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Zeppo?

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Summary: Xander makes an interesting new friend.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Movies > Dusk Till DawnAesopFR1318,6352144,10914 Jul 0614 Jul 06Yes
ZEPPO?

AUTHOR:  Aesop

DISCLAIMER:  I don't own any of the characters from BTVS or from the movie 'Dusk Till Dawn', I'm writing this for fun, not profit. The story carries a PG-13 rating for language. I tried to stay true to the characters.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  When I wrote this, I was rather annoyed at the way Xander was being treated.  He was unappreciated. He does a lot for the group, and that said, let's get on with it. I got the idea for this story after seeing the episode Zeppo. Here's something for him.

 

Xander checked the stake and the cross he carried. He knew they were not much actual protection in his hands, he was no slayer, but he always carried some protection if he had to be out after dark.

And right now, he had to be. The conversation with Willow had been very strained. In spite of her attempts to reassure him, or rather because of them, he knew something was wrong. There was a crisis or at least a problem, and they were leaving him out. He tried not to feel resentful that they had been excluding him more and more from the group's activities. After all, they were worried about him. He should be touched.

He didresent it though. He had proven on more than one occasion that he could contribute. He had been the one who saved Buffy when she had died on Prom night. He had come up with a way to stop the Judge. He knew the risks as well as they did and took them willingly. Lately though they didn't seem to respect his decision to take those risks.

It was time he had it out with them. Even as he told himself this, he could feel his resolve wavering. How could he confront them without risking being pushed from the group entirely? That was not a pleasant thought.

Even as these thoughts ran around in his head he kept his eyes and ears open. It was not safe to daydream in Sunnydale at night. Can you daydream at night, he wondered, or is that technically a waking dream, or is that something completely different?

His musings were interrupted by the sounds of a struggle. He was passing the edge of the park on the way to the school library. He might have saved time by cutting through the park, but he wasn't feeling suicidal.

Suicidal or not, when he heard the struggle he didn't give his own safety a second thought but raced toward the sounds. Rounding a bend in the trail, he saw young woman, maybe 23 at the oldest, fighting with a vampire. She was holding her own, but she was obviously no Slayer. The vampire was shrugging off her blows like they were mere annoyances. If anything, it seemed amused by her struggles.

The demon backhanded her, sending her to the ground. It threw itself at her, trying to pin her so it could sink its fangs into her neck.

The vamp turned and started to rise when it heard Xander's footsteps, but it only managed to rise to its knees before Xander kicked it in the face. It went sprawling and Xander threw himself on top of it, driving his stake home. The contorted features glared up at him, snarling for a full second before the creature combusted and vanished into a pile of ashes.

Xander got to his feet and turned to face the girl who was sitting up, nursing a bruise on her cheek. She was staring at him and what was left of the vamp. Slowly Xander got up and walked over to her.

"Are you okay?"

"Um, yeah, fine." She hesitated a moment before asking. "What just happened to that guy?" The first thing he noticed about her was light brown hair, pulled back in a ponytail. Her face was thin, bordering on gaunt, but it didn't keep her from being beautiful. He took a moment to find his voice. Her soft, southern accent left him tongue-tied.

"Oh, he uh, left suddenly," Xander answered lamely. He helped her to her feet. "What are you doing in the park at this hour? It's not safe." He pressed forward, anxious to change the subject.

"Ah was walking to the store, to pick up some medicine." She hunted on the ground and found an empty pill bottle to show him. Xander nodded.

"Ah, okay. Um, look, why don't I walk you home? Like I said, it's not safe out. I'm Xander by the way."

"Ah'm Kate, and thanks. Ah'd be happy to have the company." Her accent became less pronounced as her breathing slowed and she calmed down. She took the hand he offered and shook it. It seemed sort of a lame way to start, Xander thought, but it was a beginning.

"You seemed to be doing all right actually, where did you learn to fight?"

"Oh, here and there. I've been into the martial arts for a while now." Looking at him keenly, she went back to an earlier question. "You didn't answer my question. What happened to that guy? Don't say he left. Ah saw him explode."

"Explode?" Xander thought quickly, looking for an explanation. "Ah, well, there are some things in Sunnydale that really don't bear too much thought." He deepened his voice slightly and tried to sound mysterious. "Some questions are better left unanswered."

Kate rolled her eyes. She was about to respond, but stopped suddenly, holding up a hand. "Shh."

Xander heard it too now. The sound of low voices approaching from a distance. He thought he recognized one of them. Quickly, he pulled her off the path and into the bushes.

"Miss Edith wants her tea. And she wants Slayer's blood instead of milk." Xander went cold. He definitely knew that voice. He risked a peek through the bushes and saw what he was afraid he'd see.

Drusilla, along with two of her minions, was walking down the path, talking to no one in particular, just deep in her own private world. Nevertheless, they were making plans. Xander held his breath, afraid that the slightest sound would betray their hiding place.

Normal vamps were bad enough, but Drusilla was in a class by herself. The crazy female vampire fancied herself a princess and she was used to getting what she wanted. There were always lesser vamps willing and eager to provide it for her. That's probably how Cordelia would turn out, he thought sourly. He listened carefully as Dru explained what she wanted and how she would get it.

