Disclaimer: We all know who owns the Buffyverse. I ain't him.

Story: A Single Step

Series: Divergent Destinies

Chronology – First in the Series

By IceWing (icewing@one.net)



Time Sequence: A couple of weeks after Buffy ran away to LA after sending Angel to Hell.



"A little help here!" yelled Xander as he tried desperately to keep the muscle bound vamp before him from snapping his neck like a barnyard fowl. The blessed cross he held like a shield was keeping the former biker at bay, but the sharpened stake in his right hand wasn't inspiring as much fear, or even concern, in the vamp as the vamp was in Xander.

"I'm gonna rip your heart out and feast on it," snarled the vamp as he tried once again to get his hands around the teen's neck.

Xander grinned as he brought the cross up and jammed it into the vampire's twisted visage. "Don't think so, although…" His quip was cut off abruptly as he was lifted off the ground by a savage punch to his solar plexus.

From the side, Xander heard the familiar sound of a vamp dusting. Struggling to his feet, he kept the cross out, expecting another attack any moment. But it never came.

"And then there was one," spoke Oz as he stepped up next to Xander, his own cross and stake ready for the next round.

The vampire looked at them, disbelief and rage vying for dominance in its eyes. "You bastards! You killed Betty!"

"Nothing gets past you, does it?" asked the werewolf. "Except for the fact she was already dead."

"And now how about we make it a double feature… What do you say Oz?"

Before either of them could make a move, the vamp snarled that he would kill both of them. And then, surprisingly, he turned and ran into the darkness.

After a couple of seconds, Xander asked if Oz thought he was gone for good. When the answer came back as an affirmative nod, Xander leaned heavily against a nearby tombstone, then slid to the ground.

"You know," said Xander as he picked himself off the ground and dusted himself off. "I'm getting pretty damn tired of this."

Oz looked at him. "Kinda leaving a lot of room to work with there…"

"You know what I mean," quipped Xander. "I'm tired of getting tossed around like a rag doll all the time and always coming in second to vampires."

"We are talking about vamps in general, not a one in particular?" Although his face was as unexpressive as usual, Oz's eyes were gleaming with laughter.

A hint of something crossed Xander's eyes, but was gone before it was even truly there. "Well, not like that's going to make a difference, at least on this side of hell. But seriously, I mean, why is it that these vamps always seem like they can toss me across a room without even breaking a sweat, not to mention how they just tend to stand there while we pummel them."

"Going out on a limb here and say that it might be the whole demon versus human thing. But its just a guess."

Xander looked over at him. "You think you're just a real character, don't you?"

"Come on. Guitar playing werewolf who hunts vamps cuz the local superhero ran away after saving the world… Who'd ever buy a combo like that.?" Oz glanced down at his watch. "Closing in on 3 A.M. Gonna bail. Need a lift?"

"Nah, I'll take a quick loop through downtown on my way home. See if there's anything in need of a good running away from."

The two clasped forearms, a gesture that neither had ever discussed, but did somewhat instinctively, as they parted ways for the night. It was a gesture out of place in the dawn of a new millennium, but one that reminded both young men of what they were. They were warriors, fighting, albeit not as well as they would wish to, but fighting none the less, against the darkness that constantly pushed against mankind, trying to find a weakness and breech the walls that defended the innocent.

As he walked down the deserted sidewalks of SunnyDale, Xander's thoughts wandered. With Buffy gone, SunnyDale was definitely a tad short on the capable defenders list. Willow, Oz, himself and Cordy were heading out every night to try and keep the vampire population from getting too large. So far, they had been lucky, but he knew in his heart that luck ran out eventually.

'But skill doesn't,' he said to himself as he continued his walk, not really paying attention to where he was going, but instead watching his surroundings. It had been two years since he had started fighting the critters of the night, and in that time, he realized he hadn't learned much of anything useful in taking em down. That realization bothered him. It wasn't like this was some kind of hobby that he took up just to get some girl to recognize him. Ok, well, maybe at first. But that had all changed after Jesse was turned and he'd had to stake what had once been his best friend. He was in this for the long haul, because as skilled, as strong and as talented as Buffy was as the Slayer, she wouldn't be around forever. 'Case in point', he thought. 'Right now she's hiding in LA or something.' And even when she was around, there were always more vampires than there were Slayers.

