liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
liz_marcs
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Water Hold Me Down (Part 12)

This part? This part was hell on wheels to write.

When you see it, you'll understand why all my ducks refused to stand in a row and kept quacking off. Have you ever tried to make a duck stand in line? Or any bird? Nearly impossible without a gun.

*headdesk*

Anyway, no updates this weekend. Apologies in advance.

Continued from Part 11.

 

When Buffy finally looked at Faith, the Slayer could see the other woman was legitimately hurt. Faith shuffled uncomfortably under the silent accusation, Why you? Why not me?

The hell of it was that Faith knew Buffy had every right. Why she got zapped with the extra-special Slayer-like dream warning about Xander instead of B, she had no idea. While her dream was weird—frightening, devastating, you failed, you failed, you failed!—Willow’s nightmare was a hell of a lot worse.

Not that Tweedy could make sense out of the fact that both her and Willow had freaky dreams the same night. His steepled fingers rested against his lips as he considered their nightmare information very carefully. “I’m not entirely sure that there’s a connection between Willow’s nightmare and your Slayer dream.”

“Hold up, G. I’m not all that sure I had a Slayer dream,” Faith said.

“Ahhh, yes. The sense you were picking up on a dream meant for another Slayer.”

“The question is, whose dream were you getting?” Buffy asked.

“Beats the shit out of me,” Faith shrugged. “No offense, G, but I think you’re wrong on the no connection thing. Me and Willow get nightmares the same night? I’m not a big believer of coincidences. There’s gotta be more to this.”

“Can I hope not?” Willow asked quietly. The witch was in much better shape than when Faith first found her, but Willow still looked pale and unsettled and she couldn’t seem to stop fidgeting and picking at her clothes, almost as if the insane asylum nature of her nightmare had followed her into the waking world. Kennedy had tried to soothe Willow by rubbing a hand up and down her girlfriend’s back, but Willow shied away from the physical contact. Kennedy was reduced to helplessly standing near Willow and watching the redhead with worried eyes.

This is not what I’d call a comfy situation, Faith thought. Willow could wipe us all out in the blink of an eye and there’s shit-all we can do about it. We fucking need Cyclops and we need his ass back right now because I’m thinking he’s the only one that’ll be able to handle her if her nightmares get worse.

“Faith, I’m certainly open to any ideas you might have,” Giles said.

“I don’t have a clue,” Faith said.

“C’mon, Giles. That’s a little unfair,” Buffy agreed. “Half the time I don’t know what my Slayer dreams mean either. Plus, you’re asking Faith to figure out Willow’s dream too when Willow can’t figure it out.”

“Faith, try saying the first thing that comes to your mind, no matter how foolish it might sound.” Looked like Tweedy wasn’t about to let her off the hook.

Faith crossed her arms and glared at Giles in response. “We know Cyclops is stashed in an alternative dimension, right? Do we know which one?”

“Our ‘guests’ were still digesting the information that Anya is dead, so they have not yet imparted that information to me.” Giles leaned back in his chair. “I am very confident that they will tell us what we need to know. However, they are quite leery of us and…”

“Good,” Buffy interrupted.

“As I was about to say,” Giles said as he gave Buffy an exasperated look, “while their being leery may work in our favor, it may also work against us. They might be less likely to share information, important information, for fear of angering us. We need their honesty more than their fear at this moment, so a little honey would do us more good than vinegar.”

“Oh. Didn’t think of that,” Buffy said.

“If you two are done, I was about to share stupid idea number one. This is going to sound frigging nuts, but here goes.” Faith took a breath. “Maybe I picked up on a Slayer dream meant for the Faith in that dimension. I mean, it might account for the Slayer-dream-but-not deal, not that I would have any freakin’ clue how that might work.”

“Yes, perhaps Xander’s presence in that reality may have opened a mystical path between that reality and this one. It would also certainly account for the fact that both you and Xander had twins in the dream.” Giles seemed rather pleased with the idea.

“And me nowhere to be found,” Buffy said quietly.

“Could be a lot of reasons for that, B,” Faith said.

“Like maybe you two are such great friends in that other dimension and that’s why you got it and not me?” Buffy asked.

