liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
liz_marcs
liz_marcs

FIC: Whisper, 9/12 (PG-13; BtVS; Ensemble)

Continued from Part 8

Title: Whisper, Part 9
Author: Lizbeth Marcs
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Rating: PG-13 for violence, mild language, and some implied situations. Any similarities to a certain scandal that has rocked a certain religion in the Greater Boston Area is purely coincidental, even if it did originally provide the spark for this idea.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and related characters are owned by FOX, written and produced by Mutant Enemy. The song ‘No More’ is from the Original Broadway production Into the Woods, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and is therefore not owned by me, either. Dolly, however, is mine.
Summary: A demon is stalking the streets of Sunnydale and driving the residents into horrific public displays of suicide. The key to solving the mystery is locked in the mind of one Scoob who is unable to remember a part of his troubled past.
Pairing: None.
Warning: Spoilers for early S7 Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Author’s Note: This takes place immediately after ‘Him,’ but before ‘Conversations with Dead People. There is a slight AU element in that the Magic Box has been rebuilt in this story. This is the first novel-length story in a series that includes Living History (takes place four months after ‘Chosen’) and Water Hold Me Down (takes place seven months after ‘Chosen’).

 


The hunt for the last remaining Sunnydale deChantal began in earnest. The Scoobs had a plan and they understood the plan. They also understood the utter gravity of the situation, so there was no joking around. They were determined and ready to engage in the hunt and kill the target.

They should’ve succeeded, except fate took a hand.

Some examples of what went wrong:

Xander and Anya team up to scope out The Bronze:

“I still say I should be the bait.” Anya crossed her arms.

“We’ve gone over this. I have a better chance of dealing with this thing because it can’t put me under a thrall.”

“But I’m much prettier than you!”

“I should hope so. Wait! Hold on! Pretty is not what we’re going for here. We’re going for wallflower. Remember?”

“Oh, right. I’m too pretty to be a wallflower. You’re perfect.”

“Gee, thanks.” Xander walked up to the door and paid his cover charge. He turned to look back at his ‘patrol buddy.’ “Now remember, stay out of sight, but make sure to keep an eye on me, okay?”

“Right,” Anya stage whispered back.

Xander walked into the club. He pulled up a stool at the bar, ordered a Scotch, and thought wallflower-like thoughts.

“Hey, Harris!” A big beefy arm clapped Xander on the shoulder, causing him to jump. “Been awhile since I’ve seen ya!”

“You saw me at work today, Zmiggy,” Xander muttered as he tried to sink beneath the bar.

“Like I said, long time no see! How about some pool?”

Anya toddled over to Xander and asked, “Is this low profile? Because I have to tell you, this doesn’t look low profile to me.”

 

Xander and Buffy team up to scope out The Salty Dog:

“This place is a dump.”

“Welcome to the world of my childhood.”

Buffy turned to look at Xander’s side profile. He looked grim in the dim light of the car’s interior.

“That bad?” she asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Buffy let out a puff of breath. “Any chance of anyone knowing you in there? We don’t want a repeat of what happened at The Bronze.”

“No worries. This bar is relatively new.”

“It doesn’t look new.”

“You understate the power of determined alcoholics to cause damage.” Xander shook himself. “Let’s go.”

“Right. You first. I’ll follow you in about five minutes.”

“Check.”

Buffy watched Xander enter the bar, counted the minutes, and then followed. She slouched through the dive’s door and tried to remain inconspicuous in the shadows. She saw Xander sitting at the bar and doing a very good impression of a man with nothing lose as he stared morosely into his glass.

At least Buffy hoped it was an act.

She leaned against the wall and let out a sigh of relief. So far, so good.

“Evenin’ lil’ lady.”

Buffy looked up and into the face of a very large man sporting a few gin blossoms on his cheeks. She was fairly certain if she lit a match, his breath would cause the flame to turn blue.

“Uh, not interested,” she said, reaching into her pocket for the baggie full of ethanol-soaked swabs. Great, just great, Buffy thought. Good scenario, this is our demon. Bad scenario, this is an ordinary drunk and this scene is going to get really out of hand really fast.

“Awww, wha’samatter, blondie? Schy?”

Across the bar, Buffy could see Xander’s head perk up when the sound of the loud drunk’s question hit his ears. “Why…yes! Yes. I’m shy. Very shy. I, umm, just want to be left alone?”

