Xander glanced towards his companions as they pulled up across the street from a derelict looking building, the refuse-strewn neighbourhood they were in reeking of desperation and bad intentions. “Keep the engine running, lights off, and heads down,” Xander counselled as he climbed out of the car.
”Jesus,” Faith groused as she slid into the car’s driving seat, “not our first rodeo, stud. Just look after that sweet ass of yours, kay?”
“Ugh,” Kennedy grunted from the back, “I hate it when Faith gets romantic.”
“Yeah,” Tara agreed. “Next thing you know, politicians will be telling the truth.”
Xander ignored the bickering as he crossed the street and ducked under the walled building’s arched entrance and hurried up the path, a carefully manufactured look of nervousness on his feet. As he started up the path he heard but gave no sign of noting the thick shape in the shadows to his left.
Upon reaching the doorway he reached up to knock on the vault-like door. At that moment his shadow stepped out of the darkness, revealing himself to be a Kaliff demon, not exactly a surprise, it was Xander’s experience that many of those in the demonic underworld used Kaliff as muscle. They were capable of learning human tongues, powerful but unlike most strong demons capable of discipline, and more interested in profit rather than carnage, raising other demons, or any of the other fun stuff their type frequently got up to.
Xander grunted but made no sudden move when the demon pushed him against the door, knowing it was just looking for an excuse to use his head as a football. Instead he allowed the beast’s hands to roughly travel his body as it searched him for weapons. After it had finished its search, the demon let out a growl. “What you want here?”
“I…I,” Xander put what he hoped was just the right amount of fear in his voice, “h…heard that you guys lent money. I need cash bad.” Now he allowed fear to be replaced by desperation. “If I don’t get it, I’m dead! You’re my last hope!”
Damn, he congratulated himself, he was a regular Kevin Spacey.
“Boss’ll wanna see you,” the demon decided before reaching over Xander’s shoulder, sticking a brass key in the door’s lock and turned it.
The moment the door clicked open, the demon placed his hand in Xander’s back and shoved him forward. Xander stumbled inside into a dimly lit hall with another pair of Kaliffs sat to the door’s left playing cards. At his entry one of the demons threw down his cards in disgust and rose, the other two laughing mockingly. Xander hid a grin, three Kaliffs, as long as the boss wasn’t anything special he could manage this. The two stood Kaliffs fell in beside him, and wordlessly more or less frog-marched him the length of the hallway to the doorway at its far end. One of the Kaliffs shot him a hard gaze, as if warning him causing trouble would have dire consequences before knocking on the walnut-coloured door to his left. “Sir, it’s a client, a human.”
“A human?” the demon at the other side of the door sounded surprised. “Sure. Let him in.”
Xander stiffened his shoulders as the door opened. He’d got in okay, now came the tough part, getting what he wanted and back out.
Xander blinked as the door opened and one of the demons’ heavy hands landed between his shoulder blades, shoving him inside to find himself in an untidy-looking office with mouldy walls and a rickety-looking desk behind which sat a Brachen. Which sort of made sense, Brachens weren’t fans of the all apocalypse thing, but neither were they universally good, and given their brains, it was only inevitable some of them would gravitate to crime. “Let me guess,” the Brachen was short, maybe five four and scrawny, dressed in a pair of black denims and a white T-shirt underneath an alligator jacket, “you owe money to all the human loan sharks and figured you’d try the demon ones, think I’m a soft touch do you?”
“Yeah,” Xander smirked, “that’s what three Kaliffs says to me, soft touch.”
“Kaliffs?” the Brachen’s eyes narrowed, uneasy suspicion glinting in them. “You’re not just a walk-in are you? You know something about us?”
“Not as much as I’m gonna,” Xander dropped a money clip with a dozen fifties in it. “I want some information.”
“I don’t talk to the man,” the Brachen shook his head before looking behind Xander. “Boys, show our guest the door.”
“I wasn’t asking,” Xander slammed his elbow into the Kaliff’s jaw and his heel into the demon’s knee as its hand landed on his shoulder, “I was telling!” Xander spun around to face the doubling up demon, his hand snatching at the back of his adversary’s head and pulling him down onto his rising knee.
