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Chapter Fifteen: Arresting Developments

SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2002, 4:53 PM (GMT)
LONDON

-XANDER-


"Buffy. Buffy!" Xander hissed, trying to catch the blonde Slayer's attention without disturbing everyone else in the hotel's lobby. Especially the staff, whose attention they really didn't need focused on them right now. "Buffy, wait up!"

She either didn't hear him, or didn't want to, and stormed right out through the hotel's front doors, her small frame radiating tension and fury. Xander didn't really blame her; they had come to a foreign country trying to rescue a sister Slayer from men who should have been their allies, and far from making progress, had somehow managed to lose two more people to that same enemy. And now, this latest blow-- Cordelia had called from the car rental agency where she and Giles had gone to pick up a pair of vans with the unhelpful news that Giles had been arrested right in front of her.

Xander picked up the pace and hurried after her. Righteously upset or not, it was definitely not a good idea for Buffy to be loose on the streets in that mood. They had plans to make and things to do if they were going to have any chance of getting away before someone managed to connect Giles back to the hotel and come after them, and the clock was still ticking on their other lost friends. Scouring the streets for Slayage action in the middle of sunlit London was not what Giles would have called a constructive use of their time.

"Buffy!" He called her name again as he pushed through the glass doors, searching for a glimpse of her among the pedestrians outside. She might be able to outrun a gazelle on a good day, but on a busy sidewalk crowded with people carrying briefcases and shopping bags she wouldn't have gotten far. Unfortunately, she was also just a little on the short side, and her wavy blonde hair and cream blouse might as well have been camouflage.

Dawn was right on his heels, and she latched onto his arm as soon as he paused to crane his neck for a better look. It was a good thing he was still carrying the Orbs, or she might have left bruises; she'd only been at Slayer strength for a week and a half, and tended to forget the damage she could do in moments of stress.

"Do you see her? Xander, where'd she go?" Her voice was strained with worry, and he could smell the fear and anger on her, nearly as strong as they'd been on Buffy.

Smell. Duh! Xander smacked his forehead with the hand Dawn wasn't busy mangling, and turned his attention on the riot of scents clouding the air around them. He hadn't been paying much attention to the details his enhanced senses picked up in the busy city, as it was easy to get overwhelmed, but they were there all the same. A few quick breaths picked up the usual dirt, gasoline, pollution, body odor, perfume, and other scents left behind by the travelers all around them, but the traces of two Slayers stood out strongly over all of it: Dawn, standing at his side, and a fading trail that struck out leftward from where he stood.

"She went that way," he said, pointing in the direction Buffy had gone.

Dawn turned in that direction, frantically scanning the sidewalk for her sister, then took a step forward, still gripping Xander's arm for all she was worth. "We have to go after her," she said, breathing hard from the stress and adrenaline.

"No, I'll go after her," he told her, bracing his feet to keep from being dragged along in her wake. "Dawn, you heard her-- they arrested Giles more than fifteen minutes ago now, and it won't take them very long to track him back to the rest of us. You have to go back in there and get everybody packing."

"Me?" She gaped at him, dismayed. "Why me? Willow--"

--can keep you safer in there than you will be out here, Xander thought, but held his tongue. So far, everyone that had been taken had either Watcher breeding or Slayer power or both, except for Anya, who had tried to reach Faith and just never came back. Letting both Summers Slayers wander around on the streets of London was asking for trouble, especially if someone had added their pictures to the ones of Giles that had apparently been distributed to the authorities. If the Watchers' Council had enough clout to get Giles arrested on a murder charge for a death that had been ruled accidental decades ago, who knew what they might dredge up to use against the other Scoobies?

He shook his head. "Willow is probably still stressing out, because she has no idea where to go or what to do next. Neither do I, but I do know we can't just wait for Travers' goons to find us." A thought occurred to him, and he fished his wallet out of his pocket, digging for his keycard. "Get mine and Giles' stuff too. As soon as I find Buffy, we'll move; as soon as we're safe, we can worry about the plan-making."

"But I don't... what if she..." Dawn stared at him a moment longer, drawing deep breaths, then glanced down the street where Buffy had disappeared and bit her lip. "Okay. You have your phone too, right? Don't you dare come back without her."

