Episode 1: Sometimes You Can't Go Back...
Thanks to my beta, Starway ManThe Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 1
Episode 1: Sometimes You Can't Go Back...July 11th, 1998
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale
When Xander woke, his first thought was: Not my usual nightmare...
He was a male teenager who often had nightmares, after all. Not always: at seventeen years old, he had his fair share of sex dreams as well, thanks to all the hormones his developing body produced. But over the past two years, the bad dreams had definitely outnumbered the good. Ever since he'd found out the truth about the world – that vampires and demons were real, and that his town was built upon the Mouth of Hell – and he'd had to stake his best friend...
Xander Harris didn't always have nightmares about the things he'd seen, read about, heard about, or could just plain imagine. But they were often enough.
But last night...that had to be the weirdest dream...well, no, not the weirdest, he considered. But definitely strange. That guy, the coin, and all that stuff about Fate, and Chaos... Where does my subconscious come up with this stuff? Maybe Cordy was right, and I do read too many comic books!
It was then that Xander noticed that his right hand was clenched into a fist...and that it was clenched around something. Something he was holding in his hand. He sat up in bed and opened his hand. There was a coin in there. A familiar-looking one, at that.
Slowly, his hand shaking slightly, Xander raised his hand and looked at the coin closely, his other hand reaching down to pinch himself on the leg. It hurt. Oww! Yeah, okay, definitely not dreaming. He examined the coin more closely. It was definitely made of iron...
And it looked exactly like the coin that was given to him in the dream. Given to him by that guy...thing...The Jester, he'd called himself.So...it wasn't a dream. Oh, holy crap!!
Xander yelped as he thought that. If the coin was real...and if the Jester had given him this coin...then presumably, everything else the man...person...thing...whatever had told him, was also true. Or at least, the Jester had actually told him those things. He might not have been telling the truth, though. Or at least, not the whole
truth. After the past two years, Harris had developed a healthy understanding about powerful super-beings having their own agenda, which might or might not coincide with the best interests of humanity.
But...the coin did have the power to tell him what Fate had planned for people...to let him know what was coming. In the dream...no, damn it, late last night...he'd flipped the coin, saying Buffy's name...and the images had immediately appeared in his head. And then...what? Had he simply fallen asleep? No...no, Xander remembered how excited he'd been, wanting to rush off straightaway to find his hero, to drag the Slayer back to Sunnydale kicking and screaming if he had to, but then...
What had happened? He didn't remember. To the young man's consternation, there was just a big blank in his memory between receiving the vision conferred by the Iron Coin and waking up just now. Xander didn't understand, but figured all that could wait until later. Right now, there was the vision the Iron Coin had granted him to think about.
The vision had contained unclear, disjointed images, all of them jumbled together with no rhyme or reason, or so it had seemed. A diner, with Buffy waitressing there. The Los Angeles skyline – not that Xander understood how he knew that it was the City of Angels skyline he was seeing, given he had never set foot in that city....a pool of liquid which looked like black tar of some sort...teenagers roughly his own age, some older, some younger, being shoved into the churning black filth by some guy...that same guy, taking off his face like it was a mask, revealing a demonic face beneath...Buffy, standing before another demon, smiling and saying, “I'm Buffy. The Vampire Slayer. And you are...?”
Unclear and disjointed images, as said. And even though the images hadn't showed it, Xander somehow knew the name and address of the diner where Buffy was working. It was known as Helen's Kitchen.
Which meant...it was time to go and bring Buffy home to Sunnydale.
Xander's first thought, his initial plan was that he would get dressed, run over to Willow's house, wake her up and tell her the good news. Then he'd call Oz's house, and tell him too. Then do the same for Giles...then they'd tell Buffy's mom. He'd call Cordy and tell her as well. And then, they'd all go to Los Angeles and bring Buffy back home where she belonged.
Except...it just wasn't that simple, was it? Plus....
Part of Xander was still sore, a little, about everything that had happened since Angel had lost his soul, and even more so about Buffy abandoning them all and running away like that. Granted, Xander knew how there was a chance that Angel's soul had been restored at the last moment, since Willow had cast that soul curse and afterwards she'd been certain that it had worked. Xander hadn't said anything then, (a) not to hurt Willow's feelings in case she was wrong and (b) he didn't want to answer questions on whether he'd told Buffy the truth about what Willow had been planning to do.