Xander grunted as he ducked a right from the other Kaliff, his right heel snapping out to catch the other demon on his knee. The Kaliff doubled up and stumbled towards him, Xander snatching a hold of the demon by his collar and driving him face into the table.
“Damn it!” Xander cursed as he saw the Brachen racing through the doorway. He started after the Brachen, only to be confronted by the third of the Kaliffs charging at him with a whole bunch of bad intentions.
“I don’t,” Xander ducked up a haymaker right, coming up with a left he buried deep into his rival’s belly, “have,” he twisted at the waist to avoid a downward swinging left, “time,” he straightened up into a knee to the demon’s crotch, “for this!” His hand linked behind the creature’s head and pulled it face-first into his forehead. Bone crunched under his attack, Xander flung the bloodied demon to the side, the creature bouncing off and down the wall as he chased after his prey. “Faith,” Xander yelled into his cell as he reached the house’s doorway and saw the Brachen hurrying out of the entrance, “grab the demon running towards you!”
* * *
“On it lover!” Faith dropped her cell on the passenger seat and flung the car door open just as the running Brachen drew level with the car. The top of the door crashed into the demon’s chin, lifted him from his feet, and dumped him on the ground.
“Oooh,” Tara gasped. “That had to hurt!!”
”Kinda the point,” Faith commented as she started out of the car.
“Hey!” the demon held his jaw as he sat up on the wet tarmac, eyes filled with indignation as he looked up at her. “What the hell-, oooof!” the back of the demon’s head bounced off the ground when the heel of Faith’s cowboy boot crashed into his chest and knocked him down.
“Stay there,” Faith warned as she finished climbing out of the car to see Xander running up. “This the man, hot stuff?”
”Yeah, thanks.” Xander grabbed the slightly built brachen by the collar of his alligator-skin jacket and yanked him to his feet. The dazed demon shot up a knee that Xander grabbed and held under the knee while leg-sweeping his adversary’s grounded foot. Xander shook his head as the loan shark hit the ground in a groaning heap. “Let’s try this again.” Xander grabbed the Brachen by his lapels, lifted him from the car and threw him against the side of his SUV.
“Ooooh,” Faith mock-cooed. “You’re so masterful!”
”Look!” the demon gasped, fear shining in his eyes as he raised his hands in supplication. “Whatever Freddy’s payin’ you I can double it! Triple it even!”
”Hah!” Faith threw her head back and laughed. “He thinks we’re hired muscle.” Faith grabbed the demon’s shoulder and shoved him back against the car when he tried to make another run for it. “You should be so lucky. We’re far worse than that.”
“Didn’t you hear a word I said in there?” Xander sighed. “I want information.”
“Oh crap,” the demon’s eyes shot from her to Xander, “you’re them, the Mithras Brotherhood. Look! I don’t wanna any trouble!”
“Then,” Xander smiled his dangerous smile that made her all warm inside, “don’t give us any. We heard that some wizards have paid off a big debt recently?”
“Is that-,” the demon nodded at Faith’s ominously clearing throat. “Yeah, this gang said they needed a ton of cash to research a spell or something. Asked me for fifteen K to do it. Three months down the line they owed me forty and I was about to send the boys after them, when one of them turns up, pays me everything just like that!” The loan shark clicked his fingers.
“Okay,” Xander pulled the loan shark towards him. “I just know you’re going to tell me his address.”
”Sure,” the demon nodded jerkily before babbling out an address.
”Okay,” Xander released his grip. “Get out of here, and if it’s a lie, I’ll be back for you.”
“Ain’t no lie!” the loan shark replied before staggering off, shooting fearful glances over his shoulder as he crossed the road.
”You sure we should let him go?” Faith queried as they climbed back into the car’s warm interior. “Guy’s pond life-.”
“He’s small fry,” Xander replied. “We’ve bigger things to worry about.” Xander gunned the engine.
“What’s the plan?” Tara breathlessly asked.
