"They're getting ready for something," Anita announces as she comes back from the stairwell. Or some semblance of a shade that sounds like her anyways, he can't tell in the dark.
Glass shards and plaster cover them all, indoor snow transformed to sharp and slicing.
All Xander can detect are ghostly shadows, pale and spooky.
He is a mouse. Flat on his stomach, pinned by a disinterested- Oh please God let this be disinterest-kitty cat.
"Can I just...?"
Micah's careless tap pile-drives Xander so far into broadloom his face becomes one with carpet fibre.
"People like you are the reason I'm a dog person."
And this is the problem with lycanthropes; scale to size chew toys are so difficult to find that when a bouncy human comes along they find it hard to let go.
Doesn't help they think this 'bouncy human' sold them down the river. Heh. River. Mississippi. Paddle steamer. Sigh. "I gotta get out more."
"You're not going anywhere," Richard growls.
Who never made it out to the firestorm, thanks mainly to Merle dragging him to the floor as bullet holes sprouted along the wall with the frequency of mushrooms after spring rain.
A cold hand curls through Xander's hair. "Perhaps I will not need the cutlery after all, Alexander."
"We need him alive, Jean-Claude."
"He has betrayed us, ma petite. Ori of Life or not, he will be punished."
"Then let the hyenas do it, we can't fight the Clans. If he dies they'll never believe us, we need him alive."
"Will you guys hurry up and make up your minds! My face is starting to get rug burn." Silence. "I can help," he wheedles.
Anita's frown isn't something he can see but he knows it's there.
"If you talk again .."
"Maybe you enjoy being a clay pigeon but this ain't my idea of fun. Jesus, Anita!" Sniff. "I'm insulted and I hafta wonder. Will you still talk me in the morning after you've had your wicked way with me?"
"Do you ever shut-up?!"
"I don't suppose it's occurred to any of you brainiacs that I might be the target here? I mean, what the hell would I KNOW about anything!!"
And he's not enjoying the experience at all. But since what did he want ever matter in the grand scheme of things.
"I concur, ma petite."
Anita sucks on her bottom lip as the idea gathers force, "Can't say I blame them," she muses. "I've known him less than a week and I already want to kill him."
"Love you too."
"Shut-up," and he grins because the force behind the order is lacking this time.
"GOOD GOD! DON'T TELL ME YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE HIM?!!!!"
Xander's smile switches into bland, "Am I the only one here deeply resenting the guys who missed when they had the chance?"
And Jesus fuck! There's blur and shadow with eyes that are in no way human.
Sounds of a struggle.
"Do not thank me yet," the vampire replies distastefully. "If I find you have lied then the Clans be damned. You will die before the sun rises and I will hand you over to the wolves myself."
"Yeah, yeah. Always with the promises of pain and retribution, you guys never change. Can I get up now?"
Such unconcern bears warning, Jean-Claude muses, "I am an undecided as to whether you are an imbecile or something far more dangerous."
"How about an imbecile who can't stay out of danger?"
"Works for me," Anita says. "Now, how exactly do plan to help?"
The galley is gleaming stainless steel, with Jean-Claude's chef a calm centre amongst wide-eyed waiters brandishing frying pans like some sort of Teflon coated shields.
"What the hell are we doing here?" Down to one full clip for her Uzi; Anita's running out of time and patience as Xander disappears into the depths of the freezer.
"Copter? Need a hand here buddy."
Copter boosts Xander up, she hisses as the Ori of Life sweeps away a frozen side of beef while talking a mile a minute. "Shifter's have beyond average senses, Anita."
A large packet of peas burst upon impact with his hand and it's hailing frozen vegetables, "But if you know that then you know how to use it against them," now clear the top shelf reveals two gym bags.
"I knew it! You sneaky little bastard!"
"Here," Xander throws the first to Micah who catches it without effort. The second drops at Copter's feet, it hits the floor with a resounding 'clunk'.
Anita's lips get thinner and tighter as Xander chides Copter to hurry up and put on the Kevlar vest, then quickly dons his own.
He catches her stare and shrugs, "Product of a tough neighbourhood," and she frowns.
