Xander was told that it would take a few days for Angel's contact to get back to him. Hopefully it would be with information that they could use or, at the very least, a general direction in which to go. For the time being, Xander still had the regular things in life to worry about. His last case had gone bust and the money that he would have made off of it would have been real helpful towards his goal of getting his own place. The lawyers may have been evil, soul sucking, amoral bastards, but they had promised to pay him well. Real well. Now that he was working a job for Giles, pro bono as it was, he needed to drum up something that could earn him some money. Best way to do that was to hit the streets and the local haunts, which he had done the previous night. He just had to make sure that he didn't make it seem like he was desperate, even if he was.
So far, Xander had turned up absolutely nothing. All of the places that he would normally be able to pick up some kind of work or at least hear about something that he could use to his financial advantage had been dry. Tonight it seemed as if everyone was taking that night off in fact. Every place he had been too had been somber, quiet and, somewhat filled with fear. It was something that happened every so often, usually when there was something big brewing on the Hellmouth or Buffy was getting particularly hard on the demonic community. Maybe they were just reacting to the Thull Bone calling to them the other night. Maybe there was something coming into town that would cause massive destruction and a high body count. At least that would be interesting for a change.
He almost stopped in the middle of the sidewalk when that thought went through his head. Sure, he was getting restless with Sunnydale and its dull and boring ways. Yes, in comparison to what he was now used to he felt his brain was starting to atrophy slightly but he hadn't ever wished for something to come to this place. Not something that would be bad on the level that the Nightside was used to. Sunnydale wouldn't survive, couldn't survive, if that happened. He didn't want people to be hurt. He wanted to stop the things from hurting those that were helpless. So why in the hell was he wishing for something to walk through the town and lay waste to everything around him just so he could actually do something?
He pushed his hands further into his coat pockets and kept moving. Best not to think about it. Too much else going on without thinking thoughts that would probably lead to answers he didn't want.
Right, one more trip through the warehouse area and he'd call it a night. Maybe he'd run into a few vampires that he could dust and at least grab whatever cash they had on them. He wouldn't have resorted to something as low as hunting vampires for their money but he needed to eat. Besides, one thing that would never change was his feelings on the undead, at least those without a soul.
Xander was barely past the first warehouse when he heard the distinct sounds of a fight. There wasn't enough grunting for it to be some turf war between different groups of vampires or demons. But something was definitely laying a beat down nearby. Cautiously, but without showing any signs of trepidation, Xander started towards where the sounds where coming from. It didn't take long before the fight came into view and he didn't bother hiding his smirk as he leaned against the wall next to him enjoying the scene.
Three vampires were trying their best to surround the would be victim, something that should have been a lot easier then it was. But, the young, blonde girl wasn't the type of prey they were used to. Judging by the two trails of ash and dust on the ground, she had already taken out a couple of them, which should have clued the rest into what they were up against. Then again vampires never were the smartest creatures around. If they where they would have turned tail and ran the moment they faced the Slayer. Just another thing to add to the list of idiotic things demons in this town did.
"Need a hand?" Xander asked casually, surprising all four of the fighters.
They all turned to look at him with two distinctly different reactions. The vampires, upon recognizing him, went wide eyed. They froze trying to determine what was the best course of action. Running would normally result in not being dusted. Then again, Xander had been known to simply want information and was often a bit testy when people tried to keep that information from him.
Buffy, however, just looked angry after the initial shock of seeing him wore off.
"Guys, I have to say, this isn't exactly looking up for you," Xander said. "You would think that you'd be a bit smarter than taking on the Slayer, even with there being three of you. Well, now that there's only three of you. I know that it probably got a bit confusing after she got rid of your friends over there."
"Harris," one of the vampires growled half in anger, half fear.
"Xander," Buffy mimicked in almost the same tone as the vampire though there was no fear in her voice.
Xander gave her a smirk before addressing the vampires. "Listen up, normally I would give you guys a pass here, tell you to scram before I get antsy and do something nasty to you all. But I don't think that the lady is going to be okay with that."
