Chapter 8: Rising Distortions
Chapter 8: Rising Distortions
Disclaimer: These aren't my characters, only my interpretation. Magneto belongs to Marvel, Buffy characters belong to Joss Whedon and the various studios/networks.
Author’s Notes:Just so people know, I will say one thing about this fic. It's NOT a multi-ship. Heh, honestly... What there is ship-wise... mmm you'll see.
Sorry it took so long, I was a bit busy for a bit, going back and correcting the previous chapters.
Ugh, I do need to find more people I can talk to and bounce ideas off of though, tsk, all my old fanfiction friends are in different fandoms than Buffy.
Xander spat the blood past his lips as he glared up at the woman sneering down at him, nothing but disdain in his eyes. “Well, can’t say I’m terribly shocked at this turn of events.”
“Yes, Faith really should have listened to you a bit more, a shame really,” Gwendolyn Post agreed as she sneered down at the boy, lightning dancing across her gloved hand. “I will admit, it did take some convincing on my part. You did quite the job in helping fix up some of the more obvious kinks in her armor. If I’d waited much longer, I’d imagine I’d have never been able to succeed in this little farce.”
“Yeah yeah.” Xander shrugged slightly, ignoring the pain as he pushed himself back up against the wall. “At least I won’t be starting over from scratch.”
“Oh, I’m afraid there won’t be any starting over at all, for any of you,” the woman corrected with a sneer, her eyes burning down towards him. “You’ll all be quite dead.”
“One problem with that,” he shot back with a cold grin on his blood spattered lips.
“And what, pray tell, would that be?” A look of sadistic amusement crossed her face as she sent a painful blast of electricity at the boy, watching as his teeth against the pain, but held his steely defiance in his eyes.
“That X-Man ain’t alone,” a snarling female voice spit in the rogue Watcher’s ear as a Slayer fueled blow slammed into the woman’s face.
As she whirled around, a trickle of blood falling out of the corner of her mouth, the woman snarled at Faith, stumbling back as she raised her hand at the girl. “TAUO FR-!”
The rest of the incantation was cut off in a shrill scream of pain as an axe slid across the woman’s arm at the elbow before embedding itself in the wall.
“Really, not alone,” Buffy agreed from the direction the axe had flown from as she watched lightning exploded through the area, before consuming Gwendolyn Post’s body in a greedy pulse of power.
“Well, that was a fun night of laughs,” Xander remarked with a groan, slowly pushing himself up.
“X…” Faith spoke up, her eyes glistening, as she saw him struggling against the wall. “I’m so…”
“Eh, no harm done.” He paused, wincing slightly with a groan as he spit out another glob of blood. “Well, no lasting harm.” He stood there,looking over at her, before offering her a slight grin. “You gonna stand there or you gonna get over here and help me get to the hospital? Not all of us have that groovy Slayer constitution.”
“I, ah…” The brunette girl froze, almost stumbling over her words. “Buffy should do it.”
“Faith,” Xander responded slowly, and forcefully as he gave her a look. “You want to leave me in the hands of the Slayer who’s still fuming about the fact that I made her Mother go on a date with her Watcher?” He grinned lightly and winked at her. “Are you TRYING to get me killed?”
“Hey!” Buffy huffed indignantly as she glared back at her friend. “It’s what you get for inflicting the horror of them dating on me!”
“So, Faith, a little help?” the boy asked hopefully as he leaned back against the wall.
“Ah, yeah, sure Xander,” the girl responded quickly as she moved over to him, slipping underneath his arm to offer him her support. “No problem.”
“Now, to the hospital we go!” He winced slightly but still managed an exaggerated gesture off into the distance while leaning against Faith as he quietly stumbled forward.
Catching a comforting wink from her friend as he walked by, Buffy gave him a knowing nod of approval before turning her attention over to the groaning Angel. “Ok, wake up already sleeping beauty.”
“Ugh, what hit me?” the ensouled vampire grumbled as he at the hole burned in his chest.
“Lightning bolt,” Buffy responded as she pulled him to his feet. “But don’t worry, the big bad Xander helped distract the mean old lady that blasted you.”
“You’re never going to let me live that don’t are you?” Angel grunted softly, turning his head for a moment as he rubbed his chest.
“Well, gotta keep you on your toes, because Xan? Sure as hell not going to,” Buffy responded with a slight, sad grin. “So, you good?”
“Yeah, thanks.” He looked at her for a moment, studying the expression on her face as she looked at where her two friends had walked away. “A lot’s changed, hasn’t it?”
“That’s putting it mildly,” Buffy noted as she offered a slight smile. “I mean, before, I wasn’t wanting to kill Xander for hooking up Giles and my mom.”
“That wasn’t what I was talking about,” he responded, his voice whisper soft.
“I know,” she responded mildly, before releasing a slow soft sigh. “Look, I’ve had to get used to a lot… First, I had to get used to you being Angelus instead of Angel, then I had to get used to the fact that I sent you to Hell, then I had to get used to the fact that you came back, all caveman-ish, and now...”
“Now you’ve moved on,” he said softly, nodding his head quietly.