“Ahhh, not so fast, B. Near as I could tell, there was no love lost there,” Faith corrected. “If anything, she didn’t seem to give a sweet shit that Cyclops got turned, killed his twin and this kid, and was dragging Anya off to god knows where. For all we know, it could come down to location. My twin might be, like, nearby and your twin might be on the other side of the world.”

“Perhaps your double was unconcerned because she knew it was a Slayer dream,” Giles said. “You yourself stated she seemed to be more aware of that fact than you were.”

“Why do I get the feeling you haven’t had a lot of Slayer dreams?” Buffy asked.

“I’ve had a few, but it’s not been a big feature of the Slaying for me,” Faith shrugged.

“Well, take it from me. Sometimes in those dreams you see yourself doing things that you’d never do in real life or seeing things couldn’t ever possibly happen in real life,” Buffy explained. “Sometimes it’s just out of your control.”

“Like that’s news,” Faith stated. “Either way, I hate the fucking things. Can’t do shit about them when you’re asleep. Can’t do shit about them when you wake up. Pretty useless feature in the package if you ask me.”

“Faith,” Giles pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration, “they’re meant to impart information. Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes.”

“Or time to get into crash positions,” Faith grumbled. “I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely getting the feeling that Cyclops is in deep shit and he’s got no one willing to help.”

“That is the other thing that puzzles me,” Giles said. “If we go on the theory that you somehow got pulled into an alternative Faith’s dream, you would think Anya and this other Xander would be aware of the danger and would act.”

“It’s like they couldn’t see him,” Faith said. “I dunno. Maybe he’s not around them when the shit hits the fan. By the time they figure out there’s a problem, it’s too late.”

“So, you think Anya might be alive in this reality?” Buffy asked.

“I don’t have a clue. For all we know, the Anya I saw could be a stand-in for someone else.”

“I highly doubt that’s the case,” Giles said.

“I don’t know, G. My twin didn’t seem to know who she was,” Faith pointed out. “And you’re forgetting, I did meet Anya at least once before I went to jail.”

“She’s got a point there, Giles,” Buffy said quietly.

“So perhaps a cipher,” Giles thoughtfully said. “Someone to represent perhaps a wife or a girlfriend or some other family member, but rendered in such a way that you’d be aware that there was someone important to either our Xander or his twin that was menaced by the situation.”

“And what about the kid?” Faith asked.

“This is getting into rather speculative territory,” Giles said. “We need more information from our kidnappers before we can hazard a guess.”

“So how does this connect to my nightmare?” Willow hesitantly interrupted.

“All yours, G. I’m just saying that I think there’s a connection, but it beats the hell out of me what it is,” Faith said.

“Yes, well. Willow’s nightmare was little more than sensations as opposed to information.” Giles looked to Willow. “Do I have that correct?”

Willow miserably nodded.

“Do you remember anything concrete? Voices? Faces? Names?” Giles prompted.

“I told you. No,” Willow said quietly. “Just the word ‘Zihuatanejo.’”

“Great. A movie reference,” Buffy said.

“Most likely a place name. I am aware that there’s a Zihuatanejo in Mexico. It wouldn’t stretch credulity if there was a town or city with a similar name elsewhere in the world,” Giles pointed out.

“If we think there’s a connection between Willow’s and Faith’s dreams, it could still be a movie reference,” Kennedy volunteered. “Xander’s being held captive. Zihuatanejo was some sort of promised land in the Shawshank Redemption where everyone can get away from the past by escaping. So maybe Willow’s dream was saying that we’ll be able to stop whatever it is before it happens.”

“Or that we’ll fail,” Willow shuddered. “This wasn’t a dream of the good kind, so a hugs and puppies ending is not what comes to mind.”

Faith’s gut clenched. It was starting to sink in that maybe she was getting a genuine warning about Cyclops. If there was a connection between her dream and Willow’s… This is getting you nowhere girl. You go in thinking you’re going to lose, you’re going to lose full stop.

“The other thing that really throws me is that you said your twin was older and Xander’s twin was older,” Buffy said. “If it’s just an alternative dimension, why the age difference?”

