AN: A longer chapter and, aside from the beginning, a much more
upbeat one. Hope ya'll like it better. Reviews are eternally of
the good. A new update later this week. Really.
Oh, and I actually replied (am replying) to reviews from the last
************ Trick or Treat: Chapter Twenty-Eight **************
Evelyn Ward had stopped expecting the call that came about a year
after they had sent Ashley away to Cleveland for her destiny. In
all actuality, Evelyn didn't give a rat's ass for destiny, just her
daughter's happiness. But Ashley, the youngest of three brothers and
two sisters, hadn't been happier than in the company of the Xander
Harris and his troupe of similarly destiny ridden children.
She had pitied the boy for taking on such responsibilities, after she
had decided not to hate him. She was rethinking that decision now...
She and Frank had been informed of course. Told in quiet, succinct,
terms about the dangers and pain that was involved in being a Slayer.
Of the long hours, the thanklessness, the near guarantee of a quick
and messy death. It wasn't what they would have wished for their
youngest, not in a million years, a million lifetimes, but that
wasn't what was important.
It was what Ashley had wished for herself. Had wanted her destiny,
her future with an intensity that was frightening, even for their
intense young daughter.
She and Frank had traveled with Ashley to Cleveland, to the Booty
House. Had seen the bright, yellow room that Ashley would share
with three other girls. Had eaten dinner amid the din of fifteen
clamoring preteens and teenagers. Had watched their slight, bright
eyed child bloom in the laughter and camaraderie of that house. Had
watched their youngest daughter slay her first Vampire under the
controlled settings of the Booty House's basement.
Had given their daughter to that life with the promise of long
weekends and holidays spent at home because they hadn't known what
else to do. Ashley hadn't wanted anything else and the moment she
picked up the phone and heard Xander Harris's quiet voice, Evelyn
Ward knew that Ashley would never want anything else again.
"Evelyn... I'm calling with some bad news."
She sat, hard, while she could, felt her knuckles tighten and turn
white as they gripped the receiver. Heard Thomas and Nicholas
shouting as they played catch out front. The giggles of Miranda
and Jane as they finished baking chocolate chip cookies in the
kitchen. Could hear Frank out back, mowing the lawn, and Brendan
shouting at his video game in the living room.
But Xander Harris's solemn voice drowned them out, filled her ears
until it felt like she was drowning in the sound of the young man's
voice. In the pain he had yet to voice the reason for. "What's
happened?" she demanded with the cool precision that could only be
achieved by a mother who knows her worst nightmare has come true.
He sighed brokenly into the phone but didn't beat around the bush.
Alexander Harris was refreshingly direct when the need arose.
"Ashley died this evening, Evelyn."
There were several moment when she was sure that she had stopped
breathing, when her heart stilled, and hands numbly relaxed. Her
first coherent thought was that someone was crying. It took her a
moment to realize that it was her.
"Do you want to know how it happened?"
She laughed hysterically, the sound raw and out of control as she
wiped tears from her eyes. "Does it matter? Will it make her live
The regret, the mourning in Xander's voice would be a comfort one
day, when she was strong enough to remember the phone call. Now it
was just salt on the wound of a dead daughter. "No, it won't." He
paused, took a deep breath, "We can arrange for the transportation of
Her breath hitched wildly, frantically, at the last carefully spoken
word. Body. Ashley Ward had become a body. Suddenly she had to be
off the phone and away from the reality that Xander's voice provided.
Away from any and all thoughts about bodies wearing Ashley's beautiful
"Do whatever needs to be done."
Evelyn slammed the phone down and took a deep breath. She was still
huddled on the floor, sobbing, when her husband found her half an
Buffy studied the strong line of Xander's back with a sad, proud
smile as he stood, back to the rest of Dawn's hospital room. Her
sister was back in bed, finally, and the older Summers watched out
of the corner of her eye. She loved Dawn, she really, really did,
but the younger woman sometimes convinced herself that she had
inherited supernatural healing abilities too.
