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Fic: Behold, Little Padawan! (BtVS; Gen; Part 7/16)

No, I didn't skip a part. I'm posting two parts back-to-back to cover my Monday and Tuesday postings.

All parts can be found here.
Continued from Part 4A.

Part 4B: Occupational Road Hazards

LaTisha viewed Andrew as an amusing distraction on her best of days, and a not-very-good liar on her worst. This was in sharp contrast to Terri, who viewed Andrew as worthless pest, and Cheryl, who seemed positively enamored by the characters in his tall tales.

Not characters. People. They’re real people, LaTisha reminded herself for what was maybe the millionth time since Xander Harris-in-the-flesh and Faith Lehane-in-the-flesh started wandering the house’s halls.

LaTisha knew that Andrew was so full of shit that it was a wonder his eyes weren’t a squishy brown. The hardest part about separating Andrew’s fiction from the facts was that even though she knew that a lot of what Andrew said was pure bullshit, she had always sensed there were some truth that glimmered tantalizingly between the lies. The trick was figuring out what was gold worth keeping, and what was nothing more than a bit of cheap mica that could be tossed away. Before this week, she had no way to judge which was which. It was frustrating to realize that even with a dose of reality sleeping under her roof, she still couldn’t figure it out.

Her own intellectual confusion was probably why she didn’t look for signs that the other Slayers were thinking along the same lines. When she realized that Susan seemed to be trying to dig a something real being out of the Andrew-created muck, it came as a bit of a shock. It was the only possible explanation that LaTisha had for Susan pumping Andrew for information about whether Xander had ever fought evil clowns.

Then the fact that Susan seemed to be taking Andrew seriously when the bullshit in that story was so thick and deep that it was stinking up the house? Well, something had to be going on in that skull of hers. When Susan excused herself to “take a coffee break” in the kitchen, LaTisha figured she needed to the pull the younger Slayer aside to find out the deal. After about minute, she excused herself and followed Susan. When she arrived, she found the younger Slayer staring morosely into a cup of coffee.

“Hey, Tish? That guy who walked in with you,” Susan began without looking up. “That’s Xander Harris, right?”

“No, that was the tooth fairy offering to pay me all those dollars I never got for my baby teeth. Always knew my parents were lying when they said there was no such thing. Now I got proof. I plan to take a picture and send it off to them,” LaTisha said with faux cheer as she plopped her butt in a chair across the table across from Susan.

“He looks tired,” Susan said. She bent her head lower so her strawberry blonde hair hid the expression on her face, “Dusty, almost. Like he’s traveled so much that it’s clinging to him no matter how many showers he takes.”

LaTisha was never the poetic sort since she liked dealing with things head-on. Poetry, in her mind at least, was all about dancing around the point. In the face of Susan’s downcast demeanor, she squelched her usual irritation whenever one of her girls started making dramatic statements instead of being rational. Playing along seemed to be the best bet here.

“You could say that. Harris fell asleep in the car. He was zombified when he walked into the house. His answers to Bernie was more stream-of-conscious than actual conscious so she gave him the bum’s rush up to bed,” LaTisha answered.

“What’s he like? Is he an okay guy?” Susan asked.

The way she asked it with a note of cautious guilt caused LaTisha to sit up and study her girl through narrowed eyes. “You had a dream about him,” she severely said.

Susan hunched lower.

“And you waited until now to tell me?” LaTisha asked. “Girl, what I have told you over and over again? Dreaming does not make you crazy and telling us isn’t going to make us think that you need to start taking meds again.”

“I thought it was just a dream and that’s it.” Susan looked up at her with wide eyes. “And I didn’t know what Harris looked like until I saw him walk in with you just now.”

LaTisha blinked. “You didn’t?”

“I was out patrolling when he came in from the airport,” Susan protested. “And I’ve been in training most of the day doing that stupid thing Big Sis had us doing, so no. I had no idea what he looked like.”

LaTisha pinched her nose with a wince. “Okay. Fair enough. That doesn’t take away the main point. I don’t care if Harris is a raging asshole with an ego the size of the moon. If you dreamed something, you say something. You don’t decide to withhold that information based on whether or not he’s a nice guy.”