Willow actually perked up. “I can answer that. I remember after vampire me showed up in Sunnydale I did a little research on alternative dimensions, you know, in case Anya tried something like that again with another witch and we got a vampire Xander or a vampire you or something. I kind of remember there was a theory that the person who gets pulled into the alternative dimension might also experience a time warping effect.”

“Ah, shit. More time travel?” Faith threw up her hands. “I thought we were done with that bullshit.”

“It’s not the same thing. Because it’s a different dimension, it doesn’t have the same effect as traveling along a single timeline,” Willow said. She quickly added, “Besides, even when we had our own time travelers staying here, they told us that we were sort of an alternative dimension to theirs.”

“Yeah, but they went to the past. We’re talking Cyclops maybe getting yanked into a future point. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound the same,” Faith said.

“It’s just a theory,” Willow defensively countered.

“Okay, so what do we actually know?” Kennedy asked. “Because I hear a lot of guessing and not a lot of facts.”

“Quite right. I do believe it’s time we brought our guests in,” Giles said. “Buffy? If you’d retrieve them along with our compliment of Slayers, please. I feel a strong desire to hold a house meeting. And remember, be polite to our guests.”

***

Xander tried to tell himself that hanging in the backyard on his birthday was much like most of his birthdays in years past. He was escaping to pull some quality alone time because the last thing he needed was to be around adults armed with beer, or more to the point, beer bottles.

Except he kind of got used to the idea that he shouldn’t have to hide outside in the dark on birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, or any of the other holidays. First there was Anya’s apartment; then there was his apartment. There was definitely no outside-having or alone-being when he had other refuges or Anya.

The fact that the adults in the house sounded like they were actually having fun without the threat of a fight on the horizon wasn’t helping him maintain the illusion at all. Plus, where the hell did other him get all these friends? There had to be almost two-dozen people in there.

Unable to take it anymore, he decided to take a walk around the block. To hell with Anya’s paranoia. If he ran into someone other Xander knew, he’d just say he needed some fresh air and maybe toss in some sob story about feeling mid-life crisis-y. Would serve the bastard right if other him got stuck trying to explain that little problem for the next year.

Xander crept to the front of the house and, with a backwards glance to make sure he wasn’t seen, jog-walked up the front walk, through the open gate, and onto the sidewalk. He glanced right and left and decided to go with the blindside. Once he made it past the neighbor’s shrubs, Xander slowed down to a stroll. He stuck his hands in his coat pockets out of habit and laughed at himself when he realized he was feeling around for a stake he didn’t have stashed.

Actually, not funny. First thing you saw when you opened your eyes in this town was a vampire.

The thought was enough to give him pause and make him reconsider the walk. After a moment, he allowed himself a to-hell-with-it shrug. Just the same, he broke a low-hanging branch off the first tree he passed. While he doubted it would survive beyond one staking, it at least put his mind at rest to have something wood in his hands.

When he reached the end of the block he decided to keep going rather than turning left. The houses were nice, the landscaping was relaxing, and the air was cool but not Cleveland frigid. He wished the moon was full instead of waning, but there was enough ambient light from the streetlights and the houses that it wasn’t much of a big deal.

When he reached the end of block two, he noticed that the sidewalk ended and the road narrowed as it rolled its way into an area that was lighter on the housing and heavier on the trees. He turned left and realized that he was now across the street from a property that looked somewhat park-ish and ringed with a wrought iron, seven-foot tall spiked fence. The shrubbery and assorted other greenery on the other side of the fence blocked people on the outside from being able to peek in.

Although he didn’t feel menaced, all that human-free space across the street put him on alert. While he hadn’t seen anything Hellmouth-y since he got here, one vampire aside, he was too used to looking over his shoulder when confronted with open areas at night.

He made it half-way down the block when he realized he was opposite the park’s driveway, which was blocked to prevent cars from driving through, although he could see anyone on foot could waltz right in. Out of curiosity, he stopped and turned so he could see if there was a sign with a park name on it.

No. It wasn’t a park.

A cemetery. Swan Point Cemetery, if the sign could be believed.