This is so not good. He spared a glance at Kate. She was wide eyed, and scared. Evidently she had heard Drusilla just as well as he had. He debated quickly with himself. There was no time to take her home, not if he was going to save Buffy and the others. He had to know where the vamps were going.

Tough as Buffy was, he knew even she couldn't handle the number of vamps that Dru was talking about organizing for her attack. The mention of a 'party' afterwards left him cold.

Despite his aversion to book learning he had read accounts of Dru's antics, and he didn't want to see something like that happen in his town. While he thought, the vamps rounded a bend in the trail and went out of sight.

"Oh no you don't Drusilla," he whispered fiercely. "No parties in my town." He turned to face Kate. "I'm sorry, I don't have time to take you home. I've got to get after them. They're talking about my friends." She nodded.

"Ah understand. Want some help? They said they were gonna kill people, and ah can fight." Xander nodded and reached under his jacket. He pulled out his 'hold out'. This consisted of a smaller cross and an extra stake. Kate stared at them as he presented them to her.

"Those are vampires?" she asked, wide eyed. He nodded.

"I can find you a safe place along the way-" She cut him off shaking her head.

"Come on."

Quietly they stalked the vamps. It wasn't hard, as Drusilla didn't seem to have any conception of precautions. Either she didn't know or didn't care that they were being followed. Xander hoped it was the former.

They trailed them to a warehouse near the waterfront. Xander knew from tales told by Buffy and Faith that Mr. Trick had used it as a hideout once. The place was boarded up and perfect for vampires. He watched as Dru and her minions went inside.

He watched for several minutes from a distance, but saw no sign of guards outside the building so he crept up to the window for a peek. There were a dozen vampires gathered there, all of them fawning over Drusilla like court jesters trying to impress their queen. He withdrew silently and returned to where he'd left Kate.

"Not good," he said succinctly.

"How many?"

"A dozen, and counting," he added as a car pulled up and three more vamps got out and went in. Xander debated quickly. He could call Buffy, but he knew the others were all in deep research mode. Some big scary thing was coming. Something they didn't want me to know about, he groused silently. Then he kicked himself. There was no time for that now. He'd have to deal with this on his own. The only question was how?

"What now?" Kate asked, nervously looking up and down the street.

"First I find you a safe place to hide," he told her. She grabbed his arm.

"No you don't. If you try to do this on your own, you'll only get killed. That won't help anyone."

"But-"

"No 'buts'. Look you saved my life back there. The least I can do is try to help you now. You think Ah want what they might do on my conscience if Ah don't at least try to help?"

That stopped Xander cold. It was much the way he felt when the others excluded him from the slayage activity. She might get killed, he argued silently. So could you, he argued back. Risking his life for his friends and even for strangers in the town was his choice, he sighed, and he supposed it was hers too.

"All right." He looked up and down the street. There were broken boards in the alley for stakes, but he didn't kid himself for a moment thinking he could stake fifteen vamps. He needed something bigger.

"Ahha." He motioned for her to follow as he made his way down an alley to the next street over. That was what he was looking for. He scrounged around in the Dumpster in the alley till he found what he wanted. "Wait here," he told her.

"Hey."

"No argument. You definitely don't want to be in on this part." He made his way across the street, slipping the paper bag over his head as he reached the alley next to the store. It wasn't easy seeing out of the two small holes he made in the bag, but he didn't have time to do better. This is a stupid idea, he told himself, but he didn't have any better ones. He moved to the back entrance of the store and used a thin blade of his pocketknife to jimmy the lock. It hadn't been easy talking Giles into teaching him that, but it was paying off in spades now.

He quickly gained entrance and began grabbing paper sacks and filling them with ammunition. He knew there must be a silent alarm so he hurried, not being particular about what he took. He was careful though, not to leave fingerprints on anything he wasn't taking. Soon he had enough, or at least all he could carry in two arms, and beat a hasty retreat out the back door. He almost dropped the load when he saw the van pull up at the end of the alley. Then Kate opened the side door and motioned him to hurry.

"Where did you get the van?" he asked as he piled in.

"Belongs to a friend of mine staying at the rooming house a block down the road. I know where he keeps his spare keys."

"Won't he mind?"

"Probably, but this is an emergency. I figured out what you have in mind. If the stories about vampires are right then it'll work a lot better than just charging in there with stakes. Oh, that reminds me." She fished in jacket pocket and pulled out Xander's spare stake. "Here. I won't need it." She reached down and picked up a broken piece of broom handle about two feet long. "Ah'll use this if it gets up close and personal."

Xander nodded. He was starting to be impressed by this girl. He liked her nerve. He liked her looks. He even liked the way her accent got thicker when her emotions were strong. He hoped she found him equally impressive.

"Oh, and take that bag off your head," she said absently, as she drove back toward the warehouse. So much for impressing her, he sighed as he tossed it in back. They parked a half a block a way and prepared their weapons.