“Wa’tha’ las’ quesshun an invite?” The drunk leaned closer.

Buffy winced against the building smell of alcohol-infused breath while her fingers managed to finally open the bag. “No. I swear. I just, well, I want to stay next to the wall right here, see? I like this wall. Makes me feel all invisible.”

“Pretty l’il thing like you shoul’ be ’visible,” the drunk grinned.

“Right!” Buffy liberated a swab and slapped it on the man’s hand. She giddily waited to see what happened.

Nothing. The skin remained as humanly pink as it was before.

“Wha’ wuz tha’ for!” the drunk roared.

“BuffyIthinkwebettergo,” Xander’s voice said in her ear.

“No! I saw her firs,’” the drunk insisted.

Then he threw up on both of them.

 

Willow and Anya team up to scope out Lucille’s Pink Lady:

“Seven phone numbers!”

“Buffy, I can explain,” Willow said.

“Seven!” Buffy threw her hands up in the air. “Willow, we’re supposed to be keeping low profile and pretending to be invisible people!”

“Well, I was! I ordered a drink at the bar and tried to become one with the wall,” Willow explained helplessly.

“What went wrong?” Dawn asked.

“See, this woman asked me to dance, and I didn’t think it was polite if I said no.”

“Seven phone numbers!” Buffy ranted. “That. Is. Not. Low. Profile. What were you doing on the dance floor?”

“It was quite invigorating to watch,” Anya said. “Made me want to try being a lesbian myself.”

“Do we really need the editorial comments?” Xander pleaded. “You’re putting bad thoughts in my head.”

“Oh for god’s sake!” Buffy began pacing. “Please tell me that you understand where you went wrong at Lucille’s?”

Willow wilted. “Ummm, I should’ve said no to dancing?”

“This is insulting,” Xander remarked.

“How so?” Buffy asked.

“Willow has a better track record with the ladies than I do.”

 

Xander and Willow team up to scope out Dan’s Grille & Tavern:

“I can’t believe she thought I was your wife,” Willow commented as she dug into her stack of pancakes.

“Yah, funny how people jump to the wrong conclusions when you slap an alcohol swab on their hand while making threats,” Xander said, sipping from the IHOP-standard mug.

“Willow? We went over this. We do not interfere when Xander’s trolling for demons,” Buffy said.

“Ruined a perfectly good siren song,” Xander complained. “I was in the zone tonight. I had the whole miserable, depressed, morose, glaring-in-the-mirror-behind-the-bar action down pat.”

“And how is that different from your usual winning personality?” Spike asked.

“Hardy-har-har. Keep pushing it bleachie or you’ll find a lock-out on the Spice Channel,” Xander threatened. Off the horrified looks of the women around the table, Xander added, “What? I’m a healthy, red-blooded male over the age of eighteen.”

“Plus the Spice Channel gives you some great ideas,” Anya volunteered. When attention switched to her, she added, “Oh, like you’ve never fantasized about your orgasm partner wearing a kilt while you use police handcuffs, a blindfold, melted wax, a feather duster, and a riding crop on him during sex.”

Xander sputtered his coffee all over the table and began hacking and gasping.

“Willow!” Buffy desperately called, partially because Anya’s remarks were giving her some nasty flashbacks to a certain Cosmo quiz. “We’ve gone over this and over this and over this. While I’m sure Xander appreciates your Mama Bear persona—”

“Which seems to maul everyone who looks at me cross-eyed,” Xander interrupted as he mopped up the coffee.

“This is the second bar the two of you got kicked out of because you started a fight,” Buffy finished.

“She looked suspicious,” Willow protested.

“She was hitting on me,” Xander shot back.

“She was really, really aggressive with the touching and caressing,” Willow said. “Plus, she was talking really fast when she leaned in to talk to you.”

“All she said is that she wanted to cheer up someone who was tall, dark, and brooding,” Xander countered.

Spike snorted a laugh. “All you need is stupider hair and the transformation is complete.”

“Hunh?” Xander asked.

“Okay, Willow? I’m thinking we should definitely take you off the rotation for watching Xander’s back,” Buffy said.

“But—” Willow began.

“Willow, while I appreciate the fact that you want to play big brother…umm…big sister to my Xansel in distress, you’re not supposed to spring into action until after I’ve moved off my ass and started leaving the bar,” Xander said. “The springing into action bit is you picking up the cell phone and hitting the ‘send’ button.’”

