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Summary: Grief hits us all and when it comes how we handle it can send ripples across the world. Watch as Xander Harris deals with his own and evolves from it.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anime > Other
Multiple Crossings > Xander-Centered
(Recent Donor)TheDivineDemonFR151284,3311914664,22728 Oct 1124 Nov 13No

Chapter Eleven

6000 words in and I decide I could do better and restart putting me more than a month behind my intended goal… what the hell is wrong with me?

Betaed by Oxnate, go read his stuff in appreciation.

Chapter Eleven: Playing with Dolls

A hammer rose into the air inside Xander's mind.

And then, just as soon as the image appeared, it came down with a ringing thud.

Power flared through him at a startling speed. So much so that he flinched back, almost falling onto the floor in the process, and his eyes snapped open in shock. Sitting across from his position on the floor was Ms. Calendar, who was looking at him with a rather strange mixed expression of smug and proud.

"Good job Xander! You finally got it!"

In honesty, she had every reason to be proud. Mostly because over the last week she slowly but surely became Xander's primary magical instructor as Giles became distracted by his other duties and Willow's questioning.

She still felt no regret about steering the red head in the Watcher's direction.

Anyway, with the Englishman distracted, Jenny found herself taking almost all the responsibilities of teaching the novice magus. She supposed that she should feel slightly relieved, or maybe a little honored, that the Brit trusted her enough to teach the teen without his usual over the shoulder view. Though she had to admit she was enjoying the task more than anything else, as it combined her love of teaching with her love of magic.

She could understand why so many other magic users took on Apprentices.

And Xander proved himself to be a more than willing and driven student as he did his best to absorb everything she told him. Sometimes she had to wonder what was driving the teen because there was definitely something more there than just wanting to help his friend, the Slayer,. But for right now she was just glad that that all of his effort was being put towards something somewhat constructive.

Though, it did take a little longer than she expected for him to accomplish a solid self-hypnotism trigger. Maybe it was because he had grown a little too used to diving for his magic instead of calling it forward.

But he had finally gotten it!

After little more than a week of trying he had gotten it down!

"Thanks." Xander said with a smile, more at the accomplishment than the praise. Because now he could use his magic quicker, more surely. As sure as that hammer would fall he now knew he could grasp his magic.

"But don't let it get to your head mister." She teased, waving her finger in his face. "You still have a long way to go, even with the spells you already know."

"Yeah, yeah, I know." He mumbled, if not a little indignantly. He knew he had a lot to work on, even with the spells he already knew, she didn't need to keep poking at that sore spot.

He'd show her in the weeks to come though, just give him half the chance.

After Xander proved he was able to get a similar result three more times in a row Jenny decided to end to lesson.

"Alright," Jenny said with a clap of her hands, standing up from the floor for the first time in an hour, "That's enough for today. We'll start going over your Reinforcement next time."

While Xander was disappointed about the lesson ending, as they always proved to be enlightening in some way, he knew it was probably for the best. Both for her schedule and his, he had to get to his Tai Chi lessons after all.

He had to suppress a growl of irritation at that thought.

Tai Chi.

What could he say about Tai Chi?

It was boring as hell for one thing.

Slow as hell for another.

And the damn instructor wouldn't stop saying he was "too stiff" or that he was "going too fast". God it was so annoying, but unlike every other Martial Art he had tried he had to pay for this one. While it was relatively cheap, fifty dollars for a month, it was expensive enough that he'd go to every damn class he could that month.

And what long and agonizing month it was going to be.

All he had learned so far were weird foot movements and different ways to slowly move his arms! It got so infuriating that after almost every class he had at the Tai Chi Center he had to go to his practice spot near the park and go over his older styles.

He supposed he should just be happy that he was being more active again. It only took the doctors a damn week to decide that. Not that he really listened. Still, it got his minders off his back.

Especially Willow.

That girl could hover and mother hen like a pro.

After they finished packing away the books and mats they used Jenny grabbed her bag and waved to her student goodbye as she moved towards the library doors, "See you later Xander. Try to get home before it gets dark." She said it so flippantly but Xander could just barely hear the hint of an order in her tone.

He was going to anyway, all he had was a single stake on him so it wasn't like he was going to take the long way home just to kill one of those pale-faced leeches... Not until he was a little bit stronger.

Just a little bit. He knew he was closing in on the strength he needed, he could feel it.

So he answered with an "I'll try." And a promise to see her the next day.

The teacher paused right before the door to give him a hard stare to tell him that the 'try' part of her request was just there for pleasantries.

Xander went to follow her a bare moment later only to pause just as he made contact with his bag. Just as his finger gripped a strap a blueprint started to appear in his mind. A fuzzy and sloppily drawn blue print but one none the less, showing him every square inch of the bag and the contents it held within.

It was more like how one would picture an airport x-ray scan really.

He could see the shape of the bag, the number of pockets, his note books, the gym clothes he brought for Tai Chi, the random writing utensils, the Sun Tzu book Giles recommended he read. The design of the bag and every item in it were on full fuzzy display for him; just waiting for that little extra push of power from him for that perfect image.

But instead of putting just that little bit more into the unwanted spell he shook his head like he was trying to get rid of an annoying thought and went on his way out of the library.

That particular magical hiccup has been popping up a lot lately. He didn't know why but it did. He'd go to grab something and then as soon as he touched it he'd have the blueprint of it in his head.

Something he should bring up to Ms. Calendar and Giles he supposed… As soon as he was sure they wouldn't cancel his magic lessons when he told them.

Still, he wished that those events wouldn't come with a mild throbbing in the back of his skull. Didn't hurt, mind you, it was just distracting.

Case and point being that while he was trying to rub the pain away through his temples he bumped into someone, sending sheets of paper and what looked like an over grown doll spiraling to the ground with their owner. The thing that made Xander feel like more of an ass was that he was still standing, halfway through his next step even, while his classmate was rubbing a sore butt and collecting his belongings.

"Crap. Sorry about that man. My head is a few miles that-away" Xander apologized as he started to pick up the stray papers. "Here, let me get that."

"Thanks." The other teen mumbled, ignoring the papers as he grabbed the doll and straightened out its clothes as he inspected it for damage.

"Ah man, please don't tell me I broke it." Xander whined, already feeling bad and predicting the loss of cash from his wallet to repair it.