One of the vampires stepped up to him, the stench of filth and decay coming off of him was nearly a physical presence all on its own. He was definitely a newer one, freshly turned and hadn't yet learned that just because he was undead didn't mean that he shouldn't shower. "You think you can take us?"
Xander raised an eyebrow before looking between the newly undead and the ash marks on the floor. He was going to remark that 'he didn't need to take them since they were being taken all on their own' but stayed silent as one of his friends spoke up.
"Bill, back off man." A different one stepped forward, grabbing Bill on the shoulder. "This is Harris. You don't mess with him. You don't know the score yet."
"You scared of this punk? What's wrong with you? Look at him. I smell human blood. Nothing special about him." Bill said shrugging off the hand.
Pushing off the wall, Xander started towards Vampire Bill slowly, hands still in his pockets. He waited till he was right in front of him, giving him a one of his, Johns, patented smiles. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Buffy watching him cautiously. "Billy, I'd listen to your friend over there. This whole thing would go a lot smoother probably. Hell, if you were quick you might be able to run before we catch you. Isn't that right fella's?"
Taking this as their cue, the remaining two vampires turned and ran for all they were worth. Bill was taken back by this, looking behind him to watch as his companions left him to stand alone between the Slayer and Xander, who, as far as he had known, was a regular vanilla human. Bill was too new to everything to know everything that went on in this town. Too bad for Billy.
"Uh oh, Billy. Looks like your friends are all gone," Xander said, his smile growing colder.
If Bill was going to respond, they'd never know. One moment he was there and the next, the tip of a wooden stake poked out of the front of his chest. Bill crumbled into dust right then and there, reveling Buffy behind him. It was quick, something that bothered Xander a little. He wasn't looking for any real trouble tonight, just to make a little money. But now that Bill was nothing but ash on the ground, whatever money he had was gone along with him.
It was hard to miss the anger that flashed across Buffy's eyes. She hadn't dropped the stake either, something that wasn't lost on him. So much had changed between the two of them in such a short amount of time. Not that it could have happened any other way really, but that didn't make it any less difficult.
"What the hell are you doing here, Xander?" Buffy asked.
"Taking a night stroll. You?"
"Don't get smart with me. What is it? Some case bring you down here? Some big score, maybe?" Buffy pressed glaring up at him. "You think that I haven't heard about it? We all have. Kind of hard to miss when someone you know starts working for demons."
"Pays the bills," Xander replied with a shrug.
"So that's it, isn't it?" she said with a shake of her head.
"Yea, I guess it is."
They stared at each other for a moment. It wasn't the way he would have like to run into Buffy, into any of them really. But that was life. One big 'screw you' after the other.
"Well, if we're done here then I'm going to keep moving," Xander said.
Turning, Xander made it a few yards before Buffy called out to him. "You wrecked her, Xander! She can barely hear your name without bursting into tears some days. You don't even care anymore, do you? What happens to me? What happens to Willow? None of it matters to you."
"Is that what you think? Boy, Buff, glad to see that you have that whole moral superiority thing going for you," Xander shot back.
"Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Anger welled up inside of him. He wanted to lash out at her, make her hurt as badly as he did inside. It wouldn't solve anything but he didn't care. Still, he was smarter than that. At least now he was. Instead he quelled the feelings inside of him and waved her off.
"Nothing. Stay safe on patrol, OK?"
This time she crossed the distance and stopped him from moving, grabbing his forearm in a vice like grip and spun him to face her. "Stop. I haven't seen you in months, no one has. You don't get to just walk away after all that's happened."
"Get your hand off me." Something must have crept into his voice, something in his eyes maybe. Whatever it was caused Buffy to back down for a second, her hand relaxing slightly. She bounced back though and reaffirmed her hold on him.
"Don't do this, Buffy. Let me go. Now."
She didn't let go, only continued to glare at him. He couldn't over power her, not physically anyway. There were a number of things he could, however, do that required no physical skill whatsoever. Nothing to painful or jarring, just enough to remind her that he wasn't the seventeen year old boy that she knew anymore. The only problem was that he wasn't in the most pleasant of moods at the moment, namely due to her. If he was, maybe he would have been gentler. Maybe he wouldn't have gone for something so drastic. But he was and he did.
