Angels & Demons

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners… none of which are me. If their proper owners had the slightest concept of how valuable their characters really were… I wouldn't have to write this stuff.

Summary: When it rains, it pours, as Xander is about to find out. Sometimes the good guys can be almost as dangerous as the bad guys… Almost. Play it again, Xan.

Warning : Crossovers ahead. (Yes Plural.)

Rating : PG-13. For mature themes and all the other fun stuff that rarely makes network TV.

Feedback, It's the coin of the realm.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

November 23rd
Sunnydale, California


"Yeah, Boytoy?"

Xander sighed as they walked through the school, refusing to look over at the knowing smirk on her face. Faith knew he hated it when she called him that in public, it led to some downright screwy looks depending on who overheard.

"Faith…" He intoned warningly.

"Yeah, Boytoy?" She asked in the exact same tone as she used earlier.

He sighed and gave it up, "Faith, would you mind telling me why we're getting the glares of death from Cordy and the Cordettes?"

Faith shrugged, "Beats me."

"Don't tempt me." Xander growled, "Now spill."

He felt Faith shrug at his side as they made their way deeper into the school, finally slipping from the Cordettes sight. "Nothing much, really… The cheerleader and I just had words."

Xander groaned, "Damn it, Faith. I told you, we can't afford to piss off everyone in school…"

"Hey, she started it!" Faith protested.

Xander came to a halt and half turned to look at the dark Slayer, "Faith… You're nineteen years old! Don't you think it's a little infantile to let a fifteen year old bait you into a fight??"

Faith scowled at him, "Way to take what little fun I can get out of this whole going back to school deal, X."

Xander closed his eyes and counted to ten. "Faith… Just… Just try not to get expelled."

With that he turned and headed for his class while Faith scowled after him a while longer before doing the same.

"Xander! Wait up!"

Xander paused, turning back with a smile as he spotted Willow and Jonathon jogging up behind him. "Hey guys, what's up?"

"Nothing much…" Jon replied as he caught up, "Just figured we hit class together."

Xander smiled, "Nothing like french to keep you guys on your toes."

Jonathon scowled lightly, "Yeah yeah. Rub it in… I still want to know how come you're suddenly fluent."

Xander shrugged, smiling. "Hey, you know… just picked it up here and there."

"Right." Jonathon scowled as they reached the door.

"Hey, did you guys know we had a new teacher?" Willow asked as Xander started in.

"No, I…"

"Bonjour, Classe… Je suis…"

Xander turned, petrified by the sound of the voice, then threw himself violently to one side and clutched at the wall in sheer panic.

"Xan??" Jon looked over, "Xan??"

"C'mere!" Xander hissed, grabbing the two of them and pulling them out of the doorway.

"Xander! What…!?"

"Shhhhhh!" He hissed ferociously. "That's not a teacher. It's a P.I. that's looking for Faith."

"Her?" Jon glanced over his shoulder, "She's a P.I.? How do you know?"

"Cause I'm dating her."

Jonathon went white, then looked back in. "You're dating THAT?"

"Yes." Xander snapped, "I've got to get out of here. Willow, go get Faith, tell her that her Uncle Spence sent some P.I.'s to find her and she has to lay low."

"Me?" Willow's eyes bulged, "But… but… I'll miss class…"

"Willow! Do it!" Xander hissed, turning to Jonathon. "You, go into class… I'm out sick. And she does NOT learn my address."

"But doesn't the school have it on file?"

Xander shook his head, "I broke in the first day and burned the file. We wiped the computer records before that."

"Oh." Jon frowned, "Wait… if you're dating her… why are you running?"

"Because she doesn't know where I live or what I do, now Go!" Xander shoved Jonathon into the class, then turned to Willow. "What are you waiting for??"

"I'm going! I'm going!"

Xander watched her move off, then quickly risked another glance into the class before turning tail and running for his life.

"Is that everyone?" Natalie asked, both relieved and disappointed. The faces she was looking for weren't in sight.

When no one answered, she flipped open the slim notebook she'd been given and looked up again. "Alright. I'll take role call now."

She went through the names quickly, pausing when she didn't get a response to the one name she'd been listening for. "Alexander Harris?"

"Xander's not here, ma'am. He's sick today." A boy who's answered to Jonathon earlier spoke up.

"Ah…" She frowned, half relieved that maybe they weren't on another wild goose chase, and half anxious. <Xander couldn't be a… high school student… could he??>

Faith was sitting in the back of her class when she heard a soft sound behind her and frowned as she turned. When she found the source of the sound, her eyes widened, <Red>

She looked around quick, then ducked out of the class while the teacher's back was turned. "What's up, Red?"

"Xander told me to tell you that your Uncle Spence sent some private investigators to find you. They're here now."

Faith's eyes widened and she uttered a curse, "Shit. Where??"

"One of them is pretending to be a teacher at least…" Willow said urgently, "Xander said to tell you to lie low… Why do you have investigators looking for you??"

"Long story…" Faith hissed, grabbing Willow by the arm. "Come on. We'll duck into the gym and I'll head out the back. There's no classes now."

"We? I? But… class…" Willow protested mildly as she was pulled along.

"Relax." Faith ordered, "I just need you to check ahead for me. Make sure there's no strangers. When I hit the parking lot, you can go right back to nerd heavan."

Willow looked hurt, but let herself get dragged along.

Xander made a beeline for the library, passing through the student lounge on his way, when he heard a familiar voice.

"Thanks so very much for the welcome, Professor Flutey."

"Please, Miss Munday, I'm just a Principal… and I'm honored to have a speaker of your stature volunteering to give a presentation at my school. I still remember your shuttle flight…"

Xander cast around wildly as the voices came closer, throwing himself bodily over the back of the couch as the two voices entered the room.

"This is the student lounge…" Flutey was saying pleasantly, "We try to give the kids all the opportunities to relax that we can… The curriculum here is quite advanced, and I'm quite proud of our rating with the State School Commission."

Alex' voice was equally pleasant as she returned, "Your school is quite impressive. I'm told you have an equally impressive athletic department?"

"Oh yes," Flutey continued as they walked out of the room, positively fawning as he did. "You were an olympian weren't you? Yes, we have a tremendous athletic department as well…"

Xander felt his heartbeat slow down as he crawled out from behind the couch, shaking his head. "This sucks."

He glanced once over his shoulder and headed for the library.

"Uh oh."

"What?" Faith hissed, hiding behind a wall as Willow peeked out into the parking lot.

"There's a girl out there looking at Xander's car…"

"Girl?" Faith leaned over, pushing Willow to the side a bit, "Who?"

"I don't know." Willow shot Faith an irritated look. "If I knew, I'd have told you."

Faith looked at the redhead by the black car and muttered a low curse. "Great. That escape is out."

"I didn't know you had your licence." Willow frowned.

"I don't." Faith shrugged, ducking back in. "Wasn't planning on letting that stop me."

Willow stared in wide eyed shock for a moment, but Faith ignored it and pulled her cell phone and hit autodial. "Yo, Jeeves. I got trouble."

"Don't get smart with me, you candy ass Brit." Faith snarled a moment later. "Look, you remember those three chicks you and Xander took care of in L.A?"

"Because they're here! That's why I bring them up!" Faith snapped back a moment later.

Another pause and she cooled down, "Alright… ok… yeah, I need a lift. Thanks. I'll meet you on the street, under the trees… Don't worry, I'll get there."

Faith hung up, then glanced back at Willow. "I'm gonna need some more help."

Willow groaned piteously, "But… but… Class?"

Chapter 2

Xander broke into the library and leaned back against the door as he breathed hard, not from the exercise, but from the stress of ducking one Angel after another.

"Shouldn't you be in class, perhaps bothering some innocent professor with mysterious comments about their personal life?"

Xander looked up, scowling at Wesley. "Har de Har. I need to use the back way out."

"Back way?" Wesley looked up in confusion, "What back way?"

"The one that leads into the sewers so that vampire's can sneak in when they want to get close to the hellmouth." Xander replied, brushing past Wesley.

"What!?" Wesley paled, "What are you talking about!?"

"Nothing. If you like I'll just go back to your personal life?" Xander smirked over his shoulder as he flipped open the trap door and dropped into it. "Oh… and Wes?"

Wesley stared down at him, mouth agape and eyes wide. "Y… yes?"

"If any knock out gals that you don't recognized come looking for me… You never saw me." Xander ducked down, flipping the trap door shut.

Wesley shook his head, "Of course not. I rather wish that I *had* never seen you."


"I said no." Willow scowled, shifting nervously as she stood more or less out in the open, eyes searching for the red corvette that was supposed to show up.

"Damn it." Faith muttered, "What the hell is taking him so long??"

"You think I'm happy standing out here?" Willow snapped, "Relax… You're making me nervous… and I'm already jumpy cause I skipping class for you."

Faith took a breath, "Yeah… yeah… sorry, Red. And thanks."

Willow swallowed, "It's alright… I mean… I still want to know why you're hiding from your uncle… but… It's alright."

Faith nodded, "I'll tell you the story later, ok Red?"

"Yeah… yeah sure." Willow nodded, "But do you have to call me that??"


"Red." Willow scowled.

"You'd prefer if I called ya nerd girl maybe?" Faith smirked in response.

Willow shot her a dirty look.

Faith just smiled, letting the look flow over her. "Hey… It's better then Xander's handle."

Willow scowled at her again, then nodded grudgingly. "Say… Why do you call Xander… that?"

Faith licked her lips, "That's another story… I tell you what, I'll tell it to you sometime… but not until you hear a few others first."

Willow sighed, "Fine."

They fell silent for a moment until Willow spotted something on the street. "Hey… hey… I think he's here."

Faith risked a look and nodded when she saw the vette slow as it passed the gate and go out of sight behind the trees and wall. "Alright… My cue. You see anyone you don't know?"

Willow looked around, checking everywhere she could see, then ducked back and shook her head. "Nope… no one."

"Alright…" Faith tensed, "Then I'm gone…"

She paused, nodding to Willow. "Hey… thanks again, Red."

"No problem." Willow said grudgingly. "Go on."

Faith nodded and bolted from cover, sprinting for the trees. Willow watched, a little awed suddenly, as she watched the younger girl take a running leap that hooked her and overhanging branch almost fifteen feet off the ground, and use it to vault over the stone wall.


Giles parked the corvette and looked around nervously, wondering if anyone would be watching or not. He didn't see anyone he recognized, but if those three were here then they could have any number of people backing them up.

<That odd man, almost certainly…> He thought just as a flash and thump beside him caused Giles to jump in shock. "What the bloody!?"

"Relax G. Drive." Faith said from where she had dropped into the front seat of the sports car. "Go…"

"Damn it, Faith! This car is rented, and the deposit alone is…" Giles started, but Faith cut him off.

"G? Move! Bitch later." She muttered, rolling her eyes.

Giles snarled slightly, but shifted the car into first and pulled out into traffic. "We need to get you your own vehicle."

"That's what I've been saying, G." Faith smirked from beside him.

"I'm thinking perhaps a tricycle." Giles replied archly, keeping his eyes on the road.

"Oh real funny." Faith scowled at him, "See? I'm laughing on the inside."

Giles shrugged, "I always laugh on the inside when I'm with you Faith."

The Dark Slayer scowled at him again, lifting a finger as she glared. "One of these days, G. One of these days."

Xander carefully unlocked the heavy steel door that he and Giles had installed weeks earlier to prevent any unauthorized use of the tunnel system in the area, and locked it again behind him. It would take an battering ram to knock down, and the security they'd installed around it would give everyone plenty of time to prepare, or run, in that case.

Once well down the tunnel, he flipped his comm open as he continued to move. "KARR, buddy… pal… got a hint of trouble. I'm going to need a lift."

A moment later, KARR's voice returned. "The one designated, Dylan Saunders, is currently standing on the curb in front of me. Instructions?"

Xander cursed slightly before grabbing the comm again, "Distract her… don't harm her. But get her looking somewhere else, and then cut out. Meet me by the starbucks downtown… I'll be there in just a few minutes."


Xander shook his head, cursing under his breath again, and started trudging through the sewers as he headed for the center of town.

"Man, this sucks."

Dylan Saunders sighed as she looked around. "I'm telling you guys… this is his car. He's got to be here."

A moment later, Natalie's voice echoed back over the Molar-Mic. "Well he's not in class… but the attendance schedule does list an Alexander Harris here. And one of the kids called him Xander…"

Dylan laughed, "Natalie's dating jail bait… Natalie's dating jail bait…"

"Shut up." Natalie said, a little louder then she meant to.

"Sorry ma'am." One of the kids from halfway back said, suddenly staring wide-eyed at the teacher who had just cursed.

Natalie winced, and quieted down.

"Alright you two…" Alex hissed over her own Molar Mic. "Cut that out. We still need to identify this guy and determine if he is the person we're looking for."

Dylan nodded reluctantly as she turned back to the black car sitting behind her. "Check."

She walked around the sleek nose of the car and once more looked inside the high tech cockpit, noting a few changes from the last time she'd seen it. "Ohhh baby… he's got some ongoing aftermarket work going on with you… mmm hmmmm…"

She smirked lightly, licking her lips slightly. "You and me, baby… I think we'll find out just what you've got under hood… Unless Xander's a typical man… all flash, no dash."

She turned back around, starting to move back to the front, when the car slipped back slightly and crunched over her toe.

"OW!!" Dylan screamed, her eyes bugging out in shock. She slapped her hands down on the car, as if that might convince it to move, then started pushing against it as much as she could. "Ow ow ow ow!"

"Dylan??" Alex' voice came over the molar mike. "What's wrong? Are you ok??"

Dylan gritted her teeth, sending a grinding static through the mics. "I'm fine… This stupid hunk of junk just rolled over my toes! You'd think Xander would know how to set a goddamn parking brake!"

She pushed and shoved against the car, until finally it rolled off her toes and she jumped back in relief. "I'm ok… foot's free now… damn!"

She backed away from the car, limping as she leaned over to rub her toes. "Geeez… What a hunk of junk… Xander must have done the work himself…"

Inside the hunk of junk in question, a digital dash lit up and a newly installed holographic display became active. On the hovering panel of light a series of menu options appeared as the computer cycled through the options until it landed on 'Three Dimensional Sound Oscillation'.

Then a new signal flashed, 'playing file.'


Dylan Saunders spun around, crunched her toes into the sidewalk, and fell over in pain as she looked for the source of the voice.

"OWWWW!!!" She hollered, rolling onto the grass away from the cars and came up to her feet. "Alex? Where are you?"

A moment later, Alex responded over her Molar Mic. "Where do you think I am? I'm getting ready for my speech."

"But I heard…" Dylan started, but the sudden quiet rev of an engine behind her caused her to spin around to see the black transam pull back out it's spot, spin a quarter slide around, and accelerate out of the lot. She chased after it, limping as she tried to see the driver, but the windows were all tinted almost a solid black.

"Shit!" She cursed out loud, stamping her feet.

Her heel broke, and she toppled over, thumping into a wine colored honda next to her. "Owww!"

Chapter 3

"Well well well, what have we here?"

"Looks like fresh me to me, guys."

"Maybe we can play with him just a little bit first?"

"Marsha, you always want to play with them."

"Only the cute ones."

"Marsha, sometimes I think you're blind."

"Why'd you go and say th.…?"

"Hey!" Xander snapped, exasperated after listening to the three stooges carry on. "Do you mind? I'm in a hurry, so if we could move this along I'd be grateful."

The three vampires looked at each other in surprise, then back at him. The lead guy, a hulking type that looked straight out of a bad biker movie, growled. "Who do you think you are, human? We're going to *kill* you."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Yak, yak, yak."

He really wasn't in the mood for this, not now, not on top of his other problems. Truthfully, he probably would have let them pass if they hadn't gotten right in his way. Dealing with the Angels was going to take everything he had, he simply didn't have time to deal with three dimwits who didn't realize that a human who willingly travels the Sunnydale sewers was either insane, or more then he appeared.

In either case, it wasn't a great idea to bother him.

Xander just walked straight into them, as if to barrel through. When the leader moved to lunge at him, his hand snapped up and then whipped down as Elan appeared in his hand, fully extended. The end of the seven foot staff arced in a vicious path that crushed the vamp's jaw like tissue paper.

Xander flipped the staff up into the air, catching it around behind his back with his other hand, and snapped it out in an underhand arc that clobbered the second male vampire under the chin and sent it flying. The female vampire had a chance to widen her eyes and looked surprised as Xander flipped the staff over in his hand and jab it forward through her heart.

As he dusted, he let the staff slide back into a more classic grip and lunged down to one side, dusting the biker boy. The last one was still trying to get up as Xander walked past him and planted the end of the staff in his chest like a walking stick, and kept on going.

<Wasn't even a work out.> He shook his head in irritation as he picked up his pace. <Two blocks to go.>

"Merlin?" He muttered into his com.

"Yes, Commander?"

"Patch me through to Faith."

"I'm afraid I can't do that. She left her Fold Comm at the house again."

Xander muffled a cursed, closing his eyes. "Great. Just great, Faith. How many times have I told you to keep that damn thing with you?"

"I believe that I may have an alternate option."

"What is it?"

"Miss Tasker contacted Mr Giles. I believe, judging from his position and direction of travel, that he has already picked her up. He has his Comm."

Xander nodded, "Good enough. Give me the G-Man."

"Yes, Commander."

A moment later a signal broke through, "Xander?"

"It's me, Giles. Is Faith with you?"

"Yes, she is."

"I need you to get to the mansion and have Faith grab what she needs for a few days."


"She can't stay at the mansion, G." Xander explained quickly, "These girls aren't going to be fooled for long. They'll find out where I live… Hell, they somehow managed to track me down to Sunnydale despite Merlin crapping out their computer searches."

Giles sighed, "Indeed. Very well… You want her to stay with me, I presume?"

"You got it, Giles."

"One must always make sacrifices." Giles said with a hint of ironic humor in his voice. "This one will merely be greater then most."

"Don't kill each other." Xander growled, "I'm gone, gotta get a move on."

"Indeed." Giles said and signed off.

Xander shook his head and sighed, starting to climb to the surface.

"Xander said WHAT??" Faith practically screamed.

"You heard me," Giles muttered, shaking his head. "And contrary to what you may believe I am not so old that you need to shout."

"I'm NOT letting those three bimbos run me out of my home." Faith growled, at a quieter tone.

"Consider it… a temporary tactical retreat." Giles smirked for a moment before settling his expression. "You're avoiding conflict… not losing a fight."

"Fine." She folded her arms, looking for all the world like a petulant little girl. "Where am I going to stay?"

"My place." Giles couldn't hide the smirk this time.


Xander ignored the looks he got from the Starbucks customers and dropped the manhole cover back into place. KARR was right in position, to Xander's pleasure if not surprise, and he headed straight over and tried to open the door.

It was locked.

"Hey! What the…? Come on, KARR… open up…"

The door didn't budge.

"Remove your footwear." The AI grumbled.

"What? Come on! These are italian loafers…"

The AI didn't say anything.

Xander grumbled, shucking the shoes. "Fine, fine… I'm ditching the shoes… Happy?"

The car door opened.

Xander shook his head and jumped in, "Did Dylan get a tracker on you?"


"Alright. Let's move. We've got to get home in a hurry."

The black car ripped out of the Starbucks parking are, leaving behind a pair of muck covered, yet very expensive, Italian loafers on the curb.

"Ow ow ow ow ow." Dylan Saunders limped into the school, her hair in disarray and her right heel broken.

"Dylan?" Alex Munday looked at her in shock. "What happened to you?"

"I'm going to kill him." Dylan said succinctly, then trudged past.

"Who? Kill who?"

"Xander! That's who!" Dylan growled. "That smart ass, know it all, *stooge* crushed my toes withhis car!"

"Xander did that?" Alex raised an eyebrow, "The same Xander we saw take an entire day of crushing waves just because Natalie said she liked to surf?"

"Shut up."

Natalie Cook grinned widely as the children filed out.

She would have *loved* teaching.

It was almost too bad that it was only temporary. She sighed, packing away her things as she got ready to head out. She'd miss this.

"Guys?" She whispered into her molar mic. "I'm done. Where are you?"

"The Auditorium." Came the answer back from Alex. "You'd better come down here."


"You'll see."

"He's DEAD!"

"Whoa." Natalie blinked. "How long has she been like this?"

Alex checked her watch while Dylan raged up on the stage. "Forty three minutes."

"Wow. What happened?"

"You want to know what happened!?" Dylan spun on her and stalked closer, jabbing Natalie between the breasts with her finger. "Your *boyfriend* crushed my toes! He broke my favorite pair of heels! He messed up my hair!"

"And he made her look like a fool." Alex added helpfully.

"And he made me look like a…" Dylan parroted, then stopped and glared at Alex. "Shut up."

"You saw Xander?" Natalie asked hopefully.

Dylan growled, shaking her head. "No."



"Then how do you know it was him?"

"It was his car! That's enough!"

Chapter 4

"Ow, ow, ouch… shit… damn…"

"Boytoy?" Faith looked at Xander oddly as he limped into the house. "What's wrong… Where the hell are your shoes??"

Xander scowled at her as he picked a piece of glass out of his foot, and two chunks of gravel from between his toes. "Don't ask. Are you packed?"

She scowled right back, but nodded. "I don't like this plan, X."

"It won't be for long." Xander straightened, "And did you take your Fold Comm??"

Faith blinked and looked away.

"Damn it, Faith!" Xander pulled his own off and handed it to her, "Keep it close!"

"Alright, alright." She muttered, accepting the tiny device.

"That it?" Xander glanced up, noting that Giles was lugging a couple bags. "What's that?"

"Some weapons. I'm hardly equipped for an additional person." Giles shrugged.

Xander nodded, "Alright. Go on, the two of you… and Faith, for god's sakes… lay low."

Faith scowled again, "How are you going to cover for me at school?"

"Only one way I know of." Xander smirked, "Don't worry about it. Enjoy the vacation."

Vin Tanner caught the phone on the third ring and checked the caller ID. "Hey Xander. What's up?"

"I need Jacks for some undercover work."

"Oh? She's in school watching over Dawn." Vin told him.

"Let her know to check in with me when she gets out, ok? I think that Dawn will have to survive grade school on her own for a few days. We've got some PI's in town, looking for Faith."

"Well shit." Vin muttered succinctly. "Anything I can do?"

"Not yet, man. I'll let you know."

"Ok. I'll put Jacks on your trail soon as I see her."

"Thanks, Vin. Catch you later."

"You know it."

"Jacks huh?" Faith smirked, "Good plan. You going to pass her off as me?"

Xander turned around, hanging up the phone. "What are you still doing here?"

Faith smirked and shrugged, "Just checking to see that you actually had a plan."

"Well I do. Now get!" Xander half smiled.

"I'm getting, I'm getting." Faith tossed him a glance over her shoulder as she left. "But if you think elf-girl can play me, you need a reality check. I'm a one and only."

"No shit, and thank God!" Xander shouted after her as he collapsed into a chair in his living room. "I doubt I'd survive two of you."

Faith didn't bother with a parting shot as she left the mansion.

Xander sighed, shaking his head. <You know… I'm starting to see a pattern… It seems that every time I get into trouble, there's a beautiful woman at it's center.>

<And yet you still encourage them to gather around you.> Elan said dryly. <I believe that perhaps you may be shifting the blame just slightly.>

Xander smiled slightly, laying his head back. <Yeah. Probably… But why not? They make it *so* easy to do.>

"You are back, Child. It has taken you long enough to complete your task."

Darla nodded, bowing her head to her Master. "I wished to be certain that I made the right selections."

"I hope that you have." The Master looked over the other vampires present. "Is this your idea of a match for the situation we have here?"

"Yes, Sire." The blond vampire said softly, a twisted smile appearing on her face.

"Good. Prove it."

"As soon as night falls."

Dylan and Natalie watched from the wings as Alex gave her pep talk to the full auditorium, smiling slightly as they noted the trace of nervousness in their friend. Had she been asked to do the exact same speech about a character they'd constructed as a cover, she would have been up there with gusto, easily falling into the role. But giving a speech about her own accomplishments left the Angel feeling like a braggart, and over exposed to the people listening.

Even so, she managed to deliver the talk well and smiled at all the right places.

"She's good." Natalie grinned.

"Nervous though." Dylan replied, carefully redoing her hair with a pocket mirror. She'd ditched the heels for a pair of flats she'd kept in the car, and was somewhat calmer.

"Wouldn't you be?" Natalie beamed, eyes flashing. "She's up there talking about herself… I hate doing that."

"Yeah, me too." Natalie laughed, "I guess I'm lucky… Odds are there aren't too many girls out there who'd want to follow in my footsteps of monster trucks and mayhem."

"I guess we can't all be astronauts." Natalie grinned, "I always liked being the one the camera missed anyway."

Dylan laughed, "Yeah right. I remember the driving you did in that Nascar movie with Jason… How many times did you flip that car?"

"Eight." Natalie grinned. "And the camera never saw my face."

Dylan shrugged.

On the stage Alex was winding down, and they glanced into the audience to see that most of them seemed appropriately impressed. There was a red head in the third row who seemed in awe, though, and that was always fun to see. Both Angels made a mental note to make sure that the red head met Alex before they left.

If only to see their partner squirm under the adulation.

"Heah!" Xander snapped out, driving his foot into the heavy bag hard enough to slam it away from him.

As it came back he pivoted to one side and chopping it as it went past, using enough force that the bag sept up over ninety degrees from the floor and jerked down hard against it's chain. He dropped to the floor, his right leg sweeping out as his left folded under him, and ducked the bag as it passed.

The sound of applause behind him distracted Xander for a moment, turning his head to it's source, just as the heavy bag slammed into his back hard enough to send him sprawling. As he picked himself off the ground, the applause turned to laughter.

"Hilarious, Jack. Freaking Hilarious."

"Don't blame me." The Ex-Super Spy grinned, walking into the gym. "You're the one who wasn't paying close enough attention."

Xander nodded his head and grumbled, "yeah. I'm distracted."

Jack tossed him a towel, which Xander caught and began to use to mop the sweat off his face. "What's up?"

"Girl trouble."

"Ooh. My kinda trouble." Jack grinned, "She cute?"

"They. Three of them," Xander rolled his eyes, "And yeah. They're all knockouts. Literally as well as figuratively."


"I mean that they're trained fighters and investigators, Jack. And they're looking for Faith."

Jack Styles whistled. "That why she's got out of here like the devil himself was chasing her?"

Xander shot the ex-spy a dirty look, "Don't joke like that in Sunnydale, Jack. It's not safe."

"Sor-ry…" Jack held up his hands, grinning. "But the point stands."

Xander nodded and sighed. "Yeah. I'm going to have to do some fancy footwork to distract these three. They're good. Scarily good."

Jack rubbed his hands, "If they're as cute as you say, I'll take one of them off your hands…"

"Jack…" Xander shook his head, "I don't know if that's a good idea."

"Come on! I need to do something… this place is nice and all, but I'm going nuts! Other then patrols I don't get to do anything anymore!" Jack protested. "Besides, I'm not going to lose my head over a woman."

"Right." Xander eyed the spy, "Sure."

"I won't!"

"Uh huh." Xander smirked, "Look… They'll get here soon enough on their own. Then, I don't care what you do. But nobody helps them find out where I live. You got that, Jack? I've got to set up some things first."

"Yeah yeah, I got it." Jack smirked. "So… You have any of those pictures of these three?"

Xander rolled his eyes, then hesitated, a smile coming to his face.

"You do! Come on, share!"

"Come on," Xander grinned. "But I have to warn ya… The blond is mine."

"Spoilsport." Jack growled, but he was smiling.

"Ok. So he's not in school today."

"He *was* here." Dylan countered Alex' comment.

"But he's not now." Alex said, considering. "It's fair to assume he cut and run when he saw us. We do know that he's good at hiding things."

Natalie nodded reluctantly.

"So we're going to have to find him." Alex concluded. "Luckily, that car of his won't be too hard to spot in a small town like this. Dylan, set up some of the remotes… Nat, get the central system ready… I've got to talk to Mr Flutey again."

Chapter 5

"Yo, Commander! What's going on?"

Xander poked his head out into the foyer, face bemused. "Yo?"

"Oops." Jacks flushed slightly. "I can't believe it… Their language is starting to rub off on me!"

Xander chuckled along with Vin as the other man stepped in, and smirked at the, still childlike girl, Welcome to the twentieth century, Snowbird."

She scowled up at him, "Thanks ever so much. So, what is going on, Commander?"

Xander got his chuckling under control, then explained. "We've got some PI's looking for Faith… don't know how they managed to find us, but we can't have them actually meet Faith… so we need a standin."

Jacks pursed her lips, "And you thought of me… Oh how wonderful."

Xander grinned, "Think of it as skipping a few grades."

Vin snorted, "With the comments from *her* teachers, I don't think we have to worry about that."

Jacks shot him a withering look, but sighed and nodded. "Alright. So I get to be Faith?"

"Yeah… but not quite. Someone who looks a lot like Faith, but isn't, if you get my drift."

Jacks sighed, "Yeah. Yeah, I can manage that."

The half Fey stepped into the middle of the room and crossed her arms over her chest as a radiant power built up around her. It only took seconds, then there was a sudden rush of motion, as if she were spinning in place until she became little more then a blur. Finally the motion subsided, and Jacks emerged in a new form.

"This close enough, Boytoy?" She smirked, cocking one hip out as she tossed back wavy black hair.

Xander groaned, "Don't you start that too! Like I need Faith in Stereo."

"Oh come on, lover…" She traced a line across Xander's chin, smiling almost seductively as she walked around him. "What's wrong with doubling your pleasure…?"

"Alright! That's enough of that!" Vin broke in, "I hardly need to be hearin this either, you know."

Jacks pouted at him, "But I'm just getting into character."

Both men groaned as she draped her arms around Xander again, "That's what a transformation is for a Fey… We *become* a whole new person, you know…"

Vin glared at Xander, "You watch your hands."

Xander was about to respond when he suddenly yelped, jumping out of his chair. "My hands!? Who's going to watch hers!? Damn it, Jacks! Faith is NOT that bad!"

She just shrugged, and smirked. "Sorry."

"And you live with this?" Xander shot a look a Vin while still trying to scowl at Jacks.

Vin snorted, "I could as much ask the same of you. As I recall it's *your* girl she's imitatin."

"Faith's not my girl." Xander snapped.

"Uh huh." Vin nodded skeptically. "Right."

"Let's get something straight here," Xander growled, keeping his distance from Jacks. "I'm trying to get a relationship going with one of the Pis… I *like* this woman… Seeing a fourteen year old sex bomb hanging off of me is NOT going to help my case."

"You think I'm sexy?" Jacks smirked wider, walking towards him.

"Vin…" Xander backpedaled. "Do something!"

"Hell no." Vin took a seat. "I mess with her fun, and she'll do worse then that to me tonight."

"Oh yeah?" Xander snapped, putting a chair between himself and Xander. "How about I beat her to it? She's moving in here until this is over!"

"She's WHAT!?"

"I'm WHAT!?"

It was Xander's turn to smirk, "You're pretending to be Faith, remember? She lives here."

Both of them stared at him in open mouth surprise as that sort of sunk in and Xander enjoyed the brief respite while he could.

"Alright… we're set up." Natalie smiled to herself. "We can monitor the main street from here, as well as the school, and the house that was listed as Xander's home."

"That place is abandoned." Dylan shrugged, "Locked up tight."

"Yeah, but there's still a chance." Natalie shrugged.

Alex walked into the room, looking tired.

"You alright, Alex?"

"Yeah. Just finished going over my schedule for tomorrow… Flutey has me talking to every girl in the school it seems…"

"Gee." Dylan frowned, "I didn't know that many girls wanted to be an astronaut…"

"They don't." Alex scowled. "They want to get out of class for fifteen minutes."

Dylan laughed and nodded, "Oh YEAH! I remember that!"

"You would." Alex scowled at her.

Getting those two calmed down took some time, but soon they were packed off again back to Vin's place to get an overnight pack for Jacks.

Xander checked his watch and glanced over to where Jack was watching TV. "Let's get prepped, Jack. You're my patrol partner for the night."

"You got it." Styles flicked off the TV. "We bringing the P90's tonight?"

Xander shook his head, "Just in the trunk of KARR. This is just a standard sweep… Activity has been way down since the Harvest. No point in attracting too much attention… Besides, the Angels are kicking around town now, and we don't want to look like gun toting lunatics."

"Oh no, of course not." Jack smirked back. "You never tell the whole truth on the first date."

"Jack, I never tell the whole truth on ANY date." Xander cracked back as they two headed down to the basement.

"Good plan." Styles nodded.

The crossed to the armory and Xander unlocked it, letting the heavy doors swing open on their hydraulics. Jack Styles grabbed the light armored jacket that Terry had sent down in his size after they'd managed to convince the arms dealer to reopen his armor division. It didn't cover as much as Xander's heavy coat, but still provided protection superior to most any body armor on the open market while remaining inconspicuous and, relatively, lightweight.

Xander kitted himself out with his standard gear, including the double layer of armor that he wore as much for the weight training as for the actual protection, pistols, daggers, as well as the two pendants he almost never removed.

"What is that thing anyway?" Jack asked, finally asking a question he'd had for some time, as Xander tugged the glowing blue pendant out from under his armor.

"It's a life stone." Xander said, holding up the blue crystal. "A piece of energy crystal that's been infused with power from an underwater ley line."

"A what with a who now?"

Xander smiled, "It was a gift from a Queen."

Jack rolled his eyes, "Whoop de doo… some old hag with a crown."

Xander laughed, letting the crystal thump back down against his armor as he fitted his cross over his left shoulder, strapping it to his upper arm. "Yeah. Something like that."

Styles fitted his glock in it's hip holster, letting the jacket drape down over it, and slid his personal weapon from the melee armory. It was a classic rapier blade, lightweight and perfectly balance. He'd found it through Andy's contacts some time ago when Xander had told him to select a blade for patrols.

It had been ridiculously expensive by his standards, but Xander hadn't even thought twice.

"This is something that I'll consider important enough to carry." He told Xander as he draped the blade loosely over his shoulder by it's strap.

"We need to get you a long coat to cover that thing." Xander replied as he finished gathering up his equipment.

Jack just shrugged as the two of them made their way up the stairs, the armory silently shutting behind them.

The car rocked slightly as Xander and Jack dropped into it.

"Hey KARR, how's it going?" Xander asked casually as he flipped a couple switches and brought the computerized systems fully online.


"That's nice. Isn't that nice, Jack?"

"That's nice." Jack replied dryly. "You know, KARR, you need to get out more often… loosen up a little bit…"


"What?" Jack looked over at him curiously.

"What do you want him to do? Go down to the Bronze for some dancing?" Xander looked at him with a bemused expression.

"Well… Uh.… I mean…"

"KARR, why don't you tell Jack what you were doing?" Xander smiled.

"I am currently access the planetary data net and conversing with fourteen individuals in twelve countries." KARR replied. "In addition I'm listening to a wide band frequency scanner for any reports of note in Sunnydale. It might interest you to know that I've detected encrypted transmissions from three focal points in town."

"Can you break the encryptions?" Xander asked, interested.

"Negative. However, Merlin could." KARR replied as his main screen flickered to show a split image of the highschool lot, main street, and Xander's home."

"Well, well, well." Xander smiled. "The Angels are on the case. Good work, KARR."

The AI didn't respond as it returned to it's normally quiet demeanor.

Xander looked over at Jack, "You were saying?"

Jack looked at him sourly. "I still think he needs to get out more."

Chapter 6

Faith thumped down on the single bed and scowled around the bare room. "Geez, G. Don't you think a touch of color would go well in here?"

Giles glanced in, looking around at the bare walls and ceiling. He shrugged, "I wasn't expecting guests. You're welcome to decorate it I suppose."

He scowled instantly when he saw a gleam enter her eyes, and hastily amended his statement. "Pending approval, of course…"

"Figures." Faith shrugged. She sat there for a few minutes and then suddenly leapt back up, "Come on, G! Let's go out and patrol!"

"I'm not certain that's a good idea, Faith." Giles said, his eyes shifting toward the door. "You are in hiding, afterall."

"Oh, come on! If we see those chicks, we belt it, ok? It's not like they'll get a good look at me! It's dark out!" Faith protested.


"Come on… It'll be fun. You know you want to do that watcher thing, G…" Faith grinned. "Come on… Come ooonnnnnn.…"

Giles wavered for a moment, then smiled. "Alright. But w stay clear of the town. We'll do a circuit of the outlying areas and the old cemeteries."

"Yes!" Faith grabbed for her weapons and armor as Giles watched with some mild amusement.

"Are you sure that we *want* to get caught?" Jack asked as Xander drove slowly down the main street and waved cheekily at the camera.

"Huh? What's that Jack?" Xander asked, popping his head back in.

"I asked if you were absolutely certain that we *wanted* to get caught."

"Oh, sure." Xander grinned, "It's not like I can hide in a town this small anyway. They already managed to track me down.… and they had the whole country to play in then."

"I suppose." Jack Styles shook his head, "It just doesn't seem right somehow…"

Xander grinned, "Try waving at the camera by school when we pass… it's really fun."

Styles spared him an evil grin, and nodded. "Ok, so THAT part of it does sound good… Hey! Wait a minute… I've got a plan."

"Natalie…" Alex stared at the monitor, "You're not going to believe this."

"What?" The blond popped out of the bathroom and looked in.

"You need to see this." Alex shook her head. "I can't believe this."

"Wha…" Natalie's jaw dropped and she almost lost her towel as she looked at the monitor.

There on the screen were two men holding up a huge sign marked in big letters. It read : Natalie, Will you go out with me tonight? Signed, Xander.

"I don't believe it." Natalie muttered in shock as she hitched up her towel.

"I don't think they're done." Alex muttered as the figures on the screen dropped the sign and fumbled with another one.

"Don't think who's done?" Dylan popped her head into the room, hearing the voices.

"Oh. My. God." Natalie blinked.

"What?" Dylan looked over her shoulder.

The redhead's jaw dropped when she saw the two men on the screen, holding up a sign that read : PS, This is my friend, Jack… You think Dylan would mind double dating?

The second man waved at the camera while Xander doubled over in laughter.

"I'm going to kill him." Dylan snarled. "He's dead."

"I don't know if your allowed to kill a guy on the first date," Alex said through muffled laughter.

"Not him! I'm going to kill Xander!"

"Hey! You can't kill Xander! He's my date." Natalie smirked as she started laying out clothes.

"What are you doing??" Dylan asked her as the blond held up a red dress and a white one.

"What do you think? Red or white?"


"Go with the red." Alex smiled, "You and Xander are passed the white stage."

"So true…"


Alex and Natalie turned to look at Dylan, "You're not wearing THAT are you?"

Dylan looked down at the tattered T-shirt and shorts she had on and then looked back at them. Her mouth worked a couple times, but nothing came out.

"Didn't think so." Natalie smirked.

"I've got just the thing!" Alex dove for the other side of the bed, snagging her suitcase. "Classy, but kick ass…"

"You know they're going to kill us, right?" Xander laughed as he leaned back against the hood of the trans-am, Jack Styles doing much the same on the other side.

"Nah. They'll just try to inflict serious bodily harm," Jack replied with a grin. "But when they're done, they'll make it up to us… as long as they think we've paid for being smart asses."

Xander chuckled, "Too true. I wonder how long it'll take for them to get here?"

The two men looked around the school parking lot, eyeing the traffic beyond the school wall, and Jack shrugged. "Who cares? I've seen the photos… They're worth the wait."

"Too true." Xander agreed with a nod and a grin.

Under them, KARR rumbled silently and wished that the two of them would get the hell of his hood. He'd just got Tara to redo the wax finish the day before.

"Come on, Dylan! Let's go!"

"Just… one… more… second…!" The red head yelled from the bathroom.

Natalie sighed and looked over at Alex, "I thought she was the one who wanted to kill him? What does she need to look perfect for?"

Alex shrugged, "I think she got a look at Xander's friend… Dylan always did like guys with goatees."

Natalie rolled her eyes, looking at the screen. "They're still just sitting there?"

"And looking smugly confident." Alex nodded. "You know, I'm glad that's not my boyfriend down there…"

"Oh? Why's that?"

"Cause when you show up tonight, it's SO going to make it hard to play hard to get."

"Who said I was planning on playing hard to get?" Natalie grinned.

Alex grinned over at her and they both broke out laughing as they rolled onto the bed. Dylan came out of the bathroom, frowning. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing, nothing…" Alex said, stifling the laughter. "You ready to go?"

"Yeah, yeah… Come on Nat. You sure you want to stay, Alex?"

"Yeah, I've got a ton of things to do to get ready for tomorrow… and I'm only a call away. If you get into trouble, I've got your back."

"Where do we start?"

"The reports from the Master's minions show that the patrols are all over town… But they focus on the graveyards when a new childe is to rise, and on the school above us." Darla replied. "We'll start with the school."

"Alright. Let's go!"

"Ah, here we go." Xander said as he and Jack pushed themselves off the hood of the car.

A convertible BMW roared into the lot, not sparing the gas in the slightest, and skidded to a stop a few inches from where Xander and Jack were standing. Xander grinned and walked over, "Hey Nat. How was french class?"

She scowled at him, or at least tried to, but it soon gave way to a smile. "How'd you spot the cameras?"

"You're broadcasting the signal." Xander shrugged, "We broke your encryption. Hey Dylan."

"Don't hey me!" Dylan Saunders growled as she pushed herself up and out of the car, and started to stalk around toward Xander. "You and me have a few things to…"

"Dylan…" She was intercepted by a man with a rakish smile, who lifted her hand instantly to his lips. "A stunning name for someone equally stunning. Allow me to introduce myself, I'm Jack Styles."

"Mmmm.… You certainly are." Dylan, smiled at him as she flashed a raised eyebrow to Natalie. Natalie flashed her back a pair of raised thumbs that brought a chuckle from Xander.

"Now that she's distracted," He leaned in and whispered. "Maybe we could talk?"

"Yeah." Natalie bit her lip and nodded seriously. "I think we should."

Xander opened the car door and lifted her out by the single hand she extended to him. As he shut the door behind her, Xander turned to the other two. "We'll be around. We're just going for a walk…"

"Yeah yeah…" Dylan waved him off.

"Jack." Xander said, his voice crisp.

"Huh? Wha?" Jack Styles looked up, lost for a moment.

"Keep an eye out for trouble."

"Oh… Yeah, you got it, Xander."

"Shall we?" Xander half bowed, extending his hand away from the cars.

"Of course." Natalie smiled, "But we do need to talk."

"And so we shall." Xander promised, "Talk as we walk. Good?"


"Well well." Darla whispered, "Jackpot."

"Are you sure? They just look like neckers to me."

"No. I know that coat… and that scent. Get ready."

"Yes Miss."

Chapter 7

"Xander, what are you doing here?"

Xander smiled softly in the night, glancing to one side at Natalie as they walked away from the cars and their respective partners. "I live here. It's my home. I could ask you the same thing, you know."

"I meant why are you in high school…" Natalie hesitated, "Xander… you're not really in highschool are you?"

"Yeah. I am." Xander nodded.

Natalie groaned, "Oh God. I am dating jailbait."

Xander burst out laughing, "Let me guess, Dylan?"

She nodded, blushing ferociously.

"Well, no, you're not. I'm twenty one.…" Xander said, sighing. "I'm in Sunnydale for reasons of my own, and those reasons take me to the school. Being a student was the simplest solution."

"Xander… Who do you work for?" Natalie asked softly. "We know that you have some connections to the Intelligence Community… you've left traces on some systems… not much, almost nothing really, but enough to tell us that."

"Yeah, I'd guessed you'd figured that much." Xander smiled, "When you and your partners showed up on the set that day I knew that you were investigating me. It didn't take me long to find out about all the background searches you were doing."

"You knew??" Natalie seemed shocked, then dismayed. "Then you… we…"

"Hey…" Xander stopped smiling at her, "Yeah. I knew. But I had a lot fun keeping you distracted, and I like to think that you had some fun being distracted too."

Natalie gave him a sour look.

"None of that. Your face will freeze that way." Xander smiled when she laughed involuntarily. Then he sighed, "Look… what we've had… well it's in the past."

She looked downcast, but nodded.

"But that doesn't mean we don't have a future." He went on, smiling as she looked up questioningly. "We've got secrets… the two of us. And I don't think that we're going to be telling everything to each other even now… But at least we know that we have secrets, and I'm willing to not ask if you are."

Natalie smiled briefly, then frowned. "I'm not sure I can do that."

Xander took a breath, but nodded. "I understand. Especially if you feel that you still need to investigate me. I don't suppose you'd tell me what you're looking for?"

She smirked slightly and shook her head.

"Of course not." Xander smiled, "But I tell you what… I've got plenty to hide, but I'll take the risk if you will. I'd like you to come to my home for supper tomorrow."

Natalie nodded. "I'd love to."

Xander smiled and leaved in, his lips just brushing hers when a slow, methodical, clapping sound came from ahead of them.

"Such a touching scene. I'd cry if I were still human."

Xander spun around, eyes widening as his pupils narrowed. "Darla."

"I'm so glad you remember me." The blond vampire sneered, "It's nice to be recognized just before you feast on someone's still beating heart."

Xander's hand flashed for the heavy Desert Eagle riding on his hip, his coat sliding open just as hints of red light flashed from the night and warning signals went off in his brain a few seconds too late. Five assault weapons opened up in close proximity, over fifty rounds slamming into him and lifting him clean off the ground as his eyes opened in shock and pain.

"Xander!!" Natalie Cook screamed in shock and anguish and Xander had time to look over at her before he hit the ground and the lights went out.



The three men in black melted from the shadows around the parking lot and advanced in fast runs towards the two cars and people at their center. As they ran they extended their submachine guns ahead of them.

"Take them." One spoke into his transmitter, and the night lit up with muzzle flashes.

"So, Styles…" Dylan smiled challenging, "How'd you meet Xander?"

"Oh, he pulled me out of a… rut I was in." Styles smirked right back at her, leaning back against the BMW and draping an arm around her shoulder.

"Confident aren't you?" Dylan challenged him archly.

Styles shrugged, she was still smiling so he wasn't too worried. "That's the name of the game."

"It IS isn't it?" She leaned closer up against him.

<Damn but Xander has some kick ass friends.> Styles thought to himself as he moved on to the next stage. "So… tell me about yourself."

<Ha! He's using that old gag!> Dylan thought as she started to weave a lie in her mind.

"Well, I work as an investigator…" She started, smiling smugly to herself.

<Heh. Works everytime… Women just love to talk about themselves.> Styles congratulated himself as he tuned her out and glanced around the lot. <Now… If experience tells me anything, and it should, she should be done of the first part of her lifes story in about five minutes… so, until then I'll… hey what the…>

That was as far as he got before he shoved her back into the car and dove for the backseat.

"Heeeeyyy!" Dylan yelped as she flipped over the car and landed on the gear shift. "OWWW!"

Then, suddenly, around them the night erupted into gunfire.

"Well, well… For such a pain in my ass, he did have good taste in women." Darla sneered as she stepped forward, four men in SWAT gear appearing from around and behind her with weapons filling their hands.

Natalie was on the ground beside Xander, but hadn't had a chance to check him out. She glared up at him, "You bitch! Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a good man now a days??"

"Poor baby." Darla smirked. "I went out myself and found these five…"

The five men in SWAT gear chuckled as she gestured to them casually.

"Maybe you just don't have what it takes to compete?" The vampiress suggested coyly.

Natalie growled slightly, her teeth baring, but she turned back to look at Xander rather then challenge the other woman. That was when five Laser sights decided to light her up and she froze in place.

"Uh uh. He's dead…" Darla told her sweetly. "Trust me. I don't hear a heart beat. So it's just you… and us. What *are* we going to do with you?"

"What's going on!?" Dylan shouted as she fumbled to put the key in the ignition.

"You're asking me!?" Jack yelled from the back seat as he drew his weapon and fired a couple rounds over the edge of the door. "Here I thought we were getting along so well, and this happens… maybe you're a Jinx!"

"Me!?" Dylan shouted as the car engine roared. She reached down and palmed the brake, pushed the car into drive, and slammed her hand down on the gas. "You're the one using lines that were new two hundred years ago!"

"What a cooincidence." Jack grinned as he tried to keep his balance. "I was new 200 years ago."


"Later! Turn left! Left!"

"Damn it! They're getting away!"

The BMW was spinning around the parking lot, turning one way and then the other as it burned rubber and kept accelerating.

The three men opened fire into it as it swept past, bullets hammering into the black paint job and body panels, holing the hood and side panels, but not stopping the car.

The men didn't stop, they kept moving professionally forward, weapons firing in succession as they swapped in new clips and kept up the pressure.

None of them noticed the red light flash back and forth along the empty car as they moved. None of them paid any attention to the vehicle, as it had been determined empty and thus out of the fight.

The world swam back for Xander just seconds after it went black, helped along by Elan's 'tender' guidance. Through the sudden rush of pain from his skull, Xander kept silent as he took over the autonomic control that Elan had instituted almost instantly, forcing his heart to beat slowly and quietly as it pushed a minimum of blood through his system.

He could sense the motion around him, and could tell that there were a great many vampires in the immediate area, so he kept his eyes closed and let his focus shit upward into the ethereal.

<Six vampires… plus Natalie.> He thought, letting his vision slide back as he opened his eyes slowly and looked around carefully.

<I can't believe this shit. That bitch went out and turned her own fucking SWAT TEAM!>

He looked down as they walked closer, all of them, even Darla, openly leering at Natalie. The blond didn't look worried, but Xander was. Six armed men was bad enough, Six armed men who knew what they were doing AND had the strength and speed of Vampires was bad. Really bad. His coat was still open, and the black desert eagle still rode on his hip.

He'd have to risk it.

His hand flashed for the pistol before anyone could react, aiming from the hip as he started squeexing off rounds in as rapid a succession as he could. The big .44 boomed in the night, the first round catching the lead SWAT vampire in the chest and blowing him back off his feet. Xander shifted and fired on automatic as he activated his Fold Comm and called desperately.

"KARR! In trouble, need a lift, ASAP."

KARR leapt from standby to full motion in a split second, steering wheel whipping around as the AI floored the gas pedal and swung around in a wide turn that intersected with the first two gunmen, throwing them across the parking lot from the force.

Next it straightened the wheel out and ran down the third one, thumping over the figure easily as it accessed it's PA system.

"Mr Styles! Area clear! Xander needs help! I'm going now!"

Then the car straightened the wheel and roared off toward the signal from the fold comm.

Chapter 8

Xander rode the adrenaline rush as his sense amped, kipping to his feet as both hands locked around the big Desert Eagle in his hand as he continued firing as his body twisted in the air. His boots thudded to the pavement solidly an fraction of an eternity later, just as the Desert Eagle's slide locked open on the empty clip.

He could hear tires squealing behind him as he tucked his elbow into his coat, flapping it back, and dropped the Eagle into the hip holster as his left hand raced for the FiveSeven under his right arm. As the compact little machine pistol slid free of it's holster, his right hand arced up for the matching gun under his left arm.

Sounds were roaring in slow motion through his head as the startled vampire's finally began to react, only a few tenths of a second after he'd started his motions, but so seemingly late to Xander's mind. Their submachine guns opened up, tracking toward him as first one, then the other, of his FiveSeven's spat Xander's response.

Bullets plucked at Xander, slapping against his body as he held his ground and returned fire. In his peripheral vision, Xander could see Natalie moving, a blur of motion even against his enhanced senses. Her legs snapped up, catching the closest vampire across the bottom of his wrist and knocking the weapon from it's hand.

The MP5K spun in mid air, floating up and away from the vamps grip, as Natalie slid back a step and spun on her heel to deliver a devastating roundhouse kick to the demon's face. The vampire went down from the force of the blow, a shocked look on it's shattered face that almost made Xander laugh.


His eyes burned from the hot flame and gas of his pistols as he realized that the first vampire he'd shot was moving to get up.

<Fuck!> He cursed internally, <They've got body armor.>

<Well no shit.> His sarcastic inner voice snapped back as Xander grew angry with himself. He shifted his aim, and the little pistols kept stuttering out their war cries.

Beside him, Natalie's spin finished as her foot slid to the ground in a carefully trained stance, and the Angel reached out with a lethal calm to pluck the spinning MP5 from the air as it dropped down past her face. She grabbed the forward grip as her eyes confirmed the weapon was primed and the safety was off, then aimed and fired.

The stubby 9mm weapon chattered and Natalie directed the fire low, catching the attackers in the legs.

One of the 'injured' men rolled back to his feet with an ease that startled the Angel, a mossberg pump in his hands, the slide already racking.

Xander's senses told him that the SWAT team was badly disarrayed, but were already moving like professionals to close up discipline again. A flicker of motion on his other side told him that KARR would be in place in less then two seconds.

Which would be about one second too late.

"Drive! Drive!" Jack Styles yelled as he slid up in the seat and looked around.

It looked like KARR had nicely cleared the area before taking off.

"I'm driving! I'm driving!" Dylan yelled over her shoulder as she flipped upright and slammed her foot down on the gas.

The BMW engine roared, tires squealing as they spun against the asphalt and drove the compact little sports car whipped around in a semi-circle until it was pointing toward the gate. Dylan then whipped the wheel around, letting off the gas just enough for the racing tires to bite into the road surface, and the BWM bolted for the gate like a rocket sled.

She glanced over her shoulder when she heard the popping sound of more gunshots and saw two of the three attackers were getting back to their feet and were charging after them, guns blazing. Behind her, Jack was returning fire with his Glock, but didn't seem to be having much effect.

"Stop missing!" She snapped over her shoulder.

"I'm NOT!" Jack growled out. "I think they've got armor!"

"Great!" Dylan hunched low over the wheel, "Just really, really, PERFECT!"

As the BMW whipped through the gates and out into the street, Styles hopped over the seat and let himself fall into the passenger seat beside her. He grinned over at her, "Yeah! Isn't it though??"

Dylan spared him a glance and her jaw dropped. <This guy is actually having FUN!!>

She tapped the brake and the BMW slid sideways as she guided back along the road and hit the gas again. Then she considered and started grinning. <Too Cool.>

Xander's gun's locked open on empty chambers, almost as one, and he moved in a casual motion that was belied by the blinding speed. The guns flew from his hands, arcing away in an intercept course with the racing Trans-Am that was moving up on him. As they arced through the open drivers window and thumped into the backseat, Xander shrugged his shoulder and snapped his arms straight.

The long coat slid off him in a single fluid move as Xander lunged between Natalie and the vampire with the Mossberg, whipping his coat around and in front of him in a whirling spin that flattened the heavy material out in front of them like a shield as the shotgun went off.

The material of the armored coat stiffened as the impact hit it, becoming a true shield for a split second of time, and the coat slammed back into Xander, who leaned into the impact. Then it was past, and in a roaring scream of tires, KARR slid to a halt between them and the drivers door popped open.

Xander hooked his coat in one hand and grabbed Natalie in the other, propelling her into the car as he dove in on top of her.

"Go, KARR, Go!" He screamed as the Trans-Am reversed, door slamming shut, and smoke poured from it's tires.

Xander propped himself up, looking out the window to see three of the vampires get to their feet and move after him. One of them pulled something from his belt, and Xander ducked back down, covering Natalie completely as he yelled out, "Grenade!"

The SWAT vamp let sail with the lethal egg as KARR made an abrupt about face and shifted into drive. The grenade hit the ground just behind the trans-am, rolling and bouncing underneath, then detonated between the rear tires.

There was a muffled thump as the back of the car jumped into the air, then came down hard with tires still spinning. As they bit into the road, Xander and Natalie were slammed back against the seat as the trans-am accelerated away.

"Damn it!" Darla screamed in rage as she picked herself off the ground.

Around her only three of the five SWAT members were still standing, and two of those were cradling wounds that refused to close and heal properly. The leader stepped forward, "I'm sorry Mistress. I don't know what happened… Our ammunition should have perforated any body armor he could have been wearing."

Darla snarled, not looking back as she tried to get her temper under control. After a long moment she spoke in a shaky voice. "Get your men together, Michael. See to their injuries… we aren't done yet."

"Yes Mistress."

"Merlin!" Xander snapped, activating his Fold Comm.

"Yes, Commander?"

"All points, Merlin! We have a Vampiric SWAT team in the dale! Repeat, Special Weapons and Tactics unit has been turned! Armed with automatic weapons and grenades… tell everyone!"

"Yes Commander. Immediately."

Xander groaned, pushing himself off of Natalie who was trying to squirm out from under him as they were both slammed around by the sudden turns of the Trans-Am. As they slowly disentangled themselves from each other, Natalie looked around with wide eyes. "Who's Driving??"

Xander twisted around, lofting himself up so she could get her feet out from under him. "KARR, say high to Natalie."

"Hello Miss Cook." The AI intoned in it's low voice. "Xander… I believe that I have incurred some damage."

Xander nodded, "Get us home if you can. We'll fix you up, better then new, KARR. You've got my word."

"KARR?" Natalie stared at the display mounted in the dash.

"Yes Miss Cook?"

Natalie looked between Xander and the dash in shock, "W… what?"

"I am a Knight Industries AI unit, Miss Cook. Knight Automated Roving Robot. K.A.R.R." The AI supplied as Xander groaned and pulled his armor down off his shoulder.

"Wow." Natalie said in response, until she saw the blood on Xander's shoulder. "Xander! You've been shot!"

"I noticed." Xander favored her with a smile. "I'll be ok."

"We have to get you to a hospital!"

"No, I'll be fine." Xander said, examining the wound in the rearview mirror. Satisfied he let the armor slip back up and sat back. "What about you, KARR? How bad is it?"

"Unknown. Rear sensors have been damaged. I am still mobile, but I have noted a reduction in energy transfer to the rear wheels. The reduction is increasing."

Xander nodded, "Get us home, I'll have a look tonight and we'll bring out a team from L.A. by morning."


"Where's Xander and Natalie going??" Dylan called out over the rush of air.

"Home!" Jack yelled back, still checking behind them.

"Which is where!?"

"Take the next right!"

Dylan whipped the BMW through a ninety degree turn and put the gas down to the floor again. Beside her, rather then holding on like most of her passengers, Jack Styles kept his eyes behind them even as that same gleam filled them.

<Damn. I like this guy.> She grinned.

"Dylan? Are you alright?"

"Yeah! I'm good, Alex!" She yelled, still keyed up from the fight. "What about Nat??"

"I don't know! Can't get through!"


Jack Styles swung back around and sat straight, looking at her curiously. "You talking to me?"

Dylan couldn't help it, she grinned and shook her head. "NO!"

"Ah." Jack nodded, smiling slightly. "My loss, I'm sure."

Chapter 9

Giles watched as Faith easily dusted a fledgling vampire, approving of the young (physically) Slayer's form. Her moves were simply, yet brutal, and took full advantage of her strength advantage over the younger vampire. Mentally he was making a note to recommend training in more fluid styles, in case she had to deal with stronger opponents in the future, when the call came in.

