Section 4: The Rider

Part Six

Xander, Buffy and Cordelia sat a table on the dining hall. They filled out questionnaires.

Xander read aloud, “Question 10: ‘Are you a people person, or do you prefer keeping your own company?’ It’s sort of a both-and-neither thing. I’m a people person — but only with certain people. So …” He filled out a box. “My own company.”

Cordelia said, “I aspire to help my fellow man. Check. Preferably NOT covered in blood.”

“Not always an option around here,” Buffy said. “Look, I don’t even know WHY I’m filling out this stupid questionnaire. My job path is pretty much pre-programmed.”

Xander said, “High-risk, sub-minimum wage …”

“Pointy wooden things,” Buffy said. “Only reason I’m filling this out is because Snyder threatened me with dismemberment if I DIDN’T do it. You know, I’m tempted sometimes to ‘accidentally’ stake him and then tell Giles, ‘Look, I THOUGHT he was a vampire …’ Xander and Cordy laughed. Buffy filled out the rest of the boxes haphazardly. “So it’s filled out. I honestly don’t care what it says, because unless Hell freezes over and every vampire in Sunnydale puts in for early retirement, my future is pretty much a non-issue.” This was said so bitterly that Xander and Cordelia both looked up in surprise.

Xander moved over and put a protective arm around his girlfriend. “BIG issue, Buff. We’re going to make sure you HAVE that future. Right, Cordelia?”


“Thanks, guys,” Buffy said resignedly, “But I just can’t help this disturbing feeling I have that BIG changes are coming.”

*                              *                              *

Drusilla sat at a table and dealt herself Tarot cards. Such pretty cards they were, too … with such UNUSUAL pictures. A talented artist had designed them for her not ten years ago! Such a pity he’d had to die … but then, it was only fair to him! He’d never’ve created anything more wondrous than these cards, and Dru felt it her duty to spare him the anguish of having to try.

She WAS a good person, at heart, to save him such pain.

Calling for her Spike to come dance, she was shocked when he said no. She pouted, and he apologized, and all was right with the world! Then the pain — the neverending weakness that tormented her so — struck her down.

Spike said, “Oh, forgive me! You know I can’t stand to see you like this.” He put her back in her chair and knelt. “We’re running out of time. It’s that bloody Slayer! Whenever I turn around she’s mucking up the works.

Drusilla answered, “Shh. Shh. You’ll make it right. I know.” Then as Spike walked away she dealt herself the next card … and screamed when she saw it. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! It, it couldn’t, it wasn’t, no, not like that, not like that together, it wasn’t … Spike ran over and looked at the upturned card.


*                              *                              *

Buffy and Xander had just killed one of two vampires stealing from a mausoleum. Quietly Buffy led the way to her front door — they HAD been about to climb in the window when Xander reminded her that, well, her Mom WAS out of town — and swore quietly when she saw who was waiting on her front porch.


Xander reached for his club but Buffy stopped him before he could get it. “Easy, there, Boy Wonder,” she said. “It’s not likely he’s here to cause trouble.” Reluctantly he released his grip on the club and Buffy called out, “Hey there, Cryptic Boy! What’s up?”

Angel started. Apparently Buffy’d surprised him. He frowned when he saw Xander — which got her hackles up immediately.

“Buffy,” he said as they walked up the porch steps. “You scared me.”

“Yeah, well, now YOU know what it feels like,” she answered calmly. “What can I do you for?”

“I … wanted to make sure you were okay. I had a bad feeling.”

Buffy let out a breath. “There’s a surprise. Angel comes with bad news.”

Xander said, “Ooh. Something SCARING the big bad vampire? Watch out, Buff. The garlic convention must be in town.”

Angel snapped, “Well, I’d LIKE to come by with other things, but there’s this LITTLE problem standing in my way.” He spoke to Xander. “Knock it off, boy. I’m only here doing my job.”

Xander leaned in to the vampire. “Boy? Angel, you’re pathetic. It must just KILL you that I got here first.” Angel growled, but didn’t move as Buffy stepped between the two.

“Having the two of you in the same zip code is WAY unproductive. Xander, go home.” He started to protest. “I can handle it. Whatever it is.”

He said firmly, “I don’t trust him.”

“You have good reason. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust him either.” She paused. “But if you trust me, you’ll go.” He walked off with an irritated look on his face. Every 20 feet or so he turned around and glared at Angel.

“So, what else’ve you got?” Buffy told Angel.

“That’s it. But it’s a definite feeling. Something’s up. I’ll keep an eye out, but I needed to be sure you were aware of it.” He hesitantly added, “There’s something else. Rmemeber that conversation we had after I saved you in front of the hospital?”

“I remember,” Buffy snapped. “I also thought I told you not to continue that line of thought.” She moved towards her front door and Angel blocked her.

“And I wouldn’t … normally. But I think this is important. My objectivity flies out the window when it comes to you, but I meant what I said. It doesn’t matter if you love me — and you have no idea how hard that is for me to say, you really don’t — but how you think you feel about him isn’t love.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No. I think it’s a protectiveness, a desire to keep him safe. You don’t want anything to happen to him … like it did to Willow.”

“That’s right. So?”

“So tell me you love him.” She paused for a second. He went on, “That’s what I thought.”

“I love him!” She protested. “I do!”

“Mmm-hmm. Look, I’ll keep an eye on things, let you know what I turn up.” Angel started to leave.