Taking a split second to calm his thoughts, he opened up his gift, looking for the thing that gave Buffy her strength, the thing that made her the Slayer. It popped into view right in front of him, flaring up like some kind of a psychedelic Christmas tree. What was strange was that he felt the power going off somewhere, felt it somewhere else in the world. He ignored it for the moment, it wasn't important right now. Instead he reached out and touched the power inside of Buffy, not pulling it away from her, but giving it a slight tug.
Buffy's strength suddenly waned, her grip becoming no better than that of a thin young woman. Her balance left her as well, though if it was caused by her slayer like abilities leaving her or the effect of Xander grabbing hold of her power, he didn't know. It had the desired effect either way. Buffy, letting go of Xander's arm, stumbled back a few steps looking shocked and just a bit frightened. Angry as well, but she was now hesitant to make a move on him again. Xander had released his hold on her power the moment she let him go, closing his inner eye and putting back all of his mental shields. Her strength returned, but it did nothing to make her feel better.
"What did you do?" she whispered harshly.
Gone was the smile he had been wearing, the one without any humor in it. In its place was the hard face and cold eyes that he was more comfortable with wearing these days. It was a face that promised that no good would come of anyone or anything that crossed him. He wasn't happy that he was letting Buffy see him like this. She was once a friend to him, once someone he could trust. That seemed like a lifetime ago. Hell, it was a lifetime ago to him.
It was only his instincts he had gotten from the Nightside that saved Xander's life. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and his brain screamed at him to run. He quickly looked behind him, trying to see if there was anything down the street. At first, he almost missed it. It was as if the part of his brain that was still fully Xander wouldn't let himself believe what he was seeing. It told him that he had to be mistaken, that is just wasn't possibly. But the part of his brain that did most of the thinking for him now, the post Nightside brain that worried about possibilities only after it dealt with the reality in front of it, knew the truth.
Standing down the street, half concealed in the shadows, was a slightly humanoid shape. It looked normal enough dressed in a pin stripe suit with matching hat, nothing out of the ordinary until you looked at its arm. They were too long to be normal, and at first glance you would think his hands matched the too long arms until the light of the street lamp hit them. Gleaming metal replaced fingers, the metal of needles dripping some kind of viscous green liquid from them. If the shadows weren't covering it Xander knew that he would have been looking at some faceless creature. Something that hunted and haunted John Taylor for all his life. The Harrowing.
"We need to move. Now." Xander's eyes narrowed as the thing started forward. If it got close enough to strike they would be done for.
Glancing over, Buffy saw the thing as well but like a good little slayer, she was busy sizing him up, thinking she could take whatever it was. "What? You know him?"
"I'm not kidding, Buffy," Xander grabbed onto Buffy's wrist, already moving backwards. "We need to go."
"What is it? What's the big deal with this thing?" She stayed where she was despite Xander's pulling.
"Something bad. Something that shouldn't be here."
The faceless being moved steadily closer. Unhurried in its every movement. Then again, it didn't need to hurry. It was damn near impossible to stop one of these things once they started moving. The only thing you could do was out run them. Escape and hope that you where able to lose them in whatever back ally you could run through. The other alternative, fighting them, wasn't an option. Not for him. Not for Buffy. Gods had stood against them and come out on top, not regular vanilla mortals or even whatever the hell he and Buffy counted as. Not unless there was some serious magic backing them up. But that had only happened once.
Xander wanted to run. He wanted to move as fast as his legs could carry him and not look back till the damn thing was too far behind him to see. It's what he wanted, but it wasn't what he could do. Buffy wasn't moving and no matter what her feelings towards each other at the moment, he wouldn't be able to live with himself leaving her to that thing. He would drag her out of here if need be.
With another tug, he finally got her full attention. "This is from my neck of the woods. It's something from the Nightside."
Maybe she had finally gotten a good look at it. Maybe there was something in his voice. Whatever the case, she finally started moving with him.