The boy gave a wry smile, "Nah, he's tougher than he looks."

Xander tilted his head a bit at the wording but shrugged it off easily enough. "So what's with the doll anyway?"

"Oh, I'm trying out for the school talent show with a ventriloquism act." For a brief second something akin to professional pride snuck in the boy's eye, "And he's a dummy not a doll."

"Well, uh, sorry and good luck I guess." Xander said while rubbing his neck awkwardly, grimacing slightly when his fingers found familiar bite scars. A mark of weakness that reminded him what being ill prepared could cost him.

One of many that he had gained over the last few months and if the Bat clan from comics were anything to go by they wouldn't be his last.

Which reminded him where he was originally going, "Sorry again man, but if everything's good I have to go."

As Xander started to move away he just barely noticed the dummy's head shifting just a bit, like it was trying to get a better look at him as he moved away. Just to rest his fears he paused for a second and chanced a glance back to see the limp wood figure still being adjusted by its owner.

Reasonably sure nothing was wrong he made his way out of the school.

Xander had the feeling someone was following him.

Had been since he left the Tai Chi Center.

And it wasn't just that creepy little tingling sensation in the back of your neck either. He had seen them, if only briefly, in the corner of his eye as he made his way home.

The sun was just starting to set so it couldn't have been a vampire, according to Giles required reading of Vampyr, even the dullest of the sun's rays burned the leeches. Even stepping outside at the moment would be same as suicide.

Still, it didn't hurt to be careful.

As he neared a corner he pulled his bookbag off his shoulder and started rummaging through it as if he was looking for an errant book, but in truth he found what he was looking for almost as soon as his hand reached inside the bag. He made sure to have a weapon on him, especially stakes, at all times.

He tried to keep things cool as he turned the corner, breath even, look like he was distracted with what he was doing, ect. He had seen it done a hundred and one times in movies and comics so he was pretty cure he could pull it off without a hitch. All he had to do was wait for the other guy to turn the corner after him and bam, he got the… whatever was following him.

He stood near stock still in the alley, waiting in the shadows for his pursuer to reveal themselves.

Xander waited for a few good minutes but no one followed him into the alley. Poking his head cautiously out of the alley's entrance he saw only a few people walking down the streets and all of them now unfamiliar to a passing glance.

Feeling a strange sense of disappointment and mild relief Xander started to make his way back home, with his stake tucked snugly in his waist band ready to be drawn.

It never hurt to be cautious.

Xander cracked his neck as he opened his locker, hoping to relax the muscles that were still tense from his morning routine. It had evolved over the months, maybe a little obsessively so, resulting in a roughly two mile run every morning followed by makeshift katas, a couple dozen archery shots, and all the different kinds of ups there were to do.

And no matter what he did he was always stiff afterwards, always. Maybe he should try adding in a few more stretches but they always seemed a bit of a waste of time to him. He knew what they were for but he could be doing something a little more productive by his standards.

Tight shoulders, sore legs, burning stomach, usually wore off in an hour or so he hoped it would go away in the next period or two. But despite the pain he was sure the eventual result would be worth it.

After grabbing the notebook he needed for the first period he closed his locker and made his way to the library to see how Buffy's patrol went the other night. God, he couldn't wait to go back on one of those.

It was the front lines after all.

What he had been working towards over the last few months and he couldn't wait to have another taste of it… Hopefully without letting a vampire get a taste of him like the last time he went with them. He didn't count the Hyena fights since those weren't really him, as much as he wanted that strength to be, it wasn't.

Still though, it was something he often looked forward to.

But any happy thought of his future hero-dom quickly left his mind as he entered the library and saw Buffy whispering harshly with Giles. That could not a good sign.

"Uh, hey guys? What's the what?"

Both Slayer and Watcher jerked up from their conversation in surprise, well Giles did. Buffy seemed to just give him a level look for interrupting the conversation.

"A-ah, good morning Xander." The Brit said with his usual stutter. Xander sometimes wondered what was up with that. Was it a speech impediment or was he just that nervous all the time?

But that was beside the point. Something was going on and it seemed to have Buffy fairly riled up.

So getting around greetings he just gave a quick nod and repeated his interest. "So, what was with all the whispering?"

Before Giles could get an answer out Buffy glared at the librarian accusingly, "A student was killed here last night and Giles doesn't want us looking into it."

Xander blinked and tried to process what he was told. And as soon as it did he leveled his own glare at the resident bookkeeper.

Under pressure from the combined glare the Englishman felt the need to defend himself, "I-it is none of our concern." He tried to state firmly but obviously the wording was off because Buffy seemed even more enraged.

"She had her heart ripped out!?" She hissed between a growl and a yell, "How is that not our concern?"

"Wait, what?" He asked Buffy dubiously before doubling his glare at Giles. How could something like that not be their business?

"She was killed with a knife. Forcing me believe that her murder was, ah, human." Giles said, trying his best to stress the last words of each sentence, "A-and as regrettable as her death is this matter is best left to the police."

That's it? That was his reason?

That if a matter was done by a human they had no business in it?

No. No, that just wasn't right.

The very idea of ignoring something like that sickened him.

Batman had trained and honed himself to take on thugs and dons of the streets. To put fear in the common crook. But when aliens, demons and metahumans started to appear on the scene he did not back down. He protected his city and the Earth with everything he had, even if he hadn't trained himself to deal with such things.

And now here he was with the opposite problem, shifting from the paranormal to the mundane, and he was being told to back down.

Again, no. He wouldn't be able to look himself in the mirror if he did so.

Luckily for him Buffy felt similarly to him, if only taking a slightly different route in thought, and was already geared up to fight over it. "That's just it, I'm not buying. Remember the Hellmouth? Mystical activity is totally rife here. Heart removal to me says demon."

Giles sighed, "And as much as I would like to agree with you Buffy, I don't believe that is the case here. While demons are rather simple to understand a human killer is, ah, a bit more complex."

"It still doesn't mean we shouldn't look." Xander said, making his first concrete statement into the conversation. "Demon or not we should still look." There was a killer in his school and he was not going to ignore the son of a bitch.

Giles started to rub his eyes tiredly, trying to think of a solution to the problem he currently found himself in. From the very moment Buffy had heard about the incident, probably within three minutes of entering the campus grounds, she had been hounding him. Demanding answers and actions that he didn't feel comfortable enough to give.

