Chapter Two - Transition

"Ah, Mr. Trick, I'm glad you could make it on such short notice."

Mr. Trick stepped into the Mayor of Sunnydale's office cautiously. When dealing with a "man" like the Mayor, it was good to be on your toes. Mr. Trick was a fastidious man in life and had become even more so after becoming a vampire. He liked to plan things down to a T, so nothing unexpected could occur. The Mayor was a random element. Trick suspected he was also quite mad.

"Please sit down," the Mayor beamed at him, gesturing towards a chair in front of an ornate desk. "How have you been?"

Trick was in no mood for pleasantries. "Why did you need to see me?" he asked. "What was so important I had to miss lunch?"

The Mayor smiled again. Trick thought if he smiled any wider, his face might split open.

"Well, why don't you tell me," the Mayor said. "My sources tell me your 'friends' have been pursuing some boy all over town. You mind telling me why?"

Trick shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "The boy, Alexander Harris, is one of the Slayer's friends. He has something we want."

"And that would be?"

"It's not important," Trick lied. "Let's just say it's something we want and leave it at that."

A dark cloud seemed to pass over the Mayor's face. He walked up behind the chair Trick was sitting on and placed his hands on Trick's shoulders. "I don't know," he said brightly. "This year is very important to me. I don't think I like the idea of your friends running around creating havoc throughout my fair Sunnydale." As he was speaking, his grip on Trick's shoulders became increasingly tighter.

Trick strained under the pressure. His shoulders felt as if they were about to snap off. "Maybe my friends have been a bit overzealous," he conceded. "Perhaps I should have a talk with them and persuade them to be a little more discreet."

The Mayor let go of Trick's shoulders suddenly. "Why, that's a great idea," he said, laughing. "I wish I had thought of it myself. Thank you, Mr. Trick. It's always a pleasure doing business with you."

"Same here," Trick said, rising from the chair. "I just can't wait until we . . . do business again." He walked as quickly out of the Mayor's office as he could without running.

The Mayor waited until Trick had left the room. "Neither can I, Mr. Trick. Neither can I." The Mayor walked over to his desk and pressed a button on the intercom sitting there.

"Uh, yes?" came the response.

"Please find me all the information you can on one Alexander Harris," the Mayor said. "I'm thinking this is one young go-getter I'd like to meet."

[ ~~~ ]

It didn't take Buffy and Willow that long to find Xander. A quick trip to his house, a few knocks on the door, and Xander opened up and waved them in. He was wearing an undershirt and a pair of boxers, which made Willow blush, but Buffy was all business.

"Xander, just what the Hell is going on?" she demanded. "You're acting weird and now Trick's men are after you. I want answers."

"There's nothing wrong," Xander yawned. "I've just been feeling a little tired the last few days. I came home from school and thought I'd take a little nappy."

"But Xand, you cut school," Willow interjected. "I mean, now you're going to have to catch up on everything you missed!"

Xander ran his hand through his hair. He put out his other hand towards Willow.

"Luckily," Willow said, handing him a stack of notes from her school bag. "I just happened to bring your homework with me."

"I had a feeling you might. I'll tell you two beautiful ladies what," he said, "give me ten minutes to get ready, and we'll head off to the Bronze for some fun."

Buffy regarded her friend carefully. There was something different about Xander, she knew. He seemed more confident than his usual slacker self, more in control. It might be worth a good idea to keep an eye on him, so he wasn't alone. With Trick's disciples out there, it was only a matter of time before they found Xander again, and she wanted to be there to teach them a little lesson. Don't mess with the Slayer's friends.

"Sure," Buffy said. "Willow and I'll wait for you right here."

As Xander went upstairs, Willow gave Buffy a strange look. "The Bronze?" Willow asked. "We're trying to find out what's going on with Xander. Why are we going to the Bronze?"

"So we can keep an eye on him, incognito-like," Buffy replied. "Plus, it's somewhere that I can let Giles know we are at in case he finds something out. Come on, Will, let's just take Xander to the Bronze and make sure he doesn't get into any trouble."

