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This story is No. 1 in the series "Evolve or Die". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: A post-S7 one-off. Xander, no longer on the Council, joins forces with a new Slayer to track down a killer.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Action/Adventure > Xander-CenteredphoukaFR18113,794356610,60317 Apr 0817 Apr 08Yes
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is owned Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit will be made.

Not-the-Author's Note: I did not write this. My younger brother, AKA phoukabro, wrote this. It is not part of his series, "Oh, the places he'll go". It is a stand-alone, post-season 7 short story centered on Xander.



POINTS OF VIEW

Prologue - Xander Harris

The night before the whole thing started, I decided to go play in traffic.

I had my reasons. Well, I had a reason. But it was a good one.

My friend Richard from Sunnydale Construction relocated to Reno right before the whole town fell into the ground. He got a job in the maintenance crew in a hotel and casino there. His coworkers knew he was from Sunnydale, and that a lot of weird stuff went down there. So when strange crap started going down in the hotel, they looked to him. He, in turn, gave me a call.

When I showed up, the manager sat me down and told me the deal. Items were going missing or misplaced. There were strange noises in empty areas. Several people had been in unexplained accidents. And two workers had died in mysterious circumstance. So the manager told me he could shut down the wing of the hotel this happened in for two weeks so I could clear up the matter.

From the description, I thought it could be some sort of poltergeist or spirit acting out. I figured I could look around the hotel for four or five days, spend a solid week on research, and a day or two performing a cleansing ritual. That would give me just enough time to meet the two week deadline. But all that got thrown out the window when I started poking around the basement and saw a plate of food floating in the air.

“Holy shit, you're invisible!” I yelped out. The plate stopped then settled down on a nearby table. I heard the shuffling around of feet, but they didn't say anything.

“Marci?” I guessed.

“Sorry, no Marci here,” a deep voice said. “How did you know I'm not a ghost?” he asked.

“Because that's a plate full of crab legs from the lunch buffet, and last time I checked ghosts don't eat shellfish... or any type of food at all,” I said, trying to figure out where the guy was standing.

“Hey, I'm just trying to survive here. I'm not hurting anyone,” the voice said, as I saw a crowbar rise from a workbench ten feet away and slowly come towards me. I picked up a dirty plate next to me and threw it. It hit his body with a thud. “Ow! You hit me!”

“I can see the crowbar! You've attacked six people in the past month. Two people are dead,” I said, stepping back.

The crowbar dropped to the ground with a clang.

“Okay, that's better. So I guess you've been hiding out here for awhile. How did you turn invisible any-” I was cut off as a blow knocked me to the ground. “Whoah! Back off!”

I kicked out blindly, but managed to connect with something solid.

I scrambled back towards the stairs, trying to get away from my unseen attacker. I turned over to get up, then fell back down as a weight fell on top of me. His hands wrapped around my throat and began to tighten. I grasped the flashlight I brought into the basement with me and swung it. It thudded into what must have been his shoulder, causing him to slacken his grip.

“Wait a minute! I just have one question for you!” I shouted. I paused for a second. I could hear his heavy breathing, but he did not attack. “So are your clothes invisible too, or are you naked right now? 'Cause if you are, that puts a really weird vibe on this whole situation.”

“DIE!” he shouted. I sprang up and sprinted up the steps. I rushed through the door and began to shut it, but my attacker ran into it. I grabbed a cart next to me and used it to blockade the door.

Down the hall, the hotel manager saw my struggle. “Mr. Harris, have you found anything out?” he asked.

“YES! WHERE'S THE CLOSEST DOOR TO THE STREET?” I yelled to him.

“Go down the hallway on the left. The door at the end comes out to the west side of the hotel. The street's right there,” the manager answered.

“THANKS!” I yelled back, then let go of the door. It burst open, and I saw the cart pushed away. “Hey! Claude Rains! Your free ride of is over!”

I turned and ran down the hall. I heard the yelling close behind me. I glanced back to see if he was gaining on me, then realized the futility of the action.

Reaching the door at the end, I slammed it open without slowing down. I stopped for a second, and glanced around. As I did so, the door burst open again, and the trash can next to it was pushed to the side. I bolted into the street. The oncoming cars swerved around me and honked warnings. I ran further into the street, dodging the cars and trucks around me. I jumped out of the path of one truck only to hear a sickening thud a split second later. The truck skidded to a stop, and traffic in both lanes came to a standstill. I dusted myself off and let out a breath.

The truck driver got out, his face pale with anger. “Are you crazy? You could have been killed running out like that! I thought I hit you!”

“No, not me,” I muttered. “Must have been a pothole. Wait here a second,” I told the driver. I made my way to the front of the truck and began feeling around the ground. Five feet from the grille of the truck, I felt the body of the now dead invisible man. I grabbed a hold of a leg and dragged it to the sidewalk. “You can go now. Thanks for the help,” I told the driver.

An hour later I dumped the body on top of the manager's desk. He flinched back as the thud startled him. “You can open up the wing back up now. I found your culprit.”

“He's... invisible?” the manager asked, carefully poking the body.

“Yep. It happens occasionally. Unfortunately, the people that turn invisible turn out not to be the most stable personalities around. This guy must have camped out in the hotel after it happened to him,” I explained.

“He's dead then? Thank god. What do we do with the body?” he asked.

I shrugged. “An incinerator would probably be your best option. I wouldn't worry about anyone stumbling across him, but he will begin to smell in a few days.”

“I'll get it taken care of.” He pulled out a checkbook from his desk drawer. “I appreciate you completing this in just one day. The cost of closing down the wing for two weeks more than makes up for your fee.” He tore of the check and handed it to me. I glanced at it and tried not to yelp in glee at the amount. The manager let out a little chuckle as he watched me. “You knew all along it would only take a day, didn't you? And you let me go on about what trouble I was in. I never actually believed all the stories Richard said about you. But I can see for myself they must be true.”

I tucked the check into my wallet and got up. “I'm just living proof it's better to be lucky than smart.”

The manager laughed at that. He stood up from the desk and shook my hand. I opened the door to leave, as he placed his hand on the invisible corpse on his desk. I caught his frown just as the door closed. From the hallway, I heard him say, “Dear god, he's naked.”

Prologue - Megan Foster

I had been an active Slayer for just over a year before I got the assignment. I figured I was up for the next open posting, and I couldn't wait for it. I'd finally get the chance to work without a babysitter watching and evaluating my every move.

I had heard about Xander Harris, of course. All the Slayers knew his name. As one of the Sunnydale Gang, he popped up in all the cases. But those were just dry recitations of who was present for what event. You had no idea of who he really was. For that, you had to listen to the rumors. And there were a lot of rumors. Especially about when he left the Council.

The problem with rumors is that you don't know which ones to believe. He was powerless and not much use in a fight. He singlehandedly saved the world. He forgave horrible attacks on him. He held grudges for years. He was the heart of the Council. He was only good for fixing windows. He quit the Council when he got fed up with the bullshit. He was fired for incompetence.

Pretty much the only thing people agree on is that he and Robin Wood did not get along. They argued about Harris's posting for days, then one day Harris was gone.

I never really gave it much thought. Harris was the past for the Council, and I was the future. As far as I knew, I would never even meet him.

Then I got the assignment.

Part One - Xander Harris

The next morning found me at the casino restaurant with a full breakfast, a check for ten thousand dollars, and the morning paper. Out of habit, I flipped over the obituaries. I happily noted that there were no bodies found drained of blood found anywhere in the city. On the opposite page were the crime listings. I was just about to toss the paper when the story of the pawnshop robbery caught my eye.

Normally, I wouldn't have given it a second thought, but since I finished up the contract job early, I still had a few days free. It was the pawn shop angle that caught my interest. After Sunnydale fell, I spent a couple years acting as a gofer for Giles. I wound up in a lot of pawn shops looking for forgotten talismans, obscure magic texts, and lost mystical doodads. It was probably something mundane, but as I said, I had nothing better to do that day. I might as well satisfy my curiosity by asking a few questions.

