TITLE: Watcher's Burden
AUTHOR: Greg Downing
DISCLAIMER: Some characters belong to Mutant Enemy. Some characters and all dialogue from "Persona" belongs to Jet Wolf.
SETTING: Set after "Coming Home", with references to events occuring in and around "Persona". Semi-sequel to my previous fanfic, "The Forest for the Trees".
SUMMARY: Xander meets Xylia for drinks and soul searching.
by Greg Downing
"I'm not sure I can do this."
"Are you afraid?"
A pause. "Maybe a little."
"Is it just because it's something you've never tried before?"
"No... there's a little more to it than that. It looks like it would be... icky."
"Look, if you just give it a chance, I promise you'll really enjoy it. Just put your mouth down and give a little suck. If you don't like the taste, you can always stop."
Another pause. "All right... I'll give it a try."
With that, Xylia leaned her head down, and put her mouth to the straw. Taking a tentative sip, her eyes suddenly widened, and her head jerked back in response.
Xander looked at the dryad in dismay. "Did it really taste that bad?"
Xylia slowly shook her head 'no'. "It was just... unexpectedly cold." Slowly, she leaned back down and took another, slower, but longer sip from the straw. Xander found himself smiling as he watched the astonishment build on her face. Finally she lifted her head again, looking at Xander in wonder. "This is good. Really good. What did you say this was again?"
Xander laughed in delight, getting some stares from the other patrons of the Ben and Jerry's Scoop Shoppe. "That is a Strawberry Lemonade Smoothie. Just a little fruit sorbet, some fresh lemon juice, and crushed ice," he proclaimed. "I actually handpicked this for you. All completely natural ingredients - as BJ's is known for - and made by a business that not only leads by example in terms of environment friendly business practices, but uses it's profits specifically to contribute to such causes. For an all-natural girl like yourself, there's no downside." He tilts his head. "I'm still surprised that in all this time, you've never tried human food."
The dryad's eyes twinkled. "Oh, because what you eat on a daily basis look oh-so appetizing?" she shot back playfully.
Xander mock growled. "What did I say about speaking ill of the Mighty Pizza?" Inside, Xander marveled at this phenomenon; how he sat here joking with a woman that - the first time they met - had called him a murderer. He'd sooner have thought that he'd become best buddies with Spike. And this was taking into account that Spike was currently a pile of ash.
Progress had been made, of course, when Xander's actions had saved the lives of Xylia and her sister nyfeds - a term referring to young dryads - from death or slavery at the hands of a company called Terradyne Inc. But, even after Xylia had promised a boon in exchange for his kindness and sacrifice, Xander had thought it unlikely that he'd ever see the dryad again. As it turned out, however, they kept happening to run into each other over the course of the next few months. It started as just hellos, inquiring after each other. As the impromptu meetings continued, simple hellos on the street turned into sitting down and talking a little more thoroughly about what each was up to, and on occasion, they would actually go into a café or other eatery, where Xander would get a snack, or lunch, and Xylia would marvel at how he could subsist on such junk food. On this occasion, Xander had actually convinced her to try human food. From the way she went at the smoothie, it seemed to agree with her.
"Whoa, whoa... not too fast," Xander warned, as Xylia had been slurping at the straw for the better part of a minute. "If you're not careful, you'll get brain freeze."
Xylia lifted her lips from the straw, licking the dregs of the sorbet from her lips as she looked at him quizzically, "Brain freeze?" Her question was answered seconds later, her eyes going wide and her hand going to her head, "Oh.... owww..."
Xander tsked. "Sorry, I should have been a little quicker with that warning... don't talk, just rest a second. It'll go away in a minute." Xylia gritted her teeth and did as directed, finally breathing a sigh of relief as the ache faded.
"I thought you said there was 'no downside'," Xylia accused, but only lightly.
Xander spread his hands. "Life is no fun without a little risk, and brain freeze is the risk to enjoy sweetened frozen goodness," he chuckled. "And to answer your earlier question...I guess I assumed that since you had cookies available at the rally we had crashed that first time, that you could eat regular human food. Or had at least tried it."
"The cookies were made by our human allies, and primarily as a draw for new recruits," Xylia explained. "Also... we do not get 'hungry' the way you do, even in our human-like bodies. There is no urge to try human nourishment, especially considering the fact that we were worried about contaminating our bodies with human-made chemicals." She then looked worriedly at the smoothie cup she'd drank nearly half of by now. "You're sure there's none of that in here?"
"It's kinda a big selling point with them, so, yeah." Xander assured her. "And things like fruit and cane sugar and juice and water... that should be safe, right? I mean, even trees need water, and fruit comes from trees and sugar is harvested from a growing plant."
Xylia seemed heartened by his words. "Good, because I can see this sort of thing becoming addictive to my sisters," she commented with a smile, casually laying a hand on his. "Thank you for convincing me to try it."
Xander suddenly flushed, and pulled his hand away. At least, that was the plan. His hand muscles didn't seem to want to cooperate. "So, how are we doing? Still fighting the good fight?" he finally said, clearing his throat.
Xylia nodded. "I think we're gaining momentum. Our ranks have swelled, and your idea about getting a website was a good one. Please, give my thanks again to Willow for helping us get set up with that."
Xander grinned in response, his embarrassment forgotten. "Oh, I think you'll find Will to be very helpful in anything that doesn't involve turning people into trees," he replied.