The cold, harsh truth was that he'd lied to Buffy, for a number of reasons. One, because he'd believed the odds were that Willow would fail to pull off the spell, being straight out of coma and all. And two, Xander had known that if he told her the truth that morning, Buffy would have tried to stall and wait for the curse to take effect...she would have fought less than her absolute best, and probably gotten killed by Angelus or his minions. And with the fate of the entire world at stake, Xander Harris had no intention
of letting the Slayer risk six billion lives just to get her damned boyfriend back.
The events of the summer so far had given him some hindsight, though. When he found out that Joyce had told Buffy that if she left, she shouldn't bother coming back...
Whilst he'd been waiting for his broken arm to heal, Xander had done a lot of thinking. He'd acknowledged to himself that he'd moved past his previous feelings for Buffy, mostly, in a 'more-than-friends' sense anyway...because being used as a stripper pole was one thing. Being used as a stripper pole to make an undead guy jealous? Xander didn't have a lot of self-respect, but there was a line for such things, and Buffy had definitely crossed it that night. And...he had Cordelia now. She was...
Harris smiled a little, as he thought of the sharp-tongued Queen of Sunnydale High. It was strange, when you thought about it...but nowadays, Xander liked her. A lot. Well, certain parts of her anyway. The parts that regularly featured in his sex dreams, for example.
Xander quickly got his thoughts back on track before he spent the next half-hour thinking about his girlfriend, and drooling like an idiot.
He was halfway through getting dressed when he realized that there was a major flaw in his little plan. He remembered another thing that the Jester had told him. He couldn't tell anyone. What was it that he'd said? Oh yea...Secondly, you won't be able to tell anyone – and I mean anyone – about the coin, or what it's shown you. Words, sign language, writing it down, signal flags – whatever the hell you try. It won't work. If you could just tell people it would be way too easy.
Xander decided, though, that he wanted to test that. First he finished dressing, then he looked around his room for some paper and a pen, and found both quickly enough. He started to write what was intended to be a letter for Giles. He touched pen to paper...and the pen half-exploded in his hand, covering it and the paper in liquid ink.
“Okay...” Xander said softly. "I get the message." He was about to get up to wash his hand, but the ink started to move, slowly...forming letters on the page. Not that odd, in and of itself, for the Hellmouth...but still. Xander watched, part of him telling him to just throw the Iron Coin as far away as he could, as the liquid formed into words on the paper. The Jester says 'nice try'. And next time, it won't be just your hand that gets covered in ink.
Xander blinked, then read it again. Alright then, I guess that Jester guy was telling the truth. Damn!
The youth made a mental note to look into this 'Hydra' as well. Since he'd already resolved to try and research the Jester, and the whole Fate v.s. Chaos issue that he'd talked about. If he was going to mess around with Fate, then he wanted to know everything he could about his opponent.
And, damn it all, he couldn't just ask Giles for help researching the thing. Okay, he could
, but the G-man would ask why he was looking into the matter, and if he knew Giles at all the British man wouldn't accept "Just because" as an answer. And from the looks of his little experiment just now, he wouldn't be able to tell the Watcher the truth. That left researching it himself, which would be...difficult.
Oh, sure, Xander knew he wasn't an idiot, but he simply wasn't Willow- or Giles-level smart when it came to the book stuff. Helping with research over the last two years had allowed some things to stick, and some things to sink in, but still; Xander knew he wasn't going to have an easy time of it researching all by his lonesome. He could only read English, after all, plus a few bits and pieces of Spanish; given he had taken the mandatory class for two years before ditching it as fast as he could.
And unfortunately, all the really good stuff was in Latin, or even worse, Sumerian or Egyptian. Yeesh, those two were written in runes and hieroglyphs, not individual letters he could try to translate with a dictionary of some sort. And forget about trying to translate any weirdo demon languages, some of which didn't even look like anything which a human mind could recognize as writing.
Xander sighed and went into the bathroom to wash his hands, still thinking. He needed to research the Jester and sweet mamalooshin, did that guy have to style himself as a clown of some sort?