"We're gonna need the element of surprise," Xander thought aloud as he worked. "We can't just walk in. They'd be on us in a second."

"Actually," Kate grinned, "I thought we'd drive in. The truck entrance just has old boxes stacked in front of it." Xander looked at her in surprise and grinned. He was definitely liking this girl.

Ten minutes later they were ready.

***

Buffy and Faith sat in the library listening to the debate. Both were bored. Angel had called them all together. He had heard rumors that Drusilla was in town, and Wesley had heard some rumors of his own. Rumors that had him worried.

"Let me get this straight," Faith interrupted. "These new guys in town, the ones you think gave us the tip, are vampire hunters?"

"Yes, they're supposed to be quite good at it too," Giles offered. Wesley huffed.

"What they are is violent, undisciplined thugs. The Watcher's Council has been aware of them for a couple of years now. It is unclear how the group came into being, but they are regarded as a menace."

"So," Buffy said sitting up straighter, "all we know is that they hunt vampires and that the Council doesn't like them?" She looked to Giles for an answer. He nodded. "Well," she turned to Faith.

"That sounds like ringing endorsement to me." Faith nodded, smiling.

"Yeah, lets break out the bubbly and throw a welcome to Sunnydale party." Both laughed while Wesley gave them his best disapproving glare. They ignored him.

"Buffy," Giles said, irritated that he had to support the twit in anything. "We know next to nothing about them."

"We know the council doesn't like or trust them," Buffy said.

"And when was the last time the Council was right about something," Faith shot a look at Wesley, "or sent us anything useful?" Wesley bristled, but said nothing. It was even more humiliating to see Giles considering her words.

"We must find out more about Drusilla's plans. The presence of these vampire hunters may or may not complicate matters. It is too soon to tell." He pushed his glasses up his nose, a sign that he considered it time to move on.

"I suggest that you two go out on patrol. Angel?" The vampire nodded. "Join them please. I want everyone in on this. We have to cover as much ground as possible. Drusilla must be found."

Angel nodded. "I'll go with Oz. You and Willow should probably review everything we know about Dru, see if there is any clue as to where she might be." Giles shook his head.

"Drusilla tends to be unpredictable. We can cover all of her former haunts and all of her likely new hiding places more quickly if we all search. Which reminds me." He looked around the group. "Where is Xander?"

"Um, well," Willow looked down at the table. "I sort of told him there was nothing up tonight."

"My idea," Buffy interrupted. "Xander takes way too many chances. I'd like to know he's safe."

***

"Ready?"

"You're really getting into this aren't you?" Xander asked Kate as she approached the warehouse's truck bay. She looked him straight in the eye, for once, dead serious.

"It needs to be done, and soon. They were getting ready to go when you looked in on them a minute ago. Let's do it." Xander set his jaw, swallowed his nervousness and nodded.

"Do it." Kate stomped on the accelerator. The van surged forward and crashed through the boxes stacked at the entrance. The vamps whirled to face the oncoming threat. Kate didn't stop.

Drusilla screamed and stomped her feet. "No, no, no, no! You can't do that! Kill them!" Two of the vamps went down under the bumper. The van swung around, crushing them under the rear wheels and ran down another. Xander pulled open the side door, set one of the brown paper bags on fire and threw out the first bottle from the liquor store.

It shattered under the feet of the oncoming vamps, splattering four of them with burning alcohol. Long overdue for a funeral pyre, they were consumed almost immediately. Xander lit another and threw it at another group. They scattered, but two of them were caught by the fire and, like their comrades, burned.

The fire was spreading, and the survivors were fleeing. Drusilla tried to rally them. She stood in the path of the van, the warehouse starting to burn in earnest around her. Her game face was in place, and she stood her ground as the van sped toward her. At the last second she jumped, not to either side, but up.

Xander looked up when he heard the loud thump on the roof. He grabbed the cross from his pocket and leaned out. Drusilla easily knocked it from his hand and grabbed his wrist, dragging him outside.

Kate heard him yell and realized what had happened. She slammed on the brakes and was gratified to hear a yelp and a thump from outside as Drusilla tumbled off. Xander was still in trouble though.

Here we go again, she thought as she grabbed a special piece of equipment and charged out. Just like Mexico.

No, not like Mexico, she promised herself. This time everyone would get out alive. She gave the cord a vicious yank and jumped out as the small machine roared into life.

 

"You've been a naughty boy." Drusilla had him by the throat and was holding him just off the ground. Only three vampires remained besides her. They looked around at the fire fearfully. They had seen the rest of their comrades burned alive, and were afraid of meeting the same fate, but they were clearly more afraid of Drusilla.

"Mistress, shouldn't we be going? The fire-"

"We'll go," she snapped, "when I've had my supper.

"Supper? Supper's good. There's a great little Chinese place just down the street. You like Cantonese?"

"Don't like Chinese," Drusilla pouted. "An hour after I've eaten one I'm hungry again." His mouth opened and closed silently for a few seconds.

"Ouch."

"I haven't done anything yet," she protested mildly while the fire climbed the walls.

