Disclaimer: The crew of BtVS belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy Productions, as do various references to particular quotes. Likewise, Batman is owned by DC Comics, and ultimately Warner Bros. This work is intended for non-commercial purposes only, and is otherwise covered by a Creative Commons Attribution license. Special thanks go to Kierkegaard and Christopher M. Drohan.
Thanks also go to my fabulous beta, MoragMacPherson, and to the wonderful folks over at the TtH forums, who helped me refine some elements of my Kendra characterization for this chapter.
Summary: YAHF. Alfred would be proud.
Arc Three: Knight and Squire
Xander tasted acid. 'Dammit Bruce, there wasn't anything I could have done! I can't—I just can't deal with this right now. We'll talk later.'
"We will," said Bruce, and not a word more. Thank god.
Xander couldn't help himself; he had to start walking towards the body. He felt irresistibly drawn to it.
"What are ya doin'? Dat noise, de odder demons will be comin' soon."
The moon was almost full, and it cast a strong light. There were harsh shadows thrown by the tombstones. So dark they drew the eye, little wormholes of dark to somewhere dark and deep and bad.
"Demons eat demons," Kendra said, hurrying to catch up.
"What?" said Xander absentmindedly. He stopped abruptly when he reached the body and turned away. "Oh god." The look on the boy's face. Turning away didn't help: the minor splatters of blood on the tombstone in front of him pulled his attention to other tombstones almost soaked in red so bright it looked movie set fake. The look on the boy's face.
"Xander," said Kendra. "Xander, it is a demon. Do not concern yaself."
"But he looks so human," said Xander to himself. He couldn't help himself: he looked back at the body again. He took it in, bearing witness. He realized that the boy was actually close to his age, though smaller. Dark, somewhat greasy hair and a bone-white face-must be the blood-drain. The glassy eyes were wide, the mouth slightly open. Ill-fitted tough-guy clothes-a patched leather jacket, workman's shirt, pants of some dull color or other, one shoe. The other foot was slashed and bloody-the boy must have run it ragged. He had been terrified. He had been screaming a pitch-perfect note of despair, and Xander had not shouted to him, had hesitated. But he was a demon. He looked so human, though. The look on his face. There was blood pooling underneath the body, and Xander realized to his horror that he was standing on grass sticky with blood. There was so much blood.
Kendra's hesitant hand on his shoulder brought Xander back to himself. "De ones dat look like humans, dey are de worst. I hesitated once-de monster took de form of a child. When next I saw it, it was, it was biting off de head of a human baby. It was all me fault. I hesitate no more. Dese are monsters; it is me job to kill dem before dey kill people. We should go."
"I wanted to be a demon-hunter," said Xander, letting himself be led away. He felt numb. This was Sunnydale, home of the monsters; he'd seen plenty of horror before. A fleeting image of Jesse disappearing into dust flashed into his mind, but he pushed it away. This was entirely different; the boy was a demon. Jesse had been a vampire, whispered a traitorous part of his mind. Vampires are demons. Demons deserve no mercy. Angel is a vampire; Angel is different. Vampires are monsters. "I want to kill all de vampires in Sunnydale. I will kill all the vampires in Sunnydale."
"Ya should apply for a license from de Council, den. Become a demon hunter. Mr. Zaputo has used dem for information before. Some hunt for bounty, odders for vengeance."
The light was very strong, and the shadows were very dark. He realized that Kendra was looking at him with some concern. "It's nothing," he said. "Sorry. I'm just a little tired, that's all. Xander the Sleepy Agent, that's me. So baby-eating demons. That's...that's just horrible. Tell me more."
"I am forgettin' meself," replied Kendra as they walked. "Should be quiet on patrol. I will tell ya of de kishme anodder time."
It seemed like no time had passed when Xander found himself back at his front door. He hesitated for a split second, then relaxed and opened the door, stepping inside. He had nothing to fear: Bruce was with him.
Xander dressed on automatic. He still had the taste of his dreams lingering in his mind, unsettling journeys through places of soft grays. It was strange; he almost never remembered specific colors from his dreams. Usually it was all plot. He missed the adventure dreams he used to have as a kid: the stories he told himself while he was waiting to fall asleep had often continued in weird and surprising ways in his dreams. He remembered waking again and again with a sense of loss, wanting to go back and play. He'd never told Jesse that the adventure dreams had been better than any video game.
