liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

FIC: Whisper, 8/12 (PG-13; BtVS; Ensemble)

Continued from Part 7

Title: Whisper, Part 8
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’).



Buffy tripped over the pile of barbells and let out a very un-Slayer-like squeak.

“I feel like I’m wearing a retainer,” Willow complained. She was doing slightly better than Buffy and Anya at maneuvering around the obstacle course Xander had set up in the training room. She continuously glanced at the mirrors framing her face as she walked backwards through a series of tires.

“This is stupid,” Anya muttered while she tried to maneuver around the couch. She finally whipped the headpiece bearing two mirrors off her head and whirled around to face the room’s lone spectator. “Couldn’t you design something more comfortable, Harris? These things are heavy! I’m getting a headache just wearing them.”

“I’m getting a headache just looking at the mirrors,” Buffy complained as she got to her feet and tried to walk backwards to the couch. She over-estimated the distance and found herself falling into a sitting position. “You would think with my reflexes I’d be better at this.”

“Your reflexes might be part of the problem,” Willow commented as she stumbled backwards out of the tires.

Spike wandered by Xander to start his second circuit around the course when the human shot out a hand to stop him.

“Ummm, Spike? Why are your mirrors positioned like that?” Xander asked.

Spike turned to face him. One mirror framed his right cheek while the other mirror was placed in front of his left eye. “Don’t have a reflection, do I?”

“I don’t understand,” Xander began.

Spike sighed as if he were dealing with the dullest creature on the planet. “I don’t have a reflection which means that when I look into the shiny surface in front of my face I can see what’s behind me. Got it?”

“Ahhhh, I see,” Xander nodded. “Uh, Spike? Doesn’t that leave you with a blind spot in front of your face?”

“Better than the big gapping blind spot everyone else has,” Spike growled. To illustrate his point, he walked up behind Willow, who was slowly positioning herself for another tire pass-through, and tapped her between the shoulder blades.

Willow squealed and jumped, reflexively striking out to land a solid punch on Spike’s arm. “Don’t do that!” Willow shouted. “It’s not nice to sneak up and scare people like that.”

“He didn’t sneak, Wills.” Xander cringed. “I didn’t think about the fact that—”

“Blind spot like a tractor-trailer,” Spike commented. He began to gracefully walk backwards through the tires.

Anya marched up to Xander and thrust out her headgear. “Fix it,” she demanded.

Xander tentatively took the contraption in his hands and looked it over. “I suppose more mirrors could help.”

Buffy groaned from her position on the couch. “Noooooo. No more mirrors. These things are heavy enough as it is.”

“Buffy’s right,” Willow agreed. “Even if you added more mirrors, you’re not going to completely eliminate the blind spot directly behind us.”

“So much for my brilliant idea,” Xander said as he handed back the headband to Anya.

“So we don’t have to wear it?” Anya asked. “Goody!”

“The mirrors are not a bad idea,” Willow assured him as she walked backwards to the punching bag. “Actually, it’s kind of a clever idea. We just need to…” she whapped into the bag “…get our mirror legs.”

“Damn,” Anya muttered, fixing the headband on her head, adjusting her two side mirrors for maximum reflection.

Buffy hauled herself off the couch, turned her back to the room, and began her awkward walk. “Could be worse. At least you aren’t restricted as well, Xan.”

Xander heard the shop’s bell. “Hey, Dawnie’s here with the coffee and donuts. I’ll just…” his voice trailed off as he watched Anya, Willow, and Buffy stumble and curse their progress around the obstacle course. Spike practically danced pirouettes around the various piles of books on the floor, clearly enjoying the fact that he had no trouble maneuvering.

Xander sighed and didn’t bother finishing the sentence since no one really seemed to be paying him any mind. And why should they. It’s not like you’re going to be fighting. You’re just the bait, he thought.

He turned and left the training room.

Dawn looked up from the research table, half-eaten jelly donut halfway to her mouth. “Where’s everyone? I was positive everyone would be running out here when I came in,” she said.

Xander dropped in a chair. “Busy. Training,” he shrugged. He snagged a coffee cup and took a sip. “Thanks, by the way.”

