: A reviewer told me, a while ago, that they figured I didn't like Xander, much. Because I have him being jealous, much of the time, and often the odd one out in terms of figuring out what was going on. The reviewer reminded me that Xander is still the guy who can see everything, and that he is smart as Buffy and Willow - just in a different way.
I've been taking that to heart.
So, you'll see my attempt at that, here. Making Xander a character who's still smart in his own way.
This should probably be two chapters, since I usually try to stick to about 2,000 words per chapter, but I decided to squash it all together into one. I figured... enough screwing around. Let's get to the plot!
"They're not dead," Buffy assured Faith, as they stormed through the halls of the Slayer Institution. "Can't be."
"Either dead, or playing serious hooky," said Faith.
Buffy burst into Dawn's office, where everyone else had already gathered. Dawn automatically handed Buffy a folder of maps and research.
"Last known locations," Dawn explained. "Lists of important information. Compilations of accounts from various different members of staff, and everything we have about the girls that have gone missing."
Buffy took the folder, and leafed through it. Then dropped the folder onto the ground, and turned to the others. "So the point of this is… fifteen girls are missing."
Dawn's expression fell with the dropped papers, her professionalism sliding into disappointment. But she covered it well.
"For at least a day," Xander confirmed. "No one's seen them. Not at classes. Not in the dorms. Not anywhere."
Buffy nodded. "Then we find them."
"Buffy," said Willow. "Death's coming. Remember? These girls, they're probably already…"
Buffy turned to Xander. "Xander. Arrange a search-party." She spun on her heel, then marched out of the room. "We're finding those girls. And we're making sure that whatever is threatening us, it's taken care of. Right away."
The door slammed shut, behind her.
Xander glanced over at Dawn, who was glaring down at her desk, her whole body tense. "Supposed to be my job," she muttered.
"You know," said Xander, "it's amazing how easy it is to confuse the names 'Dawn' and 'Xander' when you're really stressed out and…"
Dawn got up from her seat. "Don't bother," she said, walking towards the door. "Buffy never wants me involved if she thinks it's going to be dangerous."--000--
"You know her?" Spike asked.
"Not personally," Angel confessed, analyzing the unconscious woman in front of them. "I've heard of her, though. Her name's Joanna Harris."
Spike gave a little chuckle. "Another Harris? Well, speak of the Xander. Small world."
Angel glanced back at Spike. "I doubt there's any relation. Joanna's over 900 years old."
Spike stubbed out his cigarette, suddenly interested. "Demon, then?"
"When I first heard about her, she was a vampire," Angel confessed. "Although that no longer seems to be the case."
Spike muttered something about bloody skinny-twerp Time Lords under his breath.
"That must be why Whistler brought her here," Angel said. "Because we know the Doctor." He stared at Joanna, concerned. "I wonder what's wrong with her."
"The bloodfasting," Joanna muttered.
Angel and Spike looked at one another. Then back at Joanna.
"Shouldn't work," she continued. "Human now. Psychic link would be too weak. He must be… in so much… pain…" She opened her eyes, and noticed her surroundings. Noticed Spike, no recognition in her eyes. Then noticed Angel. And jumped to her feet. "Oh, shit."
recognize you, mate," Spike grumbled.
Angel advanced towards Joanna, holding out his hands. "I'm not here to hurt you," he said. "Whistler brought you here. He said I could help."
"I don't want your
brand of help," Joanna spat, edging backwards. "I'd rather stay alive."
"No, really, I'm not going to hurt you," Angel repeated. "I've got a soul, now. Hurting you would only hurt me."
"Oh, and I so trust in your sense of self-preservation!" said Joanna, putting a chair between herself and Angel. "The sadistic ones are always the first to get staked. Or have you figured that out, yet?" She paused, the anger falling away, just a hair, as she squinted at Angel. "What do you mean, you have a soul?"
"I met someone," Angel said. "Someone I think you've met, too. I killed his friend. So he tricked me. And gave me back my humanity."
Joanna's eyes widened, but she said nothing.