Watcher and Slayers were meant only to deal with the supernatural. The mundane was beyond, or maybe below, their purview. A major reason for this was because, simply put, the rest of the world got in the way of the Watcher Council's mission. The perceived jurisdiction crossing of the police, the seemingly mandatory break down of men who had their whole world view shattered in front of them, and the eventual witch hunts from the confused residents.

But just from the look in her eyes he knew she wasn't going to back down, and he already knew Xander would act without his consent. The best thing he could do was say they would look into it and hope to guide them away from it as he proved to them that the matter was best left to the police.

Though he doubted that.

When Willow met up with her friend not a handful of minutes after they left the library she found herself surprised at the determined and restrained looks on the faces. It took her only a minute of talking with them to know what was going on.

Emily Djiemanowicz had been killed in their school.

And if what Giles, and maybe Xander, believed was right then it wasn't by just another demon but a person. A human being. And that scared her more than most of the monster's she had seen so far.

Because now the killer could be anyone.

A teacher.

A student.

A janitor.

It scared her just to think about but her friends seemed almost unbothered by the implication. And it was only 'almost' because of how upset they seemed over the very idea of a killer in their school. That mere thought worried her.

She wasn't worried about Buffy because she could handle herself but for Xander she was scared stiff. Sure he knew some martial arts now, apparently, and a few spell but that didn't mean she was even remotely comfortable with the idea of him looking for and facing a killer that cut the hearts out of people.

And it wasn't like she could trust her thick headed friend to just step aside and let Buffy or the police handle things. No, he was becoming far too reckless for that.

Still, she worried and fretted over it as the school day went by. During which the three of them absorbed any and all rumors they could pick up, sharing them with Giles during their lunch break.

So far they managed to rummage together a rough timeline of when she disappeared and her social standings, mostly who disliked her and who might have been a secret stalker. Somewhere between the upcoming talent show's practice and a cross country meet she disappeared and was later found dead in the girls' locker room.

Xander made a not so subtle comment about the room turning into a killing pit, as it was the second time that year they had found a dead body in there. Oddly enough Giles seemed to take him seriously with the suggestion of putting some sort of ward around said room.

Anyway, seeing as Emily didn't seem to have any negative attention brought down on her the group figured it probably had something to do with either event. Or at least that was their best guest.

Still, it was something to go on.

Something to go on, Xander's ass.

He canceled his magic lessons with Ms. C., he skipped his irritating Tai Chi classes, and he still couldn't find anything as they questioned the talent show kids. Luckily, or unluckily, said kids had already been questioned by the police, a local paper looking for a human interest piece, and just about every student and faculty in the school. So while the local hunting group's questions didn't really stand out most of their fellow students were getting rather testy.

Good news, they had a suspect. Bad news, that suspect went out the window as soon as the possibility presented itself. Apparently the kid, Morgan or something like that, had an alibi of talking to himself in the auditorium when everyone was sure the poor girl died.

Plus if it was him the police would have carted him away by now.

Frustrated Xander started to slam his books into his locker with little care for organization or damage done. He just wanted to get home, or to the his training spot, and try and make up his wasted time.

"Xander?" A voice said from behind him, "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

Leaning out of his locker he took a peak to see who was talking to him, and surprising himself as he saw the kid from the other day standing there… holding his doll… creepy. And how did he know Xander's name?

"Uh, hey… sorry, I didn't get your name yesterday." Xander said awkwardly.

"Morgan." The kid said nervously before gesturing to the dummy in his arms, "And this is Sid. Can we talk to you for a minute? It's really important."

"Oookay." Xander said slowly feeling even more creeped out than before. He hoped to god that this wasn't some copycat of the Ventriloquist villain from Batman. He wasn't sure he was ready for that level of crazy.

Wait a second, Morgan? As in the kid who was acting off the day Emily was murdered? This could be bad.

Hand still in his backpack he groped around for his spare stake and nodded his head to the boy, encouraging him to speak. But the boy quickly shook his head and his eyes glanced around the hall all too obviously. "Not here. We need to go somewhere where people can't hear us."

Seriously, this kid was not putting him at ease at all. Still, he better see what the kid wanted, if for nothing else to see if he really was the killer or not. There were ways around alibis, even more so if magic was involved like Buffy thought.

Mundane or Magical; Xander was sure he could take the kid.

He trained for it after all.

"Alright, lead the way." Xander said neutrally as he grudgingly released his stake. It wouldn't do to let the other guy know he had a weapon on him. Xander would have to rely on his fist if he couldn't reach his bag fast enough but he was okay with that. He was pretty sure he could take the sickly looking boy.

One of the good things about Sunnydale high was that there was rarely ever a shortage of empty rooms or hallways after school. If they had no obligation to stay; every single person, faculty or student, went running out the door at the last bell.

Not that he could blame them. It was high school, even the teachers hated being there.

Anyway, the point was they had found an unlocked classroom in barely a handful of minutes. Again Xander scowled over such a small thing as an unlocked classroom. He knew it was probably just plain old negligence or forgetfulness but the sheer amount of it in a town of monsters disgusted him. From the morgue to the hospital, places where such things should be obvious, people just ignored the other side of their town.

Shaking his head from those thoughts before he became trapped in them he gave Morgan his full attention, with his open backpack right next to him of course. "So, what'd you want?"

"Actually, it was me who wanted to talk to ya." The voice that spoke was much older and gruffer than Morgan's. In fact it didn't even sound like it was coming from Morgan at all, but rather the dummy he put on the desk.

Xander stayed silent for a second as he gave a deadpanned look from Morgan to the dummy and back, "Great. You're crazy." He said, feeling half tempted to leave. Only half because he wasn't sure if Morgan was 'talk to himself' crazy or 'cut out the heart' crazy. "So what do you want" He continued, still speaking directly to Morgan.

"Hey now, there's no need to be insulting." Morgan voiced for the dummy again… as the wooden doll started to stand unassisted on the desk, "The kid's just tryin' to help."

There was a blink of hesitation, that one second where a person freezes for one reason or another from seeing something new, and then the budding demon hunter moved. First his hand dove into his backpack, retrieving the stake hidden within, and then said bag was used as a make shift projectile to distract from his own forward rush.

A Batman move if he ever did one.

