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In Their Shadow - War in the Shadows

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Summary: Sequel to both 'In Their Shadow' and 'City of Shadows'. Xander finds himself pitched into the front lines of a brewing war, but this time, the decision to participate is being left up to him. Of course, he decides to do what he can.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > Sci-Fi > Night's Dawn Trilogy, TheSmegheadFR15525,023194,61113 Jan 045 Mar 05No

New Things

In Their Shadow - War in the Shadows

Author: Robert Cox (smeghead_76@dodo.com.au)

Rating: MA-15+ (Australian system) for violence and naughty language.

Disclaimer: There's stuff in here that doesn't belong to me, especially the setting. That belongs to Peter F. Hamilton. Everything else that is not mine belongs to the people who brought us Buffy, undeserving though they might be.

Summary: Sequel to both 'In Their Shadow' and 'City of Shadows'. Xander finds himself pitched into the front lines of a brewing war, but this time, the decision to participate is being left up to him. Of course, he decides to do what he can.

Pairing(s): Dunno yet - although I'm inclining towards there being at least one.

Feedback: I'm starting to become a feedback junkie, desperately in need of a fix :)

AN: Many thanks to Grossclout, who braved the slings and arrows of outrageous fic-writing to beta this... or something like that, anyway.

****

LAPD Precinct Headquarters

Sunnydale Dome, Los Angeles arcology

19th June, 2614


Xander suddenly sat bolt upright, choking back a scream. As he made the voyage from sleep to wakefulness, the last remnants of the nightmares that had woken him lingered in his mind's eye, no doubt reinforced by the sounds of distant automatic weapons fire, underlaid by the fainter snap-and-crackle that he had been informed was the characteristic sound of sustained energy weapons fire. His body may be in a war-zone in what he was still calling 'the future', but his mind was occupied with memories of past war-zones - none of which he'd actually experienced.

The oppressive humidity and near-intolerable heat of the semi-tropical jungle; the nerve-wracking tension that came with the knowledge that at any moment he could be shot at without warning. And when the shooting did start, the helpless anger at seeing friends shot in front of him.

The wind-swept, barren islands in the South Atlantic, which in other circumstances would have been left to their own devices. But not now. Invaders had come to these islands, and he - along with thousands of others - was taking part in the operation to remove them. A classic hard-and-fast raid on an airfield, destroying the ground-attack craft based there, despite being outnumbered by the defenders. Pride in a job well done, mixed with not a little exhilaration at having survived unhurt.

The gently rolling terrain, so peaceful on the surface but, as usual, appearances were deceiving. The peaceful terrain was the backdrop to a bitter and quarter-less war as brutal as any he'd ever seen. And, almost to prove that the universe loved irony, he was now seen as an invader. Patrolling the countryside and the streets, engaging in brief skirmishes with balaclava-wearing gunmen.

The shocking impact of the bullet, the almost unnoticed feeling of falling to the ground, his weapon flying from suddenly nerveless fingers, and the dawning realisation that he was going to die, and that there was nothing that could be done about it...

Xander rubbed absently at his temples, wondering what the hell was going on. It wasn't that he was unfamiliar with these dreams - in fact, he'd experience something very similar before, but not long after that fateful Halloween, the dreams had faded. Then he noticed the bright green lettering floating at the bottom of his vision.

{MEMORY INDEXING COMPLETE.}

What the hell does that mean? he wondered. And where are the letters being projected from?

He waved his hand in front of his eyes, but the lettering remained unaffected. Then he remembered something he'd been told while being prepared for neural nanonic implantation, in particular, how information would be presented to him. Neuroiconic graphics, he recalled. Which essentially meant that the nanonics would trick the visual centres of his brain into thinking that the information was being projected on the inside of his eyeballs. Xander wasn't sure he'd fully understood the explanation, but now he was seeing it in action, a few things were becoming clearer.

There was one other thing that he was wondering about. Namely, 'memory indexing'. Another explanation swam into focus. "It's sort of like the index of a book," he'd been told. "You'll be able to 'look up' any event stored in your memory once the indexing process is finished. It might take a while, though."

"And if there's anything I don't particularly want to remember?" he'd asked, thinking about the time he'd been possessed by the hyena spirit.

"Then you can delete the index reference, but apart from that, there's not a lot you can do without specialist equipment."

Now, Xander was realising what one of the unforeseen results of having every memory in his head made accessible via an electronic index was. The hyena spirit had been just that - a spirit, with no real lasting legacy once it had been exorcised, apart from some not-so-pleasant memories, which he'd been doing his best to suppress.