He stiffened as the voice entered his mind through the induction device along his jaw.

"Rupert Giles."

"Yes?" Giles noted that Faith had stopped at the same moment and was listening.

"The Commander has been attacked by a Special Weapons and Tactical unit."

"Huh?" Faith blurted.

"A SWAT team, Faith." Giles spoke up before turning his attention back to Merlin. "Why?"

"He said that they were Vampires."



Vin Tanner grabbed the phone on the fourth ring, having rushed through the house to get it. "Hello?"

"Mr Tanner. This is Merlin."

Vin's blood chilled, "What is it?"

"A SWAT team just attacked the Commander. They were vampires, Mr Tanner… And they used armor, modern weapons, and grenades."

"God damn." Vin swore, "Jacks?"

"Is at the mansion. I'm currently informing her."

"Good. I'm gone."

With that Vin slammed the phone down and quickly crossed the his rifle locker. He flipped the combination open with an ease born of familiarity and flipped the heavy door open. Vin quickly pulled out on of his 30.06 rifles and pulled out a drawer under it, grabbing a plastic box of ammunition.

"Body armor, huh?" He flipped open the plastic box and drew out a long bullet with a red tip. "Let's see how it stands up against this."

"Yes, Hello?"

Merlin noted the voice and quickly adjusted his voice to sound younger.

"May I speak with Buffy, please?"

"May I say who's calling?" Joyce Summers asked.

"I'm a friend of Xander's, my name is…" Merlin gave the informational equivalent of a shudder, "Merl."

"One moment please."

A moment later, Merlin heard the younger voice on the phone. "Hi."

"Miss Summers. I'm a friend of Xander's. He told me to inform you that there is a Vampiric SWAT team in town tonight. They are armed with automatic weapons and grenades… I believe it would be wise if you stayed inside tonight. At least until I can contact you again."

"Who is this?" Buffy hissed, "Is Xander alright??"

"He is fine. And my name is Merlin."

<Merlin?> Buffy frowned as the phone went dead. <What the hell?>

"What?? Are you serious?"

"I assure you that I am."

Jesse set the phone down as it went dead and stared at it for a bit.

"You ready to go, Jesse?" His mother came down the stairs.

"You know what Mom… let's skip it tonight." Jesse said calmer then he felt.

"But you wanted to see this movie…"

Jesse forced a smile, "I think a nice quiet night at home sounds good. Don't you?"

"If you're sure…"

"I am, Mom, I am."

"Um… Ok. If you say so." Jonathon said slowly into the phone.

As he hung it up, his father stuck his head in the room. "Who was that?"

"A friend from school, Dad…" Jonathon said before grabbing the phone up and dialing a number.

It rang three times before he heard a voice at the other end.


"Joy! Listen, we can't meet at the Bronze… in fact, stay home. Don't go out tonight at all."

"Jonathon? Why? What's going on?"

"Just trust me, ok? Something bad is going down."

"O… ok."

Jonathon slumped down, relieved. "Thank you."

"What are you going to do?"

"Exactly the same thing as you. Stay at home. Where it's safe."

Willow Rosenberg paled as she nodded unconsciously into the phone. "I… I will… I… is there anything I can do to help?"

"No, Miss Rosenberg. At the moment Xander and his team are still determining the extent of the threat. Staying inside will allow them to work unimpeded." The voice returned over the phone.

"O… ok." Willow nodded, "W… who is this?"

"My name is Merlin, Miss Rosenberg. We've talked before."

"We have?"

"Indeed. I've known you for two years actually." The voice sounded amused. "We met in a chat room."

"You're THAT Merlin??" Willow's eyes bugged out.

"The one and only, I assure you." Merlin said, his voice laughing as much as it ever did. "I must go now, Miss Rosenberg. I'll speak with you again, I hope."

"Y… yeah." Willow got out as the phone went dead.

"Wow." She said, staring at the receiver. "He's like… a legend."

Then she frowned, "How did Xander meet *Merlin*??"

"Wyndham Pryce."

"Good Evening, Mr Pryce."

"Who is this?"

"A friend of Alexander's. I am calling to inform you that it would be most unwise to venture outside for the night."

"What? Why?"

"It seems that a police or military SWAT team has been turned, and has moved to Sunnydale. They are armored and use modern automatic weapons. Alexander and his group were ambushed by them."

"Good lord. Were they killed?"

"No. Not to my knowledge. They are currently pulling out of the conflict to rearm. But tonight will not be a good night for people on the streets of Sunnydale."

Jacqueline Standish frowned, looking around as she heard the low tone. She recognized it a second later and quickly fetched her Fold Comm from her small purse. It melded to her jawline as she fixed it to her skin, and in moments she could hear Merlin's voice reverberating alone the bone to her inner ear.

"Miss Standish?"

"I'm here, Merlin." Jacks responded.

"The Commander has come under attack. He is returning to the mansion with possible injuries."

"What happened?" Jacks snapped out as she started moving through the house.

"A Vampiric SWAT team. Apparently the local vampires are escalating the stakes."

"No kidding." Jacks muttered, grabbing an emergency kit from the supply room. "Tara!!"

Within seconds the young blond Wicca arrived, Mikki padding along behind her. "W… what is it?"

"We've got people coming in, they may be hurt!" Jacks snapped, "Get you're herbs…"

Tara nodded quickly, then turned and run back up the stairs. Mikki looked up at her, eyes wide. "Help?"

Jacks nodded, "Here carry this. And follow me."

The young Were easily took the big emergency kit and followed Jacks as the Demi-Fey quickly headed through the house to the door that would let them access the garage.

"Merlin," Jacks snapped as she moved, "What do we know about these guys?"

"Very little at the moment." Merlin responded. "Only that they use modern weapons and tactics, and are vampiric. They also are utilizing body armor."

"Oh great." Jacks muttered, "That'll stop our silver cold."


"Alright, where's the Commander?"

"Rapidly approaching the Mansion now."

Jacks nodded and hit the open button on the garage doors, waiting as the doors slowly slid up to reveal the well lit exterior.

Chapter 10

KARR skidded to a halt in the garage, an ugly snapping sound echoing from underneath the rear end.

Xander popped the drivers door and climbed out as Natalie did the same at the other side.

"Xander…" Jacks spotted the blond and hesitated. "Who's this?"

"J… This is Natalie, Faith." Xander said, catching himself quickly. "She's a friend of mine."

Jacks nodded, looking between them. "Are either of you hurt?"

"Xander's been shot." Natalie replied quickly.

As the group looked at him, Xander waved them off. "It's a through and through… No muscle damage, and it missed the tendon in my shoulder. I'll heal."

He moved around the car, grabbing a mechanics slide and patted the vehicle. "Move up onto the lift, KARR… I'll have a quick look."

The trans-am moved forward onto a banked rail and climbed up it. Xander laid the slide down and got on it, but was distracted by Tara.

"H… here." She pressed a compress against his shoulder.

Xander smiled up at her, "Thanks, Tiger."

She blushed and nodded, quickly taping the herbal mix in place as Xander waited. When she was done, Xander slid under the back of the KARR. It only took him a few seconds to whistle out. "Damn."

"What is it?" Natalie stuck her head under to look up.

Xander slid back out, getting up and clapping himself off. "Piece of shrapnel got through a joint and cut a power relay… Looks like it's shorting against the frame, drawing power away from the drive motors."

He grabbed an insulated pair of gloves from a bench and hefted a large wrench as he headed back. "Hey buddy, it's no big deal, but all I can do for now is patch it up. It'll take a few hours to disassemble the drive motor to get the relay out… We've got to handle these vamps before that. Ok?"

"Affirmative." The bass voice of the AI rumbled.

Xander slid back under as the group heard another engine come up to the building and idle to a halt. Doors slammed while Xander worked, then Jack and Dylan came into the garage.

"Natalie! Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." the blond replied from where she was half under the car, looking up at the design. "Damn… this is some good workmanship… is the entire design like this?"

Xander nodded as he yanked the shrapnel out of the relay. "Yeah. KARR is totally modular, with tons of redundant backup systems. This relay was shorting out the drivers side tire in the back, but KARR shunted power automatically through the mechanical axle from the passengers side drive motor."

"Nat!" Dylan shouted, "You guys just got shot at, and you're fixing the CAR!?"

"Hey!" Xander rolled half out, "KARR saved our asses, and he got hurt worse then any of us… besides, I need his help if I'm going to take out these freaks, so unless you've been hurt, sit down and shut up!"

Before Dylan could react, he'd slid back under the car and was working again.

Natalie and Dylan exchanged looks, Natalie shrugged, and Jack guided the red head away from the car.

"He's still hyped up." Jack said softly. "Besides… KARR is one of the team around here."

"But… but… it's a car!"

"Actually," Natalie walked up, brushing her hands off. "It's an AI system."

Dylan blinked, "What?"

"The car, is an AI." Natalie said softly, "A fully conversant artificial entity."

Dylan stared at the black car in shock, "You've got to be kidding me."

Under the car, Xander pulled the relay away from the where it was grounding against the frame and patched the damage. Then he slid back out and got up, moving across the garage. "KARR… link up to the computer network and show me the sensor that got fried."

A computer screen imbedded in the Garage wall lit up, flickering through a series of schematics until it settled on one that showed the rear axle. After a moment a single component lit up, and a screen showed the device specs.

"Let's see.… RS-149S…" Xander muttered as he went through another door. A few minutes later he reappeared with a device in hand. "Got it. You want to make a note to order a couple more of these, It's the last one."


Xander nodded and slid back under the vehicle. After he got the plate covering the device loose, it was a simple matter to plug the new one into it's place and close the hole up again. "Alright… fire it up and give us the bad news man."

Xander slid back out as he spoke and got up, dusting himself off.

"Rear power is restricted to sixty eight percent of normal capacity." KARR rumbled a moment later, sounding distinctly unhappy.

"Damn." Xander sighed, patting the car. "We'll replace that entire relay tomorrow. I promise. Do a full systems check for now though, see if there's any more damage."


Xander turned away as the AI started it's work, his face grim. "Now…it's time to see what we can do about these guys."

"Who where they anyway!?" Dylan asked, "not that I don't get shot at a lot, but somehow I'm not so sure that they were after me this time."

"They weren't." Xander muttered grimly as he led the procession into the home, closing the garage doors as he did. "They were after me."

"Who turned them?" Jacks asked from behind him.

"Darla." Xander ground out, his voice turning dark. "Darla did it."

"So… she did survive the Harvest." Jacks concluded.

"Yeah. Yeah, she did." Xander tapped his Fold Comm, "Merlin… Sitrep."

He and Jacks heard Merlin's response over their comms, "I've alerted all designated people, as you ordered, Commander. Rupert Giles and Miss Tasker are preparing to join the group…"

"Negative." Xander snapped. "Belay that. Tell Giles that the reasons still stand."

It took Merlin a few slices of a second to respond. "Confirmed, Commander. I believe that Mr Tanner is currently on his way as well."

"Good." Xander said after exchanging a glance and nod with Jacks.

"And I believe that Miss Summers is… edgy. Voice stress analysis indicated that she may have been planning to do something rash."

"Figures." Xander said, grabbing the phone as he walked past it. He dialed Buffy's number on the cordless reciever, heading down into the basement as he did. "Hi… Miss Summers, is Buffy there? Could I talk to her? Thanks…"

"Xander?" Buffy grabbed the phone, turning away from her mother and ducking out of the room.

Behind her, Joyce rolled her eyes and smiled.

"Are you alright? That Merlin guy said you were attacked…"

"I'm Fine, Buff." Xander cradled the phone on his uninjured shoulder as he keyed in the code to the armory. "Look… I need you to stay inside tonight. No patrol."

The heavy doors slid open as the two Angels looked at each other and mouthed the word 'patrol?'. They forgot about that when the array of weapons slid into sight.

"Whoa." Dylan looked over at Natalie. "I think your boyfriend may be overcompensating for something."

Natalie jabbed her in the ribs in retaliation, causing the red head to stifle an 'ow'.

"Xander, I'm the Slayer. This is my duty…" Buffy protested. "I should be out there…"

"Damnit, Buff…" Xander pulled a rifle from a rack and tossed it to Jack Styles, then grabbed a box of Andy's magnesium rounds in .44 magnum. "You don't have the body armor, you don't have firearms training, and these guys are a professional SWAT team. Let me handle this."

"They're vampires, Xander!" Buffy hissed in response. "How can you ask me to stand back and let someone else do my duty??"

"When was the last time you saw vamps used guns?" Xander asked as reasonably as he could as he pulled a couple armored vests from the racks and extended them toward the Angels.

They smirked and pulled their blouses down a bit, revealing a pair of lightweight vests. Xander pursed his lips and nodded, recognizing quality workmanship. Still he tossed the two 'White Elephant' vests to the Angels, covering the mouthpiece. "Where them over top. They cover more, and a hit won't take the wind out of you with those ones."

Then he uncovered the mouthpiece and went back to his conversation. "Buffy… I know you feel responsible for this, but trust me… This one is all my fault. These guys are gunning for me, and that makes it my duty… and it's personal on top of it. Look… Stay home, look after your mom and Dawn… I'll see you tomorrow, and if you want…"

Xander sighed, hesitating. "If you want, we'll see about getting you the equipment and training to deal with this sort of thing. Alright?"

Buffy gritted her teeth, letting out an annoyed sigh. "Fine. But you better not get dead, Alexander Harris."

"I'll be fine." Xander promised with a smile. "I'll see you in school tomorrow."

When he hung up, he sighed in relief. "Damn, I'm glad she decided to stay at home."

"Who was that?" Natalie asked, curious as she examine the armor.

"A sixteen year old girl with WAY too much responsibility." Xander shook his head, sighing. Then he looked up, "You kitted out, Jacks?"

The demi-fey nodded.


"Yeah. I reloaded with the Magnesium rounds…" Jack replied. "You doing the same?"

"Yeah." Xander nodded. "So let's be damned careful about what we hit. The rifle?"

"Armor piercing." Jack replied, holding up the rifle. "It'll give us something to work with at least."

"What about you two?" Xander looked over at the Angels.

"We don't carry guns." Dylan said.

"PI's with no guns." Xander eyed them oddly. "What is this? A bad TV show?"

"Very funny." Dylan scowled openly at him, while Natalie merely smiled slightly.

Chapter 11

An inhuman scream roared through the sewers, sending all manner of creatures scampering away from it's source.

"Alright. Just one more, Burke." Michael said as he got a better grip on the tongs in his hand.

The other vampire nodded, blood sweat running down it's face. "Go for it, Sir."

"Good man." Michael said, then he stuck the pointed tongs into the ragged hole and dug them around.

Burke let out another bellow of a roar, his game face coming back in full as the pain struck him. The scream continued to echo through the sewers as Michael yanked the tongs out, pulling the bullet, and not a little flesh, with them.

Burke collapsed, body shivering with pain and cold as the little chunk of silver fell to a metal plate. "Fuck!"

"Amen, Burke." Another vampire appeared beside him, shoving a plastic bag of blood into his hands. "Here. It won't do your wound much good, but it'll stem the pain."

"Thanks, Biggs." Burke ground out, tearing the bag open with his teeth and pouring the viscous liquid down his throat. "Ahhhh.… that's better."

"It'll do for now." Darla growled, her game face still in evidence from her anger. Slowly she calmed enough for it to fade away, and nodded reluctantly to Michael. "Storing some blood nearby for First Aid was a good idea."

The SWAT Captain nodded, idly examining one of the bullets as he held it up to the light of a bare bulb with the tongs. "Amazing."

"What?" Darla asked, tiredly.

"This is good work. You can't just run down to a wall mart and buy silver bullets." Michael replied, "This kid has good people behind him… Makes him more dangerous."

"He doesn't NEED to be more dangerous." Darla growled out. "He's plenty on his own."

"That may be," The Captain nodded, "But he is more dangerous then he would appear at first glance. No matter how dangerous that glance would seem. He should have been killed by our ambush, Darla. We used hardened, jacketed, rounds.… and a lot of them. Any vest on the market would have reached critical failure under that kind of barrage."

"What are you saying?" Darla looked up.

"Whatever he's packing, it's not off the shelf." Michael frowned. "And I'll bet it's not cheap. Might be traceable."

"Oh? And how would you go about that?"

Michael shrugged, "Normally I'd bump it over to some forensics boys. But for now? I don't have a clue. I wouldn't mind getting ahold of some though… Just to stay ahead of the game."

"Why? I think we've proven that normal armor works well enough." Darla retorted.

"That's the attitude that forced you to turn us, isn't it?" Michael returned flatly. "I don't know what else he has available, but understand this… Anyone who's done what you claim… who's thrown your world into an uproar in so short a time, it's inventive and adaptive. That's why he's kicking ass and taking names around here… The Vampires in this area haven't been able to keep up."

Darla's hand snapped out, grabbing Michael by the throat, but the other vampire didn't move. He just looked at her with an annoyed air. After a moment she let him go and growled, "Fine. You made your point."

"Did I?" Michael shrugged, "Look… I'm not trying to be insulting… Just stating the facts."

Darla nodded reluctantly, trying to tone down her impulse to kill the man for his words. It was harder then she expected. She and Angelus had fought all the time, and she only got hot from it. But Angelus never questioned *her* abilities, he just liked to fight.

"Hey Cap…?"

"Yeah, what is it Biggs?"

"We'd better get a little somethin to speed things up. Burke still has three holes in 'im, Jake's got about forty broken bones from that damned ghost car running 'im over… and the rest of us ain't in great shape either."

Michael nodded, "Alright. We need to stay close together… the hunter out there will be watching for us… so we need some place public… lots of people."

"The Bronze." Darla said, her tone and voice calm.


"A nightclub near here. Local kids frequent it…"

"Sounds good." Burke laughed from where he was sitting, and around him the other team members joined in.

Michael thought about it and nodded. "Fine. Split up, groups of two. We arrive staggered, one group watching the next. Got it?"

The team nodded, getting to their feet despite the pain.

"Alright. Move out!"

Vin Tanner skidded his four by four to a stop, killing the engine and opening the door almost before it completely halted. He headed straight up the doorstep and through the unlocked front door at a jog, slowing to a halt when he saw the group emerge from the basement, and recognized Jacks new persona.

He had to stop himself from going over to her, remembering himself in time, and contented himself with an exchange of glances.

"What happened?" He demanded of Xander.

"Darla's gotten creative." The young man said grimly. "She turned a SWAT team… And I'm pretty sure that's literal. They don't act like she went out and got a bunch of guys with military or police background… she actually turned a whole *team*."

"Ah hell." Vin muttered.

"Better believe it."

"Whoa! Wait a sec, ok?" Dylan broke out, "That's like the second time you said that. What do you mean, 'turned'? You're talking like they were subverted by the KGB or something."

Half the people in the room snorted with laughter.

"That we could handle, no problem, little girl." Vin smirked at her. "This is a might bit more serious."

"Well why don't you lay it out for us then?" Dylan said challengingly.

Xander looked at her and sighed when he noted Natalie move to back her up, arms crossed and face set. He gave up, shrugging. "This way."

He led them all into the dining room where everyone took a seat around the table. Dylan and Natalie looked at Xander expectingly.

"First," Xander sighed. "Where's Alex?"

"Back at the hotel." Dylan responded, "she's in contact with us."

Xander glanced over at Natalie, who nodded. He shrugged, accepting that. "Fine. First off, there's a damn good reason why I was hiding my location from you."

He looked straight at Natalie, "I didn't want you, any of you, involved in this mess. Sunnydale is… the front lines in a war that's been going on for a long time. Until recently, it's been a fairly cold war… few real casualties on either side. This fall, a few months ago, it started to heat up."

"Right. A Warzone in California?" Dylan said sarcastically. "Get real."

"We are." Jacks snapped. "You're the ones living in the dream world, babe."

"What J…" Xander frowned, shaking his head. "Faith means to say, is that there's a war going on under the veneer of civilization… It's been here for thousands of years, fought in the shadows by people who live and die without ever making the national news. However insane it sounds, these are the facts, and you're going to have to deal with it."

"What facts?" Dylan snorted, "You're just talking out the side of your mouth here…"

Xander sighed, half growling, and suddenly looked back up at the two Angels, his eyes glowing silver as he summoned Elan to his hand.

Both women sat up in their seats, eyes wide as the cylinder bucked in Xander's hands, extending to seven feet. Then he set it down on the table and stared at the levelly. "I'm talking about demons. The monsters that spawned the nightmares of a thousand campfire stories. Specifically, in this case, Vampires."

Dylan went from shocked and surprised to derisive in a few seconds. "Vampires. Right. What's next? Witches and werewolves?"

"No wolf." Came a quiet voice from one side, attracting the Angels' attention. "But I'm here."

"Mik… wai…!" Xander started to say, but the young Were jumped and transformed in mid air, to land as a fully grown jaguar on the table. The big cat kicked it's clothes off in annoyance, and growled in a low rumble at the two women.

"Holy shit!" Dylan yelled, falling back.

Natalie pushed her chair back to the wall as well, eyes wide as the cat turned toward Xander. They grew even wider when Xander smiled softly and scruffed the cat's ears.

"Aw Mik… you didn't have to do that… we'd have convinced them another way. Some people may not be able to handle you being a Were." he said softly, patting the cat's flanks. "Alright… change back, and get some clothes on."

The cat shifted back to the form of a very young, very naked, girl, still sitting on the table. Xander and Tara quickly handed her the clothes that were scattered around the table and she hopped off.

"That," Jacks said, standing up. "What a Were-Jaguar. I believe you asked about a Witch?"

She tapped a minuscule portion of her power, enough to alter the color of her eyes to an emerald green and cause her hair to rise as if from an updraft. "Will I do?"

"Holy shit." Dylan muttered in shock. "Jesus, Nat… Tell me I'm seeing things."

"I'm afraid not." Natalie muttered, eyes wide. "Not unless we're sharing a hallucination."

"No dream." Xander said seriously, motioning them back in as Jacks let her power fall and sat down. "Though you might consider it a nightmare. Look, Vampires are real. Demons are real. And this town wasn't called Boca del Infierno by the Spanish for nothing."

"Oh you have GOT to be kidding." Dylan said weakly.

"I'm afraid not." Xander said seriously. "And the fact that we have a demonic SWAT team packing modern weapons is a seriously bad deal."

"I'll bet." Dylan muttered darkly.

Xander looked around the table, "We have to locate them… Any ideas? Anyone?"

Chapter 12

Michael and Darla slid through the Bronze, fitting in with the college set that occasionally tended to lay claim to a segment of the club.

Darla smiled easily as she felt more in her element, then noticed that Michael was shivering beside her. "What is it?"

"Too much." He growled, fighting the urge to shift to his game face and simply gorge. "Too many smells."

"Pick one." Darla motioned idly, "Feast."

The SWAT Captain shook his head, fighting back the urges as he reclaimed control over his body. "Not now. Later."

"Why ever would you wait?"

He ignored her for a moment, keying his radio. "We're in. Group three, move forward."

A few moments later Burke and Biggs appeared at the door, looking around. They'd paired up one wounded with one who was still mobile, and together they moved off into the crowd. Michael caught their eyes and used hand signals to relay his orders.

Only then did he turn back to Darla. "That's why."

She turned to look, her face uncomprehending.

He sighed, "Darla… Mistress… You are powerful, and you think fast… But you have a lot to learn about leading."

She scowled at him, but he interrupted her. "They're hurt. They've given us their best. We do the same, otherwise they won't in the future. I'll feed, but not until they do."

With that he turned and moved to a better vantage point.

Darla watched him go and growled, shaking herself as she fought against the urge to rip the fledglings head off. Finally she gained some control over herself. <By the dark gods, I don't know if I'm going to kill this bastard, or fuck him again.>

Maybe both, she decided finally as she sighed. She watched as Michael fought the feeding urge, a childe barely born to his new world, and decided that if he could do so then so could she. She was a Mistress in her own right, with centuries of experience.

<Though precious little of it in self control.> She smirked to herself, then moved to cover another entrance.

"I could cast a locator spell," Jacks offered around the table. "We'd need to go back and look to see if they dropped anything though…"

"That could take hours." Vin countered, "It's black as pitch out there."

"Well sitting here talking about it could take hours too." Jacks snapped, growing irritated at being all the way around the table from Vin and unable to do more then exchange glances on occasion.

"Better to take our time and get it right," Van returned, "rather then go out there and get someone killed in the process. They could have any ambush waiting."

"Well we'd have found them then, right?" Jacks countered.

"Alright!" Xander broke in, <God, it's like Giles and Faith… but with sexual undertones.>

Xander abruptly grimaced, <And dear GOD did I not need THAT image.>

He shook his head to clear it as Elan laughed in the background and looked around the table. "Come on, any other suggestions? Not that casting a spell is out, Faith… But we may not find anything either."

"We could track them." Styles suggested. "I'm a decent hand at that."

"Same here." Vin nodded, "It won't be easy in the city… but even so, we could do it."

"Through Sunnydale Sewers?" Xander shook his head. "It'd be pointless. We'd wind up fighting a running battle… even if we didn't lose anyone in the process we'd warn them we were coming from a mile off."

"I can track." Mikki spoke up. "Through anything. I'll find them."

"Mikki, you're not coming." Xander looked at her sternly. "These are vampires. They can hurt you, even if their guns don't."

Mikki snorted in derision. "Vampires no problem."

"You're not coming, young lady. You should be in bed." Xander said sternly. "And if I didn't think you'd just sit around the corner and listen anyway, I would send you there right now."

Mikki grunted, folding her arms on her chest and pouted at him.

Xander ignored her, shaking his head. "God damn it. I keep thinking that we're missing something here… Something simple."

"A locator spell IS simple." Jacks replied, shrugging. "I'm telling you, we could find them easily…"

"Yeah, but it would take time… we'd have to locate something of theirs… then prepare the spell, lay out the map of Sunnydale… It's be daylight by the time we got it done." Xander replied, "Besides that, we'd still have interference from the Hellmouth."

"Tara and I could triangulate the spells." Jacks insisted.

Xander blinked. "What?"

"I said that we could triangulate the…"

Xander cut her off, hitting his forehead with both palms. "Shit!"

"What?" Natalie and Dylan looked at him in surprise along with everyone else.

"I'm an idiot." Xander announced, getting up.

"We know that." Dylan smirked, "What else is new?"

Xander rolled his eyes, then shot a thankful look to Natalie when the blond jabbed the redhead in the ribs. "They're using SWAT tactics right?"

"Yeah. That would be our problem." Vin replied dryly.

"Exactly. But it's also our solution." Xander grinned. "They don't have any clue who they're messing with. Darla doesn't know nearly enough to have briefed them properly."


"So, a Special Weapons and Tactical Unit has certain procedures." Xander said, "Like any organized outfit. They have guns, armor, grenades…"

"So?" Jack Styles interrupted.

Xander ignored him, "… and *radios*. SWAT teams use radio communication to coordinate their movements. They want to use modern doctrine? Fine. We'll jam their own tactics up their asses. Come on, let's go."

Darla wove through the crowd, moving closer to where Michael was still standing with a look of iron on his face. She slipped up beside him, "You don't have to wait now…"

He shivered at the soft tone of her voice.

"Look at them…" She smiled, baring her teeth for a moment as she looked over the crowd. When he didn't follow her gaze she reached up and gently guided his head. "Look at them."

The scents were overpowering, and Michael could *see* his vision start to go red. Out there, just within his reach, was what would cure the hunger. What's more, he *wanted* to see one of them, some of them, ALL of them scream. He breathed out slowly, hissing as he felt the change coming and pushed it back.

"I'm going to show you the wonders of my world, Michael." Darla promised in her soft, innocent, voice. "We'll play with one before we feed. And you can choose."

He shivered again, looking around the room. His men were gone, their food with them, and he nodded. It was his time.

He smiled softly to himself, looking over the crowd. Young bodies, some soft, some firm. All of them assaulting his senses with their presence. A hundred perfumes, the sweet smell of sweat and blood, and the slightest hints of something else. Something he couldn't place.

It sent a shiver up his spine, and he looked around for it, seeking it out.

When he found it, he smiled.


Darla followed his gaze, her own senses locking onto the girl in question. She smiled as she realized why he chose that one and took his arm gently. "Good choice. In fact, an *inspired* choice. I knew I was going to like you, Michael… Let's fetch her before her boyfriend gets much farther."

The two vampires melted through the crowd in pursuit of the two high schoolers who were moving through the club toward the door.

"Mitch…!" Cordelia Chase mock protested, "Not here."

"Well let's go somewhere else then," Mitch grinned, leaning in close to Cordy as he brushed his hands along her side.

Cordy stifled a giggle that simply wouldn't go with her image and caught her hand under her arm. "Alright."

He grinned, eyes lighting up as he guided her to the door, his free hand sliding down between them, out of sight, and cupping her ass.

"Mitch!" She jumped slightly, then blushed as she looked around to see if she'd be noticed.

"Let's hurry." He smiled.

She nodded, and the two started moving toward the door at a faster pace. One outside they headed for lot as Mitch dug in his pockets for his dad's keys. "Come on… I parked over here."

He hit the button on his keychain, and a set of lights lit up as an engine roared. Then he stole another quick kiss and looped his arm around the small of her back as they headed for the car. At the dark blue sedan, Mitch was fumbling with the keys when a shadow slipped unnoticed from behind him.

"Come on, Mitch… it's chilly out here in…" Cordy started, hugging her arms in the flimsy dress as she turned around, and then shrieked.

A shadow grabbed Mitch, his keys clattering to the ground, and a monstrous face melted from the darkness. Cordy caught a glimpse of fangs as she screamed and screamed, then the monster buried it's face in Mitch's neck and the football player screams joined Cordelia's as the blood splattered and flowed.

Cordy backed away in shock, too shocked to move much, only to find herself held from behind and forced to watch. After a long moment the monster reached up and snapped Mitch's neck like a twig, letting the body slump to the ground in contempt as he smiled at Cordy, teeth and mouth bloody.

"That was fun, wasn't it?" Cordy heard the voice in her ear and shivered at the cold hints that filled it.

The monster nodded, cleaning his mouth on his sleeve. His face shifted and suddenly turned human, "Oh yeah. I feel like a new man."

That cool voice behind Cordy spoke again as she felt cold hands slide under her blouse, "I think this one will be fun… don't you?"

"My mother always said, don't play with your food." The moster replied, but he was smiling.

Cordelia shivered in terror as the voice behind her spoke again, "Mine always said I was a no good whore. So what do mothers know?"

The monster laughed slightly and nodded, bending down to pluck the keys from the ground. "We've got wheels… Let's find somewhere less… public."


Cordelia found herself being forced into the backseat of the sedan, her captor climbing in with her, as the monster turned man spoke softly to someone she couldn't see, then got into the drivers seat.

Chapter 13

"Got a hit." Xander smiled, dropping an elbow on the roof of the Trans-am as he pulled his head out. "Two actually. We've got one group at the Bronze talking to another in a local graveyard. That cemetery has an access point to the cave network…"

Xander frowned, "Alright. Jack, Vin, you two take Faith and Dylan, hit the graveyard… Faith,"

Xander looked over at Jacks. "Make sure everyone is packing full armor… Even Vin."

Vin scowled at him, but Xander just smirked at the other man and he shut up.

"Nat, Tara, we'll scope the Bronze. Natalie… you think you can get Alex to join us?"

Natalie nodded, almost reluctantly. "She says she thinks you're insane, and that Dylan and I are too… but she'll be there."

"Good." Xander grinned, "Let's go."

Xander dropped into the car, immediately keying his Fold Comm. "Merlin, You following this?"

"Of course, Commander."

"Get Giles on the line. Tell him I need a shadow at the Bronze… Faith does NOT get seen, but we need some more protection."

"Agreed." Merlin replied into his comm.

Tara climbed into the back from the other side, and Natalie slid into place in the front seat. "Ready."

Xander nodded, patting the dash of the car. "I know it's not fair buddy, but give me all you got. We've got some vamps to dust."

Even at sixty percent or so, the trans-am had more then enough power to peel rubber as it reversed out of the garage, slewed around a hundred and eighty degrees, and accelerated down the mansion drive. Behind it, Vin's big four by four took off a little slower, but with no less enthusiasm as it followed.

Cordelia shivered in the backseat, pressed hard against the door that she'd already tried to open to little avail. <Stupid child safety bullshit!>

The blond who had been holding her eyed her with a dark gleam in her eyes, occasionally reaching over for little other reason, apparently, then to remind Cordy that she hadn't been forgotten.

They'd been driving for a couple minutes before she got back the courage to speak without screaming, or flat out trembling. Mitch was dead, he'd died right in front of her eyes. <Oh god. He's really dead…>

"Wh… who are you people?"

"She speaks." The blond smiled, "I'm impressed. Most little girls like you wouldn't have the nerve to do anything but scream right now."

Cordy drew in a breath as the blond leaned closer, but the other girl laid a finger across her lips.

"Ah ah. I wouldn't recommend that. I kill screamers quickly."

<Oh god. She's a killer too… I'm in a car with two murderers… Oh God. Oh God.>

Then the blond reached around her head, grabbing Cordelia by the back of the head and suddenly yanked her closer. "The quiet ones sometimes survive…"

The blond then kissed her on the lips and let her go. "Sometimes."

Cordy pushed herself as far away from the blond as she could get, fighting against the urge to shake and scream. <Two killers… and they're PERVERTS too. Just great. Just… Great.>

"You sure this is the place?" Xander asked as he got out of the car.


Xander looked around the parking lot of the Bronze, noting the comings and goings dispassionately as he looked around.

"S… shouldn't we go in?" Tara asked from the backseat.

"In a minute." Xander said, walking around the front of the car. "KARR… full scan."

"On moment." KARR responded, his forward sensor sweeping back and forth. After a moment, "There is a heat source three meters ahead of you."

"The truck?"


Xander moved forward slowly, hearing the passenger side door open and close. Natalies shoes clicked on the pavement as Xander dropped down into a crouch and sighed.

"Xander? What is it?"

"Body." He sighed, reaching out and pulling the corpse out from where it had apparently dropped , half under a big truck. Then he rolled it over and cursed slightly.

"You know him?" Natalie kneeled down beside him, looking at the body.

Xander nodded. "Yeah. Mitch Gavin. Football player at the highschool."

Natalie grimaced, eyeing the wound on the boys neck. "It looks like… an animal attack."

"Yeah. That's what the coroner will call it." Xander grabbed Mitch's jaw, forcing it open. "No blood… he's dead."

"I could have told you that."

"No, I mean he won't be rising as a vampire." Xander said, brushing his hands off as he straightened up. "This is a vampire attack. They're regrouping, feeding to regain their strength… Sloppy though… If they'd been thinking, I mean really thinking, they'd have lured him away.…"

Xander paused, his face suddenly becoming a mask.

"Xander? What is it?"

"I'm not sure." Xander headed back to the car, leaning in the window. "Tara… you talk with Faith, Buffy, and Willow a lot right?"

She nodded.


Tara flushed a bit, but nodded.

"Who's Mitch Gavin seeing now?"

Tara thought about it, "Cordelia… T… they started going out a c… couple weeks ago."

"Fuck!" Xander snapped, his hand coming down on KARR's door.

"What? What is it?" Natalie looked over, concerned.

"I know why he got sloppy." Xander growled. "He was thinking about something other then food."

"Ok, this is creepy." Dylan muttered darkly as she walked alongside Jack Styles, following Jacks and Vin through the cemetery.

"No kidding." Jack muttered with a half grin. "It gets better, trust me."

"That so comforting."

"Hush." Vin hissed from ahead.

Jacks looked back, "We're here."

"Here where?" Dylan looked around. She didn't see anything but some gravestones and a mausoleum.

"There." Jacks nodded to the mausoleum. "That's where they went."

Dylan watched in disbelief as the other three forced the door on the mausoleum and went in. "Oh, you've GOT to be kidding me!"

"SHHHH…" Came the hissed response.

When Alex Munday drove into the parking lot of the local night club she spotted Natalie and Xander easily and pulled up beside them. As she let her car engine die out she prepared herself for the load of crap they'd fed Natalie and Dylan, and got out of the car.

"Merlin," Xander was talking to the air. "You still have that satellite trained on Sunnydale?"

He nodded a couple times, "Good. Track back… I think Mitch's dad owns a sedan… dark blue? Ok, see if you can find it and tell me where it went."

Xander thanked the voice only he could hear, then turned to Natalie. "It'll take a few minutes."

"You have access to a surveillance satellite?" Alex asked as she walked up.

"Not officially." Xander smiled at her, "Hey Alex. Good to see you."

"Right." She muttered, "Don't try to sell that vampire bullshit with me…"

"Alex…" Natalie said quietly, drawing her attention.


Nat nodded her head toward a truck a short distance away, "Over there."

Alex frowned, then walked over. She maintained her composer when she saw the body, only the slightest intake of air expressing her surprise, and kneeled down. She fished a flashlight off her belt and flicked the mini-maglight on.

<Bite marks… not human… wrong spacing for any of the Canis family… perhaps a large cat, but there's not enough mauling for that.> She turned the body over pulling the boy's shirt up as she looked at the skin of his back and stomach. Then she frowned and checked his ankles, becoming more and more perplexed as she continued. <No blood accumulation… he's too pale… Where the hell is the blood? Body must have been dumped here.>

She got up, moving back to the group, about to voice her objections when Xander stiffened.

"We've got a location. Let's move."

Michael brought the car to a stop, smiling as he looked out over the black waters of the pacific. The moonless night left little light to reflect off it's surface, but he could see the swell of the waves in all it's dark glory.

Only after enjoying that did he turn to look at Darla and the frightened girl in the backseat. "This is isolated enough. We're a mile from the nearest person…"

Darla smiled, "No one to hear us scream our pleasure… or her pain."

Chapter 14

"They're moving, G."

"I see it, Faith." Giles nodded, starting the engine of the vette as the Transam and the rental BMW left the parking lot. He let them get ahead, then pulled out into the street and followed. "Call Merlin. Have him track the others."

"On it." Faith tapped her Fold Comm while Giles focused on the road.

"Give me what you got, pal." Xander urged the AI under his breath. They were speeding through the small town at a little over a hundred and ten miles per hour, and it felt like a snails pace to him.

The small dash screen was lit up, all the cockpit lights illuminated as their systems were in full standby mode, and the information Xander could see on it wasn't to his liking.

Merlin had hijacked one of the NRO's Keyhole KH-12 series satellites, tuning it's digital infrared camera on the location he had followed the stolen car to. With an optical resolution of four inches, and an infrared resolution of two feet, the satellite clearly showed one warm body in the area of the car, fitting the defined limits of a human. The problem was that the body was in the process of being covered up, hidden from the satellite's gaze by intermittent interference.

Interference that Merlin had created an algorithm to identify.

Which meant that, through the wonders of modern and ancient technology, Xander was watching the attack and probable rape of Cordelia Chase live via satellite. And there wasn't a single goddamned thing he could do about it other then try to coax another couple miles per hour out of the damaged vehicle he was in.

"KARR." He choked out through his rage and emotions. "Calculate… Effects of turbo boost in your current condition?"

The AI was silent for a long moment. "Unable to estimate the result of that level of power being directed through the damaged relay."


Another long silence.

"Forty percent probability of blowing out the relay, causing a resultant surge similar to the one that damaged my sensor capability earlier." KARR replied reluctantly. "Twenty percent chance of permanent damage to the drive motor, resulting in immediate incapacitation until replacement part is available. Ten percent chance of a surge significant to penetrate the insulating materials of my electronics and cause wide spread damage to non-redundant systems."

Xander swallowed.

Non-redundant systems.

There was only one thing in KARR that wasn't covered by at least one redundant backup. And that was KARR himself. Xander looked down at the lit button that was screaming to him to push it, his hand halfway to the dash before he stopped.

Less then one in three chance that it would work. Anything else would mean that they'd arrive late, if at all. Xander looked down at his hand as it shook slightly, just inches from the button, until he clenched his hand shut and pulled back.

"ETA." He snapped.

"Three minutes."

"Hold on, Cor…" He whispered, oblivious to the looks he was receiving from beside and behind him. "Just hold on. Stay alive… Do you hear me Queen C? Stay alive."

"Geeez." Dylan whispered as she ducked an overhanging rock and looked around. "Where the hell are we?"

"About twenty yards from the radio transmission." Jacks hissed back to her. "Quiet. Vampires have good hearing."

She nodded and followed as they continued to move through the tunnels.

Vin held up a hand, signaling a stop, and Dylan leaned against the wall as she listened for things that shouldn't exist. Finally Vin held up his hand again, and they moved out into a large cavern.

"Damn." Vin swore softly.

"Yeah." Jacks agreed, her form shaking and shimmering as she fought for control over her emotions.

Dylan stared around the cavern and swallowed as she recognized the scent of blood in the air and saw the bodies that were strewn haphazardly across the cavern floor.

"Oh God." She whispered in shock and revulsion. "What would do this?"

"Vampires." Jacks shook in rage, visibly affected by the scene.

Finally it was Vin who began moving again, quickly checking the bodies one by one. "Hurry up, check to see that they won't be rising. We've got to get out of here. We're too late for this bunch… let's not hang around waiting to be added to the pile."

"Right." Styles nodded, quickly moving to help.

Dylan watched as Jacks also hurried to check the bodies, and realized that she simply didn't know what they were looking for.

"Tara…" Xander said calmly, his voice brittle and cold. "Get me one of the P90's from behind you… and give me a couple of the standard clips."

Tara nodded quickly and turned around in her seat, pulling the seat down as she reached behind it for the weapons that Xander had requested. She pulled the small submachine gun out, and grabbed a couple clips in one hand.

In the front seat, Xander was ejecting his clips and replacing them with silver slugs, a dark look on his face.

"I thought that the silver wouldn't work?" Natalie asked quietly, noting his actions and suddenly wondering how much she really knew about the young man seated beside her. "Won't it be stopped by their armor?"

Xander's lips curled up as he twitched, his head nodding to the infrared image on the screen that shown a warm body being pinned down on the ground. "I don't think that son of a bitch is wearing any right now. Do you?"

Natalie had to swallow her revulsion, but she nodded.

"Just in case," Xander accepted the P90 from Tara. "I can pretty much guarantee that this will turn whatever he is wearing to swiss cheese…"

Natalie nodded as Xander turned back to the road and snapped, "ETA."

"Forty five seconds."

"Run silent."

From the outside, a seemingly normal sports car simply vanished for all intents and purposes as KARR engaged it's stealth gear. The normally quiet motors suddenly lost their whine, the cockpit lights went dim, and the headlights folded down into the hood.

Throughout it's systems, the AI shifted and routed power to it's stealth systems, effectively rendering the car silent as the proverbial ghost.

Normally, this would shave twenty percent off it's operating speed, more if the driver or AI truly wanted to run completely silent. Now, however, with the rear power relay preventing the car from reaching it's full speed, the AI had power to burn in other areas.

So it topped the hill that led to the cliff side parking spot at just over a hundred and fifteen miles per hour, silent as a ghost, and carrying pure rage as it's payload.

Cordelia Chase gasped, her throat having given up on her some time early, and tried feebly to escape again with similar results as the last half dozen tries. The dirt and sticks on the ground bit into her back, but they were a mild discomfort compared to the sharp pain that came from where the blonde's teeth were locked to the top of her breast, drawing blood out of her and causing Cordy to gasp like a fish out of water as her eyes bulged and her hands pushed against the unyielding head in an attempt to force her away.

Above her, the monster turned man turned monster again was leering down at them both, his toothy smile wide as he licked his jagged teeth.

Cordy gasped in relief as the blonde let her flesh go and raised her head, smiling through the blood that decorated her face. "Well, Michael? Aren't you going to enjoy this one?"

"But I already am, Mistress." The man smiled back as he leaned down, kissing and licking at the blonds lips and teeth.

"You should take a more… personal enjoyment, before she dies." The blond advised him, sliding her hand up along Cordelia's belly to where the white bra crossed in an X across her chest. Her hand tightened around the cotton material, and then she yanked it loose.

"Oh!" Cordy yelped in surprise, finding her voice again as she was lifted bodily off the ground until the bra snapped and let her fall. She grunted when she hit, her breath rushing out of her and her eyes bulged again as she tried to breath.

Michael smiled, admiring the nudity below him, taking an especial relish in the look of shock, fear, and humiliation on the girls face. She was one who wasn't used to humiliation of any kind, he guessed. It made it all the sweeter.

He stepped on her wrist as she tried to cover up, pinning it to the ground, and smiled down at her with his demonic visage in full appearance. "Maybe she's not my type."

Darla looked up him with mock disbelief. "Not your type? Look at her… she's even close to *my* type."

He smiled, kneeling down on Cordelia's arm, drawing another groan of pain from the girl, then reached down his hand and squeezed until she yelled again. "Maybe she's too… warm for my taste."

Darla smiled slowly, her teeth showing in a fearsome leer. "Well then… If you don't mind, I'll finish with her… then maybe we can find someone… cooler for you."

"By all means." Michael let go of Cordelia, eliciting another gasp, and then got off the girls arm.

Darla looked down at the tear stricken face and pursed her lips, wiping away the tears with gentle strokes until she had the full attention of the two large eyes. "Don't cry… It'll be all over in just a second.…"

Of course, that admonition had precisely the opposite effect. Just as Darla wished, and soon she was fighting the girl again, enjoying the weak struggles as she sunk her teeth into her other breast, lower this time, and began drawing blood again.

"Darla!" Michael snapped a second later, causing Darla to look up in irritation.



She looked around, her eyes widening as she saw a familiar car appear from the night around them like a wraith. It seemed to be cut from the very night itself as it skidded to one side and made the first noise she could hear as the drivers side door opened.

"No…" She whispered in shock as she recognized the driver as he stepped from the still rocking vehicle and stood to his full height, long coat swinging behind him.

"No." She repeated, louder this time as Michael dove for the car as a flash of light and noise lit up the night.

"No!" She yelled this time, watching as the impacts threw Michael off his dive, slamming him into the ground as his body was chewed up by the bullets, the armor he still wore under his shirt apparently of little value as blood sprayed up and around the ground until the smell of it flooded her senses.

"NO!!" She screamed, rising to her feet, pulling the girl up by the hair instinctively, and shielding herself behind the girl.

"Oh hell yes." Came the quiet response, cold as ice as the figure stepped forward with the short little weapon in his grip. "Oh. Hell. Yes."

Chapter 15

Xander brought the P90 up to his shoulder as he watched Darla hide behind Cordy's body, the image sending a chill up his spine as he noted the blood that was spattered over the teenager's bare torso. She looked alright, all things considered, but Xander knew that he had to extract her from the situation, and quickly.

The night targeting reticule of the P90 filled his vision as he lined the three red lines up on Darla's face through the solid glass optics of the compact weapon and let out a breath as his finger tightened on the trigger.

"I'll kill her!" Darla screamed, moving just enough to throw Xander's aim off.

He cursed inwardly, finger relaxing as he tried to reacquire an effective shot. He spoke without lowering the weapon, "You were going to do that anyway, Darla. What do you want? A Medal for being interrupted?"

The blond vampiress hissed from behind her human shield, struggling to keep Cordelia on her feet as the teenager kept stumbling from pain and weakness.

"Stop that!" Darla growled in her ear. "Stand still, girl, or I'll snap your neck."

"She dies, Darla, and you won't outlive her by more then twenty seconds." Xander promised as he crab walked to one side as he heard Natalie and Tara moving from behind him.

"Stop! Stop moving!" Darla snapped, her eyes flickering between them. "I'll kill her! Stop moving!"

Michael groaned from where he had rolled beside the blue sedan, feeling the little chunks of metal in his body roll and grind against bone and tissue with every movement he made. He cold see the shooter from where he'd fallen, and the weapon as well. <P90. Well shit… That explains why my vest was for shit… and why I've got about thirty rounds still in me. We should have brought some of those.>

He still had his pistol, for all the good it was likely to do him. The Browning wasn't going to penetrate whatever armor the kid was wearing, so if he used that he'd have to go for the head shot. A difficult shot under optimal conditions, a nearly impossible one against a moving target at night while he was trying to ignore thirty rounds of 5.7mm tumblers as they continued to dig into his body.

And yet, even as he thought that, the pain began to subside. He was too young to know it, but his demonic physiology was already healing from the damage he'd sustained, and while the bullets remained where they were they were wrapped by healed tissue and held against moving against bone and each other.

As the pain slowly faded, he slowly reached behind his back and slipped the browning from it's belt holster, bringing the weapon to the front.

Giles hit the brakes as the Corvette topped the hill and he caught sight of the situation ahead of him, skidding the lithe little sports car to one side.

"What? Why did you stop?" Faith asked from beside him.

"There." He nodded ahead of them. "They're right there."

Faith looked into the night, but shook her head. "I cant make them out. Just see shadows, G."

Giles nodded, "Trust me. They're there. Two vampires, one with a hostage… one on the ground, maybe disabled. Xander and the other two have spread out… And there's another car turned nose in to KARR… probably the other PI."

"Call it, G." Faith said simply, hopping up on the back of the seat and looking around.

"Watch my back." Giles said simply, getting out of the car. "There could be… other things in the area."

"Right." Faith nodded, pivoting on the seat and sliding over the door and to the ground. "You got it, G."

Giles just nodded, tapping his Fold Comm. "Merlin… Inform Xander that I'm in position."

Alex Munday froze as she got out of the BMW, the situation impressing it's severity on her with remarkable clarity.

She wasn't unfamiliar with Hostage situations, she and her partners had taken heavy schooling in all forms of combat and combat rescue operations, but she could tell right off that this one was different.

For one thing, hostages were rarely clad in nothing more then their panties while they bled from bite marks on their breasts. For another, hostage takers usually weren't wearing movie makeup. She unconsciously moved to fill out the line that Xander and Natalie had created, adding another element for the bad guy to watch.

Darla's eyes flicked from one person to another as the three people spread out in front of her, but she remained primarily focused on the man in the center as she backed away.

"I'll kill her! You know I will!" She threatened, just buying time anyway she could as her mind cast about for an escape. <How did they find us??>

<Just a little to the left.> Xander thought at Darla as he watched her through the optics built into the P90, lining up the three red lines with her head as it ducked behind Cordelia and reappeared.

"Now calm down…" Natalie spoke softly, calmly, reassuringly as she could. "No one has to get hurt here. You've got nowhere to go here… If you kill her, you've lost your bargaining power… so let's take a breath and…"

When Darla's eyes flickered to Natalie, all hell broke loose.

Michael watched the head of the gunman float through the iron sights of his Browning and waited. He had to get the shot just right, and the P90 was covering a large section of his target.

<One shot at this. Just one.> He thought to himself as his finger tightened on the trigger, the world narrowing to just him and his target.

The Browning bucked once in his hand as the pin hammered down on the 9mm round, sending the 9X19mm projectile spinning into the night, on a collision course with his target.

<Perfect.> Xander's eyes narrowed, his nostrils flaring slightly as he took a quick breath just before holding still and caressing the trigger of the P90 to send a single 5.7X28mm round on it's path through the Sunnydale night.

The flash blinding him for a slice of time as his mind reported that the report of the weapon sounded off, like there had been an echo.

Tara watched the whole scene with a frozen shock that refused to let her look away. It was like watching a gruesome horror film, she wanted to hide her eyes, to look away, to do anything, but she was frozen in place as the scene played out in front of her.

The motion of the forgotten vampire on the ground caught her eye, causing her to see what was happening from that side as the events began to roll inexorably onward.

She was opening her mouth to warn Xander when the flash happened, a flash she knew too well from personal experience, and she reacted on a level of instinct beyond training.

Her hand was already coming up for some reason of it's own, and now her fingers splay wide as her mind screamed out into the ether.

<Alimenta Airus Firma!>

Xander flinched away from the direction of the second muzzle flash as he realized what had happened just a second to late, and expected to feel the crushing pain of a bullet as soon as his mind caught up to the event.

But even then his eyes stayed on target, and they widened as he watched his bullet slow in mid air, tumbling as if penetrating a soft target, until it came to a stop in the air, misshapen and smoking slightly as it hung there.

<What?> He blinked, his eyes flicking to one side as he spotted the 9mm round floating just ten inches from his skull, in a similar shape as his own round, and followed it's trajectory back to where the male Vampire was coming to his knees with the pistol in his hand.

<Shit! How could I forget about him!?> Xander berated himself, even as he knew that he hadn't forgotten about the other vampire so much as he'd been forced to lower it's priority.

Finally, after all that passed through his mind, Xander spoke. "Tara?"

"Y… yes." Came the wavering voice from behind him, brittle with tension and strain.

"Thanks." Was all he said as he looked at his own bullet, stopped short of it's target, and briefly regretted Tara's actions as he decided that it would have been a worthwhile trade. He shook the thought off quickly though, knowing that it wouldn't have been for the better, even if his shot had been on target. Cordy would still have been in the middle of a very nasty situation, with little more hope of extraction then she had now.

"I… it's ok." Tara said from behind him. "But… X… xander?"

"Yes Tara?" Xander asked, shifting his focus between his two targets.

"I… I can't h-hold this for long."

"Right." Xander dropped the P90, drawing his two Silver loaded FiveSeven pistols and shifted them each to cover one target. "Things just got fun. You know, I could use a little artillery right about now."

"… You know, I could use a little artillery right about now."

Rupert Giles smiled to himself, a feral half smile that curled up one side of his lips as a gleam entered his eye.

"Coming right up." He said into the Fold Comm as his hands moved in front of him.

In seconds his face was illuminated in the flickering light of the fireball he'd conjured, the magical flames greedily licking at his hands as he fed them fuel from himself and cocked his arm back. It was a long throw, and near to impossible in fact.

<It's a good thing that I'm not relying on my pitching ability.> He smirked as he snapped his hand forward and loosed the flames to the night. <I never was any good at cricket.>

The angry flames flared in the air as they traced a wavering path through the sky, not following any rules of physics as the ball arced unnaturally in the dark night and slammed into it's destination.

"Drat." Giles muttered mildly. "I missed."

The dark blue sedan roared as it exploded in a rush of air and flames, spewing fire and concussion into the area, and sending Michael flying through the air as flaming gasoline splattered around him. He hit the ground hard, skidding for several feet before he managed to break into a roll in an attempt to extinguish the flames that were rapidly spreading along his fire resistant clothing.

"Now Tara!" Xander snapped as the heat and sound of the explosion caught everyone else off guard. He had flinched, but he'd also known that something of that nature was coming too, and managed to keep his head.

The bullets dropped to the ground as Tara let the spell go and slumped over KARR's hood in exhaustion, and Xander snapped into action as he took advantage of the moment.

His right hand extended straight out as Darla twisted to look at the burning wreck in shock, and he had one clear shot.

The FiveSeven barked once, spitting it's little killer into the night on a path that intersected Darla's shoulder and snapped her back around in pain. The Vampiress' eyes widened in shock as she jerked around, her arm shattered by the impact of the little silver killer.

As her body was exposed, Xander kept firing as he strode forward, the silver bullets slapping into her vest protected chest with enough force to push her back from the shock, inch by inch. As she came away from her hostage, Xander raised the aim of his guns and kept firing.

Darla gurgled in shock and pain as one of the little chunks of Silver tunneled into her throat and she stumbled back, eyes wide in shock and pain as she saw nothing but the blazing fire from the killing gun.

Xander raised his aim yet again, pausing to place the shot carefully, just as a blazing figure rushed from his peripheral vision, surprising Xander as he brought his left hand to bear on the moving target and opened fire.

The fusillade of silver shots ripped into the shredded vest of the SWAT captain as he tackled Darla, filling him with silver as they both went over the edge of the barricade and vanished into the dark night and the black waters below.

Chapter 16

"Damn it!" Xander cursed, taking a series of almost involuntary steps forward. He was beside Cordy when she looked over at him.

"Xander?" She blinked in confusion, then started to collapse.

"Shit." Xander muttered, reaching his left hand under her arm and slipping under her so she fell against him. "Come on, Cor… let's get you some help."

He lifted her up, eyes still glaring out at the water, and finally turned his back on the cliff and carried her back to the car.

"It… hurts."

"Not long now, Cor… Not long now."

"Cold too…" Her words were tired, and Xander knew that Darla had taken more blood then he'd have thought, despite not actually drawing it from an artery. "Tara! Get out your herbs!"

Tara nodded quickly and ducked back into the car as she grabbed the small bag of Druidic components, her mind already thinking about what she would need to do as she opened it.

Xander laid Cordelia down on the hood of KARR, her head lolling to one side as her eyes shifted in and out of focus. "Stay with me, Cor… Stay awake."

"Don… call me that… dweeb." She muttered, rolling her head back up in a feeble attempt to glare at him. "Names… cord… cor… cordelia."

"It sure is." Xander smiled, if she had energy to insult him, then she was still in fighting form. Though he was pretty certain that her situational awareness wasn't exactly up to par. If it had been, being laid out naked on a car hood would have set off more then just a mild attack from Queen C.

He shucked his jacket, covering her with it like a blanket, and looked up. "Nat… First aid kit in the trunk."

"Right." Natalie nodded, running around to the back of the car as the rear class opened up for her. Her eyes widened when she saw the small armory located there as well, including a sword, another P90, a pair of pistols, and ammunition galore, but she quickly focused on the white plastic case marked with the red cross and grabbed it.

She ran back around, popping the case as she set it on the car hood beside the pale and shivering girl. "Shock is setting in."

"Tell me something I don't know," Xander said grimly. "Toss me a water packet."

She did, pulling one of the foil wrapped packets of water from the case and tossing it to him. He split the foil easily, pulling his coat back, and splashed it on the girls chest. "Deep lacerations, Tare… heavy blood loss…"

"A… almost done." She said as she mixed herbs from the bag and ran around to the car. She stopped when she saw Cordelia's bare chest and blinked. "Oh… I…"

"Come on, Tare." Xander snapped firmly. "No time to be squeamish."

"Uh… um… right." She nodded, sliding up on the hood of the car. She took the two poultices she had made and placed them over each of the bite wounds.

"Tape." Xander held out a hand.

"Tape." Natalie dropped a roll of white medical tape into his hand and watched as Xander stripped a couple pieces and firmly attached the bizarre concoctions to the girl's wounds.

"Large bandage." Xander held his hand out again, as Tara pulled another item from her pouch and leaned over Cordelia's head.

Natalie handed him the large elastic bandage, just barely hearing the young blond's voice as she spoke.

"Hold this in your cheek, Cordelia… don't swallow it… it'll help." Tara whispered as she slid a small black disk into the girl's mouth, pushing it to the side.

"Alright," Xander said, gently pushing Tara back. "Come on, Cor… time to sit up…"

"Don… wanna…" The cheerleader mumbled through the herbs in her mouth.

Xander nodded to Tara and Natalie and they lifted the protesting girl up to a sitting position, the black coat falling completely away as Xander took the big elastic bandage and wrapped it around her, front to back, then around again and again until it was tightly covering her chest and holding the two poultices on.

