Home Again

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]gmail.com>

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners... none of which are me. If they knew what they were doing I wouldn't have to write this stuff.

Summary: Sequel to Journeys. Xander and Jarod settle into Sunnydale for a little rest, but trouble soon calls them back to work. This time, they need a little help.

Warning : I'm a B/Xer and this will be a B/X fic, but NOT FOR A WHILE. It will be X/Others in friendships and relationships for the first part of the story. Expect to see Buffy/Riley at one point as well... but I swear to God above that absolutely NO Buffy/Spike crap will be found within. (What kind of sicko thought that up anyway? Don't get me wrong, I liked Spike... until Buffy lost what little sanity she had.)
Crossovers ahead. (Yes Plural.)

Rating : PG-13 to PG-16; for cursing, violence, and demonic horror content... in other words a bit more grown up then the series... but only cause I don't have to suck up to censors.

Sunnydale, California
November 10th '99

"Hey Jarod," Xander stared at the massive amount of construction going on at the building they had purchased. "What the hell did you tell them to do?"

"Nothing much," Jarod smiled, "They're reinforcing the basement, the walls, the ceiling, the internal load-bearing structures, and all the doors and windows. I've contracted a technology firm to wire the house for an internal network and secure communication links, and the blue van is owned by an internal security specialist I helped out a few months ago."

Xander's jaw dropped, "Holy hell, Jarod. Why didn't you just have them rip it down and build a whole new building?"

Jarod shrugged, "Too many people around here would be curious as to what was going on. I employed contractors that feel they owe me favors. They won't be free with the information, as far as anyone else is concerned this is a pretty standard renovation job. Which the place needed, I might add."

Xander nodded, that he could agree with. The building was an old brownstone apartment building about three blocks from the College, two stories of classic architecture that had seen better days. He had picked it up for a song after the previous owners, a college frat that had been known for their loud parties, had been forced out by the town. They had let the place run down to the point where it might have been condemned if an inspector had ever actually dared enter while it had been occupied.

He'd eyed the place for several days before making his decision, and had still been uncertain for days after he'd closed the deal, but it was turning out all right with Jarod's help. The outside had already been redone from top to bottom, and the contractors were laying the new flooring as they spoke.

"I hope you know what your doing...." Xander trailed off as Jarod just stared at him with some amusement. "Oh. Right... never mind."

Jarod chuckled under his breath, "Now we just have to figure out exactly what we're going to be doing with it."

"That I have some ideas on, J-man."

Jarod looked at him sharply, "You'll have to do better then that if your intention is to bother me like you do Mr. Giles."

Xander grinned and turned away, heading for the car. "Give me time. I'll find your soft spot."

Jarod shook his head and joined Xander at the mustang.

"Yo, G-Man!"

Sighing, Rupert Giles straightened from his books and stared at the two men who had just burst into his apartment. "How many times must I ask you to stop calling me that?"

"I don't know... why don't you try again, and we'll see if you've reached the magic number?" Xander smirked and hopped over the back of a chair, dropping into the large seat as he stared at the scattering of books across Giles' coffee table. He nodded politely to Riley, who was staring at him from the couch, and looked back to Giles. "We on Armageddon alert, or is it just a minor catastrophe?"

Giles pulled his glasses off his nose an wiped them distractedly, leaving Riley to answer for him "Buffy and I asked Giles to help up look for more information on the Yautja thing that came through here."

Giles coughed. Xander actually laughed. And Jarod looked confused.

"Yautja? Isn't that-" Jarod started.

Xander cut him off, "A 'demon' that Buffy *kicked the living crap out of* a few days ago."

Jarod stared at Xander for a few seconds, understanding dawning on his face. "Oh."

Riley watched the byplay with some interest. They know something... what?

"Forget about the Yautja, man," Xander said, "He's a hunter. By now he's blown town."

"Ummm... Yes," Giles added, "That would seem to agree with what I've found. By this time he has acquired his trophies and has moved on."

Riley nodded slowly, "Ok. I guess that's a good thing, since I didn't want to be the one who tried to eliminate him as per Walsh's orders."

"Walsh?" Xander asked, curious.

"Professor Walsh," Giles answered, "a very... headstrong woman."

Xander smirked, the term headstrong wasn't a compliment form Giles. "Professor? She's giving you orders? What rank is she?"

"She's the civilian researcher in charge of the project."

If Xander's jaw hadn't been firmly attached, it would have hit the ground, literally. "Civilian? You take order from a civvie? Man, I KNEW there was something I didn't like about you guys."

Riley straightened, his back stiffening at the tone Xander had used. At that point Buffy returned form one of the back rooms, "What are you talking about, Xander?"

Xander managed to keep from wincing under her accusing tone, "Putting civilians in charge of a military unit is bad mojo, Buffster. The only thing worse is a civilian *researcher* in charge of military unit."

"Why?" Buffy's tone had warmed slightly, and was now more curious.

"Civilians don't understand how a military operation is run. And, worse, they don't care. A civilian researcher is even worse because most of them lose sight of the road while they're watching for the destination. A damned dangerous attitude when you're driving a tank, I might add."

Jarod and Giles were nodding in agreement, but Buffy was shaking her head. "Professor Walsh isn't like that. She cares."

Xander just looked at her steadily, "I think the question you have to ask, Buff, is 'what does she care about'."

Of the group only Riley, surprisingly, was staying out of the discussion. His gaze was instead directed toward Jarod, "Excuse me, but who the hell is that?"

Xander started, glancing at Jarod guiltily, "Jeeez... did I forget the intro's?"

Buffy and Riley nodded.

"Sorry guys," Xander extended his hand toward Jarod, "This is Jarod. We met in Colorado at the end of the summer, took down a demon worshiping cult in Billings together. Good times. Jarod, this is Buffy Summers and Riley Finn. Local demon bashers."

"Cool," Jarod said simply, having already been told all about the two.

Buffy raised an eyebrow, "Great. Another Oz."

Xander snickered, "Naw, he's no wolf-man."

"Wolf-man?" Jarod and Riley asked simultaneously.

"A werewolf friend of ours. Nothing ever phased the guy... You could drop a nuke in his lap and his last word would be 'cool'."

"I see," Jarod said, smiling slightly.

Riley didn't say anything for a long moment, "You guys were friends with a werewolf?"

Xander looked at him surprise, "Yeah, why? Hell we even had a vamp as a frie..." he dropped off fast as Buffy glared at him.

Riley's eyes widened, "You guys let a vampire live around you!?"

Xander shrugged, "Special case. The guy was an annoying putz," he winced under Buffy's redoubled glare, "But he was one of the good guys. He had a soul."


Xander looked Riley in the eyes for a moment, "Let's just say that if you're smart, you'll make it a point to never EVER tick off a gypsy tribe. They are real pricks when it comes to revenge."

Riley just sort of stared back blankly for a second, "I'll try to remember that."

After a brief silence Buffy turned back to Xander, still glaring. "What happened in Billings? You swore to us that you'd stay out of trouble."

Xander held up his hands, "Hey! Not my fault, what was I supposed to do? This psycho bitch was summoning a demon to help her play the markets... Only catch was the thirteen people she had to kill to repay him. I sure as hell wasn't going to let her get away with it."

Buffy kept glaring, but held her tongue. Xander could no more walk away from thirteen lives then she could walk away from being a slayer.

"Anyway," Xander turned back to Giles, "You have those lists I asked for G-man?"

"What? Oh... ummm... yes. Here they are," Giles passed him a thin sheaf of papers.

"Thanks," Xander got up to leave, "Oh, and you guys are all invited to the house warming party in...?" he looked to Jarod for help.

"Four days," Jarod smiled, "We'll drop the address off with Mr. Giles for you. Feel free to bring a friend or two."

With that the two men left the small apartment, and its three occupants alone.

"May I ask what's on the list?" Jarod asked as they hopped back into the Mustang.


Jarod waited a long time but no answer was forthcoming. He silently reviewed his words and groaned slightly to himself. "What is on the list?" he grated out, keeping his own chuckles buried.

