Disclaimer: All characters and institutions are the property of whomever owns BtVS and A:TS. I just borrowed them, and make no profit from their use.
Standard field teams for the International Watcher’s Council operate with two Slayers, a witch, and a Watcher.
The premier team takes on the biggest bads with the first – and strongest – Slayer, arguably the world’s most powerful witch, and a one-eyed carpenter. For some reason, the villains always go for the carpenter.
“Not. A good. Idea!” Buffy swings the demon wizard by one four-foot-long, scaled and clawed arm, pounding him from desk to wall to ceiling of his tiny preparation chamber.
Willow stands with her back to them, filling the doorway to the massive ritual hall with tendrils of blue lighting that arc away only to return and dance over her white buzz-cut, to crawl from the corners of her iris-less eyes, and to ripple the grey silk tunic and tights she wears.
In the centre of the hall, under Willow’s watchful eye, Xander rolls onto his stomach from where he has been thrown and pushes himself to his knees, then his feet. He grins up at Willow with a green-hazed eye and teeth outlined with blood.
Willow nods and he spits excess blood to the side. With a twitch of the witch’s fingers, the small puddle begins to hiss and bubble, causing the horde of demon drones who fill the hall, and who had stood indecisively silent since the strange one-eyed man had been thrown from their master’s sanctuary, to draw back in trepidation.
He lets loose the yipping keen of his reclaimed hyena spirit and unsheathes his gladius, spinning in amongst the drones where he lashes out with his metal-bound left fist even as he beheads a demon.
Willow watches for a moment, making sure that their information is correct and that the four-foot, vicious little scoundrels can be killed by decapitation, then nods happily and turns back to help Buffy with the questioning. ///
Xander’s left hand had been chewed to uselessness nearly two years before during a rescue attempt. A group of Slayers-in-Training, trying to prove to Faith that they were ready to move out of her oh-so-tender care and up to the big leagues with the combat-ready field teams, had taken bad intel and found themselves in the midst of a Suvolte nest. They’d at least left a note, so when the girls were reported missing, Faith had rounded up Robin and Xander – who was visiting the Cleveland training academy – and headed out after them.
Three of the girls had been easy to extract, but Xander headed into the cave after the fourth while Faith reamed the others out and Robin called back to the complex for either a witch with serious fireball capacity or a handful of grenades.
Their initial arrival had driven back most of the demons, but the remaining SIT had had the bad fortune to fall into an egg pit. Her warmth had instigated the hatching, and by the time Xander found her the girl was hunched into a ball, a bloody, whimpering, gnawed-on mess. When Xander extended a hand to give her a boost out, some of the hatchlings leapt from her unprotected back and arms to his hand and began tearing at the thin flesh. He screamed, prompting Faith and Robin to sprint in after him, but held fast. By the time the Slayer arrived, he was mewling with pain even as he knocked the hatchlings from himself and the SIT and back into the pit.
The hatchlings couldn’t bite through leather, so only the girl’s back and arms were damaged – scars that never vanished entirely, even with Slayer healing – but eventually she could once more operate at one hundred percent.
Xander’s hand was another story.
Flesh, tendon, and even bone on the back of his hand had been worried with small, sharp teeth, rendering his skilled hand virtually unusable. When the final verdict came in, and Willow had burst into tears and Faith, Buffy , Dawn and Giles been reduced to furious oaths, Xander had simply asked Willow to help him find a way.
It was one of the SITs that gave them the idea, a newly-called inner-city girl who asked who the guy with one eye and a club hand thought he was fooling. His bones were already held in place with metal strips; Willow replaced them with thick bands of socketed titanium, heavy with spells for medical, martial, and aesthetic purposes, and the four original Scoobies devised a dozen fittings – spikes and ridged blades and shields – that could be slipped in easily and only removed with a simple spell.
He had trained heavily for six months, fighting to overcome a left side that should be useless, until he declared himself fit for battle.
By that time, Buffy had turned over leadership of the European field teams to Faith, who was sick of training and had fully schooled her replacements, and Willow had completed the more formal magic education she had been forced to put aside when the First rose and the Council fell apart, and the three Scoobies were reunited. Mostly they worked Western Europe and the United States, as the only two Watchers with whom they were willing to work were trained in Occidental nasties and prophecies, and Willow’s magic didn’t always work properly in areas steeped in mythos and mysticism other than her own.