Buffy called after him, with a steely tone in her voice, “I love Xander Harris. Don’t EVER bring the subject up again.”

“I won’t,” he said. “But are you trying to convince me … or yourself?”

Not love Xander? She snorted. Angel’s jealousy was getting more and more inventive. She went inside.

*                              *                              *

Xander and Cordelia talked as they walked down the school hallway. He was REALLY ultra-weirded out by Buffy’s recent behavior. She couldn’t entirely blame him. She thought he was overreacting — Angel WAS one of the good guys — but apparently Buffy kept talking to the vampire in front of Xander. She should have respected him and only talked alone.

God! This ticked Cordelia off. Why was Xander staying with her if he thought he kept treating him badly? She liked Buffy, but Xander didn’t need a superwoman. He needed a normal one. An equal.

Now all Cordelia needed to do was find him one …

They looked at the results of the career aptitude tests as posted on the bulletin board. Cordelia said, “Well, psychotherapist or computer operator.” She flipped to Xander’s name and laughed.

“What?” he demanded. She couldn’t stop laughing. “What?”

He looked at the list and his mouth dropped open. Cordy watched his mouth work fruitlessly all the way out to the quad, where they saw Buffy sitting alone under a tree. “Hey, Buff,” he said. The Slayer looked up and as they got closer he added, “How’d the rest of your little meeting with Deadboy go?”

“The usual,” she sighed. “Vague warnings, nothing specific, and a few rounds of insulting you. No biggie, I handled it. Now,” she went on, “What’s so funny, Cordelia?” Cordelia was still giggling.

“Tell me, Buff,” Xander said, “Wouldn’t you two say you know me about as well as anyone else? Maybe even better than I know myself?” The two women both nodded. “When you look at me, do you think ‘prison guard’?” Buffy laughed, and Cordelia broke out again. “They just put up the assignments for the career fair, and according to my test results I can look forward to being gainfully employed in the growing field of corrections. Laugh now, Missy,” Xander told his girlfriend, “According to your randomly filled out form you’re either going to be a law enforcement professional or an aerobics instructor.” Cordelia laughed even harder.

They turned to glare at her as one. “Glad to see SOMEONE finds this funny,” Buffy muttered.

Cordelia’s mirth subsided. “C’mon, guys! Buffy in a blue uniform and Xander in front of the bars instead of behind them?” Then Cordelia saw Giles walking along the quad and Buffy rose to follow him.

“I’ve got to get going,” Buffy said. “Giles needs to know about the latest crypto-gram. Later, guys …” she turned and ran after her Watcher.

Xander groaned and turned to Cordelia. “More and more about the dead dude, less and less on me. I DON’T like this, Cordy, I really don’t.” She put her arm around his shoulders and squeezed as they walked along the quad.

*                              *                              *

Giles sighed. They’d just discovered, to his growing horror, that the vampires had stolen the Du Lac Cross. Now, at least, he knew what Angel had been so nervous about. Now he, Buffy, Xander and Cordelia were ringed around the Library discussing the ramifications of the theft.

What was truly unnerving about it was that Joseph Du Lac’s book was the one that had been stolen from the library earlier. They needed to find out the book’s contents.

To his great surprise, all three of them agreed to come. “Buffy?” he asked. “What’s up? Normally you display as much enthusiasm for doing research as I would display for an all-night, um, ‘rave’ at the Bronze.”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “But I really don’t have anything else to do.” The chipper attitude that Giles had noticed slowly returning a while back had almost completely vanished. While Buffy still laughed and joked, there was an underlying tinge of depression and resignation that frightened him.

Xander said, “Want to ring in Ms. Calendar on this one?”

Giles stiffened. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Well, apparently you haven’t noticed,” Giles said, “but none of us is exactly on her ‘favorite-persons-to-see’ list at the moment. Ever since our little display of revenge on Ethan Rayne, she has consistently refused to talk to me. I doubt she’s been all that friendly towards any of you, either. Now, that topic of conversation is OVER.”

And it was. Around 9:30, they all gathered to look over books. Cordelia was hunched over the computer, crisply searching its depths for any information on Mr. Du Lac. Buffy was on a snack run, bringing Xander a box of his beloved Ho-Hos.

So far all they’d come up with was a confirmation of what they already knew — and that the coded spell book in question contained spells both powerful and evil.

Buffy walked into the room. “Greetings, fellow no-lifers,” she said, holding up a bag. “I bring sustenance for the weary.”

Behind her — “Buffy, look out!” he screamed. Buffy spun and faced an unkempt one-eyed man with a scraggly beard. He punched her in the face before she could do anything else.

Xander’s club sprang into his hand and he charged across the room. Cordelia backed up towards the office and Giles raced to the weapons locker and grabbed a crossbow.

The man backhanded Xander before the boy could attack. Xander went down and didn’t move. Buffy screamed and slammed the man against the wall. Giles was unable to get in a clear shot.

Bringing both fists down on Buffy’s back, the man then kneed her in the chin and knocked her backwards. Giles took the advantage and shot two bolts in rapid succession, striking him in the right arm and shoulder. He grimaced and moved towards Buffy.

Cordelia grabbed a chair and charged. The man stopped and faced this new threat, and Cordelia changed her plans and threw the chair. It struck the man and knocked him backwards briefly. Buffy rose and kicked the man back towards the door.