"I can't think of anything that would be more painful than that joke," he quipped. Drusilla didn't have a chance to answer. The sound of an engine roaring to life caught her attention. She spun, while maintaining her grip on his throat.

A girl, a new girl, leaped through the smoke. It wasn't the van's engine Dru realized, it was the thing in her hands that made the noise. One of her minions charged at the stranger but exploded into dust a second later, and Dru got a good look at the machine she held.

It looked like a portable jackhammer, but instead of a steel chisel there was a sharpened wooden stake emerging from the device. It was moving in a blur as she headed straight for Drusilla and her captive.

The stranger was delayed for only a second as Ted a vampire she had turned herself, leaped from the side. In life he had been a weight lifter and fitness fanatic. Even had he still been human he would have been able to pull the stranger apart like a roast chicken. Dru smiled in anticipation.

Ted was on her in an instant. There wasn't time for her to bring the stake to bear and she didn't even try. Instead she brought it up in a move reminiscent of a defensive block.

Dru heard the crunch of bone as the housing impacted with the vampire's face. He reeled for a second but kept on coming. It gave the stranger enough time though to set her back against the van. She brought one leg up, set her foot against the vampire's chest, and shoved. Ted had always been proud of his body and rarely wore a shirt if he didn't have to. His proudly displayed bare muscular body cost him now.

Ted jumped back, crying out in pain. Dru saw the blackened place in the center of his chest in the shape of a cross as he stumbled back.

Dru gave a little cry of disappointment as he tripped over a piece of broken crate and landed in a pool of burning beer.

The distraction had been enough for Xander. He managed to pull one of his crosses from his pocket and pressed it to her wrist. She released him with a shriek and then struck him across the face. Xander rolled with the blow, but was still knocked silly. He managed to stop himself from falling by catching the van, but his head swam.

By the time his vision cleared Dru and Kate were grappling hand to hand, and the strange weapon she had used was lying a few feet away, well out of her reach. Kate was holding her own for the moment, but it was a losing fight. Drusilla was too fast and too strong. Even as the pain in his face subsided to bearable levels he saw Dru get hold of her and forced her back towards the fire.

"You've been a very bad little girl, and bad little girls need to be punished. You burned Teddy all up. Now be a good little girl and go say you're sorry." Dru pushed her closer and closer to the fire as she talked, until the fire was inches from Kate's boots. Slowly the crazy vampire bent her backwards over the fire.

Kate couldn't take her eyes off Dru. Her eyes were like bottomless wells and she could feel herself falling, falling. Suddenly Dru's eyes changed. They lost their depth and became simply eyes again, eyes that widened in shock. Then she was gone and a pair of strong arms was hauling her back, away from the fire that she could now feel licking at her heels.

"Are you all right?" Xander demanded, pocketing the stake he had just used. She gasped and coughed, but nodded in the affirmative. "Come on then. The fire department will be here soon." They made their way back to the van and got it started. The warehouse was well on its way to burning down, but the way out was still clear. Alcohol fires, Xander suddenly remembered a long forgotten fact from chemistry class, weren't as hot as fires fueled by gasoline or oil. It had taken it longer to spread. He wished he could have said he planned it that way.

"Do you think we got them all Kate?" Xander asked as the van sped out of the warehouse and away.

"I think a few of them ran, but we got most of them including the one you called Drusilla. I think that makes thirteen." Xander nodded.

"Yeah, thirteen," he said. "Not a bad night's work."

"Don't forget the one in the park," Kate added. He smiled, certain now that he was going to like this girl.

"That's right," Xander agreed. "Fourteen vamps. Not a bad night's work at all." She favored him with a speculative look. "Maybe we've got a future in this business."

"Maybe," she nodded. Kate's smile widened and he grinned again. He seemed to be doing that a lot tonight.

"You picked up some bruises," she noted. "Let's go to my place, and I'll take care of them."

***

Buffy and Willow left the factory and headed for the mansion where Angel lived. It was unlikely anyone would be there, but it was a necessary step. Giles and Faith would have checked out the burned out warehouse they had once used by now. Oz and Angel had been sent to check on other known or suspected nest sites.

They had all agreed to meet at the mansion at 11:00. It was now 10:30 and they just had time to reach the mansion before the meeting.

"That was probably too obvious," Willow allowed as they headed back toward her mother's car.

"Yeah, but we had to check. Dru’s the sentimental type. It was Angelus and Spike who made all the plans." Willow winced at the mention of Angelus, and Buffy was immediately sorry.

Angel had taken special delight in tormenting Willow, terrorizing her. Occasionally, the timid redhead still had bad dreams about him. She knew he was better now and wouldn't hurt her, but it didn't stop the nightmares.

"Sorry Will," Buffy offered. Her friend nodded and took Buffy's hand.

"It's okay. I mean, I know he's better now. Um, so back to the mansion? Was that change of subject too obvious?" Buffy smiled and squeezed her friend's hand.

They climbed into the car and Willow started the engine. It hadn't been easy to convince her mother to let her use the car, but she had agreed eventually when Willow had told her that she was picking up everyone for a study night.

