Chapter 5: The Farthest Man from Home
The warehouse district didn’t hold much besides the obvious. There were some homeless milling around though, along with the ubiquitous trash and broken pallets. With nowhere really to go, they had to stomach the risk of ending up like how the others did, whatever it was. They seemed more wary though, well understanding that things had gotten more dangerous.
Currently, the mixed team was working their way through them. Questioning whomever would talk to them, even with being able to name drop Father McAllister and Raoul Diego. It also let Xander let drop some money, however much help it would be, he didn’t know. Or what it would be used for. But, it was something. And proved that he still had some kind of heart.
It was odd to go through the motions. They had driven all the way out to see Father McAllister, and then they drove out to see if they could find any clues among the population that was having members snatched. Ironically enough, it ended up being rather near where they were staying. But, McAllister had insisted. And he'd seen the priest pass something to Paul on the way out. Probably Church related and important enough to drag them there, so he didn't bother trying to find out what it was.
Xander was in the middle of talking to a fifty year old man who looked like he was ten years older. They were standing around a burning oil barrel, the night uncommonly cold. Its flickering light cast a rather depressing glow on their surroundings, reflecting off of their faces.
“So this guy you said, just took them off, and they never came back?” Xander asked, feeling the warmth of burning pallets, and wondering what else was in there. Pounding the pavement. That was what they called it on those old police shows. Xander idly wondered why they weren't preyed upon more heavily by vampires, though he knew why it wouldn’t be more than could be easily swept or explained away. Or maybe it was the smell, he thought.
“Yeah, that’s what I said, didn’t I?” the man responded. There was something off-putting about chatting with a guy with one eye, but he wanted to find his friends, and he had mentioned the right names. He scratched at a straggly peppered beard with a dirty hand while he looked at the young man that had approached him.
“You got a name?” Xander asked, aware that there were a number of people looking at him. He was an outsider, and though he was trying to help, there was obvious distrust thrown his way.
“Max. Just Max. Young guy. Maybe 25. Sleazy looking,” the man replied, trying to remember. He rubbed the back of his neck, brushing past oily brown and grey hair. “White guy. Slicked black hair. Maybe 5’5”.
“Okay,” Xander said dispassionately. It wasn’t exactly the most unique of descriptions. “Any idea where I can find him? What’s he do?”
“Comes by every so often.” The man looked out into the street. There wasn’t much traffic now days, so he remembered well what he had seen. “Picks up some guys, promises them money. I thought it was for those bum fights you hear about.”
“But, these guys don’t come back.” Xander frowned. It didn't have to mean a thing. Could have nothing at all to do with their case. A wild goose chase. A dead end. A bad lead. Or it could be the one thread that would lead to everything. Of course, there was no way to know that beforehand.
“Yeah. But, times are tough.” The man nodded and then shrugged. “I heard he’s probably going to be back tomorrow night. Usually comes by around 11:00 or so.”
“Right.” It was a good enough lead to follow in the end. Only lead they had to so far. Xander slipped the man a hundred bucks. “Hopefully it pans out.”
“Thanks.” The man pocketed the money, after a moment’s hesitation. It didn’t seem like the younger guy would miss it. Yup, definitely a weird guy.
It must be his lucky night. Xander watched through the windshield of the SUV he was sitting in as a dark blue van was being loaded up. The man outside the van was helping some old guys in shabby clothes was a young guy. Maybe 25. White. Sleazy looking.
“Think that’s him?” Curtis asked, taking a sip from a Styrofoam coffee cup. They had been there long enough that it was only a little above room temperature. It had been long night, much of it baggage from the night before.
The groups had reformed and split up to take care of tasks that were up their respective specialties. Cindy and Linda had gone back to base to check out the stuff from Rossetti’s. Jack and Paul were following up on the other leads they had gotten. Didn’t prove as promising as the first, but they still had to be thorough. Vi had gone with them, just in case. That left him with his second in command, two slayers, and Eduard. He was glad that the Council team was quiet, he didn’t think that he could handle their chatter on a stakeout. Xander snapped a few shots of the man and his van with a digital camera from his pack. He quickly plugged in wires to his PDA and uploaded them to the Level 6 support guys. He’d have an identity in a few minutes. Those guys were geeks, but they knew their stuff.
“Looks the part. And it is suspicious, unless he’s trying to do the all bum revue of Oklahoma,” Xander said, glancing up every now and then while he fiddled with his equipment. Some of the newest cargo seemed to be drunk, so it was taking the guy a while. “Although…”
“Right. Think we should take him now?” Curtis asked. He no longer rolled his eyes at Xander’s dumb jokes. His eyes were still planted on the subject of their stakeout. Shifting in his seat, he placed the cup of coffee back into a holder.
“No,” Xander answered, shoving his PDA and digital camera back into his pack. He leaned back into his seat as the man closed up the van’s rear doors and moved towards the driver’s door. “I want to see where they’re going.”
The van pulled away, and Curtis watched it go. He waited a few moments until the van was nearly at the end of the street before starting up his own car and pulling out after them. The one car following another thing doesn’t really happen in real life. A full cover would have involved at least four cars at a single time, with alternates coming in so the target wouldn’t get suspicious.
With the tagalong gang there, they didn’t get that. They got one car. It was like something out of Bullitt, Xander thought. He hoped it wouldn’t end like it either. He didn’t bother warning Curtis not to get too close.
They followed, luckily again, Max wasn’t all that watchful of anything behind him. None of the standard “Am I being tailed?” tricks. After about fifteen minutes, he pulled up to a small rundown apartment building. With the lack of lights and boards over windows it seemed to be condemned. Clearly not a place to put on the late night showing of Oklahoma.
Curtis knew enough to keep going, not stopping within easy eyesight of the building or van. He pulled over to the side of the road, keeping a few cars between them and the house. It would be enough to keep them from being easily seen. He was just glad that there was stuff parked on the street, so that they weren’t the only other ones there. It was a bad neighborhood, but it was still a neighborhood.
Xander refrained from craning his neck to look as they passed the van. A tone sounded, indicating that there was a message on his PDA. Xander pulled it out and looked at it, reading through the profile that was displayed on it. His boys had come through. “Anthony Maxwell Lowry. AKA Max. Small time crook. B and e, armed robbery, some leg work for bigger fish. He’s henchmen class. Looks like our guy.”
He was kind of glad that the Council members were still keeping quiet, though he knew that they had been talking amongst themselves. Abby didn’t look like she was pleased having to sit next to them though.