Xander pried her hand carefully off his arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I promise. Now go back inside, we're blocking traffic."

She let the Resolve face go, and for a moment looked lost and far older than her fifteen years. Then she jerked her head in a quick nod, took the keycard from his hand, and hurried back through the hotel doors.

Xander scrubbed a hand through his hair and took another deep breath, ignoring the curious frowns their little conversation had attracted from some of the passersby. Then he set off after the slowly fading traces of his friend. He had a feeling Buffy hadn't gone far.



He caught up with her half a dozen blocks away, in a pocket of greenery next to the sidewalk set with an elaborately carved stone bench. She was poised on the edge of it, knees together, back straight, hands clasped in her lap like some perfect model of female decorum. He slowed as he got within a few yards of her, knowing her Slayer sense would pick up the presence of the Orbs, and approached with cautious steps.

"Hey, Buff."

She looked up at him warily, then let her mouth slide into an embarrassed half-frown and looked down at her hands again. Xander was close enough now that he could see Mr. Pointy clasped between them.

"This place is a lot bigger than Sunnydale, isn't it?" Buffy said, hesitantly, still studying her favorite stake. "I mean, duh. I lived in L.A., I should know this, but I still went storming off like I could do something about it by myself. Beat up a bartender. Thrash a few demons. I don't know. Something. But..." She looked up at him again with tears standing in the corners of her hazel-green eyes, and took a deep breath, struggling to keep calm. "I don't fight humans, Xander. I'm really, really bad at it. Do you know how many months it took for us to stop the Nerd Squad? Not to mention the joy that was Evil Faith. And the only times I've gone up against Council goons before, it's just been a few, and they were on my turf. Giles was in charge of this, and they've taken him away... I don't know what to do."

Xander took the last few steps slowly, then lowered himself onto the bench next to her and clasped his empty hands together, stooping his back a little so that their shoulders were level. "Well," he said, drawing the word out. He'd had a chance to think a little as he ran, and saw only one real course of action open to them. "It occurs to me that the G-Man, being all Magified these days, is pretty darned likely to break his own self out of prison, and if he's anyplace he can't there's no way we'll be able to do anything about it without more resources. Like you said, this isn't our turf. But if we catch up with Wes and Ethan..."

Buffy sniffled a little. "You're telling me we should just leave him?"

"Not leave, leave him," he said. "More like a strategic withdrawal. Look, we don't even know where they took him, and if we try to find out we'll make targets of ourselves. On the other hand, we do know where to pick up Wes' trail..."

"And even if he's not there," Buffy nodded, perking up a little as she picked up his train of thought, "something has to be. He wouldn't have gone there if he didn't think it would help him find Faith."

"Right," he agreed, nudging her shoulders with his. "So we pack up, find a new car rental place, and make tracks. Or find tracks. Whichever."

"Listen to you, getting all Voice of Reason on me." Buffy threw a watery smile in his direction. "With the actual making of sense."

"Yeah, well," Xander shrugged, keeping his tone light. "Grew up, remember?"

Buffy's smile slipped at that remark, and she gave him a searching look. "Yeah. Yeah, I do remember. How are things with Anya, by the way?"

Xander blinked at the rather sudden change in topic, and gave his watch a surreptitious glance. It had been nearly twenty minutes since he left Dawn at the hotel. "Ah, we really should be getting back..."

"No." She shook her head, then took a hand off of Mr. Pointy and reached over to cover the face of his watch. "I need another few minutes out here for my nerves to settle, or I won't be good for anything. You have time to spill. Anya's been way anti-Xander this week, and that usually only happens when she's upset or in denial about something."

"Ask a hard question, why don't you?" he teased, then seriously tried to formulate an answer. He thought he knew what the problem was; he'd had a kind-of sort-of coffee date with Anya to try and establish some kind of framework for relating to each other past the wreck of their near-wedding, but he wasn't sure how he felt about it yet, much less what Anya was thinking.

"I dunno, Buff," he said, after a moment. "I've never really stopped loving her, but when that demon showed up at our wedding, it was like all my doubts came crashing down at once. I wasn't ready to get married. I wasn't putting her first in my life, and I'm not even sure I can. That's not fair to her, you know? And now that she's doing the vengeance thing again..." He let the sentence die, and sighed. "We went out for coffee and tried to talk about things, but I'm not sure either of us really understands each other's priorities."