Two arms snaked out from behind the door and grabbed the man around the neck. Before he could react, the arms twisted and the neck snapped. He collapsed to the ground and the owner of the arms came forward with his game face on.

“Angel,” Giles said, shakily. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I’ve been following this guy all across town.” He bent to examine the man. Giles joined him.

Buffy went over and knelt by Xander’s side. He was groggily coming to. “Xander!” she said. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” he said. “What happ– what is HE doing here,” he said, noticing Angel.

“Saving our lives,” Buffy said. “He broke leatherguy’s neck for us.” She paused. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah. Thanks, Dark Knight. But still — I coulda stopped him eventually.” He sounded quite jealous.

Cordelia walked up and looked at Xander. “Yeah, you were doing him a lot of damage from your position spread out on the floor.”

“Cordy!” Xander flared. Giles turned at the scream and noticed the hurt look on Cordelia’s face.

Angel held up the man’s hand. “Look at this,” he said.

GIles paled. “Good Lord,” he said. “The Order of Taraka …”

From outside, a young woman with a fierce glare on her face watched the exchange. So these people knew the vampire, eh? And they seemed friendly. Oh, she would have to keep an eye on them …

AFTER she killed the vampire.

Part Seven

“The Order of Taraka is BAD news,” Angel said. “We need to find out who sent them.” He glared hostilely at Xander. “I’ll go do some legwork. I doubt my presence will be welcome here much longer.”

Buffy said, “No! Not unless you want to. You saved our lives. I think we can control ourselves.” What was she saying? The neckbiter volunteered to take off and she said no? Cordelia pulled him to his feet.

He said, “Me. Angel. Fire. Gasoline?”

Angel looked over at him. “For once in his life, the boy is right. Giles can tell you about Taraka. My advice is to hole up somewhere. I’m better used elsewhere.” He bowed and — KISSED Buffy on the forehead. “Be careful.”

Xander got up and charged to the door. “And DON’T come … back,” he said to the empty hallway. Walking back in, the first thing he saw was an annoyed Buffy.

“I can handle him,” Buffy said. “It’s sweet that you’re trying to help, here, but I’m trying to STOP him from wanting to kill you. You going for his throat every time you see him doesn’t do much to speed that along.”

“I’m sorry, Buff,” Xander snapped. “I STILL don’t trust him. With you, with me, with Cordelia, with anyone. I want him gone. OUT of our lives entirely. We don’t need him.”

“Xander,” Cordy said quietly, “he just saved your life.”

“You turning on me too, Cordy?”

Cordy, after a second’s hesitation, said, “No. Never.” She put an arm around his shoulder.

“Is that what you think I’m doing,” Buffy demanded. “TURNING on you? Just because I don’t want to beat Angel to a bloody pulp? Just because I’m trying to protect you?”

“That’s all I’m doing!” he yelled. “Trying to stop you from being hurt by him!”

“I don’t need your protection!” She screamed. “I don’t NEED you to watch over me. I don’t NEED you.”

She stopped. “Oh God. I didn’t —”

“Oh, really,” he said coldly. “Well, then —” he picked up his stuff and walked to the door. After a second, Cordelia followed him.

“I’d like to be alone at the moment, Cordy,” Xander told her.

“Yeah, well, want’s not need. I’m your shadow — and if you need it, I’ll be your shoulder.” He relented and she escorted him home.

*                              *                              *

Buffy sat down and cried, head down on the table. Well, this was terrific. The Order of Taraka comes to town to kill Buffy and she takes the opportunity to schedule a complete emotional breakdown. Giles let her cry for a minute and went for some books. When he came back she was heading for the door. “Buffy!” He said. “Where precisely do you think you’re going?”

“To find Xander.”

“The hell you are,” he said. “The Order of Taraka — a bloodthirsty horde of unstoppable assassins — is after you. In your current emotional state you’re in no shape to deal with them.”

“Think not?” She went for the door again and Giles grabbed her shoulder. She spun out of his grasp — or tried to. He held on, firmly, and wildly she swung at him. He easily blocked the punch. She did it again, and he had even less trouble this time.

Enough was enough. He held on firmly as she flailed away at him. He felt the punches — there would be bruises covering his chest in the morning — but that was neither here nor there. Eventually she stopped and he let her go. She dropped to the floor.

Leaning down over her, Giles said, “Buffy, contrary to conventional wisdom, I am not emotionless. I have a great deal of sympathy for what you are going through right now. But you MUST pull yourself together or you will be dead, and that will give whoever brought in these assassins EXACTLY what they want.” He led her over to a chair and pulled out a book. “Now, about the Order of Taraka —”

She listened politely, and by the time he was stressing the danger for the third time she’d fallen asleep. He covered her shoulders with his jacket and returned to reading up on Joseph Du Lac. He kept his crossbow ready.

*                              *                              *

Cordelia drove up to Buffy’s house to see how she was doing. She wasn’t answering the phone, and given how things had ended last night she was concerned.

She and Xander had talked long into the night until he finally fell asleep. He’d looked so cute lying there. And THEN, and only then, had it struck her. The feelings she felt for him were more than friendship.

She loved him. Unable to admit it to herself until now because he was dating Buffy, she’d channeled those feeling into an aggressive kind of protectiveness. But now that the Buffy/Xander thing was — well, in doubt — she hadn’t been able to deny them.