A man, dressed in a pretty expensive suit, got out of the building and walked up to the van. He clearly was not the sort of guy that lived in this type of area. Xander thought it was a little strange, either these guys weren’t that cautious, or he just expected everyone to be as paranoid as he was. Still, he snapped a picture of the new guy as well, uploading it to his support. It was too bad that it wasn’t Anderson, although he supposed that would have been too easy.
The six men in the back walked out of the van and into the building, seemingly under their own free will. The man in the suit and Max were talking at the front door. An envelope was passed between them, likely money.
“Alright. You take the van,” Xander said, looking over at Curtis. “Let him get up a ways and then take him. He might know something. I’m going in and getting the suit. And his merchandise. Be back in 15 minutes, two doors down. Eduard, you and Mary are coming with me. Abby stay with Curtis.”
Xander slipped out of the car with the watcher and his watchee. He took his bag with him, slinging it over his shoulder on the way out. Unfortunately, he was left with his sidearm; it was going to be up close and personal and he didn’t want to risk hitting one of the innocents. He had loaded his handgun with a different type of frangible bullet. Silver pellet loads alternated with armor piercing rounds. A mag of that would put damn near anything down.
He quietly shut the door, carefully checking to make sure that Max hadn’t seen them. He waited while Max made his way back to his van, taking cover with the rest of the people coming out behind the car that sat behind their SUV.
After the van had taken off and Curtis had followed, Xander went to the building, the others close behind. It wasn’t very stealthily, but speed was key in this case. He watched through the still open front door as the odd group of people went into the third room down the main hall. 1C. Evidently, professionalism wasn’t the byword for the night. Or, like Anderson, this man just didn’t care.
Making his way forward, he walked closer to the apartment door, and motioned his backup against the wall. They made their way down the hall silently, staying away from the center where loose boards might give them away. Xander checked the door to the apartment, examining the door jamb and the wood around the hinges and lock. It was halfway rotted through, and a simple kick would bring it down. Even more luck. He stood in front of it and kicked it in, rushing through. His gun was already out, searching for a target.
What he found, was nothing. It was luck, of a different sort.
“Damn it,” Xander growled in frustration. In front of him was an exhausted magic circle. Teleport-out only. Clearly, the man in the suit had an exit strategy.
“What happened?” Mary asked as she came in behind Xander, looking around the room as well. She held up a sword, which seemed a little useless now.
Eduard just looked at the circle on the floor, trying to decipher the symbols that were on the ground. “They teleported out.”
Xander ran a quick search through the apartment, walking into the other rooms of the dwelling as well. There was nothing of importance in any of them. It was a sterile jump site. Somewhere out of the way to set up a circle, and nothing more. It probably had been set up so that it couldn’t be tracked to the exit point. He didn’t want to think about what the poor tricked bastards would be going through.
Breathing out, Xander replaced his gun and pulled out his camera. He took a couple of shots of the circle, making sure that he got the detail, and that it wouldn’t be washed out due to the flash. Frustration wouldn’t do anybody any good.
“What do you want us to do?” Eduard asked, looking around the room.
“C’mon. There’s nothing here,” Xander said, looking at the pair that had followed him in. He walked to the front door. He noted that Curtis was back early and had parked pretty far up the street. He pulled out his cell phone and called his partner.
“Got him?” Xander asked, looking towards the other end of the street to see if there was anybody watching.
“Yeah,” Curtis replied, picking up after the first ring. He looked into the back of the SUV, where Abby had dropped the dazed man. “How about you?”
“They got away. Magic circle. Bring the guy in here. 1C.” Xander hung up, shoving the phone into his pocket and moving back into the apartment.
By time Curtis and Abby brought the flesh broker in, Xander had already set up. A rusted metal chair found in the kitchen, a couple of pairs of handcuffs, and a knife from his bag. He just hoped that Max had information. Otherwise six men would likely have died and he would have just given up some more of his soul, all for nothing.
“Sit down.” Curtis shoved Max into the chair.
Xander walked behind and handcuffed him to it, wrists to chair legs so that he couldn’t properly move his arms. He glared at the man in the chair.
Curtis saw the expression on Xander’s face and walked over to him.
“We need to talk,” Curtis whispered into Xander’s ear. He pulled his partner into the small bedroom connected to the main room.
“What happened?” Curtis asked in a quiet voice, once he was certain that nobody could hear them.
“Screwed up. We should have just grabbed Max when we saw him,” Xander said under his breath. “The guy had teleported them all away before we even got in the room. He was prepared, I’ll give him that.”
“You made the right call,” Curtis tried to soothe him. He could see the near seething rage that was just underneath the surface. It didn’t mean that Xander wasn’t in full control though. “It’s not your fault.”
“I know that. Doesn’t make it right.” Xander just shook his head, trying to shake it off. Then he looked at his partner and nodded. “And I don’t need you to lecture me. I’ve been through this before. More than you have.”
“Xander…” Curtis didn’t need to be reminded. The younger man had lost more true allies than the former then current government agent had ever known.
“Forget it, it’s okay,” Xander said hurriedly, frowning. He knew he should apologize, but in the positions they were in, he couldn’t exactly do that. “Let’s go to work.”
Curtis just let it go, knowing that Xander’s attitude was more blame on himself than intentionally lashing out. They walked back into main room, the eyes of everyone on them. He got the feeling that things were going to be bad.
The rest of the group had taken places against the rear wall of the room, and Curtis joined them, ready in case they did something untoward. Xander would do this alone. It was his responsibility, as was the previous failure. He could have called his commander on it, but Xander was placing enough blame on himself as it was.
“Who did you meet?” Xander asked, steeping closer to the chair and pacing before it.
“Like I’m going to tell you,” Max sneered, looking up at the one-eyed man. He tried to move his arms, but they were extended and immobile, painfully so. “You ain’t getting nothing from me, pig.”
Xander stopped in front of the man, and took out his knife. He bent down and shoved it horizontally underneath Max’s right kneecap. School of Jack Bauer. It had its moments.
Max screamed, but Xander punched him in the face with his left hand to get him to stop.
“Who said we were cops?” Xander growled in a near whisper, just loud enough for Max to hear him. He twisted the knife and pulled it out, blood dripping from the blade.
“Who is he?” Xander shouted, pulling the screaming man’s head back by his hair. “Don’t make me ask again.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. He bailed me out of the joint a month ago. Called himself Vinge. Said he had some work for me. I didn’t ask,” Max screamed in pain, his knee throbbing. His eyes were wild as he yelled, eyes starting to tear up.
“You didn’t care,” Xander stated coldly, letting the man’s head go. “You want to live? You want to live? Then tell me something. What else? What else do you got? Or do you want some more iron in your diet?”
