Changes, or how to kill a friend
Season: Somewhere in season 5 after Checkpoint
A/N: Many Thanks to Eli Belly, who has done a great job, in both meaning of the word, in helping me with my English and the story. All the mistakes are mine alone.
A/N 2: This story was written at the end of season 5, when BtVS was aired in Denmark.
She was so beautiful that it was hard for me to concentrate on the battle around us. Not that she really needed any help. The vampires looked like they have trained with Buffy for their dance look so deadly yet perfectly beautiful.
One of the vampires looked around to find an easier target than Buffy and she saw me, one normal guy with a sharp stick. She took one last glance at Buffy before she advanced towards me.
I do not register the vampire until she's upon me and knocked the stick out of my hand. She then moved in for the kill and tried to grapple me. The vampire was fast and strong and I was desperately trying to keep her teeth away from my neck. She swept my legs away and I fell down on my back. Even then she smoothly followed me down, straddling over my abdomen as she grasped my throat in her hands in a chokehold. My vision began to blur as I frantically fight for air and begin to panic. It seemed to me that her face was morphing back and forth from her game face to that of Faith's. They both had the same smile, albeit without the fangs. A smile that seemed to say to me that I am worth less than nothing; an irritating bug who will be forgotten when it was squashed.
My memory after that was nearly blank. I can only remember an anger so big that it pushed everything away, conscience, pain I..... The next thing I remember was Buffy holding me and shouting my name again and again. She seemed so far away. Then the pain hit me and I looked down at my hands. They were full of blood and had deep cuts to the bone. A couple of fingers looked broken. The shock took most of the pain way and Buffy helped me up.
I think we walked to the hospital but pain and the shock made my memory blurry. I remember the faces of the medical staff that were a mixture of disgust, weariness, sympathy and fear. They have seen us too many times with heavy bruises, wounds and broken bones to believe us anymore when we tell them our usual excuses. What explanation do they come up with when they talk with each other about us? I really do not know. We are too strange a bunch to be a street gang. Junkies are not seen here in Sunnydale because their maximum life span was a week before some kind of monster finds them and makes them a fast snack.
They fixed me up and gave me some painkiller to take of the top of the pain and sent me home.
Home is where one's heart is and my heart's home is Anya.
She did not say much when Buffy and I came home to my apartment. She helped me get out of my clothes, tucked me into bed and then closed the door when she left.
I lay in bed exhausted and listened to Anya shouting at Buffy. Ah, just like Mom and Dad, except they do not live together anymore.
One night had dear old Dad and Mom drinking a little too much. It ended with Mom in the hospital, and after that a very quick divorce.
I've talked with my mother a couple of times after the divorce. She seems to have it better than I can remember.
On the other hand I have not talked to my father since he put Mom in the hospital. The main reason for that was, of course, that he is a bastard who could not control his temper. The other reason was that I am so afraid that if talked to him, about why he did what he did, that I would understand him. Because like him, I have this terrible temper, an anger that felt like a beast hidden away, just barely under control. In a way I am a man with hidden depths within himself. Unfortunately the depths contain not hidden talents and passions that many cheap romance novels, I occasionally caught Willow secretly reading, but rather they are things colored with darkness and dread. And if I had any say in it, I would prefer them to stay hidden, thank you very much.
Anya came in later to lie gently beside me. We do not say much to each other, just laid side by side on the bed feeling each other's body heat. After a while I fell asleep.
"Willow I'm worried about Xander. He's brooding over something."
Willow and Buffy were sitting in their dorm room, drinking a new kind of tea that Anya had began selling in the Magic Box. She said the tea was supposed to give a soothing effect and strengthens one's concentration. As customers they weren't sure about the soothing effect and the strengthening of the concentration but they can attest to the fact that it tasted awful.
"You don't think it's because I said that he should take a break from patrolling?" Buffy continued as she took another sip of the tea barely holding back her disgust.
Willow took a sip from the cup her cup as well and grimaced before answering. "A person should only drink this tea when doing a 24 hour research session, and no, Xander knows that he can't be much help on patrol right now with his fingers broken."
Willow looked at Buffy and sank into deep thought. It was kind of strange to think that in the past two years Buffy had more contact with Xander than herself. First it was because she did not want to hurt Oz's feelings. And after Oz, the reasons have become vague. She wasn't sure if it was it because they did not want to become too intimate with each other or because their world, in relation to each other, had grown too different from what they knew before.
After a minute of silence Willow asked, "Buffy do you know that Xander's parents got divorced?" Buffy nods. "And the main reason was because Mr. Harris beat Mrs. Harris up so much that she ended in the hospital?"
"Yes I do know that. And I do know from experience how much a divorce of one's parents can hurt. But Xander is not little kid and their marriage have been on the rocks for a long time." Buffy answered in a tone that clearly showed she was not all that worried about this part of her friend's life.
"That's true, but Xander's greatest fear is that he will end up like his dad, drinking and with little control over his feelings."
"So psyche 101 is that he despises his dad and fears that he'll end up just like him." She paused as she thought back to that unforgettable night. "He did really lose control when he was attacked by that vamp. He kept hitting it so hard it passed out. And believe me when I say that it is hard to knock a vampire out. Being the slayer makes me the resident expert. Then of course he said something about Faith over and over again. But spookiest part was that he somehow reminded me of Faith."
"This is not good. Faith that bitch."
Buffy looked at Willow before asking, "What do you suppose we do?"
"It's hard to say," Willow said as she considers the options open to them. "The best course would probably be to not get him stressed. But if we keep him out of the slayer stuff it would look like we don't trust him."
"But can we trust him if he does not trust himself?"
Anya was walking home from The Magic Box. It had been a busy day, which was nice. It kept her thoughts on practical things like inventory and customers, etc.
As a new citizen to humanity, she still had problems with the fuzzier concepts of a mortal's life. A good example of her confusion is her current situation.
As of the late Xander had been depressed and he couldn't even tell her why. This disturbs her deeply and she can't understand why it is affecting her so much. To her it just didn't seem right that he's feeling that way. It also didn't seem right that she's feeling what she's already feeling because these things point to something that scares her. She's in love.
The fact is that she had been a vengeance demon for over 1100 years and from that period had she learned one thing, that love does not conquer everything. It's very hard for her to believe in fairy tale endings and the concept of living happily ever after.
But despite all her years of service in such a profession she finds herself in a situation that goes against all the lessons she has learned. She went and fell in love with Xander. She's pretty sure about that fact now. Her feelings for him do fit the descriptions of love she had read in magazines she bought. And she relishes this fact and bathes in the glow this feeling of specialness and normalcy ignites in her before retreating into her earlier fears. Just because she her heart chose to ignore all the heartbreaks she had witnessed it did not mean she has forgotten.
Even now, as a human woman in a serious relationship, she does not expect much from the future. No, that is not completely true. She had a lot of expectations and hopes. But she knows how fragile the foundation these were build on. Especially now. She feels that foundation is being strongly shaken. And all she could think of is that, maybe if she could think more human like, she could see what was wrong and fix it.
Xander was sitting in the couch and watching Passions on the telly. He did not seem to be concentrating on the show but looked more like he wanted something to distract him from his thoughts.
He smiled when he saw Anya come home. She knew that he still loved her, but was it enough?
She noticed that he had not changed his bandages today so she walked into bathroom and found some fresh bandages; they always kept their first aid kit fully stocked. She walked over to the couch and sat down beside Xander.
"Xander, give me one of your hands so I can change those dirty bandages."
Xander looked at her with fear? Guilt? in his eyes and said, "Please don't bother yourself with this. I can change them myself later."
"Xander, this is not logical. I have two good hands and how will you change your bandage with two bad hands?"
Xander smiled. "Anya, you used to say that I have such clever hands."
Anya grips one of his hands. "Sit still. This is not funny."
Xander conceded, nodding like he agreed with her and kept looking at her face.
"Hey the wounds look great. Frankly I can hardly see where they been." Anya smiled as she announced her observation.
Xander shook his head slowly in confusion. "My fingers aren't broken anymore. It should have taken month. Humans don't heal this fast.
"Oh yes, but there could be explanation for this. For example, Willow could secret have cast some kind of healing spell, or maybe you gotten some blood of a VanereroUi Demon on you. You have to talk Giles, Xander."
"I will but first I'm afraid I have to talk to my father." With that said Xander walked away without even saying goodbye.
Anya looked out of the window not really looking but thinking. 'Giles will fix this. Everything will be like before. No different because it's just another struggle we would fight together. Xander is properly overreacting, he always does. So he healed a little faster than normal. That's a good thing right? When I was a demon, everything was simpler. No uncertainties. No questions about good and evil. No dreams or fears for the future. No Xander. I knew what part I played in the Universe. Now I have the free will to make my own choices without knowing the consequences or effect them.'
It felt very lonely standing naked in front of universe without excuses for one's actions, not that she had anything against being naked. She had a great body. But she could no more hide behind excuses like 'It was my demonic nature that made me do it' or 'I just followed the order'. What should she do? Could she do anything than hope and wait? Hope was such a fragile foundation that human dreams are built on.
Xander stood outside his parents' house where his father's living in until it gets sold. He shifted uneasily outside the door thinking about what he's going to say and how to keep his and his father's temper down.
The door was locked but he still had a key. When he opened the door, he immediately smelled an odor he only encounters in vampire dens, where they did not clean up after their dinner. It was a sweet and rotten smell that lingers in one's nostrils hours later. The house was not the happiest home to grow up in, but the smell felt like a violation of every good memory from his childhood. That little dinner he had eaten was coming back up. So he ran out to get a breath of fresh air.
After standing, for 15 minutes, outside the door trying to compose himself, he went back in, already knowing what he was going to find. He followed the smell into the living room until he came upon his father's body.
'No, it is not!'
'What, can't you find the humor in this?'
'No, I cannot find anything funny about finding my father, with a gun in his hand and half of his head blown away.'
'Xander look away from body.'
'Why? It's just another corpse in a long number of corpses you have seen. Yes siree.'
'Xander, I really do not think, that your laughter sounds like a good healthy laughter. Your eyes are falling back to the gun and those hands, your laughter have stopped and you are crying now, a good healthy crying for a dead father? No? You are feeling very sorry for yourself are you not?
'Who are you?'
'I am you, you know that.'
'Xander, what are you going to do?'
'Turn around do not look and think.'
'Who am I going to call?'
'No, not yet.'
'Giles will come up with some explanation that will, in some way, make sense, right?'
Giles stepped out of the car and approached the young man who had called him earlier.
Xander sat outside the house with his back against the wall. His right hand held a piece of paper.
Giles walked up to him, and said softly, "Xander, what's wrong?"
Xander kept staring at the ground as he asked, "Giles, am I a selfish person?"
Giles was not sure what to make of the question. What had happened to he boy, he asked himself once again. He did not think that he had ever seen Xander so broken down. "No I do not think that you are selfish, certainly not compared other teenagers. You have always been willing to help your friends when they needed you. Xander, what happened?"
Xander looked up at Giles for the first time. "My father blew his head off with a gun and the only thing I can feel right now for my father is self pity and anger." He stopped speaking then and for a moment Giles thought that the young man had retreated into his thoughts but then he continued. "Giles would you please go in and look at my father? Especially the hands?"
Giles nodded to Xander. 'What insensitive bastard would let his own child see his body after a suicide?' In Giles' opinion, it was the father who had been selfish enough to commit suicide and do nothing to protect his son from the grisly sight of his father with half of his head blown away. The anger Xander felt was quite justified.
Before going inside the house Giles crouched down in front of Xander and gently lifted the boy's face to look at him. "It is ok Xander. I will take over from here. Have you called the police and your mother?"
But Xander ignored his words and whispered "Please look at his hands." Giles nodded coming to the conclusion that Xander will not be able to think about anything else until the boy's plea about his father's hand was met.
Gingerly he went into the house. He has only been to Xander's childhood home once or twice before and he had always used the basement entrance. With the house being dim and himself being unfamiliar with the house's layout, he was naturally cautious about bumping into things.
He came upon the body in the living room. It seemed to be over a week old and the gun was still hanging in Mr. Harris' hand. As requested he bowed down to look at the Mr. Harris hands. The nails were transformed to claws and the skin had begun look like scales. Giles took a step away back to get a better look of the corpse. The skin on the rest of the body had in lesser degree gained reptile like texture. The jaw was hanging open, most of teeth seemed to have fallen off but it looked like a new set of teeth was coming out.
When Giles came out of the house the boy was still sitting in the same position he had left him in. 'What can you say, that makes it right Giles?' He stood still for a while thinking. "Xander, I will call the police and then we will find out who did this to your father."
Immediately after he spoke these words his thoughts turned to Willow. She could easily have the power to make a transformation curse and she knows that Xander and his father have a strained relationship. 'No this is an insane,' thought Giles. 'Willow could never hurt a person. Except if that person has hurt somebody she loves.'
Xander looks at Giles. "It doesn't matter," he says and gives the letter he was holding in his hand to Giles. Giles takes the letter written in a shaky handwriting and carefully read it.
You and I have never been close. The fault for that is mine of course.
When I see you I see my own guilt of having you. That is terrible thing to say to one's son, I know. I can understand if you hate me. I hated my own mother for such a long time, not that I really can remember anything about her, but boy did I hate her.
I grew up in a Methodist priest family. They were not my biological family and they did not adopt me. And nearly every day all I heard from was that my nature was evil and I should pray that God would save my soul from eternal damnation I was born too.
One day I did something wrong, and when I got punished I protested that they were so much stricter with me than with their own kids. Then the priest told me tenderly why.
My mother was spawn of Satan, he said. And as hooker she tempted young innocent men. She got pregnant and gave birth to me.
Two years later after my birth, my mother barricade herself with me inside our apartment. The landlord called the police. When nobody answered the door the police broke the door down. My mother looked like a fiend and attacked the police, so they shot her down like a mad dog. After searching the apartment did they find me, unharmed and slightly malnourished. Given the special circumstance, it was felt that my upbringing should be taken care by god-fearing people.
When I got older I began to question this story. I told myself that it was only some story that they made up to control me with. I started to save up money in the secret and when I felt I had enough, I ran away to the town I was born in, Sunnydale.
I could always feel where Sunnydale lay. It was like feeling the warmth of sun in the face. I did not know it was Sunnydale I could feel but I knew that there was a place where I would feel home.
I can still remember that the closer I got to Sunnydale the more I felt like a burden was lifted off. The air was easier to breathe. It was wonderful.
I found a job and your mother found me. After some years together we got you. I remember that time as the happiest time of my life.
Can you remember when you were six years old and we were going on our first holiday away from Sunnydale? You were so excited that we were going to Disneyland that you did not talk about anything else for a month. But after couple of hours you began to cry and we could not figure out why. I myself began to feel very uncomfortable, so your mother and I decided to turn home again. The funny thing was that when we came back to Sunnydale we both felt great again. We decided to stay home a day and if everybody felt fresh would we travel.
Next morning we were on the road again. We had decided to take a break every hour against driving sickness. It didn't help. After three hours of driving, you weren't crying, instead you had coiled yourself up and whimpered, "I want to go home" over and over again. I felt sick once more and couldn't drive but your mother took over the driving. A short time after I fainted and when I recovered my senses, I nearly begged your mother to turn around the car. Just like the day before, we both got better when we returned home. But it was the beginning of the end of our marriage.
