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DeadWar: Be Good Sweet Maid

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  • DeadWar: Be Good Sweet Maid

    Rating: PG

    Disclaimer: All non-original characters are property of Joss Whedon. All original characters are property of me.

    Summary: The Scoobies are on the run, and the only one who knows just how deep Xander's betrayal goes is a soulless vampire....

    Beta: darlas_mom

    The proper motto is not "Be good, sweet maid, and let who can be clever," but "Be good, sweet maid, and don't forget that this involves being as clever as you can."
    --C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    "Am I not sufficiently confined?" Illyria growled.

    "No," Giles sighed. "No, you're not. Dawn, a little help?"

    "Illyria, if your seatbelt isn't fastened," Dawn said from the front seat, "it'll give the police an excuse to hassle us. We're already fugitives. Do you really want humans trying to enforce their laws on you?"

    Illyria studied the belt. "This device is unnecessary. I cannot be done any serious injury by your vehicles."

    "The law's made with us humans in mind," Dawn confirmed. "Do you really want to waste time convincing the police you're not human?" Giles winced...and with a glare, Illyria fastened herself in.

    "In my day, such contrivances as this 'mini-van' were unneeded. Space and time--"

    "And in my day," Willow cut in, "we walked ten miles to school in the snow. Uphill both ways. Can you stop boasting for just one minute? It makes you look insecure." To Giles' immense relief, Illyria declined to execute the witch for her slight. Dawn's nervous laughter might have contributed; the Old One shifted uneasily in her seat and stared straight ahead.

    Now that that was handled... "There will be people looking for this vehicle," Giles pointed out. "We might do well to discard it soon."

    Willow shook her head with an ominous frown. "Dawn was casting an Ionia's Glamour when I got in."

    "What? Willow, that spell is for concealing small missing objects. The absence of a mini-van--"

    "It was really simple," Dawn spoke up. "I'd been reading about it and we needed something that could be done fast."

    It was a simple spell, certainly, largely because it lacked an efficient energy-channeling mechanism. Dawn might as well have tried to lift the van with her bare hands instead of a jack. Giles started to say as much.

    "It worked," Willow interjected, glancing nervously across the seat at him. "I could feel it. They won't notice the van is gone till it wears off tomorrow." Between them, Illyria said nothing, but Giles could have sworn he saw a faint smile on her lips.

    "So," Connor said from the driver's seat, "anyone want to tell me where we're going? Because right now we're headed out of town."

    "I was thinking Caritas," Dawn responded.

    "Caritas is certainly already a target. The defensive enchantments it uses don't appear to affect Slayers," Giles said. "I suppose we should warn Clem. He wasn't able to find anyone who could duplicate the ward against both demonic and human violence, and the Slayer essence is too weak or too unusual to trigger the spell."

    "The shelter, then?" Connor suggested.

    Willow shook her head. "They might even go there first. The Slayers know all about Anne. I'm not sure they'll care that she's harmless. Maybe...didn't Angel run things from an office with an apartment before he got hold of the Hyperion? It'd be kinda cramped, but do the other Slayers even know about it?"

    "No," Giles said darkly, "but it's occupied. I promised to protect her privacy and not to involve her after she declined my offer to become a Watcher. I don't believe we should impose."

    "We're low on options," Connor pointed out. "Anyway, is there really anyone who isn't involved now?"

    "I suspect there are still a few. Nonetheless you have a point. She must be by now, whether she realizes it or not. Turn left at the next intersection." Giles regretted the decision, and suspected he would regret it more before the day was over. "I don't believe Ms. Lockley will be pleased with me, but needs must."
    ********
    Vampires weren't supposed to need physical therapy. As far as Anne knew, though, no other vampire had ever survived what she'd been through. Angel had confirmed before leaving that Spike had needed to help the nerves in his arms reconnect after he'd had his hands cut off. If only it were so easy as playing video games....