Quickly, they made there way down one of the narrow passages between a row of warehouses. His heart was beating wildly. The fear clutching at his chest was making his breathing labored despite the fact that they had been running for barely a minute. When they came out of the ally Xander did a quick glance on either side of him checking for more of the Harrowing. Seeing none, he bolted to the right with Buffy behind him.
The sound of something sharp being racked across metal drew their attention above them. One of the harrowing was above them on the roof of a warehouse scraping its needle like fingers on the top of the corrugated metal roof. In didn't leap down at them so much as fall with an unnatural grace, landing without making a sound. Stopping short, shocked at the things sudden appearance, Xander came within inches of being jabbed with its needles.
With a shove from Buffy, Xander fell off to the side while she attempted to attack the thing. The punch she threw would have broken the neck of a normal human. A vampire would have went down and been too stunned to get up for a while. Even a demon would have thought twice about coming back for a second round. The Harrowing simply absorbed the punch, Buffy's hand sinking into its face and stayed there. When she pulled her hand away there was an awful sucking sound as the creature's face resumed its normal shape. It unnerved her, which wasn't surprising since it still got to Xander every time he saw it.
Looking wildly around him, Xander shoved his gift open again, this time looking for a way out. He had at least a few seconds while Buffy dodged the attacks of the creature. One on one she may be able to survive for a time but soon it's friend would catch up to them and then it would be over. He was pushing himself, never having used his gift as frantically as he was right now. He knew that it was going to hurt later. Better hurting later then dying now, though. For all his trying, he came up with nothing. This was Sunnydale, not the Nightside. While some places in the town may hold hidden secretes, for the most part it was exactly what it portrayed itself as, a sleepy little berg without much to offer.
Fear started to claw its way back into Xander's mind. These things, these awful things were here and after him. His thoughts were beginning to get jumbled as scenarios of what could happen started to play in his head. Quickly he stomped out all of them. He couldn't let himself get worked up to the point of being useless. He had stopped being useless long ago in his mind. If he was going down, it was going to be on his terms and doing something. In this case, though, something was running away and not letting these things touch him or Buffy.
He saw it then. A way out that was dangerous but significantly less so then what he was currently facing. All they had to do was make it past the next two rows of warehouse and across the street. Yea, that should do it.
"Buffy, come on!" Xander yelled to her.
He turned and started running, trusting Buffy to follow him. A second after he took off he heard the pounding of her feet behind him and then next to him. If they could keep this speed up they stood a chance of actually making it. The Harrowing were fast but he had the home field advantage. Those that had sent them after John before knew the Nightside better than most, they knew when and where to strike. Here though, in Sunnydale, it was a different story. Here, Xander knew the twist and turns and his time on the streets, both living and working, had given him an even better understanding of them. He had meant it when he thought about how little Sunnydale had to offer in relation to the Nightside but that didn't mean that it also didn't have its secretes.
Once more he powered up his gift and searched for the opening that he knew was there. The magic's that kept it closed at the moment weren't a match for Xander's ability, especially when he was as desperate as he was. The focal point of the spells that kept everyone out was small but it was there. He could have pulled it apart if he wanted to but that would defeat the purpose. Instead he simply pushed the spell to the side and, grabbing Buffy's hand, ran through an opening that wasn't really there and suddenly they were no longer on the street but in a darkly lit room.
A few months time hadn't changed Racks waiting area too much. It was as dirty and dingy as he remembered it being, but at least the number of magic junkies was fewer this time around. There was only a single brown haired girl slumped over in an armchair. Her hair had fallen in front of her face hiding her features but she couldn't have been older then either himself or Buffy.
The door to Rack's back room banged open and the tall, gaunt warlock stormed into the room. When his eyes fell on Xander, he stopped short. Though he tried to school his reaction, Xander saw uncertainty and worry flash across his eyes, as well as anger, but that was fine. Xander could work with this.
"Rack. Been a bit, huh?" Xander said as calmly as he could while breathing hard from the run.
"Harris." Rack said his name like it left a bad taste in his mouth. "You've been making a name for yourself. Been hearing a lot of interesting things about you."
"People like to talk."
"It wasn't from people."
The door that lead out of the veil of magic hiding Rack's place shook as something banged against. All of them turned to look as plaster dust fell from the doors frame as it continued to rock.