I drove over to the pawnshop and walked inside. The owner looked up as I entered. “Can I help you find anything?” he asked.

“Nothing specific. I'm in town hitting all the pawnshops for antiques. Kind of a cash in the attic thing,” I said, thinking up a cover story. I scanned the wall, looking to see if anything jumped out.

“What kind of antiques? We got a lot of stuff here,” he pointed over to a display case.

I walked over to the case and looked it over. “Mainly jewelry, all types. Weapons also.”

“Too late for that, then. I got in a big shipment of old weapons last month. It was part of an estate sale. But we had a break in last night. Someone grabbed the whole thing,” the owner informed me.

“Oooo... , too bad. You file a police report?” I asked in what I hope was an offhand manner.

“Sure did. Not that it'll do much good,” the owner said. He didn't seem to have much faith in the local police. I figured they couldn't be worse than the Sunnydale cops. They took corruption and incompetence to a whole other level.

“Maybe they'll turn something up. Wish I got a chance to go over those items,” I studied a ring in the case, then pretended to just think of what I had been waiting to ask since I walked in. “You wouldn't happen to have any pictures of that shipment, would you?”

“Yeah, I took them when I was cataloging them in my inventory. I already gave the police a copy.”

“Can I have a copy?” I asked. “I'll leave my card with you. That way if the police recover it, you can give me a call and I'll tell you which pieces I'm interested in.”

The owner looked at me in suspicion. I tried to look as earnest as possible, which is pretty hard to do with the eyepatch. But he merely shrugged and found a copy for me.

I made my way back to the hotel and sat down to study the photos. I eliminated most of the objects right off the bat. They were either too new, or too mundane. I narrowed it down to two maybes - one necklace with an ornate design and a circlet with a open inset in the center - and one probably, a curved dagger with runes along the blade and a jewel embedded in the hilt.

I did a quick search on the net for the items, but couldn't get any specifics. I looked at a few other topics to confirm my suspicions that something might be going on. At that point, I knew I needed to get an expert opinion.

I dialed the long distance number to Cleveland and waited for the other end to pick up. “Research department, this is Dawn Summers. Can I help you?” the familiar voice asked.

“Yes, can you tell me the average velocity of an unladen swallow?” I asked.

“Xander!” Dawn shrieked in glee. “You goof, why haven't you kept in touch? I haven't heard from you in months.”

“Sorry about that. Between traveling and getting caught up in work, I kept putting it off. But out of all the people I didn't call, you're the person I didn't call the most.”

“I'm sure in your twisted mind, that makes some kind of actual sense. I'm glad you're keeping busy with work. Just as long as you still have time for a personal life. So what's on your mind?”

“I, uh... I'm on a case,” I admitted.

Dawn gave a long sigh. “Of course. And you need my help.”

“Well, that's a given. And I always go to the best. Where else can I mix business with pleasure?” I flattered her. “And I do care about you. Really. What have you been up to? How is life treating you?”

“Not bad. We just renovated the main building. There are still some problems though. We need to get an exterminator in here though. This place is crawling with... you know.”

Exterminator? The place must be crawling with... bugs. The line is bugged. Dawn was telling me this conversation was not private. “Yeah, that figures. Listen, I just sent you some pictures by e-mail. Can you check them?”

“Hang on a sec,” she said. “Okay, I got it. Nice dagger.”

“It was stolen yesterday. I need you to translate the runes and see if you can identify it,” I told her.

“It's an Aztec sacrificial dagger. The runes are a death poem. Along the lines of 'the blood will flow and give me power', but, you know, rhyming better,” Dawn said, showing her expertise, and by extension, my ignorance of the subject. She was definitely enjoying this.

“Okay, Ms. Smarty Pants. I need any information you can did up on this. We have an Aztec dagger used for sacrifices, we have the winter solstice in three days, and it's happening in the Reno area. Maybe the dagger was designed for a specific ritual. I'll ask around and see if there are any groups active in the Reno area. You got my e-mail and cell number?” I asked.

“I got both. You said Reno?”

“Yeah, is that significant?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “Hey, wasn't there something about a possible Slayer in the area, but no one could track her down because of some kind of mystical interference?”

“You remember correctly. There was some grumbling about it, but no follow up.”

“That was Robin's call right? Sounds like another Barney Fife move by him. So if he had done a little ground work back then, maybe I wouldn't be working blind right now,” I said. I decided to go on a full out rant on this for the benefit of any listeners. “He's more concerned with his little kingdom than actually setting something up that will get stuff done. It's the same shit he pulled with Andrew. He set that little twerp up as his deputy, not based on whether Andrew could actually do the job, but because Robin knew he could control him. Except barely a year later Andrew gets himself and four Slayers killed in an ambush that -”

Part One - Megan Foster

“- even a retarded monkey could see coming. But old Robin Wood didn't see it, ‘cause he was too busy grabbing up as much power as he could while his yes-man gets good Slayers killed. Robin needs to pull his head out of his ass and -”

Robin Wood stopped the tape at that point. “He goes on in that vein for the rest of the phone call,” he said, a little stiffly. He sat up straight behind his desk and began speaking in his official briefing tone. “Ms. Summers looked into the matter and turned up some disturbing information. There's a cult of Thanatos set up in that area, and they've been active the past few years. It was mainly small time stuff, but this is not.” He nodded to Dawn Summers, the head of research for the Watcher's North American Region. She leaned against the wall rather than sitting in front of Mr. Wood's desk.

“I checked a study of the ley lines near Reno. There's a junction about twenty miles from the city. During the solstice, the dimensional walls there will be especially weak,” Ms. Summers said . “A blood sacrifice will create a tear in them. And a blood sacrifice of a mystically significant person -”

“Such as a Slayer?” I offered.

Ms. Summers nodded. “- could rip them open all together.”

“Due to the crisis in Florida, we're a bit short staffed right now. I'm sending you to look into this matter and resolve it,” Mr. Wood told me. He picked a folder from his desk and handed it to me. “This is the information we have so far. We've got you booked on a flight out to Reno this afternoon. If you run into trouble and need help, then call us, but other than that, you're on your own for this one.”

I opened up the file and glanced through it. “What about Mr. Harris? Will he be helping?”

“Mr. Harris might have stumbled on to this, but to properly handle this, we'll leave it to the professionals,” Mr. Wood said. I glanced at Ms. Summers to see her shake her head slightly.

“Sooooo..., Mr. Harris doesn't know what the situation is?” I asked Mr. Wood.

Instead, Ms. Summers spoke up to answer. “I've already sent him all the information you have.”

“Against my recommendation,” Mr. Wood added. “I still think it was a bad decision.”

“And if I was under your direct supervision that might be relevant,” Ms. Summers said. “Xander called me for help, I gave it to him. I still think we should bring him in on this mission.”

“And if you were the head of operations instead of me, that might be relevant,” Mr. Wood shot back. He turned back to me. “Once you get there, keep regular contact with us.”

And on that tense note, the meeting ended. I put together a bag for clothing and essentials and another bag for weapons to be sent separately. The Council used a shipping company for weapons and other stuff that would normally get flagged at the airport. I was just about to step outside to the taxi waiting to take me to the airport, when I spotted Dawn Summers in the hallway.

“Ms. Summers,” I called out. “Can I get a minute?” She turned and waited as I walked over. “I feel like I'm going out there blind. Can you tell me if this Harris is going to be on the radar for this? Or is he just going to drop it now that the Council's looking into it?”

“Xander's not going to drop it,” she answered. “I'm sure you're going to be seeing him soon.”

“Any advice on how I should handle him? I mean this guy was one of the original Sunnydale crew. But he barely lasted a year under the new Council. Is he serious or can I blow him off?” I asked.