As the years passed I felt Sunnydale more and more like a prison where the walls where beginning to close in on me. I became bitter and began drinking.
I wonder how far away you came from Sunnydale when you started your quest to see the rest of the states, before your car "broke" down.
You know that it was my idea to charge you for your basement room? I did it because I felt a change coming over me and it was getting harder to see my guilt walking around the house every day. The line should had ended with me.
Goodbye Alexander. I hope that you someday can forgive me.
After Giles had read the letter he sat down beside Xander and quietly tried to collect his thoughts, which were currently jumping from thread to another. 'This is unfair. Why can't these children a break. They deserve it. There's always a new threat, a new curse or another end of the world scenario. Lovers turn up dead. Their boyfriends turn into monsters. So much pain and it never stops! There is no justice, but you should know that by know shouldn't you.
"Xander we are going to the police station to tell them that you only briefly looked at your father. Don't show them your letter." Giles looked at Xander to see if he had heard him. Apparently the youth did since Xander nodded. "After that I will drive you home and tomorrow we will investigate this matter methodically through. Ok?"
The police didn't ask too many questions. They handled it like it was a normal suicide; Sunnydale's finest knew that too survive in Sunnydale, you should not ask too many weird questions.
Giles drove Xander home, both men sat silent the whole trip. Anya was waiting up and met them at the door when they arrived.
"Anya please help me put Xander to bed, he is in shock right now."
"Later Anya. Let's first get Xander to bed."
After they had gotten Xander to bed, Giles gave a somewhat lengthy description of the day's event along with changes on Xander's father.
"Anya do you have any idea what the transformation could have led to?"
Anya, looking very distressed, kept staring out of the window. She did not hear Giles' question but spoke anyways. "Giles if I was vengeance demon again, I now know what curse would hurt a former vengeance demon the most. Isn't that kind of ironic?"
"Anya snap out of it! This is not about you. This is about Xander".
"But Giles I feel like Xander is a part of me. And I am so scared that I don't know what to do or say," Anya half yelled and half cried at Giles.
Seeing the young? woman's tearful expression Giles relented at his outburst. He keeps on forgetting how insecure Anya could be when it came to human emotions. It's because she always presented herself as this confident burst of energy in the guise of his employee that it is hard to picture her as anything else. "I'm sorry Anya. I shouldn't have lost my temper with that way. Tomorrow we will find out what we are dealing with. Go to bed Anya."
"Will Xander be ok?" Anya asked, still fretting over the disturbing events that had happened within the day and what they could mean to the man she loves.
Giles put a comforting arm on her shoulders. "As I said, we will find out what's going on so that we may be able to protect Xander. Trust me."
Anya looked Giles straight in the eyes, looking for the truth of his thoughts. Seeing his sincerity she finally said, "I trust you Giles."
Next day at the magic shop, Xander, Anya, Willow, Tara, Buffy and Giles are sat around the round table they frequently used during a crisis.
"As you have heard has Xander's father killed himself. The reason for his suicide seemed to be that he was changing into a demon," Giles announced to the group of young women gathered before him.
Buffy, having been late for the meeting looked at Xander with of a face that, for anyone who knew her well, was scarily determent. "I am so sorry to hear that Xander. I promise you we will find that S.O.B. that did this to your father and make him pay." She then reached across the table to take Xander' hand as a sign of her promise and support. She is at a loss over what to do and more so with what to say. Fortunately Giles filled the uncomfortable silence his announcement created.
"There is something more to this situation." Giles looked to his right where Xander was seated. "Xander may I read out loud your father's letter?"
"Go head Giles, but I'm going for fresh air in the meantime," Xander said already getting up from his seat.
At his words Anya stood up as well. "Shall I go with you?"
Xander tiredly shook his head. "No. It's ok Anya." He then took his jacket and with a slight wave walked out the door. After Xander had gone out, Giles began reading the letter.
The silence that descended after the reading was deafening compared to the one that descended upon them earlier. This raised Anya's agitation and forced her to speak.
"You know that I don't have anything against demons. Some of my best friends are demons. But I know from experience that becoming a demon changes the way a person view's everything. This thing, whatever it is, will change Xander into something else. Something who is not the man I love. Not only that but the sex can become difficult. We have to stop it."
The rest of the group gives Anya different degrees of disgust and disbelief. But the object of their ire did not notice their looks as she glanced towards the door that was slowly opening.
Willow turned around in her seat to greet Xander who had just come back from his walk. "Xander we will find the solution. We're the Scooby gang. We always find a way out of trouble."
Buffy, who was still in the middle of digesting the possibility that one of her best friends is possible a demon, finally explode in frustration. "I don't understand. Why couldn't Spike hurt you if you're a demon human hybrid?" She turned to look at the members of their group in a silent plea to explain what was going on.
"We really don't know how Spike's chip works. It could be that the chip would only induce pain if the carrier thought he or she was hurting a human being. Or it could be that the chip could detect demons. And if it could, it would have to have a sensor array that may not include hybrids."
Tara understood the implied consequences of what Willow had said. When it dawned on Willow what her theory could mean to Tara, she added quickly, "But it is just a theory. The chip could perhaps use magic in some kind form to do the detection."
Giles began to clean his spectacles. "The first thing we must do is verify if there is, in fact, anything demonic in Xander."
"I think we can rule out that I'm totally normal. Have you looked at my hands?" Xander interjected into the conversation.
Hearing this Buffy took his hands and turned them over for inspection. "They look fine to me Xander."
"That's the problem. Broken fingers and scars don't go away in less than a week Buffy, you know. Especially if there is no super slayer healing powers involved. Not to mention the fact that I can't leave Sunnydale without feeling sick."
"It is obvious that we need more information," Giles said as he replaced his spectacles on the bridge of his nose. "I would suggest that Xander and Anya try to learn more about Xander's family history. Willow, Tara, could you cast the demon detecting spell? Buffy you help me with finding a way to reverse or stop the transformation process. Does anybody else have some ideas?"
Willow raised her hand before speaking up. "Cordelia and Angel worked with a half-demon. Maybe they have some suggestion."
Seeing the merit of her suggestion, Giles said, "Will you contact them Willow?"
"No need to ask me twice."
"You said that they had worked with a half demon. 'Had' being the operative word. What happen?" Xander asked, honestly curious about the half-demon that Willow mentioned. Since leaving Sunnydale, Angel and Cordelia had little contact with the Scooby Gang. And if they did, they usually talked to somebody who wasn't him. So he generally was always out of the loop when it came to the LA crew.
"He died but in a heroic kind of way."
Xander did not look like a man who is cheered up when hearing about heroic deaths of half-demons.
Catching the greenish tinge that colored Xander's skin at her words, Willow quickly fumbled for something to distract him from the depressing thoughts that she may have just started in his head. "Xander we should start with the demon checking spell. Don't you agree Tara?"
"Yes. But I think it would be best if I stayed out of this spell," Tara answered.
"Still worried that you could become a demon Tara?"
"The fear of becoming a demon has been in me so long that I need to be sure that it is groundless. Xander, I know what thoughts are going through your head right now. But I also know how unquestionable you and your friends supported me even when you weren't sure if I would turn into a demon. I hardly think that your friends would give you any less support, than they did for me."
Willow smiled at the words that passed between her girlfriend and her best friend. Moments like these were rare mostly because the opportunity for them were scarce. But she cannot deny to herself that Tara still feels very much an outsider in their merry little band of do gooders. It wasn't anybody's fault. Tara was still adjusting from being a shy Tara to a Tara who is a bonafide Scooby member. "Xander let's go into the backroom. The demon detection spell is easy to cast and it doesn't hurt. Much." At Xander's worried look Willow giggled. "Hey just kidding Xander."
Giving Willow his best pout Xander said, "Willow, Willow I will get you for that". Came it goodheartedly from Xander.
Willow laughed once more. "Come let's go in and do the spell and get it over... ah Anya stop hitting me. It was just a joke. A friendly banter between friends." She frantically tried to evade the flailing hands of Xander's girlfriend by hiding behind his back.
"That wasn't funny Willow. Nobody hurts my Xander. Got it," Anya said frostily to the red headed witch.
"I'm sorry Anya," Willow replied not begrudging the girl anything since she knew that the ex-demon was just watching out for Xander's well being whether it be physical or emotional. At Anya's curt nod, Willow and Xander went into backroom while the others began pulling down books and researching.
For the first few minutes all remained quiet. Suddenly lights similar to those emitted by a flashlight could be seen peeking from the bottom of the backroom's door.
"Is that normal Giles?" Buffy asked.
"No. I really don't think so," Giles replied and began to walking to the backroom."
A moment later Willow came out meeting them with a worried look.
"Is Xander all right Willow?" came from a nervous Anya.
"Yes, he's fine but I think that you should go to him." When Anya nodded and trotted off to the backroom Willow turned her attention to those remaining in the room. "Giles there is demonic traces in Xander, but what was weird is that the spell came out with too much power, you know. It was like when you grasp a bottle that you think is full, but it is empty. You put too much power in the arm."
Giles contemplated Willow's words before turning to look at Tara and then, a second later, at Willow. "If it is all right with Tara, you should try to cast the spell again. But this time on Tara."
Willow started to shake her head no but the look Tara gave her put an end to it.
"Willow please go ahead. I want to end this uncertainty."
Not known to deny her lover anything Willow conceded. The preparation for the spell was quickly dealt with and the result was happily negative.
"Giles the spell's result came out completely normal".
"Hmm. I can't remember a demon that has amplifying effect on spell caster, which is kind of strange. I would think that every spell caster would try to get a demon of Xander's type, or quite similar to what he is. Except if they are very rare or very deadly which doesn't sound very promising for us either if we want to learn more about it. Oh well back to books."
When Anya entered the backroom she saw that it was empty. Tamping her fears that Xander may have been hurt within the few minutes that Willow left him alone, she went out the back door to check if he had gone outside for another breath of fresh air. True enough she sees Xander sitting on a couple of crates, staring at sun.
"Hi Anya," Xander said without turning his head.
Surprised that he noticed her presence, she casually tried to ease them into a conversation to hide this fact as well as the fact that she was sent to check up on him. "Hi. What are you thinking?" Anya asked as she took a seat on the crate next to his.
"About irony mostly and how most funny things have the element of tragedy in them." Xander sighed as he looked back on his emotional past. "For so long as I can remember I wished I was someone special. The rest of the Scoobies all had something that made them special. It is only after I got you that I truly appreciated being normal. I said to myself, 'You are the special normal guy, with both legs on the ground which is the salt of earth yada yada.' But as you know dear old Sunnydale always put a special on special. I was happy and in love, which by the way, I still am, with you of course."
"I love you too," Anya quickly replied.
Xander smiles at this. "Yes I know that and I keep finding that amazing, that you do. You are a good person Anya, especially to me. And you're courageous and honest. But try to go easy on Giles. Sometimes it is better to be quiet or lie, but if you are uncertain stick to the truth."
Ignoring his babble at the end Anya focused on the overall feel of what Xander was saying. "Xander this sounds like a going away speech. It isn't is it?"
Xander sighed once more. "I hope not. Nevertheless I remember the time when Angel turned bad and how long it took before Buffy did something serious about stopping Angel. I don't know how many people died in that period but it will always be too many! If I change into an evil man-eating demon you have to promise to please kill me."
"Xander so long as there is life, there is hope. I was born a woman turned into a demon and now I will die as a woman. Nothing is impossible," Anya said, her tone comforting yet at the same time desperate. She did not like the direction the conversation had taken. "Anya you are a survivor. You grasp life and squeeze everything out of every second. I love and admire that trait in you. I, on the other hand, am a coward. There are some things I could not live with, some choices I will not take. So I am asking you to make that choice for me if it becomes necessary. And make the choice that I want, not the one you want or what Buffy, Willow, Giles want."
"Xander this is too hard."
"I know but you have to. For me?" Xander looks at Anya in the eyes almost subconsciously willing her to accept his request. But she wouldn't meet his eyes and he knew that she has not accepted his plea. So he turned to an easier topic. "Come on let's go in with the others."
Willow sat the office talking to Cordelia on the phone.
"Angel Investigations. We help the helpless, how can we help you?"
"Hi Cordelia. It's Willow."
"Hi! What's up?"
"It's Xander. It seems that he is half demon and we are trying to stop his transformation. And you have mentioned that you used to work with a half-demon. So we were kind of hoping that you had some ideas."
"What is it with me and demons?" Cordelia screeched, momentarily sidetracked as she thought back on her less than stellar love life. When Willow cleared her throat she remembered the call's purpose. "I really don't know much. Doyle didn't know that he was a half-demon before his early twenties and he could choose between the demon form and human. So I don't know if he tried to get rid of his demon side. He was an all right guy but a terrible dresser. He kind of reminded me of Xander. Do you think he wants to talk to me now?"
"He's talking with Anya, so I don't think they want to be disturbed right know."
"I'll call him later then. Doyle had an ex-wife who is an expert in demon cultures. Maybe she can help you."
"Do you have her number?"
"One second. Here it is 555-651-321."
"Just say if we can help with anything else, ok?"
Willow walked back into the room where the others were sitting. "I just talked a Ms. Doyle, she's connect to Angel Investigations and is a expert in demon cultures. She doesn't know if she can help, but she was interested and is coming here tomorrow. I'm going to check some databases so I have to go. We meet here tomorrow same time, if nothing important comes up, ok?"
Buffy looked around and saw that she's in a dark room filled with shadows. For the first few moments she believed that she was alone for nothing stirred within the desolate area. But as her eyesight was able to adjust to the dark she noticed a figure of a woman within her peripheral vision. 'Willow?' she immediately thought as she saw the tell tale red hair of her friend. She started toward her when she noticed some anomalies. 'Something's wrong with her face. She looks older. And who's the small child sitting on her lap.'
As she drew loser, the woman she was walking to turned to face her. "Hello Buffy. Will you kill us now?" the woman asked with the air of casualness that belies the meaning of her words.
The woman nodded. "How are Angel and the kids? Do you think they will be free someday?"
Not understanding what Willow was saying Buffy turned her attention to the child sitting on Willow's lap. The child was cute. Her brown hair silkily fell over her equally brown eyes that somehow seem familiar to Buffy.
Assuming the child to be Willow's Buffy asked rather abruptly, "Who's the father Willow?"
At her words, a look of pure fright crossed the little girl's face.
Willow started to coo to the child in an effort to calm her down. "Shhh. Don't be scared. It's all right. Aunt B is just a little angry, Cambiare. But not at you." She paused to point to something in front of them. "Look. There's your Daddy. Can you wink to him?"
The girl giggled and winked to somebody behind Buffy. Turning around quickly, Buffy catches a glimpse, within the shadows, of a man running away from her.
Instinct told Buffy that when something runs away from you, you follow it. So she gave chase.
The man was running as if death was licking his heels. He never turned around once so all she can see was his black hair and broad shoulders. Buffy hastened her pace but no matter what she did she could not catch up to the figure.
Suddenly the scenario changed and Buffy found herself standing in the Bronze. Disoriented at first, she surveyed her surroundings and recognized, not only the place but one of its patrons as well. 'Angel!. She tried to get closer but people started to pull her into a series of handshakes, hug and pats on the back accompanied by heartfelt thanks giving on her behalf. She tried to push them away but they wouldn't listen. In fact the crowd seemed to push her to a table where a woman, wearing a sleek business suit and sensible shoes, sat drinking a cup of cappuccino.