The sky still had traces of red threaded through the sky; the streets were surprisingly quiet for a Wednesday morning. Xander waved to the newspaper boy as he ran past, but didn't stop to chat; he didn't feel like talking. He noticed things about the houses and cars lining the street that he'd never seen before, little details that his eyes skipped over when everything was familiar. It was strange; he felt disconnected from it all, like he was still in a dream. Only the blood pumping through his veins felt real.
He couldn't avoid this forever. 'It was demonicide at best, Bruce, not murder.' The look on the boy's face. 'Demon boy was killed by a wild animal demon. End of story.'
"You didn't see it then," said Bruce. "The demon was looking at you. It turned its head, smiled, and kept looking at you while it cut the boy's throat. That thing was sentient."
'I told you demons are evil,' Xander thought. He felt tired. 'I told you. Demon killing demon? I dunno. Isn't that supposed to be a net gain for the forces of truth, justice, and the homo sapiens way?
"The boy was a victim. We only have Kendra's word that he was a demon."
'Hello, Slayer? Expert on all things spooky and evil? I'll take a Slayer's word over my unsuperpowered eyes any day of the week. Besides, Kendra takes this Slayer stuff way too seriously to mess around with it.'
"Think about it Xander," Bruce said in that reasonable tone of voice that Xander knew boded ill. "How did Kendra know what she sensed was a demon? I think she has to interpret what she senses, and she's gotten it wrong before. She thought we were an alchemist."
'To be fair,' Xander thought as he neatly skipped around a black truck exiting a driveway, 'I don't think disembodied superheroes haunting people's heads are necessarily covered in the Slayer's Handbook.'
"If Kendra needs a Handbook to understand what she's sensing, then it's not all instinctive. Someone is telling her which supernatural beings are evil and which are harmless. And that someone could be lying."
It only took a few more steps for Xander to turn onto the cross street, squinting into the sudden harsh light. 'What, you think the Watcher's Council has some kind of big conspiracy going on and that demons are really just misunderstood creatures with hearts of gold?' Xander cut across to the shadowy side of the street. 'Newsflash, Bruce: demons eat people. We're at war, and hey, I'm proud to be part of the good fight. We couldn't do it without a Watcher. Giles has proven himself over and over. I don't know what your problem is, Bruce, but I'm sick of it. I trust Giles, I trust Kendra, and I definitely trust Buffy. No matter how hard you try, you won't change my mind."
"You trust the people you know personally. Fine. I don't trust the Watcher's Council," retorted Bruce. "Think of the type of power it takes for an organization to field a hundred teams of commandos worldwide! Either the commandos are so good that they can avoid any military in the world or the Council has secret agreements with just about every country on the map. There are secret Watcher-track courses at major universities—the Council must have influence with those administrations, and through them their students, the crème de la crème. And the Council controls the Slayer line. Think of Kendra. Raised in isolation, trained to be a lethal weapon, told she has a sacred destiny that must be kept secret from people who are not part of the Council. She is completely loyal to her Watcher and the Council. If she wasn't Chosen, would she have joined one of those 'squads of former Potentials' Giles mentioned? Xander, the Council has an army of women just like Kendra. An army they can field anywhere in the world.
"Who watches the Watchers, Xander? If the Council isn't corrupt, I'll eat my nonexistent hat."
Despite his pumping blood, Xander felt a sudden chill. Are you saying that there are people out there hoping that Buffy dies so that the next Slayer will be Called? 'They have all the cards. How could we possibly fight that, Bruce? What's going to happen to Buffy? And Kendra! She's just a kid. She should have a life, not a death wish. What am I going tell them?'
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing."
Xander turned again, this time onto a sunless street. 'I can't do that, Bruce. They deserve to know they're in danger.'
"Do you want to get them killed, Xander? It's too soon. We have to start small. We need outside sources of information; we need allies; we need proof. And you need to stop blindly assuming that every supernatural being you run across is evil."
In a world suddenly askew, Xander clung to a few essential truths. 'Demons are evil. Evil things are, uh, evil. And therefore of the bad. As in really bad, kill-on-sight bad, and definitely never ever be friends bad.' He took the left back towards his house with a huff of relief, now running with his face away from the light. He liked Daylight Savings Time; he really did. He just preferred running in the almost dark.
