Wheee! The comment on your favorite character meme has gotten 64 comments. Y'all rock!
I see we finally got aadler to join the darkside of LJ. Yay! (Duuude! I just friended you!) And if you haven't read his fabulous cycle of stories, you really should. He's got one of the most unique takes on the Buffy-verse you'll find.
Now that I'm done being a pimp...
1) You asked for it.
Sorry I've been scarce-ish online. Busy week mucking out the apartment and doing errands. Is it Wednesday already? So much for my vacation week.
All previous parts can be found here.
I look inside myself and see my heart is black.
I see my red door and it has been painted black.
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts.
It’s not easy facin’ up when your whole world is black.
No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue.
I could not foresee this thing happening to you.
Xander barely got to his feet with stake in hand before the vampires were on him. Adrenaline and fear of dying did its bit for the cause by snapping everything into focus. Oh, shit. They’re practically running over each other to get to me.
Three guesses why. Fucking other Xander. When he got out of this, he was going to kick other Xander’s ass.
Xander ducked as one of the vampires swiped out an arm to grab at him. Faith dove in headfirst and started with the Slayer pyrotechnics. She kicked and flipped several vampires away to give Xander breathing room and then chased after them to keep them away.
“IN THE HOUSE NOW!” she yelled without looking back at him.
A good idea. A great idea. Except he still had two vampires circling him who weren’t about to let him get anywhere near the house.
He bobbed and weaved to stay out of reach of the two Grabby McGrabbers, but given the way he and his point guards were drifting across the grass he knew it wasn’t a tactic that was going to help him reach his goal of surviving to collect his Watcher’s pension. They were trying to get his back up against the white picket fence so he’d have to fight his way past them.
The fence! I forgot about the fence!
“Faith!” He hoped she could hear his yell over her four-on-one fight. “Stakes! The fence! Go to the fence!”
Xander’s shout didn’t have its intended result. The Faith he knew would’ve immediately dove for the fence without giving him so much as a look. This Faith’s head actually whipped around like she was shocked he hadn’t already leapt to follow her orders. “I TOLD YOU TO—”
A vampire clocked her mid-sentence while another’s leg kicked out and swept her legs out from under her. Faith went down and the four vampires immediately closed in on her.
“Archer has a pet Slayer,” the vampire to Xander’s right taunted as he continued forcing Xander to back up.
“Not for long,” the vampire in front of Xander snickered as he began drifting into Xander’s blindside.
“For the last time, she’s not my Slayer!” Xander yelled as he feinted right with his stake, forcing the first vampire to back up a few steps before he spun around and slammed the stake into the second vampire that was about to make it out of his field of vision. Xander immediately dropped low and spun again to face his remaining opponent, fully expecting that the vampire would take advantage of the fact that he didn’t have eyes in the back of his head.
He was surprised to see that the vampire was just standing there and staring at the empty space where his buddy was just moments before. For a heart-stopping second the vampire and Xander locked eyes, and Xander knew that this particular vampire now assumed that he was something resembling competent with a stake.
Oh, boy. That could only spell trouble for him.
Xander screamed and lunged forward, hoping the sudden attack would put the vampire off balance. This one was more on the ball than its buddy and it danced backwards out of his reach.
Now he had breathing room, but the vampire was still between him and the house. Going head to head with this one wouldn’t be smart. Xander knew he was too battered and tired to really pull it off. Even if their positions were reversed and the vampire was the hurting one, it was still faster and stronger than he was. Maybe he could get the vampire into a little fighting dance so that he could get around blood-breath.
As Xander engaged in his keep-away tactic, he was dimly aware that Faith was still fighting on the other side of the lawn. He knew he couldn’t do jack to help her until he got on the other side of the threshold so he could take a look at her situation. He tried not to think that more than one neck might depend on him getting past the bloodsucker to safety.
Where the hell is Anya or Haley? They have to be in trouble. There’s no way Anya would just leave us out here to get our throats ripped out.
Yike. Way more than one neck then. Here’s hoping that the real situation was that Anya was calling for help and rooting around the house for a weapon before making with the cavalry instead of busy getting slaughtered somewhere else, like the backyard.
Xander was making achingly slow progress across the lawn to the porch. He could feel the burn in his legs as lunged forward and fell back. His arms felt heavy as he swung out with the stake in his right hand and knocked the vampire away with his left.