"Alright… Tara… check her." Xander said.

Tara nodded, gazing at Cordelia for a long moment.

"Tare…?" Xander broke in after a moment, "She ok? Or do we need to hit the Hospital… or call Paige?"

"N… no… she'll be fine." Tara said after a moment. "B… but she needs rest now."

"Ok.." Xander let Cordelia flop forward as he leaned down, then lifted her over his shoulder. "KARR…"

The door popped open and the drivers seat flipped forward as Xander carefully deposited Cordelia into the back seat of the car. On the other side, Tara got in as well and he looked at her seriously. "Watch her, Tare…"

Tara nodded, letting the injured girl slump down into her lap so that Cordelia could lay out as much as possible. "We should get her back quickly…"

"We're already moving." Xander promised, dropping into the drivers seat and starting the car.

Outside, Natalie and Alex were looking at each other in confusion as the trans-am purred to life. They both looked at the car, then Natalie moved around to get in.

"Nat…" Alex said warningly.

"I'm going," She replied, "Get a hold of Dylan… make sure she's ok. We'll be at Xander's."

Reluctantly the Asian bombshell nodded, then watched as Natalie dropped into the car and it reversed away, spinning around quickly, and accelerated down the road. Finally she got back in her car, and followed.

"Let's move." Giles said, sliding back into the car.

"You got it, G." Faith murmured, "I hope the cheerleader makes it."

"Cordelia is strong." Giles replied. "If Tara says she's be ok, then she'll be fine."

Faith nodded at his side. "Yeah."

Giles started the car and pulled into a side road until both cars had passed, then pulled out and headed for town.

"That was sickening."

"That's vampires for you." Vin shrugged, glancing over at the redheaded PI. She didn't look green, despite her words, so he relaxed. At least she wasn't likely to throw up in his truck. "We'll be back at Xander's soon… Get yourself some air, and maybe a drink of water."

She smirked at him, "I'm not going to toss my cookies. I'm just saying is all."

Vin nodded, then rolled the passenger window down with the press of a button. "Whatever you say."

Dylan scowled openly at him until Jack held up a hand and just smiled at her. She nodded, rolling her eyes in response.

"Are they making faces at the back of my head?" Vin asked Jacks.

She laughed slightly, nodding. "Yep."

"Just checking." Vin Tanner muttered, shaking his head. <Great. Jack found someone with his sense of humor.>

Vin's truck was already waiting for them when they slid to a stop outside the mansion and piled out of the car. Xander hefted the semi-conscious Cordelia in his arms, trying to brace her head as it flopped back. Finally he settled for leaning her forward over his shoulder and draping one arm over the other side, and headed for the door.

"KARR… why don't you get in the garage… We'll get that repair underway, ASAP." He called over his shoulder, then went inside.

"Holy… what happened?" Dylan blurted out.

"Survivor." Xander said grimly, heading into the living room and setting Cordelia down on the couch. He glanced over his shoulder and frowned, "I know you're there Mik. If you won't go to bed, do something useful and get me some pillows and a couple blankets."

Then he straightened up and looked over at the others. They were looking a little ragged around the edges, and not a little tired. "Any luck?"

"Hell no." Vin muttered darkly. "We got there too late. Lots of bodies, no vamps."

"Shit." Xander shook his head. "We're going to have to find these guys…"

"What about you?" van asked gruffly, nodding to Cordelia. "I mean other then the obvious."

"Two of them went over a cliff in more or less one piece." Xander sighed, "so we don't count them out."

"Shit." Vin returned as Xander nodded tiredly.

"Yeah…" Xander said, noting Mikki as the little girl padded into the room. "Thanks Mik."

He took one of the pillows and tucked it gently under her head, then placed the other three under her feet. Only then did he drape the blanket over her.

"What happened?"

Xander glanced back at Dylan as he sat down on the edge of the couch, "Blood loss… not as bad as it could have been, Darla was playing with her, but pretty bad. She started to slip into shock, but Tara's a wonder with her herbs."

Everyone looked over at Tara, who blushed.

Xander checked Cordy's pulse, then opened first one eye, then the other. He got a grumbled insult from the girl for that, and smiled slightly. "As long as she calling me names, she's fine."

Natalie was watching from a distance, having just told Alex where they were and that Dylan was with them. "Who is she?"

"Cordelia Chase." Xander sighed as he got up. "Not exactly a friend I guess… But I know her from school. She's strong. She'll pull through."

"Where are her clothes?" Dylan asked, not wanting to ask the question of what *happened* to them.

"Burning in a wreck up on the point." Xander sighed, slumping into a chair across the room. "I'm not sure what to do about this now."

"Huh? Why?" Natalie looked over, puzzled.

"We've saved her… but…" Xander took a breath, shaking his head. "Damned if I know what to do… call her parents? Bring her to the hospital…"

He shook his head, "They'll call it an animal attack. That's what they've been conditioned to do… She won't get anymore help there. As for her parents…"

He sighed, "I don't know… Tara… watch her, ok?"

Tara nodded, and Xander just walked out.

"I have to tell ya, Nat, this whole town is screwy."

"Yeah," Natalie Cook nodded, speaking into her molar mic as she and Dylan conversed with Alex.

"And your boyfriend is as screwy as the rest of it." Dylan added.

Natalie scowled at her, but Dylan held up her hands. "Hey, I'm just saying… Normal is overrated anyway."

Nat snorted, shaking her head. "Yeah."

"Be careful Natalie." Alex said from her car. "He may not be the one we're looking for… but he's dangerous."

Natalie nodded, whispering. "Yeah."

Chapter 17

Natalie Cook let herself into the garage just as Xander bounced the tire off the rear end of the trans-am and rolled it to one side. He glanced up and nodded at her, "Hey."

"Hey." She replied, hugging herself slightly as she watched him work off a series of bolts with a heavy wrench. "Can't this wait until morning?"

Xander shook his head, "Naw. I wouldn't leave anyone with an untreated broken leg, I'm sure as hell not going to leave KARR limping around like he has been."

"Xander… we were doing over a hundred miles an hour. He's not limping." Natalie said, stepping up.

Xander snorted, "KARR's top speed approaching three hundred miles per with Turbo Boost engaged. He's limping."

Xander popped the last of the bolts and pulled the disc brakes and drive motor off the car, whistling to himself as he looked in.

"What?" Natalie leaned in, interested despite herself.

"Have a look." Xander said, reaching in and unclamping the power relay. He handed it over to her after drawing it out.

The small device was battered, it's seal integrity punctured in half a dozen places by chunks of shrapnel. "Damn."

"Yep." Xander nodded, hefting the tire up to a balancing device and turning it around as he held a flashlight on it. After a moment he shook his head and sighed, "This ones gone."

"What?" Natalie came over.

Xander handed her the flashlight and pointed, while she was examining the tire he vanished into a store room.

The rubber of the tire was punctured in at least a dozen places by chunks of shrapnel and Natalie shook her head. "I can't believe this thing kept going…"

"Believe it." Xander said as he appeared with two replacement tires from the back room. "Every component put in or on KARR is built to last, right buddy?"

"Affirmative." The AI rumbled.

"Who did you say built him?" Natalie looked up.

"I didn't." Xander smiled back at her. "Ask him, if you like."

She half turned to the car, then blinked. "Oh… uh right. Sorry, KARR."

The AI didn't respond and she looked over at Xander, who shrugged. She sighed, then turned back to the car. "Who… ummm… well, who built you?"

For a long moment she didn't believe the AI was going to answer, but after a moment he spoke. "I am a Knight Automated Roving Robot. Designed and built for the Foundation for Law and Government by Knight Industries."

"The foundation?" Natalie blinked, glancing back at Xander. "You work for the Foundation?"

"Nope." Xander grinned, pulling the other tire off the back of the transam and playing a flashlight over it. It didn't take long before he let out a curse and rolled it over beside the other one. "Sorry pal, this ones totaled too. Better have a couple more of these ordered."


"I know a little about the Foundation, Xander." Natalie frowned, "Obviously not as much as I thought but… I can't believe that they'd just sell you a piece of equipment like this."

"Hey, whoa…" Xander looked over his shoulder as he jammed the metal lever into the tire and stepped on the footpedal to activate the hydraulic press. As the lever swivelled around the tire, removing it from the rim, he lifted a single hand in protest. "KARR works with me of his own volition. I don't own him, he's a team mate…"

"That still doesn't explain how you came to… recruit him from the Foundation."

Xander shrugged, "The Foundation screwed up with him. They made a programming glitch, and rather then deal with it, they tried to shut KARR down. He objected. And you know what? I don't blame him."

Xander manhandled the replacement tire up onto the rim, pushing it down and then jamming the lever into place. The hydraulic machine fitted the new tire into place, and Xander balanced it before dropping it to the floor and grabbing the next one.

"So… you gonna stand there all night, or give me a hand?" He smiled crookedly over his shoulder as he shoved the lever into place and stepped on the foot pedal again.

The darkness seemed tangible as she moved through it, clinging to her with a vile feeling that she couldn't stand, yet couldn't escape.

Then there was a noise, from somewhere. Over her shoulder maybe.

"Hello?" Cordelia Chase asked fearfully, twisting in place and peering through the blackness.

"Who's there!?" She tried to sound firm, but her voice shook and sounded so weak to her that it only made the fear in her stronger.

When no answer came from the darkness, she started walking again, no destination in mind just a desire to be anywhere but where she was. The hesitant walk became a hurried pace, and she could hear the echoes of her shoes clattering on the floor under her, the sound echoing around her incessantly.

Her heart was pounding loud enough that she heard it through her veins, felt the pressure of each thump as she broke into a run.

The presence that she felt was stronger, and she knew it was right behind her, even if she couldn't see it when she turned. It was dogging her steps, herding her as she ran through the blackness, until she finally lost her balance.

It felt like her feet were suddenly tied together, she hit the ground and simply couldn't get to her feet. Everytime she tried, her feet refused to be in the right place, refused to do what she told them too.

Then the presence was upon her, and she felt hands grabbing her face and breasts and, for the first time through it all, Cordelia Chase screamed.

The piercing shriek startled everyone in the room, but none quite so badly as Tara who had been checking the bandages and poultices when it came. As Cordelia bolted upright in the couch, eyes wide with terror, Tara fell back from her and hit the ground hard.

"Oh!" She yelped in surprise as much as in pain, staring up at Cordy who was still screaming as she scrambled back against the couch and curled up.

"Hey… whoa… it's ok, girl…" Vin tried to speak to her, but she grabbed blindly around her and laid a hand on a lamp, then flung it at him. He caught the lamp on his arm, the ceramic fixture erupting into shards as he fell back and away. "Damn!"

"C… C… Cordelia…" Tara stammered from the ground, but Cordelia didn't see her as she looked down at the timid girl. She just saw the blond hair and screamed again as she scrambled out of the couch and bolted through the house blindly.

She was running through a room that looked vaguely familiar to her when she burst out into a hallway that contained a flight of stairs. Unable to think, or do anything but run, she bolted for the hallway and was just able to skid to a halt when a huge cat came bounding down the stairs and hissed at her when she screamed.

She turned around, racing back the other way, only to run into the people she'd seen earlier and change direction.

She raced through the huge house, blindly turning one way and then the other as she tried to escape the terror that was waiting inside her.

Then a pair of arms reached out and grabbed her as she ran, and her feet came off the ground, and Cordelia beat at her captor.

"Whoa! Whoa! Cordy! Hey, calm down… you're safe here. I swear to god, Cordelia… you're safe here."

She paused, knowing the voice, and stared at the person holding her as his face registered and a flood of memories swept back.

"X… Xander?"

"Yeah… it's me, Cor." Xander said, setting her down. "You're safe here."


The concept sounded impossible to her afer the last night and she shook her head, falling back.

"No.… no, I'm not. They weren't human! They.… They couldn't have been…" She shivered in terror, and was revolted by the sheer fear that was sweeping her system as she staggered back away from Xander until her back hit a wall.

Slowly, Cordelia Chase slid down the wall as she curled her bare legs under her and shivered.

Xander walked slowly over to her, "Come on, Cor… Let's get you somewhere warm."

She didn't resist when he picked her up, the protected feeling he was offering just washing over her as completely unreal. Impossible. Nothing was safe anymore.


"She's in bad shape."

Xander nodded, looking back into the room where Cordelia was once more sleeping on his couch. "Yeah. I know."

"She needs help."

"From who?" Xander shook his head, "If she tells her story… best case scenario, it's treated as hysterical delusions. Worst case? She gets locked up in the funny farm."

Natalie Cook nodded reluctantly. "Yeah… but…"

"Yeah but." Xander said bitterly, turning away. "That's the way things are. If she's lucky she'll suppress it all, and be normal by tomorrow. That's the usual reaction."

"If she's lucky?" Natalie shivered. Self delusion wasn't something she could consider with equanimity. Living in the real world, whatever that world was, was one of the cornerstones of her life. She couldn't turn her back on reality anymore then she could walk off a bridge and expect to fly.

"Yeah." Xander nodded, "If she's lucky. Because the option's left to her are to fight back, or be scared of the dark for the rest of her life. And Cordelia doesn't need either right now."

Natalie nodded, again reluctantly, but Xander just shook his head and walked away.

"Wait… where are you going?"

He shrugged, "I still have work to do on KARR."

"Hang on a second… I'll help."

He smiled back at her, nodding. "Thanks."

Natalie just shrugged, "What else am I going to do? I certainly can't sleep after this…"

Xander snorted, nodding. Then he looked around, puzzled. "Hey… where's Dylan and Jack anyway?"

There was clothing strewn all through the, already haphazard, room, culminating in a pair of boxers hanging off a bed post, a bra that somehow got jammed between the mattress and boxspring, and a pair of panties covering a lamp shade to the side.

"What was that?" Dylan looked up.

"What was what?" Jack Styles looped a hand around the small of her back as he flipped her under neath him.

She laughed, reaching a hand up to caress his face, but the puzzled look still remained. "I thought I heard screaming…"

Jack Styles grinned down at her, "Hey baby, I *know* that I heard screaming."

She shot him a dirty look, bringing one bare leg up fast and looping it around his body as she forced him back down to the bed and rolled on top. "As I recall it was a mutual effort, and unless I'm very much mistaken, I wasn't the only one screaming."

He smirked up at her, cupping her ass and pulling her closer to him. "That wasn't screaming babe… that was very dignified groans."

"Uh huh." She bent down, licking his ear.

"Uh… talking."

"Try again." She kissed him, catching his lower lip between her teeth.


Chapter 18

Cordelia Chase opened her eyes slowly, stretching slightly as she did, the first hints of sunlight waking her. For a few precious moments, she felt wonderful, like someone who had just waked from a nightmare and knew that it was finally over. Then she winced, the first hints of pain reaching her and she looked down under her blanket and suddenly it all came back to her.

Her eyes widened in a surge of fear, but it was impossible to stay that way when the sun was starting to come in the window and pour down on her face.

It was about then that it struck her that she wasn't in her own bed. In fact, she wasn't in any bed. She was on a couch. It was a comfortable couch, to be certain, maybe a little too warm for her taste, but a couch nonetheless. And it wasn't her home.

She looked around slowly, eyes roving the room as she felt a chill that had nothing to do with the temperature.

She remembered the room, from the night before and from a time before that as well.

<This is Xander's home.> She thought to herself as her eyes alighted on two figures who were propped up against each other on a leather loveseat.

One of them was Xander, looking completely worn out, dirty, and ragged. The other was a blonde she didn't recognize. They were leaning on each other, asleep in one of the most ridiculous positions she'd ever seen, but their faces looked… comfortable.

She moved slightly, wincing as the bandage wrapped around her chest moved and scraped against her breast, and groaned from the pain.


Cordy started, eyes swinging back to where Xander's eyes were open.

He disentangled himself from the blond, letting her slide down the love seat into a more or less laying down position, then turned to her.

"Morning." He said again, walking over.

Cordelia looked up at him summoning the composure she was famous for and scowled. "What happened?"

"You were attacked." He said, surprisingly gently given the scorn in her voice. He sat on the edge of the couch and laid the back of his hand against her forehead.

"Don't touch me!" She pulled away, not sure why she did. "And I *know* that I was attacked. What do I look like to you? One of those halfwits you usually hang out with."

He smirked, "nice to see that you're feeling better. Last night you were running around in your panties and screaming."

Cordy's eyes went wide, blood rushing to her face as she remembered that. "Oh God. I did, didn't I?"

Xander smiled, nodding. "Yeah. But don't worry about it. Nobody here holds it against you… Last night was some pretty heavy shit. It would have put anyone off their game… blood loss will do that to a person."

Blood loss.

Cordy's eyes slammed shut as she was assaulted by a series of images.

Mitch's neck snapping, blood covering the monsters face.

Her blouse tearing as it was ripped from her by the blond monster.

The ground digging into her back as she was thrown to the ground.

The blond's hands. Everywhere.


Pain in her breasts.

Cordelia sobbed suddenly, unable to take it, and started to curl up in the couch.

"Hey…" She heard Xander say as his arms wrapped around her. "You're safe. They can't get you or anyone in this house. If they tried, they'd all be dead before they reached the front door… I swear."

She shivered there like that, huddled in his arms, for a minute and then pushed him away. "I'm alright! Leave me alone!"

But he didn't leave.

"You will be alright." Xander promised softly. "But you aren't yet. If you were, you wouldn't remember what happened last night. Weaker people would have suppressed it already… just your luck, Cor… You're just to damned strong for your own good."

"W… what were they?" She asked, still shaking, but now as much from anger as fear. Those things had ruined her LIFE. "What was SHE??"

Xander hesitated, then sighed. "They were Vampires."

"Vam… No…" Cordelia shook her head, "No… it's not possible. Vampires don't exist. They *can't* exist… they just… can't… oh God."

"I'm sorry, Cor." Xander sighed, getting up. "I'm really sorry… Look, were your parents expecting you… I mean, I know that they don't watch you too much, but are the cops going to be looking for you?"

"No…" She whispered. "I told them I was staying at Aura's."

Xander sighed. "Good. I'm going to have a friend of mine call school and tell them that you're sick. That'll give you a day off to get yourself together…"

Cordelia looked up at him, "Mitch?"

Xander shook his head, "He's dead."

"Oh God." She shivered again, huddling up under the blanket.

Xander sighed again and turned away, activating his Fold Comm.

Natalie watched through half lidded eyes as Xander tried to comfort the girl, tried to explain the unexplainable. She could hear the pain in his voice as he spoke, and wondered what the girl meant to him There seemed to be more of an emotional attachment then she'd expect from just an acquaintance.

When he turned back around and started talking into his Comm, she closed her eyes again and just listened.

"Merlin… call the school, pretend to be one of the Chase's and inform them that Cordelia is ill."

"As you wish, Commander." Merlin replied, "I'm not certain if you've forgotten but you have an appointment of sorts…"


"The airport, Commander. General Gray and the other recruits are arriving this morning."

"Oh hell." Xander muttered, "Alright… Ah… get Giles, tell him to bring a van and meet me at the airport."

"Yes Commander."

"Ok, when's the plane due in?"

"Within the hour."

"Fine. I'm going to grab a bite, and I'll head down there. Thanks for the heads up, Merlin."

Finished, Xander turned back to Cordelia. "Are you hungry?"

She looked away from him for a moment, but then nodded.

"Alright. I'll get something to fit you… maybe from Faith's room." Xander started, but was cut off by a glare from Cordy.

"I don't want anything from that… that… *skank*." She snapped.

Xander chuckled, "Relax. I think we can find something that Faith wouldn't be caught dead in. A friend of a friend was meddling in our wardrobes a while back and there may well be something in there up to your standards."

"Right." She said sourly.

"I'll be right back." He promised, heading up the stairs.

Behind him, Cordelia looked down under her blanket and scowled sourly. "I'll be here. Where am I going to go like *this* anyway?"

Xander returned a few moments later with a few selections over his arm, including one of his shirts and a pair of Faith's jeans just in case. He handed them all to her, then directed Cordy to the closest bathroom, and then headed for the kitchen.

<Hmmm… fifty minutes…> Xander thought to himself as he flipped on the large grill that made up one part of their island stove. <Let's see what we can toss together…>

Over the next few minutes Xander dropped eggs, bacon, pancakes, and ham slices onto the grill while he waited for toast to toast.

"Hm. I never knew you were such a good housewife."

Xander half turned to see Cordelia standing there, a familiar smirk on her face even if it didn't quite reach her eyes. He smiled and shrugged, "Everyone needs to know how to cook, Cor. Grab some toast, butter is on the table. I've got some pancakes done here, and the ham is as ready as it's gonna get. Bacon and eggs will take a little longer."

"Are you trying to kill me, or just make me fat?" She scowled at him, nonetheless grabbing a plate and snagging to slices of toast.

Xander shrugged, "Just eat. Ok? Trust me, you need it today. Besides, there's so many people in this place that once food starts to cook we.. Ah, speak of the devil. Hey Mik."

The young Were rubbed her eyes as she looked around the kitchen. "Food?"

"You know it, kiddo." Xander grinned, flopping a half dozen slices of ham to a plate and putting an egg and some bacon along with it. "Here ya go."

Mikki made her way across the kitchen, only to stop and stiffen when she saw and recognized Cordelia. "Startle me!"

"Huh? What's her problem?" Cordy frowned.

"Ah, nothing." Xander said with a halfway smile. "You just scared her last night with the screaming."

"Oh." Cordy flushed again.

"Hey, I said don't worry about it. And you," Xander fixed Mikki with a stern look. "You scared her too. So sit down and eat."

"Alright." The Were said grumpily, thought that was shortly cleared up as she eyed the food with a gleam.

Xander rolled his eyes, smiling, and turned just in time to greet the next person to walk in.

"Do I smell bacon?"

Xander licked his lips slightly, wondering if he should ask why Dylan was wearing one of Jack's housecoats. He quickly decided the answer to that one was a resounding no, and pulled another plate from the stack and just grinned.

"One egg or two?"

Chapter 19

Xander dropped into the front seat of the black trans am, stuffing the last of his bacon and egg toast wrap into his mouth as he did. "Thu fe arfort."

KARR's lights dimmed for a moment, the AI actually diverting power to it's CPU before responding. "Pardon me?"

"To the airport." Xander muttered, licking his fingers clean. "Sorry bout that."

The AI didn't bother acknowledging the response as it reversed out of the garage, spun around in the drive, and roared down the long route to the road. By the time it skidded out onto the main road, it was doing one seventy five and climbing.

Xander just held on and grinned, "Stretching your legs, KARR?"

The AI didn't bother dignifying that as it roared through the relatively empty roads, quickly climbing to it's maximum cruise speed as it headed for the airport.

"Ten minutes." Xander laughed softly. "Damn, KARR… That's pretty damn good. I think that's the Gulf Stream we leased for these pickups, take us over to that hanger."

The trans-am glided up beside the hanger in question and Xander quickly hopped out and headed around to the front of the hanger, nodding as he spotted Giles waiting by a rental van. "Hey, G. Thanks for the assist last night."

Giles shrugged, smiling as he walked up, "Not a problem, Xander. Still, have you any idea when Faith will be able to move back home?"

Xander grinned, "Have that much trouble with a roommate?"

"Surprisingly not," Giles shrugged, "However I'd rather not press my luck… besides, I do have a life, Xander. There are several auctions I would like to visit, and more then one gathering of… like minded people? I would enjoy attending."

"Faith's eighteen years old. She doesn't need a babysitter." Xander grinned as the two of them walked together around the building.

Giles spared him a horrified look, "Leave Faith *alone* in my apartment? I think not."

Xander laughed, but quickly regained his composure as they walked into the hanger and saw the door of the plane popping and being lowered to the ground.

"Hola!" Xander grinned as the last of the passengers debarked, smiling genially.


"General." Xander returned in much the same tone, then smiled and shook the General's hand before looking around the group. "This is Rupert Giles, He'll be driving most of you to where you'll be staying in town. I'd advise you not to invite anyone in after dark… I believe that most of you know why?"

When everyone but the General and the young Major nodded, Xander motioned to Giles who led them off. He fell into step just behind the other two as they walked out and glanced to one side, resulting in a faltering of his step when he saw the tattoo on the back of the Major's neck.

He swallowed, a feeling of revulsion filling him as the barcode brought back images of Willow's grandfather, and the old mans tales of WW2.

"Major…" He said, his voice sticking with the revulsion he felt.

The young man paused, looking back at him. "Yes Sir?"

"That's an… interesting tattoo you have."

For a moment the Marine had the good grace to look at least discomforted by the Tat as he reached up and rubbed his skin there. "I… got drunk once, Sir."

"I see," Xander couldn't hide his feelings on the subject and scowled as he spoke. "Merlin and the General… as well as the facts behind your case all speak well for you. So I'll reserve judgment… But frankly, I have serious doubts about anyone who'd willingly have a barcode tattooed to the back of their neck, Major."

With that Xander picked up his step and continued ahead, taking deep breaths as he did.

At the car they dropped the two bags that accounted for both men's entire luggage into the trunk, stuffed on top of the cover that hid Xander's armory, then the General turned to the Major. "I need to speak to Mr Harris alone for a moment, Major. If you'd wait in the car?"

"Sir." The Major stiffened, then quickly got into the car.

After the door closed, Gray turned to Xander. "Let's take walk."

Xander nodded once, and the two walked away from the car. Once they'd gotten a fair distance, the General spoke again. "Don't talk to the major or any man you expect me to command or work with in that manner again."

Xander took a breath, nodding. "I know it was out of line. I'm sorry, Sir."

"I'm not the one you should consider apologizing to." Gray growled out, but his voice was milder. "No matter how distasteful we may consider it, it is his body and so long as he doesn't force others to do the same, it's not our business."

"I'm not entirely certain I agree on that Sir." Xander shook his head, "A tat of an anchor on his ass, I wouldn't give a damn. A god damned bar-code on his neck? It's visible Sir, and it'll be seen by people. I don't want that as the Knighthood's image… frankly Sir, I don't know how come he got away with it in the Marines."

"He had it when he enlisted." Gray said, then shrugged at Xander's quick look. "What? Like I said, I don't approve either. I looked up his record. He claimed inebriation, one time, then said he swore off booze after that. Held his word too, the man doesn't drink, smoke, or use controlled substances."

Xander sighed, nodding. "Alright… You made your point. He gets his chance. I wasn't going to do anything more about it unless he screwed up anyway, General."

"I'm sure you weren't. But remember your place… If this Knighthood of yours is going to stand as anything more then a pack of jackals, then you have to treat your people with respect." Gray said, "And if you don't, I'll walk right now. Understood?"

Xander nodded. "Understood."

"Good." Gray nodded as they turned around and headed back toward the car. "Now… I believe you promised to show me what the Knighthood was here to fight?"

"Tonight, General." Xander promised. "Tonight. I'll brief you and the Major when we get back to my home."

"Alright. Let's go." Gray said.

They got to the car and climbed in quickly, Xander noticing that both Gray and the Major were eying KARR's cockpit with interest. "KARR, say hello to General Gray."

There was a long pause, during which Xander wondered if KARR was going to let him look like a total looney tune, but finally the AI responded. "Hello, General."

Gray blinked as the car reversed, staring hard at the dash that he missed the fact that Xander's hands never touched the wheel as the car spun around and headed for the road. Behind them, the Major didn't miss any of it as he filed away the information.

"What is it?" Gray muttered, still looking at the dash.

"I am the Knight Autonomous Roving Robot. Otherwise designated, KARR." The AI replied.

Gray glanced up, his face actually going the color of his name when he noted that Xander wasn't touching the wheel as they sped along the road at insane speeds while dodging traffic. Xander just smiled back, "Welcome to Knighthood One Oh One, General. Incidently, KARR is considered a full member of my local team. While he doesn't take offense to being called an 'it', you should direct question about him *to* him."

Gray caught the almost invisible smirk on the kid's face and realized that he'd just had his little speech about respect turned around on him. He nodded, snorting a slight laugh, "Point taken."

Xander just leaned back and smiled as they whirred through SUnnydale.

"Natalie, you there?"

"Yeah." Natalie whispered a response as she ducked into an empty room. "What did you see, Alex?"

"Xander just met some people coming off a Gulf Stream… just like you said he was going to," Alex told her, then paused slightly. "I recognized one of them."

"Oh?" Nat was curious, she knew that tone. "Who was it?"

"General William Gray, United States Marine Corps." Alex replied.

Natalie Cook hissed in recognition. "Holy."

"Yeah. Big leagues. He's meeting with a disgraced General who recently held one of the highest military posts in the country." Alex said.

Natalie shook her head, "Are you thinking espionage?"

"Undoubtedly." Alex snorted, "But I still can't decide who's side Xander is on, so for who I don't know. Gray stood by Whitmore to the end… I can't see him turning on the man now… And, frankly, this whole Vampire bit adds a completely new dimension to all this. I just don't know what to make of this."

"Join the club." Natalie sighed, "I'm starting to doubt that this has anything to do with our case, Alex."

Alex sighed over the Molar mic, "You may be right. I don't know. Frankly, if it does have something to do with our case, I'm not sure that we aren't in over our heads. You saw those bullets stop in mid-air, Nat… That wasn't something I can explain."

Natalie sighed, "Yeah. Tell me about it. And the Jaguar girl either."

"I missed her." Alex reminded her.

"I didn't." Natalie said firmly. "That cute little girl turned into a BIG cat right on the table in front of me. Then that other one that Xander keeps calling Jacks and Faith changed her eye color and made like something out of a Hollywood film. We need more information, Alex. A lot of it."


Miles apart, both women smiled and spoke at the same time.


"Townsend Investigations," The man called Bosley sounded board as he answered the phone.

"Hey Boz, we need some research."

"Alex!" He grinned, "Anything for one of my girls."

"Witchcraft. Were-beings. Vampires." Alex told him. "Anything you can get on them.

"Pardon me?" Bosley blinked in surprise. "Did we just enter the twilight zone or something?"

"Could be." Alex replied. "We need you to see if any evidence exists to prove the existence of these things."

"Is this related to the Tasker case?" Bosley shook his head, trying to wrap his head around what Alex was asking for. "I mean… if you're going for the weird stuff, we could tell Charlie she was abducted by aliens…"

"Bosley! I'm being serious." Alex sighed, "Just do the search ok. Especially Vampires. We saw something last night…"

"You SAW a vampire??"

"We saw *something*. And if it was human, it needed a plastic surgeon… or a good lawyer." Alex snorted. "But whatever it was, it was ugly, had sharp teeth, and didn't mind using them on people. So look up vampires. Not just legends, I want reports of modern day encounters, any evidence people claim to have, everything. Got it?"

"Yeah… yeah. I got it." Bosley shook his head, looking skeptical. "I'm on it, Alex."

"Thanks Boz." She said, hanging up.

Bosley looked at the phone for a moment before turning over to his computer. "Oookay. Vampires they want, vampires they'll get. Let's see… Wide area network search.… include police and intelligence databases… Vampires."

He laughed, looking over his shoulder. "God I hope no one finds out I looked this up. Talk about humiliating."

Chapter 20

"This is your home?" General William Gray eyed the multi-million dollar mansion with a skeptical eye as the three men approached the front door. "Don't believe in roughing it, do you?"

Xander just shrugged, "Not when I have an option. I spend enough time in ratty hotel rooms or sleeping on the ground, General. But more to the point, I purchased this place because it's one of the few buildings large enough to house my family and team that also happens to be far enough away from Civilians in case we're attacked."

Gray just snorted skeptically as they approached the house. They'd just reached the door when a scream and a crash came from the house, followed by a snarling scream that certainly wasn't human.

"Shit!" Xander snapped, whipping the door open and rushing in, leaving the door wide behind him.

Gray and McQueen exchanged startled looks, then Gray started to follow Xander.

A hand across his chest stopped him, and he turned to see McQueen draw a side arm. "Allow me, General."

Gray nodded, and McQueen moved in first, gun held low, pointing to the floor. Immediately behind him, Gray followed. As the two of them penetrated the house, they followed the source of the sound into a large living room. One there, only his training kept McQueen from dropping the gun in surprise.

On the floor there was a blond girl, bleeding from a gash in her forehead, apparently unconscious. Xander was kneeling by her side, one hand checking her pulse as his other hand held a gun, that was pointed down at the ground.

The shocking thing was the Jaguar that was snarling in rage at a brunette girl it had pinned in a corner.

McQueen unfroze finally, his sidearm coming up to aim at the large cat.

"Mik.…" Xander said softly. "I'm here. What happened?"

The Jaguar stopped snarling and looked over it's shoulder, looking for all the world like it was ashamed at being caught doing something wrong.

"Don't give me that look, Mik. I just asked what happened." Xander said, sighing. "Tara's going to be fine. Just a knock on the head. What happened?"

"I hit her."

The soft voice came from the corner, where the brunette was still huddled and staring in shock and fear at the big cat.

"What?" Xander blinked in confusion, rising off the ground. "Jesus, Cordy… Why??"

McQueen's finger's were white on the trigger of his pistol as he tried to figure out what in the name of hell was going on.

And that was when everything he knew in the world caved in on him.

The cat shifted and changed in front of his eyes, turning into a little girl who also happened to be completely naked as she sat there on the carpet and glared at the brunette.

"No reason!" The little girl snapped. "She hit Tara, no reason!"

Others were in the room also, McQueen noted, including two women and a man.

"Uh… Xander…" Another blond spoke hesitantly.

"What is it Nat?" Xander glanced over.

The woman nodded toward's McQueen, who still had his pistol trained on the girl.

Xander glanced back and sighed. "Major… put the sidearm away. This is just a domestic disturbance… Besides, if you shoot Mikki with that, all you're gonna do is piss her off… do that and she'll probably rip your face off."

The pistol wavered for a moment as he tried to decide. Something was seriously fucked up in this place.

"Major, not that I think it's a great face or anything, but you might be attached to it. Put the gun away."

"Do it, Son." Gray said softly from behind him.

McQueen stiffened and nodded, stiffening to attention as he slid the pistol into his belt and dropped his civilian jacket over it.

Xander nodded at them both and turned back to the scene. "Cordy… What happened?"

Cordelia, however, was focused on the very nude child that was in the place of the very big cat. "W… what the hell is SHE??"

<Good Question.> General Gray thought to himself.

"Cordy!" Xander snapped, jerking her attention from the child. "Tell me what happened."

The brunette took a breath and shook slightly, sounding defensive when she spoke. "Nothing. She startled me."

"Startled you??" Xander kneeled down by the unconscious blond again, gently lifting her up and walking her over to a couch. "Jesus, Cor! It's customary to jump and scream when someone startles you! Not nail them with a… a… what the hell did you hit her with anyway?"

"A lamp." The brunette at least had the decency to sound ashamed.

Xander looked around the room to spot a heavy ceramic and brass lamp on the floor a short distance away, and his eyes widened. "Jesus Cordy! You could have killed her with that!"

He straightened from the couch, turning on the girl who was shivering again as she huddled in the corner. Xander didn't see that though, his anger blinding him. "Fuck! Tara was probably coming in to see if you needed something, Cor! She was one of the ones there helping you last night! She.…"

He paused, eyes blinking rapidly as he noted how ashamed and, frankly, bad Cordelia looked. His mind clicked almost audibly as he half turned and looked back to Tara and whispered, "She's just about Darla's height, isn't she?"

Nobody answered his whispered question, but it wasn't meant for them.

"Oh shit." Xander's hands just went limp to his side and he took a deep breath. "Mik. Go get some clothes on."

"She hurt Tara!"

"Go Mik." Xander said sternly, not looking back. "I'll be up later to talk."

As the girl walked out of the room, he glanced over his shoulder. "Mik?"

"What?" She asked sullenly.

"Good job." He said, "You did good, Mik. Real good."

She looked at him of surprise, not saying anything.

"Go on." Xander said in a lighter town, motioning her away. "I'll be up later."

The girl nodded and padded out silently.

"Now as for you." Xander turned on Cordelia.

"It was an accident!" She growled, eyes flicking to the door that the girl had left.

"I know that. Come with me." Xander snapped, his voice terse.

"You're not my boss, Harris."

"No, but this is my home, and you just *decked* one of my friends, and you ARE going to make ammends." He returned. "Now come on."

She followed him reluctantly, exuding almost the same sullen aura the younger girl had a few moments earlier. He led her to a white case that was on an end table, and handed to her.

"What's this?" She looked at it in confusion.

"A first aid kit." Xander said simply, then pointed to Tara. "You decked her, you look after her."

"B… but… I don't know how…"

"Nat?" Xander glanced over at the other blond. "Could you show her what to do?"

Natalie nodded.

"There." He turned back to Cordy. "Problem solved. And you'll even learn a useful Sunnydale skill in the process. Now go."

Still sullen, she nodded and turned away from him.

Xander sighed, shaking his head, then motioned the General and the Major to follow him. They left the room, Xander leading them out the back and into the rear of the huge home, until they finally reached a rather neat gun range that was tucked between two stands of trees.

"Well," Xander said after a while. "That's not quite the greeting I'd intended."

"What the hell just happened back there?" Gray asked as McQueen stood silently behind him.

Xander let out a breath, "Cordelia… that's the brunette… well, she had a rough night last night. She was attacked by a female… about the same general size and appearance as Tara, the blond on the couch. I guess Tara probably snuck up behind Cordy.… she's good at being quiet… real good… and she probably startled Cordy pretty badly."

"That's an understatement." Gray snorted, "What about the… cat… girl… whatever the hell that was."

"'That' was Mikki." Xander said, his voice cooling. "And I'd appreciate it if you referred to her as a HER. She's not an it, she'd a little girl who happens to be very protective of Tara."

"She was a damned cat!"

"Jaguar." Xander corrected automatically. "Mikki's a Were."

"A what!?" Gray exploded.

"A Were. A Lyncanthrope." Xander shrugged, "She's a full blooded Were-Jaguar."

Gray stared at him for a long moment, until he finally leaned against a table that was there for the range. "You mean like the Goa'uld, right? An alien that is the source of the old legends?"

McQueen stared between them both, eyes flickering in shock as he tried to understand what was going on.

"No." Xander shook his head, "I mean an honest to goodness Were. Look, There's a lot of things on this planet that stay hidden, General. The Goa'uld were just one of them… Not even impressively powerful, on an individual basis… Mikki… I found Mikki in a town over in New Mexico. Her parents were dead, she still won't talk about that, but a mob of hillbillies were in the process of beating the hell out of her when I walked in. Because she's a Were."

Xander sighed, "Look. I hunt things in this world that aren't human… things that you wouldn't believe until you see them, and even then you might have trouble. Vampires are real, it was a vamp attack that hurt Cordelia last night. Demons are real, hell most of the old monster stories have a lot of basis in reality… and most of them don't like us very much."

Gray looked like he wasn't about to blow a Gasket, so Xander continued.

"A long time ago, demons and their type ruled the planet. The Knighthood was created to fight them then, and we're rebuilding it to fight them NOW." Xander said calmly. "The Goa'uld are just one of the nasties we deal with. There are other aliens out there that are just as bad, or worse… And plenty of bad guys to deal with in our own backyard. And what's more, they all exist below the reach of the law."

Gray shook his head, "This is too much. Demons, Vampires… I'll have to accept the Were stuff I suppose… but… hell!"

"Exactly." Xander shrugged, drawing a pistol from under his jacket. He glanced up as McQueen stiffened, nodding approvingly as the other man reached for his own. "Relax."

Xander racked the slide, popping a single round into the air, and caught the bullet easily. He handed it to the General.

Gray took it and eyed the odd calibre round for a moment before speaking. "What the hell is this? Silver?"

Xander nodded, "Yep. Silver bullets. Blessed Silver actually. It's one of our few advantages over the lower level demons like Vampires and such. Last night, unfortunately, the vamps started to get smart. They're wearing body armor, and silver makes a lousy penetrator."

Xander sighed, slipping the gun back under his jacket. "Which reminds me… I've got to call our armorer and see what he thinks of this mess."

Gray stared at the bullet for a long moment, then handed it off to McQueen. "I need to think about this."

Xander nodded, "I've had some rooms prepared for you both. Tonight I'll prove what I'm saying… we'll going out and find us a couple vamps."

"Ones without body armor, I would hope." McQueen spoke up for the first time, his tone dry.

"Yeah. Hope." Xander snorted as he started to lead them back into the house.

Chapter 21

Cordelia Chase cleaned the blood away hesitantly, caught between two conflicting emotions. Three if she was brutally honest with herself.

There was the guilt. No matter what she said, or tried to act like, she didn't want to hurt or ignore Tara's pain. Hitting the blond had been reflex, something she couldn't control, and she hated that as much as anything else that had happened to her.

Then she still felt the lingering distrust that had caused the reflex. Somewhere in the flashes of memories she had from the night before, Cordelia could see Tara's face. She knew that the girl hadn't assaulted her, but somehow she still felt that she had.

And finally, what made her feel like dirt, was the tiny voice of 'Queen C' screaming inside her that she was a CHASE, she didn't do menial labor like this.

There were times when Cordelia Chase honestly hated herself.

So she dabbed away the blood as gently as she could, wincing when she saw the damage she'd inflicted on the poor girl. The angry gash was ugly on the blond's forehead, dried and drying blood around it as Cordy continued to clean it.

"Gentle." The blond, Ms Cook, Cordy belatedly realized finally.

<She's the new french teacher… is EVERYONE in Sunnydale involved in this wackiness?>

She didn't say anything outloud, just nodded and continued to follow directions.

"How is she?"

Cordy started again, looking over her shoulder to where Xander had just reappeared with the two men from earlier. She licked her lips hesitantly. "She… uh… I don't know."

"She'll be fine." Natalie said from over her shoulder, smiling reassuringly at them both. "Though I think she'll wake up with a headache…"

Xander smiled slightly, nodding. "Yeah. But Tara can handle that once she's awake. She's pretty much out medic nowadays. Good at it too."

Gray stiffened, "That… child is your medic??"

Xander sighed, "General… You wouldn't believe how many children are fighting this war of ours. In LA there's a street gang, kids aged twelve to seventeen or so… all of them fighting for their lives every single night. In New York I ran into a bunch of kids just out of highschool who were doing the same thing… One of them was on the plane with you, his name is Dade. When the war comes to you, you fight or you die."

Gray grunted something unintelligible, but didn't dispute the words. Behind him, McQueen just nodded curtly once, accepting that as a fact. Assuming the basic structure of Harris' story was true, then youth fighting the war was simply an unavoidable effect.

Xander shrugged, continuing on. "The government has some units that are dedicated to this… precious few, but the fact is that finding troops psychologically fit to handle this kind of fight isn't as easy as you'd think. Not only do they have to be strong enough to fight these horrors, they have to be types you can trust with a story that could shatter the world. Living, fighting, and dying as unsung heroes, General."

Gray frowned, thinking about that. "Everyone else on the plane knew this already…"

Xander nodded, "Most of our recruits are selected from people who, like yourself General, have had some glimpse or other into the real world. For you, it was the Goa'uld. For others, like Cordelia here, it was Vampires. People who understand what it is we're facing… and how important it is that we don't lose."

Gray nodded, just with the Goa'uld alone he'd learned that lesson. He was willing to give Harris a chance to prove the rest.

McQueen, though, spoke up. "Excuse me. I haven't had any experiences of the nature that your describing. Why recruit me?"

Xander tilted his head. "Come with me. You too General."

The two military men glanced at each other and followed Xander to where he tapped a code into a pad by a door, then they all vanished downstairs as the door clicked shut.

Cordelia and Natalie glanced at each other oddly, "Weird."

Natalie nodded. "Yeah."

"Welcome to the armory, Gentlemen." Xander smiled, passing the three levels of security that protected the munitions.

The doors slid open slowly, revealing the selection of modern, and ancient, weapons withing.

"Jesus Christ." Gray muttered, "I know for a fact that a lot of these aren't legal."

Xander nodded, "Yeah. That's true."

He reached in a plucked out one of the FN-P90's, slipping a clip from the compact weapon, clearing the breech, and then passing it back to McQueen. The ex-Marine accepted the weapon, judging its feel carefully, and then accepted the offered clip. He slid it into place and chambered the first round.

Finally he nodded, "Good weapon."

Xander nodded, "yeah. They're great… for close quarters work, and when dealing with Civilian hostages or bystanders. Accurate, light, compact…"

"Still doesn't explain why you recruited me." McQueen said flatly, though he actually did have an idea.

"We marked you for recruitment because routine tapping of certain phone lines revealed that your case was a complete fabrication." Xander replied. "When we learned that we started looking closer at you're situation. It was obvious that someone was setting you up… we even found out several of the names involved. The majority of the officers who judged you, for example, had a monetary stake in the selection of the OICWS as the new Military standard."

McQueen nodded, he'd already guessed as much to one degree or another.

"Fuck." Gray muttered. "You have proof of this?"

Xander nodded, "Tapped conversations, bank records, payoffs… there's even an open file on one of them with the FBI."

Gray cursed again, but Xander ignored him and turned directly to McQueen. "Look, I don't know if I like you personally… and it doesn't matter. You're good at your job, you have skills we need. What's more, you've proven to care more about your troops and comrades then about your career. I like THAT."

"But that's not all."

"No. That's not all." Xander said, "We want your report on the M41."

McQueen blinked. He hadn't expected that exactly. "That's all?"

"That's all." Xander replied. "Your honest report."

"I already gave that to the General. You didn't need to bring me in for that." McQueen said stiffly.

"Mr McQueen," Xander said calmly. "You are the acknowledged expert with this weapon system. I want you to tell me something, knowing that the information you give me won't result in any benefit to you aside from the fact that you could be choosing the weapon you'll be staking your life on later. So simply tell me your honest opinion of the M41 Assault Rifle. Good and bad."

McQueen hesitated, blinking for a moment, then he stiffened and began to belt out everything he knew. Bad experiences, solutions to same, potential, the results of every test, and even what had happened to kill the marine under his command.

When he was done, Xander just nodded. "Very Good, Mr McQueen."

"What are you going to do?"

Xander just smiled.

Armat Industries, Louisville Kentucky

Gordon Burke stepped into the large open space of the Armat reception area, looking around the place as he sighed reluctantly. It was too bad, the company had been a good job for him. With the bankruptcy looming, however, he was moving on to greener pastures.

He'd already jumped ships, of course. That was what he did. Aliant Techsystems had been more then grateful at his offer, especially when he told them he could bring several key pieces of proprietary technology with him.

Legally, that might be a problem, but with the company in shambles from the loss of contracts Burke wasn't overly worried about the law. By the time it got hashed out in court he and Aliant would already have the key features integrated into the OICWS and the Government would have to make the problem go away.

Burke smiled, slipping his keycard into the lock so he could access the secured areas of the building.

The red light flashed. Rejected.

<What the?> He growled, sliding the card in again. Red lighted.

"Damn it. I hate these stupid things…" Gordon growled, looking around. "Hey! Davis! Pal, come over here a minute…"

A security guard appeared, looking around for the source of his voice. "Mr Burke, Sir… Weren't you told?"

"Told what?" Burke shook his head, "Never mind. Looks, my card is screwed up."

"No sir, it's not."

"I'm telling you it IS." Burke snapped.

"I'm sorry sir… nobody is allowed in." The guard replied, "Orders from on top."

Burke blinked. "What do you mean, nobody?"

"Just that, Sir. Nobody. Not even me, Sir… not if I want to keep my job or have a chance at even part of my pension. And I've been working here for twenty five years, Sir."

"That's insane!" Burke ignored the guards comment. "I'm a senior officer at this company! I have files and…"

"Everything in there is company property, Sir." The guard replied apologetically.

"It's *stockholder* property!"

"Not anymore, Sir."

"What are you talking about!?"

"Someone bought up all the stock over the past week, Sir…" The guard frowned, "I thought you knew…"

"No I didn't know!" Burke lied. He had actually sold his own company stock three days earlier. Some sucker had offered to buy, and he'd been happy to get rid of it.

"Sorry Sir. I can't let you in. New Owners rules." The guard shrugged.

"Davis, until I receive my pink slip I still work here, and you'll let me in or *I* will fire your ass." Burke snapped.

"You can't do that, I'm afraid, Sir… There's a lock on all holdings and employees. No sales, no firings, no hiring." Davis said, sounding actually apologetic.

"This is unacceptable!" Burke blustered. "I have to get in to my office!"

"I'm sorry, Sir. But that's not possible. All personnel except security has the week off."

Just then the door to the secured are opened up and two security men emerged with two cases in their hands, and Burke tried to slip past them only to be stopped by Davis.

"You can't go in, Sir. Please… go home."

"They were in there!"

"Orders from above. Just came in." Davis said patiently. "They're shipping the prototypes out to a new test facility."

"That's bullshit! The army doesn't want the damn things."

"I don't know anything about that. I'm just following orders, Sir."

Burke growled out in frustration, finally giving up as Davis stood his ground in front of the doors.

<What the hell am I going to do now?>

Chapter 22

"Wait… I don't understand. How could you buy the company?"

"Three days ago," Xander replied to McQueen's question, "After The General brought his report to us from his first meeting with you, we initiated a quiet check into the patents and test reports of the M41, as well as the available technologies and equipment at the Armat Industries complex. Once we had the information, it was determined that the company would fill an important gap in our organization… so we initiated a simultaneous buy-out of every major, and most of the minor, stockholders."

"Simultaneous buyout?" Gray asked.

Xander nodded, "Brokers were approached by a client who sounded rather hesitant, saying that he'd heard good things about the companies product through a friend and was interested in investing… The stockholders knew the shape of the company and were, almost to a man, willing to offload their stock to the 'sucker' in question."

"Almost?" McQueen asked. "Someone didn't?"

Xander smiled, "One person actually informed us of the situation… he sounded like he was having teeth pulled when he did it, but he came clean with everything he knew about the company. We came clean in turn with him, telling him that we were organizing a buyout of the company to keep it above water. Rather then sell us his stock, a total of thirteen percent, he signed his voting rights over to us. The Knighthood, under one of my corporate identities, now controls eighty nine percent of Armat voting stock, and we're expecting to pick up most of the rest over the next couple days as minor stockholders come available."

McQueen shook his head, "Three days ago. Why this whole production about asking for my report? You'd obviously already made up your mind."

Xander nodded, "Yes. We had, but I still wanted to hear what you had to say about the weapon first. Also, I wanted to hear if you'd still back the weapon now that all chance of a kickback payment was gone… Call it an entry exam, Mr McQueen. We're fighting a war, we don't have time for people playing games for their own purposes."

Gray and McQueen nodded, accepting that, and McQueen looked at Xander. "What now?"

"Now… an overnight courier is bringing the prototype material here to Sunnydale." Xander replied, "And we'll look it over when it arrives. In the meantime, however, I need to talk to some of my people about the trouble we had here last night… and you two should consider getting some rest. Tonight we're going on a combat patrol gentlemen, you'll have to be ready for it."

After showing the General and McQueen to their rooms, Xander returned to the living room to find that Tara was starting to show some signs of waking up. Under Natalie's watching eye, Cordy had bandaged the other girl up neatly, and Tara was starting to move slightly and utter the occasional soft groan. Cordelia, for her part, was finally looking like she honestly regretted the situation. Xander was glad to see that, not because he'd ever had any doubt, but others didn't know her as well as he did.

He checked the time and finally nodded as he headed for his small den/office and dialed a number in L.A.


Xander smiled at the gruff voice. "Hey Andy."

"Kid." The irascible armorer grunted. "What crisis is it this time?"

"Andy… How could you say something like that… can't a guy just call to say hi?"

"Yeah. Right. What happened?"

Xander chuckled before becoming serious again, "Vamps wearing armored vests."

"Oh shit." Andy muttered. "How bad?"

"Could have been worse… They underestimated us… let us get away intact," Xander replied, "But they've fought us to a draw on two occasions now, Andy… and luck won't hold out forever."

"Right. I suppose you want to know if I can do something about the silver?"

Xander blinked, he hadn't thought there was anything that could be done about the silver ammo. "Can you? I mean… I didn't think that you could make silver rounds into AP…"

"Not silver slugs like you have been firing…" Andy replied, "But yeah, it can be done. We can wrap a silver slug around a steel or tungsten penetrator… The regular five point seven ammo I send you is made like that, kid… only it uses an Aluminum slug."

Xander rubbed his chin, leaning back against the chair he was in. "How long to make up some AP silver then?"

"In worthwhile numbers?" Andy sounded very unhappy. "Kid… we can't just whip things like that up the same as a Silver slug. You're talking about a very precisely machined bullet… It'll take me days to build anything resembling a decent fabricator… and even if I do that… Jesus kid, we're talking about tripling the man hours per bullet here… maybe more. The price is gonna go through the roof."

Xander groaned, Silver slugs were already a hefty chunk of his operating budget. It wasn't that he couldn't afford it, but tripling their cost would make them well and above the most expensive ammunition anywhere. "Damn. Look, there has to be a way, Andy… we're going to need those rounds."

Andy grunted unhappily, "Sure. You want to buy Fabrique National? They've got the production assets to put those rounds out by the thousands… Just some minor retooling to work with silver instead of aluminum…"

Xander hesitated, "What about if we bought another arms company. Would they have the equipment?"

Andy hemmed over the line, "Some of it… it would need some heavy retooling probably… but yeah, it could be done. Why?"

"You remember those rifle specs Merlin sent you a while ago?"

Andy paused, thinking. "Yeah. I remember… I jotted down some modification notes and sent them back to him."

"We just bought the company."

"What!?" Andy exploded. "Why the hell wasn't I told??"

"The decision had to be made fast. Armat was going to declare bankruptcy within a week." Xander said defensively. "Besides, as I recall you ok'd the rifle when we sent you the specs."

"Well sure. It's got a helluva lot of promise… I see some trouble with it, but we can iron those kinks out… but buy the company??"

"Andy, you're one to talk…" Xander laughed, "How many companies do you own now?"

"I'd have to get back to you on that one, kid." The armorer laughed gruffly. "Alright, alright. I see your point, but still… You should have let me know?"

"Yeah, I know. And I'm sorry… But it really did happen pretty fast, and I've been running like a chicken with it's head cut off the past few days." Xander sighed, "Hell… the past week. You saw that crap with the President?"

Andy growled under his breath. "Don't fuckin remind me."

"Well I went to Washington to offer him and Gray a position." Xander replied.

"Good." Andy said simply. "They take it?"

"Gray is here now. Whitmore turned me down… but kept the card." Xander replied.

"Too bad." Andy grunted. "Alright, what do you want to do about this company?"

"Armat," Xander supplied the name, "I was thinking that maybe you, me, and Terry could get together and pay the company a visit next week."

"You don't ask much do ya, kid?" Andy asked ironically, snorting.

"No more then usual." Xander grinned. "So, how about it? Feel like helping me evaluate this place and take a little inventory?"

Andy laughed softly, "Alright. But *you* get to tell Terry. I ain't gonna be the one to drag him out of his nice store to run across the country and do more work."

"Gee thanks." Xander smiled wryly. "I'll do that… In the meantime, try to figure out what we'll need to make up some AP silver rounds."

"Yeah… you got it, kid." Andy grumbled out. "I'll see you soon."

"Cya, Andy." Xander said, cutting the connection.

He let out a long breath, leaning back and shaking his head. He hoped they could get some sort of heavy production for silver ammo down. It was expensive enough because of the material involved… Hell, Xander knew that Andy was already being forced to cast the crosses before he could turn around and melt them down into bullets.

It was just becoming too damned expensive.

Xander rubbed his eyes, yawning. It had been a long night and, checking the time, Xander knew that it was going to be a long day.

<Ten AM.> He sighed, shaking his head to clear it. <Ok… First I'll try to catch a catnap, then I'll… Ah hell. Can't do that… Got something to do first…>

"Sunnydale highschool library, Wesley Wyndham Pryce speaking."

"Hey Wes."

"Mr Harris." Wesley straightened up, "What happened last night?"

"Trouble. We ran into some vamps that were organized… We pulled off a flat draw, no deaths of either side." Xander told him, "That's a pretty heavy escalation for vampires… usually we dust them easily."

"I see." Wesley frowned. "The S… Buffy was here this morning, asking about you."

"Tell her that I'm fine, but we had a late night so I called in sick."

Wes nodded, "Alright. Will you…"

"I'll be in for the scooby meeting after school."

"The *what* meeting?"

Xander laughed at him over the phone, "Ask Jonathon or Jessie to explain."

When the phone clicked dead, Wesley stared at it in consternation. "What an extraordinarily strange person."

Xander set down the phone and smiled tiredly as he got up and headed out to the living room. <Check on Tara… then get some sleep. Oh yeah.>

Tara was sitting up when he walked in, holding an ice pack to her head, and he smiled with genuine pleasure and relief. "Good to see you with your eyes open, Tare."

"T… thanks." She said, closing her eyes briefly as she groaned.

"Hurts?" Xander smiled.

She nodded slowly.

"Well, you know the basics." Xander said, "Fix it."

She winced and shook her head, "I've been trying… I can't focus."

Xander sighed, dropping to a crouch and putting his hands on her lap, face up. "Come on…"

She sighed and dropped her hands into his, palm to palm, and nodded. "Thanks."

"No worries." Xander said, "Feel for it…"

Tara did, focusing on her hands as she felt the first hints of the connection. First it was just the thump of his heartbeat passing from his hand to hears, then there was a feeling of energy that entered her palm and arm and Tara drew in a breath as the pain ebbed away. After several long moments she took her hands back and nodded.

"T… thanks."

"Like I said, no worries." Xander smiled, "Now get to work on that cut before you wind up with a scar marring that pretty forehead."

Tara blushed, but nodded as Xander got up and yawned suddenly.

"Jeez, I need to crash." he held his head, "Oh… Hey, Tara… go check on Mikki when you get a minute. She was pretty anxious about you… She even shifted on Cordy and pinned her in the corner."

"Oh!" Tara looked shocked and worried. "She shouldn't have done that…"

"Yes she damn well should have." Xander returned. He glanced over to where Cordelia was sitting, noting that the brunette was still looking vaguely ashamed of herself. "She didn't know the story, all she knew was that Cordy attacked you. You can explain why it happened, if you like, but don't tell her she was wrong. She did the right thing, Tara."

"O… ok." Tara nodded. "I'll go n… now."

"Ok…" Xander pinched his nose. "I'll go with you… Then I need some sleep. Hey Cor… If you don't mind hanging around a while longer I'll give you a lift home when I go into the school later, ok?"

Cordelia just nodded as Xander and Tara left and headed up the stairs.

Chapter 23

"Hey Mik?" Xander tapped on the door, listening intently.

"Hey." came the soft response from inside.

Xander pushed the door open and stuck his head, "Heya Mik… got someone here who wants to say hi."

He stepped aside and Tara sort of shuffled in, "Hi…"

"Tara!" Mikki's eyes beamed and she hopped off the bed and rushed across the room, only to slid to a stop before tackling the blond. She peered up at Tara, frowning. "Ok?"

"Yeah." Tara smiled, "I'm fine. You?"