    Anne shuffled along the wall, clinging to the railing. The closest she'd ever come to the numbness in her limbs had been the time she'd sat cross-legged for a couple of hours reading The Vampire Lestat; she'd had to get up suddenly to answer the phone and had fallen because her right foot had been hanging limply from her ankle. Her legs would move, she could grip things between her fingers, but sometimes she felt like a toddler trying to learn how to walk or catch. She stumbled just then, reached out to catch herself, and slammed a hand through the wall instead of catching the rail; if anything, vampire speed and strength made things worse

    If only she could visit a clinic for real therapy...but they'd notice her lack of a heartbeat pretty quickly. Yeah...being a vampire is really, really cool. Of course, she wasn't out of breath from the effort and there was no risk of needing to hurry to the bathroom, so there were some compensations. With a sigh of relief, she reached her chair and sank into it, picking up the thermos of blood in the cupholder she'd had bolted on. It was slowly getting cold, but still tasted wonderful after the exertion. Maybe I should get an "I survived a decapitation" t-shirt. That would make people look twice, and no one would actually believe it.

    Feet padded faintly on the floor; a whiff of some frilly perfume mixed with a singed odor drifted across the room. Anne looked up. "You've got to help me," Harmony whimpered. "I'm in so much trouble."

    Anne swallowed hard. There was pretty much only one kind of trouble Harmony would be coming to her for at this point, and nothing she could do about it. "Harmony...who'd you kill?" The other vampire's face and arms were scorched red, and she was holding her side as if she were hurt; she had somehow lost her shoes, and her socks were coated in grime.

    "Nobody," Harmony wailed. "Xander tried to kill me! I didn't do anything, I swear."

    "Damn." Anne gritted her teeth, feeling her features shift. "I thought Willow got through to him." Of course, Harmony without a soul was a different matter from harmless demons, no matter what she was trying to do...wasn't she? Anne was still trying to work that one out herself. Joan had been....

    "Maybe she did," Harmony said, struggling to compose herself. "This is really, really important, Anne. You have to believe me, I know it sounds crazy...." Anne waited skeptically while the cheerleader sniveled. "Xander's in Buffy's thrall. Maybe...maybe he has been for a long time. I caught them talking on the phone."

    Anne tried not to let her jaw drop. "That's when he attacked you?"

    "She told him to. He shouted at me, and she must have realized I could hear her. He called her 'mistress'. I know we all thought he was just blaming himself for what happened to her, and Cordelia and Anya, but...maybe that just made him, like...open, you know? He always did have a crush on her."

    It hung together. That didn't prove Harmony was telling the truth, but Willow always insisted that Xander had changed in the last couple of years--that he'd only hated vampires for the usual reasons, and had kept on loving Anya even when she was a demon again. "I'll call Willow," she decided. "I'll talk to her and explain. Maybe she can shake him loose from it." If he really was under Buffy's control, she'd probably been using him as a spy for months at least; no wonder she'd been so hard to catch. "Do they know where you are?" Harmony shook her head; Anne carefully pulled her own cell out of her purse and managed, after one false start, to speed dial Willow's number.

    "Yes?" asked an unfamiliar male voice. "May I ask who's calling?"

    Anne frowned, thinking for a moment. "I'm trying to reach Willow Rosenberg."

    "Just a moment," the voice responded. In the background, a second voice muttered faintly, "Who's looking for Giles' little witch? Check the number." Grimacing, Anne fumbled briefly with the buttons before managing to break off the call.

    "Wrong number?" Harmony asked hopefully.

    "Someone's got Willow's phone. Someone who doesn't trust her, or probably Giles either. And I might have let them know it was me calling. Do you have any idea what's happening?"

    Harmony bit her lip. "There were Slayers chasing me, and...and this Watcher. Expensive dresser, but no style...she was..." She closed her eyes, thinking. "A Miss Soames. She's one of the ones who doesn't like Giles."

    "You know her name?" Everyone knew Harmony wasn't the brightest bulb in the box.