"I can help," Angel said. "But you have to tell me. Who are you bloodfasted to? Whose pain are you feeling?"
Joanna backed away, reaching for the nearest weapon-like object. Which happened to be… a staple-remover. "Oh, no," she said, wielding the staple-remover. "I don't know what… revenge fantasies you've been entertaining, but there is no way I'm telling you anything about…"
"Oh, bloody hell!" Spike groaned. "It's the Doctor, isn't it? That's
the psychic signal you're picking up."--000--
"We've got a positive ID on Linda," crackled Willow's voice through the walkie-talkie. "Dead. Blood loss, neck snapped, lots of bruising. Autopsy should tell us more."
Buffy sighed, and held the walkie-talkie up to her mouth. "Got that," she said. She lowered her hand, and turned to Faith, beside her.
"Guess that makes twelve," Faith said.
"The last three could have survived," Buffy told her. She could see that Faith was really upset, even if she kept trying to make it seem as if she was fine. There was this weird shruggy thing Faith kept doing, like she couldn't get comfortable in her own skin.
"At least Linda wasn't torn apart like the last five," said Faith.
"We'll find out what happened," said Buffy. "I promise, Faith. Those girls were under our protection. We're going to make sure it never happens again."
"I just want to take out whatever did it," said Faith. She balled her hands into fists, and punched the air. "Give that monster what he deserves."
A rustle, then a clang from behind them. "Faith?" came a small voice.
Buffy and Faith turned, and found a disheveled, bloody, and foul-smelling young girl trying to climb out of a nearby dumpster. Her brown hair was strewn with red blood, nasty gashes appeared across her arms, and she cried out as she fell backwards, back into the dumpster. Faith rushed out and caught her, lifting her out of the dumpster and onto the ground.
"I've got you," said Faith, helping the girl. "You're okay, Arlene. B and I are here."
Arlene flicked her eyes across the alley. "Are they gone?" she whispered.
"Are who gone?" Buffy asked.
"The vampires," said Arlene.
Buffy and Faith looked at one another. Talk about anticlimactic! All this stuff about Death coming and Super-Big-Bads, and it was just a few vampires attacking Slayers who weren't fully trained? Some new vampire nest, Buffy was guessing, that had just moved into town. Maybe they called themselves "Death", or something. Wow, that would be a total letdown.
Arlene started crying, and Faith tried to calm her down. "They killed everyone else," she sobbed. "I watched them tear the other girls to pieces. I don't think any of them survived. I hid. That was the only way I got out alive. They… they were so fast! So strong! Linda even got one in the heart, but… it didn't stake, Faith! It didn't work!"
"Linda's first vamp," Faith explained to Buffy.
Buffy knew what that meant. It might as well be a rule. First time anyone tried to stake a vamp, she always wound up missing the heart. The newbies always thought the vampires were super-mythical or something, but trained veterans knew better.
"That's how it always feels, the first time," Faith coaxed Arlene. "You'll get better, don't worry. Pretty soon, vampires like that'll be a dawdle."
"You better get her back to the Institute," Buffy told Faith. "I'll keep an eye out for any more survivors." She raised the walkie-talkie to her mouth. "Buffy to search party. Located one survivor. Arlene. Apparently, this was a case of out-too-late, stuck around after dark, got ambushed by vamps."
"We weren't out too late!" Arlene protested. "It was lunch time."
"For vampires, it's always lunch time," Faith told her.
"No, I mean—" Arlene started.
A crackle from Xander on the walkie-talkie. "Um, Buffy? I've got the coroner, here, and he puts the time of death at around about noonish."
Buffy and Faith just stared at the walkie-talkie.
"That's what I said," Arlene told them. "It was lunch. We weren't expecting vampires or anything."
"So… unless there was some sort of freak eclipse, you're saying…" Faith started.
Arlene nodded. "The vampires attacked us in broad daylight."--000--
"Why not?" Joanna demanded, turning on Angel, anger radiating through her eyes. "It's been tried before."
"But never successfully," Angel pointed out. "Everyone knows — it'd be suicide!"