Xander grinned, "Contacts for old books and tomes, as G-man calls 'em. I figured we could do with a research library to supplement what Giles has. Oh, and there should be a couple CD's in there too... The stuff we copied to computer a couple years ago."

"Excellent," Jarod said as he looked over the suppliers list. "Do they deliver?"

Xander grinned, "Some of them teleport the damned stuff to your home, but expect to pay for the service."

"Teleport?" Jarod's eyes perked up, "Really? Now this I must see."

Xander shook his head and lifted his cell phone, hitting an autodial button as Jarod drove them toward UC Sunnydale.

"Terry?" Xander grinned, "Yeah, it's me. Look, I'm looking for some stuff. No... no... NO! Hell man, I don't need to take down a tank... ummm... on second though, yeah I might."

Xander shook his head, "Look, just some smaller stuff for now. Uh huh... really? That's interesting. You know anyone in the LA area who can supply that? Cool. Yep. I'll have a delivery address e-mailed to you. Cool. Say, I'm looking for an armorer who can make up some custom ammunition for those... really? He any good? Cool. Ok, I'll check him out. Thanks. You too man. Cya."

Xander hung up the phone and grinned at Jarod, "I think we may just be in the demon hunting business."

Jarod didn't say anything, he just shook his head slightly and wondered what Sidney and Broots would have to say about this when Miss Parker got back with them.

Later that night

Xander glanced in the fridge, and frowned. "Jeez Jarod, do you eat anything *but* sweets?"

Jarod looked at Xander as if he'd just said something absolutely insane. "Excuse me? Aren't you the one who lived on nothing but twinkies for seventeen years?"

Xander shut the fridge and stared at Jarod suspiciously, "All right, who have you been talking too?"

"Willow," Jarod said simply, "Once she gets started it takes quite a lot to get her to stop talking..."

Xander snickered, "Tell me about it. Anyway, to answer your question I can't eat sweets anymore... Taste sickens me."

Jarod raised his eyebrows in question, "Really?"

Xander grimaced as he tossed on his shoulder leather, snapping the twin colts into place. "You try living off what you can find on alien worlds for over three months then come back to civilization. I tried to eat a burger at a fast food joint in San Francisco while I was hanging with Phoebe and damned near threw up. Sweets are too rich for me now."

"Oh," Jarod watched as Xander snapped the Japanese short sword into place in an inverted sling behind his back. "Sorry about that."

Xander shrugged, "No big. I'm working my way back into 'normal' food, but it's taking longer then I'd like. I know a decent grocery not too far from here, I'll only be a few minutes."

Jarod looked out the window as Xander shrugged into a black trench coat, "Why are you wearing that?"

Xander grinned, "Are you kidding me? With all these weapons I need something guaranteed to keep the cops off of me."

Jarod's eyes narrowed, "I would think that seeing someone in a long black trench coat would tend to attract police attention."

"Not in Sunnydale. Most people in town see something like this and you may as well be invisible, no one wants to take a chance at attracting the attentions of a vamp."

Jarod shook his head, "That seems... wrong somehow."

Xander shrugged, heading out the door. Jarod could hear his last words just as the door shut behind him, "Tell me about it."

Xander smirked as he left the grocery store, the cashier had watched him nervously the whole time he'd been there... until he bought actual food at any rate. He chuckled at the cashiers irate reaction as the door closed behind him.

Poor guy, I probably shouldn't have smiled at him like that.

Xander chuckled again and hefted the two grocery bags as he started the walk back to his home. He hadn't gotten two blocks when a five teens dressed exactly like him stepped out of the shadows and surrounded him.

"Uh... hey guys. Nice night huh?" Xander shifted his grip on the groceries and eyed the five 'people'. Vamps. My night just took a turn for the worse.

The leader of the group stepped forward and leered. "Check out Mr. Cool. Think we should help him with his bags?"

"Mr. Cool?" Xander grinned, and slowly kneeled down, depositing his groceries on the ground. "Don't think anyone ever called me that before. Too bad it don't mean much coming from Mr.'s Dead, Dying, and Doomed."

"Smart ass," the leader growled, as he shifted to his game face. "Get him!"

Xander shifted to a combat stance as the five vamps tightened the circle.

Buffy Summers was finishing up her patrol when she heard the sounds of a fight a block and a half away. She shifted direction instantly and headed toward to noise to investigate. As she caught sight of the combatants, she instantly recognized Xander as one of them, and the rest as vampires.

She broke into a run, moving quickly to help her friend, when she saw something that caused her to stumble to a stunned stop.

A short distance from the fight the occupants of a black van were watching the scuffle develop.

"We should help him!"

"No," a second voice answered, "I want to see how this turns out."

"I won't allow you to let him die."

"Relax. I'm just interested to see if the kid's got the balls for this shit."

The group grew silent as they watched the fight shift into high gear.

The vampire behind him rushed forward and grabbed Xander in a crushing bear hug as the other four closed in on his front and sides. Xander jumped up, using the vamp at his back as leverage and slammed his combat boots into the faces of two of the vampires at his front, sending them staggering back from the blow.

His legs swept back down, spread wide, and passed behind the vamp that was holding him. Xander hooked his legs into the vamps, catching him behind the knees and buckling the creatures legs as he applied pressure. Xander straightened his body and kicked down, driving the vampire's knees into the sidewalk with Xander's full weight behind each kneecap. Even Xander winced at the double pop that sounded when the vamp's kneecaps busted against the concrete. He didn't let it slow him down though as he drove his head back into the vampires face and mashed the demon's features into an unrecognizable pulp.

The creature's arms loosened and Xander wrenched free, lashing out with a heavy kick at the next closest vamp that was grabbing for him. The creatures shinbone splintered under the powerful kick, dropping the undead being to the sidewalk in pain.

That left one vamp that was too close for comfort.

Xander spun around, still crouched down and caught a glimpse of the demonic visage inches from his face. He ducked his head and straightened up, climbing to his feet as fast as he could, mashing the vamp's face with the top of his own skull.

"My nose!" the vampire fell back, screaming as it held its face, "You broke my nose!"

Xander reached under his coat, and drew the twin Colts from shoulder leather, sweeping them up at the first two vamps he had nailed.

"Guns don't hurt us, mortal," the first sneered.

Xander's own smile was a death's head grin, "Suppose not. But if you don't mind, I'll try 'em out anyway."

"Be my guest," the vampire smiled, and spread his arms in invitation.

"Idiot," Xander said and pulled the trigger, putting a round into each vamp at less than ten feet.

The two vamps grunted at the impact, and grinned at Xander for a few seconds. "Told ya. Bullets are useless agai......."

The vampire trailed off, then broke into screams of pain as he began smoking form the inside out. Both were screaming in pain now, as jets of flame erupted from under their skin and burned through their clothes. A few seconds later and the two demons were dust in the wind.

Xander turned back to the three vampires who were still clutching at broken bones and damaged flesh. "I'd tell you to be more careful who you mess with in the future, but..." Xander shrugged and put a magnesium bullet into each of them before slipping the colts back into leather. He then bent down, picked up his groceries, and walked away.

He ignored the screams behind him as the flares kicked in, and just shook his head in disgust when they died out. "What a waste. One of 'em was a pretty good football player in high school."

He checked his walk as he heard a hesitant voice from behind him.


The first voice sounded smug when it spoke, "He good enough for you?"

The second was unchanged, no hint of emotion present. "He'll do. Arrange the fucking meeting."

A third voice came from the back of the van. "I wonder what he's packing in those pistols anyway?"

"I don't know, but I fucking hope he has some more at home." This time a smile could be heard in the first man's voice, even if it couldn't be seen on his shadowed face.

"Hey Buff," Xander said, slightly nervous as he shifted his grip on the groceries.

"Xander," Buffy was looking at him oddly. "I was going to help you, but I couldn't get to you in time."

"No worries, Buffster." Xander smiled slightly, restraining the impulse to smirk. "I had it under control."

"I noticed."

