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Defender of the Night

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Summary: Challenge response- Xander dresses as something inhuman for Halloween

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Cartoons > GargoylesMMcGregorFR1817113,296107102165,18010 Feb 0521 Jul 08Yes
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Part Nine

Defender of the Night Part Nine

The latest assassin was, by far, the deadliest they'd faced. She'd arrived hot on the heels of the second assassin, barely giving them time to rest. Neither Buffy nor Xander was in the proper state for a prolonged fight. Buffy's arm was nearly immobile, and possibly broken. Blood dripped into her eye from a gash over her right eyebrow, and taking deep breaths sent a pang of pain through her chest.

Xander's injuries weren't quite so obvious as her own, but considering he hadn't even been breathing a few moments ago, she was sure he was drained as well. From what Buffy could make it during the fight, Xander was protecting his left side, keeping his arm dropped down close to his body to absorb the assassin's strikes. The inhumanly fast assassin seemed to recognize the weak spot, and drove her attack at Xander's midsection.

Buffy entered the fray once more, but her movements were slow and sluggish. Her attempt to throw a right cross at the assassin's face was easily sidestepped. The young woman reached up, grabbed her extended forearm and yanked Buffy off of her feet, sending her tumbling across the grass.

Giles and Angel hadn't been fooling when they warned her about the Tarakans. Each was deadlier than the last. Buffy had never seen anyone move as fast as this latest one. If she were at a hundred percent, they might be evenly matched, but injured as she was, the assassin was dominating them both.

Buffy looked up in time to see Xander take a cracking uppercut just under his jaw, snapping his head back. His wings extended by reflex, slowing his fall and allowing him to push off against the ground as he tumbled back. He sprang into the air, rolling with the punch's momentum and flipping over backwards. He landed in a three-point stance, fist pressed into the grass and legs sliding several inches into the dirt before coming to a halt. His eyes flared white as he shook the cobwebs out of his head.

"Big green guy with scales? Hey, no problem," Xander muttered to himself as he stared down the Tarakan. "Cyclops guy that pounds my face into the ground? Easy as pie. Tiny woman? Of *course* that's the one that's going to be the hardest. Where did I think I was living, anyway?"

"Your spells will not save you!" the Tarakan cried, a hint of a Caribbean accent in her voice. She sprinted forward after Xander, clearly focusing on him as the more dangerous opponent. It was a little strange. The last two assassins had gone after her first, ignoring Xander until they couldn't afford to do so any longer.

This one must be the Tarakan Employee of the Month. She must have realized that Xander was key in helping Buffy defeat the other two assassins.

Well Buffy would just have to prove that she was every bit as dangerous as Xander was. No, make that more dangerous. She was the Slayer, and no Tarakan assassin was going to show her up.

Xander desperately batted away a fist that swung at his face, and leaned his head back to dodge a follow-up roundhouse kick. The quick return snap-kick caught him on his right side, and he grunted as he was knocked to the side. The assassin leaped at him with a flying kick, but Xander managed to dive to one side, using his tail to whip down at her, catching the assassin's leg and slamming her into the grass. He rolled to his feet and blinked rapidly as he got up, swaying slightly.

Buffy pressed the minute advantage, attempting to stomp the assassin's face as she lay on the ground. The assassin rolled out of the way and kicked off the ground to her feet. Buffy spun into a knee-strike double-kick combination, catching the assassin with a knee to the ribs. The first kick was blocked, but the second had her head snapping back. Buffy threw her good right hand at the woman's face while she was stunned, but the assassin recovered quicker than she expected, snatching her wrist out of the air and twisting it, pressing it down where she had no leverage. Buffy was about to risk using her injured arm when the blue blur that was Xander slammed into the assassin's side, and the two went tumbling across the grass. Buffy fell along with them, carried along by the assassin's grip on her wrist.

Somewhere in the mass of limbs, punches and kicks, Buffy managed to wrench her arm free, shaking it slightly to be rid of the shooting pain that came with having it twisted back. She managed to get to her knees, looking up to see Xander go airborne as he was kicked off the petite woman. He landed on his back with a heavy thud, and groaned as he rolled over.