“Oh nothing subtle, kick the doors down, etc, etc,” Xander replied.
“Gotta be simple for Faith,” Kennedy commented.
Vaughan stiffened, eyes narrowing as he heard footsteps approaching. He forced himself to relax, head drooping forward, chin resting on his chest as he feigned unconsciousness. His heart pounded as the seconds crawled by as he heard the door being unlocked and heard two pairs of footsteps walk into his cell, and then a scratchy voice speak from the cell’s doorway. “Unfasten him.”
There was a clink as the chains on his arms and legs were unfastened. The moment the last was loose he lunged to his feet, catching the demon to his left with an elbow to the face even as he heel-kicked the one to the right in the shin. Both demons stumbled back a half-step and then lunged at him only to crash into each other as he jumped clear.
The suited man stood at the cell’s door backed down in the face of his advance, cheeks paling as his lips moved with increasing speed. “Aaaah!” Vaughan let out a cry as pain exploded in his head, his legs almost buckling under him, but grim determination kept him going forward. Pain exploded again, but he shoved it away, hands reaching out for the retreating man.
And then the demons grabbed a hold of his shoulders and started to drag him back. His elbow caught the one to his right in the gut at about the same time the one to his left caught him with a punch to the back of his neck. A curse bubbled up on his lips as he spun to face his attackers only to catch a hook to his jaw that staggered him, then slap away a body shot only to be tackled around the knees and brought to the ground. He covered up as best as he could, but the demons’ kicks pummelled him back into unconsciousness.
* * *
“Seriously, that’s your plan?”
“It’s a good plan,” Xander defended as he stared at the walled 19th century-style mansion on the edge of town.
“The ‘my car’s broken down do you have a phone scam?’,” Faith shook her head. “Have you heard of cells?”
“Faith.” Xander paused as he got out of the car, “shut up.”
He was half-way up the path by the time Faith and the others caught up with him. “Notice all the security cameras and alarms on the house? Lucky we weren’t going for subtle.”
“I always wonder why the bad guys bother with home security,” Kennedy commented. “It’s not like they can call the police and say ‘hello someone’s breaking into our den of diabolical evil’.”
“I suppose it’s for their own security,” Tara commented as they reached the front door, a thick wooden thing that managed to look formidable despite the ornate design carved into it. “Do you seriously expect them to let us in?”
“Not really no,” Xander replied after knocking.
Tara’s brow furrowed. ”Then how do you-.” The witch’s voice trailed off when the door half-opened to reveal a middle-aged man that Xander cold-cocked on the jaw, the man’s legs buckling under the punch. “Forget I asked.”
“Yeah but if the guy hadn’t been eighty, he’d have me doin’ the hittin’ while he hid behind me,” Faith snarked.
“Lord knows there’s nothing in the world like a supportive girl-friend,” Xander muttered as he lowered the unconscious man to the ground. “And you’re nothing like a supportive girl-friend. Besides, he wasn’t much over fifty.”
“I’m so glad we’re all professional about this,” Kennedy commented as she followed them all into the house, a lavishly decorated and vast hallway with a sweeping stairwell.
“Heh,” Xander muttered, “that’d be a first.”
* * *
Faith took up a position in the head of their party, eyes shooting left and right as they stalked through the hushed house. “What we lookin’ for?”
”Oh the usual, a basement entrance,” Xander replied.
Tara sighed. “Why don’t people ever hold their occult ceremonies in the sunlight?”
“I think you answered your own question right there, sweetheart,” Kennedy commented. “People who hold occult ceremonies generally don’t want their neighbours noticing.”
Xander rubbed at his forehead. Oh yeah, he was getting that familiar throbbing headache he always got after too long in his companions’ presence. His eyes narrowed as he noticed something off about a bookcase to his left. “There’s a piece of parchment stuck out from under its corner.”
”My boyfriend going for Good Housekeeping, it’s so humiliating.”
Xander shot Faith a glare before crouching by the hall’s bookcase. “Look how tight the bookcase is to the floor,” he pulled at the paper, the paper tore, part of it coming away in his hand. “How did this ever get stuck under the bookcase?”