Lately her mother had taken her nose out of her books long enough to realize that the peaceful little town wasn't safe at night. It had been a revelation that made it a little harder for Willow to get out after dark, but she couldn't stay in while Buffy needed her. Willow had managed to convince her mother to let her drive in order to pick up her friends for a study date since exams were coming up.

It only took about 20 minutes to reach the mansion. Once they arrived there was only a short wait after that until the rest arrived. None of them had anything to report.

"No one found anything?"

Buffy shook her head. "Sorry, the factory was a bust."

"Same for the warehouse," Faith said. Angel nodded.

"There was a fire down near the docks," he said, "but no sign of vampires anywhere. The fire department was already on it by the time we arrived."

"Not like you'd find them there anyway," Faith commented. "Last I heard vamps weren't real big on fire. What about the vampire hunters? Any sign of them?" There were negative responses all around.

"So what now?" Willow looked around at her friends and could tell there were no ideas forthcoming.

"I suggest that Willow and Oz go home. There's no point in you getting into trouble with your parents." They nodded and got ready to leave. Giles turned to the others. "I want the rest of you to do a standard patrol sweep. Buffy, you might try Willie and see if he knows anything." The Slayers nodded and got up to go.

"Willie usually knows what's going on. He probably has heard about these hunters."

"You could do that," a voice said from the door, "or you could just ask us." Everyone rose and turned to see a man dressed in a black turtleneck and jeans standing in the door. Willow had gotten close to the door but was now backing away.

"Who are you?" Giles demanded. They all moved into defensive positions, guarding each other's backs without even thinking about it.

"My name is Seth, and I'm not here to fight, so don't piss me off." He aimed this last bit at Angel who was trying to slip into the shadows to work around behind him. Angel stopped. Seth crooked a finger at him and motioned him out into the light.

"In answer to what is undoubtedly your next question, I came here to give you a message. My associates and I are here to kill vampires. We understand it's a good town for that. I hear they're always in season."

"True enough," Faith commented. "We been looking forward to meeting you."

"Have you now?" Seth raised an eyebrow curiously. "Well then, we should all get along just fine." He focused on Angel. "Unless you continue to try to sneak up on me, in which case you will become a fucking notch on my favorite stake. Do you understand?" There was a gun in his hand now pointed at Angel. He stopped in his tracks looking angry.

"Now, there is no need to be hostile," Giles stepped forward, trying to act as a peacemaker. "Angel is somewhat distrustful of strangers, but he is not a threat to you."

"All vampires are a fuckin' threat," Seth said flatly. At their startled looks he nodded. "Yeah, I know about that. I know how strong and how fast you are. You take one more step and we'll see how fast you are without kneecaps." He looked around the group. "Like I said. I'm here to deliver a message. We are here for the duration, and we want to sit down with you to make sure things go smooth. If our lines run straight we can work together."

"What exactly do you intend to do?" Giles asked.

"What do we intend to do? We intend to clean out this town, and we've got the numbers and firepower to do it. We intend to kill every vampire shit pile in Sunnydale. On the surface of it, I'm willing to bet that's a goal you can support."

"I'll go along with that," Faith nodded. Buffy looked nervously from the gun to Angel.

"Can I assume," Giles asked, "that you believe it is your methods that we will have a problem with?"

"Well, we'll just have to see about that won't we? I think we can get along. Let's meet tomorrow at the school library after classes. I'll bring my boss, you bring the rest of your team and we'll have us a little powwow. See what we can't work out between us." He kept his eyes on Angel as he backed out.

***

"Well," Giles said, absently cleaning his glasses, "that was bracing."

"Is it just me," Buffy asked, "or was that guy a little too tense?"

"Way too tense," Oz agreed. "He sure wasn't too happy to see Angel."

"Yes, well," Giles pointed out. "You must remember that Angel is rather unusual for a vampire. I think he might come around. In the meantime the rest of us have a meeting to prepare for tomorrow."

 

NEXT DAY 3:45 P.M.

"You want to tell me what happened to your face Xand?" Buffy's tone was mild, but her eyes betrayed her worry. It irritated him.

"I told you I'm fine. I just had a little run in with a fist last night. It was attached to someone a lot stronger than me, but there's nothing to worry about."

"A lot stronger than you?" Cordelia repeated. "You must mean they had more muscle. After all, nobody smells stronger." Xander spared her a withering look.

"Given the amount of 'Ou de Streetwalker' you splash on, I'd be very surprised if you could smell anything."

"Who hit you?" Willow demanded, ignoring the exchange. Her protective streak was showing and this too irritated Xander even though he was ashamed to admit it.

"We've been through this before. I won't have you protecting me." The two girls looked at each other and sighed in mutual frustration.

"Men," Buffy summed up the sentiment with a roll of her eyes. She then turned to Wesley as he came into the library.

"Ah, I see everyone has arrived." He nodded to Giles as the technically ex-watcher came out of his office.

"Not everyone is here," Faith reminded them. "Our new bud from last night still hasn't shown up."