"Leave him alone!" Buffy cried, running at the woman and jumping at her. She wrapped her arm around the back of the assassin's neck and twisted as she fell to the ground in a brutal takedown that was designed to snap her neck. Instead, the woman managed to grip Buffy's arm as a support, and although she was pounded against the ground, she was relatively unhurt. She locked wrists and jabbed her elbow into Buffy's belly, first once, and then again. On the third hit, Buffy gasped and staggered back, releasing her.

Xander was there again, unleashing a thwacking roundhouse punch across the woman's face that spun her a hundred and eighty degrees. His thunderous roar sent a chill down her spine as he reached out, snatching the woman by the back of her neck and picking her up off the ground before throwing her nearly twenty feet across the graveyard. The woman hit the ground with a dull thud and skipped twice before sliding to a stop by a tombstone.

Heaving, Xander's eyes shone bright white as he stared at the prone form of the woman, willing her to stay down.

She did not. Shaking her head slightly, she rose, and her eyes locked on his.

"You're gettin' on me last nerve, demon."

Xander had no response for her, other than to growl ominously as he stared at her, wings outstretched behind him. They both pressed the attack, each racing at the other. The assassin met him with a jumping double kick. Xander rolled with the first hit and blocked the other, spinning around her and slamming his elbow into her back. Buffy took the opportunity to join the fray, throwing a quick punching combination at the Tarakan's face.

The Tarakan seemed unaffected. Xander's strike to her back did little more than stagger her, and Buffy's weak punching was nowhere near her full strength. Her left arm was almost entirely useless, and when she attempted to punch with it, the assassin blocked her violently, causing Buffy to cry out and clutch her arm. As she double over, a knee connected with her face, followed by a palm strike that sent her sprawling onto the grass.

As Buffy tumbled back, Xander attempted to grab the assassin from behind, wrapping his arms around her head from behind, trying to mimic the same hold Buffy had used on the green assassin the night before. He yanked back, pulling the assassin off of her feet. Her legs flailed as she grabbed at his arms, attempting to pull herself free. Xander roared and spun, shaking her violently as he tugged at her neck.

All at once the Tarakan seemed to twist powerfully in his grip, placing her boots against his barrel chest. With a snarl she kicked back against him. The wrenching force caused him to lose his grip, and he almost fell to the ground at the force of the impact against his chest. His tail helped him keep his balance, and he flapped his wings once, using them to propel himself forward and throw a haymaker at her head.

It connected solidly, knocking the girl backwards and sending a vibration through the air that nearly shook the earth. The Tarakan sailed through the air like a rag doll, and landed with a limp thud, sliding through the dirt before coming to a halt. She groaned and attempted to rise, but seemed unable to keep her limbs straight.

Xander winced as he felt the pain his chest. He could barely breathe, and he felt weaker than he'd ever been since becoming a gargoyle. He clenched his fists and glared at the assassin, struggling lamely to rise. That had been his best hit, all of his strength combined in a strike that should have caved her head in. He looked from her to Buffy, who was prostrate on the ground, her breath coming in ragged pants, her face covered in blood.

They couldn't win this. There was enough of Goliath in him to be able to assess that much of the battle. He couldn't risk prolonging it, and his first attempt at finishing it had failed. That left him with one other option.

While the assassin recovered, Xander loped over to Buffy, moving far too slow for his tastes. He knelt beside her, and she blinked confusedly up at him.

"Dander?" she asked, blood covering her nose. It was clearly broken.

"Yeah," he gasped, finding it hard to breathe. He decided against saying anything more, and reached down, scooping her up, one arm under her legs and the other beneath her back. She clutched at him weakly as he rose to his full height, and wheezed as deep a breath as he could manage. His side felt like it was on fire, but he blocked it out.

He began to move across the graveyard, headed for a towering gothic mausoleum. He allowed himself one look back at the assassin as he moved, noting that she was already on her knees and seemed to be gathering her strength. Moving as quickly as he could, he pressed on.

His first attempt to leap to the top of the mausoleum failed, and Buffy was forced to hold onto his neck when he had to grab one of the wrought-iron decorations that surrounded the outer wall, using it as a handhold. His arm rippled with muscles that held more strength than even the Slayer, and he grunted loudly as he propelled them up and over, nearly fifteen feet into the air. His legs absorbed most of the shock of the landing, but his chest still burned fiercely with the jostle.

Once on the roof, he regained his grip on Buffy, holding her close to him. She looked up at his face.

"Gan you do dis?" she asked, nasally.