Xander was frozen as he openly stared at his discovery. The only movement was the ever-present tearing around his fake left eye and the cool, gentle breeze ruffling at his hair. His right hand reflexively gripped the make-do stake tighter.

Other him lived less about two blocks away from a cemetery. Why would anyone from Sunnydale live this close to a cemetery when they don’t have to? Xander wondered.

He realized that his feet had started moving in a back-slowly-away direction while he wasn’t paying attention and that his heart was pounding just a little too hard. He forced himself to stop, take a deep breath, and turn. His best bet, assuming there were fangy things living in the cemetery, was to pretend he didn’t feel threatened. He wasn’t inclined to go looking for a fight when all he had on him was a slender twig broken from a tree and zero information on the cemetery or neighborhood layout.

He made it all the way back to the corner before paranoia finally bloomed and he fled the remaining two blocks back to the Harris residence, only stumbling once when he crossed the street because, in his haste, he failed to properly judge the curb. The adrenalin was still pouring through his veins when he reached the relative safety of the backyard and he restlessly paced in the darkness with one question haunting him. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

He jumped when he heard the back door open and spun around with twig at the ready. He relaxed when he saw it was Anya poking her head out of the door. He couldn’t see the expression on her face, but he could see her body language was tense.

“Sorry. Habit,” he apologized, hoping his voice wouldn’t be heard over the din of the party. He quickly tossed his improvised stake away and held up his hands to show they were empty.

“I wanted to…” Anya began. “Hold on.”

She disappeared back into the house for a moment and then re-emerged bearing a tray laden with food. She brought it over to a sheltered picnic table and put it down. “We thought…well, we both feel really bad that you’re out here. But at least you should have food and some birthday cake.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

Anya looked quickly back at the house, before looking back at him and gesturing for him to come closer. When he was standing next to her, she said in a low voice, “You don’t have to worry. There aren’t any here.”

“Anya, you guys almost ran me over because I was running from a vampire,” Xander said.

Anya stiffened. “Could have been passing through.”

“Or maybe it lives here. With friends.”

She looked up at him, her face hard. “This isn’t Sunnydale. If there was even one vampire feeding, people would notice the dead bodies.”

She had him there. Maybe.

Anya sighed and reached down to the tray to retrieve a set of keys and a small flashlight. “If you’re that worried about it, this key,” she separated one from the group, “will let you into the basement. The transom to let you in is there and there’s a padlock on it. I brought out the flashlight so you’d actually be able to see to unlock it.”

“Thanks. I’ll take it if I see something weird-ish, although I’d rather be out here than hanging out in a basement.”

“Well, that’s why I brought the keys out,” Anya brightened. “The herd will probably start thinning out in an hour or two. When you see the kitchen’s clear, you’ll be able to go up the backstairs to the second floor.”

“Backstairs?”

“Take this key that’s marked with a red K,” Anya held up the key in question and flicked on the flashlight so he could see it, “and use it to open the backdoor. When you go through it, you’ll be faced with another door. You can’t miss it because it‘s right in front of your face. It’s got some wooden pegs for jackets pounded into it. It’s the servants’ staircase. I should know because I’ve seen similar stairs in use back when I was…um…you know.” Anya gave an embarrassed cough before continuing. “Just go right to the top of the stairs. Look out because they’re pretty steep, but there is a handrail and everything, so you’ll get to the second floor no problem. Just go into the guest room. I’ll sneak up later to let you know if you have to vacate because someone needs to stay overnight.”

“Any idea when you’ll let me know?” Xander asked. “I mean, I appreciate it and all, but I really don’t want to get woken up just when I’m falling asleep or something.”

Anya bit her lip. “Probably 11 or 11:30. Sound fair?”

“Fair enough,” Xander agreed. “In the meantime, if I have to hide, what about the shed?” He pointed to the Home Depot deluxe special, one of those custom deals that looked like a miniature house, in the dark corner of the yard.

“Unh, not such a good idea.” Anya leaned closer and said lightly, “That’s Xander’s workshop, sort of his little private domain.”

“Like you’ve never been in there.”