But if he was half honest he'd say that boring as hell Sun Tzu book Giles made him read made some good points.

"The band aid method has failed!" The living dummy shouted as it dove out of the way, allowing the back pack to hit Morgan full force in the chest. For some reason the impact of the bag knocked the boy over and Xander knew he didn't throw it that hard. He'd had to be quick, not strong, with the throw.

Not that he paid that much mind more than have the teen, who was probably demon thralled, since he was out of his way. Instead he focused on his second strike as the dummy managed to dodge his rush.

Damn the little bastard was quick.

"Kid! You need to calm down!" The thing said as it dodged another swipe of the stake. "I'm just here to talk."

"Yeah, sure, whatever you say." Xander said sarcastically as he made another dive for the thing. But it quickly moves\d behind a desk and pushed it out, tripping Xander up enough that he nearly lost his balance. The rest of it was lost as the wooden figure slammed its relatively light weight into his knee, forcing him to the ground and having the dummy straddle his neck with a dagger point an inch away from his eye.

"Now are you ready to talk?" The thing had the nerve to ask, making Xander respond by twisting his body so that they flipped positions, disregarding the threat of possibly losing an eye. Something the dummy found him incredibly stupid for.

It also found him stupid for his next course of action, slamming the stake into its wooden chest. Needless to say Xander did not get his desired effect. What he got was a broken point, a small hole in the dummy's tuxedo, and a raised faux eyebrow. "I'm made of wood genius."

Instead of being discouraged, or cursing himself mentally for not Sharpening or Reinforcing the stake, Xander decided to turn the former stabbing implement into a make shift club and stared to bludgeon the thing. "Hey! Stop it! You'll ruin the material!" Before Xander could offer a retort or make for the fifth swing of his new club he felt a painful sting coming from the hand holding the dummy down.

Apparently it thought leaving a few light cuts would make him let go, but he had to keep his hold, he had to keep contact… A sloppy blue print started to creep its way across his vision.

Damn it! It was happening again and it chose the worst of time to start.

A list of materials started to name themselves in his mind. Polyester and cotton made up the miniature tux the dummy wore, hard cedar for the wood of the body, various kinds of string, hair and wire inside replacing the old pulley system that used to be. But there was something else there. Something more.

He couldn't quite put his finger on what it was but whatever it may have been it was soaking into every last piece of the dummy. Saturating it with its energy, making it move, making it talk. For a brief second he tried to get a better look at it, to get a clearer picture, but whatever it was remained elusive and hard to grasp.

Before he could complicate the matter more Xander felt himself being tugged away from his target. "Get off him!" Xander was just dazed enough from his little spell that the feeble tugs managed to pry him off the dummy and make him stubble to the side.

"What the fuck was that?" The dummy asked as it stood up almost robotically. "Seriously, what the hell?"

Xander tried to react to the sudden Structural Grasp and the illusive force in the dummy had given him a massive headache. Honestly he felt like asking the same damn question himself.

What the hell was in that dummy?

"You a witch kid?" The Dummy asked threateningly as it pushed the Morgan away and altered the grip on its knife.

"Maybe." Xander croaked out, trying to sound as threatening as possible.

"Wonderful," The puppet said with the utmost sarcasm, "Do ya still kill demons at least?"

Xander blinked a few times, unsure of what he heard and if he heard it right. A demon puppet asking if he killed demons after Xander tried forcing a stake in its chest. That just didn't make sense to him.

"I try to." Xander said unsurely, trying to get a handle on the situation.

"Good enough," It said in what could be called a tense shrug, if a dummy could be tense, "Now can we talk like reasonable demon hunters or do we have to go another round?"

"You're a demon hunter?" The teen said disbelief clear in his voice.

"Cursed into a dummy and I'm still looking good. What's your excuse?" Xander gave the wooden bastard credit for staying so snide in the situation. "Now can we talk? We've already wasted enough time with you trying to kill me."

As the facts started to connect themselves and build an image Xander's eyes widened in horror.

Morgan brought him here to talk to the Dummy, Sid, not to ambush him but for the living doll to talk to him without Morgan looking crazy. And the dummy never really attacked him, just retaliated and tried to talk Xander down.

And he called himself a demon hunter, as in a person who tracked and killed demons. Which meant Xander just attacked a good guy.

Oh god, he just had a Hero vs Hero moment!

He just tried to kill another hero!

How could he do something so stupid?

It took him a minute to compose himself, reminding himself repeatedly that it had happened to the Batman several times and even more to the Punisher, but he eventually managed to get out a sentence, "So, what did you want?" He tried to sound as friendly as possible since this was the whole shake hands and go clobber the reason they were really fighting part.

"Finally, he takes his head out of his ass." Sid mumbled none too quietly before jumping into one of the desk-chairs and made himself comfortable. "Since we're past the whole knife to the throat stage, I guess I'll get to the point. There's a demon in the school and I need some help trackin' it."

"The heart thief?"

Sid raised an eyebrow, "Caught onto that? Good on you. Most people would have dismissed it as a human thing. Mind you, you should still check in on it in case, you know." He waved in Xander's general direction, "Witches. Anyway, I've been tracking this bastard and his little group for a while now, managed to kill all but one of them. Once I get the bastard then the stupid curse of theirs will finally break."

"And I'm guessing the curse did," This time it was Xander's turn to gesture, "That to you?"

So this was like a Blue Devil situation. Good guy stops bad guy but bad guy traps the good guy in an evil looking form. Seriously, who was going to immediately trust Chucky in a tux?

Somehow the doll snorted, which shouldn't have been surprising at all, and hit the butt of his knife against his wooden chest, "Brought their 'Brotherhood of Seven' down to six and next thing I know I'm on some guy's lap with his hand up my shirt."

"That's… disturbing."

"You don't know the half of it." Sid said with what could pass for a shudder, "But, back to the point, the little bastard's in your school and I need help tracking' him. Morgan here's been helpin' me but…"

"I'm sick." The mentioned teen said off to the side with a shrug, "Brain Cancer. Docs say I a few more months left to live. A little longer if I try that chemo stuff."

"Dang. I'm sorry man." What else could he say? That was just depressing to hear from anyone.

Another shrug, "What can you do? At least I'm spending the last of my time doing something good."

"That's the spirit kid." Sid said, patting his wooden hand kindheartedly on Morgan's back. "Take as many unholy bastards out before you go I say."

