This is a unique New England thing, I think. People tend to "forget" how to drive in snow and ice in between winters. While the roads aren't icey (yet), people were driving in crazy ways. Thanks to the unseasonably warm winter weather, I don't think anyone has their winter "driving legs," hence the chaos I encountered at several points on- and off- the highways.
So, there went my plans for the day. (Note to self: Email apologies.)
I come home to comments on the part of this story I posted Friday night. Some people want to see Kennedy.
*looks around shifty eyed*
I am weak like veal.
Written for the Dark Xander Fic-A-Thon.
All previous parts here.
Continued from Part 3.
The first ray of light to break through the darkness was a heavily accented male voice.
“Meester? You are no well. You need help.”
A heavy, warm hand curled around Xander’s shoulder. The human contact so startled him that he recoiled and tried to fend off whoever was touching him.
He was rewarded with a scream, followed by a babbling flow of Spanish words that sounded an awful lot like someone was praying.
Xander forced open his eyes to see a heavy-set, dark-skinned man in a janitor’s uniform scrambling to get to his feet as he repeatedly crossed himself. He forced his shaking hand to move to his face and cautiously touched an eyebrow.
Still in full vamp face.
Who on earth turned on the lights?
In his haste to get away, the misguided Good Samaritan slammed into a cart full of cleaning supplies and he fell to the ground. The waterfall of prayer pouring from the man’s lips broke up into scattered words, but didn’t stop.
Xander blinked his yellow eyes and licked his lips. The fear was so—
Oh, God. He had to get out of here. Now.
Using the wall as support, he forced himself to stand up.
Naturally, this caused the janitor to pick up the pace on the praying as he scrambled to his feet.
“Not going to hurt you. No,” Xander muttered as he pushed off from the wall. “Just leaving. Have to go. You’re a few years too late if you want to help. Thanks for trying anyway.”
Good Samaritan the janitor may have been, but he also was far from stupid. He turned and fled for the keycard-and-keypad locked door and began to desperately punch numbers into the pad with one hand while swiping his card with the other.
Xander turned and stumbled for the door that would take him back out into the mall. He pressed one hand to his face in a desperate attempt to will himself to look human. He paused just short of the abandoned wallet and momentarily thought of leaving it and the reminder of what he did behind. But he made a promise. He said he’d bring it back. It wasn’t the victim’s fault that things got out of control. It wasn’t even the hustler’s fault. It wouldn’t be fair if he didn’t follow through because he screwed up and let himself off the leash.
Xander heard the slam of the door behind him and knew that whatever he was going to do, he had to do it right away. Chances are the helpful janitor was already babbling about being attacked by the vampire while he was getting to his workstation.
Something good needs to come out of this, Xander decided as he scooped up the wallet and fled down the rest of the corridor on shaky feet under the unforgiving glare of fluorescent lights.
By the time he burst into the mall, most of his facial features were starting to smooth out. He quickly put down his head in case he was still flashing yellow eyes or had a forehead bump that might draw attention, hugged the wallet to his chest, and walked away as quickly as he could from his incriminating location.
By the time he reached the casino, he knew his face was back to normal. Even so, he couldn’t bring himself to look up and straight ahead, despite the fact that the flow of pedestrian traffic around him was significantly heavier than the last time he passed through. The noise of the crowd and the sounds of wins and losses, which had already been loud earlier in the day, were now at an ear-shattering crescendo. It threw him off just enough that he ended up bumping into or tripping over people as he made his way back to the Race & Sportsbook Room with the wallet hugged to his chest.
It would be fair to say that he left a trail of people shouting “Watch it!” or “Nice apology!” in his wake. He couldn’t bring himself to turn around and apologize like he should, so strong was his desperate urge to hide away until he had to face Spike and Faith.
And Willow. Don’t forget Willow. And Kennedy. Oh, God. Kennedy.
When he reached the Race & Sportsbook Room, most of the screens had been called to life and rare was the soothing sight of a test pattern or rerun of a sporting event that had been broadcast at an earlier date. Now it was live and direct, and the fresh wave of bodies whooped their appreciation of this fact by cheering for the team, athlete, horse, or dog that would make them set for life — however long that life lasted.
Given that time had clearly passed while he had communed with his ghosts, Xander was a little surprised to find that the door to the supply room was still unlocked. For a brief moment hope surged in his chest that he wasn’t out of it for as long as he had thought. Maybe the wallet’s owner was still waiting and…
As soon as he opened the door, he knew there was no one inside. He stepped into the room anyway and let the door close behind him.
“Come out, come out wherever you are,” Xander said in a monotone as he hugged the wallet tighter to his chest.
Nothing. No ghosts.
“I know you want to say it,” he informed the dark. “C’mon. ‘I told you so.’ You’re not going to leave me to say it to me, are you?”
Not even so much as a flicker of a memory of a ghost.
He went over to a shelf and placed the wallet on it. There it was, his latest award for being born already in first place in the loser sweepstakes. Without Spike or Faith around to point him in the right direction, he really was useless. He didn’t want to be the monster he was supposed to be, but he’d never be the man he wanted to be. After a year of stumbling between one extreme and the other, he had to accept that he’d never get this right.
He pulled out his cell and stared down at the way it nestled in the palm of his hand. All he had to do was flip it open and say, “I can’t do this. Because the whole soul-having? Not such a good leash in my case. I almost killed a guy, but not before I did something worse to him. I can’t be trusted.”