“Yeah,” she agreed, slowly crossing her arms against her chest. “And since you’re all better now…”
“You want me to leave?” He clenched his fingers slightly as he fought down the feelings welling up inside his chest, eyes averted to the side.
“We can’t work.” The words left her lips with a simple, knowing clarity. “We both know it. Not with Angelus always lurking there, waiting to be released.”
“And you can’t stay.” Quietly she continued the explanation, not looking at him now as her voice dropped a bit lower. “We both know it. I just… I’m able to realize that now.”
“So am I,” he agreed quietly, his eyes distant. “I just…”
“In a perfect world, maybe.” Her voice was soft as she spoke up, her eyes finally meeting his. “But in a perfect world, we never would have met, would we?”
“No, we wouldn’t.” He met her eyes with his won, staring deep into the trembling acceptance in them. “I should go.”
“Yes, you should.” Quietly she nodded her head, even as she reached up, touching his cool cheek a moment before leaning up, laying a soft kiss on his lips before pulling back. “Good bye, Angel.”
And with that, the blonde Slayer turned her head, and with a quiet resolution, walked away from the mansion, leaving behind a quiet, lonely figure in the dark.
“Good bye, Buffy.”
“So, what’s with the doom and gloom?” Cordelia’s voice slipped questioningly out as she looked at where Buffy was curled up at the end of the couch. “I thought that was Angel’s gig, not yours?”
Buffy flinched slightly at the name, before shrugging just a bit as she responded, “I finally, definitely, ended things with him. He’s leaving town.”
“Aw, sweety.” Cordelia spoke up as she slipped over and hugged the blonde girl. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m not,” Buffy said, smiling slightly at the girl as she hugged her back. “It was my idea. It just… It still hurts.”
“Ok.” The cheerleader nodded her head in acceptance as she responded, lightly hugging the girl once more. “I can get that. So what’re you gonna do?”
“Mmm, get a tub of ice cream, drown my sorrows in it?” the Slayer responded with a slight, sad shrug.
“So, you’re not gonna go get out that little black rain coat of yours and that little teddy you bought when you thought I wasn’t looking, and catching Xander all alone?” Cordelia countered with a sweetly wicked smile on her lips.
“Cordy!” Buffy immediately protested, her face flushing bright red before calming down, sighing softly. “No, not really. Xander… I don’t know, every time I try to get a bit further than friendly touches, he shuts me down.”
“Ugh, I swear, that boy…” The brunette shook her head in exasperation. “What’re we gonna do about him, hm?”
“Be there for him,” the Slayer said in quiet retort. “Just like he’s been there for all of us.”
“I wonder if Willow realizes,” Cordelia began casually, “That only one of us has any real chance with him.”
“Only one of us?” Buffy arched a brow slowly as she gave her friend a slightly bemused look. “I’m fairly certain you and Faith both have a shot with him.”
“No, not really,” the brunette admitted softly as she leaned back, flicking her eyes away. “You’re the one he loves. You’re the one he’s loved for a long time now. The only chance we ever had, was you not wanting him back.”
“Don’t,” she cut the Slayer off quietly, offering up a softly bitter smile. “I accepted it. For some stupid reason, he doesn’t think he deserves to be happy. He doesn’t think he deserves you.”
“That he doesn’t deserve ME?!” Buffy almost shouted the words as she stared back at the girl in front of her. “Doesn’t he… Argh, that… Doesn’t he get just how special he is?”
“No, he doesn’t.” Joyce Summers’ voice cut in. “But then, if he did, he wouldn’t be that special.”
“Mom!” Buffy immediately blushed slightly as she realized they’d been overheard.
“Do you know, he’s the first man besides my father to have ever scolded me like that?” Joyce continued on, smiling slightly at her daughter’s discomfort, before frowning slightly. “Well, and the only one to have ever gotten away with fixing me up with a man, especially in the fashion he did.”
“We’re still working on getting him back for that Mrs. Summers,” Cordelia chimed in helpfully.
“Good girl.” Joyce smiled softly before shaking her head slightly. “But, even if I am going to get him back, it doesn’t mean I’m any less impressed with him. Some of the things Rupert’s told me about him… Xander awes him I think.”
“He awes all of us,” Buffy said quietly as she looked up at her mother.
“Well, except Willow.” Cordelia pointed out with a slight smirk. “She’s finally seeing that he’s not the goof and clown anymore, but she still doesn’t see just how amazing he is… How amazing he’s always been, even before things happened last Halloween.”
“Yeah, not too often a guy will willing enter the lair of one of the most feared vampires in recent history, in order to force him to lead him to one of the few even MORE feared vampires,” Buffy agreed, a slight smile on her lips.
“Why on earth would he do that?!” Joyce was staring at her daughter, mouth almost agape. “That’s…”
“Well, I’m pretty sure the first vampire was Angel.” Cordelia pointed out. “Who by the way, was a MAJOR mistake.”
Buffy winced slightly, but made no argument, her legs curling back up against her chest as she rested her chin against her knees. “Yeah.”
