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Friends and Favors

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Evolve or Die". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: A friend needs a favor, and who is Xander to say no?

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Action/Adventure > Xander-CenteredphoukaFR13110,4905278,87120 Sep 0920 Sep 09Yes
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its characters, environs, and other details are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox. No infringement is intended. No profit will be made.

Not-the-Author's Note: He's a patient man, my brother. Heavens knows, he's patient. He emailed me this story a month ago and has only asked after it once. It's really very silly of me to have taken so long. Mea culpa.



FRIENDS AND FAVORS

Xander Harris (I)

I was in a good mood when Riley called. If I had known how the next few days would go, I would have tried to savor it more.

I was just about to finish up my current assignment. It was a fairly simple job. The teenage daughter of a college professor found some rare occult text in his study. And as teens so often do, she did something stupid. I don't know if she did it to impress a guy, as an act of rebellion, for general shits and giggles, or just plain teen stupidity. But she summoned a demon. Oh, and she managed to sell her soul in the process without realizing it.

Luckily, her dad walked in at the end of the ritual and realized the danger she was in. After he got through the initial panic, he made some calls to people who made calls to other people, one of whom called me.

So I flew in, got the full story, and went over the book and supplies the stupid teen used for the ritual. After careful review, I figured out a way to save the girl and take out the demon. According to the text, after the initial summoning, the demon would vanish for forty eight hours. After that he would reappear at the pentagram the stupid teen drew up. I couldn't destroy the pentagram, but I could move it.

It took me a few hours to find the industrial factory with the proper equipment, and another hour to convince the factory foreman to let me have access to it a midnight. I had cut out the carpet with the pentagram and set it up in the proper position, and was now waiting until midnight for the demon to reappear.

He'll fight for freedom wherever there's trouble,
G. I. Joe is there!
G. I. Joe! A real American hero!


I pulled my cell phone out and answered it, since I had assigned that ringtone to only one person.

“Hey, Riley. What's up?” I greeted him.

“Xander, thank god I could reach you,” Riley answered, with a hint of desperation to his voice. “Are you free to talk right now?”

“Actually, I'm just about to finish up a job, but it should only take a few minutes before -” A plume of smoke erupted from the pentagram, interrupting me. “Hold on a sec, Riley. Let me deal with this, then you can have my undivided attention,” I told him.

I put the phone down, and waited for the demon to fully coalesce in front of me. I tried to stand, but bumped its head on the top of the equipment. Looking around it spotted me.

“You are not my prey. Stand aside before I destroy you for delaying me from claiming my rightful prize,” it announced to me.

“Sorry, Zuul, but there's been a change of plans. Deal's off. No more stupid teen souls for you,” I told it.

The demon let loose a full throaty laugh at this. “You think to stop me? By putting me in this flimsy cage? I will make your death quick for amusing me.”

“It's not a cage, it's a hydraulic press,” I explained to it. “Look, according to the ritual you have to claim the soul by sunrise. But that's not going to happen. This,” I held up the activation button for him to see, “is all it takes to stop you.”

“What does that do?” the demon asked in genuine curiosity.

“Well, normally I'd draw this out some. You know, enjoy the full gloat, but I've got a friend on hold here,” I waved my phone in the other hand, “so I'll just cut to the chase.”

I pressed the activation button, and the press came to life. The top of the press came down, knocking the demon down. It tried to push up, but to no avail. The press lowered at a steady rate, crushing the demon without mercy. I could hear the hydraulics whine as it met resistance, but it was unrelenting.

I held it at full power for thirty seconds before releasing it. As the press came up, parts of the demon stuck to it. Its body lay broken, with its limbs twisted at unnatural angles. I saw one of the claws twitching, so I pressed the button again. The press came down, pulverizing the remains. I stepped back as the pulped carcass oozed out from the edges.

“In my weaker moments, I almost pity them,” I muttered, then brought the phone back up. “Okay, Riley. I can talk. What's up?”

“Xander, I need your help. This is an emergency,” he said.

“Whatever you need,” I said. “You know you can count on me. Just tell me where to meet and I'll be there.”

“I can't meet you,” he said. “I need you to do something for me, but you'll have to do it on your own, fast and quiet.”

“What's going on?”

“It's Sam. They kidnapped her. They say they're going to kill her if I don't do as they say,” Riley said in a rush. “They want all the information my team has on the Council and Slayers. They're watching my team and the Council. If they hear about any rescue attempt, they'll kill Sam. If I don't get the information to them in two days, they'll kill her. I don't know what else to do.”

“Riley, listen to me. We'll get her back. Unharmed,” I reassured him. “Just give me all the details you have, and we'll come up with a plan. You are going to see your wife again.”

Riley gave me all the details about when Sam was taken, what the kidnappers wanted, and anything he could think of to help. As I took notes, I could only imagine what Riley felt like right now. Then I thought of Anya and the hole she had left in my heart. No way I would let that happen to Riley.

“Okay, I think I've got everything. Where are you now?” I asked.

“Panama City. I'm due back in two days. I can't come any earlier, they're watching me,” he said.

“Okay, I think I have something. I'll need to stop by your apartment to pick up some of Sam's belongings. There are some people I can contact for help. They won't show up on anyone's radar. We should be able to get this done.”

“Xander, I can't lose her,” Riley said in despair.

“It's not going to come to that. We'll keep in contact, and I'll let you know the progress as it happens,” I told him. “We're going to get her back,” I promised him.

After the call, I called up the professor. “Hey, Prof. I took care of your problem. Your daughter will be safe. But something's come up, and I have to leave town right now. If anything else happens, give me a call. Otherwise you know where to send the payment.”

I hung up, left the factory, got in my car, and drove straight to the airport. To get Sam back, I would need help. Luckily I knew a couple of people that wouldn't hesitate to lend a hand.

Kennedy Watkins (I)

My first impulse was to say no to him. Actually, my first impulse was to laugh in his face. But he had this pathetic look to his face, and I was pretty bored. I certainly didn't help him out of any sense of obligation.