"Yeah. Good." Mikki replied, still frowning. "She hurt you."

"Yeah." Tara's smiled turned a little sad, "And you protected me… thank you."

Mikki semi-shrugged, looking at the floor. "You do same."

Xander smiled, fading back and leaving the room as the two girls sat on the bed and started to talk softly. He closed the door behind him and yawned again as he turned around and smiled. "Good morning."

"Morning." Natalie smiled at him, "You look terrible."

Xander laughed softly, "Yeah. I'm not feeling much better. Long night."

"I was there."

"So you were." Xander said, walking closer to her.

She stepped back easily, tilting her head. "So… I was talking to Cordelia about you…"

"Oh boy." Xander rolled his eyes, "This can't be good."

"Well, she does seem to think that you're a psycho." Natalie grinned, "But I can overlook that one. What I do find interesting is what she said when I asked her how long she'd known you."

Xander sighed and groaned softly, leaning back against the wall. "Oh boy."

"Yeah." Natalie crossed her arms over her chest as she leaned against a banister. "So… want to tell me again how old you are?"

"I'm twenty one." Xander repeated his earlier statement, "But I was born sixteen years ago."

Natalie blinked. "Excuse me?"

Xander just smiled slightly, "It's a really long story, and a secret that I keep for good reasons… please, trust me on that, Nat. All I can say is that it has to do with my night job."

She looked at him for a long moment, her face inscrutable. Finally she sighed and shrugged, "I suppose I have to accept that, don't I?"

Xander pushed off the wall, closing the distance between them with two steps, and looked her evenly in the eyes as he brushed a few stray strands of hair back from her face. "I would really like it if you did, Natalie. I don't want to lose you before we at least given this a fair shot…"

She shivered slightly under his touch, but didn't move as she gazed back into his eyes. "Neither do I, Xander. But… we have so many secrets…"

Xander nodded, leaning back slightly. "Yeah. Yeah, we do."

The both fell into an uncomfortable silence until Xander spoke again. "I'll tell you what, Nat… I'll make you a promise…"

A hint of a smile flickered around the corner of her red lips and twinkled in the depths of her crystal blue eyes. "Oh?"

Xander returned the smile slightly, but ignored the playful flirting she had put into her voice and remained serious. "I, Xander Harris, swear not to lie to you, Natalie Cook, unless telling the truth would bring harm to someone I feel the need to protect."

She lost her smile as she looked at him intently, her eyebrow rising slightly.

"It's the best I can do, Natalie…" Xander said seriously, "For you or anyone else. Whaddya say?"

Natalie bit at her lower lip as she watched his eyes, trying to detect any sign of dishonesty in his voice. She wanted to say yes, to accept him at his word, but…

"She says YES!" came a shouted voice from around the corner, startling them.

They both turned to see Dylan sneaking a peak at them from Jack's room, a gleeful look on the redhead's face.

"Come on…" Natalie grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away. "Which one is yours?"

"That one." Xander pointed and they retreated into his room while behind them Dylan started crowing and hooting at them.

Natalie shut the door after she'd pulled him inside and leaned on door as she covered her face with both hands. "I'm so freaking embarrassed."

Xander laughed, chuckling low as he watched the blond blush, "Relax, happens to me all the time."

"Oh really?" She looked at him archly.

"Yeah. In case you hadn't noticed I live in a house with a bunch of girls." Xander smirked at her, "What I'd call eavesdropping, they call standard practice."

She scowled, straightening off the door and walking over to him to poke him in the chest with a long slender finger. "Are you implying something?"

He caught her hand and pulled, bringing her body against his as he wrapped an arm around behind her. "Yeah. I'm saying that girls can't help poking their noses into other people's business… At least when guys eavesdrop we have the common sense not to get caught."

"Oh really?" She pulled her head back, a motion that had the effect of arcing her back and thrusting her breasts against him.

"Really." Xander dropped his arm to her lower back, encouraging the arc of her back as he leaned forward over her and stole a quick kiss.

"Mmmmm…" She licked her lips. "I'm not sure I like your attitude, Mister."

He smiled, bringing one arm up further to support her back as he kept leaning her down until she was almost parallel to the floor. "A lot of people tell me that."

Her blue eyes sparkled as she looked up at him, one arm encircling his neck as she caressed the side of his face with the other. "Maybe we could work on that?"

Xander smirked slightly, then twisted as he swung her around and gently lowered her onto his bed. "Yeah… maybe we should."

"Xan… I'm not… I don't… ohhhhhh..…" She closed her eyes as his lips sucked gently along her jawline and down her neck.

He paused and slid back up, smiling, "What was that?"

"Don't be an ass." She scowled at him, pulling his head down to hers as she returned the favor.

He groaned as her lips followed his neck up to her ear, and quickly found that he was in a similar position. He smiled slightly, a thought occurring to him, "You do realize that this is one of the ultimate fantasies of all time, right?"

"What?" She looked puzzled as she pulled back, looking quizzically up at him.

"The student and the French Teacher." He grinned, dropping his head again.

Her eyes widened at the thought, then rolled back slightly as his lips found her skin again, this time at the base of her throat as he kissed his way down. "Ohh god… that's… that's not funny… oh…"

She looked down to see Xander looking back up at her as his hand slid up her side, brushing the the side of her breast lightly. She reached down, hooking his head with both hands and pulling. "Come back up here."

"But I liked it down there." he smiled just as they kissed again, then again, and again.

"Xander…" She spoke between kisses, "We… really… shouldn't… be… doing… this…"

Xander stopped, lifting himself off the bed and her as he looked down seriously. "I think we should…"

Her eyes were hesitant, the gleam of her silky white teeth biting down into her lower lip, as she looked up at him. "I… I just don't know."

Xander nodded slowly and rolled off her, collapsing onto the bed and staring at the ceiling. "I understand."

She half rolled over onto him, resting her arm on his chest and her leg across his, and smirked softly at him. "I thought you promised not to lie to me."

He chuffed softly in amusement, smiling back. "I'm not. I do understand… I just don't like it."

"I think I'd be insulted if you did." She pushed herself up until the she was laying beside him, curled up against his side.

He lifted his arm and wrapped it around her, pulling Natalie closer as she shifted and nestled her head against his shoulder, then let out a long withheld breath that he couldn't quite keep from sounding like a long suffering sigh.

She giggled into his chest and craned her head to look up at him. "Poor baby."

He smiled down at her, "How am I supposed to get to sleep now?"

Natalie smiled, "The same way I do, I guess… the hard way."

"Are you tired?"

"Yeah… but not sleepy anymore." She grinned at him.

Xander looked down at her for a moment, then shifted out from under her.

"Hey!" She complained at being jostled.

"Turn over." He told her, pulling the blankets back.


"Come on, turn over." He motioned.

She sighed and rolled her eyes at him as she rolled over to the space on the bed he'd cleared. "Ok, I'm over…"

Xander leaned over her and reached under her body, his breath on her neck as he started to undo the buttons of her blouse.

"I… uhhh.… I thought we decided…"

"Just trust me." He whispered straight into her ear, peeling the blouse from under her, and then pulling it down her back and off her arms.

Natalie stiffened as he quickly stripped the compact vest off her as well, leaving her shivering slightly from anticipation as he slid his hands down her bare back, then reached under her waist and flicked the button of her jeans off.

"Xander… I…"

"Shhh…" She heard him say from above her, his hand on her back keeping her from turning over. He peeled the tight jeans off her, flinging them off the bed so that she heard them hit a wall as she felt his weight straddle her legs and his hands knead the muscles of her back.

"Mmmmm…" She smiled into the pillow, "That's goo.… Oh!"

Her eyes snapped open in surprise as she felt his knuckle dig into her spine, her body tensing for a second, then relaxing in a rush that caused her to flop back to the bed in a limp mass as she felt the world slip away. From a distance she could feel his hands pleasantly rubbing her lower back, erasing the mild sting he'd left there, then sleep overtook her.

Xander smiled down at Natalie's limp form as he slipped under the covers beside her and pulled them over the two of them. <Too bad no one is around to do that to me.> He thought to himself as he centered his breathing and dropped off into the dreaming, the first step to getting some real rest.

Chapter 24

Xander's internal clock woke him a few hours later, and he glanced at the digital display on the end table. <Two thirty. Time to move…>

Not that he actually wanted to. Natalie was pressed against him, her breathing soft and even as she remained deep in a level of sleep that Xander envied. He disentangled himself from the blankets and her, leaving the blond with one arm draped over the side of the bed as she buried her head in the pillow without so much as a whisper or moan.

Xander headed for the large bathroom and stripped down, starting the shower presets and stepping into the lukewarm blast of water as he grabbed for the soap. Showering only took a few minutes and he grabbed a towel as he stepped out and started to dry his hair.

He got dressed quickly, choosing a somewhat lighter style then usual, in a white silk shirt and a pair of faded blue jeans. Since he was going to school, even if class was out, he didn't strap on the holsters for any of his weapons, but he did roll them up in his coat and fold it over his arm as he let himself out the door.

"Hey…" Dylan was grinning at him almost instantly.

<What the hell?? What was she doing? Sitting out here to whole time?> He blinked in shock.

"So… How's Natalie?"

"She's fine." He said, still blinking.

"Think she's up to a little girl talk?" Dylan was still grinning like the cat that ate the canary.

"I doubt it." Xander glanced at his watch almost involuntarily as he calculated how long she'd been out. "She's asleep, she'll wake up in… oh three and a half hours or so."

Dylan smirked at him, "Right. No way you're that good, Xan."

Xander frowned, "What the hell are you… Ohhh wait a sec! You think? No, now come on, Dylan…"

Dylan wasn't paying attention, she'd pushed past him and glanced into the room. Her eyes widened a little when she saw Natalie, dead to the world, in a sprawl across the bed. In fact, unless her eyes were a little off, Natalie was even drooling slightly on her pillow. <Whoa. What did he do to her??>

Xander pulled the door shut, glaring at Dylan. "She's asleep. Period. That's all. It was a long night last night, and we both needed rest. Now like I said, she'll wake up later…"

With that he turned and headed down the stares, shaking his head in annoyance.

"Jeez, what got up your butt?" Dylan smirked as she spoke, then glanced back to the closed door. <Damn. He must have really done her right out.>

Xander found Cordelia in the living room with the TV on, but she didn't look like she was watching the big screen.

"Hey… You ok?"

"I'm fine." She said dully.

Xander swallowed, nodding. "Alright… You ready to go?"

"Yeah… Like I want to be around here any longer." Cordy responded, getting up slowly.

Xander just nodded, not knowing what else to say, and motioned to the door. "Sorry for the wait, but I was up all last night working on the car… I…"

"What makes you think I care?" Cordy snapped, then shrugged. "Just take me home, alright?"

"Alright." Xander sighed to himself, recognizing the reaction.

They went out to the waiting Trans-am, sliding into the car silently. The drive to Cordy's place went pretty much the same until Xander stopped the car in the drive and looked over at her.

She didn't look at him, instead trying to doors to find them locked. "Hey! What's the big deal!?"

"Just wait a sec, Cor." Xander said softly, "I want you to know that you can come to me any time you want…"

"Oh yeah, you'd love that." She smirked at him. "Start bragging around how you got in with the Prom Queen…"

Xander just eyed her evenly, "I don't give a good goddamn about the Prom Queen."

She flinched back involuntarily.

"But I do care a lot about Cordelia Chase." He went on, "And if you ever knew me, ever *thought* you knew me, then you should know that I don't go bragging to anyone about anything. If you want to talk… I'm here."

"Fine." She said sullenly, turning away. "Can I go now?"

"Yeah." Xander unlocked the door, sighing. "Yeah you can go, just remember Cor… I'm always here."

"Right." She slammed the door and headed into her house.

Xander sighed and leaned back. "That went well."

"Would you PLEASE keep your feet off the tables!" Wesley ground in frustration as he 'accidently' knocked Jessie's legs off the table in question.

"Ow! Hey!" The teenager snapped as his feet hit the floor, hard.

"Where's Xander?" Buffy looked around. "You said he'd be here."

"He said he would." Wesley shrugged, "I'm hardly his keeper, you know."

"No, you're just mine." The bond Slayer muttered under her breath.

"What was that??"


"Of course not." Wesley sighed, "Look… Miss Summers…"

"Buffy. My name is Buffy."

"I'm not certain that I'd advertise that fact." Wesley muttered under his breath.

"What was that??"


"Of course not." Buffy mimicked the Watcher.

He sighed, "Buffy… All I know is that I was contact last night, the same as all of you I presume?"

Everyone nodded, and Wesley went on, "And was advised to stay inside for reasons that seemed rather obvious to me. Vampire's with automatic weapons and body armor is slightly out of our current capabilities."

Buffy scowled, but didn't say anything.

"That's not to say that they will remain so…" Wesley went on, "But without time to prepare we would have been killed to no useful end… As Xander had another group ready and prepared for such a foe, it was best for us to stand down."

"Yeah. Right." Buffy muttered, hunching up as she glowered at the watcher.

"Yeah. Right." came a voice from behind them, speaking without the sarcasm that the Slayer had used. "You won't save any lives with fifteen bullet holes in you, Buff."

"Xander!" Willow looked up, worried. "Are you alright? Merlin said that… How do you know Merlin anyway!?"

Xander blinked at the quickly subject change, then blinked again as he tried to figure out how Willow knew he knew Merlin. <Better yet, how does Willow know Merlin to ask me that question?> "Huh?"

"Nevermind that!" Buffy snapped, "What happened last night??"

"Darla came back." Xander sighed, taking a seat at the table, "And she brought a police or military SWAT team with her."

"Damn." Jonathon muttered, "That's gotta be nasty."

"Oh yeah." Xander nodded grimly. "Our silver bullets got stopped cold by body armor… I've got an armorer specialist working on a solution, but it's not going to be available soon enough. It's also going to be expensive."

"Hey man," Jessie grinned lopsidedly, "I've seen your house… You ain't hurting for cash."

"No, I'm not… But Silver bullets alone cost a mint. Hell, Andy has already reached the point where he has to buy silver ingots, turn them into crucifix's, have them blessed, then melt them down for bullets…" Xander shook his head, "Adding another few stages to the process is gonna make the Armor Piercing Silver cost a damned fortune… and the design won't even work for most bullets, not until Andy redesigns the molds for them anyway."

Xander sighed, shaking his head. "No… maybe in a year we'll have all the kinks out of the system… but for now, we're in a bad place. Hell, maybe in a couple weeks we'll have a solid solution in place… but it still doesn't help us here and now."

"What can we do?" Buffy asked, frowning in thought.

"Most of you can stay inside after dark." Xander looked around the table. "I know that you've been patrolling with us for a few weeks, but this isn't a fight you're ready to handle."

"Indeed." Wesley nodded, looking at Willow, Jessie, and Jonathon. "You three especially."

They nodded.

"I'm not hiding." Buffy said firmly. "I'm the Slayer. I have to be out there."

Xander took a breath, but finally nodded. "Alright. But you're with me. That means you do what I say, WHEN I say it… and you wear armor."

She scowled at him, but he just stared evenly back until she nodded. "Alright."

"Good." Xander said, then turned to Wesley. "Wes… How are you with weapons a little more modern then that revolver of yours?"

Wesley blinked, "I suppose that would depend on exactly how much more modern you mean."

Xander just smiled.

"My place," He looked at the two of them, "In an hour…"

Then Xander paused, glancing at the rest. "The weekend starts tomorrow… If you guys like you can come over too… Stay the night… have a bit of a party when we're back from Patrol."

"Hey, cool!" Jon agreed with a grin.


Willow shrugged a bit, then nodded. "O… ok."

"Cool." Xander got up, checking his watch. "I've got to get going… Buff, you going to check with Joyce about staying over?"

Buffy nodded slowly.

"Tell you're mom that my uncle Jack will be home." Xander smiled slightly. "But if she wants to drop you off, call first. I'd hate to have her see something she shouldn't."

"No kidding." Buffy scowled.

Xander sighed, "Hey… You're going to have to tell her soon. In this town, what you don't know, will get you killed. You and Dawn can't look out for her all the time."

Buffy's eyes narrowed at the mention of her little sister. "You never mentioned how it is you found out that Dawn knew about vampires."

Xander smiled, "Why, Jacks and Mikki of course."

The Slayer pursed her lips, rolling her eyes, but had little choice other then to accept that.

"Anyway, I've got to head home. I'll see you all later." Xander winked and slipped out.

Chapter 25

It was just over an hour later when Wesley Wyndham Pryce knocked on the door of the expensive mansion, and was let in by one of his young charges.

"Hey Wes."

"Hello, Jessie." Wesley nodded, stepping in and looking around. "Are the others here already?"

Jessie nodded, "Yeah, but Xander's freakin out about something."

Wesley frowned, "Oh? And what, pray tell, would cause Mr Demon Hunter to 'freak out', as you put it?"

Jessie shrugged, "Sorry man. I just got here, but he's been cursing in three languages that I know."

"You know three languages?" Wes was impressed.

"Well… I know how to curse in three languages." Jessie grinned.

"Ah. I see." Wesley nodded. He shouldn't have expected anything more. Jessie led him into the living room where the others were waiting.

In addition to Willow and Jonathon, there was also a man with a rather stiff bearing standing in one corner. Wesley nodded to the others, then looked to the man. "And who, pray tell, would you be?"

"McQueen, TC. United States Marine Corps." The man said crisply, barely looking at him.


Jessie spared Wesley a shrug and a roll of his eyes.

Just then they all jumped except McQueen as a crash and a muffled curse sounded from down the hall.

"Good lord." Wesley stared in wide eyed shock. "You weren't joking."

"Nope." Jessie grinned, "He'll calm down in a bit. Soda?"

"Yes, thank you." Wesley accepted the can of soda as he glanced over his shoulder, popping the pressure seal on the can. "I wonder what set him off?"

The question was intended as rhetorical, but McQueen half turned towards him and responded. "Something about a Hellgate being opened in Paris, Sir."

Wesley choked on the soda, spraying the drink across half the room, including the three kids. "WHAT!?"

"Ewww!" Willow jumped up, wiping her face clean of the sticky liquid.

"Hey man!"

"Aw! That's Disgusting, Wes!"

"What did you say!?" Wesley turned on McQueen, ignoring the others as he wiped his mouth clean.

McQueen eyed the reaction with interest, deciding that this Wesley person seemed to know more about the event then anyone else present. No one else understood why Harris was reacting so badly to what seemed to be an obvious code phrase. <Interesting.>

"I said that Harris is disturbed about a Hellgate being opened in downtown Paris." McQueen repeated, watching the reactions closely.

"Uh.… Wes… That's not good is it?" Jonathon ventured.

Wesley ignored him. "Impossible. Utterly impossible. It would take… No, it can't be done. There is no way… A Hellgate summoning would require an immense power reserve… No caster could survive it."

"This one did." Xander growled, coming into the room. "Hey guys. Sorry for the delay. I just got a call from a friend of mine who was on-site in Paris."

"What the hell are they talking about?" Jessie frowned, "Hellgate??"

"Exactly what it sounds like." Xander said grimly. "Someone opened a gateway to a Hell Dimension, a lot like the Hellmouth here, in a cemetery in Paris. Some Necromancer nitwit."

"He's been taken care of I hope." Wesley muttered, still shocked.

"Hardly." Xander shook his head in irritation. "*He* was the good guy."

And that was the second time Wesley choked. "Pardon!?"

Xander slumped down into a chair, shaking his head. "Don't ask. I don't understand it myself… The way I learned to fight bad guys was to *avoid* opening the gates of hell."

"I'm still not following this." A new voice entered the room as General Gray stepped in. "You mean this guy opened an *actual* gate to the *actual* hell??"

Xander shrugged, "No… Not exactly."

"Thank God." Gray muttered.

"Worse actually." Xander continued.

Gray groaned. "How?"

"Well, the actual hell has pretty decent security…" Xander shrugged, "Assuming some two bit Necromancer ever managed to gather enough power to open a gate to the REAL Hell, he'd wind up with Lucifer kicking his face in about two thirds of a second later. You don't just pop a doorway into HIS realm with impunity… even if he liked you, he'd have to kick your ass on principals."

Gray slumped down into another chair, groaning. "I don't believe this shit."

Wesley looked between them, pale and frightened. "Is Paris still there?"

Xander nodded tiredly. "Yeah. He closed it after he banished the second circle demon."

And that would be the THIRD time Wesley Wyndham Pryce choked.

"A second circle demon!?" He choked out, finally decided to set the damned cola drink down. "What the in the name of all that's holy happened in Paris??"

Xander sighed, leaning back. "A second circle ascension attempt."

"Good lord." Wesley paled even further.

"What does that mean?" Gray looked between them in confusion.

Xander sighed, "It means that some sick piece of work decided he wanted to juice up a little bit. There's a ceremony that can turn a human into a full demon, with all the power that goes with it… You just have to eat a bunch of people to survive the transformation. As a second circle demon, if he'd powered up, we'd have had to nuke Paris to take him down… maybe."

"Maybe?" Gray stared at him.

Xander shrugged, "There are less messy ways to handle it… but not many."

"So this hellgate was a good thing?"

"Like shooting yourself in the foot to get rid of a wart." Xander muttered, then sighed. "Yeah. It was a good thing… I just don't like to think of the consequences if this guy hadn't pulled it off."

Gray nodded slowly.

"I've got some more calls to make." Xander sighed, getting up. "I'll be back in a bit."


Xander just walked out, not looking back.

"Merlin," Xander activated his Fold Comm.

"Yes Commander?"

"Have Niume monitor every ley line in Europe." He ordered calmly. "If this Necromancer does anything more powerful then pulling a rabbit out of his ass, I want to know about it."

"Agreed." Merlin responded. "His signature has been recorded and added to the alert list."

"Good." Xander sighed. "Are the Eagles back in the pen yet?"

"Yes Commander… And very relieved, I can assure you."

"I'll bet." Xander shook his head. If they weren't, he wouldn't want them working for him. Being told to nuke a major city wasn't something you were supposed to look forward to. "Tell them I said good job."

"Of Course, Commander." merlin responded. "If I may ask, when do you intend to return to Avalon?"

"A couple weeks." Xander said, "Andy, Terry, and I have to go to Kentucky next week… sometime after that I'll come back and make sure that everyone is settling in."

"Very good."

Xander sighed, closing the connection as he sat down heavily in his chair and shook his head. <We need to get global response capability up and running… fast.>

"Well." Jonathon looked around the room uncomfortably. "That was educational."

Everyone looked at him for a long silent moment.

"What? What'd I say?"

Jessie smacked him across the back of the head just as the doorbell rang, "You're lucky I've got to get the door," Jes muttered, getting up, "or I'd stay here and hit you some more."

At the door Jessie found Buffy waiting on the doorstep. "Hey."

"Hey." She replied, "Everyone here?"

Jes nodded, waving to where Joyce Summers was sitting in the car. "Hey Miss Summers!"

Joyce waved back, then finally shifted into reverse and drove out of the driveway.

"So…" Buffy forced a level cheer into her voice. "What's up?"

"What?" She asked when everyone stared at her. "What'd I say?"

"Hey, Xander."

Xander looked up, sighing as he recognized Dylan. "What is it?"

"If all the excitement's over, I want to know how com Nat isn't awake yet." the redhead growled.

"Cause she'd not done sleeping I suppose." Xander muttered.

"Don't give me that. Natalie isn't this heavy a sleeper! You'd have woken the dead with the racket you were making."

Xander snorted, "Well at least you know she's not dead then."

"Real funny wise guy." Dylan reached over and grabbed him by the back of the neck. "What did you do, drug her?"

"No!" Xander shook her off, "for crying out loud, she's just tired. Damn it, Dylan… what is it with you anyway?? Sex, drugs… if you start playing an electric guitar, I swear I'm gonna toss you out on your ass."

She scowled at him, "Real funny. Besides, I play the drums."

Xander groaned, "Why does that not surprise me? Look, Natalie is fine, she'll wake up in a couple hours. I swear, alright? Where's Alex anyway? I thought that she was supposed to keep you from flying off the handle or something."

The redhead growled at Xander in response to that crack, but didn't answer.

"Oh hell." Xander sighed, "What's she investigating?"

No response.

Xander sighed, shaking his head. "Fine. I'll find out on my own."

He pushed past Dylan, heading out of the small office/den, then paused and glanced back. "You know, as dangerous as this town is, I wish you guys would at least pair up if you're planning on sticking your noses into any dark corners."

Dylan scowled at him as he left, hearing his parting comment tossed over his shoulder.

"God knows, you don't need to have them bitten off your pretty little faces."

Chapter 26


"Yes Commander?"

"You still have that NRO bird pointing at Sunnydale, right?"

"One of them." Merline replied, "The one I used last night has gone beyond range now."

"Alright… How is it at signal intercepts?"

"Adequate." Merlin returned with a faintly amused tone.

"Find Alex for me." Xander returned. "She's out sticking her nose into something… could be my business, could be someone else… either way, I want to know what."

"Very well." Merlin replied.

"Thanks." Xander grunted out as he hefted a heavy tactical bag and headed back up the stairs. "Meantime, I have to get a Watcher into the twentieth century. Should be interesting."

"Good luck, Commander." Merlin returned, then signed off.

"Heh." Xander said, smiling. "I'll probably need it."

He closed the door to the basement armory, making certain that the security lock was full on, then headed outside.

The gang was watching TV when Tara appeared in the room some time later and said something so soft no one heard it.

"Ahem…" She tried again, but no one noticed.

"X-Xander wants…" She said, then faltered as no one paid attention.

"Ten HUT!"

The entire room fell silent in a shocked moment as everyone turned to McQueen in shock. He merely turned to where Tara was practically shaking from surprise. "Miss?"

She swallowed, nodding. "Xander wants to see you all outside…"

"Why didn't you say so?" Jessie shrugged, hopping up with a grin.

She didn't respond, but merely rolled her eyes after she turned away from them, and motioned them to follow her. "T… this way."

She led them out to the firing range around back, a place that the scoobs had yet to actually see in more then just passing, and another silence fell when they saw Xander.

He was dressed in the black skinsuit Merlin had fitted for him on Avalon, FiveseveN pistols hanging under his arm, Desert Eagle cool and black on his hip. His cross and pendant were in their place hung over his shoulder and around his neck respectively, and behind him was a long table laid out with a Hollywood assortment of weapons.

"Holy…" Jonathon muttered in surprise.

Jessie just stared for a moment, "Hey Bro… you ain't going to go postal in the bell tower on us, are ya?"

Willow just swallowed and paled a bit. She'd know that Xander had guns, had even seen some of them, but this was a little bit different.

Jessie spotted something on the table, "Hey is that an MP5??"

Xander stopped him as he stepped forward, "Behind the line."

"Line? What l…?" Jessie trailed off as he saw a white dusted line on the ground about five feet from the table. "Hey, come on man!"

"Behind the line." Xander repeated. "Major."

McQueen stiffened, "Sir!"

"Are you familiar with all these weapons?"

McQueen's eyes roved over the weapons, identifying and cataloging them in an instant. After a moment he shook his head, "I've never had the pleasure of testing the P90's. I'm a qualified expert with everything else on the table."

Xander nodded, then flipped a FiveseveN from it's holster and extended it butt first. "And this?"

McQueen blinked, eyeing the unfamiliar pistol as he turned it over. "No Sir. Never seen this make."

"It's the companion piece for the P90." Xander explained, "Fabrique National shipped the first prototypes for field testing last month. I've got a standing order with them… If you intend to stay with us, then you'll have to qualify with it."

McQueen nodded, returning the pistol. "No problem, Sir."

"I didn't expect there to be one." Xander smiled, stepping back to the table. "Wesley?"

"Umm… Ah yes?" Wesley looked up, surprised.

"I know you've used that old Webley of yours, but how about more modern weapons?"

The Watcher hesitated. "I've fired rifles, shotguns, and some automatic pistols before."

Xander nodded, "Major…"


"The MP5-SD6…" Xander said, "Walk him through it."

"Sir!" McQueen nodded, stepping forward over the line as Xander stepped back and nodded to Wesley.

"Go on."

"Uh… yes… very well." Wesley nodded, moving forward.

Xander turned to the others, "Watch, listen, and learn. You guys have all been helping with patrols, but there's going to be a day soon when you'll have to decide if you want to be involved in this or not… If you do choose to stay on, you'll need to know all of this."

Jessie, Jonathon, and Willow nodded hesitantly.

"Buffy?" Xander said softly, approaching her.

"Huh? What?"

"That goes for you too." He said softly to her. "If you choose to keep fighting… You'll need to know this… and a lot more."

"I don't have a choice." She said, just a hint of bitterness entering her voice.

"You don't have a choice about being the Slayer… That's true." Xander nodded, "But that doesn't mean you have to fight for the rest of your life. I'm giving you a choice. Screw fate, your destiny is in your hands…"

She swallowed, looking at him uncertainly.

Finally he just nudged her, nodding to the table. "Think about it. But listen and learn for now. Those SWAT vamps are still out there."

She nodded, chewing on her lower lip as she turned back to where the Marine Major was snapping out instructions to an increasingly agitated Watcher.

One by one, Major McQueen processed the group, bringing them to the table and showing them how to load, cock, aim, fire, swap clips, and repeat. It was just a brief familiarization with the MP5, which he then repeated with a 9mm Glock and a twelve gage Mossberg. Xander stood back and watched until everyone had passed through the process, excepting General Gray, then nodded to McQueen when he was finished.

The Major nodded and stepped back across the line as Xander stepped up the table and plucked up one of the P90's sitting on the table.

"This is a Fabrique Nationale P90." He announced, holding the weapon cocked in one arm as he held up the stick clip in his other hand. "It holds fifty rounds in one of these clips. Unlike the MP5 and most conventional weapons, the clip slides into a top mounted receiver like so…"

He dropped the clip into place, turning the weapon so everyone could see it. "Advantages of this system include an overall smaller profile and greater capacity clip then you get in standard weapons of this type. Disadvantages in standard models include a very nasty tendency to make one hell of a mess if you drop or jar a half loaded clip. This one has been modified by an expert armorer, so that bug has been corrected… if you ever have to use a stock model though, keep that in mind."

That comment was directed more the McQueen then the others, but everyone nodded as they watched Xander chamber a round and aim downrange. He fired a single shot, the report echoing off the trees on either side of the range, and they all looked down to see a hole in the 'heart' of a paper target about fifty feet down.

"Set to single shot, the P90 functions just like any other weapon on semi-auto…" Xander said, flipping a switch. "One pull of the trigger, one shot. When set to full auto, however, we get something a little different."

He aimed again quickly, and fired off another single round that opened up a matching hole in the 'heart' of the target, then straightened and half turned back. "A light squeeze of the trigger still gives you one shot, just in case you need to aim… pull it back all the way and…"

He aimed again, and let loose with the rest of the clip, dropping forty eight rounds into the target until the paper, and the wooden backing, were literally blowing away in the light breeze. As everyone's ears were still ringing, Xander pulled the clip, stripped the gun down, and set it on the table. "You get a full auto burn at nine hundred rounds per minute."

As most of the others were rubbing their ears, Xander picked up the empty weapon, checked the breech, and held it up so they could see the underside of the compact gun. "The top loading magazine adds another feature that some people find very nice… Jon, this means you."

Jonathon looked up, confused. "Huh?"

"Empty cartridges are ejected straight down, not to the side…" Xander explained, smiling at Jon. "So left handed users don't wind up with hot brass flying in their face."

Jonathon winced, touching a light burn on his forehead from where he'd gotten too close to the MP5. "Oh."

"Oh." Xander grinned at the other guy, then set the weapon back down and picked up a round for it.

"This is the 5.7mm bullet, used in the P90 and the FiveseveN pistols I prefer…" Xander said, tossing it to McQueen.

As the Marine examined the bullet, Xander went on. "As the Major has probably already noticed, the P90 doesn't use the same kind of bullets you see in most pistols and submachine guns. FN needed a round with enough power to penetrate armor at reasonable distances, so they had to come up with something new… Rather then overpower, or otherwise modify a pistol round, they took a *rifle* round and downsized it a bit."

The bullet was being passed around as Xander continued to explain, "The standard bullet is a steel penetrator with a slug of cast aluminum wrapped around it's base. This means that most of the weight of the bullet is to the *back* of the round after being fired… Not an issue in free flight as the round is well balanced and has a spin on it from the rifling of the barrel… Even less of an issue when it encounters armor, because frankly it blows through most armor before the weight in the back comes into play… and if it doesn't then the bullet is stopped anyway."

Everyone was frowning by that point not really knowing what Xander was talking about or why.

"However, when this round goes into a soft target… like a human body," Xander paused to see their attention come back, "That weight difference comes into play. The lighter point of the penetrator slows down faster then the heavier aluminum slug, which means that the bullet starts to roll after about a two inch penetration… As it rolls, it loses it's aerodynamic advantage and starts dumping a LOT of energy into the target."

There were some confused faces among the scoobs, but Xander saw McQueen nod in understanding, and even Wesley's eyes widened slightly.

"And that, my friends, is what kills people." Xander finished. "Now, I bet you're wondering why I'm telling you all this right?"

Some nodded.

"Because this is something you have to know before you even THINK about trying to sign on with me," Xander looked straight at Jessie. "These weapons kill people. The P90 is about as safe a gun as you can get… it won't shoot through a vampire and kill someone behind him… It's even designed to lose killing power over a relatively short distance, meaning that you aren't likely to ricochet a shot off something and accidentally kill some poor old lady two miles away like some of the old horror stories about certain rifles."

He looked them all over, "But it's only as good as the person who aims it… So think about that while you can. Because patrolling isn't a game… and if you keep doing it, one day you're going to be carrying one of these… and the lives of civilians will be in your hands.

Chapter 27

"Now you're teaching kids to shoot??"

Xander sighed, shaking his head as he walked through the house with Dylan following him. "What is it with you? I thought you were the wild one?"

"Hey, wild is one thing… Criminal is another." She muttered, chasing him up the stairs.

"Dylan," Xander paused, turning back to look down at her. "Those 'kids' have been vampire hunting for almost four months. Jessie found out about them almost a year ago now, and has been carrying a cross and stake in fear ever since. Buffy, she's the Slayer. That means she could probably kick your ass with her eyes closed, and Vamps really *really* don't like her. They have to decide for themselves… I'm just offering them the information they need to make a choice."

"Right." Dylan said skeptically as Xander turned around and headed up the stairs again.

Xander shrugged as she followed behind him, "Could you walk away?"

That stopped her. "What?"

"From being an Angel." Xander said, looking back again. "Could you tell Charles Townsend to go to hell? To find someone else."

"How did you…?"

"I investigated you guys quite thoroughly, Dylan." Xander replied, "That's how I stay alive and keep my friends that way too. If I'd decided that you would be a threat to either, I'd have taken you out of the equation months ago."

"You'd have killed us." She replied as they reached the stairs, simply clarifying what he was saying.

Xander nodded. "Yep. If I thought that you would do anything to harm my friends or my team, I'd have left nothing but a smoking ruin of your HQ. What would have done.… what would you do, if you thought I was going to hurt or kill Natalie?"

"I'm still working on that." She snarled at him.

Xander laughed, nodding. "I'm sure you are."

She growled at him again, moving forward as he walked into his room, only to be blocked when he turned and closed the door. "Hey!"

"Sorry," He grinned back at her, "This is me and Natalie's time. Feel free to drop by later."

Then the door clicked shut.

Dylan let out a growling scream of frustration, turned around, and kicked the door once in annoyance before stalking off.

"Hmmpf?" Natalie Cook lifted her head slightly when the thump penetrated her pleasantly drifting thoughts, at least until a pair of warm hands on her back began kneading her muscles back to a state of relaxation.

"Hey… how's it going sleepy head?" A softly humorous voice penetrated, and she smiled as she recognized it.

"Real good, Xan…" She said, her voice still a little slurred by sleep. "Specially now…"

Xander laughed quietly, his hands still working her muscles over with gentle motions as he sat on the edge of the bed. "I'm glad. My trainer will be equally pleased that I managed to put some of her less… violent lessons to use."

Natalie groaned slightly, turning over bed as she hugged the blankets up over her breasts. "What time is it?"

"Almost seven o'clock." Xander replied as he saw her eyes widen as she took in his state of dress. "The sun will be going down soon, and we have to find the rest of the vamp SWAT team…"

"You look like something out of a bad movie." She risked a slight smile as she sat up, one arm holding the blanket to her.

Xander laughed softly, and nodded. "I've always believed in being forearmed, if nothing else."

"I'll say." She finished blinking the sleep out of her eyes and stretched as much as she could. Xander watched the muscles of her arms and shoulders ripple slightly with the motion as she moved and forced his heart to maintain a steady beat, though with some difficulty. She didn't notice as her eyes grew puzzled, and she looked at him with a touch of confusion. "I slept all day??"

"Pretty much." Xander smiled, "You needed it, I'd say."

"I never sleep all day…" She frowned, "I… remember we were…"

Xander smiled as she blushed slightly, then chuckled. "Yeah. We were… too bad we didn't."

She swatted him with her free hand, but smiled through the blush. "You gave me a massage…"

Xander nodded. "Yeah… and a touch of acupressure to make your body relax… Without all the tension in your system, you slept until you needed to wake up."

"And you were right here when it happened…" She eyed him skeptically.

"Actually, I was right here when Dylan tried to kick down the door." Xander grinned, "But I did figure you'd be waking up soon."


Xander shrugged, getting up. "A lot of things. Maybe I'll show you sometime."

She pursed her lips in annoyance as he grinned and winked at her. "Real funny."

"You think that's bad?" Xander walked over to the bathroom, leaving the door open, and started some water running. "Wait t'ill Dylan gets on your case about what we did in here all day."

"Oh god!" Natalie paled. "You didn't…?"

"What? Tell her we went at it like rabbits in heat?" Xander rolled his eyes as he splashed water on his face. "Of course not."

"Thank god."

"But I don't think she believed me when I said all we did was sleep." Xander shrugged, "And that girl has a dirty mind."

Natalie giggled nervously. "Tell me about it."

While Xander was washing up a bit, Natalie cast about the room and located her clothes. It took some mild acrobatics to get to them with the blanket wrapped around her, but she managed it, and was buttoning her blouse up when Xander reappeared.

The hitch in his breath was enough to attract her attention, and she looked up to see him standing there as if thunderstruck.

And he was. Natalie cook was sitting on the edge of his bed, her long legs bare with just the hint of her panties visible underneath. The fact that said panties had little red hearts all over them just made the scene even more unearthly for him, as the silk blouse hung loosely down and hid all but a few tantalizing patches of skin from his eyes.

Natalie beamed suddenly at his struck look and stood up, coming even with Xander's height as she approached him with an exaggerated sway to her hips. "Like what you see?"

"Oh yeah." He whispered as he watched her approach.

She looped her arms around his neck and leaned in for a kiss, "Good."

Xander reciprocated eagerly, wrapping his arms around her back and pulling her closer.

"Hey.. Ow…" She frowned, pulling away, rubbing her chest. "That hurt… what…"

Her voice trailed off as she saw the glowing blue pendant that had hung there the night before. She'd wondered about it then too, but hadn't asked because there had been so many other things to think about. Now she reached out and took the blue crystal in her hand, "What's this?"

Xander looked down at it and smiled slightly in memory, "It's an Atlantean life stone. It was a gift."

"It's beautiful." She said softly.

"Yeah…" Xander smiled, "But it's definitely second place in *this* room."

"I'm being serious." She grinned, smacking him lightly on the shoulder.

"So am I." Xander grinned easily, the he sobered slightly as he looked down at the pendant. "There's not a lot left of Atlantis… It was a beautiful city…"

She laughed slightly, thinking he was kidding. "Yeah. Sure. You're talking like you've been there."

Xander nodded, "Yeah. I am, aren't I?"

Something in his voice caused her to pause and frown, "Xander… You… you're not serious…"

"I rarely am." Xander smiled suddenly, then leaned in and gave her another quick kiss. "Hey, I've got to go get ready… Buffy's coming on tonight's patrol, and I have to fit her out for some armor."

"Uh… um.. Sure."

Xander headed out of the room, leaving a bewildered Natalie behind him.

"Where are they!?"

"Calm down. Mike's tough. He'll be fine… and Darla… well she's Darla."

"They should have been back here hours ago."

Biggs nodded, "Yeah. So what? Maybe they got caught in someone's house after having a little R&R. They'll be here after sunset."

"And if they don't?"

"Look, Burke, relax." Biggs snapped. "We sit tight until nightfall and give them a chance to make contact… don't buy any trouble until we have to."

Burke nodded reluctantly before going back to his irritated pacing.

Biggs watched him move, noting that his agitation was wearing off on the others as well. <Where the fuck are you, Cap?>

"This is stupid!" Buffy complained.

"Yeah yeah.…" Xander muttered, grabbing a cinch from behind her as he place a hand on her stomach to brace himself. "Suck it in…"

"Suck *WHAT* in!?" She snapped her head around at him, "Just what are you implying mist.… UHFFF!"

Xander cut her off with a vicious yank on the cinch, then locked it off. "Tried to warn ya."

The blond Slayer spun around at him, gasping a little bit. "You don't think this is a bit much??"

Xander grinned, "Nope."

He pulled his black suit down a bit, showing her an almost healed pucker on his shoulder. "This happened last night when my armor slipped down a touch. I got sloppy, I got shot. I heal pretty quick nowadays, almost as quick as you in fact… But it still stung like a bitch."

"Yeah. Right." She scowled, feeling the armor that was wrapped around her body with one hand. "This is really uncomfortable."

Xander nodded, "Yeah. That's why I had the armor a little looser last night… Wasn't expecting trouble, got a kick in the teeth for the assumption."

He shrugged philosophically, "Ah well. Anyway, I have a gift for you."

The blond Slayer's face lit up, "Gift? I like gifts…"

Xander chuckled, "I expected you would."

He walked across the basement to the armory wall, and punched in the access code. As the wall slid open to reveal the guns inside, Buffy grew uncomfortable. "Xander… I'm not really 'in' with the whole gun thing."

"Good." He snorted, pulling out a cloth covered item. "Cause I'm not giving you one. Maybe when you're eighteen and have a fully certified safety course. In the meantime, try this."

Buffy frowned at him, but accepted the item he offered and pulled the cloth off it. Her eyes lit up when she saw the black compound crossbow underneath, noting the double stacked bows and feeling the molded abs plastic grip under the weapon.

"Cool." She beamed, forgetting about the uncomfortable pressure of the armor she was wearing.

Chapter 28

"C'mon Biggs. The fuckin sun has been down for two hours. Where are they?"

"I don't KNOW, Burke!" Harold Biggs finally snapped. "How the hell am I supposed to know??"

Burke growled and fell back from the agitated and angry vampire, looking sullen as he did.

Biggs tried to calm himself, but it wasn't easy. "Alright… We have to scout around. I want a weapons and armor check from everyone. If your kevlar's been damaged, draw a new suit and fresh plates… These guys play or keeps, no sense in giving them any advantage."

"Weapons?" Burke asked instantly, his demeanor suddenly relaxing into his normal pre-mission attitude.

"Assault weapons. The Colts, UMP's…" Biggs hesitated, then turned to another man. "Ray, get your Parker Hale too. You and Jayce take the roof of that club… We'll start there."

"Right." The two men nodded, moving to get their equipment.

"Everyone take two CS grenades as well as frags and flash bangs." Biggs snapped, "We're not trolling for jailbait tonight people. We find out what happened to Darla and Michael first, if we can't do that we'll grab a few humans on the way home… No time to be picky. Take whatever's available."

The men nodded and immediately grabbed for their weapons, field stripping each of the ones they were planning on taking and going over them thoroughly.

"Alright, at best we've got *seven* heavily armed and trained SWAT vampires out there tonight." Xander said, looking over the assembled patrol group. "At worst, Darla and the other one may also have survived and rejoined the team, making them that much more dangerous."

"Do you have any contacts in the town that could help?" Natalie asked quietly.

Xander hesitated, "A couple… The problem is finding them. If these guys are near as professional as they seem, I think that Angel is the only one who might have any reliable information."

Wesley snorted softly.

Xander ignored him, "But the problem is that Angel and I didn't exactly hit it off when we… met. We work alright together, but that arms length relationship means that I'm not sure where to find him at the moment."

The three Angel, Alex having returned to the mansion some time earlier frowned at that, but nodded in understanding.

"Since these vamps have SWAT training, we're going to have change our thinking." Xander said, looking over the group. "Snipers are a serious threat now, probably even more so then the mid and short range artillery these guys are packing. That's what the long coats are for, those of you who aren't likely to show up on their 'radar' need to cover your armor so you aren't ID'd. In my case, I'm sure that some of them, at least, are going to know me… So I'll be playing bait."

"Hey now, wait a second!" Buffy straightened up, "You can't just.…"

"Buffy, we don't have a choice." Xander said calmly. "I'll be driving KARR, so I'll be as safe as it gets anyway. I'll give you a chance to get into position, then I'll do a circuit of the Bronze… If no one takes the bait, we'll move on to the school and try there."

"And if someone does take the bait and you get your head blown off?" Buffy grumbled.

"In that case, I'd hope that you get the son of a bitch." Xander said dryly.

Several of the assembled people chuckled nervously in response, and Xander went on, "Now these guys are vamps, so that makes them damned hard to track… In fact, very few of our technical advantage will allow us to track a vampire anywhere… Lucky for us, they're also a SWAT trained team, and will likely be using radio as they did last night. Once they do that, they're signing away their biggest advantage and trying to match us on out level… That's a suckers bet, so between KARR and Merlin monitoring NRO intercepts, we should be able to triangulate and isolate the team relatively quickly. Major?,"

McQueen looked up, "Sir?"

"You're with Mr Tanner. How's your long range shot?"

"I've passed through Sniper School." McQueen said noncommitally.

"Alright," Xander nodded. "We've got an M40-A3 in the armory, I believe you'll be familiar with it?"

McQueen nodded, his face puzzled. "Sir… The *Corps* hasn't been issued that weapon yet. It just passed final testing a couple months ago."

"I know." Xander smirked, "That's why I picked one up. It's outfitted with an electronic night vision scope… third gen optics, with an infrared overlay… You and Vin will take up positions on these buildings…"

Xander tapped a map of the town in two places, "These are the best vantage points around the Bronze. I know, I've fired a few rounds from there myself… Faith, you spot for Vin… Buffy, I want you to go with McQueen. Make sure nothing *eats* him."

Jacks nodded quickly in response to the fake name she'd been given, and was relieved when noone acted like it as strange to be calling her 'Faith'. She and Xander had gone over it with the 'scoobs' earlier, but she'd wondered if they'd get it right.

Buffy also nodded, though she didn't look overly happy about it.

"General, if you'd like, the passenger seat of KARR is open." Xander smiled at Gray, "But I have to warn you, we will be the central attraction of the evening."

Gray eyed him for a moment, then nodded.

"Alright. Major, if you've got a likely target, eyeball it through the thermal. Human's run hot in the lens, vamps do not." Xander looked up, then after receiving a nod of understanding, he moved on. "If you get a shot, take it, but don't look away even if you think you nailed the bastard. Hit him again. And again. And again. Head, legs, arms, throat. Against a vampire, you'll only get a kill shot if you can put a silver round right in it's heart, and that's not likely against armored vests. So don't take a chance."

The Major nodded, but Xander moved on to the others. "Same goes for all of you. If you get one, you put him down and KEEP him there. Then call for backup from one of the experienced hunters. Vin, Faith, Buffy, Jack, Myself. Is that understood?"

Everyone nodded, except for a whispered 'huah' from McQueen.

"Alright, grab your weapons, do last minute checks… and let's get ready to move out."

"Looks Clear, El Tee." Burke whispered as he slipped back. "No one in the alley."

Biggs nodded, "Alright, Ray… Jayce… Move out first. The rest of us will take up positions in four minutes… mark."

The two black clad vampires nodded, vanishing up the ladder and into the empty alley with a fluid grace that came with practice. Once they were gone, Biggs looked around to the others and nodded. Instantly and silently they faded into the darkness as they made their way to where they had to be.

Soon only Biggs and Burke were left, waiting for the clock to run down.

Neither of them noticed that while they were the last of their team in the area, they weren't alone.

Xander and General Gray were sitting in KARR as they watched the taillights of the other vehicles vanish down the road.

"We'll give them ten minutes to get into position." Xander said, leaning back. "KARR… start monitoring for radio signals… and put me through to Giles."


Gray eyed the car with professional interest but listened as Xander spoke.

"Hey, G. Is Faith alright?"

"She's fine, Xander. Is it started?"

"Yeah. Tara's with the girls, so if you and Faith can provide them a little guardian angel or two, I'd be grateful."

"I believe that can be arranged." The dry british voice sounded amused. "Though, I have to warn you, the way Faith has been today, they may be in more danger from her then any vampires."

Xander chuckled softly. "Tell her to calm down, the Angels'll be gone soon enough."

"I'm not so sure, Merlin informed me earlier that Miss Munday was snooping around the hotel we put the others in." Giles sighed, "Should she follow me home and see Faith…"

Xander nodded, "Well… I guess we'll just have to make sure that they don't."

"Right." Giles said, "Well, we'd better move out. They'll be in the area soon…"

"Good luck, Merlin will have their locations for you."

"And to you, Xander." Giles replied.

After he'd signed off, Xander noticed Gray looking at him. "What?"

"Why are you playing games with those three?" Gray asked bluntly.

Xander shrugged, "It's a bit of a long story, but suffice to say they're looking for one of my people… A young girl who has had the misfortune of being identified as such. Now if she goes home to her parents…"

"The CIA will pick her up." Gray finished.

Xander snorted, "I wish. I trust Jack Ryan… He wouldn't do anything to hurt a fifteen year old girl. No, I'm more worried about a few black bag groups like the NID."

Gray growled.

"Heard of them, huh?"

"Unfortunately." Gray muttered, "They don't recruit the most upstanding of people. President Whitmore was holding tight reins on their budget so he could keep an eye on them, but the last I heard Kealty was giving them a freer rein."

Xander nodded, "Yeah. Well, they have Faith's parents under surveillance around the clock. For her to even talk to them we have to run electronic interference you wouldn't believe. I'm going to have to do something about that, and soon… but I'm really not sure what."

"So these women work for who? The NID?"

Xander laughed, "No. They're actually pretty innocent. They were hired by Faith's godfather to look for her… he doesn't know the danger she'd be in if she were found, and wouldn't believe it if he were told."


Xander laughed, "Oh yeah."

"So what are you going to do about them?" Gray asked gruffly.

Xander shrugged, "Keep playing 'keep away' until they get bored. I don't think they have anything solid on me… They're just playing a hunch."

"And if they don't get bored?"

Xander sighed and leaned forward to take the wheel and start the car moving. "Have to decide that when we come to it… We'll either have to find Faith another place to live for a while, or take the chance of telling them everything."

Gray nodded and sat back, not envying the young girl's position.

"You ready to play 'target'?" Xander smiled as he pressed down on the gas and the vehicle accelerated down the road.

"Tell me again how well armored this thing is?"

"El Tee, this is Jayce. We're in position. Over."

"Alright, let's go." Biggs nodded to Burke, then followed him up the ladder.

"That's it." Xander said, "All points, we have a confirmed transmission from downtown. The General and I are going start our first pass in two minutes."

Chapter 29

"Come on, we have to…" Buffy trailed off as she looked down and saw that the man following her wasn't following her. He was beside her already, despite her sprinting up the fire escape a few moments earlier. "Hurry…?"

McQueen just nodded as he unslung the carry bag he had over his shoulder and moved swiftly across the roof. "Which one is the 'Bronze'?"

Buffy pointed silently to the club and McQueen quickly unzipped the black carry bag and laid it flat on the roof as he kneeled down and unpacked the rifle. It only took a few moments for it to be ready, so he flipped down the bipod built into the Sniper rifle and laid it down against the edge of the roof as he turned his attention to the road.

Standing above him, Buffy looked around as well, trying to spot anything out of place.

"Get down."

"What?" She frowned, looking down at the man.

"Get down." McQueen repeated, not looking at her. "The enemy has sniping capability, don't give them a target. Get down."

"Oh. Yeah." Buffy dropped into a crouch. "Sorry. Vamps with guns is new to me."

McQueen just grunted a response as he hand loaded the 7.62mm NATO rounds into a clip, then slid it into the rifle's receiver. "Which way will Harris come from?"

Buffy glanced around, getting her bearings, then pointed. "That way."

McQueen nodded, pupils dilating slightly as he focused on the road and waited.

It didn't take long.

"Contact." He said softly. "Here he comes."

Jacks stretched slightly, groaning as she worked out some of the tension she felt, her white hair flowing in the wind. "Oh God it feels good to get out of that body."

Vin smiled wryly up at her, casually doing one last check of his rifle as he slid the magazine of 30-06 rounds into his rifle. "Oh I don't know… I thought you looked rather fetching, Snowbird."

She scowled at him, "Don't you start that Vin Tanner, I've had a perfectly miserable end to this week, and I'll not have you making it worse."

Vin just continued to smirk at her until she shook her head and sighed, grumbling something under her breath about American cowboys. "Let's just do this job."

"You've got it… black bird." Vin grinned as she shot him another scowl at him. He ignored it as he slid up to the edge of the roof and looked out over the streets of Sunnydale, wondering where the enemy was hiding. "Pass me the Night Vision Binocs, will ya darlin?"

She rolled her eyes, but reached back and pulled the heavy binoculars to the front and handed them to him. He placed the starlight system to his eyes and swept the roofs and streets below and around him. "Don't see nothing, darlin…"

"That doesn't mean that they aren't there, Mr Tanner." Jacks replied archly, looking out through her enhanced senses. Unfortunately she wasn't quite as good at extending her natural abilities as Xander had become, which irritated the half Fey to no end.

<It would not be so had you actually begun training when we first met.> Kaina smirked at her mentally.

Jacks scowled further. The last thing she wanted to deal with was both Kaina AND Vin snarking at her. She closed her eyes, reaching out with her Fey senses, trying to find the enemy that way, only to wince and curse. "Damn it."

"What is it, Darlin?" Vin asked, his voice thick with concern.

Jacks shook her head, annoyed. "Nothing. Nothing. It's just this damned Hellmouth. I can't find anything in this morass… it's like trying to see through your thick skull."

Vin snorted slightly in amusement and went back to his own search without any further comment.

"Alright. We're in the hot zone, General." Xander said calmly as they came within sight of the Bronze.

General Gray looked as calm as Xander, an air of almost uninterested casualness about him as he watched the road. "So, this is the mouth of hell is it? Looks like any teenage hangout across the country."

"What's your point?" Xander asked, smirking. "But, no, point in fact, this isn't the mouth of hell. That honor is reserved for the local highschool."


"That's where the hellmouth is located," Xander laughed softly. "No shit. Every kid thinks that their school is hell on earth, I just happened to be right."

Gray groaned slightly at the bad joke and rubbed his face. "You're kidding right? From what you said people knew that this place was bad news when they built here… I can understand people not believing in hell… but still, who'd build a SCHOOL on the place??"

Xander snorted, this time not in amusement. "A man who wanted an easily accessible snack source for him and his minions."


"It's like this…" Xander started to explain as he tooled the black car through the Sunnydale night.

"Shit. El Tee, Jayce here. Got a positive on that Trans-am."

Biggs slid to a stop, melting back into the shadows of the building he was closest to, then grabbed Burke by the vest and yanked him back to. "Copy. Driver?"

"It's him. He's got a partner in the rig with him… looks familiar, El Tee.… but I can't place 'em. You want me to take the shot?"

Biggs hesitated, eyes scanning the road. "Negative. Do not take the shot. Copy."

"I copy." Came the reluctant voice back.

"Good. Track, but do not engage without orders. We'll deal with him later… The Captain and Darla are the priorities now."

"Copy that. Jayce out."

"No shots…" Gray grunted as they slid passed the club and began pulling away.

"Yeah…" Xander said, looking down at the information KARR was collating. "But we triggered a ton of chatter."

A quick decryption and transcript of the chatter rolled along KARR's screen and Xander's eyes narrowed. "Fuck. I really don't like these guys."

"What?" Gray leaned forward, reading the information. After he finished he grunted and slid back, "Good people."

"Yeah. Just what I *don't* like to see on the other side." Xander growled out. "Alright… KARR, how tight did you get their locations to?"

The AI was silent, but a schematic of the town appeared on the screen, zooming in until the zone around the Bronze was highlighted. A moment later two circles appeared, overlapping each other slightly to indicate the possible points of transmission.

"Shit." Xander sighed.

"What's wrong?"

"The short transmissions are keeping us from getting a pinpoint fix." Xander sighed. "We've got one that's maybe on the move… and the other…"

Xander frowned, "Him we might have."

"How long are we gonna wait here?"

McQueen didn't answer the young girl, he didn't even seem to notice her.

Buffy scowled at the older man, rolling her eyes. She didn't especially like being ignored, let alone by some stranger that she was supposed to be protecting. "Hey… where'd you get that tattoo anyway?"

McQueen didn't respond.

"I'm talking to y…"

"Shh." He silenced her, reaching up to touch his ear piece.

She fell silent as Xander's voice came over her radio too.

"Possible sniper in place on the roof of the Bronze. Radio intercept indicates a shooter in that general area… McQueen, see what you can spot."

McQueen slid the rifle over slightly until he had his chin and cheek up against the padded butt, one eye just against the scope while the other continued to scan the rooftops. Thermal gave him nothing but background heat from the poor insulation of the night club, so he switched over to starlight light amplification and scanned over the rooftop carefully.

After a moment he shook his head, tapping his transmit button. "Negative. No target on… Wait. Hold one."

He swept the scope back over the roof and paused, frowning.

"What is it? What do you see?" Buffy asked, leaning forward as she tried to see what was on the roof of the Bronze.

McQueen flipped back to thermal for a moment, then brought it back to starlight. "Confirmed. Single… possibly dual target located. Your man has an urban gillie suit."

"No surprise. Is it a vamp?"

McQueen hesitated uncharacteristically. He'd never seen a vampire before, and wasn't actually convinced they were real. There was no heat save the background temperature, though in honestly he had noted that where the sniper was located was actually a little *cooler* then the rooftop. After a moment he hit the transmit button again. "Fits the data you gave."

"Take him."

McQueen nodded to himself, pulling the rifle tight to his cheek, then glanced back. "Lay down."

"What?" Buffy looked at him like he was crazy. "This is a tar roof. Do you have any idea what this will do to my jeans?"

"Lay down." He repeated, sliding the rifle carry bag over to her. "When I fire, there will be a muzzle flash. They may see it. Get *down*."

"Alright, alright." She muttered, getting down onto the canvas carry bag.

When she was all the way down, McQueen turned his focus back to the target. He drew in a breath as he centered on the point where he could just make out a slight lump in the distant target, then let it half out as he felt the world narrow around him. In that moment there were just two things in the entire world as far as TC McQueen was concerned. There was his rifle, and there was the target.