As you came upon her, the woman lifted her head to reveal her identity. "Hello B. Don't look so shocked. It's natural to get gray hair when you get older." The woman set her cup down and shifted her position so that she could get a good look at Buffy. "But you wouldn't know anything about that. Still dyeing your hair blond? Still a fucking heroine?"
"Still full of shit Faith?" Buffy coolly replied.
"No B, I don't think so. I grew up, never thought I would get enough time to do it. But I did. Now look at us, two old slayers!" Faith sighed and took another sip of her cappuccino. "You know the water is coming in and the pond is getting bigger. We have become too small a fish in a large pond. B, do you still have my knife? If a knife is sharp enough it could cut away the future."
"What do you mean?"
"No time for that, your man is getting away. Still can't keep your men, eh B?"
Buffy looked away from Faith to, again, just barely catch the fleeing image of the man she was chasing earlier. Deciding that staying to talk with the other slayer would be futile, she followed the running man through the crowd.
The man was fast weaving his way through the crowd. But unlike their earlier chase, Buffy had no trouble catching up with him. In fact the crowd seem to part before her, giving her a direct path towards her quarry. She felt the knife she clutched in her hand that had apparently been the cause for the crowd's parting. 'Where the heck did that come from?' Buffy asked herself. But before she could continue her internal dialogue she came to a sudden halt as she crashed into someone. Looking up from the knife she had been preoccupied with, she turned her eyes to the thing before her. What she saw made her blood run cold with shock. It was Anya, holding her bleeding abdomen, where the knife Buffy was holding, pierced her.
"Buffy that hurt."
"Oh my God!" Buffy moved to hold the bleeding girl up but her advances where clumsily pushed away and Anya slowly sank to the floor.
Supporting herself by her elbows, Anya looked up at Buffy. "I think I am mortally wounded. Do you think it is sad that I never learned to drive? Oh I am sorry. I did not want to be rude, but you were not a good drive either."
Buffy shook her head at the strangeness of the whole situation, leaving Anya smiling to herself with her eyes closed.
Nothing was making sense to Buffy. The places she had been running through, the people she had met, the words they said...none of it meant anything. The only thing she is sure of in this dreamscape, a fact she had been able to deduce since she only encountered this quality of strangeness in her sleep, was that she had to catch up to the running man.
Buffy continued her pursuit of the man to the old high school. Once inside, Principal Snyder, who was standing outside the school, yelled after her.
"I knew you were trouble. You are bringing chaos into to the world. Stop it!"
Buffy ignored the short man's ranting, never slowing her pace. This wasn't because she knew that Snyder would spout gibberish like the others before him had although he probably would have. She did it out of habit. She never listened to the bald troll when he was alive so why should she now when he was already dead and only making a cameo in her dream.
A few seconds after passing the ever-annoying Snyder, Buffy saw Tara standing by the school's front door. The man she was hounding was there as well since he had specifically stopped to talk to Tara. Observing the two people from a safe distance she saw Tara give the man a sword. Taking the sword from Tara, the man executes a graceful turn to directly face Buffy. For the first time since you have caught sight of him, Buffy finally got to see his face. It was Xander. Somehow that didn't shock her because she already had this gut feeling from the beginning, ever since she saw the little girl.
Xander smiled at her and once again started running, this time through the school's front door. She ran up to Tara, she knew that she had to talk to Tara, before she can pass through the doors.
"What is this all about?"
"Choices and change"
"Spoken like a true oracle. Nothing concrete and giving more questions than answers."
Tara looked at Buffy and she saw a frightening alien intelligence looking out through the shy girl's eyes.
"Little one, it is all a question about free will."
"Which choices do I have?"
"Yours of course"
"How can I save Xander"?
"I did not know, that he needed saving."
"Can I go through the door?"
"That is your choice."
Buffy privately wondered, if it was possible to give the finger to an oracle, when she passed through the doors. She heard Xander's footsteps from the general direction of the library.
"Xander stop we can help you."
"Buffy sorry can't do, have to face my own demons. In the end you only have yourself. You know that Buffy" Xander said, unexpectedly appearing by her side.
He sounded composed.
But she only heard the footsteps of Xander running to the library. The school felt more and more threatening to her. She knew she would be too late for what ever was going happen. She saw Xander step into the library with his sword raised. Everything went into slow motion then. Buffy saw something very big and incredibly fast swallow Xander whole. It went so fast that he did not have time to react, there wasn't even any blood to indicate what happened. She knew that the monster was waiting in the library and it was only a question in time before it came after her.
Dawn was pulling at a sleeping Buffy, trying to wake her up.
"Buffy wake up. The others are expecting you at the Magic shop."
Dawn looked worriedly at Buffy
"One of your dreams?"
"Not a good one?"
"No. It was about Xander."
Buffy walked into the Magic Shop bright and early the next day. She was aiming to beat everybody else, with the exception of Giles, to the shop, so that the two of them could discuss the dream she had the night before. Considering the unhappy ending of the said dream, she believed that discussing it in private with Giles was the best course of action she could take at the moment.
"Hmm...it might sound a little cold, but I had hoped that Xander's problem would only concern us. But your dreams have always been somewhat unclear in their meaning. The demon you saw, could you describe it?"
"No. It happened so fast that I didn't get a very good look at it. All I could remember is that it was as big as the mayor during graduation and that its eyes and skin looked reptilian."
Sinking into his own thoughts for a moment or two, Giles pondered the latest development of their current dilemma. "I don't think that you should tell the others about your dream before we know more. No need to alarm everybody else until we have something more concrete, especially Xander. Lord knows he has a lot on his plate right now." "I understand," Buffy said. She had been thinking the same thing. But truth be told, she wanted to tell someone. She wanted to tell someone how scared she is, how utterly useless she felt right now because she was the chosen one but she can't even protect one of her friends. But she has to stop thinking of herself right now and focus on Xander. Giles was right. Xander didn't need to be worried about this. He was stressed enough as it is and learning about her dream might just push him over the edge.
The two of them wrapped up their discussion and the got the shop ready for their meeting that morning. Giles got the coffee pot running while Buffy laid biscuits and scones in some plates. Both did not speak as they went about their task, so deep were they in their thoughts, as they waited for the others. They didn't have to wait for long, a few minutes later the rest of their party started arriving and took their usual seats around the table.
I tried desperately to act normal but I knew I was failing miserably. I couldn't stop fidgeting under the hidden glances of the rest of the group, who tried not to be too obvious about their scrutiny as they waited for someone to start the meeting.
Willow, who entered the shop with a pretty woman who seemed to be in her mid twenties, audibly cleared her throat and pointedly looked at Giles.
Taking Willow's none to subtle cue, Giles cleared his own throat and called everybody else's attention towards him. "Ahem, I would like to introduce you to Ms. Harriet Doyle. She is an experienced anthropologist in today's demon cultures. She has some knowledge with regards to human hybrids." Turning to address the aforementioned woman, Giles asked, "I understand that Willow already told you what we know?"
"Yes, she has given me the background of the case. And please call m me Harry."
Absently nodding his head, Giles said, "Harry, would you mind you starting by talking about what you know of hybrids?"
Harry pushed down the urge to roll her eyes over the fact that Giles still did not use her preferred name and began her speech. "First I would like to start by saying that demon human hybrids are extremely rare and many of them isolate themselves from both human and demon society. Therefore it's very hard to compare the few data I have gathered." Harry paused to look at her captive audience to gauge if they were still following her so far. Seeing that they were and seem to be impatient for information pertinent to their situation she continued. "But to cut it short a hybrid can be, at birth, a mixture of human and demon in appearance and skills. A few of these hybrids survived birth a decade ago. Those born in hospitals were classified as humans with severe birth defects.
"Others go through life looking like and behaving like normal humans, that is, until something triggers a transformation. The trigger can be internal, like age, or external, like environment. When the transformation starts at this point, one of the consequences normally is that the hybrid gains the ability to change from his human form to his demon form. Another consequence could be that the transformation ends with someone who looks and has the abilities of a pure demon. But for some reason this type of demon is still not considered a pure demon. The reason for that is something I have not understood yet. Many pure demons consider them impure, maybe because of their human origin." Seeing a raised hand she paused once more to ask, "Yes Willow?"
"Have you heard about anybody stopping a transformation or perhaps reversing it?"
"No. But most hybrids do not know that they are hybrids before the transformation. And as I said at the beginning, hybrids are extremely rare and their development depends much on their demon side."
To say that I was frustrated with her answer was an understatement. I tried to suppress a snort under my breath before saying, "So what you are saying is that you don't know anything useful."
Surprised at my outburst Willow got into scold mode. "Xander! She is trying to help us. Besides she gave me an idea."
Willow never fails to make me feel like such a complete boar when she gets like that. I was, of course, properly embarrassed. "Sorry Harry. I'm feeling very frustrated right now but that's no excuse to bite your head off."
"It's ok. I understand that this is very frustrating for you," Harry replied sincerely understanding and sympathizing over his plight.
Giles, seeing that their possible lead with Harry was, more or less exhausted for now, he turned to me to have an update on their other leads. "What have you found about your family background?"
I tried to remember my activities the day before so that I can recount my findings to him. "Not much. Anya and I have confirmed that my father grew up at with a priest. We haven't tried to contact him because we really didn't know what to ask of him." My forehead crinkled as I thought over the possible questions I wanted to ask to the man who brought up my father. None of them would have been accepted with a smile, much less an answer. I shook my head to dispel these thoughts and continued on. "My father's mother grew up in orphanage. She was found wandering the woods near Sunnydale naked when she was about 4 or 5 years old. She had no language and reacted with hostility towards everybody around her. She was, therefore, classified as mentally handicapped and received no education. She developed a language as time progressed and the authorities considered that she could perform some kind of simple manual labor in the society. So at the age of 18 they kicked her out of the orphanage. She lived two more years as a hooker in Sunnydale and somehow managed to survive the vampires, that is, until the police shot her down. The only thing that sticks out is that Mayor Wilkins was the one of the people who signed the release papers on the investigation about that. But, you know, it could just be normal procedure in Sunnydale."
Buffy, who never had patience with research and meetings, dived right into her proposed action plan. "I think that we should find out what we can about the rest of the people who signed the release papers. Nothing that the Mayor touched have ever turned out pure."
Giles went over what Buffy said before agreeing. "Yes, that's probably a good idea. So far, I still have no definite idea what type of demon we are dealing with but I am confident that we will find something regarding it soon enough. Most demons have, at one point or another, interacted with humans at some level. So this demon must have been observed and described somewhere."
As the rest of the group went over their next course of action, Willow was in her own world, happily scripting something down on paper. She stood up to pick up a book, which she browsed through before continuing to write on her notes.
"Willow, would you mind telling us, what you are doing?" I asked as I watched my best friend furiously scribbled more notes.
At my question, Willow finally looked up from what she was doing and faced us. From the look on her face, I would have thought that she just won the Pulitzer Prize, for her eyes were practically blinding us with excitement.
"I've been thinking, Harry mentioned that the trigger could be external. What if we blocked the trigger? The trigger in Xander's case seems to be the Hellmouth. But if you think about it, the Hellmouth is really only a highly concentrated magic field. So if we could stop the magic field from interfering with Xander, his demon side will lay dormant."
To everyone else, Willow's theory made a lot of sense and generally gave the problem an easy solution. But their lives, being the way they were, they've learned that nothing is ever that easy. There had to be a 'but' somewhere.
"But the problem is that, if Xander was totally cut off from the field, it could probably kill him. So what we need is some way to cut down the magic field without hurting Xander. Too much." Willow finished her spiel and looked over at the rest of the group's reaction. It was clear that the latter part of her speech did not thrill them. She's not surprised. It was simple, yes, but risky. It wasn't something they would try on another person, much less a friend, but from their current standpoint; it was the only action they could take until something better comes up.
"Couldn't I just walk away from Sunnydale to get the same effect?"
"Probably. But I think I could make it more controllable and have it take effect fast enough to overtake your transformation. I could make it with a kind of inverse magic circle. I'm also looking into putting the spell in a amulet of some sort."
Since finding my father's body, I've been feeling numb inside. But hearing Willow speak about my situation with such certainty and confidence, I can't help but be overcome with emotion. "This is great. This is the first time I've felt some kind I hope. Thank you Willow."
"Xander, please don't get your hopes up. I don't know if it'll work."
I couldn't help my hopeful expression from crumpling at her words. I knew that Willow didn't want to burst my bubble. She was just preparing me for the fact that her theory could be wrong and I loved her more for it. But knowing her she probably feels like the biggest scum in the world. So she went on to reassure me. "But I think we should still do it. Even if it doesn't work, we could still learn something from it that we can work on."
Anya, who had been following the exchange between the two of us, saw an opportunity to be of help. "Do you need anything?"
"No. It's quite a simple spell, except for the modifications, of course. We could even do it now in the backroom." She then turned to me and said, "But first we should get you a bed or a mat of some sort. You'll probably have stay in the circle for some time."
The three of us quickly gathered everything we needed and went in the training room, instead of Magic Box's backroom, since there were already mats set up in it. Willow drew a circle across several mats and I sat down in the middle of it.
Seeing that everything was in place, Willow then began to chant. Considering that it was a relatively simple spell, it took no more than five minutes for Willow to set up the field around me. Now all we had to do was wait for it to either take effect or not.
In the beginning nothing happened. I simply sat there burning a hole in the mat. But little by little, I started to feel a pain whose origin I can't pinpoint. It just seems to emanate from my whole being not just a specific body part. Six hours into the spell, I passed out only to re-emerge from unconsciousness when Willow raised the magic field a little.
"Xander, can you hear me?"
"I've raised the field a little. From this point I'll be lowering the field again but this time gradually. Just say if it hurts too much. I can adjust the decrease rate some more if needed."
"Thanks. I think can manage it now."
Two hours later, nothing, other than the increasing pain, happened as a result from the spell. Exhausted from pain, I curled myself into a tight ball and tried to lose myself in another one of my internal dialogues.
'I don't think I can take this anymore.'
'Come on Xan-Man. You've gone against vampires, zombies, a giant preying mantis, an essence sucking mummy and Cordelia. You can manage anything. Just concentrate on the breathing. Half an hour, tops, something other than this is going to happen. You'll see.'
'It's almost been half a day. If something were going to happen, it already would have. I'm beginning to think that this will not work.'
'Things like this take time. You know, like detox. You've just got to go cold turkey from this magical force thing and you'll b demon free. You'll just have to sweat the magic out of my system.'
'What if this is not like detox? What if this is like what those mountain climbers do? They cut down the oxygen percent they breathe so that they can live at lower percent of it when they're climbing. But then some of them keep on cutting it down until they eventually suffocate. This could just be an elaborate way of killing yourself Xander.'
'Well we had to try. As they say, Nothing ventured nothing gained.'
A sharp pain suddenly jolts me from my thoughts.
'The pain is all round me now. A million small ants are eating me away.'
'It's very important that you look at ceiling, just look at the ceiling nothing else is real but the ceiling.'
"Xander can your hear me?"
'Where I am I? Why does it hurt so much? Somebody is calling at me, mom? No, Willow.
'Is that my voice? It sounds so far away.'
"Xander, I've stabilized the field. I think we should see if you could acclimatize to this level. Do you think can manage?"
