms folded.

"You have to stay here," she says firmly. "It's too dangerous for you to come along."

"Come along where? You don't even know where there are."

"I do."

"How?"

"Call it a hunch," Buffy says standing and moving toward the door. "Stay here."

Celia huffs as she watches her go. Xander could be killed and Buffy wanted her to say here? What had that gotten her last time? Xander taken and Buffy coming in looking like a sparring partner for... Well she couldn't think of anyone tough she knew besides Buffy or Xander, but that didn't matter. She wasn't going to sit here and do nothing. She couldn't.

***

Xander's vision is blurry when he comes to. He can't make out where he is; though the breeze across his chest tells him he is outdoors. He shakes his head trying to get his sight to clear. There is an orange glow a few feet away, which he assumes is a fire. He tries to move his hands but finds them tied down. He struggles against the bonds. He can feel his scar exposed. It is a feeling that burns throughout his entire body.

He always kept it covered.

Always.

The muscles in his arms bulge slightly with the effort and his can feel his face turning red. He struggles even harder, but to no use. He wants out.

"Now, now," a voice taunts from behind. "You don't want to tire yourself out do you?"

His whole body stiffens. He knows the voice. The attitude and superiority laced in it. He really struggles against the bonds and the voice only laughs.

"Struggle, struggle little bee," McRae taunts coming into view. "Yearning, yearning to be free."

Xander's jaw clenches at McRae's vampiric visage. He hated the man enough on his own, and now he was a creature he'd hated even more. A thousand profanities cross his mind, but none can be expressed. Instead he rolls his eyes when he sees just how exactly he was tied down. He was being crucified. How original.

"It's good to see you Xander," McRae says, his face morphing back into normal. "It's been so long."

Xander spits in the man's eyes and he only laughs in return.

"Such hostility my dear boy. Wherever do you get it from?"

Xander's eyes bore into McRae's, a hateful sneer draped across his features. His breathing is savage, and his arms still struggling with the ropes. His teeth are flashed, his jaw set tight.

"Aw, what's the matter Xander?" McRae says grinning. "Cat slit your throat?"

Xander's head flails back and forth and the anger radiates from his body. The wood begins to shake with his efforts and McRae can only laugh. He is far too amused with the boy's suffering to take the struggle seriously. He stops resisting to catch his breath and ignores the bemused look on the older mans face. He looks around and sees nothing but dirt. On the ground, far off in the distance. His eyes grow wide when he realizes where they are.

"Home sweet home," McRae sighs, noticing Xander's look at the backdrop. "I do love this crater. Such a symbol of death and destruction. It's rather poetic..."

Xander hangs his head in disgust. Countless lives had been lost with whatever had caused the hellmouth to blow. He'd once been a man sworn to save such lives and here he was, laughing about the loss of them. He has so many things he wants to diminish him for, so many jabs and insults... It is the first time in a long time that he wishes he could speak.

***

Buffy grips the crossbow tightly as she walks along the trail. The gravel crunches underneath her boots, and bag of stakes clacks against her back. Other than these little sounds, the earth is deathly quiet. The night surrounds her, but her slayer sense detects no vampires. She finds this odd because little over an hour ago she fought a horde of them. They must have run back to their nest, or bunker, of wherever the hell they chose to hide themselves. The moon hangs in the sky, it's mellow light causing the ash of the ground to glow. She brushes a stray lock of hair from her face when she hears it. A soft, subtle step a few feet behind her. She stops and strains to listen. A few seconds later she hears it again. The distinct pace of a child sneaking around.

She whirls around, anger and annoyance running through her body.

"Celia!" She shouts. "I know you're out there!"

Celia approaches sheepishly, her step slow and her head hung. She feels a slight sting of shame but quickly covers it with bravado.

"Nice night," she says boldly.

Buffy shakes her head the anger fading but still evident.

"Do you have any idea how dangerous it is for you to be out here?" She asks. "There could be vampires anywhere."

Celia looks left to right at the bush surrounding them, the thought not making her feel any better about following.

"I..."

"I know you want to help me find Xander," she says softly. "I know you don't want him to die, but did you ever give any thought to how he might feel if you died?"

Celia shakes her head. The thought had honestly never crossed her mind. Buffy sighs and pulls a stake from the bag and hands it to her.

"I don't have time to take you back," Buffy says. "So just hold onto this and stay close okay?"

Celia nods and sticks to Buffy's side.

"He's not dead," Celia says quietly.

"No," Buffy says. "And he's not going to be either."

"How do you know?"

Buffy shrugs.

"Call it another hunch."

***

McRae paces back and forth in front of Xander, the sinister grin never leaving his lips. He was taking far too much pleasure in seeing his once thought adversary at such a disadvantage. Xander rolls his eyes for what feels like the thousandth time. McRae seemed to have no other plan than to watch him squirm, which he had stopped doing awhile ago. His patience had run dry but there was nothing he could do about that. Instead he just continued to watch the vampire pace. He had no other option.

"So many ways," McRae mutters to himself. "So many ways..."

He turns to face Xander grinning still.

"Did you ever wish so hard for something?" He asks. "Just wished, and wished, and wished it would come true. And when it did, you simply didn't know what to do?"

