Chapter Twelve: Goodnight Moon
Xander leaned against the brick wall that lined the alley on one side, watching as the vampire that they had run down tried to bring the fight to them. Or, more specifically, tried to bring the fight to Vi. He was more interested in her form, examining her as she ducked and weaved her way under and around the vampire’s wild blows.
Given her less than empowered state, it was the smart thing to do. The right thing to do, as she had been taught. Most of the times that she blocked blows were deflection, designed to divert the momentum of the punch away from her body. After all, even a punch that was stopped by a forearm still hurt when the force transferred. It was Physics 101, or the science of not getting your ass kicked by a vampire that’s four times stronger than you are. Then again, in the course of his experience that didn’t usually mean what people thought it does. The difference between an average human’s strength and that of someone with four times that is simply the difference between an average human and a body builder. Not exactly supernaturally impressive.
Vi took a minor hit to the side, though she took it well. She was extremely graceful, getting to know her body functioned and moved much more intimately through her training. Twisting and ducking, she avoided more attacks as she moved towards the vampire.
It was new, though not freshly risen. Whoever the poor soul had been in life, he had been able to take care of himself, some fighting skills having transferred over. They allowed him to stay undead this long at least.
Xander didn’t bother to look down as he heard scrambling at his feet. Yong was staring up at him, waiting for his signal to get involved if need be. But, he stayed the dog’s hand, or rather paw. Like the dog, he felt inclined to get involved himself, but that wouldn’t teach the potential much. She wouldn’t always be bailed out of every situation if called as a Slayer, and so she had to train as if she wouldn’t be.
It wasn’t long before the potential found an opening, stabbing the demon in the heart with a sharp stake. She dusted herself off quickly as the vampire disintegrated, approaching her teacher as she finished.
“How’d I do?” Vi asked, as her dog padded over to her and licked her hand. She smiled down at him, as Yong wagged his furry tail.
Xander shrugged, looking over his shoulder towards the end of the alley. It was dark, the closest streetlight to it long since broken. Still, the darkness didn’t affect him much. “Pretty good. How do you think she did, Ms. Chalmers?”
It took a few moments of silence, but eventually Lydia stepped out of the darkness, flanked by two of what now seemed to serve as bodyguards. The injured one evidently was not fit for action or had been called to stand down.
“She performed well,” Lydia replied after a moment, crossing her arms over her chest. She had been trailing them for some time, quite certain of their stealthiness. “How did you…“
Xander just smiled at the Watcher. He could tell that while she appeared to be unarmed, the others were not. Lucky for them he supposed. “I’m with a dog, aren’t I?”
“The good news is that the people in that facility did not have a chance to wipe the hard drives before you hit them,” Nick said, bringing up a display on the projection screen behind him. He looked at the three men in the conference room, arranged unequally on both sides of the rectangular wooden table. “We can confirm that Sterns was at the lab. Bad news however, is that a lot of the data was corrupted in the fight. Video footage is pretty much destroyed. We’ve extracted and decrypted what we could, but it’s still incomplete. No specific project information could be gleaned. We’re still working on the prisoners that were captured, but we don’t think that we’re going to get much out of them. There’s some kind of mental block, the psychics can’t get through.”
“Do we have any idea what his objective was?” Bruce asked, though he could imagine. His interactions with the doctor in person had hinted at his dark desires, with the various gamma enhanced creatures they’ve encountered serving as evidence. However, there had yet to be an end goal as far as he could see, simply destruction for destruction’s sake. Perfected gamma technology had little use except in service of some higher purpose though.
Director Fury looked at the doctor, knowing that he was wondering whether there was any data on a possible cure. Of course, the agency’s superiors were also interested in the technology for other purposes, and he knew that the good doctor had to at least suspect that that was the case. “We don’t know for sure yet. In the short-term, he’s been working on these creatures. Perfecting them. For someone.”
“He’s working for someone. Do we know who?” Tony asked, reviewing the report that had been distributed. The analysts had been working hard to compile what limited information they had. It still amounted to mostly supposition, but it was something. He wasn’t that impressed though.
“No,” Nick said, pointing the remote at the projector. He pressed the main button, bringing up the next image. “However, we know that things are much more dangerous now. If we manage to confront Sterns, you all need to be very very careful.”
“What the hell is that?” Clint said, leaning forward in his seat. The video still was distorted, some of the image corrupted because of the damage. He could still make out what could only be a large and grotesquely distended head. Not to mention an unnatural skin color.
“This is footage from Sterns’ original lab in New York.” Nick played the built-in laser pointer in the remote over the image, highlighting certain key anatomical structures that didn’t fit baseline human anatomy. “There was too much damage when Blonsky rampaged through it, but it appears that Sterns was contaminated with gamma radiation from the serum that he had developed. Bruce will have to confirm, but the enlarged cranium points to a more highly advanced intellect.”
“He got smarter?” Clint said, trying to keep up.
“Yeah, perhaps even exponentially.” Bruce nodded. “My analysis of his work, as well as my own, indicates that exposure to gamma radiation can have enhancing effects on various organs or systems, with varying effects depending upon the initial location for exposure as well as duration and nature of the gamma radiation. Increased strength, durability, or healing are all possibilities. Or in Stern’s case, an enhanced intelligence. I don’t imagine that he would be very stable though.”
“So he could be as powerful as the Hulk?” Clint asked carefully, glancing at the usually mild-mannered doctor. He was well aware of his own mortality, given that he was the only one that couldn’t transform into an unstoppable behemoth or was protected by layers of advanced metal armor and protected by directed energy weapons.
“Our analysis suggests that he wouldn’t be, given that his musculature hasn’t been enhanced as Bruce’s has,” Director Fury put in. “However, that isn’t to say that there haven’t been some effect. So, be careful.”
“Okay,” Clint said, nodding.
Nick nodded, flipping to the next display. A large map appeared, centering over a sector of a city. “Right, that leads us to our next objective. Intel suggests that there’s a group of witches working for the Ten Rings, with close ties to their suspected leaders. We’re going to need to learn more about them, infiltrate their base of operations, and see about catching one of these. This’ll be a tough one.”