"Yes," Xander answered as he tried to concentrate on the ceiling.
After hours the pain lessened. I don't know if it's because I have become more 'acclimatized' to the magic field or the pain. Probably both.
Observing that I had been able to settle down, Willow decided to leave me for a while, which I was very grateful for. It was easier to concentrate when nobody was around, hovering over me.
I felt Anya sit nearby, watching over me. Despite my earlier feelings about the Willow's departure from my side, I'm strangely thankful that she is near.
"Anya, are you there?"
Her voice was tainted with sorrow and I couldn't help but think how I keep hurting the women I love. It wasn't that I meant to. If anything, I always tried to spare them pain. But in the end, no matter what I do, they still get hurt. Perhaps if I were smarter or more mature I would not end up in this kind of situation. But I have to get through this crisis first before I can tackle my lack of intelligence and maturity. Of course, at the rate we're going, I may never have to address those two problems.
Without turning my head from its uncomfortable position against my knees, I say, "If this doesn't work, please don't blame Willow for any of this."
"Stop talking like that. You're going to be fine," she said soothingly as she left the chair she was sitting on to crouch by the circle's boundaries. "I love you Xander. And people I love either become cheating bastards that I turn into trolls or...wait that only happened once and nobody else came after him. Nobody else except you." She paused as she tried to collect her thoughts on what she wanted to impart to me. "Okay, forget that. I just want you to know that I do love you. And I'm not going to lose you. Not when I just found you. Fate wouldn't be that cruel."
I was very much touched by what she said. No, actually I wasn't. I felt embraced not touched. Her words enveloped me in a cocoon of comfort I have never received from anybody else. But her words saddened me as well.
Anya, being a former vengeance demon, was naturally jaded when it came to arena of love. But as time passed, I can see that she's gaining back her trust in love. Enough trust to care so much about me and admit it. And as much as Willow hated bursting my bubble, it's nothing compared to the guilt I'll feel for bursting Anya's.
"I love you too," I said when I uncurled from the tight ball I created with myself so that I can look her in the eyes. "But this thing that's happening to me is beyond the capabilities of our love. You have to face the fact that I may not get through this as me.
"As for Fate, I don't think they're going to interfere with this. I'm just a small player in the fight of good versus evil. I'm not important in the big picture. I don't have a destiny like Buffy and Angel. And you know what? That's okay with me. Not the whole changing into something monster-like; I'm still pissed at that. What I mean is that I'm okay about me not having a destiny to fulfill. They're over rated anyway. They give you security in your place in the world but little choices in the direction of your life.
"I'm glad I don't have a destiny, even if not having one will indirectly lead me to becoming a scaly, ugly thing. I'm glad because I was able to get a lot out of life because of MY choices. I got you.
"The same goes for you too, Ahn. But you have to choose it. You have to choose to go on if something happens to me. No brooding. No turning into a nun. Choose to live."
Throughout my speech, Anya was silent. Tears spilled continuously from her eyes but she didn't blink. She refused to take her eyes off me. Her mouth trembled and I knew she wanted to say something but she just couldn't trust herself to as of yet.
A minute after I've finished speaking she said, "But I want to live with you."
"I can't promise you that."
"Then promise you'll try."
It was already past midnight when the rest of the gang packed up and went home. Willow, the ever-thorough person that she is, checked if my condition stable, before she went off.
Anya stayed with me, as expected. We spent the rest of the night talking with each other. Both of us had a feeling that we are at the beginning of an end and were trying to squeeze everything out of the moment.
The morning rolled in with a much fresher-looking Giles, who took over Anya's post so she could freshen up and get some food. Along with him were Willow and Tara, who were still settling their things in the store's main room. Buffy, though, was absent. Apparently the acquisition of doughnuts, which was my job, had fallen to her.
Moments later the door opened once more to reveal Willow. Never missing a beat, Willow immediately sprung a doctor-patient interrogation process between the two of us, as soon as she came through the training room's door, it did remind me of our past childhood. Willow could newer be an amateur in whatever she did, she did always excel, I wonder what would have happened if we relly had played "Doctor" instead of Willow trying to be a doctor. I told her that as the night before passed, I felt less pain and had begun to think that this will work. This statement, of course, prompted Willow to decide that she could lower the field little more. This brought the pain back. But pain was not that hard to bear so long there was hope.
The day wore on with not much progress on research. Not that they gave up hope. Hardly any of them took a break from the books they were reading.
The day's end was announced to us by the arrival of Spike via the front door sans heavy blanket. His visit had everything to do with borrowing money and nothing to do with helping us with the current situation. No surprise there.
For me, it was okay that he really doesn't care what happens to me. But then he started and wouldn't stop calling me Demon-boy. This just really got my hackles up and involuntarily made me think of Angel. 'Ah Angel, you are avenged. Avenged by bleached freak who will get his ass kicked as soon as I'm allowed to get out of this circle.'
Midnight came once again and I am trying to sleep away from the pain. Giles, Willow, Tara and Anya were still researching while Buffy was patrolling. Suddenly something was twisting inside my head and I sat up, wide-awake. In the same instant I became aware that something was coming and I think of a Star Trek phrase that seemed very appropriate for what I felt, 'resistance is futile and no fun'. I call out to Anya and the rest of the group.
"Someone is coming!"
I know that the Hellmouth was opened for a short second and something came through. The magic field that Willow has placed over me has made me more and more sensitive to the small fluctuations of magic in the Hellmouth. But this was not a small fluxing. This was a huge wave and it felt wonderful for a second.
Not having spoken for most of the day, Willow, Giles, Tara and Anya were jolted in their seats at the sound of my voice. They all looked up from what they were reading and stood up to come in the training room.
Tara, who was the first to enter, looked at me and asked, "What was that Xander?"
"Something just breached the Hellmouth and it's coming this way."
Giles looked at me, confused. "Something breached the Hellmouth?"
"It opened for only a second. It's closed now."
I haven't even finished what I was saying when Willow picked up the phone to call Buffy. A second later they were already discussing a new patrol route to accommodate the most recent addition to the monster population in Sunnydale.
I looked at my friends and the love of my life. I knew that they would protect me with their lives. 'Friends first before our own hide', that's been our credo since the formation of the Scooby Gang. But the thing that had just gone through the Hellmouth was something they cannot help with. They'll only get hurt. Of course, telling them this will only serve me a plate full of scolding from Willow with a side of Giles' lecture. It's obvious that I have to use trickery to get rid of them.
"Wait, I feel something's wrong with HellMouth. You better check it out now."
Yes, it's a pretty lame line and they didn't buy it for a second either. Willow put her Do-Not-Try-To-Fuck-Around- Me-Xander face on, in her own sweet way and said, "Xander what's wrong?"
Ok, if lying won't work, how about the truth?
"Whatever penetrated the Hellmouth, I know it's only after me. Don't ask me how I know this. I just do. And standing in its way will only get you guys hurt."
Anya looked at me and said, "I don't care what that thing is Xander. I'm not going to leave your side."
Willow smiled at me and said, "You're not alone in this. You have two strong witches and a trained watcher." Seeing Anya's expectant look, she quickly added, "And a very gifted ex-demon."
I noted that Willow didn't comment on what gift Anya had. But Anya beamed happily at Willow anyway. Willow had enough grace to look a little embarrassed at herself.
"And a pissed off Slayer."
The last statement came from Buffy, who ran into the room. She crouched by the circle's edge along with everyone else and gave me a cursory examination. Since I was very much unhurt, externally at least, she breathed a sigh of relief before turning her gaze to Willow.
Despite Buffy's arrival, it was Willow who went commando, barking out orders right and left. For a moment I stared at her, shocked. Willow, my best friend, had changed so much these past years. The shy girl that I met as a child has all been obliterated and replaced by this confident, young woman.
Willow and Tara laid out a protective circle around the circle that was already drawn around me. Buffy went to her weapons chest to find a mean war axe while Giles and Anya readied some crossbows. I, on the other hand, stayed in the circle. Willow was still not certain how stepping out of the circle would affect me.
Then we waited. Nobody said anything. And strange as it may seem, considering the situation, I liked the quiet. I would have even felt a sense peace if it weren't for my concern for Anya and the rest gang.
All of a sudden I felt a shiver run down my spine and I knew that whatever we were waiting for has just arrived. Someone or something knocked on the backdoor, it was not the kind of knocking you expect from a demon. If I were to describe it, I'd say that it was a polite knocking, that you could have expect from your old aunt.
We were all looking rather confused when Tara asked me, "Is it the thing you felt coming, there outside?"
"I think so, what are we going to do?"
But before anybody could answer, the backdoor opened to reveal, of all things, a woman. She looked to be in her mid forties, rather plain looking with shoulder length, black hair and dressed in what seemed to be rather expensive clothes from the thirties. She smiled as she looked in the room. With a soft melodic voice, she asked no one in particular, "May I come in?"
"If we don't invite you, could you enter then?" Giles asked calmly though still obviously surprised to see someone so normal instead of the horrific sight that we were expecting.
"Oh yes. But I always try to be polite Mr. Giles," the still unidentified woman replied as she stepped through the door.
She looked around the room, assessing every person in the room for a short while, until her eyes fell upon me. When I stared back at her, the illusion her of humanity burned away faster than a snowflake thrown in front of a flamethrower. She smiled in a proud and possessive way at me and said, "Hello Xander, I see that you are doing quite well. You have allied yourself with a witch, a wise man and a sorcerer, an infamous ex-vengeance demon and a slayer. I am impressed." She held my gaze for a few more seconds before turning her attention on Anya and said, "Anyanka, I do love your work, frightfully original. We have to do lunch some time."
Anya smiled at the woman and said, "Thank you! I beginning to feel that nobody has really appreciated my old works." Giles, who was beginning to get his bearings, which was more than you could say about me, finally summoned enough nerve to ask, "It's probably a silly question, but are you a demon?"
"Here am I a demon. If you were in my dimension I could probably call you a demon or tasty," she said with such a casual air the belied the small threat that was mentioned in the latter part of her reply.
Giles tried to look like he didn't notice her little end comment and fired his follow up question. "May I ask what kind of demon you are?"
"How can I refuse such a polite request?" she answered with a little smile.
"We are older humanity. I know that doesn't tell much about us, but it is such a good starting line," she said, her eyes lighting up with amusement. She paused for a second as she suppressed a chuckle before continuing with her run down on the characteristics of her species. "We love riddles and some us love also Twinkies. We are collectors. All that is pretty is ours, if we want it. We fiercely protect what's ours. We repay every wrong done to us tenfold. We're the most wonderfully creature in the existence. We are what we are, and we bow to neither good nor evil. The woman's voice changed as she spoke, no longer trying to sound normal anymore. Her tone told us things about herself and her kind that her words did not. They were creatures so ancient that time has lost it's meaning for it. They knew about the perfection of guile and deception before the first monkey had thoughts about stepping down from the trees. The reptile coldness injected in every syllable she uttered told us that what we wanted was irrelevant. To them "Might is Right" and only fools believed otherwise. The transformation in the in the woman's manner was shocking because in just a matter of minutes it was complete. There was nothing human left in the voice. And as fast as it came, she changed back to her former human speech pattern and asked Tara, "What am I little one?"
Tara had turned white and stuttered, "Dr-dragon, enemies of the Goddess."
"Correct, though frankly it is not only your Goddess who has little a problem with us. It is nearly all the Gods and Goddess who have some control problems with us. You've met Glory, so I think you can understand why we wouldn't bow too such Gods." Without turning her head to look at Buffy, who was trying to sneak up behind her, she added, "And Buffy you can lay down that axe. To quote Xander's favorite line, 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.'" As I watched the woman act so nonchalantly in the middle of the room, I found myself no longer able to take it anymore. Why couldn't we live quietly without something evil, which thought it would be interesting to take over world or just generally screw around with our lives, just leave us be. They always come here, acting like they were someone big and important, which they were, no doubt. But that doesn't stop me from getting pissed at them. They were all just big bullies, albeit uglier than the regular ones I dealt with in school in the past. But that's all they really were. And how dare they come here and try to take me away. "Ok we get it. You're big and bad, and you threatened us oh so subtlety. Just cut to the chase, all right. What the fuck do you want?!"
My sudden outburst caught everyone's attention. The woman turned back to me. "Temper and courage. Nice. But not a lot smarts. Don't worry. That will come with age. That is, if you survive. You're a much better prospect than your father. But we don't normally interfere with our offspring's life. We try to follow the whole concept of 'Free will' and 'let the strongest survive' and all that jazz. But frankly the timing of your birth and the fact that Glory's in this town was really too good to pass up, sorry."
Willow, in the mean time, had been quietly chanting. But when she raised her hand, nothing happened.
Sensing Willow's actions the woman looked at Willow. "It's you who made the design of these circles? Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. I think it would have worked too. Too bad I'm on schedule." She honestly looked sincere too as gave the symbols, on the floor, a better look.
"But enough talk. I still have things to do and places to visit. Everybody, except Xander, please stand behind me."
Buffy immediately yelled at the woman, "If you want Xander, you will have to go through us first." She then pasted on her most smug look, silently daring the stranger to try and get past her before heaving the axe she carried in one fluid movement, perfectly executed at slayer speed, towards the woman. The action that followed thereafter was blur to the naked eye. To everyone else, Buffy was standing tall, as tall as five foot woman could anyway, in our midst one second and then laying in the corner behind the woman, with one broken arm, knocked unconscious, the next.
Stunned. That was what we all were. Sensing that asking the whole group to move would only slow down the progress the woman addressed me when she spoke. "Please walk over to Buffy. I really don't want to hurt you but that doesn't mean I won't."
It was hopeless. Anybody who'll try anything will most likely end up dead, not just unconscious. We were fortunate enough that she seem to have no plans to harm anybody else. She only wanted me. That's the most ideal situation we can get and I'm not going to waste the opportunity.
I turned to the rest of the human barricade that had formed between be and the reviled woman. "Guys, I'm sorry for all of this. I..."
"Xander, don't!" Willow cried as swayed in front of me, blocking my way out of the protective circle.
"She only wants me, Will. I stay here, we all die," I pleaded to Willow who only shook her head, no longer able to speak as the sobs took over her body.
Strong hands wrapped themselves around Willow's arms and firmly pulled her aside, giving me a clear path to the woman. I looked up and saw that they belonged to Giles. Understanding and overwhelming distraught flooded his eyes as he gave me a small nod and let me pass.
"May I say goodbye to Anya?"
The woman seemed rather amused at our little scene. "Go ahead. But don't look so glum. It is not the end of your world, only a change of perspective."
I didn't trust myself to answer. My smart mouth was legendary when it came to screwing things up. Answering back might cost my friends their lives. So I chose to ignore what she said and turned to Anya and embraced her, trying to let her memory fill me.
"Goodbye Anya. I love you."
We both ended up crying in each other's arm, she kept repeating. "It's not fair. It's not fair!"
The woman addressed her, "You should be too old, Anyanka, to expect fairness. Step aside now!"
I gave Anya one last kiss before I pulled her from my body and handed her to Tara's arms.
I stood at the spot where she indicated I stand, after I dragged Buffy from the corner back to the rest of the group, the woman took a deep breath and exhaled in my general direction. This short breath turned into a gale of wind before becoming into a typhoon, blowing every magic ward down, and God it did feel good. Then the woman said a Word. I could hardly find the words describe how its effect felt on my body. Every cell in was changing and multiplying. My conscience was being altered. Everything felt so much simpler. I could even feel myself essence draining away, slowly being replaced by the Hunger.