The vampire was not cooperating with his master plan to give him an opening so he’d have a straight shot at the front door and remained stubbornly between him and safety. The stupid bastard kept dancing, not really pushing his advantages, but not really letting Xander get the upper hand either. He could hear Faith wrecking havoc over the blood pounding in his ears, so the vampire’s cat-and-mouse routine didn’t strike him as a smart move. Xander was dimly surprised that the vampire in front of him didn’t just go for the kill. He didn’t think staking its buddy would rattle it that much.
He’s stalling you, the dispassionate thought intruded. Nah. Couldn’t be. Could it?
You had, what? A dozen or so back at the waterfront. You’ve only got about six here.
Oh, fuck. Fresh troops were on backup. But if that was the case, where the hell were they?
Worry about that later, Xander decided as he went for broke and tried to dive past his opponent. In the middle of his lunge, something slammed into his right side and he went down in a tangle of body parts. He heard roaring and hissing intermingled with his own string of profanities. A too-cold hand clamped around his neck and another closed around the top of his head as the weight of the vampire that landed into him pushed him down to the ground onto his back.
“Don’t break his neck!” A distorted male voice shouted. “Need him alive until we’re ready!”
The moment the words registered Xander immediately panicked. If he didn’t get away right now, he was going to get very unlucky.
He clawed and punched at the vampire on top of him and writhed to try to get out from underneath it so he could at least get to his feet. Although the vampire had let go of his head, he could feel a series of blows raining down on him. The hits weren’t hard enough to break anything, another sure sign that they were planning to kill him undead, but the punches were hard enough to really pile on the hurt.
The vampire on top of him apparently had had enough of Xander making its unlife difficult, and a stinging blow across the right temple was enough to stun him into keeping still. He could feel himself getting hauled upright, but seemed momentarily powerless to do more than go along for the ride while the reptilian part of his brain gibbered and howled that he was seriously fucked.
With breathtaking suddenness, he was let go and he fell to the ground with a thud. By the time something else had hauled him upright, he had regained enough of his senses to at least put up a weak fight.
“Cut it out!”
The female human voice registered in between his ineffectual flails. “House,” he coughed.
“No shit, stupid. I told you to get to the house.” Faith was panting, but she sounded smug, which meant that they were vampire-free at the moment.
Xander spit out the pool of blood that he just realized was forming in his mouth. He could feel his right eye swelling and another spurt of panic shivered through his frame. If his right eye swelled shut, he’d be a very blind Xander. “No. More coming. The fence. Stakes. The fence is made of—”
“There ain’t more coming,” Faith irritably said as she manipulated their bodies so he was leaning on her.
“There were only six or so in my dream. There are only six here. A deader six. We’re good.”
Dream? He couldn’t think straight. Everything hurt. His face was swelling and his nose felt a combination of clogged and runny. Swallowing blood was making him feel ill and breathing was a struggle. He couldn’t get his body to move faster than a crawl because his chest and ribs felt like a massive bruise and his legs felt like lead. “The fence. Stakes. Have to—Anya—Haley—”
Faith jerked. “Oh, fuck!” she screamed.
Was he shocked when Faith darted away from him to meet the fresh crew of vampires breaking out from the back of the house? No. Not shocked at all.
He staggered to keep his feet as one of the vampires swung out with a heavy tree limb. The vampire must’ve been one hell of a baseball player when it was alive, because that two-handed swing would’ve been a homerun. Faith was knocked off her feet and she crashed through the fence.
They’re all armed with something they can use as clubs, Xander registered through the remaining slit of vision in his right eye. They must’ve been lying in wait in case things went bad, but didn’t expect their precious Archer would have Slayer help. These guys must’ve taken one look and decided they needed something they could use as weapons, but came back too late to save their buddies.
They’re pissed. Cue bloodbath, came the warning thought.
Two vampires darted past their cohorts and honed right in on Xander’s position. With what few reserves he had left, Xander made a break for the house. He could barely see or stand so fighting was out of the question. He needed weapons. He needed distance weapons if he was going to do any good at all.
He might as well have stayed exactly where he was.
He was grabbed by two pairs of hands, which was his trigger to start lashing out with fists and kicks. Without a stake, the best he could hope for was to get them to loosen their grip enough so he could squirm out of his predicament.
Xander registered one of the vampires saying, “Maybe we…now…can’t…Slayer.”
“Need space,” the other one grunted as Xander managed to connect a fist to its abdomen.
“Go…keep…busy…away until…” the other’s voice faded in and out.