“I…I followed him once. He works out of a bar. Club Zero. That’s all I know.” Max panted in pain, spilling his metaphorical guts out. “…it’s all I know.”
“Good.” Torture as SOP was not a good idea. People under torture usually talked. If what they were saying was the truth was another matter. But, in this case, Xander knew it had worked. He’d seen it in Max’s eyes, as clichéd as that may have seemed. Sometimes the worst ways were the best ways. Besides it wasn’t like he wasn’t going to confirm it.
Xander cleaned his knife on Max’s shirt, closing it and putting it away. He walked over to where he had set his bag down and flipped it open. Inside was a small five shot revolver, a .22, in a plastic bag. A throwaway piece. He pulled out another small bag and opened it, putting on a pair of latex gloves. Then he opened the first bag and pulled the gun out.
“Wait! Wait!” Max screamed out when he saw the gun, struggling against his bonds. “You said you’d let me live.”
Xander walked up to him. He had been extremely careful. He had even worn gloves when he loaded the weapon.
“I know,” Xander said coldly, looking him in the eyes. “I lied.”
Xander shot him. Twice. In the face.
He tossed the gun into the corner and retrieved his handcuffs. He knew that he hadn’t touched anything else in the room that would pick up prints, having been careful with the chair. Technically speaking, they weren’t supposed to go after targets of opportunity. Humans ones anyway. Which was why Xander used a clean piece. He didn’t want to have to deal with the paperwork anyway.
Curtis and Abby didn't react. They didn't like what Xander had done, but they understood why. Curtis especially. He saw the look on his leader's face. It may have started with an emotional response at his own failure, but the decision hadn't been due to that alone. It couldn't, not in the line of work they were in. Wasn't the right decision, but it was the needed one.
Mary and Eduard were stunned silent. It didn’t last for long though.
“What was that?” Eduard nearly screamed. He had finally had enough of being quiet for that night.
“How could you?” Mary followed up, actually screaming.
“What? Guy was a scumbag peddling flesh. As bad as any vampire. I’m supposed to let him walk for that?” Xander asked, starting to get tired of their outrage. It had been slightly amusing the first couple of times, but now it was just getting annoying. He knew that his execution, or murder depending on the perspective, wouldn’t go over well with the Council. But, they needed to learn this.
He didn’t bother to mention that for security reasons, it was necessary. The late Max had seen all of their faces.
“He was human!” Mary shouted. Buffy 2.0. She may be getting some real world experience, but in regards to the realities of stopping evil, it wasn’t much.
“Yeah. It just makes him easier to kill,” Xander replied coolly, looking at the two seriously. He wondered how many of Buffy’s philosophies were getting passed down despite her not being there. “Look. This isn’t some game. You let him walk, and there’s going to be another load of bodies. You want to be responsible for that?”
Mary and Eduard couldn’t meet his eye.
“We don’t have time for this. Curtis, get me a location on Club Zero. If we’re lucky we can catch Mr. Wizard there. The victims may still be alive,” Xander continued, getting his pack and walking to the door. He glanced at his slayer, who had taken it upon herself to wipe down anything that the others may have touched. Looking back at his second in command, he spoke, “and get me a confirmation on what the owner looks like.”
“We can discuss the moral flexibilities of the job after we stop this thing,” Xander said as he walked out the door, looking over his shoulder to the pair from the Council.
Club Zero. From the outside, it didn’t seem like much of a place. It was The Bronze, for the skeezy set, though still popular for some reason. Which would help them get in luckily, if they planned on going in through the front door. It hadn’t taken much for Xander to find the place. And only slightly longer to get his people into place.
Xander and some of his team, along with the Council’s crew, had set up between a couple of buildings, a few hundred yards down from the bar. He had come up with the plan on the drive over. Quick thinking was becoming a talent for him. He stood outside of the SUV, in order to be able to see everyone. “The subject is one Raymond Vinge. That’s from DMV records. Bar owner of Club Zero, according to his liquor license. There’s nothing else. No record, and nothing on him as a player. Either he’s really good, or he’s small time. Or just plain new. Either way, we’re going to need to go in now.”
He glanced over at his witch, who was seated in the rear of the car. “Cindy. I want an astral sweep. Nothing invasive, just let me know what kind of defenses, magical or otherwise, he’s got. Curtis and I are going through the back. Paul, you Jack and Abby cause a distraction in the front. You’ll have the kickoff. Ed, you keep your people here. We’ll need a clear line out in case things go south.”
Xander didn’t want to have the Council going in with him. After what he had just done he couldn’t trust them not to be twitchy. He hadn’t liked what he’d done, but it had been a long time since he had done anything he liked. It was another mad dog off the street though. Which was good, but he didn’t delude himself into thinking that it was the right thing to do. It hadn’t been part of fighting the good fight. It was vengeance, even if the end result was ultimately justified. Some of it was from his anger at himself for screwing up, though intellectually he knew that it hadn’t been his fault. And some of it was from the notion of letting Max go. He’d seen the victims of those that were let go. Teresa. Jenny Calendar. And if it meant his own soul, it was a choice he’d make. Not gladly. But, he’d do it. Loyalty, above all. It had started with his girls. His family. But, given the threats they now faced, it had extended to all of humanity. Well, not all of it. But, Xander believed that there was still some of it that deserved to be saved. There had to be.
Cindy closed her eyes, leaving her body. Her astral self floated out of the car and floated towards the bar. A quick check of the stone and brick exterior, and there was no evidence of any defensive spellwork. She floated through the walls into the main bar. A few odd non-humans were visible through their auras, but the young witch focused on a glowing barrier that surrounded the upper office. It wasn’t much of a defensive spell, but she wouldn’t be able to crack it without setting it off. A purely mundane incursion was the only option. She went around to the back, avoiding the protected area, and exited the building. She noticed slightly glowing blue lines, signifying power cables. She could see the security cameras that fed into them. A quick spell and they were set on a loop. It’d last for the next quarter of an hour or so.
Finished with her work, she flew back to her corporeal body. When she got back into it and opened her eyes, Xander was still talking outside.
“I don’t care if you protest Ed. I’m in command, it’s my call,” Xander said brusquely. “You can either follow it or you can walk away now. Or maybe that’s what you want to do. As far as we know, he’s human. So it’s not like he’s just about to murder those six guys. Right?”
It was petty. And mean. But, right here and now, it was just about the only thing that would get through to the White Hats.