Consequently it was damnably hard to keep her in bed whenever she
was injured. Shit, damnably. She was even starting to think
British. Stupid Giles. Buffy had made sure that Dawn had taken her
pain medication. Between the concussion and the sedative, she
should actually get some sleep, tonight anyway, typical stubbornness
Her attention focused back on Xander as he took in a shuddering
breath. Buffy could never call the parents. She simply couldn't.
It was one of the few things Giles still let her be a child in.
After being a parent to Dawn for nearly seven years, after DYING
for Dawn, she simply didn't have it in her to call parents and tell
them their own child was dead. It was hard to think of them as
Slayers then. Dead, all the Slayers became the children they could
never be in life.
Maybe it made her a big, honking hypocrite, but she'd been called
"Xan?" she asked tentatively, not quite sure if he was ready to face
Another shuddering breath and he turned though, even managed to give
her a shaky smile. That's the best friend she knew and loved, in all
his strength and newfound maturity. It really sucked being an adult
They both knew it for the lie it was but, as lies went, it was
definitely the most acceptable of all the lies the Scoobies told
to each other. How often had Buffy been fine after her Mother had
died, after all? How often had she been fine those first few awful
Her hands clenched briefly as the distant memory of warmth, light
suffused gold, and the welcoming smiles from everyone she had ever
loved filled her a fragment of the peace she had once been able to
claim. That she had earned!
Another moment passed and she shoved the memory away, tight and far
away as she could. Even now she couldn't bear to think about it
without driving herself a little bit insane.
Another Scooby specialty.
"So, you ready to go make a little visit to our little military
Xander raised a dark brow and shook his head. "I'M ready to go
visit our little military friends. You are staying here with Giles
and Andrew and the rest of the girls."
"Why? I promise to be good. No threatening or beating anyone up
unless they make me mad, honest."
His brow rose higher.
Buffy beamed brightly and held up her hand. "Scout's Honor."
"You were never in the Boy Scouts, and the Girl Scouts would have
kicked you out the moment you started burning things down. You're
She glared at him, slim arms crossed aggressively across her chest.
"You're not going in there alone."
The kid gloves, and her façade melted away in an instant. "From
what you've told me they're responsible for the death of one of our
Slayers and may have enough information on our organization to
jeopardize the Watcher's Council. I fully accede to your right
to deal with this situation as you see fit but I won't sit on the
goddamn sidelines while you do it. Two deaths in the line of duty
should at least earn me THAT much respect." She smiled tightly, to
try to take the sting out of the words, and Xander's face softened
with sympathy. He'd been unduly sidelined enough in his lifetime to
know how much it sucked.
"Fine, you can come but no talking."
"No threatening, talking allowed."
They ran into Dorothy on the way to the supply closet, the night
nurse was on duty again, and had a terrified looking janitor in tow.
"Good," she barked as she saw them, "are you going to go deal with
those pompous military asses or am I going to have to?"
Xander felt the first real smile of the night spread slowly across
his face as the Dragon of Santa Ruiz started in with her verbal fire.
Glad to know that, life or death, some things didn't change. "We're
taking care of them right now, Dorothy."
"Good!" she snapped, all bluster and brimstone now that she knew that
Xander wasn't going to have a breakdown in the middle of her hospital
wing. Not that he hadn't done it before but... that was besides the
point. Her sharp eyes assessed his rumpled, tear streaked person and
she sniffed imperiously. "You need sleep, food, and a nice woman to
take care of you."
He'd gotten variations on this lecture at least fifty or sixty times
in the last four years or so and had long ago perfected the art of
nodding in the appropriate places and making incomprehensible sounds
of mild agreement when silence wouldn't do. Dorothy was a formidable
woman, but Xander was quite used to dealing with women who could kick
his ass. He glanced fondly back at Buffy who trailed them both
slightly since she, unlike Xander, the nurse, and her hapless
captive, didn't know the hospital by heart.
"How you doing Maurice?" Xander asked the janitor currently being
dragged down the hallway by his ear.