, plus find out more information about this so-called Hydra guy. And it would take too damned long, if he had to do it on his own. Especially since his time was not unlimited, what with patrol and everything else.
Well, maybe he could start off by learning another language. Probably Latin. There, at least, he could probably get some help from Giles. Pointers at least. He could easily explain wanting to learn Latin as a desire to be able to help out more with the research, be more useful in the grand scheme of things. Something which was true regardless of the Jester situation, actually.
Nonetheless, Xander knew he couldn't put off getting to Buffy and using the Iron Coin to help his friends until he'd figured everything out. The Jester had mentioned three points in time where he'd messed up Fate's plans. Reviving Buffy. Helping her with the Judge by getting that rocket launcher. Lying to her about what Willow had said...
Yeah, no doubt about it; Buffy had been destined to die. Twice, possibly three times, judging from what the Jester had said. And he'd screwed up what Fate had had in mind each time.
Well, good. If there was some grand cosmic plan where he and his friends were sacrificed like pawns on a chessboard, then he wanted nothing to do with what Fate was planning in the future. He was damn well going to change what Fate had in mind, if he could; or if he believed that what was coming needed to be stopped, or changed. What was it they said in the Terminator movies? Oh yeah, the future is not set; there is no fate but that which we make for ourselves...
“Damn right. Screw Destiny!” Harris said softly, turning off the sink and drying his hands.
Xander started to make a mental list of the things he needed to do, if he was truly going to make something out of the Jester's gift. He looked at the Iron Coin again for a moment. Harris suddenly realized that he had to make sure he didn't lose the coin as well; the odds were someone Up There wouldn't like him wrecking their plans, whatever plans those were which Fate had had in mind, and so sooner or later he might be targeted and a demon or whatever sent to steal it. Ah well, just one other thing to worry about and add to the laundry list of things to do.
Shrugging, Xander stuck it into his jeans pocket for now. Probably not the most secure place in the world, but he needed to be able to access it easily for now. Whatever, he'd figure something out later.
Next thing. He opened his desk drawer and lifted the false bottom he'd put in years ago – it hadn't been that hard, overall, and he'd gotten the idea on a whim after watching a spy movie when he was twelve. It wasn't that good a false bottom, but since the only people it needed to fool was his parents, who spent most of their time drunk or hungover – or both – it didn't need to be sophisticated. He kept whatever money had had – summer jobs, finding it, gifts from the handful of relatives who weren't human failures, things like that – hidden there, so his parents wouldn't drink it up like they did with basically all the money they already had.
Working a summer job by day whilst trying to kill vampires in Buffy's place at nights was, perhaps, not his best ever idea – it was the main reason why Xander wasn't getting enough sleep – but the money was damn well going to come in useful now. He'd been saving up for years, on and off, as best he could. He'd had this idea, since middle school, of doing a Jack Kerouac-style road trip kind of thing; driving off to see all fifty states. Well, the ones he could drive to, anyway; Hawaii would definitely be tricky. Once he'd graduated high school and all that.
These days, though...well, Xander knew that he might end up doing it, and he might not. It depended, he supposed, on a lot of things. Like, for example, how much a bus ticket to Los Angeles would set him back. But first, he needed to see if he could get started on the researching. At least get some kind of idea. Maybe.
He wouldn't go to Giles. Not yet, anyway. First he'd go to that occult store Willow had gone to a few times, after Giles had mentioned it in passing earlier in the summer. Uncle Bob's Magic Cabinet.
Its ownership tended to change pretty quickly, apparently. More than one owner of the store had been killed by the things that lived in Sunnydale. Xander checked the clock on his bedside table. Too early to go and see what he could find out yet, no way any store would open this early on a Saturday.
So he went out and jogged for a while, came back, took a shower and changed into a clean set of clothes. Xander then made a mental note to do his laundry soon. He could hardly trust his mom to be sober enough to do it, not at this time of the month. She barely remembered to go shopping for groceries once every two weeks or so. Xander sighed to himself, grabbed his money, and walked to the magic store.
Fortunately, the place was open when he arrived. "Blessed be. How can I help you?" The owner, a woman, asked with a practiced-looking smile.
“Where do you keep the real books?” Xander asked as he walked in. He was the only customer at the moment.
“Excuse me?” The owner, a woman, asked.