Xander sighs, not liking where this was going.

"So many ways to torture you dear boy," McRae says tapping Xander on chest. "So many ways and I can't choose a one."

McRae pulls out a knife. Thee knife. The one that he'd used to cut him before. Xander struggles again, the hatred boiling in his veins.

"An old friend," McRae says lifting the knife toward Xander. "I think she wants to say hello."

Xander, through instinct more than anything, bites his lip against the cut. He closes his eyes once more, not wanting to see the joy on McRae's face.

***

"Why are we coming here?" Celia says softly as the lip of the crater comes into view. "I don't like it here."

"I'm pretty sure this is where they are," Buffy says.

"How?"

"Sometimes I can just feel things. Like an extra sense or something. Comes with the whole slayer package."

"Neat," Celia replies.

She looks around, gripping the end of her stake tightly. She still wanted to save Xander, but she couldn't help being afraid. She'd never seen the crater before. She'd never really wanted too. Xander had forbid her to leave the base, and only her child like stubbornness had kept her thinking that he was holding out on something. Now that she got a good look at the desolate surroundings, she could see that it was a good idea. The vast nothingness made her want to cry. She kept a brave face on. More for herself than for Buffy.

They approach the mouth of the crater slowly; Buffy takes Celia's hand as they reach the edge. Celia gasps against its hugeness. Never in her life has she seen anything so big. She squeezes slightly on Buffy's hand and Buffy squeezes softly in response. Celia looks up to her, watching her eyes as they scanned across the perimeter. Celia tries to look as well, but it is too dark for her to see anything.

"There," Buffy says.

"Huh?"

"Over there," Buffy says pointing and a faint orange glow at the bottom of the crater.

Celia squints her eyes in an attempt to focus them more clearly. She sees it. A small ball of light looking like it was floating it's so far away.

"I see it," Celia says. "Do you really think it's them?"

"It's time we found out."

"How are we going to get down there?" Celia asks.

"I thought I saw some kind of trail the other day," Buffy says turning and tugging on Celia's hand. "Come on."

***

Xander's eyes open to the site of McRae licking his blood from the knife. He wants to shut his eyes again but McRae notices him and smacks him across the face.

"It's no fun if you're not watching;" McRae says licking more blood from the blade. "So rich, so full of life. Ever since I was turned I dreamed of tasting your blood. I can see that it was well worth the wait."

Xander's lip turns up in a sneer, but it only gets him another satisfied grin from McRae. He bites down on his tongue as McRae's fists pound his body and face. He tries to block out the laughter but can't. McRae laughs and smiles and sings as he continues his merciless assault on Xander's paling form. The knife makes a few more cuts, and he knows they'll most likely scar. None will match the one. McRae goes on for a bit more and after awhile Xander can't even feel it.

"God I love this!" McRae roars.

Xander's head hangs against his chest, his eyes beginning to droop.

"Hey now," McRae says lifting his chin. "You're not going soft on me are you?"

Xander lets his head fall again when McRae lets it go.

"It should have been me," McRae says bitterly. "I should have been the one to lead them. Not some baby-faced, snot-nosed brat that knew a little something about the things that go bump in the night. I was the one with the experience! Me! Not you, you Nintendo playing gen-x little fucker!"

Xander feels a smile grow on his bloody lips. The old man had been nothing but jealous of him. All the rage, all the hate, the mutilation of his body and the turning into a vampire. All of this... Due to petty human jealousy. He lifts his head defiantly to his captor, the smile never wavering.

"What are smiling at?" McRae sneers.

Xander keeps the smile firm.

"What are you smiling at?" McRae repeats, the anger building.

He still smiles.

"What?!" McRae screams. "What the fuck is so goddamn funny?"

Xander shakes his head, the silent bobbing of his throat showing laughter.

"Stop smiling damn you!" The vampire roars, "I have beaten you! Silenced you! What? What is it?"

Xander's body begins to shake, his stomach convulsing with his mute giggles.

McRae throws his fist into Xander's gut, but it's no use. He still laughs.

"Well," McRae says lifting the knife once more. "We'll just have to give you a permanent frown now won't we?"

Xander hears the crunch of boots against rock before McRae does; he's too busy smiling at his knife. He feels his lips curl into another grin and waits for McRae's fury at it. When McRae does look up, his own malicious grin disappears and Xander feels a moment of satisfaction. McRae growls, his face shifting into his more feral visage once more. Xander stills smiles waiting for his friend's moment of attack.

The dart sails into McRae's back easily and he snarls around to see who dared attack him. Buffy comes running into view and blindsides him with a flying kick to the head. Celia quickly darts around the two fighting, heading straight for Xander. She reaches him quickly and attempts to untie the knots that bind him down, but they are wound too tight. She pulls and pulls on them to no avail. She runs to face Xander, nearly bursting into tears at all the blood.

"Xander," she says apologetically. "You're tied down too tight. I can't get the knots undone."

She clutches to his leg squeezing onto it for dear life.

"You're not dead," she says. "You're not dead."