I had been reassigned ever since I broke up with Willow (she did not break up with me, no matter what you may have heard). My previous posting had been as her bodyguard/aide-de-camp where I got to globe trot to everywhere I ever dreamed of traveling.

My new assignment was to help set up Slayers in their hometowns. I would come in, whip the newbie into shape, and break in the assigned Watcher, and help them clear out any big nasties before I moved on. My current residence was Flagstaff Arizona. I arrived six weeks ago and met Lisa Ramirez, the local Slayer, and Adam Kensington, her Watcher.

I helped set them up in a headquarters, complete with library, armory, and training room. I ran Lisa ragged for a couple of weeks until she wasn't a total disgrace of a Slayer, and I even managed to replace the stick up Adam's ass with a much smaller, more manageable stick.

After that we spent a month systematically taking down the various vampire gangs, demon clans, and power mad mages. It was hard work, and there were a few close calls, but we cleaned the city up. After that, the town was quiet. We still did patrols, but for the past week we've only come across two vampires.

So the city was safe.

Completely safe.

Nothing going on.

.
.
.
.

God, I'm bored.

I know, I know. Saying that is like the ultimate jinx. No news is good news. And people in glass houses shouldn't live in interesting times. But the fact was that I was bored. Mega bored. I hadn't been in a decent fight in over two weeks. I needed a challenge. I needed a chance to blow off some steam and really cut loose. My next assignment didn't start up for another week, so I was stuck here.

So when I sat down for breakfast at the local Denny's just after finishing up a patrol and Xander Harris slid into the seat opposite me, I actually listened to him.

“Hey, Kennedy. It's been awhile,” he greeted me.

“Harris,” I said, not looking up from my plate. Just because I was bored, didn't mean I was going to greet him like a long lost friend.

“How you doing?” he asked. I shrugged in response, but didn't answer. He waited a moment for any further answer from me before he continued, “You're probably wondering what I'm doing in town.”

“Visiting Lowell Observatory? It's quite the tourist attraction,” I said.

“Yeah, not quite. I'm on a job right now,” he told me. Then he looked straight at me and added, “I need your help.”

I took a bite of my french toast as he spoke. “Yeah?” I sighed. He wasn't exactly my favorite person to spend time with, but I went where the bosses told me. “Let me check in. Are you running this through Giles or Buffy”

Harris grimaced at my question. “I haven't actually ran it through anyone in the Council,” he said.

“Sorry,” I told him. “But last I checked, you were fired.”

“Actually, I quit. But that's not important.” He leaned in closer to me. “The thing is I need this to be completely off the books. Just take a couple of days off and come with me. Don't tell anyone where you're going and don't mention that you're helping me.”

“You got to be kidding me,” I said. I turned away from him and took another bite of my breakfast.

“If I was kidding, I would tell you I wanted your help in planning a surprise birthday party for Willow,” he said with a smile. He smile withered against the glare I gave him. “Too soon?”

“Jesus, Harris, you've got a lot of nerve,” I warned him. The last person I wanted to hear jokes from was Harris Now he was laughing out of his ass after she... after I dumped her. I dropped my fork onto my plate. “Here's a hint, you want a favor from me, don't act like such an ass.”

I started to get up from the table, but he put his hand on my arm to stop me. “Kennedy, please. I'm sorry for being an ass. I know we haven't really gotten along in the past, but I wouldn't ask you this unless it was a matter of life and death.”

I sat back down, still pissed off but willing to listen. “”Why did you come to me?” I asked him.

“I need some heavy muscle for this. I need someone can handle herself and I don't have to babysit. I need someone right now. I need someone who can do this without asking permission from the Council first,” Harris explained with an urgency to his voice. “And I know that if I asked you, you would do it.”

“You think I'm going to say yes?” I asked in disbelief. “Cause we're such good friends, you know I'll just go along with whatever you ask.”

“No,” he said. “I know you're going to say yes because....” he paused, carefully choosing his next words, “Because you owe me.”

And there it was. Harris lost his eye evacuating potential Slayers from a battle. I was the last one he got out before he was hurt. And because of that, he had something to hold over my head for the rest of my life. It didn't matter that I was now a Slayer and helped save the world on a regular basis. It didn't matter that he had gotten kicked out of the Council over a year ago. As far as he was concerned, I would always owe him.

If it was just him, I wouldn't care. But I know he's still plugged into the grapevine and has a lot of friends. If I said no, I'm sure I'd hear about it for months.

And I said before, I was bored.

“I guess I can take a couple of days off and help you out of your mess,” I told Harris.

“Thank you,” he said. He pulled out his wallet, pulled out a ten dollar bill, and dropped it on the table. “We really need to leave now.”

“Fine,” I said, and followed him out the door to his car. As we got in, I asked, “So what's this thing you have going on?”

“A friend of mine's wife was kidnapped. We're going to rescue her. The group that grabbed her is keeping a close eye on him and the Council. I figure we can quietly follow up the trail and sneak in before they know we're on to them,” he explained.

“Okay. How do we do that? We've got to find her, but that means asking around. And that would tip off the kidnappers.”

Harris pulled onto the highway, and glanced at some Google Map directions he had printed out. “Riley gave me some of her personal belongings. We get a mage to use them for a tracking spell, and then go in fast.”

“Makes sense,” I said. I thought for a moment, then frowned. “That won't work, though. Most friendly mages allied with the Council. If the kidnappers are watching the Council, then they'd hear if one of them was tracking down their victim.”

“I know a guy. He's not affiliated with the Council or any groups that would catch the demon clan's attention. But we have to drive for a few hours to reach him,” he said.

“Should have figured you'd know a guy, Harris,” I said. Even after he got fired from the Council, people still kept him in the loop. Never knew why they humored him. “Seems like you have friends everywhere.”

“He, uh, he's not exactly a friend,” Harris said.

Xander Harris (II)

I opened up the closet and pulled out a box of magic supplies. I shook my head sadly. “In the same place as last time. You'd think he'd get a better hiding place.”

“Whatever,” Kennedy said with a shrug. “When's this loser get back?”

I stood up and placed the box in the center of the room. “He's probably got some morning classes.”