Which didn’t mean she was going to act on them. Not now, certainly, and maybe not ever. She liked Buffy too much — and trying anything at this juncture would hurt a lot of people, including possibly herself if Buffy lost her temper.

She knocked on the front door. No answer. She knocked harder. Nothing. Getting an idea, she went around to the side of the house and climbed up into Buffy’s open window. Nothing. Her bed didn’t even look like it’d been slept in —

Of course! She must have spent the night at the library. She went downstairs to call and there was a knock at the front door. Curiously, she opened it —

There was a geek standing there with a sample case. He tipped his hat and said, “Good day. I’m Norman Pfister with Blush Beautiful skin care and cosmetics. I was wondering if I might interest you in some free samples?”

“Under any other circumstances, YES. But right now I’m in kind of a —”

“It won’t take but five minutes.” He tried to step into the house, and Cordelia blocked his way.

“Sorry, not interested.”

“I think you will be.” His voice took on a harsh edge. Cordelia backed up. This was no traveling salesman —

— and his arm dissolved into caterpillars! She turned and ran, but he blocked both exits. Where to go? She dashed upstairs and the caterpillars slithered after her. Into Buffy’s room she ran and slammed the door. The bugs started oozing through the cracks — so back out the window she went. No time for subtlety here. She jumped from the roof and ran to her car, where she dove in and sped off. Now, DEFINITELY to the library —

*                              *                              *

Buffy woke up — just in time to avoid a hatchet to the head. The hatchet struck the table with a sharp clatter and Buffy jumped up to face her new attacker. JUST what she needed to work out that tension.

“You must be number two,” she snarled. This assassin was a young black woman, no older than Buffy. The assassin brought the hatchet down towards Buffy’s head. She caught the the arm and hit it hard; the hatchet dropped to the floor. Buffy kicked out and caught the woman in the stomach. She struck the floor and bounced back up, ready to fight. She delivered a roundhouse kick that caught Buffy off guard and knocked her down. The young woman approached —

— and a voice said, sharply, “Enough.” The woman looked up — and slowly backed away.

“It does not matter if you kill me,” she said in a musical, though VERY fake-sounding, Caribbean accent. “Another will follow me.” Buffy rose and saw Giles holding the crossbow.

“Another member of the Order of Taraka, yes we know,” Giles said irritatedly. “And we will deal with them as well.”

“Order of Taraka?” She sounded confused. “No. I am no assassin.”

“Who are you, then?”

She drew herself up proudly. “I am Kendra! The Vampire Slayer!”

“Boy, did you pick the wrong audience to try THAT on,” Buffy said. “Next time, don’t try that line on the REAL Slayer.”

“I AM the real Slayer.”

“She, she’s not wearing the Order’s ring.” Giles said. “Tell me, young lady, who is your Watcher?”

“Sam Zabuto,” she answered.

“I’ve heard of him.” He lowered the crossbow.

Buffy couldn’t believe it. “Giles, are you serious?”


“I thought there was only one Slayer at a time. You know, the old one dies, the next one is called, that sort of thing?”

A thought apparently struck Giles. “Buffy, you DID die. Back in May. Apparently a minute is still long enough.”

For the next five minutes they discussed things — why Kendra was in town, her shock that Buffy even HAD friends who knew she was the Slayer, etc. Oddly, Buffy was grateful for the shop talk. It took her mind even further off of the horrendous way she’d treated Xander the previous night.

Throughout the night’s sleep — fitful, at best — she’d been haunted by two things. Her treatment of Xander, and her growing fear that Angel had been RIGHT when he’d said she didn’t really love him.

Even if she didn’t, though, there was no reason for Xander to have found out like that. She owed him a BIG apology. Huge. Love or not. And she still wasn’t sure.

All of this, at a time when people were out to kill her. How long could she keep putting up with this?

Something occurred to her. “Why did you attack me, Kendra?”

“I saw a vampire kiss you. I assumed you were ALL vampires.”

“A vampire kiss me? Oh, Angel.”

“Angelus? I have heard of him. HE is a monster.”

“No, he isn’t,” Giles said. “He had a curse placed on him 80 or so years ago that restored his soul. He works on our side.” He paused. “Well, most of the time.”

Kendra shook her head. “I cannot believe you. He looked just like another animal when I —”

Buffy shoved her up against the counter. “When. You. WHAT?” She didn’t reply. “When you what? If he’s dead, I’ll —” She’d what? Kill Kendra for doing what she thought was her job? For Angel — who was still her ally, if nothing else? And WAS he nothing else? At the beginning of the school year — God, an eternity ago — she’d told Angel she still loved him. Fear of losing him brought that back. DID she still love him? She didn’t have the time to figure it out now. But if he died, Kendra would wish she’d never been born.

“He is not dead. But if you wish to rescue him, we must go now.” She walked to the door. “Follow me.”

Buffy raced after her. As she went down the halls Cordelia passed by running in the other direction. “Buffy!” she said. “Are you okay — I was —”

She stopped briefly. “I don’t have time right now. Angel might be dead.” She ran off.

*                              *                              *

Cordelia watched Buffy run off. She said to herself in a small voice, “She didn’t even ask about Xander …” The more she thought about it, the more she liked it less. She walked down to the library and found Giles in intense study on a book.

He looked up. “Oh, hello, Cordelia,” he said. “How’s Xander doing since … last night’s unpleasantness?”

