Dragon's Phoenix

Part Five

Xander stumbled around the city, not even sure where he was, so lost in thought that he didn't see the demon until it was too late. The large scaled dog-like animal was called a Varenthi demon, that much he remembered from Giles' books, and those barbs at the end if its tail? Full of poison. It took him a few minutes to kill the creature, and even that was because he'd never taken on anything like this before, not by himself. But he'd gotten nailed by the barbs. They'd bit into his skin, and he'd had to tear them out. The poison didn't make him sick, not even a little bit.

The next night Xander found another vamp, this one a knife fighter. It was as easy to kill as the first two had been. Taking its knife, Xander struck right through his own heart. “Oh shit.” It hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. Tossing the knife aside, Xander leaned against the brick of the alley. The pain stopped. Xander's jaw dropped as the cut healed itself. He spent the rest of the night trying to get himself killed any way he could: taking on a half-dozen Fyarl, tossing himself off the highest building he could find, and walking out to the middle of the lake. Xander was too heavy to float but didn't need to breathe. Six nights later, without a scratch on his body even after countless fights, he realized he hadn't eaten since he'd woken up. Apparently starving himself to death wasn't going to work either.

Xander found a vampire, blonde and cocky. The accent was wrong, South American instead of British, but the vamp brought the rage to the surface just the same. Xander spent an entire night beating him to death before watching him burn as the sunlight hit him. He wanted, almost needed, to do it again. “Is this what you wanted for me?” he shouted as he smashed his hand through a wall. “To spend fucking eternity killing you?”

Xander kept punching until the wall crumbled to rubble. “Why are you punishing me? He's the one who died.”

Part Six

There was only one thing Xander could do, not that he wanted to, not when he could hear Willow's words every time he thought of it: “It's obscene!! You claim to have loved him yet want to replace him with this... this... thing!!” He would have liked to go out of the world thinking there was one person who thought well of him, but his options were limited, as in down to one.

He'd been avoiding the Slayers. That had been Xander's life, not his, but there was no one else. There were three of them, chatting away as they walked past the tombstones, all too young to be out on their own. “Things have been too quiet, don'cha think?”

“I'm liking the chance to chill.” The middle one stretched her arms up, getting her whole body into it, leaving herself open to an attack.

Xander stepped out of the darkness. These kids couldn't help him, but whoever was leading them had obviously sensed something. She wasn't going to come out while Xander was hidden.

He didn't say anything, but he didn't need to. As the three Slayers shifted from casual good-times chat to fighting poses, she stepped out from behind a crypt. “Xander?”

Faith? Her hair was half-gray, but she still moved with that fighter's grace.  “Sort of,” he replied.

“Looking pretty good for a dead guy.”

The three girls twitched. Xander's eyes were on Faith, but he caught them out of his periphery. Unsure if they were going to be fighting or not, they were shifting about. Faith didn't move, standing tall and straight but ready for anything.

A joke flashed across his mind, a comment about not being the only one who'd died, but he really wasn't that guy anymore. Not that he'd ever been. “Tell Buf...” He paused, taking in Faith's wrinkles. “Is Buffy still, um, around?”

Faith didn't move, but he could sense her amusement. “She's still kicking.”

“Tell her I want to see her. Tell her she owes me.”

“Like she's going to come at your baying?” Faith coughed and flashed a glance at the Slayer who'd spoken. The girl hung her head.

Xander let Faith see him assessing the girls, cataloging their strengths and weaknesses.

“How many of us do you think you could take?” Faith asked.

“So far, I'm pretty indestructible.” When Faith's eyes narrowed, Xander added, “I just want Buffy.”

“I'll pass the message along.” Faith, looking at the Slayers, nodded off toward the right and started walking away. They trailed after, glancing back at Xander as if still trying to decide if he were a threat or not.

Xander stopped killing demons. After his rampages, they'd gone to ground, but mostly he needed to be in control of himself when he talked to Buffy. He continued to patrol though, walking through the badder parts of town, alone except for the rats he could hear in the sewers. It was four nights later before he saw Faith, standing in the middle of the street, waiting for him. There was an ax casually slung across one shoulder, but something about the way she was carrying it let him know she didn't think it'd be much use in a fight, not against him. She didn't speak, not that he'd expected her to, but turned and walked away. He followed. As Faith stepped into the warehouse, Xander could hear only one other heartbeat inside and smiled at that. Buffy had never been big on unnecessary backup.

Faith had vanished into the shadows; Xander could still hear her but wasn't sure if she knew that. Buffy was standing in the center of an empty room. After seeing how old both Willow and Faith had gotten, he should have been prepared, but Xander, shocked by the gray in Buffy's hair, covered it up by speaking first. “Guess I'm a bit low on your list of priorities now that I'm dead.”

“You aren't Xander.”

“We first met outside the library. You'd dropped your bag, scattering stuff everywhere, and I asked if I could have you. Later, when I handed the stake back, you said it was for self-defense, that everybody had them in L.A.”

He heard Willow's voice. “Just because you have his memories...” Willow materialized out of nowhere, her pale skin translucent with age. It was less of a shock, seeing Willow old. Partly because he'd seen that image of her back in Spike's lab, but mostly because they'd been friends forever, and he'd always known they'd still hang once she was old, although he'd rather figured on them getting old together. Buffy on the other hand had always had that superhero mojo going for her; Xander had never pictured her as old.

“You want memories?” Xander asked. “The yellow crayon; when Jesse jumped off the swing in second grade, cutting his head; the 'I hate Cordelia club'...”