"So." Xander shifted again.

"So." Buffy kept looking at him strangely.

"I'm heading home, care to come along?"

Buffy was silent a moment, "Huh? Oh... yeah," then she smiled, "You mean I get to see your place before the party?"

Xander shrugged, "Why not? The repairs are mostly done now, me and Jarod are just working on some of the fine points."

"Sounds very chic," Buffy grinned as the two started walking toward Xander's place. "So... Where did you learn to fight like that anyway?"

Jarod heard talking from the front door and looked up from the newspaper he was studying. "Xander?"

"Hey, J-man," Xander yelled as he kicked off his combat boots. "Just me and the Buffster."

"Ahh... Buffy," Jarod smiled, "Good to see you again. Welcome to our humble abode."

"Thanks Jarod," Buffy smiled as she looked around. "I thought this place was falling down after Beta Thi were kicked out."

"It was," Xander grinned. "But it's better now."

"I can see that." She noticed the new work done all through the interior. "The campus is buzzing about who took this place over, everyone thinks it's a software company or something."

Jarod smiled, "Well, I have been known to market the occasional computer program."

Buffy stared at Jarod for a second, then turned to Xander. "Is he serious?"

Xander shrugged, "I can never tell. Come on, the living room is through here."

The three people were settled into their chairs and talking earnestly. Or rather, one of them was.

"So you learned to fight like that from the Halloween incident?"

Xander shrugged, "Mostly yeah. It comes back to me in flashes when I'm in trouble, or really stressed out. Pretty handy."

"I guess," Buffy stared at her friend.

"Uh... excuse me?" Jarod interrupted, "But... 'Halloween incident'?"

Xander snorted, "Sorry Jarod, we forget sometimes that everyone wasn't here during that. A couple years back some of us made the mistake of buying our Halloween costumes from a Chaos Mage. Bad plan if you want a peaceful night of trick or treating."

"What happened?"

Buffy grimaced, "I dressed up as a old aristocrat... spent the entire night screaming and running from my own shadow."

Xander snickered at the memory, at least until Buffy threw a pillow off the couch at him. "Watch it Buff, or I'll tell Riley about that night."

"You wouldn't."

"Try me."

Buffy looked at him for a moment longer before backing down with a laugh, "You win. For now."

Xander laughed too, enjoying the back and forth he had missed over the last few months. "Anyway, I grabbed a set of used fatigues... don't know why he had actual army fatigues in the store... probably had to scrounge up some extra costumes on short notice or something. Long story short, I spent the night running around like G.I. Joe on steroids."

"G.I. Joe?" Jarod asked, almost tentatively.

Buffy looked at him as if he had two heads and Xander groaned, "You know J-man, we're really going to have to get you up to speed on the classics."

Buffy started giggling as Jarod just looked even more confused.

"Bye Xander," Buffy said as he dropped her off at her dorm.

"Cya Buff," Xander grinned and took off.

Buffy turned and sprinted up the stairs to her room, barged in and rushed over to Willow's bed. "Willow. Willow! Wake up!"

"Uhhh? Buffy?" Willow blinked her eyes a few times, "What time is it?"

"One AM. Now listen." Buffy checked her friend once more to make certain she was awake, "Wake up!"

"Ok... ok... I'm up, I'm up." Willow rubbed her eyes and sat up in bed. "Is it another Armageddon? Those things are so inconsiderate."

"No. It's Xander."

"Xander!" Willow was bolt upright and half out of the bed in an instant, "Is he all right? What happened?"

"Xander was attacked by vampires. Five of them."

"Five!? Is he hurt? What was he doing out after dark?"

"He's fine. He dusted them all."

A long moment of silence reined.

"Sorry... I'm still a bit asleep. Did you say that *Xander* beat five vampires?"

Buffy nodded her head vigorously, "Easily. Even faster then I would have."

Willow's eyes went wide, "You don't think he's been possessed or something do you? Cause I really don't want to deal with a demony Xander..."

"No... He wasn't super strong or anything... He just hit 'em where it hurts, y'know?"

Willow stared at Buffy in shock, "He kicked them in the... you know?"

"No!" Buffy reddened, "Not that place where it hurts... I mean he hit them where they were weak. Broke their noses, busted their knee caps, shattered one vamp's shin bone."

The two girls winced at the thought.


Buffy nodded, "Exactly. Where I would keep them at a distance he let them get close.... then he ripped them apart."

"Did you ask him how?"

"Yeah... he said the Halloween thing did it."

"Oh," Willow perked up, "Then that's it... Xander wouldn't lie about that."

"Yeah," Buffy said softly, "But what about the guns?"


Xander pulled the Mustang back into his parking space and turned the key, silencing the powerful engine. He climbed out of the car and closed the door, triggering the alarm as he did, then turned and walked to the front door.

About halfway there he stopped, and half turned back to the road.

"I don't know who you are, but I'm really not interested in a fight right now. I'll give you ten seconds to show yourself before I assume that you're a vamp."

A soft, rolling, laughter came from the darkness.

"Really, Alexander," a dark figure spoke as it melted out of the shadows, "You are far too quick to jump to violence."

Xander stared at the figure for a moment, recognition coming slowly, then his face broke into a wide grin. "Father Cranston!"

The two men embraced, both laughing as they did.

"I looked for you when I got back, Padre," Xander said as they broke apart, "But you were gone."

Cranston smiled, "When you vanished I started kicking up a fuss with the higher ups... kept making them put me off onto the next higher person in the ranks. Took me weeks but I finally found someone who admitted that vampires and demons were real. I managed to get myself involved in the fight through a special branch of the Vatican."

Xander's eyes boggled. "The... Vatican? You mean... the... well... Pope?"

Cranston grinned, his sharp features glinting with humor. "So it would appear, Alexander."


The older man chuckled, "Those are surprisingly close to my own reactions. At any rate, that is what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Really?" Xander raised an eyebrow.

"Yes," the Priest smiled, "I have the leaders of one of the Vatican's hunter teams in town with me. They want to meet with you, talk about a job opportunity."

Xander smiled, "I'm kinda happy staying independent right now, Father, but I would still like to meet with your friends."

The old priest's face twitched at the word 'friends', then he smiled. "They would very much like to meet you as well. When would you be available?"

"Now if you like."

The Priest grinned, and waved his hand to a black SUV parked down the street. Two men got out and walked up toward them. "I hoped you'd say that."

Xander watched the two men approach, and nodded to the building, "Let's take this inside, shall we?"

"Xander's carrying guns?" Willow repeated for the eighth time.

"Big ones," Buffy confirmed yet again, "That kill vampires."


"I don't know," she admitted, "Xander sort of avoided the issue of guns... but they burned the vamps from the inside out."

Willow thought about it for a second, "Flares."


"The bullets must burn like flares. They go into a vampire and burn... probably really really hot too... be like frying..."

"Eww." Buffy moaned, "Icky mental image."

Willow shuddered, "I know."

Willow considered the information for a long time, "Well... it sounds like he told you the truth."


"Well, guns are something his soldier memories would like, aren't they? He'd feel comfortable with them I think..."

"Oh... ummm... Yeah. That makes sense."

The two girls stared at each other for a few moments longer.

"It's not supposed to be like this is it?" Willow asked.

"No," Buffy said, a little sadly, "I thought that he'd be the one out of us all who managed to have a normal life."

"Alexander, allow me to introduce my companions," Father Cranston nodded to the two men who stepped forward, only to be interrupted as one of them spoke up.

"The name's Jack Crow, and I don't have time for this pansy introduction shit."

The second man winced, "Jack."

"What?" Crow turned to his companion, a smaller man with dark hair and a beard. "C'mon Padre, Time is money in this business. We've got a nest in San Antone to clear out."

"Money?" Xander looked at the sharp faced man curiously.

"Yeah. What, you think I'd do this shit without getting paid? No fucking way."

Father Cranston spoke quietly, but his voice carried clearly to everyone in the room, "Mr. Crow and his team are... independent contractors."

"Mercs," Xander corrected flatly.

