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“Rio Blanco on the Mouth of Hell”

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Summary: It started out as a simple evening at home. A pair of movies fresh from blockbuster, a 52" plasma screen TV, and thou. Oh, and the 'thou' braless in a skimpy bandanna top and a stretchy mini-skirt thing that just begged for a hot makeout session... X/C

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Movies > Multiple Movies(Current Donor)IronbearFR1843212,3144226259,9761 Sep 1322 Nov 13Yes

And Eventually, It Covers Everything...

Chapter Thirteen: And Eventually, It Covers Everything...

“Any community's arm of force – military, police, security – needs people in it who can do necessary evil, and yet not be made evil by it. To do only the necessary and no more. To constantly question the assumptions, to stop the slide into atrocity.” ― Lois McMaster Bujold (from "Barrayar”)

Of course. Something can take forever to get right, but it can just all go to shit in a heartbeat and a hand-basket.

And when it all breaks sideways, it never does it slowly.

There were rifle shots from the back, two, and then five or six of them, a .50-95, firing so fast it sounded like one long staccato rolling report.

Josh Stillwell's eyes widened, and his hand flashed down towards his holster. Dude saw it, and said, "Aw, no... "

Dude shot Stillwell between the eyes with a .44-40 flat point from the Winchester, and twirl cocked it left handed while he was bringing the handgun over to aim at the bartender, who was suddenly reaching below the bar top in a screaming hurry.

The single action bucked in his hand, and Mose fell backward, his arms flailing and a clatter coming from the floor behind the bar top.

There was a shot from Chance's .32-40, and a curse from Sheriff Munroe...

The falling shotgun hit the floor, muzzles first, and went off, the body thudding loose to the floorboards on top of it, both tumbling over and sideways.

Xander raised the Hamilton-Grover and shot Munroe's other deputy just as his revolver cleared the holster. John T.'s second shot hit him just after, and he crumpled. Xander stepped forward just as Wilson Slade was starting to rise, and clubbed him, hard and vicious, across the back of the skull.

Wilson slumped forward over the table about the same time that Heidi stuck her rifle muzzle in Deke Matthews' ear.

Kevin had his rifle shouldered and was firing upward into the mezzanine level, working the lever smoothly, Glenn doing the same beside him, only firing spaced and deliberate shots into the room. Killing anything that even looked like it was pointing a gun at anyone of them.

Dude apparently saw movement up there, for he raised both rifle and Colt and fired them alternately, once for the Winchester, and twice for the pistol, thumb cocking it between rounds as it came down from recoil.

And Xander saw movement, one of the guys lying on the floor up front, managing to get a gun from his holster and aiming at John T.'s back –

– Xander shot him through the top of the head as he was rolling over, across Stillwell's twitching body. A long shot for in here. Fifteen yards through a crowd.

He was kind of proud of that shot for one brief moment. Then the guy's gun fell out of his hand and he slumped, red and gray leaking from the top of his skull, and he was just a bit sick.

Vince was firing the mare's leg from beside Xander, working the lever and changing targets coolly as needed. Heidi was doing the same with a pistol in her off hand, the rifle muzzle never wavering from Matthew's ear.

And then there were no more targets, and everything got real still, and real quiet.

There was a girl screaming upstairs somewhere. It sounded remote, and unreal to Xander's gunfire rung ears...

Sheriff Munroe looked out over the room incredulously, his mouth open and his face pale and shocked.

Not everyone other than them was dead. It just had seemed that way at the moment. The handful who weren't, were standing real still and real quiet with their hands up, or held carefully away from anything that even resembled a gun.

Munroe looked down at the two deputies on the floor beside him. One was still. The other was twitching and groaning in a spreading pool of blood, and might still be alive.

For a little while.

Munroe swallowed hard, twice, and then apparently found his voice. It sounded odd to Xander's ears. At least the screaming from upstairs had stopped...

"Dude?" Munroe shook his head. "You're going to hang for this... "

"Well, I'll be in good company," Dude said.