    "Please." The cheerleader rolled her eyes. "She called me a vicious monster to my face, and that was when I had a soul. I should have eaten her anyway. Oh, and she flirts with Kennedy when Willow's not around, but I think she's a big fake. Of course I remembered her. I just had to think about it."

    Anne nodded, thinking hard herself. "Maybe...she might have used what happened between you and Xander somehow to hurt Mr. Giles. Grab some shoes to wear. I'll see if I can get anyone friendly on the phone. We need to get out of here in case they figured out who was calling from, and we need to know what's going on."

    She tried calling Giles first. No answer, but that wasn't so unusual. Connor's number reached the same man, angry now, and Anne hung up quickly, just as Harmony showed up wearing jeans, a dark red t-shirt, and a pair of old tennis shoes.

    She must have been staring. "I'm not ruining any more good clothes," Harmony insisted defensively. "We have to stick to the sewers, remember?" Holding up a small cooler, she added, "And snacks. No point finding them if I've eaten somebody, right?"

    Anne checked the cooler, confirming that it was, in fact, bags of blood from the emergency stash she kept in the refrigerator. "You're better at preparing than I expected."

    "I really don't like roughing it," Harmony said reasonably.

    Shrugging, Anne agreed. "I don't think we can get my chair in and out of the sewers, though."

    Harmony fidgeted about with the cooler, finally placing it in Anne's lap before suddenly scooping her out of the wheelchair with a pained grunt. Just looking at the girl, sometimes you could forget.... "Got your cell phone? I think I can manage."
    ********
    "I suppose it was unavoidable," Giles muttered, half to himself, and tried to ignore the face Willow made. "Harmony was always going to betray us. The only question was how."

    "The scorpion," Illyria said, flatly. "It was in her nature."

    "You know the fable?" What the Old One remembered--or had since been told--was disturbingly unpredictable.

    "It was explained on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager that was watched by the sh...by Winifred Burkle. The captain desired to make an alliance with a cybernetic hive-mind, and her first officer opposed her, citing this tale. As soon as she was unconscious, he betrayed her and the alliance, demonstrating the fable's veracity. None of the humans I have discussed this with agreed with my analysis, however."

    Willow blushed faintly for some reason and went back to the sulking she'd been doing for several blocks, once the immediate danger of their escape had passed. "What happened exactly, Giles?"

    "Evidently Harmony attacked Xander and Kennedy informed the unfortunate Ms. Soames about the incident, giving her a pretext for accusing me of collaborating with evil demons. Which, technically, is sadly true. I'm afraid I did warn you that this was likely to happen. Connor, we need to get into the right lane and prepare to turn."

    "So I screwed up."

    "In all honesty, I don't think we know that, Willow. We were all lax regarding her, just as we were around Spike from time to time. If anything, we might have been more unprepared if you had restored her soul, given the number of times she's already lost it." He began to reach across Illyria to pat the redhead on the shoulder, thought better of it, and gave her a rueful smile instead. "We should all have done some things differently."

    "I thought Kennedy trusted you, Giles. Or at least that she trusted me. She could have said someting to you instead of selling you out." Willow scrubbed at her eyes. "I'm sorry, I...we haven't been doing all that well lately, but...I wasn't expecting this."

    Dawn craned around in her seat. "Will, she wasn't trying to hurt you. We could all see that."

    "I know, Dawn," Willow said miserably. "She meant well. That just makes it worse."

    "Um, this the place?" Connor called.

    "Yes, I believe so, Connor. Perhaps Kennedy was even right, up to a point," Giles sighed. "It isn't as though my policies have been very effective. I hoped for too much, made too many allowances, and I allowed myself to be distracted by my regrets about Buffy when I should have been concentrating on the problems at hand. This result may have been inevitable."

    "Of course it was inevitable," Illyria said dismissively, unbuckling herself hurriedly and climbing over Willow.

    "What do you...oof!...mean?" Willow wisely refrained from shoving the Old One's knee out of her stomach.