“Well, it’s just that — well, I wasn’t getting that he was in danger.” Susan was back to staring into her coffee. “That’s why I wasn’t sure it was anything more than a weird dream until I saw him. No blood and guts. Just…weird.”

LaTisha raised an eyebrow. “So it was just information, then.”

Susan looked at her as frown lines bisected the area between her eyebrows.

“Oh, don’t tell me,” LaTisha sighed. “You’ve never had an information one.”

Susan’s mouth ticked. “Have I ever had anything like that since I got here?”

LaTisha winced. Susan definitely had a point. “No. I guess I just assumed that you had more variety before you landed here.”

Susan rolled her eyes.

“Hey, dreaming was never a big feature for me. I’m better at riddling them out, but not very good at having them.” LaTisha easily shrugged. “I’m what you might call a reality-based Slayer.”

Susan took a deep breath. “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

“Excuse me?”

“You know,” Susan asked. “Tell me what you got from your one-on-one time with Harris and I’ll tell you my dream.”

“Tell me the dream first,” LaTisha ordered.

Susan’s shoulders slumped. “I’m going to tell you everything anyway. I’m just hoping that whatever you know will help me figure out the weird stuff.”

LaTisha studied her a moment, and then shrugged. “He’s honest at least, which puts him light years ahead of Andrew. I even put out a little bait to get him to brag about how awesome he is and he very pointedly did not take it. That tracks with what Cheryl told us about Harris’s Old Faithful comments. Seems flexible, too. Didn’t even show a flicker of surprise or miss a beat when I showed up playing the part of the pissed off girlfriend.”

“I hear a ‘but’ lurking in there,” Susan said.

“His diplomatic skills are strictly bargain basement. As soon as we were safely away from the civvies, he let me have it because he thought I was closer to 15 than 25. That also tracks with Cheryl. He thought she was 12 before she set him right.” LaTisha snorted to underline just how ridiculous she thought the whole thing was.

“So a bad temper, then?” Susan asked.

“Hard to tell,” LaTisha said with a shrug. “I was tempted to ask him if stressed-out and exhausted were his middle names. Hell, the guy fell asleep on me practically in the middle of a word.  I don’t have to tell you that even the nicest people in the world can turn into monsters when they’re like that. For all I know, he might be sweet as pecan pie on a full 8.”

Susan looked thoughtful. “Anything else?”

LaTisha shook her head as she organized her impressions into something resembling a description. “Seemed to over-focus on a few things, again, maybe because he’s exhausted. He was really concerned when he heard that Big Sis hadn’t checked in yet, even though he had to have realized that I didn’t stick around when Bernie told me to get moving.”

Susan shrugged. “Could be a reason for that. They’ve known each other since Sunnydale, so—”

“Nah,” LaTisha shook her head. “Andy’s being confused as usual. Big Sis is solid. I mean, look at the training session she set up. She made sure we understood how these Emokillsus demons work, talked us through the training, had us try it out, and then asked us to think up any tweaks to make it closer to the real thing after we got a handle on it. She’s all about covering as many angles as possible. A woman like that does not fly off the handle or do things the stupid way.”

“That’s true,” Susan said before she sipped from her coffee.

“The other thing he seemed to over-focus on was the run-ins with Cheryl and Terri,” LaTisha added. “He seemed really concerned about making sure they got a public apology. He even asked me to set it up and witness the whole thing. I definitely got the feeling that the more witnesses, the better.”

Susan seemed amused. “That bothers you?”

“Not what he was asking, so much. It was more…I don’t know. Tone of voice? The way he insisted? It’s almost as if he was basically saying that the apology had to be public or there’d be no apology at all,” LaTisha said.

Susan giggled. “Someone was bad at math.”

LaTisha relaxed and smiled. Susan finally breaking out of whatever funk got her to this mental space. “Oh?”

“He’s probably been hit on so many times by so many Slayers that he wants to be as non-encouraging as possible, and a public apology is the best way to make sure it’s strictly business,” Susan grinned.

“I don’t follow,” LaTisha said.