"Heaven for atmosphere, Hell for company," Xander said, his own voice sounding odd to him.

"And you - " Munroe's mouth worked for a moment, staring at Xander until sounds started coming out again. "You have no idea what you just stepped in here, boy."

"Bob," Xander said. Huh. He looked at the long target Grover in his left hand. Where did that come from and how did it get aimed between Sheriff Bob's eyes? "Why don't you tell me?"

Munroe blanched, but he forged on. Xander was tempted to get him a bigger shovel...

"You just shot a lawman, boy," Munroe said. "That's a hanging offense."

"City limits," Xander said, his voice sounding far too calm in his own ears. "He's a civilian here, just like me." He cocked his head, looking at Munroe curiously. "Just like you. Why don't I holster these, and we'll both go outside and discuss it?"

Munroe turned pale.

"Ease up, son," Chance suggested. Xander nodded, slowly, thinking about it. He holstered the pistol.

"Think I'll do that thing," Xander said, nodding again.

Dude looked at Munroe and shook his head. He snorted contemptuously. "You'll keep." Dude holstered his Colt and went over to Maitland, taking a pair of cuffs out of the back of his belt. He laid his Winchester down on a nearby table.

Blake Maitland was staring down at Stillwell's body, his hand still out where he'd been reaching to try and talk Josh down.

"Hard when it gets real all of a sudden, isn't it, kid," Dude said, very gently. "Turn around." Maitland complied, looking numb. "You're under arrest, for the attempted murder of Brett Halliday, the murder of Melody Kendall, kidnapping, resisting arrest, and fleeing lawful custody. Oh, and for being a dumb ass."

Dude cuffed his hands behind him, and then turned him around and pushed him over to Glenn. "Watch him, please, Scott."

"Not a problem, Marshall."

"I've got the door," Kevin said, half turning to be able to face both doorway and room.

"Marshall," Deke Matthews said, from his seat in front of Xander and Vin. His hands were still flat on the table. Dude's head snapped up and around, to fix on him.

"Yeah? You want something, Deke?"

"Marshall Borachon," Matthews said. Xander heard Chance suck in a breath as Dude's face went real still. "Isn't that what they called you back in Rio Bravo?" Heidi pushed the rifle muzzle deeper into Matthews ear...

"No. It was Deputy Borachon, then," Dude said, mildly. He picked up the Winchester from the table, and started walking back towards them. He came to a stop before Deke. "Back off, Barrie," Dude said. He looked down at Matthews, "You got something to say to me, Deke?"

Heidi glared at Matthews for a moment, and then stepped back, lifting the rifle muzzle to point upwards. She looked at Dude and nodded.

"You take that kid out of here, and not only is Stillwell coming after you for killing his baby brother, but Maitland will land on you with everything he's got," Matthews said. "I'd cut my losses right now, if I were you."

"Is that right?" Dude said, mildly. He looked at Matthews like he was a peculiar sort of bug he'd never seen before.

"That's right," Matthews said, and smirked up at him.

Xander always figured it was the smirk that did it...

"Stand up."

Matthews stood, easily, holding his hands out from his body, palms out and facing Dude. And still smirking.

"You know, ever since Brett Halliday got shot, and I looked at Miss Chase kneeling next to that little blonde gal while she was bleeding out, I've been wanting to kill something real bad," Dude said. "All this? This just kinda gets the taste in your mouth."

"Is that a fact," Matthews said.

"That's a fact, Deke." He brought the butt of the Winchester around and up, fast and hard, the stock striking Matthews between the legs. He brought the barrel around and down as Matthews groaned and slumped, striking him across the cheekbone and sending him crashing to the floor.

"It's kind of like taking a drink, you know? The first one just gives you the taste," Dude said. "And the next... the next one just makes you want the one after that."

Dude brought the rifle to his shoulder and it went off, a .44 caliber flat point smashing through Matthews' off hand. Matthews screamed, rolling and grabbing his hand with the other one. Dude worked the lever, and aimed downward. "And after that."