McRae dodges one of Buffy's left hooks and attempts to grab her leg when she goes for a roundhouse kick. She's to quick for him and her foot cleanly strikes against his temple, ripping at the skin and causing a small stream of blood to trickle down.

"I'll make you pay for that," he sneers, throwing his own one/two combination. "I'll have you know I was station boxing champ five years in a row."

"Well, good for you," Buffy says ducking under his swiping fists and countering with a smooth uppercut.

McRae staggers back and Buffy takes the fraction of second to toss a knife to Celia.

"Cut him down!"

Celia quickly runs to the spot on the ground where the knife landed.

"Still taking care of that little brat Harris?" McRae asks advancing to Buffy once more. "When I'm finished with She-Ra here I'll have a little fun with her too."

"You're not going to touch her," Buffy says, getting in a few more good punches.

"You're pretty wiry," McRae says wiping a drop of blood from the corner of his mouth. "I like that."

He bull charges her and knocks her to the ground.

"Although sometimes brute strength is better," he laughs.

He tries to pounce but Buffy kicks him away, sending him flying over the remains of a bush.

"Something like that?"

Celia finishes cutting through the last knot, and Xander drops to the ground. She rushes to help him but her shrugs her off. He looks up to see the hurt look in her eyes and slowly motions for her to help. She ducks underneath his arm and tries to help him stand.

"You're so heavy," she complains. "You're going on a diet when we get home."

He gets to his feet and wobbles slightly, but doesn't fall over again.

"Buffy's showing him not to mess with us," Celia says firmly.

She feels Xander's arm tighten around her and she automatically knows what he's thinking.

"Are you nuts?" She admonishes. "Look at you! You've been thrown through a meat grinder! You can't fight him now."

He looks to her sadly, nodding his head. Vengeance is what he wanted and even if he was merely a spectator, vengeance is what he would get.

Buffy swings the crossbow from her back and takes aim, but McRae gets lucky and smacks it from her hands. She curses under her breath. The tumbling before had caused her to lose the bag full of stakes as well. Now she was just going to have to keep pummeling him until she had a chance to recover it. She takes a split second to notice just how dark it is. Fat chance she'd find the bag.

Celia stares at the crossbow on the ground, and looks to Xander whose eyes are still on the fight. Without waiting for him to react, she drops his arm and runs after the crossbow. She looks back to Xander briefly seeing him struggle to chase after her. She picks up the weapon, surprised by how light it is. She sees that it's already cocked and ready to fire. She steps a few more feet closer to Buffy and McRae's battle royal and looks through the scope. She waits patiently for her shot.

Buffy sidesteps another one/two from the vamp and sidekicks him square in the chest. He staggers back once more and Buffy makes a quick scan of the ground, looking for the crossbow or the bag of stakes.

Celia holds her breath as she squeezes the trigger. She knows her shot rang true.

McRae looks down at his chest in shock. The dart protruding straight out of his heart. His yellow eyes glow with anger for the few seconds he has before he turns to dust.

"Oh, fuck me..." He mutters.

Buffy looks behind her to Celia's wide-eyed face. She drops the crossbow to the ground and looks up to Buffy.

"Wow," she says. "Awesome."

Buffy walks quickly over to her; many words perched on the tip of her tongue to shout how dangerous it was to do that. She stops in front of the little girl and the words fall dead when she sees her shaking hands. She kneels down and hugs her, Celia reaming stock-still in her arms. She hears Celia begin to sob and she gently rubs the back of her head, cooing her softly.

"Ssh," she whispers. "It's okay. You did well."

Buffy looks at her. "How did you do so well?"

Celia giggles brokenly. "Xander taught me."

Both the girls jump when Xander appears next to them.

"Oh my god, Xander!" Buffy shouts looking him over. "Are you okay?"

He smiles faintly and slowly moves to kneel next to them. Celia moves out of Buffy's embrace to run her hands over Xander's new wounds. She's surprised when he doesn't swipe her hands away. She feels her eyes well up as she moves to hug him.

"You're okay," she says. "You're okay."

Xander looks over to Buffy who's watching them quietly. He stands, reaching his arms under Celia and bringing her up with him. The sky lightens, and the first light of day reaches its arm across the lip of the crater. Celia rests her head on Xander's shoulder and he looks back to the giant wooden T he was tied to. He can't help but snort. Of course it wasn't an actual crucifix. McRae wouldn't have been able to go anywhere near it.

He hears Buffy gasp and he realizes that his scar is still uncovered. His hand shoots to his neck and Buffy turns her head away. He runs his finger along the swollen puffed mark and sighs. He takes Buffy's hand and she turns to him; he lifts her fingers toward his neck and presses them against the scar. Her eyes tear up as she runs her fingers along.

"I...," she begins shakily. "I'm so sorry Xander..."

He shakes his head. It's not necessary.

He removes her hand from his neck and entwines her fingers in his. He smiles softly at her. She smiles in return. His head tilts skyward and Buffy follows his gaze. Celia's head still rests on Xander's shoulder and she sighs happily with the thought that he's still alive. Xander looks to Buffy and smiles at her once more, squeezing her hand gently before their heads return to the new dawn of the heavens. They watch the birds fly across it.

-The End.