“C’mon. Look at him. He’s one of the Sunnydale vets, which means big, romantic, war-hero past. He’s got a dangerous job, so that means big, romantic, man-of-mystery present. Tired or not, he’s cute. And young.”

“I’ll take your word for it on the ‘cute’ part. He’s too paleface for this girl. And field scouts have a rep for being adrenalin junkies instead of being the 007s of the demon world,” LaTisha dryly remarked. “I guess I can see your point, otherwise.”

Susan sobered. “Anything else?”

Wondering where Susan was going with this, LaTisha said, “Not really, no. To be honest, he’s an odd duck, but then again, so’s Big Sis. Maybe when you’ve been doing this as long as they have being weird’s normal. Beyond that? He’s hard to read, mostly because he doesn’t seem to let his guard down. If anything, he’s too guarded. He doesn’t give too much of himself away. Unless I directly asked him about himself, he volunteered nothing, and what little I got was wrapped up in some wisecrack or another.”

Susan tapped the side of her coffee cup.

“Does any of this help at all?” LaTisha prompted.

Susan shook her head. “The exhaustion tracks. Maybe even the being weird and the guarded parts, too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t shed any light on the dream.”

“So, start confessing to your Auntie Tish,” LaTisha said. “It would be really helpful if you can tie this into why you were encouraging Andrew.”

“In this dream I was back home in the Texas Panhandle. Some back road in the middle of nowhere. It’s pretty flat out there so you can see a long distance even without the Slayer eyes,” Susan said. “I was standing by the side of the road looking west. It was hot and dusty and the heat was coming off the blacktop in waves. Off in the distance, I could see this guy who looked exactly like Harris walking in the middle of the road toward me. Even though he had to be a good half-mile away, I could see he was tired and dusty, like he’d been walking for years and getting nowhere fast. He had this beat-up bag, like a laptop bag, slung over his shoulder. And dancing behind him was this clown.”

“That’s why you asked Andrew about evil clowns,” LaTisha nodded as the light dawned. “So, what made you think this clown was evil?”

“The scary makeup, mostly,” Susan shuddered. “It was just dancing around behind him. I could hear it giggling and laughing. No real words. The only time it said anything was when it would get in his face.”

LaTisha leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table. “Go on.”

Susan uncomfortably shifted in her seat and her grip around the mug tightened. “At certain points, the clown would stop dancing behind him and start dancing around him. It would poke at him. Not hit him, just poke him with a finger. It’s like when kids are being annoying or someone with no sense of personal space wants your attention.”

“How did your dream guy react?”

Susan shook her head. “That was the weird part. He didn’t. He’d stop and just stand there with his head down with his hands in his pockets. He wouldn’t react at all until the clown started trash talking him.”

“How so?”

“Nothing big. More like, ‘Tag you’re it.’ Or, ‘Gotchya now.’ Or, ‘Feeling lucky, punk.’ Stuff like that.” Susan frowned with concentration. “There was also something about gold turning into straw and dust, but I never could make that one out.’”

“And that’s when your dream boy would react,” LaTisha said.

“Not always right away,” Susan said. “Sometimes he’d react right away. Sometimes it would go on like this for a few minutes. Then, all he’d do is look up and look the clown right in the eye. The clown would go back to laughs-and-giggles only, back off, and do these little dances that I guess were supposed to be funny. Now, here’s where it gets really weird.”

“I can’t wait,” LaTisha dryly remarked.

“Harris, or I mean the guy that looked like him in my dream, would sit down right where he was, pull this laptop out of the bag, open it, and start typing,” Susan said.

LaTisha raised an eyebrow. “That’s it?”

Susan nodded. “Then, when he was done writing whatever, he’d shut down the laptop, shove it back in his bag, get up, and start walking again. The whole scene would then repeat at different intervals. Sometimes he’d walk a couple of steps before the clown was in his face again. Sometimes he’d get a good few feet.”

LaTisha tapped on the table. “At the spots where the clown stopped him, was there anything usual? A landmark? Some kind of mark on the road like a crack or an oil stain? Anything to make that spot different from the others.”