He could say it to either Spike or Faith and they’d be here before he cut the signal. They wouldn’t be happy, God knows. They’d kick his ass once he confessed the whole thing, which they should, especially since Spike had warned him that lack of blood equaled lack of control, but at least they’d know the truth. If they wanted something hunted down and killed, he was the monster for the job. If they needed something that required less-than-lethal force, they needed to call in something else.
He flipped open the phone and scrolled between Spike’s and Faith’s numbers in an effort to figure out who would be better to call. Faith would physically kick his ass, read him the riot act, and then would offer her own Faith-trademarked brand of wisdom. Spike would rip him a new one, slip into teacher mode, and then slide right on into understanding-guy. Both were pretty bad in their own ways. The problem was that he wasn’t sure which he could deal with and still hold on to a shred of sanity.
Xander mentally wrestled with his typical indecisiveness — Spike? No. Faith? No. Spike? No. Faith? No. — when he heard the supply room door open behind him. Grateful for the interruption, he slapped the cell shut and shoved it in his pocket.
“Hey, sorry,” he began, “I got lost and—”
“Daddy?” asked a hopeful, too familiar voice.
All Xander could do was stare at the shelves in front of him.
He heard her shuffle closer a few more steps.
“Daddy? Please turn around. Please? I need you. Baby’s been bad, Daddy.”
His mind was still blank as he obeyed the request. He never was very good at saying no to her when she really needed something, especially when Baby caused her problems.
Kennedy was as terrifyingly beautiful as always, complete with the raw power held barely in check and the almost concealed danger. The only thing that was out of place was her trembling chin and hands that nervously clenched and unclenched in a hypnotic rhythm. The thing that really snapped his brain back in the on position, however, was her wide and staring eyes. He had always called them kaleidoscope eyes, after a line in that Beatles song. It was a warning sign that he had to step in and bring Kennedy back under his control, something he had to do every few weeks or risk Baby going ballistic on anything that got within reach of her fists.
Kennedy shuffled back and forth, and bowed her head in that contrite little girl way she had when she knew Baby had done something that would make him unhappy. “Daddy? I’m sorry. I am. I should’ve stayed with you when you said. If you didn’t let me have the amulet so I could go look, I would have stayed and they never, never, never would’ve taken you away from me. You didn’t believe me. I had to show you. They were there like Baby said.”
“Kennedy,” Xander began. He couldn’t seem to get his voice above a whisper.
Kennedy began to wring her hands, a sure sign that she was deeply distressed, and said, “I followed you to London. I was so scared, Daddy, but I went anyway. It took forever and ever and ever to get there. They saw me before I could save you from them. They took you away from me again and sent you away and I couldn’t find out where they sent you.”
Kennedy’s revelation took Xander completely by surprise. He had no idea that she had tracked him back to London and had tried to get to him. The fact that she did it despite her morbid fear of Willow spoke volumes about her state of mind after he was cornered, resouled, and hauled out of Mexico City.
His sudden transfer to San Francisco and Spike’s guardianship now made sense in a way that “it’s for your own protection” never did. The last thing the Council would have wanted at that point was to allow Kennedy and him to get anywhere near each other. Getting him out of the picture would not only give them a clear shot at capturing Kennedy, but would also ensure that he wouldn’t turn on them and escape with her in tow. Not that he was capable, let alone tempted, to do it back then. Even so, he couldn’t blame Giles for abruptly kicking him out of his comforting locked cell. No one at the time knew how he’d react if he thought Kennedy was in danger of being dusted. He still wasn’t sure how he’d react if Kennedy were in any danger of being dusted in the immediate future.
“I was going to find you again, but she found me first,” Kennedy confessed. “She kept dancing and dancing, even when I made her stay down. I ate her all up, but she laughed. I broke her neck, but she was still there. Then I chopped her into pieces, and she came back,” she ended with a wail. “She’s not supposed to do that, Daddy. Make her stop.”
“Make who stop? Who’s after you?” Xander asked.
“Her. That one.” Kennedy’s eyes pinged around the room fearfully as she seemed to fold inward on herself. “She won’t leave me alone. She follows me everywhere. I can’t say her name because if I do she’ll just appear like she always appears and she’ll laugh at me like she always laughs at me.” Her eyes finally fixed on Xander. “She followed me, but I lost her. She wants you. She does. I can see it. She’s using me to find you. She’s done it before. She can’t help it. She’s selfish. She always was selfish. She’s had two, and now she wants three. She can’t have you. I won’t let her. I’m your one and only, not her. Tell her.”
“I…I can’t tell her anything if I don’t know who the her is that needs to be told. You need to tell me her name so I can find her and tell her.” Xander fought to keep his voice sounding reasonable in the face of the realization that Kennedy had gone way beyond just hanging out with Lucy. She was now singing along with the chorus and ordering drinks on the house in an effort to get Lucy and all her Diamonds drunk.
Kennedy backed away and shook her head so quickly that it was a blur. “I can’t. She’ll find us. She’ll probably find us anyway, but we’re not ready for her. When we’re ready, I’ll say her name and she’ll appear. She always does, but we’ll surprise her when she does. We will.”
“It’s…it’s…okay,” Xander stammered. He had a sinking feeling that ‘she’ was a third personality that Kennedy had picked up sometime in the last year. “You, unh, you did what you could and…really, it’s okay. So, why don’t we relax and just…” What? He knew what needed to be done, but the thought of going there was making him ill. No. More ill.