Xander found nothing wrong with that statement.

"So what do you need me to do?"

"Help me find the bastard." Sid seemed to like that word a lot, "The thing can turn itself near human for seven years, can't tell the difference, until the seven years are up. Then they start molting and show the world just how ugly their mugs are. Unfortunately to remedy this little problem they take a healthy heart and smart brain, preferably young on both counts, to fix themselves up."

And they already had someone lose their heart, "So we have one more potential victim."

"And if we don't stop the demon before it gets to them then we lose our chance." Sid said with a nod, as if he was finishing Xander's thought. Even if the boy hadn't quite thought that far ahead yet.

Xander just gave a nod, "Okay, I'll help you but I need to tell the rest of my group."

"There's a group of demon hunters here?" Sid asked, sounding pleasantly surprised.

Xander rubbed his neck in thought, "Well I wouldn't really call us that, but we got a Slayer and a Watcher."

"A Council group then?" The Dummy half asked, losing much of his optimism and replacing it with disgust. "Wonderful. Better than nothin' I guess."

Xander didn't really know what to say to that, as he only had at most a half idea what the dummy was talking about, so he just decided to pick up his backpack and forget the comment. Though as he started to lead the puppet and Morgan to the library Xander realized there was something still bugging him.

How did the putter know he was a demon hunter? A young and amateurish one by his own admission but still a hunter; but how could have Sid known?

Curiosity killing him halfway to their destination he decided to ask.

"The bite marks kid." The Dummy said, resisting the urge to tap the side of its neck while there were still witnesses around, "Figured you were either a hunter, someone saved by one that could lead me to some help, or one of those juice box whores."

"Juice box whores?"

"You know, those bite junkies." Sid received a blank look, "You really do know jack shit don't you?"

"Hey," Xander said indignantly, "I just started okay."

"Yeah, whatever ya say kid." Sid said with a roll of his eyes but decided to throw Xander a bone, "I'll fill you in on a few things while your Watcher friend goes on an hour long speech about god knows what."

It seemed that the library was the center of madness, or so it seemed to the random passing by students. Every time someone went in there to grab a book, audio file, or try to get a moment of silence they walked right into strangeness.

Go in there one day and see a tiny blonde doing complex and rather vicious looking movements with a wooden sword. Go in there another day and see the computer teacher and some kid sitting down like they're meditating with incense burning around them.

But the sight that greeted students of Sunnydale high brave enough to open the library doors that day was stranger than usual. Because seriously, a talking doll holding a knife and explaining the best ways to stab people with one of the local losers hanging off of every word it said was just creepy. And that didn't even get into how busy the room was with the training blonde, the red head that looked up with a rather suspicious guilty look on her face as she covered the computer screen with her hands, and the librarian mumbling to himself as he paced around the room with an old looking book in his hand.

And how that one kid was sleeping through the whole mess no one knew, all they wanted to know was how quickly they could leave the room.

"That happen often?" Sid asked, stopping his demonstration of how best to deal with an unknown demon.

Xander just shrugged, "It happens sometimes, we're trying to play it off as an after school study group turning into a small club until Giles can set up a proper ward." Which was taking forever to setup for whatever reason.

"Uh-huh," Sid said skeptically before moving back to what he was doing, "Now, like I was saying, you need to use the terrain more. There are a whole mess of make-shift traps and weapons you can use to buy yourself a little time…"

Sid had taken a real shine to the kid, especially after he discovered he wasn't being brainwashed by the uptight Brit group, and decided to teach him a few things he'd need to know in their line of work while they waited for the local brains pull up the needed info.

While he never did it himself Sid always admired the group dynamic some hunters deployed. Instead of being just one person trying to do everything they had multiple people specializing in what needed to be done.

Like right now, that cute little red head was using all the information Sid had gathered over the last seven years and narrowing down the suspect list with her computer. While at the same time the Watcher was going through book after book looking for the telltale signs of the species they were hunting.

And all the while the Slayer was gearing up for a fight, going through sword forms like it was her job. A pretty looking dame if he ever saw one but, damn, was she scary. Though he supposed that's how all Slayers were.

For brief moment Sid let his mind wander into the memory of a rather nimble Korean Slayer he had the, mmmm, pleasure of meeting.


"And I'm back! Sorry got lost down memory lane for a second there. Where were we?"

Four names.

Out of hundreds of students they managed to narrow the list down to four names.

Or more accurately Willow narrowed the list down. Breaking down every little clue Sid gave her and coming up with the most likely suspects in record time. The times people moved to town, a rather flaky background before the move, the mid teen age the last of the bastards seemed to prefer, a recent string of absences, Sid's suspicion of the school's Talent Show and so on.

Sid was damn impressed, he even went on to compliment such a fine lady on a job well done. Or he was halfway through said compliment that was turning the red head into a tomato when Xander whapped him on the back of the head.

"Hey! What was that for?" The Dummy demand though he felt no pain.

"No hitting on the little sister." Xander said with a mild glare, "To do so is to risk being used to start a marshmallow roast."

"Hey now, I'm just trying to compliment a lady." Xander's glare increased, "Alright, alright, jeez. Didn't picture you as the big brother type kid." Sid said as he rolled his eyes and jumped down from the table, "Now down to business, let's go check these folks out."

Xander nodded, agreeing with the plan as he looked over the list and picked the first name off it. "I'll take the Laski kid."

"And I'll take… whoever's next on the list." Sid said. Xander supplied the name as moved out of the room for his own target. "Jones. C'mon Morgan. We got work to do!"

"Actually Sid, do you mind if I stay here?" Morgan said from his chair, the one he hadn't left since he entered the library. "Head's bugging me again."

Sid's wooden features shifted to what could be passed as worry and pity, "Want me to go and grab your pills?"

"Nah, just need a nap." Morgan said waving him off. "You got more important things to do anyway."

"If you're sure kid." Sid said sounding doubtful but kept his mind solidly on the mission. He was too close to let his chance slip away.

Though since his usual mode of hide in plain sight transport was out, and his preferred replacement just walked out the door, he turned to the now available choices. And as much as he wished he could have picked one of the lovelier looking options it seemed like the red head was having a miniature break down that the Slayer was trying to contain he had to make do with the stick-up-the-ass Brit.