"Dude," Chance said.

"Yeah, John T.?"

"You gonna kill him? Or just tear off the legs on one side and watch him crawl in circles?"

Dude let out a long shuddering breath, and some of the crazy went out of those blue eyes. "Naw." He shifted the aim of the Winchester to between Matthews' eyes.

"You crawl back to Stillwell, Deke, and to Maitland," Dude said. "And you tell them: Josh Stillwell is dead because he was a drunken idiot. Corby is dead because he manhandled the wrong girl. And I'm keeping Blake in my jail until the Federal Marshall can come down and take him to Sacramento for a real trial that's not in front of a jury bought and paid for by the firm of Maitland, Stillwell, and Wilkins. You tell him that... " Dude's eyes narrowed, and he added, "And don't ever try me again, Deke. You're not ready to sit at the high stakes table."

He brought the Winchester up, holding it easily across his body. "Let's take our prisoner and get out of here."

Vince nodded and said, "Suits me."

Xander turned to Heidi, and said, "Get Tor and meet us out front, please." She nodded and headed to the back door.

They gathered up Maitland and the others and headed toward the front doors, pausing a moment as Chance brought the Winchester down from his shoulder and walked lightly over to Munroe. Sheriff Munroe looked like he wanted to shrink further back through the bar.

"You're wrong about one thing, Bob," Chance said, pointing the rifle muzzle at the downed Deputy. "That wasn't a lawman that Harris shot. And neither are you." He shook his head, and said, "A lawman wouldn't ever have let things get to this point in this town. A lawman wouldn't be in the pocket of everyone except the people paying his salary."

He brought the rifle barrel down and across Munroe's face, slicing it open with the front sight, and sending Munroe staggering to the side. "Lead, follow, or get the hell out of our way. But mostly, stay out of our way."

Tor and Heidi met them at the front, just a heartbeat after they exited the Double Eagle, Chance and Vince backing out behind them, covering the room.

Xander accepted Cordelia's rifle back from Tor, and Heidi handed the '76 back to Vince.

"Much obliged," Vince said. He began reloading it through the gate with fat cartridges taken out of his jacket pocket.

"Naw, pleasure was all mine. Sweet gun," she said. "Kicks a mite, though."

"Do me one more thing and then you can split before Jack and the Mayor decide to take all this out of your asses?" Xander said, looking at them curiously.

"Depends. What?"

"Make your way back to the Paradise, and get Cordelia, and ask her to meet me at the Marshall's office?" Xander said, "And make sure she gets there ok?"

"Sure," Tor said.

"That an order, or a suggestion?" Heidi said, smiling.

"Was a request, smart ass," Xander said.

"Ah. Gonna figure those are okay too, and say, well, sure," Heidi said.

"Find out about Brett, too, if you would," Dude said.

"No problem, Marshall Dude," Tor said.

They crossed over and started to head off down the street back towards the Paradise, as the prisoner escort party headed back the same way, sticking to the street, but towards the boardwalk. Xander took the '92 in his left hand, fingers through the lever and trigger finger outside of the guard, leaning it back against and over his shoulder, his right hand free for either pistol.

Vin did the same with his '76, on the other side of the little group.

"You know," Chance said, "You could have broken off and gone back to get your girl yourself."

"No I couldn't," Xander said. "I took something on here, and it's not done."

Glenn nodded, but Dude shook his head. "You did your part in there, kid," Dude said, "And then some. You and Vin both."

"He's killed now, if he hadn't before, and he's damned near married," Kevin said. "Don't think he's a kid any more."

"Is married, if'n you ask me," Glenn said. "Just doesn't have the ceremony and ring."

Dude shook his head again, but didn't say anything else. Maitland, for his part looked like he was too deeply in shock to have anything to contribute. Or was just too scared and miserable.

Horse hoof beats sounded off on one of the back streets, and everyone froze, listening. Tor and Heidi paused up ahead, and turned, just as they were about to vanish down an alleyway between buildings, their guns coming up.