Kennedy got a sly look on her face. “I outsmarted her. I knew what she was doing. She was trying to distract me from finding you before she decided that she wanted you for herself, so I used Baby to trick her into thinking I was somewhere else while I looked for you. Now you can kill her. She’ll stay dead for you. They always die when you tell them to. She’s the same. She’ll have to stop.”
First the first time since he killed Kennedy, Xander felt he was way out of his depth. If he didn’t play his part, God knows what would happen. His immediate stake-age would probably be number one on the list. While not a terrible thing, what would come after that would be a whole lot of ugly death. Right about now he was the only thing that had a hope in hell of bringing Kennedy in with minimum bloodshed. He was probably the only one who could keep her under control once she laid eyes on Willow. It was the only reason why he didn’t argue against going to Vegas when they were ordered to get here as fast as possible.
“I went after them. I trapped them like this,” Kennedy sing-songed as she slapped her hands together, “and they told me where you were. I made them tell me. I made them scream it and scream it and scream it over and over and over and over so I knew they weren’t lying. Then she found me again and we’ve been playing tag. You have to make her stop. She’s not playing fair. She’s cheating. I know it.”
Xander mentally scrambled to try to pull some meaning out of Kennedy’s words. Even though she had gone crazier in their year apart, her post-death way of talking was pretty much the same. Once upon a time it wasn’t a problem. Kennedy could randomly careen from one subject to the next and he could still get her meaning, if only because they pretty much stuck together. Right now he felt like he’d walked into the middle of an opera, complete with a language he couldn’t understand. He couldn’t even ask the questions he needed to ask to figure this out.
Since Kennedy wasn’t about to clarify who “she” was, Xander attempted to translate Kennedy-speak a different way.
“Kennedy? Who’s this them you’re talking about?” Xander asked.
“Them,” she snarled.
Ooookay, then. As answers go, that was not at all helpful, Xander thought.
She dipped her head and peered at him through her bangs. “I brought you a present,” she shyly told him.
Xander almost sagged with relief at the change of subject, even as his gut got into crash position. The only possible good news I can see is that I know it’s not a heart. She knows I used to like my hearts intact and not crushed, so she wouldn’t stuff it in a pocket. Her clothes are way too tight to keep one hidden out of sight and undamaged.
Kennedy reached behind her, pulled something out of a back pocket, and held it up so he could see it.
“A wallet? Kennedy, I already got the wallet I was looking for. Where did you—” Xander’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “How long have you been following me? Did you talk to the man who was here? Where did he go? You didn’t hurt him, right? Because that’s going to be a huge problem if you—”
Kennedy’s face crumpled and she turned away with a sob.
Xander’s response was automatic. He crossed the room and was about to engulf her in a hug, but stopped himself just in time. In her current state, he wasn’t entirely sure how she’d react. He settled on reaching out to gently touch her on the shoulder to show that he wasn’t angry.
Kennedy’s response was to shove the wallet back in her pocket and hug herself. “I thought you’d be happy. I know you want it. I saw it and smelled it. I was going to bring you to—”
Xander still wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but he had a feeling that he was in for more guilty babble if he didn’t stop her. Last he checked she was the last person who should be feeling guilty since he was ultimately responsible for everything she did. He interrupted her explanation by turning her around and wrapping her in a hug. “It’s okay. Shhhhh,” he crooned. “I’m right here. Not going anywhere, okay? Who’s my one and only?”
“I am,” Kennedy snuffled into his chest.
“That’s right,” Xander mumbled as he buried his nose in her hair. “I would’ve never left you all alone if I could’ve helped it. You know that. So, you found me. It’s going to get better now. Nothing bad’s going to happen to you. I promise. I’ll make sure of that.”
“Yes, Daddy,” she whispered. And because no sweet moment with Kennedy was complete without a little bitter, she began rubbing up against him.
Okay, what was I thinking with the whole Daddy-kink thing? If that doesn’t scream ‘issues,’ I don’t know what does, Xander guiltily thought as he tried to figure out how to react without encouraging her.
“I need you, Daddy,” Kennedy moaned as her hands started roaming in interesting, if old and familiar places. “Please, Daddy. Please help me. Baby has been bad. She’s been making me do bad things.”
Xander grit his teeth and pressed his nose harder against the top of her head. He had to bite the bullet on this, because it was pretty clear that any slight hope he had of getting out of the next step was a hope that was of the false. Maybe he could hold her off until he got her to his hotel room. He’d have a better chance of going through with what he needed to do if he was guaranteed some privacy. God knows he wasn’t sure if he could go through with it, but he’d be able to at least try.
Wait. There could be no try here. He had to do it. Do or die. Maybe not him so much on the dying front, but he could guarantee that someone would end up dead if he didn’t bring her under control. As stark choices went, that was pretty stark.
Kennedy began to tremble. She suddenly broke the full-body contact with a desperate groan by backing up two steps. Her hands remained on either side of his waist, all the while doing the clench-and-unclench thing. She looked up at him with a manic grin and wide eyes as she licked her lips. “I kept it, Daddy. I knew when I found you that you’d want to see that I kept it, so I kept it,” Kennedy whispered.
Xander had to use every ounce of willpower he had to not break contact and flee. He broke her. He knew he broke her before he murdered her. This was really the first time that he knew just how badly he broke her and kept breaking her after he killed her. Wait. That was wrong. He always knew. He enjoyed it and she enjoyed it after she was dead, but he couldn’t say he didn’t know. The difference was that now it mattered; now he cared.