“Again, why?” Joyce pressed, her eyes stern as she looked down at the two teenagers.
“I was going to die,” Buffy said so softly the woman almost didn’t hear her. “Apparently, I actually did die.”
“Kendra and Faith would substantiate that claim,” Cordelia agreed with a sage nod.
Both Buffy and her mother would turn their heads, staring directly at the girl, and in Buffy's case, eyes half bulging out of her head as she managed a quiet squeaked, “Wha...!?”
“What?” Cordelia stared at the two, confusion written on her face, “Do I have something on my face?”
“Cordy, you just used 'substantiate', appropriately, in a sentence.” Buffy pointed out, her eyes still more than a little wide in shock. “I mean... I know you're not as dumb as you pretend to be, but still, to actually hear it...”
“Now, Buffy, be nice,” Joyce chided slightly her eyes dancing with amusement. “Just because Cordelia acts blonder than you do...”
“HEY!” two voices spoke up simultaneously as both teenagers glared at the older woman.
“So...why were you going to die?” Joyce continued, ignoring the death glares both girls directed at her.
“From what I’ve been told,” Cordelia continued for the quietly withdrawn Buffy next to her, “There was a prophecy that said she was going to die. Told her who was going to do it, and when.”
“Oh, Buffy…” Joyce slipped down, wrapping her arms around her daughter, hugging her close.
“And what does genius girl do?” Cordelia continued, sending a slight glare at her blonde friend, “Instead of waiting another day, she runs off to confront the guy that’s supposed to kill her, that very night. Everyone else, is moping around, pretty much giving up on her. But, not Xander.”
“No,” Buffy agreed as her mom hugged her tightly, her voice soft and subdued as the words slipped past her lips. “Not Xander.”
“Buffy fights the Master, Buffy loses, gets bitten and drained some, then, tossed into a pool and drowns.” The cheerleader picked up the tale once more, leaning back slightly as she lightly pursed her lips. “Xander shows up shortly there after, performs CPR and brings her back. Thus, making it so there are two Slayers running around instead of one.”
“Double the Slayer fun, yay,” Buffy said lightly as she leaned back, shaking her head sadly for a moment. “So, anyway, how’re we going to get Xander back for Mom?”
“You’re drunk,” Xander noted neutrally as he watched the bleary eyed Spike, the stench of whiskey thick in the air as the vampire snorted audibly.
“Yer, damned right I’m drunk!” the bleach blonde vampire shot back, before wincing slightly at his words and stumbling a bit forward. “Ya got a problem wit it?”
“Well, you DID kidnap Willow.” There was a slight smirk on his lips as Xander studied the figure in front of him. “I was under the impression that you were leaving town and never coming back.”
“Yeah, well…” Spike paused a bit before shrugging lamely as he took a swig from his whiskey. “Seems Dru didn’t much appreciate me turning on the damned poof.”
“So, she left you,” Xander responded neutrally again as he arched a brow slightly. “Dumped you cold and ran off?” He paused a moment, considering as he looked over the drunken vampire. “Then, what, you hear that Angel’s back, and decide to get some kind of revenge on him?”
“Ayup!” Spike agreed happily smiling dumbly as he swayed on his feet. “I figured somethin’ like boils, or leprosy! Somethin’ ta make ‘is bits fall off!”
“A noble goal and sentiment.” Xander nodded sagely as he would look over the vampire. “But, how did you go from that, to kidnapping Willow and pissing off Buffy?”
“Well, I wus gunna jus get the curse dun,” Spike admitted as he swayed slightly once more. “Then, red wus in da store, talking’ ‘bout some kinda, de-lustin’ spell fer herself. So, I figur’, if she can cast a DE-lustin’ spell, she should be able to cast a lustin’ or a luvin’ spell!”
“So, you go and kidnap her, to get her to perform the spell for you,” Xander finished before lightly pinching the bridge of his nose. “You’re not too bright when you’re drunk, are you?”
“Oi!” The vampire growled angrily as he lurched towards Xander, trying to throw an unsteady punch at the boy who quickly stepped back out of range. “Shand still so I can punch ya!”
“Uh, I’m gonna go with a big No there, Spike.” Xander pulled out a stake as he would lightly palm it in his hand. “But, how about I dust you and put you out of your misery?”
“Would save us the trouble,” a new voice said from the shadows behind Xander, as the boy turned his head, just in time to see a group of vampires walking towards them, vicious, expectant grins on their lips. “And then we get ourselves a little snack to go with it.”
“Friends of yours, William?” Xander’s voice shifted into its drawl as he glanced from Spike to the group of vampires bearing slowly down on them.
“Eh? Tha’ you, Lenny?” Spike blinked, almost owlishly as he looked at the eager, almost predatory expectation on the vampires’ faces that was directed towards him. “Waz goin’ on?”
“Sorry about this, Spike,” Lenny responded back with an absolute lack of sincerity. “But, orders came down, and it seems we got the job of making sure you don’t cause any… complications. You understand how it goes.”
“Ah,” Spike nodded before turning his head to Xander. “They’re here to kill me.”