The dryad's eyes opened wide then. "But you humans make such lovely trees!" she mock gushed, and then giggled. Their relationship had at least gotten to the point where they were able to look back on the events of the previous year with amusement, rather than any amount of discomfort. "And you?" Xylia queried a moment later, taking another sip of smoothie. "You must be very busy... digging through all those books, leading your warrior women into battle. Has that been going well?"
Xander's good humor quickly evaporated. "Actually... I'm no longer a Watcher."
The dryad's eyes opened wide once more. "What? Why?" she demanded. "I mean... it's only been a week since we talked, and you seemed quite happy with what you were doing. Far happier than you'd been since you started. You spoke all glowingly about your young protégé," Chrissie. What happened? You didn't get fired, did you?" she added, the questions tumbling out, one atop the other.
Xander shook his head. "No, not that... it's a little complex."
The young woman looked at her companion with a hint of imperiousness. "Well, I've got the time...and if you're no longer employed, so do you. So spill," Xylia half-ordered.
Xander blinked, and then leaned back with a chuckle. "Why not..."
Being a Watcher is all about two things: details and questions.
That's the first thing Giles told me back when he first started training me. 'Everything else is just peripheral; useful skills and resources that supplement that core precept.' he said. 'Anyone can collect a library of occult lore or demonology, or learn how to use a crossbow, or become a teacher or a tactician. A Watcher is someone who has trained himself how to do one thing better than anything else, consistently and instinctively: notice details, and then ask questions about those details. It is through this that you serve the Slayer best, by seeing what she cannot in the heat of battle, or by drawing it out of her through proper debriefing. Asking the right questions, so that you can seek the answers, fill in the blanks, and send her out better prepared as a result.'
It was this that he drilled me on, over and over, during my training in the summer. You know that, of course; I remember complaining about it to you. But I have to admit, he knew what he was doing. Sure, being a Scooby for the last eight years made some impact, encouraging me to see what others won't, to ask the questions others were too afraid to ask. But that was just self-defense, a response that came from hard-won experience. If I was going to be a Watcher, it needed to be second nature, something I did without even thinking about it.
I seemed to be making good progress, according to Giles. When he's in teaching mode, he doesn't hand out praise that easily. I remember more than one instance back in high school where I cringed beneath the weight of his irritation, because I didn't understand what he was saying, or because I did something boneheaded. And to be honest, I still, on occasion do boneheaded things that bring the weight of Giles's towering frustration down on me. But in this, more than anything else, it was important that I got it right. So I stuck with it. And wouldn't you know it, I got good at it.
Working with the Slayers, they seemed to respond to me. Oh sure, there were some that were disdainful, but they tended to be like that with most other people, not just me, or Watchers exclusively. Mostly, the response was positive, and that was a big ego boost, let me tell you. Maybe it was that I was closer to their own age... or maybe it's just because, unlike most of the other Watchers, I didn't have a pole stuck up my ass.
Things progressed to the point where I was actually taking Slayers out on my own: on fact finding missions, or patrols, or rescue parties. And it was while I was chaperoning one such group that this whole mess started. A couple of mostly benign demons had passed on a bit of intel that there was a new group setting up shop on the edge of town. No talk of exactly what they were, ergo, me and my girls were sent in to do recon. As it turned out, it was a fruitless run. There was plenty of evidence that they had been there, but sustained waiting and searching gave no additional information. So we left. Little did we know, the excitement was yet to come...
It was close to midnight on their way back. With the Slayers generally unsatisfied by the way their mission had turned out, Xander suggested they run a quick sweep through what passed for Trillium's industrial area; just like most others, it was often considered a haven for vampires and demons. Very little of it saw any use anymore, and therefore there were several old factories and warehouses that stood empty. Perfect nesting grounds.
Xander was going over his notes when one of the Slayers, a punkish black girl with her hair tied back in thick locks, smirked at him. "You want I should carry that clipboard for you? Don't want you to strain your back with all that heavy lifting there, Long John Silver," she drawled, giving him a sock to the shoulder. It was, perhaps, well meaning, but even a light punch by a Slayer was enough to make him wince.
Sandra Washington. Age: 18. Status: Field Ready - Novice. Sandra is a scrapper, preferring a brawling style of attack over any formal combat art or weapon specialization. Useful in frontal assaults, she lack the patience to properly carry out more stealthy operations. Recommend further team tactics training.
Before Xander could reply to Sandra's comment, however, the black girl was suddenly shoved to one side by a willowy blonde, her eyes set angrily. "What is your problem?" Sonja demanded. "You act like his injury is some kind of joke. Xander's worth ten of you. He's risked death for seven years, with no Slayer strength, and saved more lives than you can count. Show some frigging respect."
Sonja von Bahr. Age: 19. Status: Field Ready - Intermediate (see below for further details) Although, at first, Sonja seemed more interested in pursuing the knowledge aspects of being a Slayer, gentle nudging has successfully encouraged her to improve her combat effectiveness. Overall fighting style appears to be more defensive; have counselor inquire on this tendency. Preferred martial art: Jujitsu. PS - Inquire with Giles about the possibility of a Slayer training to be a Watcher.
Sandra's eyes narrowed, and she shoved Sonja back. "Back off, blondy. Sheesh, talk about over-reacting... I was just ribbing the guy. He knows I didn't mean anything by it."