That’s when he became pretty sure that he wouldn’t be able to go through with it. “Kennedy, wait. We really can’t—”
Kennedy’s manic grin widened to show almost all of her teeth as she dug into her front pocket. He knew what he’d see when she worked that hand free and desperately didn’t want to.
He again tried to put her off. “We really can’t right now. Later. We’ll see it later when we’re someplace more private,” he helplessly ordered as she pulled her hand free of her pocket.
There, sitting triumphantly in the palm of her hand like an accusation, was the cheap switchblade he always used on her as the warm-up for the real punishment.
“I kept it safe,” Kennedy informed him in a proud whisper. “I never showed anyone. I never lost it. Not once. Sometimes I’d take it out when I was all alone and I was scared and I’d tell it all my secrets so when I found you it could tell you. Sometimes I forget things, but this always remembers.”
Xander stared at the switchblade in her palm. “Wh-wh-wh-what kind of secrets?”
Kennedy’s grin wavered in confusion before it stabilized back into its manic state. “It’ll tell you. When you take it from me, the blade will sing. Make it sing, Daddy.”
I think I’m going to be sick.
Xander tore his eyes away from the switchblade and looked down at Kennedy. She kept looking at him with hopeful expectation. In her head, this was simple. Baby has done something bad. Daddy is unhappy when Baby is bad. Daddy punishes Kennedy until Baby stops being bad and goes away. Kennedy is happy because Daddy once more scared away Baby. Daddy is happy because he still controls Kennedy.
The hell of it was this: a little over a year ago it was that simple.
Xander swallowed. There was no escape. Kennedy needed what she needed, and he never could say no to her. It begged the question on who really controlled whom in this little twisted relationship of theirs.
“Daddy will make you sing,” he promised by rote in a low voice that bordered on defeated. “It’s been a long, long time and I missed you, but I won’t stand for Baby. She has to go. I want you. Only you.”
He reached out a shaky hand to take the switchblade from her.
Time seemed to slow down at that point. There was Kennedy trembling with anticipation. There was his hand fighting its way through the air to make it to the switchblade. There was his brain helplessly gibbering over the idea that he was going to do this — he was really going to do this — and that he can’t, can’t, can’t…
His shaky fingertips just brushed the surface of the switchblade when Kennedy’s free hand came out of nowhere and closed around his wrist.
“You’re not my Daddy,” she growled in a guttural voice.
Before he could blink, Kennedy let go of his wrist and backhanded him hard enough to send him flying into the shelves that lined most of the walls. Willow’s self-defense orders kicked in on automatic and he roared to his feet in full game-face. He paused just long enough to get his feet under him and then launched himself across the room with his hands extended.
Kennedy sidestepped him at the last minute, forcing him to twist in mid-air so he could land in a position and still be facing her. Kennedy — or rather Baby — snarled her deep unhappiness that he didn’t conveniently land with his back to her.
Xander’s lips curled with distaste to see that Baby was wearing her typical face of yellow eyes, fangs, but otherwise completely human features. His gut-instinct hatred at seeing Baby’s mask had obviously survived the soul implantation.
“Oh, Baaaaaaby,” Xander sing-songed. “I haven’t missed you at all. Come and get your traditional ass-whupping topped by humiliation.”
Baby attempted to outflank him by first lurching to the right and then to the left. He was just fast enough to keep her in front of him. As long as he kept his eyes on her, she’d be forced to attack him directly.
“Now, Baby, I’m getting the feeling you’re annoyed to see me,” Xander remarked. “No hug? No kiss? No offers to buy me a drink? Maybe catch up on old times?”
Baby responded with her typical snarling growl.
Baby, it went without saying, was not a talker. She didn’t need to be. She was twice as strong and twice as fast as any vampire or Slayer Xander had ever come across in both his life and unlife. Her fighting instincts were positively unmatched in any arena. She could spot an opening in an opponent’s attacks and hone in on their fighting weaknesses with unerring accuracy. In short, she could kick his — and just about everyone else’s — ass without even trying. Why Kennedy wasn’t as strong or as fast when she was in control was a mystery, but one Xander was willing to gratefully accept as fact both without and with the soul.
The good news was that he had three things over Baby. One, Baby was pure animal instinct with not one bit of actual human intelligence to back it up, so he could easily outthink her. Two, Baby was a fighting machine, but sucked on tactics. He, on the other hand, rocked at tactics. Three, he controlled Kennedy, who ultimately controlled Baby on most days. All he needed to do was wait until Kennedy reasserted her personality and then he was home free.
Baby began to circle him, but Xander kept counter-circling around her. It was pretty clear that she was attempting to back him in a corner so his fighting options were limited while hers remained wide open. It was a typical move for her, one that Xander had learned to neutralize by simply getting her frustrated enough to go on the attack before she had a clear advantage over him. It was just a matter of keeping her dancing until she got angry enough to lose all sense of proportion.
It worked, just like it always worked.
Baby let out a howl as she began to spin up for one her patented roundhouse kicks. Xander quickly backed up, knowing that if he ducked, all she’d do is correct the angle of her leg and kick his head clean off his shoulders.
“You know what gets me?” Xander asked as her foot sailed through the air in front of him at waist level. “You fall for this every. single. time. You really need to try something new.”