“I figured as much.” Xander’s response rolled off his lips as he glanced back at the crowd of vampires. “You seem to have a knack for making friends in this town.”
“Wot can I say? It’s a gift.” Spike shot back as he straightened his back and pulled his lips back into a snarl. “Right then, let’s get on with it then.”
“If I didn’t need you alive…” Xander sighed, before growling slightly in frustration. “If I live through this, William, I am going to hurt you.”
“Yeah, yeah, wotever ya say,” Spike shot back as he grinned stupidly and rushed forward to meet their attackers.
“Owww…” Xander groaned softly and shook his bloodied head as he stumbled forward, leaning against Buffy as his arm dangled uselessly at his side as Faith watched them both nervously. “Not that I’m complaining about being rescued, but… Next time, I don’t suppose you two could show up a bit sooner? So I don’t, you know, end up as Xander the living punching bag?”
“You know, I don’t remember you complaining this much the last time you broke your arm.” Buffy shot back, shaking her head as she studied the bloodied and bruised face of her friend. “You sure you’re not turning into a whiner in your old age?”
“Yes, yes, you just didn’t see me until after I’d already had the bone set and gotten some pain killers.” Xander responded as he lightly grit his teeth. “I can’t believe I actually fought to save SPIKE of all things.”
“Yeah, well at least he found B’s dumping of Fang-boy amusing.” Faith entered in, offering up a weak smirk. “If he wasn’t a vampire…”
“He’s also killed at least two Slayers that we know of.” Xander pointed out. “Not exactly the type you want to keep around.”
“Depends, I might’ve been able to teach him a few tricks,” Faith responded, her lips curling back into one of her predatory grins. “Roll over, get up, beg…”
“Faith, I REALLY don’t think we need another Slayer/slayee romance,” Buffy interjected. “And, I’m going to get you for giving me those really wiggy mental pictures.”
“Well, Spike DOES sound like the name one gives a puppy,” Xander mused out loud as he pursed his lips. “Maybe you should get him a nice collar? Possibly with a bell?”
“Oooh, could it have little spikes on it?” Faith grinned, back at the boy, her eyes dancing as she clapped her hands together.
“Only if you get him properly spayed and neutered,” Xander responded back with a straight face. “Oh, and make sure he has all his shots.”
“But, that would take away half the fun of having a vampire puppy!” Faith whined softly as she looked pleadingly at Xander.
“And again, enough of the disturbing imagery, please.” Buffy made a face as she lightly nudged the teen she was half carrying. “Sleeping with Spike… Just Ew!”
“Whatever you say, Buff, whatever you say.” Xander agreed, laughing softly before he left off a slight groan of pain. “I gotta remember not to laugh with busted ribs.”
“That would be of the good.” Buffy agreed with a soft, slight smile on her lips. “Come on, let’s get you to the hospital and all fixed up.”
“Huh, well don’t you seem to be sitting pretty.” A familiar voice called out from the shadows across the rooftop as Xander turned wide, disbelieving eyes to the corner of his room.
“…Jessie…?” He stared, in shock as he looked over the achingly familiar face of his friend. “But… You’re dead.”
“Yup, you saw to that, didn’t you, bro?” the figure responded as he mimed thrusting a stake into his own chest. “Talk about cold man. I thought we were buddies.”
“We were.” Xander responded, before he quietly pointed out. “Then, you died. Blonde vampires, killed you, turned you, ring any bells?”
“Yup, you were too busy drooling over the new girl to notice I was gone until it was too late,” ‘Jessie’ agreed with a nod of his head. “I notice it didn’t take too long for you to replace me.”
“That’s not fair.” Xander shook his head, frowning slightly as he looked back at his friend. “What, I’m supposed to magically know the future?”
“You tell me, bro.” The boy shrugged slightly before looking back at Xander. “You seem to be the one with all the answers. At least that’s what everyone seems to think. Mature, understanding Xander. Always there to help.”
The figure paused a moment, before sneering slightly as it suddenly morphed from Jesse to the form of Jenny Calendar. “But, we both know that’s not true, don’t we, Xander? After all, where were you when Angelus came and snapped my neck hmmm?”
As Xander watched in suddenly dumb shock, the figure shifted again, as suddenly Principal Flutie stood before him. “I mean, you certainly weren’t there, when I needed someone, now were you? They were YOUR pack after all.”
“This… can’t be real,” Xander muttered softly, shaking his head as he refused to look over at thing taunting him.
“Oh, it’s VERY real my boy.” Suddenly the principal shifted, melting into the girl, his classmate, Angelus had used to send a message to Buffy. “How about me Xander? Didn’t I deserve to be saved? All you had to do, was make sure that she killed him, and I’d still be alive.”
“What do you want?” Xander hissed softly, his eyes glistening in the soft light of the moon as he glared at the figure across from him.
Sudden, it was Kendra who was there in front of him, her throat still bloodied from where Drusilla had slashed across it, continuing as if nothing had been said, “How me Xander? Did I deserve ta die? Ya sat der, watchin’… Ya saw me, as I bled out and ya did nuttin.”