Susan looked surprised. “Hunh.”

“There was something,” LaTisha said.

“No. That’s actually what’s so weird about it. Usually in the middle of nowhere on the panhandle the roads are cracked or patched or something like that. This road was in perfect condition. The pavement was smooth as glass. And now that I think about it, I didn’t see any signs or mile markers either,” Susan said. “And no, no landmarks or buildings. Just flatland. Nothing unusual on or around the road to mark one spot as different from another.”

LaTisha scrunched her nose in thought. “So the timing of when this clown would start touching and taunting your dream guy was completely random.”

Susan nodded. “Seems like it. I pretty much watched this for what felt like two hours — or maybe more like three. More than two hours, less than three hours, anyway. That sounds about right. I kept trying to figure out what was going on, but the more I thought about it, the more my head hurt. Finally, the guy got as close to me as where you’re sitting now and I said to him, ‘Hey, mister. You want me to do something about that clown?’ Well, the clown made this funny face. You know, like he’s pretending to be scared or something. He gave the dream guy a poke, and dream guy spun around, pointed to the shoulder of the road opposite from me, and said, ‘Go over there. I’ve already seen this.’”

“He broke the pattern,” LaTisha said thoughtfully. “Because you noticed? Because you were standing there? Maybe because he noticed you were there and he didn’t before?”

“I don’t know,” Susan admitted. “What’s really odd is that the clown did what the man said. What’s even weirder is that the clown stopped making noise. No giggling, no laughing. It just stood there and watched us, which made it seem even creepier than it was before. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the clown was kind of worried that I noticed him.”

“‘I’ve already seen this,’” LaTisha repeated. “I wonder why he said that.”

“No idea,” Susan said.

“Anything else?” LaTisha asked.

“Well, I said to him, ‘Mister, we really need to do something about that clown,’” Susan said. “That’s he then held a finger up to his lips and said, ‘Shhhhhh. Be subtle, or the wrong people will hear you.’”

“Was there anyone else there to hear this conversation?” LaTisha asked.

Susan shook her head. “Nope. Just the three of us, which is why I was I couldn’t figure out why he was afraid someone would hear us. Anyway, I pointed out that the clown was not subtle. Anyone could see it if they paid attention.”

“What did he say to that?” LaTisha asked.

“Just that he couldn’t stop me from seeing the clown if my friends had ears that hear, but that asking him about it wouldn’t do any good because he’d never tell,” Susan said.

LaTisha snapped her fingers. “An open secret.”

“A what?” Susan asked.

“The clown represents an open secret. It’s either something about Harris or something he knows. Whatever it is, other people know it too, but the gossip hasn’t filtered down to our level.” LaTisha felt mighty pleased with herself for figuring it out. “Did he act sketchy when he told you this?”

Susan thought about it. “Nope. He was being matter-of-fact about it all, well, until I started pushing about the clown. Then he got mad.”

“Was it because he was protecting the clown?” LaTisha asked.

Susan shook her head. “That’s just it. I’m not really sure. I kept saying, ‘Listen mister, you’re here, I’m here, the clown’s here. Let’s deal with this.’ And he’s all, ‘No. Your friends haven’t seen with their ears yet.’”

“That answers that, then,” LaTisha said. “Attacking the clown isn’t the problem. It’s lack of information about the clown that’s the problem.”

“I don’t know about that,” Susan said. “The more I pushed, the angrier he got. Finally he started ranting about how too many people were focusing on ‘her’ as the answer because they were asking the wrong questions. My friends had see with their ears before they could ask the right questions, otherwise, we’d get the wrong answer. He kept saying over and over, ‘She caused the problem, but she’s not the answer. He’s the answer, but too many people are too angry to see it.’ Then he said if we focus on her instead of him, it would be all vengeance all the time. When that happened ‘he’ would win.”

“Sounds to me that he’s worried about someone, a ‘her,’ being made a scapegoat for something someone else, a ‘he,’ did,” LaTisha said.