"You got a problem with that, kid?"

Xander shrugged, "Nope. So long as you don't start working for the other side, you and me won't have issues."

"You calling me a turncoat, punk?" The smaller man laid a hand on Crow's shoulder, holding him back.

"No. I'm calling you a merc. To be a turncoat you have to actually declare your loyalties."

"Why you little..."

"Please!" Father Cranston stepped between them. "We are all on the same side here."

Xander nodded, "I apologize, Father... and to you too, Mr. Crow. I've recently had my fill of uncertain allies, we've got some new players on the Hellmouth."

"Hellmouth?" Crow snapped up. "This is the location of the Hellmouth!?"

Xander looked at him oddly, "Yeah. You guys didn't know?"

"No one knew. The Vatican has been trying to find it for over a hundred and fifty years." The younger man frowned as he spoke, "California was checked and ruled out over a century ago. Our contact in the area... a Mayor Wilkins confirmed it."

Xander burst out laughing. "Let me get this straight, the church's contact in California was Mayor Wilkins?"


"Man, you guys need a better employee screening policy. Wilkins was the big bad around here for the last hundred and fifty years or so. He'd been setting up a demonic ascension ritual that would elevate him to the status of a first circle demon."

The three men stared at Xander in shock. Finally Crow spoke, "Where is the fucker?"

"Roasting," Xander smirked. "We blew his sorry ass up last June just after he completed the ritual. Took most of the high school with him too."

"You expect me to believe that you took out a fucking first circle demon?" Crow smirked in disbelief.

Xander shifted his stance, "You'd be surprised what a few thousand pounds of fertilizer bombs and some C-4 will do... even to a demonic snake the size of a semi-trailer."

The three men stared at him for a moment.

Cranston just laughed quietly.

The young bearded man, a priest Xander noticed when he undid his jacket, grinned. "Nice."

Crow actually smiled, "Wish I'd been here to watch that barbeque."

"You didn't miss much. The potato salad was undercooked."

Jarod climbed the stairs from the basement, listening to the mumble of voices that were coming from the first floor as he did. He keyed the electronic lock open and stepped out into the large kitchen, sealing the door behind him.

He grabbed a pastry from the cupboard and stepped out into the living room. He leaned against the door frame and smirked slightly at the odd gathering. "Well, what have we here?"

Xander looked over and grinned, "Jarod. I'd like you to meet Father Cranston."

Jarod smiled and stepped into the room, extending his hand to the older priest. "Father. I've heard a lot about you."

The priest smiled back, his sharp features reflecting genuine pleasure. "I wish I could say the same, Jarod. But I'm please to meet any friend of Xander's here."

"He does make an impression, doesn't he?"

Cranston laughed, "He certainly does."

"Hey! I am in the room here."

"Your point being?" Jarod asked with a smirk.

Xander shook his head and nodded to the other two, "Jarod, this is Jack Crow and his friend Father Adam Guiteau."

"Mr. Crow, Father." Jarod nodded his head at each of them in turn. "What brings you here?"

Crow grimaced, "We were recruiting, but the kid turned us down, and now I have to cancel a really well paying assignment so I can check out the fucking mouth of hell."

"Ah." Jarod's eyes widened slightly at the language Crow used, "Apparently one of Sunnydale's few tourist attractions."

Crow laughed, an entirely unpleasant sound. "Beats the shit out of Disney land."

Jarod and Xander watched as the three men left, heading back to their hotel.

"What an interesting man."

Xander looked at him as if he was nuts, "The guy's a prick, Jarod."

Jarod didn't respond immediately, "He does seem to know what he's talking about when it comes to vampires."

Xander had to admit that, "Yeah, I'll give him that. He's not up on the Hellmouth though... Some of his tactics would get him killed around here."

Jarod shrugged, "Sometimes you have to adapt to new situations. Sometimes you can adapt the situations to you."

Xander shook his head as they headed back to their rooms, "You know, Jarod, sometimes you can be a very weird person."

"Really? I thought much the same thing about you."

Xander laughed, "Night, man. Catch you in the morning."

"Good night, Xander."

The two split up and headed to their apartment rooms.

Next Day, UC Sunnydale

Xander sat in the back row of the auditorium, and listened as Professor Walsh droned on about the latest section of the text. He'd signed up to audit her class only a couple hours earlier, more to check out the leader of the initiative then out of any interest in the subject matter.

After forty minutes of fighting off the urge to sleep he had drawn a conclusion. She shouldn't be teaching a course on psychology. She should be seeing a psychologist.

He sighed, his eyes shifting to the professor's TA who kept staring at a certain blond in the front row. Nice to know that he can focus on something... too bad it's not his job.

Not that he actually blamed Finn for *that* particular bad habit. Xander had to admit that he understood the draw of Buffy better then most.

Xander smiled slightly, then shook his head as Walsh announced the end of class. He gathered his books and shuffled out with the rest of the class. He'd drop this course as quickly as he picked it up, he decided, it wasn't worth his time. He certainly wasn't going to be needing it at any point in the foreseeable future.


Xander half turned, but didn't actually slow his steps, "Hey Buffy,"

Buffy caught up to him easily and slipped into stride with him as they both headed for the Quad, "How was your night?"

<Whoops,> Xander grinned, <More interrogation coming up.> "Pretty good, Buff. Met with an old friend, caught up on old times."

"Old friend?" Buffy frowned at him, "Xander, you left me at my dorm after midnight. What kind of old friends show up that late in Sunnydale?"

Xander grinned, "The type that demons are scared of, Buff."

Buffy stopped in her tracks, staring at his back as he kept walking.

"The type demons are scared of."

Buffy had to jog to catch up to him, "What are you talking about?"

Xander grinned, "They'll be at the party in a couple days Buff, I'll introduce you to them."

"Ok," she said uncertainly.

"So," Xander glanced over at her, "How's college life treating you?"

Two Days Later, Evening, Xander and Jarod's Building.

"Everything ready?"

"Everything is fine, Xander." Jarod grinned, "Relax."

Xander flushed, "Sorry, man. Just kinda hyped, you know?"

Miss Parker looked at him, "Rat-boy is right. Relax. You're driving me up the wall."

Xander took a step back, "Sorry."

He checked his watch, "Half hour before most of them start arriving..."

His musings were interrupted by a knock at the door. Xander immediately headed over and checked outside, "Hey, G-man."

Giles nodded as he slipped through the door, "Hello, Xander. Am I on time?"

"Punctual as always, G-Man," Xander grinned, grabbing Giles' coat. "Hey, I want to introduce you to someone. Giles, this is Sidney. Sidney, Giles."

Giles nodded politely to the man, "Good to meet you, Sidney."

"I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Giles. Jarod has told me quite a lot about you."

"Really?" Giles smiled slightly, "I'm surprised that Jarod knows quite a lot about me."

"Jarod can be... very observant."

"Yes... well, I'm sure tha..."

The conversation was cut off by a blinding scattering of lights that appeared in the middle of the room. The shimmering light quickly coalesced into four figures. Miss Parker's Smith and Wesson was pointed at the new arrivals even before they had completely reformed.

"Phoebe!" Xander grinned and greeted the new arrivals, "Glad you could make it. Prue, Piper, Leo," he greeted each in turn.

"We weren't going to miss a party you know," Phoebe grinned and hugged Xander.

"Yeah," Leo smiled, "I love free food."

Piper smacked his arm, "So that's why you always show up when I'm cooking."

"Well... it's not the *only* reason." Leo actually leered at her fondly for a moment.

"What the HELL is going on!?"

Xander grimaced as Miss Parker's exclamation echoed through the room. He looked at the four newcomers with an apologetic grin, "By the way, I have a room downstairs you guys can use when you want to drop in like this... I can guarantee that no one will be around there who doesn't already know about you."

"Good Lord," Giles finally managed to get out. "A...a.... Whitelighter?"

Sidney stared at the group in the middle of the room with a look of shock on his face, before finally turning to Giles. "Pardon me, a what?"