Xander worked surprisingly effectively in Africa, especially after reclaiming his hyena in a spirit-walk that one East African tribe had deemed necessary before they would trust him with the unprecedented four Slayers that lived in the six-hundred-strong village, but his ten months on the Dark Continent had left behind a well-connected network of Slayers, Seers, Shaman and Watchers who were more than holding their own.
This night’s work had kept them closer to home than most, just outside of Bath. A species of demon that hadn’t been seen in almost a millennium, it operated as a hive with wizard, warrior, and drone classes all subject to the fancies of a vicious queen. Queen was, as their Watcher had put it, “not entirely accurate” terminology; queens could only reproduce with the queens of other hives if they wanted to breed anything but drones. This hive was apparently the last of its kind and had been reduced over centuries to the queen, a single wizard, and a veritable army of drones. Through centuries of stealth and subterfuge the wizard had kept his hive hidden and developed the magics necessary to adapt a human body to be the receptacle of a higher-caste demon.
Buffy, Willow and Xander had interfered in the plan to convert the entire population of Bath into semi-sentient incubators, set to spawn the makings of a thousand new hives.
A text generally considered worthless had been the source of the prophecy that had led to the night’s battle, and Xander had taken out the sacrificial drones while Buffy and Willow dealt with the wizard. With his information, they found the nest and killed the queen, then offered the remaining drones the chance to continue their lives as they had been, living in secrecy and doing no harm to othes. Most had agreed, and Buffy and Xander had quickly dealt with any dissidents. From what they had seen, the colony should be extinct in thirty years. ///
Back at their London headquarters, Xander cleans his sword carefully before beginning the tedious process of stripping and cleaning the grooved metal ridges – sticking four inches from his hand, with slots three inches deep, he could use them as a swordbreaker or a weapon; Willow’s spells kept the torque and pressure from wrenching at his bones – that he had worn for the fight. After a long shower, he pops in the flesh-tinted strips that keep the metal sockets in his hand clear when he isn’t fighting. He is toweling off when Dawn barges into his room.
“Dawnie!” He yelps, jerking the towel from his hair to around his waist.
“Please,” she rolls her eyes. “As if we didn’t have bigger problems than your bits on display.”
Xander cocks an eyebrow and drops the towel, smirking when Dawn squeaks and shuts her eyes. “Problems?” He asks casually as he moves to get dressed. He sighs as he passes the comfortable pyjama bottoms on the bed, digging out socks, boxers, a faded pair of jeans, and a black T-shirt instead.
“Angel’s coming,” Dawn bites out.
The clothes hit the floor.
“Angel’s dead, Sunrise. Four years, now.”
Dawn scoffs and opens her eyes, gesturing for him to get dressed. “Apparently he’s less dead than usual.” She slumps to the edge of the bed and cradles her face in her hands, her long pink-streaked brown hair parting around her neck so the crest of the tattoo on her back, where it rises above the top of her blue camisole, is visible. And visibly inflamed.
Xander tenses the muscles of his own back and winces – the burning he had thought was just after-effects of the night’s workout is partially attributable to the rawness of his own tattoo. He opens the telepathic link a little, wary of being overloaded with someone’s mind vomit, and is relieved to find everything dialed back to the low hum that connects them when they aren’t actively seeking contact. Dawn and Willow are both expressing confusion and concern, and Willow is doing something hastily – probably dressing – but Buffy is furious. Xander blinks.
“What’s Buffy mad about?” He asks, pulling his shirt over his head and drawing on his socks. “Thought she’d be ecstatic.”
Dawn shrugs. “Sent me to get you; she’s beyond pissed at Giles, though.”
Xander hmms and heads towards the door, only to be stopped by Dawn’s hand on his arm. He looks at her and sees the brown leather patch in her hand.
“Really?” He asks, putting it on. He always wore one around the baby Slayers or outsiders, but pretty much everyone but the Scoobies should be down for the night. More than that, she had given him the patch that Willow had spelled for battle.
Between his innate empathic powers – whatever else they might do was unknown, but they were the reason his possessions were so much more powerful than might otherwise be expected – and the hyena, something strange had happened in the wake of losing an eye. The benefits she gave him waxed and waned with his emotional or physical stress; the first outward expression of her power was a dull green haze over his remaining eye. That never changed, apparently signaling that his own sentience was in control of his actions. Gradually, though, a bright green witchlight gathered in his other socket, a phantom eye. He couldn’t see through it , and it seemed to serve no purpose, but when he was angry it shone through most fabrics. His one attempt at a prosthetic eye had turned to dust in the socket as soon as one of his girls was in danger.
