They decloaked back in the chapel. Silence ruled until they were once again in the van.
"He looked awful," Willow said as Oz put the vehicle in gear. Buffy nodded. Willow continued, staring blankly through the windshield, "Xander's so alive, you know? To see him like that, it was just so... so wrong."
"He's been hurt before," Oz said.
"Not like this," Buffy said. "I know what Willow means. Xander has lots of faults, but he's always there. He's never been down like this."
"He was just lying there." Willow shook her head. A moment of tense silence hung heavy in the air.
"So, that was his family?" Oz asked.
"Yeah," Willow said.
"Who was the guy who kept trying to smoke next to the oxygen valve?" Buffy asked.
"His uncle Rory." After Willow's response, they were quiet for a while. Oz broke the spell.
"Where can we drop you, Buffy?"
"Home," the Slayer said. "I gotta get ready for patrol."
"Is that a good idea?" Willow asked.
"Gotta be done. Faith's not here and, to be honest, I need to get outside. Seeing Xander like that really shook me up, and a little Slayer-based carnage could be just what I need to settle my nerves."
Oz glanced in the mirror. "I've got to stay in tonight." He shot a look at Willow. "You all right watching her back?"
"No need," the Slayer said firmly. "I've got an idea."
Buffy ambled down the sidewalk, her senses alert for any commotion. As the last light of the sun drained from the sky the evening cooled, turning toward cold. She congratulated herself for stopping at home to pick up a hoody. She turned up the long concrete driveway and approached the door. She hit it three times with the side of her fist, listening to the booming echoes fade away. She raised her hand to knock again when the door was jerked open.
"Put on your party shoes," she said. "Might want to grab a jacket. It's a little cold tonight."
"Buffy?" Angel said.
"And you came to me, why?" Angel asked as he tugged at the lapels of his leather jacket to settle the garment on his shoulders.
"You're the last man standing," Buffy said. "Xander's in the hospital, Faith's in the wind, Oz and Willow are busy because tonight is Oz's time of the month. I need someone to patrol with me and I assumed your social calendar was pretty open."
"Wait." Angel shook his head. "What about Xander? Faith?"
"Oh, yeah, you're not in the loop." Buffy took a deep breath and said, "Xander slept with Faith, causing Cordelia to wig, then Faith left town. At some point, Xander went to the rail yard and ended up doing a Humpty Dumpty. I believe you understand about Oz and Willow. And since I have these-" she touched her neck "-I need to patrol on the buddy system. Got it?"
Angel squinted. "Xander slept with Faith?"
Buffy rolled her eyes as her breath huffed out in disgust. "Yes, and it's caused just as much trouble as you'd think."
"And Xander's in the hospital? How did that happen?"
"No one's really sure, but he was found out by the train yard. Faith had to get out of town some way, so maybe she was looking to hop a train, Xander went to talk to her and mayhem ensued."
"Do you think she'd do that?"
"I think that right now Faith is a loaded gun and she'll go off in whatever direction she's pointed." Buffy jerked her head toward the street. "C'mon, let's shake a leg."
"Wow." Buffy looked around the patch of open ground. "There's so much ash here it looks like the fire department had a practice burn."
"Yeah." Angel crouched, his fingers brushing the fine gray powder. "Lots of different bodies on the floor."
"They're all over the place," Buffy said, walking back and forth, taking care not to step in the scattered vampire remains. "What happened?"
Angel stood, brushing his hands on his jeans. "I'd say that the war between the Reverend and Trick just went up a notch."
"I don't get that. What is this war? One week they're working together, the next they're at each other's throats, sorry for the lousy joke. What gives?"
"Trick broke the rules. Or a rule." Angel stared into the night as though he could see the shadows of the fleeing vampires.
"What rule?" Buffy stopped her traverse of the area and looked back at him.
Buffy nodded. "Yeah. The creepy girl who wasn't a girl? She's part of this?"
Angel turned to face her. "She's all of it. When Trick took her, he crossed a line in the Reverend's mind. She was off-limits."
Angel shrugged. "You don't touch angels."
"Okay, just a minute." Buffy put her hands on her hips. "We're dealing with angels now? Did we just cross over with John Edward?"