"Yeah, hi. Remember the faceless goons following us? I think they want in," Buffy said while checking the room for something she could use as a weapon.
Rack finally broke from his stunned pose and leaned against the wall, smirking. "You brought something here? Looking for my help?"
"You wish," Xander breathed. "I led that thing here on purpose. You just happened to be the only one in the neighborhood with a half way decent protection spell on your place."
The door kept banging in its frame as the thing outside of it hammered it with unnatural strength. Cracks had begun to form on the wall closest to it. Something had to give way and it seemed that if the door wasn't going to budge, it would tear down the wall instead. It was coming in one way or another.
With a shrug, Rack let his eyes drift over to the girl in the chair and then over to Buffy. "Nothing's free, Harris. Not even for you. I don't care how much you can see. Plus, you bring the Slayer here, to my house. Unless she's a gift, I could take offense."
"Ew!" Buffy said with disgust. "Why am I not surprised that you know someone like this."
"Calm down, Buffy. Rack's going to help us. More importantly, he's going to do it with a smile on his face." Xander stared at the mage hard enough to make his eyes water but neither of them looked away.
"Oh I am? And why, pray tell, am I going to do that?"
"Two reasons. One, the things that are outside about to rip through your concealment spell like a tissue are from the Nightside. They're nasty and strong and damn near invulnerable to attack." Xander took some slight pleasure in seeing the other man stand up taller at this information. Things from the Nightside got that reaction and so much more. "Two, if you do, then I'll owe you one."
Rack eyed the door, watching as it started to buckle under the constant assault. "Deal."
Nodding, Xander looked to the girl in the chair. "Ok, the first thing we need to do is get her-"
Xander never got to finish his sentence as whatever magic was holding the Harrowing at bay final broke down. The door splintered in two pieces, the top part flew inwards missing Buffy by an inch and causing Xander to duck to avoid being hit in the head. They came in, the pair of them, side by side. They shouldn't have been able to make it through the door way like that but then again, they where the Harrowing and this place wasn't exactly stable with the laws of physics. Despite the run and their attack on the place, neither of them looked the bit put out. Even their hats were on straight and there wasn't a wrinkle in either of their suits. That was always something that was a bit unnerving about them.
They didn't waste any time, heading straight for Xander and ready to attack. Luckily, neither did Rack. With a muttered word, he pointed his fist at them then opened it sending out a bluish beam of light. Whatever effect it was supposed to have, it failed. Neither of the Harrowing even slowed down, they merely continued walking calmly towards them.
This time Rack stepped forward and, spreading his hand wide, released a torrent of red lightening the crackled in the air. This time, something actually happened as the lightening slammed into one of their chest, lifting it off the ground and sending it into the wall. Its partner noticed this and abruptly switched targets, making a beeline for Rack. Buffy attacked it with a lamp she had found on table, slamming the thing in the back of the head. For her troubles she received a vicious backhand that sent her tumbling to the ground but luckily the needles didn't cut into her face.
"Come on," Rack muttered all the while moving his hands around in an intricate pattern. Sparks trailed his hands where ever they went making them look like giant sparklers. Xander noticed that the lights weren't fading from his eyes and instead started to become more solid. A second later, Rack stopped twirling his hands and shoved the magical construct towards the closest Harrowing, his face twisted in concentration.
With bands of various colors, the construct began wrapping itself around the creature and stopped it in its tracks. By the look on Rack's face, it was taking a tremendous effort of will to keep the spell going. That would probably be why no one remembered or saw the other of the pair as it made its way behind Rack, slashing his back open with its needles. Crying out in pain, Rack fell to his knees and lost his concentration.
The binding fell apart in an instant and the both members of the Harrowing were free to attack. Free to drug Xander with their poison and take him back to whoever was controlling them now. Rack had been a last ditch effort. Luck was all that had helped Xander find him but that luck had run out. Already Rack seemed to be feeling the effects of the drug and was finding it hard to move. Though he was trying to stand up for all the good it was doing him.
"Any more ideas?" Buffy asked as she got up and stood next to Xander.