"About this ah, 'bud'," Xander spoke up, neatly changing the subject. "Last night you told me nothing was happening, now I hear that you were out looking for Drusilla and there's a new group of vampire hunters in town." He looked accusingly at Buffy. "Care to explain this?"

"There's nothing to explain Xander." She squirmed a little. "We decided we could handle it. There was no need to-"

"To what?" Xander interrupted. "To put me at risk? In case you haven't noticed I join in willingly. It's not like you force me into anything."

"Well or course not," Buffy said, "I just worry, that’s all."

"How sweet," a dry voice came from the stacks. They turned to see a burly man in jeans and a UCLA sweatshirt watching them. "I don't mean to interrupt, but I believe you were expecting us?"

"Expecting you?" Giles believed he knew who the man represented, but he wasn't taking any chances with Buffy's secret.

"Yes. I'm Seth's friend, Mike. Like him, and you Mr. Giles. I hunt vampires." That out in the open, everyone relaxed a bit. The stranger came down the stairs from the hidden entrance in the stacks and joined them at the table.

"Where is Seth?" Buffy asked curiously. Actually, she was glad he hadn't come. Something about the man unnerved her.

"He's tending to business elsewhere. Besides, I know he tends to come on kind of strong."

"We had noticed," Giles said dryly. Mike looked at him and smiled.

"He's not a people person, but he's one hell of a hunter. He's racked up more than 200 kills just since I’ve been hunting with them, almost two years now."

"How exactly," Buffy asked, breaking into the conversation, "did you get started? It's not exactly something you find in the 'help wanted' ads." Mike nodded as he settled himself in a chair.

"Actually, I think I'll let the boss explain that." This got their attention.

"We thought you-" He shook his head.

"Actually, I wasn’t part of the original group. The boss," he nodded to the main door as it swung open, "is right there."

Xander had his back to the door, so the first thing he saw was the surprise on the faces of his friends. He pushed the chair back and turned to face the door. His jaw almost hit the floor.

"Kate?!" The newcomer smiled.

"Hey Xander," her soft, southern accent made her seem even more delicate than she already looked. Xander was the only one of the scooby-gang present who knew just how much of an illusion that was. An image of her popped into his head. An image of her smashing the face of a muscle bound vamp and kicking him into a fire.

"You two know each other?" Faith looked back and forth between the two, just as the others did. Xander cleared his throat looking a bit embarrassed and more confused.

"Well, yeah, we met last night."

"What were you doing last night anyway?" Buffy asked, suddenly suspicious.

"Nothin' special," Xander shrugged. Now the Slayer was definitely suspicious. "We just hung out for a while. Since you guys weren't up to anything I just went out for a little fun." Now they were all looking at him suspiciously. Kate gave him a quizzical look, but didn't contradict him. Instead she found a seat at the table.

"Ah believe you were wondering about how me and my friends got started killing demons?" They all nodded. Kate took a seat next to Xander, made herself comfortable and began her tale.

"Actually, it began, as so many unfortunate situations do, with bad luck. Me, my father and brother were in the wrong place at the wrong time." She went on to tell them a slightly edited version of events, toning down Seth's violent tendencies, leaving out the fact that he was wanted for a number of crimes in Texas.

She told them about the bar called the Titty Twister, located out in the middle of nowhere and the nest it concealed. She told them about Richie.

"Seth and Richie were holding their guns on the bouncers. I was sure they were going to back off, but they didn't. They just grinned and laughed. One of 'em was looking at Richie's bleedin' hand and licking his lips. Then I saw the dancer. She was panting, almost drooling over the blood. I knew somethin' bad was gonna happen, I mean really bad, but never in my wildest nightmares could I have guessed…" She broke off, shuddering at the memory. The audience didn't speak. They watched her, transfixed by the story.

"She changed. Her face seemed to almost melt and reform. I screamed for Richie to watch out, but it was too late. She jumped on his back and.. and ripped his throat out."

Talking about that night was almost as bad for her as living through it again, and she had barely started. She took a moment to regain her composure before continuing.

"We heard the front door slam and looked up. The staff and some of the customers were changing. They attacked us all at once, and things got a bit confused. I wound up hiding behind the bar with my brother. Only one of them came over after us and he started burnin' when I pressed my crucifix into his face.

"When it quieted down we looked out and there were only four humans left, Seth, my father, a biker who called himself Sex Machine and an ex-soldier whose name I never did learn. There were three overturned tables in the middle of the room with broken legs and big piles of ash around each one."

She told of the battle and the retreat into the storeroom. She told of how the four survivors had crafted weapons from the stolen shipments. Her voice filled with pride as she spoke of her father, mortally wounded, blessing the water and carving crosses in the crossbow bolts.

Her audience listened with grim horror, but also with pride as she told of how they had left the storeroom, pushing the vampires back with makeshift crosses, and how the last battle had been joined.

"Seth didn't care anymore. He didn't care if he lived or died. He just wanted to kill as many as he could. I remember the look on his face as he forced them back. He looked, a little crazy and I knew.. we all knew what was comin'. His entire strategy was pretty much summed up for us when he yelled 'Kill 'em all!"