Not like he was doing much anyway, flipping through old books for information they already knew. Besides, it looked like he wanted to run out of the hormone filled room anyway.

She did her best not to cry while Xander was there, her eyes may have watered and her lip quivered but she managed to keep it all in until he left the room. But as soon as that door swung behind him her walls started to crumble.

It was just one stupid little sentence, one spoken in her defense even, and yet it hurt. It hurt so bad.

A sister.

That's how he saw her.

A little sister.

Not cute, not hot, not even girlfriend material. To even think of her as such in his mind would be incest. A taboo, something forbidden because it was so disgusting.

The idea of like liking her disgusted him so much he couldn't even consider it.

"Shhh, it's okay. It's okay." Buffy said as she rubbed circles in the crying girl's back. And that was all she could do, offer small words of comfort as she let the red head cry it out. It was really the only way to deal with such things.

Sure there were important things to be done, some could even correctly argue that they were more important than a broken heart, but she was going to be there for her friend. Buffy wouldn't leave until that last sob left Willow's lips.

Besides Xander and that puppet demon hunter were on it. And as much as she hated Xander's… zeal in their night activities she could for once appreciate it. As not only was the job getting done without her involvement but it caused him to leave the room.

Besides they were just supposed to see if the people were after were human or not. Just a quick look see, nothing more nothing less. How much trouble could he get into?

That stray thought almost made her stand up and chase after him. Because even in what should have been the safest of situations he seemed to find trouble. But the red head's shaky hold on her shoulders kept her seated.

Her actions and mind divided she didn't know what to do. She had a responsibility to both friends and she couldn't decide what to do. Help the emotionally broken girl who might break more if she left or chase after the boy who only had a chance of running into trouble that could kill him.

Damned if she did, damned if she didn't.

She really hated her life.

It seemed to be filled with nothing but drama and demons.

Sighing internally she stayed firmly rooted in her seat, accepting one duty over the other for both convenience sake and a bit of logic. Xander's problem was only a possibility, a dangerous one but with only a chance of happening, Willow on the other hand wasn't showing signs of recovering anytime soon.

But as resigned to the fate of soothing the distressed girl in her arms Buffy was still aware of the room around her. From the ticking of the clock on the far wall to the soft snores Morgan was producing, she heard it all.

So when the door to the library opened her head immediately tilted to take a view. It was a rather strange sight really, some kid in a magician's outfit look disheveled and tired. He seemed to do a double take at the crying girl in her arms and licked his lips. "Uh, hey, is Willow Rosenberg here?"

Buffy narrowed her eyes at the obviously unneeded question, as his eyes wouldn't leave the red head's shaking frame. "She's a little busy right now."

"It'll only be a couple of minutes, it's real important."

"It can wait till later." Buffy said firmly, giving the haggard boy a dark glare in the process.

"No," The teen pulled a rather long looking butcher knife from behind his back, "No it can't."

He was running out of time.

His skin was already starting to molt and his hair was falling out at a rapid pace. If he had to give his best guess he'd think that he had only two days left before he became his full demon self, and thus revealing himself to that damn persistent puppet.

That ever persistent nuisance would end him and kill off his line.

They should have killed the chunk of wood back when he was human instead of turning him into a near immortal pain in the ass. Oh, at first the bastard's suffering was worth it but after brother after brother was killed off by the revenge seeking doll there were some serious doubts.

And then there was the fact the police were now looking for a heart thief, putting people on edge, making his job all the harder. If only those damned humans hadn't walked in then he would've had time to hide the body.

Needless to say, he was worried.

His continued existence hinged on him finding the parts he needed to keep his human façade. He already had the healthy heart he needed and now all he needed was mind just stuffed full of juicy knowledge. And honestly, despite everything that was going wrong, he managed to find the perfect brain.

Sure, it wasn't all that easy but the road signs were there. Pointing him where to go.

The numerous tutor signs on the board, all the teachers' praise, always getting the highest grades in class, and just the way she glowed in class whenever she raised her hand. Oh yes, Willow Rosenberg was the perfect target.

Young and smart, oh how delicious.

The tutor signs said she'd be there in the library after school hours if needed which, while a little bit too public for his taste, suited him just fine. It wasn't like any of the other humans there could stop him.

When he entered the library he saw her, crying into some tiny blonde's arms over some high school drama. Such an easy target, so wracked in emotions she probably couldn't even move. And the only one that seemed to be of any threat was sleeping on one of the sofas. He'd give the boy a quick stab to the chest after he killed the blonde.

But that never happened.

Because, as soon as the knife was in view the blonde was on him in a near blink, grabbing his hand and crushing it under impossible pressure. As he screamed and dropped the knife her dainty little hand crushed itself into his chest, snapping a pair of ribs in an instant.

Not human.

Whatever the girl was she wasn't human.

Too fast.

Too strong.

Too overbearing.

If he wanted to survive he had to give up his mortal skin. It would make changing and adapting later harder but he had to live, he had to survive.

All too quickly everything human about him started to disappear, skin sagging and tearing itself apart to make room for his much larger form. Half way through this transformation he attempted to let out a bellowing roar to get the possible half-demon girl to back off.

Though it seemed his theatrics were unneeded as the girl paused, for just a second, to take in his new form and say, "Eewww!" And that second was all he needed to land a decent haymaker on her with his full demon strength.

But the blow didn't even knock her off her feet. All it did was push back a few steps. Steps she quickly filled as she spun her body into a rapid pirouette, building up speed for a devastating kick to his already injured ribs and forcing him to skid along the floor.

He barely got out a growl as she literally flipped through the air and landed on his chest. "Willow! Stake!" The last of the Brotherhood of Seven tried to move, pushing with all his might to get her slight frame off him.

He succeeded, sending her sprawling into the air. But to his horror she landed on her feet with an unnatural grace and kicked him a half second after she landed.

The demon knew he was out matched, pathetically so, but he wanted to live so he continued to struggle. Continued to try and get to his feet. And whether it was to run or to fight he didn't care, he just had to stand. He just had to move.

He heard his target yell out to the blonde and in his peripheral he could see something flying through the air. And then there was pain. Blossoming from his chest as the blonde caught and drove the sharp piece of wood home.

"That's for Emily." The girl near growled as she let his body hit the floor.