I found Irving Saunders's dorm room right away. He hadn't moved since the last time I saw him. This annoyed me. When I found him last time, I put on my best hardass routine. But coming back, I found out that he hadn't even changed the lock on his door.

I went through his room, pulling out anything occult related, and piled it on the floor. There wasn't much there. But he was naturally adept, so he didn't need much. Kennedy watched me as I searched the place, but didn't offer to help.

“I thought we were in a hurry. You plan just to hang out here for awhile? I should have brought a book,” she griped.

I pulled out a DVD from the porn stash I had just discovered. “We could watch a movie until he gets back,” I offered. Kennedy rolled her eyes at me. “Are you sure? It's a classic. Lesbian Spank Inferno. C'mon, you like looking at naked women. I like looking at naked women. Everybody's happy.”

She merely shook her head and looked away. I was about to continue, when I heard a key unlock the door. I got up and moved to the side of the room, where I wouldn't be seen when he entered.

Irving Saunders, a skinny short kid with fuzzy black hair, entered the room. He was talking to another student behind him. “I'm telling you, these are guaranteed to work. Full refund if you're not satisfied. With one of my charms, you'll ace your midterms. They're worth every....” he stopped speaking as he spotted Kennedy standing in the middle of the room by a pile of all his supplies.

“You need to come with us,” she told him.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded. “This is breaking and entering. I could call the cops and have you-”

“Calm down, Irving,” I said, stepping forward. His head whipped around to look at me. “Just an old friend, dropping by to see how you're doing.”

All the color drained from his face as he recognized me. I felt oddly vindicated by this reaction. “Oh, shit. Harris.” he whispered.

“Dude, can I still get that thing from you?” the student behind him asked.

“What thing?” I inquired.

“NOTHING!” Irving yelped. “Nothing important. Just a book. An ordinary book.”

“How's a book going to help me ace my exams?”

“It won't. Not unless you have one of these charms with you,” I said, holding up a box I found under the bed. I reached in and tossed one to him. “Here you go. On the house. That'll do the trick for you.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” Irving told him. “Just take it and go.”

Now that he had what he wanted, the student left the room without a glance back. Irving watched him go, then turned back to Kennedy and me.

He took a deep breath and said, “Okay, I know this looks bad.”

“Shut up,” I ordered. “Grab your supplies. You're coming with us.”

“What? NO! Really. That stuff was just left over. I found it in storage and was going to throw it out. I just forgot about it,” he rambled nervously.

“This is the guy that's going to help us?” Kennedy asked.

“Help you? Me?”

I patted him on the shoulder and flashed a not at all reassuring smile. “Relax. Today's your lucky day. You get to be a hero,” I told him.

Kennedy Watkins (II)

I watched as the weedy kid Harris grabbed set up his supplies on the floor of the motel room we had checked into. “I'm going to need some personal items of the person you're looking for,” the weedy kid said.

“Here you go,” Harris said as he handed a bag over. The kid took it and pulled out the items inside to inspect them.

Harris sidled over to me as he watched the kid. “Where did you find this guy?” I asked him.

“Six months ago, he cast a few minor curses on some football players. A player's dad hired me to find out why his son got kicked off the team, lost his girlfriend, began failing his classes, and went prematurely bald all in the span of three weeks,” Harris explained to me.

“Those guys had it coming,” the kid piped in. “They bullied me every day. My entire freshman year was a living hell. I warned them to stop it, but they just laughed at me and got even worse. They did a lot worse to me than I did to them. You can ask anyone.”

“I did ask. That's how I found you so quickly,” Harris shot back at him. He turned to me. “I found Irving and made him break the curses. In exchange for not handing him over to the jocks for a complete and thorough ass kicking, he promised to quit messing around with magic.”

“It didn't stick, apparently,” I observed.

“You know you can't just threaten me like that,” Irving spoke up. “I'm not the scared kid you met six months ago. I've learned a lot since then. And I know people now. Powerful people.”

“I know people too,” Harris said, not even bothering to turn to face him. “And the people I know can kick the ass of anyone you know.” He leaned in to me so Irving couldn't hear what he said next. “The truth is that I knew he wasn't going to quit. I just wanted to scare him some so he would be more careful. And...,” he paused and quickly looked over at Irving, now engrossed in his preparations. “And I figured if I ever needed some magic done quick and dirty, I could call on him.”

“Yeah, grab a guy that's either scared of you or pissed off at you. Good plan,” I whispered to Harris.

“Hey, it's working so far.”

The next few minutes we watched in silence as Irving was setting up his supplies.

A thought hit me, and I turned to Harris. “I didn't bring any weapons.”

“I thought you went by the philosophy that the Slayer herself is the ultimate weapon, above any sword, ax, or gun. I'm not sure where an A-bomb falls in that hierarchy,” Harris said to me, still watching Irving.

“You know what I mean. You're planning a rescue. You're going to need to go in quick and hard. And you need to hit them hard enough that they don't follow us. We're going to need to be heavily armed for this.”

Harris finally stopped watching Irving and turned to me. “Yeah, I know. Don't worry. I've got a stash here.”

“Real weapons, right?” I asked him. “They're not some construction equipment you jury-rigged. We can't count on a demolition ball parked next door for this fight.”

Harris, looked annoyed at that, but didn't respond. Instead he opened the closet door and dragged out a large trunk. He opened it and began to pull out some serious weapons. He put a lethal looking short sword to the side and handed me a double headed ax. “You prefer the ax, right?” I nodded, admiring the weapon. I hefted it up, testing out the weight and balance. Harris pulled out a few handcrafted stakes and handed three to me. “Odds are we'll run into some vampires on this mission, so keep these on hand. Be sure to have a couple of back up stakes. You don't want to get disarmed.”

I inspected the stakes he gave me. I gripped it by the handle, noting the grooves carved into it. The point of the stake was almost razor sharp. “Nice design. What's it made out of?”

“Mahogany,” Harris answered. “It's more durable than the basswood the Council usually uses. The point has been fire hardened to get the sharpness. It'll go into a vampires chest like a hot knife through butter.”