“Stop.” Willow interrupted him with a shout. “I've seen Spike's notes. He gave you Xander's memories, but you don't have his soul. You aren't him.”

“Kinda figured that out on my own.”

Buffy didn't move, but Xander could sense her resolve. He wasn't Xander, and she wasn't going to give him a free pass. Working out why she'd showed, he thought about the demons he'd killed and how he'd suggested to Faith that he could take out the Slayers. Buffy was there to save the world, just like always. She wanted to know if he was friend or foe. Time to nip both those thoughts in the bud. “I want you to kill me.”

At Willow's gasp of shocked surprise, Xander turned on her. “Oh don't give me that. I heard what you think of me: an obscenity, a thing. Isn’t that right?”

Willow seemed to deflate, but Buffy, mono-focused, said, “You've been killing demons.”

Shit, she was still on that track. “I was created to kill my lover, but he forgot to rig it so I'd die afterward.”

“Oh God,” Willow whispered, finally realizing how desperate he'd become. She always could read him better than anyone.

Buffy didn't get it yet. “You could join us. Maybe there's a reason you're here.”

 Xander gave her a feral smile, half-growl and half-sneer. “Did you know I've been torturing demons? Not killing them clean: torturing them. I flayed one alive, cutting off its skin bit by bit, dragging out the agony for days. Then I poured salt on the wounds. If effects demons the same way it would a human.” With a shrug he added, “Who knew?”

“Xander, this isn't you.” He felt bad about Willow's tears, but didn't let it show.

“Have you killed a human?” Buffy's interest sounded almost clinical.

“Not yet, but sooner or later I'll run out of demons. Sometime after that, I'll run out of Slayers.”

“Why are you doing this?” Willow yelled.

“Because Spike is dead, and I can't torture him, or I can't love him, or something.”

Willow's face took on that earnest expression, the one she'd wear when she found something to fix. “But you can come back from this. I did. You helped me then; I can help, I mean we can help you now.”

“You weren't a throw-away copy.”

When neither woman replied, Xander added, “Look, all I've got is this rage, just bubbling up in me. I tried killing demons. I mean, it's like if I did a bunch of killing that would release it or something, but it only gets worse. This rage keeps binding me tighter and tighter.” Willow looked worried but still didn't speak. “Don't you see? Spike didn't recreate Xander. He made another Adam. And if you don't stop me, I'll turn the Earth into a wasteland.”

“You have a soul.” Willow threw the words at Xander. “Did you know that?”

He closed his eyes: but not Xander's soul, not a soul anyone wanted. “Then let it rest.”

“I can't,” Willow wailed.

Buffy reached a hand out toward Xander, just slightly, but it was enough to get his attention. “You guys brought me back from Heaven; I got over that. Willow almost destroyed the world; she got over that. What makes you so different?”

“It is different,” Xander snarled. “At least Tara loved Willow. I'm just a discarded piece of junk.”

Buffy didn't look impressed.

“You owe me,” Xander added.

“How could we possibly owe you?” Buffy drawled.

“Xander and Spike had it worked out. Xander was wearing an amulet. He would have kept his soul when Spike Turned him, but you kept Spike away. That I'm here at all, that I'm suffering in this hell, it's all your fault.”

Faith stepped out of the shadows. “If he wants to die that much, I'm voting we help him.”

“No,” Willow shouted.

“Why not?” Faith asked. “I mean, yeah, he looks like Xander, but he isn't. You explained that real clear.”

“I,” Willow stuttered. “He has a soul, and we don't kill things with souls.” She added, in an almost mutter, “Not if they aren't evil.”

“Yeah?” Faith said. “And you didn't hear him threatening to go medieval on our asses? You know he's got the chops to do it. If he's gonna let us take him out the easy way, I say go for it.”

Buffy frowned. “That killing spree stuff? That was the pain talking.”

“Yeah,” Willow said. “Cause pain-talking makes you say things you wouldn't do. Never, never, ever do.”

For the first time since Spike had brought him back, Xander had someone on his side. Deciding to give her some support, he said, “You want me to go kill some innocents? I will, if that's what it takes.”

Tossing her ax to Buffy, Faith stepped into a fighting stance. “Take me out. That oughta prove you're serious.”

Xander took two swings at her, one right after the other. Faith blocked them. His roundhouse kick was too slow, and he stumbled back a few steps as she punched him in the gut. Crouching down low, he unwound as he rose. His punch sent her smashing into the wall.

Brushing the dust away, Faith asked, “That all you got? 'Cause my grandma hit harder than that. Gotta say, I don't think you're serious.”

Closing his eyes, Xander let himself slump forward. He couldn't bring himself to kill a Slayer: not now, not ever. And he had no other way to get himself killed. Shit.

“A year and a day.” Xander opened his eyes to Willow's words.

“Huh?” Buffy asked.

Speaking to Xander, Willow added, “Give us a year and a day. We'll get you help, and you actually have to try to come back to this world, mister.” Pausing, she gave him a glare before adding, “If you still want to die after that, then we'll kill you.”

Almost afraid to hope, Xander asked, “You swear you'll do it? Swear on your love for Tara?” Kennedy wasn't going to like that – assuming she and Willow were still together after all those years – but that wasn't Xander's problem. He knew that would still be the most sacred oath Willow could make.

Willow nodded and then, seeing that wasn't enough, added a yes.

Biting his lip, Xander agreed. If that was the only way, he could get through a year and a day. Willow, racing across the room, pulled him into a hug. Feeling himself give way to her, Xander hugged her back.

The End