Dawn snorted. “Yeah, like I get to be anything more than donut girl these days.”

Xander fixed her with a stern look. “Don’t say that. It’s not true.”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever,” Dawn waved a dismissive hand. “It’s just that…well…I’m no more or less vulnerable than anyone else to this suicide demon, well, except for you, and I’m still getting sidelined at the house. You guys were fighting demons at fifteen, which is younger than me right now.”

“Technically, you’re two,” Xander joked. When he saw Dawn’s face fall he winced. “Dawnie, look, I’m sorry, okay? Foot-in-mouth disease strikes again. You’re right. When you’re right, you’re right. But this demon, Dawn, this demon is really up there on the bad-o-meter.” And I don’t want you to go through what I went through, he mentally added.

Dawn offered him a weak smile. “I know you want to protect me. All of you. But I just want to make a contribution. A real contribution.”

“Buffy was training you over the summer,” Xander began.

“Which has been called on account of Spike and the seasonal Hellmouth festivities,” Dawn replied. “Look, half the reason why I wind up needing to be rescued is because I don’t have any practical experience. I mean, I can’t go and fight evil with my friends. I don’t have my own Scooby Gang for backup because none of my friends even get that there’s something seriously weird about the SunnyD. The only people who can teach me are you guys.”

Xander looked down at the table. “I know, I know,” he quietly admitted. “Look, give it a little time, okay? Buffy gets the whole deal that you need training and she’s started to rectify that. In the meantime, just, I dunno, figure out what you can do and get really good at that. You’ve been great filling in for Willow as research girl while she was in England and, hey! You’ve got some decent instincts for gumshoe work. I’d go with that.”

Dawn tilted her head and regarded him. “Guess I didn’t think of that. I figured that maybe I had to learn to—”

“Kick ass?” Xander finished for her.

Dawn giggled. “Xand, you make a great big brother, but a lousy father figure.”

Xander felt his smile freeze into a rigor mortis grin. “Why’s that?” He tried not to choke on the question.

“For a start, you use words like ‘ass’ and ‘shit’ in the presence of my virgin ears,” Dawn giggled into her donut, oblivious to Xander’s sudden tension. “Plus, if you look at the combined dadage of the Scooby gang? Dads don’t give pep talks like you do.”

Xander relaxed. Oh, she meant it as a compliment.

{a sad state of affairs indeed.} the whisper agreed using its best tweed-is-god voice.

“So, tell me about this plan,” Dawn said as she wiped the powdered sugar on her fingers on her jeans. “I may be banned from the front lines, but I still wanna hear it.”

“And maybe use that big brain of yours to poke holes?” Xander grinned back.

Dawn gave him an exaggerated look that telegraphed Moi? Perish the thought.

Xander shrugged. “Might as well. If you can see holes, we’ll be able to improve the plan.”

Dawn rewarded him with a happy smile and a small salute. “General Dawn reporting for duty, sah. Lay it on me.”

Xander chuckled. “Right. Me. Bait.”

“With you,” Dawn said.

“I go into a bar.”

“This sounds like one of those jokes where there’s a duck on someone’s head,” Dawn interrupted. “Or one of those where there’s a priest, a rabbi, and a minister.”

“Are you listening or not?”

“Sorry,” Dawn cowed with a grin. “Please continue.”

“I go into a bar, club, restaurant, basically, your run-of-the-mill hotspot or not-so-hotspot, sit at the bar, order a drink, and play wallflower.”

“Ahhh, bait,” Dawn said. She blinked. “Not bad. Time consuming, though.”

Xander shrugged. “Not like we have a team to help us out and I’m the only one immune to the empathy attack, so not much choice there.”

“Best of a bad situation,” Dawn agreed. “Backup?”

Xander smiled. “Good thinking there, kiddo. Already covered. Five minutes after I start my mope-o-rama, one of the gang, sans mirrored headgear but armed with a cell, enters the place of establishment and takes up position.”

“To watch your back,” Dawn nodded. “They get to play P.I. and see what happens.”