“Xander is.... I don't know,” she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She looked at me and began again, “Don't underestimate him. And believe me, he makes it very easy to do that. He's going to be on this case no matter what.”

“Mr. Wood doesn't think he's capable of much,” I pointed out.

“Robin underestimates him. Like I said, it's very easy to do that,” she said.

“Okay.” I grabbed my bag from the floor and turned to the door, but turned back. “Anything you want me to say if I see him.”

Ms. Summers gave me a sad smile. “Tell him... tell him to take care. If he gets hurt or dies, I'll be very pissed at him.”

Part Two - Xander Harris

Dawn sent me an e-mail a couple hours after our phone call. It definitely looked like a sacrifice. I had a couple of trails to follow. I figured Dawn and her staff could look into the site of the sacrifice, while I could follow up on potential victims.

I spent most of the day at the library, looking in the online archives of the local paper. I concentrated on missing persons. I found a couple of possibilities and then looked up some other crime stats. This kept me busy until the library closed at 10 PM. That's when I headed over to Pat's.

There's a place like Pat's in every medium sized city. In big cities, there's two or three of them. Any place with a sizable demon population and occult subculture, there's a place like Pat's to serve them beer and other beverages without asking any questions. In Sunnydale, it was Willie's. Bubba's was the place to go in Shreveport. New York City has Roscoe's, The After Hours Club, and The Noonan Bar. If you want information or are trying to find someone in the underground, these are the places to go. Interesting fact is that the places with names like The Masquerade, The Dark Side, or Warlock's Lair are never where the demons hang out. All you'll find there are wannabes and posers.

As I walked into Pat's, I did a quick review of the layout and occupants before heading over to the bar. I sat at the bar and nursed a drink for about half an hour before I spotted a likely group. Waving the bartender over, I handed him a twenty. “Round of O positive to the group that just sat down,” I ordered. As the bartender filled out the order and placed the drinks on a tray, I leaned over, unstopped a vial from my pocket, and added a few drops to each drink. I passed fifty to the bartender. “You didn't see that,” I added.

One of the waiters brought the round to the gang of vampires that had just sat down at a table by the exit. He nodded in my direction, so I raised a glass to them. They smiled and began to drink. I waited a couple of minutes for them to finish their drinks, then made my way over to the table.

“Hi there, I'm Alex,” I introduced myself to them. “Mind if I sit down?”

The lead vampire shrugged, while a couple of the others laughed. “Hey, if you're buying, then feel free.”

“Sounds fair,” I said, as I sat down. “I'm actually new in town, and I was hoping you guys could give me some pointers.”

“What's in it for us?” one of the lesser vamps asked.

“How about I pay for the drinks, while you guys answer the questions? If I ask you anything you don't want to answer, you tell me to go fuck myself. Deal?”

“”Hell, sounds like we can get a full night's meal from this guy. We don't even have to hunt tonight with this guy,” the leader said. The other four vampires nodded in agreement. “What's your first question?”

“I may need to raise a little money now. Are there any groups hiring?”

“That depends. What kind of work can you do?” the lead vamp asked.

“I'm an expert on ancient languages, written or spoken. I'm a top notch researcher. I'm good at tracking down and acquiring rare objects. I can handle close range and long range weapons. And I have a certain... moral flexibility when required,” I told him, rattling off my rigged resume. “Any person or group looking for people?”

“Can't say I know of anyone like that.”

“What about Robeson?” one of the vamps cut in. “He had something coming up soon. Right, boss?”

The boss glared at him, but turned to me. “Jack doesn't know what he's talking about. Robeson is a total loon. He only wants true believers. You don't want to work for him.”

“Hey, I can believe all kinds of crap if he pays well enough. I can't really rule anything out at this point. Where could I find this guy, if I wanted to talk to him?”

The boss sat back, then looked at Jack. “Uh, he had a place downtown, but word is he's pulling up. You can try him there. It's in the warehouse district, it's on the corner of Fifth and Maple. If he's not there, then I heard he's got a place out west in the desert. It's supposed to be a few miles off the interstate.”

“Okay. Good to know.” I thought about my next question, then spoke to the boss, “I have a few projects of my own, but I don't know the players in town. Can you give me a rundown?”

“What do you need to know?”

“General setup first, then specifics,” I said.

The boss opened his mouth to talk, then shut it. He tapped his now empty glass. I raised a hand to catch the waiter's eye. “Another round, please,” I ordered. Then turned back to the boss. “Continue.”

The boss grinned as the next round came to the table. “You got your basic vampire gangs. None larger than 10 members or so. There are about five gangs besides us. There's witches coven in town. Some miscellaneous street mages and hustlers. Other than that it's a pretty quiet town. Most of the big action is in Vegas.”

“Anything to worry about?” I asked, fishing around. “Like, I don't know... a Slayer?”

“A Slayer?” the boss repeated with a laugh. He nudged the vamp next to him. “Buddy boy here wants to know if there's a Slayer in town.” The rest of the gang began to laugh with him.

“Hey, I just don't want to run into any trouble,” I explained, a little nervous now at their reaction. “I don't know if I could handle a Slayer.”

“Well, I got bad news and good news for you, buddy,” the boss slapped me on the back. “Bad news is you came to the wrong bar if you didn't want to run into a Slayer.”

He pointed a finger behind me. I turned my head to follow. At the bar was a short, young, brunette girl becoming more and more upset. She finally grabbed the bartender and pulled him from behind the bar. “I SAID I WANT ANSWERS! AND I WILL TRASH THIS PLACE AND EVERYONE IN IT IF I DON'T GET ANY!”

I scanned the bar and saw everyone getting up. There were six other vampires at various tables, three Chaos demons, two M'Fashnik demons, and what I'm pretty sure was a Polgara demon getting up from a table in the corner.

“The good news,” the boss continued, “is that you don't have to worry about her bothering you. She's not getting out of here alive.”

The boss and his three minions rose from their seats and stepped towards the Slayer. There was now a solid wall of demons cutting the Slayer off from the entrance.

“Oh shit,” I muttered.

Part Two - Megan Foster

I hate Reno.

I hate everything about it. I hate the flight out here. I hate the airport. I hate the rental car . I hate the motel, I hate the motel manager. I hate all the dead ends I hunted down before even getting a halfway decent lead. And I hate the bar I wound up in.

On my flight from Cleveland to Reno, my guaranteed first class ticket was bumped down to business class due to over booking. So I got stuck in a cramped seat next to an overweight guy who doesn't believe in deodorant or personal boundaries and a screaming kid. The flight itself had turbulence start in right after takeoff and ended right before landing. And I never got the god damn peanuts I was promised.

The directions to baggage claim at my gate were wrong, so it took me an hour to actually find the right place. Not that it mattered, since my bags were placed on the wrong flight and lost. It did however, delay me from getting to the car rental desk before they gave away my car. So instead of getting the Lexus I booked, I was stuck with a crappy Volvo.

My hotel turned out to be some fleatrap place that rented rooms by the hour, and the manager kept leering at me. I got out of there as soon as possible. I tried to hit all the likely spots for information, but The Darke Childe was full of goth punks. Blood Ties was a dimly lit dance club with overpriced drinks. And The Masquerade was where a bunch of LARPers hung out. So hours later I wound up at a place called Pat's, if you can believe it.

So after hours of boredom, discomfort, and frustration, I walked into Pat's and approached the bartender. Everyone immediately saw me as soon as I was through the front door except for a guy at a table with his back to me. I sat down at the bar and motioned for the bartender, but he just ignored me.

“Can I get a little service over here?” I asked. The bartender glanced over and shrugged. He slowly put down the glass he was polishing and strolled over. “I was hoping I could get a little information.”

“You want something to drink?” he asked, ignoring my earlier comment.

No, I was hoping to get some information,” I told him again.

The bartender picked up a rag and glass and began polishing another glass. “We sell alcohol here. That's it.”