Joanna looked Angel up and down, carefully. "You said he tricked you into giving you back your soul," she said. "Which means you tried to do this kind of thing yourself, didn't you? A hundred years ago. You thought you could be successful at it."
Angel looked away.
"I've been alive a long time," Joanna said. "I know. Every upstart vampire that meets the Doctor always thinks that they'll
be different. That they'll
be able to make it work. And every single time, they always lose."
"You really think that's what's happening here?" Angel asked.
"Well, you know what would happen if it worked," Joanna said. "It's a biological defense-mechanism against Time Lords. If some vampire could do it — actually do it — no Time Lord could escape."
"Not even the Doctor," Angel said.
"Not even the Doctor," Joanna agreed. "Like I said. No Time Lord
could stop it."
Angel raised an eyebrow at her. "You're about to point out that the two of us aren't
Joanna crossed her arms, a proud smile on her face. "Bingo."--000--
Buffy dropped the stack of autopsy reports onto her desk, and collapsed into the seat. "It's vampires," she told the others.
Willow, Xander, Dawn, and Faith all looked at one another, exchanging dubious glances.
"It can't be vampires," Xander told Buffy. "Vampires don't do sunlight."
"And yet, here we are," said Buffy, nudging the autopsy reports towards Xander. "Vampires. Sunlight. Lots of dead people."
"They could have been attacked in the shadows," Dawn offered. "Or indoors."
"Nope," said Faith. "Arlene told us it was broad daylight. But that doesn't mean they're vampires." She turned to Buffy. "Come on, B. You know vampires. They don't dig the sunlight deal. Whatever these blood-sucking demon things are, if they're running around during business hours, they're not vamps."
"I've seen vampires immune to sunlight before," said Buffy. "Vampires are a hybrid species. Half vampire, half human. If the vampire is from another planet besides Earth, they're sometimes immune to sunlight. I chased this one vampire, once. A Carflodashian Vampire, from the planet Carflodash. That one was immune to sunlight."
"No offense," said Xander, "but don't you think that if E.T. Vampire was planning an invasion, we'd at least have seen a flying saucer or a meteor or something?"
They all looked over at Dawn, who gave a pensive frown.
"Anything from Torchwood or UNIT?" Buffy asked.
"I couldn't get major details," said Dawn, "but… UNIT was attacked, a short time ago. Anyone who'd known anything about vampires was hunted down and killed. And as for Torchwood…" Dawn winced, "to quote Hartman, 'we know about the situation, and it's under our control.'"
"So… probably the same," Buffy said.
"Probably." Dawn glanced up at Buffy. "Other than that, no weird alien sightings. No lights in the sky, or UFOs, or anything."
"So either we've got super badass invading alien vampires," said Xander, "or we've got demons who want to pretend they're super badass invading alien vampires."
"Did Arlene tell you anything else about these mystery vamps?" Buffy asked Faith.
Faith shrugged. "They look like normal vamps," she said. "Arlene thought they were human until they went all wrinkly vampire faced. Other than the sunlight thing, it's all the stuff you'd expect from a newbie facing down an experienced vampire. Super fast, super strong, couldn't find the heart, that kind of thing."
"So other than sunlight, there's nothing special about them," said Buffy.
"Seems like," Faith agreed.
"Woah, woah, woah, wait a minute, hold the phone!" said Xander. "You guys are making a whole lot of assumptions, here."
"What do you mean?" Buffy asked.
"Look, what if — just, humor me, here — but what if Arlene was right," Xander said, "and these vampires were just as fast, just as strong, and just as unkillable as she described?"
"Xander, the first time a newbie goes out against a vampire, it's always like this," Buffy told him. "I thought the same thing, when I tried to stake my first vamp."
"Me too," said Faith.
"I'm just saying that you might want to investigate before you dismiss everything she says," Xander pointed out. "I mean, these vampire guys did infiltrate Torchwood and UNIT, right? That's not easy to do."