Willow reached across the table and captured Xander’s hand in hers. “I just don’t want to see you—” she quietly began.

“I know,” he answered just as quietly. “But we’re annoying innocent people.”

“She didn’t look so innocent to me,” Willow sniffed. “Did you see what she was wearing?”

“I don’t care,” Buffy firmly said. “What I do care about is that you managed to single-handedly raise Xander’s profile. Again.”

“Yeah, now everyone in that bar thinks I’m a two-timing slime bag with a wife desperate to keep her piece of shit husband. Thanks, Wills,” Xander grumbled. “If we keep going like this, I’ll never be able to get another date with anyone living within town limits.”

“And this is bad, how?” Anya asked.

“Ouch. Sorry, Ahn,” Xander wilted.

“You dying a broken old man living in a bachelor apartment with 300 cats will be payment enough, Harris,” Anya sniffed.

“I’m hoping for more of an artistic bloody smear on the sidewalk while I point and laugh,” Spike said.

“ARGH! Dead Xander scenarios are givin’ me the wig out. Can we stop making my funeral plans already?” Xander pleaded.

“We’re not making funeral plans, just plotting your death,” Anya cheerfully replied.

“Stop it!” Willow shouted loud enough to draw the attention of everyone in IHOP. She cringed. “Please, you’re upsetting me. This is hard enough with Xander facing down—”

“Hey, it’s okay, Wills,” Xander quietly soothed. “Anya just having fun at my expense and Spike’s just being Spike.”

“HEY!” Spike and Anya exclaimed in unison.

“Guys, enough.” Buffy sat back and crossed her arms. “As unbelievable as this sounds, so far Xander’s the only who’s managed to not screw up.”

“Let me add my own ‘hey’ here,” Xander said.

Buffy winced. “That isn’t what I meant. What I meant is you’re the one under the most pressure and you’ve managed to stick to the plan. Well, okay, you got made at the Bronze, but still, not your fault. The rest of us have managed to blow your cover. Badly.”

“We still have plenty of hotspots left to case, so we haven’t blown all of our chances,” Xander reminded her.

Buffy sighed. “I know, I know. I’m just antsy. I want to get this over with.” She looked at Xander. “And just for the record, I still don’t like this plan. It leaves you too vulnerable.”

“Got a better one?” Xander shrugged. “No? We’re stuck, then.” He picked up the check. “On me. You guys cover the tip. Be right back.”

As Xander went to pay the tab, Willow turned to Anya. “You got Xander to wear a kilt?”

“Don’t ask for details, Willow,” Buffy pleaded. “Please don’t ask.”

 

Xander and Spike team up to scope out The Golden Banana:

“Hey, Wills? It’s me.”

“Xander! Where are you? And why aren’t you using your cell phone?”

“I’m calling from a payphone.” There was an uncomfortable pause. “Ummmm, I kinda need you to bail me outta jail.”

“What? Why?”

“I, uhm, mmmummmble mummmmmble muuuuummble…”

“Speak up! What did you do Alexander Harris?”

“Igotarrestedinagaybashingincident.”

“WHAT?”

“Calm down, Wills. Technically, I was the gay that was bashed.”

*sputter* *cough cough* *sputter* “And they arrested you?” Pause. “And why did they assume you were gay?”

“Thank poochie the blonde wonder in jail with me.”

Spike’s in jail with you? Ohmygod! How many hours ’till sunrise?”

“It’s 1AM, you have time.”

“What happened?”

“See, I was in the Golden Banana just like the plan said and Spike was playing backup by hanging out in a dark corner.”

“Then what happened?”

“I was hit on. A lot.” Pause. “It appears I have better luck with men than with women. Should I be disturbed by this?”

“Xander!”

“Anyway, there was this one guy that just wouldn’t take no for an answer and kept aggressively getting in my personal space.”

“What did you do?”

“I was trying to be polite by not decking him. Low profile, remember? Anyway this guy was drunk. I mean really drunk and he was starting to get belligerent so Spike decided to ‘save’ me from him.”

“Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes! He struts over, puts an arm around my waist, and insists that we should go home and, I quote, ‘Shag until my eyes roll to the back of my head and blood dribbles out of my nose.’ End quote.”

“Eeeep.”

“Funny. That’s the exact sound I made when he said that. Next thing I know fangface is dragging me out the door!”