“Unh, maybe I’m not saying it right. What I got from the man was that ‘she,’ whoever she is, is guilty as sin, but that dealing with this ‘she’ wouldn’t solve whatever problem she had caused,” Susan corrected her. “Going after someone else, a ‘he,’ is the solution, but because ‘she’ made enemies people will go after her and that will cause even bigger problems.”

LaTisha tapped her fingers on the table. “I need names for that to make sense.”

“No kidding,” Susan nodded.  “That’s why I tried to find out who ‘he’ and ‘she’ was. That’s when the clown started acting up. It was laughing and giggling and screaming a bunch of nonsense. Not really words, but gibberish. As loud as the clown was, the echo was louder, like we were trapped in a metal room or something. I got so frustrated, that I started to charge the clown, but the man — the one that looked like Harris — got in my way. I think he was warning me that it was too soon for me to do anything, but I’m not sure. Even though we were practically nose-to-nose, the clown and the echoes were so loud I could only get bits and pieces.”

“Bits and pieces are better than nothing. Lay it on me,” LaTisha said.

“I heard, ‘alone,’ and ‘can’t be helped,’ and ‘I have to carry this.’ There was also ‘beware,’ and ‘can’t stop.’ Then he said a name, or maybe a title, I’m not sure.” Susan frowned. “Something about Hoffman.”

“Hoffman? As in ‘Dustin?’” LaTisha asked.

Susan nodded.

LaTisha sat back and thought. “Probably someone’s last name or the name of a demon. We’ll have to check into it. Maybe we’ll find out if this Hoffman is the ‘she’ who caused the problem but isn’t the solution, or the ‘him’ that is the solution.”

Susan nodded. “All I know is that as soon as the clown heard the name, he started shouting about gold being straw and dust. Then he went dancing down the road singing how the guy who looked like Harris could win a million times, and it still wouldn’t change the fact that losing once is all it takes.”

“Ooooh, ‘losing once is all it takes,’ he said? Maybe our clown is the one we need to go after. That’s classic bad-guy bragging,” LaTisha said with a cynical grin.

“It is?” Susan asked.

“Sure,” LaTisha said. “I remember back when I was newbie down in Atlanta, the house I was in was up against this mean mother of a vampire. It was a hell of a fight. Anyway, I was the lucky gentleman that finally got close enough to stake him while everyone was fighting for their lives. When I got within staking distance, the miserable bastard looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You may win today, you may win tomorrow, you may win for a hundred years, but all we need to do is win once and you’re just as dead.’”

“Yeesh,” Susan shivered.

“Trash talk,” LaTisha grinned at her. “’Cause I said right to his face, ‘Yeah? That may be true. Doesn’t change the fact that an awful lot of you bastards are gonna lose before I do.’ Then I staked him hard.”

“Something to think about, though,” Susan said as she looked away.

“Not as far as I’m concerned,” LaTisha said. “Everyone loses sooner or later. Sometimes you lose crossing the street. Sometimes cancer gets the better of you. The way I look at it? I’m going down fighting.” She added with a toothy grin. “Better than getting blindsided by something you never saw coming. Now, enough about me. Let’s hear more about this dream.”

“Not much to tell,” Susan said. “They guy who looked like Harris watched the clown move down the road. Without looking at me, he said, ‘I can’t stay. If I stay he’ll be back. I have to keep moving. Like a shark.’”

LaTisha frowned. “He was comparing himself to a shark?”

“Yeah,” Susan nodded. “That’s when I said, ‘Mister, I don’t think you’re a shark. The clown’s the shark. We really need to do something about him.’ And that’s when he said, ‘He’s the current that pushes the shark. I have to keep moving or he’ll drown you. Besides, things are changing soon, so I can float for a while longer. Better to use your ears until you see the whole thing.’”

“And we’re right back where we started,” LaTisha said. “He’s basically saying ‘the truth is out there,’ but he’s not about to tell us what it is.”

“You’ve been listening to Andrew too much,” Susan said with amusement.

“Credit where credit is due,” LaTisha shrugged. “So I take it you left it at that?”