"Look, just think about it, a moment," Faith told him. "If every vamp was the way we thought vamps were when we were newbies, we'd all be dead, by now. In fact, everyone on Earth would probably be dead by now. Unstoppable vampires — they're just a myth. A legend. If they were real, it would—"
"Be Death," Buffy cut in, her voice very flat.
"Death is here," Willow said. "Remember?"
Buffy and Faith looked at one another. Buffy had a very, very bad feeling about this, all of a sudden.
"I think it's time for the professionals," she told Faith.--000--
Xander looked up, as he noticed Dawn entering his office. She did not look happy. In fact, she looked pretty grim.
"I just got off the phone with Giles," she said. "Buffy wanted me to check in with the Coven."
Xander sighed. Yeah. 'Check in with the coven'. Right. Sometimes, Buffy's excuses to go off to England were seriously flimsy.
"I'm sure Buffy isn't trying to replace you," Xander said. "This whole Tyler thing — Buffy's just trying to find the Doctor. As soon as she does…"
"The Coven's gone."
Xander's head shot up. He stared at Dawn. "What?"
"One of the members of the Coven had gotten sired," said Dawn. "No one detected anything wrong. Next thing Giles knew, they were all dead."
?" Xander checked. "I thought they could tell if a fly sneezed half a world away!"
"You were right, Xander," Dawn said. "There's something seriously bad going on. And Buffy's going out, looking for it. I mean, is she even…?"
"She took the Scythe," Xander assured Dawn. "She's ready for anything."
Dawn didn't look convinced.
"You're really worried about this," Xander noted.
"I've been collaborating with Torchwood, UNIT, the US Army, and the Coven for the last year and a half," Dawn said. "I know
these organizations. They're not idiots. Every single one of them should have been able to detect vampires the moment they arrived. But everywhere, it's the same thing. No one's able to find out about the vampires until it's too late."
Xander put aside the book he'd been using for research. "Isn't this something you should be telling Buffy?"
Dawn gave Xander a pointed look. "You know why I'm not."
Yeah, Xander knew why. What Buffy would do to Dawn, if she found out that there was something super-duper dangerous out there.
"She only sends you out of danger because she loves you, you know," he said.
"Yeah," Dawn replied. "Sacrifice herself cause she loves me. I get it." She gave a sad little shrug. "I just wish she'd figure out that… I love her, too."--000--
"Okay, seriously," said Faith. "Next time, we're phoning the vampires ahead of time, and making an appointment."
Buffy glanced over at Faith, a small grin tugging at the corners of her lips. "Bored?"
"It's called 'Slaying', not 'Waiting Around Hoping Something Will Happen'," Faith insisted. She shoved her sword into the ground, so she could lean against the hilt. "At least when you and I did patrols, we were walking around."
"We'll give it another ten minutes," said Buffy. "Just in case they decide to…" She stopped, as she heard the rustle of a bush nearby. She spun around, brandishing the Scythe, to find…
"Arlene?" Faith asked.
Arlene shuffled, slightly. "I… thought you could use some help," she said. She scuffed her shoe against the ground. "And I thought maybe… the vampires would be after me. Specifically. Because I got away."
"Arlene," said Buffy, lowering the Scythe. "Get out of here. This isn't a fight for a newbie."
"But I thought—" Arlene started.
She never finished.
Her eyes went wide, her face pale, and she fell over, dead, a knife poking out of her back.
The vampire behind her — a large blond guy, with a torn biker jacket and tattoos along his biceps — gave Buffy a cruel, twisted smile. "Hello, Slayers."
Buffy glanced around, realizing that the biker-guy and two other vampires had just surrounded her and Faith. Snuck up on them.
And Buffy wasn't usually sneak-uppable.
The trio of vampires examined Buffy and Faith with mild curiosity, grins on their faces, death in their eyes. The biker guy in front swept a blond fringe from his eyes, the sun sparkling atop his head.
Buffy brandished her Scythe, while Faith plucked her sword out of the ground.
"We heard you were looking for us," said the blond vampire. He glanced down at Arlene's dead body. "Sorry we kept you waiting."