Buffy, and her friends had seen some awful things in the time they'd been together, but nothing like what Kate was describing, a nest with dozens of vampires, feeding off truckers and bikers. The sheer ferocity of the battle she described would have seemed unreal, but for the sincerity and the remembered pain in Kate's voice.

She told of seeing her father and brother going down under a pile of vampires and turning her gun on them. The entire pile had burned when the water gun her brother used had ruptured, drenching them the vamps in holy water.

Finally, she told of how she and Seth had fought their way out at dawn, back to back.

"I thought I'd seen the last of Seth that day. I returned to the States and tried to settle down again, but I couldn't. I started seeing things, not like I was going crazy, but I noticed things. Patterns where I'd only seen random chaos before. I saw the handiwork of vampires where before there'd only been wild dog attacks or vicious muggings. I had to do something. I armed myself and started looking for them."

"That was a very foolish thing to do alone," Giles pointed out.

"Ah know, but like Seth, I didn't care anymore. Ah just wanted to kill them. I managed to survive the first two vamps by luck more than anything else. Then I met Mike." She looked at her friend who had remained silent throughout the telling of the story. He nodded.

"She rescued me, unfortunately she couldn't save my wife." His eyes misted with remembered pain, but he shoved it down ruthlessly. "Stephie was my world. The only thing I could do after her death to give my life meaning was to take up the fight against the creatures that killed her. It's that way with a lot of us." He nodded to Kate. "We've all lost friends and family to these monsters. We all fight to keep others from suffering the way we have." Willow, Xander, and Oz found themselves nodding. It was a motive they could understand.

"This Seth sounds like a violent character," Giles observed. "How did you meet up with him again?"

"I found out a year after the thing in Mexico that Seth was one of the few survivors of the town where he had gone to hide out. It was attacked by vampires after we burned down the bar. They wanted a new place to hide and gather their forces. Two months after the fight at the Titty Twister the town was attacked. Seth had had time to tell his story though, and to prepare the people there in case of an attack." She smiled as she remembered Seth's tale of the battle.

"Almost 50 vamps attacked and started to slaughter the people there. All of them were hard-core, vicious criminals. Some of them probably deserved to die, but not that way." She shook her head sadly.

"They gave as good as they got though. When the fighting was over at dawn, all of the vamps were dead, but out of 243 people there were only eleven survivors." Giles looked very skeptical.

"This is very strange. Vampires do not behave in the manner you're describing."

"Unless," Buffy put in, "they have a very strong leader. I've never heard though of a master vampire who was able to command so many." Kate nodded.

"Ah don't know what was going on in Mexico, maybe there was a powerful demon runnin' the show. Most Ah've run into since have been solitary hunters or small groups. Ah don't pretend to understand the motives of the ones Ah met in Mexico. In a way it's lucky that those were the first ones we ran into. Everything since has seemed almost easy. Ah've never since run into the kind of ferocity I found in that bunch. I keep expecting to though. Every time we go in expecting the worst."

"Sometimes," Mike put in, "they don't even get a chance to fight back. It's earned us a reputation in the vamp community. They're afraid of us."

"It is not unprecedented," Wesley mused, still a couple of squares behind the rest. "The Master here in Sunnydale had a tremendous following." The rest nodded, willing to accept the explanation.

"Well," Kate picked up the story, getting them back on track again, "they all split up after that. Seth came back to the states and found me. I'd taken to running with a rough crowd, and word got to him. He wanted to join us in killing vampires. It was all that mattered to him anymore. He'd lost his brother and some good friends to them and he wanted revenge." She was silent for a time before continuing.

"Seth is always angry. They only time I remember him not being angry was when he was with his brother. After the vamps killed him he just wanted to kill every one he could find."

"That," Mike said grimly, "is a goal I can get behind."

"And to make it happen we'll need strong, brave people. That's one of the reasons we're here."

"Meaning what?" Buffy asked. Kate got up and started to walk around the library.

"Our people first arrived in Sunnydale three weeks ago. We were drawn here by reports of the Sisterhood of Jhe." At the blank looks, Giles spoke up.

"The apocalypse demons," their faces cleared and heads nodded around the room.

"By the time they got here you had things well in hand and they decided to hold back rather than confusing things by suddenly jumping into the fight." She smiled at them. "We were impressed by the way you handled it."

"Thank you, I'm sure," Giles said, "but what exactly do you want?" It was Mike who answered.

"We're here on a recruiting drive."

"Recruiting?" Buffy sounded incredulous. "As in you want us to join you? That's flattering I'm sure, but Faith and I aren't interested. We're needed here."

"And that would be a problem," Mike said, "if it was you we were interested in." Buffy looked offended at the snub, regardless of the fact she had just turned him down.

"You are needed here," Kate stepped in. "We are interested in one of you though. One person really impressed us that night. Which reminds me," she reached into her jacket and drew out a long knife. "Here Xander." He stared curiously at the knife she held out for a moment.

"Katie," he said finally. The others looked on in confusion as he took the knife.

"Katie?" Kate asked, her tone neutral. She didn't like being called Katie.

