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Without A Trace

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Apprenticeship Program". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: All actions have consequences, and a lot of times, the results aren't what one might have expected, or hoped, to have happened.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Dark > Cast: Scooby GangGreywizardFR1314,4011343,80425 Oct 1125 Oct 11Yes
Disclaimer: They all belong to Crack-Head Joss and ME. Deal with it. I have.

Time Frame: Starts during Season's Three, episode seventeen, 'Enemies.'

Spoilers: None intended, but if you don’t know what happened up to this point, why are you reading this story?

Character Bashing: None, since an accurate recounting of canon actions and characterization is not bashing, regardless of how stupid or obnoxious those actions might have been.

Feedback: Of course!

Archiving: Talk to me first, please.

Author’s Note 1: Many thanks to Bill Haden and Theo (Starway_Man) for beta-ing this story.

Author's Note 2: Some of the initial dialogue is from a transcript of 'Enemies' taken from the Buffy-vs-Angel website, http://www.buffy-vs-angel.com/guide.shtml.

Author's Note 3: As usual, “word” indicates speech, :: word :: indicates mental communication and { word } indicates a character's thoughts.

Author's Note 4: This is just a number of scenes strung together to assuage a plot bunny my muse has been semi-obsessed with, recently. At this point in time, I have no idea of when I might be following up on this particular idea, but if anyone is inspired to do anything with this, feel free to do so. Just let me know, so I can track your story.

~~~

Sunnydale, CA

March 17, 1999
Mid-evening


Xander Harris was walking along the deserted residential street, grumbling to himself as he considered the debacle which had taken up the earlier part of his evening.

"I love when you talk, Wesley. I love when you sing, Wesley," he muttered with a mixture of revulsion, loathing and jealousy as he recalled Cordelia's gushing over the British Watcher in the library during their earlier Scooby meeting. "Can you say the words ‘jail' ‘bait', Wesley? Limey bastard."

Seeing Angel and Faith approaching from the opposite direction, Harris nodded as he changed course to meet up with them. "Hey guys! Man, where you been? You gotta find Buffy. She's going to her place and stocking up on ..."

His words were interrupted in mid-sentence as Angel casually punched Xander in the jaw without breaking stride, and the so-called Donut Guy instantly dropped to the street, unconscious.

As the supposed ‘Angelus' idly commented, "That guy just bugs me," Faith simply nodded and didn't even bother to glance down at her one-time sex toy as she continued walking down the street, neither apparently caring that night on the Hellmouth is *not* a forgiving place.

~~~

Sunnydale High library

Several hours following the above scene and Faith's exposure as a traitor


"This restores the balance between us, Rupert Giles," the blue-skinned, yellow-eyed demon stated as he began backing away from the assembled Scoobies. "My debt to you is now repaid in full. Do not call upon me."

"I shan't," Giles agreed with a small smile. "Peace with you."

"And with you," the mage replied before fading into thin air.

"His debt to you is repaid?" Willow repeated the mage's words as she frowned in confusion. "What did you do?"

"I introduced him to his wife," the librarian answered absently.

"Well, I, for one, protest. You pitted Slayer against Slayer in a dangerous charade that could've gotten them both killed, without informing me! I'm informing the Council, straight away!" Wesley declared, his brow furrowed with righteous anger as he turned away and was about to storm off.

"I think you should," Giles agreed again, causing Wesley to stop and look over his shoulder in bewilderment at his predecessor's surprising agreement with his intended actions. "We have a rogue Slayer on our hands. I can't think of anything more dangerous."

Realizing the truth of the older man's words, Wesley nodded. After sending Rupert a pointed look, the two Englishmen headed off towards Giles' office to compose the communiqué to the Council.

"At least, now we know," Buffy commented, a look of sadness and sorrow on her face.

"And we now know a little bit more about the Ascension," Giles noted before disappearing into his private office.