“Must have been moved,” Kennedy said doubtfully.
“You figure? Who by?” Faith shook her head. “Nah, there’s something-…” Faith’s voice trailed off as Tara stepped forward, waved her hand in front of the bookcase and stepped back as the bookcase slid soundlessly to the side, revealing a lamp-lit banister-less staircase heading down. “What the fuck?”
“I cast a spell to find and release the catch holding the bookcase in place, “ Tara smiled impishly. “And you’re welcome.”
”Yeah, yeah,” Faith groused. “Everyone’s a smart ass.”
“Welcome to my world,” Xander muttered as he followed his girl-friend. After about a dozen steps the stairs levelled off into a path. Faith held up a silencing hand then beckoned them on.
They crept behind the Slayer, their ears picking up the sound of chanting. Then they came to a stop by a doorway and peered in to find a quintet of robed figures encircling a coffee-coloured muscleman in his early thirties with a square jaw and black crew cut hair. The man was tied spread-eagled and apparently unconscious at the centre of a seven-spiked pentagram, candles flickering at every point in the pentagram. “Whoa,” Faith licked her lips as she looked through the gap in the door, “what a hunk of man.”
”I’d say, look at those shoulders and arms!”
“Kennedy!” Tara gasped.
”What,” the unrepentant lesbian shrugged. “I’m gay, not blind!”
Tara sighed then nodded. “You have a point.”
Xander sighed. “Sometimes it’s like I’m not here.”
”Right now, kinda wishin’ you weren’t.” Faith looked towards him. “‘Cause if you weren’t, I’d be busy making him the happiest man this side of heaven.”
”Faith,” Xander sighed long-sufferingly, “you’re drooling.”
”What of it Harris?”
Xander shook his head. “Can we at least try and be professional while we rescue him?”
“Only if I can get really unprofessional with him later,” Faith replied.
Xander tried counting to ten. It didn’t help. “Let’s just get him rescued, shall we?”
“You won’t be rescuing anyone.”
Xander groaned as he turned to face the demons who’d followed them into the pathway. “Kaliffs, why is it always Kaliffs?” he muttered as he passed Faith some weaponry. “We’ll deal with the mages, you deal with them.”
“Why do I have to be the one who deals with the Kaliffs?” Faith pouted.
”Because we’re going into the cell to fight those mages and I can trust Tara and Kennedy to keep their hands to themselves,” Xander glanced at the two lesbians before shaking his head. “At least I think I can.”
“Yeah,” Faith nodded reluctantly. “That makes sense.”
“So glad you approve.”
* * *
”So glad you approve,” Faith mimicked before sniffing. “Killjoy.” Faith eyed the half a dozen kaliffs and grinned, slowly rolling her neck from side to side. “Which one of you is first for the tenderiser?”
Faith lunged forward before any of the demons had chance to reply, her sword back-hand slashing through the nearest one’s neck while her free hand came up in an uppercut that lifted its recipient off his feet and flung him into two more of his companions, knocking the trio to the floor in a heap.
Faith pirouetted away from a Kaliff’s mad charge, while skilfully leaving her foot behind for the demon to stumble over. Faith grunted as the last remaining Kaliff caught her with a right to the jaw, and then retaliated with a toe-kick to his crotch, her sword going through the back of the demon’s back and out of his chest.
”Shit!” Faith grunted as the kaliff she’d tripped grabbed her in a full-nelson before she’d had chance to snatch up her sword. Faith drove her head and body forward, bending completely at the waist. The Kaliff cursed as he flew over her to hit the floor on his back.
Faith had barely straightened when she was ducking back down and under a left hook from one of the three Kaliffs she’d downed before, and blocking a knee to her face on her crossed forearms. Before the others had chance to join in the attack she leapt forward, snatched one of the Kaliffs around the waist, twisted at her own waist and released, flinging the demon into another of its companions.
The two still upright charged in, one throwing a right that Faith pulled her head back from before side-kicking her assailant in the gut. “Shit!” Faith grunted as the other caught her with a kidney punch, spinning into a retaliatory roundhouse kick that the demon jumped away from.