"We die horribly and bloodily and pray that's all that happens," he replied deadpan.
Ignoring him, Buffy readied herself to fight. It was pointless, Xander knew, but she would do it anyway. Rack was out of it. Whatever was coming out of the needles had done a number on him and he wasn't going to be of any help. They could run, Xander thought, but for how long and how far. Sooner or later, they weren't going to be able to go anymore and the Harrowing would find them and bring them down. He didn't have any tricks that could help. There wasn't any way out of this. Not for him anyway.
"Buffy," Xander said evenly. "Make a break for it."
"What? I'm not leaving you here!" Buffy responded.
"I mean it. You can't take them."
"You don't know that. We just have to find there weakness. Everything has a weakness," she whispered the last part as if she was trying to convince herself of that fact.
As the Harrowing stepped forward, Xander and Buffy stepped back. It didn't take long before their backs hit a wall in the small room. It amazed Xander that given everything that was happening at the moment he was surprised to find that besides the lamp that Buffy had grabbed, the rest of them were still upright and working. Usually in a fight in such close quarters you'd expect all the furniture to be toppled over and the lights to be flickering from everyone smashing into them. But this was the real world and not an action movie. Everything other then the door the creatures smashed in was fine, if not dirty. From the oddly polished coffee table to the empty chair the passed out girl had been sitting in.
'Wait. Where'd the girl go?'
The crackle of energy was all the warning given as a barrage of red colored lightening encased both faceless beings. Pushing against the bolts of pure magic that held them, the Harrowing struggled to break free. Amazingly it held and neither were able to go anywhere. Trailing the energy back to its source, Xander was bothered by what he saw. It wasn't the fact that it was the young girl who he had thought had been sleeping it off in the armchair that was casting the spell. Even if her long brown hair was whipping around in a whirlwind only she could feel and her eyes were the color of onyx, she was still just a witch, if a powerful one at that. No, it was that there was something about her that was tugging at his memory. He should know this girl, but he couldn't place her. That was until Buffy spoke.
Right, that was it. Amy Madison. The thirty odd years of displacement inside John's head still messed with his memories a bit.
Ignoring the jump start of his recall, Xander was already moving and hurriedly ushering Buffy to go with him. When they got next to Amy, she turned her head to them with an almost dream like quality and smiled. It was kind of creepy though since her lips turned down as well as up at the exact same time, a sort of distortion in time and reality that encased her. OK then, Amy was still doped up on the magic's. It did help explain how she was able to pull off something like this but her concentration wasn't too great and the effects could die off at any moment making the whole thing unreliable.
"Rack, you OK?" Xander asked.
A thump on the floor was followed by a grunt as Rack pulled himself into a sitting position. "Bastard," was all he was able to get out before he started having trouble breathing and couldn't say anymore.
"Alright, we need to get out of here. Back door time," Xander stated nodding to the man on the floor.
"Please," Xander said with a roll of his eyes. "Like you wouldn't have one. Who in their right mind has an operation like this and doesn't have a way out if things get hairy."
Rack glared for a second but he nodded towards the bookcase on the far wall. It was empty but that didn't mean anything. When it came to magic nothing was ever what it seemed. It made it kind of annoying in a way.
"So what? The doors behind the bookcase?" Buffy asked while moving towards it. She tried moving it out of the way but it didn't budge.
"Not behind it, through it. But it won't work without me," Rack said. A grin fell on his lips but with the color draining from his face it made him look less confident and more ghastly.
Xander watched the two beings that had found their way to Sunnydale. They may not have had eyes but Xander could feel the weight of their gaze on him. "Buffy, grab the guy and let's get out of here."
Apparently that was a direction that Buffy wasn't willing to take. "No. I barely have any idea what's going on here and I'm not touching that...that man until I start getting answers."
"How about we get out of here first and then you get answers."
"How about I stand here and watch you try dragging him out of here."
The light from Amy's spell flared brightly then started to flicker. Her hair was more in a cool breeze then a tornado. She was starting to fade.
"Live first, talk later."