They sat in uncomfortable silence for about 10 minutes until Xander came back down. When he did, Buffy tried not to act surprised. If she needed any proof that something was up, this was it.

Wow, Willow thought, Xander looks cool. Not that he wasn't cool normally. Willow's crush on Xander, although still strong, had faded since she had met Oz, but Willow knew she would always see Xander through rose-colored glasses. Even at his geekiest, Willow had thought Xander had a special charm. Now, he just looked dark, mysterious, and well ... cool.

Xander was wearing a set of black pants. Leather? thought Willow. He had on leather boots, a white collared shirt, open at the neck, and a heavy, butt-length leather jacket.

He's dressed kind of like Angel, Buffy thought, then: Xander does not dress like Angel.

"Come on, ladies," Xander smiled. "It's time to embrace the unbridled fun that is the Bronze." He opened the door and waved them out. After they had filed out the door, Xander reached his hand in behind his jacket. When he pulled it back out, one of the automatics he had found was in it. He racked back the slide and quickly put it back underneath his coat. "I'm feeling good," he called after the girls. "Let's go party."

[ ~~~ ]

The Bronze was packed. Oz's band, Dingoes Ate My Baby, was on stage as Xander, Willow, and Buffy came in. The three quickly found a table and sat down.

"I'll be back in a second," said Willow, getting up. "I'm going to go watch Oz for a bit."

As Willow left, Buffy turned to Xander. "So, Xand, this is a new look for you." To make her point, she grabbed a piece of his jacket. "Leather?"

"It's just something I had lying around," he said smiling. "You like?"

"I like."

"I'll tell you what," began Xander. "Why don't we dance?" He stood and offered his hand to Buffy.

Buffy hesitated. It wasn't as if she were afraid Xander was going to try anything—they had had this discussion long ago and Buffy had made it pretty clear she had no feelings for Xander. She was worried that Angel might show and get the wrong idea. And her last dance with Xander had been after her death at the hands of the Master. That was a fiasco she didn't want to repeat any time soon.

"Come on, Buff," Xander said. "I want to boogie!" He began shaking his body around in the patented 'Xander Dance.'

Realizing she was worrying for nothing, Buffy smiled. "Sure, why not?"

And they danced. Buffy moved smoothly to the music and tried to suppress a smile as Xander 'did the wacky.' By the end of the song, however, she was laughing. "Nice moves," she told him. "You looked like you were having a seizure."

"I'm hurt," Xander gave her his best wounded look. "And I was really trying to impress you."

Buffy laughed again and moved to exit the dance floor. Dingoes Ate My Baby were taking a break and a DJ had started up. As she started to leave, the DJ began playing a slow song. She felt Xander grab her hand, and before she could protest, Xander had spun her around and into his arms. "Whoa there, big fellow," she said. "Just what do you think you're doing?"

"Dancing," Xander smiled. "Like you have anything better to do?"

Buffy laughed again. Xander does have a rudimentary charm, she thought, and it's better to dance than sit at our table and do nothing.

[Could it be you're the one?]

And he did smell good.

[Maybe now I'm the lucky guy.]

Buffy began to slowly sway to the music as Xander leisurely put his hands around her waist.

[Or should I turn and run?]

She moved her hands down to his waist.

[It's so easy to see that I ...]

This is nice, Buffy thought. It feels comfortable.

[... could wash your feet, and fill your womb, and I would be your man.]

She could feel Xander lift his head and smell her hair. She sighed and placed her head on his chest.

[Well it hurts to know, but I don't think I can.]

There was nothing else now. Just her and Xander, their bodies pressed together moving to the beat.

[Is it gonna hurt if we try? Is this the calm before the flood?]

Xander ran his hands up Buffy's sides and she smiled. He brought his head down and began to nuzzle her neck.

[Well we may skip like stones, or you could pull me from the mud.]
[And I would wash your feet and fill your womb and I would be your man.]
[Well it hurts to know but I don't think I can.]

Buffy moaned. She tilted her head up and looked into Xander's eyes.

They're so wonderful. He's so wonderful.

She moved her lips closer.