And then the other demon lunged at her, grabbing her in a waist lock that she quickly broke with a bone-breaking knee to the gut and a downward punch to the back of his head. The demon’s grip loosened enough for Faith to quickly grab his head and drive it down into a trio of blindingly-fast knees to the face. Even as the demon fell limply to the ground, the one who’d punched her in the kidneys caught her with a right to the eye.
Faith twisted into the blow like a whirlwind, hooked his leg to her body when he attempted a follow-up thrust kick, and simultaneously head butted him in the face and brought her heel down hard on the shin with bone-shattering force. Even as the demon started to scream, Faith punctuated her victory with a vicious yank on its trapped leg that popped the hip right out of its socket.
Seeing the two remaining Kaliffs rising on slightly unsteady legs, Faith released her grip on the wailing Kaliff’s leg and let him fall to the ground. The remaining pair of Kaliffs charged in, proving convincingly that they were a race of demons with way more guts than brains.
Faith met the first with a sternum-splintering, leaping thrust kick to the chest that sent him flopping into the wall. “Shit!” Her elation at another enemy defeated was cut short when her final rival tackled her around the waist while she was still airborne and powered her to the floor, her head and shoulders crashing painfully into the solid floor.
Even as she was falling, Faith was fighting, her legs wrapping around her adversary’s thick torso. The moment she hit the ground and her adversary dropped towards her, his haymaker fist leading the way, she twisted her legs and flipped him onto his back, with her now on top. The demon’s fist cracked into the side of her jaw, knocking her head to the side and jamming her teeth together, even as she retaliated with a series of lefts and rights to the demon’s face, crushing its features with her powerful blows. The demon at first tried a series of increasingly weak counter-punches and then an equally futile cover-up, her fists hammering through his defence like an axe through rotting wood. Once she was satisfied the demon was completely stunned, she grabbed its head under the chin and twisted, neck snapping with a pistol’s crack.
Faith rose and wiped the blood off her face, it was a shame she wasn’t looking her best for the rescued hottie but she’d still look pretty damn hot, as she strode through the groaning and motionless Kaliffs, before peering into the cell that Xander and the others had gone into.
As expected the mages were all dealt with, either by bullets from Xander or Kennedy, or magics from Tara. Tara was busily taking apart and destroying the spell while Kennedy hovered by Xander’s side as he unfastened the mystery man’s bonds. Faith voiced the thought that had been plaguing her ever since her first sight of the brown-skinned Adonis. “Hey, if he needs CPR, I’m willing to volunteer.”
Xander paused in unfastening the still unconscious man’s bonds to look over his shoulder and glare at her. “He’ll be fine, and you won’t be sticking your tongue down his throat.”
“Hey, I’m just tryin’ to save you the discomfort of necking with another guy,” Faith quickly defended. “Don’t take a pop at me for being considerate!” Faith threw her hands up in the air. “Jeez, you try and be a good Samaritan.”
“Oh yeah,” Kennedy snarked. “Real convincing.”
“Xander, do you have a bucket in the Always Pocket?”
Xander stopped shooting her the evils to look suspiciously towards a far too innocent-looking Tara. “Of course, why?”
Tara grinned. “I think Faith’s drooling again and I wouldn’t want us all to drown.”
Faith glared at her treacherous best friend, Kennedy’s influence was definitely starting to tell. “Whoever told ya ya were funny, lied.”
“Unfortunately I checked around, and we couldn’t find out either who hired you to do the assassination or who the target was.”
“Right.” Vaughan forced himself to concentrate on what the young man was saying. Not only was there the shock of a world filled with vampires and demons while they sat in a hotel restaurant, genteelly drinking tea, but there was ‘the Slayer’ looking at him as if she wanted to eat him up, like a starving woman who’d just found a particularly appetising meal. To call it off-putting would be a massive under-statement. He was used to women coming on to him, what with being a bouncer and built like a brick out-house, but there weren’t many with Faith’s beauty and raw sexuality, and even less with her powers.
