Over her shoulder he saw them advancing steadily. Three of them, two male and one bleached-blonde female, each with the same arrogant smile on their malformed faces. They all held wickedly sharp knives, the curved blades and jewelled hilts were all too familiar to him, but neither he nor Faith had time to reflect on where these vamps had gotten their hands on Bringers' knives. Faith had a stake in her hand so quickly that he briefly wondered if he she had a spring-loader hidden up her sleeve.
"You up for this?" She murmured out of the corner of her mouth.
He said nothing, just gave a single determined nod and accepted the second stake she was holding out to him.
It looked as though at some point over the years Faith had learned the value of patience and instead of rushing into the fray as he'd half expected her to, she stood her ground, letting the vampires come to her. Xander followed her lead but took a couple of small steps back, giving them both the advantage of full range of movement whilst also allowing her to take the full brunt of the first attack.
The vampires came at them suddenly in a headlong rush – no witty banter or verbal foreplay for this group. One second they were approaching and the next they were on them and Xander found his attention focused on one glimmering instinct – survival.
He found himself up against a single vampire – a leather-clad biker wannabe from the look of him – and he bit back the familiar dread as the vamp bore down on him, praying the day would never dawn when that feeling didn't come. If that happened then he knew it would all be over; the dread, the loathing, it was such a huge part of who he was and who he had been for so long that he could no longer remember a time when he'd been truly carefree.
Since the first time he'd found himself in a fight for survival he'd learned to channel the dread – he knew when to stand his ground and when to run for the hills. Right now, every instinct, every nerve ending was screaming at him to do the latter; his opponent was much larger than he was and endowed with the preternatural strength common to vampires everywhere, and he himself was not on top form right now, he knew he'd be lucky if he walked away from this one.
He wondered if this was how she had felt, on that final day. Had she wanted to run? Had she tried to?
A fresh wave of grief washed over him at the thought of her fighting her own demons so that she could ultimately make a difference. In the end it had been for nothing. She hadn't walked away, she hadn't made a difference; she should have run when she'd had the chance, just like he should now.
But she hadn't and, sparing a glance to where Faith was facing down the other two vampires, he realised he wouldn't. It never stopped. Nothing any of them did made any difference, they'd closed the fucking Hellmouth and another one sprang up, apparently they were all over the place now. The evil just kept on coming and he was finding it harder and harder to roll with the punches. The dread and grief and frustration all boiled over in an instant and he lashed out at the nearest target – the vampire.
He knew he was losing time again, the contact, the action of thefight was all that registered. All he knew was the intimacy of his fists connecting with the vampire in front of him. Somehow, the retaliatory blows failed to register. He knew he'd been hit, the black spots in his vision gave testimony to that, but he was so caught in his own blindly anger-fuelled rage that the pain feeling was scarcely a blip on his radar.
Losing himself in the fight, he felt free for the first time in years. He'd never really thought of himself as an adrenaline junkie before now; he'd always half believed it when people told him he'd end up being a liability and had hung back, only launching into the fray when he had no choice. Now though he felt the thrill of violence like never before and gave himself over to it completely.
The blows from the vamp ceased but Xander kept up his attack. All of the pent-up aggression was coming out in one fell-swoop. It seemed like a lifetime ago, Buffy had told him she took on one vampire at a time because it was the only way she knew how to make a difference. At the time he hadn't really understood what she'd meant by that, now he did.
"Xander!" Faith's call brought his attention back to the present and he found himself standing over the prone form of the bruised and bloodied vampire. He didn't remember exactly when the fight had swung in his favour, he was finding it difficult to concentrate on anything past the blood pounding in his ears.
"For God's sake, finish him and let's get gone!" He turned to see Faith still holding off the two vampires she was fighting. Wordlessly, he hefted the stake she'd given him, noting the weight and balance. Glancing down at the bloody pulp at his feet, the shapeless form that had once borne a twisted resemblance to a man, he felt no remorse over the fact that he had been the cause of that transformation. Instead, with a sneer, he drove the stake home and stood as the vamp exploded into dust.
Xander knew he was screwed up right now, he knew things were far from right in his head, but the sense of victory that engulfed him as he'd killed the vampire gave him something to reflect on. Maybe he wasn't as useless as some people still thought; maybe he could still make a difference. A wry grin worked across his face, for the first time in days it didn't feel out of place. The rush he was feeling was unlike anything he'd known. Finally he felt as though he belonged again, as though he had a purpose. Right at that second he could believe things were going to be okay, that there was a way out of this mess.
A whooshing sound from behind him, followed instantly by the clatter of metal against concrete, indicated Faith had dealt with one of her opponents. There was a flash of blonde and he turned quickly to see if she needed any help with the final vamp and he felt the bottom drop out of his world. It shouldn't be possible – there was no way. He rubbed at his eye with the heel of his hand, trying to get rid of the picture before him, but when he looked again she was still there. There, standing directly before him, was Anya. Her blonde hair, her puzzled smile as she saw him took his breath away.
Abruptly, her smile vanished and was replaced with horrified grief as she gradually disintegrated before his eyes. Her remains drifted away gradually, leaving him with a clear view of her killer standing there with a triumphant grin on her face and the shining knife in her hand. Faith.