Buffy and Faith exchanged a look. A look that was a strategy. Then Buffy stepped forwards, Scythe raised, and swung out at the blond one, while Faith flipped back and hacked at the other two.
The edge of the Scythe glistened in the sunlight, the power stretching through her body as it traced the air. The blond vamp didn't move, didn't seem to mind at all, just laughed, as the blade sliced through his head.
The severed head popped into dust as it hit the ground.
Behind Buffy, two more heads rolled across the ground, then burst into piles of dust, as Faith finished off her vampires.
"That was easy," said Buffy, turning back to Faith. "I thought they'd be…"
She stopped, as she felt Faith's hand grab her shoulder. A hand that trembled, a little. A hand that turned Buffy around, to look behind her, at the vampire she'd just decapitated. And as Buffy stared, she saw…
A head growing back in place on the still-standing biker-guy body, swelling to its proper size and then settling down where the previous one had been.
"What the…?" Buffy said.
The blond vampire laughed again, his fellow vampires — damn, all of them whole again — all joining in. Then, faster than Buffy could even process, her and Faith's weapons were out of their hands, and they were both being restrained by the two groupee vamps.
"C'we kill 'em, now, Joe?" asked one of the groupees. "You know what they say about Slayer blood."
The Joe-guy's eyes gleamed. "Question is, who do we kill first?" he wondered. "Such a hard choice."
Then he rested his eyes on Buffy, and he decided. Reached out for her.
Buffy jerked one arm away from the vampire restraining her, then used her other, still restrained hand to flip him over her head, crashing him into Joe. She somersaulted over the collided vampires, getting up off the ground, and snatched back her Scythe.
Faith, meanwhile, had managed to elbow the vamp behind her in the stomach, then punch it in the nose, twisting around and trying to stake it through the heart.
Except… it didn't stake.
A flash of movement out of the corner of Buffy's eye, and she ducked to avoid the blow. Faith swung out at the vamp nearby with her sword, realizing — too late — what she was aiming at. A live wire.
Electricity burned through Faith's veins, forcing a scream from her throat, as she dropped the sword and fell to the ground.
The sword clattered nearby.
Buffy jumped in front of the unconscious Faith, brandishing the Scythe. Even if she knew it'd do no good.
"Funny," said Joe, "how you Slayers never seem to realize when you're in way over your heads."
Buffy laughed. "Yeah, you keep telling yourself..."
A sudden flare of heat erupted from the handle of the Scythe, and Buffy dropped it to the ground. Looked up, to find a vampire holding a gadget containing a series of lenses, which focused the sunlight to catch exactly right on the Scythe. Heat it up so it was unbearable. Buffy tried to grab the Scythe up, again, with her hand buried in the sleeve of her shirt, but the biker guy had already kicked it out of reach.
The vampires all looked at one another, their grins widening. Then turned back to the two Slayers. And went in for the kill.
Buffy lashed out. Used every trick she'd been taught. Everything she'd ever known or learned. But they knew her moves better than she did. Knew her actions, predicted her attacks, always managed to be exactly where she didn't expect.
"The Slayer," said Joe, as he managed to slam Buffy back against a brick wall. "Trained to fight on instinct."
Buffy ducked down to avoid the vamp's next punch, but was met with a kick from another vampire, winding her.
"But what happens," said Joe, "when your instincts are wrong?"
And with a smile, he reached behind him and caught up the approaching Faith — who'd regained consciousness, and tried to launch a sneak attack. He dragged her forwards, his fingers twisted across her upper arm. And with a scream from Faith and a horrible shattering sound, he snapped the bone as if it were sandstone.
The vampires threw Faith and Buffy down onto the sidewalk, towering over their fallen prey.
"Tell your Slayers," they said, "that the Era of Humanity is at an end, and the Age of the Vampires has begun."
"Dream on," Faith gritted out.
"The Bringer of Death is here," said the vampires. "And he is our creator. The Bringer of Death is here, and every human shall die."
Buffy felt a shudder run through her body as she heard the name — the Bringer of Death
Then the three vampires turned, and left, just as suddenly and unexpectedly as they'd arrived.