And even if he was interested, Vaughan tore his eyes from the Bostonian beauty and to her boyfriend, there was Xander. Even if he didn’t have a firm rule about not messing around with other men’s girls, there was the self-preservation issue to consider. Actually to consider twice, a half-smile tugged at his lips, once for the Slayer and once for her boy-friend. He might have two to three inches and an easy thirty-five pounds on the young man, as well as unarmed combat training up the wazoo, but there was something about Harris despite the younger man’s affable air that suggested to a trained eye that messing with him was a one-way ticket to the ER.
“We don’t think they’ll come after you again though,” Xander hurried on. “It seems as if we picked them all up.”
“That’s a relief,” Vaughan nodded. “Well thanks for everything.” He rose, eager to leave the bemusing quartet behind. “If I don’t go now, the boss will have my head.”
”That depends on you,” Xander said. Vaughan stared at the young man, confused by his cryptic statement. “As I explained on the way here I run,” the boy’s cheeks flushed as his voice trailed off, reminding him that this kid was about a decade younger than him.
Suddenly the girl’s eyes were off him, looking with concern at her companion. “You ‘kay there, Harris?”
Xander smiled, seemingly taking strength from his lover’s concern. “Yeah, as I was going to say, I run a global organisation called the Mithras Brotherhood that attempts to keep people safe by fighting vampires, dark arts mages, demons, and the like. I’d like you to come to work for me.”
Vaughan sat back down, his legs suddenly unsteady again at the shocking offer. “Why me?”
“According to Tara,” Xander glanced at the witch, whose sweet nature contrasted greatly with the other two women’s brashness, and was about the only one of the quartet that didn’t set his teeth jangling, “you read ‘good’. You’re also a former U.S. Ranger of ten years’ experience, with sniper certification and received a Bronze Star in Operation Desert Storm in ’91, Silver Star in Kosovo in 99,” Xander’s eyes returned to him after completing his recietal. “You’re experienced, you know how to lead people, how to fight. You’re just the sort of person we need to lead Mithras Braches.” The hesitancy returned to the younger man’s eyes. “If you’re interested.”
Vaughan felt a surprising surge of pride at the kid’s words, then realised he was being played, even if the kid didn’t know it himself. Whatever else Xander Harris was, and however he doubted himself, he too knew how to lead and motivate people.
And moreover the boy was right. Every day he spent bouncing his soul died a little more. This kid and his companions had opened up a frightening world to him, but also not one without opportunity, one where he could really matter and help people. “I’m interested,” he slowly confirmed, “but what do I get out of it?”
”The annual interest off a hundred and fifty million dollar trust fund to spend as you wish, access to the best arms and electronics equipment in the world, as well as access to our intelligence network,” Tara replied. “In return you obey the protocols and work practices of the Mithras Brotherhood.”
“Okay then.” It was a struggle, but Vaughan managed to ignore Faith’s lust-laden sigh when he raised an eyebrow. The resources at these kids’ hands were staggering. “Where do you want me?”
“Don’t say it. Just don’t.” Xander shot the Slayer a warning glare before looking towards him. “That’s up to you,” Xander replied. “We try and accomo-,” Xander glanced back at the Slayer before looking towards him again. “We try and put people where they’d like to go.”
“Are New York and New Jersey gone?” Tara nodded at his query. “Okay, what about Pennsylvania?”
Tara glanced at the laptop she had open at the desk and nodded. “That’s open. Do you want the resources there?”
”Sure why not?” Vaughan nodded.
“Okay,” Tara flashed him a smile that was all warmth and compassion, with none of Faith’s predatory overtones. All in all, Tara definitely left him feeling considerably more at ease than the Slayer. “Philadelphia County has two teams of nine demon hunters, Allegheny County has two teams of seven, Montgomery County has a team of eight, Bucks County, Lancaster County, and Delaware County each have a team of six. In addition, both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have occultists living in them. The details are on the computer.”
After a second Vaughan nodded. It was a terrifying world that these kids showed him, but also one that gave him a chance of a purpose. “I’ll take it.”