I grabbed the other stakes and placed one in my waistband and one in my boot. “You're going to have to give me the name of the maker of these. I'm sure the Council would love to give him their business.”

“I made them,” Harris simply stated. A silence descended over us as we watched Irving performing his spell. I leaned in to get a closer look at the spell when Harris spoke up. “You know, I haven't seen or even talked to you since right after we left Sunnydale. And we never really talked in Sunnydale.”

I didn't even look at him. “And I'm okay with that.”

“Maybe we should have. I mean, considering everything,” he pressed on.

I kept my eyes on Saunders. “If I wanted to talk, I would have called.”

He nodded, then stood next to me to watch Saunders. After another minute he said, “The breakup wasn't your fault.”

“Jesus Christ,” I muttered. “Really? You draft me into helping you, then want to chat about me and Willow when you weren't even there?”

“I'm just saying that you guys got together during an emotionally stressful time. She rushed into the relationship, and once things settled down there were bound to be problems,” he said.

I let out an angry breath and turned to him. “You don't know what you're talking about,” I said in a tight voice.

“I know Willow,” he said. “I know how she thinks and how she feels.”

“And that makes you an expert on what happened between us? Do you even know what the biggest problem was?” I challenged him.

“I know you guys were fighting, more and more. Look, I've got more than my share of screwed up relationships. All I'm saying is -”

“You. Weren't. There,” I hissed out, poking him in the chest with each word. “You don't have the first clue about why we broke up. You really don't know what you did to us.” He looked at me, but didn't answer.

“Hey, guys!” Irving called out. “I think I've got a hit.”

Xander Harris (III)

“Okay, when I cast the spell, these areas were highlighted,” Irving said, as he laid out the map in front of Kennedy and me. He pointed to the section he had colored while performing the spell. “Normally when I do this, I get a pinpoint location. Right now I've got a fuzzy blur.”

We studied the map. “So she could be anywhere in there,” Kennedy said.

“Or she was there and was moved,” I pointed out. “Or there's something blocking the spell from getting an accurate location.”

“Uh, what do we do now?” Irving asked nervously.

“We're going to have to go in and take a look around. If Sam is there, we rescue her, otherwise we follow the trail until we find her.” I looked over to Kennedy, “You ready to go.”

She just shrugged and said, “I'm always ready.”

I took a deep breath and turned back to Irving. “Is there anyway you can get a more accurate reading?”

“There are a lot of factors that affect that,” he explained. “The more personal the objects, the better reading I get. But adding in the ambient magical levels, time of day, proximity to the person you're searching for, I could try it again and not get as good a reading as I just did.”

“Right,” I said with a sigh. I really hoped I wouldn't need Irving past the initial tracking spell, but it wasn't working out that way. “Pack up your stuff and put it in the car. You're going to have to cast it again once we get the to area.”

“Uh,” he stammered. “You want me to go with you? Isn't that kind of dangerous?” He looked around to Kennedy, but didn't find any support from her.

“Jesus Christ. Either nut up or go home. Just don't waste our time,” Kennedy said in a dismissive tone.

“Don't worry, you'll be completely safe,” I said, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “I'm ninety.... three percent sure of that.”

I ushered Irving into the car outside. I pushed him into the backseat, tossed the keys to Kennedy, and got in the passenger side.

As we drove away, Irving started pulling supplies out of his bag. He grabbed three talismans and began chanting softly over them while sprinkling some powder of them.

“What are you doing back there?” Kennedy asked.

“I'm putting together some protective charms. I figure they could come in handy.”

“Good idea,” I said. “Just make sure you have enough mojo to pinpoint our rescuee.”

“Yeah, don't worry about that,” he assured us. “You know I think I can put together some bad ass maladicto curses to take out some of these guys during the fight,” he offered.

“NO!” I shouted.

He flinched at this, and Kennedy looked over in surprise. “What's the problem? You want him to help, he wants to help, so let him help.”

“Okay. One, he said curse. Curses are bad. I know this from personal experience. Two, I know enough Latin that the mal means bad. So maladicto means bad... word.... curse? Yeah, that makes sense. Third, Irving hasn't,” I stopped and turned to him. “Have you ever done this type of spell before?”

“Well, I've read up on it enough to -”

“Three,” I cut him off, “he's never done this type of spell before. So trying new dangerous new spells in the middle of a fight is the definition of a really bad idea.”

Kennedy shrugged. “He's gotta learn sometime.”

“I'm getting a kind of mixed message here,” Irving said from the backseat.

“Shut up,” I told him. I turned back to Kennedy, “Look, I have a plan. And a crucial part of the plan is that he stays in the car casting a location spell while we do the legwork.”

“I mean you grab me and tell me to do this spell to help find this girl, but you don't want me to cast any spells to help get her free,” Irving added from the backseat.

“Shut up,” Kennedy ordered. “What's the point of bringing a magic guy with us if he's just going to stay in the car?”

“I prefer the term mage or warlock.”

“Shut up,” I said. “Maybe after some supervised training he'll be more useful. But right now his sum total of abilities is dicking around with a spell book in his dorm room. He's never been in a combat situation before. This is the first time he's done a spell that wasn't for personal gain.”

“That's not really fair. I want to help out here. I agreed to come with you. It's not like you held a gun to my head.”

“Shut up,” Kennedy said. “No, wait. You're on my side here. Keep talking. Make your case.”

“Uh, I want to help?” he said.

“Yeah, the nerd wants to help. So let the nerd help.”

I sighed and rubbed my temple. I turned around and directly faced Irving. “Irving, I'm glad you want to help. Really, I'm thrilled shitless over here. But there's a bigger danger than getting hurt in a fight. Using magic, even with the best intentions, is risky. Using dark magic in the heat of the moment can put your very soul at risk.”

“Dramatic much?” Kennedy muttered.