"Who says the boy was a real demon?"
"Kendra," said Giles. They were gathered in the library, waiting only on Buffy. Willow looked decidedly uncomfortable. "Are you sure he said Spike?"
"Yes, sir," said Kendra, standing in a loose military-style position. She was looking straight ahead. "De informant said dat Spike would kill him if he talked. Dat is all I got out of him."
Xander restrained himself from commenting on why, exactly, that was all Kendra could get out of Willy; he didn't exactly want her to bring up his own reaction to the demon boy's death. The look on the boy's face...Xander shook it away. That was then; this was now. They had a problem to solve.
"But what the devil is Spike trying to do?" Giles pulled off his glasses, groped around for something to wipe them with. His hand found the whiteboard marker again. "And why does this always turn up when I'm polishing my glasses?" He set the marker aside. "We know vampires stole that book by Du Lac from my personal collection a few weeks ago. And now Spike has the Du Lac Cross. Obviously he wants to translate something. But what?"
"If I may interject, sir," Kendra began.
"What does it matter?" said a voice by the bookshelf. "I say we go kick Spike's butt back to the Dust Ages. Dark Power averted, Du Lac Cross recovered, and no more ugly men trying to kill me when I'm on a date."
Giles raised his eyebrow. "On a date?"
"Giles, you're missing the point," said Buffy as she stepped forward into the light. "There was this guy-he must have been a demon-who tried to kill me. I want sympathy, Giles, sympathy, and maybe a little chocolate too. If it wasn't for Angel, you'd be stuck with just Kendra here, and she's not me. She can't do what I can do. No offense, Kendra, but I'm outta your league."
Kendra dropped her military stance and straightforward gaze to glare at Buffy. "What league would dat be den? De league of-" Kendra paused and visibly collected herself. "Me apologies, sir. It is not proper for a Slayer-" here she cast a sidelong glance at Buffy "-to argue in front of her Watcher. I do not understand why Buffy keeps startin' it."
"Do restrain yourself, Buffy," chided Giles. And on went the glasses. Xander had a private bet running with Buffy about how often they could get Giles to polish his glasses in one conversation. Three was currently the magic number, and Ms. Calendar was the best conversational subject to get there. He doubted, however, that Buffy was trying for it now given her expression. Giles continued. "Were there any identifying marks to this creature aside from being, uh, how did you put it, an 'ugly' man? And how did you kill it?"
"Well," said Buffy, glancing at Kendra, "He was big, uh, ugly, kinda ogreish actually, long shaggy hair and surprisingly clean teeth, and-oh!-blind in one eye. I had to slit his throat with my ice skate, which, lemme tell you, more than a little disgusting. He-" The look on the boy's face. Buffy was supposed to kill demons. "-eight feet tall at least. But, y'know, not anything a real Slayer couldn't handle."
"Ya needed Angel," retorted Kendra. "A Slayer dependin' on a creature of de night to save her. It's a good thing future Slayers will not dream of ya fightin'. Would not want dem to get de wrong idea."
"Children, really," said Giles tiredly. "We need to f-focus. Buffy, what makes you think this is connected in any way to Spike?"
A foot lightly kicked his leg. "Xander," whispered Willow. "Is everything okay? You look a bit pale, and you have the strangest expression on your face."
"What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" Xander whispered back. "There ain't nuthin' wrong."
"Anything you'd care to share with the class, Xander?" Giles had a mildly sardonic look on his face.
Buffy cut in. "Actually, I have something for show and tell." She held out a grimy dirt-encrusted gold ring, and dropped it neatly into Giles' cupped hand. "It had Angel majorly freaked. He said something about the 'Order of Teriyaki'. Care to expound, Watcher mine?"
"Not the Order of Teriyaki," Giles said. He brought the ring up to his eyes, adjusting his glasses with one hand help focus in better. His hand began to tremble ever so slightly. "The Order of Teraka." Giles lowered his hands with a sigh as he leaned back into his chair, leaving the ring on the table. "I only wish it were some meat-eating demon cult with a fondness for Teriyaki sauce. No, Angel was right to be worried. We have to find you somewhere safe to stay as soon as possible, Buffy, at least until we come up with some plan on how to proceed."