“Poorly,” she said bluntly. “He pretty much cried himself to sleep. I imagine Buffy’s not having any problems, since I ran into her out there and she didn’t even ASK about him.”

“That’s unfair, Cordelia,” the librarian said. “She cried HERSELF to sleep as well. Blame me if you wish. I physically restrained her last night from charging after him, because she NEEDED to know about these assassins. Plus, there’s a chance Angel may be dead. So it’s not as though she doesn’t care. She has a great deal on her mind.”

“Still, she should have asked,” she said. “Look, about these assassins? I think I ran into one at Buffy’s house. He was a nerd who turned into caterpillars. I only escaped by jumping out the window.”

“Good Lord,” Giles said. “When will this all end?”

Part Eight

Giles and Cordelia discussed the situtation at hand for a long time. When Cordelia described the caterpillar assassin, he found one of the books containing information on the Order of Taraka and asked her to look through it. She did so without hesitation. After about twenty minutes, she’d lined up both the scraggly assassin from the previous night — pure human — and the other one. It turned out he could be killed only in insect form. None that looked anything like Kendra, though — that and her mention of Sam Zabuto made it fairly certain that she was telling the truth and was, indeed, another Slayer, here to prevent the rise of a dark power.

Based on what was ostensibly contained in Du Lac’s manuscript, that meant only one thing — Spike was going to attempt to restore Drusilla to health. This could not be permitted.

“Hold it,” Cordelia said. “You mean we’ll have two ultra-powerful vampires trying to run the town and not one? Not good. NOT good.”

“Especially under these trying circumstances, yes,” he said. “A trio — now a duo — of berserk assassins plus Xander and Buffy’s rather messy breakup. Er — WAS that a breakup?”

“Xander seems to think it was,” she said somberly. “I’m hoping — I don’t know what I’m hoping. But we’re going to need his help, breakup or not.” Cordelia’s expression was utterly unreadable to Giles. It was such a mass of conflicting emotions — “He’s still at home, moping, I’ll bet,” she said. “I’m going to go drag him out of bed and haul him in here.” She sighed.

Giles got nervous. Oh, it would NOT do to have Cordelia be in love with Xander. Not at this juncture … one more emotional blow could very well leave Buffy easy pickings for the assassins — and guarantee Drusilla’s restoration.

He sighed and went back to looking up more information on the spell.

*                              *                              *

Cordelia knew she had to maintain a clear head. Buffy and Xander weren’t able to do so. Her emotions did not control her, she controlled them. Her feelings for Xander would have to be set aside for the moment. He WOULDN’T be happy with Buffy — but that wasn’t for her to decide. She loved him — and that meant doing what was best for him.

Whatever it took.

But she also cared for Buffy — even though she DIDN’T seem all that hurt — and now that she’d joined Buffy’s crew she knew how important it was to protect Sunnydale. This meant EVERYONE had to be brought in. Xander could mope later.

She drove up to Xander’s house and nervously looked around before she stepped out of the car. No bugs, no nerdy cosmetics salesman. Odds are he’d just been watching Buffy’s house when she got caught in the crossfire.

Well, she knew what to do about bugs. Xander was the bigger problem. She pounded on the door. No answer. She pounded again. Still nothing. And she couldn’t climb up to his window — she wasn’t Spiderman and she couldn’t fly. Before trying anything even more drastic, she tried opening the front door. Success! It was unlocked. She mused about how good she was getting at breaking and entering. Cordelia Chase, Master Spy! Once inside she went upstairs and into Xander’s room. She could hear the Mary Chapin Carpenter blaring from halfway up the steps. Her song “The Last Word.” She knocked on the door. “Xander? You in there?”


“You’re lying,” she said opening the door. Xander pulled the sheets up over him as she entered; Cordelia got a brief glimpse of a man clad ONLY in boxer shorts and blushed. Though she’d LIKED what she’d seen. How could Buffy act like that towards him?

“What do you want, Cordelia?” he said.

“Well, while you were busy feeling sorry for yourself, we found out that there’s another Slayer, those assassins are probably here to stop Buffy from stopping Spike from casting a spell to cure Drusilla, and — oh yeah! One of them attacked me.”

“But … you’re all right.”

“Yes! Thanks to my jumping out Buffy’s window!”

“Well, then —” he rolled over and turned the boombox back on. She reached town and unplugged it from the wall. “Hey!” Then she pulled the covers off of him. Stare though she might otherwise want to do, though, this was no time to … let … any lustful fantasies take over.

“Tell me,” she said, “are you stupid? Or have you joined the bad guys? I just told you that a healthy Drusilla’s soon going to be roaming the Sunnydale night, and your only answer is to make sure I’M okay? Thanks, by the way. What, as they say, is your psychosis?”

“Buffy rejected me last night, Cordy! I think I have a right to be upset!”

“And because you feel sorry for yourself you’re going to stand by and WATCH while this happens? God, Xander!” He hunched over and she was immediately sorry. Cordelia was having a lot of trouble balancing her desire to protect Sunnydale and her desire to comfort Xander. She sat down on the bed and hugged him briefly. “Look. I’m on your side in this, okay? Buffy was horrible and cruel to you last night. You should really lay into her. Just not right now.”

“I love her, Cordy.” He hugged her back.

“Only goes to show what lousy taste she has in men if she doesn’t love you back.” They just sat there, hugging, for a few minutes.