Four MP5's, three Benelli shotguns all with enough ammo to start his own goddamned war. She's tempted shoot him on principal alone.
And that's just out of the bag he threw at Micah.
Merle grabs three MP5's, ammo, and heads out to Bobby Lee and Jamil. Micah helps himself to a shotgun and soon follows.
"In case you haven't noticed they want me alive," Xander states rummaging through his bag. "That boat on our starboard should have turned us into confetti."
"I know," which is why she thinks he's right about them being here for him. They shot too high, just enough to keep them pinned down with silver bullets to prevent the vampires from leaving.
"We gotta take out those boats," Xander explains and gives a little, "Aha," sound of pleasure as the guns he's seeking come tumbling out of the bag.
"I'm liste...how the hell did you get a hold of that?!!"
Xander flashes another wide grin as the sound of gunfire trebles outside. "Less talk, more action. Copter?" He waves to where Anita is standing. "Blow a hole in that ceiling for me while I finish up here, will ya."
Anita doesn't waste any more time, she needs to tell Jean-Claude and Asher to get ready.
Cooke's jaw hardens as a burst of automatic fire takes out two of his men. "Vicharif?"
The Russian swears bitterly in his native tongue before switching to English. "I just lost Houseman. Ricollo is down. Heavy fire and."
Cooke shields his eyes then turns his attention starboard praying he's wrong.
Dying flame and floating debris where one of his boats sat.
Face colder than artic ice he barks, "Where is he?!!"
A plum of water signals a miss to port but he can't afford to worry about that now. "I want that bastard found and taken out and I want it NOW!!"
Xander is occasionally guilty of wallowing in the past, strange mundane recollections of Sunnydale that hit at the oddest time. Things such as:-
Research sessions in summer; caused more by habit than an actual 'big bad'.
Patrol on a quiet, star filled night; Hershey Bar in one hand, Anya on the other.
At the moment? Here and now?
It's the fact no one ever shot at him.
"Shit, shit, shit," rolls across the roof while mimicking some pancaked slinky wrapped in Kevlar, and there's no way he can avoid the bird shit.
Tracer fire whips overhead, venomous fireflies made to kill.
Jean-Claude and Asher nowhere to be seen.
"Bastards are probably still looking for a comb," flips over onto his stomach, uses elbows and knees for traction. "Egocentric, lazy, good for nothing..."
Tracer fire sputters then ceases.
Xander turns his head to port, "...and alllll of a sudden everyone's a concerned citizen," looks down at his guano-covered clothes.
"I hate my life."
Beneath him the rate of fire increases dramatically.
Cries of pain cut short, nothing down below but the dead and potentially dead and he knows how this goes.
Last man standing is the winner. Or last woman. 'Cause from what he's heard Anita isn't the type who'll go down easy, if at all.
He smiles grimly, "I know you wouldn't like her Buff but damn she reminds me of you sometimes. If, you know, you were slightly more-than-psychotic. Dyed your hair and," cough. "Spent less time at the mall."
At the ledge now, Xander carefully raises his head. Yeah, three guys at the bow providing cover fire. Tucked up nice and cozy they're gonna be bitch to dig out.
The vampires are doing god-knows-what-to-who-knows-where, and while they're up flying around like Tinkerbell, Anita and her crew need someone to even things up a little.
Copter's guarding civilians in the kitchen. Check. From the sound of it, Anita and her Were's are still upstairs, positioned somewhere in the middle.
Bad guys? All downstairs. Barring the wheelhouse, which they must have taken pretty early.
Vampires? Oooh, trick question. Does he really care?
Xander swivels his neck, cracks a few bones. Takes a breath and bringing the grenade launcher to bear, there's a pang or twinge of something that might have once been his conscience, which he ruthlessly forces back into neutral.
"I didn't start this," and if he says it often enough he might actually get around to believing it.
Too easy. Killing people should be difficult he thinks, but sometimes it's just too fucking easy; and fires.
At this range a 40mm grenade shell will cause nothing less than destruction.
Rolling frantically down towards stern Xander's picked up and smacked down by an invisible crushing hand.