There was more of a tussle, although Xander wasn’t entirely sure if he was fighting off one or two vampires. Xander felt a sharp kick to his left shin, which was enough to get both his knees to collapse from the pain shock. When he was down on the ground, a kick to his groin that wiped out what little fight he had left.
I should buy a cup, came the addled thought.
There was another blow across his temple and he could feel the bones in his neck crack as his head jerked to the right.
Something started pressing on top of him with an intimate chest-to-chest feeling. Sorry. Little Xander’s out of commission.
He was dimly aware of someone clawing away at his turtleneck and the sudden feeling of coolness on the skin at his neck. Unlucky, gibbered a thought and he tried to put up a final fight. He felt like he was punching through molasses before his fists ineffectually landed on something solid. Whatever was pressing down seemed unmoved.
The pressure on his chest momentarily released. The brief respite was cut short by a blow to the stomach and another whack upside his head.
His eyes were closed. Why were his eyes closed? He should just open them so he could figure out why he hurt so much.
The pressure on his chest returned as a pair of cold, iron grips captured his wrists and held them above his head. Something face-like buried itself in its neck and began nuzzling around.
Anya? Handcuffs. Too tight. No circulation. Wrists hurt. Can’t feel hands. Take blindfold off.
“You’ve been fun, but you’re going to be more fun.” Xander wasn’t sure if he imagined the voice or if he heard it.
Xanders lips moved to say, “unlucky,” but he didn’t actually hear himself say it. He wasn’t entirely sure where the word came from.
There was a sudden sharp pain in the right side of his neck that became the center of his universe. The feeling sucked him forward until all he was aware of was the feel of warmth being drawn out of him while a warmer, rhythmic, relaxing thudding floated out of the center of him and radiated out to the stars.
Little Xander must be magic tonight, because it’s never been like this before.
God, more…a little more… almost…almost there…
Too much effort to move to help get to the inevitable.
He’ll just float here and enjoy the ride.
He drifted deeper into the dark.
Haley’s eyes fluttered open.
She saw a flash of white not far from the end of her nose and her eyes instinctively crossed to focus on it.
Oh. It was the list of phone numbers. She was supposed to call for help. Her arm felt like it was floating as she reached out for it. There was a funny buzzing feeling all over her body. It was like that funny buzzing feeling she felt when she opened her eyes and saw Uncle Xander bending over her after he pulled her out of the old dance hall.
“Uncle Xander!” she shouted as she suddenly sat up.
Her head started pounding and she clutched at it. The sound of the forgotten slip of paper in her hand crinkling next to her right ear was too loud and she dropped it.
She blinked as her eyes slipped into focus and she realized that she was sitting on the kitchen floor. With a shaky hand, she reached up and gingerly touched her left temple. It felt sticky and weird and her hair around it was stiff because of the blood.
“Mom?” she quietly asked in a quavering voice.
She could distantly hear the sound of something, but she wasn’t sure what she was hearing. It involved shouting and roaring, so—
They’re fighting over me again.
Haley flopped over and started to cry as she curled into a ball on the hard linoleum floor. Everything was All Wrong and it was All Her Fault. Mom and Dad hated each other. Mr. Rupert wanted to take her way. Faith was just scary. Her best friends were dead. Uncle Xander got really hurt while saving her. There were vampires all over the place.
And Mom hit her. Mom and Dad never hit her. Mom and Dad wouldn’t do that because hitting people when you were bigger and stronger was Bad and Wrong and you were a Bully if you did that.
But Mom hit her. She didn’t just hit her; she hit her with something really hard.
And it all happened because she was a Slayer, which was like a Superhero, except without the costume and cool Superhero name and the Secret Identity. Some Superhero she turned out to be because it’s All Wrong now and it was Getting Worse every time she blinked.
Mom hit her. Dad would be so Mad if he found out and he and Mom would hate each other even more.
So Dad better not find out, because then he’d be really Mad and it’ll be All Her Fault that he was Mad.
Haley heard a gasp and she scrambled to her feet, embarrassed about being caught crying like a baby. Mom was standing in the doorway of the kitchen with her hands behind her back and she looked really scared.
“Haley, honey.” Mom’s voice sounded shaky. “Haley, we have to go. It’s not safe here. Mommy’s sorry she hit you, but—”
Haley’s face scrunched in confusion as she wiped the tears and snot off her face. “If you’re here, who’s yelling?”