I glanced at her, but continued. “There's this person I know. My best friend growing up. We were as close as brother and sister. All she wanted to do was help others. And she figured the best way to do it was through magic. Now she was good. Hell, she was great. But one day, someone she loved was killed.” He closed his eye and took a deep breath, then let it out. “She was overwhelmed. Anger, shock, horror, and magic. Dark magic. She was out of control and didn't care who she hurt. A Slayer couldn't stop her. Her friend and hero tried to stop her, but she just brushed her away. In the end, she didn't care who she killed, she just wanted to kill. I looked straight into her eyes and saw how much she was broken. I barely stopped her in time.”

“It wasn't like that,” Kennedy said from the driver's seat. “Willow went through some bad times. But you're making it sound much worse than it really was.”

I sighed and turned back to her. “You. Weren't. There,” I said in a terse voice. The last thing I needed was for Kennedy to undercut me while I'm trying to talk some sense into Irving. She didn't respond.

Kennedy Watkins (III)

I fumed as I parked the car in front of the closest warehouse. I know Willow had some kind of breakdown after her ex got shot. But to hear Xander tell it, she went all Doctor Doom until he swooped in and saved the day. Way to throw your best friend under the bus just to make yourself look cool.

I hopped out of the car and slammed the door shut. Xander scrambled out, calling after me, “Kennedy! Wait up. We need to coordinate here.”

I ignored him and pulled some weapons out of the trunk of the car. I stashed a couple of stakes in my waistband and hefted up a sword. I swung it around a couple of times to get a feel for the weight. Glancing down at the armory in the trunk, I decided not to take any other weapons. I preferred not to get weighed down by extra weapons in a fight.

“Okay,” Xander said, next to me. “Nice to get out of the car, stretch our legs a bit. Just as long as we move as a group according to the plan and not rush off to -”

“I got a new plan,” I said, walking past him. “I go in, kick ass, take names. You stay out of my way.” He protested, but I just stalked past him. “Now watch a professional at work,” I said.

“Aw, shit,” Xander muttered. “Irving, start casting. Stay in the car,” he said, then handed a small earpiece to him. “Give me directions on this. If things go south, start the car and get the hell out of here,” he whispered, but I could hear every word thanks to Slayer enhanced hearing.

I kicked in the front door of the building and walked in, scanning the room. Three men in the front room jumped up. I spun kicked one into the wall, rushed the next, picked him up, and threw him into the last man. Xander came through the door, aiming his crossbow.

“Down the hall and to the right,” Xander said, listening to his earpiece.

I strode down the hall, then stopped. I held up a hand, signaling Xander to stop as well. Pulling out the stakes from my waistband, I watched the end of the hallway.. Seconds later, a group of vampires ran into view. First one, then another burst into dust as the stakes hit them in the chest. The last vampire stared in shock for a second, then rushed at me. He burst into dust as I was pulling my sword up. I glanced back and saw Xander reloading his crossbow.

“Down the hall and to the right,” he repeated.

I rolled my eyes, but headed down the hall and turned to the right.

We quickly made our way through the building. I knocked out or killed the vampires that came at us. Well, almost all. Xander manged to dusted a few that I didn't think were worth bothering with. The fighting wasn't too difficult, mainly because we were in a hallway where only one person could attack at a time. I finally came to a large door.

“Irving's getting a reading from the other side of the door,” he said. “We're almost there. But odds are that there's a few nasty surprises before this is done,” Xander warned. “So can we please take a moment and come up with a reasonable -” I kicked in the door, not waiting for him to finish. “Guess not,” he muttered.

I looked around the room, but there was no one there. There was a pile of supplies and old books in one corner, but nothing else. Xander came in after me and scanned the room. He held his hand to his ear and said, “Irving, building's clear. You better come in here. I want you to look over some stuff in here.” He turned to me and flashed a pained smile at me. “Kennedy, I can't help but notice a certain undertone of hostility from you.”

“You're very observant. It's a wonder people call you an ignorant jackass,” I said, putting my stakes away.

“I'm just wondering what brought this about,” he spread his hands out. “I mean, most people find me charming.” I just glared at him. “Or tolerable. Marginally tolerable.”

I let out a bitter laugh. “You really want to know?” I asked. He nodded. “You're the reason Willow and I broke up.”

“What? How? I wasn't even there,” he said.

“It started when you got fired.”

“Technically I quit,” he interrupted.

“Willow was so upset. She was talking about forcing Robin Wood out of the Council and bringing you back in. She was ready to quit, abandon everything we had worked together for. And for what? Some guy who loves to tell everyone about her weakest moment just to make himself look cool,” I said, almost yelling at him. “I kept telling her she was making a mistake. That it wasn't worth throwing everything away for. I finally talked her down, but the damage was down. I had dared to speak against the great Xander Harris. And that's the one thing she couldn't forgive.”

Xander stood in front of me, his mouth open, but not saying anything. He had a stunned look on his face. Finally, he said, “I... I didn't know that.”

“Yeah, well there's a lot you don't know,” I shot back.

The sound of a throat clearing caught our attention. We turned and saw Irving standing at the doorway. “Is that the stuff you want me to scan?”

“How long have you been there?” Xander asked.

“Not long,” he said. “Certainly not long enough to hear anything about breakups or whether you were fired or quit.”

Xander Harris (IV)

So once again Kennedy and I watched as Irving prepared a spell. I kept glancing at Kennedy, but she never looked my way. After a length of uncomfortable silence, I inched closer to her.

“I'm sorry. And I never asked for her to do that. Believe me,” I told her.

“Of course not. You never have to ask for anything. It just comes to you because you're so super cool awesome. It's understood that people fall over themselves to accommodate you,” she said bitterly.

“Yeah, you seem to have a profound misunderstanding about how my life works,” I said.

“Really? You just swoop in and draft me and the dork there.”

“Hey!” Irving protested.

“Not now,” I told him.

“I'm not a dork,” he muttered as he went back to his spell.

“I heard about that stunt in Reno a few months back,” she continued. “How you just snapped your fingers and got a Slayer out to work for you.” I started to speak, then stopped. Kennedy shook her head. “Care to share your secret with the rest of us?”

“I, um, I can't think of a non smartass answer, right now,” I admitted.

