Xander wasn’t sure why he was coming to Giles with this, heck he wasn’t even sure he would be able to get the man to open the door for him, but he couldn’t think of who else he could talk to. His circle of friends had shrunk dramatically lately down to practically none, he was only on vaguely speaking terms with Oz right now and the other boy was busy. Buffy had skipped town, Willow was losing her mind, and there was no one else in the know that he could go to. Now wasn’t the time for self pity though, now was the time for optimism and hope. Knocking on the door he prayed it would open this time. Hearing the turn of the knob and the creek of the hinges he sent up a silent thank you for the answer to his silent prayer.
“Xander?” Most people would be offended at the incredulous tone but he understood. Not only was it nearly midnight, but him just showing up out of the blue alone wasn’t exactly normal. He hadn’t really seen Giles since the hospital when he had to tear his world apart by telling him the worst news he’d ever had to tell anyone. He couldn’t look the man in the eyes after watching him break down like that.
“Hey. I know you’re taking some time and whatever, and I don’t blame you after everything, but I really need to talk to someone about this so I don’t screw it up and well you’re the only one who can give me good advice.” He could have gone to Willow but even he knew that would have been a bonehead idea. When it came to Cordelia Willow had a blindspot a mile wide.
“Of course, what’s happened?” Stepping into the cozy little apartment he let the feeling of being warm and protected seep into his skin. He hadn’t realised how much he missed this feeling of being somewhere he knew he was safe until just then.
“I was at the Bronze and I saw Oz there with Cordelia. I didn’t go over, I didn’t want to accidentally start something, I have a bad case of foot in mouth disease on my best days I think we all know that. I did keep a bit of an eye on them though, just to make sure everything was all good and for a while it was. Cordelia was doing her thing surrounded by the vapid and shallow elite and Oz was being a silent statue behind her kind of smug in a cool zen way, same old same old. Until something changed. I don’t know who said what or who did what but something set Cordelia off big time. She basically had a panic attack right there in front of everyone and she just up and ran out. Oz was right on her the whole way but I followed just in case, the alley behind the Bronze isn’t exactly vampire free territory after all, and what I saw shook me bad.”
“What did you see?” Looking into the calm, paternal eyes of the man who had become a bit of a surrogate father to them all he debated what to say next. He was getting tired of being the bearer of bad news and it was starting to mess with his mind a little. Deep down he knew that him having to be the one to tell Giles all this messed up stuff wasn’t going to make the man turn on him but it was a real fear he couldn’t shake.
“By the time I got out there, and I was right behind them not even two minutes, maybe three, from the time I lost sight of them and found them again and boy did I find them. She was on her knees just sobbing, I have never heard a sound like that come from a real life person before. She was hugging Oz and crying like her life was over or something.” Or like her very soul had been torn to shreds. He had never heard such agony before. He hoped to never hear it again if he was being honest.
“Like I know that everything lately has been hard on her and all, but I don’t know I guess I thought that it was over. Angelus is gone, danger passed, time to move on to the next badie like usual. Pretty stupid huh, nothing Angelus did was in the realm of normal. Then I saw her tonight and I just froze. I wanted to help her but I didn’t know how. Ever since I started figuring it out that Cordelia was in trouble I promised myself that I would do better next time, that I would help her when she needed me to but I didn’t. I just didn’t. I couldn’t move and my brain just kept circling around about how she already had Oz and how she wouldn’t even want me to help her, but then it changed. Halfway home I started thinking that maybe I should have helped anyway right?” He had been so sure that leaving was the right thing to do, until he wasn’t. Now he was here for his second opinion.
“Not necessarily. Like you said she already had help and your presence may have made her feel crowded or watched.” Or worse. He knew the real reason that he didn’t go to her, they both did, but Giles was too British to say it.
“Or judged right? Cause that’s where my brain went. She would think I was judging her because that’s what I did, I judged her and made her life even worse when she really needed someone to be there.”
“You were unaware and now that you are you’re trying to do better.”
“Am I though, I said I would, I promised that when the time came I would jump in and defend her no matter what but the time came and I froze.” He could feel the tears starting to fall down his face so he turned away and wiped at them, real men didn’t do things like that. He didn’t want Giles to think less of him, or well any less of him than he probably already did.
“That’s not exactly what happened-” He couldn’t let him finish, he didn’t need Giles to make excuses for him he made enough of those for himself. He just needed him to listen and he needed to get this out.