While Baby was in the middle of her spin and her back was to him, Xander dove forward and shoved her hard against the shelves. He chased after her as she flew across the room and landed face-first against a metal support. He slapped the flat of his hand against the back of her head, just to see her face bounce off of it again, and then landed a series of fast and hard upper-cuts on her lower back.
Baby let out an ear-shattering roar and mule-kicked backwards. Unfortunately for him, it landed square on his shin with a sickening crack.
Xander let out a roar of his own as he stumbled back, almost tripping over the stray mop that he’d seen earlier during his talk with the hustler’s victim. As he struggled to maintain his balance, his mind distantly judged that the bone was at least cracked, if not broken. When this was over he was going to need a lot of blood and some rest to get it healed. He hoped like hell that he wouldn’t have to set the bone.
Baby took advantage of her bid to throw Xander off-balance. She spun around and revealed her bruised and cut face, bloodied nose, and dumb fury. She leapt forward, wrapped her hands around his neck, and shoved him up against the room’s lone bare cinderblock wall. If he were a little bit shorter and Kennedy a little bit taller, Xander was pretty sure she would’ve hoisted him off the floor by the neck until his feet were dangling and aimlessly kicking.
Dumb move. It’s not like I’m breathing, Xander thought with amusement. He used his good leg as leverage to bring the opposite knee up between Baby’s legs to hit her square in the snatch. While not as painful as getting kicked in the balls, he knew from pretty good experience that most women folded like most men when they got slammed between the legs by something that was blunt and moving fast.
Baby let go with a screech of pain, and now Xander had the upper hand. He pushed off from the wall and spun around with a roundhouse kick of his own, once more using his good leg for leverage and kicking out with his injured leg. Since Baby was bent over, his foot slammed into the side of her head. Xander let out a howl of agony on impact.
Baby went down for the count. She landed on the floor with a bouncing thud and then remained still.
Xander shook his head and snapped out of game-face. “Kennedy!” he shouted as he hobble-dove for her.
When he landed on the floor, he bit back another yelp as the pain in his shin shot a warning up and down his nerves. He could smell the typical sour, curdled smell of the borrowed blood that flowed through a vampire’s veins, which meant that he’d actually hurt her pretty bad during his fight with Baby. He shook his head to clear it of both the smell and the guilt before gently turning Kennedy over.
She was unconscious. Blood was pouring from nose, ears, and from various cuts on her face. Although her eyes were closed and there was no sign of fang, Xander tentatively opened an eyelid just to be sure that Kennedy was back in charge.
He had enough time to think, Oh-oh, before Baby’s fist shot up and smashed him across the face. The blow was hard enough that it not only knocked him down, but also sent him sliding across the floor.
Bad news. It looked like Baby had gotten a little bit smarter during his year away.
Xander was just getting orientated when Baby jumped on top of him and began raining a down a flurry of blows down on his face and chest. He managed to block half of them while getting a few good shots of his own. By this point, however, he knew that Willow’s self-defense orders were just about the only thing keeping him conscious and fighting. Baby was making mincemeat out of him. If Kennedy didn’t kick in soon, he was going to end this fight as vampire pâté.
The ferocity of Baby’s attack suddenly stopped and the weight of her body vanished from his abdomen. Xander struggled to roll over and get on his hands and knees in preparation for getting back on his feet as a series of panicked thoughts — I need my hands…where’s Baby…maybe Kennedy…everything hurts — ran through his head.
He heard the distant sound of something breaking as he pushed up from the floor and made it to his knees. His ribs felt like they were grinding together, his right eye was swollen almost shut, his mouth was full of blood, and it felt like someone had attached 100-pound weights to every part of his anatomy. If Baby renewed her attack, his dusting was a foregone conclusion.
He was just about to make the valiant attempt to get to his feet when Baby appeared in front of him with the broken end of a mop handle, probably the stray one that he tripped over. The fact that he attempted to raise his arms to knock the point of the makeshift stake away was 100% percent Willow. The fact that he barely got his hands up before they uselessly flopped to his sides was because he was simply too battered to follow Willow’s orders.
Deserve this, he thought, even though he couldn’t say it.
Baby grinned and shoved the point forward.
Xander shut his eyes just before he felt the point press against his chest.
Then there was nothing.
Wondering if he was already dust but just didn’t know it yet, he dumbly looked down. He wasn’t sure what he expected to see. Even so, he was still surprised that he was in one piece and that the point of Baby’s stake was pressed up against the front of his flannel shirt.
Hunh? he wondered.
The stake suddenly disappeared and there was a clattering sound, as if someone had ripped it out of Baby’s hands and tossed it away. Disappearing stake was replaced by the sight of Kennedy dropping to her knees in front of him so they were at the same level. Her face looked completely human, even if it was riddled with bruises, cuts, and dried blood. Her eyes seemed focused — not at all like normal, let alone like the kaleidoscope eyes she had earlier — and her expression seemed to be one of surprise.
Xander closed his eyes and shook his head. The action, however, triggered a wave of pain and dizziness and he sagged forward. Kennedy’s tiny hands caught him before he keeled over and kept him upright.
“Xander?” she tentatively asked.
Xander’s eyes snapped open with the shock of hearing Kennedy say his name. Had Kennedy ever called him Xander after he murdered her? He was pretty sure the answer to that was no.
Kennedy reached out a trembling hand and gently touched the left side of his face. “The eye. It’s real. How?” she asked.