The beats kept on, a slow walk-trot-walk for several minutes, and then turned onto the cross street behind them just past the Eagle. All of a sudden, there came a shout, and they kicked up into a gallop, thundering down the crossroad.

Xander drew his target revolver, and Vin his mare's leg.

A dozen or more horses and riders swept around the corner onto the main street and toward them, at a full gallop, riders shouting and yelling and waving coiled lariats.

Glenn grabbed a fistful of shirt and threw the handcuffed Maitland onto the board sidewalk to land in a heap, throwing himself over to land rolling on top of him, his pistol out. Everyone else scattered, some toward the boardwalk, some the other direction. Vince threw himself rolling towards the opposite side of the street.

Someone, someone indistinct on a huge black and white paint horse, charged directly at Xander. He jumped to one side, the horse and rider barely missing him as they went past.

He fired twice, the big revolver bucking in his hand, and the reins neatly parted just ahead of the rider's fist. The paint reacted badly to the sudden twang and release of the reins, and started crow hopping in a tight circle, other riders and horses spreading out around them, and a few reining up to turn back, reaching for guns.

The paint's rider cursed and reached, drawing his single action and trying to draw a bead...

And Xander brought the Winchester up at arm's length like a long pistol, aimed carefully, and shot him out of the saddle.

Clean, neat, and thorough.

Feeling nothing much other than recoil.

The paint managed to sort itself out, and took off back down the street towards the hotel and Mission end of town, dragging its rider bumping along behind, one foot caught in a stirrup.

He brought his hand up, pushing the lever and letting the rifle's weight cock it and then jerking down to close the lever and the breech. He was vaguely aware of a mad swirl of dust and screaming, whinnying horses, cursing men, shots, and shouts. He could hear the steady sound of Vince's heavy fifty off to one side, alternating with the crack of that mare's leg, and Chance's .32-40, higher pitched than the other rifles.

Xander saw someone, indistinct with a bandana and a hat pulled low, pointing a carbine at Dude, and he shot him through the chest without thinking, the bullet spanging off the man's Winchester receiver instead. He one handed the rifle again, and shot him higher this time as he started to come around towards the source of the shot, slumping him over the saddle horn and sending the roan quarterhorse into a frenzy of bucking and kicking.

Another man drew a bead on John T., and Xander raised the long barreled target revolver and shot him neatly through the forehead, and then another who was trying to bring a shotgun down on Vince.

The round from Vince's mare's leg hit him in the chest at the same time, and he folded and rolled out of the saddle. Xander's following shot missed over the folding body and took another in the head, spinning him out of the saddle.

Back, down, and away.

And then it was over and there were bodies in the street, and bucking, terrified horses, and what was left of the riders pelting down the street in the direction of Fort Halleck and the end of town.

Vince dropped his mare's leg and stepped out into the street, aiming the big Winchester carefully. He fired, worked the lever, fired again, and two men rolled from their saddles, and then they were gone.

"Damn," Kevin stood up, shaking his head and brushing dust off of his suit.

Chance knelt to examine one of the nearest bodies, and jerked the bandana off another. "Recognize anyone?"

Glenn stood, hauling a scared white Maitland to his feet. He looked, and spat. "Stillwell's. And the other one is a Bar-G rider. More like, Bar-G gunman."

Tor came to a halt, holding his cut down rifle. He nodded, "A few less than there were in town, after this." He shook his head, "The rest will probably ride for their bosses, now."

Dude looked over at Xander. "Thanks. That one had me cold," he said. Xander nodded, feeling numb. Dude's eyes narrowed slightly, "Neat trick, that rein cutting, but iffy. I know – I did it once."

"I was aiming for center mass,” Xander said, shrugging. "Led him a bit too much. And the horse moved."

They'd gotten Blake Maitland into a cell, or Dude and Chance had. Maitland didn't protest much. At all, really.