“Yeah it is though. I promised that I would be a good guy from now on and then I didn’t do anything. I tried but I just couldn’t move. Am I a bad guy Giles?” The tears were coming in earnest now and he couldn’t stop them. He tried but just like with everything else he tried to do he failed.
“No. No you’re not a bad guy Xander, please don’t think that.”
“How can I not? She was being terrorized by the guy that I said from day one was a bad dude and what did I do? Nothing. No, I did worse than nothing. I made it harder for her. You didn’t hear her tonight Giles, she was broken and I had a hand in breaking her. She must have been so scared before and I didn’t see it. If I’m such a good guy, how did I not see it?” How did none of them see it? She had seemed so strong, everything had a sarcastic comment attached or a breezy laugh like it was nothing. She gave off that vibe that no matter what happened it would all just roll right over her and she would always be fine. Only she wasn’t fine anymore. She probably hadn’t been fine the whole time.
“Being a good person, a kind person, which I believe you are, isn’t about not making mistakes. It’s about doing your best and fixing the mistakes you do make. It’s about learning from the wrongs you do and the pain you cause others and becoming better from that lesson. Did you harm Cordelia? Yes. Were you the only one who did? No. Have you learned from your past actions? Yes, I think you have.”
“No I haven’t, I didn’t help her.”
“Tonight your help wasn’t needed. You were right in your first thought, she had Oz with her tonight and he is a young man of endless empathy who she trusts to be there for her. Your next chance to help her will come tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. Yes Cordelia has been damaged by her experiences with Angelus but now it is up to us, the people who know her, to help her find her way back to the life that’s still waiting for her. If you truly want to help her then help her to find herself again. Invite her to spend time with you during the day in places where the sun shines. Show her there is more than the darkness even in a hellish place like this. Do you think you can do that?”
“Yeah. I can do that.” She might slam the door in his face, but if she did he would just try again and again, like he did with Giles. Eventually she would see that he only wanted to help her.
“Good. You are a good man Xander and with a little more time and a bit of help I believe you will one day become a great one.”
He walked out of Giles apartment and back towards his home feeling better than he had in ages. Tonight he was a man, and more than that he was ten feet tall and nothing could touch him. He was a man with a plan.
Oz was exhausted and stressed and sad and just done with life at this point. After he had managed to get Cordelia from the alley into his van he sat with her for over an hour while she cried and he felt so useless. There was nothing he could do to even try to make her feel better about things except tell her that everything was going to be fine now which only seemed to make her cry harder. After he dropped her off at her house he drove around for a while trying to get his head back on straight, he needed to do something more than just taking Cordelia to the Bronze every now and again. He was her friend and it was time he started acting like it, he was now determined to see her every single day from now on. Even if it was just for a minute to ask her how she was doing and make sure she knew he was there if she needed him, he would be there for her.
Coming up to his door he saw Willow sitting on the steps of his porch and tried not to growl in frustration. He still wasn’t sure what was going on between the two of them and tonight was not the night to find out.
“Willow, now really isn’t-”
“Why does everyone keep saying that to me? Am I really so horrible that no one has any time for me anymore? You and Giles would rather spend time with Cordelia than me?” That was it, the way she said Cordelia’s name grated against his last nerve and he was done.
“You don’t get to sneer at her name, you of all people don’t get to do that, not after what you’ve done. You’ve changed Willow and I don’t think I like the person you’ve become. You attack people with magic, with words, with your thoughts even. Everyone can see it when you think badly of someone, you don’t exactly have a poker face. The Willow I knew, the one I fell in love with, the one that I thought was worth waiting for and adored with every breath I took would never have done any of those things. That Willow was kind and sweet, that Willow had compassion for her fellow man no matter who they are or what they’ve done. What happened to my Willow?”
“Nothing happened to me, I’m right here, you’re the one who walked away.” She all but stamped her foot, she really couldn’t see what was happening around her. She was so blinded by the way she thought things should be, reality was slapping her in the face now and it wasn’t letting up.
“I didn’t walk away, I just needed some time to think and decide what to do now. After everything I needed to know if I could still love you, this version of you. It was so hard to think about it, I thought you and I would be a forever kind of deal, but if this is the new you then I want no part in it.”
“I’m the same me I was before.”
“No you aren’t and if you can’t see that then you need to take some time and think through a few things yourself. The Willow I fell in love with felt compassion for her vampire self from another world. The Willow I fell in love with still loved me even after I became a werewolf and protected me from a poacher. The Willow I fell in love with wouldn’t have hurt someone who was already bleeding for no reason at all.”