“You are following this, General Summers,” Xander said.

“Strategic genius. That’s me. Alcohol swabs?”

“I don’t need ’em because of, you know, my incredible X-ray vision when it comes to this demon’s cloaking spell…” Xander began.

{the bigger question is whether you’ll be able to hide your reaction when our killer approaches you.} the whisper commented.

Will you shut up! Xander thought.

“Xander?” Dawn prompted. She was clearly concerned. “You blanked out on me for a second.”

Xander gave her a relaxed smile that he didn’t really feel. “Sorry, just trying to get my thoughts in order. Backup will have alcohol swabs to slap on the hands of anyone suspicious who approaches them. Safety precaution in case the demon goes after my shadow.”

“Good, good,” Dawn nodded. “Where’s everyone else?”

“Out of sight and around the corner waiting for the bat signal.”

“A.K.A., the call from your backup telling the gang that something fishy is going on,” Dawn giggled.


“So, how will your backup know to call?”

“When I get up off the barstool and head for the exit in the company of a mysterious stranger.” Xander’s tone was light, but he could feel his hands tighten around the coffee cup. He carefully forced his hands to release the cup and as surreptitiously as possible put his hands under the table.

{you’re shaking.} the whisper commented.

Not now! Xander fiercely thought back.

“Good. Liking it so far. Except for the part where everyone charges around the corner running backwards, swords drawn, and accidentally decapitates innocent bystanders when they trip and fall.”

“I don’t recall mentioning that as part of the plan,” Xander dryly responded.

“But that appears to be the logical conclusion,” Dawn said.

“We’re not that bad,” Xander protested.

“True. Usually you guys are worse. Usually you don’t bother to have a plan,” Dawn sniffed.

“See, now I know makin’ fun.”

“My prerogative as a little sis,” Dawn grinned. “So, if charging to your rescue isn’t part of the plan, what is?”

“The first call is to put the rest of the gang on alert that I’ve engaged the target,” Xander explained. “While the gang gets ready to race to my rescue, backup follows me.”

“Okay, problem here,” Dawn said. “What if your ‘date’ wants to go for a ride?”

Xander felt his fingernails reflexively dig into the palms of his hands on the word ‘date.’ He winced.

“Didn’t think of that, didjya?” Dawn sounded smug.

“Actually, we did,” Xander countered. He brought his hands to the tabletop and tightly folded them. “Prior to me entering the bar, we choose a predetermined secluded area that’s close to the gang’s hiding place. My job is to maneuver our demon to that spot. When I get there, backup makes a second call.”

“How are you gonna manage that?” Dawn asked.

Xander shrugged. “I’ll think of something. Instinct tells me this thing is used to easy prey so I’m hoping that it won’t realize that it’s being manipulated until it’s too late.”

“You’re betting an awful lot there,” Dawn commented.

More than you know. Xander immediately quashed the thought.

“Okay, so you’re immune to the mojo, right? And you’ve already killed one of these things. So, answer me this X-man, why do you need the rest of the gang to help you take out this one demon?” Dawn patiently waited for an answer.

“If we go by the clan Buffy and I evicted, this particular suicide demon is a little on the crazy side,” Xander shrugged with a nonchalance he didn’t feel. “Besides, in the case of the not-so-dear departed Mrs. Owsley, I took her by surprise. Same thing when I nabbed Mr. Owsley. I can’t count on the same luck if it figures out that it’s been tricked.”

“In short, you’re not confident you can kill it alone, hence the overkill,” Dawn said.

“That’s part of it,” Xander winced.

“What’s the other part?” Dawn asked.

“I’m not immune if it starts,” he waved vaguely his left ear, “you know.”

Dawn sat up, eyes wide. “I didn’t know! Xander!”

“Look, Dawnie. S’okay. I’m sure I can take this thing by surprise and I’m sure I’ll have it gooed before the gang gets anywhere near me,” Xander assured her with a confidence he didn’t really feel. “The whole business in the training room is just a precaution in case something goes really, really wrong.”

“I don’t like the plan.” Dawn said. “It sucks.”

Xander wilted. “What don’t you like about it?”