In fact, he didn't say anything from the time of the rider's attack to when they hauled him in here, or after. Xander thought he might be in shock.

Hell, Xander thought he might be in shock...

All of them were in Dude's office, a roughly fourteen by sixteen room to the right of the walk leading in through the Marshall's Office's courtyard from the barred, wrought iron gate. At some point, someone had welded plate steel over the bars, and that gate looked solid. Real solid.

Good thing. They'd probably need solid before this was done.

The office had a detail map of Sunnydale on one wall, behind Dude's desk, and a detailed topographical map of Sunnydale County on the wall across from it. There was a rifle rack on the desk wall, nearer the door, full of Winchesters, Springfield carbines, and rolling blocks, and shotguns. The corner of that wall nearest the barred and steel shuttered window, the one with the loopholes, had floor to ceiling bookshelves full of all kind of stuff, including books.

There was a wood stove in the opposite corner, a flat top, not a potbelly, with a really seriously big enameled metal coffee percolator on top bubbling away.

Ok, not all of them. Dude's deputy, the one that looked kind of like an old Walther Matthau that Xander didn't remember ever getting a name for, was in the foyer watching the door with that stocked Buntline across his lap and his chair tilted back.

The other deputy, one that Xander hadn't seen before, who reminded him of an elderly Jimmy Stewart, was in the cell block area with Maitland with one of those big lever action shotguns, like in T2, only not sawed off.

That left Dude, Chance, Vin, Kevin, and Glenn, sitting around in chairs, or leaning against walls and drinking coffee. And Xander, who wasn't doing much of anything at all.

Except for his mind's eye watching that deputy of Sheriff Bob's as Xander's bullet hit him in the chest, and the surprised look he had. And the other one, the rider, falling backwards and down. Endlessly and away...

And Xander. Wondering why he didn't feel anything but numb. He should feel something, right?

Shouldn't he?

Xander felt... mechanical. That was the word for it.

As mechanical as his hands, automatically running rods and brushes and patches and Hoppes through the bores and chambers of his six-guns, and Cordy's rifle, and wiping them down with oil. Loading them and spinning the cylinders at half cock to check the loads, and putting them away.

Yeah. Mechanical was a really good word for it. A machine.

A machine that killed people, with no more thought or emotion than you'd apply to staking a vampire.

He'd had more thought and emotion staking vampires. It was harder, too.

Well, vampires were easy too, once the wood went in. It was getting there that was hard. People...

All it took was a sixteenth of an inch of movement, and a few ounces of pressure. Bang.

And a falling body.

Easy as falling.

Xander was good at falling. Just ask Cordy. Hell, ask Buffy – he fell for her literally, right off a skateboard in front of her. Fell for Cordy, too, back when they were five and he looked in those hazel eyes, and she scrunched up her nose at him...

He finished with the Model 92, and looked it over. Neat and squeaky clean. Ready to do the machine thing again and kill. Just like Xander.

He nodded in something resembling a semblance of satisfaction, and began to load it. .44 Specials, not S&W Longs, but... no matter. Same chamber, just two tenths of an inch shorter. Meant... one more round. Two. Fourteen instead of twelve, plus one in the chamber, but he wasn't going to load that.

Just wasn't done.

There was a banging at the back, sounding a long way off, and Dude's deputy called that he'd get it. Xander didn't look. Not important.

Even when he came back and said that Hauer kid and that Barrie girl and Cordelia were back there, he didn't look. Ok, that was important, or Cordelia was, but... hey, she was here, right?

Here for her mechanical Xander. A good substitute for a cucumber. Cool as a cucumber, too.

"Well, go let 'em in," Dude said.

"Are they some of ours now?"

"Well, they're not some of theirs any longer," Dude said, sounding exasperated. "Let 'em in, Finney."

"All right! All right, hell Dude," the deputy went off, grumbling.

He heard Vin's voice at the table, "Go fish." Good man, Vin. He was mechanical too. Wind him up and he killed things. Didn't even get wound up about it.