Another shock. He was as much in human-face as she was. Baby’s ferocious renewed attack must’ve happened so fast that he never got a chance to put on the game-face. And wait… Did she just ask about his new eye?
“It is you. It’s really you,” Kennedy said with soft wonder. Then she began to quietly cry.
Xander tentatively reached out to give her a hug. Kennedy folded into it so completely that Xander found himself with an armload of small woman solid enough that it threatened to topple him over.
There was something really, really wrong here, but he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Maybe he was looking at the “she” Kennedy had been going on and on about earlier, but his gut instinct doubted it. There was something fundamentally different about this personality, if that’s what it was. It was more real than Baby and had a depth that Kennedy simply lacked.
“It hurts,” she whispered. “It really hurts.”
“Good thing we heal fast, hunh?” Xander said through his split lip.
“I knew. I knew even then. I warned you. I told you. I tried, Xander. Please? Forgive me? I’m sorry. You know I tried. Please tell me you know I tried.”
The stunning plea that he forgive her instead of the other way around prompted him to gently push her away so he could look at her face. He kept his hands on her shoulders, for balance if nothing else, and studied her expression closely. What he saw sent a shiver up his spine. The feeling of wrongness increased as he took in her tortured expression and haunted eyes. There was something a little too familiar about it, but he couldn’t figure out when he’d ever seen Kennedy like this before.
“I’m tired. It hurts. You know. I can see you know. Xander, promise me,” she whispered. “Promise me you won’t let her do it to me, too.”
His brain was too punch-drunk to figure this out. “Let who do what?” he asked.
Kennedy’s answer was to clutch her head and let out an otherworldly scream.
Xander once more reached out, this time to grab her, but Kennedy hopped to her feet and out of his reach. He was just struggling to stand when Kennedy turned and fled from the room.
“Oh, hell,” Xander muttered as he hauled himself to his feet and gave chase in a hobbled run.
Kennedy was less injured than he was, so he could barely keep her in sight as he followed her through the sports-party atmosphere of the Race & Sportsbook Room. If he had stopped to wonder why no one thought to investigate the noise he and Baby made during their fight — not that he did — the cacophony from both the cheering crowd and the television screens answered it for him.
When Kennedy burst into the casino far ahead of him, Xander forced his battered body to go faster. His cracked shin sang an aria of pain, while his grinding ribs chimed in with a few choice harmonies of their own. If he lost Kennedy here and now, he could end up losing her and her chance for something resembling a happy ending with Willow for good.
Kennedy led him on a wild chase through the casino, on through several restaurants, through an area set aside for high-limit slots, and onto the Studio Walk. He knew he was moving faster than a human, but he somehow doubted that he was moving fast enough for people to fail to notice his battered and swollen face or his lurching run.
He could hear shouts of surprise and exclamations about yet more rudeness from him as he dove between people and shoved several more out of his way. Just about the time he spotted Kennedy ducking behind a door into the obligatory Vegas wedding chapel, he heard a loud crash behind him and a mixture of male and female voices raised in argument. Afraid that he’d be hauled backwards to account for his part in the crack-up, he desperately surged forward and dove through the door just as it was closing.
The empty chapel wasn’t all that big, so it was nothing for him to spot Kennedy as she raced for a door in the far wall. Xander gritted his teeth and forced himself to sprint down the aisle after her.
He thought he was about to lose sight of her again when she reached the door, but it turned out that this one was locked tight.
Got you, Xander triumphantly thought.
Kennedy tossed a terrified glance at him over her shoulder, braced herself, and pulled on the door. It opened with a metallic scream before she dove through.
Xander had enough time to register, Shit. We’re going outside, before momentum carried him through the opening after her.
As soon as the heat of the outside air hit his face, Xander threw his arms up around his head, an instinctual if useless move to protect himself from the sun’s killing light. All the while he wondered why Willow’s self-preservation spell didn’t kick in and muscle-lock him before he got anywhere near the door.
Maybe he found the loophole that would finally dust him for good.
When nothing happened, he brought his arms down. One quick look around told him that he hadn’t stumbled onto a loophole. What he stumbled onto was an area that had been cast in heavy shadow, thanks to the nearby Monorail and the casino building itself. By any definition it was a safe, if risky, place for him to be. Once the sun climbed higher in the sky and his margin of error shrank, he would no doubt be forced back inside, but for now he could breathe in the morning air.
Now that one mystery was solved, he had another on his hands. Where the hell did Kennedy go?
Xander frowned as he scanned his immediate surroundings. His zone of safety was still sizeable enough for him to move around in, but it was still fairly small. If Kennedy were trapped in this shadowed area with him, she’d be within easy grabbing distance.
Unless she took advantage of his momentary panic to backtrack and go inside.
“Time to repeat the Harris family mantra: ‘Xander, you’re such an idiot,’” Xander growled as he turned to the door.
“Daddy!” Kennedy’s voice echoed.
Xander turned around with a frown. She couldn’t possibly be out here. If she wasn’t in the shadows with him, then she had to be inside the building. “Kennedy? Where are you?”
She responded with a broken, shivering giggle that bounced off every available surface.
“I can’t see you,” Xander said as he cautiously stepped forward. “Why don’t you come out of hiding so we can talk?”
“Look what I can do, Daddy,” Kennedy announced as she revealed herself by turning the sunlight exposed corner to his left.
Xander stumbled back a step in surprise. “How? You’re — Kennedy, the sun!”
She tilted her head and regarded him with a confused expression. “It still loves me. Why does it still love me?”