“We don’t go after people,” the watcher stated, folding his arms across his chest. He could see Curtis in the rearview mirror from the back and knew that he wasn’t going to get any help there. “It’s a Council rule. We don’t go after humans. There’s human law for human crime.”
Xander just looked at the watcher, fixing him with a strong stare. He wondered if Eduard understood the fallacy of making it a human crime because the victims were human. The watcher had never struck him as a moron. “And that’s why they’ll win.”
Eduard just stared back; a test of wills. It took a few moments, but he eventually had to give in. He didn’t want to, but he couldn’t hold things up with these stakes. “Alright, we’ll wait here.”
He didn’t like Xander’s cold execution of the man that he had tortured, but Eduard couldn’t completely disregard the feeling that the rogue hunter might be right. “But, we’re not done. And, this is going in my report.”
Xander ignored the last bit. “What do you got, Cindy?”
“There’s a magical barrier around the office. It prevents magical eavesdropping only. If he set it himself then he doesn’t have that much power. Or it’s a decoy to hide how much juice he really has. There were cameras around back, but they’re taken care of for the next 15 minutes,” Cindy reported, after that bit of butting heads was finished. “I also noticed some traces of recent spellwork. Either the guy’s ported here, or someone just did some magic.”
“Okay. Let’s go,” Xander said, shouldering his bag. He started walking down the street, keeping to the shadows. Curtis followed, having gotten out of the vehicle as well.
They reached the alley in back of the club in less than a minute. There was a small set of stairs leading to the back door of the office on the second floor. They stayed at the bottom of it, while the others got into their positions.
Xander waited for the signal.
“Ball’s in play. Twenty seconds, go no go,” Paul’s voice came in through the earpiece Xander had placed in his ear back at the car.
Xander looked around, making sure that they were alone before whispering into his mouthpiece, “go.”
It didn’t take long before he could hear the ruckus that Paul and Jack were getting into. Apparently over the teenage girl they had met. Never mind that they were both almost old enough to be her father. When he heard the bouncers get involved, and the fight start, Xander motioned to Curtis. They pulled on black balaclavas and started up the stairs. Xander covered as his second in command climbed the stairs.
Curtis checked the thick metal door; it was locked as expected. Unfortunately, it was tight against the ground as well, and so there was no place for a fiber optic camera. They’d have to do it the hard way, he thought. Crouching down, he took a small toolkit from a pocket. Curtis was able to pick the lock in less than thirty seconds, but didn’t open the door.
Xander came up close, preparing the UMP45 that he had chosen for this part of the mission, pulling it from beneath his coat and extending the foldout vertical grip. If there was anything big inside he wanted something with a bit more power than the handgun he carried on his hip. With Curtis taking a step back and now covering him with an MP5K, Xander carefully turned the handle and pushed the door open.
A quiet beat. Nobody came close to check on the now open door. The two men slipped inside to investigate, covering the room with their weapons. It was a huge office, taking up what should have been another room that led to the door they had just come into. A large desk was set near the back, facing towards the front of the bar and away from them. Along the walls were bookshelves that Xander could tell housed some old texts along with some seemingly magical paraphernalia. The lights were off, with strategically placed candles casting the only light in the room.
Lucky once again, Xander crouched down into the shadows. The six men were tied to eyelets mounted to the floor in front of the desk in a starburst pattern. Around them was another magic circle, well used from the stained blood that was visible even in the dim light. Xander could identify that it was one used for invocations. It was a sacrifice. Vinge was planning on conjuring something up. Something big if he was using six men, not to mention previous sacrifices. A small altar was set next to the circle with a large leather bound book open upon it.
Xander looked at Raymond, now clad in a white linen robe, who was on the phone at the desk. He was yelling at his security team to get rid of the trouble makers outside. Apparently, Paul and Jack were still there. And had interrupted the ritual.
They were less than ten feet from Vinge, who had his back turned to them. Xander transferred his submachine gun to his left hand as he quietly pulled an M-26 taser from a holster on his belt. He waited until Raymond had set the phone down and then fired the gun. Twin barbs from the stun weapon struck Vinge in the back, sending him convulsing to the floor. Xander closed in quickly, making sure the magic user was really out. The nervous systems of wizards and witches could be altered. Some were immune to the effects of such weapons. Raymond Vinge was not one of them.
Xander motioned Curtis over to free the now ex-sacrifices, never turning away from the downed witch. Vinge was a man in his mid thirties; he did not seem the type to coldly murder six men. But, looks could be deceiving, and from the ritual dagger on the man’s desk, it was clear what would have happened. Xander pulled out a pair of handcuffs, etched with runes to prevent a wizard from opening them magically or telekinetically, and placed them over the Vinge’s wrists. They didn’t work on more powerful magic users, but he hoped they’d work here. He then picked the stunned man up in a fireman’s carry and followed Curtis, who by then had already freed the kidnapped men, out the door.
He set him down on the ground level, leaning up against the wall of the club. He looked over at Curtis, who was checking over the would-be sacrifices. “Dope him. I need to check out the office.”
Xander still had five minutes on the clock, and once he had ensured that Curtis had things covered, went back up. He gave the room a quick once over, making sure that he smudged the chalk circle and grabbed the open book on the altar. From the etchings on the open pages, it wasn’t something good. Checking out the shelves, Xander could identify the normal texts that moderately powerful dark practitioners had, Cindy had a few of them in her own library. On the desk was a laptop. Probably code locked, but Level 6 had hackers. He took that, along with a day planner. There was nothing else of interest that he could easily see.
With less than a minute on Cindy’s spell left, Xander quickly pulled and set a couple of incendiary charges and placed them on the shelves. He moved towards the front door, dragging the office chair with him and shoved it underneath the doorknob, locking it after he was done. Giving one last glance at the room, he walked quickly to the door and left, closing it behind him.
He met up with Curtis, who was covering the still unconscious Vinge, despite his chemically induced state. They walked down the alley, Vinge now on Xander’s back again, away from the cameras’ view.
Xander activated his throat mike. “C, I need you to isolate the office. Full containment around the barrier, airtight. I’m lighting it up. Let me know when it’s set.”
It only took the experienced witch a minute to weave the spell. She spoke back into her own mouthpiece, “it’s set, you can proceed.”
“That’s a go.” Xander blew the radio-controlled detonators on his planted explosives. It wasn’t long before the room was engulfed in flames, destroying all of the magical items in the office. The fire would burn itself out quickly with only the air still in the room as fuel. Once it was gone, it would burn itself out. The possibility of a backdraft wasn’t particularly high, the spell would last long enough for the room to cool down, not to mention the blockage on the front door.