But the Slayers and the Watchers weren't the only ones who had a vested interest in fighting the darkness. This was his fight now, as much as it was theirs, and he was sick of not being able to contribute more. He might not be a Slayer, but he knew there were ways to beat stronger opponents. Find their weaknesses and exploit them was one way, another was to turn their own strength against them. With that thought in mind, he changed direction so he would swing past the library on his way home. "Research guy rides again…"

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

Had Willow come by late the next afternoon, she would have tried to wake herself from what was obviously a dream. Xander Harris was sitting at the now cleared desk in his room, surrounded by clocks and, for a change, books. But there was not a school recognized book in any of the stacks. Instead, they were all titled with names like 'Denizen's of the Darkness', 'A Treatise on the Habits of the Walking Dead' and one which he was sure only a single member of his group had ever read, 'The Slayer's Handbook'. He was carefully reading through each book, and taking solid notes on what the best ways to deal with each kind of monster listed within. As he penciled in another note on the vampires page, he noted with amusement that some of the comics and movies had been right in things that harmed or repulsed vamps. Others were just funny. Like any vamp would let him hold it under natural running water to test and see what happened to it. As he read the last page of the chapter, he began to formulate a plan for how to best train himself so he would be a valuable asset in the fight against the darkness instead of a liability to the gang. First he needed to learn how to defend himself properly. Then, once he could do that, he could move on to learning how to attack. Being able to deliver devastating attacks to vamps was no good if the first punch they threw knocked him across a cemetery.

Looking up, he saw it was still a couple hours till dusk. He still had time to hit the public library to find out about what a good martial art to start with would be, then patrol for a couple of hours before getting some sleep.

** ** ** ** ** ** **

From his shadowed booth at the back of the Alibi Room, Xander watched the biker vamp, who went by the name of Slash, as he sat playing poker with a handful of other demons. It was a pretty high stakes game, from what Xander could tell, involving plenty of drugs, money, jewelry and, from Xander's point of view the most revolting, pints of blood. He had never figured that there was an entire economy based on blood, with certain blood- types, from certain kinds of people, having more value than other kinds…

His subtle surveillance was interrupted though by someone walking up to his table, blocking his view of the poker game. As he looked up, the young man had to admit that this view was far more enticing than the poker game. It was like a playboy bunny had sprung forth from the pages of Hugh's magazine and was standing before him in all her glory. Her dress left little to the imagination, and looked to have been painted on by a very frisky painter. Xander looked into her eyes, and suddenly it took all of his control just to clear his throat.

"Umm… Hi?"

She laughed, the deep sultry sound of it promising so much more… "Aren't you going to buy me a drink?"

He was like a deer in the headlights, but he managed to wave Willy over.

The barkeep moved himself between the vixen and the Slayerette, breaking the line of sight between their eyes… Xander shook his head clear for a moment, unable to belief the strength of the attraction he had to this woman before him. He pulled out a twenty and handed it to the barkeep, saying to get the lady whatever she wanted.

Willy took it but didn't move away. After a moment's hesitation, the barkeep spoke. "Look, normally I don't make anything that happens between patrons my business, but look kid. There's a lot more to Ariel here than meets the eyes… And Ariel, the kid's got some bad ass friends who won't leave a stone untouched in this town if something happens to him…."

The brunette bombshell nodded and responded that she just thought he looked a little tense and that maybe she could make his evening, and morning, and maybe afternoon, a little less stressful… Xander, on the other hand, heard the warning and his eyes flicked to the mirror, which to his relief showed the beauty standing by his table… And she was just as perfect from behind… As his focus moved back to the woman, he saw from the corner of his vision that Slash was out of the poker game and on his way out the door.

He was torn between desire and his goal for the evening. After a heartbeat of hesitation, he stood up. "I can't believe I'm doing this, cuz the only women who are ever interested in me are never quite what they seem, and considering where we're at and all... but could I have your number?"

"Oh, a strong one… Don't see that much these days…" She pulled a card out of the front of her dress and pressed it into his hand. "Call me anytime," she purred with enough sweetness to put half of the town into diabetic comas. "I'll be waiting…" She leaned over him, and as she did, he saw the two tiny horns nestled in her hair, looking for all the world like those you see on headbands at Renaissance Festivals and Raves. The softness of her lips on his cheek overpowered the concern that she wasn't human. And with that, she walked away from his table with a sultry stride.