Clint wasn’t exactly happy about that either, having no field-level magical support was bound to bite them in the ass sooner or later. He knew that Nick was still looking, but that didn’t help that at the present moment.
“So what are you going to report back to the Council?” Xander said, glancing over his shoulder. He had made the Watcher leave her henchmen at their motel, taking her with him himself back to the warehouse. While he was sure that the warehouse was no secret, the less people that saw the interior the better. There was still much he wanted to discuss with the Watcher, away from her support staff.
“I haven’t decided yet,” Lydia said, stepping forward to see what the young man was doing.
“Right.” Xander pulled a shoulder holster from the open locker that he was standing in front of. He slipped it on, fastening it tight. From the walls of the locker he pulled a pair of handguns, checking and loading them before slipping them into the holster. A couple of grenades were hooked onto his belt as well. He did it all as quietly as possible, knowing that Nancy and Vi were already in bed.
“You have an army at your disposal,” Lydia said, watching as Xander closed up the locker and locked it. He pulled a coat off the top of the thing, putting it over his shoulders. He had quite an armory in there, most of it weapons that he shouldn’t have, she imagined. The more she was learning about Xander, the more complicated the situation became.
“No, I don’t.” Xander turned around, tying the coat’s belt around himself to hide the weapons that he had strapped to himself. “They’re needed to protect…home. It’s not their fight. It’s not their responsibility to fight. Not for you.”
“But, they could be of help,” Lydia said, not that she really meant it of course. The Watchers had positioned themselves as the front line of defense against the forces of darkness, and they wouldn’t stand the competition. Of course, if she had to be honest to herself, pragmatism had its place. And if Diana’s reports were correct, K’un-L’un was a city where every man was a warrior.
“They sent me,” Xander said, taking his keys from his pocket and heading towards the car. “You ever study history?”
“Of course,” the Watcher answered primly, as she followed him.
“Right.” Xander smirked, looking down at his feet. Yong was there, sitting on his hind legs, tongue hanging out as if waiting for him. He glanced back over at Lydia. “The king of Sparta, Leonidas, was asked once, for military aid by a neighboring city. He sent one soldier.”
Lydia shook her head. “What are you getting at?”
He simply smiled back at her, opening up the rear car seat so that Yong could hop in.
Lydia walked around the vehicle and stood in front of the passenger side door, though she looked at Xander. “Where are you going?”
Xander unlocked the car and got in, unlocking the other doors as well. He looked at the Watcher as she got in, gauging her carefully. While she was just a researcher, she obviously took her job seriously. Seriously enough to get into the car with him at any rate. “Giles said that there’s a vampire nest near the beach. It should be cleared out.”
“Isn’t that something the Slayers should be doing?” Lydia challenged him, as she pulled the seat belt down and clicked it shut. She had begun to get some idea what Xander’s role was there, and she wondered whether it was best for the Slayers to have him around. Of course, she also wondered what the leaders in the Council would decide to do once they learned of his presence. While she had not seen him perform the things that Diana had described, she knew that he had significant ability. He had made it look easy, but taking down three hardened Council operatives was no cakewalk.
He shrugged, buckling his own seatbelt as well. “They were patrolling earlier, and Buffy’s mom expects her to be home earlier than midnight. Same as Kendra’s curfew. Even though its summer, and everything. No excuses but for the apocalypse. Still want to go?”
Lydia just stared at the boy. She knew that it was a challenge, and from the lopsided smirk on his face, evidently one intended to dig at her. “Yes.”
Yong barked once as they drove off; he always enjoyed riding in the car.
Clint yawned as he walked down the hallway to his apartment. They had gone over a number of preliminary reports and scatterings of intelligence. There was a lot, though the signal to noise ratio wasn’t exactly in their favor.
He looked at the walls of the apartment, clean wallpaper, and nicely lit. It was his new permanent residence, a far cry from the barracks he had lived in, or having to camp out in the desert or whatever hole they could find to dig in at. The pay was better as well.
It was still an adjustment though, having to couch his language around the others, or even having to get used to effectively being back in civilian life. In other ways though, it was still like being back in the marines, the majority of their time was spent getting ready for action than actually getting into it. Most of the rest was coming down off of it.
Flipping through his mail, he stopped as he came across one that was sent through military channels, a whole mess of stamps haphazardly placed on it. Ripping the envelope open, he pulled out the letter and read it quickly. A smile briefly crossed his lips as he read about how his old team was doing. He had informed them of his new assignment and was glad that they didn’t think of it as him abandoning them. The team was doing well under their new sergeant, and they had been making some good progress. The letter couldn’t go into details, but with the supply of arms from Stark Industries dried up, and the price for such equipment now extremely high on the black market, there was less to be found and used against them. There was still stuff in the pipeline, but at least the tap was mostly shut. By the relatively poor members of the Ten Rings that operated in that area of the country, the newest weapons would once again be a luxury that they couldn’t afford. In any case, it was good that they were okay.
Clint started up again, rounding the corner of the hallway towards his place. He slowed as he saw the attractive woman that was leaning against the wall next to his door. Her red hair picked up the yellow light well, and highlighted her features. Smiling at her, Clint moved in closer and stopped in front of his door, looking her in the eyes. “Nick told me about you.”
“Oh, what did Nicholas say about me?” Natasha asked, lips curling into a seductive smile.
Clint just looked at her, and tried to keep himself calm. Nick had been right, beautiful as hell, but lethal as all get out. “He said to be careful around you. He said that they didn’t call you the Black Widow for nothing.”
“And?” Natasha said, not offended at the warning. She looked him up and down; he had to be worth something if Fury had him on his new team. She could only imagine what sort of special abilities that he had at his disposal.
“He said that he trusted you with his life.” Clint could feel her sparkling green eyes on him. And there was little there that he had a problem with, even though he knew that she was mostly getting amusement out of the current situation. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing, especially given his new position, but he had never been accused of being smart. “You know, I wouldn’t say that it’s too late. There’s a bar a couple of blocks away if you want to get a drink.”