Soldier Boy, on the other hand, had been nothing but memories and experiences, Although they had been steadily fading since that Halloween - hardly surprising, since he'd only made use of them on rare occasions. But now it looked like they were back in full force, which led Xander to wonder if the skills would be back as well.

With a groan, Xander decided that getting back to sleep would be difficult at best, and decided to face the day. A brief shower later, he pulled on some of the clothes that Ione had bought for him and wandered off in search of coffee. He was mildly surprised to see that the room the Slayerettes - he was still coming to terms with that - had pretty much taken over for their own was already occupied.

It was one of the Slayers - Elizabeth Baker - and she was sitting on one of the couches, cradling a cup of coffee and watching one of the wallscreens, which was currently displaying the feed from one of the sensors mounted on the exterior of the Hollywood Dome, showing the sun rising, glinting from the geodesic crystal of the other domes. For Xander, it was his first true glimpse of the arcology, and his mind boggled at the thought of the resources - and situation - required for people to live like this. Three hundred million, according to the best estimates available.

Or, to put it another way, a number equivalent to the population of the entire United States of America from Xander's time, if not somewhat larger. And the Los Angeles arcology was far from being the only one in North America, although both New York and Edmonton were still recovering from the damage inflicted on them during the possession crisis.

Turning his attention away from the wallscreen, he silently studied Elizabeth for a moment as she watched the sunrise in silence. Despite his best efforts not to compare people he met in this time with those he'd left behind, he kept meeting people who made it difficult to avoid that comparison. If Genevieve Kavanagh had reminded him of Dawn, and Jay Hilton had reminded him of a younger Buffy, then Elizabeth Baker...

Also reminded him somewhat of Buffy. There was a similar delicacy to the features and general build, although Elizabeth's eyes were blue, rather than green. But she was much quieter than Buffy had been, even when she'd first arrived in Sunnydale. In fact, in that regard, she seemed more like a younger Willow, or possibly Willow's friend Tara.

Dragging himself from his moment of reflection - he hadn't been staring, and definitely hadn't been checking her out; he'd known her for less than a day, for Christ's sake!

Then a memory from his recently catalogued collection snuck up on him. His first glimpse of Buffy; and the way he'd been so captivated with her that he'd literally fallen head over heels - although the steel railing hadn't helped in that regard. He shook the memory off, although it took some effort. He wasn't a hormone-driven sixteen-year-old any more, although it seemed otherwise at times.

While his brain had been occupied with other matters, his body had piloted itself in the direction of the coffee maker. Interestingly, Elizabeth had been so enraptured watching the sunrise that the first time she noticed his presence was when the coffee maker gurgled into life. "Oh!" she exclaimed, twisting around to see who it was, avoiding spilling hot coffee on herself only by accident. When she saw Xander, she blushed, embarrassed at having been caught being so inattentive to the world around her.

"Hey, don't worry about it," Xander assured her. "There's nothing wrong with enjoying a good sunrise." The sound of distant weapons fire rose to a brief crescendo, and then tapered off, leaving behind silence as the vampires sought shelter for the day, almost as if even they didn't want to ruin a moment like this.

"True," Elizabeth replied, "but I was always told that I should be aware of my surroundings, that it might be the difference between life and death."

Xander cocked his head slightly to one side as he finished making his coffee. "That sounds like something a Watcher would say," he remarked as he made his way over to the couch. "You mind?" he asked, indicating the space next to her. When she shook her head, he sat down next to her.

"Ex-Watcher, actually," Elizabeth said, her expression starting to crumple.

Xander instinctively knew that this was going to be bad. He'd heard some of the story, but only snippets. "What happened?" he asked gently.

"I was on patrol one night about three weeks ago," Elizabeth started, "when I ran into a large group of vampires - about thirty, in all." Xander had to suppress a wince, something he found unexpectedly easy, as something activated within his neural nanonics. {FACIAL EXPRESSION OVERRIDE PROGRAM IN PRIMARY MODE}, neuroiconic graphics proclaimed.

Leaving aside technological wonders, Xander was amazed that Elizabeth was still alive. The largest group of vampires that Buffy had encountered was a 'mere' dozen, and that had been a hairy enough moment, even though she'd had the help of Willow, Oz and himself to deal with them.