“So, how did you go from a cozy couple to a couple of prizefighters?”

“Very funny. I was in the middle of a rant asking him why he felt the need to intervene when the drunk, who turned out to be not-so-drunk by the way, and two of his biggest friends caught up with us in the parking lot.”

“I don’t like where this is going.”

“Anyway, one of them started swinging a chain and one of them started swinging a bat, and not-so-drunk guy was swinging a fist. Spike managed to deck not-so-drunk guy, but in short order screamed, grabbed his head, and started writhing on the ground.”

“Which left you with the armed guys.”

“You got it. Don’t ask me how, but I managed to get chain guy, steal the chain from him, and then I beat him and bat guy with it.” There was a pause. “I think I discovered a benefit to helping Buffy fight demons. I can kick the ass of most humans. Makes me feel all manly.”

“Xander! So how did you two get arrested?”

“See, this is the funny part. The police arrived, they see me with the chain standing over three male bodies screaming that I’m going to kill them and Spike woozily getting to his feet.”

“Oh, oh.”

“Oh, yeah! See, for some reason, the Sunnydale P.D.? Not so big on homosexual rights. Doesn’t matter who started it, what mattered is the fags won so, ergo, fags got arrested.”

“Nice language there, Xander.”

“Sorry, just quoting some of the more polite comments I heard during the booking process. I’m a mite pissed since I was the victim in this little bashing incident and I’m the one arrested because—” There was a sound of a phone being pulled away while Xander yelled to someone in the background, “A BUNCH OF SOMEONES DON’T APPROVE OF MY ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLE!”

“Xander, you don’t have an alternative lifestyle.”

“Says you. I have a vampire living in my closet. If that doesn’t scream alternative lifestyle, I don’t know what does.”


In conclusion:

“People, let’s face it. We suck at low profile,” Buffy slouched into the couch. “We’ve visited every bar in town and we’ve managed to somehow become the center of attention every single time. Can someone tell me how we can be such utter screw-ups?”

“How is this possible? I mean, no one ever noticed us in high school,” Willow protested as she glanced around at the assembled Scoobs gathered in Buffy’s living room.

“I noticed ya,” Spike said from his post in front of the fireplace. “Then again, could be because of the Slaying thing. And the Angel thing. And the you guys trying to stake me thing…”

“Yes! Yes! We get the picture Spike,” Xander interrupted from his face-up prone position on the floor.

“Well, I noticed you, too,” Anya piped up from the comfy chair she occupied. “Then again, it’s probably because Cordelia made a really mean wish during which I lost my powers the first time.”

“Looking over our failed missions I can only conclude one thing,” Xander said.

“What’s that?” Dawn asked.

“Ever get the feeling people can tell where we’ve been because whatever we walk away from is on fire?” Xander asked.

“We do not always set something on fire!” Buffy protested. “Sometimes we just wreck it beyond recognition.”

“And it always requires insurance forms. Lots and lots of insurance forms,” Anya added.

“Guys, I think we can conclude that low profile isn’t actually something we do well,” Willow said.

“Which means that none of us can serve as bait.” Xander deflated.

After a moment of silence, Buffy piped up, “Betchya sorry we didn’t go for my hose idea now, aren’t ya?”

***

Xander sipped his coffee outside the Café del Sol and tried to suppress a laugh while odd flashes of the past two weeks ran through his mind. Buffy was right. They blew the plan in the most creative ways possible.

Still, he had to admit, Spike complaining nonstop about being confused with ‘that pouf with the overdeveloped eyebrow ridge’ while they waited for Willow to bail them out was very funny material. He’d have to keep it in mind if he ever found himself visiting Angel in L.A.

{not funny.} the whisper groused.

Oh, shut up, will you? Given everything, I think I’m entitled to seeing the funny, Xander thought.

The whisper sniffed its disapproval.

What-evah. He tried not to feel like a 10-year-old snarking at a teacher.

{i can’t believe you screwed up this badly} the whisper complained. {you know this is serious? right? people are dying. you do remember this isn’t. just. about. you.}

Look, not my fault. Aside from immunity issues and the ability to spot one of these things at a hundred paces, no one else could be bait because Buffy, Willow, Anya, Spike, hell, even Dawn couldn’t walk through a room unnoticed, Xander silently argued while he flipped open the paper. The amazing thing is that Willow thinks I might give off ‘notice me’ vibes.