I gave him my best Slayer glare, but pressed on. “Okay, I'll take whatever's on tap. And while you're getting that, can you tell me if you've heard of the Cult of Thanatos operating in town?”

The bartender poured a glass of mostly foam, and placed it in front of me. “I dunno, I hear a lot of things. It's hard to remember it all. It'll be twenty for the beer.”

At this point, what little patience I had left evaporated away. I leaned over grabbed the bartender and yelled, “I SAID I WANT ANSWERS! AND I WILL TRASH THIS PLACE AND EVERYONE IN IT IF I DON'T GET ANY!”

A fist hit the back of my head, knocking me to the ground. Laughter erupted all around me, as I groped blindly around me. As my vision cleared, I looked up and saw a crowd of demons and vampires looking down on me. “Oh, shit,” I muttered.

“Looky here. We got ourselves a Slayer,” the lead vampire said. “I wonder if Slayer blood tastes as sweet as I've heard.” He turned to the other vampires. “I get the kill, but we all feed.”

“First person to touch her dies a horrible, painful death,” a voice shouted from the back. The crowd parted to reveal the speaker. The dark hair, eyepatch, face triggered a memory in me. I'd seen pictures of this guy before.

“Harris?” I groaned.

“That's right. The name's Xander Harris,” he announced, striding forward. “From Sunnydale. I grew up in the mouth of Hell, blew up my high school, and watched the town get sucked down into a crater up close. And I will kill the first one of you slack jawed morons to attack us.”

A hand rose up from the back. “Um, Myron already hit her,” he pointed out, indicating the Polgara demon.

“Well, Myron hit her before I gave the warning, so I'll excuse him. Just this once though,” Harris said.

“Fuck you, one-eye!” the lead vampire said. “I heard of you. This guy's from Sunnydale, but that's it,” he told the rest of the crowd. “This loser is just a normal human. He hid behind his Slayer and witch friends when things got rough. He can't do shit to us alone.”

Harris didn't say anything, but just looked at the lead vamp. With his right hand, he pulled a small vial out of his back pocket. No one else could see it, from the way he held it, but I could. With his left hand, he pointed right at the lead vamp and his minions. “Burn!” he shouted, while giving the vial a quick shake.

The lead vamp chuckled, then frowned. His frown turned to a scowl, as he bent over in pain. His four minions began to scream in pain and writhe around. In seconds the five vampires burst into flames, then dissipated into dust.

Harris spat into the ashes, then slowly walked around the bar. “When I was sixteen, I had a hyena spirit bonded to my soul. I can smell the fear dripping off each and every one of you. I absorbed the memory and skills of a special forces officer on Halloween. I've faced off with the Scourge of Europe, the Judge, an ascended demon lord, and a hell god and walked away without a scratch. If even one of you tries anything, all of you will be ashes on the floor.”

Harris bent down and helped me to my feet. He walked me out the door and into the parking lot. I was still dazed from the blow to my head earlier. I hoped I didn't have a concussion. I'd survive with Slayer healing, but it'd take me a little while to recover. And I'd be at the mercy of Harris until then.

He opened the side door to a van and pushed me in. He then got in the driver's side and started the engine. He drove us for a few miles before pulling into a hotel parking lot. Harris got me from the van and walked us into the lobby.

“Hey, Mr. Harris,” the manager said. “Is everything okay?”

“Just fine. My room still available?” he said.

“Sure is.”

“Great. We've had a rough night. Just need to sleep it off,” he said, dragging me down the hall.

Harris pulled me into a room and dumped me on the bed. I saw him close the door just before I blacked out.

Hours later, I heard muffled voices close to me. The memories of the day before came flooding back to me. I was hurt, and Harris brought me to his room. I had been unconscious and at his mercy for hours. I felt his hand grab my shoulder. I spun around and lashed out at him, desperate to get away. He fell back, as I rose up from the bed, ready for an attack.

Harris sat sprawled on the ground, clutching his nose. “Aw, shit. That hurt.”

Part Three - Xander Harris

So I managed to get the Slayer and me out of the bar without getting attacked. She was pretty groggy from the sucker punch she took. I brought us over to the hotel. Luckily, the manager was still grateful for my help a couple of days ago, and he held my room for me.

I figured a night of rest combined with Slayer healing would get her back in fighting form. I spent the night on the floor. The next morning, I woke up, showered, and got ready for the day. I looked over at the Slayer, who was still out like a light.

“You're still asleep. Great,” I said to myself. “So I can leave you here, in which case you'll wake up later and take off. Probably to get into more trouble. Or I can wait here, and then I waste valuable time rather than following up any more leads.” I reviewed my options, then made a decision. “Time to wake up. I just hope you're not as grumpy as Buffy when she wakes up.”

I moved to shake her shoulder to wake her up, then found myself on the floor, clutching my nose in pain. “Aw shit. That hurt,” I moaned out.

I stared up at the Slayer, now standing over me. She stared down at me in confusion. “You getting up?” she asked.

“Why? Are you going to hit me again?” I said, not moving.

“Sorry. I panicked for a second,” she mumbled. Reaching down, she offered me a hand, and I took it. As she pulled me up, she said, “Thought you were tougher than that.”

I gingerly touched my nose. Walking over to the mirror and glancing in it, I saw a thin trickle of blood. “Ow, Jesus,” I moaned as I pinched my nose. “I think you may have broken it. Why the fuck did you hit me?”

She grabbed my nose firmly, not not painfully. “It's not broken. You'd be screaming right now if it was,” she assessed. She dropped her hand and looked down in embarrassment. “I was out and didn't know if I was safe. Besides, Robin said...”

“Oh?” I stared at her. “What did Mr. Wood say?”

“He said... he said, it might not be a good idea to trust you.”

I sat down on the bed, holding a washcloth against my nose. I didn't say anything, just glared.

“I'm Megan, by the way. Megan Foster,” she said, breaking the silence. I said nothing. “I'm a Slayer from the Cleveland branch. But you probably already figured that out.” No response from me. “We got word about what you found, and figured we should look into it.”

“But you weren't here to actually help me with it. Even though I found it and called you guys,” I said. It wasn't a question.

“Robin thought -”

“Robin thinks a lot of things. What did you think?” I shot at her.

Megan was squirming now. I got the sense she wanted to bolt, but I was her only lead. “I... He told me that, so I didn't think it was up to me.”

“Robin's not here. You are. You're the only Slayer out here. That means you're the one doing the work, and you're the one that gets hurt if things turn bad. You're not a mindless puppet. And you're not going to get much done if you don't think things through. So tell me, what do you think,” I asked her point blank.

Megan finally met my gaze. She had a resigned look on her face. She took a deep breath and slowly let it out before saying, “I think that there's a lot of issues between you and Robin. I think that affected what he said.” I allowed myself a small smile of triumph, but she continued. “I also think that maybe it's also affecting how you're acting. So until I know for sure, I'm going to be very careful in who I trust.”

I took this in, then gave a quick nod. “Makes sense,” I said. I got up from the bed and grabbed my bag. “You ready to head out?” I asked.

“Where?”

“I got a couple of leads from the bar last night before you showed up. I figure we can hit the warehouse district first.” I saw she hadn't moved yet. “Unless, that is, you think you can stop this cult before they kill anyone faster without me.”

“Shit,” she muttered, but began to follow me.

Part Three - Megan Foster

I rode shotgun with Harris in his van as we drove down to the warehouse district. I looked up from the Mapquest print out to catch Harris gingerly rubbing his nose. “I'm really, really sorry about hitting you and making you cry.”

“I didn't cry,” he replied in a sulky tone. “My eye watered up when you hit me. That's all it was.”

I let out a sigh. “It was a mistake. Anyway, I thought you were supposed to be this major badass. What happened to your hyena spirit bonded, special forces skilled, Slayer seducing warlock street skills you showed in the bar last night?”

“I. Was. Bluffing,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Wait. I heard stories about a hyena possession. And didn't you lead an army brigade against the Judge?” I asked. “I heard a lot of stories. It's hard to keep the details straight.”