Mom slowly moved forward with her hands behind her back. Haley started backing up. She was ashamed to admit that she was afraid Mom would hit her again with whatever she was hiding.
“There’s some trouble. That’s why it’s not safe,” Mom said as she kept slowly moving toward her. “We have to go out the back door and we have to run really fast to get away.”
“Get away from what?” Haley asked as she bumped into the wall behind her. She started inching to the left, even though this little voice was telling her she probably shouldn’t do that. It kept telling her that because Mom was in the middle of the kitchen, Mom could get to her and that she should move to the middle of the kitchen so Mom would have a harder time getting to her.
The little voice was confusing her because this was Mom, not someone who was going to hurt her.
Except, Mom hit her for no reason at all and that was Bad and Wrong. Even if there was a reason to hit someone, it was still Bad and Wrong.
“Haley, honey, please don’t be afraid, okay?” Mom’s voice was really shaking now and she looked like she wanted to cry. “We’ve got to go.”
“Who’s fighting?” Haley insisted. That’s when she realized that the roaring part of the fighting sounded like animals instead of people. She froze because something told her to stop moving and just listen really hard.
“Honey?” Mom was getting closer.
That sounds like…”Vampires!” Haley shouted.
“Haley, no!” Mom shouted as she lunged forward to grab her.
Haley was too fast. She shot away from the wall, past Mom, and into the entrance hallway. Her ears told her she was getting closer, but that whatever was happening was happening outside. She felt so stupid. She thought people were fighting upstairs when they were really fighting in the front yard.
She flung open the door and saw that Uncle Xander was on the ground and that a vampire was on top of him and biting into his neck. Uncle Xander wasn’t fighting at all and he looked like he’d been beaten within an inch of his life.
Something in her chest snarled that she had to Do Something because what she was seeing Just Wasn’t Right.
A hand closed around her upper arm and jerked her back.
Haley swung around and struck at whoever dared try to stop her with the flat of her hand.
The hand around her upper arm let go and she barely registered the accompanying thud.
Her eyes rested on the staircase banister and she smiled. She stepped over whoever it was on the floor and purposely walked over to it. Her hands closed around a spindle and she yanked it out of place. It made a very satisfying cracking sound.
She turned and ran for the door, fast and deadly. She bounded over the threshold, and leapt over the steps that would take her down into the front yard simply because it seemed faster. She was on the vampire before he even knew she was there.
She brought the broken spindle down in a fast arc right in the middle of the vampire’s back, just like her dreams showed her how to do it.
There was an explosion of dust. She wasn’t sure, but she could swear that she heard Uncle Xander let out a long, lingering, whistling breath.
More fighting? she thought as her head turned with deliberate slowness in the direction of the sounds.
She saw that Faith was surrounded by three vampires. For a moment she was hypnotized by the way Faith ducked, spun and moved. Faith grabbed a tree branch that one vampire was trying to hit her with before swinging around and tossing the vampire away. She kept spinning like some crazy ballerina and kicked out, hitting one vampire right in the stomach with her foot. She followed through to the end of her spin by throwing a left hook at the third vampire, which caught it right across the face. Then Faith dropped, rolled over to a broken fence picket, and came up with it in her hands in a single, smooth move.
It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
But, when she threw the picket right at a vampire and it slammed him in the chest and caused him to explode into ash, even though it didn’t look like Faith had aimed at all, it was even more beautiful than the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
Haley smiled, hefted her makeshift stake, and started her march into the fight.
Faith saw Junior go down and realized that she was now officially out of time. If she didn’t break through now, Junior was toast.
She should’ve never let him go off alone. She knew better, she fucking knew better than that. She should’ve gone with her gut and suggested that they buddy-up to look for the kid and then she should’ve forced Harris to accept the deal if he put up a fuss.
She let Rupes talk her out of it because, hey, splitting up was a faster way to find the kid. Faith figured Haley was a walking target, not so much because she was young, but because she wasn’t trained and had no clue what the life of a Slayer was really like. Junior knew how to take care of himself and he at least seemed willing to listen to her about the beachfront.
God damn it! He promised to give her a shout if he got a hinky feeling that something wasn’t kosher. Then again, there was always a possibility that whatever had happened had happened so fast that he didn’t get a chance to call. Hell, she’d been at this long enough to know that things could go bad faster than she could blink.