"A Whitelighter... One of the ranks of Guardian Angels," Giles was still staring at Leo in shock. "I thought that they were myth."

At this Xander slipped free of Phoebe and came back to Giles, "G-man, as far as the Watchers Council is concerned, they ARE. Agreed?"

Giles just nodded dumbly.

"Angel?" Miss Parker's pistol had drooped slightly to the floor, and Jarod quickly relieved her of it.

"I told you, Miss Parker. This town brings out the weird."

A loud thump attracted everyone's attention to where Broots had just hit the floor.

An Hour Later

The party was in full swing when the last guests arrived. Xander left the main party to answer the door, attracting Buffy's attention as he did. She followed him as he opened the door and let in the three men waiting on the other side.

"Father Cranston," Xander smiled warmly, then nodded coolly to Crow and Guiteau.

The old Priest laughed and hugged Xander in greeting, as the other two walking into the room.

Jack Crow looked around, his eyes finally settling on Buffy, when Xander walked up to him he nudged the kid and spoke. "Now that's a nice piece, you've got some taste kid. How much does she charge?"

Buffy saw red.

Xander saw Buffy.

Xander hit the ground.

Crow hit the wall.

As Crow slid down the wall, his eyes glazed, he glared at Xander angrily, "What did you hit me for?"

Xander rolled onto his side, propping his head up on his elbow. "You know, It never occurred to me that anyone would be *stupid* enough to ask the Slayer how much she charged..."

"Slayer?" Crow's eyes widen as he shifted his glance back to the girl, who he now realized had actually hit him.

"Welcome to the Hellmouth, Mr. Crow."

"Who is this jerk?" Buffy ground out after Xander returned and tossed an ice pack to Crow.

Xander chuckled, "Buffy, meet Jack Crow. Vampire Hunter for the Vatican City."

Buffy snorted, "The jerk works for the church?"

"Go figure." Xander shrugged as he helped Crow to his feet. He then turned to the bruised vampire hunter, "Hey man, I'm gonna warn you now. The rest of the people in here are at least as dangerous as she is. Don't try that crap with any of them. I know at least one who would shoot you and leave you for dead without losing any sleep over it."

"Which one?" Crow asked as he glanced into the main room.

Xander grinned, "If I told you, then you could avoid that pitfall... I think you'll be safer if you just operate under the assumption that it could be any of them."

"Who the fuck are these people?"

Xander shrugged, "Some of the most powerful and dangerous people on the face of the Earth."

With that Xander returned to the party, showing Father Cranston around, and left a very confused Jack Crow in his wake.

In the main room Xander guided the old priest across the room. "Giles! I'd like you to meet Father Cranston."

Giles perked up in interest, "Father, It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person."

"Indeed," Cranston smiled, "You must tell me what it was Alexander did after he vanished that you wouldn't mention over the phone."

Xander raised his eyebrows, "You two have been in touch?"

"Ah..." Giles smiled, "Yes, we have. The Father here is a very interesting conversationalist."

"Please," Cranston said, "I've asked you before, call me Lamont."

Xander smiled and rolled his eyes, "I should have known. I'll leave you two to talk, Giles can fill you in on the semi-complete version of my summer adventures."

"Semi?" Lamont asked, curious.

Xander allowed a small smile, "Some secrets aren't mine to tell, and some would probably get me shot under the official secrets act."

Cranston's eyes widened, "I see."

Xander grinned and faded back into the party.

SGC - Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

"Off World Activation!"

"Close the Iris," the no nonsense tone echoed through the room.

"General, we're getting a signal... It's SG1!"

"Open the Iris!"

The metal Iris retracted from the gate, revealing the shimmering colors of the wormhole beneath it. The liquid-like display shimmered and wavered as four people stepped through, then vanished behind them.

General Hammond leaned into the microphone and called down to the team, "Debriefing in the conference room in fifteen."

The team nodded up at the control center and marched out of the Gate room.

"Colonel, What did the Tok'ra have to say?"

O'Neill grimaced, "One of their spies found out that a Goa'uld by the name of Teru has decided to score some points with the System Lords by eliminating the Tau'ri. Just curious but did someone paint a target on our backs while we weren't looking?"

Hammond didn't bother to respond to O'Neill's last comment, instead focusing on the impending crisis. "Did they know how Teru was going to pull it off?"

"He has a scout transport. Stealth rigged, and can carry several thousand troops. The word is that he'll try to assault the Gate from this side. If he can hold it then he brings in reinforcements through the Gate."

Hammond was quiet for a long moment. "Damn it, Jack. I don't know if we can hold out against a determined assault from a Goa'uld force. Not with the people we have cleared for knowledge of this facility at least."

Daniel Jackson looked up from something he'd been staring at, "Um Sir? Maybe we could get some help that the Goa'uld already fear and respect?"

"What are you talking about, Dr. Jackson?"

Jack looked across the table at Daniel intently, "He means Harris, Sir. It's an interesting idea Daniel, but even if we trusted him, we can't find or contact him."

Daniel hesitated, then slid a card across the table. Jack picked it up and stared at what was written. "X-Harris at webmail dot org!? You have his email address!?"

"Dr. Jackson, why did you keep this from us?"

Daniel shrugged, "I kind of liked the guy."

Xander and Jarod's Building - Sunnydale, California

The party had ended several hours earlier, leaving Xander and a few of his guests that remained to talk quietly in the living room. Even that however did last long, leaving Xander to fall asleep on the couch as the talking died out and people left or drifted off themselves.

As was becoming routine Xander was soon plunged into his own personal nightmare realm, complete with demons, vampires, and aliens from beyond.

Xander stared across the barren landscape and waited. He knew that she was coming, she always did after she made the monsters go away. When the crunch of her boot on the rough gravel sounded behind him he didn't turn around.

"Hello, Elan."

"Hello, Alexander."

Xander sighed, staring at the horizon, and turned to look at her. She was, as always, dressed in her unique semi-armor that showed more skin then it actually covered. He smiled sadly at her as she approached, "Is it always going to be like this?"

Elan's features softened, "It will grow easier to deal with as time passes, but yes. The horrors you have seen cannot be escaped through sleep. Here is the one place they can always find you."

Xander sank to the ground, his knees giving out as the will that kept him standing melted away. "I don't know if I can keep this up, Elan. I'm scared to close my eyes sometimes."

Elanthielle knelt beside him, pulling him into an embrace as she did. "There is a way, Alexander. But it is a difficult path."


"Master this world, and the power you gain here will be reflected throughout your life. This is the dreaming, Alexander, it is a place where life and death hold no sway. If you can learn to control yourself here, you will be able to affect your environment. But it is no easy task."

Xander swallowed, "How do we start."

Elanthielle smiled, "First, you sleep."

Phoebe shifted in her sleep, waking up from her awkward position on the sofa chair she had drifted off in. Her eyes cast about, looking for the source of sound that awakened her. She spotted Xander, draped half off the couch, moaning and occasionally whimpering in his sleep.

She got to her feet slowly, and made her way across. As she did, she could see Xander's sleep suddenly grew peaceful, a sad smile crossing his features. She stopped at his side and gently brushed away a lock of hair that had drifted across his face. As she turned away his eyes opened and he smiled at her.


She smiled and laid down beside him, pushing against him as he draped an arm around her and hugged her tight. The two of them drifted off quickly despite the semi-awkward position they occupied on the couch.

The Next Morning

Jarod looked up when the computer beeped urgently, he quietly moved over and sat down in front of it. <Hmmm... Xander has an email.>

He moved out of the room and made his way to Xander's room, and was mildly surprised to find it empty. He moved quickly through the house, eventually finding Xander sleeping peacefully on the couch in the living room, his arms wrapped tightly around Phoebe.

Smiling, Jarod decided that the email could wait.

SGC - Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

Jack O'Neill flinched back as a shower of debris rained down on him and slapped a panel beside the heavy blast doors. They smoothly slid shut, sealing the SGC and NORAD off from the outside world.

Jack thumbed his radio transmitter, "That's the last of the doors shut, General."