“You didn't listen to Andrew Wells, did you?” he asked nervously. He caught my look, “Jesus. Look, Andrew lived in his own reality. Youi really can't trust what he said.”

“So, you were never possessed by a hyena?” I asked. I couldn't believe Wells had been full of shit. Most of the information on life before the Slayer activation came from him. “And you never had the memories of a soldier?”

Harris groaned. “I was... the hyena thing was only for a couple of days. After that I was clean. And the soldier memories kinda faded away.”

“So Andrew told the truth?” I asked in confusion.

“He... He had a habit of exaggerating and twisting stuff around. Like if you were thirsty and I went to the store to get you some bottled water, by the time Andrew told it, it's some grand epic where you're dying of dehydration and I'm crossing deserts on foot to save you,” Harris said. He parked the car in the alleyway by the warehouse. “We're here.”

We got out of the car and walked to the truck. Opening it, he pulled out a long sword and a couple of stakes which he handed to me. He grabbed a small ax and stake for himself.

“Okay, let's see if anyone's still around. We need information from these guys, so no lethal force if you can avoid it,” Harris said.

We made our way to the back entrance.

He peeked inside, then whispered to me, “Looks like it's just one guy. We go in and subdue him. If everyone else is gone, that means we may not have much time left. We need any information he has. If we do 'good cop, bad cop' can you handle 'bad cop'?” he asked me.

“Anytime,” I said.

Harris silently held up three fingers, counting down. When he indicated, I busted through the door, and ran inside, with Harris right behind me. The guy inside, looked up in alarm. It wasn't until I got close enough and grabbed him, that I saw the guy had a golden tone, and purple eyes. I think he was an empath demon. I threw him to the ground and stood over him with my sword ready to strike. “Time for demon kebob,” I said.

Harris put a hand on my sword. “Whoa, there. You don't have to kill everyone that looks at you funny.” He knelt down and spoke to the demon in a low nervous voice, “Hey, buddy. We got a problem here. I'm trying to stop a sacrifice and save lives. But Lady MacBeth here is in a stabbing mood. If you help me out, say a few tips about where your boss is holed up, I think I can direct her someplace else.”

“I am loyal to Master Steve,” the demon spat out.

“Master Steve?” I repeated. “He doesn't have anything for us. Let's stop wasting time, and just let me cut his head off.”

“You're too late. The Slayer had been taken. Her blood will flow at midnight tonight, and my Master will rule all,” the demon said.

“Okay, you're loyal to your master. I respect that,” Harris told him. “But you messed up. By grabbing a Slayer, you got the attention of the Watcher's Council. And if she dies, then the Council won't rest until your entire cult is wiped out. I know you don't want that.”

“And what is it that you don't want?” the demon asked. His eyes flared bright, as he stared at Harris. “The girl will die, and you'll be too late.”

“Shut up,” Harris ordered.

“What will you feel when you stand over her dead body? You've seen so many people die over the years, how is she different?”

“Shut. Up.” Harris gritted out.

“You can never help any of them. They'll die, screaming your name for help, but you're not there. Just like...” the demon paused, as if searching for a memory, “Anya.”

“SHUT UP!” Harris screamed. He threw himself at the demon, hitting out. His fists pummeled the demon, as Harris kept screaming. The demon grinned as it grabbed Harris by his throat. With his other hand, the demon clasped the ax that hung on Harris's belt. He pulled it free and stood up.

“LOOK OUT!” I warned. Harris rolled away from the ax swing. I swung my sword, cleaving the demon's arm off. The demon hissed at me, then ran straight at me. I swung again, and the demon's head toppled to the ground.

I turned to check on Harris. He was sitting on the ground, then slowly rose to get up.

“You okay?” I asked with concern.

He looked at the body on the ground, then at his hands. “Shit,” he muttered.

Part Four - Xander Harris

Leaving the warehouse, we drove back in silence. Megan kept glancing at me. Probably wondering if I was going to freak out again.

“So....,” she started. “That was good cop? Or did you mix up which one you were supposed to be?”

“I'm sorry,” I said. She turned to me in confusion. “I shouldn't have lost it like that. Now he's dead and we lost our only source of information.”

“It wasn't your fault,” Megan said and patted me on the arm.

“Yeah, it is. I didn't kill him, but if I kept my cool, that wouldn't have happened,” I told her.

“That was an empath demon. He read your thoughts, picked a sore subject, then flamed your emotions,” she said. “There was a Council lecture on them three months ago. Hell, I knew what he was, but didn't catch what he was doing until it was too late,” she told me. “It's not your fault.”

“Maybe,” I said, but didn't argue about it. I clutched the steering wheel in frustration.

Megan dropped the subject, but kept looking at me. “This Anya he mentioned, she was your girlfriend... fiancée? The one that died in the last Sunnydale fight?”

“Yeah,” I whispered. “What... what do people in the Council say about her?”

Megan shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She shrugged, but said, “Rumors mainly. Nothing you can put any stock into.”

“Tell me about the stories,” I asked her. “I... I need to know she wasn't forgotten.”

“She, um...” Megan paused, took a deep breath, then continued, “What I heard was bits and pieces. Some of them contradicted each other. Some didn't really explain anything. And some were just flat out implausible.”

“Hit me with it. All of it. Please,” I asked her again.

“Okay. Uh, Anya was a demon who punished men who had hurt women. She lost her powers and wound up in Sunnydale. Despite her past, she fell in love with a man... you. Rumors even say you're the man she tried to curse when she lost her powers, which doesn't make any sense to me.” She glanced at my expression for a reaction, but I didn't give her anything. She continued, “She worked with the gang there, using her knowledge of demons. She even helped come up with the plan to defeat a Hellgod. But then...”

“Oh yeah. 'But then',” I repeated in an ominous tone.

“Then on the day she was supposed to get married, an old enemy of hers attacked her... attacked you. And because of that, you wanted to wait? Or you had cold feet, or were frightened about getting attacked again, or you were angry at her. The stories aren't really clear on that point. But in the end, the wedding didn't happen. Instead, she became a demon again and tried to kill you... but then she didn't.”

“I can confirm that Anya did not kill me at any time,” I said, getting a smile from her.

“Yeah, glad we cleared that point up,” she agreed. “Except this time, her heart wasn't in it. Apparently her love for you kept her from hurting anyone, so she became human again,” she stopped and grimaced. “Real melodramatic stuff, I know. But that's what I heard. Anyway, you and her were supposed to have patched things up right before the last battle. Violet said that when you lost your eye, she stayed by your side at the hospital and never left. Then she died in the last battle,” Megan finished up. “That's what I heard, at least. It was told like this whole tragic Romeo and Juliet thing. And... I know that most of that's one sided, or details were confused, or... just wrong. I mean according to one story I head, her name wasn't even really Anya. Originally it was Aud, or Oad, or something like that,” she said.

“That's... that's as good a story to believe as any,” I said. I knew Anya wasn't always Anya. But that's who I loved. Before she was Anya, she was Anyanka. And before she was Anyanka, she was Aud. But none of that mattered. A person isn't defined by their name. They're defined by.... Name. I hit the steering wheel. “His name! We do have a lead. The guy in charge of the cult is named Steve Robeson. Hang on, I need to make a call.”

Part Four - Megan Foster

“Steve Robeson,” Harris told the person at the other end of the phone. We sat in his hotel room as he talked on his cell phone. I alternated between listening to him and looking over my notes on the case. “In Reno, Nevada. I need property holding, credit card usage, basically anything that will tell me where he is right now. Check for places in the desert west of Reno near the Interstate. Okay, you have my cell. If you can't reach me there call the Slayer out here. Her name's Megan Foster. You got her cell? Okay,” Harris ended the call. “We should hear back from him in the hour.”

“How does your source know my cell number?” I asked. I pulled out my phone and waved it at him. “Did you go through my stuff when I was asleep?”