Her current situation was a damn fine case in point. Fuck. Somehow Junior knew there were more of these guys around, god knows how, and he tried to warn her not to get too cocky. She just couldn’t figure out why he kept going on about the fence. Even before getting whacked upside the head he was yelling about it.
So now Junior’s life was down to the wire and she was stuck with three vampires who weren’t about to let her interfere with the killing and turning, all because she didn’t open her goddamn mouth before they left the house.
She kicked out as she spun around, mostly to try to clear a path for herself. The goal wasn’t to stake the bastards. The goal now was to get past the sons of bitches so she could get her sorry ass over to Junior and yank the vampire off him before permanent damage was done.
She managed to buy herself an opening and darted for it, only to get tackled from behind. She yelled as she felt herself start to fall, but managed to flip in mid-air so her attacker was underneath her instead on top of her. A hand yanked her hair from behind, but she grabbed the vampire’s wrist and twisted it until it let go.
She was on her feet like a shot, but yet another vampire was getting in her face, swinging his makeshift club back and forth for all it was worth.
Faith was forced to dance back and keep ducking to prevent herself from getting brained.
It wasn’t so much that these guys were skilled, because they weren’t. They were also kind of soft, which meant they weren’t really strong enough to hold on to prime real estate on top of a Hellmouth or other mystical hot spot.
Take these yo-yos, for example. Dumbass with the club was swinging so wild that his buddies couldn’t get past him to get to her. The way Dumbass was going about it, he was just as likely to accidentally stake his buddies as he was going to purposely connect with her head.
Okay, the swinging was wild enough that it was keeping her off balance, because there wasn’t actually a pattern. Just enough strength and crazy swinging to really bang her gong if it actually connected.
She could sense that there was something desperate about this attack. Harris must’ve been giving these guys a serious headache and doing some serious damage to their little clique, as unbelievable as that might be. This crew seemed pretty hell-bent on taking him out, to the point where they were willing to risk getting most of their numbers dusted.
The big question was, why turn him? Why not just rip his throat out and be done with it? With Harris out of the picture, they could probably have free run of the town, especially since the local Slayer had no fucking clue and no training.
“That’s e-fucking-nough!” Faith hollered as she ducked for a final time. Instead of popping back up, her hand shot up and she captured the makeshift club in her palm. As she stood, she yanked her opponent forward as hard as she could and spun like a discus thrower. The vampire’s toes trailed along the grass from the force of the pull-and-spin before Faith let go of the club and he tumbled away, roaring and cursing.
She didn’t bother to watch his trajectory and she continued spinning, kicking out a leg to catch one vampire in the midsection and flashing out her left fist to knock his buddy across the face. When she stopped, her eyes landed on the broken pickets from the fence. In a flash she saw that some of the pickets weren’t actually broken. They had popped out of the fence, perfect and whole, and were small enough that she could clench one in her first.
Son of a bitch! That’s what Junior was trying to say! We’re surrounded by a fucking picket fence made of stakes!
She dropped, because she sensed one of the numb nuts behind her was getting ready to tackle her again, and rolled over to a picket. As her trusty stake hand closed around the wood, she rolled to her feet and whipped her new wooden best friend at the closest fang face like a spear. As he exploded into ash, his buddies paused, which was all Faith needed to make a break for Junior.
She turned and saw that not only was Junior’s killer among the missing, but that Haley was marching over to her with some sort of broken handle in her grip. She had the crazy-ass look of a Slayer who’d made her first kill on her face and had discovered that she really, really enjoyed it.
“If I were you two,” Faith said cheerfully as she grinned in response to the sight, “I’d haul ass. We’re now two Slayers against you two, so the odds ain’t good.”
She glanced back at where the vampires should’ve been, and saw nothing but open lawn. They probably didn’t even stick around to hear the threat. They probably took one look at the kid, realized they had a second super-powered chick to contend with, and took off.
She glanced back at the more cheerful tableau and the grin disappeared from her face. Junior wasn’t moving that kid looked like she was getting ready to take off after their escapees.
Oh, fuck! Faith thought as she ran toward Junior, making sure to snag Haley by the arm so she could drag the kid back with her. While Haley snarled and began to put up a fight, Faith barked, “We’ll dust their stupid asses later! We got a situation!”
Haley snapped out of her first-kill haze and she stopped fighting Faith’s pull to Junior’s side. When they reached him, Faith dropped to her knees and began checking him for a pulse.
Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck…
His pulse was thready and uneven and his breathing was far too shallow to be healthy. But it’s there. Close, but no cigar.