    Escaping the van, Illyria moved quickly away, breathing deeply. She looked around, sighed, and changed, the blue tint fading from her skin and hair. "Betrayal's normal, y'know?" said the simulacrum of Fred. A sweater and jeans replaced her bodysuit. "You're all stressed out cause Harmony betrayed us. But so'd Kennedy and an awful lot of the Watchers. I don't hear y'all asking if it's human nature."

    Giles sighed and began clambering out of the vehicle. It might look and sound like a girl from Texas, but at the core, it was still a demon. "For better or worse, Illyria, Kennedy and the Council both acted out of principle, for what they saw as the greater good."

    "Yep, exactly. That's what humans do." Illyria nodded vigorously. "So you see my point. A wise ruler's always ready to be betrayed. Doesn't matter who or what he's ruling. Somebody'll find a reason."

    Giles shook his head dismissively and strode up to the door. Quite possibly Illyria would never understand these things. Dawn said something he didn't quite hear, prompting Illyria to respond, "Of course I'm ready for when you betray me."

    A doorbell chimed. "Welcome to--" Ms. Lockley looked up from behind a desk; she still looked very much as she had when they had last met two years before. "Mr. Giles. I'm going to assume you've been robbed, because I thought we agreed never to discuss certain things again. Or is your wife cheating on you? Lost a pet?"

    Best not to answer that directly. "I need your help, Ms. Lockley. And--"

    "Stop right there. I don't take supernatural cases, Mr. Giles. So you can take your little pack of..." She peered at the group filing in behind him. "...Slayers, or whatever they are, and walk back out of my office. Sorry."

    "Ms. Lockley--"

    Connor pushed past him. "Taken any murder cases lately, Ms. Lockley? Robberies? Seen a lot of 'drug-related gang violence'? My father told me he thought you understood by now just how much of that's supernatural. And it's only gonna get worse."

    "Your father?"

    "Angel. Remember him?"

    "I remember him." Kate scowled, glancing at the window. "If you're his son, where's your blanket? Looks pretty sunny out there. And how old are you really? Two hundred and sixteen?"

    "You want that in Earth years? Something like five." Connor slammed his hands down on the desk. "You can't hide from this stuff, detective. Son of two vampires, raised in hell." He pointed at Dawn. "My girlfriend? Ball of mystical energy. Willow's a witch, and the skinny Texan girl there is Illyria, 'god-king of the primordium'. Look pretty normal, don't we? I bet we're not the first supernatural clients to walk through your door."

    "Did your father tell you he cost me my career?" the detective asked, her eyes flaring. "I tried dealing with things like this, and all it got me was kicked off the force. It took me nearly two years to get used to the idea that they weren't going to take me back and get on with my life. You asked if I take murder cases? I take petty theft cases. I follow cheating husbands. That's what I do now."

    "Angel didn't wreck your career," Willow said, calmly. "People acting like you are now did that. You know why the law doesn't handle things like this? Not because it can't. Because it chooses not to learn how."

    "Humans," Illyria intoned, still cloaked in Fred's form, "see only what they desire to see." Kate stared at her assessingly, eyes just a little too wide.

    "If you're dissatisfied with your life," Giles said, "we're offering you the chance to change that. We need to gather information, and we need a place to stay where we won't be looked for. Once this is over--if it ever is--you can return to following cheating spouses, if that's really what you'd rather do."

    Kate was silent for a few moments. "You can bed down in the office tonight. One night; I need this space. I'll see what I can do about finding somewhere a little more permanent. And then you tell me what's going on."

    Giles nodded. "That's all we ask."
    ********
    "Reception down here sucks," Harmony noted. "You'd think it'd be just like inside."

    "There are a lot of cables under the streets," Anne said with a grimace. "And a lot of mystical creatures down here too." They'd found what seemed to have been a vampire nest--cots that, from the scent, hadn't been slept in in months, and not much else. Harmony kept rubbing at her side as she sat down on one of them. "You didn't tell me when we started you had broken ribs."