Looking at the card, he muttered. "No, my life's not complicated, now is it…." And then he quickly headed out of the bar.



** ** ** ** ** ** **

Xander looked up at the sun, hanging high in the mid-day sky. "Ah, glorious southern California weather. Bright sun and not a cloud in the sky. Perfect for today's outing."

Humming, he shrugged off his backpack, unzipped the top and set it next to the large package he had carefully carried across town on the city bus. From the backpack he pulled out several large crosses, each with a wire stand to keep it upright, as well as a jar of water.

Walking around the crypt to which he had tailed Slash after leaving the Alibi Room, he placed a cross in each of the windows, facing inwards. Once that was done, he sprinkled the window, the bars and the window ledge itself with the holy water and blessed it. Although Xander wasn't a priest, Father Donavan down at St. Michael's had assured him that anyone who believe could perform a blessing, given they knew the ritual and had holy water.

Once each of the windows of the crypt had been made vamp resistant, Xander returned to the backpack and his package. Quickly, he removed the packaging from the contents, revealing the most ingenious, and simple, weapon he had ever come up with. Looking up, he made sure there were no clouds in the sky and prepared himself for his first solo, daytime vampire dusting. After insuring the weapon had not been damaged during the trip, he fitted his hand through the grip mounted on the back and took a deep breath.

He set himself and pivoted at the hip, getting all his weight and power behind the side kick. His foot met with the door and the lock gave way, springing open and allowing the door to open inwards. "Hey Lucy, I'm home!" he said as his eyes probed the interior of the crypt.

Even before the last of the dust kicked up from his abrupt entry had settled, one of the inhabitants of the crypt was up and moving, trying to get out of the light which was streaming in from the doorway. "You damned human! Come in here so I can kill you and suck you dry!"

Xander smirked. "What? You don't want to come out here and get me? Why not? Forget your SPF two million sunscreen?"

The vampire looked around for something to use as a weapon against the human that was taunting it, but almost all of its belongings where on the other side of the crypt, bathed in sunlight. "Come night fall, I'm going to wear your face as a hat!" snarled the vamp.

"What makes you think you'll still be around come nightfall?"

"Because you're to pathetic to be able to come in here and stake me and I'm not dumb enough to come out into the sun to get you!"

"Good point," said Xander. "But, although I may not be able to take you on one on one right now, I am smart enough to know that and smarter still to be able to think of ways to deal with you otherwise." With that he pulled his new toy from behind his back and waved it in front of himself. "So, I guess if I can't get you to come to the sunlight, I'll just have to bring the sunlight to you!"

With that, he slid his hand into the grip on the back of the parabolic mirror and took aim. The light streamed into the crypt like a spotlight, lighting up the darkness. The former biker had but a second to realize what was happening before the tendril of illumination was aimed directly at him. For the first time in several years, he felt the warmth of the sun, and then a fraction of a second later, the pain that it brought to the creatures of the darkness.

Flames licked across his body as he tried to avoid the beam of death brought from the sun to the confines of his crypt via modern optics manufacturing, Xander's watching too many MacGyver episodes as a kid, and a local industrial supply surplus shop. Desperately, the vamp threw himself behind a vault where he tried to be as small as possible to avoid be burned further. "Now what you gonna do, you fucking brat? You come over here and I'll tear your throat out."

"Uh huh… Sure you will." Xander changed hands on the grip, so his right was now free. "Do you really think I wouldn't expect for you to take cover? And that after all of this I would be dumb enough to come in there after you?" From the satchel at his side he pulled out an item the size of his fist and lobbed it at the edge of the stone sarcophagus the vamp was concealed by.

As it burst, and the contents hit the vampires head and shoulders, the undead let out a horrifying scream. Xander lobbed a second of his holy water balloons at the vamp's location. The screaming continued but after five more 'holy water hand grenades' it had been reduced to a pitiful mewling sound. Carefully setting the parabolic mirror down, Xander advanced on the vamp, water balloon in one hand, stake in the other.

The vamp was sprawled out, smoking, as if he had been debating on reaching across the sun streaming in through the door towards a pile of stuff which was tantalizingly close. Never one to be cruel, even to a creature of darkness, Xander drove the stake through the vamp's back, into its dead heart, and quickly pulled it out. The dust from its final death congealed in the holy water puddle and let off a bit of smoke for a moment before it too vanished.