“The whole thing! What if you get brain-sucked?” Dawn asked.

Xander grinned and shook his head. “You’ll have to find a new ride to the mall?”


“Look, Dawnie, it’s just part of the Scooby deal. Sometimes you gotta take some risks,” Xander said. “I’ll be fine.”

Dawn gave him one of those looks.

“Really,” Xander said in a reassuring tone. “I’ll be really, really careful. I swear.”

“Promise?” Dawn asked in a tiny voice.

Xander put on his best serious face and held out a fist with pinky upraised. “Promise. I’ll even pinky swear on it.”


“No more questions.
No more jests.
Comes the day you say,
‘What for?’
No more…”

Dolly stood in the middle of the closed Café del Sol, head thrown back, eyes closed, as she swayed slowly to the song.

The end was coming and she couldn’t feel better about it.

All that was needed was a push in the right direction.

Too bad the ending wasn’t up to her. The ending, good or bad, always was, always is, and always will be in someone else’s hands.

She really hoped she wouldn’t be disappointed.

“We disappoint
We disappear
We die, but we don’t…
They disappoint
In turn, I fear.
Forgive, though, they won’t.”

Dolly shuddered in anticipation. The old cassette tape of the original New York cast soundtrack may be battered, but age simply couldn’t dim the Baker’s sweet voice on the next part as it rose in rage and confusion.

“No more riddles.
No more jests.
No more curses you can’t undo,
Left by fathers you never knew.
No more quests.
No more feelings.
Time to shut the door.
JustNo More…”

Dolly found herself loudly singing along, keeping in perfect harmony with the not-at-all-extraordinary Baker, the unwitting catalyst for a whole lot of changing fates, or maybe, the catalyst for a whole lot of people accepting their fate. It was that kind of grey area that Dolly loved: the chicken-and-egg scenario. Was it wishes that created your fate, or are you fated to make the wishes that sent you into the woods in the first place?

Damn, Sondheim is a genius.

“…The trouble is, son,
The further you run,
The more you feel undefined
For what you have left undone
And, more, what you’ve left behind.”

How many copies of Into the Woods did she have stashed in various towns around the world?

The answer, sadly, was not as many as she would like. Less than five at any given time, truth to tell.

Then again, even one was far too many in her humble opinion.

She picked up the battered cassette case and giddily remembered the blustery day she bought this particular copy in March 1993.

“No more Giants
Waging War.
Can’t we just pursue our lives
With our children and our wives?
Till that happy day arrives,
How do you ignore
All the witches,
All the curses,
All the wolves, all the lies,
The false hopes, the goodbyes,
The reverses,
All the wondering what even worse is
Still in store?
All the children…
All the Giants…
No more.”

As the strains of the song died away, Dolly walked calmly across the shop and clicked off the boombox. She enjoyed the silence, hugging tight to her good mood.

She didn’t always finish the soundtrack. If she had to stop half way through the tape, it meant that she had to abandon yet another town and another failed story. It meant she would see the people involved in that failed story again and not in a good way.

That very reality always broke her heart.

But when she got this far into the play, she could almost smell the happy ending.

“Don’t get too excited,” Dolly chided herself. “We haven’t yet seen the curtain call.”

Dolly glanced up at the clock, reading the time in a dim light. She smiled. “Ahhh, time for me to hit my mark,” Dolly said.

She pulled on her coat, glancing around the abandoned café, and smiled fondly at the interior. “Think he’ll be on time?” she asked the empty room.

She happily nodded. “Yup. I think so, too.”

And on that note, she was gone.


Milk, eggs, pasta. Am I forgetting something? I know I’m forgetting something, Xander thought. He hated paying the insane prices demanded by Sunnydale’s lone Store24, but he simply wasn’t in the mood to drive to the 24-hour grocery store located two towns away. Training was still ongoing at the Magic Box, but Buffy declared that he, Xander Harris, needed to be ‘tanned, rested, and ready’ for the hunt to begin tomorrow night.

He wasn’t allowed to argue.

Xander wondered if there was a spell somewhere out there that would allow him to stop time.