"Gotta try," he said in between pants. He wrapped his wings around them, and sucked in a deep breath, ignoring the stabbing pain in his side as he did so. Then he raced forward and bounded off the roof, trying desperately to gain as much height as he could. His severe fatigue, combined with the added weight of Buffy, made his leap far less effective than it might otherwise be. As he and Buffy reached the high point of his momentum, he hoped they were high enough that he could pull out of the necessary dive that would follow. Failure meant death, either from the fall or the assassin.

Buffy shut her eyes tightly shut as they became weightless for an instant before plummeting back to earth. Xander wished he could do the same, but needed to have his eyes open, to time this exactly right. He hoped his reflexes weren't dulled to the point where he mistimed it.

The ground sped towards them, closer and closer, faster and faster. Then, judging it to be the last possible moment, Xander snapped his wings open, letting air surge into them. He and Buffy arced low to the ground, swooping downwards as his momentum allowed them to rise back into the air. His lungs burned, his wings ached, but as he found the updraft that allowed them to gain the height to soar away, he allowed himself a moment to sigh in relief. They were safe, for now.

***

Kendra groaned and managed to rise to her knees. She clutched her head and worked her jaw, hearing it click as it cracked back into place. Gritting her teeth, she let the pain slowly ebb. She looked up just as the demon and his consort sailed away overhead.

Her mind felt cloudy, and she marveled at the strength at which she'd been hit. She doubted she could have ever hit that hard. Even the demon's mistress had hit her harder than just about anything else she'd ever fought.

Mr. Zabuto had definitely been right. A dark power was rising in Sunnydale, and those two were surely it. An apparently human girl and a monstrously powerful winged demon, the likes of which she'd never seen. None of her required reading had ever shown her a creature like that. If it was, as she suspected, a bodyguard to the girl, then it did not bode well about the girl's power either, particularly given the strength she'd already exhibited. What kind of warrior could command the allegiance of such a powerful demon? A demon that was, she was quite certain, extremely intelligent. That was no mindless brute she'd fought. It had even spoken to her, although Mr. Zabuto had long ago taught her never to converse with the demons. They would try to trick you, try to distract you. No, she'd kept her mind on her duty as a Slayer - to defeat demons.

Kendra sighed and sat back on her heels, putting her hands on her thighs as she took slow, deep breaths. She hadn't been in such a brutal fight in several months.

The strength of the two was such that she'd decided to take the opportunity of their weakened states to take them down. The one-eyed demon hunter they'd defeated had done considerable damage to them before he'd fallen, and Kendra was quick to make use of his sacrifice. Now though, she'd let them escape, and the next time she faced them, they wouldn't be so weakened.

Still, a small part of her was relieved. While she was fairly certain she would have bested them in the long run, the toll it would have taken on her would have been tremendous. As it was, she felt weak, tired and battered. Her back ached, her face throbbed, and her thoughts were sluggish. It was best if she-

A baton struck across her back, and Kendra cried out as she fell forward, her body stunned with the strike. It struck again, whipping across the back of her neck and causing her to sprawl out on the ground, unable to move.

"Fancy meeting you here," a voice said off to her left. She tried to strike at it, but her arm moved in an awkward, slow slap instead of the precise strike she'd intended. The baton whistled through the air before cracking across her face, causing her to roll over, unable even to clutch the spot where she'd been hit.

A young man with shockingly blond hair grinned down at her, waggling the baton in front of her face. "Can you believe it? I beat the Slayer with a glorified stick." He stood up, shaking his head and clucking his tongue. "Hardly seems poetic, now does it?"

He strolled around her, and suddenly kicked her in the gut. Her body tensed with the hit, but she was unable to move to block it. It was strong, and judging from its power, this boy was a vampire. She clenched her jaw and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to gather the strength to move, but the powerful strike of the baton combined with the injuries she'd sustained in the fight with the winged demon was too much for her.

She'd been stupid. Mr. Zabuto had taught her better than that. She'd thought herself relatively safe in the empty graveyard after the fight - she'd gotten cocky. The unexpected ferocity of the battle with the girl and her demonic bodyguard had dulled her fighting instincts, leaving her open for attack.

The boy leaned over, peering down at her. "You know you played right into our hands, right? I mean, you did exactly what she said you would!" He grinned brightly at her. "It's pretty cool, when you think about it. Like we're all just following some script, and we don't have any say in it."