“Out, Cordy,” he said with a sigh. “I need to get dressed.”

She smiled. “So you ARE going to help.”

Wearily Xander nodded. “Of course I am. Buffy needs me, Giles needs me, Sunnydale needs me …”

“I need you,” she said quietly enough for him not to hear.

“They’d never survive without me,” he grinned weakly. “Now — um — if you don’t mind?”

She said, “I don’t mind at all. Go right ahead.” His face grew aggrieved and she threw up her hands. “Sheesh! Not like I’d see anything all that impressive, anyway!” Cordelia waited by his door for a bit, and he came out, a little sloppy, a little unkempt —

In short, he was Xander. Thank God. “Come ON,” she told him. “We have a stop to make before we get over to the school.”


“The garden supply store. We SO need some insecticide …”

*                              *                              *

Buffy, Kendra and Giles trudged wearily down the front steps of the high school and into the building. Along the way they talked about the dark power Kendra was here to stop. Apparently this was Drusilla. The tension between she and Kendra was thick enough that you would’ve needed a broadsword to cut it, extra sharp.

If there was anything she DIDN’T need right now, it was the extra competition. And now, with Angel gone missing on top of everything else, it was just one more aggravation. Sometimes she felt like she was a single log struggling to hold back a raging river. She was amazed she’d managed to stem the flood this long.

Kendra said, “Then we will stop Spike.”

Buffy answered scornfully. “Gee, why didn’t I think of that? Glad we have YOU around to solve the big problems.”

“Buffy …” Giles reprimanded.

“Ah,” Kendra said. “You believe the Order of Taraka will pose a problem.”

“Ya tink?” Buffy said, mocking Kendra’s accent.

Kendra ignored it. “If they get in our way, we will kill them.”

“Well, THAT’S solved,” Buffy said. “Hey, Giles, while she’s here think we can get her to kick in a cure for cancer?”

“You really need to control her better,” Kendra told Giles.

“Right. Like that’s even possible,” Giles answered. “Buffy, listen. The two of you are on the same side. Your hostility is helping things not at all.”

And Buffy knew that. It was just — well, the pressure — if she let out a little here and there, maybe she could avoid the dam bursting.

Kendra mentioned some readings on the Order of Taraka in some obscure large book with incomprehensible words. She quite honestly could not have cared less. A hand reached out for her shoulder —

— and she knocked it away. “Buffy!” Giles said. It was his hand. Kendra gave her an amused, haughty look while Giles just looked at her sternly. “All I was going to say was that Principal Snyder was on the warpath looking for you.” Buffy stared at him dully. “The career fair?”

Oh, right. “Yeah, guess I’d better show,” she said.

Kendra said, “Buffy’s a student here?” Giles nodded.”Right. And I imagine she’s a cheerleader as well.”

“Actually, she was. It’s quite an amusing story —” He noticed Buffy’s glare — “Which I shall tell you some other time. Come, show me that book —” and the two walked off to the library.

She walked down the hall towards the lounge. Looking up, she saw Xander and Cordelia approaching, Cordelia carrying a bag full of … D-Con? She tensed as they grew closer.

All three stopped in the middle of the hallway. Cordelia said, “Right. I’m going to go tell Giles my idea and see what else I can do to help. Play nice, you two.” She walked off before Buffy could say anything.

Xander said, “We need to have a long talk.” Buffy started to object. “Not right now, I know. But we need to have one.” They slowly strolled towards the Job Fair. “For the moment,” he continued, “I’m still on your side, I’m still your Slayerette.”

“I’m still sorry for what I said,” Buffy began. “God, am I sorry —”

“I know. Wanna fill me in on what’s going on with these assassins and this plot?”

So, businesslike at the moment? She could handle that.

Somehow, though, the pressure was as great as ever.

So: Into the career fair. “What you got today, Buff?” Xander asked politely.

“Well, due to my random sampling I got aerobics instructor and law enforcement. But aerobics was yesterday, so today I get to play with the cops.”

“Oh joy, oh rapture.” The banter seemed forced. “Anything else you can tell me?” She’d already mentioned everything except Angel’s kidnapping.

“Naaah.” She paused. One more try. “Xander — I really appreciate this —”

“You’re welcome, “ he said sort of brusquely. “I gotta go talk to the warden. Catch you in the library later.” He walked across the room and Buffy made her way to the law enforcement table. A squarely-built female police officer with short red hair stood there. Buffy signed up and waited impatiently for it to start so it would end.

A few seconds later the woman picked up the clipboard and began reading off names. “Buffy Summers,” she began. Tiredly, Buffy raised her hand. The officer put the clipboard back down. Buffy zoned out for a second. Half an hour, she thought. Half an hour and she could get back to restoring the tatters of her distinctly abnormal life.

The zoneout almost cost her her life. She came back to her senses when she heard Xander scream, “BUFFY!” from across the room. She saw the gun and, with no time to do anything else, dropped to the floor as the officer — number three, Buffy guessed — fired the gun.

The bullet whistled past her left shoulder and across the room. Buffy could hear screams and a yelp of pain and people started running in all directions. Buffy kicked at the phony cop’s feet as she pointed the gun again; the shot went into the floor as the woman stumbled.