Not until that moment did his finger gently caress the trigger.

"Stop moving like that, man." Ray Towers growled under his breath as his spotter moved and fidgeted beside him.

"Somethin's not right man." Jayne Carenn muttered, looking over his shoulder. "Somethin's not right."

"Like what???" Ray asked, aggravated to distraction.

"I don't *know*." Jayne said earnestly, still fidgeting. "I can just feel something man… the hair ont he back of my neck is…"

Suddenly there was a whine like a hornet buzzing past and a wet slap that galvanized Towers into action as his spotter suddenly screamed out in pain and rolled away.

The flash was a brief flicker, arriving in the corner of his eye even as the slap beside him made Ray look away, but he spun anyway and brought the powerful scope to his eyes as he aimed the rifle toward the flicker. He didn't use night vision, he didn't need it anymore, so his sight was clear as he snapped off a fast shot and rolled to the right just as another flicker lit up the distant roof and another whining shot ricocheted off the roof in the position he had been in.

He rolled to a lip on the roof and hung down behind it, rifle tight to his chest as he thumbed his transmit button.

Chapter 30

"Oh!" Buffy yelped, dropping her head to the roof as the bullet whined off the brick and mortar ridge around the roof, sending shards of both into her and McQueen's face.

McQueen didn't budge, he just worked the bolt and chambered his second shot as he watched the motion reveal his hidden foe, then fired again.

"Shit." He muttered without much emotion, working the bolt again, even as he watched his target roll out of sight. He sighed inwardly, not showing it on the outside, and triggered his transmit button. "I lost my shot."

"Gotcha." Vin drawled into his own radio as he peered through the scope at the roof of the bronze, experience allowing him to see a little more then anyone else might have. "I've got a clear shot."

The Immortal sniper felt the world around him slow a bit as he focused on the target, allowing the invisible connection that existed between sniper and target to form, until he felt the target as though it was connected to the end of his rifle.

The rifle bucking against his shoulder came almost as a surprise.

Ray screamed in pain, twisting from his cover as a wizzing hornet slapped into his leg and seemed to rip the limb clean off. He didn't know what had hit him, but the force of it was unthinkable, just as the loud clap and sudden stench of burning flesh was utterly beyond his experience.

The vampiric sniper howled in pain, his rifle clattering to the ground as another whining shot slapped into his back and threw him forward.

McQueen rode the recoil, working the bolt as he watched the target snap around from another strike to his shoulder. He sighted quickly, riding the buck of the rifle again as he sent another 7.62mm killer on it's way.

Ray twisted in the air as he tried to evade the fire, failing miserably as shot after shot struck him from different angles. A hammering blow to the small of his back had been stopped by the armor, but still had enough force to throw him forward after his ill advised movement. Then an impossibly hard and grinding strike to his shoulder spun him around, even as another ripped into the back of his leg and yanked the proverbial carpet out from under him.

Through it all he could hear the distant thunder rolling in, counting down the shots as they whistled in with an unerring accuracy.

Far away, beyond the rolling thunder, Ray could hear his spotter screaming and wondered if he too was caught in the same unending hell.

"We're caught in a crossfire!! Two snipers minimum, with high ground advantage!!" Jayce was screaming, his voice clouded with pain as he felt the burning torture embedded somewhere in his lung. The shot had entered his torso high, through the neck, and burrowed down.

Jayce knew that he was lucky to be alive, an inch to one side and the silver slug would have ended his existence, vest or no vest.

All he knew for sure, beyond that, was that he was in a shooting gallery. For some reason, Ray was catching the worst of it, and Jayce figured that he was probably hidden from at least one of the unknown snipers, but it was luck that couldn't last.

"Roger that, Jayce!!" Biggs voice snapped over the radio, "Evac! Pull out! Get the fuck out of there!"

Jayce nodded, almost desperately, to himself and then made his move.

The burst of movement took McQueen by surprise, coming from a target he *knew* on a visceral level was dead. Intellectually he would curse himself later for making that mistake, but it did him no good here and now.

The second target on the roof burst from where it had been playing possum, moving faster then McQueen had ever seen, and that was saying something, and even paused to snag the back of his compatriots armor as he bolted for the edge of the room.

<Idiot.> McQueen had time to think as he slid another 7.62mm round into the breech, <The fire escape is on the other wall.>

He was about to fire but stopped in shock as the figure shoved his compatriot over the side, then jumped after him.

<What the fuck!?>

Almost numbly, McQueen hit the transmit button. "Lost my shot. Targets… jumped off the building. North wall."

KARR had just executed a perfect U-turn, coming back around to point it's nose back to the night club, when McQueen's announcement sounded over the tac-radio.

"Shit." Xander said softly, pressing harder down on the gas.

As the acceleration pushed them back into their seats, Gray looked over. "What? That's a three story building… They've got to be dead."

"Vamps can survive a lot worse, General." Xander replied, dodging traffic. "Ground team, converge on the Bronze, North side… Proceed with caution."

After he said that, Xander patted the console by his seat. "Alright buddy, full scan… every frequency, active as you can get. Maybe we'll get lucky and pick them up on your RADAR."

When Gray stared at him oddly, Xander shrugged. "They're carrying guns, clips, and various other metallic bits. It's our best chance of detecting a vamp… They don't show up on infrared, ultrasonic won't detect them unless they're sloppy…"

Xander just trailed off and shrugged.

"I see," Gray lied through his teeth holding tight to the door as KARR skidded around the Bronze, entering the alley that led to the north side, barely missing a beat as the wheels kept on spinning.

"T… that's us." Tara shivered.

The Angels nodded, and Natalie stepped on the gas, propelling the BMW out of their parking place and into the street as they looped around the other side of the large club, moving to create a pincer between themselves and Xander.

"I don't like this." Dylan shook her head. "This is all wrong."

"You weren't there last night, Dylan." Alex said over her shoulder. "You didn't see what that… thing did to that girl. I don't know about this vampire business, but I know bad guys when I see it."

Dylan nodded, hands tightening around the MP-5 that she'd borrowed from Xander's armory for the occasion. "It still feels wrong."

"I…" Tara hesitated, "I h-hope it never feels right."

That caused Dylan to fall silent and nod despite her misgivings, focusing on spotting any trouble before it ambushed them.

Biggs winced as the two thudded to the ground, hitting hard and not moving, just as he ran around the corner. "Burke, grab Ray."

As he and burke ran forward, Biggs hit his transmit button, "We're pulling out with wounded! Evac point Delta!"

Then he reached down and yanked Jayce up bodily, not taking any precautions against jarring the wounded vampire, and slung him over his shoulder. Balancing the load casually he unslung his H&K UMP/45 and held it in one hand as he glanced over. "Burke?"

"Good to go." The other vampire had Ray over his shoulder and was holding his Colt M4 in a similarly casual fashion.

"Let's go." Biggs snapped, starting to move just as the light fell across them. "Run!!"

They bolted across the alley, forced to run away fromt heir Evac point, even as Biggs tapped his transmit button. "Evac at point Beta! Point Beta!"

Then he half turned and unleashed a burst from his UMP, sending a fusillade of .45ACP rounds into the oncoming car.

"Jesus!" Gray muttered as the spray of bullets glanced off the hood and windshield, jumping in his seat. To his chagrin, Xander hadn't even flinched.

"This is incredible." Xander muttered, half in shock as they chassed down to running figures.


"They're actually evacuating their wounded." Xander muttered. "Vampires don't do that."

Gray looked over at him, "What??"

"Nothing… nothing." Xander shook his head, "I'll explain later, if I can figure it out myself. KARR… let's get these guys."

As KARR obligingly accelerated, Xander hit the power windows, then shoved his FiveseveN out and started firing.

"There they are!" Alex yelled, pointing ahead as Natalie hit the brakes and the three Angels moved to cover the running figures.

Caught in the cross lights of two cars, and being fired at from one of them, the two Vampires turned together and bolted down a side alley without hesitation.

"Damn!" Natalie hit the steering wheel, already moving to jump out. "Come on! That alley is too narrow for a car!"

The three of them and Tara jumped clear of the car, running down to meet Xander as he came running up with the General in tow.

"They went that way." Alex said unnecessarily.

Xander nodded, moving ahead of them as they started down the alley. "Careful guys… these vamps are too damned good at this."

"Move! Move! Move!" Eric Hamm urged his group on, "The El Tee needs us at Beta point! Move!"

The three man, or vamp, team raced through the sewers on the last leg of their run and finally came to the sewer entrance they needed.

"Alright, Ben, Tim… move it." He urged, motioning them up the ladder to the surface.

Biggs grunted as his clip emptied, and turned back to run straight as he heard Burke take up the slack with his Colt. He hit the eject button with his thumb, letting the spent mag lie where it landed and balanced Jayce on his shoulder as he grabbed for a spare.

"They're following, El Tee."

"I know it, Burke." Biggs grunted. "Trust me, I know it. Pop you're smokers, Burke…"

He heard Burke's smoke grenades start hissing as he dropped the UMP on it's sling and grabbed a CS grenade from his webbing. He yanked the pin and tossed it behind him, then did the same with another.

In moments the alley behind them was filled with smoke and tear gas as the two vampires ran on.

"I think they're still coming." Burke grunted out, spraying a few shots behind them.

"Just keep moving." Biggs grunted out the order, then took his own advice. Ahead of him he saw his destination and smiled, "We're almost there, Burke… Just a little more!"

And then, with a snarl of gunfire, all hell erupted in the narrow alley.

Chapter 31

The rolling smoke from the two smokers passed over them quickly as Xander led the group down the alley, and was followed close behind by the stinging tear gas. Xander stepped back, motioning through the smoke to the others to stop.

"Tara? If you would…" Xander said, not looking back.

Tara nodded, look up at the rolling mists, her eyes glazing over slightly. The Angels and General Gray fell away from her as a charge entered the air around them, tangibly changing the atmosphere as the young blond reached out her hands in front of her and uttered a spell.

"Airus Firmus *MOBILIZE*!" She cried out, no sign of her usual stutter, and a chill entered the air around them.

Abruptly a pressure wave passed over the whole group, staggering everyone except Tara and Xander, as it swept through the alley and pushed the gas on ahead of it while sucing clean air from behind.

Xander picked up his pace, following on the heels of the retreating smoke and gas, P90 sweeping the alley as he moved. He was about halfway through the alley when he caught sight of motion in the cloud, and felt the first hits from the black suit's nerve tinglers.

<Laser sights.> He had time to think as he twisted away from the sensation, just as the alley erupted into gunfire.

Behind him, the others had time to wonder just what caused Xander's sudden and inexplicable display of acrobatics just before the roar and whine of gunfire and bullets erupted in the alley. Gray slid to one side, pulling Tara with him as he flattened against the wall.

"Down!" He snapped, dropping to one knee as his M4 rose up to target the flashes that were flickering through the wall of smoke that was rolling on.

Tara did as she was told, falling into place behind him as she worked to regain her breath and energy from the spell. Summoning the air elements was one of her strengths, but it was draining even so, and she wished there was more time to breath.

Across from them, the Angels had taken cover behind the debris that littered the alley, their own borrowed weapons firing short bursts as they found targets in the thinning smoke.

"Xander!" Natalie surged up as she realized that the majority of fire was being directed at him, but Dylan yanked her back down.

"He's taking care of himself!" Dylan snapped, "Stay down!"

Natalie gritted her teeth, but nodded, silently returning fire as one of the unseen enemy noted their position and fired a few rounds to keep the Angel's heads down.

Xander hit the ground rolling, keeping his senses at maximum while still leaving a channel open for the suit's nerve tinglers to warn him. Three rounds to his vest served notice that not all of the vampires were using laser targetting, but the White Elephant Armor took them with ease, the impacts not even distracting him from returning fire.

His P90 chattered as the first flicker of muzzle flash centered in the red crosshairs of the compact submachine weapon's night optics, sending a half dozen 5.7mm tumblers out into the alley. Xander didn't know if he'd hit anything, but didn't have time to confirm either, so he kicked off the ground and rolled forward into the dispersing mist and kept firing.

Burke threw Jayce roughly ahead of him, not bothering with the care he would have taken just two months earlier. It was hard to understand, but he knew that being a vampire made his world very black and white. He didn't have to worry about injuries anymore. Either he was alive, or he wasn't. Period. The same held true for his team. Jayce wasn't dust, and wasn't going to be dusted by a simple fall, so damn the gentleness.

Relieved of the burden he spun around, still moving backward to the open manhole, and opened fire with his Colt.

The 5.56NATO rounds stuttered from the compact assault weapon, tunneling through the cloud of smoke and gas that had somehow swept back over them. Burke didn't know if he was hitting anything, and didn't give a damn either. Right now it was a total bug out, and all he had to do was keep the enemies heads *down*.

"Burke!" Biggs shouted from beside him, "Move it! I've got you covered!"

"On it, El Tee!" Burke snapped, checking over his shoulder as he dropped back. Jayce and Ray were no where in sight, so he presumed they'd both dropped into the sewer. That was good enough for him, he could hear the cover fire coming from the buildings around him and stepped back into the open hole.

As Burke dropped from sight, Biggs pulled a fragmentation grenade from his webbing and yanked the pin with his teeth, his hand being busy firing the H&K UMP behind him. He tossed the grenade, then dropped through the hole into the sewers himself.

"We're clear! Bug out! Bug out!" He ordered over his radio even as he landed in the tunnel. One quick shared look with Burke, and they both slung their injured comrades and bolted down the tunnels.

"Grenade!" Xander shouted out, dropping his weapon in a flash and shucking his long coat. The lethal egg was sailing through the air, coming down for a bounce just ahead of him as Xander swept it up in his coat and flung both back down the alley.

He dove for the ground, even as everyone behind him did the same, hitting the ground hard as he covered his head with his arms and prayed for the best.

There was a muffled crump from up the alley, and then everything fell silent.

Xander lifted his head slowly, looking around. "Everyone check in!"

"I… I'm fine." Tara said first, rising shakily to her feet.

"Same here." Gray muttered darkly, eyes still roving the narrow alley.

"We're good." Alex said for herself and the other two Angels, rising to her feet slowly.

Xander nodded, "Alright. On your toes then… they could still be around."

<Unlikely.> Elan whispered, <This was a planned escape. They've succeeded… They're gone.>

He nodded, accepting that. <Yeah. Yeah. I don't like this Elan. This is too goddamned much. Vamps aren't supposed to be this smart.>

<Vampires are as smart as their human host.> Elan shrugged mentally. <What is unusual here isn't their intelligence… It's their loyalty to one another.>

"Yeah." Xander whispered grimly as he retrieved his P90 and began to advance slowly down the alley. <That too.>

He proceeded slowly, eyes roving the alley and the buildings that defined it, looking for any hint of trouble, but saw nothing as he continued forward. He arrived to where his coat had landed and shook his head, "Damn."

"What is it?" Gray asked, appearing at his side, M4 sweeping the alley.

Xander lifted his coat by the collar and sighed. "That frag ruined my favorite coat."

Gray eyed him incredulously, but didn't say anything as he shook his head and turned away.

Xander himself sighed, looking toward the open manhole for a moment, before backing down the alley. Following these vamps into a tunnel wasn't a mistake he was going to make.

"That's three for three." He said to the night. "Three contacts, three draws. How much do you want to bet that the next time won't be draw number four?"

No one answered his soft challenge, but Xander didn't really expect an answer. He knew, deep down, that the next time they encountered the vampiric SWAT team would decide the matter. Both sides were going to have to pull out all the stops now, neither side could afford not too.

Xander Harris had some calls to make.

Burke leaned against the side of the sewer tunnel as he watched his team appear from the darkness. "Everyone accounted for?"

"Everyone 'cept Michael." One of them said softly. "We couldn't find any evidence of him."

Biggs nodded grimly, "We won't be doing that again. That guy tracked us somehow… set up snipers to catch us in crossfire… He's too damned dangerous."

"What are we going to do?" Burke asked.

"We get more intel." Biggs decided finally. "No choice there… And I'm not risking any member of this team on the job."

"Who then?"

Biggs sighed, "Come on. Let's go get someone for the job."

"Alright, everyone, let's move out of here." Xander said, not moving in any rush as he tossed the ruined coat and his P90 into the back of KARR. "General, you and I will pick up Buffy and McQueen and go see about finding a *normal* vampire or two… Angels, could you take Tara home?"

"Sure." Alex nodded, "But are you certain you don't want us to help?"

Xander shrugged, "If you want to see a normal vamp, sure… but I don't expect we'll see these guys again tonight. That was a planned escape. They're going to lick their wounds and get ready for the next time."

Gray frowned, "At least two of them are badly injured… How fast can they recover?"

"By tomorrow night, unless the Major got lucky with a spinal shot… That might hold one of them up for a few weeks… maybe longer, depending." Xander sighed.

"Frankly, Harris, I'm still having a hard time buying this bullshit." Gray said, then sighed as his expression softened. "But I have to admit that you've shown me a hell of a lot in the past twelve hours."

The General turned to look at Tara, eyeing her carefully. "What are you, if you don't mind my asking?"

"A… w… witch." She flushed a little, shrugging. "N… not very p-powerful or anything…"

Gray looked over his shoulder, remembering the pressure wave and the sudden dispersal of the smoke and gas. "And what would you call powerful??"

Xander shrugged, fielding the question. "A powerful witch probably could have ripped that team limb from limb… or something equally nasty, if they'd had half a mind. Though the Tiger here is stronger then she let's on… it's just that her talents aren't really geared toward combat."

Gray snorted, sliding into KARR. "I can thnk of a couple dozen SWAT teams that would love to have her on an entry."

"So you failed."

Biggs shivered, but stood his ground. "No Sir. We have contacted the enemy on two occasions. Once they were forced to break contact, and once we were. With no casualties on our team, I might add."

"And none on *theirs* either." The Master hissed, turning away from them to look at the group of minions he had in the cavern with him. "I don't tolerate failure."

Biggs could literally *feel* the powerful will of the elder vampire running rampant through the room, overwhelming him. His limbs were frozen in place by that power as he tried to wrest control of them back. "Sir, we need better intel. We went into this with insufficient information about the target and his resources. I recommend…"

"Recommend!?" The Master spun on him, eyes blazing with anger. "You will recommend NOTHING to me! You *failed*."

The Master paused for a moment, an eerie preternatural calm entering him as he lifted a hand. "And failure cannot be tolerated."

Three vampires stepped forward, dressed in old fashioned plate armor, at the Master's beckoning. "Master?"

"Kill them." The Master shrugged, as if bored.

"Yes, Master." The three nodded, then moved forward toward the team.

Biggs stiffened, moving back as he brought his weapon up, but his movements were slow and languid as he fought against the incredible will of the creature before him. His UMP stuttered out a short burst, perforating the armor of the closest vampire to little effect as it grabbed his gun and ripped it from his hands. The demonic visage snarled, a short sword appearing in it's hand as if by magic, and Biggs lashed out with a kick in response.

The kick was weak, and barely managed to get a response from the vampire in question who pulled back his hand to strike.

A single shot roared through the cavern, and the vampire paused in place, a look of shock on it's visage. Then he slowly disintegrated into dust.

The other two paused in shock, and everyone turned to look at the source of the shot.

There, at the mouth of a tunnel, stood a beaten and badly injured Michael Tunning, his backup pistol in his hand with smoke curling from the barrel. He could barely stand, let along support the comatose body of Darla, and yet he somehow managed it as he glared at the Master.

"You do NOT have the power of life and death over *my* men."

Chapter 32

"Vampires in general are about four times tougher then their human hosts," Xander said, glancing over to make sure that his audience was listening.

Gray, McQueen, and the Angels were walking along with him as they followed discreetly behind Buffy as the Slayer moved through the graveyard with practiced innocence.

"Four times faster, four times stronger… You get the idea," Xander continued. "They look human, until they get pissed, hungry, or horny. Basically, anything that gets under their skin has a pretty good chance of bringing out the beast, so to speak."

"Sounds like any other guy on the planet." Dylan smirked.

The Angels chuckled amongst themselves and even Xander and Gray allowed themselves a slight grin. McQueen did not.

"Well, unlike most guys, lawyers exempted," Xander smirked, "These things are bloodsuckers. Literally. That's what they eat, and they crave it like a junkie craves his next fix… But beyond that, they don't have any sense of human morality… or any morality at all for the most part. Vampires enjoy pain, preferably someone else's… though some of them aren't too picky about themselves either. A Vamp is literally a demon hiding out in a human body…"

Xander was interrupted as a start of motion and sound came from ahead of them. The group looked up, and McQueen and the Angels immediately moved forward to help Buffy as she fought a figure that had jumped from the shadows. Xander stopped them with extended arms. "Relax. Just one vamp. Buffy can take four or more in a fair fight and still be fresh in the morning."

Natalie winced as the Vamp grabbed Buffy and spun around, slamming her into a headstone. The Slayer toppled over it, but hooked the vamp under the chin with her foot as she did, then planted her hands on the ground and did an easy back flip as she returned to her feet.

"Damn." Dylan muttered, eyes widening as Buffy grabbed the vamp in question and returned the favor, throwing him through a crypt door like it was made of tissue paper.

"How strong is she?" McQueen asked, almost tonelessly.

Xander shrugged, "I've never seen an upper limit. At a guess I'd have to say that she could probably register around ten times human strength at times… But her speed has exceeded that on occasion."

Gray let out a low, rumbling growl. "She's lucky that no one knows about her… the NID would love to lay their hands on someone that strong. They'd have her laid out on an operating room table in a flash."

Xander nodded, "We know. Luckily it's not likely that the NID would ever realize what they were looking at, even if they did see her."

"Why's that??" Gray asked, puzzled.

"That's a long story…" Xander frowned, "And one better told at another time… hmmm… looks like Buffy's getting tired of this fight."

The vampire came flying out of the crypt as he spoke, and Buffy rushed out with a Stake in hand. She caught the vamp on the ground and finished it off easily. After that she smiled as she got up, "Now that I really needed. Some nice, simple slayage… with no guns."

Xander smiled slightly, nodding. "Nice form. Why don't you try the daggers next?"

Buffy shrugged and nodded, "Sure."

She drew a pair of gleaming daggers from under her leather jacket and moved on ahead again.

"She does this every night?" Gray asked, frowning.

"More or less." Xander shrugged, "She patrols more then she has to… We have several local teams that handle Sunnydale, and Buffy is largely still in training."

"She doesn't fight like she needs training." Alex observed, thinking about the lightning fast motions she'd witnessed.

Xander nodded, "For a Slayer you could call it… refreshing. You put any weapon in Buffy's hand, and she'll qualify as an expert by the second lesson… Same holds for most martial disciplines. It's part of the Slayer package."

"Most martial disciplines?" McQueen asked laconically.

"Yeah. She would take pretty much the same amount of time as anyone else to Master Kung Fu, for example. The physical forms she'd learn in days… but the mental discipline and body control require control that she'd have to learn like any human." Xander replied. "I started training her in Ju Jitsu a couple weeks ago though, and she'd probably qualify for a black belt in it now… She surpassed me in proficiency on the second day."

"Impressive." McQueen said, voice still even as he eyed the Slayer with interest.

"What's this… Package you referred to?" Gray asked after a moment.

"Mystical enhancement." Xander replied curtly, frowning. "Basically a mild form of possession."

"Like Vampires." Alex said from behind them.

Xander shrugged slightly, "In a way. The Slayer spirit doesn't kill its host, and near as anyone can tell, it doesn't take over completely either. It does imbue certain skills and talents, mostly centered around fighting… in addition to the physical enhancements. Another reason why the NID wouldn't get anything out of her, by the way."

"Huh?" Gray blinked.

"The Enhancements aren't based in her body. Her DNA is purely human, her genetics are unchanged." Xander replied, "There's nothing measurable in her except a residual energy spike on her EKG, and even that's within human norms if you don't know what you're looking for. So going after her would be a waste of their time."

"Doesn't mean they wouldn't try it." Gray replied grumpily.

"Tell me about it." Xander sighed, thinking about Faith. He shook his head, glancing back at the group. "That enough? Believe in vampires yet?"

They didn't look happy about it, but they all nodded reluctantly.

"Alright." Xander nodded, stepping forward a bit more. "Hey Buff!"

"Yeah?" She came back slowly, "What is it?"

"Good patrol, but we're done now. You need a lift home?"

"Yeah… Thanks, Xander." She nodded.

"No problem." Xander smiled at her, then sighed inwardly when it wasn't returned.

"Impudence." The Master growled, turning his attention to where Michael as leaning heavily against the cave wall. "What makes you think I'll let you get away with this?"

Michael heaved as he leaned against the wall, not because he was out of breath, but because he was pulling a silver bullet from his bloody chest with his bare hands. After he had dropped the bullet to the ground he looked back at the Master, his backup revolver shaking in his hands as he fought to hold it steady.

"You want this son of a bitch dead, that's fine with me." Michael replied. "We'll kill him. But this is MY team, and you don't order their deaths. Not you, not anyone."

"Big words from a pitiful excuse for a *vampire* that is currently spilling his own blood all over my cave." The Master hissed, a low growl rumbling from him as he looked to where Darla was crumpled on the ground. "What happened to her?"

"What do you think?" Michael asked, seeing a way to turn the conversation. "He happened."

"Insufferable excuse for a mortal. I'll have his heart in my fist." The Master snapped, "Bring her to me!"

The two remaining armored Vampires moved instantly to obey, but faltered as they found themselves facing Michael's pistol.

"She's with me." Michael responded tersely.

"Don't be a cretin, Fool." The Master growled. "Darla is one of my chosen. She is worth a hundred of you. I wish to see how badly he harmed her."

Michael stared back at him defiantly for a moment, until the Master returned his glare and he felt a lethargy fall over him. In a moment his hand fell to his side, the revolver falling nervlessly from his grip, and he stood there, unable to move, as the two armored vampires picked Darla up and brought her limp form to the Master.

The Master snorted, "What? You thought you could threaten me in my own lair? Pitiful weakling. You're mind is as simple for me to dominate as any lowly mortal would be."

After that, the Master ignored Michael and his men as he looked down at Darla. Her throat was all but ripped out by a chunk of silver that must still have been imbedded in her flesh, and he could see other wounds that had not yet healed, and the Master silently cursed the mystical metal as he bared his talons and prepared to dig each and every piece out of his favorite Childe.

"Well, we're home." Xander announced as the purr of the engine whispered to a stop. Behind him he felt Natalie move until her hand was resting on his shoulder.

"Hey…" She said softly. "You kept them from killing anyone."

"Yeah, but they got away again." Xander shook his head, then let out a long breath and forced the thought away. "I have work to do. Nat, if you and your friends want to stay, we've got rooms galore. Feel free."

Then Xander popped the door and slid out of the car, heading for the door to the main house.

"There goes a young man who needs to delegate." Gray observed quietly.

"I think that's what he brought us here for." McQueen replied dryly.

Gray nodded slowly, "Yeah. I suppose that's right."

He popped the passenger door and slid out, "I guess I'd better find out what other work he has to do."

"Alright Merlin." Xander said as he settled into his desk. "I'm back. Light it up."

The Plasma screen on the wall flashed to life, displaying a view of Paris from an overhead Satellite.

"This is current." Merlin replied as Xander heard a motion behind him.

Xander half turned, then nodded as Gray stepped in. "Welcome, General. We're just observing the after effects of the days activities in Paris."

"Will something happen?"

Xander nodded, "Show him, Merlin."

The picture changed, showing a storm front building around the city. "The energy discharged into the atmosphere has already created an expanding high pressure zone with Paris at it's epicenter. That's resulted in remarkably clear skies over the city tonight."

"Doesn't sound so bad." Gray shrugged.

"Keep listening." Xander said dryly.

The picture changed again, this time much closer. "This is the result of Captain Master's low altitude recon photos." Merlin said calmly, this time showing a hot spot on the center of the photo.

"What's that?" Gray muttered, frowning.

"That is the center of the HellGate spell. It's energy is collapsing on itself, and will shortly cause the high pressure zone to do the same. When this happens, Paris will be struck by a record rainfall, severe thunder and lightning storms, and gale force winds." Merlin summarized. "Masters' recon flight confirms it."

"Overlay the Ley Line data from Niume." Xander ordered.

The map changed again, showing a sequence of lines crossing over the hotspot. Merlin's voice again narrated, "The energy in the ley lines has been severely depleted… I would estimate that the area will be of limited use for magic users for at least four years."

"Good." Xander said grumpily. "What about our favorite Necromancer?"

"Most likely dead." Merlin replied simply. "A HellGate spell generally results in a fatal backlash unless the Magic User has arranged for sacrificial victims to absorb the threefold energy. Since your source didn't report anything of that nature…"

Chapter 33

"And that is what we do, General." Xander yawned, sitting back as he rubbed his eyes.

Gray shook his head, it all seemed far too haphazard to him. "I can't believe the world still exists."

Xander laughed, "Yeah. Been there. Look, the fact is that the bad guys are playing at a bit of a disadvantage here… We've got home turf advantage, literally."

"Come again?"

Xander sighed, shrugging. "It's kinda hard to explain… real deep meta-physics crap, but I'll try to break down what little of it I get…"

Gray sat back and listened, waiting for Xander to get his thoughts together.

"Alright… It's like this… Demons aren't from around here…" Xander started.

"No shit." Gray muttered.

"Hey, who's telling this story!?"


"Right." Xander glared mildly, then went on. "Anyway… Demons come from what we term as 'Hell Dimensions'… But that's over simplifying things a bit…"


"Because the term kinda implies that they come from dimensions filled with fire and brimstone and whatever else…" Xander shrugged, "And that's not true. In fact, a lot of Hell Dimensions are pretty nice places, on the surface. Kinda like the flip side of the coin… Just like home, except that things are reversed… so, for example, Sunnydale might be a White-Gate in a hell dimension."

"A what??"

"A White Gate," Xander replied, "is the opposite of a Hellmouth… an elemental connection to… well, heaven for lack of a better term. It's a dimensional anomaly that results in… well an abundance of miracles, good health, stuff like that. It also serves as a beachhead for the forces of the Army of the Light."

Gray blinked, shaking his head. "Ok… I guess since you explained the hellmouth concept I can wrap my skull around that. Sounds nice."

Xander nodded, "Yeah. They are. There's one in Tibet actually, and another off the coast of Miami… but that one's been balanced…"


"Mystical disaster." Was all Xander would say.

Gray nodded after a moment, "Alright. So these White Gates… you said they serve as beachheads?"

"Right." Xander shook his head clear, "Yeah… The Army of Light uses them to prepare an invasion route into Hell Dimensions… The same as The Darkness uses the Hellmouths."

"So… You guys are part of the Army of light." Gray replied.

"Hell no." Xander replied quickly, "Don't get me wrong, The Knighthood have been their allies on and off, but sometimes they can be real assholes and cause just as much damage as The Darkness. We're independent. Always have been. The Knighthood is just what the name implies, an order based in Chivalry… or rather, the Order that Chivalry was based on. Our Primary Duty is to this Earth, then this Dimension, and finally to others who need help beyond. I'll show you the… ummm.… I guess you could call it the Knighthood's 'Mission Statement'… later. Let's just say that for now, we're going to be mostly concerned with defending the Earth."

Gray nodded, "I can deal with that. What I don't understand is why does the Earth need you? It's survived for a while without this… 'wonderful Knighthood' of yours… Why should I believe that you're needed now?"

Xander shrugged, "Maybe we aren't. I don't know…"

Xander smiled slightly, laughing at a private joke, "I don't know the future, General. I just know that I can't stand by and do nothing… and right now, this seems like the thing to do."

Gray just nodded, then took a deep breath. "Who are these Army of Light people? Are they around too?"

"Yeah. They're around." Xander nodded, "You've already met at least one member. Probably more then that."

Gray looked confused.

"Buffy is the Slayer." Xander replied, "That makes her a Champion for the Powers, and a pawn in the Army of Light… if she lives long enough, she could be 'promoted' to a higher status… it all depends. The Powers, Archangels… whatever you want to call them, they seed worlds with their Champions and… support people. There are at least three or four members here in Sunnydale right now… Another five or more in San Francisco, a half dozen in LA… You get the idea."

"Not much of an army." Gray muttered.

"Those are only the Champions." Xander reminded him. "The heavy hitters. Around them you have a lot of 'normal' humans who provide backup, intel, other stuff. They take their orders from on high, and the Powers provide intel, direction, and communication. For what it's worth."

"What do you mean?" Gray asked, frowning.

"The Powers have the 'big picture' in mind…" Xander said, frowning himself. "Call it a ten thousand year plan… or a ten million year plan… or whatever. They're eternal beings, they can afford to think like that. Sacrificing a champion… letting them die a mere fifty or so years early… doesn't mean much to them. Like I said, the Light can be a harsh taskmaster. That's why we don't work for them."

Gray looked distinctly ill, and very unhappy. "Great. The bad guys are bad, and the good guys are worse. No wonder this planet is so fucked up."

Xander nodded slightly, half smiling. "Yeah, that's got something to do with it… But humans made a lot of their own messes, so don't try shifting the blame completely. Besides, the Light isn't all bad. They occasionally get their own versions of Patton and Churchill… Men who know how to rally an army, make it into something more… That's when dimensions are retaken from the Darkness, when the tide shifts. Of course… sometimes the Darkness gets men of the same stature."

Gray nodded, "How long has this been going on?"

There Xander just shook his head, "I don't know. I don't know all the answers, General. I just know a little of the story… Truth is, I won't lay any money on any of it being 'true'."

Gray snorted and sat back, looking exasperated. "Then what good is the whole fairy tale??"

"Well… I do know that it's *more* true then anything else I've heard." Xander said with a tired smile. "Yesterday, General, you knew that demons didn't exist. Today, you know they do. Tomorrow?"

Xander shrugged, "Just deal with what you know now. It's the best any of us can do."

Gray sighed, then nodded. "Yeah."

They sat in silence for a long moment, then Xander spoke softly. "So, General… What do you say?"

Gray sighed, looking over at the Plasma display that showed a world map with global hotspots lit up like Christmas lights across it. "I say… when do we start?"

Xander smiled, both in pleasure and relief. "We already have. The people who came in on the plane with you are part of the first wave of recruits we need to bring Avalon back up to a war footing. We know that the Goa'uld are interested in the Earth now, they'll be back… it's a given. There are also other enemies out there, and down here… As Avalon comes back online, we'll be able to start making our presence known. When that happens, odds are things will crank up a few notches."

Gray sighed unhappily as he nodded, "Kicking over the hornets nest."

"Exactly." Xander nodded. "We know that the demons are out there, and we know that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Demons are patient… They wait for thousand of years if they have to… But they're still there… and that makes them a threat. Letting sleeping dogs lie is a luxury that we can't afford."

Gray nodded, still not happy with it. But he knew that you could have terrorist sleeper cells completely riddling your infrastructure, and they'd be model workers and employees and citizens for years and years… but when they awoke.

"So you're expecting a heavy response when you and your pals unveil your existence?" Gray asked.

"Oh yeah." Xander nodded. "In fact, it's probably already starting to brew. The Goa'uld would have known our fighters, even if I hadn't ordered them out of the system like I did. If they got a message off… then it's already brewing."

"Great." Gray muttered, but he wasn't really surprised. It was something he could have predicted if he thought about it. "So what are you going to do about it?"

"We're going to move quietly until we're ready to kick the ass of anything that goes bump in the night." Xander smiled seriously. "The world, right now, has a lot of defenders… I could rattle off names all night, literally… But few of them are organized, and none of them have any meaningful communication with other groups."

"So you're going to set up a network."

"Right." Xander nodded, "But not until we're ready to back up our people in the field. Until then we're just going to start acting a little more organized then most groups… And we're only going to go after current threats. I can't stress that enough, General. We don't dare strike against sleeper threats yet… That would be noticed."

"Have you identified any?" Gray asked with professional curiosity.

Xander nodded, "A few. Not enough, not really… but I doubt we ever will identify 'enough'."

"No one ever does." Gray responded.

"Unfortunately. But in the meantime we're restricting actions to patrols and responsive strikes." Xander said.

"You're giving up the initiative." Gray frowned.

"We don't have the people to hold it, if we tried to take the initiative." Xander sighed. "Not yet."

"You need an army." Gray muttered, disturbed by the direction his mind was taking him.

Xander just nodded, "And right now… we have a poorly coordinated police force."

"This is going to take a lot of work." Gray groaned.

"Welcome to my world, General." Xander half smirked, yawning. "Oh lord, it's been a long day."

Gray snorted, nodding as Xander got up and crossed the room.

"Scotch?" Xander glanced back.

Gray nodded, "Please."

Xander poured two drinks from a wet bar hidden in a recessed cabinet and walked back, handing the drink to Gray. As the two of them sipped at the drinks, Xander leveled an even gaze at the General. "It's a big job, General."

"Most worthwhile jobs are." Gray responded slowly, "But I have to admit that I'm interested… it's…"

"Epic." Xander smiled, "If we can pull it off."

Gray nodded soberly, "Epic. Yes… that's the word. Some things still bother me, Mr Harris."

Xander winced, "Don't call me that. I'm just Xander."

Gray shrugged, but didn't use either name when he spoke again. "What bothers me is that there doesn't seem to be anything to keep you from using this group for… other purposes. It's a lot of power for someone to hold."

Xander nodded, "That's true, General."

Gray eyed him for a long moment, waiting for a response that didn't come.

"Is that all you have to say?" He asked after a moment, "That it's true? Most people would have something to say about why it won't happen to them."

Xander shrugged, stirring his drink slowly as he looked at the amber liquid.

Finally he looked up and shrugged with a half grin, "That, General Gray, is why I'm looking for a few good men. The best way to prevent the abuse of power, is to share it. If you weren't worried about that, then you wouldn't be the man I needed for the job."

Chapter 34

Xander left the General in the den after making sure that Gray knew his way to his room, and headed out. He was still wired from the patrol earlier, something that didn't happen often anymore.

<Something else I have to thank those SWAT fuckers for.> Xander sighed to himself as he headed for the gym to cool down.

In the gym he walked out to the center of the room and stood there for a moment, then slowly started shucking his clothes. In a moment he was standing in nothing more then his underwear as he kicked the last of his clothing and tac-gear toward the door.

"Merlin?" He spoke softly, questioningly.

"I'm here." The voice replied.

Xander nodded. They'd had a hell of a time working out the home automation equipment and even worse integrating it with an untraceable uplink. He have given his eye teeth for some good old fashioned Atlantean technology, but little of it was ready for use yet. So they'd gone with off the shelf equipment, though the application of much of it was enough to be considered bleeding edge and beyond in the modern world.

"Hit the infra-reds." Xander replied, taking a deep breath as he pulled the bandage from his shoulder and tossed it aside.

"Done." Merlin replied. "Do you wish a preset program?"

"Healing and relaxation." Xander replied steadily as he slipped into a Kani-Maro form and waited.


"Thank you." Xander replied as he felt the ultrasonics and infrared energy sweep over him.

Then he started to move.

He flowed easily through his kata, limbs rolling through motions rather then sweeping, Xander's mind turning inwardly as he shifted his mind onto taking the energy from the near-Infra-Red lights and turning it into energy for his injured cells. Even as his body moved, burning energy away with lightning fast movements, his cells multiplied as they fed off the light emitting from the walls, floor, and ceiling, just as any photo synthetic plant might absorb sunshine to grow.

After a few motions, the Gym ceased to exist for Xander as his eyes shifted automatically and he saw the pure light bathing him from every direction. It was light being in the common perception of heaven in some ways, he experienced the near-infrared light as a pure white light that brought a comforting warmth to every cell of his body, invigorating him even as his Kata burned that energy away, taking the excess adrenaline and other hormonal byproducts of the patrol with it.

When he was done, he didn't know how long he'd been moving through the Kata, Xander slowed to a halt and finally just stood there with his arms at his side and head bowed.

"That was beautiful."

He half turned, slowly and without surprise. "Thank you."

Natalie smiled at him, then looked around. "It's warm in here."

"That's the infrareds." Xander replied, then tilted his head. "End program."

The nearly inaudible background hum faded away, and Natalie could feel an instant change in the temperature on the bare skin of her arms and face. She frowned slightly, "What's that for?"

Xander shrugged, walking over to her and grabbing a towel from just beside her. He started wiping his face and neck as he spoke, "The Infrared light promotes healing… I'm surprised you didn't know that actually."

Nat frowned again, then nodded. "Yeah… Yeah I heard about that. Isn't the military testing it? They just started though."

"Navy Seals." Xander nodded, "Yeah. The FDA will pass it within a decade at the latest. Even without careful tuning and control, near infrared light will result in a forty to sixty percent boost in healing times. A little work and they'll figure out how to make it go one hell of a lot faster."

"How much faster?" Natalie asked, curious.

Xander smiled and moved the towel. "You remember Tara patching me up?"

Her eyes widened in shock as she realized that he didn't even have the slightest pucker or scar there anymore. "My God…"

Xander just shrugged, "It's just a handy tool. Once I get my organization up and running I'll get you a hand held version… Without self-healing techniques it won't be quite this effective, but it can still save lives."

Natalie Cook, a woman who considered herself a modern 'renaissance' woman of sorts, just stood there in stunned shock as Xander bundled his clothes together with the towel and tossed the lot into a laundry hamper.

Xander pretended not to notice, but he enjoyed the shock on her face just the same. "The ultrasonics were to calm me down. I was still pretty wired from the patrol, it's not often I run into smart vamps, or even demons… Usually things are pretty straightforward… they try to kill me, I try to kill them… someone wins, someone loses. This cat and mouse stuff has my nerves wrapped like piano wire."

Natalie almost didn't hear him as she looked around the room, "I've never seen anything like this before… and you have it in your *home*? In your GYM??"

"Where else would I set it up?" Xander asked, smiling slightly. "It's a training tool primarily."


Xander rotated his shoulders, stretching out a stray kink that had escaped his workout and walked up beside her. "Human's can absorb infrared energy through the skin, our cells convert it to energy just like plants to for sunlight… basically they can run on light instead of food for limited periods. It can come in hand when you need to direct energy to a specific place… like an injury… follow me?"

She nodded. It made a twisted sort of sense actually.

"This room," Xander waved an arm, his muscles taught and defined under his skin. "Is designed to help you train… It feeds extra energy into the body as you work out… You can go longer and harder and get a more effective workout from it. Muscles build up faster cause they have more energy on hand to do it with, and so on and so forth."

"Wow." Natalie said simply, stepping out into the room and looking around some more. "I'll admit it… I'm impressed. I thought our facilities were the latest in training gear."

"They probably are." Xander smirked, "This technology is ancient. As in pre-written history and then some. That's part of what my group does, we develop, implement, and use skills that were lost a long time ago."

"Who are you, Xander Harris." Natalie asked after a long moment, turning to gaze steadily at him. "Who are you really?"

Xander looked back, letting out a long breath. "I'm Xander Harris."

She folded her arms, tilting her head as her expression clearly irked with him.

Xander smiled, "Alright… So I have some secrets in my life… I warned you about that."

Natalie rolled her eyes, "Yeah, but I *thought* that you worked for the CIA or something!"

He chuckled, nodding. "If it makes you feel any better, I've done some work for Jack Ryan."

"I need to sit down." Natalie covered her face with one hand.

Xander smiled and led her over to an oaken bench and they sat down side by side. Xander sighed, "Look… I don't know what to tell you more then you already know. I'm a demon hunter by profession… have been for going on six years now. I'm actually considered to be fairly good at it too…"

He snorted, "Much to the surprise of anyone who knows me."

Natalie looked over at him when she heard the hint of bitter irony in his voice. "Xander…"

"I'm ok." He said, smiling a little darkly. "It's just that I grew up with a lot of issues that I still haven't worked through. Sometimes I expect… I don't know, to wake up and find out that my life is just a dream… or nightmare. I *am* good at what I do, Natalie… And it's something that has to be done."

Natalie Cook shivered, looking into the eyes of the young man beside her. The young man that she'd made out with in her apartment, and his bedroom. The young man she'd seen coldly firing guns with clear intent to kill and no remorse. He scared her on one level, attracted her on another, and the worst was that she didn't always know which level was which.

<What is it about him?> She wondered to herself, <Am I falling for him because he's dangerous? Am I afraid of him for the same reason? Or am I afraid of him because I'm falling for him?>

She closed her eyes as Xander sought to catch them, blocking him out.

<What am I supposed to do? I really like him and I…> She opened her eyes, wide as that thought hit her. <I *really* like him. Wow.>

Xander watched her carefully, noting the play of emotions on her face and wondering what she was thinking about. After a moment he licked his lips a little nervously and spoke, "Natalie… Nat? Are you ok?"

She turned to look at him her eyes wide, in shock or surprise he thought, and suddenly beamed at him.

To Xander it was like the gently energy from the infrareds striking him, but times a thousand. He smiled back, unable to resist the infectious look on her face, though he didn't have a clue what she was smiling at. "Nat?"

"I'm fine." She said, still smiling widely as she reached up and gently grasped his face with both hands.

Xander watched her face come closer and he lost his smile quickly as he followed her gently pressure and met her halfway, his own arms moving up. He wrapped one easily around the small of her back as he pulled her closer, and braced his other hand at the back of her neck to keep her from pulling back.

Not that Natalie needed the pressure, she was putting up enough of her own.

Their lips mashed together, tongues clashing between the slightly parted openings, until they had to come up for breath.

Xander worked his mouth slightly, as if testing it, and smiled mischievously at her. "I think my lips are numb."

She smirked back, eyes dancing wildly. "I think we can cure that."

"Yes Ma'am." Xander grinned as they started to move together again. He pulled back though, a serious look on his face. "Uh… look… Not to question a miracle or anything.. Cause, trust me, I do NOT want to question this and.…"

"Xander." She said firmly.


"Shut up and get to the point."

Xander paused for a just a moment, then nodded, "Alright. It's like this. I'm Xander Harris… that's who I really am."

"I know that." She smiled, "I believe you."

"But." Xander said firmly, bringing a hand up and brushing her lips with his fingers. "That's not ALL of who I am. I have secrets, like I told you earlier Nat… Secrets I keep because I have people to protect… people… that I count you as being part of. Now… you know some of them, but not all… and I need to know that you can deal with that. That you can deal with having parts of… me… being secret from you."

"You know how to kill a mood, don't you?" She asked him with a wry smirk.

"Believe me," Xander moaned, "It's the *last* thing I want to do. But I just can't let you go any further until I know you're willing to deal with me… with the baggage I've got."

Natalie smiled softly, nodding. <And Dylan says that all the nice guys are gone.> "Xander… I can't promise you that we'll work out. I can't promise you that I'll like the secrets you say you have… All I can do is… say that I trust you… and I'm willing to take the chance."

The two nodded slowly at each other, both smiling hesitantly as they tried to decide if that was enough for them.

Natalie spoke again, breaking the silence. "If you are, that is."

Xander nodded, licking his lips lightly without thinking about it, then looked up at her again. "Yeah. I guess I am."

Natalie beamed at him, and Xander smiled back, and then started toward each other again. Natalie stopped him before he could kiss her again, "Good. Now… I seem to be overdressed for this don't I?"

Xander glanced down at himself, remembering suddenly that he was all but naked. He hadn't given it any thought before because he'd just been working out. Suddenly, though, with the proximity of Natalie, he felt himself flush with a mild embarrassment. "Uh… I… well…"

"Let's do something about that." She grinned, slipping the white sweater over her head and tossing it aside. Her hand was moving toward her pants when Xander intercepted it with a grin.

"Allow me." He winked, "Please."

She giggled slightly, unable to help herself as his fingers brushed her bare belly and dipped under her pants as he undid the button of her jeans and slid the zipper down. She shifted off the bench as he peeled the tight denim down her long legs, looking back up at her from where he was kneeling.

"C'mere." He grinned, reaching up and pulling her off the bench.

They tumbled along the floor, coming to a halt with Xander on top, semi-straddling her as he dipped down and caught her lips for a quick kiss. When they broke, he caught an odd look of humor in her eyes and frowned in puzzled amusement. "What?"

"You know what you were telling me about this room?" She asked.


"How much longer and harder can it help you be?" She smirked as she asked that, her teeth gleaming white through the crooked smile.

Xander chuckled low, shaking his head. "I don't know… Why don't we find out?"


"Merlin!" Xander glanced up, "Give me a full training program… and privacy mode, please."

He looked back and she frowned, "Merlin?"

"Computer." Xander simplified insanely as he felt the warmth and energy infuse him, even as the lock on the door clicked shut. He ducked back down, "Shall we test the system then?"

"Oh yes… let's."

Chapter 35
(Rated R)

Natalie Cook looked up at the face of the man above her and wondered again for a moment at how she'd managed to find herself in this position.

It wasn't that it was an unpleasant position, the lord above knew that, but it wasn't really one she was as familiar with as she might like to have been. And he was such a *young* man, even discounting the stories she'd heard around here. He said he was twenty one, and she believed him on that score, but he was also able to convincingly fit in as a highschool student, something she couldn't do anymore she was certain.

Her thoughts jumbled up as his hands slid up her abdomen, gently cupping her breast as their lips continued to explore each other's mouths. A shiver passed through her as she sensed his other arm bracing him up as it settled in beside her head, and yet managed to avoid the embarrassing and painful event of pulling her hair.

She giggled involuntarily as that stray thought passed through her mind, and felt him pull away, his hand slipping off her as he straightened slightly.

So Natalie opened her eyes and looked up into the warmly concerned brown eyes that looked back down. "Sorry."

He smiled, "Not exactly the reaction I was hoping for."

"Oh get back down here, damn you!" She reached up, pulling him down as she slid his hand back to where it had been and they continued.

Xander response to her order was lost as he found himself pleasantly assaulted by the glistening ruby tint of her lips and felt her firm grip returning his hand to her breast. At least she hadn't been laughing at him.

Or he hoped she hadn't been anyway.

Xander firmly pushed that out of his mind as much as he could, noting the lack of response a thought like that would normally have gotten from Elan. He spared a stray tendril of thought to locate the errant entity and found her deep in his mind, as isolated from him as she could manage.

That made Xander smile, since it was something he hadn't even thought to ask her to do. In the past, with Faith especially, it had never been a factor. Faith new that Elan was there, and by times even got off on the abstract concept, at least that's what Xander thought.

There was no possible way for Elan to give him privacy, of course, She was bonded to him and they were as deeply entwined as was possible. In some ways, there was no single place where he stopped and Elanthielle started. Not anymore.

But she'd slipped herself below the threshold of conscious thought, so at least she wasn't in a position where her stray thoughts would answer his and become a distraction at best.

He'd have to thank her for that later, Xander promised himself as he turned his full attention back to the lovely lady he was spending his time with.

Natalie Cook never ceased to surprise him, and unlike most surprises in Xander's life, he found everything about her to be as pleasant as was possible in the world he lived in.

Xander let her lower lip slip from between his lips as he kissed her chin, and then moved down to her throat. She stretched under him as he gently sucked along the tender skin of her jugular, his free hand massaging her breasts with slow motions.

It was the slow motions thing that was driving Xander crazy at the moment.

Everything in him was screaming at him to speed up, the lumbering neanderthal in every human was thumping it's chest and demanding that he rip her bra and panties off with all the force he could muster and simply take her where she lay. A voice made all the stronger by the residual traces of his frustrations from earlier, and the biological hormones that his mind was being forced to deal with for the second time in it's existence.

<I hate time travel.> Xander thought for the millionth time as he forced down the urge to speed up, moving to more evenly straddle Natalie as he slid his hand back and balanced his weight on his legs. With both hands free he kissed, sucked, and nibbled along her collar bone as he gently lifted her off the floor and slid a hand around her back to find the bra clasp.

He was trying to drive her insane.

Natalie was certain of that. He was moving so slow, yet with such deliberation, that it HAD to be an attempt on her sanity.

<Nuts to that.> She thought as she felt her bra come undone and slide off her with a quick scraping motion. She didn't bother to keep track of where he threw it, she had other thoughts on her mind.

As he lowered her back to the floor she hooked her right arm around his neck and pulled him down. That had the immediate effect of burying his face between her breasts, but Natalie didn't hear him complaining as she twisted slightly and rolled him off of her. The rolled along the hard floor briefly until Xander rolled onto his back with her laying on top of him.

Nat gasped slightly as his mouth found her right breast, his tongue playing along the side of the soft flesh until it found her nipple and he tilted his head enough to purse his lips around it. The gentle suction and play of his teeth and tongue went a long way to making her rethink her next move, but after a few terminably long moments, Natalie pulled back.

Her groan of pleasure was echoed by his of disappointment as her breast came free from his mouth with an audible pop, but she didn't stop even as his eyes met hers and he pouted silently.

<Soon.> She promised him with her eyes, then dipped her face down, her relatively short blond hair falling as a curtain between them as she returned the favor with own lips and tongue across his chest.

Xander's head thunked a bit as he dropped it back to the floor, but he didn't even notice as he felt Natalie's lips on his chest. He couldn't see her, the cascade of blond hair had separated them effectively, but damned if he couldn't *feel* her. He stared at the ceiling for a long moment, his hands coming up to brush the sides of Natalie's arms until they came to rest on her shoulders. She didn't pause in her motions as she returned his earlier attentions, with interest.

He lifted his hands a few more inches, entwining his fingers in her hair as Natalie's hands slid lower. He felt her fingers, deliciously cool compared to the beating heat that was in and around them, slide under the hem of his underpants and then she pushed them down.

Xander groaned again, but lifted his hips off the floor as he felt the material drag against him. He sighed silently as they hooked against him anyway, at least until Natalie's hand freed the 'obstruction' and pushed the briefs down past his knees. He kicked his legs a bit and pushed them off, kicking them away without caring where they landed.

Natalie kissed along his chest again, her hand sliding down between them until she found his member by touch and wrapped her hand around him. Xander squirmed under her and she smiled, her hair still keeping him from seeing her expressions as she worked her way back up along his throat and chin.

Before their mouths met again, she paused and glanced up to where his eyes were still searching her hers. Her cool blue eyes met his warm brown ones and they paused in their ministrations for a brief slice of eternity, a flickering of communication echoing between them.

She felt him tighten under her, his muscles preparing to move, and knew what he was taking back the initiative, but was happy to give it up as he rolled out from under her.

She felt him slide out from underneath her, his weight pushing her down to the warm floor as he pushed her hair away from her neck and shoulders. A second later he was kissing along her spine, his hands playing along her sides like he had earlier, massaging her muscles and applying pressure to her body in ways she'd never felt.

She didn't relax, not that she wanted to, instead his touches seemed to invigorate her as she felt him kiss along the small of her back and hook her panties with both hands. Natalie pushed up onto her hands and knees to help him as he slid them down over his hips and revealed her backside to him.

She threw her hair back and to the side, looking over her shoulder as Xander kissed along her hips and buttocks.

<God she's beautiful.> Xander thought looking up to the blue eyes that were gazing back at him intensely.

He leaned forward, gently guiding one of her legs up until it was against her flat stomach, and then he slid the panties down over that knee and back over her ankle. As he lowered her leg back down, he slid his hands down to the back of her knee and applied a little more of Elan's lessons to some spectacularly non-violent uses.

He heard her gasp slightly and smiled, knowing that the nerves he was energizing with his touches were directly connected to other nerves in some *very* pleasurable places. He didn't waste much time with that, thought, it was better suited to later use when they were more susceptible to stimulation.

For the moment he switched legs, lifting and pulling her other leg back and off the ground so he could divest Natalie of her panties and toss them away. Though, not before making a mental note on the subject for later.

Xander smiled privately, lowering her leg to the floor with another economical spread of acu-pressure and leaned forward to press himself against her.

"You're beautiful." He whispered as he leaned down, burying his face in her hair.

"You can only see my butt." She half turned her head, an unseen smirk on her lips.

"I couldn't forget your face if I tried." Xander responded, "so I don't need to see it to tell you that you're beautiful."

Natalie smiled at those words, shuddering as she drew in a deep breath and luxuriated in the feelings he was sending through her.

She groaned in response as his hand slid under her, rubbing up her stomach and cupping her breasts with a kneading grip. She could feel the pure heat of him pressing against her ass from behind, along with the insistent pressure of his weight pushing her down.

She buckled under the weight, starting to drop to the floor, but he caught her and lowered her down slowly, his own weight pushing against her as they came to a rest on the floor, her breasts flattened against the smooth warmth of the hard surface while Xander continued to kiss and lick and suck at her neck and shoulders.

Natalie Cook groaned and shifted, looking over her shoulder and up at him. His eyes were twinkling back at her as he shifted enough weight off her to let her see him.

"Yes?" He asked, a hint of a smile on his face.

Natalie twisted suddenly, rolling under him until she was on her back again and looking steadily up into his eyes. "Are you done playing around?"

He smiled wider at her and nodded slowly, his hand dipping down between them to urge her legs apart slightly. Natalie obliged him, letting him slip between her long legs as she wrapped them around his legs, entwining them together. She reached up, hooking first one arm, and then the other, around his neck and nodded at the unspoken question that crossed his face.

Xander dipped his head once in response and then guided himself as he inched forward, hissing as the sensations rippled through him.

<Oh God.> The both groaned together as they slid together and then held still for a long moment.

Elanthielle shivered as the sensations rocketed through her.

Her entire body was alight with the fire of her host and partner, the heat and passion that permeated his soul becoming a part of hers.

She'd slipped back into the unconscious recesses of Xander's mind when he and Natalie had finally moved their relationship to the next level, but she couldn't disconnect from him completely. In some ways, the sensations where she was were even stronger then anything in the upper levels, but there was no avoiding that.

They deserved some semblance of privacy, as much as she could give them, at least this time.

Soon though, Elan told herself, Xander would have to tell his lover all of his secrets.

Her body stiffened as she felt them moving again, the feelings causing her to lounge back in the dreamscape and close her eyes.

There were times she hated having a male host, the ancient soul smirked slightly. Not that it mattered, not really. But there was an awkward sort of disjointed feel between what Xander felt and what it triggered in her, something that took time to get used to. Time and experience with the host and partner.

<Too bad Alexander is such a prude.> She laughed at the thought, then shuddered again as they picked up the pace outside, becoming more and more energetic. <Still… At least he was quick to apply acupressure techniques in some mildly imaginative ways. Not a total loss.>

She stiffened again, her back arcing off the nonexistent part of the dreamscape she was resting against, a surge of pleasure and sensation rippling through her.

<No… Not a total loss at all.>

Chapter 36
(Rated R)

Natalie and Xander rolled apart, both lying flat on the warm floors of the gym as they breathed heavily from their exertions.

"Wow." Natalie spoke first, beaming wide through a red flushed and sweat soaked face.

Xander turned his head to look over at her, nodding tiredly. "Yeah. I'll go with Wow."

She giggled slightly, curling up as her hand snaked out to his. "A girl could get used to that."

"So could a guy." Xander smiled, feeling her leg cross over and entwine his. He shifted slightly and twisted his foot around so he could gently rub it along her ankle.