“Let’s go,” Xander said to Curtis, heading towards their parked cars. Paul, Jack, and Abby were there already. Vinge was quickly gagged and placed in the trunk of the passenger car as the teams packed up their vehicles. He noted that Mary didn’t look particularly happy about being left out. Her desire to get into the fight overrode her disapproval of Xander’s previous actions. Eduard just looked at him, a blank expression on his face. Maybe it meant understanding. Or maybe it meant that he’d do his best to bring him down.
What had just happened could ultimately mean nothing. There might not even be a link to Shaun Anderson. But, a couple of scumbags were gone, never to prey upon the helpless. And six were saved that night. Not a bad night's work, if only for a tangent.
As Xander finished up and was about to get into his car, a man walked up dressed in shabby clothes seemingly coming from nowhere.
“Alexander. We need to see you,” the man said, looking straight ahead, eyes unfocused as if he could not see who he was talking down. It was one of the homeless men that they had rescued; who it seemed hadn’t left with the others.
“Come to see us, Alexander,” the man continued, his head turning in the vague direction of Xander. His eyes were glowing brightly, a sharp contrast to his dirty face. Xander watched wordlessly as the homeless man shook his head and wandered off. Seemingly unaware of his previous words.
Xander knew what he had to do. He had to see the man.
“What was that?” Mary asked, leaning her head out of the open window. She’d seen the odd man speak to Xander, but not the glowing eyes.
“Curtis, take him to Point Charlie. Prep him for interrogation. Get this stuff to the guys and have them start checking things out. Page 456 in the big book. That’s what Vinge was trying to conjure most likely. I need to get somewhere. I should meet you in less than two hours,” Xander ignored the question and gave his orders. He handed over the things he had taken from Vinge’s office to his second who put them into the car, making sure he left his camera behind.
“Got it,” Curtis replied, not all that surprised. Whatever Xander needed to do, he could handle it by himself, thought the man. Otherwise, Xander would have asked for backup.
“Wait. Where are you going?” Eduard asked, looking around his slayer. They were here to observe and report and getting pushed aside was not acceptable. “I’m going with you.”
“Alright. One of you can go with me,” Xander decided, not wanting the fight that would have taken up too much time. He had gotten rather used to working with his own team. It took some effort to remember that he had other people to work into his plans who wouldn’t be easily dismissed. He leaned into the open front passenger’s side window and pulled a map out of the glove compartment of his car along with a red pen. He noticed that some of the others had gotten out of the other car and had approached them in curiosity. “The rest head back with my team.”
“I’m coming.” The watcher decided, getting out of the car and coming around to stand next to Xander. He looked at the others. “Mary, Vi head back with the others. Don’t let them do anything until we get back.”
Jack snickered at that. Like the two slayers, or rather one, could possibly stop them from doing anything. “Yup. We'll be sure to play nice until the two of ye get back.”
“Right. Jack. Watch yourself,” Xander cautioned. While the former terrorist could be a handful to keep in line, he still followed orders.
He turned to face the watcher that was now going to tag along. “You do what I say, Ed. And only what I say. The rest of you, get going.”
Not waiting for a response, Xander unfolded the map and smoothed it out against the wall. He marked out his current location and then his destination. Looking down at his watch, he noted the time and then looked up at the night sky, checking the location and shape of the moon. He drew a convoluted path on the map connecting the two points. From above, it took on the appearance of some arcane symbol. Which it was.
Xander watched for a second as the two cars drove away. He checked his map and led the way, Eduard following behind. “Let’s go.”
“What’s going on?” Eduard said, thoroughly lost. They’d crossed the last street three times and he was getting the feeling that Xander was purposefully doing it. They’d been at it for the last fifteen minutes, and he had no idea what they were doing.
“Walking the path,” Xander said ambiguously as he looked around, even though it would do no good. He was just glad the final destination wasn’t too far away. “It’s the only way to the man.”
“The man?” Eduard asked, wondering if Xander was purposefully being obtuse.
“The man on the mountain. Lives on a high-rise a couple of blocks from here. This is the only way through.” Xander was still being cryptic, keeping himself from wincing for doing it. He had had enough of that with all the prophecies he had read or heard over the years.
“The what on the what?” the watcher asked, confused. “Why’s this-”
“C’mon,” Xander said, still not answering clearly. It was done partly out of necessity, and partly because it was fun needling the watcher. It was like the old days with Giles, only he actually knew stuff this time. “No questions.”
They finally reached the building that Xander was looking for after another five minutes of running. It was about three quarters of the way built, probably sometime in the last century, ending before the walls and guts had been added. It was a twisted and rusted metal skeleton of girders resting on a large dirt lot. Whatever it was supposed to be, it looked like someone just lost interest half of the way through.
Xander didn’t stop when he reached it, or rather the fence surrounding it. He hopped the chain link and jogged to the open lobby area. Eduard had no choice but to follow. He saw that Xander was waiting at the entrance to what would be the emergency stairwell. He reached it and looked inside. It was dark and cramped, but at least it was completed.
Amazingly, when Xander started walking up the stairs, a string of lights went on in the stairwell. A simple naked copper wire with bulbs strung every 10 feet or so cast the narrow stairs into shadow, highlighting rough concrete steps. It looked like the string went all the way up.
“We need to climb,” Xander declared, looking over at the watcher. He started walking up the stairs. He’d been there before, oddly enough. It was 81 stories on foot. But, it was necessary. It took them a good fifteen minutes at least to get up there. They were both panting by the time they got to the top, a struggle even with good conditioning.
The top floor was quiet, the only sound the whistling wind through steel girders. No walls, only steel girders and empty air. On a long wooden box in the center of the floor sat a decrepit man in rags. He was in a lotus position with small candles flanking him, the light playing off of his serene face.
“Don’t say anything,” Xander whispered towards Eduard, as they walked slowly towards the man. “I mean it.”
“I have come as requested, Voice,” Xander stated, in a low voice as he stood in front of the man. He was careful to keep his own voice as deferential as possible. “What do you need of me?”
“What’re you-” Eduard tried to get out, as he examined the man that they had come to see.
“Shut up,” Xander hissed. He watched as the seemingly homeless man opened his eyes. They glowed the same yellow as the messenger that had told him to come.
“We are not at rest,” the man said. His words seemed to come from around the two hunters, yet the man’s lips still moved. “There is distress in our bowels.”
“What kind of problem?” Xander asked. As he always did, Xander tried to peg what accent the Voice was using. It always shifted. Chinese, Irish, Mexican, Scottish, English, Afghani. The accents of the immigrants that had settled in the city. All flowed from the man and around them.