"Then stop making fun of his eyepatch!" Sonja retorted, her expression seeming to suggest she was spoiling for a fight as she raised her fists.
Xander chose then to intervene, holding out hands protectively to separate the two. "Whoa, whoa, chill, ladies," Xander smiled. "While I appreciate the concern for my feelings, I'd point out that I'm kind of okay about the eye at this point. Hell, I make fun of the damn thing; why should I have all the fun."
"You do look a little like a pirate. A nice pirate," Xue murmured after a moment, the hint of a smile forming at her lips. Her calm response seemed to encourage the two belligerent girls to lower their guard a little.
Xue Ling Zhang. Age:18. Status: Field Ready - Advanced. Part of her status comes from the fact that she was an experienced practitioner of various styles of Wushu prior to becoming a Slayer, which has only enhanced her natural abilities. One of the more capable Juniors in the field, but tends to shy away from taking an active role in leadership, in spite of a natural talent in that area. Under consideration for teaching weapons classes. Favorite weapon(s): Broadsword, Spear.
"Arrrrr!" Xander responded, lifting one hand and curling his forefinger, as if pretending it was a hook. "Ye lasses better behave, Or I'll be sending you to Davy Jones's Locker, and you don't want that!" he crowed, as overdramatically as he could manage, which sent the other girls giggling for the most part, and further dispelled the tension.
"What is Davy Jones's Locker?" Xue inquired after a moment, looking quizzical.
The young Watcher grinned at his questioner. "Oh... Davy Jones was this kid at Sunnydale High that kept, his sweaty gym clothes in his locker for weeks on end! The smell was so bad, the principal would use it as a punishment device!" he replied ingenuously.
This caused more laughter, save from one member of the group who rolled her eyes and sighed in annoyance. Dressed mostly in black, including a leather jacket and matching boots, silk shirt and pleated skirt, the only color to offset it all were the fingerless, semi-translucent gloves she wore, seemingly done up in a design that resembled roses dripping blood on a back background. A plethora of piercings were obvious, her nose, eyebrows, ears, and tongue decorated with various sliver jewelry. Crowning this ensemble was a large silver cross around her neck, which was distinctive in that the bottom ended in a wicked looking stiletto point. "That's not true." She finally said, grudgingly, as if she'd rather not talk at all.
Raven (Birth Name: Angela Weicz). Age:17. Status: Field Ready - Novice. Antisocial to a fault, being a Slayer is one of the few things that drives her. A lack of interest in team coordination has held her back in ranking despite her skill, particularly with operations requiring stealth. She also is exceptionally accurate with most thrown weapons. Consult with her counselor on the best way to proceed with her training. Favored Weapon: Stiletto.
"Sure it is!" Xander replied, putting on an air of mock-indignance. "I'd show you the evidence, but unfortunately, this fellow calling himself the First Evil turned the high school and pretty much the entire town into a large pock-mark.
"The First Evil?" Sandra replies skeptically. "Can you get any more pretentious?"
Xander shrugged. "Well, it's not like we could check its credentials... but considering what it was capable of, what it did, it might very well have been. Besides, I'd be horribly embarrassed if I lost binocular vision to someone only claiming to be the First Evil."
"That sounds like it would be a Scooby Doo thing," Sonja commented. "Now let's see who it really is!" she added, putting her hands on her hips dramatically, and then making a motion like was tearing off a mask. "Oh my, it's not the First Evil! It's the Twenty-Second Moderately Vile!"
There proceeded another round of laughter then, but Xander's attention was on something else. Stepping up to the girl leading the way - a wavy haired brunette with sharp eyes carrying a double bladed axe - he put a hand on her shoulder. "Is something wrong?" he queried in a undertone.
Veronika Dekanozov. Age:23. Status: Field Ready - Intermediate. Excellent team player and with growing tactical skills, she shows definite leadership potentials. Also seems to have an uncanny ability to sense danger (see Dekanozov Test files) that surpasses even the normal Slayer heightened awareness and sense acuity. Unfortunately, she always takes point as a result, often springing ambushes heedless of her own life. Favored Weapon: Double-Headed Axe.
"I'm not sure." The girl replied in a heavy Russian accent. "I feel as if we are being watched..." And barely a breath later, Veronika shoved Xander back towards the others, and brought her impressive axe to bear, blocking the downward blow of a crude club. All at once, the small party was surrounded by a group of what could only be vampires, judging by the bumpy faces and the fanged hissing. "Defend yourselves, tovarisches!" the axe-wielding Slayer called out, pushing her assailant back...
And that's when things got hairy.
I'm not saying I was super worried. We were only outnumbered about two-to-one, and when your group is made up of ninety percent Slayers, that's not exactly a big hardship. Part of the difficulty, though was the fact that they were circling the wagons around me.
I'm not exactly used to the idea of being protected. I know it's how they tend to do it these days with the other Watchers in combat situations: engage the enemy, but insure the safety of non-combatants. Remove them from the field of combat, or if that's not possible, then at least create a buffer zone between them and the baddies by putting yourself in the way. Thing is, I'm not your average Watcher. A year ago, before Willow did her witchy hoodoo with the Scythe, I'd be right in there with a stake, giving my all. Maybe I don't have training, but for all that, I've dusted my own share of vamps, even unassisted. Experience counts for something, after all. But this wasn't the group I'd fought with either. It didn't even include any of the original Potentials back during the whole mess with the First Evil. They didn't know any better, so they fell back on training.