"Worth the wait?" She smiled back.

Xander looked over at her for a long moment, taking in the blood rush that had turned her skin a deep pink and the sweat sheen that covered literally every square inch of her exposed skin. Her blond locks were plastered to her forehead, and her eyes held a gleam of humor in them that was salve for a wounded soul.

Natalie was starting to get nervous, just a stray feeling as Xander looked at her, and was about to speak again when his lips moved.

"Wait? What wait?" Xander asked, quirking his lip. "I can't seem to remember anything past about… umm…"

Xander turned his head to a wall clock, then glanced back. "An hour and a half ago."

She giggled again, then he laughed, and so did she after a moment. The laughs and chuckles went on for a few moments, until they both laid back again, laughter spent.

"Well…" Natalie grinned up at the ceiling after a moment, "I guess we answered one question…"

"Oh?" Xander asked, concentrating very much on just laying still and letting everything unwind.

"Yeah. This gym of yours does manage to let you work longer and harder afterall." She grinned over at him.

Xander snapped his head back, eyes wide for a second, then he smirked at her. "Oh? How would you know? It's not like we've tried it in a bedroom you know."

"Mmmm…" She nodded, shifting her back a little so she was closer to Xander, "You have a point… we need to set up trials… double blind tests…"

"I'm not sure I like the sounds of that one." Xander grinned, "Sounds like it could be painful… not to mention embarrassing."

She cracked up again, curling up off the floor a bit as her stomach tightened up from the laughter. Xander took advatage of that to slip his arm under her so that her head came back down on his shoulder when she relaxed.

"Mmmmm.…" Natalie repeated, curling in closer to him again. "Well… maybe we can eschew the scientific method just this once for something a little more… primitive."

"Sounds like a winner to me." Xander wrapped his arm around her tighter, holding her closer.

"Yeah." She nodded, smiling into his shoulder as she felt his hand slide up her side and wrap itself under her breast, his thumb rubbing concentric circles on her flesh. "Xander…"


She shivered as his found her nipple in it's roving quest and relocated the center of the circles to there. "What are you doing?"

"I don't know… what am I doing?"

She giggled again, lightly slapping his chest with her free hand, "I thought you were done!"

"Naw…" He drawled slowly, languidly. "Just needed a few moments to recharge. Did I mention that one of the skills I'd picked up was how to absorb and redirect energy like the infra-reds in here?"

She shuddered again as his fingers arrayed themselves along her breast and ribcage, applying pressure to nerves she'd never known she had, while his thumb continued it's slow motions. "Well *I* don't know that skill and… ohhhhhhh.… mmmmmm.… Xander we need to…"

She closed her eyes, a low guttural sound echoing from her as she just let her head drop back onto his shoulder. The shuddering of her muscles rippled along her muscled abdomen, twisting her stomach deliciously as she drew in a shuddering breath. "N.… no fair! Y.… you and your damned fingers are.… stop it…"

Xander did, his hand dropping away suddenly.

The feelings slipped away with it, and Natalie groaned again before glaring up at him. "Why'd you do that?"

Xander laughed, "You told me to."

She grumbled at him for a moment, "Where did you learn that anyway?"

"Believe it or not, I learned it in martial arts training." Xander grinned, laying his index finger on her sternum and drawing up slowly between her breasts to her throat.

"Right." She muttered skeptically. "I can see where this would be SO useful in a fight."

"Actually, some of it is healing techniques… accidental discoveries… but yeah, some of it was almost straight from the combat books." Xander said seriously.

"You're kidding right?" She stared at him oddly.

Xander shook his head, letting his index and forefinger slide along her throat gently. "No… You remember when we were… fully involved?"

"Is that what it was called?" She grinned at him, ducking her head to playfully click her teeth at his fingers.

Xander smiled slightly, "You remember how it felt?"

"Oh yeah. That I remember." She smirked, sliding her hands along his leg, enjoying the involuntary shiver that she drew in response. "My heart was roaring in my ears, and the feeling was so intense… it's almost like a dream now though."

Xander nodded, his fingers lightly tapping on her throat as he spoke. "Do you remember what I was doing with my hands?"

"I was focused elsewhere at the time." She reminded him saucily.

"Glad to hear it." He smiled, "How do you feel now?"

She frowned for a moment, not understanding, and then she noticed the roar in her ears and realized that her heart was racing again.

Xander noted the look of realization on her face and let his fingers slide down her neck. "Yeah. That."

"How…?" She glanced down at his fingers, blue eyes wide.

"It's and old trick… very old." Xander smiled, "first you find a pulse point on your lovers body…"

Natalie shivered again, this time from his words, not his actions.

"The temple," Xander continued, laying his fingers on her temples lightly, "the jugular,"

She drew in a breath as his fingers slid down her face, stopping to rest on her throat.

"The sternum… though that takes more force…" Xander's finger slid out along her arm, his other hand taking her wrist gently and lifting it up and closer to him until his finger came to a rest again, "The wrist… a favorite for when you're in public…"

She smiled uncertainly at him, and he smiled back as he lowered her arm and his fingers moved lower. She felt him gently cup her butt cheeks as his finger traced the cleft downward and her eyes opened wider in surprise when it stopped.

"Or… there." He smiled slightly as his hand moved on. "The back of the knees can work too, but the further down you go the harder it is. When you've found your spot…"

His hand came back up, settling on her throat again, pressing lightly.

"You feel for the pulse… absorb the rhythm… make it part of you." He said, his eyes closing for a moment. "Match your heartbeat to your partners…"

"Two hearts beat as one." She smiled slightly.

He nodded. "Exactly. There's a reason why that's such a romantic notion you know… its like falling in love. When you're so in sync with your partner, it's a very powerful feeling… its like you can feel what your lover feels…"

Natalie wasn't sure she believed him, but the power of the moment… or something else, was carrying her along and she felt a tremor as he said that.

"But," he continued inexorably, "Like falling in love, you make yourself vulnerable to your lover… and you make your lover vulnerable to you."

Natalie shivered again, but this time it was from a chill that his words brought on. A chill she didn't understand. As she thought that, she could hear her heart again, racing in her chest from the sensation that was assaulting her.

"You make your heart race… and your lovers heart follows." Xander continued softly. "It's funny, in an odd way you know… an orgasm is linked to blood pressure, did you know that the harder you exert the more powerful the climax?"

"I… thought that was fairly obvious." Natalie said haltingly, not noticing his fingers as they slowly pulsed along her throat.

"Most people don't think about it." Xander said, "but it's true. So by racing your heart faster and faster you make the whole thing feel.. Incredible."

"Mmm hmmm…" Natalie nodded, her heart thumping in her ears.

Xander suddenly stopped his ministrations, rubbing her throat slowly, and Natalie felt her heartbeat return to normal. She let out a long breath. "Whoa…"

"Yeah." Xander said seriously. "I know."

"And you learned that in martial arts?" She looked up at him with a smirk, "Must have been some sensei."

Xander chuckled, "you could say that."

"How is that a fighting skill?" She asked after a moment.

"It's not." Xander said, "it's an assassination one."

"What!?" She jerked away slightly.

"Taken far enough, it's lethal." Xander said softly. "Just like all good things I suppose."

Natalie shivered, looking up at him uncertainly for a long moment. "Xander…"


"You talk too much."

"Yeah." He nodded, smiling softly, and dipped his head to hers to capture her lips again. She didn't move at first, but slowly she returned his attentions. After a long shared moment, Xander slowly pushed her back and rolled over her again as he continued.

She looped her arm over his neck as he slid into her and wrapped her long legs around him as the groaned in unison. He straightened, pulling her up off the floor until she was resting in his lap, his arm hold her upright at the small of her back as he brushed the hair from her eyes with the other.

She reached up and gripped his wrist, drawing it down to her mouth where she kissed his fingers and hand lightly before looking into his eyes again. Without breaking eye contact she began to rock on him, guiding his fingers lower until they reached her throat.

He looked at her questioningly for a moment, wondering if she had understood everything he had told her. The slight dip of her head and the trust in her eyes told him that had, so he felt for the pulse point again as he began to flex up into her in time to her motions.

Chapter 37

Natalie drifted in and out of an easy sort of drowsy rest, her whole body feeling light and free for some reason, like resting on a sun swept beach. She couldn't hear the breakers rolling though, but that was ok because there was a distant thumping that seemed to ring and echo inside her.

The warmth was luxurious, though it seemed to be dark out because she couldn't feel any light on her eyelids.

That was odd.

It was warm, but nighttime? Well… ok, that happened in California. But usually there was a breeze that ruined the effect, on the beach at least.

She sighed, mourning the loss of sleep that came with the sudden flux of logic based questions. Rest and an inquisitive mental process were not buxom buddies. As that happened, she realized that she was resting on something warm and firm, and most certainly not sand. There was a brief moment of puzzlement as she slid past that threshold of consciousness and remembered where she was.

She stiffened slightly, noting her nudity, then smiled into Xander's chest where she was resting her head and stretched slowly. Her languid motions were noticed apparently, as she felt and heard a soft chuckle coming from her 'pillow'.

"Awake I see."

"Yeah." She smiled, looking up a bit to see Xander tilting his head to look back down at her. He had some bundled up towels to serve as his version of a pillow, but was otherwise just as naked and uncovered on the floor of the wide open gym as she was.

He pulled her up slightly, kissing her softly on the lips before laying his head back and looking up at the ceiling again. "Good morning."

"How can you tell?" She asked mildly, "there's no windows in here."

"Other then the clock on the wall?" He smirked slightly.

"Oh." She blushed. "Yeah."

Xander stretched his neck slightly, glancing up at the ceiling again. "End Privacy mode."

"Disengaged." The voice came from the ceiling. "It's been some time, Commander. I trust you enjoyed yourself."

"Don't be a smart ass, Merlin." Xander rolled his eyes, glancing at Natalie as she looked perplexed. He quickly mouthed the letters 'A.I.' and shrugged. "What's the situation in Paris?"

"Other then the mother of all monsoons?" Merlin sounded mildly amused. "Nominal. However we may have another problem."

Xander groaned softly, and Natalie felt him slump under her. "What is it?"

"Niume registered the intervention of no less then two Zero Class Entities in the Paris area via ley line disruptions."

"Oh hell." Xander groaned again. "Please tell me that guy wasn't an Avatar for Christ sakes."

"Xander?" Natalie asked, confused.

"I don't believe so. Niume would have registered an Avatar awakening… It appears that they decided to have… a word with him."

Xander snorted softly, "Good luck to him then. He'll need it."


"Xander?" Natalie spoke again, "What are you talking about?"

Xander laid back, not looking at her. "Did Dylan tell you about Paris?"

She nodded, "Yeah. She said you were angry about something."

"Yeah. A mage in Paris cast a hellgate spell." Xander said seriously.

Natalie giggled.


"You sound like some friends of mine from highschool." She said, still giggling. "They were deep into Dungeons and Dragons."

Xander groaned, "Can we focus please? This is serious."

"Xander… we're lying naked in your gym talking about hell gates in Paris."

Xander paused, tilting his head, and sighed. "Alright. Maybe you have a point. But the spell is real, and it really DOES open a hellgate. Literally. If the mage had lost control, Paris would be gone right now, and a good chunk of Europe would be burning."

She stopped giggling, "Are you serious?"

"I'm serious." He sighed. "Anyway… I told Merlin to keep an eye on Paris… we can track magic in some areas by watching how events mess with lines of power that make up the Earth's Magnetic field…"

"Alright… I guess I'm following." She said skeptically.

"So what Merlin just told me was that a couple Gods made an appearance in Europe… specifically near Paris. It wasn't much of an appearance, just enough to register. But it's big news when a God shows up on Earth… two of them is probably more trouble then I want to deal with." Xander sighed.

"Gods?" Natalie blinked.

Xander nodded, sighing. "Yeah."

There was a long silence as Natalie measured his words and tone.

"You… You're serious, aren't you?" She asked in quiet shock.

"As a heart attack." Xander said, shaking his head.

Natalie sat up, getting off him as she stared. "You know how crazy that sounds?"

He nodded, not moving. "Yeah. Yeah I do."

"Good. I was worried it was just me."

He laughed, smiling suddenly and sitting up as he chuckled. "It's not just you, Nat. And thank you."

"For what?" She looked confused.

"For making me laugh." Xander grinned. "I needed that. I'd almost forgotten how important it was to laugh… odd that."

"I don't understand."

"Nothing. It doesn't matter." Xander leaned over and kissed her again, a quick peck that drew out into a long kiss that became more passionate.

After a moment she pulled away from him, smiling slightly, but looking worried. "Mmmmm… not that I'm complaining, but don't you have something to do?"

"Huh?" Xander looked confused.

"Paris?" She prompted.

"Oh, that." Xander shook his head and grinned, "Nah. All the excitement was over last night. All that's left now is the shouting… I've got plenty of time."

She rolled her eyes, "God, you're insatiable."

"Must be the infrareds."

"Speaking of which," She looked around, "We slept in here with those on… if I wind up with a full body sunburn over this you'll hear about it."

"Mmm…" He kissed her, "Don't.… worry… about it."

One kiss became another, interrupting their words until he pulled back to finish his statement. "Infrared doesn't burn. Only the UV… and that causes cancer anyway, so we used specialized LEDs that only emit in a narrow frequency… You might want to toss some moisturizers in the bath water today though…"

"Oh, will I?" She asked archly as he pushed her back over.

"Oh… definitely." He nodded, kissing his way down her throat again. "In fact… I think that maybe we should consider a full body treatment with massage… I'm sure I can find an opening in my schedule…"

"Mmmm hmmm…" She moaned out, "I think I could be persuaded…"

"Good." Xander stopped for a moment, "Merlin… Privacy mode!"

"Engaged." Merlin replied. "Gratefully so."

The two lovers paused, looking at each other, and Xander shot a dirty look at the ceiling as Natalie started giggling.

"Smart ass excuse for a Tandy." Xander grumbled for a brief moment until he returned his full attention to Natalie.

"Hey! Food!" Jessie rushed the large table that was all but groaning under the weight of the food piled on it. "Come on guys! Food!"

"Wow." Buffy muttered, looking across the spread. "Who set this up?"

The table was literally piled high with all sorts of meats, breads, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. From one end of the large oak table to the other, was one dish after another with enough food to feed a small army.

"I… I… H… helped." Tara shrugged. "Me and Mikki and Jack…"

"Hey, thanks!" Jessie mumbled between bites. "This is great!"

Tara blushed slightly and nodded.

Buffy shook her head in wonder a bit, pulling up a chair.

"Don't sit down… Just grab a plate and move along… We've got movies to watch buffster!" Jessie advised as he piled a plate high in between stuffing his face.

"It's barely nine AM!"

"Xander's got a wide screen plasma TV in a room with shutters! Who cares what time it is??" Jonathan grinned. "First one there picks the first movie."

"Oh no!" Willow shook her head, "Uh uh. You picked last night. I am NOT watching another horror movie."

"Horror movies?" Buffy's face fell. She got enough of that in her real life.

"How about an action flick?" Jessie asked hopefully.

"Nuh uh." Willow shook her head. "It's my turn, remember. I pick."

"Damn." Jessie muttered as he and Jon looked at each other, disappointed.

"Chick flick." They muttered together.

"I don't want to know." Jack styles muttered, turning around and leaving the room just as he walked back into it. His luck was with him, though, and the doorbell gave him reason to keep moving.

He answered the door and was surprised to see four rather large uniformed men standing outside, with an armored car parked in the drive. "Uh… hi. Who are you guys?"

"We're with Brinks Security Sir. We have a delivery for Mr Harris, are you him?"

Chapter 38

Ryan Henderson looked up at the huge mansion and shook his head. <Delivering expensive toys to rich fools. My life sucks.>

He slammed the door of the big armored car, hearing the doors in back open from the inside and close while the passenger side door did the same. It was lousy discipline, and he'd have to kick some sense into the crew later. Which would seem like overkill, since it wasn't like they were transporting the crown jewels or anything, just some overnight delivery from a company out east, so they wouldn't listen and he'd have to crack some heads, which would probably give him another reprimand from his superior.

<There goes this years bonus.> He sighed, walking up to the door and ringing the bell.

A man answered the door pretty quickly, looking relieved about something.

<Heh.> Ryan laughed inwardly. <They must be looking forward to these things… whatever they are.>

"Uh… hi… Who are you guys?" The man looked them over carefully, a cocky sort of look in his face.

<Great.> Ryan put his best professional face on and nodded crisply. "We're with Brinks security, Sir. We have a delivery for Mr Harris, are you him?"

Jack Styles eyed the lead man for a moment, deciding that the guy was way too much starch in his trousers. He'd met guys like that before, but they had mostly been British. Red Coats actually, now that he considered it. He shrugged it off, then answered the man by shaking his head.

"Nope, but I can sign for it."

"Sorry Sir, we need to have Mr Harris' signature and three pieces of ID." The man said, shaking his head. "Procedure."

<Yep. Definitely British.> Jack thought to himself, stepping back and nodding the men in. "I'll see if I can find him."

"Thank you, Sir."

<He'd probably have made Colonel in the red coats.> Jack decided as he turned and headed up the stairs. <They'd love that stick up his ass.>

He ran into Dylan on the way down, sharing a quick kiss on the steps before he reluctantly broke away from her.

"What's going on?" Dyaln asked, curious.

"Just a delivery for Xander." Jack replied. "He must still be sacked out."

She nodded, then turned back up the stairs. "I want to talk with Nat if she's up."

Jack shrugged and nodded, then quickly topped the stairs and headed for Xander's door. He frowned when it opened from the force of his knocking. "Odd."


"Xander doesn't leave the door unlocked." Jack replied, grinning. "Faith steals his clothes."

Dylan snickered slightly as Jack knocked again, then took a quick peak in before frowning and pushing the door open. "Weird. Not even slept in."

"What?" Dylan pushed passed him. "Damn. Where's Nat?"

"Don't know…" Jack shrugged, "Hang on…"

He turned around, walking quickly over to his room with Dylan following, and pulled a Fold Comm from his dresser. He fixed it to his ear and jaw and waited for the squirming sensation to settle as it adjusted to his unshaved face. "Xander? You there?"

Natalie Cook was pressed up against the wall of the gym when the odd buzz sounded and the person holding her there froze and cursed.

"Damn it."


"Fold Comm." Xander glanced over to the pile in the corner.

"Ignore it?" She asked with a beseeching smile.

"Damn right." He grinned, turning back to what he had been doing, enjoying the run of her hands along his sides.

"Mmmmm good." She wrapped her legs tighter around him, hitching herself up a little higher so he had to bend his head back to kiss her.

"Nothing." Jack sighed. "Great. Now where did he get to?"

"And what did he do with Natalie?" Dylan muttered, a hint of worry and a gleam of amusement entering her eyes. On the one hand, she knew what *she'd* have been doing with him in Natalie's place. Actually, she HAD been doing it most of the night. Just not with Xander. But this was Natalie, and Nat was something different. If he hurt her…

"Well, come on… we'll see if anyone has seen him."

"Huh? Oh… yeah, sure."

Xander all but collapsed onto the bench, Natalie thumping down on his lap in a way that was deliciously painful as he held her close and tried to keep from falling over backwards.

"We really need to try this in a bedroom next time." She giggled reaching out a hand to help brace them as they threatened to topple over into the wall.

"Yeah." Xander grinned, cupping her ass as they both squirmed and wiggled around to a more comfortable position. "I'll make a note of it."

She giggled again.

"Pardon the intrusion, Commander…"

Natalie yelped, jumping and twisting as the unexpected voice echoed around them.

"Damnit Merlin!" Xander snapped, struggling to keep Natalie from falling over backward while he himself was twisted uncomfortably.

"My apologies, however I thought you might find my intrusion preferable to that of Mr Styles or Miss Saunders."

"Huh? What?" Xander frowned as he and Natalie froze.

"They are both looking for you, and have commissioned the help of the others. You have a package at the front door."

Xander groaned.

"I guess we had to rejoin the real world sooner or later." Natalie smiled softly, patting his cheek.

"Yeah…" Xander smiled slowly, looking into her cool blue eyes, "but I think we can still finish our… uh… exercise before that happens… If you don't mind stepping up the umm… tempo a little?"

She beamed widely at him, the gleam of her teeth as bright as the humor in her eyes. "I'm game if you are."

"Normally I wouldn't brag about my 'speed' in these matters…" Xander smirked, "But I think we can wrap this up quickly… to both our satisfaction of course."

"Of course."


"I know, I know… Privacy mode."

"Well he's not downstairs." Jack shook his head, "Anyone see him?"

"Nope. Not kicking around here." Jessie and Jon shook their heads.

"Not on grounds." Mikki frowned, "No fresh scent either."

"Damn. Where the hell would he be?" Jack shook his head.

"What's through there?" Dylan pointed.

"Gym." Jack replied, then look around. "Anyone check the Gym?"

"Door's locked." Alex Munday replied, having joined in the search or, rather, been drafted by Dylan as she walked toward the kitchen table.

"Locked?" Jack frowned. "I didn't know it COULD lock."

"Well let's go check it out." Dylan said starting down the hall until a voice surprised her.

"What's going on? What's this about Harris being missing?" General William Gray thundered as he came into the room.

"Can't find him." Mikki shrugged, otherwise ignoring the impressive bluster of the man.

"Who's looking?"

Everyone glanced toward the gym to see Xander and Natalie appear from the large doors and walk toward them. Both were toweling off, faces flushed and wet from sweat and exertion, and dressed in gym sweats.

"Guys at the door." Jack jerked his thumb toward the front door.

"Ah," Xander nodded, heading that way. "Thanks."

"They say you'll need ID!" Jack warned.

Xander just slapped his back pocket as he walked, not turning around. General Gray headed after him while the rest sort of blinked and shook their heads.

Natalie finished toweling off her hair and stretched out a bit. "Well, I need a shower."

"What were you two up to anyway?" Dylan eyed her with amused suspicion.

"Sparring." Natalie managed with a straight face.

"Sparring… Oh." Dylan blinked in surprise.

"What did you think we were doing in a Gym??" Natalie demanded archly.

"Funny thing to call it." Mikki said, sniffing the air.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Alex frowned, puzzled as she looked at the little girl.

"Gotta go." Nat said quickly, sprinting for the stairs. "Shower calls."

"Hey! What…" Dylan spun from Mikki to Nat and back in a couple seconds. "What's going on?"

Mikki rolled her eyes and padded after Xander. "Humans."

Ryan Henderson glanced up from his electronic pad, noting the arrival of a young man in workout sweats. "Are you Mr Harris?"

The man nodded, "Yeah. That's me. This the stuff from Armat?"

"That's correct." Henderson said after checking the screen. "I'll need photo ID's, and you're signature."

"Sure." Xander handed over three ID's, then accepted the pad and scrawled his name on it quickly.

He was handing it back when Henderson's eyes briefly alighted on the man who had come in with Harris. He stiffened to attention instantly, on reflex, and saluted. "Sir!"

Xander jerked back a bit, then realized that Henderson was looking over his shoulder at General Gray. He smiled slightly and stepped aside.

Gray nodded, returning the salute slowly. "I know you, Marine?"

"No Sir." Henderson shook his head, smiling slightly as he dropped his salute and realized that he'd just saluted on pure reflex. "I served under you for a while in eighty eight, Sir. But I was just a Lance Corporal in your Company."

Gray paused, looking the man over. "Henderson."

"Yes Sir." Ryan replied, smiling. "That's me."

"I don't forget people who earn a silver star under my command, Marine." Gray nodded, "Good to see you."

"Thank you, Sir."

Xander shook his head, handing back the electronic pad. "Here you go."

"What? Oh… Yeah." Ryan had the grace to look embarrassed. He turned around, nodding to the other three. "Alright, bring it all in."

Chapter 39

Three large cases were quickly laid out on a large work table in the basement where Xander had led the Brinks delivery men.

"Major." Xander nodded to where McQueen was standing. "Confirm the contents."

The Major nodded crisply and stepped forward, snapping open the first case. Two of the Brinks men hissed in surprise as they saw the contents of the case, including the Marine who'd recognized General Gray.

"Relax." Xander said calmly. "McQueen, Gray, and I all have permits and safety courses for this weapon type, and since I just bought the company that makes them I have a Government permit for the explosives as well… for testing purposes."

"Right." Henderson said dryly, but didn't attempt to pursue it.

McQueen ignored them, examining the next case, which had the same contents as the first. Finally he opened the third case, did a quick inventory, and nodded to Xander. "It's all here."

"Alright," Xander nodded to the Brinks men. "Thank you for the prompt delivery. I'll be sure to inform your supervisor that I'm pleased with the service."

Henderson nodded, "You're welcome, Sir. Good luck with the… testing."

He came to stiff attention, though not saluting this time, and nodded to Gray. "General."

Gray nodded back, "Henderson."

"Let's go guys." Henderson nodded to the others, and headed back up the stairs.

"Jess, you want to see them out?" Xander said, glancing up.

"Huh? Oh… yeah." Jessie tore his wide eyes away from the large rifles in the first two cases and followed the men up the stairs.

"Major. I believe that's your cue." Xander nodded to the ex-Marine.

"Yes Sir." McQueen hefted the first of the two rifles from it's case and looked it over minutely, looking for any alterations made to the original model.

After a moment he nodded and looked back over to where Xander was waiting. "This is a classic M-41. Basic prototype, no significant changes from what we were shipped for testing purposes in the Corps. I'll have to check the internals to see how fast the motor is geared to load the rounds, but I expect that we'll have to tune it down."

Xander nodded, "Alright. Basic lesson then."

McQueen nodded, and walked over to Xander, handing him the rifle. Xander took it carefully, testing the heft of it.

"Heavy." Was the verdict.

"Yes Sir." McQueen nodded, "Loaded it's half again as heavy as a loaded M16… But you get more then five times the firepower.… a lot more actually, since that includes a full grenade load."

Xander nodded, "Clips?"

McQueen handed him one. "Same as any rifle. The clip uses a U-bend and the savings from the caseless design to fit ninety nine rounds in there… We didn't load more then ninety five during testing though… less pressure on the loading mechanism, so you don't get jams."

"Alright." Xander took the clip and slid it in. The rifle vibrated in his hand and an LED lit up, saying '99'.

"They loaded the clips to the brim." McQueen clucked, popping four rounds from the other clip in his hand.

Xander ejected his own clip, finding the ejection switch easily, and did the same before slapping it back into the reciever. This time the red LED's read out to '95'. He nodded, satisfied, and ejected the clip again. "Nice feature that."

"Yeah." McQueen nodded, "Rugged as hell too. We did drop tests from our drop tower, and once we dropped a dozen rifles from a plane… they all fired after we picked them up, and the electronics worked perfect."

"EMP?" Xander asked offhand.

"Shielded." McQueen confirmed, "Plus they hardened all the chips… it's solid. And it'll fire even if all the electronics are ripped out."

Xander smiled, "Can't ask for more then that."

"No Sir." McQueen nodded.

"Alright." Xander set the empty gun back in it's case and fit the clip into it's foam cut slot. "Let's talk grenades."

McQueen tensed slightly, but nodded. He reached into the case and drew out a box, and slid it across to Xander. "One of each type."

Xander opened the box and had a look. He instantly recognized the standard colors and symbols for some of them. "High explosive, Fragmentary, CS, Smoke… I don't recognize the last two…"

"This one's basically a shotgun round," McQueen pointed to one, "Fires a spread of steel ball bearings with enough force to drop a rhino… but they don't penetrate much."

"And the last one?"

"Thermobaric munition."

Xander blinked, trying to place the word. After a moment his eyes widened, "You're shitting me."

"No Sir."

Xander pulled the black capped grenade from it's case and rolled it over in his fingers. "Holy shit. I didn't think they made them any smaller then an airplane could drop."

"New mandate." McQueen replied, "Desert Storm turned up some situations that standard munitions weren't equipped to handle… And the Russians are playing with them too, especially after Afghanistan."

Xander snorted, "Shit. What? No pocket nukes?"

"Not yet, Sir." McQueen replied evenly.

Alex and Dylan barreled through the door into Xander's bedroom just as the water turned on full in the adjoining washroom, then glanced at each other and grinned as they closed the door.

"Oh Natalie…!" Dylan called out.

"Go away! I'm showering!"

The two of them made their way to the bathroom door, mouthing words and using hand signals as they did. When they reached the door, Alex grinned and slipped up beside the wall as Dylan did the same on the other side.

Dylan held up three fingers and mouthed the words 'on three', and Alex nodded back. The quickly counted down and then Alex pushed the door open as Dylan jumped in.

She had her mouth open to shout something, but only got a mouthfull of shampoo as she tried. As she started gagging and spitting in an desperate attempt to get the taste out of her mouth, Alex followed her in a little more cautiously.

"Ouch." Alex grinned, "Did she really deserve that?"

Natalie shrugged, still fully dressed in her sweat clothes, and grinned. "Probably."

"Probably!?" Dylan gagged, grabbing for a bottle of mouth was as she spit into the sink. "What do you mean probably!?"

"I think she means that knowing you, you've done something that she hasn't found out about yet." Alex grinned, then turned to Natalie. "So… ready to talk yet?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Natalie said, totally unconvincingly.

"Right." Dylan said in between gargling sounds and spitting. "And you didn't spend all yesterday in bed with Xander."

Natalie opened her mouth, then reconsidered. "Well… you have me there. He gave me this *great* massage and I went out like a light…"

"You just slept?" Alex grinned, taking a seat on the toilette as she crossed her legs.

"We just slept." Natalie confirmed.

Dylan gave her a sour look, "Anyone have any gum?"

Alex dug out a pack of trident and passed it to her, and Dylan quickly devoured three sticks before turning back to Natalie. "So you just slept yesterday… what about last night?"

"Well.…" Natalie blushed, and this time she didn't have 'sparring' to explain it.

"Aha!" Dylan grinned, "I knew it!"

Alex shook her finger at the blond, "You know better then that, Natalie Cook."

Natalie let out a long breath, "Yeah. I know."

"Darn right. You aren't supposed to hold out on us!" Dylan grinned, "Now come on… spill! What's it like sleeping with jail bait?"

"Dylan!" Alex snapped, rolling her eyes.

Natalie just smiled, "Trust me, Dylan… There's no way that he's a teenager. They don't have those skills…"

Dylan's mouth dropped open, then she grinned slowly as Alex started laughing. "Slut!"

"Bitch." Natalie returned, grinning wildly, completing the ritual between them.

"Alright, come on…" Alex ushered them both out of the bathroom after turning off the running water. "We'll lock the door, yell at anyone who tries to get in, and you can tell us all about it."

The three women glanced at each other, then bolted for the bedroom like thirteen year olds at a slumber party, laughing and shoving each other in their efforts to get there first.

Outside, Xander and the rest of his 'house guests' had gathered on the range as McQueen once more walked him through the proper loading of the rifle.

Xander slapped the clip into the receiver, then hefted the rifle up to his shoulder. He'd read the literature on the weapon, so he braced it carefully against his shoulder before firing. The heavy 10mm round was considerably bigger then any other assault rifle used, and the muzzle velocity wasn't appreciably less, so he expected it to kick like a mule.

And it did, though not so bad as he expected. The shot whined in a peculiar fashion as it roared from the muzzle of the rifle and sped downrange.

When it intersected the target at the end of the range the bullet penetrated the paper easily, then slammed into the heavy wood backing and made it a quarter the way through before it's second phase triggered and the liquid explosive core detonated.

The noise was muffled at best, but the target, wooden backing and all, simple vanished except for a post sticking about two feet out of the ground. Splinters of wood and tattered remains of paper rained down around the range a few seconds later, causing everyone to duck.

"Damn." Xander looked at the rifle with new eyes. "Is this thing even legal?? I mean, doesn't the Geneva convention ban this sort of ammo?"

"Technically?" McQueen shrugged, "Yeah. But you'd be surprised how many other weapons we commonly use that do as well."

Xander whistled out a long breath, "This thing is scary."

He smiled slowly, "I think I like it."

Chapter 40

"Awesome." Jon whispered as Xander ejected the magazine and suddenly frowned.

"Hey, Major… How do I clear the barrel?" Xander asked, puzzling over how to get the bullet out of the pipe when there was no breech to clear.

"Like this." McQueen grabbed the rifle, flipping it over a bit, and slid back a latch. The bullet dropped out the bottom the rifle, and he caught it before it hit the ground.

"Cool." Xander nodded, taking the round from the Ex-Marine and looking it over. It was a long, heavy round, but not as heavy as most assault rifle ammo because it lacked the heavy brass case. Instead there was simply a block of propellant with the 10mm bullet sticking out of it.

"It does the job." McQueen said simply.

"Does the job! Man!" Jessie grinned widely, "That thing is gonna be SO cool on patrols!"

Gray, McQueen, and Xander looked at each other and then at Jessie with varying looks of shock and tired tolerance.

"Oh, I don't think so." Xander said, glancing toward the utterly destroyed target downrange.

"Huh? Why not??"

"This thing is WAY too dangerous for most vampire hunting." Xander declared, tossing the bullet casually in his hand as he looked thoughtfully downrange. "Collateral damage off this sucker is gonna be through the roof. No, Jes… this is a battlefield weapon."

Gray and McQueen nodded, not without a little relief on Gray's part.

"Man." Jessie looked disappointed, "What'd you buy the company for then?"

"Oh, I didn't say we wouldn't find some use for them." Xander grinned, "Hell… I bet Jack would love to get some for SG1… I wonder how Goa'uld armor would stand up to this?"

Gray nodded thoughtfully, "Interesting idea."

"And for us… well, we occasionally face things that are more dangerous then vampires…" Xander grabbed the rifle and the magazine, and nodded to McQueen, "Let's get this locked up for now."

"Yes Sir." McQueen nodded, following after Xander as he walked into the house.

Jessie and Jonathon looked downrange for a long moment, shaking their heads. "Man. Kickass."


"*All* night?" Alex grinned in disbelief.

"Well… not ALL night." Natalie flushed a bit more and bit her lower lip. "We started around midnight I guess… and I think we got some sleep before dawn…"

"Damn!" Dylan crowed, falling back across the bed as she laughed. "You go girl!"

"I told you wasn't a teenager." Natalie grinned through her flushed appearance.

"Damn right." Dylan rolled her head to grin at the blond. "No way a teenager lasts that long. They got lots of heart, but no stamina."

The three of them broke up laughing for a while, playfully pushing each other away as their flailing got to close. After a moment then calmed down, breathing heavily as they looked up at the ceiling from their place on the bed.

"So…" Dylan sighed out after a long silence. "Down to brass tacks… Was he good? And, more importantly, in detail… how good WAS he??"


McQueen and Gray watched as Xander locked the two sample rifles and their ammo up in the heavy weapons cabinet.

"So what now?" Gray asked, curiously.

"Depends on what you're talking about." Xander shrugged. "And if you think that the Knighthood is something you're ready to be a part of."

"I already gave you my answer on that." Gray said stiffly.

"Alright." Xander nodded, "Then for you, I'll contact Giles and arrange to have you picked up today. The others are going to Avalon, and I want you to take charge of the facility while it's being repaired and brought back up to speed."

Gray nodded slowly, looking around. "What about the SWAT team problem?"

"Well, I'm going to go gather some intel on them today, if I can," Xander replied, thinking for a moment. "If Mr McQueen would be interested in staying around, I think we could come up with something."

The Major just nodded his assent.

"What are you going to do?" Gray asked.

"The SWAT team has us pretty much matched in police tactics…" Xander said after a moment, "We're better equipped and have better people I think, but their vampiric nature levels the field…"


"So… if we can't match them on a police level…" Xander glanced back to the weapons cabinet, "Then we'll try to separate them from any civilian areas and we'll see if they can match us in open warfare."

Xander emerged from the basement with the two ex-marines in tow, and carefully locked and secured the door as Jessie and Jon walked up.

"Umm… Hey Xan…" Jessie frowned.


"Ummm… About you and Miss Cook…" Jessie glanced upstairs.

"Nat? What about her?"

"Well… look man," Jessie said slowly, "It's none of my business… but uh… is something going on between you two?"

"You're right. It is none of your business." Xander replied quickly. He'd learned a long time ago that he was best keeping his mouth shut up girfriends.

"Hey, I get that man!" Jessie held up his hands defensively. "It's just… well…"

"Spit it out man."

"She and her friends are upstairs giggling like crazy." Jessie said, hands still raised in surrender as he started to laugh slightly. "Just thought you'd like to know."

Xander looked up at the ceiling involuntarily, his enhanced hearing picking out a sudden squeal of laughter and he groaned.

"Oh hell."

Jessie and Jon laughed at him, and Xander thought he heard a chuckle from Gray as well.

"Oh shut up. All of you." He muttered, casting wary glancing at the ceiling. <Why is it that if I talk about girlfriends with the guys, Im a braggart or a pig… but when they do it, everyone thinks its 'oh so funny'??>

"Aw, every girls says that!" Dylan shoved Natalie away, smirking as she made a mock 'shocked face' with both hands on her cheeks. "Oh, my man is SOOOO good with his hands…"

Natalie rolled her eyes, "I'm telling you, he could do things with his…"

"Hands that I've never felt before… yah yah yah." Dylan finished in a high pitched mocking voice. "Do you have any idea how many times *I've* said that? Besides, what's your point, Nat… You're practicaly a virgin, *everybody* can do things with their hands that YOU'VE never felt before."

"Dylan!!" Natalie shrieked in outrage, her hand flying out as she moved to get up and clocking Dylan across the mouth.

"Ow!" The redhead rolled away from the blow, right off the bed, and fell on her ass. "OW!!"

"Oh God!" Natalie covered her mouth. "Dylan… are you ok?"

The red head looked up at her from the ground for a long moment, then suddeny reached up and yanked her off the bed and to the ground.



Xander glanced up when the loud thump sounded through the floor and was followed up a round of laughing that penetrated even down stairs.

<Hmm. Note to self, get bedroom soundproofed.>

"So… You're doing the french teacher, huh?"

Xander groaned, "Just… drop it, Jes."

Jessie grinned, holding up his hands again. "Hey, man… I think it's great. I mean, she's totally hot man… I just think that maybe you've been reading too many penthouse forums or something."

Xander groaned again as Jessie went on, as if dictating a letter.

"Dear Penthouse Forums, I never would have believed it if it hadn't happened to me…" Jessie started cracking up laughing, but to Xander dismay Jon continued on for him.

"She was a hot blond, and we were hot for each other… only one problem… she was the french teacher and I was only a high school student…"

"Alright, that's it!" Xander got up, "I'm going out."

"Out where?"

"Out!" Xander snapped.

He headed for the garage, grabbing his basic kit along the way, and studiously ignored the laughter behind him.

Jessie and Jon grinned at each other after Xander had stormed out.

"Hey Jes…" Jon said hesitantly after a moment, "He looked pretty pissed… You don't suppose that he and Miss Cook really… ummm… you know?"

Jessie laughed, "Hell no. Have you SEEN her, man? She's a damn supermodel! What would she be doing with Xander?"

Jon shrugged, "I dunno… but what Mikki said earlier got me thinking…"

Jessie frowned, "What'd she say? I forget?"

"Well… Miss Cook said that they were 'sparring', right?"

"Yeah. That's what Xander does in the Gym, man." Jessie reminded him. "Hell, you've seen him on the mats at school… much as I hate to admit it, Xan's wicked tough."

Jonathon nodded, "Yeah… but then Mikki sniffed the air and said 'that's a funny thing to call it'… and Miss Cook bolted. You don't think that…?"

Jessie frowned, then shook his head. "Nah. Come on. She's just a little kid, what could Mikki know?"

"She IS a… well, cat." Jonathon reminded him. "You know, with the super senses and everything."

Jessie paused, "Hey… yeah…"

He pondered that for a moment then his eyes widened, "Oh hell! You don't think she heard the stuff I said about Faith the other day do you???"

"Hey pal," Xander said as he roared down the driveway, "How are the repairs holding?"

"All systems are within optimal parameters." KARR responded evenly.

"Cool. That's great." Xander said, "Let me know if you need anything else… For now though, let's see if we can't track down some information."



Chapter 41

The man known to the underworld denizens of Sunnydale simply as 'Willy the Snitch' was having a pretty decent day. He'd Gotten about six hours sleep, woken up in his bachelor apartment just after nine, and decided that it was a day to get some of the little stuff done. So he got up, kicked his way through the empty Chinese food containers and looked out the large windows he always kept open.

He always figured, knowing his customers, it was best to have large windows that faced east, west, and south. At least that meant that part of his days were safe from irate customers with more brawn then brains or patience.

That wasn't his only safe guard, of course. He didn't survive in Sunnydale by pissing people off, or being exceptionally stupid. He owned his bar, and lived in the apartments above it, and that too one hell of a balancing act in this town.

Of course, it didn't hurt to have the Mayor on his side. Or maybe he was on the Mayor's side. That was an issue Willy wasn't sure about sometimes. Most of the time, the Mayor acted like Willy was doing him a favor, keeping the dangerous types off the streets. Then sometimes… Like last night… He came down like the wrath of an angry god, for all his Mr Rogers bullshit facade.

<What the hell does he want from old Willy anyway?> The weasely bartender griped to himself as he grabbed a box of cereal from the table and pulled a jug of milk from the small fridge sitting on his counter. He tossed some cereal in a bowel that didn't look too dirty, then splashed some milk and sugar in too. <I don't WANT to know what the local bloodsuckers are up to…>

He shivered suddenly, a chill running up his back as a sound made him spin around, splashing mil all over the table and floor.

"Tsk tsk," A young man shook his head, looking at the mess that didn't seem too out of place in the apartment. "You should be more careful, Willy. A mess like this attracts vermin."

"Who the hell are you!?" Willy snarled, straightening up.

When in doubt, and the other guy looks smaller then you, go for bluster.

"Not your concern." the young man stepped gingerly over the mess, "I'm here to have a little chat with you, Willy."

Something about the kid, or young man, or whatever, sent another chill up his spine and Willy stepped back Whatever this guy was, Willy suddenly didn't think he was smaller then ANYTHING. "What do you mean?"

"You're the local goto man, Willy." The young man grinned suddenly. It wasn't a nice image. "I need some information… so I was told 'goto Willy.'"

"Yeah, well… someone lied to ya."

"Oh, I don't think so." The young man smiled again as he flipped open the fridge and pulled out a blood pack from the bottom drawer. "Nope. I don't think so at all."

Willy paled, but his eyes widened slightly as a stray memory clicked. "You… You're that stupid kid from last year! The one Darla almost.…"

Willy paled even further, "Oh shit."

Xander grinned wide, showing his teeth as he took another step closer, causing Willy to back into the counter and drop the carton of milk. It splashed over the floor, leaving some semi-clean spots on the old wood floor.

Willow shook his head wildly from side to side, "I can't help ya, kid! No one can help you!"

"I don't need help, Willy." Xander said, reaching out and grabbing the weasel by the collar and yanking him forward, slamming him over the table until Willy was laid out on the flimsy table and staring up at his face. "I need information. Information I just *bet* you have to give."

"Wh… what do you want to know?"

"Now… see?" Xander smiled warmly, patting down Willy's shirt. "You be polite, and I'll be polite."

"Yeah… right… polite." Willy agreed shakily as he slid off the table, eyeing the young man worriedly. "So… H… how can old Willy help yah?"

"Where's Darla?"

"I don't know…" Willy said slowly, then suddenly held up his hands as the kid approached him again. "I swear! I don't know! She came into town a couple days ago with a bunch of wacked out vamps on her heals, and that's it! There was some kind of a blow up with the Slayer's people I hear, but no one was stupid enough to hang around and watch those freaks! The Slayer uses guns now, man! A guy could get killed hanging too close to that kind of fight!"

Xander pursed his lips, nodding. The weasel was probably telling the truth. Probably.

That only left his primary reason for coming here to deal with. He drew the imposing Desert Eagle from his belt where it had sat, hidden until the time was right. Willy's eyes widened as the huge barrel of the hand cannon swept up in his general direction.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God! Don't kill me, please! I told, I don't know where she is! If I knew, I'd tell ya, I swear!"

Xander smiled thinly, letting the barrel of the heavy pistol float across the bartender's vision, then lowered it again. "Spread the word, Willy… Tell everyone that the game has moved up a notch… Anyone caught out in Sunnydale from this point on is dog meat. We're not going to be patrolling anymore, Willy… Tell all your demon buddies that the Seraphim is in town, and he's gunning for Darla and her new buddies. They get caught in the crossfire, they'll burn like Darla."

If it were possible, Willy would have paled even further at the mention of the name 'seraphim'. "Oh you have got to be shitting me, kid! That lunatic *can't* be in town!"

Xander just smiled, then his hand struck out in a blinding motion that connected ever so lightly with Willy's face. The Bartender shut his eyes reflexively, then opened them to find that the space the young man had occupied was empty.

"Oh shit.… Oh shit… OH SHIT!!" Willy cursed, wiping his face clean. "That couldn't be… it just… no fuckin way…"

Xander stepped out into the morning sun, idly flipping through some papers and books he'd lifted from Willy's apartment. The conversation with the man had taken less then five minutes, but searching the place while Willy was unconscious from the nerve strike had taken another fifteen.

<I wonder if he'll realize he missed twenty minutes of his life?> Xander mused idly as he slid behind the wheel of KARR.

<Unlikely. You performed the strike… adequately.> Elan informed him.

Xander snorted, <Gee thanks. Don't blow me away with the praise.>

<Praise is hardly *my* job.> She informed him tartly. <Should you require your ego, or anything else, stroked… ask Natalie… Or Faith, I'm sure they'd both be most willing to oblige. In fact, if Faith knew about your recent applications of nerve pressures I'm certain she'd be most… eager to let you practice.>

<Don't even JOKE about that!> Xander snapped quickly as he drove through town. <That's NOT funny!>

<To you, perhaps.> Elan smirked, <To me? It most assuredly is.>

Xander shook his head, closing his eyes briefly, but quickly opened them as he remembered that he was, after all, driving. <You need to get…>

Xander bit off the conscious thought as quickly as he could, but was utterly unable to prevent his unconscious mind from filling in the last word.


Elan scowled instantly, and Xander's heart dropped.

<Ah hell, that's not what I meant to say… I mean thing… Ah… well…>

<Just because it places you in a good mood, doesn't mean you should allow your mind to dredge out the gutter it lives in an further.> Elan informed him, her voice snapping slightly. <Besides which, it would do *me* no good whatsoever. My sexual tensions are long gone, Alexander. They no longer exist for me.>

<Oh bullshit.> Xander replied, unwilling, not that the subject had been broached, to let it go at that. <I've heard you in my mind, Elan. I know that you're almost as frustrated as I am by time.>

<Indeed.> Elan gave him the mental equivalent of rolled eyes. <as if you'd know the slightest thing about how a woman feels.>

<Any other woman? You're damn right. But you? You're in my mind, Elan.> He said, his tone serious. <I know you.>

<you know nothing.> Elan replied, but her voice had no real bite to it. She was simply stating a fact. <You know less then I did when I met Caliban. Less then I did before I met my first Sensei. You are a babe in the woods, Alexander, and know nothing of yourself, let alone me."

Xander started to respond, but she cut him off.

<You think that you're clever, using the nerve control techniques for love, rather then war?> She snorted, <Don't forget who gave you the idea. The study of pressure points was born in war, but believe me when I say that you are hardly the first… nor even the most skillful, at applying them to other areas.>

"I know that, Elan!" Xander said outloud, frustrated. "I just meant…"

<I know what you meant, Alexander. And in some ways you are right… But not in the ways you think.> She informed him tartly, <The frustrations you sense from me are echoes of your own… For the most part, at least. I have my own, of course, but they are transient without a body to feed or salve them…>

Xander sighed, <Look… I'm sorry, ok. It was stupid…>

<No, it was natural… in it's perverse way.> Elanthielle informed him, smirking slightly.

Xander flushed red.

<Not that meaning of the word,> She corrected his assumption. <I mean that we are bonded… You can't help but blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind, after all. I do believe that we've covered this lesson?>

<Yeah.> Xander sighed. <Yeah, we did. But sometimes I still think the…>

<Most inopportune things.> Elan corrected with a superior smile.


<Don't be overly concerned. It takes decades to learn to control ones extraneous thoughts.> Elan said calmly. <Normally you would be properly trained before I bonded with you… These are NOT normal times.>

"Yeah." Xander said outloud as he guided the transam to a stop outside an old tenement. "Alright… I'll try to focus more, Elan."

<I would be most appreciative.> She smirked back at him.

Xander rolled his eyes as he slid out of the car and looked up at the ratty old building. He hoped that Giles had the right place.

Angel opened his eyes slowly as the foreign scent struck his nose. He knew that smell, knew it too well.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" He snarled into the darkness.

Xander slid out of the shadow, face neutral. "Watching you sleep. It took you long enough to notice."

"That's really creepy, you know that?"

"Says the vampire who was stalking a teeny bopper." Xander raised an eyebrow. "Why'd you change digs?"

"Didn't like the people who found out my address." Angel growled back, "Jehovah's Witnesses, Salesmen, You."

Xander snorted slightly, "You want to duck me, get out of Sunnydale. The others? Well… I don't think you've got much chance against them. Darla's back."

Angel nodded, "I know. I heard a couple nights ago… I've been trying to find out where she's hiding…"

"Any luck?"

"Not until last night." Angel said, "For some reason she's been sneakier then usual…"

"What happened last night?"

"She showed up in the Master's cave…" Angel frowned, "Badly injured. She's still there as far as I know… The Master… he actually cares for her… in his own way."

"She has to die this time, Angel." Xander said simply. "She's brought back a SWAT team with her… and I can't allow that idea to get off the ground."

Angel shook his head slowly, the nodded reluctantly. "Alright. What do you need me to do?"

Chapter 42

"I swear to GOD, that's what it felt like when he touched my knee."


"I wonder if he'd teach that one to Jason?"

The sound of laughter filled the room again.

"Oh God. Can you see that? Jason sitting there and taking LESSONS from Xander? It'd kill him, Alex!"

"True. It's too bad that their egos are so fragile... Men would actually be pretty tough if they could take advice."

"Yeah, but then we'd have a lot harder time on missions."

"You probably have a point there."

"Yeah... Speaking of Missions, guys... What do you think... Is Xander the guy we're looking for?"

"I don't think so, Nat. He doesn't seem the kidnaping type."

"Yeah, I've got to agree, Alex... We chased the wrong goose this time."

"Hey, it happens."

"Yeah... So..."

"Now what?"

Xander closed the door behind him just as a wave of giggle sounded from upstairs and he sighed, shaking his head. <God damn. Are they STILL at it??>

He walked through the hall of the mansion, stepping into his den and palming open the gun safe that was set into the wall by the door. He deposited his Desert Eagle and the twin FiveseveN's into it and flipped the heavy door shut on them, letting the electronic lock click shut.

His light armored jacket went next, landing on a hanger and twisting around as Xander slumped into the chair by the large wrap around desk he used.

"Mind if I come in?"

Xander glanced up, then nodded once as General Gray stepped into the room.

"Find out anything?"

"Yeah." Xander nodded as Gray shut the door and took a seat. "Darla's injured... so are some of the vamps we tangled with last night. They're holed up in the cave network under the school, licking their wounds."

"What's your plan?"

"War." Xander said simply. "We can't let them come out of there again. A sustained conflict in the streets will just cost lives... I'm going to get a team together and we're going to storm the caves."

Gray let out a sharp breath and nodded. "What team?"

"Depends." Xander sighed, "Unfortunately we're a little low on trained units at the moment. Probably McQueen... I have a scout who can get close enough to feed us inside information... We'll need some support people too, so I'll probably take Jacks, Faith, Vin, and Styles... maybe the Angels too, if they're interested."

Gray nodded slowly, "Good people, the ones I've seen... But they're not an assault team."

"Don't I know it." Xander shook his head, "But we don't have an assault team, general. That's *your* first job when you get to Avalon. Build me one."

Gray raised his eyebrows slightly, then nodded slowly. "I suppose I can do that."

Xander's lips twitched in a slight smile, "I'm sure you can."

Gray was about to respond when they heard laughter from outside and glanced toward the door of the den. "Who was that?"

Xander shrugged, "Sounds like Jack."

Gray nodded, "Odd guy, that."

Xander chuckled, "tell me about it. Come on, let's see what he finds so funny."

"So I dumped laxative in the well and sat back in the bushes and waited..." Jack Style grinned, "You should have seen those Marines run. Of course, they were British... No offence you know."

McQueen was staring at Styles like he was observing a madman from behind glass, but wasn't saying anything otherwise.

Jack sighed, shaking his head. He looked over his shoulder as Xander and Gray walked in. "Where did you get this guy? He reminds me of the Redcoats... No sense of humor."

"Redcoats?" Gray blinked.

Xander sighed, "Jack... There are damn few people who get jokes from 200 hundred years ago."

"Hey, I've watched TV... Humor hasn't changed that much." Styles grinned.

Gray looked between the two of them, blinking in confusion. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Xander sighed, "You know. There was probably a better way to do this... General Gray, meet Mr Jack Styles."

"I've already had the 'pleasure', you did introduce us." Gray muttered.

"Jack Styles had the misfortune of being caught in a Stasis field just before the end of the Napoleonic wars." Xander continued. "He's been working with us in exchange for room and board, and a stake to get started in the new world with."

Gray and McQueen exchanged glances of confusion, and it was McQueen who ventured the first question. "Do you mean to say that this man is over 200 years old?"

"Eh..." Xander shrugged, "Depends. From our point of view, yeah... From his? He's... what Jack? Thirty five?"

"Twenty six, thank you very much." Styles replied, rolling his eyes. "Unlike you and most of your generation, *I* worked for a living."

Xander rolled his eyes, glancing at the General. "I wonder how long he's been waiting to use that one on me?"

Gray just sat down. "I need a drink."

"I know just how you feel," Styles commiserated. "I've needed a drink since I met Xander."

"Hey! You want to NOT drag me into this??" Xander complained.

"But you were alive, two hundred years ago..." McQueen persisted.

Jack nodded, "Well, yeah."

"Jack fought in the revolutionary war, actually." Xander said simply. "And, incidently, I have it on good authority that the laxative story is true. I won't vouch for any of his OTHER bullshit though."

Gray's eyes widened, his mind finally catching up to what he was being told. "Hold one. Are you telling me that you were there when the United States of America was born??"

Jack grinned, "There? I helped write the constitution."

"No one can prove that." Xander shook his finger at Jack with mock severity. "If you wanted to take credit for it, you should have signed the damn thing."

"Well how was I supposed to know I'd wind up in the twentieth century??" Jack asked peevishly. "It seemed a good idea at the time."

"Uh huh. I believe that like I believe the one about Jefferson's Niece." Xander snorted.

"THAT was the God's honest truth!" Jack protested. "I remember it like it was yesterday... Not that she was spectacular or anything, but it's not every day someone threatens to have George Washington chop down your 'cherry tree'."

Xander, Gray, and McQueen all blinked then winced as realization passed over them.

"I find that... hard to believe." Gray said slowly.


"That one of the founding fathers would threaten someone like that."

Jack laughed, "Threaten? He knew she was hiding under my bed, he was just reminding me to tread lightly. Nice girl actually, just not too bright. Got herself captured by the french while sailing to see family in England. Besides, Tommy and me went way back... He saved my ass once in a fight with some redcoats before the war..."

Gray looked over to Xander, looking for some explanation or something.

"Don't look at me, man. I wasn't there." Xander laughed lightly. "I just take anything Jack says with a ton of salt until I get some corresponding evidence."

Jack made a disgusted noise, slumping in his chair. "I'll remember that next time you tell a story about saving the world."

"Since when do I tell ANY stories Jack?" Xander shrugged. "I don't have that many to tell."

"Yeah. I'll believe THAT when I see some pigs float past under their own power, thank you very much." Jack muttered, rolling his eyes. "I'd say that you need to do a little bragging anyway. If you don't, who will?"

Xander chuckled, shaking his head. "I don't think so."

"I never said you had to tell the REAL stories," Style's eyes twinkled, "Just tell *some*... and make them sound good."

Surprisingly, Gray and McQueen laughed along with Styles as he said that and nodded in agreement. Though, for McQueen it was more of a single chuckle and a half nod.

Xander just rolled his eyes and shook his head.

He didn't have any stories to tell. None that anyone else needed to hear, at any rate.

"How is she?"

The Master didn't bother to turn around, or even look up. In fact he didn't even acknowledge the presence of the fledgling vampire for the longest moment. Behind him he could feel the swell of emotions that passed through his grande-childe's mind, and he found it amusing that the youth actually managed to hold silent through the wave.

Finally he spoke, still not looking up. "She will live."

Michael shifted, frowning. "I knew that. I meant... I..."

"She will recover in time. More then that... I can't say." The Master shrugged, straightening up and turning around. "That may be better then I can say for you."

Michael faced the Master again, every ounce of his will being required just to stand in position without fleeing or falling. The eight hundred year old Vampire walked slowly over to him, until he was only inches away from the aged face.

"You challenged me." The Master hissed out slowly.

Michael nodded, face resolute despite the power the Master was exerting. "They're my men."

"You have much to learn about vampires, fledgling." The Master replied. "Your way will serve you well... for now. But don't fool yourself, they belong to you only as long you can enforce your claim. Do you honestly believe you have that power here?"

Michael didn't move.

The Master stared into him for a long moment, then shook his head.

"Young fool." He said after a time. "You'll learn. Presuming you survive long enough. For the moment, I am content to let you get yourself killed in my cause. But do not dare to presume on my... hospitality again. You will do so at your peril."

Michael swallowed, then nodded. "I understand."

"I doubt that."

Chapter 43

Rupert Giles entered the mansion just after two o'clock, and took only a moment to listen before he chose a direction to walk. He headed into the large sitting room just as the four men talking inside burst out with laughter.

"Something amusing?" He asked with a wry smile.

Jack Styles grinned at him, "Not for a Brit."

"Oh joy." Giles rolled his eyes. "Which one was it this time? The Laxative story?"

"Nah. Did that one a while ago." Jack grinned. "I was telling them about catching a bunch of redcoats out in the woods with their pants down... literally."

Giles sighed a long suffering sigh, then looked over at the other three. "Not that I'd expect you 'Americans' to do so, but I do advise you to consider his stories carefully before accepting them as the truth. Mr Styles has an odd sense of reality, which, I assure you, the majority of the world does not share."

"Relax, Giles." Xander smiled, "I already gave them the 'pinch of salt' speech."

"Ah," Giles smiled, "Excellent. That saves me the time. At anyrate, General, if you're ready the flight to Avalon will be departing shortly."

Gray nodded, "I'm packed. We going to the airport?"

"No." Giles smiled, "I decided that we may as well arrange pickup here... assuming that meets with your satisfaction, Xander?"

"As long as you told them to come in with all their stealth systems up, I don't see a problem." Xander shrugged. "Say, has Merlin got any of the Shift fields repaired yet?"