"Good work, Colonel."

Jack didn't respond, and instead saved his breath for the long run back to the next blast door.

"Damn it!" Hammond hit the surface of his desk as he examined the sketchy reports coming back to him. "They hit too fast! We don't have half of our off duty personnel back, and our reinforcements are still a day away."

Captain Carter looked over the reports herself. "It looks pretty bad, Sir. The blast doors won't hold them back for long, they weren't designed to deal with Goa'uld technology."

"How long, Captain?"

"A few hours at best, sir," Carter shook her head softly as she mentally crunched the numbers.

Hammond growled and dug back into the defense plans, looking for something he'd missed.

Sunnydale, California

Xander woke up slowly, his eyes opening to the sight of Phoebe laying beside him and the smell of her hair in his nostrils. Slowly, and gently, he extricated himself from her and slipped over the back of the couch, letting her slide into a more comfortable position as he left.

Shaking his head and smiling happily he headed for the bathroom.


"What is it, Jarod?"

"You have an email."

Xander raised an eyebrow. The only person who knew his email was sitting downstairs... except....

He raced for the computer, his previous destination forgotten. He opened the message and read it carefully. Three times.

"Shit!" he let out a loud curse that echoed through the building, waking up several of those who were still dozing.

Xander grabbed for the phone line, yelling to Jarod as he did. "Jarod! I need a secure line... one that can't be traced!"

Jarod rushed into the room, "Use that one, I'll run interference for you."

Xander dialed a number and waited. And waited. After the eighth ring a voice sounded over the line. "I'm sorry but the number you have dialed is currently unreachable. Please try again."

Xander dropped the phone, his face an ashen white. "This can NOT be good."

"Giles place," Buffy answered as she set down a short sword.

"Buffy?" Xander's voice came over the phone. "Is Giles there?"

"Sure, he's in the bathroom. Be out in a minute."

"No time. Tell him that we're looking down the barrel of another Armageddon. Meet at my place, ASAP."

The line went dead and Buffy stared at the phone in shock.

Riley walked over, confused by the lack of response from Buffy. "Buffy? What is it?"

"I don't know." Buffy was silent for a moment, then she turned and screamed. "GILES!"

"Phoebe," Xander gently nudged her, "Wake up."

"Wha?" Blearily she opened her eyes, "... going on?"

"I need you to call Leo."

Phoebe shook herself awake, "Why?"

"Something big is going down... and we're going to need his help to get to the problem on time."

Phoebe watched as Xander vanished out of the room. She looked around and, seeing no one, called out to the air. "Leo!"

Xander descended into the basement, tapping a security code into the electronic lock that guarded the door and double timing down the stairs. He moved directly to the armory and started pulling things off the shelves.

Finally he arrived at the far wall. Xander stared at the heavy steel cabinet in front of him for a long moment, taking a deep breath. Finally he tapped in a new security code and waited as the wall sized steel doors slid open.

Inside was the constant reminder of his nightmares. The Yautja armor that he had buried here as soon as he could. Memories incarnate.

Coldly and methodically he began strapping the armor on. Piece by piece he felt himself being drawn back to the weeks he spent wearing this gear, running and hunting through the wilds of another place. Dealing with creatures that would forever haunt his dreams.

Finally he straightened, fully encased in the alien armor, his helmet tucked into the crook of his arm. He pivoted in one foot and strode away from the empty armory cabinet and slowly climbed the stairs.

Phoebe and Leo were waiting in the living room when Xander walked in, full outfitted in his hunting armor. They had heard him and Jarod talk about it, but this was the first time they'd had a chance to see him actually wearing it.

"What's happening, Xander?"

Xander looked at Leo, "Can you get me into Cheyenne Mountain?"

"NORAD HQ? Why?"

"I got a call for help from some... friends. If things are as bad as I think they are, we've got a major situation on out hands."


"No. But it may as well be."

Leo listened to the tone in the young man's voice and nodded. "I can get you in. Any place in particular."

Xander smirked, "Yeah. Under NORAD. Physically."

"I'll scout it out. Be back in a second."

Leo vanished into a shimmer of lights and Phoebe turned to Xander, "What's going on?"

Xander hesitated, "You'll probably find out before this is over but for now I can just say that some nasties are trying to secure a... portal so they can establish an invasion foothold on earth."

Phoebe's eyes widened as she tried to absorb that, finally she nodded. "Not the weirdest thing I've ever heard."

"Me neither. How sad is that?" Xander quirked a grin and Phoebe started laughing.

"Buffy?" Giles rushed out, still buttoning his pants as he did.

Buffy cringed at the mental image, but shook it off quickly, "Xander said something about Armageddon coming?"

"Good Lord." Giles stared in shock.

"What!?" Riley asked, dumbfounded.

"He wants us over there fast. I'll call Willow, Riley maybe you should get back to the Initiative?"

"No," he said firmly, "Can he be trusted?"

The other two looked at him as if he'd grown an extra head. Riley sighed, "I mean to know a situation like that if he saw it. I need to know that he's serious and this isn't a false alarm."

Buffy suddenly looked uncertain, but Giles stepped in. "Absolutely."

"Right," Riley said, pulling a cell from his pocket. He hit an autodial button and put the phone to his ear. "This is Agent Finn. Priority access Blue. Pass code Remus. Call in all the troops, put them on alert. No, I'm not sure yet. Sounds bad. I'll check in later."

He hung up the phone and pocketed the small device. "They'll be on full alert in less then twenty minutes. We should go find out what Harris is talking about."

Buffy nodded, but Giles looked disturbed. He held his tongue though, and grabbed his own clothing as he followed the two out the door.

It was only a few scant moments before Leo returned in his trademark shimmer of lights. He looked grim.

"Xander, that place is a fortress. And they've locked it down tight."

Xander nodded, he'd expected that and it confirmed his worst fears, "Can you get me in?"

"No problem. There is a conference room that a General is using as a war room. Will that do? Or do you want something more private?"

"That will do perfectly," Xander tightened his grip on the helmet and nodded.

"Then lets go."

Leo reached out and touched Xander's shoulder and was about to Orb out when Phoebe stepped in, "Oh not you don't. I'm coming too."

The two men looked at each other, and grinned slightly. Neither of them were going to try stopping her at this point. Leo touched Phoebe's shoulder and they three people were swept away in a shimmer of light.

"They've taken out the top level camera's but they missed a few of the concealed ones along the main shaft. The Jaffa have started cutting through the blast doors."

Hammond nodded at O'Neill's report, frowning at the status reports in front of him. "Damn it. If we could get out a single message we could have reinforcements here within an hour."

"Yes, Sir," Carter replied, "But they're blocking all communications, Sir. We still have twenty two hours before the first wave of reinforcements arrive from our earlier request."

"You think I don't know that, Captain? How long until they cut through?"

"A few hours at best. I can't be more specific because they are using technology that is foreign to me."

"Have the Tok'ra responded to our request for aid?"

"Yes, Sir," Carter looked marginally happier. "They've agreed to spare as many troops as they can. The first wave will be arriving in thirty minutes. But, sir? I don't think it will be enough."

"In that case, Captain Carter. We will retreat through the gate after I've set the demolitions charges to destroy this base."

Carter nodded. It was a last ditch defense, but they couldn't allow the Gate to fall into to Goa'uld's hands.

"What about Harris?" Hammond growled.

Carter shook her head, "We don't even know if the message got out, and even if it did he has no way to get in contact with us."

An odd sound and a shimmer of lights snapped everyone's attention away from the table to three forms that had just materialized in one corner of the room.

"Oh I don't know about that," the, all too familiar, armored form stepped forward, grinning widely. "I can be pretty persistent when I need to be."

A shocked silence permeated the war room.

Willow answered the phone on the third ring, slightly annoyed. "Hello? Buffy? What is it? Xander? Is he all right? What do you mean you don't know? What?......... Ok... ok! I'll stop talking for a second.... How would he know about that? Are you sure? Ok... I'll be there. No, I wasn't doing anything..."