At first, I was okay with this, just enjoying watching the girls work. But then Sandra was being hard pressed, with three vamps coming at her at once, the other two trying to flank her. And I just reacted instinctively. Another thing experience has taught me is to never go out without a stake, even if you don't think you'll get into a combat situation. And being as the vamps were entirely concentrating on Sandra, I got a certain satisfaction when one of the vampires looked at me incredulously just before he turned to dust, thanks to me and said trusty stake. It was almost worth the punch I received a few seconds later that caught me in the gut.
It didn't last long after that. I didn't get another kill in, sadly, because, with half their number already making dustbunnies on the ground, they decided a few moments later to beat a retreat. Raven took out one at range, and the other girls gave chase, but amazingly enough, they managed to get away.
In point of fact, in retrospect there was a lot odd about this crew. One thing was obvious was the fact that they were dressed up in what appeared to be uniforms. Like a goddamned Vampire SS squad or something. No obvious insignia, but the clothing did all look the same at least. In addition, from what I could tell these vamps actually knew what they were doing. A lot of times, vamps depend on their natural abilities, numbers, and brute strength to get what they want. But I'd had a chance to get a good insight into group tactics, watching the girls work and even drilling them on some of the same. So it was clear that these vamps were attempting to use some familiar techniques against my squad.
That, unfortunately, was not enough for Giles.
Xander stared at list he was just given. It contained several topics, and suggested books to look at in regards to those topics. And the list, from how it was several pages thick and stapled, appeared to Xander to be enough books to fill the old Sunnydale library. Seconds before, this was given to him by his new boss, one Rupert Giles, who was currently sitting behind his desk and looking decidedly irritated. According to him, this research assignment was not so much an assignment as 'punishment'. And Xander was completely bemused as to why.
"Now wait. I know there must be a misunderstanding. Because the way I hear it, you'd be making that cluck-cluck noise with your tongue if you were really angry," Xander suggested, trying to make a joke.
Giles glared at him stonily. Xander gave up at that point, and tried another tack. "Okay, let me get to the guts of it then: why are you angry?"
Giles tapped the paper on his desk. "Your report..."
Xander threw up his hands. "What wrong? I typed it this time, because I know you hate my scrawl. Did I not double space it? Or... it can't be my spelling, because I know I remembered..."
"...to not interrupt your employer when he's talking?" Giles interjected acidly.
Xander trailed off, and nodded grudgingly. Sure that his point had been made, the Head Watcher went on. "Your report was well enough as far as it went. Your eye for detail has improved greatly, and your insights into your charges have been most useful. My issue was not what was in it, but rather, what was not."
Xander looked puzzled. "Okay, so... clue me in. What wasn't in my report?"
"I don't know."
Xander blinked, as if not sure that he heard right. "You don't know," he said tonelessly.
Xander made a little gesture with his finger. "You know I have the greatest respect for your years of learning and scholastic excellence, Giles, so I'm sure you'll understand when I ask: what the hell kind of logic is that? How can you know something is missing from my report if you don't know what it is?"
Giles, responding to Xander's belligerence, stood and countered with only further coldness of his own. "I know because the report does state that you engaged the vampires, and that is the one thing that you are not supposed to do."
Xander stared at Giles. "Excuse me? I'm being punished because I was trying to break up a tag team against Sandra? Why?!" he demanded.
This appeared to be the wrong question, as Giles stood then, his irritation flaring into anger. "Because that is not your function, Xander! Your job is to record, not do!" the elder Watcher began. "That is at the heart of everything I'd been trying to teach you. All the mnemonic tools, the advice on what to watch for, the drilling sessions...none of that means anything if you don't put yourself in the proper position to apply them!" Xander started to respond, but Giles waved him to silence, circling around his desk. "The Slayers are the fists, the warriors. But you are something much more important. You are the eyes, the recorder, the mind, making things possible that mere blunt force trauma can not accomplish. In picking up a weapon, however, you render yourself useless. By engaging your opponent, Xander, you cannot properly observe them. They may have provided some vital insight as to their nature and purpose!"
Xander felt his own temper flaring. "You know, it's not as if the second the vamps attacked, my brains dribbled out of my ears. I didn't just write 'ambushed by some bloodsuckers, going to help, tralala', and then go right for the stake. Looking at them for a minute or so, their purpose was pretty straightforward: growl, attack, kill. The same as it is with most vamps. It's not as if they were chanting some latin litany that it was critical to take down word for word, or Trillium would explode." He replied, trying to squash his anger. "Sandra was being flanked, and it was my call that helping her was more important than getting the shoe size of our attackers."
Giles sighed then, though he looked no less irritated. "Don't be stupid, Xander. Your own words belie the fact that this was nothing but a normal vampire attack. Uniformed combatants? Advanced tactics? These are not trivial things, and as a result, you should have done everything you could to glean the last possible detail. Moreover, you were not alone with Sandra. You had four other Slayers at your beck and call: if you were concerned for one of them, then you direct another to help. That's the way it works. You leave the fighting to the skilled, and you concentrate on your duty."