"Unfortunately not." Giles shrugged. "Wheeler informed me that he and Captain Masters spent a few days on it, but after two near electrocutions, Masters gave up. I believe that some of the new recruits have already been assigned to it as a priority."

"Good. We need at least a few Orca's with shift fields." Xander replied, "They're not fast enough to evade SAM fire."


"What's an Orca?" Gray looked between them, curious.

"Ground support aircraft... whole series of them." Xander replied, "Standard APC, a fighter that's sort of like a hi-tech cross between a Commanche and an F-16, and a heavy duty bomber that carries more payload then a squadron of A-10's. They're the Knighthood's answer to ground support operations."

"Nice." Gray replied, "If they work."

"Oh, they work." Xander grinned, "We used some converted bombers for rescue missions over the Pacific during the dust-up with the Goa'uld, and we've had APCs buzzing around the world for about a month now... well, around the Pacific rim anyway. We generally transport people into that zone via normal transportation, then have them picked up by an APC... kinda like today."

"What about the fighters?" Major McQueen asked, speaking up for the first time since Giles entered.

"We haven't put any of them into service yet." Xander replied. "Our resources are limited, and we needed the Hammerheads first."


Gray snorted. "I've seen those ones. Trust me Major, those are a piece of work. We've got a dozen requests from El Toro to have them put into general service for Marine squadrons."

McQueen looked up sharply, a glint of recognition in his eyes. "You're talking about the super-planes."

"Superplanes?" Xander asked with a half smile. "I haven't heard this one..."

"Scuttlebutt has it that the Airforce has some kind of superplane in production that they're not telling anyone about." McQueen replied, eyeing the General and Xander. "Bunch of the boys from El Toro got pretty mad when they couldn't dig up any intel on them too. They figure someone's cutting them out of the loop, and apparently they got the idea that they were being left out of the queue for necessary materials."

Gray rolled his eyes, "Major, I promise you, if the Air Force had those things, we'd have fast tracked them to everyone by now... Especially after the Goa'uld incident. The Hammerheads are part of this group."

Major McQueen looked between them, his eyes registering a glint as he realized that he was involved in something even bigger then he'd realized. "Yes Sir."

"Who's flying the APC in?" Xander glanced over at Giles.


Xander laughed once, "have a fun flight, General."

"What?" Gray blinked.

"Wheeler's nuts." Xander grinned. "She used to run drugs for a cartel on the east coast... trained to be a real combat pilot by Chappy Sinclair, then mentored by Doug Masters... both lunatics in their own right."

"Sinclair..." Gray frowned, "Wasn't he..."

Xander nodded, losing his smile. "Yeah. He took a chunk of shrapnel during our last sortie against Apophis... You'll find his name on The Wall when you arrive on Avalon."

Gray nodded silently.

"We had Merlin reconstruct his last flight after the battle..." Xander said slowly, "Damned if we can figure out if he intended to do it or not, but Sinclair took a ten meter piece of shrapnel that was intended for Wheeler... He flipped his plane over at the last second and wound up between her and the blast."

A silence filled the room as Xander continued.

"Merlin swears that human reflexes and eyesight would have been too slow for it to be on purpose..." Xander shrugged, "But somehow I just don't believe it... It was just too much like Chappy for it be luck."

"The President met General Sinclair once." Gray said after a moment, smiling slightly. "Said that he didn't like the man much... Apparently Sinclair tore him a new one over some flight protocol before he retired... but he figured that anyone who managed to get others to follow him into the kinds of things Sinclair did was one hell of a leader."

"Yeah. Sounds like Chappy." Xander let out a long breath, then glanced over to Giles. "When's Wheeler due in?"

"A half hour, perhaps."

Xander nodded and got up, leaving the room for a moment, only to reappear a few minutes later with a tray of glasses and a bottle of scotch. He poured shots all around, then lifted his own. "To Fallen heros."

"Fallen heros." Everyone chorused, drinks lifted.

Some time later, the group was still sitting around, talking soberly about various subjects when the Angels trooped down the stairs and into the room.

"Hey girls," Jack grinned, instantly moving back to his normal persona. "Come down to see me again?"

They rolled their eyes, and Dylan smirked at him. "You ain't that good, Styles."

"Finally. Someone with a modicum of sanity." Giles remarked.

Jack flipped him a mock glare. "Hey... was that an insult?"

"I'm sure Xander has a dictionary some place here. Look it up and find out." Giles replied.

Xander ignored them, "Hey Nat."

"Hey you." She smiled, moving over to him. She leaned over and he moved up enough to kiss her, then he hooked an arm around her waist and pulled her down. "Hey!"

Xander just grinned at her, "Just wanted to say thanks."

"For what?"

"Bringing a breath of fresh air into the room when you walked in."

"Damn." Dylan smirked, "He's good."

"That's what I've been telling you." Natalie smirked at her from where she was sitting on Xander's lap.

"I do not need to hear this." Giles shook his head. "I've enough night terrors already, thank you."

Gray was silent, but he recognized the easy comradery that was evident in the room. It seemed primarily focused around Xander and Giles, but he could tell that Styles was part of it, and from the night before he'd seen that there were many others included in the easy give and take that came with trusting others with whatever it took.

He'd seen it before, of course. It was the sort of thing you saw in tightly knit military units and, oddly enough, many families. An unspoken trust that, no matter what else, they would be there when the chips fell.

These people weren't a military unit, though. That was obvious, despite the obviously capable nature of each of them. They weren't a single soul with multiple bodies, which was the unspoken goal of truly elite units. These people were family, yes, but still wildly individual.

It was rare to see that combination outside of a blood relation.

He wondered if it was a good thing, considering the work they did, or whether it would be unwieldily in the long run. He was still pondering that when a horn blew outside. Giles looked up in surprise.

"Well, General... time to go. Mr Murphy has arrived with the others, and Wheeler should be flying in shortly to pick up up." Giles stood up.

Gray got up as well, and shortly so did everyone else.

"Flying in?" Natalie asked Xander as she was displaced.

Xander smiled, "Come on outside... you'll love this."

Wheeler flipped a couple switches as she guided the Orca APC in low, skimming the waves as the rocky cliff face came into view ahead of her. She'd been dancing through RADAR zones for the last half hour, and was happy to be in under their coverage now that the cliffs were sheltering her.

The Orca was heavily stealthed, of course, but it still had some components that reflected RADAR to some extent or another, and with the US forces still a little touchy about nearly invisible targets the last thing she wanted was some bright boy at a RADAR station calling for a scan with eyeball mark one.

So she flew approved USAF evasion paths as she came into the pulse and doppler RADAR installations, paralleling the doppler and cutting straight into the pulse wave to present a minimum profile in each case. It made for a hectic flight path, but when combined with the stealth technology on the APC the only thing better would have been a full shift field.

Luckily that was over, at least until the outbound flight, so she relaxed a bit and let the APC gain altitude until she was over the cliffs and slowing down over the immaculate ground of the mansion below.

<Nice place.> She smirked, dropping the landing treads and letting the squat APC drop onto a square marked off, apparently for helicopter landing.

"Good god." Gray muttered, shaking his head. "I've seen video of these, you know... but it's bigger then I thought."

Xander nodded, "Yeah... I can understand that."

"Uh... Xander..." Natalie spoke almost timidly. "What is it?"

Xander smiled, "Just another secret."

"Oh." She said, then scowled lightly at him. "Thanks, that explains everything."

He just winked, then stepped out of the group and moved forward as the side door of the APC slid open and Wheeler stepped down. "Hey Wheeler, how's it been?"

She shrugged, "Not so bad. Though I'd watch out if Doug sees you any time soon."

"What? What'd I do?" Xander asked, eyes confused.

"He just found out how many systems were disabled on the Hammerheads we flew." She smirked at him. "He ain't happy about it."

Xander rolled his eyes, "We didn't have time to learn a quarter of those systems, Wheeler. We had to restrict ourselves to regular flight profiles."

"Tell that to Doug." She smirked, then looked past him. "These the newbies?"

"Yeah," Xander glanced back, waving the group forward. "And this is General William Gray. He's taking over military operations on Avalon for the time being... I guess that makes him your new boss."

She snorted, "Not till you let us get back to our real jobs. Last time I checked, being a taxi driver wasn't much of a military occupation."

"Don't be so anxious, Wheeler." Xander advised, "Trust me, the Goa'uld will be back soon enough. You'll get plenty of flight time then."

"Yeah, I'm sure." She nodded, then turned to the gathered group. "Alright, everyone aboard who's getting aboard. We've got a schedule to keep."

Xander stepped back, nodding to each other the others as they boarded the APC. He stopped Gray for a moment before the older man could step onto the craft. "Good Luck, General... and a little tip... listen to Merlin. He's got more experience then most of the world combined, it makes him a pretty good advisor."

Gray nodded, and the two of them shook hands before Gray turned and boarded the APC.

Xander stepped back, watching Wheeler close the hatch, and then they all watched as the squat craft lifted off again, pivoted in the air, and accelerated out into the Pacific.

Chapter 44

Xander turned away as the APC dropped over the edge of the cliff, practically free falling to twenty feet off the deck, and accelerated away.

"Alright guys, we've got some work to do." He announced, walking toward the mansion. He laid a hand on Giles' shoulder as they walked, pretending not to notice the fact that McQueen and the Angels were still staring out to sea at the dwindling APC.

"G, We're going to need Faith on the op tonight." He said softly, hand on Giles' shoulder. "I want you to go pick her up, give her a glamour or something ok? It doesn't have to last long, but we're going to need her on this one."

"Right." Giles said, then smiled suddenly.

"What?" Xander shifted away from him, not liking the look on the Brit's face. "Wait! Never mind, I don't want to know."

Giles cackled softly to himself as Xander dropped back from him, and for a moment Xander winced. He was just as happy that whatever Giles was contemplating wasn't going to be aimed at him. He just waved Giles on, and turned back to the others.

"Major." He said softly, but firmly.

"Sir." McQueen spun around on his heal, coming to parade rest with a smoothness born of second nature.

"Two groups tonight." Xander held up two fingers. "You'll have tactical command of one, I'll provide mystical elements to shore up your team and you'll also have Styles and Tanner. Mr Giles will be nominally in strategic command, but he'll mostly be guide and artillery backup. Got that?"

"Hu-ah." McQueen grunted, nodding.

"Alright." Xander nodded, "When we get back to the house I want you to take the two M41's and strip them down. Have them readied for tonight, You'll have one, I'll have the other."

McQueen nodded, then started back to the house without a glance over his shoulder.

Xander looked at the three Angels, who were now staring at him. He smiled and shrugged, "I told you guys. You're through the looking glass now."

Dylan and Alex suddenly laughed slightly, but Natalie still looked stricken.

"You have to admit, Nat... he warned you." Dylan elbowed her, and put it out of her mind as she followed McQueen.

Alex shook her head once, then looked at Xander. "What was that thing?"

"Counter-Mass driven APC." Xander replied. "Maybe I'll let you have a look at the specs sometime, Alex... just not right yet. K?"

She twisted her lips up, but nodded.

Xander nodded over his shoulder, tossing her a glance, and she nodded. Alex squeezed Nat's shoulder supportively then she brushed past Xander and headed for the house.

"I told you, Nat." Xander walked over to her, catching up one of her hands. "I've got lots of secrets..."

"I know." She said, her eyes flicking out to the horizon. "I know... it's just... That thing shouldn't have been able to fly..."

"Yeah," Xander grinned, then leaned forward and whispered into her ear, sending a shiver down her spine. "But the Atlantean's had this agreement with Physics... they left it alone, and it didn't poke it's nose into things that weren't it's business."

Her eyes widened, and she stared at him. "You're not serious."

He just smiled, looping an arm around the small of her back and guiding her toward the home. "I told you, Nat. I'll tell you anything you want to know unless it risks someone's life... So yeah, I'm serious. And I seriously hope that you'll keep my secrets too."

She took a breath, deflected from her previous train of thought, "Of course I will. Xander, I'm not going to betray you."

"I know that." He said softly, his hand rubbing circles along her back. "I know that, Nat. As for Atlantis, yeah... I'm serious. In fact..."

He smiled over at her, "If you're interested... I believe a visit could be arranged."

Her eyes just widened until they seemed to take over half her face and she stared at him in shock while he laughed, just enjoying her shock.

"But in the meantime," He went on, still chuckling mirthfully, "I have an assault to plan tonight... I was hoping you and you're partners would be willing to help."

"I..." Natalie frowned, "We have to leave soon... but I think we can put it off until tomorrow."

"Great." He smiled, "Check with Alex and Dylan, ok? Let me know when you talk it out. I've got some planning to do... and another NRO bird to hijack."

"Stealing reconnaissance satellites is very very naughty, Xander." She returned, a touch of humore supplanting the uncertainty and shock in her voice.

"Tell me you don't like it." He whispered, his breath blowing in her ear until she giggled and broke down.

"Cut that out!" She playfully slapped him away.

He sniffed playfully in return, rubbing his shoulder. "You're no fun."

She just winked, "After we get back tonight, we'll move up to your room and you can tell me that again."

Xander frowned pensively. "I'm not so sure that's a good idea."

"Huh? Why not?" She asked, sounding hurt.

"Because, after all the giggling you three were doing up there today, I REALLY think we need to sound proof my bedroom."

"You heard that!?" She blushed red as a beet.

Xander just nodded.

"God I'm so freaking embarrassed."

Xander slipped into the darkened TV and movie room after checking with everyone and making sure they were all aware of what was going down. Inside he found himself smiling as the gang were settled in and sprawled out, watching The Princess Bride.

"Hey guys." He said softly.

"Shh." Jessie waved up him to shut up. "It's the cliffs of despair."

Xander rolled his eyes in the darkness, but smiled as he dropped onto the couch beside Willow.

"Hey." She said softly as he sat down. "How's everything out in the real world?"

He smiled, shrugging. "Not too bad. We've got a few things going down, but nothing big until tonight."

"Good. Are you going to actually relax for a bit then?" She asked pointedly.

"Yep." He nodded, "Just me and my buds. Right guys?"


He suppressed a chuckle in the darkness, and kicked Jessie in the shins.

"Ow! Hey!"

"SHH!" Xander hissed at his friend, causing a spout of snickering to come from Buffy and Willow.

"Smart ass." Jessie growled, rubbing his shin.

Buffy leaned over, "You'd never know that he was whining and bitching about this being a chick flick before we put it on."

"Yeah," Xander nodded, "but hey, it IS a chick flick... oh hey! Shhh... Inigo and Wesley are about to duel."

As Xander leaned forward with a grin on his face, Willow and Buffy rolled their eyes and settled back in to watch the movie.

Upstairs, this time in the room that had been set aside for Alex, the three Angels were debating their next move.

"We won't get much new information if we leave right now..." Natalie said, "and I think that taking out those vampires is important."

Dylan made a face and shook her head.

"You don't think so?"

"No, it's not that. I just can't believe that we're talking about vampires." The redhead grinned.

"Yeah. It is kind of a major brain twister." Alex said, thinking about it. "But... it looks legit."

"Hey," Dylan looked up. "Do you think Bosley found anything?"

"He's had almost a day." Nat grinned suddenly. "Who knows?"

"Let's give him a call and tell him that we don't need the information anymore." Dylan smirked mischievously.

"That's just mean." Alex grinned at her, picking up her cell phone to make a call.

Dylan leaned over to Natalie, whispering low. "She makes him eat the food she cooks, and she thinks *I'm* mean??"

Natalie quickly clapped a hand over her mouth, trying violently to suppress a bout of the giggles as she nodded in agreement.

"Townsend Investigations..."

"HI BOSLEY!" Three voices sounded over the speakerphone.

"Hello Angels." Bosley grinned, leaning forward. "Anymore insane searches for me to make? Aliens perhaps?"

"Don't be silly, Bos..." Alex' voice came over the speaker. "Aliens don't exist. Just give us what you have on vampires."

Bosley shook his head, rolled his eyes, and stuck his tongue out at the speaker.

"Bosley!" Natalie's voice sounded aghast. "Don't you make that face at us!"

<How does she DO that!?> He shook his head, "Alright, here's what I found..."

Chapter 45

The movie was just ending when Xander heard a hint of noise from the next room. He stood up as Jon was feeding the next flick to the machine, and was halfway to the door before Jessie noticed.

"Dude... You're cutting out already? You didn't even stay for a full movie!"

Xander half shrugged, looking back a little wishfully. "Gotta job to do Jes, and if I'm right I think that the rest of the team has arrived."

"Team?" Buffy looked up, "You're patrolling?"

"Man! It's still daylight!" Jessie complained.

"It's not a patrol." Xander said simply. "It's a raid."

Then he walked out, leaving the others to stare at each other for a moment before scrambling out, movies forgotten.

Xander stopped in shock as he stepped into the living room, almost sliding to a stop as he clamped a hand over his mouth and unsuccessfully tried to force down a bout of laughter.

"Yuk it up, boytoy." Faith scowled at him, then at Giles, then back at him as she tossed her coat on a rack.

"Faith..." Xander managed to get out through a strangled air passage. "You look so... blond."

"Shut up." She growled, pushing past him. "Are those Angel ladies here? Cause I've got a bone to pick with them..."

Xander grabbed her shoulder, "Get a grip. They're helping with this one mission, then leaving. You want to screw with that?"

She paused, scowling, and finally nodded. "Fine. But they better be gone soon, or I'll see how they like being forced to put up with a screwball Brit's sense of humor."

"You're threatening them with Giles?" Xander grinned, "Damn. You are pissed."

"Oh very droll." Giles said lightly, still smirking at Faith. "Though, I must admit, the most terrifying thing I can imagine is Faith and Miss Saunders teaming up for anything."

<Oh God. Faith and Dylan!> Xander shivered. "That's just scary, G-man."


Further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Willow, Jessie, Jon, and Buffy, who skidded to a halt in the doorway and stared.

"Whoa... who's that??" Jessie stared, wide mouthed, quickly checking his breath against his palm.

Faith rolled her eyes, then sauntered over towards him and laid a slim hand under his jaw as it dropped open. Then her hand flicked slightly and he pushed up, lifting him by the neck and jaw until he was six inches off the floor. "Hi Jes. You know, Mik had some interesting things to say about you..."

Jessie gurgled, then managed to get out a strangled phrase. "Hi Faith."

She smiled sweetly at him, then let go. He crashed to the ground, falling back onto his ass against the doorframe. Faith leaned over, putting both hands on her knees and showing an excessive amount of cleavage for someone her apparent age. "And to answer your question.... yes, I could. But you'll never have the pleasure, dweeb boy."

After which she got up and strutted off.

Xander glanced down at Jessie for a moment, then shook his head. "I don't want to know."

He looked back, "Giles, meet in the basement... I'm going to gather the troops."


After Xander had everyone gathered downstairs, including Vin and Jacks, and was praying on a fairly constant basis that they managed to get through the rest of the evening without blowing Faith's cover, he cleared his throat and got their attention.

"Hey everyone." He said, looking around. "Here's the sitch. We've got a Vampiric SWAT team holed up on or near the Hellmouth. They're underground, in a highly defensible position, and between their vampiric nature and their training, they're a force to be reckoned with."

He laid down a large sheet of paper, and spread it out over a table. "Merlin hijacked an NRO bird with ground penetrating RADAR this afternoon, and we've been able to map out a lot of the tunnel system."

His hand slid over the paper, "You can see here where the sewers end, the straight lines break up for the natural roughness of the cavern system."

McQueen looked over the map closely, frowning. "That's an extensive system."

"I know." Xander replied, "In fact, it's even larger then I thought it was. We have one branch tunnel that goes on for miles... and I'm not certain, but I think it either has, or has had, a connecting link right into Los Angeles. Which explains a lot, now that I think about it. Most demons can't exactly catch a bus to get here, but we're never in danger of running out."

"In fact," Xander tapped another section of the map, one that showed a large and complex cave. "It interconnects right under our feet and extends for miles to the north as well. This could be seriously bad news in the future."

He let that sink in for a moment before sliding the paper to one side and tapping another section. "Luckily, this is the only part we need to worry about for this Op. This, ladies and gentlemen is the Hellmouth. Near as we can tell, and I'll admit that our recon could be firmer... Angel is our only asset capable of penetrating that deep, and even he has to be careful... they'd rip him apart if they caught him... but he says that Darla is in the Master's Lair, and it's located right here."

Everyone examined the map where Xander tapped it, nodding.

"What's the plan, Sir?" McQueen asked after another moment.

"Two teams." Xander replied, "I'll take Jacks, and the Angels. Giles... Blondie..."

Xander smirked at Faith, who surreptitiously threw him the finger.

"You go with Jack, Vin, and McQueen." Xander looked around, receiving nods. He was about to start again, when Buffy spoke up.

"Hey! What about me??"

"You're not in on this one." Xander replied simply, turning back to his map.


Xander sighed, turning back patiently. "Buff. You and the others are here mostly so that you can get familiar with how we plan and prepare. You're not up for a mission like this."

"I'm the Slayer! It's MY JOB." She growled back at him.

Xander stared evenly at her for a moment, then shrugged. "I tell you what... you pass one test, and you're in."

She smirked, "A combat test?"

Xander nodded. "That's right."


Xander held up his hand, then made a series of motions through the air as the Slayer watched him in confusion. When he was finished, he asked, "Alright, what did I say?"

"Huh?" She blinked.

"What did I say?" Xander shrugged. "It's a simple question."

"You didn't say anything! You just waved your hand around!" She objected.

Xander turned to McQueen and pointed.

"Sir." The Marine stiffened, "You indicated a breech entry, and assigned the second unit to cover the first while..."

Xander shifted, pointing at Giles. Giles picked it up after a short hesitation, "While the first moved in. The orders were to follow fast, eliminate any targets quickly..."

Xander shifted again, pointing to Natalie. She just smiled, "while team one secured the objective. You warned the teams to..."

Xander turned one last time, this time pointing at Faith. Faith shrugged, "To wear their masks and wait for the flash bangs to go off before moving."

"Bingo." Xander said simply, turning back to Buffy.

"You said a COMBAT test!"

"Communication IS combat." Xander replied simply, turning around and plucking a thin book from the bookshelf behind him. He tossed it to Buffy almost carelessly. "Memorize that, it'll give you a leg up on when we start your real training."

She blinked looking at the title of the book.

Arm and Hand Signals for Special Forces Units. Third Edition.

"Buffy..." Giles spoke softly, "This will be a very dangerous entry. The master's minions hold all the defensible sections, they're dug in and are going to be extremely difficult to dislodge. We're going in armed to the teeth with weapons you aren't familiar with, using tactics you don't yet know. You'd trip over us, we'd trip over you..."

The blond slayer glowered at them, looking quite nearly mutinous.

"Besides," Xander sighed, "We do need you... all of you, for something."

"What?" Jessie leaned forward, almost eagerly.

Xander returned to the map and tapped a point on it. "This is the Sunnydale reservoir outlet for the storm drains. It's also our primary evac point. We're going to be coming out of there, probably with a small horde of pissed off vampires on our ass. Now it's daylight, so once we hit the reservoir, we should be clear... but until we actually cross that line, we may need a hand."

"What do you want us to do?" Jonathon looked uncertain.

"Mainly I want you to be there in case we have any wounded coming out." Xander replied evenly. "Jessie, you can take the van and park it near this tunnel... If we've got anyone hurt, you hustle them up to the van where Tara will be waiting. Got that?"

"Got it." Jessie nodded.

Xander turned to Buffy, "Buff... If anyone is coming out hurt... they'll probably have some vamps on their ass. A fresh Slayer would really improve our chances of getting everyone out alive."

Buffy glowered for a long moment, but finally nodded reluctantly.

"Thanks Buff." He gave her a smile, trying not to take it to heart when it wasn't reciprocated.

That done, he turned back to the group. "Ok... Here's the entry plan..."

"Team One, that's my group," He said, showing a line on the map with his finger. "Goes in here. We're going to hit hard and fast. Flash bangs and unsilenced weapons. We'll eliminate any vampire and hostile demon in the tunnels along our primary evac route. We'll also attract a hell of a lot of attention."

His hand shifted on the paper, "Three minutes after we start, team two goes in through the library tunnel. It detours around the Hellmouth for three hundred feet, but there's a side tunnel that drops into the main network here..."

He looked up, catching the McQueen's eye. "You're team will use silenced weapons primarily, so shoulder the M41 until the shit hits the fan. We'll issue you a Berretta with a silencer for the op, but let the others take point until you reach the target."

McQueen nodded.

"This is our primary objective." Xander circled a cavern on the map. "We're fairly certain that Darla is located here. Our main concern is that she may be protected by the same field that has prevented our taking the Master out of play t'ill now. If she is, I've got an idea or two... but we'll have to assume that we won't be able to get her."

"The SWAT team, however," Xander continued, "Is not in the current good graces of the Master. There was some kind of mix up there... Don't know why, don't care... But it's a good bet that they'll be outside the protection field and, since it seems that their leader has a thing for Darla, they should still be close."

"Any questions?" Xander asked. When none came he nodded, "Alright. Let's Move out."

"Huah." Was the only response, and that came soley from McQueen.

Chapter 46

Some time later, and half the town away, Xander Harris stood over an unopened manhole cover and looked around at his entry team. Between the Angels and Jacks, even he had a hard time avoiding making a crack about the 'girls team', and he was in the damn group. Jessie, unfortunately, had no such compunctions, and Xander had quickly found himself ushered in as an honorary girl much to the amusement of just about everyone, save himself and, *possibly* McQueen. He wasn't sure about McQueen though.

"Alright, Girls." He said, amidst the barely suppressed giggles. He smiled, nodding, not being above letting them have some fun at his expense, but after a moment he spoke seriously. "We're going down hard and fast. Lead with flash bangs, Jacks and I will take point. Angels, once you're down there, you're in a warzone. If it moves and it's not one of us, take it down. Understood?"

The three women tensed slightly, taking a breath, the nodded.

"Alright. Stand back." Xander said, pulling a titanium bar from KARR and slipping it into a slot on the cover.

It was broad daylight, so they'd had to choose an entry point near the faded industrial section of town. Of which there was a surprising quantity, Xander supposed, though it wasn't much of a surprise to someone who knew about the Sunnydale nightlife.

Thus there was no one in the immediate area to notice how a heavily armed group was about to gain access to the sewers.

Xander tramped on the bar, popping the cover up into the air, letting it clang back to the asphalt as he and Jacks moved forward and tossed a pair of flash bangs apiece into the dark tunnels. The leaned back as the explosives went off, sending vibrations up through the road and flashes from the hole, then Xander just stepped through and free fell the twelve feet to the muck covered tunnel floor.

His legs flexed as he landed, the big muzzle of the 10mm assault rifle floating up almost of it's own accord as his enhanced vision locked onto two fuzzy auras in the area.

The M41 roared twice, whining roars as the heavy bullets left the big gun and ripped into the targets around them. The bodies of the two vampires hid the small flash of the explosive rounds as they went off, but also served to absorb the energy.

Both auras vanished into the dark the instant Xander had fired, and when he couldn't find them after a moment of searching he smiled calmly into the darkness. <They don't fire silver... but they'll do. Oh yeah, they'll do.>

Jacks slid slowly down through the manhole, her floating figure wavering to a stop about six feet above the floor as she searched the tunnel with her glowing green eyes.

"I see three stunned figures." She intoned, her voice affected by the power she was showing through.

"Confirmed." Xander stepped clear of the manhole, checking the first.

His stuttered shots had already eliminated the two vampires they'd caught with their explosive entrance, now he just had to confirm the targets that were left.

"Polgaran." He said coldly, firing a short burst into the stunned demon. "You?"

"Oricholi." Jacks said calmly.

"Really? That's rare."

"Indeed." Jacks grimaced, drawing a pistol from her belt and firing a single round into it's skull. "Baby eater."

"Who's contestant number three?" Xander wondered, moving over to the last body as the first of the Angels, Natalie, dropped in.

Jacks met him at the groaning figure, both slightly surprised.

"Human." Jacks said, eyebrows raised.

"Barely." Xander snorted, hauling the short figure up. "What the fuck are you doing down here, Willy??"

The weasley bartender groaned, barely conscious, and his head lolled from side to side.

Xander shrugged, shaking his head. "Probably making a delivery."

"Huh?" Natalie came up beside him. "What do you mean?"

"Willy here caters to the demon side of town. Human blood mostly, but sometimes more... mobile... treats as well." Xander grimaced. "Jacks... toss him up into the street."

"Are you certain?" Jacks reached out a hand, levitating the bartender with some distaste.

"Unfortunately. He's got his uses." Xander shrugged.

"As you wish." Jacks snapped her hand up, lofting the semi-conscious figure up through the manhole with alacrity. Xander and the Angels all winced when they heard a thud and yelp of pain from above them. When they looked at Jacks, she stared back with both eerie eyes glowing and her hair afloat in her power. "What? You didn't say be gentle."

Xander smirked and shook his head, turning away. He pointed down the tunnel. "This way. Angel should be waiting for us at the end of the sewer line."

Jacks touched down lightly, grimacing as her feet were covered in muck, and motioned to the Angels to move on ahead of her.

The Angels looked at each other, shivered, then moved forward as Jacks took up the rear.

"We're in." Xander said, touching his Fold Comm. "Clock is running. Cry Havok."

"Three minutes." Giles said softly, catching the attention of the other.

They all nodded back at him as the group waited just outside the locked and sealed door that was buried under the Sunnydale library.

Faith and Jack Styles were on either side of the large metal door, both carrying silenced P90s as they leaned against the wall with an apparent calmness that was belied by the shine of their eyes. Giles and Vin Tanner both flanked them, cradling matching SMGs and stares.

From a bit further back, with his M41 slung over his shoulder and a silenced Beretta in his hand, Major TC McQueen decided that he could have found a worse team to work with.

Xander moved along point, eyes searching the darkness with skill and precision that was unmatched by any of the nightvision gear they had brought with them, watching for where the cement ended and the rock began.

They'd ran into a series of vampires and demons along the way and had subsequently dealt with them in various effective, and noisy, ways. Generally the M41 barked first and last, but three vampires had made the unfortunate error of attempting to grab the Angels as they slipped past a side tunnel.

The three women had reacted according to their military training, splitting apart and catching the unfortunate vampires in a snarling crossfire of 5.7mm silver rounds.

Only one of the three had actually dusted, so Jacks had been forced to move up and finish the other two with her pistol before turning to the suddenly pale Angels. "Only a heart shot puts them out. Immortal demons, remember?"

"Y... yeah." Dylan swallowed, nodding. "I remember."

The other two just nodded, then Xander had started out again.

They fell into step without further comment, and Jacks just continued walking drag as the group moved on through the false night un the Sunnydale Sewers.

"Ready?" McQueen asked softly.

When the others nodded, he nodded once to Faith and the Slayer threw open the door, stepping back so Styles could slip through.

The Colonial wasn't completely up to date on modern small unit tactics, but he was sneaking into dangerous places long before any of his current compatriots were a gleam in their daddy's eye. <I think so anyway... Damned if I know for sure about Vin, of course.> He smirked to himself, checking the tunnel in both directions with his SMG as he heard Faith move in behind him.

"Clear right." He whispered softly.

"Clear left." Came the equally soft reply.

Faith moved deeper into the tunnel as Vin and Giles moved in next, both following along with her and establishing a perimeter along their path.

Finally McQueen slid up behind Jack, tapping him once on the shoulder. "Good?"


"Alright. Take drag, we're moving in according to plan."

Xander's hand came up suddenly, causing the Angels behind him to come to an abrupt stop as they watched him through the green tint of the nightvision systems they were wearing. He moved forward a couple steps as they redeployed, covering both sides as Jacks slid up silently beside them.

"What is it?" Jacks asked, not bothering with staying overly quiet as that wasn't the point of their entry.

"Xander's stopped." Alex replied, taking position along side the Demi-Fey as they covered the rear.

"Must have spotted Angel." Jacks shrugged, her lips curling.

"Angel?" Alex asked, her expression hidden by the nightvision optics.

"Vampire. Cute name huh?"

Alex just shrugged, remembering the brief report on the 'vampire with a soul'.

"Angel." Xander said quietly.

"I'm here." The dark figure split from the shadows, hands in the pockets of his long black coat.

"I know." Xander shifted his eyes to where the vampire was. "I could smell the hair gel."

"Cute." Angel half sneered. "Real cute."

"I try." Xander sneered right back, then nodded ahead. "Darla?"

"Still with the Master, near as I can tell." Angel shifted uncomfortably. "I don't have to tell you that I can't get close enough to confirm it, right?"

"Don't worry. I know." Xander said simply. "We'll take our chances and play the cards we're dealt. She's not my absolute priority this time anyway... She's personal... The SWAT team? They're business."

Angel nodded simply, "You've raised a hell of a ruckus getting this far. I saw about three groups of fledglings run up toward the Master's cave in the past ten minutes."

"That's the point." Xander said, "Numbers?"

"Maybe eight or ten. Say a total of twenty five to thirty in the cave." Angel replied, then frowned. "That doesn't count the SWAT boys. All I know about them is that the fledges don't want anything to do with them. They scare even some of the older ones... There's a good side to that..."


"I cornered a fledgling earlier who was just as scared of Angelus. He told me where the SWAT boys were at the time..." Angel said simply, but his face twitched slightly. "Bad side is, they're in the cave complex the Master uses... Apparently their boss, guy named Michael, has the hots for Darla."

Xander frowned, "Don't go getting jealous on me, Angel."

"I'm not. Just some... old memories."

"Fine. Leave 'em in the past." Xander advised. "Meantime... lead the way."

"Right," Angel nodded over his shoulder. "This way."

"Angel." Xander stopped him, a hand on the vampire's shoulder.


Xander hefted the big M41 in his hand, jerking the barrel toward the cave wall. "Stay one step ahead, but over by the wall. You don't want to be on the receiving end of this."

Angel eyed the imposing weapon for a moment, then nodded and slipped over to the wall. "Let's go."

Xander just lifted a fist, then brought it down in an arc until it pointed down the tunnel. Then he nodded to Angel and they started off.

Behind him Natalie spotted his motion and tapped Dylan on the shoulder, nodding her head. Dylan did the same to Alex, who patted Jacks on the arm, and the troupe started off again.

Chapter 47


The Master turned around, glaring at the young one who had intruded in such a brusque manner. His glare backed by a surge of anger that froze the suddenly quailing fledgling in place. He held him there for a long moment before calming enough to let the youth off the hook, so to speak.

"What is it?"

"Hunters, Master... In the tunnels just like... they said happened before." The youth got out quickly before the Master's ire rose again and froze him in place.

"They DARE!?" The Master raged, rising to his full height. "Not once, but a second time? They have the unmitigated GALL to enter my domain a *second* time??"

The fledgling swallowed, but nodded. "Yes si... uh... Master."

"Michael!!" The Master roared, his voice booming through the caves.

"What is it?" The SWAT team commander asked, appearing from an adjoining cavern a few moments later.

The two glared at each other, no love lost between them, but a knowledge that, for the moment at least, they had need of each other.

"They come." The Master glared. "For you, most likely, as they had already proven that they cannot hope to reach *me*. Deal with them."

Michael glanced around slowly, not having to be told who 'they' were. He looked over at the frozen fledgling, though the other vampire was probably older then he was, and fixed it with a glare. "Where and how many?"

The fledgling swallowed, suddenly fixed in place by two glares from beings he was terrified of. Finally he pointed down a tunnel, his hand shaking. "T.... that way. At least four... maybe more."

"Guns?" Michael asked, keying a signal over his radio.

The fledgling nodded desperately.

"Show me." Michael ordered simply as his team appeared from a couple caves over, weapons already coming up to the ready. "Now."

The fledgling's eyes widened in terror induced shock as he looked between the Master and the Warrior.

Finally the Master unfroze him, nodding once. "Go."

"This way, Sir." the fledgling said respectfully, hoping to mitigate his waiting for the Master's permission.

Michael ignored him, and just waved forward. "Let's move."

Xander and Angel slid to a stop as they caught sight of the approaching group of Vampires, both dropping to a crouch as they did.

Behind them, the rest of the group dropped in sequence as they stopped, weapons coming up.

Xander pumped the launcher under his assault rifle once, chambering the fragmentary grenade.

"Fire in the hole." He said, loud enough for everyone to hear him, then he thumbed the launcher.

The heavy weapon bucked once in his arms, a loud, nearly hollow, sound emitting from it as the 30mm frag flew clear. The solid state components on the grenade went active as the protective cap flew apart as it left the launcher, and the machined explosive ticked down as it flew through the air.

Xander ducked and covered, a signal to the others to do the same, as the grenade flashed through the approaching vampire group and actually hit one of them hard enough to blow him off his feet.

It detonated in the midst of the momentarily surprised group of vampires, throwing them apart as razor sharp slivers of aluminum and steel shredded their bodies, dancing them around like puppets on their strings.

"Up!" Xander snapped, jumping to his feet and rushing forward.

"Move!" Michael snapped an order, waving the massed vampires forward as the explosion sounded ahead of them.

His team fanned out, hugging the walls and moving slowly as the others rushed forward.

The Master had decided to arm his fledglings since the guns had become part of the game plan, but Michael didn't consider them to be much of a threat, armed or not. He had sent them forward because they didn't matter to him and would serve to expose the enemy positions before they died.

<Who knows?> He shrugged. <They might even get a lucky shot or two.>

Not that he was counting on that.

"Burke, take Biggs and follow that side tunnel." He nodded ahead. "If I recall correctly it should come out around and let you flank them."

"Yes Sir."

"The rest of you, with me." Michael moved forward, still limping slightly from the injuries he'd taken just a couple nights earlier, and hefted his M4.

The first return shots were wild, striking off the walls and ceiling ahead of them, but it was enough to send Xander to his knees again.

They'd rushed the fragged vamps before they could recover and short bursts from the P90s and Xander's M41 had made short work of them, but now there was something else ahead.

"Gunfire." Xander said simply, hugging to the wall as he kneeled.

"Must be them." Angel replied from the other side.

Xander just shook his head, "No. It's wild fire... shotgun, couple rifles. Nothing automatic, and nothing professional."

"They can still get lucky." Natalie said from just behind him, laying a hand on his shoulder.

Xander didn't look back, but he nodded. "True enough. Alright, they're still around the corner so they can't get a shot at us. Dylan, Alex... take position behind Angel, Nat stay here with me. Jacks..."

"I have the rear." Jacks intoned, the timbre of her voice changing as she tapped more of her power.

Xander nodded, flipping his M41 to one side to check the ammo LED. Noting that it was down to twenty three rounds he ejected the clip and slapped a fresh one in. "Alex... call it in."

"Right." Alex Munday slid a small computer from her pocket and compared the readings on it's digital display to a hastily prepared map. Only then did she tap the Fold Comm everyone had been issued for the mission. "Two, this is One. We've encountered resistance at Bravo thirteen. Repeat, Bravo thirteen."

McQueen flipped open his map case, tracing his finger along a tunnel line. "They're right here."

Giles glanced over his shoulder and nodded. "Give them time to bring in all the reinforcements. Then we move."

McQueen nodded once, tapping his Comm. "One, this is Two. Confirmed. Consolidate the enemy force."

That done he looked up at everyone and nodded, "Let's get into position everyone."

"They're moving in!" Alex shouted over the gunfire as Dylan brushed past her and fired a short burst at a particularly brave vampire.

The silver tumblers from the compact SMG shredded his chest, tearing the dead flesh apart as they struck the body and tumbled through it. Three of the lethal little projectiles perforated his heart, tearing it into a half dozen pieces and causing the fledgling to vanish into dust.

"Good." Xander nodded once, checking his map. "There's a place about fifteen meters up that we can use as a choke point!"

"Well what are we waiting for!?" Dylan yelled, grinning despite the noise and carnage. "Let's move our asses!"

"Up Up Up!" Xander yelled, jumping to his feet and rushing forward.

Behind him the others followed suit, rushing forward along with him as their weapons fired short bursts to remind the enemy to keep their heads down.

At almost exactly fifteen meters Xander threw himself to the side and landed in a crouch behind an outcropping of rock that was large enough to hide the entire team behind. The others followed suit around him, throwing themselves down under cover as the vampires began to react to their charge with random shots.

Xander pressed his back against the outcropping and glanced down to where Natalie was laying prone, the muzzle of the P90 in her hands poking just out around the rock.

<God I love our armor.> He grinned, noting the way the skin tight armor showed the vibration of the SMG through her body, most especially her ass.

Something must have flipped over in Nat's brain cause she glanced bac and up at him just then and smirked as she noted his gaze. "And just what are you looking at?"

"One of the most awe inspiring views I've ever seen." Xander grinned as he answered, then risked a glance over the outcropping. He quickly ducked back down as a shot whined off the rock, "Whoops... someone there can shoot."

"Keep your head down." Natalie advised him, squinting into the optics of her SMG and letting off another shot. "I like it where it is."

"Me too." Xander grinned, flipping the M41 to autofire as he hopped up again. The heavy assault rifle let out it's distinctive roaring-whine as he fired a medium burst down the hall.

The 10mm rounds roared from the barrel at fourteen hundred feet per second and slammed into the enemy less then a quarter second later. The intial impact liquified the necrotic tissue as it struck, sending a pressure wave through the vampires bodies that turned internal organs to jelly as it imparted kinetic energy to their dead bodies. When the energy imparted reached a certain point, and the energy the bullets had left dropped below another, the liquid explosive core detonated with remarkable results.

On vampire lost an arm in that quarter second, the limb blasting off in a blinding moment of pain and shock. Another lost his heart, and life, as the 10mm explosive carved a ten inch hole from his chest. A third was struck by three rounds from belly to shoulder and was torn almost literally limb from limb by the explosive detonations, his parts striking the cave walls in a splattering blast before what was left of him mercifully vanished into dust.

The rest of the vampires ducked back in a flat out panic as the cave walls were pulverized into dust and razor sharp shards by the single burst of perhaps twenty rounds.

Xander ducked back, hugging the rifle to his chest as return fire from the corner struck more accurately around him.

"Grenade!" Dylan snapped out as something came flying at them. She jumped up without thinking, shifting her grip on the P90 and swatted the grenade back down the hallway.

"Dylan!" Alex shouted, causing Natalie to twist over onto her back as three rounds struck the redhead, dropping her to the floor in a boneless heap.

"Shit!" Xander snapped, tapping his fold comm. "Contact! Repeat, Contact!"

"That's it." McQueen nodded to the others, "They've drawn the team out. "Let's move."

The group nodded, quickly climbing to their feet from their crouched positions and moving at a fast walk down the tunnel that led to Bravo Thirteen.

"This better work." Faith said grimly to herself.

"What the FUCK was that, Boss?"

Michael shook his head, looking at the ochre and blood that was spattered on the cave wall. "I don't have a fucking clue."

"Got one!" Eric snapped, grinning ferally. "Too bad though. She was cute."

"GRENADE!" Jayce suddenly snapped, his eyes noticing the bouncing egg coming back their way.

"Get down! Get down! Shit!!" Michael yelled, throwing himself clear as the lethal egg detonated.

Chapter 48

Natalie and Alex scrambled out from behind their cover as Xander emptied the rest of his clip down the tunnel to keep the vampires heads well down. They grabbed Dylan by the armor and load bearing clips, then drug her unceremoniously back into cover.

"Ow..." She gasped out, rolling over and glaring at them.

Her breath was completely gone, her face turning red as she tried to breathe.

"Where's she hit??" Natalie snapped, hands running over the armor as she looked for a hole or blood. "I can't find where she's hit!"

"I.... I... I..." Dyan gasped.

"I think she's ok..." Alex said a moment later after checking under Dylan's arms and around the edges of the armor. "Just got the wind knocked out of her..."

Both Natalie and Alex glared at Xander, "I though this super armor of yours was supposed to prevent that?"

Xander glanced down as he slapped his third clip into the assault rifle and shrugged, "It is... I've never been winded by a shot..."

Dylan, by the time, was gasping air into her lungs greedily and pushing herself to her knees. "It... wasn't the bullets. It was when I hit the ground."

"See?" Xander grinned, his smirk hiding a very real element of relief, and turned back to the fight.

Alex and Natalie looke at each other, their relief masked by mock disgust.

"Faker." Alex rolled her eyes, retaking her place at the line.

"Yeah," Nat slapped her hand down on Dylan's belly, eliciting another gasp and shocked look. "See if we believe you the next time you do something that stupid."

The redhead grinned, rolling her eyes as she and Natalie retook their positions and continued to fire down the corridor. "Gee, what's a girl got to do for a little recognition around here? I *did* get the grenade."

"Yeah... I wonder what happened to that anyway?" Natalie frowned.

A large explosion roared through the cave from ahead of them, sending a dust cloud rolling through the tunnel ion their direction.

"Never mind."

"Son of a bitch." Jayce groaned, shifting a rather large chunk of rock that had collapsed off the ceiling and nearly crushed him.

"Come on!" Michael snapped, eyes practically glowing yellow as he ripped the boulder off the other man and pulled him up. "Where's your weapon?"

Jayce looked back down, quickly locating the strap of the M4. He pulled it out, checking the mechanism as quickly as he could after knocking some of the dust off it. "Got it!"

"Alright, back to the line!" Michael snapped, slapping Jayce on the back as he moved forward. "And for god's sake! No more fucking grenades! We'll bring the whole goddamned tunnel down on all of us! I don't know about you guys, but if that happens I'll consider the humans to be the lucky ones. It could take weeks or even years for someone to dig us out down here."

<If ever.> He didn't add, thinking about the Master's ambivalence toward him and his group.

He didn't bother to acknowledge Jayce's response as he moved through the line, pulling his guys out of the rubble and directing them back to positions, and occasionally yanking one of the Master's minions out of a fix and propelling them back into the fight with a foot in the right place.

<Cowards.> He snorted. Not that he gave a damn, in reality. They were only good for drawing fire, and that wasn't something he'd ever need on any properly run op. Unfortunately, defending this cave complex was a total FUBARed operation.

Giles' hand came up, fist closed, and everyone slid to a stop as he kneeled down.

McQueen worked up beside him, coming close enough that their armor brushed, then whispered. "What is it?"

Giles nodded a bit down by his feet.

McQueen looked down and pursed his lips in a silent whistle. "Claymore."

"Already tripped though." Giles looked around, frowning. "Don't see any body... probably a vampire or tougher demon."

"Could be more."

Giles nodded. "I'll watch, but these tunnels are too heavily trafficked for those to be effective."

"Alright." McQueen hissed, "Move out."

Giles nodded once more, then lifted his hand again and dropped it.

The group shuffled out through the dark of the Sunnydale tunnels, the faint sound of popping gunfire already sounding in the distance.

"Damn!" Xander snapped as he ducked under a whining barrage of ricocheting bullets, arm covering his face from the flying shards of stone the rounds had sent flying.

"They're holding position." Jacks said, her voice eerily calm as she stood to view the tunnel, one hand held up with fingers splayed.

Xander glanced up as a bullet flattened itself against her projected field and cursed, then reached up and dragged her down. "Get down here!"

She glared at him, but Xander just shoved her back against the cover and glared back as another fusillade of bullets struck overhead. "Are you nuts?? You can't waste energy on an energy screen like that!"

"I'm not *Tara*, Xander. A simple barrier spell won't start blood running from my nose." She snapped back.

"No, you're not Tara, and may I remind you that even simple spells can require geometrically increasing amounts of power depending on *who* casts them." He growled out, raising his voice over the chatter of the Angel's P90 SMGs. "Tara has an elemental connection to air. You do NOT."

He fell silent for a moment, then spoke grudgingly. "Besides... If plan A doesn't work... we'll need you to cover our retreat."

Jacks glowered at him, but nodded grudgingly. Then, in a flip flop change of mood, her eyes sparkled and she reached a hand out. A chunk of the tunnel shuddered and shook, then a huge boulder broke loose.

"I may not be connected to the element of air," She smirked, "But I have my own strengths."

Xander had to nod his agreement as she flicked her hand and sent the one ton boulder flying down the tunnel

"Jesus Christ!" Jayce cursed suddenly, hitting Eric in a tackle that sent both of them sprawling just as the huge boulder pulverized three of the Master's Minions and then went on to crush Ben Drake to the wall.

"Fuck me." Eric muttered in shock, looking back down the hall, then over at his compatriot as the boulder rolled off him.

The SWAT officer was utterly crushed into an unrecognizable pulp, *sticking* to the wall even after the boulder fell back.

"What the hell happened!?" Michael yelled through the could of dust as he arrived.

"They threw fucking BOULDER at us, Cap!" Jayce said in shock. "Fuck! How'd they do that!? That thing must weigh a ton!"

Michael didn't respond, instead he quickly checked out Ben.

Tim, another of their teammates looked on, disturbed. "He gonna make it, Cap?"

"I don't know." Michael shook his head. "I've never even heard of anything like this."

A long moment of silence was ended by a rapid fire series of explosions that shook the tunnel around them an broke Michael's shock.

"You!" He snapped, grabbing two of the Master's remaining Minions by their collars. "Take him back to the Master's cave."

They looked between the crushed body and the direction of the death fires, and actually nodded gratefully as they gingerly peeled the vampire off the cave wall and began to carry him back down the tunnels.

The squad slid to another stop as Giles' hand came up again, this time flat out and commanding silence.

They froze in place, and a moment later he signaled them to spread out and stand ready.

They hugged in against the uneven cave walls, taking what cover they could, just as the noise that stopped Giles came to their ears.

Faith hefted the P90, checking the compact weapon one last time by reflex, even as she noticed the others doing the same around them. It wasn't that they were worried about the weapons, but rather it was just a moment of reflex overriding logic to make certain that something intolerably stupid hadn't been done.

That ritual complete, she turned her focus back down the hall as a pair of vampires appeared, carrying something. As they shambled into view, Faith followed them with the sights of the P90 while she watched McQueen out of the corner of her eye.

When his fist clenched, her finger pressed down on the trigger, and the tunnel was filled with the soft chuffs of the silenced SMGs.

Both vampires vanished into dust a moment later, and their burden thumped to the ground.

"Clear." Giles whispered back, and they moved forward as a group.

Faith and Styles slid to either side, covering the branching tunnels as Vin covered behind them.

McQueen and Giles stopped and winced as they looked down at the 'thing' on the ground.

"Is it still alive?" McQueen asked, curious as he thought he saw the mangled thing move.

Giles nodded. "In a manner of speaking."

McQueen shook his head, turning away as Giles leveled his P90 and fired a silenced round into the vampires heart.

As Giles was turning around, McQueen nodded up the tunnel the vampires had come from. "That way."

Giles nodded, they didn't need to check the tunnel maps anymore. The direction was obvious.

"One this is two."

Xander paused in his firing as his Fold Comm came to life, squawking in his ear. "Two. One."

"We're in position."

He smiled slowly, nodding as he tapped his Comm again. "Confirmed. Wait One, then make your play."


Xander turned to the others. "Game time."

They all nodded and followed Xander's lead as he swapped out his partial clip for his last fully loaded one. A few seconds later he looked around to see everyone nod.

"Let's do it."

As one, the team popped out and opened fire down the tunnel, sending a barrage of fire into anything that moved and several things that didn't.

The whining roar of the M41 drowned out the chatter of the SMGs, but the effect of all the weapons was felt right down the line as the rounds tore into undead flesh and rock wall with no sign of abating.

Chapter 49

"Get down!" Michael ordered, snarling above the increased barrage of fire from down the tunnel. "Return fire!"

The noise level jumped up another notch as the vampires returned fire, aiming for the glints of light visible through the dusty air that separated them from their enemies.

McQueen paused, eyeing the scene ahead of him, then held up a hand and flashed a series of signals.

<Nine vampires.> Giles nodded, slipping up behind McQueen and waiting for the other man's signal.

Because the former Marine was carrying the sole assault rifle and unsilenced weapon in the group, they'd decided that he'd signal the assault. Behind him the rest moved slowly into position, with the exception of Vin, who'd drew rear guard duty.

McQueen noted the others moving into position around him but ignored them, granting them the trust he would a Marine. A high compliment from him, in fact, but he'd decided that Xander Harris seemed to be the sort to surround himself with competent people at the very least.

When the motion stopped he held up three fingers, then returned his hand to the grip of the M41 and sighted along the rail down at the backs of the enemy.

Three seconds later he squeezed the trigger and felt the big rifle bite back into his shoulder as he raked the vampire line with explosive rounds.

Their first hint that something was wrong was when Eric Hamm almost literally exploded beside them.

Michael swore and shoved himself out of the line of fire, instinctively rolling to cover as he realized that he'd been flanked. "Behind us!"

The other SWAT members reacted quick enough to dodge, though their armor took multiple hits from silver rounds before they managed to get under cover. Then the hammering sound of explosions began ripping into the ground and walls all around them, showering them with fragments of rock and metal as they hugged the ground.

"Moving in!" Xander called out, both over the Comm and loud enough for his group to hear.

He vaulted the cropping they'd been sheltering behind, and fired another burst down the corridor as he did. Behind him, the Angels moved to support him, fanning out through the tunnel as they leveled their SMGs and moved deliberately forward, P90's stuttering their death call.

Jacks scanned the tunnel behind them, then practically levitated over the cropping and followed suit.

"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" Michael swore, covering his head as he searched for a way out.

He'd been suckered good and proper, the SWAT Captain decided, caught in a pincer between two forces. Either one alone, he'd probably have been able to match. Together, they were going to kill him and his men and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.

He snarled, firing blindly over the tumbled rock he was using for cover, and triggered the throat mic. "Biggs! Burke! We're trapped! Need a little help here!"

No, there wasn't a damned thing that he could do about it, Michael knew.

It was a good thing he had a team.

Biggs and Burke looked at each other in shock, then ahead.

"Let's go."

The two of them broke into a run, forgetting stealth as they moved down the tunnel toward their interception point.

"How the hell did they turn the tables on the Cap?" Biggs asked briefly as they ran.

"Don't know." Burke admitted, "But let's turn em back."

The two vampires came around a corner into a scene of death and destruction straight out of a war movie. Explosions lit up the dust cloud ahead of them with startling regularity, the sparks of light that signaled muzzle flashes accompanying reports of SMGs and heavier weapons, and the occasional shadow flickering through the dust jolted their vampiric senses into full alert.

The two just looked at each other, nodded, and then hefted their Colts to ready positions and moved forward purposefully.

Xander pressed himself against a wall as the counter on his M41 went dry, glancing down at it with an almost wry smile.

<Nothing like five hundred rounds in five minutes.> He chided himself.

Truthfully it was less then that, though not by much, so Xander chastised himself slightly for being a little heavy on the trigger of the new gun.

<but it was SO fun to shoot.> He smirked, letting it fall to it's strap as he took stock of the situation.

Both teams were slowly closing on the center point, eliminating whichever vamps they could when they got a clear shot. Clear shots, though, were becoming less and less common as they moved closer and found that the surviving vampires were mostly those with SWAT training.

<No shock there.> Xander sighed internally, drawing his FiveseveNs.

His internal musing was shut up suddenly as he was slapped from behind by a series of shocks that pushed him forward into the rock of the wall, an angry chatter sounding from behind him.

Biggs emptied his clip into one figure, cursing when he didn't drop, then dropped behind the cropping and ejected the spent clip as Burke popped up.

"Aim high! They've got that goddamned armor!"

Burke nodded, lifting the Colt to his shoulder as he found a target and squeezed the trigger.

He tracked his fire between two of the targets ahead, a pale haired woman and a blond that were just starting to react to Biggs' shots. The 5.56NATO rounds slapped into them both, but didn't even faze the pale woman, but Burke snarled in satisfaction when he saw a blood plume erupt from the blonde just before she went down.

Xander flattened himself against the wall as his right pistol sought out targets down the hall, and his left pistol sought it's prey up the other way.

He looked back where they'd come from, then where they were going, and knew that they were in trouble.

<Stupid! Stupid!> He cursed, firing a shot the way they'd come.

He brought his right hand back, flipping his Fold Comm to automatic.

"Merlin!" He snapped.


"Intercept and direct communications." He ordered.

"So noted." Merlin replied.

Xander started to speak just as a female cry snapped his head around in time to see Natalie go down hard, blood pouring from a neck wound.

His heart skipped a beat as he started to surge forward until another barrage of fire forced him back. He glanced both ways, then fired along both tangents, a snarl forming on his lips.

"Two, this is One!" He called, trusting Merlin to detect the speech and realize that it was in fact a message. "We're caught in a pincer! SWAT units have moved up from behind us! Nat's down, were taking fire."

That said, he shifted both guns down the tunnel and felt his senses leap to the second level of enhancement as he emptied them uprange.

"Shit!" McQueen snarled.

"We have to help them!" Faith snapped.

"Hold." The Former Marine ordered, eyes flicking at the cover that housed the still active combatants.

"We HAVE to HELP!" Faith snarled, moving forward until the iron grip of the Marine Major shoved her back.

"I said HOLD." He snapped once more, edging forward.

After a few seconds he nodded. "Alright. Flash Bangs on three."

The group nodded, pulling the explosives from their gear and preparing.

"One, this is two." McQueen replied. "Report acknowledged. Will attempt to reach you."

"Negative!" Xander yelled as he knelt over Natalie's body and put two more bursts into the cropping he'd used himself just moments earlier. "Finish the SWAT units! Stay on mission!"

He risked a glance down at Natalie, paling as he noticed the blood loss she was incurring just as she laid there.

"How is she!?" Alex yelled over at him.

"Bad! Give me some cover!"

Dylan and Alex responded instantly and enthusiastically, sending fire at the cropping as Xander slapped his pistols together and laid them down beside Natalie's head.

He pulled a gauze patch from his gear and pressed it up against her neck quickly, hoping that he was in time. Then quickly taped it with a cross patch, all the while ignoring the fire raging around him.

He looked up briefly to where Jacks was joining in the attack. "Jacks!"


"Now would be a good time." He said, his eyes communicating more then his words.

"You've got it, Commander." She nodded, stepping out from her cover as she slipped her pistol into it's holster.

As she stepped between Xander and the cropping the demi-fey lifted her hands and drew in the power from within and around her. A shimmering barrier appeared in front of her, and suddenly the bullets were flattening themselves in mid air before falling to the ground.

Xander looked back down to Natalie, who's eyes were wide as she tried to speak. "Shhhhh... time to sleep."

He laid a hand on her head and throat, and she slipped out a moment later as he closed him own eyes and focused his energy into her.

"Jesus Christ!" Biggs cursed. "What the FUCK is that?"

Burke just shook his head, eyes wide as he stared in shock at the floating figure that was apparently stopping every round they could put out. "I have no fucking clue."

"This is fucked up." Biggs muttered, thumbing his throat mic. "Cap... we've got them caught in an ambush but uh...

"But what!?"

"Look around the corner Cap... you've got to see this to believe it."

Michael risked a glance around the corner and paled, a remarkable feet for someone as pale as he already was.

"What in the name of God??"