As his body fell to the ground the creature calling itself Marc prayed that this inhuman girl didn't realize he was going to playing possum for the next few hours. It may hurt having a having a piece of wood lodged in his heart but it sure as all was better than dying.

Besides, he had a spare one he was going to trade up to anyway.

Buffy looked at the corpse in disgust, for multiple reasons really.

One, because it seemed like this was one of those demon species that wasn't kind enough to turn to goo or evaporate when they're killed. Two, for what the creature represented and how many lives it had taken in its decades long killing spree. And three, from just how plain ugly it was.

At least it was dead and Sid could have his peace.

She wondered where the little dummy was. He'd be a bit disappointed that he didn't get to kill the thing himself but at least he could have the satisfaction of seeing the thing dead…

Wow, she was getting morbid from living on the Hellmouth.

"Is it dead?" Morgan asked from where he was half jumped out of his chair, obviously woken up by the fight and in a mid-panic.

"Looks like." Buffy said almost uncaring as she went over what just happened in her mind once more. Monster came, monster fought, monster got killed, but why did it come to the library? …When it entered it said it was looking for Willow and Willow was probably the smartest student in school… And this thing was looking for smart brains so that meant…

That thing was going to kill Willow!

She gave the thing an extra, and completely justified, kick just for that. She could have almost sworn it made a noise when she did that but as her hearing couldn't pick up any breathing or heart rate so it must have been her imagination.

A bust.

Both of them.

Laski and Jones were in the clear as best they could tell. No hair loss, no rash, no overly covering clothes. All the usual signs for the seven year dead line just weren't showing.

It was rather disappointing really.

The two separate search parties met up outside the auditorium where the talent show, and their targets, was being held. The librarian said he spotted the third and handed Sid over to Xander to investigate.

"It's not him either." The Dummy said irritably, already giving the student a once over from a distance. He knew the signs so well that his gut would just broil if he even saw a hint of them, and the kid had none.

"Well," Xander started, shifting Sid uncomfortably. It was weird to think he was holding a full grown man like a child. "That's good right? I mean, the last guy on the list has to be him right?"

"Yeah, but he ain't here." The Dummy mumbled irritably, "I checked near every skin bag in this place when we got here and nothin'. Maybe a few thin bloods in there but not the prick I'm looking for."

"Thin bloods?" Xander asked, ready to greedily take in any information that the experienced demon hunter could give.

"You know, the people whose great granddads were demons." Wooden eyes rolled to look up at Xander, "You really need to catch up on this stuff kid, I mean, how long you've been doing this?"

The math wasn't hard to do in his head, Buffy came in January and it just turned into May the other week so, "About five months."

"Not much but sure as hell a lot longer than a lot of hunters." Sid said after a moment of thought, taking a bit of time to look over at the stuttering librarian as he made some inquiries. "How'd you get in anyway?"

At first he shrugged, "I met Buffy, had a bit of a crush and wanted to impress her." He said easily but a steely look started to solidify on Xander's face, hardening the further he got into his explanation. "And then the vampires took my best friend and turned him… I killed it but it was more of an accident than anything."

So the kid was one of those types. The angry and broiling avengers. A lot of hunters start out that way, even he did. One of the top two reasons for joining the hunt, right up there with being born into it.

"You get the vamp that did it?"

"No." The boy bit out bitterly, "It attacked Buffy's place a few nights ago while she was away and kicked my ass."

"Any fight you walk away from is a good fight kid." Sid said seriously, "Besides she took you off guard, never a good thing. You can't just fight these things head on, even with your voodoo. You gotta kill them in their sleep, stab them in the back, poison their drinkin' water, burn down their house. Whatever it takes to take them out and keep you alive."

Xander wasn't sure how he felt about such tactics, they didn't seem very heroic. Sure Batman and a few of the other non-powered heroes used sneak attacks and even poison a few times but still they fought on the frontlines. Against all odds they fought things that were beyond them head on.

But people like the Punisher, and Frank Millers Batman, didn't hold any punches. They used any means or tools necessary, within their personal codes, to get the job done.

… He'd have to think on this.

"W-while Mr. Holmes seems to be in the right I still don't see any sign of our last suspect, Marc Green." Giles said as he approached the group.

"Maybe he ran knowing Sid was going to get him?" Xander offered, trying to shake himself out of his confusion.

"No, bastard needs his parts. It's not just to blend in but the only way they can live for a decent chunk of time." Sid's voice was gruff with irritation, "And he ain't leaving this school, too many young hearts and smart minds to ignore."

"Perhaps he went to home to regroup?" The librarian mused out loud, adding his own opinion. "Trying to stall or mislead you somehow?"

"Maybe." If wood could pout then Sid would be doing it.

Agreeing with Watchers? What had he become?

Looking up at Xander Sid asked, "Think your red head can find the creep's address?"

Xander snorted, "If it's on a computer, Willow can find it."

"Then let's go." Sid cheered.

It was a grim cheer, if only to his ears, but a cheer none the less. And he had every reason for it.

After all, it would all be over soon.

"What the…" Sid was for a loss of words as the three of them swung open the library doors. He had expected some still semi emotional girls and a sleeping Morgan when they returned, he was not prepared to see the demon he had been hunting for over half a century on the floor skewered through the heart with a stake.

It was either too easy or his birthday.

"Kid, grab me an ax or something." Sid whispered urgently. He knew the thing wasn't dead, just stalled and in pain. Playing dead because it thought this group wouldn't know any better.

Mind you, it was stupid to leave the body out in the open but hey he wasn't going to complain too much.

"What?" Xander asked a bit too loudly for the older hunter's taste.

"Get, an, ax." He hissed, jumping from Xander's arms and approaching his quarry. "That thing's not dead. You have to get the head too."

Across the room, where Buffy was standing with Willow and Morgan, the Slayer's head instantly snapped up and glared at the corpse. Unfolding her arms from the still shaking red head she stalked towards the creature, fully intent on ripping off its head with her bare hands.

And the scary part was that she probably could.

Unfortunately, Buffy wasn't the only one with beyond human hearing. The demon tried to make a break for it but even as inhuman as it was having a stake jammed into your heart would slow down anyone.

Though, surprisingly, it wasn't Buffy who reached the demon first. No, instead it was a rather rabid puppet with a surprisingly high vertical leap. "Oh, no you don't you little shit. Me and you got one last dance."