'It's hard to see one's friend transformed from a young man to a monster which is surprising, considering I have some experience from my last boyfriend,' thought Willow as she watched Xander transform from a normal young man, into a sleek reptile predatory monster.
The monster looked disoriented at first. But it quickly got its bearings and focused on their little group. Its concentration was divided between Willow and The woman, giving both of them a wary looks. Suddenly it jumped at Willow, but the woman interfered by bashing it 5 meters back into the wall with her bare hand. It got back on its feet quickly but hung back, trying to look threatening while looking out for the woman at the same time. Then without warning it ran out the door.
The woman's gaze followed it out with a proud smile on her lips. "They are beautiful in their simplicity when they are young. Don't' you think so?" she said in whispered tones.
Willow looked at her in shock. "Xander tried to kill me!"
"Don't take it personally. You were the main threat and therefore the richest meal. And he is really hungry right now therefore hardly sentient of his actions."
"Meal! Threat! What are you talking about?"
"It's quite simple. You are the person in your group who has the greatest magic potential. And with the Slayer unconscious, she did not register as a threat at the moment. Elementary really."
Giles, who was trying to put some support around Buffy's arms, looked up angrily at the woman.
"So what you are saying is that Xander is running free around in the city and will kill people who has worked with magic?!"
"Yes," the woman replied in a tone that said that these consequences were quite irrelevant from her point of view. "But probably not that many humans. Generally, humans as food are considered rather slim pickings. He will probably go after demons and vampires if he gets the opportunity."
Tara gasped. "Dawn!"
The woman looked at Tara and asked, "Who is Dawn?"
Tara looked at Willow trying to get some help to what she should say.
"Look at me!" the woman commanded at Tara, and Tara felt compelled to gaze into the woman eyes. They remained like that for a few seconds. Neither saying a word.
A moment later The Woman gasped in surprise. "The Key is the slayer sister. Now that is ironic, and that dumb broad Glory doesn't know. That is the problem with gods. They don't have to think; they just wish for what they want. It isn't healthy, if you ask me." She shook her head from side to side as if to emphasize her words before turning back to the rest of the group. "Now it has been fun, but I must go know. The climate in this dimension is terrible. Give Xander a 'Hello' from me when you meet him again." And with that line, the woman walked out of the door.
Nobody tried to go after her as she made her less than grand exit. They knew it was pointless. So they all looked to Giles, who was still trying to lift up the unconscious slayer, for what to do next. When he got an arm around Buffy he threw the car key to Anya.
"Anya, drive the car, from behind the shop, out front. Willow, get the materials to make another protective circle. Tara, collect some weapons and get into the car." Hearing his orders, the three young women went about their assignments immediately; wasted time may mean wasted lives.
They were driving in silence when Buffy comes to with a whimper.
"Did I just get knocked out by a woman again? This is getting ridiculous. I am the girl power here in Sunnydale. Aargh my arm." Noticing that no one took heed of her words; Buffy looked around at the others and asked. "What happened?"
With a quiet and monotone voice, Anya said, "She turned Xander into a man-eating demon." Then with a more hysterical pitch she added, "And I don't want to kill him even if he say so." She then succumbs to tears. Tara took the distraught girl into her arms and rubbed her shoulders, hoping that the comforting gesture would somewhat calm her.
Since Anya had forgotten to mention their more pressing crisis, Giles looked at Buffy and said, "There is a real possibility that he's going to attack Dawn."
"Oh." It was the only thing Buffy could say. In just an hour she had lost a best friend and may just lose her sister to the said lost friend.
When they arrived at Buffy's house, they barged into Dawn's room straight away, which woke up its slumbering occupant. As they saw that Dawn was there and unhurt, they dispersed and moved to other parts of the house. Armed with flashlights, Giles and Willow ventured to the backyard to check the menacing looking shrubs until they were satisfied that nothing was lurking there.
Dawn was, of course, frightened and confused, but most of all, more than a little angry over the disturbance of her sleep. She had forced herself to stay up late to finish an English paper that was due at first period. Mentally and physically exhausted she hauled herself to bed only an hour before the arrival of her unexpected visitors.
Padding down to the living room in her pajamas and furry slippers she asked the first person she saw about what was happening since nobody told her anything when they unceremoniously came into her room. As usual no one answered her. Instead they all continued to look worried, all except Anya, who sat on a couch, crying her heart out.
Anya's state made Dawn scan the group for a particular person that never failed to comfort the crying young ex-demon. 'Where's Xander and why Anya is crying.' When it became apparent that the person she was looking for was absent she quickly connected the dots. 'Oh my god Xander! What happened?'
"Buffy where's Xander?"
Buffy gave Dawn a look that she knew to well. It meant that Buffy was internally trying to judge how much she could tell Dawn. Dawn hated that look. She wasn't a child anymore. Come to think about it, she has never been a child. 'Stop. Don't think that line through again,' she scolded herself. Instead of dwelling on her non-human status a few months before she focused on standing her ground and getting to the bottom of things.
Dawn stared back at Buffy and said in a calm voice, "The Truth please."
The determination in her sister's eyes told Buffy that she will not back down until she knows what happened this night. And even if her little sister didn't press the issue, they would have told her anyway. She deserved to know what happened to the young man she thought of as a brother. They were just waiting for a better time to break it to her. Of course there's no time like the present.
Biting her bottom lip, Buffy said, "Xander turned into monster and might try to hurt us. So we have to stick together."
"Is it like the time that he got possessed by a hyena spirit?"
"No. Giles said it's a little worse than that. I didn't see him for myself seen him, as I was knocked unconscious."
Dawn looked around the room and said in a frustrated voice, "We can't just sit here an do nothing. We have do something."
Giles cleared his voice and said, "She is right. I think we should all go to hospital and get Buffy's arm fixed with a little detour to get my tranquillizer rifle. Willow, Tara and Anya can in Joyce car. Dawn, you're riding with me and Buffy."
As planned, they picked up the tranquillizer rifle before proceeding to the hospital. Their whole trip progressed with no incident until they arrived at their destination.
A group of police cars were parked outside the hospital's front entrance, which was smashed to pieces. When they came in the hospital, they saw the policemen standing and talking to each other near a covered body.
Giles looked at Buffy and said, "Try to get your arm fixed up. In the mean time I will try to find out what has happened here."
The policemen were not chatty in the least. The most that they told Giles was that a wild dog had attacked and killed a man, but the situation was under control now. Asking more questions would undoubtedly raise a few questions in the policemen's minds. So Giles decided to not press them for more details and wandered off to find his charges.
When the policemen's attention focused on a few patients for their added input on the incident, Dawn stealthily went to the covered body to take a peek. The moment Dawn saw the body she screamed. She had been prepared to see a dead a person. It was nothing new to her. The fake memory the monks had given her provided her with lots of incidents where she viewed a dead body in plain sight, whether it was in a murder scene or a funeral parlor. But it was quite another matter to see a person you had meet, dead and with a face frozen into a death mask with fear and pain etched into it.
"Girl, get away, from the body!" ordered a policeman to Dawn.
Giles pulled the shocked girl away and held her in his arms.
"Giles, it was Ben," whispered Dawn
"Who is Ben?"
He was dreaming, that he knew.
Because the world was strange and new, with colors dancing around his friends and it felt very fragile.
Because a great and terrible voice was whispering secrets to him that no human could and should know.
Because he saw the things as they were.
Because he was a monster and he felt free.
Because the needs he felt were not those that belong to a human being.
Because he tried to devour his oldest friend.
Because he attacked two vampires and completely ate both their minds and their bodies.
Because he visited Willy's bar and devoured every creature he came near to.
Because he was still hungry and there was not enough food near him.
Because the voice whispered that his prey was near and that when he gets it the Hunger would be sated. But he should be very careful when he took this prey.
Because he was outside a building that was full of sickness, fear and pain and it did not touch him like it should.
Because he was watching his prey. A man? Not man but prey! Waiting, waiting the man (not man!?) to turn his back. Now!
He began to run with only the prey in his vision. Nothing else mattered. When he came to the glass door he continued through them without slowing down. The prey turned around (slowly) with fear in its eyes which was good since it gave him an estimated 0.2 second extra margin. He was going to need all the time he could muster. The divine energy was already beginning to fill the man and exercise control with the surrounding energies of realities.
He leapt through the corridor; trying desperately to deflect the assaults he got bombard with. Everything was in ultra slow motion except the battle. He knew, when he committed himself in the attack that this was a suicide run. That he could be compared to an insect that was trying to kill an elephant. But the voice, the hunger and the instinct demanded that he attack this prey.
Because it's only a dream.
Once he made contact with the prey he instinctively redirected the energies flowing in his prey and in a short eternity the two flows became equal. But the more the divine aspect in his prey tried to push through with the human spirit slowly receding to the background. To prevent defeat he ate both man and god alive, and he felt their fear, despair, every emotion, thought and memory. It would be a gross understatement to say that he was overwhelmed. He was beginning to think, that dream must end now because...
Because he was not dreaming, and a strangely embarrassing thought came to him, 'I have been stupid.' He began to see lines written in the world that echoed ancient plans where even gods have been sacrificed. Now he felt fear over what he goal he's being pushed to.
"I have to think."
He parked the car a couple of blocks away from the burned high school, pulled out a high caliber rifle that was wrapped in a blanket to hide it. It was kind of funny, in a scary way, how quickly you could acquire a weapon if price was a minor matter.
He had come to hate the burning clear Californian sun, which was beating down on him. Its clear light felt like a lie to him. Buffy and the rest of them didn't know that he was here and what he intended to do. It was the Angelus story all over again and he would not let Buffy get in another situation where she had to kill a loved one.
She was a good kid, they all were. He, on the other hand, did not consider himself good. It was not because he was trying to be self-critical but he had always prided in himself the fact that he knew both his strengths and weakness. He thought himself as intelligent, brave, polite and a little suave, even if it was hard to keep that last self-image near the children. But good? No. In order to become a watcher, one had to have a core in them that was pure goal oriented. If they didn't, would any of them be able send a mere child out into the darkness to fight monsters that brave grown men would flee from? Even in Willow's and Xander's participation in slaying, he only gave some minor protests. It was because he knew they could be useful, despite the fact that they were only normal teenagers, and perhaps give his slayer that extra edge or a second, that separated a good slayer from a dead one.
He knew they will someday pay the price for his decision but they didn't. So every night they went out to battle the forces of evil. They were his child soldiers, closely knitted together in a bond that nobody from outside could break into. Cordelia, Wesley and Riley. They all tried to be part of that group but they wouldn't let you in, because you could not accept their reality.
He had placed so much misery in the lives of these young people. The least he could do in this moment is to try and spare them the soul-breaking pain that comes with killing a friend. Killing a friend is nothing new to you Giles isn't it?
He had tried to enlist Spike's help and the little shit was all too happy to help in trying to track down Xander. But when they saw the result of the massacre in Willy's bar, Spike had second thoughts about their task and insisted that locating the creature, the former Scooby had become, was too much trouble. So instead of dragging around a whining vampire, Giles instructed Spike to look after the girls. It was the first time the blonde menace willing did what he was told.
'Is this suicide,' he thought for the seventh time. 'Perhaps but I owe it to Buffy to at least try.
He wasn't sure if Xander was in the old school. But the school was located on the Hellmouth and Buffy's dream suggested this was the best place to look.
When he came inside, he pulled out the rifle from the blanket, ready for anything that may jump from the sinister shadows. He walked quietly to the library's entrance where could he see a pulsing, eerie kind of light. He snuck closer to the door and inside he saw a frozen tableau of Buffy, Willow and himself, sitting and researching something. Warily, he stepped into the library. Except for the tableau, the library was sunk within deep shadows where nothing moved. He walked over to tableau and touched it cautiously. When his finger came in contact with the hologram picture, it burst like a soap bubble.
"Hello G-man tread with care, you are destroying my dreams." The greeting came from a voice behind him. The voice sounded like somebody who was trying to speak with a mouth filled with teeth.
Giles quickly turned around and pointed the rifle at the sound. Hiding in the shadows, he saw the monster Xander had turned into. It had grown alarming bigger in a very short time; the shadows clinging to the monster's body, making it harder to focus on it. In a split second he decided not to shoot for various reasons. First reason being the fact that the monster had sounded intelligent and the tone of its voice had a hint of humor in it. Second, because he had no illusion that the monster could not have killed him if it had wanted him dead. Seeing its current size, he realized that the rifle wasn't an adequate weapon.
"Not quite. I'm something more and something less than the boy you knew as Xander. I don't think I'm worthy of that name anymore. You can call me Alexander, and I can call you Giles. Deal?"
"So you came by to see if it was the repeat of the Angelus story, Giles?"
Giles didn't look like he would deny that.
"First I would like to say that I still got my 'human' soul intact," Alexander said in a humored tone, but Giles thought he could detect a hint of sadness behind the words.
"My instinct's a mixture of human and dragon. And I find it very hard right now to navigate between these feelings until an emotional equilibrium arrives."
Giles looked a little uncomfortable and said, "How much do you remember from your transformation 'til now?"
"All of it. But I didn't kill any humans even at the beginning, when I was driven mad with hunger.
"There was an intern named Ben whom you did kill. Are you telling me that he wasn't human?"
"The answer is rather complex. Let's just say that he was human, but there were other factors that made his fate unique."
Alexander looked intensely at Giles and said, "Giles you must understand; I don't want to hurt anybody, especially Buffy, Anya, Willow and you. You are my family and therefore precious to me."
Giles don't look like he found that information much comforting and asked, "What do you plan to do now?"
"First, I would like it if you don't visit me in the next five to six days. I have to use all my concentration on my growth. Secondly, don't try to reverse the transformation. It can't be done and anyone who'll try will only get hurt. Third, I would like to ask you to apologize, in my behalf, to Willow. Say that I'll apologize to her myself later. Please tell Anya that I still love her and things will be better in the long run. Will you say that to them Giles?"
"Then please go now. You're disturbing my growth." The last instruction was not a request but a command and Giles left the burned building with mixed feelings.
The vampire was young but not stupid. She had kept a very low profile in the last few months when the Slayer had been on a rampage. She was not a part of any vampire groups. Sure it gave some protection to be part of a group and the hunting was easier. But in her opinion, the advantages got negated with the simple matter that when something keeps a high profile, it also rated a proportionally high place on the Slayer's 'Things To Slay' list. And to add to the sad fact that the slayer lives in the vicinity, something new and nasty had come to town. Nobody knew much about it but it seems to mainly attack demons.
Right now was she very hungry but in the same time very cautious. What happened at Willy's bar was common knowledge amongst the demon population. She had thought about skipping the town, but she liked the atmosphere and the good tunnel system beneath Sunnydale. It gave a sense of freedom because you could move around the town even at daytime.
She saw a young teenager wheeling his bike at his side. He was a perfect victim, young vulnerable and alone. She checked the area one more time; good she could not see anybody. As she waited for the boy to come closer, she decided that it would be ok, to toy a little with the boy before she ate him. A vampire does not live on blood alone.
When the boy got within a meter from her, she jumped right in front of the boy with game face on and raised hands. It was a classic attack for a vampire because it's always amusing to see your victim nearly shit his pants out of fright.