Buffy crossed her arms. "First Angel, and now you. What's so bad about this Order of the Ugly One-Eyed Men?
"De Order of Teraka," said Kendra. "An ancient Order of assassins from de times de Solomon de Wise." She sounded like she was reading out of a textbook. "Dey are sworn to de god of de hunt; dey have given all up but de desire to kill and fulfill deir contracts. According to Dramius, dey live by dis credo: sow discord and kill de unwary. Dey are a formidable foe, Buffy; dey will keep comin' one by one until de job is done."
"Wonderful," said Buffy sarcastically. "Just what I needed: a secret society of stalkers out to kill me. As if life wasn't complicated enough."
Kendra's eyes met Buffy's. She looked as serious and as earnest as Xander had ever seen her. "Worry not, Buffy. If dey kill ya, I will take up ya stake and avenge ya. And if dey kill me, anodder Slayer will be sent to take me place."
"Can I say how reassuring that is not? Hold your horses, rookie: I'm not dead yet, and I intend to stay that way. Giles," she said, breaking Kendra's gaze, "What do we do? How do I fight these things?"
"Haven't you been listening, Buffy? They will only stop coming when the contract has been fulfilled and you have been e-eliminated. You can kill as many of them as you like; there will always be another one. I just need to think. Think, there must be some way to stop this."
Bruce's voice whispered by Xander's ear. "The contract is the key, Xander. Contracts can be broken or cancelled. Who would have a motive to contract the Order of Teraka to kill Buffy?"
"Spike," Xander said. "Uh," he stuttered as everyone turned to look at him. "Buffy said to kill Spike?"
They looked at Buffy. She held up a finger. "One. We know from Willy that he's up to something." Another finger joined the first. "Two. There is a Dark Power risin' in Sunnydale," she said, doing a terrible imitation of Kendra's accent. "Three. I foil evil plans for a living. Except no one pays me." Buffy bit her lip thoughtfully. "Giles, why is that?" She pouted. "I should totally get allowance or something. Ergo, four. Spike doesn't want to risk us, specifically me, Slay girl, stopping the Dark Power risin', so he calls in the big guns. How am I doing so far?"
"Very nicely, Buffy, I'm quite impressed," said Giles. Buffy shot Kendra a triumphant look. "I agree that the timing is rather suggestive. Still, it's not a threat we can afford to ignore. Spike's stratagem, if it is Spike's stratagem, will succeed if we don't get you to some secure location. We still need to figure out how to deal with these assassins."
'See, Bruce?' Xander thought. 'Giles does care. He puts Buffy first.'
"Giles cares," Bruce said, and left it at that.
"I'm not just going to run away like some scared little girl, Giles," Buffy said. "I'm the Slayer. I say we take the fight to Spike and get this over with."
"If you know where Spike lives, Buffy," retorted Giles impatiently, "I'm all ears."
Xander sensed Willow stir at his side. "Buffy, what about Angel?" She tucked a piece of her red hair behind her ears as she leaned forward eagerly. "Doesn't he have contacts with the dark and the creepy? I bet he could find out where Spike's den of iniquity is easy-peasy. He could help us fight him too. "
"Yeah, all he has to do is brood in Spike's general direction, and Spike will be the one running away like a little girl," muttered Xander. The others ignored him.
Buffy brightened at Willow's implication. "Good idea. Excellent idea! I'll go get Angel, you guys keep doing the planning thing. Whaddaya say, Giles?"
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to have another fighter of Angel's caliber around if it comes to a physical fight." Giles' voice softened. "Do be careful, Buffy. You won't know who the assassins are until they attack; they could be anyone, even a human. Keep an eye out for single individuals acting erratically-each one will be working alone."
Buffy nodded, and went for the library doors. "Wait!" called Xander. She paused, looking back. "You shouldn't go alone. I mean, it was a good thing that Angel was there the first time, and you know I don't say that lightly."
"Step lightly," advised Bruce. "Buffy won't listen if you make her look weak in front of Kendra. She has a reputation to maintain."
"Uh, well, so what do we have that the assassins don't? We have each other; we don't work alone. Teamwork took down the ogre-man thing. Teamwork can take down the others too. If we're Willow-smart about it"-he grinned at the girl next to him in question-"and work together, we can beat this thing."