The older man shrugged awkwardly. "Been better. You man?"
He shrugged too. "Been a hell of a lot better." Xander paused, and
touched his eye path before grinning crookedly. "Been a hell of a
lot worse too."
Maurice sighed sympathetically. "I hear you man, I hear you."
"You know the janitor?" Buffy demanded in a whisper as the odd
quartet marched down the mostly deserted hallways.
"Dorothy's son-in-law," he whispered back by way of explanation.
"They don't get along."
The blonde rolled her eyes expressively. "Well, call me a Valley
Girl, but can we say 'duh'? What's the deal? Does Dorothy hate him
because he's a janitor?"
Xander opened his mouth to respond, but the night nurse beat him to
it. "Dorothy," she replied sternly as she tightened her hold on the
ear in question, "does not like Maurice because he married her
daughter." They stopped in front of the closet and she released her
son-in-law in order to glower up at him as he straightened
sheepishly. "He's a damn fine janitor, but he left his mop in the
supply closet." Dorothy swung around and pointed an accusatory
finger at Xander, "I want that mop before you let whatever it is
going down, go down. Some kid got sick on the second floor and its
Maurice's turn to clean up."
"Yes ma'am," Xander replied obediently. The affectionate look the
older woman shot him belied her usual persona. Despite herself, the
Booty Gang had wormed their way into her ever so tough heart. It was
refreshingly nice to find someone outside the realm of the
supernatural who still had some sort of sense of how damn important
what they were doing was.
Of course knowing Dorothy, she just liked them all because the
Slayers, down to a tee, were perfectly willing and able to stick up
for themselves. The night nurse didn't care for those who were
utterly dependent on others.
He got Buffy to unbar and unjam the door as Dorothy and Maurice stood
off to the side. Xander paused for a moment once all the obstructions
had been removed and stared at the door handle beneath his hand.
He'd spent nearly two weeks with SG-1. Had eaten food, played cards,
got stuck with a hell of a lot of needles, and had learned one of the
greatest secrets that the U.S. Government was keeping. Had come to
like Major Carter for her laugh, her sheer intelligence and
competence. Liked Dr. Daniel Jackson for his insatiable curiosity,
so like Willow when they had been young and just learning about the
Supernatural boogey-men, even with all the complications that thirst
for knowledge brought.
Liked Teal'c for the tentative sense of camaraderie he had formed
with the alien. Liked him for his lack of small talk, and his jokes,
when he made them. For his shared love of jello, for the respect he
returned towards Xander. For his open mindedness.
And Colonel Jack O'Neill. He liked Jack because the crusty Air Force
Colonel reminded him of himself. Not many people managed to be smart
asses with such aplomb. Liked him for his concern for others, for not
shooting Willow, for not keeping Xander hostage. For taking it like a
man, a bitchy man, but a man, when Xander brought him down with a
Xander liked them all despite himself, despite the harsh lessons
learned from the Initiative, from Maggie Walsh's depravities and
Adam's creation. Despite his own natural inclinations.
He just hoped they got out of the mess they had made for themselves
in relatively one piece. Hoped he wasn't the one who hurt them when
he took Kinsey out because nothing was going to stand in his way when
it came down to that.
"Hey guys, how's it hanging?"
Xander burst into the supply closet with his usual flippancy, Buffy
on his heels. She vaguely recognized the four people she had pretty
much single handedly subdued and shoved into said supply closet, but
she had been more concerned about Xander's temporary stability, or
lack thereof, than trying to play meet-n-greet with the nice military
Riley and tentative friendship aside, she wasn't real big on inviting
a new set of Rambos into their lives.
The four people stood fluidly together but didn't reach for their
weapons. Not that Buffy couldn't have taken them, especially in
such close quarters, but still. Nice to know they weren't
uber-trigger happy. They all started talking at once. Well, three
of the four did.