    "You're really not that heavy."

    "No, I mean...why bother? I don't think I would have, in your place."

    Harmony shrugged, then winced in pain again. "I need you. You can't walk far. I don't want to die, that's all."

    Anne considered that. "I guess Joan might have done that. There's nowhere safe any more, not really."

    "Joan?" Harmony opened the cooler and pulled out a baggie.

    "When I was younger," Anne explained, "I thought vampires were like you read about in an Anne Rice novel. Or maybe Poppy Brite. Die young, stay pretty, you know? I kept taking stupid names that had to do with whatever cult I was latched onto at the moment. When I was into vampires, I called myself Chanterelle. But Joan's my birth name."

    "Hey, this stuff's human!" Harmony stared accusingly at her. "I can't get away with drinking human blood."

    "From a blood drive," Anne said. "It's got more kick to it. You'll heal faster. Go ahead, it's paid for." She half-expected the other vampire to keep objecting, but Harmony just began drinking it down. Of course. No guilt, only fear.

    "So when you were human, you were Joan?" Harmony asked after a moment, licking away a blood mustache.

    "No. Well, yes, but...." Anne made a fist, then tried to open it one finger at a time. The last three still didn't want to move separately. "When I didn't have a soul, I was Joan. It was...her way of showing contempt for who I used to be. She didn't need to pretend to be someone else. I guess it was a good thing she turned out to be more of a coward than she thought."

    "No way! You're not a coward."

    "I'm not a coward because I care about other people more than myself, Harm." She reached into the cooler. "Inside, I'm scared to death. As soon as I heard Buffy was on a rampage, I started hunting for a way out."

    "So being a coward is good?" Harmony squinched up her brows. "I never thought of it like that."

    "I guess it can be, sometimes," Anne laughed. "But you're not a coward. I don't fight much because there are other important things that need doing--the world would be a pretty messed-up place with nothing but wall-to-wall 'champions'--but it takes guts to do what you do, Harm."

    "I just thought fighting demons was what a vampire with a soul was supposed to do. It's what Angel and Spike did."

    Well, that explained a lot. "Maybe. You could do a lot worse than imitating them, though. There are plenty of us who curl up and die once they have a soul, in case you haven't noticed."

    "Noticed. More blood?" Harmony held out a baggie.

    "Ate just before we left, but thanks." She pulled out her cell phone and studied it. "We've got two bars in here."

    "We didn't try Dawn before we left," Harm pointed out.

    "Then here goes." Anne tried to cross her fingers, but they refused to make the proper motions. Harmony offered a half-smile and crossed her own.
    ********
    By the time Giles finished explaining it had grown dark outside. Kate's secretary and an older, balding ex-cop were marking out sites of probable vampire battles with Willow on a computerized map. Dawn, Connor, and, for a wonder, Illyria were calling Slayers and Watchers they had reason to believe were loyal to him and still in town.

    "Let me get this straight," Ms. Lockley said incredulously. "Buffy's been killing demons since she was fifteen. Her mother died, her father disappeared off into Europe somewhere, and she was left to raise her sister, who's really a mystical energy force, by herself. She's killed her boyfriend, after which she ran away from home. She's had to try to kill several other friends, and nearly had to let her sister die to save the world. She's been to hell and back. She's been to heaven and back. She's returned from the dead three times. Her mind's been tampered with more than once. She's been depressed, delusional, and even catatonic. She's been institutionalized once--"

    "Unfairly," Giles pointed out.

    "No, that's my point. When you're actually sane, an institution can make your problems worse. Last of all, she's become the very thing she hates and was called to fight. And you think she's behaving this way just because she's a vampire now? Do Watchers not understand words like 'post-traumatic stress disorder'?"

    "Angel gave me the impression that--"

    "I don't like the idea of cops who are basically sound of mind having to deal with a psychiatrist over every single violent incident. It's excessive. People are more resilient than that. But a girl who's been through all this...I'm surprised she lasted a year without killing herself."