“Guys? I hate to interrupt your conversation full of angry subtext... and angry text, but I have something here,” Irving spoke up.

This got our attention and we huddled around the floor where he sat. “You get a reading on Sam?” I asked.

“She was here,” Irving said. “They did some kind of masking spell on her, then moved her. My original tracking spell could only see where she had been last, and the masking spell blurred it.”

“Can you track where she is now?” Kennedy asked. She was all business when it came to the mission.

“No, but I don't need to. Between the unconscious guards you left and the equipment here, I set up a spell that shows all their travel for the past few days. Crosschecking them against each other and I found one location they have in common,” he explained.

“If the group had a location they're holding Sam at, that'll be it. Good work,” I told him. He beamed in pride at this. I turned to Kennedy “Looks like we're headed out again.”

“Looks like,” she said.

“Can I recommend a slight change in tactics? Maybe this time we should coordinate our attack,” I suggested.

“Me, Slayer. You, not Slayer,” she said. “Basic fact, is that I'm better at this than you.”

“Yes, you are the Slayer,” I agreed. “The Slayer is faster and stronger than me. Slayer has better fighting skills and is naturally proficient in weapons. Slayers are naturally fit and lean and can bend in interesting ways. But do you know what's the one thing more effective than a Slayer?” I asked her.

“What?”

“A Slayer with backup.”

She looked at me and thought for a moment, then replied, “Fine, how do you want to go in?”

“I'll explain on the way,” I said.

We headed out to the car and piled in. As we headed down the highway, I laid out the strategy.

“It's a three person job,” Kennedy said. She was driving the car as we talked. “That means Irv here comes with us.”

I shook my head. “You take point. I provide cover. Irving stays in the car and give directions over the receiver.”

“He'll get a better read if he's in the building with us. Once we go in, we'll need every second possible,” she reasoned. Unfortunately, she had a point.

I turned around to face Irving. He was on my blind side, so I had to turn all the way around to see him. “This is going to be dangerous, and I can't force you to go in with us. Are you up for this?”

He looked at me, then Kennedy, then back to me. Licking his lips nervously, he said, “You're in danger too. Why are you doing all of this?”

He studied my face, waiting for an answer. Hell, he had come this far, so I guess he deserved the truth. “Have you ever lost someone you loved?” I asked him. He shook his head. “I have,” I said, Anya's face flashed in my memory. “Riley Finn is a friend of mine. I'm not going to let him go through that.”

“Okay,” Irving studied me for a moment, then said. “I'm in.”

“Good man,” Kennedy said. “So, what are your plans after this? Assuming you don't die horribly in the next hour.”

“Uh, I don't know. I kind of fell into this magic thing, but I wanted to stick with that,” he said.

“Figured that,” I said under my breath. The truth is I had some plans for Irving, but I needed Kennedy's help. I hadn't counted on her disliking me so much. Odds are she would reject my plans just out of spite. Now that I thought about it, she'd probably do what she could just to piss me off. I smiled a moment, before saying, “Of course if you're serious about it, you'll need some training. I know a few people that could help out with that.”

“I'm sure you know a lot of people, but the Council has the best options for him,” Kennedy said.

I resisted the urge to turn my head to watch Kennedy as I spoke. “If he were going to Willow that'd be great. But in North America, Robin Wood is in charge. If Irving goes to him, I lose all access. I found this guy, I'm not just going to give him up.”

“Would hate to take that way from you,” she said, but dropped the subject. “We're here,” she announced and pulled the car over.

Kennedy and I armed ourselves, and Irving got his rigged detector ready. “Remember, Kennedy goes first. I follow. You stay in the back. If anyone comes at you, give a yell,” I instructed him. “And be careful.” I glanced at my watch. I pulled out my sword and scabbard from the trunk and strapped it to my leg. Kennedy glanced at the sword.

“Nice piece,” she said.

“That's Amber. Got her in lieu of payment for helping a monastery with their Chupacubra problem,” I told her.

“Sweet payment for a day's work,” she said, now eying it in envy.

“Yeah, well a day's work for a Slayer took me three weeks camping out in the countryside watching a goat herd in a pup tent,” I explained. “The head monk said he would give me a priceless reward for helping him. After three weeks without air conditioning or indoor plumbing he gave me the sword and said, 'Evolve or Die.'”

“What's that mean?” Kennedy asked.

“I don't know,” I admitted. “But he acted like it was important.” I looked at my watch to check the time. “Deadline for Riley is still three hours away. We should have the element of surprise.”

Kennedy led the way, approaching the side door to the building. I took position on the other side. She kicked it in, and I swung around, aiming the crossbow. Four men inside were getting up from the table in the center of the room. Each one was armed and reaching for their weapon. I shot the closest to the door, then ducked back under cover. Kennedy rushed in as I reloaded. I peeked back in and saw another man down, with Kennedy attacking a third. The fourth was coming behind her, until I the bolt from my crossbow buried itself in his neck.

She nodded to me, then pointed to the door at the far wall. I dropped the crossbow and unsheathed my sword then flicked on my earpiece to check in with Irving. “How's it look from the outside?”

“Uh, roger that, no one else is around. It looks clear,” he said, then added, “Over.”

“You getting any reading on the building?” I asked him.

“Oh, yeah. Once you crossed the threshold, the signals became a lot clearer. You got five demon blips. Two on the ground floor, three on the top floor. There are about a dozen vampires spread out in the building, and five humans. Our gal is on the third floor, east side of the building. I can't tell which room yet,” Irving said over the connection.

“Got it. Keep the line open, and let me know anything else you read,” I ordered him. It turned to Kennedy and said, “Irv has a dozen vampires, five demons, and five humans in the building. You ready?”

She nodded, then we made our way to the door. She kicked it in, then I scanned the hallway. A mixed group of attackers came at her.

“It's a bottleneck, let them come at you one at a time,” I told her.

She swung her sword, cleaving the head of the first demon in line. A trio of vampires rushed forward. I pulled out a pistol and leveled it at their heads. Kennedy glanced at it, then shook her head. “Guns don't work on vampires. I thought you've done this before.”