The Black Widow just smiled wider. “I would love to.”
Xander ran the flashlight over the edge of the drainpipe, checking to make sure that it was clear. There hadn’t been any rain for a while, so it was completely dry. It was better that way, if only in a nasal capacity.
Flicking off the flashlight and clipping it to his belt, he looked over to the woman next to him. She had changed into something a little more tactical, although she was hardly armed for bear, or demon as the case may be. “You ready?”
“Yes,” Lydia said, though she didn’t know who she was trying to convince. The dog that was standing there next to them seemed to be calmer about the situation than she was. A part of her wished that some of the others were there with her, but she imagined that he was testing her on this go around. And, it was a test that she intended to pass.
Xander walked into the tunnel confidently, having to crouch down at times to duck under pipes and concrete reinforcements. Willow had pulled up the schematics for the drainage system before, so he knew exactly where he was going. Of course, he had brought along a paper copy just in case, but it had been pretty easy so far, only a few turns and such. With Yong there, he wasn’t too worried about being ambushed by any vampires, nor of having difficulty finding their way back. The dog had a particular knack for detecting supernatural presences and he definitely knew his way around.
They had walked about five minutes in silence, before Xander stopped and held up a fist. He glanced over his shoulder as he did so, gesturing that Lydia should kneel down. Moving closer to her he whispered, “We’re here. Giles says that there should be ten in the gang, so I’ll go in have a look-see and clean up.”
“Are you sure?” Lydia stared at him as if he was crazy. Ten vampires was insanity to take on alone. Even a Slayer would have difficulty.
“I’ll be fine,” Xander said, looking down at the dog that was sitting on his haunches. “Yong, I want you to watch out for her. If any of the vampires get around me, you make sure that Ms. Chalmers stays safe. You understand?”
The dog lowered and raised its muzzle reluctantly.
Xander smiled and ruffled the fur on the dog’s head, knowing that the four-legged warrior wanted to get in on the fight. “Good boy.”
Standing up, he pulled pistol from his shoulder holster, looking over at the pair. “I’ll be back soon. Keep your heads down.”
“So how did you know Nick from before?” Natasha said, leaning in close to Clint’s ear in order to be heard over the music. It was rather late, but the bar was still rather full, and the music had been turned up higher than her taste.
Clint took a sip from his jack and coke before answering, feeling some of the soreness from the day’s work melt away. “My father and him served together. In ‘Nam. They were pretty close. After he, uh died, Nick came around a lot. Well, as much as he could, he was still in at that point. Made sure that we were looked after. That we were okay. Even served under him a little too. It’s kind of funny though, actually.”
“How so?” she asked, absently pulling a loose curl of auburn hair over her ear.
Clint just shrugged, watching as she moved. “I was a kid. But, I remember it still, and for the life of me, I’d say he looks exactly like he did when I was a kid.”
“Imagine that,” Natasha replied coyly, wondering exactly how open Nick had been about his own unique abilities.
“How, how did you meet him?” Clint asked, his head starting to buzz a little from his drink. Not to mention his proximity to an extremely beautiful woman.
“I was serving my country at the time. And came across some information that I didn’t like.” Natasha took the maraschino cherry from her drink and crushed it between her teeth, setting the stem aside on the small brushed copper table between them. “I wanted out and Nick helped me to…leave.”
“Helped you…” Clint leaned in closer, nearly whispering in her ear. “Helped you defect?”
Natasha nodded, sipping at her amaretto sour. “I turned independent after that, but I know Nick sacrificed a great deal to get me out. I owe him so much for what he did.”
“You know, growing up, you guys were the enemy,” Clint said, feeling the effects of his second drink that night. He set the half empty glass onto the table, wondering if he should get another. “I remember…I remember when the Wall came down. I was on leave at the time, visiting my Mom. We watched it on TV. It was weird, made it seem final somehow.”
“I remember. I remember the old days. A lot of people in my country resented you all.” Natasha downed her drink, and set the empty glass next to Clint’s. She supposed she shouldn’t be saying as much as she should, but she had never been the type to play it safe. “Some still do. They say that you turned our great nation into a country of gangsters and whores.”
“And you?” Clint asked carefully.
She shrugged, smiling at him briefly. There was still pain there, after so many years, but she had long since made peace with her past. Russia was not home, not anymore. She could never go back. “I was a patriot, I did as ordered. Until I found that things were not as I thought. I decided to leave after that. To the land of opportunity. Still, there is always something to regret.”
“Yeah,” Clint said, nodding and smiling sympathetically. It was going a lot deeper than he was prepared for. “Do you…do you want another drink.”
Natasha smiled again, nodding her head. She wasn’t quite sure if she was willing to sleep with him. In her past, it would not have been an issue, seduction having been one of her strengths as an agent of the KGB. Now, she could choose her bed partners. “You wouldn’t be trying to get me drunk, would you?”
It wouldn’t work at any rate. She had been specially modified to be immune to such effects, her body able to produce a special enzyme to metabolize alcohol before its deleterious effects could affect her. All the better to blend in and stay alert. All the better to spy.
“I think it’s the other way around actually,” Clint said smiling, motioning for a waitress to come by to take their orders.
Glancing around the corner, Xander pulled his second pistol from his hand as he scoped out the lay of the setup that the vampires had. Accumulated furniture lay all around, from couches to mattresses. There was even a television set that had been spliced into the power line. He didn’t imagine that the rabbit ears did much that far underground though. Probably why they had an old VCR attached to it, the machine still blinking 12:00.
He had quickly counted out the vampires, and it fit the number that Giles said belonged to the nest. The pickings must have been slim, or they had decided to lay low with the Slayers and all. A larger group than any that had been seen in a while; they might have been new too. Of course, it wasn’t the time to think about the migratory patterns of vampires. That was probably something that Lydia could help with, he supposed. Not that there would be any left to investigate.