Xander started to reply again, but Giles interrupted him again, "I know that your experience tends to lie in taking up arms, Xander, but if you're serious about being a Watcher, then you have to learn how to live by new rules." He said curtly, with a note of finality in his words. "Now, I expect a goodly amount of research on those titles I've given you by noon tomorrow. Try not to drool on the books if you fall asleep...as you usually do," he added, picking up a pen and writing something, his actions clearly a dismissal.
Xander shrugged then, looking at the dregs of his drink. "What could I do? I went and did the work he requested. And part of me was almost thinking he was right, at the time. I mean...part of the reason I wanted to be a Watcher in the first place was because I wanted to feel part of the group again. In the old days, it was just me, Buff, and Will. And well, Tara, and for a while Oz, and... other people, sure. But what it came down to was the Buff was the super-powered one, and being only one person, all of us were still needed to fight, sometimes. Now that's not true any more. We've got dozens, hundreds of Slayers as a fighting force, and somewhere along the line, the monsters became too much for lil' old me to fight. I was getting nudged into the background. So... maybe this was the way to be. A Watcher. Part of the whole, just... not on the front lines."
Xylia nodded. "Sounds reasonable enough to me."
Xander chuckled wryly. "Yeah. Reasonable. That's me. So, research. That wasn't too bad, although I didn't really feel like I got anywhere with it. Not for lack of trying, mind you. Research has never been my favorite activity, but I was giving it my all. Sonja even stopped by, and wanted to help; I swear when she saw all the books I had out, she wriggled like a puppy. She's cute when she's geeking out over books."
The nyfed smiled, her eyes warm. "She likes you, you know," she teased lightly.
Xander grinned. "Yeah, well, getting asked out was my first clue. But we're just friends now."
"Mmmm." Xylia commented noncommittally, sipping at a last little bit of smoothie.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. Just seems... well, you run into her an awful lot." Xylia explained, tangling a bit of auburn hair around her finger. "And what you've said about her makes me wonder."
Xander rolled his eyes. "Oh come on... what would you know about boy-girl stuff anyway. You reproduce by dropping nuts."
Xylia's brow knit. "Just because we're not human, doesn't mean we don't know about humans. We've watched you for a while... read your books, observed the people, even watched TV. It's not impossible to pick up those sorts of things. It's not like we're stupid." She chastised him, slapping his bicep. To which Xander grimaced. "What is it with women hitting me all the time..." When it looked like Xylia might smack him again, he held up his hands peaceably. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry. Still, you don't get those kinds of feelings, right?"
When Xylia didn't answer right away, Xander's eyebrows shot up. "Right?" he asked again.
The young dryad waved a hand dismissively, then. "We're getting off the subject," she asserted. "So, you were studying..."
Xander gave Xylia a funny look, and nodded. "Yeah, late into the night...Buffy and Willow woke me up in the morning, and to them I told my sorry tale. I brought what I had to Giles, and while he wasn't entirely pleased, he at least agreed that I'd done my best: I'd gone through a lot of books that night. So, at least I'm out of the dog house... more or less. I still have my regular duties, including seeing to Chrissie's training..."
"How's that going?" Xylia interrupted, smiling. "She sounds adorable from what you've said about her."
Xander grinned like a proud poppa. "She's the best, really. I mean, it's not like she does everything I say. There's a little spunk in her, and an impish streak a mile wide. But I actually feel like a Watcher when I'm with her. She looks up to me, she's attentive, eager...she's really easy to work with. I mean, maybe Giles assigned her to me because she's one of the younger ones, but...I wouldn't trade her for gold. Not even an ultra-mint copy of X-Men #1."
Xylia looked at him quizzically. "I take it back when I said I understood humans."
Xander laughed. "Well, anyway, it was the following night that Giles decided to give me a second chance at the whole 'field assignment' thing," he continued, his expression turning serious again. "There were some unknown class of demons terrorizing a diner. Taking folks hostage... I was supposed to take a group to do a smash and grab: grab the innocents and smash the bad guys. Well, the girls smash the badguys, anyway. Me watch, take notes, no touch."
Xylia nodded. "And?" she prompted.
Xander's one eye glinted with renewed sadness. "Bad things happened."
The creatures, on the whole, appear to be smarter than they appear. Xander was writing on the pad attached to his clipboard, attempting to remain calm and clinical as the battle raged. Initially, the group appeared to be mindless or instinctual: it wasn't even clear they were communicating, as they never responded to any commentary made by the attacking Slayers. But it appears they are capable of coordinated attacks, as well as sound judgement calls: they had herded their captives all into one area away from any exits or windows, making it more difficult to get them out of harm's way in the first assault.
It was going well for the home team: Lynn was taking point, and doing a good job of countering the enemy's attacks by responding with her own tactical commands to the other Slayers. Due to the unknown nature of their enemies, when he'd assembled his team back at Slayer Central, Xander had opted for some more experienced Slayers to comprise the bulk of his team. Lynn, of course, was at the top of the list, already in line for taking teams out on her own. In addition, he brought in five others of advanced rank, including Xue, and four intermediates. There had been five of the beasts sighted, and with no clue as to their powers or capabilities, Xander decided that he wanted girls with various skills to bring to the table, as it wasn't clear what they'd need. Plus, if you had numbers on the enemy, it was always a good strategy to bring at least twice as much force to bear, if you could.