"Graduation Day," Willow spoke up from her spot at the massive wooden table the gang typically used for research. "There's a big scary un-fun. At least, Angel's not bad, though.

"That's good, right?" the redhead asked, glancing over at her best friend with a hopeful expression. "That he was just pretending to be bad, to fool Faith?"

"Yeah, I guess so," Buffy said with a long sigh. "And I'm glad Xander wasn't around, 'cause he definitely would have been trying to stake Angel in a heartbeat if he thought Angelus was back again."

"Uh, yeah, I guess it's a good thing he didn't find you, or come back to join the rest of us," Willow concurred. "He probably would have grabbed one of Giles' crossbows to use on Angel, if he knew what was going on.

"Or at least, if he knew what we *thought* was going on," the hacker/wannabe witch qualified her previous remark. '''Cause we didn't know what was *really* going on, since you and Giles and Angel didn't tell any of us that he was just pretending to be the Big Bad again, a-a-and that it was all just an act to fool the big evil skanky-Slayer.

"Although, I am kinda surprised Xander didn't come back to see if we found out anything about the Mayor in the Hall of Records," Willow babbled on the way only she could, before shrugging off her childhood friend's absence. "I guess he just didn't want to have to deal with Cordelia again."

"Which is something I *really* don't blame both of you for wanting to avoid," Buffy emphatically nodded her agreement with Willow's comment. "I don't ever want to have to deal with her, either, and I'm not the one who used to date her!"

"Well, if that's all we're gonna do for tonight, I guess I'll go home," Willow said as she pushed herself to her feet, and up out of the wooden chair she was currently slouched in.

"See you in the morning, Buff."

"Yeah, Will. See you guys in the morning."

~~~

Sunnydale High School library

March 18, 1999
Mid-morning


"So, any suggestions about how we should deal with Faith?" Buffy asked, glancing at Giles and Willow as they met together in the library the next morning, Wesley not having actually been invited to the early morning gathering.

"Uh, nothing that won't cause even more trouble than we have now," Willow answered with a scowl. "I can't think of anything more we could do about the Mayor that we haven't already discussed in front of Faith - and I think that by this time, she and the Mayor will have already made sure they're prepared for them."

"I've had a number of potential resolutions regarding the situation occur to me," Giles admitted, his forehead furrowed with his own frown, "but I would prefer to keep them to myself for now.”

“Why?” Buffy and Willow both blurted out in unison.

“It's not a question of my not trusting you,” Giles quickly smoothed over the two females' ruffled feathers, “it's just until I've worked out all of the inherent details, I would prefer to continue to work through them in my own mind and determine which would be, err, optimal in these ever-changing circumstances."

"Okay, Giles," Buffy nodded. "I guess we can wait to hear your plans, as long as you don't take too long about it."

"Did Xander come up with anything we could do about Faith?" Willow asked, looking over at Buffy as she noted his absence.

"Haven't seen him yet this morning," the blonde shook her head 'no' in response to the redhead's question, scowling over how Xander hadn't shown his face yet. { He's probably off sulking somewhere, damn it – well, either that or he's mooning over Cordelia and getting pissy about Wesley again, } she reflected to herself. "But we really need to tell Xander what's happened as soon as possible, so that Faith can't try to trick him into helping her out with anything."

"I'm guessing he probably overslept and decided to just blow off his morning classes," Willow offered with a casual shrug.

"Maybe. I figure we can tell him about Faith and ask him for his ideas about what to do about her when we see him at lunch."

"Yeah, I suppose you're right about that, Buffy," Willow agreed as she gathered up her books for her morning classes. After all, she hadn't walked to school with the guy ever since the Fluke had occurred.

"And Xander's usually real good about coming up with ideas no else one thinks of," the redhead noted optimistically.

~~~

Sunnydale High School library

March 18, 1999
Early evening


"What do you *mean*, nobody's seen Xander all day?" Willow asked with a frown as she considered the news Buffy'd just delivered.