“Oh, I’ve been in there, but I always knock first. He gets very protective of his tools.” She ginned. “Besides, every man needs his castle.”

“Or at least his workshop.”

Anya rested a hand on his forearm and looked up at him with a warm smile that tugged at his heart. “Happy birthday, Xander. Sorry it isn’t a better one.”

“Thanks,” he quietly said.

He watched her turn away and re-enter the house. Although he was half-dreading and half-hoping she would, she didn’t look back before she went inside.

“Happy birthday to me,” he sing-songed as he plopped on the bench seat. What a perfect combination. He was wigged because there was a cemetery close by; he was annoyed because Anya caught Sunnydale blindness; and he was building up to a good case of sorry-for-himself-itis. To top it all off, he wasn’t even hungry. Not even the cake seemed tempting.

Yup, his twenty-third birthday was going to go down in his personal history as a real barnburner.

His eye slid over to the shed. Personal domain, hunh? Way for Anya to put up a big neon sign, although he wasn’t sure if it read ‘stay away’ or ‘feel free to snoop and report back to me.’

Fuck it. He was sick of the ‘don’t go there’ orders. Technically, this was on Harris property and he wasn’t specifically told not to go in there, right? Check him out. He was reverting to high school.

Xander casually stood up and strolled over to the shed. When he got there, he looked behind him, straining his one working eye to make sure he wasn’t being watched. Since he didn’t see anyone looking out the windows, he assumed he was in the clear. He turned and saw the door—which really did look like a house door—was padlocked.

I betchya there’s a keeeeeeeey! He quickly retrieved the flashlight and set of keys from the picnic table and began trying everything that might look like it would fit. On his fourth try, he hit pay dirt.

Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah! he childishly giggled to himself.

Of course it was pitch black inside. Going by the attached generator outside, there was probably an overhead light, but chances are someone from the house would see if he turned it on. He flicked on the flashlight and prowled his way into the interior.

“So, Mr. Harris, what are you hiding?” he gleefully asked. “A stash of porn DVDs? Your collection of Hustler Variations volumes 10 through 20? A little black book with all your sekrit boyfriends? Because I know that with an ex-vengeance demon wife, you wouldn’t dare have affairs with women. At least if you’re getting your bit of strange from men you just might manage to avoid wearing your balls as earrings for the rest of your very short life, which would probably be measured in seconds, by the way.”

The beam from the flashlight landed on a shelf full of books.

“Or maybe you’re hiding a little light reading material,” he said.

He studied the book spines and strangled his disappointment. All of them were D-I-Y home repair and woodworking reference books. He pulled one out at random and awkwardly flipped through the pages. The book was exactly as advertised: a Home Depot D-I-Y on kitchen renovation.

“Bah. You lead a really boring life, Mr. Harris,” Xander complained as he replaced the book. The beam scanned the walls as he began walking around the perimeter, using the worktable in the center to guide his way. “For a graduate of Sunnydale High, I was expecting something more wiggy. You know, something like shrunken voodoo heads or hearts of babies in jars. I just see tools, tools, rope, rake, tools, garden hose and…wow. You really are boring.”

He stumbled over something and there was a clatter of wood. He froze and waited for someone to emerge from the house to see the source of the racket. After a few moments with no curious people showing up, he let himself relax. It probably sounded louder than it actually was in the enclosed space.

Xander dropped the light beam to the floor to find out what he kicked over and saw that he had knocked over a couple of spare pickets for the wooden fence outside. As the beam traversed the length of one picket, he saw a score mark about a quarter of the way up from the bottom. He picked it up with a frown and focused on the crosswise cut.

That doesn’t make sense. Why cut across the grain and near the bottom no less? Even I know that wrecks the integrity of the wood. And if he knew it, other Xander had to know it, too.

Maybe a mark to show how deep to plant it in the ground?

Nah. That can’t be it. This isn’t pressure-treated wood. The bottom would rot if you planted it.

The mysterious score on the picket tickled his curiosity nerve.

He brought the picket outside to get a better look at the white fence and that’s when it occurred to him that the fence looked wrong. Instead of looking at horizontal beams, he was looking at an unbroken row of pickets facing into the yard. Aren’t those supposed to be outside so the fence looks pretty?