Dawn nods in reply. “Really. If Buffy’s this mad…” She shrugs, wincing pointedly as fabric scrapes over the raw flesh of her back.
The tattoos are a year old, gotten to celebrate six months of working as a successful team. Theirs is, in fact, the only team that operated without their Watcher in the field. While Dawn is in incredible shape, she is still a slim young woman, without Buffy or Xander’s supernatural advantages or Willow’s heavy magical defenses.
Her blood, though the ritual Glory had wanted it for is long past, is still a potent source of energy. An attempt of Willow’s to use it in a spell had blown up her laboratory.
Nevertheless, she is an incredibly effective Watcher. She observes battles through their eyes, occasionally even taking over someone’s mouth to speak a necessary counterspell or ritual phrase. Her understanding of languages approaches Giles’ own, and her worldview coincides more closely with the Scoobies’ than Giles’ ever could.
The telepathy came first, Willow refining her initial skills until she could establish a permanent link between the four of them that could be closed off at will to anything but directed cries for attention; it would only have worked for a Watcher in whom they had absolute faith. Six months later, the four of them had chosen to commemorate their excellence as a team: Xander’s idea had been met with unanimous approval and they had been inked with black outlines of the tarot cards that they had used to combine themselves to defeat ADAM. Xander was still the heart, Buffy the hand, and Willow the spirit, but Dawn became the mind. Soon after the tattoos had healed, they all discovered that they reacted to distress – the telepathic link, unless it was open, only transmitted direct contact. The tattoos reacted to emotional upheaval. Willow’s and Buffy’s are subdued by their innate power, Dawn’s they treat as the baseline, and Xander’s is enhanced by his empathy. And if the stinging between his shoulderblades is anything to go by, Buffy is getting angrier all the time.
Xander and Dawn hit the bottom of the stairs, breaking past the silence barrier that permanently surrounds the Scoobies’ conference room, just in time to hear Buffy reach the end of her tirade: “…and this kind of heavy-handed, Daddy-knows-best, self-serving bullshit
is why I booted the Council in the first place!” She breaks off, panting and glaring, while Giles escapes behind cleaning his glasses.
Xander shoots a questioning look at Willow, who shrugs, face almost as white as her eyes and hair.
Buffy catches the movement and smiles wryly. “Brace yourselves, kiddos. The first step’s a doozy.”
Her eyes snap shut and the other three’s quickly follow as images spill over the link
The phone is ringing and Buffy is still downstairs, grabbing a snack before she heads to the shower.
“I got it,” she calls to Giles, still puttering around with Dawn and the debriefing reports, and picks up the phone.
“Buffy?” And she’s shocked amazed hurt sad inlove inlove inlove ANGRY
“Who is this?” Words bitten out.
“It’s Angel, Buffy. I got your number from –“ hurt inlove angry
Laughter. “Really, really not. Look, Buffy, we got out of LA –“
“Where?” And the world opens, things she hadn’t thought to think about for four years. A while city, born and raised, gone and forgotten. Angel, gone, Willlow’s magic failed failed failed, but no questions, no how or why. “Oh, god.”
“You didn’t notice? Jesus, Buffy, a whole city got stuck halfway into a demon dimension; we had to take on Wolfram and Hart all over again to get ourselves out. Managed to… reverse it, I guess. Never happened. Except some of us had… contracts or something. Hell, we did, but we don’t know if that’s why… This whole thing makes no sense!” Frustration on the line, confusion. Buffy is shocked silent. “We’ve been fighting for ten years, Buffy. We finally win and… BAM! Back in the alley again, nothing ever happened, except it’s four years later and Wesley’s still a ghost, Illyria’s still mostly Fred, and I’m still human!” shock joy pain fear
“Human?” Buffy whispers, then rallies. “What the hell, Angel?” She demands, anger anger fear. “You were in that kind of trouble and you didn’t even call? Maybe a heads up – hey, babe, we’re headed into a fight that might suck LA into hell, just thought you should know!” Buffy’s panting, anger sorrow anger
“Right.” And Angel’s voice is bitter and cold. “Like you helped the last time? If you wouldn’t help Fred – one of the best people I’ve ever met – because you didn’t agree with my methods, why the hell would you help me when I needed you to do more than look something up in a damn book?”
A rustle behind Buffy and she turns to see Giles leafing through a book. He looks up and smiles and an awful suspicion starts. “Giles, sit!” She demands. Surprised, he complies. Still keeping an eye on him, she returns her attention to the phone.