“The real books. The ones that actually have stuff about magic and demons and all that fun stuff that is real, rather than just gimmicky stuff you put in books to sell to the tourists.” Then, “I'm a friend of Willow's so I know you have them.”
The woman nodded slowly. “Then you're Xander? She's mentioned you once or twice.” She pointed up to the loft area, connected to the store by a ladder. “I keep the real stuff up there. What are you looking for?”
“To be honest, I'm not sure.” Xander told a half-truth there. “I'll know it when I see it though, hopefully.” He went over to the ladder and climbed up it quickly enough, heading for the books that were stored here on the upper level.
He spent about forty-five minutes looking, but to no avail. Confined to the books written in English for the moment, Xander simply didn't have that much to work with. None of the books he'd skimmed through had what he was looking for. Besides – practically all of them were written in that old medieval English style which guys like Shakespeare and Chaucer wrote in, which made them unnecessarily hard for a modern So-Cal boy like him to understand. It reminded him of English Lit. class, all over again. Ugh.
Giving up, Xander went back down to the main floor. He handed the woman a ten-dollar note, which he didn't have to do, since he wasn't buying anything; but then she'd didn't have to let him browse through the books without buying something.
“Thanks anyway.” Harris said simply.
“Not a problem.” The store owner replied. “Willow's a good customer, and a good person at that.”
“She is that.” Xander agreed, then left the store. Well, there went that idea. What next? Well, obviously, it had to be Buffy. Which meant a trip to L.A. He couldn't just leave Sunnydale without telling someone where he was going, though – that was not a good idea in the slightest. He'd tell Giles. Well, he'd tell the man something, anyway.
And thus, some time later, he was knocking on Giles' door. After a minute or so, the Watcher opened the door. “Xander?” Giles asked. “What are you doing here?” He was, as he always seemed to be, cleaning his glasses.
“Hey, G-man, what's up?” Xander asked. “I have a question for you. Mind if I come in?” Even though it was broad daylight, Giles just stepped aside silently. None of the Scoobies ever gave verbal invitations to anyone anymore. Survival instinct made habit, Willow had called it.
“How many times have I told you not to call me – oh, never mind.” Not the first time Giles had said that, and far from the last, for that matter, Xander guessed. Since he wasn't going to stop calling him G-man anytime soon. “What question were you – Xander, what are you doing?”
Xander had retrieved a pad of paper and a pen from the pile of assorted books and was sketching something. Specifically the demon he had seen take off its human-seeming face in the images shown to him by the coin. Which were still just as vivid as when he'd actually seen them. It wasn't that good of a sketch – an artist he was not. He tore the sheet off the pad and handed it to Giles. “Have you ever seen a demon that looks like this? Or something close?”
Giles took the paper and examined the sketch closely, putting his glasses back on. “Xander, this is hardly that much to work on. No offense, but the image is...well, barely mediocre.”
“I know.” Xander replied. “Just – try. Think. Does anything
come to mind?”
Giles shook his head. “No. I mean, of course, I can consult my books, but even with this as a starting point, it might take a while to-” Giles abruptly lowered the paper and looked at Xander, brows furrowed. Something seemed...well, strange, about the boy. No...not strange, exactly. Off...perhaps different...but not quite... “What exactly is this about, Xander?” Giles asked pointedly.
“I can't tell you.” Xander replied quickly.
“Xander.” Giles almost glared at him. “I'm in no mood for games.”
“This isn't a game. I literally cannot tell you.” Xander replied. “Buffy is in L.A.”
That distracted Giles from the picture, which dropped to rest on the ground at his feet. “What? How do you know? I've checked in L.A. Had the Council check in L.A. Where in L.A. is she?”
“I can't tell you.” Xander replied quickly.
“Xander.” Giles almost glared at him. “Don't try to make jokes, as I'm in no mood for games!”
“This isn't a game, or a joke. I literally cannot tell you.” Xander replied. “What I can tell you, though, is that Buffy is in L.A.”
That immediately distracted Giles from the picture, which fell to the ground at his feet. “What? How on earth do you know that? I've checked in Los Angeles. Given that was where Buffy was born and raised for the first sixteen years of her life, that was first place I checked! I – wait. Where in L.A. is she?”
