Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is owned by Mutant Enemy.
"Sorry. I was busy talking about my feelings and killing people."
― Jennifer Estep, Spider's Bite
"Is it wrong to kill something that wants to kill you?"
―Julianna Baggott, Pure
We kill people who kill people because killing people is wrong.
The building was about twenty-five feet wide by seventy-five feet long, twenty-five feet tall, with a single story eighteen by twenty foot ell-extension at one end, apparently the office. It was in a clearing in the woods on the side of a mountain with a fantastic view into a gorgeous valley. It was made of – Dawn wasn't at all sure what the material was. The walls were sort of brownish, with different colors wiggling horizontally, heavy walls, maybe two feet thick, angled reinforcing columns at the corners as well as every twenty feet along exterior walls, a single pitched roof with generous overhangs, and a couple of wide sliding doors – she'd have to ask to find out what it was made of. She parked her Prius in a space marked 'Guest', opened the door, swung her legs out to the stone walkway. She admired her fashionable short skirt; she wondered if Xander would see her style or just her legs. Then she wondered which she would prefer.
She could hear a machine running, the noise of the motor and a spinning cutter was loud, but not obnoxious. It sounded smooth running and expensive to her ears. Just inside the open door to the shop area she saw a small sign that said:
Amateurs worry about tools;
Professionals worry about money;
Masters worry about wood.
She smiled, that was a sentiment that could be applied to many different kinds of work just by changing the last word.
She watched as Xander easily lifted a thick wide plank of dark wood from a pile of rough sawn lumber, glanced at the edge to see which way the grain went, flipped it around so it wouldn't tear out, and casually ran a face of the plank over his eighteen inch Martin jointer with his work-callused hands just barely pressing on the wood. He lifted the plank well clear of the machine so the guard could snap shut and was about to edge it when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement at the door. He hit the off switch, put the plank down, and turned to see who was there.
"You're a hard man to track down," she said.
"Just hard enough, apparently," he answered as he stepped towards her. 'Damn,' he thought, 'she looks familiar.'
"You don't recognize me, do you, Xander?"
"Whoa, Dawnie? Is that really you?"
"You've grown up," he said with welcoming smile.
"You too," she answered. Holy crap! she thought, when did he get those muscles? I swear I want him to... She stopped that line of thought as way too dangerous.
Xander said, "Five years of traipsing through Africa will change a man. But you've changed too. Let me guess, training with Slayers?"
She smiled. "Yeah, gotta be ready to defend myself against random kidnappers."
"Has it worked?"
"I'm here, aren't I? I haven't been successfully kidnapped in years – I've put several guys behind bars and staked a couple of vampires though."
"Come on, let's go up to the house. There's some sun tea waiting for us. Or beer if you prefer."
He put his hand on her waist to guide her out the side door. They both enjoyed the contact.
"What is your building made of?" Dawn asked, her hand trailing along the finely textured wall as they walked along the building towards a house she could see in the woods.
"Stabilized rammed earth. I saw buildings in Africa made this way, and some of them were centuries old. It's incredible material, and ecological as all hell. Of course here in the states it costs more than conventional construction, but in countries where labor is dirt cheap it's the other way around."
"I like it."
They sat on a couple of Adirondack chairs in a small garden behind Xander's house. Dawn was very impressed with everything she saw. Apparently, when Xand decided to settle down, he went at it with intent.
"So why did you leave the Council?" asked Dawn.
"I didn't leave the Council, I'm on a sabbatical. A very long sabbatical, possibly, but I haven't burned any bridges, although there was some singeing. I expect I'll return one day, but for now I need some peace and quiet."
"Oh. That's not quite the way I heard it."
"I suppose you heard about the argument."
"Is that what you called it? Willow claims you were about to call in an air strike."
"Yeah, it got a little vociferous. But your sister was way out of line."
"So what else is new? And if it's any consolation, she admitted much the same to me the next day, after you'd disappeared."
"Did you talk to Giles about me?"
"No, I left well enough alone. I was sorry to have missed you though."
Xander poured tea from a one-gallon jar through a filter, then into glasses with ice. He handed one to Dawn and took a long drink from his own glass.
"Damn!" said Dawn, "that's good!"
"My own mix of teas imported from Africa, with a couple of squeezes from Meyer lemons, and a touch of fresh mint. 'Brewed' in the sun for a couple of hours, filtered and iced. Pure ambrosia."
After an appreciative long drink of tea, Dawn asked, "So why'd you leave Africa?"
"Too much killing."
"Seriously? What, you were out there with your Slayers, killing demons and vamps?"