{yeah, you and magic. there’s a match made on the hellmouth.} the whisper snorted.

He ignored the comment from the peanut gallery as he quick-timed his way to the shop’s well-lit entrance. Although he had never encountered the local denizens of the dark hanging around the front of the store bumming cigarettes, it always paid to be cautious. He stepped into light pouring out of the store’s window and breathed a sigh of relief.

{oh, like fluorescent lights make a good replacement for good ol’ sunlight.} the whisper groused. {you could do this tomorrow, you know.}

Look, it was on my home, I’m here. Shut up, already.

The whisper grumbled itself into impatient quiet.

Xander took a deep breath, steeled himself for the overwhelming smell of Camels that the night clerk favored, and prepared to open the door. His hand barely touched the door handle when he heard a blood-curdling scream.

“Damn it,” he muttered as he scanned the area, trying to find the source of the sound. “Please, lady. Scream one more time so I can find you.”

The lady in question obliged.

Great, just great. It’s coming from in back of the store, Xander thought as he tore into the shadows away from the well-lit windows.

{do we even have a stake?} the whisper asked.

“Left in the car. No time,” Xander replied as he peeked around the corner. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was in luck. Only two vampires and neither one of them were aware he was there. They were too busy concentrating on the woman crouched against the wall.

He scanned the area and spotted a splintered pallet leaning against the store dumpster. He looked to the heavens and silently thanked whoever decided to watch over fools and children tonight and scuttled over to the ready-made weapon.

The woman screamed again.

Xander grabbed a six-inch long wooden shard and charged into the darkness behind the store. One vampire was crouched over the woman struggling in his grip while the other stood with his back to the approaching human.

This one is a gimme, Xander thought as he slammed the stake home into the vampire’s back, causing it to explode into ash.

The second vampire looked up in surprise from his impending meal and snarled.

Oh, oh, Xander thought. Where’s a Slayer when you need one?

{you can’t leave her there} the whisper ordered.

“No one’s leaving anyone,” Xander quietly said.

The vampire launched itself at Xander and slammed him into the store’s back wall.

“Ungh!” Xander grunted as he struggled in the vampire’s grip. He fought rising panick because he had dropped his stake on impact with the hard brick surface.

“Two for the price of one,” the vampire hissed.

Vampire and human scuffled while Xander tried to break free and the vampire tried to get better purchase on the human’s head.

This is not going to work. I have to get the damn stake, Xander wildly thought. Said stake unfortunately was on the ground between him and his opponent. Nothing for it then, he was going to have to take a dive for the ground and hope the vampire didn’t expect it.

Xander let his legs give out from beneath him, angling his fall so he’d at least land near the stake.

The vampire was so taken by surprise that he was dragged to the ground with his intended meal. The vampire’s fall kicked the stake away and closer to the frightened woman.

Xander managed to wriggle out of the vampire’s suddenly tentative grasp and dove facedown for the pallet shard. He almost shouted with relief when his right hand closed around wood.

“Trying to run?” the vampire chuckled as he flipped the struggling human onto his back.

Xander quickly arced his arm up, managing to slam the stake home. I’ll never in a million years be able to pull that off again, he thought as vampire exploded ash into his face. He rolled over onto his side, coughing and sneezing. Ouch. I think I bruised some ribs. I think I’ve got splinters, too. Fabulous.

“What…what…what…” a female voice stuttered.

Shit! I forgot about the witness!

{play it cool.} the whisper urged.

Xander slowly sat up and looked at the cowering woman. “Hey, you okay?” He congratulated himself for keeping his voice strong and steady, despite the shortness of breath.

The woman looked directly at him.




Xander sat uncomfortably on the couch and wondered how in hell he wound up in Dolly’s apartment. He remembered trying to get out of the invite to come in when he walked Dolly to her door, but the 40-something waitress simply refused to take no for an answer.

He tried not to openly study his surroundings, but curiosity quickly overcame politeness as his eyes drank in evidence of Dolly’s world-wandering ways.