Willow smiled back; the others looked at him as if he had grown two heads. "Go on, Xander," said Bruce approvingly. "You've got the right idea."
Xander felt the weight of their attention like a tangible thing. For Buffy, he thought, and looked Giles directly in the eye. "It's not a death sentence, Giles, or a run-for-the-hills life sentence. And I think Buffy's right too: if Spike's the one who took out the contract in the first place and we dust him, couldn't that break the contract?" He looked from face to face, urging them to believe him. "Or maybe if we cut off the money somehow. Something. We've got some major brainpower in the room; we can figure it out. The point is, we all need to watch each other's backs until we're out of the danger zone. That includes you, Buffy." Xander held his breath.
"Maybe you should have been the one to get 'motivational speaker' on your aptitude test, Xander, not Cordelia." Buffy wasn't immediately dismissing the idea; that was good. "I don't want to put any of you in danger, though-the assassins are coming after me, not you, and I can't protect you and fight them at the same time." She sounded grudging, but thoughtful. Excellent. He just wished she would recognize he could fight too.
"I can go wit ya," Kendra offered unexpectedly. "I can take care of meself." She looked to Giles. "With ya permission, sir?"
"Of course," said Giles. "Thank you, Kendra. It would certainly set my mind at rest."
Buffy shifted back into motion. "Well, if you're coming, come. But just until I find Angel, okay? You don't have to stick around. In fact, please don't."
"Do ya have a disguise, Buffy?" asked Kendra, not moving an inch. "De assassins are findin' ya somehow."
"Somehow I neglected to bring my I'm-Not-A-Slayer-Don't-Hear-Me-Roar costume with me today. I can't believe I forgot it."
"Costume," said Willow slowly. "Costume! Buffy, Halloween-what about a glamour of some kind? I bet Ms. Calendar could help."
Buffy and Giles exchanged glances.
"Uh, that's really not-"
"Ms. Calendar is-"
"You go first," said Buffy.
"Erm, well, a-a magical disguise of some kind, any kind, might be a hazard for Buffy as opposed to a help. Order of Teraka assassins will be trained in detecting and circumventing magic. It would be like painting a mystical beacon on her back. No, a mundane camouflage would be much safer, much more effective in delaying pursuit."
Buffy nodded vehemently. "What Giles said. Anyway, I can swing by home after I find Angel and pick some things up."
Shortly after the bell rang, and the meeting broke up. Buffy and Kendra sneaked out the back, while Willow and Xander did their best to inconspicuously edge out from the library doors. Principal Snyder had been on a warpath ever since Xander and Buffy's respective field trips the previous day.
Xander didn't hear the doorbell ring, but he did hear Tony's bellow. "Boy! Someone at the door."
He considered himself for a moment: drenched in sweat, panting, wearing loose exercise clothing. He'd been learning some basic katas from Bruce to the sound of the dryer gently swishing in the background. The basement really wasn't much. Despite Xander pushing the desk into a corner, hanging up Tony's dusty old hand tools, and dealing with years of his parents' accumulated junk, the usable space was still small and somewhat dank, a far cry from the vast space and sleek equipment of a real Batcave. But Bruce never commented on the conditions; the closest he came was a matter-of-fact instruction to Xander to find a used mirror somewhere so Xander could see his various stances for himself.
If he answered the door like this, it would certainly raise questions. If it was one of the Scoobies, though, he could probably pass it off as practicing Halloween-derived Batman fighting skills. Xander wouldn't mind rubbing their faces in it a bit; it still smarted that Giles had effectively dismissed him after school. Sure, he wasn't the best researcher, but with Bruce's help he was getting better. When Willow found that book describing the stolen Du Lac manuscript, though, Giles said they didn't need him anymore. Not today, or rather tonight. Xander consoled himself with the thought that they would definitely need him when it came to fighting Spike and Spike's goons. He wasn't some Cordelia who had nothing to offer...except a car. Dammit. Xander really wanted to have his own car.
Up past the bead curtain, quietly up the stairs. Despite his irritation at the interruption, Xander was growing curious. It was quite late for anyone to call. Even Sunnydale residents not in the know tended to avoid the nighttime open season on humans in town. He walked by the living room, ignoring Tony and half-listening to the voices on the TV-something about the police offering a reward for information about the murder of Aaron Kavosh?, flipped on the hall light, and opened the door to the dark outside.