"No, no, demon slaying doesn't bother me in the slightest. It was the armies of soldiers and revolutionaries killing and raping everybody in sight that started to get to me. Well, that and a truly horrible case of salmonella."
"Eww, that doesn't sound good. At least it wasn't fatal." She paused a moment and asked urgently, "It wasn't, was it?"
"No, I just wished it was. I picked up a dose of salmonella typhosa, which caused Typhoid fever, which caused my appendix to swell and turn gangrenous."
"Oww!" said Dawn.
"It burst. I was in Ethiopia at the time – I ended up in a 'hospital' that consisted of a ten person tent with fifteen patients crammed in. It had no floor so the inevitable bugs and scorpions crawling about added spice to the dusty ambiance. The bedpan arrangement was far too gross and disgusting to describe in civilized company. The temperature in the tent must have been at least a hundred and twenty degrees during the day – the heat intensified my desire to be put out of my misery. Then it'd drop to nearly freezing at night and there weren't enough blankets so I shivered through the early morning till the sun came up. I wasn't hungry enough to eat much and that was probably a good thing because the food, what little there was of it, was indescribably bad. I mean, I never tried the fried locusts even though most of the other patients chowed down on them like it was a rare and wonderful treat. I think the only reason I'm alive today – besides the therapeutic affects of African bush tea – is because a couple of doctors from 'Doctors Without Borders' happened by and were able to stabilize me long enough to get me to a real hospital."
"Oh my god! That sounds awful!"
"Believe me, the actual experience was much worse than it sounds."
"And that's why you came back?"
"Well," he paused, "no."
"Like I said, it was the killing."
"Killing what? By whom?"
Xander sat back, took another long drink of iced sun-tea, and stared down the green valley for many long seconds. Then he looked at Dawn – he found her exceptionally easy on his eye – and started the story.
"One of the Slayers I found was only eleven years old, she was hiding in the bush, overlooking the remains of her village after it had been attacked by a couple of squads of soldiers, government soldiers in this case. I'd rather not describe what they did to everyone they found in the village, just trust me when I say that I can't imagine how demons from hell could have done any worse, and I know what demons are capable of doing."
"That's fine, Xand, I don't need the details."
"Anyway, it was probably a mistake for me to be wearing khaki because it was similar to the soldier's uniforms. If I hadn't had a couple of Slayers with me, that little girl would have killed me – but they were able to pull her off before she broke my neck." He stared off into the distance for a minute, then said, "It took me quite a long time to gain her trust, but I did eventually."
"Good, I'm glad it worked out," said Dawn.
"I'm not done yet. It was maybe a year later when little Kioni came to me with a plan. Even though she'd been brought up in the bush, she took to the Internet the way kids everywhere do. She had done her research on the web and managed to locate the barracks of the soldiers who had attacked her village. She wanted to take four Slayers, plus her, and sneak onto the army base, and, um, cut the throats of each of the soldiers there."
"Oh. Did you think that might cause problems with the anti-killing constraints of Slayers?"
"Not really. I think culture plays a big part in how individual Slayers think. When death and destruction have been an integral part of your childhood, it becomes part of you. And of course, being called as a Slayer doesn't cause one to become a pacifist. Slayers get off on killing monsters, and sometimes the definition of monster is surprisingly broad."
"Well, yes. But you did squash that murderous plan, right?"
"At first?" questioned Dawn. "You mean you gave them the go-ahead to become killers?"
"Not just permission, I helped plan and carry out the mission. Don't forget, I saw what those soldiers did to the villagers. That night we executed more than a hundred soldiers, in their sleep, right in their barracks. It was many more than just the ones who attacked Kioni's village; we had identified as many as possible who had taken part in similar butchering. We didn't waste time double checking, we just added other barracks on unsupported statements, making a clean sweep of each barrack without worrying about any innocents mixed in among the guilty."
Dawn looked horrified. "Did, did you have any trouble? Did you get away with it?"
"No trouble, and yes, we got away with it. Ordinary soldiers don't stand a chance against angry Slayers – at least as long as there are no snipers lurking in the distance – and I took a lot of precautions to prevent leaving evidence. We used knives and icepicks, so there was no noise, and we all wore gloves, face-masks, and turbans. And we did it several times too. It was way easy – too easy, if you want to know the truth."
Xander took a long drink of tea and stared off into the distant valley for a minute, then said, "I've been wondering recently, wondering if murdering murderers is a reasonable course of action; if I can still consider myself to be a civilized person. You know, like that old conundrum, 'Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity'."
"Oh Xander, have you talked to anyone? Priests? Therapists? Friends?"
"Now I am."
They sat in silence for awhile. Finally, Dawn asked, "Is that what you argued about with Buffy?"