[I will miss the songs and stories, and the things you brought in.]
[Could it be it's been so long?]

Xander moved his lips closer to hers.

[I can't love you, I've forgotten how.]

Buffy's closed her eyes ...

[I'm shy, once bitten.]

... and her hands, roaming on Xander's waist, touched something hard and metallic.

[Though I'm desperate to keep my place.]

Her eyes snapped open. She pushed herself back from him. She felt dizzy and strange. What's going on? She asked herself. Was I about to kiss Xander?

"What's wrong?" Xander asked. He put his hand to his head. He looked disoriented. "Did I do something wrong?"

"What do you have under your jacket?"

"Nothing," Xander said defensively.

Buffy grabbed the edge of Xander's jacket and pulled it open. Underneath she saw one of his pistols. "Is that a gun?" she gasped. "Xander, are you carrying a gun?"

[If nothing is written ...]

Xander gave her a nasty look. "So what if I am," he said. "With everything I've been through, with everything we've been through, what did you expect?"

Buffy grabbed Xander by the shoulders. "Xander, I can't believe you're doing this," she said, shaking him.

"There's something wrong here. You're acting strange, Trick's men are after you, and you're packing heat? Tell me what's going on!"

"There's nothing going on," Xander shouted. He smacked Buffy's wrists and her hands flew off his jacket. "Except maybe something wrong with you! What? Can't you get off my back!?" He turned on his heel and left from the dance floor.

"Xander!" Buffy ran after him.

[Must you leave me without a trace?]

[ ~~~ ]

Willow was heading back to the table with three drinks precariously perched between her hands. She was in a good mood. As Oz left the stage, he had given her a little smile. She had smiled back, but he had gone backstage before she could talk to him. Still, she thought, there's hope.

That's why she wasn't looking when Xander brushed past her, causing her hands to fly into the air and spill the drinks all over her. "Xander!" She called after him, picking up a half-filled glass. "What are you doing—" She was cut off as Buffy bumped into her and caused the half-filled cup's contents to join its brethren on Willow's clothes.

Willow watched as Buffy followed Xander out the door. There's something wrong, she thought. What if there is something really wrong with Xander? She brushed herself off and followed her friends.

[When I would wash your feet and fill your womb ...]

Oz stepped from behind backstage to see Willow brushing some liquid off her clothes. He smiled. She still makes me feel happy, maybe that's all that counts. He started towards her.

[... and I would be your man.]

Before he could reach her, he saw her take off towards the back door of the Bronze. What could she be doing out there? he thought. His eyes shifted to the other end of the club. Xander was there, pushing open the back door and going outside. Oz's heart dropped.

You're a fool, he thought. You're a fool to have trusted him and you're a bigger fool for trusting her. He turned and headed backstage.

[Well it hurts to know but I don't think I can.]

A fool.

[ ~~~ ]

Xander stormed out the back door of the Bronze into the alley. He felt angry. He ran up to a dumpster sitting on the other side of the alley and kicked it as hard as he could.

"Xander!" It was Buffy. "Stop! Wait!"

"Leave me alone," he said, gritting his teeth. "I just want to be left alone."

"Not gonna happen," came a snarling voice.

Buffy spun around. Three vampires were standing at the mouth of the alley. The lead one spread his arms open in an inviting gesture. "Well, well, well," he said. "If it isn't the Slayer. If I were you, I'd go on and start running."

"No matter how many of you guys I dust," Buffy said. "You just don't get it, do you? Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As in, 'I slay vampires,' as in 'you are a vampire.' DUH!"

The vampire growled and jumped forward. Buffy immediately leapt into a fighting stance, but her concentration was rattled when a loud cracking noise came from behind her. The vampire leader flipped onto the ground, screaming in agony.

Buffy whirled around. Xander was standing there, pistols in both hands. To Buffy, he looked like a completely different person. He seemed strong, confident, and menacing.

"I suggest you blood-sucking ticks leave before you piss me off," Xander said. "You really don't want to piss me off."