Slipping into the room, Xander raised his guns, his mask already pulled down over his face. He opened fire without warning, managing to take out a few of the vampires before they could react. The rest of them dove for what cover they could find, but the ratty couches and dilapidated wood used for tables and chairs did not provide much protection against the explosions that burst through. Wooden splinters and clouds of padding flew through the air as furniture was blasted apart.
He had to reload a couple of times, but Xander managed to take out most of them, the rest being incapacitated in some way or another, a few with missing limbs or large chunks taken out of their torsos. Walking forward and holstering his guns, he picked up a scrap piece of wood that was burnt on one end. Xander made his way around the room, using the makeshift stake to take out the remaining vampires.
He left one alive, dragging the injured vampire against a stone wall. The demon was missing part of a hand, and had taken some shrapnel to the chest that had torn it up pretty bad, blood soaking through its white t-shirt. It was bad enough that it wasn’t going to be doing much for a while.
Putting a little bit of power into his gaze, he knelt down over the vampire, waving the stake around in an intimidating fashion. “Are there any more in your gang?”
The vampire just looked at him, gritting his teeth. It would be an impressive display of ferocity if the demon wasn’t so hurt.
“I don’t want to have to stay here all night, so I’ll ask one more time,” Xander growled out. He stuck a hand onto one of the vampire’s open wounds and twisted a bit, feeling the vampire writhe in pain as metal scraped at its insides. “Are there anymore in your gang?”
The vampire shook his head quickly, still gritting his teeth. “No…no, you killed them all, you son of a bitch.”
Xander leaned in a little closer, and quickly shoved the stake into the demon’s heart. He could tell that the demon was telling the truth. “Thank you.”
She stared at him, her green eyes reflecting the overhead lights of the bar. No, it would not be this time. She wasn’t one for the bump and run, even knowing that she would hardly go lacking for bed partners if she so chose. “I should go.”
“Wha..?” Clint asked, a little more than inebriated. He checked his watch, not exactly able to make out the numbers clearly. “So soon?”
Natasha smiled at him. Her eyes were filled with promise. “Unless you want to tell me more about yourself? What you’re doing with Tony and Bruce?”
Clint shook his head, the names awakening more of his consciousness. “Uh, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She simply smiled more widely, showing a bit of teeth. She leaned in closer than before, if that was even possible, so that her lips grazed Clint’s ear. “Your little Avenger gang, it isn’t exactly a secret. I hear that you’re planning on recruiting another member. It’s not going to be a secret for very long, the rate you’ve been going. How about telling me who it is?”
Natasha shifted even more, and she could tell that the man was now staring at her legs. Of course, a number of other men in the bar were doing the same. Not to mention a few of the women.
Clint tried to think, the scent of her overwhelming in a way that was too good. He remembered that Nick had said that she was trustworthy. But, he also remembered that she said that she worked freelance. “I don’t know what you know, but I know that you aren’t supposed to know any of that. You know? I’m not supposed to tell you anything.”
“Really,” the redhead drawled, a hand drawn lightly up Clint’s pants leg. She had to give him credit for not jumping at the feathery touch. “I won’t tell anybody.”
Even more nervous, Clint tried to calm himself down. “I think that I should probably go. It’s getting really late.”
Taking a look at how flustered he was getting, despite his attempts to control it, Natasha was actually rather impressed. Especially taking into consideration how many drinks that the man had had that night. “You are right, of course.”
It was nice to know that Nick could hire people that weren’t so easily turned as those during her “professional” days. It wasn’t even so much that Clint Barton was a patriot, so far as he had loyalty to those that he served with.
Clint breathed a sigh of relief as she drew back slightly, though a part of him wasn’t so happy about it. It must have been a test. Which was rather too bad, given the circumstances. It would have been nice to have gone at least a little further. “Yeah.”
“Tell Nick that I’m glad that he’s hired someone that can keep their mouth shut,” Natasha said, standing up. She leaned down, looking over at Clint as he leaned back in his chair in obvious relief. “And, perhaps I’ll see you again, if you survive.”
She turned and walked away, well aware of the men that were staring at her leave the bar. Glancing in the mirror at the back of the counter of the bar, she noticed that Clint was too busy lost in his own thoughts. A pity.
The Black Widow did have an assignment on the other side of the country after all. A pity.
“What are we doing up here?” Lydia said, wrapping her coat tighter her around herself. It was Southern California in summer, but it was still night. And they were a ways up. She looked down at the street below, streetlights revealing a deserted street. No humans, but no demons either.
Xander said nothing as he bent down, brushing around some of the gravel that lined the roof. There were no traces of the battle that had occurred months earlier. No blood stains that showed that someone had lost their life up there. It seemed like a lifetime ago. “I haven’t been up here. Not since…”
“Since what?” Lydia said, turning and approaching the pensive young man who was playing around with some of the pebbles on the rooftop. At least the dog had stayed behind in the car.
Xander stood, looking up into the night sky. It was a clear night, the stars and moon casting pale light onto them. He supposed that the moonlight softened her harsh demeanor. “A friend died here.”
“I’m sorry,” Lydia stated, not knowing what else to say.
Looking down at her, Xander smiled at the Watcher sadly. “Yeah, well…he knew what he was doing. As I imagine your boys do. What exactly is it that they do for you?”
“Work that requires a more subtle touch than the Slayers can handle,” Lydia answered truthfully, which actually surprised her a little. She knew that they handled many of the more difficult, and perhaps morally questionable, actions that the Council needed done, though she had not gone digging for exactly what that entailed. “They’re well-trained. Even before they get to us.”
“Yeah, I figured it would be something like that.” Xander walked over to the edge of the roof, looking across and down. He could see the café that he had landed in front of, scaring the hell out of a bunch of people. He figured that they were some sort of Council wet team; the eyes on the main one spoke volumes. He only hoped that that wouldn’t cause trouble later on. “What exactly is your plan here?”