Fortunately, Elizabeth hadn't noticed his moment of reflection. "I knew there was no way I could fight them all and survive, so I ran. I was lucky enough to eliminate about twenty, but I ran out of running space and weapons," she continued, her expression distant as she remembered that night. Turning to face Xander squarely, her gaze refocused and he could see unshed tears glinting at the corners of her eyes. "I honestly thought I was going to die, Alexander. Have you ever felt like that?"

"Please - call me Xander. I only get called 'Alexander' when I'm in trouble," Xander replied, taking a sip of his coffee. "And to answer your question - sure; particularly that time in the hospital." Elizabeth was clearly curious as to what he was referring to, but Xander waved her off. "That's a story for another time. So, obviously help arrived in time."

Elizabeth nodded. "That's right," she confirmed. "I was told to get down, and when I did, Catherine and the others opened fire with heavy weapons, eliminating the last of the vampires that were chasing me."

"You were patrolling by yourself?" Xander asked, incredulous. "Where was your Watcher?"

"Safe at home," Elizabeth replied with more than a hint of bitterness. "Travers is the traditional-minded sort, believing that Slayers should work alone, and I didn't know any better." The unshed tears in the corners of her eyes were threatening to fall.

"Hey, it's not your fault," Xander said comfortingly, then he was brought up short as a realisation bored home. "Travers? Your Watcher was named Travers?"

Elizabeth nodded, a trifle unsteadily. "Yes. Alistair Travers, to be precise," she replied, and then paused as something occurred to her. "You had to deal with a Travers, too, right?"

"Yeah," Xander said softly. "Quentin Travers was the bastard who bullied Giles into administering Buffy's Cruciamentum. But that's not important at the moment."

"I'd sent him a contact report," Elizabeth continued, "but he hadn't replied. Once we arrived at the Slayerettes' then-current base of operations -" Xander wondered at that, but decided not to interrupt the story again, "- I tried again to get into contact with him, but couldn't even raise his neural nanonics. What does that suggest to you, Xander?"

Xander thought about it for a moment, and then the answer revealed itself to him: a horrible, ugly answer. "He abandoned you," he said in a near-whisper. "Wrote you off as dead." It was an appalling concept - a Watcher abandoning the Slayer in his charge. He couldn't imagine Giles ever abandoning Buffy, no matter the provocation... although her refusal to properly deal with Angelus, and the way she'd run away that summer had probably pushed Giles to his limits.

"In fact, Mister Goldsmith had to contact him to arrange a meeting, at which he simply assumed that I would be leaving with him. No expressions of concern, no gratitude that I had survived... nothing like that. Then I found out that the reason he was so insistent that I return with him was to undergo my Cruciamentum."

Although Xander was appalled by the attitude shown by Travers, there was another factor that attracted his interest. Cruciamentum? Either Slayers are having that inflicted on them at a younger age than in my time, or...

"When did you turn eighteen?" Xander asked.

"Just under two weeks ago," Elizabeth asked. "Why?"

"It's just that you don't look eighteen, that's all," Xander replied. "But that's also something that can be explained later. So, the only reason that Travers wanted you back was to put you through the Cruciamentum? Bastard," Xander muttered with feeling.

Elizabeth nodded. "I think it was then that I realised just what the Watchers were. After almost a year, Travers revealed that he regarded me as a useful tool, nothing more." Tears were gathering again at the corners of her eyes. "And given what had happened just before I was Called as a Slayer..." Her voice trailed off, and she rubbed her eyes, wiping away the tears. At Xander's inquisitive look, she added, "My parents..."

Although she fell silent after those two words, Xander had no trouble filling in the blanks. Her parents were killed... probably by vampires. Recovering slightly, Elizabeth continued, "And I couldn't do a thing!" Right in front of her, Xander added to his earlier thought.

"I didn't notice when the dreams started - I thought they were part of the nightmares I'd been having over the past few nights. It was about a week after... you know... when I punched a wall - something I'd done a few times, with no results other than a bruised hand, so imagine my surprise when I put my hand through the wall.

"As I was standing there, standing at my hand in shock, the admittance alert for the door chimed. I checked, and it was one of the supervisors from my day club." Day club? Xander wondered. Oh, that's right - no schools. "I thought he was going to ask why I had been absent for the last week, but instead he introduced himself as a 'Watcher', and proceeded to prove to me that I was what he called a 'Slayer'."

Elizabeth paused again in her story to take a sip of the by-now lukewarm coffee. "I thought he was being considerate - giving me somewhere to stay, providing for me, training me - but all he was really doing was maintaining a tool..." Her emotions now almost completely out of control, she started sobbing, and it was fortunate that Xander had recognised the signs in time to gently remove the mug from her grasp and set it beside his on the coffee table in front of them.