Oh, my God! Kennedy can walk in the sun! Xander thought with horror. It was bad enough when pre-chip and pre-soul vampire Spike got his hands on the Gem of Amara, and he hadn’t even gotten around to causing real havoc beyond smacking both Buffy and him around like cat toys. Now he was faced with a sun-tolerant vampire Kennedy, who made old school Spike look like the very picture of restraint on her best of days.
How many more people ended up dead because Kennedy could go hunting during daylight hours? Xander wondered. Some small cowardly part of him was grateful that he’d never know. Kennedy, unlike him, was never big on keeping a detailed record of all her fun and games.
“Daddy?” Kennedy prompted with a tremulous voice.
“I, unh, dunno,” Xander fumbled as he tried to figure out how to lure Kennedy back into the shadowed area so he could grab her. “You didn’t happen to find a gem or an amulet recently that let you do that, did you? That might explain why,” Xander paused to look at the blue sky, “you’re okay in the sun.”
Kennedy hugged herself and began swaying back and forth. “No. She chased me and chased me until I fell into the light. I didn’t mean to fall into the light. It just happened.”
Then I’ve got nothing, Xander thought. “Maybe we can figure this out. Together, I mean. But I need you to come here, because I can’t go out there. I know we can—”
“I hate it. This is wrong. This is all wrong. It shouldn’t still love me,” Kennedy interrupted with a mumble. She whirled around to scream at the sky, “You’re not supposed to love me! Bad! That’s very bad! And wrong! Shame on you!”
And yet, every vampire on the planet would be doing a happy dance in her shoes. Hell with that, I’d be doing a happy dance, even with the soul, Xander thought. I’d be so happy, that I’d never complain about not being a morning person again. I’d be up and standing on the front porch outside to watch the sunrise just because I could.
“Kennedy,” Xander desperately called out to her, “Kennedy, please. I want to help you, but I can’t get to you. I need you to come to me.”
Kennedy began sobbing as she turned to face him. “You’ve got to fix it, Daddy. Please fix it. Please. I can’t. I just can’t. I don’t want it to love me. Please.”
It looked like Kennedy wasn’t about to move out of the sunlight, so that meant he’d have to go to her. She was just beyond the edge of the shadowed area. Maybe if he moved fast enough Willow’s orders wouldn’t kick in before he crossed the boundary from shadow to sunlight.
“Okay, Kennedy. It’s going to be all right,” Xander said as he judged the distance between them. Once he was sure he had the amount of space he needed to cross fixed in his head, he sprinted forward. Unfortunately, the pain in his shin caused him to stumble far short of his goal. Willow’s spell kicked in and he muscle-locked a good six before he was in danger of smoking. That meant that Kennedy was firmly out of his reach.
No, no, no, no! This is important! She needs help! This is totally a non-self-dusting thing! This isn’t fair to her. Please, just this once. Just this once… Xander thought as he tried to mentally will away the lock. It was no good. He might as well be frozen in amber.
“You can’t help me, can you?” Kennedy asked in a broken voice.
Xander eased back a few steps, just enough to get rid of most of the lock, but not so much that he couldn’t feel the beginning of it. He glanced up at the sky before looking back down at Kennedy. If he couldn’t physically reach her, he’d have to again try to talk her into coming to him.
“I might be able to help you figure out why you can walk in the sun, but I can’t do that unless you and I sit down and talk. Maybe I can figure out what happened,” Xander said as he mentally crossed his fingers behind his back.
“Really?” Kennedy hopefully asked.
“I want to help you. You know I do, but I can’t go out there because, unh, the sun does not love me like it does you. If it wasn’t for this—” The end of the sentence remained trapped in his throat, thanks to yet another mystical implanted order. Xander mentally railed against Willow as he desperately tried to find a way to let Kennedy know that he was shackled without saying the words he couldn’t say. If he didn’t find a way around it, this situation would blow up far worse than what happened with Robin.
Xander steeled himself and tried again. “I mean, if I could go into the light without getting dusty, you know I wouldn’t hesitate. You know I’d do anything for you. I’ve always taken care of you and I’ve always cared about you. That’s not ever going to stop, no matter what happens to me, or you. That’s a promise. I’ll still care about you long after you don’t want me around anymore.”
Which will probably happen about 0.5 seconds after Willow resouls you and you get down with the justified hate of me. Xander pushed away the depressing thought. This couldn’t be about his guilt and this couldn’t be about losing Kennedy. This had to be completely about what was best for her.
Kennedy seemed to relax. “I’m still your one and only?”
Xander nodded. “Always.”
She smiled. “Okay.”
Now Xander relaxed. Maybe he wouldn’t have to do anything bad at all. Maybe he could just get Kennedy to his room — it had to be check-in or close to it by now — sit her down, and talk to her about this sun thing. Somewhere in there he’d have to sneak away and call the Council house to let them know he had her and he’d have to get the amulet back, but neither of those items would be much of problem.
He opened his arms wide to show her that all was forgiven as far as he was concerned and smiled. “Why don’t you come here then?”
Kennedy took a step forward. Then she paused. The smile disappeared from her face and her eyes got wide. “I forgot! Your present!”
Xander dropped his arms. “The wallet? Kennedy, forget about it. I don’t need—”
“I have to get your present to show I’m sorry for letting them take you away from me,” Kennedy said as she turned away. “I’ll be right back!”