“Evaluation. See if things need to change,” Lydia responded, from behind him. She was still unsure of how much she should tell the boy. “The Council has worries that two Slayers might be a bit too much of a burden for Rupert. That another field Watcher should be assigned to help oversee them. That would be more the case now given the increase in assets that are now placed in Sunnydale.”
Xander nodded, not turning around to face her. “Things have already changed. Two Slayers. They’re still alive. And, I dare say that Vi’s better trained than she was three months ago. Giles seems to be doing the job fine. Seems like quite a lot of oversight you’re throwing around for something that’s only gotten better for you.”
“That’s not the point,” the Watcher retorted, folding her arms across her chest. “We have a responsibility to the Slayers, and though you may think that our bureaucracy is heavy-handed, it serves a valuable purpose. There are… other issues.”
“You don’t need to tell me that.” Xander turned, facing the woman. “Did you know, I ended up getting an A- in history. And one of the things that I learned was that dictatorships are prone to tyranny, no matter how noble they may have started.”
“We are not a dictatorship,” Lydia said angrily. “The Council is not a bunch of tyrants. No matter what you may think. This is an important responsibility. And one that we hold seriously. If Giles is not up to the task, then he either needs help, or he needs to be replaced by someone that can handle it. That is the responsibility all Watchers hold. A responsibility to us and themselves to do what’s necessary for the Council.”
He didn’t need to be told that. He was the Champion of K’un-L’un after all. Responsibilities weighed upon them all. Xander shifted and looked out onto the city once again. “He died defending others. He spent his whole life in service, and there’s not even ash left. There was nothing to bury. It was like he never existed. Your way, is not the way.”
“What are you saying,” Lydia asked, still rather angry. “We have done this for hundreds of years. We know what we’re doing.”
“He put me through hell. Half of it was stuff that nobody would say would be related to battle or war.” Xander had wondered for a while why, but looking through his journal, he was getting it a little more. He could do the basic maintenance on the car. He could clean his weapons. He could even cook. All the skills that Orson had thought important. But, really the old Iron Fist was teaching him how to be self-reliant, like his own personal Mr. Miyagi. As well as how to think. “But, the stuff that Buffy and Kendra’s been trained in. They’re a bag full of hammers. Your Watcher tells them it’s a vampire. They use a stake. A Fyarl. Silver. Voynok. Gotta kill it nine times. Just to be sure.”
Sniffing, Xander ran a hand over his face. The hours were eating at him. Already he imagined that he could see the sun start to rise. “You want things to change. You want things to go back to the way they were. Way of the game, I suppose. And like you said, a bureaucracy. Slow to change. But, not backwards. It changes. It can change; sometimes it just needs the right push.”
Lydia got the feeling that he had more experience with that than he was letting on. “Off the edge?”
Xander shrugged, glancing over at her. “What do you want? What do you
“I found discrepancies in Rupert’s reports. I have no stake in this other than what is best for the Council and the Slayers.” Lydia sighed, rubbing her forehead. While she had jumped at the opportunity this investigation presented, she was having second thoughts about what she was doing now. It had been so much simpler when it had been discrepancies on reports and words on a page.
“He was covering for me.” Xander stared at her, in challenge. “It’s pretty much over now, and his first duty is to his Slayers. But, that’s not what you’re worried about now.”
“I have to tell the Council something,” Lydia said, watching as Xander looked at her. He had been methodical in his work, as skilled and disciplined as anyone she had ever seen. More than any of the Council operatives, even those with many years more experience. “About you. That’s a discrepancy that needs an explanation.”
“I’m sure you’ll come up with something,” Xander said, wondering exactly where he should go with things. With his gifts now, there were so many options. Each more unethical than the next. He continued looking at the Watcher, pursing his lips. “I thought you were the good guys. What exactly should I be worried about here?”
“That’s not how it works.” Lydia wished they were doing this somewhere else. Not so much that she was afraid for her safety, but that she was well aware that they were on his turf. And, she knew that he had brought her there for a reason.
She had managed a few glimpses of Xander’s battle, or rather slaughter, in the sewers. It was like nothing that she had seen or researched before. While he had already demonstrated great skill in martial arts, he had more esoteric powers that she was barely beginning to understand. It was one thing to read about his abilities, it was something else altogether to see it in action. Not to mention the odd mask that he had worn.
Lydia was beginning to imagine that some of the stories alluded to in Diana’s journal were not exaggerated.
Xander gave her a calculating look. “Then how does it work?”
“Such power is a concern for us,” Lydia said after a moment. “And there will be those that try to use you to further their own ends.”
Xander just stared at her. “Yeah, I sorta got that idea when I came across Wolfram and Hart. You don’t have to lecture me on what this means. So how is this supposed to work out for us? I tell you I’m on the side of the angels, and you either believe me or you don’t. So where does that leave us?”
“Quentin and others high up in the Council have made it clear that they would rather replace Rupert and make sure that there is someone with, shall we say, undivided loyalties stationed on the Hellmouth.” Lydia proclaimed. She had her own opinion on that, though she could hardly go against the will of the Council. She just wished that it wasn’t increasingly political. “There are those that believe that you could be made to fall more in line with the proper application of pressure.”
“I can imagine.” Xander wondered exactly where that line of thinking came from, but he knew what they were thinking of. He had not made his friendships a secret. Still, he wondered if they still had that hope for Buffy, who was technically working for them.
Lydia just nodded. “Yes, well, hope springs eternal.”
“Who would it be?” Xander asked, though he guessed that it had to be someone that had come to Sunnydale. He would prefer Ms. Chalmers now, although it wasn’t like he’d get a choice in the matter. He doubted she was a field Watcher anyways. “If Giles was bounced out.”
“Wesley Wyndham-Pryce is the likely candidate,” Lydia replied, schooling her features so that her disapproval didn’t show through. While Wesley was technically in that area of focus, she had significant doubts about his qualifications to actually have to guide a Slayer.
“If you think that Giles should be replaced,” Xander said, narrowing his eyes slightly. “If they listen to you.”
“Yes, that’s correct,” Lydia had to admit. She had been given extraordinary latitude to make decisions in this case. Though she imagined that that could be easily overruled if Travers suspected that she was making a biased, or undesired, decision.