“How do I know that? I can't tell you. Seriously, I can't tell you, Giles.” Xander replied firmly. “God knows I wish I could. Here, let me show you what I mean.” Then he looked up towards the ceiling. "By the way, if you're watching us right now? Please spare me the whole exploding pen thing, on account of this is purely for demonstration purposes!"
Xander put pen to paper, and started to write 'Iron Coin'. The pen was suddenly out of ink. “Two seconds ago, there was plenty of ink in this pen. I mean you know that, right? Seriously Giles, you saw me draw that sketch!"
"Well, err, yes..." Giles blinked, trying to wrap his mind around that.
Shrugging, Xander grabbed a pencil, and started to write. The pencil immediately snapped in two. Another pen jammed up, a second pencil was suddenly hollow, as if the lead had just fallen out. “See what I mean? I can't tell you how I know what I know. Not won't; can't
. I don't even want to think about what might happen to me if I tried to actually tell you in words. Seriously, when I tried to write it down earlier, the pen exploded on me! Still, FYI, I know where Buffy is, and I'm going to get on a bus to L.A. and bring her back here, as soon as possible.”
Initially, Giles was at a complete loss for words. “Xander, what the devil is going on?!” He asked after a moment. "Are you under a, a magical geas of some sort?"
“I can't tell you!” Xander said again, looking annoyed. “And for the record, I have no idea what a geas actually is.” Half-true. “Frankly, Giles, all this kinda scares the crap out of me.” Very true. “But like I said, Buffy is in L.A. I know where she is, and I know that that
demon,” Harris pointed to the sketch he'd made, “Is involved. And while I'd like nothing better than for you to drive me to the big city, I need you to research something called The Jester.”
“Something called what?” Giles asked, confused.
“Xander, I see your lips moving, but you're not actually saying anything.”Damn!
Xander thought in annoyance. “Yes I am, I mean I heard myself say it. Obviously, even telling you his name falls under the 'not allowed to tell anyone anything' part of the spiel I got.”
Giles stared at the Slayerette carefully, processing that. “What, um, what exactly is stopping you from telling me?”
“I have no idea. All I know is I just can't. Words, writing, sign language, signal flags, whatever.” Harris rattled off the list that the Jester had used last night. "Probably some kind of magic, but don't ask me what kind. 'Cause I haven't got a clue."
Giles pinched the bridge of his nose and muttered to himself in Mycenaean Greek, thinking aloud without being overheard – or at least, understood – by Xander. He had no idea what to think concerning all this. His initial reaction was to think that Xander was playing some kind of trick on him; but if it was a joke of some sort; it had long since passed the point of being funny. Besides, if there was one thing the boy didn't joke about, it was Buffy's whereabouts. Nonetheless, if all this was on the level, Giles simply could not believe that whoever had imparted said knowledge to the boy would go to such Byzantine lengths to keep their identity a secret. What on earth would be the point?
Still. This was the Hellmouth; Giles had long since learned that nothing was ever truly as it seemed around here, and to expect the unexpected – and moreover, to expect the unexpectable
Xander seemed completely sincere and earnest in his...belief...that Buffy was in Los Angeles, and that he knew where she was in that city of several million people. And sincere and earnest in his inability to communicate exactly how he knew these things. The...demonstration with the pens and pencils just now was at least somewhat convincing, though hardly conclusive, of his claim.
“I take it you trust your informant?” Giles eventually asked, deciding to focus on the more practical aspects of the situation.
Xander shook his head. “Giles, all I can tell you is that Buffy is there. And she needs to be here. The vamps and demons are out there killing people every night, and we need a Slayer to do what we mere mortals can't! Besides; we're her friends, her family. And she's not going to get over what happened with Dead Boy by losing herself in that damn city! She needs to know that we want her back, and that we care.”
Giles frowned. “And how do you propose to get to Los Angeles? You mentioned before, that you didn't want me to drive you there...”
“Bus ticket. That's my next stop after I leave here.” Xander picked up the sketch. “I guess what I need from you right now is to find out more about this demon. It's important. Why, I'm not sure. But I know
it is. I'll call you from a pay phone once I'm in L.A., to see if there's anything you've found out.”