"Exactly what I just said, Will," Buffy answered, her face displaying her own traces of concern about their missing friend's absence. "Nobody – not Oz or Cordelia or Wesley or anyone else I've talked to – has seen him in any of our classes, or even here in the building, at all, the whole day.

"And when I stopped by his house after school, just to make sure he wasn't sick or something - his mom said she hasn't seen him since the night before last, and his bed looked like it wasn't slept in last night, either," the Slayer noted with a frown.

"You check with Giles and see if he's maybe heard from Xander," the blonde directed. "I'm gonna check with Angel and see if he's heard anything or if he knows anything about Xander."

~~~

Sunnydale High School library

March 18, 1999
Later that night


"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN, YOU JUST LEFT HIM LYING THERE?!!" Willow screamed, upon hearing Angel's description of the previous night's events prior to Buffy and Angel's confrontation with Faith.

Seeing the outraged fury flaring in the redhead's eyes and feeling the building pressure of uncontrolled magic, the ensouled vampire reflexively took a step back to move himself out of easy striking range, in case the enraged computer hacker should succumb to an impulse to try to stake – or possibly incinerate – him.

Seeing that Giles remained silent, sitting on the far side of the group's research table and simply watching everything going on with a gimlet eye, did not provide the soul-cursed vampire with any sense of security - and Angel swallowed uneasily, as he tried to figure how the best to proceed in front of this hostile audience.

"Well, uh, there really wasn't anything else I could do at the time," Angel said weakly, while also realizing that there really wasn't very much he could say to justify his actions concerning the missing Scooby as far as the redhead was concerned, while desperately hoping that Buffy would step in and defend him against the other girl's fury. "Faith was right there with me, and I had to keep the act going – there was no way I'd be able to justify Angelus being interested in doing anything that would keep Harris safe. I did the only thing I could short of killing the guy, to maintain appearances."

A quick glance over in the Slayer's direction, however, showed that even Buffy was seriously upset about the actions he'd taken the previous evening, seeing the somewhat dubious expression on her face as she listened to his excuse/explanation.

"I – yeah, Angel's right about that much, Willow," the blonde halfheartedly agreed with a clearly reluctant shrug of her shoulders. "Faith definitely would've been uber-suspicious if ‘Angelus' had acted any kind of friendly or concerned about Xander after they ran into him like that."

Seeing the narrow-eyed glare which the other girl had been giving her former boyfriend instantly switch to her, Buffy hesitantly insisted, "Well, she would have," all the while trying to ignore her own only half-acknowledged fears and suspicions concerning Angel's relationship with and attitude towards their currently absent friend, and how that might possibly have affected what had occurred.

"Be that as it may, Buffy," Giles spoke up, having apparently decided to finally weigh in on the group's discussion, "that does not explain your lack of follow-up after the confrontation, and that knowledge accomplishes nothing as far as helping us ascertain Xander's current whereabouts or his present state of health." Pausing to take a calming breath, the librarian then proceeded with his commentary regarding the situation.

"And since neither Willy nor any other source you have been able to check with have been able to provide us with any information regarding his disappearance, and we can be completely certain that Faith had no opportunity to take any action regarding Xander's condition, herself, since she was constantly in Angel's company during the time period in question, and she had neither the means nor opportunity to alert the Mayor about Xander's location and state of helplessness," Giles rambled on, an expression of extreme concern on his face, "we're left with the conclusion that either Xander left town of his own initiative, or that he has fallen victim to some currently unknown misfortune.”

“Misfortune?” Willow squeaked, before returning her glare upon Angel. “So after it was all over and Faith was exposed, why didn't you go back and make sure that Xander was okay?”

“Uh...it simply didn't occur to me?” Angel said hesitantly, before wilting under Willow's infuriated look. “Well, there *was* a lot going on...”