    "Slayers have before," Giles admitted. "Others have...committed suicide-by-vampire, one might say."

    "So of course Slayers get the best therapy money can buy, being both vulnerable girls and very valuable assets."

    Giles ground his teeth. "Since the time such things became understood, society has also become much less accepting of the supernatural. A girl who went to a conventional therapist and discussed fighting vampires would, as we've already brought up, be inappropriately institutionalized. Watchers are expected to counsel their own Slayers."

    "Well, you've certainly worked wonders with Buffy." Giles leaned forward, prepared to give her a piece of his mind, and she held up a hand. "No, I mean that seriously. You never mentioned any training of that sort as part of the Watcher package, so I can only assume you're a natural, or she wouldn't have lasted as long as she did. I just want to know, are you sure this isn't really because Slayers are considered expendable? One dies, another's called, no harm done?"

    "Honestly," he said, "I'm certain it is. I've been doing my best to change that; the difficulty is in finding qualified individuals. The fact remains that a vampire is not going to be cured by therapy. Buffy lacks a soul; that much is innate, and we haven't been able to restore it. It's possible that if we could treat her, she'd become all the more dangerous."

    "I wonder. No, I don't doubt you, exactly." Kate closed the notebook she'd been writing in. "I've seen enough to believe you're right, a normal vampire is deadly dangerous. I just have to ask myself what 'normal' means in this context. You said Buffy's proven that hope is a luxury you don't have. I don't think you can infer anything from her."

    "Anne!" Dawn popped up from her seat and hurried over to the desk. "Giles, Anne just called in. She's on the run."

    "In her condition?" Giles asked. Kate looked confused. "It's possible you met her, Ms. Lockley, but it would have been some time ago, and she's a vampire herself now. Buffy tortured her nearly to death."

    Dawn had begun to bounce up and down on her heels. "Giles, she's not by herself. She's with Harmony."

    "Let me see that." Giles very nearly yanked the phone from her hand. "Rupert Giles speaking. Anne, what in heaven's name are you doing?"

    "Mr. Giles," Anne said tinnily, "Harmony didn't attack Xander. He attacked her. He's under Buffy's thrall. Where are you? We need to talk."

    "Dear lord." What else was going to go wrong? "Yes, we certainly do."
    ********
    "Harm," Anne insisted, "we have to stop." They'd emerged from the sewers as the sun set, both of them about equally relieved to be out. They were far from the only things to make the transition, though.

    Harmony kept running. "We spent a couple of hours going the wrong way. That means we have to take the long way around the hotel, and if we're too slow we'll still run into Slayers on patrol. I don't want to die."

    A sense of self-preservation could only go so far. Anne bit her on the arm, producing an outraged shriek as Harm let her topple to the ground. "Turn around and go back. We have to help that guy."

    "How do you even know he's one of the good guys?" Harmony complained, recalcitrant. "The way things are going, maybe the slime demon's just defending himself." Ostentatiously, she examined her wounded arm, ignoring Anne's pointed looks.

    Anne reached out to the wall and dug her fingers in, clawing herself to her feet brick by brick. "Fine. Go on without me. I'll do what I can. You can explain to Giles what happened to me and why you didn't help."

    She was nearly upright when the cheerleader wrapped an arm around her legs and scooped her up once more. "They'll hate me, won't they." Harmony turned, reluctantly, and began to sprint back down the street. "I'm tired of the way they look at me. I miss being popular."

    It was another thread to pull. "I won't tell them I had to talk you into it," Anne said. "You'll get the credit." Two blocks back, the demon was slavering over its prey at the end of an alley, its putrid scent so distinct that even humans should have noticed something was wrong. Harm clearly wasn't the only one who couldn't be bothered to care--or, more charitably, was too afraid to help.

    Harmony set her down leaning against the wall, picked up a trash can lid, and hurled it at the creature. As far as Anne could tell, the roar it produced was wordless, though that didn't necessarily mean anything. Turning from its victim, the demon tossed the lid aside and charged.