“Well, if I can't talk you out of this, and you need me to research this creature for you – then be careful.” Giles replied. “The Los Angeles night-life, as it were, may not be quite like it is here on the Hellmouth...but in some ways, it's even more dangerous from what I've heard.” He set down the sketch and on the pad, wrote down an address, and then a word, 'Caritas'. He tore the sheet off the pad and handed it to Xander. “There's a place I've heard of, called Caritas. It's some kind of demon bar or nightclub, but nonetheless it's a sanctuary for all, from what I've heard. No one can be hurt or killed while they're in there.”
Xander looked at the paper, then folded it and put it in his pocket – not the one that had the Iron Coin. He nodded. “Thank you.” Then, he said, softly. “I thought about asking her to come along, but then I realized there's nothing she could do or say to convince Buffy to come home that I can't. So please, don't tell Willow about...this...”
“Thing you can't tell me anything about?” Giles asked, raising an eyebrow, almost bemused despite himself. “What exactly would I tell her?”
Xander smirked a little at that. “Thanks, G-man.” He headed for the door as Giles spluttered a moment.
“Xander!” He exclaimed, only half seriously. “Stop calling me that!”
Xander turned around a moment, still smiling, then left.July 11th, 1998
Helen's Kitchen, Los Angeles
The bus ride from L.A. had been...tense. Xander had kept rehearsing the conversation he was going to have with Buffy...and now, finally, he had the opportunity to talk to her. Granted, Giles still hadn't identified the demon, but Xander hadn't been able to wait any longer at the depot; the sun was just starting to set outside. Xander watched as Buffy, wearing a waitress uniform, picked up two plates – burgers and fries – and carried them over to a table, where she set them before two tough-looking guys.
“Anything else?” Buffy asked them, looking bored.
“That'll do us, Peaches.” One of them said, leering at the Slayer's voluptuous body. Peaches? What the hell? Is this guy still living in the Eighties or what?
Was Xander's initial reaction. I mean, really!? Does he think that works?
He shook his head and watched. To his surprise, Buffy just tore their bill off her pad and set it on the table.
“You can pay at the counter.”
“Sure you don't want me to work it off for you?” The same guy said crudely, his friend laughing just as crudely at that. Buffy ignored him and walked past the table – on her way to his table, Xander realized. The man suddenly reached out and grabbed her ass for a moment. The two jerks laughed again as Buffy stood stock still, stiff as an iron rod for a moment, then continued on as if nothing had happened.
Xander was shocked; he'd half-expected Buffy to tear that guy's arm off and beat him to death with it. Well, okay, maybe not anything that extreme, especially not in public, but still...back in Sunnydale, she'd have at least punched his lights out. God...she has changed...
Buffy reached his table, and took out the pad, ready to write down his order. She hadn't actually noticed who it was she was serving yet. “What can I get you?” the Slayer asked, looking down at her pad.
Xander looked up at her. “Well, for starters, I'd like one of my two best friends back.” Harris said softly.
Buffy nearly dropped the pad when she saw him. Immediately, she took a half step back. “Xander!?!
” She half-hissed. “What – how did you – what the hell are you doing here?!”
“Looking for you, of course.” Xander replied. He leaned forward a little, towards her. “Why do you think
I'm here? Buffy-”
“No-no...no.” Buffy cut him off, backing away. “No. Just go away.” She turned around and headed towards the back of the diner. She had a quick, quiet conversation with another waitress, handed her her pad, took off her apron, and hurried out of the diner. Xander immediately got up and followed her out.
“Buffy!” Harris called after her. “Wait!” But Buffy started to walk faster, crossing the street, not quite running yet. Thus, Xander had no choice but to run after her. “Buffy, stop!” He called again.
Buffy turned down onto another street, and Xander followed after her. She finally turned around and stopped after he called her name a third time. “Why are you doing this?! God damn it, Xander, why are you here?!” Buffy demanded.
“I'm here because you're my friend. I'm here because we need you. I'm here because people are dying every night in Sunnydale, after you ran away and left us to fend for ourselves. And I'm here because you hiding after what happened with Angelus and Acathla isn't good for you!”