The blonde woman was babbling, the sandy haired man who Buffy
couldn't deny was hot, despite herself, was asking earnest questions
with wide, blue eyes, while the older man, who might, just might have
been hot several decades ago, was yelling at the top of his quite
considerable lungs. The large African American man inclined his head
in greeting slightly when he noticed her stare, but otherwise remained
Well bully for him.
"Hey, one sec, vital matter of importance." A small smile tugged at
her lips as Xander pointedly ignored the barrage of questions thrown
his way as he leaned back and dragged Maurice into the doorway and
with perfect seriousness asked, "Which mop is yours again?" Like he
usually knew and had just forgot. Like he actually cared.
Xander was a good man.
Maurice seemed totally unconcerned with the four people, plus them,
crammed into the closet, and thanked Xander profusely as he reached
around Tall, Dark, and Silent's head to grab a mop that looked
remarkably like every other freaking mop in the universe. "Have a
good one, Xander."
Xander waved absently at the parting janitor and mother-in-law before
he turned his attention solely back to their four almost captives.
But Grumpy had finally gotten a good look at her, and didn't look
particularly pleased about it.
Buffy regarded the salt and pepper haired man from beneath her lashes
calculatingly as he glared at her, indignant. "What's her name and
who the hell is she?" Cranky-Must-Be-In-Charge demanded of Xander as
he jerked a thumb in her general direction.
She tried not to let herself be too annoyed. It wasn't his fault
that military people were dumb. It really wasn't because damn, it
must be genetic or something the government put in the water, but
STILL, any moron off the street knew that they shouldn't point at
people who could wipe the floor with them and talk about them like
they weren't there.
It was impolite.
She heard her best friend sigh and turn to face her. Buffy made new
use of her eyelashes and batted them guilessly at Xander before
smiling sweetly. That's right, take the good innocent bait...
He arched a single dark, disbelieving brow at her. "Oh come off it
Buffy, I've known you how long now and I've NEVER fallen for the I'm
SO Sweet and Innocent act."
"Xander..." she whined, cover blown, as the Head Dumbo's mouth
"Buffy? We got our asses kicked by a foot tall Valley Girl named
BUFFY? First the freaking fork, now Buffy?"
The tall blonde who obviously a subordinate elbowed her superior
none too gently in the ribs as Buffy crossed her arms across her
breast and glared, foot tapping as the older man kept right on
digging his own grave. "Sir... Remember the FILES."
Buffy's own golden brow rose as the light bulb clicked on in Dumb
and Growing Dumber's brain. "Files?" she asked with delicate, deadly
precision, interest piqued.
The Military had files. They weren't supposed to have FILES. That
was bad. They were bad and Buffy was going to...
Buffy snapped away from her thoughts and looked up to find Xander
staring mildly enough at her, but his single eye held steel.
"But files, files of me! So not playing fair."
Hottie peered around his so called superior. "Are you the young
lady I spoke to on the telephone several days ago when I rang a
Mr. Giles?" The man's eyes narrowed and zeroed in on her neck.
Like her neck was so interesting anyway, Buffy was much more
interested suddenly in know why the random Air Force man had really
been calling Giles... "Hey, wow." Blue eyes grew even larger.
"Are those Vampire bites? Are you a Vampire? Teal'c, are you
getting any kind of negative feedback from Junior?"
Junior? Who the hell was Junior? She'd bet her money that
Buff-and-Built was Teal'c, but she'd bet her life Cranky Pants wasn't
Her best friend was trying very hard not to laugh. She tried very
hard not to hit him, hard. It wasn't nice to laugh at people.
Especially HER! "You promised, Buff. No threatening."
A new voice from behind made them all turn and this time weapons did
come out, weird looking gun things form the military cretins, stakes
from she and Xand. "At least no threatening until you know who you
really should be threatening."
Buffy blinked and felt Xander suck in a surprised breath as her hand
slowly lowered its own stake. Riley and Graham stood in the doorway
to the supply closet of Santa Ruiz Hospital, dressed from head to toe
They looked like a couple of Matrix rejects.
And since she had decided against hitting Xander, Buffy did the next
best thing. She smacked Riley instead.