The whisper snorted. {probably giving them out in self-defense because you really don’t want to find this demon. you want someone else to deal with it. coward. this isn’t about what you want this is about—}

“Can it,” Xander quietly ordered. “I’ve had it. Let me read.”

The whisper huffed and fell silent. Xander let out a relieved breath. He focused on the front page of the paper and froze.

Two suicides. Two faces staring up at him from the front page. Two pictures with accusing smiles.

{think it’s funny now?} the whisper darkly asked.

Xander’s hands began to shake and he let the paper drop to the tabletop. My fault. My fault. My fault…

{snap out of it.} the whisper demanded.

He closed his eyes. He felt sick. While we were running all over Sunnydale on our misadventures two people died. The plan wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough.

{look the plan wasn’t the problem. the problem was—} the whisper began.

Was me. It was me. I didn’t really want to find it. I didn’t try hard enough. I came up with a plan that was sure to go wrong. Xander began rubbing his hands over his face.

{okay, look, stop being so hard—}

You were right you were right you were right. I’m fucking terrified of this thing because I know it can get to me if it gets close enough to— he squelched the thought before he could finish it.

{you’re allowed fear.} the whisper sounded worried. {it’s okay to be—}

I’d rather die than let it get its claws on me, Xander silently admitted. I don’t know if I can take—

“Xander?”

Xander’s head shot up and focused on Dolly.

“Xander?” she asked again, worry scrunching her features. “You don’t look so hot.”

“Igottago.” Xander quickly stood. A little too quickly as it turned out, since he managed to bump the table hard enough to upend the mug of coffee and send it and its contents to the sidewalk. He dumbly stared at the mess a moment before reaching for a napkin. “I’ll…I’ll take care of it. Sorry.”

“Stop.”

“Look, I’m sorry about…my mess. S’okay.”

Dolly grabbed Xander by the arm and ordered, “I said stop it. You. Me. Backroom. Now.”

Next thing he knew the waitress was dragging him through the coffee shop by the arm to the accompaniment of some whistles and claps.

“Dolly’s got herself a young stud,” came a call from the peanut gallery.

Xander turned to protest but was cut off when a hard yank threw him into the backroom. Dolly firmly shut the door behind her and turned on a light. She fixed him with a look that brooked no argument and crossed her arms. “So,” she said.

“So?”

“What’s going on?” Dolly demanded. “Looked like you were gonna pass out.”

Xander shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the floor. “Not feeling well,” he mumbled.

Dolly let out a sigh and marched two steps across the cramped space. She placed a hand on his forehead. “You’re not runnin’ a fever,” she commented. She took a finger and raised his face until she could look directly in his eyes. “Although I gotta admit you look pale.”

“Told you that I’m not—”

“Feeling well. Whatever.” Dolly indicated a stack of boxes. “Sit,” she ordered.

Something in her tone of voice warned Xander that he best comply. He gingerly lowered himself onto the box and tested to see if it would take his weight. Once he was sure his seat was solid, he settled into position.

Dolly began pacing the narrow space as if trying to figure out what to say.

“Can you please stop that? You’re making me dizzy,” Xander said.

Dolly stopped, let out a breath, and fixed Xander with a look. “What’s going on?”

“I told you—”

“Can it, hun, and save it for the tourists. You gave me the skinny on vampires, Slayers, and things that go bump in the night, remember?” Dolly looked closely at him. “There’s something going on, isn’t there? Something you and your gang have been tracking through the newspapers.”

Xander raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Pretty perceptive there, Dolly.”

Dolly waved a dismissive hand and snorted. “Waitresses see all and know a lot, we just don’t always mention it.” She stopped. “So I’m right? You are tracking somethin’ through the paper.”

“The suicides,” Xander said.

“The sui—oh my god,” her eyes widened with horror. “That guy! That woman that day in front of the café.”

“Victims of a suicide demon called a deChantal. I think that’s what it’s called, not sure I’ve got the pronunciation right,” Xander said.

“Suicide demon.” Dolly’s voice dropped an octave.

“A demon that kinda sucks all hope from humans until they want to kill themselves,” Xander explained.

“Ahhh,” Dolly said. “I gotta sit down.”

Xander moved to make room for Dolly on the box pile. The waitress sat next to him and numbly stared at the wall across from her.

“Just for the record, hun, knowing you is turning out to be quite the adventure.”