“Dark shadows scampering through the tunnels. K Street and down. Taking what is not theirs to take. Life and blood spilt. The ever-lasting night is coming.” The Voice slowly turned his head, looking straight at Xander. Into him and through him. Unnerving, to say the least. “You must stop this. The balance must be restored.”
The Voice closed his eyes, the conference at an end. All was in silence. A beat before the sounds of the city started to drift to their ears again. The two humans hadn’t even noticed when they dropped out. It was kind of creepy.
“Let’s go,” Xander said after a moment, making sure that the Voice wasn’t going to do anything else. He made his way towards the stairs, Eduard following behind him. The way down was walked in silence. When they had left the building, Xander quickly jogged towards the nearest subway station, checking the map only once. They needed to get to Point Charlie.
“I know you’re dying to ask,” Xander said as they were waiting for their train. He glanced over at the watcher as he leaned against the tiled wall of the underground station. “So what’s your question?”
“Who was that? What was that?” Eduard asked. The questions had been driving him crazy. In all his experience he had never even heard of something like the man, or creature, he had seen.
“City come a-walkin,’” Xander said flippantly, though it was actually the clearest explanation. The train arrived after a few moments and they both got on. There wasn't anyone there to bother them, not all that surprising given the time. Or maybe the City was sending him a message. Couldn't really tell.
“Huh?” Eduard grunted after the doors closed and the train was underway.
Xander smirked. Eduard was a lot of things, but he didn’t read much science fiction. It would have made things easier. “Never mind.”
“Think of it this way,” Xander continued, getting past the reference. “You have something like eight, eight and a half million people in New York. Pretty tightly packed in four, five hundred square miles. Their lives, their emotions. Life, love, hatred. Death. All mixing throughout time. You think all that energy just goes nowhere?”
“So what, that guy was the conglomeration of everybody’s souls in the city?” Eduard asked skeptically. “Their consciousness?”
“Not exactly,” Xander said, shaking his head. “That was a meat puppet. Bodyjumped to provide a mouth. Like the guy that told me to come, but a more permanent version. This guy was black. The last time I had an audience with the Voice he used a Hispanic woman.”
“So what is it then? And why didn't it just use that first guy instead of making us run all over here?” Eduard was still not understanding what was going on.
“We’re talking the very basest parts of what makes people human. The essence of that congealed into one singular form. A groupmind. The man. The Voice of the City. It’s tied into everything,” Xander explained, walking over and taking a seat on a plastic bench against the wall of the train car. “The guy I killed tonight. The homeless that we rescued. The hookers and drug dealers. The mayor and the cops. Everyone. Even us, as long as we are in the city. That’s how it knew where we were and what we were doing. Also, why it asked for help. And why it didn't use that first guy? I don't know for sure. I think the height gives it something though. More power or more sensitivity to what's going on and more ability to stay in a body and not get shaken off. Or maybe only a few bodies are suitable for long-term use. Not really my concern right now”
“Why can’t it do it itself? Instead of asking us.” Eduard tried to wrap his head around what Xander was explaining. It was beyond anything he had ever imagined was possible.
“It exists, but it’s not really here. It can bodyjump a guy, and it knows what’s going on. It can even direct certain things to happen. Act as a catalyst.” Xander rubbed his face, feeling the hours. He remembered his own info-dump when he’d first come across the Voice. “But, something like this, it can’t do on its own. That’s why it needs us. It also means it’s pretty bad if the Voice needs to ask for help directly.”
“Why?” the watcher asked, taking a seat next to Xander.
“This thing is made up of humanity, but it isn’t human. It doesn’t care about the guys we saved tonight. It doesn’t care that we save people or kill them. All it cares about is maintaining its own existence. Which means that it needs people. More chaos, life and death, the more emotion and the more power it has to sustain itself.” Xander turned to look at the watcher. “But, it still needs a critical mass.”
“So this is in every city?” Eduard asked. This was big. The idea of some kind of group consciousness come alive would be major in the occult community. He wondered why Xander had never talked about it or reported its existence.
“The biggest and most dynamic cities have them,” Xander replied carefully. “London. Beijing. LA. They’re not all the same though.”
“Why haven’t you told-” Eduard tried to stay.
“Reveal its existence to the world? Or to you? Please,” Xander said, shaking his head. “This thing exists in the cracks between people. If people found out it existed they’d likely want it out of their heads. The Cities wouldn’t like that. So, you best not tell anyone what went down. Or you’re going to be crossing the street sometime and a glitch in the traffic grid is going to land a taxi in your face.”
Xander paused. The weight of all the secrets and lies were getting to him. He found out a few months ago that there was a hole in the world. Led all the way down; it was heady stuff. Sometimes he wished he could have left it all behind. Just walked away clean. Go back to carpentry or construction. He was good at those. But, he couldn’t.
He wasn’t Batman or the Punisher. Heck, he wasn’t even Spider-man. No real traumatic event that forced him into the life. There was Jesse. But, in the long run, it hadn’t amounted to much. He mourned, but ultimately he got over it. It was crass, but it was the truth. There was no all-consuming rage or need for vengeance. He had had no parents murdered in front of him. No familial collateral damage in a mob hit. No Uncle Ben. What there was though, was loyalty. To his family. His girls. To the living. After the fall of Sunnydale he had had to make a choice. His half-assing of things would ultimately cost them all. So he went all in. The choice that wasn’t one. To protect them, he had to give up a part of himself. Before it had been a broken arm. A concussion. Then his eye. This time, it was his soul. He wasn’t a sidekick. Or the comic relief. Not anymore.
“I put away childish things.” Xander whispered to himself.
“What?” Eduard asked.
“Nothing.” Xander shook his head. Clearing his mind. He’d been up all day and it was catching up to him. And it wasn’t over yet. “C’mon, we’re here. We need to move fast. Still a lot to get done.”
Raymond Vinge was bound, gagged, and blindfolded. Iron shackles, specially made and enchanted currently held him, stronger than the handcuffs that had been used earlier. The sedative that Curtis had administered was keeping him unconscious. He’d be out for another twenty minutes or so. Xander’s team had prepared him well. They’d dealt with magic users before and knew what to expect. Couldn’t be too careful though.
Xander and Eduard walked into Point Charlie looking at the prisoner. Like many of the other sites that Level 6 used, it was an abandoned warehouse. Hopefully they would be in and out with no one the wiser.
“What happened?” Cindy asked, as Xander came up to them. They didn’t know much about the Voice of a City, but they did know that interacting with one was not something to be taken lightly. They had used the time to look through the information gathered from the club. That and getting worried.