A stream of holy water shot from the nozzle of the water pistol, striking the vampires in the eyes. Kennedy moved in without hesitation and staked the three. She glanced back at me. “Holy water burns vampires. I thought you've done this before,” I said with a smile. She turned back to the remaining attackers and snarled as she hefted her sword.

Within minutes Kennedy cleared out the remaining attackers with vital support from me. We made our way up the stairs, down the next hallway until we came to the last room. “We're at the last door,” I told Irving.

“WAIT!” he shouted over the earpiece. I winced at the noise. “There's a buildup of energy coming from the room. I think it's a trap!”

“A trap?” I asked. Kennedy stopped her movement toward the door and looked at me. “Is Sam even in there?”

“I think so. Her signals getting stronger. But the door looks booby trapped, to prevent any intruders from coming in. If you trip it, it could kill you. Or Sam.”

“How do we bypass it?” I asked.

“You've got to, y'know, kind of jimmy the thing, using some... Look if you go like this, then it'll -”

“Irving, if you're making hand gestures, I can't actually see you. Now stop, take a deep breath, and tell me how to bypass the trap,” I told him. “And use specific terms.”

“Okay. Take your oscillated thaumic receptacle. Attune it to the counter inverse of the main vibration. Once to decelerates to the -”

“Okay, Irving? Be more general. What the hell is a osimating thoral reception?” I asked in confusion.

“It's a.... Hold on, I'm coming up.”

“He's coming up,” I told Kennedy. We waited by the door for a few seconds before I added, “We should probably meet him downstairs and escort him up.”

We made our way back downstairs and met Irving by the front door. He was inching his way flat against the wall, staring at the dead demon bodies on the floor, trying to stay as far away from them as possible.

“Irving,” I called out to him. He looked up at me. “They're dead. They can't hurt you. So just-actually that one has acidic blood, so keep clear of it.”

He carefully made his way over to us, then followed up up the stairs to the last room.

“So, why can't we just bust this down?” Kennedy asked.

Irving put his bag down and pulled out a variety of objects that looked like they came straight from a junk drawer, but apparently were vital for breaking through magical traps.

“If you breach the door why the wards are still up, the backlash could kill anyone in the hall and anyone in the room,” he said, waving what looked like a tennis racket cut in half. “But if feel out the energies, you can see where the spring is on the trap.” He put away the half racket and pulled out a bag of colored sand. “Find the spring, you can study it. Figure out what sets it off and more importantly, what doesn't.” He watched the sand drift down in front of the door, studying it closely. He took out a piece of chalk and made markings on the door. “Once you know what doesn't set it off, you can, very carefully mind you, ease the door open.”

He took a deep breath, grasped the door handle, and slowly turned it. The door opened a crack. Kennedy and I gripped our weapons as Irving gingerly pushed the door open.

“It worked,” he whispered. “Okay, now the the wards have been bypassed we can see if she's in there.” He pulled out a rolled up parchment and laid it on the floor. A bright red dot pulsated on it. “She's in there. I did it! I got through the trap and found her!” He stood up and faced us, grinning widely. “I did it!”

Irving was so happy with his work, he didn't notice the four blue dots appear on the parchment. He didn't even notice the goblin looking creatures step into view from inside the room. I, however, noticed the crossbow aimed at the back of Irving's head.

“DOWN!” I yelled, pushing Irving out of the way with my left hand as I pulled out Amber with my right. I felt a piercing pain in my left hand and sudden coldness radiate from the hand. My grip on Amber slackened, and the sword flew from my grasp, embedding it self into the throat of the goblin that just shot me. I took a step forward then stumbled to my knees. I looked at my injured hand, seeing the arrow sticking through it. A hint of blackness radiated from the arrow. “Shit,” I muttered. “Poison.”

Kennedy flew into the room in a flurry of attacks. Between her speed and the effects of the poison, all I saw was a blur whizzing around. I heard a distant voice calling out my name. I rolled my head, and saw Irving mouthing something, but all I could hear was a buzzing at this point.

He wrapped a light gray sheet with intricate designs on it around my hand, then began pouring a purple liquid on it. The coldness in my hand began to abate, just a little.

I felt overcome by sleepiness, and a darkness passed over my eyes. I wondered if we had gotten to Sam in time. I wondered if Riley would ever forgive me if we didn't. I wondered if I just closed my eyes and let go, I would be with Anya.

Kennedy Watkins (IV)

“And then what happened?”

I stood before Robin Wood, the director of the Reformed Watchers Council North American Division. I was giving my report on the past two days to him, and had just gotten to the part where Harris got shot, when I paused for a drink of water. Robin urged me to continue.

“I wiped out the last of the kidnappers. Samantha Finn was in the back of the room, and I freed her once I was done with the goblins,” I explained. “Turns out she was grabbed by a goblin clan that had trouble with both the Council and Riley's unit in Venezuela. They figured they could kill two birds with one stone with this stunt.”

“Is there any danger of retribution? Sounds like the fight got pretty serious,” Robin asked. “I don't want any Slayers being targeted for payback.”

I shook my head. “Between the fight and Riley's group doing mop up, these guys are history. As far as the fight, a Slayer, mage, and normal guy go into a fight. Guess which one got hurt.”

“Is Harris going to pull through?” he asked. It almost seemed to have a hint of concern in his voice, but considering the bad blood between them, I dismissed that possibility.

“Irving managed to neutralize the poison before it did any permanent damage. We left him with Riley Finn when we dropped off his wife. He should be out of action for a couple of weeks until his hand heals up, but after that he'll be fine.”

Robin nodded, then made a few notes on his file. “And this Irving Saunders? You feel he would be an asset to the Council?”

“He's got the chops for it, magic-wise at least. He's still nervous in the field, but give him the right training, and he'll toughen up,. Of course, if he is part of the Council, then Harris won't be able to use him as an asset anymore,” I said, adding, “Of course, that really shouldn't be a factor in your decision.”

“Of course not,” Robin agreed. “But based on your strong recommendation, I think we should move immediately in hiring and training Mr. Saunders,” he decided. “Where is he right now?”