Xander didn't have to think about what to do next. Despite all that had happened to him, especially over the last two years, he could no more stand aside and watch somebody else's emotional pain and not try to do something about than he could stop breathing. Gathering the distraught young woman into a supportive embrace, he simply held her as she sobbed into his shirt, and murmured what he intended to be supportive and soothing noises. Evidentially, it worked, because after a while, she stopped sobbing and looked up at him. "Why?" she asked.

"Why what?" Xander replied. It was way too early in the morning for serious thinking.

"Why are you being so helpful? I mean, we only met yesterday. It's the same with Catherine and the others - they took me in without a second thought, and that's assuming that they even thought once."

"I can't speak for anybody else," Xander replied slowly as he thought about it, "but I can't just stand by when someone needs help and not do a thing about it." That was about a good an explanation as Xander could come up with on short notice. He hadn't really thought about it before, to be honest.

"Thank you, anyway," Elizabeth said softly.

Thank you.

Two words Buffy had never said to him or Willow in the five years they'd been helping her. Even after he'd revived her after she'd been drained by the Master, she'd never said that. Then again, she did say, "I had you to bring me back," although that can be taken to mean that she assumed that I was going to help.

But Elizabeth had said that after less than twenty-four hours, and for something as simple as some emotional support, and a shoulder to cry on, which was something he'd provided for Buffy on more than one occasion. So, why would Elizabeth thank him and Buffy not? The only thing he could think of was that they were completely different, personality-wise. Not that that should come as a great surprise.

That thought, in turn, led to why he was still helping Buffy, despite the fact that she'd made it abundantly clear that she didn't want his help. The simple answer would be 'Jesse', but it'd probably also be a wrong answer, as revenge had never really been a motivator for him. I guess I got it right when I said that I couldn't stand by when someone needs help.

When Elizabeth's weight shifted slightly, he realised that while he'd been thinking, she'd drifted off to sleep. Either I'm a boring person to be around, Xander thought with a small smile, or she feels safer or something. He shifted slightly, in preparation to laying her down on the couch so that she would be more comfortable. That plan was scrapped however, when she gripped his arm tightly with a grip that made it clear that he wasn't going anywhere without her say-so.

Under other circumstances, he wouldn't have moved in any great hurry - being used as a pillow by an attractive young woman was hardly a fate worse than death - but these weren't normal circumstances. He racked his mind for reasons to leave anyway, but it was an exercise in futility, so he simply decided to make himself comfortable. As he shifted position - as gently as possible, so as to avoid waking Elizabeth up - he realised that he'd been wrong about one thing.

He could get back to sleep.

****

It was a couple of hours later that Cat and Alex entered the room, starting the new day themselves. They were somewhat puzzled to see one of the wallscreens switched on, and two half-full coffee mugs sitting on the coffee table in front of the couch. Cat turned to Alex, about to ask a question, when she heard the quiet snoring - which seemed to be coming from the couch.

Gesturing for Alex to go around the side of the couch, Cat went around the other side. What they saw when they rounded the couch made them burst out into synchronised 'aawww's. Xander had slid down until he was half-lying down himself, while Liz had her head resting on his shoulder, with one hand around the back of his neck and the other across his chest. For his part, Xander also had an arm around Liz's shoulders. "They look so cute," Cat said softly, and with the first genuine smile she'd worn in days.

"Pictures?" Alex prompted with a similar expression.

"What do you think I'm doing?" Cat countered. Neural nanonics could also be used to capture images from whatever a person with the implanted could see, not to mention manipulate them in ways that would have a graphic designer from the late twentieth or early twenty-first centuries simultaneously green with envy and gibbering with shock.

"Just checking," Alex replied as he made coffee for the two of them. He hesitated with his hands about to grab two more mugs. "Do you think we should wake them up?"

"Yeah," Cat replied with a nod. "Apart from anything else, it should be interesting to see their reactions."

"You can be nasty at times, Cat," Alex commented as he made two more coffees.

Cat just smiled and gently shook Liz's shoulder. As Liz's eyes fluttered open, she chirped, "Good morning!"

Liz's eyes shot open, an there was a brief moment of confusion as she woke up. "Huh? Wha...?" Obviously, more brain cells were kicked into operation, since she stopped looking around and her gaze fastened on Cat; but only for a moment, before she noticed the arm around her shoulders. Looking down, she also noticed that she had her arms around a soundly sleeping Xander, who, somewhat amazingly, hadn't woken up. "Oh, so it wasn't a dream," she said softly.