“Another lead,” Xander replied. “We’ll chase it down when we can. I want to know what Vinge knows first.”
“I checked the book he had,” Cindy said, moving on. “He was trying to raise an oni. Which is kind of weird since most of the other stuff you got from him had European roots.”
“Which one?” Xander asked, walking to the large table that Cindy was seating beside. He looked down at the book that he had grabbed from Vinge’s office.
“Valkaash’di is the original name,” Cindy said, looking from Xander to Eduard who was standing nearby. The watcher didn’t look particularly happy. “Not Japanese originally, but became pretty tied to Japanese occult history starting from the 15th century. Hasn’t done all that much, but gained some notoriety letting loose some Rotherian kappa plaques in Kyoto and Edo.”
“Frog demons? What is this, Hellboy?” Xander quipped, looking at the ink likeness of the mythical figure. Not a pretty picture. “Wait. Rotherian. From Arashmahaar Barrens?”
“Yeah, which means that if Vinge was trying to pull up this particular oni, then it was probably because it can open some pretty nasty portals.” Cindy nodded, inclining her chin towards the book. “It required the sacrifice of forty-nine individuals, in varying cycles. The last was of six, so I guess we got lucky there. Anyway, from the book’s description, its abilities are greater than even than some of the Granoks’.”
Xander sighed, standing up straight. “Which means that Vinge wants to bring something big over. Something he couldn’t do on his own. Anything else?”
“Yeah. I checked the barrier spell against the traces that we pulled from Rossetti’s. Anderson's magic was all over the shop, and it matched what I found at the bar,” Cindy said, screwing up her lips. “Could be a coincidence. Anderson is for hire.”
“In my experience, there are no coincidences. Looks like the lead's solid," Xander stated. "What about the laptop?”
“It’s coded,” the witch said, glancing over at the computer. “I don’t want to risk trying to crack it without help. It may be set to destroy the drive if it isn’t done right. Nothing magical though.”
“You scan him?” Xander asked, picking up his bag from the table.
Cindy nodded. “Yeah. He’s clean.”
Xander pulled a capped syringe from a case in his shoulder bag. He walked over to their abductee, leaning down and checking the bound wizard’s pupils. No reaction, he was still out. The drug would bring him around, but still keep him a bit loopy. Along with making him more cooperative, it would keep him out of focus and less likely to be able to do any strong magicks.
“You going to torture him too?” Mary asked petulantly, from her position near the cars. She still hadn’t gotten over what Xander had done to Max. Sure, he’d been a dirtbag, but he was still human. That was supposed to mean something.
Xander supposed it had something to do with the psychology of what slayers do. What he did do. Teenage girls forced to kill. Again and again. He knew. He’d done it himself. His first kill had been at 15, and his best friend. It was an accident, but after all of the times he’d replayed it in his mind, he knew that in the end, he would have done it himself. It was a comfort to be able to separate the bodies from oneself. A disconnect. To be responsible for so many deaths at so young an age could mess a person up. Faith had fallen after the death of one human, though it was involuntary manslaughter. A human though, which made things different, at least to the slayer. Guilt ate at a person, Xander knew that well. So the bodies weren’t seen as people. Vampires and demons were not human, so it was okay to kill them. To destroy them and dismiss them as only monsters meant that it wasn’t really people they were killing. Just animals to be put down. Humans were to be protected. They were sacred. A mantra adopted to preserve their sanity. To take the life of one of those bordered on blasphemy for the slayers. Not to him though. Once he stopped lying to himself, he knew. All of the lives he had taken had been the same as Jesse. The same evil, stemming from very real people, even if they weren't human. He’d done it before. And he knew he would do it again.
“No,” Xander said at last, looking at the young woman. “I don’t think it’d work on this guy. Pain can be unpredictable with magic users. And torture is mostly unsuccessful as it is. So, we’re going to try something else. Decoy him into giving us something. Cindy, I need you here. Curtis, Jack, cover me from on high. The rest of you, wait by the cars. Out of sight.”
“But,” Eduard interjected, moving closer.
“Don’t make me say it again,” Xander stated while he was cleaning up some of their equipment. He then took off the bindings from the still unconscious man and laid him on the floor. The rest started taking their positions. After, waiting until everyone was in place, he injected Vinge and put the spent syringe into his pocket, making sure to replace the plastic cap first. He stepped back as Vinge opened his eyes. A confused expression was on his face. Vinge wasn’t scared, or at least, he wasn’t showing it. He was just wondering what was going on.
“Who are you?” Raymond asked, still a little loopy. He got to his feet clumsily.
“Hawk. That’s Dove,” Xander said, nodding towards his own wizard. “You’re lucky we were in the area. Those hunters hit you hard. Slayers I think. Took you out before you could call Valkaash’di. We hit them after they grabbed you. Saved your ass.”
“How did you know what I was doing?” Vinge asked. He was trying to get a handle on things. He didn’t remember anything after having to direct his bouncers to take care of some brawl outside the club.
“Hey, we work for Anderson too.” Xander said, putting up his hands in mock surrender. “Look, we got our thing for him. If you screwed up your part, then we need to go find him. Now.”
“Right. Okay. Where are we supposed to meet him?” Raymond asked, stumbling over to a chair and sitting down.
“How would we know?” Cindy added, always careful in case the man was faking. “We were told to go see you. You’re the one that’s supposed to know.”
“That’s right. Shaun-boy ain’t too keen on letting us know too much about what he’s doing. You’d think he didn’t trust us.” Xander smirked, walking around a bit and forcing Raymond to concentrate on following him with his eyes. The drug was working thankfully.
“Right, I was supposed to meet him in the sewers on…underneath…125th Street after I received the key.” Raymond blinked quickly a few times. “Which I don’t. Have. This isn’t good. He’s going to be waiting.”
“The Apollo?” Xander walked around the wizard, pulling his sidearm out and hiding it against his leg. "Don't worry, I'm sure the info we have will make him very happy."
“The Apollo, that’s right.” Vinge said, a bit relieved. He leaned back against his chair, his head still pounding. It was hard to concentrate.
“I think we should go then,” Xander said, turning to face the man’s back. “We killed the hunters, but if they were working with others, they may be able to find us.”
“Okay.” Vinge got up from the chair, taking a bit of time to do it. Xander was behind him and raised his gun. Two shots into the back of the head and the wizard fell forward. Dead.
“It's clear,” Xander said aloud, after he had checked the body. His crew met back inside; he had their next move.