“Wait’ll you hear about my adventures in dating.”

Dolly looked at him and then turned to look at the wall. “I’m thinkin’ I might not wanna know. Might put me offa romance for life.”

Xander snorted. “If you could call it that. You a virgin?”

“What does that have to do with—”

“Probably safe from preying mantises then.”

Dolly looked at him. “You’ve gotta to be kidding me.”

“Nope. Nearly had my head chewed off when I was fifteen. Then there was Ampata.”

“Ampata.”

“Inca Mummy Girl. Could suck the life out of you with one kiss. That was sixteen.”

Dolly nodded. “I see. So maybe my date standing me up was a good thing?”

“Given this town? Probably.”

Dolly flashed a grin. “Are you calm now?”

Xander thought about it. “You know? Yeah. Yeah. A little.”

“So, wanna give me the down-and-dirty on these demons? You looked mighty upset out there and I’m guessin’ the front page might be the cause.”

Xander looked at her. “How long have you got?”

“I got as long as you need, hun,” Dolly assured him.

***

“No. Absolutely not. No way.”

“Why not?” Xander asked.

“Because,” Buffy crossed her arms.

“‘Because’ is not an answer,” Xander retorted.

“Because I’m the Slayer.”

“What are you? Her mom?” Xander asked. “And that’s still not an—”

“But Dolly? Dolly!” Buffy began pacing the breadth of her living room. She stopped. “And just how did Dolly find out about—”

“I told her.” The laser-eye look of death that Buffy gave him was enough to make Xander shrink into the couch.

“You told her. I see.” Buffy closed her eyes. “How much does she know?”

“Everything?” Xander answered in a tiny voice.

Buffy’s eyes popped open in a glare. “Why?”

Xander sighed. “I didn’t have a choice.”

“There’s always a choice, Xander. What could possibly possess you to—” Realization dawned on Buffy’s face. “Oh. My. God. You were hitting on her, weren’t you?”

“What?”

“That’s it, isn’t it? You two got to flirting and you were trying to impress her.” Buffy broke into a grin. “Isn’t she a little old…no…wait…she’s younger than Anya. Scratch that. You two would make a cute couple.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Buffy blinked against the look of utter confusion on Xander’s face. “You mean you aren’t interested in Dolly?”

“Again with the ‘hunh’ followed by a ‘what’ chased by a ‘the hell’?”

Buffy plopped on the couch next to Xander. “So let me get this straight. You told Dolly about the suicide demons and, I’m assuming, me and the not-so-imaginary monsters of Sunnydale.”

“Yes.”

“If it wasn’t full disclosure as a precursor to asking her out, why did you?”

Xander blinked. “Why would I ask Dolly out? I mean, she’s hot, but she acts like the mom I never had.” He burst into a grin. “Good thing I don’t have Oedipal issues, hunh? Can you imagine what—”

“Xander!” Buffy shouted in exasperation. “You’re changing the subject. I’ve got your number, so don’t try to deny it.”

Xander uncomfortably squirmed. “I had a good reason.”

“Spill.”

“There may have been an incident.”

“An incident.”

“An incident involving, say, a vampire. Or two,” Xander mumbled.

Buffy raised her eyebrows.

“And maybe, just maybe, I kinda, sorta, staked them.”

Buffy grinned. “How do you kinda stake a vampire? Is that like being a little bit pregnant? And two? At the same time? Go Harris with your bad self.”

“That’s because there’s never a Slayer around when you really need one,” Xander grumbled.

“Let me guess. Dolly was the damsel in distress.”

“I tried to tell her they were muggers and that I just scared them off, but she wasn’t buying,” Xander protested.

“Whoa!” Buffy held up a hand. “Don’t have to get all defensive.”

“What do you expect?” Xander shot back. “You just accused me of using my status as the resident ‘normal human’ in the Scooby Gang to seduce—”

“Sorry.” Buffy winced. “I didn’t mean—”

“Yes you did.” Xander closed his eyes and sighed.

“Xander? Xan? Look. I’m really sorry. I know better. Really, I do,” Buffy soothed. “It’s just that you wouldn’t tell me why you—”

“I didn’t want to get into it.”

Buffy studied him, brow creasing with concern. “Why not?” she softly asked.

“Does it matter?”