“Haley!” Faith barked as she looked up at the kid.
The girl was shaking. She was starting to lose the post-first-battle high as the ol’ noodle caught up with the fact that she had just killed something with her bare hands. Much as Faith knew what the post-first-kill freak-out was like, Junior couldn’t afford Haley freezing up.
“Haley!” Faith reached out and gave the girl a hard shake. “House. Now. Call 9-1-1. Tell them massive blood loss and neck wound. Then get your ass out here. Move like a blur, girl.”
Haley snapped out of it, took one look at Junior’s nearly unrecognizable face, and disappeared into the house.
Faith turned back to Junior and saw that the ugly wound on the right side of his throat was still oozing blood. She clamped a hand over it, afraid that she was going to be losing Junior after all. A neck wound in that position should be spurting arterial blood all over the place, which meant that he lost too much blood for comfort and he was deep in the woods.
“C’mon, don’t you dare, don’t you fucking dare, Junior,” Faith mumbled while she felt his pulse fumble and stumble under her hand. “She’s going to kick my ass. You don’t want her kicking my ass, right? You don’t want her all upset and feeling like she’s gotta kick my ass ’cause you checked out before she did, right?”
“They’re coming,” Haley’s terrified voice interrupted her mumbled one-sided argument with Junior. “Mom’s knocked out. I-I-I-I think I did it.”
Faith looked and, oh yeah, Haley was right on schedule. She was in the middle of the full freak and moving full steam ahead into what-the-fuck-am-I.
“Haley!” Faith barked. “I need you to focus! Focus on me!”
“Mom is—” Haley began twitching and shaking.
“Fuck your mother!” Faith screamed at her.
Haley went suddenly still and her eyes got wide, like Faith and dumped a cold bucket of water on her head.
Faith could hear sirens in the distance.
“Listen. You, me, and my boyfriend here was takin’ a nice walk ’round the block and we got jumped by gang members,” Faith said.
Haley nodded as the sirens got closer.
“You act all confused scared little girl. Cry. A lot. Say you don’t remember shit. Just that we got jumped, you ran into the house, they followed you. They smacked you and your mother around. Me and Junior scared ’em off.”
Haley nodded. The sirens were coming closer, but goddamn they were taking their time.
“What do I call him?” Faith shouted to be heard.
“Another name!” Faith yelled.
“R-r-r-rory, Uncle Rory,” Haley stuttered to be heard over the sirens. They sounded like they were a couple of blocks away.
“When we get to the hospital, you refuse treatment,” Faith shouted to be heard.
“But—” Haley began.
“Refuse treatment or I kick your ass!” Faith yelled.
Haley blinked and nodded on autopilot. The sirens had to be right around the corner.
“House! Now!” Faith shouted. “Mommy wakes up, tell her to stay confused or I’ll kill her ass!”
Haley startled at the threat. She paused a second more before turning and running for the house.
As the sound of squealing breaks broke out behind her, Faith hoped like hell that no one saw Haley standing in the front yard. She looked over her shoulder, right into the red, white, and blue flashing lights, and shouted over the noise, “What the fuck took you assholes so long!”
Xander settled behind the steering wheel and rubbed at his temples.
Still nothing. Not a goddamn thing. He crisscrossed his entire area before searching a second, unassigned area besides, and still no trace of Haley.
It’s been hours, he worried as he dug his cell out of his jacket pocket. While he really doubted that he had missed a call, he thought it was worth checking.
Xander shakily placed the cell on the dashboard in front of him. He ran his hands through his hair and fought against the sobbing breaths that were dangerously close to tears.
The cell chirped a ring and he startled upright.
Son of a bitch! I had that on vibrate!
As the cell began another chirping ring cycle, Xander snapped out of it and snatched the cell off the dashboard. He must’ve forgotten to set it on vibrate. Not a shock given everything.
He checked the number, saw it was his home phone, and relaxed. Haley must’ve come home, or maybe someone had called in. Thank god, he thought as flipped the cell open and put it to his ear.
He was greeted with the sound of sobbing.
His heart froze as he asked, “Anya?”
“You were supposed to protect him.” Anya’s statement was interspersed with the sounds of sniffing and barely under control crying.
“What? Anya? Is Haley—”
“You were supposed to keep him safe.” Anya was crying harder now. “You left him there all alone and—and—and—”
“Anya? What are you talking about? Left who alone?”