Photos adorned the walls showing Dolly standing in the in front of the Kremlin in Moscow, at a Himalayan base camp, on an outcropping at Machu Picchu in Peru, in front of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, at the base of a pyramid in Egypt, and on and on and on. In every picture Dolly wore her blinding smile and was waving wildly at the camera, almost as if she were shouting ‘look at me now mom’ for the benefit of people back home. Wherever she considered home, that is.

Xander’s townie self burned with an envy he didn’t dare openly admit. When he set out on the road after high school he half-hoped that the images in Dolly’s pictures would loom large in his future. He sighed. One night at the Fabulous Ladies Nightclub and I crawl back to my parents on hands and knees.

{you felt like you were running away from your responsibilities here.} the whisper said.

Xander quietly snorted in response as he listened with half-an-ear to Dolly rummaging around in her medicine cabinet. More like I was afraid to even try, he silently corrected. He looked down at his hand and counted the splinters. Besides, I’m not really needed here. Sometimes I feel like I’m just marking time and waiting for life to begin, he dejectedly thought.

The whisper sighed. {i’m pretty sure dolly would disagree. stop looking at the pictures. you’re just going to make yourself crazy. besides, it’s not like you can’t do the same thing. there’s nothing stopping you if you want nip over to greece for a week and check out athens.}

“My, aren’t we being encouraging,” Xander muttered. How the hell am I gonna get out of this one? What am I going to say to Dolly?

{muggers.} the whisper reminded him.

Xander startled when a first aid kit plopped on the coffee table in front of him. He looked up to see Dolly standing with her hands on her hips. A streak of dirt striped down her left cheek and Xander made a motion to indicate she had something on her face.

“What?” she asked.

“Dirt,” Xander said.

A teakettle whistled in the kitchen.

“Be right back,” Dolly said without bothering to wipe at her face. She was halfway across the living room before she whirled around and pointed at her guest. “Don’t even think of moving.”

Xander held up his hands in surrender.

Dolly nodded once and disappeared into the kitchen.

Xander reached over and opened the first aid kit. His eyebrows shot up in surprise. Her kit was almost as well stocked as the one in his apartment. He pawed through the contents and pulled out some Band Aids and antibacterial ointment. He continued digging to find a needle to remove the splinters.

A cup clinked when it landed on the coffee table next to the first aid kit. He looked up.

“Scooch over, will ya?” Dolly indicated with a wave of her hand. The dirt streak was still there.

Xander shifted to make room for Dolly on the couch. “I can’t find—”

“Got a needle here, hun,” Dolly said as she settled on the couch. She reached over to dip the needle in a cup of hot water. “Gotta sterilize,” she explained.

“Right. Ummm, sorry about the run-in with the local nightlife,” Xander began.

“Shush. Gimme your hand, hero.”

“Hero?” Xander asked while Dolly grabbed his right hand and began working.

“Yah. Saved me from those…What were they?”

“Muggers. Muggers on PCP,” Xander replied using the party line. “PCP. Big problem in—”

Dolly gave him a jab with a needle, eliciting a hiss of pain from Xander.

“Don’t give me that,” Dolly retorted. “I know men. I like men. Those things? Not men.”

“Really? They looked man-shaped to me.” Xander desperately hoped the Sunnydale Denial Fairy would kick in really soon because he knew that a more detailed lie was not going to hold up under Dolly’s current level of scrutiny.

“Man-shaped things that explode when you stick something sharp in ’em ya mean,” Dolly said bending to her task.

“You don’t have to do this you know,” Xander said, changing the subject. “I’m an expert at getting splinters out of my hands.”

“Oh, stick man-shaped things with pointy things often, do ya?”

“No!” Xander said. “I mean, I work in construction. I get lots of splinters, hence the expertise.”

Dolly grunted as she pulled a splinter out of his hand. She wiped the needle on her skirt and dipped it back in the cup of hot water. “Ya looked like ya knew what you were doin’ back there.”

“Really? I thought I looked like a guy who was desperately fighting for his life.” Xander immediately wanted to slap himself for making the unthinking comment.