"Oh, not you. Katie is what Jack called his knife." He held up the blade. "How did you get it?"

"Mike brought it back with him. The former owner didn't need it anymore. You did feed him to a werewolf."

"What?" Oz looked from Xander to Kate, his expression unreadable.

"I didn't know he was in the closet," Xander protested. He looked at Oz. "Sorry buddy, I thought you'd prefer not to know." Oz nodded, looking more than slightly ill.

"I presume that he would also prefer not to know that O'Toole had been dead for at least a week at the time?" Mike watched the boy's expression carefully. Kate shot him a glare.

"That was cruel."

"Woah, woah, woah," Buffy spoke up. "What are you talking about?"

"Yeah," Oz finally found his voice. "We clearly missed out on some stuff." Every eye in the room turned to Xander.

"Well," he said uncomfortably. "Um, heh, well, you see while all of you were busy stopping the end of the world, I was motoring around with Jack O'Toole and his gang."

"O'Toole?" Codelia looked up. "Didn't he say he was gonna kick your ass?"

"Yeah, then he decided he liked me." Xander shrugged. "What can I say? He was nuts."

"If he decided he liked you I'd say that's a fair diagnosis."

"Shut up Cordelia," Buffy said mildly. "Go on Xander."

"Well, crazy or not he took me with him when he went to gather his gang, from the cemetery."

"Cemetery?" Willow gulped.

"They were all dead," he confirmed. "He did some voodoo thing to raise them. I got away from them as quickly as I could, but I found out before I left that they planned to make a bomb." He stopped as he realized something. "Hey what-?"

"I took care of it," Mike said. "Me and the others cleaned up the bodies you left behind and dismantled the bomb."

"What bomb?" Wesley demanded, feeling left out.

"What about the demons?"

"Took care of them too. They were tough, but a few well placed bullets finished them."

"Hmm," Xander grunted thoughtfully and glanced at Giles. "Why don't we use guns?" Giles blinked owlishly, as if the question had never occurred to him. Xander turned away.

"Well," he picked up the story. "I caught one of them and got him to tell me where the bomb was. Unfortunately there was um, a little accident before he could tell me how to defuse it. Anyway, I got to the school with Jack and his friends hot on my heels. After I um, lost them I went to the boiler room. Jack caught up with me there."

"What happened then?" Willow asked, "and what happened to his gang?"

"Yeah, mm, well.."

"He dropped a vending machine on one and the other was eaten by the demons," Mike supplied. Xander looked queasy at the memory.

"Right. I talked Jack into defusing the bomb, and that was pretty much that." He looked over at Oz. "Really Oz, I didn't know you were locked in there. I didn't mean to ah, you know-" Oz nodded, decidedly green.

"S'okay."

"How did you talk him into defusing the bomb?" Willow wanted to know.

"Um, I just kept him in the room while the bomb got too close to zero for him to get away. When he realized that he'd be blown into little bits he yanked the wires himself." He should have felt proud, but with all of his friends looking on, he just felt embarrassed.

"You handled yourself very well," Mike said. "You showed no fear and you saved a lot of lives. If that bomb had gone off while they were trying to close the hellmouth there would have been nothing left to stop the demons from coming out." The others looked at Xander with a mixture of expressions. Willow was beaming with pride. Giles smiled and nodded encouragingly, a rare sign of respect. Wesley looked lost. Cordelia looked as if she didn't believe a word of it. Buffy and Faith were hard to read, apparently not sure how to take the news.

"That’s why we came to offer you a place with us," Mike put in. "You've more than proven your worth. You handle yourself well and you keep a cool head in a crisis. You'd make a fine addition to our hunting party."

"You passed your audition last night with flying colors." Kate smiled at him.

"Audition? Is that what that was? We both could have been killed!"

"My men were close by. They could have intervened if we had needed the help. We didn't need them though. Think about it Xander. You saw the threat, you devised the plan, and you implemented it without a hitch. Fourteen vampires in one night, including their leader."

"Xander killed Drusilla?" Willow's eyes went wide. "I hope Spike never finds out about that."

"Gee Will, thanks for reminding me. Y'know I had almost let that slip my mind."

"Don't worry about Spike," Kate said reassuringly. "If he shows up, we'll deal with him together. There are advantages to hanging out with a group of professional soldiers who are armed to the teeth."

"I suppose there are," he said brightening a bit.

"Does that mean you're accepting their offer?" Buffy asked. "You gonna leave us?" Xander's cheerful demeanor vanished. He began thinking seriously.

"I don't know," he said finally. "Leave Sunnydale and you guys?" He turned to Kate, thinking about what she was offering. "I'll have to think about it." She nodded.

"Ah understand. We'll be in town for a while. Lot of vamps here to kill." She put a hand on his shoulder. "Take whatever time you need." She nodded to Mike. "Come on. There's work to do." Both left the library through the stacks. Once they were gone everyone turned to Xander, but no one could think of anything to say. There was quiet for a long time.

THE END

The End

You have reached the end of "Zeppo?". This story is complete.

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