Ahhh, and here we have the famous Harris brick wall, ladies and gentlemen. Ask it questions and it will distract you with jokes, comments, nonsense, and playing dumb, Buffy thought. Please try not to throttle the wall’s neck on your way to our next exhibit in the Harris defense mechanism gallery.

“You really hate admitting when you do something right, don’t you?” Buffy asked.

“You’re confusing me with someone else,” Xander said. “I’ve managed to screw up almost from the get-go. I can’t even attract a hungry suicide demon despite my Eau de Victimme scent.”

“That’s not true,” Buffy corrected him. “Yeah, we’ve all made mistakes in this mess, not just you. In fact, you’ve made the fewest mistakes, despite the fact that you’ve carried the lion’s share of the burden.”

Xander opened his mouth to protest.

“Shut up and listen to me,” Buffy cut him off. “Yeah, maybe you should’ve told us sooner about…well…but I can see why you didn’t and I’m sorry that you didn’t feel you couldn’t confide in Willow or me until you felt you had no choice.”

Xander blinked in surprise. “People in glass houses, Buff.”

“Yeah. I know. I gotta work on that, but so do you,” Buffy said. “Look. I’ll make you a deal. From now on, let’s actually be friends instead of just saying we’re friends. Deal?”

“Deal,” Xander said. He grinned. “Does this mean we also can share our perverted sexual fantasies? Make sure we include Willow in on this deal.”

“Stop it,” Buffy laughed. “I already got an eye full that already, so I really don’t need—”

Xander raised his eyebrows. “Eye full?”

Buffy giggled. “Tell Anya to be more careful about where she leaves her Cosmos. Innocent hands have a tendency to flip to the wrong page.”

“Oh god.” Xander was turning a most interesting shade of scarlet. “I don’t want to know. I really, really don’t…no…forget it…I’m coping to nothing. You’ll never make me talk.”

“Don’t say anything then,” Buffy said, suppressing her giggles. “So, Dolly knows about our situation and she wants to be the bait.”

“She wants to help, Buffy,” Xander pleaded. “She’s still having nightmares about that woman who set herself on fire and she wants to do something about it.”

Buffy grimaced. “Are we going with the same plan?”

“With one or two changes,” Xander began.

***

Dolly swore and cursed as she stumbled through the woods. How the hell did this happen? How the hell did I get sucked into this? she thought. Just what the hell is it about him?

Dolly tumbled into the clearing. She had broken just about every rule in the book in the past few weeks, all because she couldn’t be patient. She just had to give it a push. She couldn’t leave well enough alone.

Well, if she was going to break the rules, she might as well go whole hog and be damned the consequences.

“Here vampires, vampires, vampires,” she softly called as she scanned the brush. “Nice weak human here. Nummy treat. I even ate lots and lots of chocolate to appeal to bloodsuckers with a sweet fang.”

Nothing. Not even a rustle.

Damn Slayer. Never a vampire around when you need one.

Looked like she was just going to have to invade the nest since not one soulless animal wanted to buy her baitful self.

Dolly dropped the helpless human act, straightened her clothes, and marched resolutely back into the woods. Right. Enough is enough. Time to kick some serious ass and take some serious names.

She shoved her way through the underbrush until she got to a well-concealed cave. She paused and listened. Superior hearing told her there was a Baker’s Dozen worth of vamps inside.

She rolled her eyes.

Why couldn’t they live in that mansion on Crawford Street like that Angelus fella? Dolly thought with irritation. What about a nice abandoned factory? Hell, even the Master’s underground church is better than this. But nooooo. These yo-yos have to live in a freakin’ cave just so I can stomp all over the woods in the middle of the night to find them.

Dolly’s form shimmered in the moonlight, revealing her true demonic visage. She smiled. This was going to be fun.

A blink of an eye later, she stood in the center of the cave, smack dab in the middle of the nest. “Heya guys,” she greeted. “I need ya to do me a favor.”

One of the vampires moved to attack.

Dolly grabbed him and pulled him close. She exerted very little effort when she twisted his head clean off his shoulders. While dust motes danced around her in the darkness, Dolly cleared her throat. “Now that I have your undivided attention, I am here to ask a favor. I suggest you say yes.”

“You killed Lenny!” one of the vampires roared.

“Lenny was clearly stupid,” Dolly flatly stated. “Take a good look at me, numb nuts. Do you honestly believe that making a suicide run like that was an indication that he’d get health and a long unlife? I mean, really.”