He'd been reluctant to include Sonja initially, but her style of fighting was appearing to be very effective against the demons. It didn't take much observing to determine very early in the fight that the brutes seemed to be one hundred percent muscle, and one hundred percent ugly on top of that. Their strength seemed to be comparable or superior to the Slayers, therefore going toe-to-toe didn't always have the intended result. Sonja's fighting style, however, involves a great deal of using their opponents own weight, momentum, and strength against them. Against one using jujitsu, strength was removed as an advantage. In light of Sonja von Bahr's success against these creatures, it should be considered to include judo as a primary fighting style. Even though the Slayers have strength comparable to most demons, there has been more than one instance where the enemy's strength is superior, most recently in regards to the Super Slayers. He continued to write, dodging a diner stool flung his way.
Two of the beasts was already dead, one with torso impaled right through with one of the other stools, and another with its head crushed under a stove. Melanie and Lynn were double-teaming one of the remaining brutes. Sonja was trying to wrist lock another with Brig's help, while Katie recovered from having the wind knocked out of her, and Natalie and Joanna were attacking a third with axe and sword, the monster already bleeding black ichor from what seemed a thousand places already. Adrienne, meanwhile, was trying to find something to use as a weapon, frustrated by her inability to knock the monster on his back with just her fists. The demons did not appear, after all, to be well armored, just able to take a lot of punishment. Meanwhile, all eight of the people in the diner were safely outside: Xue and Denise he'd sent outside to guard them, and the only way into the diner, the front door, had already been barricaded from the inside by the monsters. Yet another sign of their intelligence. Denise, he'd decided early on was going to be less effective in this situation: her specialty was ranged weapons, and considering the cramped space they were working with, and the resilient nature of the monsters... Xue, of course, he'd send out so that Denise would have a more experienced companion to watch her back.
"Golly. You'd think I was a real Watcher. With all these big thoughts I'm thinking, I could be another Lincoln." Xander muttered to himself. "Joanna, careful, don't turn your back on the fugly to your right!" he called out a second later, and looked pleased as Lynn moved to cover the gap the monster was trying to exploit.
There was a cry of alarm outside then, and, Xander blinked, looking around, and a loud battle roar came from the direction of the back door. His first instinct was to rush right out, but he kept himself in check. Watch, not do. he thought to himself, even as he called out. "Lynn, stop dancing with these guys... it sounds like we've got more playmates outside." He called out, turning back to look at the lead Slayer's progress.
Lynn was wielding a butcher knife, having lost her weapon out the window, and was bobbing and weaving as the beast swiped at her, grunting breathily. "Oh by all means, feel free to cut in at any time." She growled. Xander shook his head, making another notation. The monsters may not have stamina to match the Slayers... after a good fifteen minutes of fighting, they are already moving markedly slower than before, even for bulky demons such as these. It may have something to do with their breathing... they closely resemble a leaky bellows at this juncture. "Thanks but no... your partner looks like the jealous type." He replied loudly.
It was then that Lynn made her move...she drove the knife forward in her grip, and it pierced the demon's abdomen with a sickeningly wet sound, Blood spurted, and Lynn pulled her arm back reflexively, to protect herself from the liquid assault. "Hey, boss-boy! I think these guys hearts are in their stomachs, not their chests!" Lynn shouted.
"Good work!" Xander called back. "Everyone else hear that? Make me proud, ladies..."
The air was then rocked by a blood curling scream. It gave even the Slayers pause, which was long enough for the remaining two monsters to barrel across the diner and crash through the side windows. "Brig, Katie, Nat, after them! Everyone else with me!" Xander barked, suddenly feeling this weakness in his solarplexus as he dashed towards the back door. The sight that greeted them was more horrifying than the scream that had preceeded it.
Denise was laying on the ground clutching her shoulder...or what was left of it. Her arm was hanging limp, torn flesh around the shoulder as it seemed the demon had tried to wrench her arm not just from her socket but from her entire body. Blood was everywhere, and Denise was whimpering in abject pain. To one side, Xue was attacking another monster like the others, tears flying from her face as she assaulted the bruiser with a fury that shocked them all. But before any could rush to her aid, Xue drew her hand back - a set, focused look crossing her face - and drove forward in a blow that actually caved in the monster's stomach. Not since Buffy had taken down Adam had Xander seen such a blow: a quick wrench, and she came out not with a glowing green power source, but a mass of blood, guts, and muscle that could have been the beast's heart. The demon looked down, and collapsed to his knees, and then onto his back.
A whimper from Denise brought them back to reality. "Oh god... Denise, it's going to be, okay, I promise..." he groaned, going to his knees beside her. But before he could panic, experience tugged at this mind, and he became as businesslike as he could managed. "Mel, get me something to bind her shoulder, something thick, towels, whatever you can find. Sonja, call 911...she needs an ambulance." As Xue drew near then, her face stricken, Xander cast a steely gaze towards her. "I've got three Slayers in pursuit of the last two, into the woods. Go after them and put them down." He ordered in a deadly whisper. Xue's eyes widened, and then nodded curtly, breaking into a dash.
"It's okay, Denise, we're here... you're going to be okay..." Xander tried to sooth the young Slayer, she unable to make words through the pain, working to staunch the bleeding with only his bare hands. "Where's those towels?..." he demanded plaintively...
"By the Earthmother." Xylia whispered. "Is she... I mean... did she survive?"