“What the hell would you know about it, Xander!?” Buffy demanded, stepping a pace closer to him. “You weren't there...you didn't have to...it wasn't Angelus that I sent to Hell that day! It was Angel. He was back!” She paused a moment. “But it was too late...Acathla had opened his mouth...Angel's blood was the only way to save the world. So I killed him! I had to shove a sword through his chest and send the man I loved to Hell!” She was almost yelling by that point. "And don't
tell me you're sorry Angel's gone! We both know you're not!"So...I was wrong, Willow's spell did work.
Xander felt a little remorse for his actions, but not much. Despite Willow's actions, he still believed telling Buffy the Big Lie had been the right thing to do. The fact that the world was still here... “You're right, I'm not sorry about what happened to your undead boyfriend. I'm sorry how all that totally upsets you, sure, but I'm not going to mourn Angel's death; not after all the people that died because of his psycho alter ego, and because I'm not that much of a hypocrite. I haven't been since I killed my best friend, after Jesse became a soulless blood-sucking monster that tried to kill both me and Cordelia! Look, Buffy, you did what you had to in order to save the world. And maybe you needed to get away for a while, after you did that. But now it's time to come home.”
“I can't!” She insisted. “My mom said-”
“She said don't ever come back if you walk out that door, right?” Xander interrupted. “I know, she told me. But do you really, honestly, think she meant it? Think about it, Buffy. Your mother loves you! She's been worried out of her mind about you, all summer! God knows I'd kill to have a mom like yours. She's been beating herself up all this time, over what she said. And God, Buffy, look me in the eye and tell me you think you actually belong here!
Just my opinion, but you don't belong in what's clearly the ass-end of L.A., working in some sleazy diner. Seriously, what happened back there? The Buffy Summers I knew would never have let a guy grab her ass like that. I mean, you just acted like it never happened?”
“I'm not the Buffy you knew!” Buffy responded, actually yelling this time. “I can't do it! Being a Slayer...its not-”
“Bullshit!!” Xander cut her off fiercely. He walked a step towards her, and took her hand. “Buffy, listen to me. You are the bravest person I've ever met, and not because you fight vampires and demons and all the other monsters out there – though yes, that's part of it – but because you keep doing it. Night after night, you kept going out there to fight them, and then you went to school the next day, and kept trying to have a normal life...and even after everything that happened back in May, you're still sane? Hell, half the time I think I might be going crazy. But not you. Deep down, you're still the same girl I knew. You're Buffy Summers. You're the Slayer, and you're my friend.”
Buffy tore her hand from his grip. Not that he'd been holding her hand that tightly. “No! Damn you, Xander, you don't understand...everything...that happened...”
Xander nodded. “You're right. I don't understand. I wasn't there, and yea, I staked the closest thing I had to a brother, but it's not the same situation as you were in. I get that. But lemme ask you something, Buffy; are you happy here? Is this really helping? Has running away made it hurt any less?”
“I can forget all the pain.” Mostly...
Buffy sighed. “For a while, anyway.”
“Yeah, and that's my point exactly. Buffy, you're the Slayer, and you can't forget that. I mean you can try, but you'll fail. You left the Hellmouth and you came back to L.A. You think you can hide here forever, all by yourself? You think the Council won't catch up with you, sooner or later? God damn it, Buffy, I don't want you to die if those people suddenly decide that you're a liability to the cause! And if not them, then some vampire or demon that wants to become the big man by killing the Slayer! If you just keeping hiding like this, when the fact that you're the Slayer finally catches up with you, I don't think you're going to live through it.”
Then an idea occurred to Xander, and he thought back to what he'd seen...the images still vivid in his mind. He reached out and took her hand again, pulling the Slayer back down the street. “Come on.” Harris said. “There's something I need to show you. If this doesn't convince you-”
Buffy once again tore her hand from his grip. "I told you, I'm not the Slayer anymore. I quit! I resigned! I'm done
with all that!"
Xander turned to face her. “Buffy. Please. Just follow me. You're still the Buffy I knew – I know. You don't just fight demons, and vampires and save the world out of duty, or for yourself. You do it because it's the right thing to do. Because you're helping people. And right now, there are people here in L.A. that need your help. They need you to save them.”