Chapter 50

The woman's eyes were flaring a brilliant gleam and her heair was floating around her head like she was in free fall. The fact that she was floating several inches off the tunnel floor just enforced that image to Burke and Biggs as they poured fire into the striking figure, more out of pure reflex then any other thought.

"What the FUCK is that!?" Burke demanded, fighting the urge to run that was screaming through his very being.

Biggs didn't answer him, he just shook his head as he emptied the M4 into the floating woman and dropped the clip to the ground. He was also locking down on an urge to flee that was burning through him, an urge that he didn't, couldn't, understand.

"Angel!" Xander snapped, his eyes gleaming pure silver as his head snapped to one side. "Get your undead ass out of the shadows!"

The vampire with a soul appeared to melt out of the shadowy wall of the tunnel, quickly ducking behind the shield that Jacks had thrown up as she covered the area. "Sorry. But I'm not really equipped for this kind of fight, you know."

"We'll talk about that later." Xander said, standing up from the prone form at his feet. "Pick her up an follow my lead."

Angel nodded, dropping down to one knee and plucking the limp blonde from the ground. "We leaving?"

Xander nodded, keying and alert through his Fold Comm. "We are LEAVING. McQueen... Hold them for ninety seconds, then fry the fuckers."

T.C. McQueen didn't respond verbally when the order came over his Comm, he just manually keyed a tonal response with his jaw muscles the way Xander had shown him.

Then he turned to the rest of his team. "We start to pull back to the beta evac point in sixty seconds."

Faith snarled once, but nodded, continuing to pour fire into the bunkered vampires ahead of them.

"Right." Giles nodded, eyes gleaming with the hints of magic he was using to shield himself and his comrades. Not for the first time he cursed the enclosed tunnels, wishing he could be a bit more proactive with his magic.

Unfortunately, the spells at his disposal, and the disposal of the Elven Master Mage, would most likely bring the rock of the tunnels crashing down around their skulls if he used them in sufficient power to eliminate the vampires. It was remarkable, he thought, how resilient vampires really were when they stopped being stupid enough to leave their vulnerabilities open to attack.

<More reason to do as Xander wishes.> Daan'aal whispered into his mind, careful not to break Giles' concentration. <Should they survive to prove how effect vampires truly could be... this would no longer be an isolated incident.>

Giles grimaced, his teeth showing as his lips pulled back. <Indeed.>

He shook his head and raised his gun, sniping at a glimpsed head with a three round burst. The bullets kicked up shards as they missed the target, but forced the vampire back under cover.

The entire group were counting down now, trying to make each second count.

"Go!" Xander shouted, plunging past Jacks shield as his guns thumped at his sides. He stretched one hand out as he ran, calling out to that familiar presence in the back of his mind even as his mouth moved of it's own accord.


The silvery staff shimmered into existence in his hand, snapping to full extension with a deceptive flick of his wrist as Xander ran forward, his senses jumping into hyper-augmentation as he ran, and the world became fluidic around Xander Harris.

The hammering roar of the Colt M4's in the Vampires' hands retreated into a distant thundering staccato report, each shot almost a full second apart to Xander's relative experience and he whirled Elan ahead of him as he reached down into her essence and drew her strength up into his own.

Each of the two vampires had time to fire three shots before Xander could close the distance.

Of those, three missed.

Of the remaining three, two slapped ineffectually into the white elephant armor that Xander wore.

The final one flew as if guided by unseen hands, straight at Xander's left eye, it's path certain and inevitable.

Inevitable, that is, until the silver staff swept across his view and slapped the round from the air like a pesky insect. And then Xander was at the rocky barricade, and he threw himself into the air, flipping head for heels over the rock and landing with flexed legs right between the two shocked vampires.

When their quarry launched himself at them, both Biggs and Burke had the same thoughts and feelings.

They both thought that the man they'd come to kill had finally made a lethal mistake, and he would shortly be dead.

The feeling was an almost overpowering urge to RUN.

Then he crashed through the bullets they flung his way, flying through the air, and landed in their midst, and suddenly there was no time to think, no time to feel. Only time to act.

Both vampires snarled and attacked.

Xander ducked under the butt of an M4 as it came his way, kicking out behind him without thought, and knocking the offending vampire into the tunnel wall as he blocked a similar blow from the other with Elan.

The plastic and fiberglass of the Colt buttstock shattered when it met ancient metal, leaving a jagged strip of composite material and metal behind as the vampire withdrew his weapon and swung it again.

Xander brought his leg back down from the kick, twisting on his other foot, and then jumped up and over the blow. He flipped over the swing, the relatively low ceiling of the area forcing him to spin fast in the air and land in a low crouch. From that position he struck back, sweeping the Battle Staff across the vampire's shin bones with a vicious smash that dropped it where it stood.

A motion behind him caused Xander to plant one hand on the ground as he kicked off in a spin, both feet snapping up as he balanced on the heal of his right hand and crashing into the recovered vampire behind him.

He flexed his arm in mid spin, then snapped it straight, causing his torso to almost float free of the ground like gravity had no more effect on him then it did on Jacks, and landed upright again with an air of satisfied ease. He flipped the staff over in his hand, then thrust it down into the vampire at his back as the creature snarled over the pain in it's shins.

As it vanished into dust, Xander spun back around as the other roared in rage and rushed him.

A moment later he was standing alone, shaking his head as he looked down at the dust on the ground.

"You should never have let me get in under your guard." He said coldly before glancing back. "Come on Deadboy! Move it!"

Angel vaulted the barricade, his burden cradled in his arms as he hit the ground running. "Don't call me that!"

"Get her out of here alive and I'll call you anything you like." Xander promised, snapping Elan back to her compact form as he paced Angel, staying just ahead of the vampire as they raced down the tunnel.

Behind them, Jacks and Angels followed, but slower. The two remaining Angels laid down an almost continuous line of fire to the rear as Jacks kept watch ahead of them, the team pulling out as quickly as they dared.

"They're pulling back, Boss!"

Michael's face was a horror to see and the vampire who had spoke quailed instantly as he caught just a brushing edge of the glare that was on the demonic face of his Captain.

"Yes." Michael hissed angrily. "And that means that Burke and Biggs are dead."

The vampire paled as much as one of the undead could, the reality of that fact striking home in an instant. Of course they were dead. That was the only way the enemy could withdraw in that direction.

"We could go after them..." He offered halfheartedly.

Micheal half turned, then shook his head. "We're still pinned down. I know who that was back there... We'll get him later. Grenades!"

The vampires paled in shock.

"But... Cap...!"

"I said GRENADES!" Michael snarled in anger and rage, not caring about the structure of the tunnel around them anymore.

The remaining SWAT officers nodded fearfully, less afraid of being buried alive just then than they were of their own captain.

"Withdraw in ten!" McQueen snapped, clearing his grenade luncher and letting the unused HE round lie where it fell.

Around him the others began to drop back, taking cover against the wall as they covered each other's movements.

McQueen plucked a machined aluminum cylinder from his harness and smiled at the neon orange and purple coloring on it as he slid it into the launcher's receiver. That done he rose to a half crouch and began to move back as well. "Pull BACK!!"

"They're running too!"

Michael snarled, hitting the boulder shielding him with a closed fist. "NO! They will NOT get away again! Grenades! Now!"

The remnants of his team nodded frightfully, plucking the pins on their frags as they cocked back for a throw.

"Almost there." Xander said, seeing the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel up ahead. He tapped his comm, "Jessie! You there??"

"I'm here, Xan." Jessie replied quickly.

"We're going to need that big duffle bag in the van... bring it into the tunnel. We're coming out with injured."

"Got it... Xander are you and..."

"Talk later Jes!" Xander snapped, "Bring the bag... Empty!"


"Just do it!"

"Clear!" Alex shouted over the roar of guns.

"Clear!" Dylan responded.

"Then RUN!" Jacks ordered, dropping back enough to usher them out ahead of her.

The three broke into a full run as they moved down the tunnels at breakneck speed.

McQueen stepped back out into the open briefly, leveling the heavy assault weapon down range at the enemy. He triggered the launcher, sendng it's payload down the long tunnel even as he saw the grenades flying up.

His eyes widened as his mouth worked. "Grenades! Incoming!"

He was starting to move when a powerful arm reached out and yanked him back around the corner, and he saw the tiny form of Faith there, steadying him as she pulled him along. In a split second they were both running down the tunnel to the second evac point like all hell was opening up behind them.

Somewhere in that single split second, then first charge buried in the inner workings of the thermobaric grenade detonated.

Chapter 51

Jessie and Buffy met Xander and Angel just inside the tunnel, the large black duffle under Jessie's arm. "Hey! Are you guys alright??"

Xander nodded to Buffy, motioning to Angel. "Take Nat. Get her to Tara."

"Uh... Ok. Yeah." Buffy nodded, relieving the vampire of his burden just as they heard others running up the tunnel.

Xander glanced back, but recognized the Angels and Tara and just waved them past as he grabbed the duffle from Jessie. He looked at Angel, "get in."

Angel looked down at the bag, then back at Xander. "Are you out of what passes for your mind!?"

Xander rolled his eyes, his hand snapping out and clobbering the ensouled vampire in the back of the head with the collapsed staff in his hand. As Angel slumped to the ground, he guided him rather roughly into the bag while Jessie watched with wide eyes.

"What?" Xander asked, zipping the bag up.

"You just knocked that guy out, man..."

"Better then stand here arguing with him as the sewers blow up." Xander hefted the bag as he stood up, tossing the heavy strap over his shoulder. "Let's go."

He broke into a jog as Jessie ran along with him, just as an echoing sound reached them.

Jessie looked back, "What was that?"

"Move. Tell you later." Xander grinned, shoving him out into the sunlight.

There are moments in life when time seems to stop, when a single event changes everything you perceive as reality and suddenly the world becomes a much darker and harsher place to live.

The initial crack of the explosion that sounded over Michael's head was one of those moments.

He had now way of knowing what it was, only that it was not something that boded well for him, anymore then the dual bangs from the grenades thrown ahead of him did.

Thermobaric munitions, more popularly known by the acronym F.A.E or Fuel Air Explosive produce an effect all out of proportion to their size. In fact, pound for pound, only nuclear munitions exceed a properly detonated FAE.

The 30mm grenade fired from the Pulse Rifle held by Former Marine Major McQueen traveled precisely fifty meters down the tunnel, detonating according to the settings he had dialed in on the fly. The initial crack of the small explosive was enough to make the vampires jump, expecting something much larger.

What they didn't know was that this detonation was strictly non-incendiary, a pressure detonation that blew open the 30mm capsule and released it's pressurized payload through the tunnel. The chemical, propylene oxide, was released into the tunnel with explosive force, quickly expanding to fill the tunnel as the surviving vampires curled up t heir noses in reaction to the noxious chemical.

"What the fuck is..."

"God that stin..."

"Oh My Go..."

The second detonation was, again, small. It was a simple ignition flare made from magnesium and aluminum, and it burned with a brilliant, blinding, light that filled the tunnel for a split second as the tunnel rocked from the detonations of the two grenades and rocks began to fall around them.

In that split second, the volatile propylene oxide ignited and the thermobaric detonation swept the tunnel like a roaring freight train.

"RUN!" McQueen roared as the tunnel started to shake around him.

Ahead of him he could see Faith running toward the evac point, a manhole that was just ahead of them. Faith sprinted, easily pulling away from him even as he redoubled his speed and a clinical part of McQueen's mind noted her speed and upped the girl a notch in his mind.

She slid to a halt, spinning around, and cupped her hands.

McQueen just nodded without pausing, accepting the offer without words. He didn't have time to argue with her out of misguided nobility anyway.

He planted a single foot in her hand and jumped even as she powered her hands upward. He was flung straight up, arms folding over his chest as he hugged his rifle tight to his body, and through the open manhole.

Faith didn't watch his departure, she was transfixed by the glow that was forming at the far end of the tunnel. A light that was growing brighter and brighter as something approached. Then, suddenly, it roared around the corner and there was a wall of flames racing down the tunnel straight for her position.


Her head snapped up, her mind jarred from it's stunned reverie as she leapt up and snagged Giles' extended hand.

He yanked her up, pulling her clear as the express train of flames roared past underneath and the ground shook.

The overpressure wave of the explosive was it's first weapon. It slapped every square inch of the tunnels with a sudden pressure shift of over ten PSI. A minuscule pressure by some calculations, but taken over several hundred meters of tunnels it added up to a massive force.

Bodies of Vampires and demons were lofted into the air, thrown the entire length of the tunnels as they caromed off the walls just ahead of the burning flames. Those vampires lucky, or unlucky, enough to somehow evade the worst of the pressure wave were incinerated by the flames a split second later.

Of the demons that were left, either lucky or strong enough to survive both the overpressure and the searing flames, the majority died within moments as their lungs, or what they used for lungs, were charbroiled then evacuated as the flames ate up the last of the oxygen and the overpressure wave left them strangling for air in the midst of a temporary vacuum.

Above the tunnels, the streets of Sunnydale shook.

Buildings rumbled, people screamed, and near the epicenter of the blast, every glass surface of the highschool was rendered into shards by the quaking of the very ground.

On the streets about a block away, Faith lay on the ground as it moved under her and breathed in stunned shock as the same scene played over and over in her mind.

She could still see the mesmerizing wall of flame racing toward her, and she would SWEAR that she saw flaming horses galloping at it's forefront.

"What happened!?" The Master roared his demand as the ground around him shook.

A vampire rushed into the cavern as the noise grew louder, "Master! It's an...!"

A wall of flame followed the hapless minion, picking him up like a leaf in a hurricane and flinging him bodily into the cavewall as the flames licked forward and incinerated his crushed body.

The flames licked at the energy barrier holding the Master, but didn't penetrate, and so soon they fell back like an animal, sullenly relinquishing it's prey.

The Master stared down the darkened tunnel, tilting his head slightly to one side.


"Down! Down! Down!"

Xander screamed, throwing the black duffle bag ahead of him as he threw an arm up and tackled Jessie to the ground. As they hit, he rolled over and looked back just as a jet of pressured air exploded from the tunnel, flinging no less then three vampires out into the sunlight with the force of a small cannon.

A moment later the flames followed, and he shielded his eyes with his arm as the plume of fire reached out into the clear air, but found nothing to swallow, and soon retreated back into the darkness of the Sunnydale sewers.

The vaccum lasted only so long as the energy existed to maintain it, and then it collapsed. Air came rushing back in, but not fast enough for some of the already stressed roads and tunnels it called home.

Three streets buckled, actually collapsing down slightly into the sewers until the fall was stopped by concrete struts and a return of pressure below.

And then there was a shocking silence that seemed to cover the entire world.

No one knew what had happened, but it was like the descending of night as the shaking and the roaring subsided and for an instant everyone in town fell deaf.

Then the moment passed and the car alarms wailed, the hydrants exploded, and the people screamed.

"Holy SHIT." Faith cursed suddenly, rolling to her feet. "What the FUCK was that!?"

"F.A.E." McQueen said slowly, pushing himself to his feet. "Harris ordered a withdrawal with everything on it."

"Yes well..." Giles fished in his pockets for his reading glasses. He didn't strictly need them anymore, but felt comforted by them at times. So as he spoke he carefully polished them, then slipped them over his nose. "In the future I believe we may want to seriously consider the use of such extraneous measures... at least in a populated area."

McQueen looked a little pale, but he only nodded slightly as he looked down into the tunnels. "Yeah. Probably right."

Jack Styles joined him, a bemused and amazed look on his face. "God DAMN. Did you know it was going to do that?"

McQueen shook himself a little, then sort of half nodded. "Yes... although I think that was a little more energetic then the tests indicated."

After a moment he shrugged, dusting himself off. "Well, I told them we needed more field testing."

Xander rolled over to his belly and looked over to where Jessie was groaning. "Hey..."


"You dead?"



Jessie looked back toward him, "Uh... Xander?"


"Why's your duffle bag smoking like that?"

Xander glanced back and cursed as he forced himself to his feet and dragged the bag toward the van. When he reached the van he tossed it, along with the unconscious vampire, inside and slumped down in exhaustion. After a moment he looked up to see Tara working like a woman possessed over a pale and drawn Natalie Cook.

He waited for a long moment, hoping for a pause, then finally spoke. "Is she going to be ok?"

Tara looked up, pale and worried. "I don't know."

Buffy and the other two Angels looked back at him, then at the pale form in the van with varying degrees of shock and horror. Xander just stared for a moment, his mind rebelling at the thought, until Elan's sharp voice cut through the reverie and he snapped into motion.

"Let's move!" He ordered, slamming the doors shut. "Everyone aboard. Tara, stay on the job. Jessie, Buffy up front. Alex, Dylan, help Tara."

He jumped in the back, glancing back. "Tare..."

"Y... yes?" She looked up, almost fearfully.

"I need to know if you can handle this." He said simply. "If not, you tell me. Got that?"

She nodded, quickly moving back to her job.

Chapter 52

Jonathon and Willow stared in shock as they stood by the truck.

"Umm... A... are you guys alright?" Willow asked tentatively as Jonathon just stared up at the sky."

Faith brushed herself off as she got back to her feet and nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."

As the group got themselves together and headed for the truck, Faith frowned and looked at Jono. "Hey... what are you looking at?"

When he didn't answer right away, Willow spoke up. "Ummm... I think he's still thinking about the pillar of flames."

"Pillar of flames?" Faith turned around, looking up. "It wasn't that high was it?"

"I think it burnt a hole in that cloud." Jon finally said.

Faith glanced over at McQueen who made a twisting motion with his thumb and little finger. She nodded once, agreeing, and then got into the vehicle. "Let's move."

"Tara, how is she?" Xander asked, racing the engine as he headed for the mansion, wishing for KARR's speed.

When no answer was forthcoming he looked over his shoulder, "Tara!?"

"I don't know!" She snapped, forgetting to stammer as she worked over the pale blond. "I just don't know!"

"I'm calling Paige!" Xander said, tapping his fold comm.

Tara just nodded and kept working.

"Merlin," Xander hissed urgently. "We need Paige."

San Francisco

"Get out!"

"Look lady, I just need some..."

"Out! OUT! OUT!!!" Paige Mathews screamed, throwing her hands up in agitation. "I swear to god I should never have saved you from that Warlock!"

"Hey, there's no need to get personal, lady!" The short man growled. "I only wanted a potion!"

"Do I LOOK like some cauldron brewing hag!?" Paige growled, glaring down at the three foot man who was rolling his eyes.

"Well not, from down here, but if you me to take a closer look I'd be willing to..." The man in green leered.

"Finish that statement and I'll be cleaning pureed lepracon off the walls of my loft for the next sixteen YEARS!" She ground out.

"Yeesh. Alright, fine! I can take a hint..." The little man threw up his hands in surrender, turning around and heading for the door.

"God!" Paige exclaimed, "You'd think that leprechauns would all be in Sunnydale with the rest of the weird things!"

"Sunnydale?" The little man turned around, "Are you nuts lady? That place is bad mojo central... None of the little folk would go anywhere near there!"

"Oh and you HAD to pick San Fransisco??"

"Can you think of a better place for a guy like me to pick up chicks?" The little guy grinned. "Besides, all the little people hang around San Fran... It's our kind of place."

"OUT!" She snapped again, pointing to the door.

The little guy grinned a little, "Well, where else would a faerie go?"

Paige clenched her fists, glaring at the ceiling, and let out a single long and guttural growl.

"That's a fine set of pipes you have there, lass." The little man grinned wide.

The young witch was seriously considering a violent use of magic when a chirping sound echoed through the room and the large flat panel screen that was a parting gift from Xander flickered to life.

"Miss Mathews," the elderly avatar of Merlin the Wizard spoke from it, "I apologize for breaking in on you, however the Commander needs your help. I'm patching you through directly."

The little green man stared in shock, "Saints be damned! That was Merlin the magician!! Just who are ye, Lass??"

Paige spun on him, eyes suddenly gleaming with white light. "OUT!"

"I'm a going, I'm a going!" He said hurriedly, muttering under his breath. "Just my luck... The first witch I meet in fifty years who gives a damn about the little people, and she's in league with Merlin! There's trouble a brewing... even I can tell th..."

His voice was cut off by the door shutting behind him and Paige turned to the screen as Xander's voice came over the speakers.


"I'm here, Xander."

"I need some help. A... friend as been shot. Tara's doing everything she can, but it's too bad." Xander's voice was strained and she could hear the sound of an engine running in the background. "We're on our way to the mansion... Merlin sent you the address right?"

"Yes, but I don't need it Xander. I'm on my..." Paige orbed out.

"Paige? Paige?" Xander's voice echoed through the empty apartment.


"Paige? Paige?" Xander shouted over the phone, not seeing the coalescing lights appear beside him.

"...Way." Paige announced as she landed down in the passenger seat and, incidentally, in Jessie's lap.

"Hey! What the!?" Jessie yelped in shock, arms flying out to the side as he flailed around.

One hand slapped Xander across the face as he turned in surprise, and Xander lost control of the wheel for a moment, the van slewing into the oncoming lane.

"Shit!" Xander snapped, head coming back to the road as he fought the wheel and pulled the van out of the way of a blue sedan.

"Demon!" Buffy yelped in shock, seeing one of her friends being attacked, and palmed a stake as she leaned forward and slashed it across the seat toward the woman.

Xander's right hand slashed out and grabbed her by the wrist, stopping the thrust in mid stroke as the brunette woman brought her hand up reflexively. "Stake!"

Buffy's eyes widened in shock as the stake vanished from her hand and reappeared in the woman's a second later.

"Gee, Xan..." The brunette said with a calm smirk. "I see that your taste in women is as good as ever. What happened to Faith?"

"She's in the other van." Xander said, still holding Buffy's wrist as he watched the road. "How'd you find us?"

"Leo's been teaching me how to zero in on auras..." Paige smiled at him, "Your's was the first I learned."

"I'm flattered... I think." Xander said, smiling slightly at her, "But for now I just need your help."

"I heard." Paige nodded, "Who's hurt?"

Xander nodded his head to the back, and Paige slid off of Jessie and crawled into the back.

Jessie just sat there in near shock as he followed her motions, especially the tight fit of her jeans, but didn't say a thing.

"Who is that!?" Buffy demanded.

"Paige. She's a friend of mine from Frisco." Xander replied, taking the turnoff to the mansion. "She's a witch. Powerful one too... be nice, or she'll turn you into a blond toad."

"Xander!" Paige's voice sounded scandalized. "Don't tell her that! You make me sound like the wicked witch of the West!"

Xander shrugged, "Alright, alright... maybe she'll settle for a rabbit or something."

Paige spared a glare over her shoulder, but settled in over the pale blond on the floor of the van.

"Oooch..." She whispered, shaking her head. "Bullet wound to the throat... someone got you good, girl."

"Can you help her?" A redhead asked grimly.

"No sweat." Paige smiled, slowly passing her hand over the blond's throat. A golden glow lit up the van, and when she was done the wound had completely vanished.

Tara smiled, packing away her things as the others stared in shock at Paige.

"W... will she be ok?" An Oriental woman asked.

"She'll be fine." Paige said with the confidence of experience. "But she'll need time to rest and recuperate. I'm good, but this kind of injury stresses the system heavily."

Paige turned back, sticking her head between the two seats and smiled at Jessie. "Hey cutey... you mind giving me your seat? Not that your lap isn't great, but I want to talk with Xan for a minute."

"Uh... uh... uh..." Jessie stared in shock, mouth working without any coherent sound coming out.

"Jessie?" Xander looked over.

"What?" Jessie got his mind in gear when he looked away from the brunette and back at his friend.

"Get in the back."

"Oh... yeah." Jessie said, quickly scrambling out of the seat.

Paige slid into place as Xander slowed down to the speed limit, turning up the lane to the estate. "Nice neighborhood."

"Yeah." Xander nodded. "I bought here cause it gives us a lot of room from any neighbors."

"Figured." She nodded.

They sat in silence for a moment, the scenery passing by in the silence, until they both spoke together.



Paige fell silent again, only speaking after it was obvious that Xander was also quiet. "I guess we sort of need to talk."

"Paige... A lot has happened since..." Xander started, then shrugged. "Yeah. I guess we do. We're almost home, Paige... We'll get some privacy there."

Paige glanced over her shoulder where five people were staring in undisguised curiosity and smirked. "I wish I could... but I have a demon back in Frisco that needs my attention."

"Need any help?" Xander asked softly.

"Nah. He's a coward." Paige shrugged, "Started hunting some wood sprites cause they don't fight back. I can handle him."

Xander nodded, "Be careful."

She smiled, "always."

Then Paige leaned over and kissed Xander softly before orbing out.

Chapter 53

The Van pulled into the large garage at 'Casa Harris', the automatic door closing behind them even as the next one over opened for the next large truck that approached. The doors opened on the van and people quickly poured out, Xander moving before the engine had even rumbled to silence. He quickly moved around the vehicle and slid open the large side door, looking in at the still body laying there.

"Oh Nat." He whispered, ignoring the others for a moment as he gathered her up into his arms and carried her out of the van.

"She'll be alright...?" Dylan said slowly, "I mean... the sparkly gal said she'd be alright..."

"She'll be fine." Xander promised. "A whitelighter can heal anything short of death itself..."

"Whitelighter?" Alex looked over sharply. "What's that?"

"An Angel." Xander said, turning around and heading for the main house. "The celestial kind."

Everyone in the garage stared at each other in shock for a long moment, then rushed as one after him.




"Would you old fogey's cut that crap out??"

McQueen, Giles, and Jack Styles spared a glare for Faith as Willow and Jonothan suppressed sudden bouts of 'coughing', but Faith just turned her back on them without further comment and headed for the door that linked to the large house.

"I suppose we'd better follow her." Giles sighed heavily, mostly for show.

"You follow her," Jack replied dryly, "I'd be tempted to strangle her from behind."

"You and I both." Giles shrugged, "But I've long since learned to restrain myself from any rash actions."

"Who said anything about rash?" Jack asked airily. "I stay awake nights planning how to do it."

Giles grinned, a look that would have fit a shark more then a human. "You as well?"

McQueen just shrugged, but Jon and Willow paled a little.

"Hey Will..." Jon whispered.

"Yeah, Jon?"

"Let's not get these guys pissed with us."


Xander carried Natalie up the stairs and into his room, setting her down on the bed carefully as she moaned slightly in her sleep.

"You'll be fine." Xander said softly, rolling the covers over her as he straightened up and looked down at her still pale face.

The blond was beautiful, even in this state, he decided. Not that she could be anything else, not to him or anyone who'd seen her aura. Xander let out a heavy sigh, partially of relief and partially of delayed terror as he felt his hands start to shake.

He quickly made his way into the bathroom and closed the door, leaning heavily on the ivory pedestal sink and stared at his flushed face in the mirror as he tried to get the shakes under control.

<Damn it!> He screamed internally as his hands refused to obey his commands. He reached down, deep inside, and began to flip internal switches to regain control when Elan broke in.

<Be calm and stop that, Alexander.> She ordered sternly.

"I can't lose it like this Elan." He ground out, refusing to meet his own gaze in the mirror. "If this happened just a few minutes earlier..."

<It would not have.> She admonished him. <Your body is merely neutralizing excess Adrenaline. You should know this.>

"Yeah well, it's not like it happens after every fight."

<No, because you do not produce adrenaline in most combat anymore. You run of your own energy, and mine. The injury to your Paramour merely initiated a fight or flight episode. Something, I might add, that you have not experienced in some time.>

Xander nodded, pushing away from the sink. He staggered a bit as he moved across the large bathroom until he collapsed into the large sitting couch located along one wall and buried his head in his hands.

<Oh God. I almost got her killed.>

<Alexander, she is hardly a bystander in this matter. She is an experienced warrior in her own right. Don't be a fool, such inanity merely dishonors you both.> Elan snapped, tired of the melodrama.

Xander shook his head, "You just don't understand!"

<Do not DARE to presume what *I* understand, Child.>

Dylan and Alex let themselves into the large master bedroom, their eyes falling on the still form on the bed.

"She looks so weak." Dylan swallowed, hesitating at the door.

"Where's Xander?" Alex looked around, knowing that they were only moments behind the young man.

Dylan just shrugged, hanging back at the door as Alex moved in quickly to check on their friend. Alex got to the bed and took a seat on the edge. She looked back, eyes widening to see that Dy;an was still at the door. "Dylan? What are you doing?"

"Uh... I... You know, maybe I should check on the others... see if they got out ok..." Dylan said hesitantly.

"What?" Alex blinked, "You can do that later. Besides, they're capable people, and we know that they got out, remember? Get in here."

Dylan hesitated a bit more, then nodded almost miserably as she forced herself across the room with halting steps. Her discomfort melted slowly away as she got closer though, her concern burning away the fear and loathing she felt at seeing her fellow Angel in such a fragile state.

Alex turned back to Natalie, gently brushing away a lock of hair from the blond's eyes, and shook her head. "There's no way she should have survived that hit, you know."

Dylan nodded miserably.

There was no hint of a wound any longer, but she had seen the blood plume and the wound itself as Tara worked feverishly on it. The fact was, Natalie should have been dead long before they got out of the tunnels. There should have been no intervention possible, not matter what Xander had to say about Angels... celestial or otherwise.

Natalie was supposed to be dead.

But she wasn't.

<She isn't.> Dylan swallowed, watching as the blankets rose and fell in an easy cadence that matched Natalie's breath.

"He must have done something to her." Dylan said finally.

Alex nodded, "Yeah. But what?"

"I don't know." Dylan shrugged, almost helplessly as a heavy moroseness fell over her. "I don't know."

"Whatever it was," Alex continued thoughtfully. "It wasn't enough. He couldn't save her himself... he had to call for that... ummm...."

"Angel." Dylan said with a crooked smile. There was little enough humor in it, but the glint was there again, and Alex smiled in response.

"Yeah. That." Alex said with a weak smile. "Seriously though, do you think he was serious?"

Dylan shrugged, "Vampires exist... demons... I mean, why not?"

"Yeah. Why not?" Alex said musingly, "Umm... is it just me, or did she and Xander seem a little... close?"

Dylan's smile returned, but it was crooked and thoughtful. "Yeah. They did. You don't think he's stepping out on Nat already do ya?"

"He doesn't seem the type." Alex shrugged, "I suppose we could look into it though..."

"She's my Ex."

Both women turned to see Xander emerge from the bathroom, a tired look on his face.

"And I'll thank you to stay out of her life." He continued, almost coldly. "She doesn't need more complications in her life right now."

The two conscious Angel's had the good grace to appear at least mildly embarrassed.

"Your... ex?" Alex said softly.

"Didn't look to Ex to me." Dylan said, her sharp tongue and wry smile returning out of reflex as a relative stranger entered into her area.

"It was an amiable breakup." Xander said, his voice stilly cold as he slid across the room and knelled down on the bed.

"I need to have a breakup that amiable." Dylan replied dryly.

Alex rolled her eyes, slugging her partner in the shoulder. "You'd need to breakup with someone first."

"Hey!" The redhead protested. "I broke up with Ryan!"

"You *arrested* Ryan." Alex corrected. "That doesn't count."

"Does so."



Xander forced back and unkind comment, knowing that they were just burning off tension as he had in the bathroom with he'd almost lost physical control of his body. Of the two, their was probably the healthier. It was certainly the one he'd prefer...

Xander sighed softly, smiling down at the pale face that was now peacefully resting rather then contorted in pain.

Unfortunately, he didn't have anyone to joke with anymore.

"Hey there." He said softly, "I'm back. You want to wake up and let these two know that you're ok? If you don't, I don't think they'll ever shut up."

"Hey!" Both Angels spun on him, snapping in protest.

They both fell silent when Natalie smiled tiredly, looking up at the three of them.

"Yeah... They get like that some times." She said weakly. "Annoying huh?"

"I think I can live with it." Xander smiled, relieved. "If I have to, you understand."

"Love me... love my friends." Natalie grinned weakly.

Xander couldn't help it.

He wagged his eyebrows, "Why Miss Cook... is that a proposition??"

Only his enhanced senses and reaction time allowed Xander to avoid the sudden barrage of pillows that converged on his position.

Angel groaned, trying to roll over as he opened his eyes. He frowned, he was tied up or something, and could barely move.

<What the hell??> He twisted, thumping his head against something hard. <Ow!>

<Damn it! NOW WHAT??>

Chapter 54

Xander let himself out of his room, closing the door softly behind him as he did. The soft murmur of laughs and giggles brought a smile to his face, at least until he turned around and found himself looking at Jessie, Willow, and Jonathon who all wore disturbed looks.


"Ah... Xan..." Jessie said hesitantly, "There's a... well..."

"C'mon Jess... spit it out." Xander snapped, "What is it?"

"There's something in your van!" Willow snapped quickly.


"Something alive." Jonathon muttered. "And... well, cursing."

"Cursing?" Xander frowned, puzzled. "Huh?"

"In an Irish accent." Willow said helpfully.

"Oh shit!" Xander slapped his head, rushing past them. "Deadboy!"

"It's not funny, Harris." Angel muttered, kicking the duffel bag off his foot as he looked around the windowless basement.

Xander nodded in agreement as he kept snickering at the centuries old Master Vampire who was trying in vain to smooth out his hair. "I... I know..."

"You knocked me out!" Angel said accusingly.

"I know." Xander kept nodding and snickering.

Angel sighed, brushing hair back with his hands. "*Why* did you knock me out??"

Xander shrugged, fighting back another attack of laughter. "Well, I didn't think you wanted to join the rest of the vamps in hell. We set off a nice little fireball in the tunnels... it almost fried us as it was."

"Fine." Angel muttered, looking around. "Now where am I?"

"My basement." Xander replied, "I'll give lift back town when the sun sets."

Angel nodded, "Did we get them?"

"First reports look good." Xander said, sliding a chair over to Angel and pulling one up himself. "We collapsed part of Main Street in the explosion, knocked out about a zillion bucks worth of windows, but from the sounds of things we baked almost three quarters of a mile worth of tunnels... maybe more."

Angel blinked. "What the hell did you use?"

Xander reached over, plucking a 30mm canister from a table, and tossed it to Angel. "One of these."

Angel caught it on reflex, almost dropped it, scrambled like mad to keep it from hitting the floor, then goggled at the small cylinder. "What is it? A god damned nuke?"

"Thermobaric grenade..." Xander said, shaking his head and smiling. "Next best thing."

"Great." Angel muttered, setting the grenade back on the table with exaggerated care.

"Relax, it's not active." Xander smiled, enjoying the discomfort in the vampire's eyes. "If it was, you'd be down here alone."

"Gee, thanks." Angel muttered sarcastically.

"Any time." Xander grinned, getting up, "I have to go check on the others."

Angel nodded, watching as Xander started up the stairs. "Wait..."

Xander half turned back, "Yeah?"

"The blond... is she?"

"She's fine." Xander smiled, "Thanks."

Angel nodded, "Any time."

Xander found Jack Styles, Faith, Major McQueen, and Giles seated in the rather large den with a large bottle of scotch on the table at their center.

He raised an eyebrow, "Getting a start on the evening."

"Look outside, boytoy." Faith shrugged, "The sun's going down. It is the evening."

"True enough." Xander grabbed a stool and slid it into the circle, "So, who's toasting?"

Upstairs, The three Angels we talking softly about the events tht had just transpired.

"Ohhh..." Natalie groaned, moving suddenly, then wincing as a muscle pulled. "What happened anyway?"

"You almost died." Dylan muttered sharply.

"Dylan!" Alex snapped, shocked by her friends lack of tact.

"What? It;'s true!" Dylan defended herself. "Damn, Nat... You got shot in the throat..."

Natalie's eyes widened, her hand flying to her throat in reflex. "I...?"

"Relax...:" Alex urged, "You'll be alright... Xander called... help."

"He called his ex." Dylan smirked.

Natalie's eyes widened slightly, "What?"

Alex scowled at Dylan, but didn't say anything as the redhead continued.

"He called his old squeeze." Dylan told the blonde, "When Tara said there was nothing she could do to help you, he just spoke into that radio of his, and told Merlin to call Paige... Next thing we know, this hot brunette *teleported* right into the front seat..."

"Tele..." Natalie stared in shock.

"Right onto Jessie's lap." Alex giggled, something she hadn't even felt the urge to do when the event actually happened.

"He wasn't complaining." Dylan snickered.

"Only cause he was in shock."

Natalie stared at her two friends like they were totally loony. Which, she knew, they often were.

"What on EARTH are you two talking about??"

"She *teleported*. No shit." Dylan repeated.


"Teleported." Alex said again, nodding. "In a shimmering shower of white light."

"You're kidding me."


Natalie laid back against her pillows, "And this is Xander's ex??"

"'Fraid so, Nat." Dylan said, puckering her lips in thought. "She even kissed him before porting out."

"She WHAT??"

"She kissed him." Alex confirmed, nodding softly. "It wasn't much on the passion scale though..."

"And did he kiss her back??"

"Nah..." Dylan said with smile, "She vanished back into thin air before he could react."

"His ex..." Natalie said softly, struck a little dumb. "She saved me?"

"Yeah..." This time Dylan was somber. "With wave of her hand... there was a glowing light, and you were healed... When we asked about it, Xander told us she was an Angel..."


Dylan's eyes flickered to the ceiling, "The celestial kind, he said."


"You said it." Alex replied evenly. "Struck us kinda dumb too."

"Great." Natalie said softly. "Just great."

"What's wrong?" Dylan asked, "I mean... other then the obvious..."

Natalie sighed, "I just found out that my boyfriend's ex is an honest to god Angel... Who is hot, right?"

"Oh Yeah." Dylan nodded. "Big league hot."

"And is super powered up the wazoo." Natalie finished, "Why shouldn't everything be great, huh?"

"Super powered up the wazoo?" Dylan smirked instantly, "You think Xander goes for that sort of thing?"

Natalie looked at Dylan oddly, "Well, duh. Obviously."

"Been a while since I was super powered up the wazoo..." Dylan continued, "How about you Alex?"

"Nah. Jason's not into that sort of thing." Alex grinned.

"Bullshit. All guys are into that sort of thing."

Natalie's eyes widened in shock and understanding, and she snarled as her arm swept out and sent a pillow on a collision course with Dylan's head.

"Do you think we got them?"

Xander shrugged, slipping to one side as Giles stepped out beside him to watch the sky darken. "I don't know...probably... Most of them, yeah. I didn't see Darla in that bunch though."

Giles nodded. "Nor did I. So she's still out there."

"Yeah... and she knows how to think outside of the box." Xander said tiredly. "I'm almost afraid of what she'll try next..."

Giles snorted, "perhaps she'll try to turn an air force base... wouldn't that be lovely?"

Xander smiled slightly, "thankfully I don't think she'll go in that direction... I was actually more worried about something smaller..."


"Yeah... Like a tactical nuke." Xander said, his face sour.

"Oh dear." Giles rubbed his temples. "Let's hope she doesn't think of that one, shall we?"

"Let's find and dust the bitch instead..." Xander replied, "she's been getting on my nerves."

"Well, if she's been annoying you..." Giles said with a smirk, "I suppose we have no choice... I don't suppose you'd agree to making that a blanket policy would you?"

Xander laughed softly, looking over at his friend. "Oh, I don't think we have to do that, 'eh G-man?"

"Sod off."

Chapter 55

The light hurt her eyes when she opened them, though not enough for it to be the sun, of course.

Darla turned over, pushing herself off the hard stone floor and looked around.

"What happened??"

The cave was in shambles, chunks of rock were scattered across the ground and the walls were cracked and looked weak.

"I very much believe that you're childes and their... playmates, caused this." The Master said softly. "Children... You simply can't avoid a certain level of... breakage."

Darla drew in a breath, hissing in pain as a burning sensation seared through her gut. "Micheal??"

"They're all dead, near as I can tell, my dear." The Master said simply, "Though, if it makes you feel any better, they appear to have gone out with a... bang."

Darla looked sickened for a moment, whether from the news or from her injuries, the Master couldn't tell. After a long moment she drew in another painful, shuddering breath, "I failed you then, Master. I apologize."

"Other then to my lair... no harm done." The Master said evenly, walking idly past her as he spoke. Then he turned, his face lethally serious as his hand snapped out and grabbed her by the throat. "However, if you ever... EVER consider turning something like that... Michael... again, I will have your heart ripped from your chest and fed to you... Am I quite clear?"

Darla gasped, nodding painfully.

"Good." The Master said, releasing her.

Darla fell to the ground, shivering in pain as she slumped to the cold stone.

"I believe that it may be time to invest in... outside contractors." The Master said after a long silence.

"They blew up the town."

"That's a slight exaggeration, Buffy..." Wesley said slowly, he was having a hard time assimilating all the information that Buffy was giving him. He'd shown up a bit earlier to get his Slayer's report on the previous night's patrol, and wound up smack in the middle of the most surreal conversation.

Buffy stared at the young Watcher, her face expressing her thoughts quite clearly. "Wes... they destroyed a large section of the sewers, caused a ton of property damage, and..."

"And got the bad guys." Xander said as he walked into the room with Angel a half step behind him, "Though, I have to admit, it was probably overkill."


Xander shrugged, "We didn't have a lot of time, and I admit that we probably shouldn't have used munitions that were still in the testing phase..."

He had the decency to look chagrined, "What can I say? I wanted to see the vamps go boom."

This time both Wesley AND Buffy stared at him in disbelieving shock as he sounded so much like the teenager he *looked* to be.

"What? Burning vampires are a very pretty image." Xander grinned.

"Boys." Buffy rolled her eyes, shaking her head.

"Hey, watch what you say, B..." Faith grinned as she slid around a door frame and leaned against it. "X is all man... last time I checked anyway."

Xander groaned, "Jesus, Faith... stay off my side... PLEASE."

Faith smirked at him, "Sorry boytoy, you're stuck with me."

"Saints preserve me." Xander muttered, looking skyward.

"I'm glad you're feeling better." Dylan muttered as she pulled herself off the floor, rubbing her bruised ass and her reddening cheek. "Bitch."

Natalie just grinned, waiting a moment before completing the old greeting by rote. "Slut."

"If you two are done, could we get back to serious matters?" Alex said from where she had moved. "Are we still leaving tomorrow?"

"Hell yeah." Dylan said instantly.

"Natalie?" Alex asked pointedly.

"Nat??" Dylan looked over at the blond with wide eyes. "We're going, right?"

"Right." Natalie said after a moment, then nodded. "Right."

Dylan let out a sigh of relief.

"But I need to have a long talk with Xander first." Natalie went on.

"Oh boy." Alex muttered.

Dylan shook her head, "Normally I'd say 'go girl', but for now I think we should just ditch the toyboy and get back on mission."

"No." Nat said firmly. "We need to talk."

"Yeah." Alex nodded, "You do. But can you get it done tonight?"

"I guess we'll have to." Natalie said simply.

Former Major TC McQueen of the United States Marine Corps took a sip of whiskey, something he never did, and watched the last remnants of the setting sun vanish over the Pacific.

He had to admit, this was a scenario they hadn't covered in his training.

He'd grown up eating, drinking, and breathing the Unit.

The Unit was everything.

The Unit was family.

The Unit was the Alpha, and the Unit was the Omega.

But his unit was dead now.

They'd died, one by one, during training and beyond. He was the only one left, the only one who's own body hadn't turned on him, killing him from the inside. Or worse.

So they sent him to the Corps, and he found a new Unit. When he tried to protect his new Unit, his superiors, his... creators... threatened him.

What was a man without a Unit, without a family... to do?


Xander turned around, looking at the doorway, surprised to see Natalie standing there. The blond was leaning heavily against the door frame, and he found himself moving to his feet in a flash, arriving at her side instants later.

"Nat! You shouldn't be up... for God's sake, you were shot!"

"I'm alright." She said, looking away. "We need to talk."

Xander winced, but nodded. "Alright..."

After a moment he look up again, "Come on... Let's go to the Gym."

"Xander... it's not that kind of conversation." She said with a hint of a smile, but a somber look in her eyes.

"I know. But I think you can use the facilities."

In the gym, Xander immediately called for the training program to activate the IR LED's hidden behind the IR transparent walls. As the soothing heat filled the room, he turned to Natalie and sighed. "Alright... let's get this over with."

She blinked, frowning. "Get what over with?"

"Whatever bad new you're going to drop on me." Xander said simply. He smiled slightly, "It's not like it's the first time a girlfriend dropped the old 'we have to talk' routine on me."

"It's not like that Xander..." She said after a moment, "Well, I don't think it's like that... Alex and Dylan, they uh... told me about your Ex."

Xander sighed again, nodding. "Paige."

"Is that her name?"

"Yeah. She's... well, she's something else." Xander smiled fondly.

Natalie caught that and sighed herself. "I guessed that much. She healed me... How?"

Xander hesitated, thinking about how best to answer. Finally he decided to go with the flat out truth. "Divine gift."


"Paige is half whitelighter..." Xander explained, "Whitelighters are humans empowered by God to look over white witches. That makes her, well, Half..."

"Angel." Natalie finished.

"Right." Xander took a breath. "She's also half human... or all human depending on how you look at it, and half witch herself. So she's powerful as all hell, and has the healing touch."

"I see." Natalie said slowly, wondering again how she was supposed to compete with some ultra powerful supermodel who could heal wounds with a touch, teleport anywhere at will, and God alone knew what else. "Xander... I..."

"I met Paige just over a year ago." Xander went on, interrupting her. "She caught my eye when I was looking over some old... friends. You see, she's their sister... half sister... Look, this is stuff that I probably shouldn't be telling you, you know? But I want you to understand my world... I guess."

Xander sighed, and this time Natalie stayed silent.

"Anyway, with a little urging from an old acquaintance I went after her... mostly just curious, you know? I mean, she was spying on my friends... so I took her out for coffee, and we played twenty questions..." Xander smiled, laughing slightly. "Anyway, long story short, there was an altercation that brought my world to her eyes... and we found out what she was."

"Found out? She didn't know?"

"Paige..." Xander hesitated, "Paige was adopted very young... her adoptive parents didn't know about her heritage. So anyway, she traveled with me for a while and I taught her about magic... some of the basics anyway."

"You know magic."

"Yeah, some." Xander admitted, shrugging. "I don't practice it though. I've got too many other things to work on, and Magic isn't something you do part time. You have to *live* it."

"How did you two...?"

"Get involved?" Xander smiled at Natalie's hesitation. He shrugged, "We saved the world, and I was leaving town the next day... so, well, we celebrated."

He stopped, looking over at Natalie intently. "Nat, I'm not telling you this to brag or whatever... I'm just trying to explain what Paige and I were... are... We're friends. We have been since just after we met."

He got up, moving around a bit. "We both have our path in life, and it happens that we walk closely by times. We save people, it's what we do. Even before we found out that she was a Witch, Paige was studying to be social worker. It's what she does. We don't turn our back on people who need help, we don't ever walk away from a cause..."

Natalie was nervously gnawing on her lower lip when Xander turned back around and walked over to her, catching her cheeks in both hands. He lifte her head up, looking into her blue eyes, and smiled.

"It's what attracted me to her." He told Natalie honestly, "And it's why I'm attracted to you. You're the same, you know... that same drive, the same strength... You don't help people because it's your job... it's your job because you HELP people.

Then he leaned in a kissed her softly, and after a few moments, Natalie found herself responding in kind.

Chapter 56

"We're not spending the night down here again, are we?"

Xander laughed involuntarily at the question, posed in a practiced voice of utter innocence by the near naked blond who was curled up beside him. Kissing had moved quickly on to heavy petting, and by the time either of them realized it, their clothing wasn't where it was supposed to be.

<Tara would kill me. Nat really should be resting.> He thought, shaking his head both in response to his own thoughts and to Natalie's question. "No, I think we'll adjourn this discussion to the bedroom... just this once, you understand."

Natalie giggled slightly, squeezing his arm. "Sounds good."

"Now to get dressed and make ourselves presentable so that Tara doesn't kill me.." Xander said, then shuddered, "Or, god forbid, tell Paige."

Natalie looked at him sharply, even as Xander was realizing his gaff. "And why would that bother you?"

Xander choked, "Are you kidding me? She'd flay me alive for not letting you get some rest... I told ya, Nat, Paige lives to help people..."

Natalie stared at him in shock, then abruptly broke out in giggling laughter. "You're kidding?"

Xander just shook his head as he held up a bra, looked at it for a moment, then handed it to Nat. "Nope. Kind of odd really, since a Whitelighter heals people near perfectly... But I guess she's not used to that."

Xander shrugged, pulling his pants up as Natalie wriggled into hers.

"You know some weird people, Xander."

Xander grinned at her, "Yeah... tell me about it."

Natalie's eyes narrowed at his grin, her face dropping. "Hey!"

"Now now. This won't do. No, this won't do at all."

Deputy Mayor Alan Finch just nodded nervously as he examined the sheer extent of the carnage that had been wreaked on the downtown area.

Alright, he supposed that carnage might be excessive, though not by as much as all that. No one had been killed, to his knowledge at least, and Alan Finch knew better then to seek out more up to date knowledge in that regard. Injuries were relatively low, most minor lacerations and sprains from the shattered glass and random upheavals, though there were a few broken limbs in area where the road surface had caved in by several feet.

"Absolutely, Sir." Was all that he said out loud.

"A terrible tragedy." Mayor Wilkins shook his head, "You can be sure that I'll have the heads of the maintenance people who missed this gas leak... Do find me someone suitably deserving, won't you Alan?"

Finch nodded, "I'll have a name on your desk in the morning."

Wilkins nodded, "Excellent. No one competent, if you please... We wouldn't want to precipitate an actual incident of this nature ourselves, now would we?"

"No Sir."

Wilkins sighed, shaking his head. "Now, I suppose I should deal with the... ah... slightly less substantial rumors surrounding this event."

Finch nodded, holding the door to the limo open for his boss as they turned away from main Street. Once safely inside, the Mayor picked up a cell phone and dialed a number from memory.

"Yes... Mr, ah... Willy is it?" The Mayor asked cheerfully, "This is Mayor Wilkins."

Alan watched as the Mayor listened to the person on the other side talk for some time, rolling his eyes tiredly at whatever the other man was saying. After a long moment, the Mayor spoke again. "Yes, Yes... Yes... Now, what is this about the Seraphim?"

"I see. And his exact words? Very well. Thank you for your time." Mayor Wilkins finished the conversation, closing the cell phone and then leaned back.

Alan waited while his boss gathered his thoughts, wondering what was up.

"It would seem that my old adversary has managed to alienate the wrong person this time." The Mayor said, a hint of undeniable glee warring with his irritation at what had been done to his town. "This Seraphim person apparently means what he says, and when he declares war, he goes about it like a small nation might."

"That doesn't sound good." Alan ventured.

The Mayor shrugged, "perhaps he managed to dust that old bastard... Then he'll undoubtedly move on to more fertile pastures, and leave us alone."

The Mayor considered his words, then brightened. "And on that note, just to encourage him if he has dusted the 'Master', order our people to keep their heads down... and put the word out that I want things quiet for the next few weeks at least. If someone gives this Seraphim reason to remain in Sunnydale, I'll give them a one way trip to the other side."

"Very Good Sir." Finch made a note on his palm pilot. <Low profile or else....>

Next Morning

The light from the large windows woke Natalie with an easy warmth, causing her to stretch out as she yawned loudly.


"Oh my god, Xander!" Natalie slapped her hand over her mouth, snatching her hand back from where it had connected with Xander's face. "I'm sorry!!"

Xander groaned, a hand over his eye. "Geez, was I that bad to wake up next too??"

Natalie rolled over, pulling his hand away from his eye, and winced. "Oh God... I think you're going have a shiner..."

Xander shook his head, shaking under the gorgeous blonde that was straddling him.

"Xander... Don't be mad... please?"

"Man. That didn't take long... Already with the domestic abuse." Xander muttered, looking up through the eye that wasn't swelling up. Above him, Natalie looked utterly stricken.

"Oh God! I'm SO Sorry!" She got out, her hands brushing her hair back as she looked down at him, her eyes starting to sheen over.

That was about the time that Xander couldn't hold the laughter in anymore.

He burst out laughing, silencing her apologies, and she stared at him in open mouthed silence until everything clicked in her mind.

"Oh... Oh... You... you...!!" She ground out, sputtering as he laughed at her. "Man!!"

Xander snickered, rolling his head away from a slap that landed safely in his pillow, and grinned un-repentantly as he hooked his arm around her naked back and flipped Natalie over, rolling on top of her. His eye was swelling shut, but that didn't stop him from smiling down at the beautiful blond and kissing her soundly.

"I'm glad you're feeling better." He said after he finished. "If you're strong enough to black my eye, you'll probably make it."

"I am sorry..." She said, abjectly apologetic.

"Just don't make a habit of it, k?" He grinned.

"K." She agreed happily.

Xander ducked back down and kissed her again, something to which Natalie responded enthusiastically.

"Mmmm... This is nice."

"Nice for me too, baby."

Dylan looked up along the solid chest she was laying on and smirked, "Don't get an ego, big boy. You weren't THAT good."

Jack Styles looked affronted, causing her to giggle as her hands slid up his side.

"I've never had any complaints before." He told her smugly.

She shrugged, flipping her hair as she rolled out of bed, wrapping the blankets around her body. And, incidentally, completely uncovering his. "Always a first time, big... orat least so-so boy."

"So So??" His head snapped down, following her smirking gaze. An instant later he covered himself with both hands, "What's that supposed to mean!?"

She just laughed and glided into the adjoining bathroom, "Ta!"

Jack watched the door close just after the blankets flew back at him. He let them hit the bed as he lay there, still cupping himself. After a long moment, he moved his hands and looked down. "Don't get like that... She's just playing... it's alright...."

"You really have to go so soon?" Xander asked, his reluctance only partly feigned.

Tactically he was glad to see the three women go.

Personally, he was going to miss Natalie.

"Yeah." Nat looked downcast. "We're really behind on this mission... I mean *really* behind."

Xander nodded, feeling halfway guilty over not telling them the truth.

But only halfway.

The three Angels were geared up and the entire group were standing outside Xander's house, watching as they dropped the last things into the rentals they'd brought to Sunnydale.

"Ciao!" Dylan grinned, hopping into the convertible without opening the door. "I'd say it's been real, but... well, it hasn't."

Natalie grinned, her perfect teeth flashing in the sunlight as she and Xander kissed again, to the disgusted moos from the peanut gallery. He flashed Jessie and Jonathan an annoyed glance, but quickly put his attention back where it belonged.

"Hey... don't be a stranger." Natalie told him, "I'm just down in LA."

"You know where I live too." He returned. "Just call first."

Natalie grinned, "Why? Have something to hide?"

"Hell yeah." Xander grinned back, "Don't you?"

"Hell yeah." She returned huskily, leaning in for another kiss.

This time it was female voices that interrupted them.

"Oh get a room!"

Natalie shot a glare at her friends, but reluctantly separated from Xander and headed for the car. "Bye."

"I'll be seeing you." Xander promised.

Natalie was in the car and started to say something, but as she did Dylan gunned the engine and the three of them roared away. Xander could hear Natalie's scream all the way down the driveway and halfway to town it seemed.

He shook his head fondly, pulling a cell phone from his pocket and hitting autodial.

"Faith? Yeah. They're gone."

Faith got there a few minutes later, driven by an extremely relieved Rupert Giles.

"Thank God, X!" She exclaimed, hopping out of the car. "I couldn't take another minute with Brit boy! I..."

She stopped in mid word, looking at Xander oddly.


"Jeez, X... Where'd ya get the shiner?"


Chapter 57


"Cordelia! Wait up!"

Cordy paused in midstep as Aura ran to catch up to her. She didn't really feel like dealing with any of her friends at the moment, or anyone else for that matter, but a lifetime of training did't just go away because you had a bad night.

<Oh God. Is that an understatement.> Cordy thought bitterly, a flash of the monsters face and teeth assaulting her mind as she unconsciously ran her hand over the bit marks that were still sore on the tops of her breasts.

"Hey Aura." She forced a smile, wondering if it would fool anyone, "What's up?"

"Nothing." Aura smiled back, apparently oblivious. "Just wanted to walk in with you."

Cordy nodded, then tipped her head toward the school. Aura took the hint and, thankfully, didn't speak.

For all of ten seconds.

"So, how was your date?"

Cordy flinched, staring over at Aura in shock. "Mitch is dead."

"Well... yeah, but... How was the date?"

Cordelia seriously considered yelling, screaming, and possibly hitting her friend. Finally, she just shrugged and shook her head before turning and walking away.

"What? What'd I say?"

"That was totally bizarre," Dylan said as they roared along the road, heading for the LA airport.

Bosley had gotten a new lead on their mission the night before, but it was taking them to Boston, so the Angels were in a bit of a rush.

"I assume you mean Sunnydale?" Alex asked from the center of the back seat.

"Duh." Dylan grinned. "But at least Nat got some."


"She wasn't the only one." Alex grinned as Natalie blushed.

"No big." Dylan shrugged, smirking.

"I'm sure Jack would be shocked to hear that." Natalie returned, grinning nastily.

The three girls laughed, the wind whipping through their hair as the drove along.

"Hello?" The cold voice answered the phone, it's tone completely uncaring as if seperated from reality.

"The Master has a job for you."

"Indeed. And what use does he have for any not of his blood?"

"We need a man killed."

"And does this man have a name?" The voice asked softly, a hint of taunting in his voice.

"He goes by the title, Seraphim."

There was a long silence, and for a moment Darla thought they were disconnected.



"On the Hellmouth? It figures. The Order will accept the job."

"Good. The Standard fee will be placed in escrow, as per our standing agreement."

"That's fine. I'll alert our people in California to the contract."

"Here comes the Prom Queen."

Xander looked up, frowning. He wasn't comfortable with Faith's nickname for Cordy at the moment, but he just shrugged it off. He looked across the quad as Cordelia walked toward the school.

<She looks alright.> He thought, more hoping against hope then anything else.

<Look again.> Elan advised.

Xander sighed, already knowing what he'd see.

He blinked, letting his eyes slip into the mystical, and watched the approaching girls.

<She's getting worse.> He shook his head sadly, wondering what to do.

<Indeed.> Elan responded. <And will most likely continue to do so if she does not get help.>

"Cordelia's tough." Xander whispered, eyes not leaving the Queen of the school.

"What's that Bro?" Jessie asked, dropping down to sit on the concrete wall beside him.

"Nothing Jess." Xander said softly, blinking again and returning to the mundane. "Just talking with my inner self."

Jessie gave him an odd look at that, but Faith nodded knowingly, and Xander saw her gaze move to follow Cordy as well.

<Yes. She is. However, this time, that inner strength is what will spell her defeat.> Elanthielle whispered softly through his mind. <She is strong enough to act normally... to hide the pain. Strong enough to hold it inside her until it destroys everything she has left.>

<I won't let it come to that.> Xander responded.

<And how do you propose to help her?> Elan countered. <She won't open up to you... You're the enemy, remember?>

<I have to try.>

<We can but try... try an fail.> Elanthielle said quietly.

<I won't fail.> Xander promised softly.

<I refuse to fail.>

The End


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