He shrugged and backhanded her, seemingly for the fun of it. He sighed and frowned at her. "Wish I could just have a little taste, but I'm not at supervillain material yet. It's kind of like an apprenticeship, I guess. I'll work for Drusilla for a couple of years until my legend as the Nighted One gets known. Then I can start my own vampire cult, and Drusilla can be my dark bride."

His fists closed around her shirt collar and he yanked her to her feet. Kendra's head lolled to one side, and she realized they were not alone. At least five other vampires surrounded her. Her heart began to race.

"I gotta thank you," the boy said. "Putting that ol' Slayer notch on my belt is really going to help out. That commands respect, you know? People will follow you if they know you've killed a Slayer."

Kendra groaned. He sure talked a lot.

"Hey, don't feel bad. You're gonna be involved in big stuff. Drusilla, that's my dark bride, she's going to put you to good use. I hate people who waste resources. I'm really big on recycling."

They were going to kill her, turn her, or worse. She had to get free, had to get away. There was more going on here in Sunnydale than she knew.

Calling forth every reserve she had, Kendra suddenly pressed forward, throwing a clumsy haymaker at the boy's face. He cried out and spun around as he fell. Kendra wasted no time, throwing herself to one side and shoving aside two of the vampires. She stumbled as she tried to run, rolling into the dirt. It took her longer than she wanted to get up, and the vampires were almost on top of her when she got to her feet. She ran as fast as she could, but it wasn't as fast as it should have been. She was hurt, and seriously so. She needed to get to a safe place, but the nest she'd cleared out was at least a half a mile away.

Gasping as she pressed through some bramble, Kendra nearly collapsed onto the sidewalk as she found herself out of the cemetery and on the street. The world seemed to spin around her, and she shut her eyes briefly, willing her body to hold itself together until she could get to a sanctuary. Her muddled mind worked as fast as it could, and she spotted a row of houses only two blocks away.

Homes. Vampires couldn't enter, but she could. All she had to do was make it to the houses.

She half-ran, half-staggered down the sidewalk, moving just quick enough to maintain her distance from the vampires. She could hear the talkative one shouting at the others to go after her. She spared a glance behind her as she ran.

And turned back to face a smiling woman in a blood red gown, her face white as snow. Her eyes were pools of darkness, calling for her, begging for her. Kendra slid to a halt in front of the woman.

"Who ar-" she began.

"Hush," the woman whispered, bringing a finger to Kendra's lips. A cold finger. A vampire. Kendra's eyes went wide, and she spun, desperate to get away.

But those few moments were all that were necessary. A puff of air whispered past her ear, and she felt something bite her neck. She'd been bitten by a vampire. They were going to drain her, kill her. It all felt like a dream.

Then she turned, slowly, dreamily, and her fingers rose to her neck, feeling at the dart that was imbedded there. She looked to the woman pleadingly, and a questioning whimper escaped her lips.

"Oh you mustn't fret," the woman said, smiling with childlike wonderment. "The party's not yet begun."

Kendra chuckled, and the ground rushed up to meet her.

***

She gasped as she came awake, and tumbled off of the couch. Cordelia groaned from her position on the floor, face down and eyes closed. She blinked them open, and looked up. It was night, and the lights were off, but the nearly full moon shone through the clear walls of Xander's room, giving off enough light to see by.

She'd fallen asleep there earlier, re-watching some of her favorite episodes and only mildly upset that Xander wasn't there to watch with her. It wasn't like people trying to kill Buffy was anything new, but she supposed she could understand why Xander thought it was necessary that he stick close to her. Still, Cordelia didn't like it when her plans were altered, and her plans generally consisted of spending some time goofing around with Xander every evening. It was her escape, her way of relaxing and being herself.

It was strange to think that a few months ago, she never had that escape, and now she got cranky if she missed a day of it. Maybe that meant she was growing up.

Her eyes adjusted to the dim light, and she suddenly recognized what it was that woke her. The chairs on the balcony were strewn about, and the double doors had been pushed violently open. Swallowing nervously, Cordelia peeked out over the couch.

In the middle of the room, bathed in moonlight and collapsed on the floor was Xander. The glistening residue of blood on his skin and the way he breathed shallow and weakly told her he was hurt, and hurt badly. He lay on his side, his wings covering him almost like a blanket, and he seemed to be clutching something to him.