"A watered down version, yes."
"Hmm. You know Xand, Africa's not the only place where Slayers have included people with souls on their enemies list."
"I bet we win on sheer numbers though."
"Possibly. But in Mexico and South America some of our Slayers have run up against drug cartels..."
"What, some of the Slayers think they're DEA agents?"
"No. What's happened in a few places is that some of the smaller illegal drug outfits have hired or enslaved vampires and other demons to try to even the score with the big cartels."
"I wish I was."
"I shouldn't be surprised though, I saw a something similar in Africa, and Riley's group often runs into demons in South American drug country."
Dawn continued, "Yeah, so anyway, last year, somewhere in South America, Vi and Kennedy had just got finished staking a handful of vamps when they each got shot in the back. Luckily, nothing vital was hit, but they were both unconscious for a time while their slayer-healing worked. When they woke up they found themselves in a warehouse out in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by a half-dozen really nasty cartel enforcers. There was an angry guy in a business suit up on a balcony giving orders. He was upset at the loss of his tame vamps; so upset that he wanted to give Vi and Ken hideously painful end-of-life experiences, and then deliver their severed heads back to the Watcher's Council. You see, the cartel knew exactly who they were and exactly what their job was. Luckily, they didn't understand the capabilities and sheer toughness of Slayers.
"As you can imagine, when Vi and Kenn came to and realized what was planned, they reacted violently. Even wounded as they were they were able to kill everyone in the warehouse within seconds of waking up. Then they found a huge pile of cocaine, as well as pallets – actual pallets – of shrink-wrapped hundred dollar bills. They stuffed some of the money into a couple of duffel bags, dragged other pallets outdoors and allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to fly free in the wind, then set fire to the warehouse and cocaine inside, and limped away into the night with a duffel bag full of money each."
"That seems a reasonable reaction to me. You could argue that it was self-defense."
"I think so. But still, you'd think Vi and Kennedy would be hurting. And you'd be right, but not very much. It didn't take them long to get over killing humans, less time than it took them to heal from the bullet wounds, in fact. We heard that the cartel was angered beyond belief, but they had no idea who was responsible, at first, since everyone who had known about Vi and Kenn had been killed."
"And it's happened more than once?"
"Yeah. In drug country we've had to up our hunter-slayer groups up to about twenty, two or three slayers to go after vamps or demons while the others, usually a few slayers and the rest soldiers or trained watchers, watch their backs. It takes that many when they have to watch out for guys with guns.
"It seems that slayers get really pissed off at humans who try to keep them from slaying vampires, so they've developed the policy of going after head honchos of cartels that hire vamps. And sometimes they wipe out entire cartels, lock, stock and barrel. As a consequence, the bigger, more businesslike cartels that don't truck with vamps anyway, decided it was safer to leave Slayers alone. In fact, some of our intelligence has come from the bigger cartels. We think they've sometimes used us to get rid of their competition – but as long as we're slaying vampires and demons we don't really care that much."
"So you're telling me that Slayers, as a group, aren't nearly as anti-killing as we always used to assume."
"That's about the size of it."
"Hmm. I guess we shouldn't be surprised. Although I am surprised that it wasn't just me."
"Reports of this sort of thing have been coming in from all over the world and Buffy's in an uncommon snit about it."
"Not a surprise either."
"Of course, Buffy's even snittier than she would've been because she had to kill two NID Special Agents herself last year – it was self-defense, but still. It was necessary to rescue a couple of young Slayers from some secret government lab, but it took Buffy months to sort out her head."
"Hmm, I can see where it wouldn't be easy for her," said Xander.
"And some of the stories we've heard from Afghanistan, and Russia, and a number of Arabic countries, are surprisingly similar."
"Yeah, it seems that if you enslave a girl, pass her around to be raped by your buddies, make her clean house and cook for you; and if that girl wakes up one morning a Slayer, then she's – quite understandably I think – full of violent retribution. We've confirmed two different cases like that where newly awakened Slayers killed pretty much everyone in sight before someone was able to hose them down with an AK-47. Unfortunately, not even a Slayer can stand up to that."
"Yeah, I know," he said quietly.
"One of them was an insurgency camp in Iran, and the other was some gangsters in one of the ex-Russian -stans or Siberia or someplace. Must have been quite a shock to the bad guys."
"Yeah. In Africa we tracked the number of attacks on innocent villages, and I gotta tell you, our actions worked. The remaining soldiers got the message, many of them anyway. And the revolutionaries too, after we took some of them out as well."
"Sounds like you were busy."