“Angel, who is Fred?” anger sorrow grief fear
He starts to scoff, but the tone of her voice sinks in and he answers bluntly instead. “Friend of Willow’s, actually. Genius scientist, was trapped in a hell dimension for five years. We rescued her; when we came back…” He coughs. “You were dead.”
Buffy murmurs something mindless into the phone, loss sorrow sympathy
“Anyway, she was great. Brilliant little Texan girl, loved tacos and Wesley and physics, she worked with us for three years. She ran the science lab when we took over Wolfram and Hart – which would be the reason for not helping us, by the way. Maybe trying to fight evil from the inside was a little naive, but dammit, it worked!”
“Angel!” He’s panting into the phone, and Buffy waits for his breathing to slow. “Tell me about Fred.”
“Right.” He sighs. “We did psychic readings and established rules to weed out most of the big evil around the firm, but they’re all lawyers and scientists – inherently evil or inherently smart. There was this guy in Fred’s lab, Knox. In love with her, and an adherent to a religion that worships the Old Ones –“
Buffy makes a questioning noise. Angel sighs.
“Gods among demons, put into hibernation in tombs out at this place called the Deeper Well, always guarded. Knox got an Old One’s – Illyria’s – tomb out somehow, and Gunn got manipulated into unwittingly getting it through customs. It was left in the lab so Fred would investigate it, and she got infected –“
“Wait, I thought you said Knox was in love with Fred?”
“So in love he wanted his god to have her body.” His voice breaks, half laugh, half sob. “It took days to kill her, Buffy, turned her insides to mush, scraped out her soul. We looked everywhere for help, but –“
“You didn’t come to me.” cold anger guilt sorrow
“We went to Giles! You were partying it up in Italy; what could you do?”
“I was training Slayers in Scotland, you asshole! A year before you died – I mean, disappeared – I asked you to be my second front. I took what you gave me – on your word – and used it to save the world. What made you think I stopped trusting you, Angel?” sorrow sorrow sorrow “Maybe not with me, but with the world? With Fred?” Buffy sighs. “I am sorrier than I can say for Giles’ mistakes, for his arrogance, and for whatever I did that made you think you couldn’t ask me for help. You always can, and I’ll always try.”
Angel sighs, again, and Buffy is crying, glaring past tears at Giles’ white face.
“Can we come?”
The memory shuts off and Xander, Willow and Dawn all gasp. The download took only moments, but Giles is already watching them warily. Together they make a decision to deal with his betrayal later, and to address Angel’s visit now.
“Anything else, Buff?” Xander ask.
She nods. “Spike’s coming.”
He makes a face. ”Sorry I asked. Wait, what is this? International Come Back from the Dead Day?”
Buffy shrugs. “Angel kinda listed who was coming and hung up.”
“So unless he got a dog…” Dawn smacks him on the shoulder.
“Actually,” Giles interjects almost timidly, “Spike’s essence was tied to the amulet. It was returned to Angel some months after the collapse of the Hellmouth, and Spike was released as a form of ghost. Eventually he was recorporealized.
Buffy’s face shuts down and Willow grabs her hand. Xander closes his eye and rubs the bridge of his nose; flashes of green light show as the patch shifts.
“And you know this how?” Dawn’s voice is frigid. Angel had been her older sister’s messed up entanglement, but for better or worse, Spike is family. Xander, of all people, echoes that sentiment through the link.
“We contacted Angel to help us track down Dana, of course, and Andrew saw Spike. He requested that his presence be kept secret, that his sacrifice not be mitigated, as it were, by his subsequent return. Later he and Angel attempted to track you down in Rome, Buffy. They saw your double out dancing with the Immortal, I believe.”
“And Andrew didn’t set him straight?”
“By that time his intentions were already dubiously murky, Buffy. We couldn’t trust him not to turn that information over to someone else.”
“What?” Giles polishes his glasses again, eyebrow arched.
“Did anyone from Wolfram and Hart – did anyone, period – go after the fake me in Rome?”
“Oh.” Giles blinks. “Well, no.”
Xander looks at Giles and shakes his head, the disappointment he radiates somehow sharper than the girls’ condemnation, then speaks. “Well. Spike’s alive, Angel’s alive, anything else?”
Willow’s hand tightens on Buffy’s. “I think… I think Angel might be really alive. Human alive.”
The others nod, even as Giles gapes at her. “Yeah, I caught that too.” Dawn smiles at Buffy.