    "It won't matter," Harm complained, kicking the monster in the kneecap. "I'm the screwup who keeps losing her soul." Fist to the jaw, or where the jaw might have been under all that slime. "I'm the stupid cheerleader who can't even be evil right." Blocking a slow, shambling punch. "I could kill a thousand demons...save a whole city full of humans..." Slamming the slime demon into a dumpster, where Anne managed to whack it with a scavenged pipe herself. "...but they're never gonna see me as a person." With the demon reeling, leaning halfway into the dumpster, Harmony brought the lid down hard, severing its head. The creature collapsed and began melting into a puddle.

    "Faith does," Anne stated simply. "I think maybe Dawn does too." She offered a rag from the alley floor, grimy but cleaner than Harm's slimy hands; the cheerleader wiped them off fastidiously and tossed it aside, then turned to crouch over the man who'd been attacked.

    "He's okay," Harmony grumbled. Anne's ears picked up whispered prayers and pleas. "At least we weren't wasting our time." The man opened his eyes to Harm's game face; streaked with tears though it was, he shuddered violently and scrambled to his feet, darting out of the alley. "Didn't your parents ever teach you to say thank you?"

    "You scared him," Anne said gently. Harmony's whining was grating on her nerves, but even so, she did have a point.

    "Do you?" Harmony asked, lifting her again. For a moment, the question left Anne baffled. But only for a moment.

    "Look at you as a person?" You're no one, snarled one memory, and a harsh whisper of another echoed it back. "I think I do," Anne said slowly. "Maybe I shouldn't, but I do."

    Anne wasn't much of a philosopher; she was too busy with the day-to-day work of helping people stay alive. So it was possible she was wrong; maybe without a soul Harmony really was just an animated corpse, parroting words with nothing behind them. That wasn't what the absent smile on the girl's face said, though, or her own memories of that state. Harmony wanted to belong. It wasn't remorse. It wasn't love. But it was something more than fear. And even fear was something real.
    ********
    "She had to talk me into it," Harmony admitted to Giles. Maybe being honest would help. She rubbed her sore ribs, all but one of which seemed to be mostly healed. "I was afraid."

    Giles didn't answer, only looked at her. The tough-looking detective lady, Kate, didn't say anything either, but then she smelled more nervous than angry. That was normal for humans who didn't know what a stupid weakling Harm was. Anne looked up in surprise, but was quiet too.

    "You were hurt," Connor said finally. "And you didn't know the Slayers weren't coming. You had a right to be afraid."

    "Why aren't the Slayers out patrolling?" Anne asked.

    Illyria spoke up immediately. "They are making plans, obviously." She'd gone back to being blue not long after Harmony'd arrived. Harm was glad; being around a Fred who wasn't Fred was creepy, though she didn't think that was why the demoness had done it. "They wish to lure as much of their prey as possible into the open. They will then have a clear spatial representation of its whereabouts." Kate might be nervous around Harmony, but she jumped a tiny bit every time Illyria spoke. The other humans didn't seem to notice.

    "But they don't need that to patrol," Dawn said. "Buffy never did anything like that. Besides, what about all the people who'll get hurt while they're off duty?"

    "They're after something bigger than that," Willow said, her hands twitching like they were hunting something to do. To Harmony she smelled afraid and angry and sad all at the same time, which didn't make a lot of sense. The demons were in a lot more danger than she was. "Once they know where their targets are, they can start rounding them up."

    "You mean like the Initiative?" Dawn asked. Harmony hugged herself and shivered; the Initiative had been bad news. Willow hesitated a moment, then simply nodded.

    "I don't see the problem," Joe said, drawing a heated glare from Willow and an icy one from Illyria. He was a balding ex-cop; Harmony thought he must do most of Kate's legwork, though he didn't really look tough enough for that.