Xander nodded slowly. "It looked bad, but she still made it... we're still waiting to find out if her arm can be saved, though. Pulling out all the stops," he murmured. "Even Slayer regenerative abilities have their limits."
"And you blamed yourself." Xylia added, breaking the silence when no immediate response seemed to be coming from Xander.
"I did. I do. They didn't need me. Lynn would have discovered what she did on her own, without help from me. If I'd reacted when I first heard the attack, I might have stopped it... distracted it before it could get a solid grip on her." Xander murmured. "But it was more than that. I blamed Giles, for insisting that I stay where I was. I hated him more when I confronted him, and he just seemed so... cold about it. I felt like I didn't know him any more, that maybe I never did if he was capable of that kind of... I don't know... cutthroat practicality. It makes me understand why the original Watcher's Council might have gone as awry as it did." He trailed off then, looking thoughtful.
It was Xylia that once again ended the silence. "But?"
Xander's face with the picture of confusion. "But what?"
Xylia smiled gently. "You have this look like you're about to say 'but'."
Xander rolled his eyes. "Oh no, protect me from the evil But Face!" Xylia laughed in response, which only caused his lips to curl up, threatening a smile of his own. "No, you're not wrong." He finally admitted. "Even as I hated him for his words, for his willingness to sacrifice Denise for the greater good...I found myself remembering that this was not exactly a first for him."
Xander paused again, and this time the dryad did not speak, instead quietly watching Xander's face as he stirred the straw around in his now empty mug, patiently waiting. "A couple years back, there was... well, an apocalypse looming. Like there always seems to be." Xylia's eyebrows raised, but she did not respond other than that, waiting for him to get to it in his own time. "The thing was, fixing it could have been easy. All it required was a single death. And technically, we weren't actually killing anything. She... she wasn't even really a person. She was a thing, a concept, a ball of energy made flesh. But... but she was also Buffy's sister. And it didn't matter what we knew to be true: that she wasn't real. She was real to us. She was real to Buffy. We had memories of her being there, of fun times and bad times...watching her grow up. And those memories were no less real to any of us in spite of the fact that they had been fabricated by the ones that made her."
When Xylia tilted her head quizzically, Xander smiled. "It may be a little confusing, but there is a point taxiing the runway here. What I'm trying to say is that...when it came down to it, we could have stopped the apocalypse just by denying those memories and killing her. But none of us could say it, could suggest it...no one except Giles. He was the one that went toe to toe with Buffy, insisting that she had to consider killing Dawn, because if she didn't... all of humanity would suffer. Hell on Earth. He gave voice to what we all thought, and never said. But the thing was... I don't think that meant that Dawn was less real to him. He loved Buffy as much as the rest of us, but he had the balls to say what needed to be said. He was willing, had to be willing, to sacrifice one person for the good of all."
Xander looked out then, onto the park across the street. It didn't seem as if he was looking at the park specifically, but rather as if it resonated with him on some other level. "And then it occurred to me... that's what he's done all his life. That's what the Watchers did... what they do. Point the Slayers into danger, to save lives. But because it always came down to that one girl to stave off apocalypse, they had to be willing to ultimately sacrifice their charges to do what needed to be done. Sure it's different now, because there's so many. But it doesn't change the overall mentality. It was even more obvious a year or ago, when we were all stressing to the breaking point, fighting against the First Evil. So... this idea, this mindset, it was always a part of him. And perhaps it needs to be. Maybe Watchers need to be that way, to make the hard choices, because no one else can."
Feeling a light touch, Xander turned back to see that Xylia had put her hand atop his. "And this is why you stopped? Because you couldn't be that way?"
Xander looked into her eyes, mute as he remembered...
"Why do you think I asked to become a Watcher?"
The monsters were everywhere. More of the same from the previous night, only in large numbers. Dozens, seeming to come in an unending tide And meanwhile, Xander only had his small ten woman group from the night previous, with Veronika having taken the place of the fallen Denise.
The initial sighting was small, only two or three of the demons they had faced had been sighted. Under the circumstances, Xander thought he had more than enough womanpower to face off against the beasts. Plus, they had the added benefit of having already fought these type of demons: they knew their weaknesses, the best ways to take them down. But as it turned out, the demons had the superior numbers this time, climbing out of the tear in the earth in seeming unending supply.
And there Xander stood atop a large grassy knoll, trying to get a higher view of the conflict, of his brave girls standing against the tide of muscled monsters. In his hand he held a broadsword, his fist tight around the hilt. Watching only, and shouting commands to his girls, warning them of dangers. And yet that seemed it would not be enough. Every killing blow one Slayer or another landed, a replacement rose from the yawning pit.
"I need to be stronger. Tougher. More detached."
Xander gritted his teeth, and dug in a pocket with his left hand, gripping a cell phone as he ripped his hand free. His thumb found the speed dial, and he put the phone to his ear. "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon..."
When the person on the other end picked up, Xander barked, "We need backup, and lots of it." He paused only momentarily to listen to the question. "Hutchinson Park," he responded without missing a beat. "Those demon things from-" He lowered the phone distracted, by something more urgent. "Lynn! Help Melanie!" he called out, as he watched Mel struggling in one of the monsters' grip.
As he watched Lynn respond to his order, he returned the phone to his ear. "-from yesterday. They had so much fun, they brought friends." He paused, holding his breath till he saw Lynn stagger the demon holding Melanie captive with a vicious haymaker. "I don't wanna rush you? But hurry."