Growling out her displeasure, Buffy went to grab Rack's hand but stopped when Xander gripped the warlock's wrist firmly. "If I see even one discharge of magic, one hint that you're taking from her, I'll be very unhappy. I will show my unhappiness in various ways that will be very messy and painful for you. Understand?"
The grin vanished from Rack's face. He nodded tightly, not saying another word. Letting go, Xander let Buffy grab and haul Rack to his feet while supporting his weight.
"Come on, Sunshine," Rack said through the pain of having to stand up even with the help. "Time to get out of this place."
The Harrowing must have known what was coming because the moment Amy dropped the spell they made a move for the four of them. Luckily, they were closer to the bookcase than the creatures were to them and, as one, the stepped through the bookcase and into a sun filled street a few blocks away from the High School. The moment they were clear, a large sucking sound was heard behind them followed by a flash of blinding light.
Turning to Rack for an explanation, the man grinned manically. "The place existed in a pocket dimension. The backdoor triggered a failsafe spell wiping everything that was in there from this plane of existence. A final solution for…uninvited guest."
"And what's up with the sun? It was almost one in the morning when I ran into Xander," Buffy asked.
"Another bit of protection. Jumped us ahead twelve hours when we left. Best way to not get caught is to not be in the same time or place as anyone else." Rack's grin grew wider but his face fell as a coughing fit hit him. Even with Buffy's help the man was barely able to stay on his feet and was shaking from the effort.
Amy, still in a slight daze, drifted over to him and started to inspect his back. "Doesn't look good," she said, her voice coming out hollow, distant, another side effect of the mystical high.
Buffy wasn't comfortable with the idea of Amy being this close to Rack and it seemed as if it was taking a lot of will power on her part to not simply grab the girl and drag her away. It wasn't as if Xander was happy with the situation, but as far as he was concerned it was her own choice. If she wanted to waste her life and sell herself to him for a fix than who was he to judge? He'd seen far worse than Rack's place and his prices were far from steep. Besides, she was probably so strung out at this point that simply dragging her to some place 'safe' would only hurt her more.
"Don't think I won't call in that favor, Harris," Rack coughed. "You owe me."
Grudgingly, Xander had to admit that he was right. There wasn't any way out of it and it would be a cold day in hell, or any other nasty place, before he welshed on a deal. You never know who might really be holding the other end of the bargain if you did. "I know."
"Come on, Sunshine. Time to get this looked at."
Amy moved to Rack's other arm and took over supporting his weight. Once he was settled, the two began walking off down the street and turned the corner. Xander doubted they would be there if he went and looked. The only thing Xander could hope for would be that Rack wouldn't be able to heal whatever the hell those things had done to him and he would die. Of course, his luck never ran that way.
"You're just letting them walk away?" Buffy asked incredulously.
Xander gestured for Buffy to go past him. "You want to go stop him? Be my guest. But chances are Rack's already gone, Amy too. By the way, when the hell did that happen?"
"Amy? I've got no idea. She started missing a lot of school a few days after Halloween. She stopped coming altogether a few weeks later. We still see her around town once in a while. We just figured it was, well, I don't know. Nothing like this though."
"Few people out here ever do think of things like that," Xander muttered.
Buffy's eyes fly wide open. "Crap! It's two in the afternoon? My mom is going to freak!"
"Way to keep perspective there, Buff," Xander chuckled.
"Well I didn't know that any of that was going to happen!"
Buffy almost smiled for a moment before she became rigid and hard. It must have felt too much like old times for her. She couldn't be expected to forgive and forget all because of one near death experience. They happened to her on an almost weekly basis anyway.
"It's over now. I want answers. What were those things?"
Sighing, Xander ran a hand through his hair and settled his white coat. All nervous habits and stalling techniques but he did them all the same.
"How about we do this inside. I'm feeling a bit exposed at the moment. Besides, it'll save you the trouble of telling everyone later and I could do with sitting down for a bit."
Xander didn't bother to give her a chance to respond and started for the school. It only took a moment before Buffy was once again next to him. He could feel her glare on him the whole time they walked and the only reason she didn't say anything was due to the fact that if she started she'd probably end up hitting him. Wisely, Xander also knew to keep his mouth shut.