“There was a reason, plenty of reasons!” She was still trying to justify what she’d done. She wasn’t facing it and if she wanted to move on then she had to.
“Name one that justifies what you’ve done and I’ll let it go. Name one that doesn’t have to do with Buffy and Angel being soulmates in your eyes. Name one that doesn’t have to do with Cordelia saying hurtful things when we were all kids. Name one Willow.”
She didn’t say anything, she just stood there with tears rolling down her face and he wanted nothing more than to just reach out and wipe them away. He didn’t want to hurt her but she had to hear it and this time she had to listen. Xander had said it to her before, but she never seemed to hold onto it. Maybe she would this time.
“That’s what I thought.” Turning away he walked inside, his heart breaking with every step. This was for the best.
Giles greeted each teen as they arrived at his apartment the next day, he had called all four of them that morning and requested they come by. He had spent the night thinking about everything, and he knew it was time to let them all back into his life as best he could. There would of course still be moments where he would need his solitude but the time for true isolation had come and gone. They needed each other now. Once the four teens were as comfortable as they could make themselves he began to explain his new idea to them.
“I know we are all hurting in our own way and it will take time for us all to come to terms with the things that have happened. However, in our anger and grief we can not leave the Hellmouth unprotected, there are still vampires and demons stalking the innocent of this town and we can do something to help them.”
“But Buffy isn’t here.” He was beginning to think he had done them all a disservice by emphasising the slayer’s role in fighting the forces of darkness. Now Buffy thought herself a near God and the others thought themselves useless without her. He had only been trying to urge caution but it was becoming clear that he’d gone too far.
“No, she is not, but we are. We may not be slayers but we have the knowledge necessary to patrol this town and do our best to help. Sunnydale is not the only hellmouth it is just the most active, the others are contained by average individuals like us. They must use strategy and each other to achieve their goals but they can and do achieve them. So can we.”
“But-” He didn’t want to let them start making excuses, once the first one was used they would think they weren’t able to succeed. He needed them to believe in themselves.
“It will not be easy, I’m not saying it will be. But if done correctly it will be fulfilling. We will know that we’ve done our best to help our fellow man survive the threats that surround them.”
“What can we do? I mean individually, it’s not like any of us have the muscles to take down a nest of vampires or even a weak demon.” Xander was at times surprisingly shrewd, especially after his stint as a soldier for Halloween. He wasn’t so much doubting the goal as he was the method which was a valid concern.
“Not alone no, but together with the right weapons we could. Instead of fighting them one on one I propose that we move together as a group. While Oz is not as powerful outside of her wolf form he is still stronger than an average human and that could be to our advantage. In human form he is indistinguishable from any other teenage boy, he would be underestimated and that would give him an edge. Xander is adept at strategy and can use multiple weapons since his time as a soldier on halloween, we can use that to our advantage as well. Willow, your magic combined with mine should be enough to keep most threats busy at least for a short time while the others get into position. Cordelia, you and I have been working on your fighting skills for some time now and I believe you are strong enough to be an asset when paired with Oz in the field.” He could see the sparks of pride in each of their eyes, he had given them the right words to find their courage. He told them he thought they could win so now they thought it too.
“I’m in.” “Me too.” “Me three.” “Why not, let’s give it a try.”
“Excellent. We will start with nightly patrols, as a group, it shouldn’t take more than a couple hours each night to traverse the cemeteries in town. We aren’t going to be taking on any demons we find, for now we are just trying to keep the vampire population under control. Any questions?” He knew there would be with this group there always were. He only hoped the questions stayed on topic.
“Yeah, what are we going to call ourselves?”
“I beg your pardon?” It was a vain hope he knew that now.
“Well we can’t just continue to be the scoobies, we need to strike fear in undead hearts. So what are we? Oh and we need codenames. I for one want to be known as Nighthawk.” Xander had a wide grin on his face that was infectious, soon everyone was laughing and calling out increasingly ridiculous names.
Oz was dubbed Howler, which he took in stride.
Willow was dubbed Glenda at her own insistence.
Cordelia was dubbed Queen, she would accept nothing less than a royal moniker and they all knew it.
They dubbed him, very much against his will, G-man. He was also voted as the leader of their small band of misfits with Oz as second in command. Willow offered up her old walkie talkies to help them stay in contact if they got separated and Cordelia offered to drive them so they didn’t have to walk the whole town twice over since they weren’t on the look out for stray demons in between destinations. Oz quietly suggested some new clothes that were on the darker side and calmly voted for a dress code for their shoes. Sneakers only in case they had to run.
They were as ready as they were going to be.