Xander didn’t like that option, and he doubted that the Council would be so willing to simply go home and stay there. “So what are you going to suggest? Is there a middle ground?”
“I can suggest that with two Slayers and two Potentials on the Hellmouth, there is too much work for one field Watcher, but that Giles has the most experience in this field and this should stay in charge. The middle ground, as you say, would be the assignment of another Watcher, besides the ones that are raising Vi and Faith.” She hadn’t been able to come up with anything else, and still stay true to her obligations. As it was, she did believe that Giles was a good Watcher, but she had to admit that her initial suspicions were true. He was compromised, for worse or for better.
“I can live with that,” Xander said.
Lydia shook her head. “That’s for the Slayers. I don’t know what they’re going to want to do about you. This isn’t a situation that has come up before.”
Xander thought up Elsa. He thought about Jason. He wondered about the rumors of a demon in Hell’s Kitchen, and a dhampir in Detroit. “Are you sure?”
“What?” Lydia asked, not knowing where his train of thought was going.
“I said, are you sure?” Xander asked again. “Are you sure that this situation hasn’t come up before? Or maybe you’re just not sure if you were aware of it.”
Lydia stared at him, wondering exactly what he knew.
“Son of a bitch,” Michael grumbled, pacing across the floor of the motel room. He struggled to keep himself from limping, though his leg still throbbed. The knife had cut deep, even if it had just been inserted into the meat.
“Calm down,” one of the other men in the room said, as sat on one of the beds. He knew why their commander was angry, having been of the men made to look a fool as well. However, he did know that it was also Michael’s own damn fault. They were supposed to stick with unarmed combat, and Michael hadn’t done that. It was only supposed to be a test, after all.
“Oh, shove it, Smith,” Michael growled, stopping and dropping into a chair. It creaked with his weight, but held. He paid it no notice. “That little shite just got lucky.”
“Showed you up pretty good,” the third man in the room said. He smiled a little. “Stuck you with your own knife. That couldn’t have been pleasant. And it sure as hell wasn’t luck.”
“When I get my hands on that bastard…” Michael grumbled again, feeling his leg ache. He didn’t like being beaten, especially by a kid that was half his age.
“You will do absolutely nothing of the sort,” a voice called out from the side of the room. Lydia stepped through the interior doorway that connected their two motel rooms. “If you had kept your temper and followed orders you would not have been injured as you have. As it is, it is your own fault. Consider this a lesson.”
Michael said nothing, Lydia was technically in charge of the operation, as loathe as he was to accept it. It wasn’t his place to grumble in front of the boss.
“Or do I have to record your transgression in the official report?” Lydia pushed farther, crossing her arms across her chest.
Michael just shook his head. “No, ma’am.”
“Good,” Lydia said simply, dropping her arms. “I have spent much time thinking about this, but I have decided that the situation here does not require too much additional Watcher support, logistically speaking. That includes you. I believe that you all have much more important responsibilities elsewhere.”
“So what are you going to tell Travers?” Smith asked.
She turned her head to look at the man, glad that he was keeping a civil tone. “That I understand Rupert’s actions, and that he should remain in charge of the Slayers. However, given that he did knowingly misreport actions that have occurred on the Hellmouth, I will also request an additional Watcher be stationed here so that we can receive unbiased reports on what is going on.”
Michael just rolled his eyes. He knew more than the Watcher thought he did. If there was another Watcher placed on the Hellmouth, and not one to take the place of Rupert Giles, then it would be Wesley. And despite how tough the elder Wyndham-Pryce was, Wesley was a pushover. It wasn’t a step to ensure the Council’s position on the Hellmouth, it was politics as usual.
He kept his mouth shut though. He was a soldier, and soldiers followed orders. Even stupid ones that they didn’t agree with. For now at least.
Off the coast of Norway.
Bruce held onto the railing of the large fishing vessel as it shifted up and down in the heavy, churning sea. There were near twenty foot waves in the distance, and he didn’t want to imagine what would happen to the ship if those found their way underneath.
Pulling his coat tighter around himself, he looked over at the bow of the ship where Director Fury was talking to the person that was perhaps causing their current conditions. He sort of wished that Tony and Clint and Phil were there, and he knew that the only reason that he was there was that Nick figured that if there was a fight, he’d stand the best odds. Didn’t exactly make him feel better though.
And he was still skeptical about the man’s supposed abilities. Not to mention the heritage that he liked to claim.
“You’re a hard man to reach,” Nick said, looking down at the man that was currently sprawled against the prow of the ship. A large hammer with an axe head on one side and a leather wrapped grip lay next to him on the deck. “Somebody hasn’t been answering my phone calls.”
Taking another swig of ale from a large mug, the man looked up at the tall black figure that was looking down at him. He scratched his chin with his other hand, feeling the rasping of his hand against his short blonde beard. The wind was starting to pick up again, causing his near shoulder-length hair to sway in the wind. “Maybe you should take that as a message, Director Fury.”
Nick said nothing for a moment, instead examining the man up close. The man, or protestor as he was currently doing, was handsome in a Nordic sense. Broad muscles were apparent through the tight-fitting leather vest he wore, circles of metal running down the front. The only concession for the weather was a long brown coat, but Nick suspected that the man didn’t need it.
His picture did not do him justice.
“Are you here to arrest me?” the man asked, a broad grin on his face as if he found the whole concept amusing.
“No,” Nick said seriously. “I’m here about that job.”
“Bah,” the man said, waving a hand in dismissal. “The son of Odin is not interested in working for the military-industrial complex of America. Go back to your paymasters, Director Fury. I am not interested.”
Nick just stared at the man, keeping his mouth shut in regards to his supposed father. He knew the arguments as well, having had his share of protestors back in his uniform days. “You think this is about that? Man, you must be joking. Things are getting worse out there. You must feel it. There’s been a spike in demon attacks over the last six months. Are you so sure that’s nothing?”