"I know how that goes," Buffy said, quietly. "I know you don't really want to hear about it, but that's mostly why I ended my relationship with Spike. It wasn't fair to him-- I wasn't fair to him-- but he didn't understand my priorities, either."

Xander winced at that. It still stung that she'd reached out to a soulless vampire in the early days after her resurrection instead of confronting the Scoobies with the truth, but he could understand it a little better these days. "It's not that I hate him, you know," he said. "Even if I kind of do. It's just that no matter how helpful he is, he's not going to spontaneously grow a soul, and sooner or later the chip is going to fail. It's been in his best interests to stay good up 'til now, but when he gets the chance to be bad again..." He shrugged. "I worry."

"He won't take that chance," Buffy said, in a firm, quiet voice. "He's done so much the last couple of years, cared so much, I can't believe he'd turn on us now even without a conscience. But I didn't bring him up so we could argue about that again." She paused, threading her fingers together nervously, then gave him a sad look. "It's just, back before the sexcapades started, when I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere, we used to just hang out. No funny stuff, just talking and being in each other's company. I really, really miss that now, but I doubt that we can get it back, not after everything we did to each other."

Xander swallowed back what he wanted to say, and gave her a little one-armed hug instead. This was time to be Supporto-Guy, not Mr. Intervention. "And I know how that goes. Missing the friend part of it, too, I mean. Nothing against you and Wills, but I planned on spending the rest of my life with her, you know?" He planted a brotherly kiss on the top of her head, then let go of her and tried to lighten the mood a bit. "So. Are we pathetic, or is it just me? I think this calls for an angst-movie marathon as soon as we get back."

"I'm cool with that," she replied, giving him a faint smile. "Just so long as I get dibs on the cookie-dough fudge mint chip."

"Deal," he agreed.

Buffy nodded, then braced her hands on her knees, preparing to push to her feet. "I think I'm ready now. We really should be getting..." Her voice trailed off, and every line of her face went tense again. "Xander," she said, in a soft, warning tone. "Someone's cast a spell, and I think..."

As she spoke, the smell of ozone began to sharpen the air around her, very pungent to Xander's sensitive nose. It wasn't exactly a new scent, either; he realized he'd been picking up slight traces of it during their conversation, but it had suddenly gotten a lot stronger. "Buffy?" He gripped her upper arms, turning her toward him, and was disturbed to see her eyes suddenly roll back into her head. Almost instantaneously, a great flash of electricity zapped his palms, throwing him away from her and off of the bench with considerable force.

"Buffy, are you okay?" He picked himself up off the pavement, absentmindedly brushing a hand over his black jeans to check for tears or abrasions, and silently gave thanks once again for the invulnerability provided by the Orbs of Nezzla'khan. Buffy was still seated on the bench, but she had hunched forward, bracing her elbows on her brown leather clad thighs, palms covering her face.

"Just peachy," she answered him, in a quiet, raspy voice. "That was-- I saw Dawn, back at the hotel, packing my clothes. I saw Wes running; he looked like he'd been through a war, but he was outside somewhere, he'd gotten away from that place we saw on the video. And then I saw Faith..."

Buffy took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "Faith looked dead, Xander. Blue lips, pale skin. But she didn't feel dead to me. This... I think whoever cast that was trying to find something, someone. A Slayer. And I saw them all-- me, Dawn, Faith, and whatever the hell Wesley is. No others. Whatever they were trying, it didn't work the way they thought it would."

Xander stared at her a moment, processing that, and tried not to think about the fact that she hadn't mentioned Anya's name during her little recitation. "So we still have a chance at getting them back," he said, matter-of-factly.

"I... I think so. It was like a Slayer Dream," Buffy said quietly, then suddenly lurched to her feet. "Dawn! She probably felt that too, and she doesn't have any experience with this, she's going to freak."

Xander felt a wave of deja vu sweep over him as he watched her take off toward the hotel, once again completely ignoring his presence. At least she was running in the right direction this time, though, and he'd managed to cheer her up a little. In the disaster of a week they were having, that at least had to count for something.

>> CHAPTER SIXTEEN

* For those re-reading, this is the only re-posted chapter whose plot differs in any significant respect from the original.
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