Xander squeezed his eyes shut, clenching them tightly again as he hissed softly in denial. “There was nothing I could have done!”
“Keep tellin’ yerself dat,” Kendra’s voice responded back, laced with pity and cold disgust.
“No. That’s NOT how it happened.” Xander hissed softly, his eyes slowly opening as he glared back at the female figure in front of him.
“Right, bro, whatever you say.” It was suddenly Jesse again, smirking slightly at him as if in amusement as he gestured around. “And that’s why you still live here, in this crap hole… You know you deserve it. Sooner or later, you’re just going to get the rest of them killed.”
The figure paused a moment, before it morphed back into Jenny Calendar, reaching up, lightly tapping its lower lip. “I wonder, who will you get killed first? Willow? You certain seem to have put a damper on anything going on with her!” She laughed softly. “Poor, poor girl...”
Lips pursed the figure of the gypsy woman slowly strutted over to Xander as the boy struggled to scramble back and away. “Or, more likely, it’ll be Faith, won’t it? You do seem to be bad luck for Slayers, aren’t you? You managed to bring Buffy back, sure… But do you really think you can pull a repeat performance?”
The figure morphed again, and suddenly it was Kendra, standing there as she sneered down at the teen. “Ya certainly didn’ fer me, now didja? No, you just watched and let yourself go.”
Growling softly, Xander shook his head again, rolling to the edge of the roof top, before dropping to the ground quietly.
Shifting again, taking Jessie’s form again, the figure’s voice called out, “You can run all you want bro, but that won’t change the truth.”
Xander’s fist landed quickly, sharply against the heavy wood of Gile’s door, striking it sharply again, then again. After each round, he stood there, waiting. But, as the minutes ticked by, there was still no answer.
“Come on, Giles… Where are you?” He spoke so softly, his breath catching slightly as he shifted from foot to foot.
“You know it’s not going to do you any good, right?” Jenny’s voice called out, a sad look in her eyes. “Rupert’s gone and moved on… Probably forgot all about me. But, here you still are, people dying all around you. The people you fail to protect.”
“What do you want?” He hissed softly as he started to walk, trying to put more and more distance between him and the figure.
“I wanted to die in bed, of old age, surrounded by fat grand kids,” Jenny remarked, a slightly wistful tone in her voice. “Or maybe even great-grand kids… But we know that’s not going to happen anymore, now don’t we?”
Suddenly the figure was Jessie, walking easily at his side. “Me? I wanted Cordelia, but, that’s not gonna happen is it? What with her drooling all over you, and leaving me behind in the dust. It was always about you, wasn’t it. You were the one that Wills liked best, the one that Cordelia really noticed. Me? I’m just the guy you said was your best friend.”
Then, it was Principal Flutie, keeping up with Xander’s ever increasing pace. “Wow, slow down there, son! I’d almost think you didn’t want to know how I wanted to see all you kids graduate, and go on to bright futures. But, your pack buddies 86ed that one didn’t they?”
“Leave me alone!” Xander growled again, his eyes burning as he glared at the figure.
“No can do, sport.” The man responded with what seemed to be regret. “You see, if I went and did that, then you might just go and start to lie to yourself again. Start telling yourself that it’s all lies… when you know I’m just telling you the truth.”
Jessie again appeared before the teen, smiling at him. “And let me tell you man, the truth… Well, you can’t escape it in the end.”
As the heat rolled over him, he stood there, staring through the window as he watched the scene unfolding in front of him. A slight, sad smile curled on his lips as he watched them. Buffy, Giles, Faith, Joyce, Willow, Oz, even Cordelia who had forgone Aspen to stay and enjoy a Christmas with friends. All of them together, as Giles and Buffy were talking about something he couldn’t quite see, a worried look on both their faces.
“It’s a lovely scene, isn’t it?” Jenny’s voice was in his ear then, whisper soft as it stabbed jaggedly into his heart. “Friends, together for the holidays, caring for one another, enjoying each other’s company. I bet they’d even love to have you join them.”
Xander said nothing as he merely continued to watch the scene in front of him, memories coming unbidden in his mind. Regrets, both his own, and ones that were never his floating flowing like jagged blades through him. Turning his head, he looked down the sidewalk, and quietly began to walk away.
“Nothing to say, bro?” Jesse’s voice asked so casually. “I mean, just going to ignore it all huh? They don’t know how much you’ve screwed up. How much you’ve failed, do they? But, how much longer until they realize it hmm? How much longer until they figure it out?”
Still Xander moved on, stepping one foot before the next as his eyes were heavy and hooded in front of him.
“Oooh, the Xan-man has a plan!” The figure of Jessie walked along side Xander, almost bouncing as he did so. “Gonna go and make it all better huh? Another plan? Another failure waiting to happen? Don’t worry, I won’t let em know.” He paused a moment, before looking over the boy in front of him. “Maybe they already know hmm? I mean, they didn’t even invite you to that little get together. And they all looked so happy, didn’t they?”
It was Kendra’s voice next as she continued, ignoring how he seemed to be ignoring her. “I never got to celebrate Christmas, you know. No one der ta celebrate it with. But, I might’ve, if I hadn’ died. It would have been nice I tink… To have a Christmas dinna wit dem.”