“Nope. But, you're going to love this: my source is in the Council. He's the head of the computer system. He claims he can hack into any system on the planet if he has enough time. I think he’s bragging, but he hasn't let me down yet,” he explained.

“Wait a second. You quit the Council. Robin told me not to work with you. How can you have a source if the Council won't work with you?”

“It's true I quit. But I still have friends in there. Just because Robin Wood and I don't get along, doesn't mean I can't call in any favors.”

“Why did you quit?” I asked. “You helped in Sunnydale for seven years. But you left the new Council after barely a year. What gives?”

“Geez, you sure ask the tough questions, don't you?”

“Robin said not to trust you.” I pointed out. “If I'm going against his orders, I'd at least like to know why there's such bad blood between you.”

“Uh, Robin and I...,” he started, then stopped. “After Sunnydale, we started to put together the new Council. We had Giles at the head, Willow heading up the magic department, and all the Slayers working. Everyone had a specific role. Robin Wood was raised by a Watcher, and trained as a demon fighter, so he was put in charge of the North America operations. The only person who didn't have a clearly defined role was me.”

“Why not?” I asked.

He thought about that before replying, “I'm good at a lot of things. I can research, I can plan an attack, I can handle myself in a fight if I'm armed. But I'm not the best at anything. And the Council was being set up based on who was the best.”

“Jack of all trades, master of none.” I offered.

“Yep,” he agreed. “That sums it up. I ran errands for Giles when he needed, but I eventually asked for a permanent position. Since I was in North America, that meant I had to work under Robin.”

“So, what's the problem? You didn't trust him?”

“He didn't trust me. I didn't fit his idea of a demon hunter, and I didn't have the Watcher training he did. So he didn't think I was much use. And then...” Harris paused again. “The truth is I had a history with his girlfriend Faith. Right before she went bad, we slept together. In Robin's mind, I took advantage of her and contributed to her walk on the evil side of the street.”

“Um, did you?”

“Have you met Faith?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied with a groan. She wasn't someone people forgot. The happiest day I had as a Slayer was when I was left her training program.

“I was an eighteen year old virgin, who helped Faith out during an attack. When we went into her motel room, do you really think I could make her do anything she wasn't already planning on doing?”

He had a point there. And I can see how Robin would blame Harris for his girlfriend's flaws. “So Robin didn't trust you.”

“He did not. Instead I kept out of meeting, my ideas were ignored, and the few assignments I did get were made up busy work. I tried to talk to Giles, but he had his hands full already. And he wasn't going to overrule Robin after putting him in charge,” Harris told me. He checked his cell phone, but no calls had come in yet. “It was only after he put Andrew Wells in charge of a special unit of Slayers that I couldn't take anymore.”

“Yeah, that did not turn out well,” I said. I had read the report. It was the worst loss in the short history of the new Council. Because of Andrew Wells, all deputy directors had to be approved by Mr. Giles.

“Now I hate to say 'I told you so', but... no, wait, I love to say 'I told you so'. I just wish we hadn't lost so many Slayers to prove my point,” Harris said. He got up from the desk and pulled out a case from the closet. “When we hear back, I want to move out right away. We better get properly armed.”

He opened up the case to reveal an arsenal of weapons. I let out a low whistle of admiration. “Damn, you came to town ready to play.”

I reached for a beauty of a short sword, but Harris swatted my hand. “Nobody touches Amber, but me,” he said.

“You gave your sword a name?” I asked. “Not just any name. You gave your sword a stripper name.”

“Yes, yes. Very funny. For your information, the sword was forged by a master smith who lived in a small town in India. The town is named Amber. Amber swords are very rare, very valuable, and very very lethal. And only I get to use her... it. Only I use it,” he said, strapping it to his side. I grabbed one of the other swords and began to arm myself.

“Say, I've been wondering. How did you fry those vampires in the bar last night?” I asked. It didn't make sense. Harris said he couldn't do any magic.

“I spiked their drinks,” he answered. “I got a warlock to brew up the potion. The liquid will turn into anything it's added to. Then you give the vial a shake and it transforms into holy water. So I bought the vamps a drink, added it, got the information I needed, then disposed of them. I just took advantage of the timing to help my bluff last night.”

“A liquid that turns into holy water,” I turned the idea over in my head. “That could come in handy. I wish someone at the Council thought of that.”

“Someone at the Council did think of that,” Harris said a little sharply. Ahh, I get the feeling this was one of his ideas that Robin ignored.

My phone on the desk began to ring.

“That's probably my source,” Harris said. He opened my phone to answer, “What do you have for me? Oh, hey, Robin, what's up?” I looked over in shock as Harris talked to my boss. “... no, I'm answering my phone... well if it isn't my phone, why am I answering it?” Harris said, winking at me. Or maybe he was just blinking. It's hard to tell with the eyepatch. “Look, Robs. I don't know why you dialed my number instead of whoever you were trying to reach. I think your subconscious is trying to tell you something. Maybe you feel the need to apologize about something,” Harris said. He frowned, then turned to me. “He hung up on me. How rude.”

“Give me the phone!” I hissed out at him. Just as he handed it over, the phone began to ring again. I took a deep breath, then answered, “Foster here.”

“Megan?” Robin Wood asked.

“Yes sir.”

“Did I just call you?” he asked, with a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

“Uh, yes sir. And I answered. And now we're talking,” I said, hoping he wouldn't press me for more answers. I looked over and saw Harris struggling to contain his laughter.

“I.... Never mind. What's the situation over there?”

“Well, sir, the person heading the cult and preparing the sacrifice is named Steve Robeson. The cult was operating out of a warehouse in downtown Reno, but they've just relocated to a location in the desert. The sacrifice is on for tonight,” I recited to him. “I did confirm that an unidentified Slayer was kidnapped to be used in the ritual. The cult has humans and demon members. I'm trying to find the location of the ritual right now.”

“Remember the stakes involved here. If you fail, not only will it mean the death of a Slayer, but demons unleashed will wreak havoc before they're contained,” he told me.

“Sir, is there any chance for back up?” I asked.

“All our personnel are engaged elsewhere. We need you to handle this. Do not let us down,” he ordered, then ended the call. I glared at the phone.

“Let me guess, Robin is shifting the blame to you if this thing goes south, and at the same time, he's not giving you any extra help,” Harris observed.

“I will be so glad when I get my own assignment,” I moaned. “I just hope I don't fail tonight.”

“You won't fail,” Harris said. “I've worked with more Slayers than anyone else in history. I've seen good Slayers and I've seen bad Slayers. You are definitely one of the good ones.”

I stared into his eye as he reassured me. Some of the stories referred to Harris as the heart. For the first time, I understood why. He gave me a gentle smile and squeezed my shoulder. I reached out my hand to touch his face and -.

Harris's cellphone rang, ending the moment. He flipped it open, “Talk to me.”

Part Five - Xander Harris

Nigel came through for me with the information. Of course, he still owed me big for setting him up with Violet. Megan and I drove out to the GPS coordinates he gave me. Steve Robeson bought this plot of land two years ago. And he had been shipping items to it for the past week. I parked about half a mile out, so we wouldn't alert them.

We approached the site slowly and quietly. There were about twenty members of the cult in red robes standing before a stone altar. A girl was chained to the altar, struggling against her bonds in vain. I checked my watch and saw we only had minutes to go before the sacrifice. I signaled Megan to sneak around the back, closer to the altar. I watched her get in position. Pulling out my crossbow, I laid out the bolts, loaded the first one, and took careful aim.

Unfortunately, Robeson was dressed the same as the rest of the cult, so I couldn't target him specifically. I didn't want to wait until he revealed himself, so I took aim at the closest cult member to me.

I pulled the trigger, sending the bolt flying into the back of my target. I grabbed the next bolt, and loaded it as his body toppled to the ground. As the crowd turned to me, I raided the crossbow and fired again.