“That too,” Dolly said as she continued her operation. “But ya looked like ya knew what to do.” She looked up and the threatening gleam in her eye promised a lot more painful pokes with the needle if Xander didn’t come clean. “I know what I saw, hun. I saw ya charge inta the fray like you was some avengin’ angel. I saw ya stick a sharp piece of wood into one man-shaped thing and then inta another. I saw two man-shaped things explode inta dust…” Dolly’s voice trailed off and her eyes widened in shock.

“Dolly?” Xander asked. He snapped fingers in front of her face to get her attention. When the waitress looked at him, Xander added, “Dolly? Are you okay?”

“Hun? Should I be thinkin’ Dracula-like thoughts?”

“No. Dracula has this mind-control thing.”

{will you shut up!} the whisper yelled.

“I mean, no!” Xander corrected himself. “Why would you think—”

Dolly jabbed him with the needle.

“Ow! What happened to ‘hero’?”

Dolly fixed him with a glare. “I know what I saw,” her voice had an undertone of threat, “I want the truth. Not some crap PCP story, got it?” She held up the needle with a nasty smile. “Feed me a line…”

Xander closed his eyes in defeat. Dolly wasn’t going to buy anything less than the truth. Fine. Truth she was going to get.


An hour later Dolly was owlishly blinking at her guest. “Vampires. Are real,” she said.


“Demons. Are real.”


“Things that go bump inna night?”

“Are real,” Xander finished for her.

“And the town?”

“Is on top of a Hellmouth.”

“Hunh,” Dolly commented. “Okay, I knew there was a reason rent in this town was so cheap. I knew I shoulda never bought the real estate agent’s line about the shortage of Starbuck’s storefronts.”

“The real estate agent probably believes it,” Xander replied.

“No one in this town knows,” Dolly flatly stated.

“Correction. No one in this town wants to know.”

Dolly’s face screwed up as she chewed over that statement. “But you want to know?”

“Not really,” Xander admitted. “I don’t have a choice.”

“Because of your friend. The little blonde one.”

“The Slayer. Right.”

“The one who can kick your ass and not break a nail.”

“That’s the one.”


The pair sat in silence for a few seconds.

“And she has other friends?”

“My friend, Willow. She’s the witch, like I said.”

“Right. And you mentioned an Enya?”

“Anya. Ex-vengeance demon.”

Dolly blinked. “A what-a-what demon?”

“Vengeance demon, but former,” Xander quickly said. “She used to, ummm, exact vengeance on men who did women wrong.”

“I see,” Dolly said. “But she’s not now?”

“No, but she’s got 1,200 years’ worth of experience being a demon, so that’s been a big help.”

Dolly blinked. “Then there’s a vampire. Which you don’t stake. Because of a chip that gave him a soul.”

“No. Chip first. Soul later.” Xander grimaced. “I think there’s a soul involved. Hard to tell if you ask me. Buffy and Anya believe it. I’m not sure I want to believe it, but until proven otherwise I’m stuck with going along.”

“If what ya told me about vampires is true, that’s gotta be a first,” Dolly said.

“Nope. It’s a second. There’s another one.”

“Another one?” Dolly asked.

“Don’t sweat it. He lives in LA, so no big.”

“Are there a lotta these vampires with souls?”

“Nope. Just the two. At least the only two I know about and that’s enough if you ask me.”

“So Anne Rice is fulla shit then.”

“Pretty much.”


That sat a few more seconds in silence.

“What’s your secret?” Dolly asked.

“Mine?” Xander squeaked.

“Slayer, witch, vampire, ex-demon of some sort. We’re talkin’ Justice League here. What’s your super-cool secret?”

Xander squirmed. “Don’t have one. What you see is what you get.”

“Ahhh, you’re Batman then.”

“More like Batmite, but okay.”

Dolly started giggling. Soon she was laughing. Laughing edged up into hysterical howling as she fell off the couch and onto the floor.

“Dolly! Hey, Dolly? Are you okay?” Xander dove for the floor to check his hostess.

She stopped laughing long enough to look up at the young man looming over her prone form. She stared up into his concerned brown eyes. Then she was off on another wave of hysterical laughter.