"Xander?" she gasped, springing over the couch and sliding across the floor to him. She winced as she was almost cut by a shard of glass that had broken away with his crashing entrance. Cordelia knelt beside him, and put her hands against his massive shoulder, touching the thin material of his wings.

"Xander?" she repeated, worry filling her voice. His breathing came in ragged pants, and she could hear how hard he was struggling just to do that. His eyes slid open.

"Cor," he managed. Then he rolled onto his back, consciousness fading. Cordelia gasped as his wings moved aside, and she realized what had been clutched to him. A very bloody, very beaten looking Buffy Summers. She too was unconscious, although her hand gripped Xander's forearm with surprising strength.

"Oh my god," Cordelia whispered. "What did you two idiots do?"

***

"You can fix him, I mean, them, right?"

Giles sighed as he frowned down at Xander. The gargoyle was still sprawled out on the floor, as neither Giles nor Cordelia had the strength to move him, and Giles was worried what might happen if they tried.

"I'm afraid there's not much I can do," he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. A headache borne of sleep deprivation was slowly pounding away at his sinuses. Getting woken in the middle of the night to find Buffy severely injured was getting to be a habit.

He looked over to the couch, where they'd move Buffy. That had taken some doing, as her iron grip on Xander's arm was not loosed easily, despite her unconscious state. Eventually, however, her weakness had allowed them to pry her fingers loose so they could carry her to the couch. She was resting peacefully, and Giles had dressed her wounds.

She was lucky in that they weren't as dire as the head injury she'd received the night before. But where that had been one massive injury, she was now virtually covered in many moderate ones. Giles sighed, not sure if the Slayer's ability to heal such incredible trauma was a gift or a curse. The pain Buffy must go through on such a daily basis, it was unreal.

He turned back to Xander, still breathing shallowly on the floor. He too was covered in a myriad of cuts, bruises, deep gashes and apparently broken bones.

"You did stuff for Buffy," Cordelia reminded him, crossing her arms. "You're the Watcher, do stuff for him too!"

"I would, but I could very easily do more harm than good," Giles replied, slipping his glasses on. "Gargoyle physiology is not human physiology, despite Willow's claims that he is mammalian. I simply don't know enough about his species. Even moving him could prove potentially fatal."

"Well we have to do something," Cordelia insisted.

Giles shook his head slowly. "I am at a loss as to what it would be. I'm sorry."

The look of devastation on Cordelia's face surprised him. Then again, much of Cordelia's actions of late had surprised him. Her altruism in the face of Xander's transformation seemed to go against everything he believed he knew about the cheerleader, which was admittedly not much. To Giles, she had always been as vapid and blatant a stereotype of American teenaged culture as he had ever met, eclipsing even Buffy's often-banal conversation regarding shoes or movie stars.

At least where Buffy was concerned, there was an element of caring and selflessness involved. Her outward appearances were that of a ditzy teenager, but Buffy had proven herself far more than that to him. Indeed, the severity of her wounds was yet another silent reminder of the type of person that wondrous young woman was.

Yet now he was beginning to wonder if Cordelia might not be at least partially as complex beneath the surface. Her assistance in helping Xander adjust to his new life was, when Giles thought about it, perhaps the most crucial of all of his friends. How odd to think that Cordelia could prove herself to be more than he assumed.

He looked down at her sadly. Cordelia knelt beside Xander, her hands seeming so tiny compared to his titanic form. Her delicate fingers pressed gently against his arm in a hold that was almost possessive, and she stared at his face, a face screwed up in pain as he struggled to breathe.

Yes, perhaps there was more to Cordelia than he had originally assumed. Should that truly surprise him anymore? Buffy, Willow, and now Xander had all proved to hold far greater resolve and courage than he had at first believed. Why not Cordelia as well?

He wondered if perhaps the Hellmouth served to strengthen an individual below the surface. How else might so many truly remarkable youngsters all live in such close proximity to one another?

Cordelia looked up quite suddenly. "Wait! What time is it?"

Giles frowned at her and scratched his head. "Quite late." He quickly estimated how long it had been since Cordelia woke him up, how long it had been since he sleepily glanced at the clock on his bedside table. "Nearly six, I'd imagine."