"Be that as it may, this town offers far too many opportunities for any of a vast number of calamities to befall the unwary or the unlucky," Giles put in, as the despondent expressions on both girls' faces deepened.

"So until such time as we gain more information, all we can do is to continue searching for the boy."

Fate then apparently decided to intervene and worsen the situation even more than it currently was, since, at that precise moment, Cordelia barged into the library with Wesley in tow.

“All right, what's all this I hear about my dweeb of an ex disappearing?” the brunette demanded imperiously.

“Angel knocked Xander unconscious and just left him lying on the street last night,” Willow said, her current feelings for Buffy's boyfriend written all over her face. “Pretty much a free snack for any vampire or demon that happened to come along!”

“It wasn't like that,” Angel insisted, as everyone turned to stare at him.

“Then how was it like?” Wesley asked politely.

The ensouled vampire fidgeted and looked away. “Well...alright, so maybe it was like that. But like I was just saying, I had no other choice – I was pretending to be Angelus, and Faith was right there...”

“So, what – you couldn't have turned around and just knocked *her* unconscious instead?” Cordelia said scornfully, a look of disgust just like Willow's appearing on her face. “Taken Faith prisoner then and there, like apparently what happened once before?”

“If he'd done that, then it would have been game over – Faith wouldn't have given us what little she did know,” Buffy insisted, as Cordelia turned to look at her.

“Really. Hmm, still defending your demon lover after what he did? Well, color me surprised,” the cheerleader drawled with sheer derision in her voice. “You *do* know the odds are that Xander's already dead thanks to Angel's actions, don't you?”

{ And the first prize for tact still goes to the annoying bimbo cheerleader, } the vampire thought to himself grouchily before he said, “We don't know that for sure. And where there's life, there's always hope.”

“Yeah, but *you're* not alive. A big hunk of salty goodness, maybe, but you're still a walking corpse. Besides – why are you acting as if you're actually upset about Xander being missing in action? Hell, deep down I bet you're *glad* he's gone, what with the way the stupid goof always hated you. The only reason you'd be concerned about any of this is because it personally affects the Blonde Wonder over there, and everyone will hold you responsible if and when the body is found,” Cordy went on relentlessly.

“Stop saying that! Please, Cordelia, I-I don't wanna think of Xander as maybe being...” Willow trailed off uncertainly.

“Dead? Why not?” the Chase girl asked with an upraised eyebrow, again displaying her absolute lack of tact and compassion. “Denial is pretty much useless in this town, Willow. And we all know that much, don't we?”

Cordelia then turned to Buffy. “So, what are you gonna do if Xander shows up dead or vamped or whatever anytime soon?”

“I...” Buffy didn't know what to say, as she glanced at Angel in sudden despair.

“Again, color me surprised! You're gonna let Mr. 'I was Around For 200 Years and Killed Thousands of People' here get off scot-free, aren't you?” Cordelia growled.

“No! I...” Buffy started to say.

“You what? You're gonna dust him? Yeah, right – you couldn't kill this guy when he was a psycho murderer, you certainly can't do it now while he *has a soul*,” Cordelia said the last three words scornfully, using air quotes.

"Why the hell are you even here, Cordelia?" Buffy snarled, her feelings and self-esteem hurt by the acerbic brunette's vicious comments and prompting her to reciprocate. "It's not like you actually care about Xander anymore, assuming you ever did - or whether he's really safe or not!

"All you've been doing the past few weeks, once you finally managed to get your sheep back under your control, is insult and try to humiliate Xander pretty much every time you see him!" the blonde reminded the school's social queen of her cruel and still ongoing behavior. "And you've only really acted interested in Weasely Wesley here when Xander's around, because you know how much it really bothers him when you do that!

"It's not like you actually contribute anything around here, except to make things really difficult and uncomfortable for everyone else when you show up to torment Xander and Willow when we're researching!" Buffy declared somewhat self-righteously. "All you do – all you've ever really done – is cause more problems!"