This was another case of if he knew it, other Xander had to know it.

He eased his way around the back of the shed to an area that had a lot of brush cover. As he was making sure to find a spot that was definitely out sight of the house, he came across a gap in the fence just big enough to let one person through to the next-door neighbor’s back yard through an opening in the brush.

Weird and weirder, the brush opening looked like it had been recently pruned back.

What the hell?

He stepped through the gap and looked back. Hunh. There was an unbroken line of pickets along the outside of the fence, too.

“Both sides?” he asked quietly. “Why put them on both sides of the horizontal beams? That’s either really anal retentive or…” He looked down at the unfinished picket in his hand and got a really bad feeling.

Xander maneuvered the picket so he could compare its height with pickets attached to the fence. He wasn’t at all comforted to notice that it was an exact match. He doubled-checked the placement of the score on the unfinished picket and gave one of the pickets on the fence a swift kick at right about the spot where a similar score might be hidden.

There was a sharp crack and the white picket literally popped away from the top horizontal beam. He picked up the broken picket and studied it. It was almost a clean break where he kicked it. The broken away bottom was still attached, barely, to the bottom horizontal beam. It was a sign that the white paint was hiding a similar score.

He checked the nail and the horizontal beam exposed by the now-empty space. The nail was just long enough to bite into the wood, but not long enough to keep it in place if, say, someone kicked it.

Either other Xander liked constantly checking the fence to make sure all the pickets stayed in place or…

“Son of a bitch,” Xander quietly breathed. “You’ve surrounded your house with ready-made stakes.”

Which meant other him either knew there were vampires in town or was living with healthy Sunnydale-inspired paranoia that there might be vampires in town.

Xander fitted the broken picket back into place and gave the top part a good whack with the heel of his hand. He had no idea how long it would stay put, but he wasn’t too worried about it since no one would know unless they checked.

He re-entered the Harris’s back yard and let the beam play over the back of the shed. All trace of his earlier amusement had vanished as he again asked, “So, Mr. Harris, what are you hiding?”

He wasn’t going to get a better time to find out.

Xander stole back into the shed, intent on making a far more thorough search of the interior and to straighten up the pickets he kicked over. If other him was hiding something, there was a good bet he’d freak if he noticed something was out of place in his domain. Once the pickets were neatly re-stacked, Xander set to work inspecting every inch of the interior wall space.

The first thing he spotted was the cross nailed above the door. If he remembered right, nailing a cross up in a room was part of an uninvite spell against vampires. Since other Xander had basically made the yard an armed encampment, it wouldn’t at all surprise him if there were a nice little spell on the shed. Technically, a shed wasn’t part of the house and a vampire could just stroll in and take over without an invite.

Since he knew he was pretty useless when it came to spells, it was a good bet that Anya probably put the whammy on the place. If other him was out here alone at night and a vampire wanted to get at him, other Xander would be perfectly safe if he stayed in here.

So, that left open the question: What does Anya know and when did she know it?

The beam scanned every inch of the walls and floor as Xander conducted his search, but he couldn’t see anything that didn’t look like it belonged in the private shop of a professional carpenter with a yen to do his own repairs.

Xander crossed his arms and leaned against the worktable with a frown. “There’s gotta be something here. I refuse to accept pickets and a cross as all you’ve got in the arsenal when you’re so paranoid-y that you make me look like I’d take candy from a yellow-eyed stranger.”

Okay, think. If you were going to hide something in here, where would you hide it?

What about the cabinet under the worktable?

Xander crouched and focused his beam on the cabinet’s two draws. Now that he thought about it, it was a pretty odd place to put it. Sure, it was out of the way, but against the wall would be better for easy access.

Naturally, a chain was threaded through the handles and the ends padlocked together.

Xander went through the process of fishing the set of keys out of his jacket pocket and trying every key in the padlock. None of them worked.

He sat back on his heels with a huff of breath. So, you don’t want anyone to know what’s in the cabinet, but you need easy access to the key if you have to get in there. So, where did you hide the key?