"Nearly dawn!" she exclaimed.

"Ah yes, of course! Th-the restorative properties of his stone sleep. Yes, I recall Willow explaining the phenomenon."

According to Willow, and he had full confidence in her knowledge, a gargoyle might heal virtually any injury through a night of stone sleep. If Xander could make it to dawn, he should, in theory, be fully healed by morning.

"Just a few minutes," Cordelia said, squeezing Xander's arm gently. "Just keep breathing, Xander."

It was a mantra that Giles got to know quite well, as Cordelia repeated herself over and over again, until the first rays of light shone over the horizon. When Xander's body crackled slowly into stone, she'd still been repeating it.

***

Buffy stood at the law enforcement sign-up booth, where students could get involved in any number of programs designed to facilitate a career in the field. While her eyes were focused on the sign-up sheet, her mind was elsewhere.

Part of it was on the aches and pains that still ailed her. Slayer healing was a remarkable thing, but it wasn't a cure-all either. Considering the beatings she and Xander had taken the night before, she was just glad to be able to walk. If it wasn't for Snyder being all, "you get suspended if you don't go to career fair," she might have just skipped school altogether that day.

Another part of her was thinking of Xander, whose stone form still lay sleeping on the floor of his room. Willow had assured her that Cordelia was right; stone sleep would have Xander up and at them by the evening. He'd be healed even faster than her own Slayer healing would help her. She could almost be jealous, if she wasn't so worried.

Worried. There was the real state of her head. Because she was still focused on two more things, things that put her world on end.

The first was as simple as it was excruciatingly complicated: she'd kissed Xander. Not only that, but he'd kissed her back. And she had liked it. A lot, a way-mega-ultra-lot. What did that mean? Did it mean she didn't want to be with Angel anymore? Did it mean she loved Xander?

How was she supposed to talk to Angel? Things had been harsh between them ever since Ford, when Angel went behind her back to investigate her friend. Sure, he turned out to be right, but the violation of trust had hurt her. It was that hurt that caused her to seek out Xander's help that night, which had become the first step towards patrolling with him on a regular basis. Her relationship with Angel had never really repaired itself after that hurt.

She had to tell him, didn't she? But what was there to tell? That she'd kissed Xander, that she liked it, but she still wanted to be with Angel? Or that she'd kissed Xander, that she liked it, and she wanted to be with him instead?

As if that weren't enough to drive her life into an uncontrolled spin of confusion, Giles had received a call from the Watcher's Council that afternoon. From some guy named Mr. Zabooboo or something. What Giles had told her about that call made her blood run cold.

There was another Slayer. A Slayer who was called because Buffy hadn't just been unconscious that night in the Master's cave. She hadn't just had her heart stop, hadn't just needed Xander to breathe air into her lungs. She had died, well and truly. She'd died, and Xander brought her back to life.

It made her shudder just to think about it. It seemed inescapable, these days, the cold, dark memory of that cave. Her confusion only heightened when she realized that it was the thought of Xander's protection and caring that banished the frightening thought from her mind.

It was like she'd told him. She only felt safe in his arms. And the more she thought of it, the greater that feeling became. When she thought back to it now, thought back to the Master's cave, that dark feeling of fear and loneliness was gradually being replaced by the hot feel of Xander's mouth against hers, the scorching air of his life suffusing hers, and the warmth of his protective hands holding her gently. It was as profound a memory as she'd ever had.

Just knowing that there was another Slayer hurt her enough, but it was even worse than that. From the description Giles got, it sounded like the Tarakan assassin she'd thought she was fighting last night was, in fact, the new Slayer.

At least that explained some things. Like how she was so fast, so strong, and so durable. Like how she could withstand Xander's strongest punch, and outmaneuver Buffy at every turn. Part of her was looking forward to a rematch when they were both at a hundred percent. She thought she had a pretty good grasp on the girl's fighting style now. All business and no passion. She was sure she could take her in a fair fight.

Only who knew when she'd ever meet the girl again? Mr. Zaboozaboo hadn't spoken to her in over a day, and she was apparently "required" to give regular status reports. Maybe she was somewhere licking her wounds after the battle from the night before.

Or maybe, a dark voice said inside of her, she wasn't prepared for the Hellmouth.

After all, Buffy herself would have been killed her very first day, had it not been for the assistance of...