The other two vampires growled and hurled themselves into the alley. Buffy cut one off before it could reach Xander with a turning crescent kick to its face. The vampire was thrown off his feet and went headfirst into the alley wall. The second vampire rushed past her but stopped dead when Willow, who was jut coming outside, opened the back door into his face. The vampire slammed into the door and sunk like a stone.

Xander walked briskly past Buffy to stand above the lead vampire. "Now you've pissed me off," he said, leveling his pistols at the vampire's head. Buffy watched in shock as Xander started shooting. He was methodical, even surgical. He went for the eyes first. Then he switched targets and went for the legs.

Willow had staked the vampire she had knocked down and was in time to see Xander wreak havoc on the lead vampire. Her eyes went wide as she saw the grim determination on his face. She turned away as she saw the vampire's blood splatter Xander's face and shirt.

Buffy ran over to Xander, and with a quick motion kicked one of the .45s out of his hand. He whirled at her, his other pistol coming up to lie flush against her forehead.

"Xander!" Buffy yelled.

He blinked his eyes several times. Suddenly, something seemed to change in him and his entire body relaxed. "Buffy?"

Buffy was just in time as Xander's eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed. She caught him on the way down and watched helplessly as the vampire she had knocked down got up and ran out of the alley. "Willow," she called. "Xander's passed out and he's heavy! Help!"

Willow rushed over to her friends, trying not to look too closely at the bloody mess that was the lead vampire. "What's going on?" she asked Buffy, the fear evident in her voice.

"I don't know," Buffy replied. "But I'm damned sure going to find out. We've got to get him back to Giles."

The two girls picked up their unconscious friend and started dragging him out of the alley.

[ ~~~ ]

"W… Well Buffy, I'm not sure what is occurring here," Giles said. "But it was very prudent of you to bring Xander here."

"That's me, prudent girl."

Xander was lying on the floor of Giles' caged area in the library. The unspoken agreement between everyone in the room was clear. If Xander started acting strange again, the door to the cage would close. Since Xander hadn't woken up yet, it wasn't a problem. Buffy didn't like the idea of locking Xander up, but it was for the best. There was something wrong with Xander, and until they found out what it was, he was a threat to everyone around him and maybe himself.

Buffy knelt down and put her hand on Xander's forehead. He was ice-cold.

I hope he's okay, she thought. I couldn't stand to lose any more friends. She ran her hand down his face to his chest. Idly, she picked up the cross lying around his neck. It's beautiful; Cordelia was a fool not to accept it.

And then it hit her. The cross! This had all begun when Xander had put on that cross. "Giles!" she called out. "Come and look at this."

Giles took his nose out of the book he was studying and came over to kneel beside Buffy. He reached down and took the cross. "Interesting," he murmured, running his fingers along the intricate writing. He closed his fist around it and gave it a yank. The cross didn't budge. Frowning, Giles pulled at the cross again. Nothing. "Strange," he said. "It doesn't seem to want to come off."

"It's stubborn," Willow piped up from behind them. "Why don't we just unclasp it?"

"There doesn't seem to be a clasp," Giles said. "I think we need to study this cross more carefully before we try to remove it. Those characters embedded in it look Latin. Let me get my books. Um, Willow, would you... would you lend me a hand?"

Buffy felt a little relieved. At least they were doing something now, instead of just running around. Giles would find out about the cross, they would perform a ritual or something, and Xander would be okay. That's the way it always went around the Hellmouth.

Buffy thought back to the Bronze. What happened there? she asked herself. For a minute there, I was about to start making smoochies with Xander. She smiled. Wouldn't that put a wrench in their group dynamic! She figured it must have something to do with the cross. Perhaps some power it had over the actions or minds of others?

Buffy ran her hand through Xander's hair. She remembered the feeling of closeness as they had danced at the Bronze. She had felt safe, complete. Like nothing in the world mattered except the two of them. It was a strong feeling, and she still felt its remnants as she brushed a stray hair from Xander's forehead.

She pulled her hand back with a jerk as Xander's eyes began to flutter open. "Buff?" he asked groggily. “What's going on?"

"You don't remember?"