"In Hampton's mind. Remember, vampires use the expired human as a template. The Reverend believed in angels." Angel looked thoughtful. "Not that far-fetched really. Angels and demons are different sides of the same coin, according to his cosmology."
"Angel!" Buffy stamped her foot. "Stop musing. What are you talking about?"
He looked at the Slayer. "They were never allies, not in any meaningful sense of the word. They each agreed not to step on the other's toes. It was a truce at best. Now it's broken. All bets are off."
"Got me a rock-and-roll band, it's a free-for-all," Buffy said.
"Is that a good? If the Reverend's going for Trick's throat, doesn't that make them each other's worst enemy?"
"In theory."Angel stepped over the crystallized remains until he reached the sidewalk. "In practice, vampire wars are never good for anyone in the vicinity. I don't think there's anything here. It's cold. We should go."
"Are we tracking the winners of that little skirmish back there?" Buffy asked.
Angel nodded. "Whoever came out on top is going to be stoked, like Little Leaguers ready for ice cream. Anyone crosses their path will be in a world of hurt."
"Unless we stop them."
They walked through the night in silence, senses alert.
"I think they're up ahead." Angel put a hand on Buffy's arm. "Let me scout."
"Why?" Buffy hissed.
"To see if those will be a problem." He touched her neck.
The Slayer flinched and anger flared in her eyes, but common sense won the day. "Okay. I'll wait over there." She pointed to an oak tree. "When you give me the thumbs up, I'll come in with the fists of fury." As Angel slipped away in the darkness, she flattened her back against the tree.
She waited, her breathing shallow as she stared into the darkness. A shadow detached itself from the deeper gloom. Angel waved his hand. Buffy pushed away from the tree and jogged to him.
They crouched beside a hedge. Angel gestured over his head. "Six of them," he hissed. "Definitely the Reverend's. They're prowling. You ready?"
"You have to ask?"
"Not really." They vaulted over the hedge and landed in the back yard of a modest brick house. Warm yellow light spilled through the windows. Buffy caught a glimpse of a family, watching something animated on TV. Looked like a feature from Pixar.
The ambient light from the house and the street lights cast a weak illumination over the first third of the back yard. The dark line of the hedge marked the boundary, and the Slayer could see darker shadows against it. Angel was right. Six of them. As Angel edged away from her, the shadows detached themselves from the background and moved forward. The dim light was still enough to highlight grossly deformed canines and glittering eyes. The vampires spread out, arraying themselves in a loose semi-circle.
Buffy reached into her waistband and pulled out a stake in each hand. "Hi," she said brightly. "We got a call from Neighborhood Watch." And it was on.
She raced forward, aiming at the vampires directly in front of her. She figured this would divide them into two groups and she was right. Three of them turned toward Angel. The three in front of Buffy tensed as she charged. At the last minute, as their hands were reaching for her, the Slayer dropped and executed a perfect slide between the legs of the middle vamp. She dug in a heel and popped up, stake already whistling through the air as she turned in a backhanded strike. Her momentum carried her around and she went with it, turning the force into a spinning kick to the head of the vampire now on her left. She came to rest facing the third vampire, who barely registered her presence before she dispatched him. She dropped to one knee and the head-kicked vampire missed his grab, stumbling against her. Buffy leaned back and pushed up off the ground, flipping the demon up and over her head. It landed on its back, never to rise again.
The Slayer turned in time to see Angel kick a vampire in the groin. The creature dropped to its knees, eyes bulging. One vamp was already gone, either escaped or dusted, probably the latter. As Buffy ran toward the melee, Angel picked up a stake from the ground and dusted a vampire. The remaining demon struggled to its feet and attempted to limp away. The Slayer grabbed it by the collar of its tattered shirt and hauled it around to face her. The creature spat at her. She stabbed it through the heart and watched it dissolve. Her hand went to her cheek. She used the sleeve of her sweatshirt to wipe away the vampire's saliva.
"It's one thing to be evil," she said, "but that's just nasty."
"You okay?" Angel asked.
"Tip-top," she replied.
A light came on over the back door of the house. Buffy and Angel sprinted for the hedge and dived over it as the door opened.
"Who's there? Is anybody out there?" The man looked over the yard, then looked over his shoulder and said, "Nobody out here. Probably the neighbor's dog. Thing's a nuisance. There'll be hell to pay if I find any poop in the yard."