Xander again. She frowned as she stared down at her sign-up sheet. In her mind's eye, she could see Xander standing out in the daylight, his hand in hers. A vampire was pulling at her leg, trying to drag her back down into the sewers where they could easily overwhelm her. She could see the strain on his face as he helped pull her free.

Such a simple act, really. And not something that only Xander could have done. What mattered was that she'd needed that help to begin with. This was the Hellmouth. Going it alone never worked.

Somehow, the tightness in her gut told her that the new Slayer wasn't aware of that.

Finally, there was still the Order of Taraka to be concerned about. Mr. Zooboob had mentioned some old book to Giles, where they were able to find a fair amount of information on the Order. Buffy had been relieved to hear the Order only ever sent three assassins after their potential prey. But then she realized that she'd been mistakenly counting the new Slayer as one of those assassins.

That meant there was still one more to go.

Buffy sighed as she finished filling out her form, and glanced across the hallway. Willow stood talking with a rather short boy whom Willow called Oz. She smiled at the cuteness of the two of them, glad for Willow. For her part, her redheaded best friend seemed to be enjoying her conversation, although her face held an expression that was equal parts fear and joy.

Behind her, the muscular policewoman that ran the booth picked up a clipboard.

"All right!" she called over the small crowd of students gathered there. Buffy turned idly to face her. "Listen up, and answer when I call your name." She glanced down at the clipboard. "Buffy Summers."

Buffy frowned slightly. Were they going alphabetically by first name? Usually as a Summers, she was towards the end of a list. She raised her hand tentatively.

The officer nodded and put down the clipboard, reaching to her belt. She flipped up the strap of her gun holster, and Buffy's eyes went wide as she realized she was reaching for her gun. Her arm came up, the gun pointing towards her, and Buffy reacted without thought, reacting as only the Slayer could. She lurched forward, grabbing the woman's wrists and shoving her hands upwards. The gun fired an echoing retort, resulting in panicking screams from the rest of the students.

The woman snarled at Buffy as they struggled for the weapon, and the gun went off again. Buffy grunted and brought her knee up into the officer's gut, causing her to drop the gun to the floor as she doubled over. But instead of being stunned, the woman rolled forward, reaching to her ankle and her secondary holster.

Buffy dove out of the way as the woman brought the gun up, rolling behind an upturned table as the gun went off. She quickly got back to her feet; shouting at the rest of the students, "Get down!"

The officer tracked her, and Buffy began to run again. She had to keep moving, couldn't let herself get pinned down. As she ran, she heard the echoing bang of the gun, and a voice crying, "Look out!"

A second shot destroyed the skull of the science exhibit's skeleton, and the third was imbedded in the wall as Buffy made her way around the corner. She quickly took cover behind it, panting as she waited for the assassin to make her next move.

A few moments later the woman came around the corner, moving carefully with her gun drawn. Buffy tackled her before she could react, the backup gun clattering across the floor. Buffy snapped up to her feet and slipped into a defensive stance, prepared to finish this fight hand to hand.

But the woman reached to her other ankle, pulling still yet another backup gun. Buffy cursed under her breath and jumped out of the way, sliding back out into the main area of the fair. A bullet whizzed over her head, exploding into a clock on the wall. Buffy plucked one of the falling pieces out of the air and without a glance threw it mightily back at the assassin. The curved hunk of plastic whizzed through the air and hit the woman in the face, disrupting her aim and causing her second shot to go into the ceiling.

Buffy stood ready, waiting to move quickly out of the way if the woman tried to fire again. There was no cover readily available, so she had to trust on her Slayer speed and reflexes to dive out of the way as soon as the woman made her move. The assassin glared back at her, breathing deeply. It was a stand off.

"Uh hello?" a voice said from behind the Tarakan. "Some of us are trying to study!"

The assassin spun reflexively to look at the speaker, and Buffy took that opportunity. She raced forward, moving faster than was humanly possible, and slammed her shoulder into the woman's back. The third and final gun spun across the floor, and Buffy punched the back of the woman's head as hard as she could. When she pulled her hand back, it was covered in neon green blood. The final assassin was defeated.

"Couldn't you do that somewhere else?" Cordelia Chase asked as she looked down at Buffy and the dead assassin. "I've got an English test tomorrow."

Buffy just stared up at her. Life was surreal.
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