“You killed Lenny!” the vampire repeated.

“If you add ‘you bastard’ to that, you’re next,” Dolly warned. “Sit. Now. Or you’re gonna be next even if you don’t say it.”

The vampire glared at her through dull yellow eyes before doing as he was told.

“Now, who’s the boss?” Dolly asked.

“I am,” a feminine voice floated out of the darkness.

“Come closer so I can see you, hun.”

The female vampire gracefully moved from the shadows and stood barely foot away from Dolly.

Dolly nodded her head in approval. “You are most definitely older than you look.”

“So are you,” she hissed back.

“Much older,” Dolly cheerfully agreed. “Older than you can imagine. Got a name, hun?”

The vampiress seemed taken aback even as she answered. “Emerald.”

“Emerald,” Dolly flatly stated. “That cannot possibly be your real name.”

“I don’t see what—”

“Whatever. I don’t care,” Dolly interrupted. “Emerald you want, Emerald you got. So, Emerald, like I said, I need a favor.”

“Why should we do you any favors?” Emerald asked.

“If you don’t, I’ll dust every single one of you,” Dolly light-heartedly threatened.

The vampires looked at each other while Emerald chuckled. “And what makes you think you can get all of us?”

Before the vampiress was finished with her question, Dolly was next to Emerald and holding a cross to her cheek. The vampiress screamed and scrambled away, holding a hand to the right side of her face.

“I believe I made my point,” Dolly said.

“What do you want?” Emerald spat out.

“I’ll get to that, dearie. First, lemme show you something.” Dolly dug into her fanny pack and withdrew a disposable cell phone and a pager. She held them out to Emerald.

“What’s this?” Emerald asked.

“This is modern technology at work,” Dolly said. “Take them.”

“Why?”

Dolly muttered and rolled her eyes. “Because I told you to.”

Emerald grabbed the pager and the cell.

“Right, here’s how it works,” Dolly nodded. “I’ve got some very important business to take care of, but I can’t do it unless certain parties are distracted. You are going to be that distraction.”

“I see,” Emerald carefully said.

“Now, the problem is that chance is playing a part of this, hence the cell phone.”

“Right.”

“A group of humans are going to be at milling around at a certain location. You’ll be able to recognize them because they’ll be wearing these metal contraptions on their heads. Even you won’t be able to miss this crew.”

“Why are they wearing—” Emerald began.

“Long story and not important,” Dolly waved her hand. “When I know the location and when they’ll be there, I’ll call you on the phone and tell you where they are. You get into position and prepare to attack the group. They’ll be nice and distracted so you’ll have no problems sneaking up on them.”

“So you want us to attack when you call us on the cell phone?” Emerald asked.

“No! I want you to get into position to attack when you get a call on the cell phone,” Dolly explained. “By the way, I expect you to dump the cell phone after you get my call giving you the time and place.”

“And the pager is for?”

“The pager is to let you know when to attack,” Dolly replied. “It’s already set on ‘vibrate’ because I don’t want to tip anyone off with a loud beep. When you get the signal, dump the pager, and attack the humans. Got it?”

Emerald twitched her head in confusion. “Is there a reason why you want us to—”

“Like I said, I need a distraction. My plan’s not going to work if you don’t keep this group occupied,” Dolly said.

The vampiress’s eyes narrowed. “Why do I think that you’re not telling us the whole truth?”

“Hmmm, okay. Full disclosure time. One of them’s a Slayer.”

“WHAT?!?”

“Yup. I expect to see some serious Slayer-fu out there, so make sure you put up a damn good fight,” Dolly said.

“We are not going to—”

“I can always send you on a one-way ticket to Dustville.”

“We’re dust anyway if we attack the Slayer and her gang!” Emerald protested. “Have you seen the people she—”

Dolly held up an admonishing finger. “Ahhhh, but the Slayer and her friends will make it quick. Plus, you have a chance of surviving your little run-in with Slayer and company. I, on the other hand, can make the pain last for centuries and not one of you will escape my vengeance. Am I making myself as clear as glass? Or do you need me to carve it on your forehead?”

Emerald defiantly looked into Dolly’s eyes. The nonverbal struggle was over before it began. The vampiress’s shoulders slumped. “Spell out what you want us to do,” she said.

Dolly cheerfully clapped her hands. “That’s the spirit!”

Continued in Part 10

 

 

 

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