Buffy rolled to her feet. The woman leveled the gun again. The Slayer threw herself to the side as the shot was fired —

— and Xander lunged at the cop. A gout of blood and Buffy sickened. No! She rushed the woman and socked her in the jaw once, twice —

— and then Kendra joined her, slamming the woman across the room. She drew another gun, but Kendra kicked it out of her hand before she could fire. The cop turned to run. Buffy started to go after her, but Kendra grabbed her wrist. “No,” she said. “I will do this. You tend to your … boyfriend.” She ran off in pursuit.

Buffy knelt down by Xander. He wasn’t moving.

Part Nine

Buffy cried and cried. Finally her jag was broken by someone saying, weakly, “Buffy …?” She looked down. Xander! She looked over his body … and found a spreading bloodstain under his right shoulder.

“Xander!” she said. “Thank God … you may have saved my life.”

He grinned weakly and then winced in pain. “So much for not needing me, Dark Knight.” He fell back to the floor.

Kendra sprinted back in. “She’s gone …” She noticed Xander’s condition and sniffed. “I will tell your Watcher to call for an ambulance.”

They had to physically restrain her from trying to get in the ambulance when it came. Kendra, with an assist from Cordelia, dragged her to the library and Giles followed after giving the paramedics what he knew of Xander’s condition, and the location of his parents (out of town, again — but Cordelia had called them and they were coming back on the next plane).

By the time Giles re-entered Buffy had, to an extent, calmed down again. Cordelia’d said something about “needing to look for churches” and gotten immediately onto the computer.

One more big log had been thrown against the dam, and so far it hadn’t broken. But it was getting closer and closer. Giles took one look at Buffy’s scrapes and bruises and immediately went for the bandages, spending the next five minutes tending her wounds.

Over at the computer, Cordelia cursed. “Forty-three churches in Sunnydale! How are we ever going to figure out which one they’re in?”

Buffy, tears drying, looked up at Giles dully as he said to Cordelia, “That number does seem excessive. No matter. They’re not going to use an active church; check to see which are closed or abandoned.” He turned to Buffy. “For the spell to restore Drusilla, it needs to take place in a desecrated church on the night of the new moon.”

“That is tonight,” Kendra said.

“Ex-exactly,” Giles continued. “And there’s more bad news. It also requires the presence of Drusilla’s sire.”

“Angel!” Buffy said with some alarm. Giles simply nodded. She breathed in and out several times between clenched teeth. “Okay. What can we do?”

“Well, it cannot happen until sundown, so we have —” he checked his watch “— five hours to find out where the ritual is and stop it. Any progress, Cordelia?’

“Some,” she called back. “Seven of those forty-three are abandoned. One of those is in ruins and another’s being used as a homeless shelter. That still leaves five.” She got up. “Look, I’m gonna call the hospital and see how Xander is.” Her glare at Buffy indicated that she thought that the Slayer should have thought of that first. Good God, how many balls was she supposed to juggle?

She called after Cordy, “Tell me how he is, please,” as she went into Giles’ office.

Kendra came up and said, “I … am sorry your boyfriend was injured.”

A concession from the ice princess of the Caribbean? Wow. “Thanks, Kendra.”

“It DOES just show that civilians do not belong assisting in the Slaying activities, though.”

Of course. Buffy stared angrily at Kendra, then got up and walked towards her. “The CIVILIAN may have saved my life, on the off-chance you didn’t notice.”

“And got himself injured,” the other Slayer went on. “I hear another one of your friends has already died. How many more —” Kendra never saw what hit her. Buffy screamed and knocked her flat on her back. Kendra scrambled to her feet and Buffy got ready to hit her again.

Giles interposed himself between the angry Slayers and said, “Enough.” Buffy held her ground.

“What was that for?” Kendra said. “It’s not like I was saying —”

Giles cut her off curtly. “I agree with her, this time. That was quite a heartless thing to say. At a time when Buffy is worried about Angel, Xander, the Order of Taraka and Drusilla’s possible revival, you take her to task for the death of one of her friends. Buffy is standing on a highwire and you’re handing her anvils.”

“If she cannot stand the pressure —”

Cordelia returned from Giles’ office. “Tell me, Kendra, do you even know the meaning of the word tact?”

“Enough!” Giles shouted. “We have more important things to do than scream at each other.” Her took off his glasses and wiped them. “I’ve been saying that too often recently. Anyway, Cordelia, what news on Xander?”

“Very good, considering,” she said. “The bullet went clean through the shoulder. Didn’t even break any bones. He also got a concussion when his head hit the floor. But he should be out of the hospital in a couple of days.”

Buffy heaved a sigh of relief as Giles said, “Well, thank God for small favors. Now then, where were we …?”

Cordelia started typing away at the computer again as Giles, Buffy and Kendra practiced their weaponry techniques in an uncomfortable silence. Over the next few hours Cordelia slipped away silently twice more to check on Xander’s condition. Buffy called once herself.

Finally Buffy got the bright idea of finding Willy and pounding some answers out of him. Kendra, uneasily, accompanied her.

*                              *                              *

Buffy charged off alone after Willy offered to take them to the right church, and got captured for her pains. The slimy bartender, several vampires, and the two remaining assassins surrounded the area. Angel and Drusilla were tied up together on the altar. Willy led her up to Spike and said, “Payday, pal. I got you a Slayer.” Spike walked quickly up the aisle to greet the group. He was NOT a happy vampire.