What happened next seemed like something out of a Chucky movie.

Sid's jump only got him about chest high with the demon but that didn't seem to bother him as he stuck his knife deep in its gut and started to climb up its torso and towards the neck, making extra sure to get a solid grip on the stake in its chest. Twisting it in deeper as he made his ascent. All the while the demon tried to buck, flail and pull the dummy off to little effect.

Sid was an expert at what he did and he had gotten used to the pros and cons of such a small body, tailoring his fighting style to fit it. With his new wooden form he could risk actually grappling with a demon without worrying about the various poisons and barbs that some were known to have. Which was a good thing considering how light he was, he needed to be able to hold onto his opponents while he stabbed them in the vitals.

The fact his knife was from the Church and had literally been blessed to hate anything that wasn't human was a plus. Thing ate through demon flesh like acid. Made it bit hard to scale the bastards but it was worth it.

He felt its hand trying to grip him again and he deftly twisted his knife around, still holding onto the stake as he did so, and slashed its wrist. He wasn't sure if he got any tendons or not but it sure as hell made the bastard let go.

Sid felt his new ride jostle and then stop its bucking, replacing it with a fidgeting struggle. Peeking to the side he could see the kid holding the demon in a full nelson, which was stupid but judging by the fact he was actually holding the bastard steady probably meant he was using some mojo to make himself stronger. Luckily this version of demon wasn't toxic but the next one might be.

He hoped the Watcher would set the kid straight on that after the fight because Sid knew he wouldn't be able to.

"Buff, would you hurry up with that ax!"

"I'm looking!" He could hear the fumbling of weapons in the far corner of the room but he didn't care, he could do this himself.

He had to do this himself.

"I got it." Sid gritted out as he hauled himself up to the creature's neck and started to push his knife down. The knife's hatred immediately started to bite down into the creature's neck, burning and melting through flesh, "Hold him still kid." The dummy growled as he placed one of his wooden hands against the back of the blade and pushed down with all his might, ignoring how his own knife started to burn his hand.

He knew his knife hated him just as much as anything else out there. He stopped being human when that curse hit him.

The blade hit bone and all the demon could do was let out empty aired shrieks. "Why don't you just die already!" His left hand was down to a backed stump but still he pushed down. He was almost there, he was almost the…

The demon fell limp in Xander's arms, its head lulling to the side holding on only by a piece of chunky skin. It was weird that no blood was flowing out but he wasn't about to complain about life's small mercies.

"Don't need the ax anymore Buffy." Xander called out as he dropped the demon to ground, Sid still clinging to the thing for some reason.

"I can see that." The Slayer said wryly with the long awaited ax propped up against her hip.

"It's over, isn't it?" Morgan asked from the sidelines, his eyes lying on Sid sadly.

"Looks like." Xander said mildly as he nudged the corpse, "Hey Sid, can you get off that thing? It's starting to get a little creepy."

Sid didn't answer him.

"Sid?" Xander bent down and tamped the dummy and still received no reaction.

"He's not going to answer you." Morgan said a bit sadly if only a little resigned, "The demon's dead so he's free."

"Free? What do you mean free?" Buffy demanded, asking the question both Xander and Willow were wondering.

"I-I believe what Mr. Shay is saying is that, um, without the demons' curse to keep him here Sid's soul was finally able to move on."

"Couldn't he just, you know, go back to his body?" Willow asked, speaking up for the first time in what felt like hours.

"I'm afraid that in all likely hood, given the years Sid has supposedly been hunting, that his body is in no condition for his soul to return to."

"But that's not right." Xander said with confusion deep in his voice. Yes heroes died in the line of duty, even Superman did once even if he did come back, but they weren't supposed to kill themselves. Die protecting someone, die for a cause, die for an ideal, not for yourself. Not for your relief.

It wasn't right!

It didn't make sense!

"He said he wanted to end it on his terms." Morgan said with a shrug, "I can get that."

"It's still not right." That was not how heroes were supposed to die.

Sid could have done so much more.

Joyce Summers was worried.

Over a lot of things really, but mostly for her daughter.

Sure most of her worries fell under the normal mother purview. Was Buffy safe? What was she doing? Where was she? Why wasn't she home even now that the sun was down?

And then there were the worries that came since they moved to Sunnydale. Was she adapting well? Was she making the right sort of friends? Was she getting involved with all the gang activity in the small city? Did she need to hire a psychiatrist again? Was she going to have a relapse?

And finally there were two worries that came with the latest news from her doctor. Joyce had to wonder what she should do and what could happen to Buffy.

The doctor said it was a rather low risk surgery, that the lump in her brain was totally operable at this stage and could be removed with little trouble. The problem with that statement was that despite the fact he put low and little didn't change that he said risk and trouble.

As in something may go wrong.

Something may go wrong and then what would happen to her little girl?

Her ex-husband Hank had been distancing himself more and more from Buffy over the last few months. Fewer phone calls, weekend visits becoming near nonexistent, and the only thing that even seemed consistent was the child support he was court ordered to give. And honestly, with all the floozies she saw coming in and out of his hotel room during the divorce she wasn't going to trust her daughter to him.

Maybe one of her sisters could take care of Buffy if something went wrong. She knew they would, family was important to all of them but… Oh, it was all too hard to think about, even if she knew she needed to.

Just like how she needed to tell Buffy. The surgery was slated for the coming month and she didn't want the teen to be caught by surprise. She had to tell her, and preferably sooner rather than later.

It was an hour into these thoughts, along with reading various materials on the surgery and her condition, that Buffy came home.

"Welcome home Buffy." Joyce said mildly, trying to keep her voice level despite her nerves.

"Hey mom" Buffy's voice was nowhere near as neutral as Joyce's. It sounded like she had been crying and if the puffiness of her eyes were of any indication she had been.

"Oh, sweetie, what's the matter?" Joyce beckoned her daughter to join her on the sofa, flipping over the documents she was reading and putting them out of sight. It obviously wasn't time for that just yet.

But sooner or later, she'd have to tell her.


And that's done, finally. Seriously I got pissed when I realized just how bad the original draft was. I wasn't following the butterflies at all. Hopefully this version showed you just how different things are starting to turn out to be.

Oh and special treat for anyone who can figure out what Xander's doing wrong with his magic this time. Judging by my update rate you have a long time to guess.
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