"I remember dancing," he said, sitting up. "I remember running out of the Bronze and . . ." Buffy watched as the memories came flooding back to him. "Oh my God!" he exclaimed. He turned towards her. Buffy could see the tortured expression. "What's going on?"

"I don't know Xand," Buffy shrugged. "But we're going to find out and stop it, don't worry." She helped him to his feet, noticing with a start that he immediately checked his hips—the location of his now-absent pistols—and frowned.

"We took them," Buffy explained. "For your own good."

Xander nodded curtly at her. He walked over to the table and sat down. "I feel like I have the world's worst hang-over," he said. "And I don't even drink!"

Buffy smiled. Before she could respond, Giles and Willow came down the stairs leading to the stacks.

"I think we may have found something," said Giles. "At least, we may have found something."

"Well don't keep us waiting," Xander said. "Let's hear it, G-Man."

"It turns out the cross you are wearing is an ancient Celtic artifact," Giles began. "I'm not exactly sure what it does, but so far Willow and I have been able to piece together a few things."

"I bought it at a jewelry store," Xander protested. "It's not like there was a sign on it saying 'Celtic Devil Cross, buy one get one free!'"

"Quite," Giles said. "It is unlikely the proprietor of the establishment had any idea of the true nature of the cross. Regardless, it seems as if this particular artifact has the ability to hold and transfer souls."

"Exsqueeze me?" Buffy asked.

"He means it can hold a soul after someone dies and then put it into someone else's body," Willow chimed in. "Sort of what like vampires do, but different."

"Whose soul is trying to take up shop in me?" Xander asked. "Perhaps I should have told it no vacancy?"

"We're not sure," Giles said. "I don't know if there is any way we can be sure. This isn't an exact science."

"Jack Kinn," Xander's voice was flat, inflectionless. "The graveyard where I got the guns."

"You got the guns from a graveyard?" Willow asked. "That is so, so... eeewww!"

"You're sure?" asked Giles.

"I'm sure."

Giles closed the book he was holding. "I would suggest the safest course of action would be for Buffy to take Xander home and stay with him," he said. "Willow and I will stay here and study all the information we can on this Jack Kinn. We'll meet here in the morning."

"Good idea," Xander sighed. "I'm beat."

"Then let's get you to bed," Buffy said. Giles, who was looking through another book, stopped and looked up at her. Willow looked up from her computer terminal. Even Xander raised his eyebrows. "I meant let's get you home and to sleep! Geez, mind in the gutter much?"

Buffy grabbed Xander's hand and lead him out of the library.

[ ~~~ ]

Trick was upset again.

"All you have to do is grab one human teenager, and you can't even do that," he said. "Just what am I going to do with you?"

Trick was addressing the vampire that escaped from the back alley behind the bronze. The vampire was looking sheepishly at Trick. "The Slayer was there," he protested. "And the kid had guns!"

"Guns?" Trick asked in a mild voice. "You do know that you are a vampire, right?"

"But, he was a good shot," the vampire continued to complain. "He struck down Thaddeus before he could get within ten feet. He's fast."

"You're lucky I am in a good mood," said Trick. "I've just received word that the special delivery I sent for is due to arrive."

The vampire relaxed. Which is why he didn't see the broken piece of wood in Trick's hand. Which is also why he hardly knew what had happened until after Trick had jammed the wood through the vampire's chest.

"Really lucky," Trick hissed. The vampire exploded into dust. "I hate incompetence."

Trick threw the wood to the ground and dusted off his hands. It's a good thing my delivery is on schedule, he thought. That kid and the Slayer are in for a big surprise.

[ ~~~ ]

Sunnydale Bus Station

The bus pulled into the station amidst a scream of over-taxed air brakes. Passengers on the bus rose sluggishly, most having spent the better part of a day slumped in their seats watching the wearisome scenery slowly crawl by. Luggage was removed from overhead compartments, final farewells were spoken to newly acquired transient friends, and road maps were checked for quick routes to various destinations.

The bus doors opened with a snap of pressurized air. The passengers began to file out of the bus, clutching their possessions and closing their coats to keep out the chilly night air.