Xander smiled. "One down, more than I want to count to go." His eyes moved to the pile of stuff the vampire had been reaching for. "And what do we have here?" The most obvious object was the shotgun leaning against the side of the crypt. "Whoa. Good thing that was smack dab in the middle of the sunlight." Cautiously, Xander picked up the weapon and looked it over. 'Military issue,' he thought. 'I think they had a rack of these in the armory when we snagged the missile launcher.' He racked his brain, but couldn't remember anything else about it's tech specs other than it was a 12 gauge, as it said clearly on the side of the action and was the military's new combat shotgun. Working the action, he cleared the chamber and found it was empty. "Okay… Not quite as dangerous unloaded." He fumbled through the vampire's belongings for a few minutes, but was unable to locate any shells. "What were you going to do," he wondered out loud. "Throw it at me?" He looked at the weapon again. "Well, you're too valuable, not to mention useful, to just leave behind, so it looks like you've got a new home."

After retrieving his duffle from outside, and replacing the mirror in its packaging, he put the scattergun into the bag. "Wonder what else you had around here…" Systematically, Xander scoured the mausoleum. When he was done, he had loaded his duffel bag with the vampire's possessions. It wasn't like the vamp was going to be needing any of the weapons, or electronics, or anything else ever again. He'd have to figure a way to get the TV home, but it was currently hidden in an empty alcove. Why did all these tombs have alcoves and hidey holes anyway?

As he leaned against the wall, one thing bothered him. Slash had been playing poker last night, and doing pretty well from what Xander had been able to see. So where was all the money? It wasn't like he would have been able to make a deposit at a bank or anything. "There's something I'm missing here…" he thought. His eyes went over the walls again, trying to figure it out.

It was the fact that he'd seen the symbol before in one of Giles' books that brought his eyes back to the stone carving on the corner of the sarcophagus. He couldn't remember what it was, but it was familiar. Moving around the stone, he saw that only the one corner had it. All the other carvings were repeated around the sarcophagus, except this one. Squatting down, he ran his fingers across the stone, and on a hunch, pushed. His effort was rewarded by a slight movement of the stone. Xander shifted his grasp and tried again, with even more force… This time, the entire corner of the vault pivoted, revealing a hidden cavity inside. A cavity that was filled to the brim with the real treasure the vampire had possessed.

Xander was almost giddy as he pulled the contents out and organized it. Handfuls of jewelry, almost all of it gold. A pair of small statuettes, with intricate carving and inlay work. The packets of blood and drugs he'd dump… Unlike the other stuff, there was no way he could use it and he'd seen enough firsthand of what that poison could do. It would get dumped down a storm drain after patrol.

And finally, cash! Three large bankrolls, totaling close to twelve thousand dollars. He couldn't believe it. Enough money to pay for a couple of years of college, assuming he could get in. Or maybe get a car. Or get him out of his parent's place. The possibilities were almost beyond his wildest dreams. He wanted to run and tell everybody about it, but stopped cold before even moving.

He'd done it. He'd killed the vampire, in broad daylight, all by himself. No help, no backup, nothing. Realization dawned on him that if he told anybody about this, he'd get lectured severely, told how he was rash and foolish. And, maybe he had been. But he'd won.

With a sigh, Xander looked down at the money in his hands, the joy it brought muted. He couldn't tell them. Not yet anyway. They wouldn't believe he could hold his own.

So for now, he'd do it in secret. Train. Learn how to fight and win consistently. Then, when the time was right, he'd show how much he could help. How he could hold his own and win consistently.

Smiling softly, Xander rose to his feet. He knew he could do it. He already had once and as time passed, he'd only get better. Tucking the last of his loot away, he closed the hidden compartment and left the tomb. It would be a long journey, but he'd already taken the first step to achieving his goal. He believed in himself.

** ** **

As the vault door was closed from the outside, a faint glow overcame the ankh that had first drawn Xander's attention to the hidden compartment. It's purpose achieved, it shimmered and vanished.



End of A Single Step

Ok folks, there the first story in Divergent Destinies. Everything else comes somewhere after this. Let me know what you think of it. Feedback keeps my Muse happy.

Next Project – Fallen From Grace, Chapter 10