"Wow. Way to change the subject when you don't want to think about something you don't like, huh, Summers?" the brunette immediately shot back, eyes narrowed almost to slits. "You don't want to even consider the possibility that your boyfriend is responsible for Xander's death, so you try to get us to talk about something else.

“Tell me something, is it denial? Is it not wanting to take responsibility for what you and Angel did? Or maybe... just maybe… is it the way you figure things, what difference does one more body really make at this point?" Cordelia practically hissed as she sunk in her own verbal claws. "Like the dork said last year, you wanted to forget all about Ms. Calendar's murder to get your undead boyfriend back – so why should this be any different?”

“THAT'S QUITE ENOUGH!!” Giles shouted, seeing the stricken look on Buffy's face and painfully recalling his dead lover as Angel started backing away.

“On the contrary – I think this is something that should be discussed in further detail,” Wesley insisted as he shook his head in distaste. “Because it seems to me, Mr. Giles, that past history is not in Miss Summers' favor – and if she truly favors protecting a vampire over saving human lives, then she is betraying her Calling in almost the exact same way Faith has.”

“No, she isn't!” Willow leapt to her best friend's defense, as the blonde Slayer went white at the accusation. “Buffy would never do that!”

“Indeed?” Wes seemed to have developed a backbone for once, as he stared the redhead down. “You should know, Miss Rosenberg, that I recently completed that statistical analysis into the number of deaths in this town which you helped me undertake, that thing with your ‘hacking' of the city morgue computer system. When Miss Summers left Sunnydale for the summer last year, do you have any idea just how many vampire- and demon-related deaths took place as a result in this town?”

“That wasn't Buffy's fault!!” Willow said obstinately.

“Then whose fault was it? Because nobody *forced* her to leave town after sending the Big Bad Vampire to Hell, did they?” Cordelia fired back, still smarting over the blonde's comments and wanting to get some of her own back.

“I couldn't stay,” Buffy said slowly and menacingly, sick of all the attacks against her by now. “If I did, after everything that had happened – including my mom tossing me out of my own house – then I would have gone completely nuts. Is *that* what you would have wanted?”

“What I would have wanted was for you to have staked Angelus at the mall that night when you had the chance, right at the start. Oh, yeah, I heard about that – when you and Willow thought you were alone in the bathroom and you didn't check under the stalls,” Cordelia smirked at the expression on Buffy's face.

“You *eavesdropped* on us?” Willow screeched, looked insulted and annoyed.

“My, my, the boyfriend-stealing cheater is lecturing *me* on inappropriate behavior?” Cordelia replied bitingly, and enjoying immensely the guilty look that immediately appeared on the redhead's face. "Somewhere down there, Satan must be thinking of setting up an ice skating rink franchise."

“Hey, don't you talk to Willow like that! Half the school knows how you were cheating on Devon with Percy back in sophomore year, so for you to say anything about someone else cheating is just showing what a two-faced hypocrite you really are," Buffy instantly shot back.

"Sure, Willow made a big mistake a few months ago – but then Xander should never have dated *you* in the first place. In my opinion, he could have done a lot better,” Buffy said venomously, as the metaphorical claws started lashing about again.

“Like who? You? Hey, I think we all know how you prefer them tall, broody and without a pulse,” Cordelia riposted, actually starting to enjoy herself as she again tore into Buffy. “Have you ever wondered what things would be like if you'd chosen the human instead of the blood-sucking demon after you showed up in Sunnydale, Buffy? Because Xander gave you that option, way back when. But you turned him down – and now you're stuck in a dead-end relationship with a vampire who can't even have sex with you. Huh – I guess there is some poetic justice in this world, after all!”

"Well, the way I remember things, *you* were certainly eager enough to get Angel to notice you last year," Buffy reminded her former comrade-in-arms. "And when he chose me over you, I also remember you were really pissed about it!