In his panic, the boy threw his bike at the vampire, which it bought him couple of seconds, wisely did he chose to run away. The vampire, normally, had nothing against the chase but she didn't feel safe being out in the open for long, so she tried to run down the kid as quickly as possible. The boy must have been a good runner because she wasn't gaining up on him as fast as she normally did when hunting a prey.
The boy the headed towards the direction of the old high school, which was perfectly fine with her. The old high school was deserted and that meant that when she catches him, it would be safe to play a little with him before she feeds.
He ran through the broken corridors into a room, where a woman was standing. The woman gave him a smile and nods in the vampire's direction. The vampire was not stupid but she was young, an older vampire would have become suspicious about the missing smell of anything from the boy, the way he ran was also too picture perfect to be true.
'Fuck this is a set up,' she realized, too late, as something was moving quickly from behind. It swiftly grabbed and immobilized her and began feeding on her vampiric essence. The last thought she had was rather strange one for a vampire. "Is this the way a human feel when I feeds on them? This hurt."
"Did the vessel had to be a vampire?" the woman asked.
"I could not use a human being. Remember, I am one of the good guys," replied Alexander.
With a sardonic tone the woman said, "Somehow I keep forgetting that."
"We are going to save the world. That makes me good guy in my book. And if you want, you could save your girl from the bad witches. Meaning the incompetent witches. I truly don't know why Willow hasn't turned Amy back to human again, she's definitely strong enough to do it."
"Forget Amy. She has to learn the consequences of high magic. Even if she has to learn it as a rat."
"How about you? Have you learned your lesson?"
"Boy don't get preachy over for me. You don't have the moral high ground to stand on. Why does the world need saving? Because of your existence? And do you really think that your friends will forgive, much less understand what you are planning to the slayer's sister?"
"Nobody said it was easy to be a good guy."
"I quite agree. 'Whatever' it will take I'll do it. Are you ready?"
Alexander picked up a small cheerleader statue gently with his claws and laid it on top of the vampire. "I bind thee Catherine Madison to this vessel and to my will until I releases you from my services. Rise."
At the last word, the statue melted into the body and as commanded, rose. "What is your command, oh master?"
"Cute, now drop it before it gets too cute. And I think you know my will. Find Dawn and stay away from the rest of the group."
With only a nod too acknowledges the words, Catherine left the room.
"So what are we going to do now? We can't just sit around and do nothing. And what about Glory? We still don't know where she is and what connections the woman has to Glory," said a much frustrated Buffy.
Giles, Willow, Tara and herself were sitting at a table in the Magic Box. Anya sat a little father away, plowing through books, with a concentrated look on her face. She seemed to follow the conversation only when Xander's name was mentioned. Whenever that happened, she would pause and look at them.
Buffy had a weary look in her face as she looked around the table to see if anybody else had something to say. When it became obvious that no comment will be forthcoming, she continued. "Mom and Dawn are staying at the motel outside the town. It's too dangerous for them to stay at home with Glory around and with us not knowing what Xander's going to do or where he is. But they can't stay there forever and it feels to me like that we are running out of time."
Giles looked away from the rest of the group and stared out the window.
"I have talked to Xander."
At his words, Anya nearly flew out of the chair and shouted. "You've talked to him! Why are you fucking telling it to us it just now? Where is he? Is he back to normal again?"
Buffy, in the meantime, looked puzzled and asked, "But how, where and when?"
Giles still staring out the window replied, "I had I an idea where he could be. So I went and I found him."
Willow tried to get eye contact with Giles before saying, "But why did you walk in there alone when you knew he was dangerous and that he could attack you?" Then she began to realize something and repeated, "You knew he was dangerous, and you went alone. What were you planning to do when you found him Giles?" The tone in her voice indicated that she knew that she would not like the answer.
"What do you want me to say Willow? Yes, I sought him out with the plan of killing him! Was it fair and just for Xander? No. But truth be told, I'm afraid that the Xander we knew is dead. You didn't see the result of the massacre at Willy's bar but you saw what he did to that intern. He attacked you Willow. He's a danger to anybody who has had contact with the supernatural and that would include Buffy, Dawn, Tara and yourself. He's somehow related to an entity which, not only knew about Glory, but also talked about her with contempt and thought her to be an incompetent being. That makes him potential as dangerous or even more so than this Hell God."
Anya asked with a voice that sounded like the one she had used in her old demon day, "Giles did you hurt him? Where is he?"
"I found him in the library, which as we all know, is at the top of the Hellmouth. I didn't hurt him. In fact I was bloody lucky that he didn't want to hurt me. In hindsight, I realize I was very much unprepared. He'd grown two meters in height and perhaps three to four meters in length since we last saw him. And since he was fully mindful of what he had become and was able and willing to talk, he also told me he was still growing."
"But there isn't anything suspicious with the fact that Xander stays in Library. It's a place he knew and he liked when he was younger," Willow said, still hoping that the ex-watcher was wrong and that there was still some part of her best friend inside the beast.
Giles sounded tired and exhausted when he said, "It would be extremely foolish of us to assume that the demon Xander turned into would act for the same reasons our Xander did. He said it to me himself, that he has changed too much from his human self to still be called Xander. He asked me to call him Alexander instead, to make the difference clear absolutely clear to me. It showed a kind of honesty, too me that find a little comforting. But that also underscore that he has real potential to be a threat until we find out what his goals and motives are.
"What else did Xander say?" insisted Anya
"He asked me to say that he loved you Anya and he apologized for trying to attack Willow. He doesn't want us to interfere with his growth for the next six days and also that the transformation could not be reversed."
Buffy looked a little depressed and said in a daze, "All you need is love, and love conquers everything."
The whole group remained silent as they let Giles' words sink in. The sombre atmosphere only lifted when somebody knocked on the closed shop door. Giles looked at Buffy and said, "Do you mind checking who it is? If they're vampires, tell them that we don't have time play with them right now."
Buffy opened the door to find a man who looked awkward even though he's dressed in blue jeans, sneakers, open shirt over white T-shirt and a cap, standing in the doorway. "Will you grant me truce and listen to my question, Slayer?"
Buffy looked at Giles and shouted, "There's a man who asked us not to kill him because he wants to ask some questions."
"Let the man in, Buffy."
Buffy looked at the man and said, "You're one of the Knights Who Says Ni".
Deadly serious the man replied, "No I am a member of The Knights of Byzantium I don't know the order you referring to."
"If the professor thinks I can't join popular culture class, then he'll probably think that this guy shouldn't join this century. God, he sounds like King Arthur," Buffy muttered as she passed Willow with the said man following behind her.
Facing the man Giles said, "What do you want to know?"
"Our wise man cannot detect Glory in this dimension. We are rather befuddled over what has happened to her. You wouldn't have an explanation for that wouldn't you?"
Spike was sitting, watching the greatest Manchester United matches from 97 to 99 with a bottle of whisky, by himself, when a shadow fell over the television.
"The rivers are jumping in bunny hops to the sea. Oh the beautiful light. Miss Edith is coming and she's taking all her friends with her. It will be the greatest tea party ever. Everybody is invited."
With a sigh, Spike raised himself from the chair. "Dru, don't stand in front of the telly. I don't have time for this right now and if the slayer sees you, she will be very cross. You can't stay here."
Drusilla danced slowly around Spike, her eyes fixated far away into Neverland. "Poor Slayer. She has been wicked. No gift for her today. So sad. So glad. I think she is a little mad." She stopped her dance and stared directly at Spike, her face looking child-like yet intense. "He will eat your heart and bones, tails and feathers, jealous, jealous, because you are my beautiful Spike."
"Dru, I wish I could say that I don't have a clue what you mean, but I understand you all too well. But I can't go Dru."
"They say that the owl was the backer's daughter," she whispered sorrowfully.
"Why don't we take a little break from our relationship. Let's say that we meet in Venice in 30 years from now?"
"Ok," and Drusilla dances through the night, with a lover only she could see, or perhaps everybody she sees is her lover for a moment. Poor Ophelia she never got her prince.
Tara sat near the phone watching it, as if she was watching a potentially dangerous animal that would jump her at any moment. But when the phone rang, she didn't answer. She just watched it and wondered how long it would take before the device stopped ringing. But she knew that this caller would not lose patience over anything, much less over a thing as important as this. Finally she picked up the phone but not before a niggling feeling of betrayal that traveled through her.
She liked Xander but she did sometimes envy and feared the history he had with Willow a little. She questioned the motive behind her actions and somehow felt that the reason she was doing this was because deep down she wanted the only competitor she had for Willow's affection out of the way. She hoped that was not the case. She was quiet sure that was not case, but how could she be certain.
She was always trying to do the right thing. Always analysing what people meant with what they said. Always thinking about the reasons for why she is reacting in a particular way. Always analysing never reacting. Only Willow makes her feel sure about herself and her love for Willow. She feared this love. She doesn't trust that her love would not make her betray herself and compromise her core belief, which is to always do the right thing.
But she is reacting now, and that in it self makes, her motive suspect in her own eyes.
"Hello," she says.
"Servant of the Goddess."
"Oh dear, please don't call me that, I find that a very silly title. I would love if you would call me Nanny. You had something important to tell me?"
"I don't know how to say it in a way that I would sound sane, so I'll just go ahead and say it. A friend of mine changed into a Dragon." "Has somebody transformed him into a dragon? That is not possible, dear. It must be an illusion."
"No. He was part dragon. I think he had about 1/8 dragon in his heritage."
"They are trying something new then. This is interesting," came faintly from Nanny, as she went over the implications of these complicating new vectors.
"I understand that you know the Slayer. She must stop him before he kills too many demons and becomes sentient. Of course, even in Sunnydale, center of demonic activity, it should take decades."
"He is already sentient."
At Tara's revelation, the other end of line became silent for a few seconds. "Girl, I hope for you that this is not a extremely bad joke from your side."
"No-no. A friend of mine has talked to him, and he told him that he would not hurt us."
"This sounds quite insane. If the lore is accurate, a Dragon needs to feed on an enormous number of demons before it gets close to becoming sentient."
"We think that he killed a god."
This time the line became silent for a longer time. "Try to cast a simple spell any spell will do, tell me when you are finished."
Tara out the phone down for the moment and did what Nanny told her. When she was done she went back to the conversation she had left. "Ok. Finished."
"Anything unusual when you cast the spell?" Tara thought that she could hear a hint of fear in the woman voice
"It was much more difficult than normal to control."
"It has begun," Nanny said in far away voice. "I am flying in tomorrow on the earliest flight there. Don't do anything before I arrive."
Tara wanted to correct her and tell Nanny that 'to do nothing' was infact also to do something. But Nanny didn't sound like she wanted to hear anything else than an affirmative answer from Tara. 'Which she got of course,' thought Tara, a little disgusted with herself.
She hated this body. Sure it was hundred times better than being trapped inside a cheerleading trophy. But could she still feel the tiny bit of the demon's essence, which remained in the body to power it, in her back of her mind, screaming in anger, fear and pain. It was annoying. Not only that but her magic was dampened significantly and she has yet to find out the reason for that. It could be because of her vamperic body or perhaps her "master" dampened it, to better control her. But she didn't dare dwell on it. Right now, she placed these inconveniences at the back of her mind. Right now, she was going to report her failure to find Dawn for Xander.
It was not that she thought him to be cruel, but it felt like she was playing high stake poker with a frightful alien intelligence, who kept changing the rules. And half of the time, he himself did not seem that to understand the rules he made or why he changed them.
'Ok here goes nothing,' she thought before she went into the library. When she came into the dreaded room, she felt like it was somehow twisted like a spring that was being pulled well past its breaking point.
When he saw her the first words he said was, "You have failed." There was no menace behind the words, only a statement of the situation.
"I haven't been able to locate Dawn. She and her mother haven't been at their house. The neighbors didn't want talk to me. All I could get out of them that was that the two Summers women haven't been seen in couple of days. It's really hard to get people, to talk to you when you're a vampire. People instinctively feel that something's wrong. Then there's the part that I have to look over my shoulder every five minutes to look out for the slayer. I have to say, the conditions pressed upon me is not conducive for success."
"We are running out time," he said not in a threatening way. It was more like he was repeating a very obvious fact. "Billions are going to die if we fail."
"Yes. You mentioned that and best-case scenario, the death toll is going to be counted in thousands. You could end it right here, you know with your own death." Catherine Madison sighed. She had heard this story one too many times and frankly she was getting tired of it.
"Some part me wants to take that solution, terrified of the alternative consequences. And I hope that I have the strength to commit suicide if I can't avoid the worst-case scenario.
"But my instinct for self preservation is strong and I don't think that I can kill myself if the need arises. This, of course, brings me back to Dawn.
"Something is telling me that we have to do something drastic to find Dawn. Okay, maybe nothing too drastic. Dawn has the personality of a stereotypical teenager. More specifically, a personality that is a reflection of the monks' views of how an American teenager should be. This makes her reactions easier to predict.
"Dawn has a friend. Janice. What I want you to do is, pay a little visit to Janice and..."
Dawn was bored; she was also afraid and angry.
She's angry that she was hiding again and just sitting, waiting and being useless. Angry that somebody else, other than herself, was solving the situation and getting the recognition. Angry at Buffy and her mom for forcing her to hide away. Angry at Glory and all the others who want to use her because she is the Key. Angry that one of the persons she felt safe with was gone, and in his stead was another monster that may want to hurt her. Angry with herself that she was angry; people were being killed or hurt just to protect her and instead of being thankful that she was unhurt, she was acting immature. On the other hand she was afraid that her enemies seem to keep coming, and sooner or later they would get her. And Buffy would get hurt or worse, trying to stop them.
But right now, she was very bored. She had no one to talk to since her mother was sleeping again, the past few days finally taking their toll on her.
Dawn's cellphone began ringing, luckily she had set the ring tone volume to low, so it did not wake up Joyce. Dawn checked the display. Hmm, it was Janice. Dawn walked quickly into the motel toilet and closed door.
"Hi," said Dawn softly.
"Hi Dawn. Why are you whispering?"
"Oh it's my mom. She's sleeping right now."
"Is she also sick?"
"Yeah. I figured it was the reason that you didn't go school today."
"Yeah, she's also got the flu."
"A shame that you're still sick. I got invited party. And get this, Kevin is coming. But that's not the kicker. At lunch he caught up with me and asked if you're going too."
"He asked about me! Oh that's so great!"
"It's a small private party, nothing arduous. Can't you come? We don't have to be there for a long time. Please?!"
"It's a small private party, right?"
"Yes. Are you coming?"
"Suddenly I feel much better."
"Great! Meet me outside Starbucks."
'I'll probably get into a lot trouble for this from mom and Buffy. But I can stay low and have fun at same time. And it'll be nice getting trouble for normal thing such as going to a party, for a change,' she thought.
Dawn saw Janice standing outside the alley beside Starbucks.
'Damn! Janice should know by now, being a native Sunnydaler, that you don't stand near a dark alley.'
Behind Janice stood a girl who seemed to be a little older than them, watching the people around her with a smile on her lips. Dawn didn't recognize the other girl but thought that Janice must have brought her with along because she didn't look worried. Frankly, Janice looked like she was high on something.
"Hi Dawn. Isn't this a great party?"
'Oh oh! This is so not good,' thought Dawn and looked at the other girl for some kind of explanation, half knowing that she probably wouldn't like it. The other girl gave a wide smile and said, "Hi Dawn. I've been looking for you everywhere, kid."