"What, falling asleep in the arms of a handsome young man?" Cat asked teasingly.

"No, not that... or not just that I should say. I couldn't sleep, so I came here, intending to watch the sun rise. Xander mustn't have been able to sleep, either, since he showed up not long afterward. We started talking, and... I told him about Travers and-and my parents, and the next thing I know, he's hugging me while I'm crying into his shirt," Liz said with a sad expression. "I managed to regain control for long enough to ask why he was helping, and he said that he couldn't stand by and do nothing when somebody needed help."

Both Cat and Alex nodded solemnly. Not long after they'd taken her in, Liz had told them her story, and it had been fortunate for Travers that he'd left the arcology, because there were people who would find it a good method of anger-management to pound him into a red pulp. But it was interesting that she'd told Xander so soon after meeting him, and apparently without prompting. Cat was about to open her mouth to make another comment, when she was interrupted.

"It's nice to be talked about in such a nice way," Xander said without opening his eyes as he let his arm drop from around Liz's shoulders. "But I am trying to sleep here."

"The sleep somewhere else," Cat countered. "Or, better yet, wake up and start the day. We've got work to do."

"You say 'we', I say 'you'," Xander replied, cracking open an eye. "I've got a doctor's certificate prohibiting me from doing any sort of work for the next few days. Damn shame that," he added drily.

"How about, if we can't sleep, neither can you?" Alex remarked as he proffered mugs of coffee to both Xander and Liz.

"That's not much better, but at least you're easing the pain with coffee," Xander said as he sat up and accepted both coffees, handing one to Liz, who let him go to accept it. "So, what's on the schedule for today?"

"I thought you said you couldn't do any work?" Cat asked.

"That's right; I can't. I should have asked, what's on the schedule for you today?"

"Not a lot, actually," Alex replied as he took a seat opposite Xander and Liz. "Pretty much just hang around and answer any questions that need answering, and help come up with the patrol roster. It's Amanda and William who have to do most of the work."

Xander remembered the ex-Watcher and police computer expert that he'd been introduced to yesterday. "Let me guess; William for his Watcher-y knowledge, and Amanda to do computer stuff?"

"Yep," Alex replied with a smile. "In fact, Amanda's been trying to work up a program to identify vampires and demons based on things like thermal profile and the like. She says she's pretty close, and all that's needed is field tests to iron out any last bugs."

"Sounds like something we could have used back in Sunnydale... Sunnydale past, rather," he added, seeing Cat open her mouth to comment.

"You might get that chance," Liz put in quietly.

"How's that?"

"There is a chance that you'll be able to go home, right?"

"That's what Joshua said," Xander confirmed. The reactions to that simple statement weren't what he was expecting, though.

"Joshua?" Cat asked in a tone of some amazement. "You mean Joshua Calvert?"

"Yeah, that's who I mean," Xander replied, unsure as to where this was going.

"Don't you know what he did?"

"Yeah, I know - he told me, after all." Then it clicked for Xander. "Haven't you guys saved the world as well?" It was only after he asked the question that he realised that it hadn't come out quite as he'd intended.

"Well, yeah, we have on a couple of occasions," Alex said. "But Joshua Calvert didn't save just this world - he saved the entire Confederation!"

"It's not that I'm not impressed," Xander said. "In fact, I am - deeply impressed. How can I not be? But I've actually met the guy, and heard the story not just from him, but from Ione, Louise and Gen as well. I suppose that's just a little different from hearing it second-hand."

"Yeah, I suppose it can be," Cat said slowly.

"Anyway," Liz put in, trying to get the conversation back to the original topic. "The point I was getting at was that you've got neural nanonics and retinal implants now, Xander. What makes you think you won't have them when you get home?"

Xander thought about that for a moment. He'd been given retinal implants at the same time as all the other modifications had been made - frankly, once they'd been described to him, there was no way that he wasn't going to have them. Thermal imaging, light-amplification and the ability to zoom in on distant objects had all been too tempting to refuse. He wondered briefly if he hadn't been in the grip of what Soldier Boy described as 'Shiny Kit Syndrome'; the desire for anything new and impressive looking, even if he had absolutely no idea of what it was for or what it did.

"Good point," he conceded. "I guess I hadn't thought of it in that way before." He paused and looked at Cat, Alex and Liz in turn. "But what makes you think I'll be going home any time soon?"
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