The paddle steamer shudders under the explosion and it's bow area?
Pretty much non-existent; metal, flesh and bone ripped apart and aflame.
And if Xander were listening really hard- which he isn't. Or if he had eyes that could see through walls- which he doesn't.
He'd have seen a certain Executioner pick herself up off the floor, draw a bloody hand away from her cheek and hiss at the sight, "MICAH?"
"I don't care if he loses a limb. Get that bloody thing off him and do it NOW, before he sinks us all."
The galley smells of citrus, tangerines maybe? Except Xander can't remember seeing or eating any during dinner, go figure.
"You look like shit."
"Yeah," Xander puts a finger into an ear in a vain attempt to get it working again, tries to work up to a smile. "But you should see the other guy."
"Rather not, man. S'why I volunteered to keep this lot company."
He checks Xander out, up and down, nose wrinkling at the sight. "Geez, you're breaking like about a hundred health codes, X-Ray."
"Suppose I'd better get moving then," and picks up his gun.
"Hey," Copter shifts uneasily. "Micah said to stay here."
"He also said the last time Jamil saw Jason he was heading for the wheelhouse." Xander deftly hefts the HK Mk.23 in his hand and states grimly. "I'm going."
No point arguing, "Take care, bro."
"Always. Just make sure you're here when I get back," and Copter blinks innocently at him.
"Have you seen the shit they got in that freezer? You gonna hafta pry me out of here man."
If the road to hell is paved by good intentions, then Xander figures he's building himself an eight-lane autobahn.
Complete with wreckage.
Standing at the wheelhouse door, Xander fights the sour taste of bile in his mouth. Losing the battle with his stomach he bolts and heaves over the side.
And when he's finished puking his guts up, wipes his mouth with a sleeve and turns back to his own personally made hell.
The Selkie must have been at the wheel when the windows imploded, no time to even raise an arm for pseudo protection.
A supposition on Xander's behalf to be sure, stands to reason the Selkie had a face, once.
Life ebbs before him in a dark, ever widening pool. Blood creeps without conscience across the floor yet he makes no gesture of avoidance.
Firefight seems to be dying down he notes absently, sporadic bursts of automatic fire keeping pace as the Selkie drifts in and out of consciousness.
"Cooke? 'at you?"
Parody of a sideshow clown with all paint stripped away. Mouth open, head moving back and forth, sightless eyes tracking....tracking him!
Last man standing is the winner. Those are the rules.
"No. Not Cooke."
Glass crunches underfoot as he checks the others. Picks up a dart to examine, his jaw hardens at the traces of silver. Jason's still breathing, short sharp gasps; forearm's ripped to pieces in a vain attempt to literally claw the poison out.
Xander weighs the dart in his hand, gaze flicking back and forth between Jason and the Selkie, makes up his mind.
The Selkie startles at that ominous trigger 'click' of the gun pressed against his temple.
"Two things:- a name. And what was in the darts. Talk."
Owen has no thought of keeping secrets. Father Patrick always said a man should go with his conscience clear. After he finishes there's silence followed by a sigh.
"I don't know much about Selkie, will you heal?"
Owen's not a lycanthrope; even a trip into the big blue won't save him this time.
Fades in and out, little sleeps. Hears that voice yell at someone to go fetch the Ulfric and Blake.
Not as calm as he wants Owen to believe, the owner of that voice.
With a trip-hammer heartbeat, pounding away like a thoroughbred over the last ten furlongs at Ascot.
Doesn't matter. Owen won't be placing any bets soon.
For this voice knows what must be done.
"I can help. If you want."
Best thing about the Mississippi?
Tributaries leading to nowhere in particular.
Sitting low in the water the paddle steamer lilts to starboard; lights off. Pockmarked with bullet holes and her decks littered with debris and blood; nothing left of the fire except old smoke and an overpowering charred smell.
They tied her to a jetty, old and disused with most of its planks missing. Disembarking was an exercise in hopscotch and prayer.
Up on the bank, Anita is queen bee, hustling from group to group, ordering Merle and Jamil to the township glittering in the distance.