A second body fell to the ground, clutching the bolt sticking out of his shoulder. The rest of the group finally registered the attack and rushed towards me. I jumped up and backed up, trying to reload. Loading the bolt in, I fired off a third shot into the form only five feet away from me. I couldn't miss at that range, and he slumped forward. The rest of the attackers surged over his body.

I dropped the crossbow and ran.

Part Five - Megan Foster

I waited until the group were all focused on Harris. All but two of them turned and went for him. I popped out, and hurled a throwing ax, catching the farther guard in the chest. While he fell, I rushed up and stabbed his buddy. I glanced at the bodies, but couldn't tell if they were human or demon. Not that it would have made a difference, considering the fact that they were preparing a human sacrifice and trying to bring about hell on earth.

I pulled the ax free and moved to the altar. The chains holding the Slayer were thick, but the stone of the altar they were embedded in was old and brittle. I wrapped the excess chain around my arms, propped my feet against the base of the altar and pulled. The chain pulled free of the stone with a loud scraping screech.

I heard a cry and saw the mob had noticed my efforts. A group of them broke off from chasing Harris and moved towards me and the now freed Slayer.

“I need a weapon,” she said in an angry voice. I handed the sword over to her. She took it and said, “What's the plan of escape here?”

“Uh, try not to get noticed and sneak away?” I offered. A cult member hefted up a spear. I threw the ax, hitting him dead center. He fell back, clutching my weapon.

“Such spirit,” the lead member, who I now realized must be Robeson said. He stepped forward, pulling out a nasty looking dagger. “But all you've done is given us two bounties for our dark lord, instead of one.

Behind him, Harris was herded into the main ground. He clasped his Amber sword, swinging out at anyone who reached for him. I looked over and saw my fellow Slayer struggling with her chains, trying to ward off anyone approaching with her sword. A cult member grabbed the end of the chain and tugged it, pulling her arm back. The sword flew out of her grasp and landed with a clatter ten feet away. I looked back at Harris. He slowly surveyed the scene. “Well, shit,” he said, and flung his Amber sword in the air.

“Stop him!” Robeson cried out. He lunged at me with the dagger. I caught his arm with my left hand, reached out and snagged the Amber sword with my right hand. With one motion, I swung the sword, cleanly severing Robeson's arm. He fell to the ground, blood spurting from his wound. I jumped into the remaining crowd, attacking without mercy.

Part Six - Xander Harris

I had Megan drive us back to the hotel. There was a cut above my eye that interfered with my vision, and the Slayer, Maria Sanchez, still had the chains attached to her wrists. Megan dropped us off in the back of the hotel and pulled around front to park.

As we entered the room, Maria sat down on the bed, while I pulled out some tools.

“What happens now?” she asked me.

“We get these chains off you,” I told her.

“I know that. I meant what happens to me after. That girl with you, she's like me,” Maria observed.

“The term is Slayer. And yeah, she's one of them and so are you. I think I got it,” I said, as the lock on the chains opened. I moved the manacle on her other wrist. “Do you have any family?”

“Not here. My parents live in Mexico.”

“You got any ties to Reno? Anything to keep you from moving to another town?” I asked, working the other lock open. The chain fell to the ground.

Maria rubbed her wrist. “I got a job here, but nothing I can't leave.”

“There's a group. They train Slayers. You can go to them, spend time with girls who are like you.”

“The Watcher's Council. I heard of them,” Maria said. “They say they send girls out to danger. Send them out to die. I don't want to be some disposable worker under someone's thumb.”

“I've had my share of problems with them. Used to work for them, until I got fed up being jerked around,” I said.

“I heard of you,” she said. “When I changed, I had the dreams about what I was and the monsters out in the world. I began to ask around. I found out about the Council. And I heard about the one eyed man that worked for them, then left.”

“One of these days, I'm going to get a prosthetic eye. Try to blend in a little better,” I joked.

“You saved my life,” she said, seriously. “I can't ever repay that. If you don't trust this Council, I guess I shouldn't either.”

I let out a sigh. Crap, I can't believe what I was going to say. “The Council's actually not that bad. Right now, they can offer you a lot.”

“Like what?” she asked.

“Training. Resources you won't have on your own. Information about what your gifts are, who you may come up against.” I listed off. “But you'll also be able to spend time with girls who have gone through what you're going through. People you can talk to and not worry about having to keep secrets from them.”

“That's... I'd like that,” Maria admitted.

“There's this guy named Robin Wood in charge. Biggest douchebag in the city. But you can learn from him. Important stuff. You'll recognize the bullshit right off, and you can just ignore that. And when you've learned everything you can from him, you can always walk away.”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “That makes sense.”

“I can call and set up a room for you tomorrow,” Megan said from the doorway.

Part Six - Megan Foster

I stopped just outside the door and listened in as Harris advised Maria. I was held up in the parking lot, and late coming back. This was bad, because I needed to talk to Maria before Harris poisoned her against the Council and Robin. It wasn't until I was about to open the door, that I head Harris actually recommending the Council to her. As he finished his pitch, I opened the door.

“I can call and set up a room for you tomorrow,” I offered.

Harris looked over and grinned. “You hear that? You're as good as in.”

I tossed a room key to Maria. “The manager gave me that. He said any friend of Harris can stay here for the night, no problem. It's three doors down.”

Maria got to her feet and moved the the door. “Thank god. This been a long day. I really could use a nice long bath.” She walked out and closed the door behind her.

“And this is for you,” I said, and handed the Amber sword back to him. “You took a big chance back there. You left yourself defenseless.”

“No I didn't,” he said with a grin. “I had a Slayer watching my back. I knew you could help me a whole lot quicker than I could help you.”

“Yeah, but I could have just left you there. Taken Maria, ran, and kept the cool new sword.”

“That's not who you are,” he said.

“I guess not,” I said, and put my hand to his face. “But I am this person,” I told him, pulling him into a kiss. His eye widened in shock, then he settled in and kissed me back.

It was a very long night.

Part Seven - Xander Harris

I woke up the next morning, pleasantly sore all over. Looking over, I captured the image of a beautiful Slayer sleeping naked in my bed in my memory. I picked up the room phone and ordered some breakfast sent up. As I hung up, Megan woke and turned to me.

“Good morning,” I greeted her.

“Morning,” she said with a smile.

“When do you go back to Cleveland?” I asked her.

She groaned and pulled the sheets over her head. “Way to kill the mood, Harris.”

“I think you can call me Xander at this point,” I said. “I'd just like to know if we can spend anymore time together.”

“Xander,” she purred out, savoring the sound. “I have to go back this afternoon. Robin wants a full debriefing when I return. And I have to get Maria settled in.”

“No rest for the wicked,” I said. “On the bright side, since Robin distanced himself from this mission, you're sure to get the credit for stopping the ritual, recruiting a Slayer, and bringing home a rare and dangerous sacrificial dagger.”

“You don't want any credit,” she asked me, poking her head out. “Why not?”

I shrugged. “I'm not out for credit. I got to help. I know that. You know that. Nothing else really matters.”

“I'm sure I'll get that posting I requested now. Montreal will have its official Slayer. I'll even have a staff supporting me. I owe it to you,” she said, stroking my hand.

“Tell you what. I can guarantee I will continue to get in trouble. It'd be nice to know I can count on you for help when I need it,” I offered.

“Anytime,” she agreed.

Her cellphone began to ring. I reached over to grab it, but Megan lunged for it first. “No,” she ordered. “This is my phone. Whoever's calling is trying to reach me. I don't need any more trouble by having you answer. Especially this early in the morning.” She flipped the phone open and answered, “This is Megan Foster.... yes.... uh huh.... okay then.” She handed the phone over to me. “It's for you.”

I took the phone from her. “Hello?” I asked.

“Shocking. Simply shocking,” Dawn said from the other end. “You run into a sweet naïve Slayer, out on her own for the first time, and you quickly seduce her. You should be ashamed of yourself, Xander Harris.”