"Ehh, actually, only for a couple of weeks. We got in and got out as smoothly as possible. I made sure it didn't become a habit, but strictly a special case in response to specific actions. Afterward, I made it policy not to talk about it, except for a few quiet conversations to make sure all the Slayers were okay. But nothing at all otherwise. It's called operational security."
"I understand. If you act like it didn't happen, then no one can overhear an incautious conversation and there's no word to get back to angry army officers."
"Yeah, that's about right." After a pause, he added, "You wanna know the funny thing? The South African government went out of their way to keep it hushed up, apparently they thought if it got out that someone was murdering so many soldiers, it would look bad. So I figured if we just stop, they'd never find us. And it's worked so far."
Dawn said, "But Slayers getting down and dirty on any criminal elements who try to enlist the supernatural isn't the only thing being discussed back in the posh London offices of the New Council."
"Oh?" asked Xander.
"Yeah, see, now that we have more than a thousand slayers, some of the mini-slayers and even some of the younger Watchers have openly wondered about offing the more odious kind of politician here and there."
"That sounds a like slippery slope."
"Yeah. Of course there's one faction that wants to take out right-wing nutjobs, and another faction that finds left-wing loonies more worthy of murderous attention. But the biggest faction just wants to take out the most extreme extremists, left or right. And maybe even extremists outside of politics, like certain religious leaders."
"Oh sure," Xander said, "what could possibly go wrong with that plan?"
"And when Buffy found out that Giles was putting together a list of corrupt politicians, the shit really hit the fan. Giles' argument was that corruption is at least as bad as, if not worse than, than extremism – since extremists often get killed or booted out sooner or later but corruption digs in and becomes endemic; he had plenty of help for adding names to his little black book of possible future assassination victims."
"I don't imagine Buffy was thrilled."
"You could say that. But then someone, Willow I think, said something about assassinating a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Pol Pot, and all of a sudden Buffy had no reply. It turns out, that under the right circumstances, there are people that even holier-than-thou Buffy would remove from this plane of existence without losing any sleep."
"Ha! Who'd of thought?"
"Not Buffy, not until faced with the idea of killing Hitler."
"And I suddenly have the mental image of Buffy slipping and sliding down an icy slope, frantically trying to stay on her feet while dodging bullets."
"You got that right. Buffy's not on board with the whole slayer-assassin thing, but she's not as adamantly opposed as she once was, and I think that's got her worried."
"We could just do it legally you know, gather evidence and make it public."
"Oh, we're ahead of you on that, Xander. We've already done some operations where a couple of Slayers and a witch would sneak into some bad guys home or office, take pictures or copies of any incriminating evidence they find, and email the evidence to both the cops and the newspapers. It's amazing how well that works. And the one time it didn't, it was because of a paid-off judge. Guess who was our next target?"
Xander laughed appreciatively.
"Remember the old Council's 'Special Operations Squad'? It turns out, long before Travers, that their original purpose was to go after people and organizations that were trying to raise demons and exploit vampires and otherwise use magic for bad shit. Things that involved the supernatural but could be handled without the Slayer. I don't know how they missed the Initiative, perhaps they were just too big, but anyway, many of those operatives are still around, and they have quite a lot of expertise in going up against exactly the sort of people we're talking about. So we put together several teams that include black ops guys, a slayer or two, a witch and a researcher. So far, they're working out pretty well. At least none have come to the public's notice. Of course, I haven't read today's news yet."
"So you're tellin' me that even Giles wants to start disappearing bad guys? Isn't that a little out of character?"
"No. First off, don't you remember Glory/Ben? Buffy couldn't kill Ben in cold blood, so Giles did."
"Really? I didn't know that."
"How could you not know Xand, who did you think did the deed?"
"I thought he just died, the beating we gave Glory transferred through or something."
"Oh Xander, take off your rose-colored glasses."
"Okay, I must have willfully blocked that one, but other than that, isn't all this assassination stuff not typical for Giles? I mean, he's a librarian, a scholar, right?"
"No. Giles may appear to embody the British tendency to be outwardly soft-spoken and polite, but Xander, the English language didn't spread over much of the Earth's surface because the Brits were timid tea-sipping pushovers – kinda the opposite, except for the tea."
"So you're sayin' old Giles let the Ripper loose?"
"Yeah, you ever wonder about the real reason Giles made it so easy for all the scoobies to travel to the ends of the Earth for the last few years? He made sure we had money, resources, support, good reasons to go, and more money if we needed it."
"Ah, I thought we just had a lot to get done and he kinda was giving us leave to do something different."