"Kendra," said Xander in surprise. "What are you doing here?" She looked terrible in the light spilling from the hallway behind him.
"Mr. Giles' dwellin' was too far away," she said. Her voice was very quiet. "May I come in?"
"Are you a vampire?" asked Xander, half-jokingly. Kendra seemed to take it seriously; she put her arm over the threshold in a very deliberate manner, then withdrew it. "Of course you can come in. What's up?" He looked at her more closely; the scratch on her forehead was weeping blood. Now it was Xander's turn to be quiet. "You're bleeding," he realized aloud. "You're bleeding from a shallow wound."
"I have also lost me strength. I am not healin' properly, and I have lost me strength." She stepped stiffly inside the house, and Xander automatically scanned the street before closing the door. Movement caught his eye-three figures swaggering up the sidewalk from past old man Brooke's house. Vampires.
He shut the door hastily, and turned to escort Kendra to the kitchen.
Tony's voice drifted out of the living room. "Who is it? Is it that pretty little redhead? She's too good for you, boy."
"It's, uh, just a friend, that's all," Xander improvised. Kendra looked startled. "Her parents are away and she accidentally got locked out."
"I don't want any whoring in my house, you hear? Get a motel room." Xander felt himself beginning to flush under Kendra's steady gaze. He would have given a great deal at that moment to have her far, far away.
Swallowing his instinctive response, Xander silently led Kendra down the hall. Better to keep his head down and not give Tony the satisfaction of provoking him into a fight, especially not in front of a-well, friend was not quite the right word. They were definitely more than casual acquaintances at this point, though. She might be friend material if she ever got over her Slayer of the Year award take on life.
"So," Xander said as he busied himself pulling out first aid supplies, "What happened?" He deliberately kept his back turned.
"Poison, I tink," Kendra replied. Her voice was tight. "Was sent on patrol in place of Buffy. Me senses told me dat dere was someone followin' me, but I could not shake him. I failed me training. I was not able to avoid all de darts he shot at me." Something rattled on the table. "De ones dat hit me dissolved, but I caught one dat did not. Mr. Giles will analyze it. He will know what to do." She sounded like she was trying to reassure herself.
"She didn't get those injuries from blow darts," observed Bruce.
"There were vampires outside," said Xander conversationally as he pulled out the bandages. "Is the arm broken?"
"Yes." She did not elaborate.
"It must have been hard, realizing that you couldn't fight them on equal ground," he went on. "Bet you only figured it the first time you tried to punch one."
Kendra was silent.
"Right," Xander said. "Giles will know what to do."
He went over to the phone, only to have it ring shrilly before he even picked it up. "Harris House of Pizza," he joked automatically.
"Xander," said Willow. "Thank god."
Xander swallowed. "Did one of the assassins-?"
"No, Buffy's okay. She's a little shaken, but she's okay. No, they got Angel."
"A bunch of vampires and some big yellow spike-throwing demon thing attacked Buffy and Angel at his apartment. Buffy killed the demon, but they kidnapped Angel."
"Where is Buffy now?" asked Xander, visions of Buffy running off alone in a mad quest to take revenge spinning through his head.
"She's at Giles' place. There was something about a bug man at her house? Anyway, we're holding a war council first thing in the morning."
"Kendra was attacked too."
He heard her gasp over the phone. "Oh no!"
"I'm going to drive her over to Giles'. She's been poisoned."
"Oh my god. Maybe I should go too. Giles might need my help."
"I can pick you up on the way," he offered. If Kendra died-
"Xander," Willow said. "We know what the Dark Power is. Spike's trying to heal Drusilla, and they need the blood of her sire to do it."
"Angel. Angel. No wonder they kidnapped him."
"Giles reckons the ritual happens tomorrow night on the full moon." Willow was obviously in focus-ville.
"Let me get this straight," said Xander. "We've got twenty-four hours to save Kendra, rescue Angel, stop Spike, and keep a bunch of bad-ass assassins from killing Buffy."
"That's right, mister."
"Well then," he said, letting a wave of calm determination wash over him, "I'll be right over, Willow. Let's get this party started."