The grin on the claimed son of Odin’s face fell swiftly. The serious expression that replaced it making him seem all the more wild and dangerous. “Aye. I have felt something. But, you may talk about demons now. But, how long before you are sent to kill for free trade and oil? I have been watching your world for a very long time.”
The director couldn’t exactly refute the point, and it was a concern that he had had for some time. There were others as well, though he could hardly tell him that. “And here I was, thinking that you were here to save the world. That’s what you always say in your lectures and in your self-help books, isn’t it Thorlief?”
The man leaned forward, putting down his mug of beer. He raised his arms to the sky and faced up with eyes closed, a torrent of rain starting to fall as if by his command. Lightning cracked in the not so distant distance, thunder booming soon after.
He smiled and opened them again, looking up at Nick once again. “I am here to save the world, Director. I’m here to save it from people like you.”
“Right, because a fishing boat that may or may not be exceeding its catch limits is going to save the world from me,” Nick said sarcastically. “And while you’re here, saving the dolphins, that spike in demon attacks is going to cost an extra thousand people their lives over the next three months. So good luck with Flipper.”
Without waiting for a response, the director turned on his heel and started back for his helicopter.
The man watched him go, pensive for a moment. The wind whistled sharply as he thought, the rain pelting his skin forgotten. He held up a hand. “Wait.”
Nick walked back, arms crossed over his chest. “What?”
“I’ll join your little superhero club, if your president doubles international aid,” the man said seriously, he doubted that it would be possible. The president, after all, had to be elected. But, his services did not come cheap.
“I don’t have the authority to do that,” Nick scowled. “But, I can pass it up. See if I can get it done.”
“You better see that it happens,” Thor said, reaching for his mug of beer again, despite the rain that had fallen into it. “And for your sake, I’d suggest that you do it sooner, rather than later.”
Xander flipped through the pages of the thick catalog that he had picked up at the hardware store. While he now had much more knowledge of what his father would consider “manly pursuits,” he still didn’t understand everything that was in there. He had already placed a couple of slips of papers between pages to note things that caught his eye, but he still wasn’t quite sure what to pick.
The business with Lydia and the other Watchers was mostly sorted out, and they had left, though with a promise that word would come about the actual decision. He still had some hope, tempered as they may be.
“What are you looking at?” Jenny said, coming up behind Xander as he flipped another page. She set a mug of coffee on the desk, before sipping from her cup of tea.
He briefly looked up at her and smiled. “Thanks. Just looking at tools.”
“I suppose that’s a guy thing,” Jenny said wryly, curling a few locks of his hair between the fingers of her free hand.
Xander frowned, still looking at the page. “My uncle’s birthday is in a month. I’m trying to figure out what to get him. Not that easy as it turns out.”
“From a tool catalog?” She inquired, though she was partly intrigued. Xander still had not told her much about his family, though she could make some educated guesses about his immediate relatives.
Shrugging, Xander closed the book and swiveled in his chair. He picked up his cup and took a sip as she moved to sit on his bed, folding her legs underneath her and placing her cup on the nightstand next to the end of it. “We used to visit him sometimes, when I was a kid. He had a motorcycle that he used to give me rides on. Still works on it too, though I don’t know…he’s got a little crazy over the years. He says that he invented Velcro.”
Jenny just smiled.
“Anyway,” Xander said, looking at her, knowing that she probably wanted him to open up. “Yeah, anyway, he’s probably the only one of my family that really gave a damn about me. So I wanted to get him something cool. Now that I can afford it and everything.”
“That’s sweet,” Jenny said, thinking about the coming week. School was starting soon, and they’d have to go back into school mode, where she was the teacher and he was the student. Admittedly, he wasn’t taking a computer class next semester, but she wasn’t going to be allowed to touch him in the halls.
“Yeah, well, speaking of…” Xander placed the cup back down and got up and went over to the bed, pulling a box from beneath it. He placed it in Jenny’s lap, sitting down next to her. “I got you something. For school, and you know…”
She smiled and opened the not too smoothly wrapped box. She examined the laptop that it contained, noting its durable metal frame. She had read about them, the Toughbooks had been designed to handle rough situations, which was probably more than appropriate on the Hellmouth. “Thanks. I love it.”
Jenny leaned over and kissed him, and then put the laptop back in the box, placing it on the floor. “You know this is probably one of the last times we’ll have to be with each other without school, and your friends…”
He didn’t need to be told twice.
“You should totally tell him,” Buffy said, glancing down at Kendra as they watched the television. It was a movie that she had already seen before, but the other Slayer was fascinated by it. Willow, Amy, and the potentials were in the room as well, a girl’s day before school started again.
Kendra bit her lip, trying to ignore the comment. She still didn’t know exactly what she should say, or really even understand the feelings that she had. It was rather embarrassing to discuss such matters, even amongst her friends. “I wouldn’t know how.”
Vi looked at the slayer from her place on the floor. She frowned a little, knowing something of what Kendra was going through. More than that, she knew more about the situation than the slayer did. Glancing once at Faith, who was looking quite amused at the situation, Vi spoke up softly, “uh, that might not be the best idea. Xander’s seeing someone.”
The redheaded potential felt the eyes turn to her as one, she felt like shrinking into herself, but looked again at Faith, sending a message, or rather a warning, with her eyes.
“No he’s not,” Willow declared in shocked disbelief. “He would have told us about it.”
Vi shook her head. She wasn’t exactly sure what she should say, given that Xander hadn’t exactly talked about the subject. His relationship simply was after Jenny kissed him. “I guess it just got brushed over with him coming back and everything.”
“Who is she?” Buffy asked, looking sympathetically at Kendra who looked saddened by the news.
Shrugging, Vi turned and looked behind her at Buffy. “I don’t know, he wasn’t really specific about it. He said that she wanted to keep it low key and stuff. He didn’t really talk about her that much. He might have met her on the trip.”
It was kinda true, after a fashion. She didn’t like lying to her friends, but it was something that he had wanted to keep private, and she respected that. Aside from Xander, or more specifically Ms. Calendar, getting into trouble, she knew that it wasn’t her place to reveal their relationship to Buffy and the others.