"Hell. Ok, any threes?" Glenn's voice. Another, but not quite mechanical. Just good. Solid.

"Oh, sure. Have some threes. See if I care."

"Hey," Cordelia's voice. Oh, good. He liked Cordy. No, he loved Cordy. That was important, somehow. "I see everyone made it back?"

"Yup," Dude said. "Brett?"

Tor said, "Elena said that Doc got him patched and they took him to his office. Veronique went with."

"Right," Heidi said. "Says... if he makes it through tonight, he's got a good chance." He liked Heidi too, even if she was a machine that killed people, too, like he was. Besides, she was hot. But better not say that around Cordy.

"Good," Chance said, "That's a relief." Heh. Good chance, and Chance said good. That was funny.

“Other three?” Vin asked.

Cordelia's voice came again, “Shot them of course.” There was a lengthy frozen pause until someone figured out that was Cordelia's deadpan joking voice. Hell, he could have told them that... then a chuckle, followed by chuckles all around. “Cut them loose after the Tor and Heidi act sent someone in to get me and Elena.”

He heard John T. say, “Damn, Young Missy. Wouldn't have bet either way that you didn't shoot them out of hand.”

"Xander?" He heard Cordy come through the room and cross over to him. Distinctive footsteps. Distinctive girl. He loved that about her.

"Hey, Cordy," Xander said. "Got your rifle all pretty."

"I see that," she said. She set the drilling next to his chair, leaning against the wall. He reached for it automatically.


"No, that's ok, Xander," Cordelia said. "Leave it for now."

"Got to clean it. It'll rust," Xander said.

"It's all right," she caught his hand, brought it to her lips and kissed it. "I'll ask Glenn to do it." She took the Winchester from across his lap, and set it against the wall next to the drilling.

"Honey? Look at me," Cordelia said.

He did. Oh, wow. Cordy eyes. Gorgeous. You could fall into those. Backwards. Endlessly and away...

"Oh, Xander... " Cordelia said, softly. Wow. He didn’t hear her soft very often. She was usually sharp. And bitchy. Which was ok – he liked her bitchy. She was beautiful bitchy. And soft too, of course. "How was it?"

"It got bad, Cordy. Real bad," he said. Mechanically, like he was doing everything now. Including killing.

He wondered if he'd fuck mechanically too.

"I see that,” she said. "Your eyes... "

"My eyes?" That was interesting. His eyes didn't feel any different...

"Bleak. Empty. Like that night that Kendra got killed in front of you, and they dumped a bookcase on Willow and concussed her," Cordelia said. "Only... worse."

"I didn't kill Kendra, Cordy. Didn't save her, either. Didn't save Harmony... "

"Oh, crap... " Cordelia said, very quietly; suddenly looking frightened for some reason. "Vin!"

He heard Vince's chair fall back, hitting the ground behind him. He didn't look. Wasn't important. Cordelia's eyes were important – he couldn't take his off of them, or something bad would happen.

He just didn't know what.

"What?" Vince's voice, Vince kneeling down next to Cordelia.

"How long has he been like this?”

"He... since we got back?" Vin said. His voice sounded puzzled. "He seemed ok," Vin said. "Quiet, cleaned his weapons, looked thoughtful. Left him alone."

"Well you shouldn't have!" Ooh. Bitchy Cordy. She was always prettier like that. Hot when her eyes flash. "Vin, his hands are freezing."

"Shock." Hah! He was right, earlier. Xander was in shock too. Damn, he was good. Vin said, back over a shoulder, "Chance. Coffee, whiskey, blanket."

"It's ok, Cordy. I'm mechanical now. Everything's all right."

"Ohhh, Xander... " Cordelia took one of his hands between hers and leaned her shoulder against his knees, looking up at him. He stroked her hair. Mechanically, because that was what you were supposed to do.

"Here," John T.'s voice. Gruff, concerned. "Drink this," he said, putting something into Xander's hand and making sure it was wrapped around it. Ooh. Nice. Warm. He drank. Mechanically, of course.