'Damn! Buffy is going to kill me,' was Dawn's first thought before she saw the gun in the girl hand. 'If I'm lucky.'
Still smiling, the girl continued, "We're going for a little walk. If you scream, try to run away or do anything stupid, I will shoot your friend. Do we understand each other?"
"What have you done to Janice?" asked a worried Dawn.
"Nothing dangerous, a mixture of a drug and a spell. Come on we're going to visit a old friend."
Dawn took another look at the woman. It was obvious, when you took a closer look, that the woman she's with was not human. She didn't breath regularly, inhaling only when she consciously remembered it.
"You're a vampire," Dawn stated.
"Not just a regular vampire. I'm a vampire with a human soul, and therefore I must be one the good guys," Catherine replied with a small ironic nod. "Don't sound so disgusted, after all you aren't exactly Human yourself, Dawn. And, by the way, do you have a soul?"
Dawn glared at her and asked, "Where are we going exactly?"
"Alexander needs to see you."
"Yes, I think that was he was called before his little transformation."
"Why not? He needs you badly."
"Because I am the Key?"
"Yes of course. You can ask him when you see him".
"Does he want to hurt me?"
"No, I don't think that he wants to hurt you," said a Catherine in a tired tone. There was a small thread of pity in her voice, which scared Dawn more than the girl's stance and gun.
As they walked through the ruined halls of the old high school, Dawn try to calm herself down. Xander would never hurt her. Not the Xander she had Twinkie eating contests with to Buffy's great embarrassment. Not the Xander she had a secret crush on for a year.
When she got closer to the library, she got a feeling of that a fundamental wrongness perpetrated everything. Then, for the first time, she saw the monster that Xander turned into. He was huge, his dark scales glittered under the low red glow that shone everywhere in the library.
"Hello Dawn." Whatever problems Alexander had had with his teeth when he was speaking, had been overcome by now. It now sounded like Xander's old voice except it sounded too smooth.
"Xander?" asked Dawn.
"I'm sorry Dawn, the Xander that you know is dead. I'm also sorry about what I'm going to do to you."
"Xander! What are you going to do with me?" Dawn asked, sounding so much like as a confused and betrayed child.
"In the beginning I foolishly thought that I could come through this in a honorable way. But seeing you here now, dispels that comfortable illusion, which is good because I can't afford illusions anymore. We are pieces in an ancient game and we have to follow the rules and boundaries. I know my place and the rules of the game. That makes me free. I am the bad guy in this game, I am the destroyer of the What There Is. Buffy is the hero, because that is her destiny. I will free Janice a little later, she will inform Buffy who will, of course, come and try to save you.
"Xander you're not evil, yo...you are Xander! You're the guy who loves pancakes in the mornings, who always looked after me when Buffy and mom asked you to even though, mind you, I didn't need a babysitter."
"I told you Xander is dead. He would rather die than do this."
From Dawn's perspective it went incredible fast. One moment was she standing up, the next she's laying on the floor pierced right through with three long claws.
"Xander?!" came weakly from Dawn and then she was no more.
Tara was standing at gate three of Sunnydale's small airport early in the morning as an elderly wind-dry woman was stepped through the gate two. The woman was the only one who seemed to fit the description she got of Nanny. The woman was tall and thin with weather bitten face. She also had black hair with wisps of gray hair. In her hand she carried a long bag. Tara knew that Nanny must literally have used magic to get that bag accepted as handbag.
"Tara?" asked the woman.
"Yes. Nice to-to meet you Nanny..."
"I need to meet the slayer right now," interrupted the older woman, not minding the fact that her action bordered on rude. But knowing the importance of the older woman's visit, Tara was not in the least offended.
"Ok, I know where the slayer and her watcher are training. Please follow me."
When Tara and Nanny walked into the Magic, the first person they saw was Anya, who was quietly sitting and reading something on her lap. At the sight of her, Nanny quickly pushed Tara behind her. "Demon, I have seen through your disguise. I command thee to show yourself."
"No, no. I am a native born American, born on the 4th of July, in a small town in the middle of Kansas. My name is Anya Christina Emmanuelle Jenkins," rattled Anya, proving to everyone that the well-practiced speech was still very much ingrained in the ex-demon's memory.
Tara pulled at one of Nanny sleeves and said, "It's all right. She's one of the good guys, sort of, and Xander's girlfriend. She's also a former vengeance demon, as in demon no more."
"Hmm. I see what you mean. Her powers are great but completely without focus. She is still a demon but in a human form."
"Hey! Still standing here. If you're a demon hunter, I would just like to mention that I am a close friend of the slayer," came from an indignant Anya. When she saw that Nanny was still scrutinizing her she yelled, "Buffy!"
Buffy came out from the backroom, seeing nothing amiss or potentially life threatening, she looked expectantly at Anya.
"Tell that woman, with ungrounded prejudices against non-human entities, even if they are entirely human, to stop looking at me!"
"Buffy tell the woman that I am completely harmless and one of good guys now. You know, fighting the just battle, against the ever encroaching darkness."
"Yeah she does help us. Mostly research and cross-referencing. On a very bad day we can pull her into patrol duty and sometimes...wait a minute. Who are you anyway?" Buffy asked and looked to Tara, the only person in the room who seem to have a clue, for an explanation."
"She is a very important witch, and she has something very important to tell about Xander."
Tara, who had never been known to catch attention to herself due to her innate shyness, suddenly found herself to be the focus of everyone in the room. Everyone except the customers, of course, who went on their merry shopping ways, oblivious to the quasi-bomb the young blonde witch had just dropped.
Nanny looked around the shop and said, "Isn't there a private room where we can talk."
"I will close the shop right now," said Anya with a blend of fear and hope in her voice. It had been days since they have heard of any news about Xander.
Her concern was underscored by the swiftness she got the customers to leave without a thought on the customer-retailer relationship. In the meantime Giles and Willow, noticing Anya's odd behaviour, closing the shop when impending danger was not knocking down the shop's door, joined the rest of the group to find out what was going on. After the swift retreat of the customers, they sat down around the table to listen to what the newcomer has to say.
Nanny looked around at the group and said, "I understand from Tara, that you are old friends of Xander. Is that correct?" At the affirmative nods around the table she continued. "I have to make one thing perfectly clear to you, whatever he was to you, whatever his motives are now, all of these no longer matter! He is the greatest threat to humanity in millenniums."
Giles looked concerned at while he was cleaning his spectacles. "That is a rather tall statement. What do you have to back up this?"
Nanny looked at Giles and asked, "You are the Slayer's Watcher?"
"Yes, the knowledge that I am her Watcher, seem to be something of a public secret." "Then as a Watcher you should know that once upon a time, demons ruled the world absolutely, that time being the rather long interlude, before the dawn of humanity. Of course, these days, that period, is not described as poetically nor is it even discussed as a real phase in the evolution of the earth but rather considered as nothing more than lore. In fact that age was termed as the mythical age, connoting it is bogus and just filled with fantastic stories when they were, in fact, true.
"Now as I said before, that time was filled with demons since they still roamed the land. But that wasn't the only thing that was plenty during that time. It was also a time for heroes. But as we all know, heroes are created in the face of great adversary, which during that point in time was abundant. There were so many things that mankind needed protection from, in that age. Some of the more powerful demons were not banished yet. Hundreds perished. Some of the others, turned. In other words, the night before humanity's dawn was very bleak. Had the last elder dragon not died, we all might not be here.
"Now consider the possibility of this mythical age, returning with a vengeance, to a world with six billions people."
Buffy gave Nanny a hard stare and said in a stiff tone, "I think that you have to spell it out for us what exactly you want from us."
Nanny replied in a tone that matched Buffy's. "I thought it was pretty obvious what I am asking for and what the consequences will be if you don't do it. Kill the dragon. He is no longer your friend. His ancestry makes him an automatic a foe to humanity and just standing back and doing nothing is the gravest form of treason against all human kind."
Giles interrupted Nanny and said, "Even if what you tell us is true, and mind you, we only have your word for it. We cannot just walk in his lair and kill Xander. Even for a slayer it would be suicide."
Without saying a word, Nanny began to open the long bag she had arrived with. At first one would think that there was nothing in it, but when you focused, you could make out the form of a long sword, which seemed sucked light directly into it.
Giles stared dumbfound at it. "I will be damned. That can't possible be. No, it's a myth. The Morganti sword also called Soulkiller or The Sharpest Sword and countless other name, it's a myth, or so I thought."
"I am impressed Mr. Giles. Yes, it's the Morganti sword, the sword that killed the last dragon, by a young champion. Only a true hero of humanity can wield the sword," said Nanny, while she looked directly at Buffy."
"No, no. I don't kill friends or lovers, it's sort of a policy I have. Once was enough, never again."
"Now you listen to me young lady..."
"No, you listen to me, all he has done so far is kill a few demons. And right now he's just keeping a low profile, and doing no harm to anybody," yelled Buffy.
With a surprising gentleness in her voice replied Nanny, "Buffy I have nothing against Xander personally, it's not question of what he has done, how he is or what he is going to do. It's a about what he is, and the consequences of that. Think what it would mean for the world if the worldwide percentage of demons rose. The chaos from this alone would probably kill billions."
Anya, who kept herself in the background, stood forward and said to Buffy, "Buffy don't trust this woman. She's only telling us what fits her agenda. There is a reason why this sword has only been used a few times since its creation. It's a truly wicked blade. As Giles said before, it kills souls and others entities that are eternal. Even gods fear it. That's why it was fashioned in such a way that only a true hero could use it. Only a true champion of Humanity is therefore capable of passing the final judgment without prejudice."
Between the old woman's argument and Anya's rebuttal Buffy was overwhelmed. As the slayer, no matter what they both say, or what any body else says, the final decision lies in her hands. 'It's too much,' thought Buffy as she walked away from the group.
"Buffy," came softly from Giles.
"Don't say anything! Nothing you say would change anything, so don't."
Five seconds after chilling standstill the group found itself in after their less than happy discussion, Janice burst through the door. She looked around the room and said to Buffy while she was gasping after air, "Dawn...the monster...the monster said that you have to come to it, if you want to save Dawn."
"What monster and where?"
"It looked like a dragon, it was big." For a short second it looked like Janice didn't believe the words that came from her own mouth but then she recovered and continued. "It's in the old High School."
"Is Dawn ok?" asked Buffy.
"I couldn't see Dawn, only the dragon and a girl. Oh and there was some kind of pulsating sphere of green light in the room."
Without a word, Buffy grabbed the sword and walked out of the door.
The walk over to the high school was a pandemonium of voices. Anya was pleading to Buffy not to do anything rash and demanding that Buffy talk to Xander. Willow was arguing loudly with Nanny. And though Giles walked quietly after Buffy without saying a word, shame and determination was clearly displayed on his face.
Buffy walked through the ruined corridors with the rest of group right behind her but she might as well have been walking alone, so detach was she from the rest of the group. Being inside the old and burned building took her back to the time it was only the four of them, Giles, Willow, Xander and herself who knew of her status and held meetings in the library. Besides her own home, the library was the only other place she had felt completely safe. It was strange because she had so many bad memories associated with that place. The worst memory, of course, was the plain old fact that they knew that it laid on top of the Hellmouth. The second worse was the death of fellow slayer Kendra in its premises. Then there was the assortment of minor incidents she wouldn't care to repeat, like the time she had been turned into a rat in there by a jealous Amy Madison.
She thought it said a lot about her life that, to her, the library had been her nexus of stability. But it wasn't really surprising. She recognizes her need for stability in her life but as a slayer, stability is a state she can only dream about. So many things in her world was in flux, good and evil, friends and foes. Everyday it seems to be that the rug was always being pulled from under her and she is once again left confused as to what to do with her life.
The only other stable thing she had was Xander's love for her. She never wanted it, but many times she did need it. She never gave any sign to encourage him, why should she, when he was already hers. Poor Faith. Always trying to best Buffy by stealing her boyfriends, the only time she really succeeded was with Xander. This did not, in the least, threaten Buffy. She knew, in that game, Faith would always come out as the number two just like she did in all the times she tried to compete with Buffy. He loved her.
But she didn't love him like that.
She didn't love him.
She stepped into the library, alone.
"Hello Buffy," said the dragon to the slayer. "Are you going to kill me?" continued Alexander without a trace of irony in his voice
"Should I? Could I?"
"With that weapon? Almost certainly, but that will not bring Dawn back."
"What do you mean? Where is Dawn?"
"Dawn is brought back to her original form, but I can still rebuild her."
"So what you're saying is that if I don't kill you, you will you perhaps give my sister back. Is that right, Xander? I guess that tells a lot about you, when you are hiding behind a child, to save your sorry ass. That's something Xander never would have done."
"True, but in my defense I could point out that if you kill me with that sword, it is more than my sorry ass, that will be on the line. Would you please allow me to explain why I had to use Dawn, before you pass your judgment on me?"
"Tell your tale. That much can I grant you, to honor who you were but I will not promise you anything else. I don't think I need to remind you that I sent Angel to hell, when I had to. And you are no Angel."
"You do what you have to do, that is why you are a hero. Call on the others they should also hear my story."
The group, composed of Anya, Giles, Willow, Tara and Nanny, came into the library. Buffy stood between them and Alexander.
Nanny whispered to Buffy, "Don't believe anything he is going to say. He will mix lies, with small gems of truth that will make his story pretty to you."
"Silence! This is my time. This is my story. Every thing I will tell you is truth, as I know it. Some of it will be speculation; some of them will be facts that I have retained from of Glorificus' memories; so many memories..."
Alexander seemed quite lost for a short while, before he continued. "It's a story that in its core is about evolution. As Giles has told us; once upon a time demons ruled the earth, or would be fairer to say that humans were once a race of demon, against a multitude of different demon races.
"At first the signs were weak. Magic became more and more fickle. A lot of demons races developed problems with procreating. Demons, that had humans as their natural prey, died somehow in droves, in more or less weird accidents. The human race, as a result of this, flourished.
"This, of course, did not go unnoticed by some of the more intelligent demon races, who then that started to campaign for the total destruction of the human species. Many of these plans where set in work, but they were all utterly failures. With the failure of their initial campaign actions, they started to research for the underlying reason for human race's success, and what they found out was rather shocking.
"It turned out that human souls could collapse the quantum possibility field. An example of the consequences of such an occurrence would be the classic wave/particle behavior of, let's say, a photon. The photon would display its particle's characteristics if the experiment were setup to display to do as such and vice versa if it's a wave experiment.
A demon would say that the human that made the experiment, would alter reality to fit his expectations. We also know that the result doesn't change if another human make the same experiment, would he get the same result. From this they concluded that human souls were connected in a non-local way. This led to the speculation that humans should be considered a collective consciousness.
The conclusion was obvious and depressing. You could not fight an enemy who could change reality to its own advantage.
"If you think this sounds too far out, think about the fact that the Scobby gang has personally stopped the end of the world several times. If we stopped the end of the world once, it would be a tremendous achievement. But what are the odds that we would be able to save the world, not once, not twice but several times?
"Buffy can you remember the incident where three demons were trying to sacrifice themselves in order to open the hell mouth. You know, that time where you jumped into the hole after the last demon? Let me ask you, what's wrong in with that picture?"