"I know about death and sacrifice, Giles. I learned that the hard way at sixteen."
One minute passed. And then another. His band continued to hold the line, but signs of wear were showing as the monsters brought the full weight of their numbers against the Slayers. Xander allowed himself only a fleeting smile at the tenacity of his group, fighting valiantly on.
But that moment of pride faded. Tension crept up his spine as Xander watched for the cavalry, watched his girls fight on, watched the demons swarm inexorably against the girls. Always watching, never doing.
"Even if it damns us in the process?"
Xander's feet shuffled back and forth, pacing on the rock, the tension, the frustration threatening to overwhelm. He looked back again, and again, the darkness did not give way to salvation.
"I know about death and sacrifice, Giles...."
He took one step towards the melee. Just one single step. And then gave one final glance into the darkness. "Screw it." He suddenly said, bringing his sword above his head. And with that silent display of defiance, he charged into the fray.
"...if people do die? I won't find out about it from my comfy office, waiting for a report. I'll know, because I'll be there doing every last thing I can to stop it."
"I may not know who I do want to be, but I sure know who I don't. So in case you didn't entirely catch that? I quit."
"I couldn't stand there and do nothing, Xylia. My team... my girls were in trouble. I had to act. And I did."
The nyfed nodded, as if she understood completely. "And did you win?"
"Yeah. More likely because Faith and the Buffinator showed up with about three dozen more girls than because of anything I did. But I did what I needed to do. I fought. And somehow, it felt more right than anything else I'd done in a long while." Xander shook his head. "You know, right at the end, it seemed like Giles was actually disappointed. In spite of the heated words between us, he was asking me right up till the end to reconsider. I'm not sure why he bothered. It seems clear to me that it would have been a relief no longer having to deal with me, the quintessential Scooby Slacker."
"You don't really think that about yourself, do you?" Xylia chastised.
Xander paused. "No, I guess not. I'm not a slacker when it's something that's important to me. And for a while, being a Watcher was important. I griped and I whined, but there's a lot of it I really loved. Chrissie. The other girls. Teaching, helping. In my own way. But it wasn't meant to be."
"Because you couldn't be the kind of Watcher Giles wanted to you be?" the dryad scoffed. "Why should that stop you? Why can't you be the kind of person you think a Watcher should be?"
Xander smiled, then. "Why are you pushing so hard for this? I mean, you barely know anything about Watchers or Slayers or any of it. It's all human stuff... you should be more concerned with nature stuff."
"I care because it's important to you, Xander," Xylia replied with feeling. And for a moment, the two looked at each other, surprised by the vehemence of her words. "Because you shouldn't let anyone tell you what you can and can't do."
Xander shook his head. "But here's the thing, Xy... I'm not sure he's wrong. I mean, yeah, I'm mad at him, for representing a side of the Watcher's Council I thought had died with that ass, Travers. But maybe someone does have to make those hard decisions. Maybe someone has to keep a clear head, to see the bigger picture. And I just know that I can't do that. That's why I left."
Xylia nodded, slowly. "I just... I just want you to be happy."
Xander smiled that ineffable Xander smile of his then. "Everyone wants me to be happy...I'm wondering here if all the women in my life are secretly plotting some sort of fiendish 'Xander-be-happy' plot behind my back."
Xander patted Xylia's hand then, in reciprocation of her earlier gestures. "Believe it or not, Xy... I really am okay. I don't regret putting aside the role of a Watcher."
Xylia's eyes searched his, and then she nodded. "Okay." She gave a small smile, then. "I should probably get back to my sisters..." She glanced at Xander's hand covering hers, and, with a strangely reluctant gesture, retrieved it as she stood.
Xander checked his watch. "Yeah, I have somewhere to be too," he agreed, standing as well.
The dryad's eyes turned wistful. "Thank you for introducing me to this...smoothie." Xander grinned then. "Just don't bring a dozen of your sisters with you next time, all pleading me to buy one for them, 'please Mr. Xander, sir'."
Xylia's bemused expression was almost comical. "Huh?"
They said their goodbyes then, and Xander walked off down the street, moving at a quick pace, checking his watch every few seconds, and breaking into a small burst of speed every time he checked. Moments later, he arrived in front of his objective: the Trillium Multiplex.
Scanning, the area, his eyes lit as he found what he was looking for. "Hey there, Munchkin Land." He drawled, coming up behind Chrissie. She whirled and spread her arms wide, practically leaping into his arms as she gave him a hug. "Mr. Xander! I was worried you forgot!"
"Now, how could I ever forget a planned afternoon of movie-watching, popcorn munching goodness with my favoritest Slayer?" he quipped back, giving her a quick hug before setting her back down. He then looked around worriedly. "It is just us, right? You didn't hide a horde of girls in your purse, did you?"
Chrissie snickered, lightly hitting Xander's arm. "No silly... it's just you, me, and A Shark's Tale." She chirped.
Xander smiled again. "Well, let's get to it then, Imp."
And as they walked in, Xander thought to himself, Everyone wants me to be happy. Well guess what, folks. I kinda am.
Don't tell me how to be
'cause I like some suffering
Don't ask me what I need
I'm just fine here, finding me.
-'Finding Me', Vertical Horizon