Susan shook her head. “I kept insisting that I was all ears, so maybe he should tell me now before it’s too late for him. That’s when I get a genuine reaction. Kind of like he’s surprised and grateful. He then puts this hand on my shoulder and tells me that he can’t tell me because it’s too soon. He’s seen a silver lining and he needs to mine it because that’s more important. But once the pattern is clear, he’d take any help I could give.”

“I think I got whiplash,” LaTisha complained.

“I know,” Susan argued. “It’s like he wants to get rid of the clown, but at the same time he needs it too much to get rid of it. On the one hand, he doesn’t want me going after the clown, but on the other if I decide to go after it he’ll be happy.”

“Or maybe we’re looking at it wrong. He said, ‘too soon,’ right? Maybe going after the clown is the right thing to do, but it’s the wrong time to do it,” LaTisha thoughtfully said. “Now maybe it’s too soon because we don’t have all the information or because whatever that clown represents is too useful at the moment. Either way, he’s not going to help us, but he’s not going to stop us either.”

Susan thought about it. “That works.”

“And that’s where it ends?” LaTisha asked.

“Nope. There’s a little more,” Susan said. “As soon as he tells me about silver linings, he backs away, looks down the road at the clown, and starts walking. I try to go after him, but it feels like someone nailed my feet to the ground and stuck a gag in my mouth because I can’t move or speak. He catches up with the clown a few yards away from me. That’s when the pattern goes back into its old groove. Clown starts poking, man puts up with it, taunting begins, man looks at the clown and the clown backs off, man sits on the ground, out comes the laptop, he starts typing. That’s pretty much where it ends.”

LaTisha nodded as she tapped the table. “Okay, Susan. Before I decide what to do about this, I want you to think very, very hard. Are you absolutely positive that you didn’t get a sense Harris was in danger?”

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t about to get killed or hurt in any way,” Susan said.

“Would it be fair to say he was being harassed though?” LaTisha asked thoughtfully.

“Definitely,” Susan nodded.

“Then let’s change that to ‘no immediate danger, but that could change,’” LaTisha said.

“I…guess,” Susan said doubtfully.

“And you’re absolutely positive that asking him directly isn’t the way to go,” LaTisha said.

“Oh, yeah. If anything, he didn’t care if we found out, but there was no chance we’d get a straight answer out of him,” Susan nodded. “He was more concerned about ‘her’ getting punished for whatever was going on because it would cause problems.”

LaTisha thought. “He’s covering for someone. That has to be it. He knows she did wrong and that she’s guilty, but he’s maintaining some code of silence to protect her. The problem is, he’s not the only one who knows so it’s a matter of doing an end-run around him and finding someone who’s got the real 411.”

“Except that he was pretty adamant that we don’t go after ‘her.’ Don’t forget that,” Susan said.

“Because we have to find the ‘him’ that’s the answer.”

“What are we going to do?” Susan said. “Like you said, we can’t not tell Harris, but if he’s like the man in my dream telling him isn’t going to do any good.”

LaTisha made a face. “No. We’re going to tell him. We have to. I’m not looking forward to it, mostly because I have no clue how he’ll react, but it has to be done.”

“Hopefully he’ll react better than the man in my dream,” Susan said.

LaTisha reached a decision. “Well, your dream said timing is everything. Since you didn’t pick up that Harris was in any immediate danger, I say we play it safe. We’ll tell him after we slay those Emokillsus demons. If we tell him before, it might distract him. He’s the only one who really knows anything about these things, so there’s a real danger if we toss this dream in his lap and spook him. Let’s focus on one issue at a time.”

Susan thought about it. “Nope. Not getting any bad vibes with that decision.” She grinned with relief. “In fact, it feels like the right call. Guess that’s why they pay you the big bucks, hunh?”

“Damn straight,” LaTisha agreed.

***

I fail at being human, Xander thought with despair as he stared at the scattered paperwork around him.

Bernie had come through on the Slayers’ personnel files, even going so far as to drop the two file boxes’ worth in his room while he had been on stakeout with Faith. He’d been far too exhausted to look at them when he came in. In fact, he was so tired that Bernie’s possible white lie that Faith had already checked in was all the excuse he needed to crawl into bed.

Eight hours later, he’d been up and at the Slayers’ files.