"So exactly how much of this interest in Xander being missing is real, and how much is grabbing the chance for payback for coming up second in that particular contest?"

"THAT'S IT! NOW STOP THIS – BOTH OF YOU!" Giles shouted, interrupting the argument before Cordelia could respond.

“We're losing sight of what's important here,” the former Watcher spoke up more quietly, while growing more impatient with all the foolish teenage sniping and antics. "And that's finding out if Xander's still alive."

“Quite so. I take it you were the last one to see him?” Wesley directed his query to Angel, who was trying to maintain a low profile near the stairs to the mezzanine level.

“Yeah,” the ensouled vampire said thickly, looking down at the floor.

“Was there anything you noticed last night which might give us a clue as to where to start searching?” Giles demanded.

Angel closed his eyes, mentally retracing all the events in question. With his photographic memory, he went over everything carefully – before he opened his eyes again and shook his head. “No. Nothing. The street was utterly empty, as far as I could tell – which, now that I think about it, was kinda weird in and of itself...”

“Yeah - I mean, this is Sunnydale. There's always *something* Hellmouth-y crawling out of its lair at the worst possible moment,” Cordelia said absently, while still smarting over the verbal hits she'd taken during her argument with Buffy.

Yeah, she'd scored some good zingers against the Slayer, but the former Queen C really wouldn't be satisfied unless her opponent was metaphorically bleeding out on the ground.

And if the bleeding really wasn't all that metaphorical, that would be okay with her, too.

{ Still, now that I think about it, it's a *good* thing that the broody undead chose someone other than me as his significant other. I would have made him go all *grr* even faster than the bottle-blonde menace did, } Cordelia thought to herself irritably. { If there's anything I should have done different, it's clear the air between Xander and myself while I still had the chance – oh, and kept a closer eye on the red-haired nerd, to prevent her from poaching on *my* territory! }

Willow saw the look Cordelia was sending her and simply had to look away. Despite Buffy's defense just now and despite how her boyfriend Oz had forgiven her and taken her back during Christmas, it still *hurt* thinking about what had happened for those insane six weeks during the fall.

{ What was I thinking back then? } Willow asked herself, and not for the first time either. { What Xander and I did – it was so totally stupid, we just hurt the people we loved when we were finally found out. I mean, as gross as it is for me to contemplate, I'm pretty sure after that night with the rebar – Xander realized that he really did love Cordelia, and that he'd lost her forever... }

Buffy saw the torment on Willow's face and after glaring at Cordelia the Chosen One thought to herself, { I can't wait for high school to finally be over, and we don't have to deal with that stuck-up bitch anymore! Hopefully, she'll head east for some rich Ivy League college after graduation – and we'll never see her again... }

Oblivious to all the mental musings over the past five seconds, and accepting the silence that had resulted from his bellowing like a banshee as tacit agreement with his orders to stop bickering and focus on Xander, Giles nodded and began issuing directions for how the small group would intensify its search for their missing associate. And so the various disgruntled, upset, irritated and angry teens and adults all fanned out to follow Giles' instructions.

All too soon, however, the search had to be curtailed in favor of more pressing concerns. Such as the plans for how to thwart or circumvent the Mayor's Ascension, as well as how to deal with Faith's attack against Angel – a vile and cowardly strike using the mystical poison, Killer of the Dead, whose only antidote was the blood of a Vampire Slayer.

As a matter of fact, it wasn't all that long before the mystery surrounding the so-called 'Zeppo's' disappearance was shunted aside and pretty much forgotten ... very much like Willow and Xander's childhood friend, Jesse McNally, had been completely forgotten by this point in time.

Xander Harris had vanished without a trace, and priorities being what they were, Buffy, Willow, Giles, Wesley and even Cordelia were destined to move on with their lives without him...

Until the day when Xander finally showed up again.

FIN

The End

You have reached the end of "Without A Trace". This story is complete.

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