Damn. Coffee, thick, black, and strong. Whiskey in it, and honey. Good whiskey. Of course, Dude would have good whiskey. Ex-drunk. His dad had good whiskey. Ex-drunk, too, his dad.

"Battle shock. Saw it in the war." Chance again, still sounding concerned. "He ever get like this before?"

"Once. How many?"


"Did he kill? How many?" Cordelia asked, impatiently. Six, Cordy. Mechanically. Bang. Dead bang. Dead easy.

"Four, five for certain." Chance said. "Maybe more – it got a bit confused there for a few minutes."

"Six. Maybe more. And he damned near killed Sheriff Bob," Vin said, "Cold, before Chance called him down."

"Crap. Australia, once, when he fired that long rifle and the other Winchester so much and so fast that the barrels were too hot to touch," Cordelia said. "And you couldn't load them for a round cooking off – I had to pour water down the barrels." She paused, and said, "During the Stockman war..."

Damn. She was good at that. Liar, liar, pants on fire. But don't set Cordy's pants on fire – better things to do with Cordy's pants. Or Cordy with them. With 'em off, anyway. But it never happened, Cordy. Not Australia. We were never in Oz. Oz is here, working in the stables.

For some reason, he found that hysterically funny, but it wouldn't come out. Oh, gods – Cordy's been reading the script. That was the script, not reality. He hoped like hell that his Cordy wasn't starting to believe the Scriptwriter.

Or was it? Sunnydale here, Sunnydale home, and Oz all blurred together for a moment. He drank some more coffee and whiskey. Good. Someone put a blanket around his shoulders. Better.

“And one other time... ” Cordelia said, her voice trailing off uncertainly at the end. “Before.”

Xander didn't have to have read the script to get that one. Before. Before all of this... before Westworld.

The night after the night that they killed Kendra right in front of him, almost killed Cordelia, and dropped a bookcase on top of Willow and sent her into a coma. The night after the night that Giles was kidnapped and tortured. The night after the night that Buffy sent Angel to Hell and closed Acathla.

The night they realized that Buffy had abandoned them.

The night that it all came crashing in on him, after it was all done with, thank God, and it all finally became too much. The night that Cordelia had to hold him while he shook and raged and cursed at the gods and the uncaring universe.

The night that he woke up and realized that the lack of a Slayer didn't mean that they no longer had vampires and monsters to deal with, and that someone had to step up to the plate. The night that he started to grow up...


Cordelia looked at him, searching his eyes. Fair enough. He'd been searching hers all along. Somewhere in there, was something he needed. Desperately.


"Funny. Scriptwriter. Mechanical man. Cool as a cucumber man. Good substitute for a cucumber. Dead easy. I killed them Cordy," he said.

"Oh, gods, Xander. I know," Cordelia reached a hand up to trail along his cheek. Her fingertips came away wet. "Did they need killing?"

"Hell yeah," Xander said. "They were trying to kill us back."

"Then you did good," Cordelia said. "It's ok."

Nod. "Yeah, see? It's funny even. All mechanical now. I can do that,” Xander said, searching her wide hazel eyes, desperately. Trying to make her understand. "Bad ass, like you said. Don't feel nothing."

"I know," Cordelia said. Her voice broke.

"Why are my cheeks wet when it's funny? Why don't I feel anything, Cordy?" His voice broke too, sounding strange in his own ears. Hoarse, raspy. "Supposed to feel something... aren't I?"

"You will," she said. She leaned in, slid into his lap, and her arms went around him, pulling him to her fiercely. "I'll make you feel. You can't not react to me, dammit. Never have been able to not. Never will."

Whatever he was searching for in those eyes, he found it in those arms. Something indescribable, and infinitely precious.

“I couldn't save her, Cordy. Dude couldn't save Stillwell. I couldn't save Harmony, Kendra, Ampata, Jesse, Brett... I couldn't save any of them. All I could do was kill them.”

Something broke inside, and it all came pouring out.

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