“Dawn, it's not like that. I did not seduce her,” I protested.

“Oh, by the time I'm done telling the story, you will have,” she said with malicious glee. “So she succumbed to your charms fairly quickly.”

“I'm as surprised as anyone it turned out this way.”

“Really? Think about it. She's the Slayer, eager to prove herself. You're the dark, mysterious, brooding, sexy stranger that comes to help her. It's a textbook case,” Dawn explained with altogether too much enjoyment.

“I did not brood,” I told her.

“Not even a little?”

“Maybe just a little,” I admitted. “She asked about Anya.”

“Oh, you played the tragic romantic past card. The wounded hero, his heart bruised from losing his love. Can he dare to love again? Only if some brave soul reaches out to help him heal. I'm surprised her panties didn't peel themselves off at that point.”

“If you wanted to mock me, you could have called me directly,” I pointed out.

“Oh, but I needed confirmation that you sealed the deal,” Dawn said.

“I hate you. You know that right?” I asked.

“No you don't. You find me delightful and a fresh of breath air,” Dawn told me.

I closed my eye and slowly counted to ten. “Dawn, I'm sure you have a valid reason to interrupt my crucial and well deserved Xander-loving time. So please get to it before I am forced to kill you horribly.”

“I have two points. First, I've set up a secure line that is totally unbugged. You can call it, then go through the network and you can talk to any of your secret buddies without Robin finding out.”

“Intriguing. I do like going behind Robin's back to use his own people. But then I like flaunting how his people like me more then him right in his face,” I mused. “What's your second point?”

“Point number two,” she continued, “We got a call from Riley Finn. He wants to set up communications between his unit and the Council. I figured I'd pass his contact information along to you. You two can catch up on everything.”

“You are way too good a friend to me,” I told her.

“Well, I knew that. Now, go please your woman sexually,” Dawn ordered, then ended the call.

I tossed the phone back to Megan. “So, when is this flight back supposed to be?” I asked her.

“Not for another eight hours,” she cocked her head at me. “Got any plans?”

“I'm sure we can think of something to occupy us.”

Part Seven - Megan Foster

When Maria and I got back to Cleveland, I helped her settle in, then gave a heavily edited description of events to Mr. Wood. He waited for me to give the entire report before asking any questions.

“So, after I specifically told you not to interact with Xander Harris, you spent most of your time with him?” he asked, sitting at his desk.

“I felt it to be the best course of action at the time,” I explained. “Harris was already involved in the case. On his own, he'd be an unknown variable. This way I was able to keep track of him. And there are times when a second set of hands is needed.”

“I see,” Mr. Wood said. His tone was dubious, but I didn't change my expression. “So rumors that Harris was ordering you around -”

“It really depends if you would believe vague rumors over the official report of the Slayer on site.” I told him, belatedly adding, “Sir.”

“Of course,” he said. Picking up a printout, he briefly scanned it before handing it to me. “I suppose congratulations are in order. Your request for assignment has been approved. Mr. Giles himself authorized it.”

I let out the breath I had been holding in relief. “Thank you,” I accepted the printout. “I guess this is mainly due to your actions.”

“Hmm?” he looked up at me.

“Well, you went out of your way to ensure everyone knew I was responsible for the mission in Reno. Once I succeeded, I could hardly be refused the position,” I explained.

“Yes,” Mr. Wood managed to say through gritted teeth.

There was a knock at the doorway. We both turned and saw Maria standing there. “Ms. Sanchez, please come in,” Mr. Wood invited. “I'm just finishing up with Ms. Foster here.” Maria came in and sat down next to me. “We were just going over Ms. Foster's report about the mission in Reno. Was there anything you'd like to add?”

Maria glanced at me before saying, “Honestly, things were happening so fast, most of it was a blur. All I know is that I would have died if not for that rescue.”

“Of course I understand you've had a rough few days. And I must apologize, most of our operations run much smoother than that. We've been short staffed the past few days. Only Ms. Foster was available, and she had to operate with the interference of outsiders. But I promise you we're all professionals here,” he assured her. “You don't have to worry about relying on amateurs like Xander Harris. You'll find were made of stronger stuff.”

Maria's polite smile flickered, then settled. “And I just want to tell you that I look forward to learning everything I can from you, Mr. Wood,” she told him.

And with those words, it hit me. This Slayer was going to be loyal to Xander for the rest of her life, no matter what Mr. Wood said or did. Even after he quit and had been gone for over a year, he still had influence on the people here. Hell, that applied to me as well.

After the meeting ended, I went to my room and began to pack for my new posting. As I did, a couple of Slayers and Watchers I knew came by.

“You're really leaving us?” one asked.

“Of course she is,” another replied. “She's got a plum posting. And she'll be calling the shots there. I'd leave too if they offered it to me.”

“What was it like being on your own without backup?” one of the less experienced Slayers asked me.

“I heard she did have backup. Word is old Xander Harris from the Sunnydale gang was there.”

“So?” the first girl said. “It's not like he has any abilities.”

“How do you know?”

“Everyone knows that. That's why he was fired,” one of the Watchers added.

“I heard he quit, and has been traveling the country as a rogue demon hunter. He's killed more demons than Buffy Summers and Faith Lehane put together,” a somewhat starstruck junior Watcher said. When the others looked at her, she mumbled, “That's what I heard,”

“Megan, you actually met the guy. What was he like?”

I stopped and thought about that. What could I tell them? What would they believe about him? Hell, what did I believe about him? I closed my eyes and came to a decision. They wanted a story, so I'd give them a story.

“Xander Harris is.... Xander had the whole thing figured out before anyone else even knew what was going on,” I started. “He knew what the cult was up to at the beginning. And he knew how to stop it. He needed a Slayer out there, so he put in a call to Cleveland. Now he said he was only calling for a little information, but he knew Robin would send a Slayer out there. He played Robin like a drum,” I regaled them. “First time I lay eyes on him was in a demon bar. Picture this, I'm surrounded by the worst and uglies baddies in the state. One on one I could handle them, but with them ganging up on me, I'm pretty screwed. But Harris steps in, says who he is and that I'm with him, and we both walk out untouched. The only ones to try to stop us are a gang of vamps. And let me tell you what happened to them....”

Epilogue - Xander Harris

So once again, I found myself at the casino restaurant, eating breakfast. My free stay in the hotel was up, and I was at loose ends. I still had money in the bank from my last paid job, and I could live on that for awhile. But I didn't know what I was going to do next.

I heard through the grapevine that there were some opening in Vegas for different construction firms. I only had a few years experience, but Sunnydale let me rise through the ranks pretty rapidly. On the other hand, Riley mentioned that the army was looking to expand his unit. The problem was I'd have to enlist for that. I really didn't want to sign up for anything long term without even trying it out first.

I suppose I could visit some of the old gang. Except they're pretty busy with official Council business. It's just like after Sunnydale. I wanted to stand on my own, instead of acting as a hanger on for the others.

That brought me back to one of my old desires. I could finally do that road trip across America. I still had my Kerouac. I certainly had more money than after high school, so that wasn't a problem. I just didn't know if I could spend months on the road with nothing to work on.

My cellphone rang, interrupting my thoughts. I answered it, “Hello?”

“Ah, yes,” a nervous voice said. “Is this Alexander Harris?”

“Yeah, call me Xander,” I said.

“Yes... Xander. I'm not sure how to put this. I'm the dean of a small college in Seattle. There have been a few... incidents on campus. I can't really discuss the details about them over the phone,” the caller explained. “I asked, well I heard through a friend that you handle these types of situations discretely.”

“Seattle?” I asked. “Never been there.”

“I would pay for your travel expenses, of course. And whatever your fee to handle the case. But there is a certain urgency,” the caller said.

I allowed myself a small smile. “I can be there in a few hours. Give me and address and time to meet.”

The End

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