“So we only need to stock blood for one vamp, which is all to the good. Any idea when they’re getting here?”
“This evening, I think,” Buffy answers.
Her smile is slight and crooked, but there. “I think Angel owns a jet.” ///
They lock down the girls’ dormitories at sunset, send home any lingering staff early, and are waiting in the living room, pretending to watch TV.
“Y’know,” starts Xander, pointing at the television where a group of young adults were sitting around a table in a café, “our lives would make a damn good TV show.”
“Highly unbelievable,” Dawn scoffs.
“Cognitive estrangement,” he retorts. Willow marks an invisible point in the air.
“Huh-wha?” Buffy asks, turning to the inane discussion as something to keep her occupied.
“Cognitive estrangement, Buff. Hallmark of science fiction. Like a metaphor, really.”
“Things that are different from everyday life – robots, or” Willow chuckles, “magic or vampires – are added to a story so that people distance themselves mentally from the characters. That’s cognitive estrangement.”
Xander picks it back up. “If an author wants to say something that will make people mad, or to criticize something, he can set it in another world. Then whatever he’s talking about, or making fun of, doesn’t get anyone angry because he’s not talking about them, see?”
Buffy is shaking her head when the doorbell rings.
“Oh, goddess,” Willow murmurs.
Buffy bounces to her feet and freezes, panic
raging through the half-open links and everyone winces.
“Chill, Buffy!” Dawn rolls her eyes. “Xan and Wills can let them in, and you and I can grab drinks or something.”
“Drinks?” Buffy whimpers.
“A little cool-down time,” Xander offers.
“Right,” she nods. “Drinks.” She grabs Dawn’s hand and quick-marches towards the kitchen. Don’t forget the blood
, he reminds them on his way to the door, then freezes. Willow smiles ruefully and grabs his hand for a quick squeeze, then he is opening the door just as Spike is reaching for the bell again.
And then they are reaching for the two vampires at the front of a very small herd of exhausted warriors, Willow wrapping her arms around Angel’s waist and Xander cupping Spike’s cheek for a long moment before ducking his head.
“Come in, Spike.”
Before he can move, Willow ducks under Xander’s arm and repeats her limpet impression. “You are always welcome where we are,” she mumbles into his chest.
She disengages and Xander moves out of the way, but not before he sees Spike blinking rapidly.
“Anyone else need an invitation?” He asks Angel as the ex-vampire steps into the foyer, looking over the four people behind him.
“Shouldn’t think so,” Angel grins.
“Not even you, I see. So if you were Deadboy before, does this make you Un-Deadboy now?”
Willow and Spike both chuckle and even Angel’s lips twitch. “I had hoped you’d matured.”
“What am I, wine?”
“Never happen, Peaches.”
Xander and Spike speak together, grin at one another, and then Xander sobers.
“Angel? Um, Buffy’s in the kitchen warding off a panic attack, but I think I’m the one who has to say this first. Because, well, I didn’t like you. Didn’t trust you around my girls. Don’t even know if I’ll like you now, though it’s damned good to see you. But… I’m sorry. For everything that made you think you couldn’t come to us for help. That we didn’t find out what was happening on our own. That we let Giles get out of hand. And I’m sorry for your losses, the time and pain and loved ones. But… I wanted to let you know. I might not trust you with my girls, but I don’t trust anyone with my girls. I do
trust you with anyone else.”
Angel blinks for a minute, speechless, then extends his hand. As they shake, he raises an eyebrow. “Your girls?”
“Us.” Buffy and Dawn had appeared in the doorway, and Willow had slipped over to stand beside them.
“Y’know,” Dawn twists her face into an exaggeratedly pensive expression, “I feel like we should strike some poses or something, a little Xander’s Angels, maybe?” They were laughing when Spike got his voice back.
“Niblet?” Her head shoots up.
“Spike?” They all watch as his presence finally sinks in for Dawn.
She leaps on him, long legs around his waist, arms around his neck, her hair in his mouth and she’s laughing and crying even as she chants his name. He laughs, his own eyes suspiciously wet, and squeezes.
“Um,” Xander starts, looking around. “How about the rest of you come with me and Willow? We can do introductions, maybe some refreshments or you guys can clean up?” He smiles as he gathers up the four accompanying Spike and Angel and he and Willow lead them into the living room. He shuts his link down hard to suppress any hint of what he feels when he looks over his shoulder to see Spike clinging to Dawn.