Xander stays on the creaking wood, just him and a hoard of mosquitos for company.
"Are you going to stay here all night?"
Anita moves from plank to plank without hesitation, a picture of impatience and crackling energy. Comes to a halt in front of him with eyes clear and challenging, "Well?"
He peers over her shoulder, frowning when a head count reveals he's missed something. It's stupid, but he starts searching the night sky.
"GQ duo flown the coop?"
"Handy trick that," back braced against a wooden pylon, Xander drags on a cigarette he's scrounged off Marcel.
"You'd have noticed sooner if you were paying attention. Must you do that?"
Smoking is a habit Anita abhors. Everyone knows it.
Executioner Bug spray courtesy of nicotine.
Except, the breeze has changed direction so he's standing downwind and now he's convinced.
This fucking river hates him.
He can hate right back without faking.
Another drag with eyes deliberately closed; blood and grime embedded under fingernails he doesn't need to see. There's a Lady MacBeth moment pending if he can get some friggin' alone time here.
"How long till the cops arrive?"
"I don't know. Soon I hope; Jason needs to get to a hospital. Question is what are we going to tell them?"
Nothing, if he had his way, funny how he always sides with monsters on this one. Xander straightens with a shrug, "It's your call."
Spat out with enough venom to pierce his fog of self-pity; and focus.
On Bobby Lee standing on the embankment watching with a lazy, unblinking readiness. On Sylvie hovering close to an oblivious Copter, and finally, Xander returns to Anita.
"Night suits you," he notes absently, much to her surprise.
He isn't lying; night highlights her exotic beauty of pale skin and dark eyes to perfection.
And she will kill him in that space between breaths if she thinks he's double-crossed her.
"NO. I didn't set you up. Not for this," he flicks the cigarette into water and windmills an arm at the riverboat.
"You were expecting something," her lip curls. "Perhaps we aren't the only ones who were double-crossed tonight."
"I was hoping for another attack, alright! A demon, something, anything to convince you and Jean-Claude that I was on the up and up."
Her features sharpen, "We were bait?!"
"Yes. No," Xander winces. "I thought... I figured that who or what sent the Mohra demon wouldn't waste an opportunity like this-all of us together. I thought I'd be able to give you definite proof if they tried something but..."
"Some one else hit us first?"
Xander's excitement fades, "I don't know. The Selkie wasn't able to tell me."
"But you have your suspicions," Anita presses. "That Master in L.A? Angelus? Jean-Claude told me," she explains at Xander's confusion.
"Maybe. 'Cept Angelus isn't this stupid and he usually prefers to play some games first."
Their heads turn skyward at the distant 'whup, whup' sounds of a helicopter approaching.
Xander thinks fast, "Tell the police who I am."
Anita blinks, "What happened to that anonymity you craved?"
He tracks the helicopter's spotlight, sweeping over the river, close and drawing closer by the minute. "Humans First have a standing contract out on the Ori of Life," he explains in a rush. "How are we to know it wasn't them?"
"How can they have contract out of you when even Jean-Claude didn't know who you were?"
Xander shrugs, "It's to come into effect as soon as proof of another Ori of Life is revealed."
"But you're human," she says, only to blanch at the implications. "A human who they think has betrayed his own kind. Damn."
"All the mercenaries were human," Xander yells over rotor blade noise. "We can say the Selkie was one of ours, they'll never know. Agreed?"
"Are you asking me to lie to the police?"
"It's not a lie," not technically anyways. "We don't KNOW for certain it wasn't Humans First," finite lines between truth and fiction are something he crossed long ago.
"I have a condition."
"Don't they have prescriptions for that now?"
Her lips curve, the first genuine smile she's ever directed at him and it's enough. Enough to make him careless, loosen up and forget how ruthless she can be.
"You tell me about the Hellmouth, Xander. Tell me about your home."
White light as the spotlight hits, blinding and all consuming.
He can't see her, which goes hand in hand with this sensation of being removed from reality.
And he thinks it all comes down to two things.
Choice, except when you have none. And trust, that can't be built like a window frame, with straight lines and measuring tape.