“Are you tripping?! You bring her here?! Now?!”

The bartender answered, “You said you wanted her.”

Spike snarled, “In the ground, pinhead! I wanted her dead.”

Willy said nervously, “Now, that’s not what I heard. Word was there was a bounty on her dead or alive.”

“You heard wrong, Willy.”

Buffy spat, “Let Angel go!”

Spike answered, “Why? Oh, that’s right, ooh, eek, you’re the Slayer, I’m afraid, I’ll do what you say. Oh wait — that’s right. I’ve got all the cards on my side.” Buffy began angrily struggling in the grip of the vampires. “Oh, enough of this nonsense. Patrice!” The phony cop drew her gun and pointed it at Buffy, who redoubled her efforts and tore free …

… as Kendra came tumbling into the room. She kicked the two vampires who’d been holding Buffy as Buffy leapt at Spike, decking him. Crossbow bolts flew past and wounded a couple of vampires; Giles, probably. As Spike and Buffy tangled Kendra set her sights on Patrice.

*                              *                              *

Cordelia saw the caterpillar assassin and yelled at him. “Unstoppable assassin? Kill the Slayer? You couldn’t even catch me!” He came after her and she sprinted for the doors and slammed them shut. She picked up the two cans and waited.

She didn’t have to wait long. He started oozing under the door in caterpillar form. She waited as long as she dared and started spraying. With one of the cans of D-Con she aimed at the door crack and sprayed for a couple of seconds as she slowly backed away. Then she turned them both on the caterpillars in the room. The caterpillars advanced quickly, but fewer and fewer of them the more spray she used. Her tactic was working.

She stepped on the few remaining and yanked the door open. No caterpillars. She broke out a new can and, reaching through the door, fired upwards at the wall. A few plummeted down, then a whole mass — but they fared no better. Shortly they were dead.

She looked into the room — and saw Giles about to be pummeled by a vampire. She raced up and tapped it on the shoulder, and when it turned, sprayed it in the face with the insecticide. It howled in pain and Giles took a bolt and staked it. They turned to the rest of the melee.

*                              *                              *

Buffy was having more problems because she had to fight off Spike and a few of his minions, and so was unable to break through and help Angel. Kendra was fairly handily pummeling Patrice. Spike, knowing of Buffy’s intentions, was content to fight defensively.

Giles and Cordy threw themselves at one vampire and between themselves, after a minute or so, they disposed of it. Willy decided at this point to run for his lfie and no one seemed to think it was worth the effort to get in his way.

Behind them slowly Dru was getting more and more powerful and Angel growing weaker. Finally Kendra disposed of Patrice — with the help of a timely crossbow bolt from Giles. Buffy called out, “Go save Angel!” But instead of doing that, Kendra came over and pulled some of the vampires off Buffy’s back.

Oddly, it was Cordelia who ran to Angel’s aid. She tried to remove the connections between the two and was backhanded to the ground for her troubles. Drusilla then unhooked herself and kissed Angel on the forehead. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I wish I’d never drawn that card, now …”

Kendra swept-kicked at Spike and FINALLY this freed Buffy to rush to Angel’s side. She ran past Drusilla, who ignored her, past the weakly rising Cordelia, to Angel. He’d need immediate help to …

… survive …

He was dust in her hands.


Angel … was gone. No goodbyes, nothing.


A fury rose within her. She looked around. Kendra was being gang-tackled by the three remaining vampires in the room and Giles was sprawled on the floor. Buffy got up with murder in her eyes.

Drusilla walked, fully restored, towards Spike. He smiled and walked towards her.

“My dark angel,” he said. “Come, let us celebrate your rebirth.”

Buffy charged towards the she-vampire, stake in hand. Spike yelled, “Dru! Behind you!” She whirled —

It didn’t matter. Buffy would NOT be denied. The stake found its mark — and seconds later Drusilla was ashes. Buffy snarled, “Hey, Spike! Feel like celebrating now?”

Spike howled, “Dru!” and ran towards Buffy, his face a contorted mask of hatred. Then they tore into each other savagely, slugging, kicking, and punching, giving no quarter.

Kendra finally polished off the remaining lesser vamps and moved in to help Buffy. Giles groaned and, rising, said, “No. It’s her fight.” Cordelia staggered towards them and they moved towards the door of the church, ready to help if it became absolutely necessary.

For the next five minutes neither vampire nor Slayer had the advantage. Finally Buffy caught a lucky break and slammed Spike backwards into the crumbling support structure for the organ. It collapsed on top of him, pinning one of his legs to the floor underneath a ton or more of rubble.

In pain, Spike sneered, “Well, you’ve won, Slayer. Kill me and get it over with.”

Buffy slowly walked across the room and grabbed a torch, then took one of Cordy’s bottles of insecticide. She shook it and sprayed it all over the rubble and threw the torch on top of it. She kicked Spike in the face as she left and snarled, “Burn, baby, burn.”

She held herself together just long to make it out of the building, where she collapsed into Giles’ arms.

*                              *                              *

Later that night, Spike dragged himself from the burned-out ruins of the church by his hands. His left leg was twisted and broken, and he was filthy and scarred.

He turned around as he left the church grounds. Sadness and anger in his voice simultaneously, he said, “Dru. My dark princess. Without you, life just isn’t worth living.” He paused.

“And if it’s not worth living for me, it’s not going to be worth living for ANYONE …”

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