“I wouldn’t worry about,” Faith broke in at last. She leaned over and nudged at the Jamaican Slayer. “There’s plenty of guys out there, so what if one’s on the hook already?”
Kendra smiled briefly at the potential, knowing that she was trying to make her feel better. It only helped a little.
“We so need to talk to that boy,” Buffy said to Willow who sat next to her on the bed.
Willow simply nodded, somewhat outraged that her oldest friend hadn’t come out to her first about his new girlfriend.
Xander exhaled audibly though his mouth, lowering himself slowly inch by inch, his biceps straining as he moved. “Fifty.”
Dropping down, the Iron Fist picked up a towel and wiped his face off, the sweat having already soaked the tank top that he was wearing. He dragged it across the pull-up bar as well, making sure that the metal was clean before dropping the towel again. The town around him was nearly silent as he stood on the roof of the warehouse that he technically owned. It was close to midnight he knew, the moon unusually large in the night sky, casting its light over everything.
Having been on patrol earlier, he knew that the Hellmouth was quiet. Perhaps unusually slow, but it left him with pent up energy that he wanted to burn off. School started in two days, and he briefly wondered how it would be. Senior year was a big deal, for some he knew that it would mean the end of their prime years, for others he knew that it was one step before the next big jump in life.
They all learned something that past year, him most of all. A mistake had granted him so much, though it had taken equally away. He had known what it was to have a father, only to know what it was to lose one. He had earned a place in the grand scheme of things, and had been forced to defend it, going so far as to overthrow a government. He had lost his virginity, and had learned what it was to truly love someone.
Xander stepped over to the edge of the roof, looking towards the center of Sunnydale, still breathing deeply. Streetlights were still on, and a few cars were still moving down the streets, but that was pretty much it. Only those glittery bits of light to show that there was anybody that still lived there.
“Peaceful,” a voice said from behind.
Xander twisted back, tense, but relaxing when he recognized who it was. “Jeez, I didn’t hear you.”
“No one ever does,” the giant of a man said, coming up beside Xander. He looked out over Sunnydale as well. “Peaceful. Your city is safe.”
“I hope as is ours,” Xander responded, looking back once more upon the town. “Didn’t expect you to come calling so late. How are things?”
Lei-Kung shrugged, his massive shoulders moving up and down. “As well as can be expected. There are those that do not like how things have changed, just as we knew that there would be. It will sort itself out in time. As all things do.”
“And…your son?” Xander asked, with some hesitation.
“He is, coping with his situation. Remorse is difficult for him to work through, but I believe that he is finding some manner of peace,” Lei-Kung replied.
Xander nodded. “Good.”
“The Eighth City, if it exists, has proven troublesome. The other Immortal Weapons have been researching as much as possible,” the former Thunderer said, resting a foot on the small ledge that edged the roof. He leaned over on his knee. “But, progress has been slow.”
“Yeah, I’ve looked at a couple of things.” Xander had looked through the books that he had, both ones that he found as well as ones that Jenny had helped find, not to mention the ones that Orson had left behind. There was nothing at all. The last Iron Fist had been occupied with other concerns. “Nothing yet. It could be anywhere, here or some other dimension. Or it could be a lie.”
Lei-Kung said nothing, content to just look at the view in the cool night.
Xander walked back to the pull-up bar quietly and bent down, picking up a book. He had known that Lei-Kung would come that night, and wanted to be prepared.
Moving back to the new Yu-Ti of K’un-L’un, Xander handed him the large book. It was hardbound, though well-worn, the corners of the spine and cover long since bent. “Here. This might be of some help.”
Lei-Kung just examined it, noting the garish cover illustration. “What is it?”
“My old civics text book,” Xander explained, smiling a little. “They’re moving to a new edition this year, so I kept my old one. Figured that it might do you some good.”
Opening it up, Lei-Kung flipped through a couple of pages, noting the highlighted and underlined passages. “I’m sure that it will be of use.”
“Yeah, I’m glad,” Xander said seriously. He only hoped that Lei-Kung would be a good leader, the Immortal would have many years to lead, hopefully there wouldn’t be too many growing pains. And wouldn’t get corrupted by the power.
“How are you?” Lei-Kung asked, concentrating on the young man beside him.
Xander shrugged, though it belied his actual feeling. “It’s not been the easiest thing, but it’s always going to be there, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Lei-Kung replied, thinking about the others that he had lost. As beneficial as his long life may have been in some areas, it had meant seeing many of his friends and loved ones die. Too many before their times. “It gets easier, faster, after a while. Even if you don’t want it to.”
“Never goes away,” Xander said, lost in his own thoughts.
Lei-Kung put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “No, and I know you don’t want it to. It’s not something you get over, it’s something you live with.”
The Yu-Ti looked down at the floor of the roof. He knew that the Iron Fist’s lover was still there, sleeping quietly. “It does get better though.”
“Yeah, someday,” Xander said, still looking out into the darkness.
“Someday.” The large warrior and teacher removed his hand and walked away. He pulled out and clenched a stone in his fist, calling upon the magic to draw him back to K’un-L’un. The energy flashed and crackled around him as the portal was created. He waited until Xander had turned around before speaking again. “Thank you for the book. Live well, Xander Harris. And know that we are always with you.”
Xander watched him disappear, frowning a little at the ambiguous send-off. It was like the long-lived always got cryptic in their old age, much to the annoyance of the youth.
The night was quiet once again though, and the Iron Fist turned around looking out once again at his home, the bright and nearly full moon revealing more than the night could hide. He knew that despite its sleeping exterior, there would be many awake. Some humans, working a late shift, or that simply couldn’t sleep. And others. “Goodnight moon. Goodnight stars. Goodnight humans. Goodnight leeches. Goodnight fiends. Goodnight angels. Goodnight devils. Goodnight to everybody. Goodnight to one and all.”
End of Book Two: Way of the Warrior
To be continued in…Book Three: The Waking of Titans