“Kennedy! Wait!” Xander desperately called. He threw himself forward to stop her from leaving. The sickeningly familiar muscle-lock kept him far short of his goal and he was left to helplessly watch as she walked deeper into the sunlight.
“You’ll be so happy!” Kennedy yelled without looking back at him. She began to skip, one of her tells to show that she was excited. “I know just where to go. You’ll be so surprised!”
Xander backed up just far enough so he could at least be free enough to shout after her. “Forget the present! It’s okay! Kennedy!”
He heard the door to the chapel slam open behind him. He spun around, just in time to see a small and filthy human woman emerge at a dead run.
“Guard this!” shouted a hoarse female voice. She didn’t even pause as she tossed something at him that hit him square in the chest.
While Xander fumbled with what turned out to be a very dirty backpack, the tiny creature caught up with Kennedy and began pounding on her.
“No, no, no!” Kennedy wailed as she fought back.
A Slayer! Xander realized as he watched Kennedy and the mystery girl trade blows, kicks, and throws. He helplessly scrunched the backpack to his chest as Kennedy flipped her smaller opponent onto her back and took off.
The Slayer in question obviously had experience, because she immediately back-flipped onto her feet and gave chase.
The two were soon out of his sight, leaving him alone in the shade with one foul-smelling backpack.
“Be careful. Please don’t get killed,” he said quietly after the vanished little Slayer. “Hope you don’t run into Baby, because then — Just be careful, okay?”
Xander backed up a few more steps so that he was completely free of any threat of muscle-lock and looked down at the backpack in his arms. From the feel of it, there were probably clothes inside, along with something square-shaped and flexible. He was pretty sure the backpack had been a dark color to begin with, but it was hard to be certain that it was true. It was caked with grease, dirt, and grime to such an extent that Xander was pretty sure that it could never be restored to its original color.
He could smell something vaguely familiar in the mix of scents emanating from the backpack, but he couldn’t quite place it and gave up. Overall, he’d say that he was holding something that belonged to someone who’d been having a hard life for a long time.
His fingers danced over the zipper as he thought about opening the backpack just to see if he could put a name to his little Slayer, but thought the better of it. It was going to be bad enough when she returned and saw just whom she had asked to guard it. He didn’t want to make it worse by invading her privacy.
If he were smart, he’d put the bag down right now and go back into the building and call the Council house to inform them of his shattering failure, not that calling the house would do much good. Kennedy and the little Slayer were already long gone, if he was to judge by the speed at which they were running. Worse, he couldn’t even explain over the phone why he failed. He needed to tell Willow face-to-face to get that part of the story out. He wasn’t sure how she’d react to the news. If he were in her shoes, the phrase, “not well at all” would be a massive understatement.
Hello, Mr. I-Can’t-Decide. This should be an easy call. Except it kind of wasn’t.
What made it the call doubly hard was that, for whatever reason, one little Slayer told him to guard her stuff. Sure, he could dump the bag easily enough and go back inside. Chances were that the bag was probably safe. He hadn’t seen one person walking around back here, so he was pretty sure no one would stumble on the backpack. Besides, the thing was so filthy that even if someone walked by and saw it there was no chance they’d even come near it.
But she still asked him to do something for her, and that was a fact he couldn’t quite wrap his head around. True, she had no idea who she asked to do her this favor, and he definitely didn’t promise to do it, but it was nice that a Slayer not named Faith actually trusted him to do something right. Okay, maybe not him so much, but he could pretend for a little bit that she had trusted him and not some random stranger.
He was asking for trouble right there and he knew it. Once that Slayer saw him and realized who he was, she’d go ballistic, no doubt about it. She’d probably try to stake him, too, which thanks to the mystical order to defend himself whenever someone flashed a stake at him, would result in a whole lot of ugly.
Yet, despite the fact that he knew he was in for some really cruel heartbreak when the Slayer got back — if she got back — Xander decided to wait for her. He went to the wall and slowly, painfully lowered himself to the ground with a wince. Once he had settled himself so that he was sitting with his back to the wall, he put the backpack on the ground beside him, and simply kept watch.
He had no idea how long he sat there, although it was long enough to see his shadowed area of safety shrink and for him to start thinking that maybe he should just give up and call Spike or Faith for some advice about what he should do. He was just working up his courage to bite the bullet and go back inside when he saw the filthy little Slayer jogging back to him. He forced himself to his feet and prepared for the inevitable hatred and disgust.
The Slayer saw him standing and picked up her pace. “I lost her,” she called out in her hoarse voice.
Xander’s eyes widened. Wait. That sounds like—
“Stupid amulet. She led me right into a distraction, which means I blink and she goes poof in an undusty way. I hate that,” she said without breaking her pace.
Buffy! Xander turned to flee into the building. He couldn’t let her see him, he couldn’t face her, he couldn’t—
He managed one step before one little Slayer slammed into him and threw her arms around his waist in a bone-crushing hug.
All Xander could do was stupidly stand there with his arms held out from his sides and stare down at the top of her dirty, greasy head. He had no idea what to do. Push her away? Hug her back? And why was she hugging him anyway? After everything he’d done, her reaction wasn’t making any sense.
“Hey, you,” Buffy mumbled into his chest.
“H-h-h-hey?” he numbly responded.
Buffy looked up at him with something that looked like happy tears in her eyes and said, “God, it’s so good to see you again, Xander.” She reached up a trembling hand and cupped the battered and bruised right side of his face. “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you so much.”
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