“Yes, it would.” Xander’s quiet agreement echoed into the air, as he never saw the victorious look flash across Kendra’s face as he trudged on.
“There’s something wrong with Xander, Giles.” Buffy was insistent as she looked at her Watcher. “I had this dream…”
“It starts out, with this blonde vampire, dusting on the pool cue he’s holding in the Bronze.” Faith spoke up quietly as she sat next to Buffy. “Then, there’s this older man… I see a group of kids eating him.”
“Jessie and Principal Flutie.” Buffy confirmed quietly before she picked up where Faith left off. “Then, I see… I see Angelus, killing Jenny… Teresa… Drusilla killing Kendra…”
“There are these flashes in between.” Faith added, her eyes distant as she tried to recall what she’d seen. “These priest like dudes… only they don’t have any eyes. Three of them, chanting something freaky.”
“And a darkness…” the blonde Slayer spoke softly, shivering as she hugged herself. “It was old… and it felt… beyond dirty. Just… Unclean, filled with hatred of everything.”
“It was whispering in Xander’s ear.” Faith shivered slightly as she pulled her legs back up against her chest, her chin resting against her knees. “But I couldn’t hear what it was saying.”
Something tugged at Giles’ mind, something familiar, something worrisome at the girl’s words. “I… I need to get to my books. Does anyone know where Xander is?”
“I called his house to invite him over.” Joyce spoke up before frowning slightly. “But, his… mother didn’t seem to know, or care where he was.”
“The rooftop.” Giles and Cordelia answered together, before glancing at one another then looking away.
“I should have remembered.” Giles said softly shaking his head as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “If… if this is what I think it is, we need to find him, as soon as possible.”
“I’ll go.” Buffy’s voice was soft, subdued as she stood in one fluid motion and shook herself. “Giles… could you…?”
“Of course,” the man agreed quietly, nodding as he headed to the door with her. “I’ll start looking through my books immediately.”
“We’ll help.” Joyce spoke up firmly as she looked to the rest of the teenagers, as if daring them to disagree, her face smiling softly when she saw them all nod in quick agreement.
“Yes, of course, good.” Giles smiled slightly himself before nodding as he lead them off to the library while Buffy headed for Xander’s home.
“Leave me alone.” His voice was cold and flat as it hissed past his lips in a tightly controlled whisper.
“Sorry bro, can’t do that.” Jessie grinned back at him, ignoring the growing chill in Xander’s eyes as he sat down next to the boy on the swings. “Ya see, that would ruin the whole point of this lovely Christmas Carol bit.”
“You’re no Marley,” Xander’s voice countered as he looked off into the distance where he sat on the swing set.
“True I suppose.” Jessie’s smile lit up on his face as he looked back at the teen. “And I don’t think I can really call you a Scrooge… You aren’t smart enough to keep people away from you.”
“Right.” Xander shook his head slowly before turning his attention to the figure next to him. “So, what are you?”
“What, don’t recognize me now, bro?” The figure looked hurt as it stared back at Xander.
Xander’s response was a soft, bitter laugh as he shook his head, slowly and dismissively. “Apparently, you don’t know me as well as you think.”
A frown turned upon the figure’s face as he canted his head lightly to the side, “Oh? And what makes you say that, huh Xan?”
“Little things, this or that.” Xander shrugged slightly before getting up and walking away. “I’m done indulging you.”
“Oh, really Xander?” Jenny Calendar was suddenly directly in front of him, her arms crossed as she smiled indulgently at him. “I'm only here to show you the truth.”
“No, you're not,” there was a simple confidence in his words as he answered her back, before shaking his head slightly and continuing onwards, until finally he simply moved right through the figure.
“Think you can walk away from it?” She kept up, before suddenly she was Kendra again. “You think dat dis is jus gonna go away?”
“I think, you're nothing but a mockery.” He shook his head quietly, and kept going, his eyes growing flinty, hard. “And, it would seem you don't know me anywhere near as well as you think.”
“The dead know all,” 'Kendra' countered, almost sneering back at him.
“The dead, know only what they knew in life. And no one can truly know another, only the pieces of them they see.” Xander responded simply, fighting down the strain that rippled through his voice. “What you may rob from the dead...” He pause a moment as he leaned in, as if to whisper above her ear. “Will never tell you the truth of me.”
Shaking his head and ignoring the look of anger that began to blossom across Kendra's beautiful features, Xander walked on, never letting the figure see the flash of pain and self loathing that rippled across his face.
“You know, this ain't over, bro.” Jessie's voice called out behind him. “I'm not going away, and we're not done, not by a long shot!”
A quietly whispered, “I know,” into the wind was the only response given as for now, the phantom figure gave the boy some space, while it calmed itself once more.
“So, this is where you got off to, huh?” Buffy spoke up as she wandered into the garage beneath Faith's apartment, her eyes studying her friend as he was carefully working on an engine. “Mom called your house trying to invite you over, but your parents wouldn't say where you were.”