Two men exited the bus last. The smaller one was talking loudly and gesticulating to his companion, a tall, well-built man about 30 years old. "I'm telling you," the small man said. "Sunnydale has got one of the highest mortality rates in the entire country, and no one seems to notice!"

The taller man seemed unconcerned. "You don't say."

"Really!" The smaller man was getting more excited the longer he talked. "Weird occurrences, strange phenomena, there are people who are very interested in what is going on in Sunnydale."

"And what people would those be?" The taller man gestured to his companion to move into a secluded area of the station. People were scarce at the Sunnydale Bus Station, most having gone outside to catch the next incoming bus.

"Powerful people," the man was warming up to his subject matter. "I can't really tell you all that much, hush-hush you know, but suffice it to say I am here to get to the bottom of what's going on."

"Really."

"Yes! I can tell you right now, they have sent the right man for the job, I—"

The man never finished his sentence. The taller man, who had been slowly edging behind his companion, suddenly grabbed him by the back of his head and spun him around. The smaller man's eyes spread wide open as the taller man opened his mouth to reveal a set of razor-sharp fangs. The vampire clamped down on the smaller man's neck and began to feast.

It was over in less than one minute. The vampire released the corpse and it fell to the floor with a dull thud. The vampire smiled. "If what you say about this town is true," the vampire spoke to the corpse. "I'm really going to love this job."

[ ~~~ ]

Xander was flopped lazily on the couch of his home. "Really, Buff," he said. "I'm feeling better."

"Listen, Xand," Buffy responded from her position in the kitchen. "Just sit there while I make some popcorn and don't weird-out on me."

"I'm not going to 'weird-out' on you," he said. "Give me some credit, will you? Mother much?"

"Just sit there." Buffy quickly made the popcorn and came back to sit with Xander on the couch. "I'm not letting you out of my sight," she said. "Giles and Willow will call when they've found something and we can fix whatever is wrong."

"I'm telling you, Buff, there's nothing wrong," Xander said. "So what if some dead guy's soul is in the cross? It doesn't seem to be doing me any harm. In fact, I've sort of become Xander the Vampire Slayer. Are you a little jealous maybe?"

"Hardly," Buffy said dryly. "It looked more like you were Xander the Vampire Torturer. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Giles and Willow will be our come-through guys. All we have to do is wait."

"And watch some TV," said Xander. "What do you want to watch?"

"Anything is fine."

"Anything it is."

They watched in silence for a while. Buffy could feel Xander's eyes stray from the television and watch her periodically. She could sense his piercing gaze; it seemed to bore straight through her. "Xand?" she asked, turning towards him. "What is it?"

"I don't know," he replied. "What are you thinking of?"

"I was just thinking about how nice this is," Buffy replied. "We haven't done this in a while. Just you and me."

"That's because we're stupid," Xander smiled. "We should have been doing this all the time."

Xander reached across the couch and stroked Buffy's hair. "I can't understand why we haven't been doing this," he said. "I—"

Buffy almost leapt across the couch and kissed him. She wrapped her arms around him and held on as hard as she could. Surprised at first, Xander quickly responded, thrusting his lips against hers. They rolled around the couch, their kisses growing harder. Buffy could feel Xander's hands roaming her body. She moaned into his mouth and began to run her hands across his chest. "Xander, I—"

Their thrashing on the couch caused it to tip over and spill them onto the floor. Buffy rolled out of Xander's embrace and ended up on her stomach. She could hear Xander's muffled laughing and she saw him hopelessly tangled in the coach. She began to laugh, too.

Xander pulled himself up into a sitting position and looked over at her. "Maybe this is why we haven't been doing this," he laughed. "Fear of physical injury."

Smiling, Buffy stood. She looked down at Xander sitting on the floor in front of the couch. He was grinning up at her. She reached behind her and with a simple flick of her fingers, her one-piece dress slipped off her shoulders and onto the floor.

Xander stopped smiling. He slowly stood and came over to Buffy. Their lips met, and this time it was gentle. They stood their, kissing . . . for what seemed like an eternity.

"I want you." Neither one could say who said it first.

Their lips still pressed together, they sank to the floor.