* * *
Frank Simmons swallowed as he entered the darkened conference room. Yesterday’s news was another blow for the NID, one their organisation could hardly afford. “Hello everyone,” he forced a smile as he took his seat at the head of the conference room. “Thank you for coming at such short notice.”
“The Mihtras Brotherhood had interfered in our affairs again,” ‘FBI’ snapped. “What are you going to do about them?”
Frank Simmons felt his smile strain. “The senator is being dealt with as we speak, he’ll have an unfortunate car accident, and with his death the questions into the funds we siphon off will end, the others on the Select Committee are either bought, too dumb, or on-board with us. It’s better this way, less high-profile than a gunman. Less questions will be asked.”
“That’s all very well and good,” ‘NSA’ growled. “But that’s not what FBI asked. What do you plan to do about the Mithras Brotherhood?”
Simmons bit back a sigh. He’d dragged his feet for as long as possible, sensing that if there was an encounter between them and the Brotherhood, things would go badly, but the others kept on pushing, and the Brotherhood kept blundering into their affairs, disrupting NID schemes. The two factors made the confrontation between them and the Brotherhood inevitable.
Finally he leaned back in his chair. He’d have to set the wheels in motion, and hope that his side came out if not unscathed as winners. And even more importantly, that he came out of everything unharmed. “I assume you’re familiar with the UniSol project?”
“Wasn’t that moth-balled in ’92?” queried CIA. “Some press scandal or something?”
”Yes,” Simmons nodded as he leaned forward in his seat, forearms resting on the table before him. “But we’ve managed to locate one surviving unit,” he checked his notes, “GR74.”
“And it still works after all this time?” asked AFT.
“The techs think the model has one remaining mission in him,” Simmons replied. “Given the enhancements done to it, it should be able to take on the Slayer and her companions.”
“How long will it take to get the unit ready?” FBI demanded.
“The techs estimate four to six weeks,” Simmons replied.
FBI nodded. “Make it four weeks.”
Xander sat on the balcony of his hotel room, his girl-friend having long left with the others to do some shopping. Xander smiled wryly. At least his credit cards would be taking the abuse rather than him for a change. Picking up his soda with a soft laugh, he took a sip.
”I’d like to make ya an offer, ya can’t refuse.”
Xander was on his feet in a half second, spinning around to face the badly-dressed, fedora wearing man stood in the balcony’s doorway. Before the man had chance to react, Xander had him by his throat and bent face-up over the balcony railing. “Six floors down, wanna see how well you bounce?”
The short man’s, Xander realised he looked kinda like a wanna-be wise guy, face creased in a smile. “You don’t wanna do that Harris.”
Xander’s brow furrowed as he belatedly realised something. “You’re not human?”
”Relax,” the man’s mouth moved up and down as if he was chewing gum or tobacco, “I ain’t a vampire.”
Xander glared down at the stranger. “Not what I asked.”
“Yeah, okay.” Somehow the demon managed to get loose from his grip. “My name’s Whistler, I’m a Balance Demon working for the Powers That Be.”
“Whistler?” Xander’s eyes narrowed as he sat back down, a memory tugging at the back of his head. He’d heard that name before. “Whistler? Looking at you I’d have bet you came from the Sopranos not the Powers That -.” His mouth dropped open as he got it. “You’re the brains-trust who brought Deadboy to Buffy!”
“Hey!” the demon let out an irritated cry. “Not my fault. It wasn’t in the script for my boy to fall for the girl. Things happen, I’m a demon, not a seer.”
“Maybe you should have kept a tighter leash on your ‘boy’,” Xander suggested. “Because of him I lost a good friend.”
“Ain’t the way the PTBs work kid,” Whistler shook his head. “They’re all into free will, etc, etc.”
“Yeah,” Xander stared up from his seated position, ”how’s that working out for you?”
“Has it problems,” Whistler flashed him a half-smile, “but the vampire’s on the right path, he’ll be an important player in the future.”
“You hope.” Xander fired back. He had his suspicions that Whistler had gotten himself a severe spanking from his bosses for what happened with Angelus.