The crying stopped, like someone had flipped a switch. Xander could still hear her breathing, only it was slow and even with no sign she had been sobbing just moments before.
“Anya?” he asked hesitantly.
The answer was cold, hard, and pitched low. “You left him to die.”
An unholy cacophony of screeches and wails that sounded like a thousand demons screaming all at once nearly pierced his eardrum. He automatically slapped the cell shut and threw it across the passenger cabin. The phone bounced off the front passenger side door and landed on the passenger seat.
Xander’s head rang with the echo of what he’d just heard as his heart thudded in his chest and he shook hard enough to rock the van. His breathing was ragged with a fear he couldn’t quite put a name to and he had the overwhelming urge to flee as far away as he could.
The cell suddenly lit up and began vibrating in its resting spot the passenger seat.
Xander stopped breathing.
The cell kept vibrating and the lights flashed.
He slowly reached out with a trembling hand to grab it, but he couldn’t seem to catch hold of the phone. He was forced to bring his second shaking hand into the mix so he could pick it up.
The number wasn’t one he recognized.
He slowly opened it and put his ear to the phone with extreme caution.
“Harris! You there!” barked a voice.
Xander’s voice sounded dead to his own aching ears. “Where’s Anya?”
“Me, Anya, Haley, and Junior is at the hospital. Look, I don’t got a lot of time, so—”
“Who is this?” he asked in a dead voice.
“Me, Faith. Look—”
“Anya just called me. From home.”
“No she didn’t.” Faith was emphatic. “Her unconscious ass is in the ER.”
“She just called. I just spoke to her.” Xander’s voice was still flat. “The number said she was calling from home.”
There was pause and soft swear. “Someone’s fucking with your head. We had a vampire battle right in your front yard. My cell phone got lost somewheres, so maybe the assholes came back and found it and started punching buttons for shits and giggles.”
“It was Anya,” Xander insisted. “I know her voice. It. Was. Her.”
“And I’m telling you it wasn’t.” Faith sounded irritated. “Even if she was awake, which she ain’t, she don’t got access to a phone.”
The words “vampire battle” finally registered and Xander broke out of his fugue. “What happened? Vampire battle? Haley?”
“Finally you’re with the program,” Faith said. “Haley’s good. Well, not good. She got beat up, but she’s got the Slayer healing and it ain’t nothing that won’t disappear in a day or two. I don’t know what happened yet and I can’t ask her ’cause we’re surrounded by cops.”
“Cops?” Xander practically shouted the question.
“Look, they’re giving me the fish-eye ’cause this is taking too long. They’re standing a little bit aways right now to give me privacy, but that’s gonna change if I’m here much longer. So listen up. Far as the cops know, you were out on some business, me and my boyfriend Rory…is that right?”
“Hunh?” This was going too fast.
There was an irritated breath. “Junior’s fake name is Rory?”
Xander shook his head while his brain tried to catch-up. “Rory. Yes.”
“Right. Me and my boyfriend Rory and Haley was taking a walk ’round the block and we got jumped by these gang members. They chased us all the way back to your house, then they do a little home invasion and slap around Haley and Anya. Meanwhile, me and Rory was fighting them off in the front yard and something spooked them, but not before laying down the hurt on Rory real bad.” There was a pause. “They lost him in the ambulance on the way over.”
“Lost him?” None of this was making sense. “He was in the ambulance. How’d they lose him?”
“His fucking heart stopped, what the hell do you think?” Faith spit the words. “They got it going again right away, but it’s not looking so hot for him at the moment. They came real fucking close to turning his ass.”
“Turning? Who? The vampires? How do you know—”
“Fuck me. Cops are walking over. Call Rupes and tell him to get his ass to the hospital by hook or by crook. He’ll be able to put their noses out of joint until we come up with something more solid. Then haul ass over here. You’re probably gonna hafta step in and stop the docs from taking too close a look at Haley. She’s holdin’ ’em off, but only ’cause I got you on the phone.”
Then Faith’s end of the line went dead.
Whoa. Wait. Stop. This was getting too weird. First he got a call from Anya, then a call from Faith saying that Anya didn’t call. Which was impossible, because Anya did call right before Faith. He heard her voice.
He slowly pulled the phone away from his ear and checked the history for incoming calls. There was the unfamiliar number that matched up with Faith. It was followed by a call late yesterday afternoon from a customer who was checking up on an order.
He had to scroll through almost two-dozen numbers and go back five days to find evidence that Anya had ever called him from home.
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