Willow hung up the phone and turned to the other occupant of the room. "I'm sorry Tara, I have to go. A friend needs some help."

"O...ok." the shy blond said as she gathered up her books. "C...can we do this again sometime?"

Willow beamed, "Of course! I love talking Wicca with someone who understands it..."

Buffy, Riley, and Giles rushed into Xander and Jarod's place their eyes searching the place for any sign of the impending crisis or Xander. What they saw was a group of people sitting about the room talking, but obviously on edge.

"Where's Xander?" Buffy asked.

"What is the crisis?" Giles said at the same time.

Jarod spoke quietly, "We're not entirely certain what is going on, and Xander has gone to check out the problem. He'll be back shortly."

"He went alone!?" Buffy practically screamed.

"No," Jarod responded, "He left with Phoebe and Leo."

Giles eyes widened, "Leo? Ah..."

Around the room a series of looks were shared by those who knew Leo.

"Who are they?" Buffy asked, "I mean, I've met them but can Xander trust them? Can they take care of themselves?"

Soft snickers came from several people in the room.

"I wouldn't worry about *that*," the brunette Jarod had introduced to her as Miss Parker said snidely from her seat.

Suddenly Buffy had the impression that a lot more was going on then even she had suspected.

"All right. What is going on here?"

Several occupants, including Miss Parker, the Halliwells, and the older Priest laughed openly at the question. Others, like Mr. Broots and Sidney merely looked nervous.

SGC - Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

"Guards!" Hammond roared after he got his voice back after the shock of seeing the intruders.

"General! It's Harris."

Hammond looked away from the intruders to stare at O'Neill in shock. "How can this be Harris? No human could have gotten in here like that."

Jack turned to look at Xander with an odd look in his eyes, "You know... that's a good point."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Jeez, Jack, does the word paranoid mean anything to you?"

"So? Doesn't mean they aren't out to get me."

Xander chuckled. "Suffice to say, General Hammond, I am Xander Harris. I understand you have a problem?"

Hammond looked from person to person, gauging his people's reaction to the newcomer. SG1 seemed fairly certain that they were dealing with a friend. And given his current predicament, Hammond found that he had few options.

The General sighed and nodded to Jack. "Tell him."

Jack O'Neill smirked, nodded to the General, and turned back to Xander. "We're under siege."

Xander waited for more information, but O'Neill just sat down. He rolled his eyes again and grinned, "Well... *that* was informative."

Captain Carter smiled slightly and spoke up, "We have, at most, a few hours before they cut through the blast doors. We don't have nearly enough people to hold them off in here, despite reinforcements coming from some off-world allies."

Xander nodded, "I can get some more fighters in here, but you need to figure out what you want to tell them. I won't tolerate the military detaining my friends simply because they offered to help you out of a jam."

"Who are these people?" General Hammond asked, a little suspicious.

Xander smirked, "Any one of them is worth a dozen normal soldiers, General. That's all you need to know, other then the fact that I trust them with my life. Plus I might be able to score some help from a couple other sources. You need a cover story to give them, however."

O'Neill spoke up, "Do you have a suggestion?"

Xander looked at Phoebe and Leo before answering. "The truth Colonel, at least as close to it as you can. For most of them I'll inform them that a demonic force is attempting to secure an earthbound portal so they can bring through an army."


Xander shrugged, "It's not like it'd be the first time that's happened."

The SG1 members gawked at Xander as if he were insane.


"Excuse me, not the 'first time'?"

Xander smirked again. "I'll answer Daniel's question.... since it was a bit more meaningful than yours, Jack."

Jack glared at him for minute before sitting back, then Xander continued. "I told you before, demons are real. So are a lot of other things, and if you actually believe that you have the only gateway to other worlds present on Earth then I suggest you get your heads out of the sand that the rest of the planet seems to like so much and wake up. Now, we don't have time for this. Do you want our help?"

SG1 turned to General Hammond as he looked each of them over, gauging each of them at a glance. Finally he turned away from his elite team, satisfied that they were willing to trust the young man who stood in front of him.

"Do it."

Xander smiled, and leaned into the table. "Now, I have a couple ideas but I need to know some things first..."

Later - Sunnydale

Willow had just rushed into the building to find, instead of the war council she expected to see, what appeared to be a dinner party.

"What's going on!?" she demanded as most of the people just ignored her rushed entrance.

"We don't know yet," Buffy frowned, "Xander left before I arrived to check it out."

"He left alone!?"

Most of the group groaned at the question.

"Do we have to go through this *every* time one of Xander's old friends show up?" Miss Parker asked Jarod. "You'd think he was made of glass or something the way they go on."

"But... but... Xander IS the normal guy... he's not a fighter... I mean.. He needs to be protected..."

Sudden laughter roared through the room.

"What the fuck do you call a fighter!?" Jack Crow asked from where he was sitting. "In my goddamned book anyone who can dust five vampires in under two minutes qualifies as a fucking fighter."

"Eloquent as always, Mr. Crow," Father Cranston smiled slightly. "His profanity aside, I must agree with Mr. Crow. Xander is hardly what I would call normal, anyone who dedicates as much of their time to the fight against the darkness as he does, has earned a little respect."

Buffy and Willow flinched under the man's subtle, yet scathing, tone.

"Right," Miss Parker added to the mix, "I watched this kid take out over twenty assassins through pure guile. Normal isn't what I'd call him either."

The two Halliwells remained silent, they already knew about the 'esteem' in which their friend was held by the two girls in front of them. They had made much the same error in judgement when they first met him.

The conversations in the room quieted as the occupants shifted uncomfortably, no one really knowing what to say. Finally Jarod, deciding to play peacekeeper, started to speak up. He was interrupted by the sudden shimmering arrival of a storm of white lights.

Four people materialized into the center of the room, but Riley only saw one. In the center of the group stood the Yautja that had taken his entire team down and fought Buffy a couple weeks earlier.

"Buffy! Watch out!" he yelled as he charged the creature.

The shimmering lights flickered away from Xander's vision as he adjusted to the shift of position that Leo's 'orbing' caused. The first thing he saw was Riley charging him, screaming for Buffy to watch out.

"Oh hell," Xander muttered under his breath, "Not again."

Xander pivoted and dropped into a crouch, his right leg sweeping Riley's feet from under him as the commando passed him by. He continued to spin, bringing his knee around and planting it into the soldier's stomach as he fell past. As Riley rolled to the ground, gasping for breath, Xander drew Elan from his thigh sheath and activated the ancient weapon.

"Riley!" Buffy charged forward, her fists balled up.

Phoebe stepped forward to intercept her, but yelled out one word as she did. "Prue!"

Prudence Halliwell nodded once and swept her arm out, fingers splayed wide, and unleashed her own hidden gift. Buffy was lifted off her feet and flung back across the room, hitting the far wall solidly. As she shook her head clear she realized that she was pinned to the wall, as the dark haired woman approached her with an outstretched arm.

"Oh my god!" Willow muttered and stared casting a spell, only to have a strong hand clamp down on her mouth.

"I assure you, Willow, that this is not the time for your spells." Willow's eyes widened in shock as she recognized Giles' accented voice in her ear.

Across the room Xander took it all in before turning back to the fallen commando and placing the tip of Elan against his chest. He held the soldier in place that way as his free hand depressurized his helmet, the hisses echoing through the room.

"Riley," he said as the helmet came off, "I'm going to forgive you for this one too. But if you ever try this crap again... then I promise you that the third strike rule won't apply only to baseball."

"Nice friends you have here, Harris." Jack O'Neill said sarcastically, "Are you sure they won't take the Goa'uld's side?"

Two shocked voices drifted across the room, "Xander!?"

Through the room Jack Crow's sarcastic chuckle could be heard, "Yep... he's a useless fucking bastard, that's for sure."

"Xander!" Buffy yelled at him as he tried to explain matters to the group, "What the hell is going on here!?"

Xander sighed, and looked at Giles plaintively.

"Buffy, perhaps it would be prudent to listen to him."