Xander noticed the expression on some of their faces, the only rumblings of emotion in his gut was when he caught sight of the face of one of them. “Alright. Here’s the situation. Our target is supposed to be in the sewers under the Apollo. The Voice told me that something was going down on K Street in the Underland. Which is smack dab under the Apollo. It may just be a meet. But, the Voice said there were bodies piling up, so I’m thinking it’s where Anderson’s holed up.”
Xander looked at his team. “I want you guys ready in ten minutes. We won’t have time to recon this, so pack heavy. Anderson gets wind we’re coming and he could disappear. Or worse. It’s a maze down there, so we got to do this right. Let’s get it done.”
Mary, Linda, and Eduard had pretty much stared at the cooling body of Raymond Vinge the whole time. Vi had looked at it, but was looking at him now. Xander had done it again. They’d been monitoring the situation by a comm link that had been set up for the two teams to keep tabs on Xander’s progress when they couldn’t be in the room. Eduard had only been half surprised when the shots had rang out. Vinge was a warlock. Deranged enough to sacrifice six men to a demon. Vinge deserved what he got, the watcher thought. Mary on the other hand…
“You just killed him!” Mary shouted. It was getting on Xander’s nerves in its repetition. He wondered if the slayers had been so lucky as to not face any situation that was grey. Then again, considering the Kwaini, it was likely they just didn’t bother to notice.
He didn’t think that Mary was a bad slayer. Back in the old days, she’d probably train up to be pretty good. Wasn’t the old days any longer. Saving the world wasn’t so simple anymore. It wasn't just good and evil. Right and wrong. He hadn’t planned on doing this now, but Xander guessed he didn’t have a choice.
“Yeah. Yeah I did.” Xander pulled out a plastic bag and a small pair of forceps from his bag. He dug around in Raymond’s shattered skull until he found the two bullets. Subsonic hollowpoints, he’d made sure that they wouldn’t over penetrate the head. It would have been a bitch having to find the small metal slugs in the much larger warehouse. Xander deposited them in the bag along with the two spent casings. Luckily, they hadn’t flown too far. He liked being thorough. But, the lack of quick access to a sweeper team was getting annoying.
“He was human.” Mary crossed her arms over her chest.
“Yup.” Xander thought the young and naïve slayer was beginning to sound like a broken record. She’d probably comment on the wizard having a soul if he let her get that far.
“Look, you think I like doing this?” Xander asked, exasperated. “This isn’t some Saturday morning cartoon. You don’t just let the bad guys get away to come up with some other dastardly plan to take over the world. Vinge was as monstrous as any vampire or demon that you’ve killed. No better. No different.”
“It’s not the same,” Mary said. Vinge was human, which meant that he could have redeemed himself. At least, that was the party line in the Council these days.
“Right. Cause Vinge is Caucasian-American and not Vampire-American,” Xander scoffed.
“This is no time for jokes,” Eduard snapped. Mary did have her points, but even the watcher knew that they couldn’t have just left the wizard there. They didn’t have many options, and sometimes they were forced to do some rather unsavory things. It wasn't supposed to be the standard operating procedure however. Nor taken so lightly.
“Yeah. Right,” Xander softened his tone. “Look, I do this cause it’s necessary. I don’t enjoy it. But I damn well do it because it’s the job. That’s not a problem. In fact, it’s rather helpful. You fight the dark thinking that you’ll be able to avoid getting it on you. Doesn’t work like that.”
“That doesn’t give you the right to kill a human. Don’t you have any morals?” Mary put in. Evidently they were being taught ethics in Slayer School. Xander didn’t know exactly what was being said, but he had a pretty good idea which two slayers had set up the course.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought we were trying to stop the villain and save the world,” Xander said, sarcastically. “We don’t always get the luxury of morals. There are no rules of engagement in this war. No Geneva Convention. You want in, then you go all the way. Or you're just putting everyone else in danger. Back there, I didn’t survive because I was stronger or faster than anything. I survived because I was willing to go farther. TIA.”
He could tell that everyone was paying attention to their less than quiet conversation. His team was trying to look like they weren’t paying attention, but he knew that they were. It was a little more open than he would have liked, but he didn’t have a choice.
Xander rubbed his eyes. His head was beginning to hurt. “Look. What did you want me to do?”
“I don’t know. Tie him up and leave him. Or something. You didn’t have to kill him.” Mary was grasping at straws at that point.
“Right. And when he had gotten loose, what then? He’d go to Anderson. Or go back to his old tricks,” Xander looked at her, seeing that she was very much the young girl that had gotten in over her head. Being a slayer didn’t change that so quickly. “Why does his life matter more than those of his victims? Or what, I leave him for the police? Cause they’re really going to believe the part where we tell him we stopped him from sacrificing people to the Devil? This is real life. You want to be a part of this fight, you are going to have to get your hands dirty.”
“We can’t just play judge, jury, and executioner on people,” Mary countered. “We aren’t above other humans. We start killing people and we won’t stop. We start and we’ll keep falling.”
“You’re kidding me, right? Who told you that poetic crap? Faith? I do what I do because it is my job. I chose this path. And human or demon, the evil that gets in my way will be stopped. Cause it's what I do. It's why I have this job. I haven’t just kept on murdering people because I killed one human. It doesn’t work like that. I do my job, and then I go home, take a shower, watch the game. River Plate versus Boca. Lakers and Wolves.” Xander stopped to smile. “Sometimes the job is saving lives, sometimes it’s taking them. It eats at me. It hurts. It can hurt a lot. But, I know. I know that for every sacrifice I make of myself, there's one, two, a hundred, a thousand lives saved. I do it, because it is my choice.”
Mary looked only half-convinced.
“Every death lessens me, and that’s the job,” Xander said, sighing. He thought about the slayers that hadn’t made it out of Sunnydale. It wasn’t just the ones that he killed that affected him. “And so you get to decide too. The door is right there. You want to walk, you can go anytime. You stay, and you’re in this all the way.”
“What happened to you Xander?” Eduard quietly asked.
“I grew up,” Xander replied, looking at the watcher. “It’s something the slayers are going to have to do too. If you want them to survive.”
“There has to be more than that,” Mary said quietly.
Xander felt for the girl, he really did. It wasn’t her fault that she was in this position. “There are six guys tonight that are still alive because of what we did. That’s the more that we get. That’s the only more that we get.”
Xander started to gather the rest of his equipment, prepping it. He ignored the eyes that were on his back; the time spent in silence. The conversation was clearly over. He ignored the body that was still cooling on the ground. “C’mon, it’s time to go.”