“I hope,” Whistler admitted, “besides you didn’t lose your friend. Summers is still alive.”
“Is she?” Xander shook his head. “Buffy was never the same after Angelus escaped. The Slayer might still be alive, but the girl I thought I loved is gone, long gone.”
“Whatever,” Whistler shook his head irritably. “Angel’s on his path, I’m here to discuss your path.”
“My path?” Xander half-smiled. “I didn’t realise I needed a compass and a map.”
“You’re a funny guy, not like Angel-.”
”I’m a real laugh-riot, now get to the point,” Xander interrupted.
”But all business too, I like that.” Whistler grinned. “You made the big leagues, kid. We haven’t seen anyone like you in eons, we want you on our side. We’ve got a major role picked up for you and your people, we want you as our champion.”
Xander leaned back in his chair as he allowed the world-tilting offer to crash over him. The Powers That Be wanted him for their team? To accept meant he’d be working for one of the universe’s biggest players, but if he refused he’d incur those same Powers’ anger. Xander smiled, it wasn’t even a hard decision. ”You said you’re a balance demon, right?”
“That’s what I am,” Whistler confirmed.
“In that case you get your balance demon ass and twaddle off back to where you came and tell them not interested,” Xander commented.
The demon stared dumbstruck at him for a second before speaking. “Kid, you don’t know what you’re turning down.”
“Don’t I?” Xander smirked. “I’ve done a little reading of the Eternal Archive when I can prise it out of Tara’s hands. Just little things, like who all the major players are and what they want.” Xander’s eyes narrowed. “And I’ve found a lot of interesting stuff out and pieced together even more. The Powers That Be like to tout themselves as older than dirt and the most powerful force out there, but that’s not even close to the truth.”
Xander ignored the demon to continue to talk. “First there was the Creator, then there was the celestial war, when Lucifer tore the heavens apart with his army of Fallen. Those Fallen become known as the Old Ones and feasted on what remained outside of the heavenly dimension. They dominated this plane for eons, then came my ancestor and his friends who defeated them and in the process ascended to god-hood. Only then did the Powers That Be take over, they’re not the strongest, just most the recent and most interfering. When it’s all said and done, the Powers That Be aren’t that powerful, yeah sure on this plane they kick ass, but in the power hierarchy they’re nothing special. Strictly middle-management.” Xander chuckled as a mischievous thought occurred. “And so I’ve gotta ask myself what does that make you? After all you’re always doing their dirty work. Their janitor?”
Whistler’s eyes narrowed. “Who do-.”
“Even with all that said, they have power, real power to make a difference, to do some good. But they don’t use it, instead they’re content to play this long game, not caring who gets hurt or damaged in their schemes. Just as long as they don’t have to risk anything while they’re playing us like we’re pawns on their chess board. Well let me tell you, I’m no one’s pawn.” Xander paused as common sense and self preservation took over. “Well except Faith’s. I’m not playing for one side or the other, heck I intend to knock over the entire board. Point is, no. As in n-o.”
“You’re making a big mistake,” Whistler growled. “We’re not the sort of people you turn down-.”
”Really? Look at my position, what’s one more enemy?” Xander chuckled. “Say it again, say ‘I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse’, I’m beggin’ you.” His eyes sobered. “Not interested, now get out of here while you still can walk.”
Whistler smiled, something in his eyes giving him a chilling hint to the demon lurking behind the wise guy’s exterior. “You couldn’t kill me if you tried.”
Xander forced himself not to react to what he’d seen lurking in the balance demon’s eyes. “Kill you?” Xander shrugged, his eyes fixed on his companion. “Let’s not be hasty now. Who said anything about killing you?” Xander reached into the Always Pocket and started pulling out swords, axes, shotguns, assault rifles, and sub machine guns, and placing them on the table before him. “But I’m willing to guess I can cause you a world of pain.”
Whistler’s face contorted in rage. “You’ll regret this Harris!”
“Not as much as you will if you don’t disappear your ass right now.” Xander smiled sourly as the demon disappeared. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”