“Hey, Buff.” Xander nodded to her quietly as he would go to work, stripping and cleaning the engine parts with a quiet, almost mechanical motion. “Not exactly one for the holidays, as you've probably found out by now.”
“Yeah...” She agreed softly with a nod, studying him quietly. “Faith and I had a dream.”
“Oh?” He plastered a smile on his face as he looked slightly to the left of her. “Hot Slayer on Slayer action?”
“You wish.” She smiled back at him, shaking her head as she studied him carefully. “We all got your presents… you gonna come and get yours?”
“Maybe later.” He turned away again, refusing to look at the figure of Kendra that suddenly appeared next to Buffy. “Trying to work on some other things right now.”
“Oh? Like what?” Buffy pressed carefully as she leaned forward and settled into the stool next to him, studying how he was methodically cleaning what seemed to be already pristine parts.
“Keep from going insane, mainly?” He offered up with a shrug as he would carefully hold up a wrench and gestures towards the space he saw Kendra. “Because, I’m guessing you don’t see Kendra standing there like I do.”
Buffy turned her head, and looked around, frowning slightly as she slowly shook her head. “No… but there is… Something. That’s why I wanted to talk to you.”
Kendra was giving Buffy an annoyed look then, a flash of anger across her eyes as suddenly she morphed into Jenny Calendar. As the figure of the Romani techno pagan loomed imperiously over Buffy, Xander couldn’t help but snort slightly in amusement. “Now it decided to be Ms. Calendar… and it’s trying to glare at you. Kinda funny now, really.”
“Um, sure Xan…” Buffy agreed nervously while she watched the slight detachment that seemed in the boy’s eyes. “You ok?”
“No, not particularly,” he admitted quietly as he settled down on the stool. “Been having that… whatever the hell it is, taunting me all night long. Telling me I’m going to get all of you killed.”
“You know that’s not gonna happen, right?” Buffy responded as she slipped an arm around his shoulder, offering him a gentle hug.
As his shoulders tensed and he made no response, the Jenny Calendar phantom was grinning triumphantly at his back.. Tapping her lip she smirked softly then leaned down, whispering against his ear. “But, you don’t know that, do you? All that bluster, all that defiance… But in the end, you know you’ll fail to protect them. And it will be all… your… fault.”
His arm swept back, a snarl curling across his lips as he broke away from Buffy. It broke through the figure, flowing like water around it as that smile haunted back into his eyes. The figure’s eyes were knowing, triumphant as he glared back into them, still holding firmly onto his defiance.
“Xan!” Her heart leapt in her chest as she reached out, grabbing hold of him as she pulled him back, holding him to her chest. “It’s ok, it’s not real! It’s not her!”
He froze at her touch, and she could feel it, the hammering of his heart, pounding in his chest. The air around them was thick with emotion. It stank of his fear, his despair, and his resignation as he could feel his fingers clenching back, digging into his palms. There he stood, amidst it all, rigid and disconnected.
The slim arms hugged tighter, their strength pressing into his body, refusing to let go as she spoke in that soft tone, tinged with worry and a hint of desperation. “It’s not real, Xander. Whatever it is, it’s trying to do to you, whatever it’s trying to whisper to you. All it knows is hate, hate for anything, everything. A hate that wants to destroy everything.”
“Poor, poor girl,” Jenny’s voice purred near his ear as he tensed even more, his muscles beginning to ache in protest, knotting and cramping tighter. “She doesn’t realize, all I’m telling you is the truth. All I’m showing you? You know what it is. In that dark, guilty part of you, you know, the part you try to ignore, the part you try to push away.”
The voice paused a moment, before smiling a cold, dark smile. “But, that’s the thing… In the end… you can’t hide from yourself.”
A drop hit the floor, soft and almost heard at first. Then another, and slowly another, as little splashes of crimson fell across the cold concrete, glistening little splatters that shone under the harsh glare of fluorescent light. He paid the flowing, warmth, no heed as blood dribbled free from his flesh and stuck back upon his body.
Her eyes glistening as they fought against the spring of tears that rose inside of her, she tightened her grip on his frame, holding onto him as she looked, pleadingly towards her face. Watching as she did how his jaw clenched, eyes screwed tightly as he tried to push away the thoughts dripping like poison into his mind. A look of pain that forced her eyes away, a hot flush of shame washing through her, until she caught sight of the growing splatters of blood, and noticed shallow stream of blood that rolled down over his fingers.
“You’re bleeding.” Her voice was numb as she spoke, filled with a confused uncertainty as she looked up at him.
The vaguest bit of recognition hit him as she moved her slender fingers down his body. The delicate seeming touch capped with its weathered patches of calloused flesh, gently slipped about his wrist, holding it as she gently, firmly worked to pry his fingers back. He struggled against her of course, his fingers straining to retain their hold, struggling to continue digging back into his flesh. Yet, with a firm, gentle care, she pushed those fingers back, until her own threaded between them, and she could feel the wet, sticky press of his blood on her palm.