His current round of mental self-flagellation had “occupational hazard” written all over it.

During his first pass through the files, he heartily agreed with Bernie’s assessment. Cheryl was the only local Slayer who really needed to be elsewhere when the full might of the Chicago house converged on the storage facility.

Just to be on the safe side, he took a second pass. Although he hadn’t seen any huge red flags, the niggling doubt that he had to have missed something persisted. He found it pretty unbelievable that Cheryl was the only Chicago Slayer to have anything rotten happen to her — even if that rotten was mostly for non-Slayer reasons.

So, Xander went through the files a third time, only this time he looked for trouble where there might be none.

It was then he saw it.

The Slayers’ backgrounds and past exploits were relatively mild for Slayers. But for a normal Joe? There lay the big ol’ Indian rug burn on his psyche.

Take LaTisha, who seemed to him during their brief conversation to be both levelheaded and well adjusted. Her first Slayer fight occurred a little more than six months after Sunnydale bit the dust during a basketball game in which she was a cheerleader. In front of the whole school, and in the middle of the playoff game, she staked her team’s starting forward.

Not only did she have the police questioning her about it — not that they could do anything because ‘the victim disappeared in a puff of dust; no body found even though assault occurred in front of more than 600 eyewitnesses’ isn’t considered even remotely logical in Normal World — she became the high school untouchable overnight. Plus, she was kicked off the cheerleading squad.

Then there was Terri. She cut her teeth on the Slaying gig when a quarter of her hometown became zombified. Sure, she didn’t lose any family, but Xander was willing to bet that she obliterated a more than a few friends and neighbors that had joined the lurching, undead, brain-hungry legions of the night.

The others were hardly any better. Helen staked three distant cousins-turned-vampires that had been visiting from out of town her first time in the Slayer saddle. Kristin had to deal with a possessed biology teacher and had been expelled from school for beating the crap out of her in an effort to escape. Before she had been found, Susan had been under treatment for “bipolar disorder” because of non-stop Slayer dreams that robbed her of sleep at night, left her exhausted during the day, and convinced her and everyone around her that she was going crazy.

God help him. It took him three tries to realize that these Slayers all had their share of trauma. He doubted the Watchers in the house would hold up much better under close scrutiny.

If this was Rwanda, and if there was a fresh and constant supply of war refugees and genocide survivors around, the girls would be safe as houses. Hell, he and his crappy Sunnydale memories were treated as non-existent by the demons as they attacked and killed everyone around him. Then again, he knew for a fact that last night’s victim also would’ve been snubbed if this had been Rwanda. Yet, they had fed from the guy just the same. That meant those things had to be starving if they were willing to go after two-bit thug who, going by his muttering, was down with living the violent life.

Therefore, the question wasn’t whether they’d jump on a Slayer with crappy first-time Slaying stories and a mental catalog of every fight they’d ever had with a vampire or demon; it was how fast they would jump on her.

So, Xander Harris, Xander thought as he rubbed his face with his hands. Who are you willing to send in first, knowing that they’re going to be attacked? Who are you willing to deliberately put at risk knowing that they might end up dead before we kill them?

Deciding things like this wasn’t his job. His job was to walk into a mystery or a known dangerous situation, snoop around, discover the sitch, and hightail it back to safety with information so other people could decide. Sometimes he’d have to make recommendations, sometimes people took those recommendations into account, and sometimes people died in the aftermath despite everyone doing the best they could.

But actually doing the eeny-meeny-miney-mo thing? Not his job. Insofar as he could say that he had clean hands, his hands were pristine on this score.

However, as the lone resident expert all things Rwanda demons, and as the guy who demanded and got access to all of the Slayers’ files, he had an awful feeling that he’d be the one who’d have to decide. Bernie may be the one officially signing off on who went where, but he had a feeling that she’d be relying on him to make the call.

God help all of them and the city of Chicago, because he had no idea what to do.


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Tags: character: andrew, character: ensemble, character: faith, character: oc, character: xander, fanfiction: 2007, fanfiction: behold little padawan, fanfiction: buffy the vampire slayer, fanfiction: fic-a-thon
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