"Well sure, but did Willow and Kennedy have to go the Rio de Janeiro? Did you have to go to Africa? Did Buffy and I have to go to Rome? The answer is no, Giles subtly maneuvered all of us out of England, well away from the Council business for a few years. Why? Simple, so Giles could do what he had to do in order to take over the remains of the Council while keeping the scoobies and the slayers out it – he wanted us to keep our hands clean. You see, the most incredible collection of retired and extremely conservative watchers crawled or limped out of the woodwork after the dust from the hellmouth settled, and these old fossils were old survivors of the old council – they were antediluvian, cold-blooded weasels of the first order and they were determined to rid the council of all the modern influences that that bastard Travers had introduced."
Dawn continued, "That's right, Travers was a reformer compared to some of these devious old-school schemers, so Giles spent the better part of two years quashing coups d'état by the old Watchers, which could have been a major disaster with all those brand new very innocent slayers running about. He plotted, counter-plotted, schemed, planned, conspired, counter-conspired and did whatever he had to do in order to gain ascendency.
"Today he's ever so humble when says things like, 'everyone except me was blown up', or, 'I inherited the leadership because no one else wanted it,' and a bunch of other bullshit. To get the job done Giles just flat-out snookered the old guard, and he used deceit, cunning, misdirection, blackmail, not much compromise, and more often than you might think, outright assassination. Mind you, he also used logic, persuasive argument, facts and a charming personality to win over as many as possible before resorting to underhanded tactics. But in the end, Giles had blood on his hands."
"Damn. I knew he had depths, but I didn't realize..." said Xander.
"That's our Giles, the perfect English gentleman on the outside, tough as nails when needed; but you know what Nietzsche said..."
"No, actually I don't."
"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you."
"So what the hell does that mean?"
"What do you think Giles is afraid of today? Remember, we're talking about a man who has helped defeat true monsters, has helped to prevent more than one apocalypse, has trained slayers – a difficult and mostly thankless task, has by his own hand killed the innocent in order to save the world, schemed to take charge of the ISWC using the dirtiest tricks imaginable, and ended up as quite possibly the most powerful single individual in the world today, certainly the most powerful individual who isn't publicly known. Xander, Giles believes he's a monster now, and I haven't been able to budge him. And you know what's worse? He could be right."
"Ahhh, I see, maybe. You really think that I, the Zeppo, could help keep Giles and the council on the straight and narrow?"
"You're not the Zeppo, not now, not ever."
"But you think it's time I get off my butt?"
"Yeah, it's time. The arguments between Buffy and Giles, and by extension between Slayers and Watchers, are getting legendary. And even though you left after a huge argument, I think your presence alone often defuses argument. And I think you'll find Buffy more welcoming now. What it comes down to is the ISWC needs you. We need you now. I need you to help me get Giles' head screwed on straight, and the council needs you to get some sort of handle on our more murderous activities before any government agencies see what's happening. That could be a very dangerous situation for us."
"Yeah, it would not be good to be labeled a terrorist organization."
"No, and there are rumors going around that some Feds here in the states are arguing for that very thing."
"You need to nip that in the bud," said Xander.
"Yes, but in fact, we need you to do the nipping," said Dawn.
"Again, why me?"
"For one, you know what you're talking about. For another, the Slayers trust you; yes even Buffy, or most especially Buffy. You have this weird ability to get strangers to trust you; I believe you could have the U.S. Government eating out of your hand, or if not the whole government, at least important key men and women. But mostly, it's because Giles trusts you, and maybe you could get him out of his funk before he does something irreversible; or worse, doesn't do what's needed to avert some other disaster."
"You heard me, right? I mean, I have blood on my hands, too. Are you sure I'm the only one who can do this?" asked Xander.
"Who else can we get? Andrew? He's way too much of a dweeb to settle things that need settling. Besides, he's too good of a cook, no one wants to let him out of the kitchen."
"Well, how about Faith?"
"She has her own demons to bear, and she got 'em much earlier than you did so I think she's more screwed up. Mind you, she's a whole lot better than she was back in Sunny-D, but I don't think this is for her."
"Unfortunately," said Dawn, "he has a mess of problems too. He hides it well, but we all know he's walking a thin line. So no. Who else?"
"Miss I-almost-destroyed-the-world? To be fair, she's mostly okay now, but she doesn't care to take on responsibilities of great magnitude – she has an irrational fear of absolute power – except it's probably not all that irrational."
"We're running out of candidates," said Xander, "Have you looked outside the organization?"
"Who do you suggest?"
"Let me think about it. And let's talk about something else."
A/N: I have some ideas for a sequel, but it won't be anytime soon.
I should mention that there is at least one paraphrased line from Foyle's War, and probably a few others.