“Xander, what are you talking about? I can't-”
, Buffy.” He paused. “Look, just let me show you what I'm talking about; and then if you don't have a problem with it, if you can't bring yourself to help those people, well, what the hell. You can leave, and I'll fight them by myself. Afterwards if I live, which is pretty unlikely, I'll go home, forget that I ever found you, and leave you to all...” Xander gestured to the dismal neighborhood surroundings, “this. I'll leave you alone to wallow in your despair, if that's what you really want.”
Slowly, Buffy nodded. She didn't say anything. Xander turned and led her to the second area he'd seen from the visions. That place with the black tar-like liquid, and the demon who took off his face. Peeled it off, more, now that Xander thought about it. The Family Home. He'd canvassed the place earlier, before heading off to the diner. Xander wasn't sure what the demon was doing with the runaways and homeless and lost souls that he was passing out the fliers to, or who came into his 'homeless shelter'. But he would bet everything he owned and then some that it wasn't to 'fill the empty place in their souls', or anything that was good for the people involved.
The alley that held the entrance to the 'Family Home' had the guy standing outside it, holding the fliers. Xander walked up to the guy, Buffy following behind him. There was a frown on the Chosen One's face, as her Slayer-sense suddenly went crazy.
“Excuse me? I've got a question for you.” Harris said politely. Then without waiting for a response, he reached over and grabbed 'Ken's' forehead; and immediately, Xander started pulling, hard. There was a strange...vaguely squishing noise, and then the face started to move, peeling off. “How long does it take you to glue this thing on?” With another hard pull, the entire thing started to slide right off, and then Xander pulled it away from the demon's face completely.
The demon face underneath was a weird sickly-brown color, and it looked almost as if parts of the skin were cut away to reveal the muscle underneath, or something. It looked humanoid...but it was all the more disturbing for that fact its real inhumanity was obvious as well.
“My face!” The demon grabbed the front of Xander's shirt and lifted him into the air, mad fury in its eyes. “You tore off
my face! Do you have any idea
how hard it is-”
“No.” Xander interrupted, resisting the urge to cry out in fear, which was growing stronger by the second. “I don't know how hard it is to put that thing on. That's kind of why I asked -”
Xander's speech was interrupted when he was suddenly dropped to the ground. He looked up from his position, ass flat on the sidewalk, groaning in pain, to see Buffy and the demon fighting. And Buffy was definitely kicking ass.
“Go Buffy,” Harris said, gritting his teeth, then groaning again. He picked himself up. Nothing seemed to be broken, thank God. “Wait! Don't kill him just yet, Buff. He's been bringing homeless people – teenagers mostly – into that place. And I don't think it's to offer them tea and scones, or whatever.”
Buffy stopped whaling on the demon for a moment and picked him
up by the front of his shirt. “Okay, let's do the whole Q&A thing. What are you doing with them?” She demanded. Oddly, Buffy felt...almost like herself again. Not quite...but... she recycled a line she'd used a few months ago. “Start talking, before I make you wear your ribcage as a hat!”
“I won't tell you any-” Buffy punched 'Ken' in the gut with her free hand. Hard. “Alright!” The demon said with a groan. He started to talk – although Buffy had to 'encourage' him to continue every other sentence or so.
The whole sordid scheme soon came out; 'Ken' was taking people who wouldn't be missed to another dimension, a demon world where time passed much faster than here on Earth. The enslaved humans worked and worked and worked until they were too old to be productive anymore, and then they were shoved back into this world to die of old age. Barely a day would pass here, but a century there. Perfect little scheme, from a certain point of view.
Buffy threw the demon into the wall, and beat him up some more, before finally killing him. Asshole!
Xander followed Buffy in as she handled two more demons – also wearing human masks – and then they came into another room...which had a pool of what looked like black tar, just like Harris had seen from the vision the Iron Coin had conferred.
“Wait here.” Buffy said, grabbing a heavy candlestick, after blowing out the candle and tossing it aside. “I'm going to go in and get those people out of there.”
“Hang on a second, Buff. What do we know about how many enemies you'll be facing down there, all alone? And, uh, does that mean what I think it means?” Xander asked softly.
Buffy nodded. “I'm Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I'm back.”Next Episode of The Iron Coin Chronicles Season 1:
...And Sometimes You Can. Coming (eventually) to a computer near you. I won't promise 'soon'. But I hope for soonish.