He didn’t recall seeing a key hanging from a hook, but then again he wasn’t looking for one. Since he really wasn’t in the mood to search the walls again, he decided to give the worktable a closer look. The most logical thing would be that the key was attached to the table somewhere with duct tape.

After crawling around and searching the worktable for what felt like hours, he felt dusty and sneezy and his knees ached. And he still had no key.

Xander stood and grimaced at the floor. That stupid key had to be in here somewhere. He dispiritedly began scanning the walls with his flashlight beam again until he reached the book collection.

I wonder. Easy access. Right out in the open. Well hidden. No way to find it unless you knew which book to check.

Plus, as a veteran of tucking comic books into his schoolbooks so he could read them during class, hiding a key inside a book made more sense than he wanted to admit.

He approached the mini-library again and studied the spines more closely.

Whaddya know. A D-I-Y book on how to build wooden fences.

“I bet you’re in there,” Xander said quietly as he pulled the book out of its place. One quick look told him that there was definitely something tucked inside. He brought it over to the worktable top and let the book fall open.

Jackpot!

There was a little key tucked right between pages 159 and 160.

Xander carefully removed it and left the book open so he could tuck the key back into its rightful place. Other Xander was definitely paranoid and the more he could do to hide the fact that he was snooping through other him’s stuff, the better.

In short order, Xander had the lock and chain removed, but his hand hovered over the draw handles as he hesitated. If you do this, you won’t be able to go back. What if you find something you really don’t like in there?

He had to know. This having to know thing of his always got him in trouble and he knew in his gut that this time wouldn’t be any different. He was about to enter sorry-he-asked land.

“Better find out now instead of getting surprised later,” Xander said quietly as he yanked open the bottom draw and peered in.

What he found took him so by surprise that he was literally knocked back on his ass.

Stakes?

He got on his knees and looked back inside.

Make that a shitload of stakes.

He fished one out and noticed that it was perfect for him. The grip was custom made to fit his hand and the balance was nothing short of superb. The wood was solid and perfectly sanded to prevent splinters.

“You know,” Xander said angrily. “You know they’re here, don’t you?”

He glared into the draw and wondered if other him would notice if a stake or two were missing. Probably not, since there was quite a number stashed away. Even if other him did obsessively count his stakes, he might assume he miscounted.


Screw it. If other him was paranoid about vampires, than he’d really be stupid if he didn’t share in the paranoia. Xander reached in and grabbed another stake to go with the one in his hand and jammed both in a coat pocket. He’ll have to hide them once he got back inside, but that should be easy enough to pull off.

He closed the draw and opened the top one.

Why lookie here. Arrows. At least two quivers’ worth at a guess.

He pulled one out and looked down its length. Perfectly straight cedar wood shaft. Three-fletch standard. Silver arrowhead, perfect if your target was a werewolf, solid enough to break the skin if your target was a vampire. Probably custom made.

If there were arrows, there was probably a longbow stashed in here somewhere. Xander debated whether he should look for it, but decided against it. The presence of these arrows was really all the proof he needed.

He replaced the arrow and quickly set the shop to rights.


He was still shaking when he snapped the padlock on the shed closed.

It was probably late. He needed to get inside and get up to the guest bedroom before Anya went to look for him. There’d be too many questions if he was still out here after 11.

He grabbed the tray, carried it around to the back of the shed, and tossed the food into the bushes on the other side of the fence. He knew he’d be starved in the morning, but right at this moment he didn’t have much of an appetite.

Xander deposited the tray on the picnic table and paused to allow himself a deep breath before making his sneaky assault on the house.

Fences, and crosses, and stakes, and arrows. You son of a bitch. There’s something bad in this town, isn’t there?

What really pissed Xander off is that other him didn’t see fit to warn him that there just might be vampires around. Hell, Anya out-and-out refused to admit to the possibility when he brought it up.

He didn’t want to think about this. Hell, he couldn’t think about it. There were too many possibilities about what the weapons stash might mean.

The only thing he knew was this: there wasn’t a single possibility he could call “good.”

TBC…here

Download (good for seven days): Numb by Linkin Park

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