“Brought him with me, boss,” I said with a smile.

He made a few more notes on the file, then closed it. “Excellent work. You managed to identify and eliminate a threat to the Council and earn the gratitude of Commander Finn and his organization.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said. “And if you'll excuse me, I have a few things I need to attend to.”

“Of course,” Robin said as he dismissed me.

I left his office and made my way to the dorm room I was staying in. I pulled out my cell phone and made the call.

After a few rings, a woozy voice answered, “Hello?”

“Xander, it's Kennedy.”

“Kennedy... Hey, how's it hanging?” he said.

“Um, it's hanging fine. How are you doing? Are you in any pain?” I asked. Just because I didn't like the guy, doesn't mean I'm heartless.

“Nope. Turns out the medic in Riley's unit has very effective painkillers,” he said with a giggle. “Now I'm just chilling here at- Where's my shoe? I had a shoe earlier. Did I lend you my shoe during the fight and not return it?” he asked.

“No, Xander. I did not borrow your shoe. I only borrowed some weapons, and I returned them when I dropped you and Sam Finn off,” I explained to him in as patient a tone as I could manage.

“I definitely had a shoe last time you were here. This is bullshit! WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO- oh, there it is,” Harris rambled over the phone. “Wait, if you're not calling about my shoe, why are you calling?”

“One, Irving Saunders is now working with the Council. I figure I should tell you, so you don't make any plans dependent on his help. Two, we're even now. So, again, don't make any plans that are dependent on my help.” I waited for a response from him, but heard only silence. “Xander, did you hear me? Do you understand what I'm saying?”

“Yeah,” he answered. “I'm enveloped in a warm fuzzy glow, but I can still hear you.”

I took a deep breath and pressed on. I don't know why I was so nervous, since I was finally clearing the books with him. “Look, I'll admit that we did good work this time. But you and I have never been friends. We're never going to be friends. Whatever you think I owe you is done. So tell that to all your friends.”

“Kennedy. Thank you,” he said. This caught me by surprise. I was about to say something, but he continued, “I wouldn't have been able to help Riley without you. And when I was hurt, you got me to safety. I owe you for that. So if you ever want my help, let me know and I'll be there. Thank you,” he repeated.

“Yeah,” I said, not sure what to say to that. “Okay. Bye.” I ended the call, wondering if it was just the drugs talking, or if Harris was actually that mellow towards me.

Xander Harris (Epilogue)

I stared at my cellphone, thinking about my conversation with Kennedy.

“Hey, you okay?” Riley asked me. He was sitting between my bed and Sam's bed.

When Kennedy and Irving brought us to Riley, he immediately got us to the nearest military hospital. We were both okay, but Riley insisted we stay for observation He also pulled strings so we were in the same room. That way he could check in on me without ever leaving Sam's side.

“Yeah, I just wish I could have handled that better with Kennedy,” I told him. “I figured she would be, well not eager, but not despising me either. Instead she hated my guts, Irving got thrown in the deep end without any warning, and I got hurt. I just feel like I screwed this whole thing up.”

Riley shook his head. “Listen to me. You did great. I really owe you for this,” he assured me. “Sam was in danger, and I was going crazy because I couldn't do anything about it. I called you, and you got her back.” He turned and kissed his wife on the cheek. “And I am so glad to have you back. You realize you're not allowed to leave the house without an armed guard from now on. And I'm definitely not letting you go on any missions again.”

Sam smiled and stroked his cheek. “I outrank you, bitch,” she told him. “So, I'm going to do whatever I like, while you can suck it.”

“That's my girl,” he said, and leaned in for a kiss.

I averted my gaze to give them a little privacy when my phone rang again.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Mr. Harris?” I recognized Irving's voice right away. “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that Kennedy offered me a job with the Watcher's Council.”

“Yeah, I heard. I guess she wanted to stick it to me one last time. But if it's the best option for you, then you should take it,” I told him.

“But... I thought you wanted me to take it. That's why I accepted the position,” he explained nervously. “I mean, Kennedy might have bought that 'Don't throw me in the briar patch' line you laid on her, but I know what you were up to.”

I let out a sigh. “I thought I was being subtle.”

“Look, I'm not stupid. I'm able to figure out what you wanted,” he said.

“Yeah, I wouldn't have brought you along if I thought you were stupid. I hope you understand where I”m coming from.”

“I understand,” he said, then whispered, “and I'm kind of excited about it.”

“Oh, okay. That's good. I guess.”

“Just so you know, when you need me, say the word and I'll be there,” he said.

“Yeah, great. Wait, what?” I asked in confusion.

“I know what you want me to do. I'm your man inside the Council,” Irving said.

“Um, what?”

“Like I said, I figured it out. You didn't turn me in when we first met, you brought me in for this rescue operation, so I knew you were planning something for me,” he explained. “And you did save my life, so I owe you that.”

“What do you think I want you to do?” I asked, still confused.

“Whatever it is you need. I'll learn everything they have to teach me, and I'll keep my eyes open. But when you call on me, I'll be ready,” he explained. “I better get going now. I've got a lot of work to do.”

I stared at the phone, trying to figure out exactly what just happened. Riley noticed this and asked, “What's up?”

“That guy I roped into helping just called.”

“Irving?” Sam asked. “I never got to thank him. What did he say?”

“He seems to be under the impression that I'm some sort of mastermind plotting away, and he's going to be my sleeper agent,” I told them.

Riley laughed out loud at that. “So am I a co-conspirator, hapless flunky, or unwitting future victim?”

“C'mon, this is serious. This guy thinks I'm going to, I don't know, take over the world or something.”

“And I, for one, welcome our new overlord,” Sam added from her bed.

“This isn't funny!” I insisted. This only made Riley and Sam laugh even harder.

Wiping a tear from his, Riley said, “Xander, take a deep breath and relax. Today, the good guys won, the bad guys lost, and no one died.”

“Some minions died. Actually all the bad guys died,” I said.

Riley waved this away. “Today is a good day. In our line of work, we don't get many of those. So just enjoy it.”

And so I did.

The End

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