Buffy face could have been a study of moods as anger, disbelief and confusion, appeared on her face as Alexander laid out his speech. She stood thoughtful for a moment and then said, "Nothing. I can't see what could be wrong with that picture. I jumped into the hole to catch a demon that had jumped several seconds before me. I succeeded in catching it." Buffy listened to her words for a moment and gasped as something occurred to her. "Further more the laws of inertia were probably on an expanded a holiday because there is no way Riley could have been able to hold onto the cord with the combination of my weight and the demon's with his bare hands, even with his expanded strength. I'm afraid that I'm beginning to see your point, Xander. So does that mean that all we did and all the sacrifices we made are for nothing? Everything would have turned out fine even without us?"
"No, what you did was very important. Without your heroics, thousands of people would have died. But the human race is not threatened of extinction even if thousands or even millions of people die. What I mean is the End Of The World would never happen except...
Nanny broke in, "Except if something could nullify the human race's protection ability."
Alexander smiled, which was a rather scary sight. "Ten points to the lady in the corner."
"To get back to my story, some Demons discovered that the only species that remained invulnerable to this unique ability were dragons.
"I should mention that dragons, in general, are not someone you want as a neighbours. They are extremely predatorily as young, going after nearly everything that walks. So whenever a young dragon was sighted, demons from different groups would band together to kill the dragon before it became a problem. Because of this dragons became extremely rare, and had healthy distrust of everyone and everything. All of these factors made it nearly impossible for any cooperation between demons and dragons.
But with dragons remaining to be the only real threat, it wasn't long before humans began the extermination process of dragons with help of the Sharpest Sword. The dragons, in turn, were forced to cooperate with others demons.
Just like with the humans, experiments and research were done to find out what made dragons immune to the humans' ability of reality distortion. What they found out was fascinating. Where a human collapses the quantum possibilities field, a dragon would generate, in some way, a direct opposite field. A dragon's reality changing abilities was much higher than any human, especially on the elder dragons.
One would think that with dragons helping the fight against the humans, it would only be a matter of time before not a single human being was left. But the dragons were few and the humans many. By the time dragons finally joined the fight on the demon side; it was already too late. The humans could cope with the loss of a thousands humans, they would quickly be replace. On the other hand, every elder dragon that died could not be replaced. The war was lost before anybody realized, that there was one.
The only avenue left for those against the human race was the Great Exile. Every demon and dragon banded together to cast the greatest spell that has ever been done. The spell fractured reality into billions or fragments and the exodus from our reality to the fractured realities began. Humanity then created the Key to seal humanity of from the other demons."
Buffy looked at Alexander and asked, "So you're saying that Dawn is that Key?"
"Yes, she is. The Key is a static representation of our reality. It's impossible to change the basics of our reality because The Key locks down the basic parameters of this reality."
"As below, as above," came it from Nanny who sounded like she was sitting in a slowly sinking boat and had just now, realised that it also was on fire, and the water was filled with sharks. "Kill him now, quickly!" yelled Nanny to Buffy,
Buffy asked Alexander in wary tone, "What does she mean Xander?"
"What she meant is that if you change The Key, you also change the world and vice versa."
"Oh! That's pretty heavy."
"Yeah I know," came laconically from Alexander, in a way, which would have been worthy of Oz.
"Why?" asked Buffy with the 'why' encompassing the whole situation they were in, and demand an answer that would make a little more sense to her.
"Because they want to come back. Because some of them hate us, so much, that there isn't word completely adequate cover it. Many demons have hatched one plot after another to destroy the human race for millions of years, singularly pursuing that only goal.
The creation of Vampires was a semi-successful project; they can pass for humans and therefore can go unnoticed, until they became too obvious. A vampire master trying to create the end of the world would be a good example of that. Humanity's solution to this problem was the creation of the slayer, one girl who could remove things that could destabilize the human reality with a minimum of fuss.
Another result of the never-ending war between humans and demons was the creations of hellmouths, localized hot spots of unreality. I think that the idea was that they should slowly grow in strength and work as a fore post for a demonic invasion. But again, humanity was able to counter this threat by gathering a type of people near these hotspots, who are nearly pathologic in their inability to accept things that did not conform to their worldview. It's a good thing for humanity that they are here because these people's denial is damping the effects of the Hellmouth considerably. But not so if you look at from the singularly Sunnydale individual's chances of survival.
My father and I were the latest and probably one of the more complex and well-planned end of the human world scheme. The idea was to create a dragon that could mate with a human and create an offspring with an essence of a dragon and a human soul. The worst-case scenario, from the demon point of view, would have been the creation of a dragon that could survive in a human reality. That scenario would have pretty bad but on a purely locale scale. The best-case scenario would be that the dragon hybrid could influence humanity's collective consciousness and forcing it to create a reality that would be healthier for demons, which would have been extremely bad on a truly global scale for the humans.
Luckily for us they got greedy and began tweaking the original plan when Glory came to town. You could say that they bet the whole house and lost. If they had stuck with the first plan, I would still be roaming around Sunnydale, hunting after demons without a trace of a conscience for next few decades. By the time I've killed enough demons to regain a conscience, every trace of my old personality would have been erased and it would no longer matter. But they became so afraid that Glory would take over the human world for herself and eager to have a dragon that was as strong as its ancestors that they forced me to go after her.
The plan was not risk free, even if Glory was pale shadow, of my...her former self. A God walking around in the human reality is such a distortion, that she was under constant attack from the human conscience. Not only that but she also had to steal human essences to cloak her own essence, if she wanted to stay sane.
Should the new plan succeed, they would have a dragon with at least the same power as an ancient dragon. The plan succeeded, but not entirely. They had not calculated with that my human side would not fade away and that when I regained conscience, my human personality could, more or less, override the dragon instincts. I soon realized that my instinct to drive away humanity and create a reality that I could survive in would mean a great deal of trouble for humanity. Another thing that I don't think that they had calculated on, was that I knew of the Key, and I had the knowledge I had gained from Glory would allow me to use it.
Besides, I am planning to create this area, an area around the Hellmouth, with the right physical properties. Without the Key, it would have been impossible to create such a finely tuned local effect.
Alexander paused and sighed. "That is my story. What is your verdict Buffy?"
"Can you bring Dawn back?"
"Yes. But in exchange, you will not stand in the way of the creation of my safe area."
In a mortally tired voice, Buffy replied, "I want Dawn back, so no."
The Sharpest sword fell out of Buffy hands. Everybody in the room could feel something monumental had happened when Buffy gave her acceptance to Alexander.
"No!" shouted Nanny desperately who then gripped Anya and held a hunting knife to her throat. "My children shall not live in a world where they are afraid of the darkness again, where they are not master over their own destiny."
For the first time, Alexander's calm pose broke; a terrible anger, that could break any moment, the last shreds self-control, clouded his reptilian features. For once the human and dragon part of him was in totally harmony.
"Foolish woman you have already lost, nothing can change that now. If you do any harm to Anya, I will kill you, your children and grandchildren and every friend you have. Drop the knife and you can walk away and help humanity through the transition that will come. Life is change, only death is stasis."
Before Nanny could reply, she was hit with an iron rod in the back of her head. Catherine wielded the rod with a satisfied smile.
"Hello Nanny, nice to see you again too"
The arm that held the knife gave a spasm and cut into Anya's neck when Nanny went down.
"Anya!" shouted Alexander with ferocity in his voice, and suddenly the room began to light up, casting an eerie glow that emanated billions of threats, that weaved into each other in an inhuman complex pattern.
Dawn looked up and saw that the sky was blue. A dragon was flying through the fractured realities in a gracefully air ballet, it was beautiful. Why is Willow screaming?
Fourteen years later
'Demonic, Lesbian, Voodoo Witch Queen holds my daughter as Sex-slave' the picture below showed Mr. McClay in an angle that hinted that it was taken from the top.
Damn! She hated to think of the amount of work she had to do to keep that newspaper away from Tara. Tara is so fragile in many ways and this article would make her think of things that had led to trouble before. The journalist's name was on the article, making it much easier to locate the journalist magically. People's stupidity did continually frustrate and amaze her.
A little tough love, in this case, must be in order. The journalist will be getting a visit one these nights, through one of his windows. The journalist would probably survive; zombies are not really the perfect assassins. She didn't really want to kill the journalist. It was more a message and a reminder to people outside the Zone, that if one of the powers in the Zone was insulted, there would be consequences and that distance was not that a great problem. Further more could she would not let anyone attack her without retaliation, too many people and demons, would think that if you didn't use the power you have, that it was a sign of weakness, and they will begin scheming to take you down. In the beginning she has shown restraint when she used her powers, and too many times that tactic backfired and people that depended on her had gotten hurt. So began her philosophy that it was better they feared her than loved her.
In the beginning they could not grasp all the implications of the creation of the Zone. Except for some of the most obvious things, such as her transformation into a Vtte (somebody in her ancestry had definitely not been Jewish). The transformation was triggered when the physical geometries had changed in the zone. The dormant Vtte genes could only be activated in this high magical area.
The physical changes were not so great. It is only when she looked at herself in the mirror did she get that thought that she looked like one of the aliens in Star Trek, who only needed to wear some plastic around the nose bridge and some pointy ears to be considered an alien. The mental transformation was much more fundamental suspected she, and it had strained her relationship with Tara to the breaking point and sometimes beyond it. She truly hated herself when she had to fix Tara to get her back then. But she needed her so much, she was her link to her lost humanity and she could not let her go, no more than Alexander could allow anyone of the old Scooby gang to leave the zone.
Alexander did not try to control them in any direct ways inside the Zone. He allowed Buffy, Angel and Giles to organize an opposition. Human interest had gotten a new meaning in the Zone, not that humans were generally in danger in the Zone; it was quite the opposite really. Sunnydale had become much safer to live in for humans, as long they accepted to live under a Power protection, like in the old feudal system.
She sometimes wondered why Buffy could not see, that she too was like the others demons, and considered a power and therefore part of the system that was in place.
The US government would, of course, not accept the loss of control over a land area that covered a radius of over hundred miles around Sunnydale that included most of LA. When it quickly became clear that complex machinery would not work in the Zone, the army manufactured ten thousand swords and armors to equip the army sent in to take back the control of "alien infested area". It was a completely disaster that would have ended in totally massacre, if Buffy hadn't intervened and therefore forced the appearance of Alexander. It was then that rules for interaction between humans and demons in the Zone was laid down, even if the Shiee more or less consider them guidelines (arrogant bastards). The fact there were no vampires in the Zone was also a thing that kept human and demon contact tolerable.
When Alexander created the Zone he also destroyed every vampire in it except Angel, whose humanity he gave his back as a gift to Buffy. Except for these incidents, Alexander kept to himself and spent time with Anya and their 6-year-old daughter Joyce, more or less.
There were some stories surrounding Alexander. When she asked him how much truth there was in them, he grinned and said "enough to keep them honest".
Joyce was on a little holiday at her and Tara house. Both of them enjoyed having Joyce around. She was such a delightfully mixture honesty and warmth. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, she considered strange despite the child's origins. When Joyce laughed, it was warm laughter, filled with acceptance and wonder of the world that filled the room, not a horrible monstrous sound.
She loved playing with Joyce, it brought back her old memories of her time together with Xander as children.
But as Joyce grew up and she learned more about the fundamentals of the governing rules of magic, a suspicious thought was planted in her head that she could not let go of. So she steeled herself to ask some questions to Alexander when he comes to pick Joyce up
He came, as always, cloaked as an eternal young Xander. He walked over to her with the same smile she had cherished when she young and was still known as just "his Willow". But it was all an illusion and she didn't believe in it for a second. The joy and appreciation his image gave her gave way to melancholy and sadness. Once she could see every little emotion in Xander's eyes, knew his thoughts and dreams. Now what did she really know him?
"Hi Willow, sorry I'm late. I just spent hours listening to a taHacceffui complaining that Buffy and her allies had been trying to expand her territory on his expanse. You have no idea how hard it is to explain the concept of a public demonstration, and that Buffy was not planning to topple him, to a half a million old demon"
"What are you going to do about Buffy? If we don't rein her down a little, somebody is bound to try to take her out before she makes more waves."
"It has been taken care of. I think that in couple of months Buffy will tell us the good news that she is expecting."
"But I thought she was barren. How do you know...?"
Alexander grinned a little and said, "A little gift from me to Buffy and Angel."
"And a child is a hostage for the future," she replied, completing Alexander's line.
Xander nods in the direction at the newspaper lying at the table and says, "Do you want me take care of that?"
"No. I think it is best if I handle it myself."
"You're probably right"
She thinks that the journalist had been so suicidal and stupid that perhaps there lay another motive other than a good story behind the article. She had to check up on that later, if somebody had used the journalist as power move against her...
"Alexander when we are speaking about Buffy? I was wondering about something, something about the creation of the Zone and Joyce."
"We both know the fundamental rules in magic. One of them is that the greater effect or scope the magic, the greater risk there are for the initiator. Another one is the rule of free will of the recipient. The recipient must always have a chance to avoid the effects; the recipient can of course be a symbolic representation for a group of entities. Combine these rules, with the fact that Buffy would protect Dawn against nearly anything. It seems to me that you created a situation where you would be in a position of risking yourself. But you solved that problem by manipulating us. When Buffy, as the symbolic recipient of humanity, was forced by you, to make the choice, you did not give her any time to think about the consequences, and of course she acted on instinct and based her decision on her love of Dawn."
Alexander looked intensely at her and smiled. "Willow, Willow is that all? Even if what you said was true, and I would like to point out that I was very young and under extreme time pressure, why would it matter? The world seen, as a whole, is a much more peaceful place than it was fifteen years ago. Humanity has finally found an enemy outside itself, and it has flourished despite it. Have I not shown considerable constraint on using my powers?"
"Tara and I have spent so much time with Joyce that we consider her as family. We love her."
"Anya and I have also been grateful that you have given Joyce a second home so she could have a semi normal childhood. But what is your point Willow?"
"I think you know what my point is. What happens Joyce grows older?"
"She will get married and have 2.1 children, income of about 35000 and a nice husband who is two years older than herself. Why do you ask me about that? I can't see the future, that is more of Cordelia's department," came from a slightly irritated Alexander.
"She is not human."
"Not to go all schoolyard on you, but you are not completely human too."
"She is a product of a human-dragon hybrid and a vengeance demon. What powers will she inherited from you and Anya? I can't stop thinking that you are playing the same game with me as you did with Buffy, making me love Joyce so that you can use it against me in the future."
In a slightly cold tone Alexander said, "Have I ever lied to you?"
"No, but there is so much that you don't tell me."
"Willow, I trust you with my only child. Why can't you give me same trust back?"
"I am not Buffy! Alexander, I am nice but not good, please don't fuck around with me!"
"I think I will go now. I will see you when you are a little more reasonable"
She shouted after him. "I will not be used!"
Alexander replied casually while he walks towards the door. "Is it all right that Joyce is also staying with you next weekend?"
She was alone again with her thoughts. They were racing around her mind like a rat in a maze looking for way out. Would she fail like Buffy did? Did Buffy fail?
She had done...questionable things, but...
There is a knife in the drawer, which she will not draw.
There is something precious, that have died.
There is a child, with the warmest eyes.
There is a deed, which she will not do.
There is a knife in the drawer.
There is a child.
Snip snap snude nu er den historie ude, trip trap tnde nu kan en ny begynde.
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