He froze, no longer tensing, no longer fighting as he could feel how she moved her other hand to match the first, as he could feel the soft press of her slim body against his back. Fear and longing intertwined within him, dancing with each passing beat of his heart as he suddenly wished there was more than a just a few slim layers of fabric between his body and hers. His mind was at war with itself, struggling desperately between the need to push her away, to run, to escape, and the need to turn around, to pull her close, to never let her go.
“The First.” Giles practically hissed the word as he read over the accounts in front of him, his eyes narrowed into almost black slits.
“The First what?” Faith asked, the confusion and uncertainty etched on her face as she looked at the sheets Giles was looking at.
“Evil. Pure, absolute evil. Older than even demons.” The librarian frowned slightly as he looked over the pages in front of him, spreading them out slightly as he pulled down his glasses.
“These are the guys from the dream,” Faith whispered as she numbly gestured to a drawing.
“The Bringers, or Harbingers. They’re the First’s priests, its link to this world. They can conjure its spirit to manifest and set it on people, influence them, haunt them.” Giles frowned slightly, uncertain for a moment, before he tapped down on the picture.
“Would this be them?” Cordelia spoke up, as she pushed another page towards Giles. “Here, where it says, ‘For they are the Harbingers of death. Nothing shall grow above them or below them. No seed shall flower neither in man, nor…’”
“’Nothing shall grow above them?’” Joyce repeated, her lips frowning slightly before suddenly they widened again. “Faith, when we went to get the Christmas tree…”
“There was that ring of dead trees!” Faith nodded immediately as she quickly darted over, grabbing an axe from the rack and running towards the door. “If B calls, tell her to keep X-man safe. I’m gonna send this fucker back where here belongs!”
“Faith!” Joyce called out after the girl before turning worriedly towards Giles. “Should we go after her?”
“Faith should be able to handle it,” Giles assured her as he wrapped an arm about the woman’s shoulder. “I just hope Buffy was able to find Xander.”
“You can’t save him.” The form of Diana Dormer smirked at Faith as the slayer loomed over the remaining Bringer, before morphing into that of Gwendolyn Post. “Stupid little Faith… Struggling so hard, but always coming up short. Never quite good enough.”
“Ya know, maybe you’re right,” Faith admitted, as she hefted the axe up for a moment, glaring at the figure in front of her. “Maybe I am stupid, but, guess what?”
With a vicious grin, she slammed the axe down, severing the head of the final Bringer. “I’m not stupid enough to listen to you.”
“You have no idea what it is you’re dealing with little girl,” the figure hissed out as it glared, balefully at the girl in front of it, the air thick with its anger.
“Maybe, but, lemme take a guess…” Faith lightly tapped her lower lip, before the flowing snap of sarcasm left her lips. “It is… Evil?”
In an instant, the figure of Gwendolyn Post was gone, replaced by a towering, beast, its claws and horns glistening with raw hunger to rend and tear. Eyes, burned like fire, as its final words screamed through the air. “YOU CAN’T SAVE HIM!”
“Maybe not,” Faith whispered softly as she exited the cave. “But, I’m not alone in this, not anymore.”
“Come on.” Buffy’s voice was soft as she gently tugged Xander over to the sink, the boy finally, tiredly moving with her, giving in as he stumbled a bit past the blood spattered floor.
The air had shifted, a weight, pulled away as those dark eyes slowly looked out around him, watching everything, before he spoke. “It’s gone.”
“Yeah, I guess Giles and Faith came through.” Buffy smiled softly as she lifted their bloody hands up and released his a she turned on the faucet. “Come on, lets get you cleaned up.”
“I’m sorry.” His voice was so soft, so hollow as it left his lips, she could shivered in response. Clenching her eyes shut, she carefully took a few moments to calm herself, breaths flowing a steady pulse. “I… It started out as Jessie.”
And so, she listened, quietly as he told her about it, what it had said to him, as she cleaned his self inflicted wounds without a word. Bandaging them tightly, yet tenderly after she’d dried them. Wiping down her own hands a moment later, she leaned up, and lay a soft kiss on his cheek.
“You can’t protect everyone, all the time, Xan.” Her voice was soft as she looked up at him, her eyes so serious as she smiled just a bit. “But, I know, no matter what you’ll do the best you can.”
“I just wish that was enough.” His voice was thick with emotion as he leaned back against the sink. “I wish my best was enough.”
“It is.” She smiled again, before hooking her arm into his. “Come on, it’s Christmas, and you owe us a visit.”
Nodding obediently, Xander smiled slightly as he let the petite slayer lead him out to face the coming dawn, just as a cold wind raced across their bodies.
“So, Merry Christmas, X-man.” Faith smiled at the teen, as she handed his bandaged hands a poorly wrapped present. “And, next time, don’t go scaring us like that.”
He offered her a weak smile and a nod in response as he looked around the room, watching them all as he took a moment, and merely soaked in the presences around him. “Thanks, Faith… I’ll try.”
“And no more spending your Christmases outside on your roof, understood?” Joyce spoke up. “Am I clear?”
“Yes, Mrs. Summers.” He bowed his head slightly, and smiled as he watched the slow fall of snowflakes roaming through the air outside the window.