    "Not all demons are dangerous or evil," Giles explained impatiently. "Some are unintelligent predators, and some are consciously malicious. But many others are simply trying to live their lives, and at least a small percentage are champions of good. Roger's faction have demonstrated repeatedly that they aren't concerned with such distinctions." For no reason Harmony understood he removed his glasses and began cleaning them on his shirt. They didn't look spotty to her. "Only humans matter to them."

    "They don't seem to care much about humans caught in the crossfire, either," Connor added. "Or they wouldn't try something like this. The big picture's important, yeah, but not that important."

    "So why are you guys all here?" Lenny asked. Harmony tried not to snicker; she had trouble thinking of the skinny college boy with the glasses as a secretary, but he was Kate's. "Shouldn't you be out patrolling or whatever?"

    "Faith, Rona, Misty, and Maria are indeed out patrolling now," said Giles. "They're not much, but it's still early. They're also more than most large cities have; except for our training hubs, such as the Hyperion, Slayers are spread quite thin. Once this meeting is over, those of us who have the ability will join them."

    "So what's all this got to do with Xander?" Dawn asked, fiddling nervously with the papers in her lap. "Why would Buffy want him to stay? Or is he doing it on his own?"

    "Well, duh!" Most of the room turned to look at Harmony, making her jump. Lots of people watching her used to be fun; she pretended what she was saying was a cheer and pushed on. "Buffy wants the same thing they want. Except maybe for herself."

    "Maybe for herself too," Kate suggested. "It fits together. She's using him to keep tabs on them the way she did you, and maybe to push them in the directions she wants."

    "In theory," Willow said, "Buffy shouldn't be able to enthrall him over the phone. Maybe she's got even more power than I think, but my guess is she did it in person and the phone is just to pass on orders. She won't be able to meet with him now even if she comes back to town, so eventually it should wear off. Once that happens I hope he'll come to us."

    "I'm not certain we should wait for that," said Giles. "We don't know what he might pass on to them. They don't know he's a double agent, either, and if they should find out they're unlikely to offer him benefit of the doubt. It might be wise to send a rescue team. Willow, you and...perhaps Dawn," he finished uneasily.

    Harmony frowned. Why would Dawn go? "Wouldn't it be a better idea to just send Illyria?" She could wade right through the Slayers, and it was so totally obvious she had the hots for Xander, so she wouldn't let him get hurt.

    Giles shook his head. "At the moment I'm even more uncertain than usual of Illyria's--" He broke off and looked around the office.

    Illyria was already gone.
    ********
    "Kill her," Buffy hissed into his ear. "Kill her now." Xander raised the stake and pivoted, driving at the vampire's heart. "She deserves it. They all deserve it. No mercy."

    They cried, "La belle dame sans merci--"

    The vampire with Buffy's face made no move to defend itself. Crumbled into dust.

    Why hadn't it resisted?

    "Please," said the skinny girl with the muddy-grey face. She was-- "Please." Demon. Kill her... "Please."

    "Thank you, Xander." The ghost of a whisper in his ears. "I need you. You have to help me. Be ready."

    Jesse leaped forward, but the stake was in Xander's hand, ready. The vampire...

    "Please."

    Jesse leaped forward, stake in hand. Xander felt it pierce his heart...

    La belle dame sans merci hath thee--

    ...crumbling...

    "Kill them, Xander. Help me kill them. It has to be done."

    "Please..."

    "Xander..." Buffy took him by the shoulder. Her hand was cold. Began to shake him.

    "Xander Harris." His eyes opened slowly. Jaylynne loomed over him, one large warm hand on his shoulder. "Xander, there's that late meetin'. You went ta sleep."

    "Right." Xander sat up carefully. A few twinges of pain, still. After being racked by a vampire, he'd be lucky if he could still have kids. "Meeting."

    "Where ta start," Jaylynne said, grimly, eagerly. "Where ta start the purge."
    Last edited by Mabus; 18-03-08, 01:17 AM.
    DeadWar: Burden of Proof
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