Xander sat back on his haunches. “Right. I’ll wait until it all sinks in.”


Twenty minutes later Dolly was calm enough to talk, aside from the occasional hiccup indicating that she was dangerously close to laughing again. “So, that explains why you insisted on drivin’ me one block home,” she said.

“Please don’t tell me you walk home from the café when you work nights,” Xander said. “It’s dangerous out there.”

“I can take care of myself, ya know,” Dolly huffed. “I’m not some damsel in distress.”

“I didn’t say you were,” Xander quickly interrupted. “I mean, Jesus, look at all the traveling you’ve done. I’m pretty sure you do know how to take care of yourself. It’s just normal people in this town have a tendency to become dinner if they’re not careful.”

“Well, I didn’t know that before tonight, did I?” Dolly sniffed. “Besides, I’m not stupid, ya know. There are lots of bad things that lurk in the dark and most ’em are human. I drove home from work.”

“So what were you doing behind the convenience store without a car?”

Dolly sighed. “Had a date at Chez Robert’s two blocks over. I dumped my car off here and walked over to save some gas. The store was on my way home from the restaurant and I needed a coupla things so I thought I’d stop and get ’em.”

Xander looked at the time. “It’s only 11 o’clock, so I take it the date didn’t go well.”

“Could say that, hun. My date didn’t even show.”

{her date probably got eaten.} the whisper commented.

“Didn’t call me at work to let me know that he wasn’t gonna be there,” Dolly continued. “I called my answering machine from the restaurant and there was no message here either.”

{definitely something’s dinner.} the whisper opined.

“Ahh, Dolly. Forget about it,” Xander said. “Something just probably came up and he didn’t get a chance to call.”

Dolly chuckled. “Nah. I’ll just chalk it up to one more frog wearing a prince charmin’ mask.”

“Well, for the record, the guy’s an idiot.”

Dolly grinned. “You’re pretty good at this cheerin’ up thing, hun. You’re sorta like a man-shaped girlfriend.”

Xander winced. “I’ve heard that before,” he muttered.

Dolly patted his arm. “Reaction like that? I’m guessin’ someone’s goin’ through a dry spell. Cheer up! I’m sure your princess in shinin’ armor will ride up on her white horse and sweep ya offa ya feet.”

“Sounds good to me,” Xander nodded. “But the day that happens, I’m checking the white horse because it’s probably a paint job.”

“Now that’s cynical,” Dolly laughed.

“Nope. That’s life on the Hellmouth,” Xander shrugged. “Look, Dolly, next time you find yourself stuck for a ride after dark, call me and if I can I’ll come get you. Save you the cab fare at least.”

Dolly stopped laughing and regarded him with something close to surprise. “You’d do that for me?”

“Well, yeah.” Xander felt distinctly uncomfortable with the look Dolly was giving him. “If something happens to you I’d, I dunno, I’d miss you and the whole flirting thing in the morning.”

“Nice to know someone out there notices waitresses.”

“I also noticed you still have dirt on your face,” Xander said.

Dolly wrinkled her nose. “Not important, hun. I figured your paw was more important. I can wash my face later.”

“Thanks.” Xander ducked his head so Dolly wouldn’t see him blush. “Look, I better go. I have a long day ahead tomorrow.”

“Sure thing, hun.” Dolly stood and waited for Xander to do the same before she led him to the apartment door.

Xander nodded a goodnight as she let him out but stopped when she put a restraining hand on his arm. He looked at her in surprise and noticed she was worrying her bottom lip with her teeth. “Dolly?”

“Look, hun, I know ya probably doin’ what ya think is right an’ I respect ya an all,” she began.

Here it comes, Xander thought. She’s going to tell me I should let the people with the real power do the fighting.

“Just promise me you’ll be careful, hunh?” Dolly finished with a pleading look. “I don’t have too many friends an’ I’d hate to lose one.”

The sentiment surprised a broad smile out of Xander. He gave a mock bow. “As you wish.”

The Princess Bride. One of my all-time favorites,” Dolly said with pleased happiness. “And just for the record hun, that’s my line.”

Continued in Part 9




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