Buffy quieted down under the glare of half the room.

"Thank you," Xander nodded to Giles, then turned back to Buffy. "Buff, I'll explain everything when we have time. But right now we have only hours before the world runs out of time. Jack?"

O'Neill stepped forward and, after glancing at Xander, began. "Our base is under siege by a group of... demons... that want to capture a portal we have been studying. If they do then they will be able to open it and bring through a foothold force to clear the way for invasion."

Riley looked at the Air Force Colonel. "Hold on. If you've been studying a dimensional portal why haven't we been informed? The Initiative has full access to all HST data."

O'Neill looked at him for a long moment, "Please. No one has access to all data on *anything*."

Xander interrupted before the two could start arguing. "Look, we're here to recruit some defenders for the base. Reinforcements have been called and will be preparing to catch the attackers in a pincer in a couple hours. We have to be ready to ensure that the base itself is prepared to drop the boom when the time comes."

Riley shook his head, "No way am I volunteering myself or my men for anything like this without more information."

Xander smirked, "You, and your men, are the only ones here who aren't being asked."


Xander flipped a sheaf of papers at Riley, "You've been reassigned."

Riley paled as he skimmed through the papers. <Detached assignment... Official secrets act... firing squad!?> He rapidly worked his way down to the signature on the orders and turned completely white. "The President of the United States!?"

Jack O'Neill smirked. "Welcome to the Air Force, kid."

"I'll have to confirm these," Riley said, stalling.

O'Neill just smirked, "Go right ahead."

Riley nodded and left the group, pulling a cell phone as he did.

Buffy turned to Xander, her eyes flashing as she took in the suit of armor her was wearing. "Xander, what the hell is going on here!? And where did you get that armor?"

Xander shook his head, "Where do you think I got it? A Yautja gave it to me while I was hunting with him over the summer."

Giles winced and collapsed into a sofa chair, looking at the ceiling in supplication. "Lord, Xander. That was subtle."

Buffy spun around and glared at Giles, "You knew!?"

"Yes he knew!" Xander shouted, stepping between her and Giles, "Who do you think put my shoulder back into place after you ripped it out of its socket?"

"I didn't know it was you!" Buffy glared at him, "And you hit Riley!"

"He tried to blow my head off," Xander returned coldly, "While my back was turned."

"He thought you were a demon..." Buffy rejoined, but dropped off as she did.

"Yeah," Xander said. "He thought I was a demon. I guess we forget that not all demons are actually killers right? Kill them all on sight, forget about the fact that some of them have as much right to live as we do?"

"He... You attacked his men."

"Yes, I did. AFTER they hit me with their blasters. Face it Buff, you walked into a situation without knowing what the hell was going on and jumped to a conclusion. I'm fine with that, it was the only thing you could do under the circumstances, but don't go getting pissed now because I wasn't sure I trusted your damned boytoy after he tried to kill me."

Willow stepped up beside Buffy, "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Simple equation, Willow." Xander said as he look over to where Riley was flinching away from the phone. "You tell Buffy everything. Buffy tells Riley damned near everything. I don't trust Riley. What do I do?"

Nothing but silence answered him.

"What the hell do you think your doing, Finn!?" The general's voice roared over the line, "Get your team together and report to Colonel O'Neill for your damned assignment!"

"Yes, Sir," Riley flinched again as he held the phone away from his ear. He shut the phone and slipped into his pocket and, bracing himself, returned to the table.

"Satisfied?" O'Neill asked as he arrived.

Riley nodded curtly and looked over the preparations the others had been making.

"Ok," O'Neill began as Xander rejoined them, "We have to get our squad together and get moving. I understand that transport has been arranged?" he glanced at Leo, who nodded with a slight smile.

O'Neill shook his head, "I don't even want to know how you do that."

Soft chuckles floated around the room from those in the know, but Leo just smiled a small smile and stayed silent.

Jack glared at those who laughed before turning back to Riley. "Call in your unit. We have to move."

Riley frowned, but nodded his assent and pulled the cell from his pocket.

Maggie Walsh stared at the rushing soldiers and turned to the dispatch operator beside her, "What the hell is going on? I didn't order an alert."

"The orders came from Agent Finn, Ma'am. He's refused to clarify his reasons, he cited need to know, and the Official Secrets Act."

"What!?" Walsh practically screamed, "I have G4 clearance, get him on the line. Now."

The man winced, "I'm sorry Ma'am. His code was an H series security cipher... I didn't even know it existed until the computer unlocked it for me. He won't talk to you, Ma'am."

"Get me Oversight."

The man swallowed and nodded once before turning back to his workstation.

"Sir, a call from Professor Walsh."

The man turned and smiled, "I've been expecting that."

He turned and walked over to his desk, smiling slightly as he sat by the phone and watched the red light blink. He waited and imagined the nervous tick that would be forming on Maggie Walsh's temple about now. Finally he settled into his plush chair and lifted the receiver to his head. "Ah, Maggie... so good to hear from you."

"No. No, you don't have clearance for that information. Agent Finn's orders were cut directly from the President's office. No. No, I'm not going to tell you why. No, I will not issue a countermand. Apart from the fact that I can't legally do that it would hardly be in my best interest to do so."

Abruptly the man dropped his grin and leaned forward in the chair, "Now you listen here, Miss Walsh. You do NOT give me orders. May I remind you of the fact that I set you in your current position and I have the power to have you... removed, permanently, from said position. I thought so. Go home, Maggie. Grab a snack and read a good book, your Agents have work to do today."

The man called George smiled once again and dropped the phone receiver into its cradle and chuckled as he sat back.

"I don't know who you are Mr. Harris, but I do like your style."

Xander fidgeted as the Initiative troops poured into his home. Something about having this many of them this close was driving him up the wall. Also the stares they gave him in his suit of armor, and Miss Parker as they passed bothered him.

"All right, listen up!" Riley formed up his men and started the briefing. He quickly detailed the situation, and explained that they were all on detached duty to the Air Force by orders of the President. Finally he turned to his men and looked each of them over before continuing. "This is a black op, people. Blacker then the Initiative. No ONE, talks about this mission. Ever. Understood?"

To a man the college commandos responded with a single voice. "Yes, Sir!"

"Good, Form up," Riley looked to Colonel O'Neill, and received a quiet nod. "We're moving out."


Riley turned to the soldier, and gave him a cold eye. "What is it, Devon?"

"We're not armed, Sir. When will we be issued weapons?"

O'Neill stepped forward, "Weapons will be issued on site. Is that all?"

The troops looked the Air Force Colonel over, slightly distrustful, and responded in the negative.

"Good." O'Neill said, "Form up, prepare for transport."

Members of the SGC security staff stared in shock as teams of men and women were deposited in the center of their armory by a sparkle of lights. Coming in six at a time the teams immediately reported for armaments and then were shuffled out by senior members of the SG teams to their defensive positions.

Between the constant influx of people from thin air, and the armored figure that stood beside them occasionally snapping orders, the security personnel shuffled nervously.

Xander Harris watched as the men and women were equipped with weapons and armor, and shuffled off to briefings or defensive positions depending on his orders. He was suddenly feeling the weight of the lives he was accepting responsibility for, and he didn't enjoy the feeling.

Reluctantly he sent the majority of the initiative people to the front lines, knowing that any casualties would be incurred there first and foremost. But he had to hold back the bigger guns so they could be better briefed, unlike the soldiers they needed to know more about the plan then 'shoot if it's wearing funky armor'.

Phoebe shifted uncomfortably as she allowed Xander to strap on the heavy Kevlar armor, watching as the soldiers slapped clips into their weapons and shuffled out the door. Xander looked around and yelled to one of the guards.

"Hey, toss me that Zat over there!"

The guard looked around nervously, "Uh... I don't know..."

"Throw me the damned Zat. Now."

The guard reluctantly pulled one of the alien weapons off the wall and tossed across the room.

Xander caught it easily and showed it to Phoebe, "Your sisters have the active powers, right? Well you don't need your hands free so take this."

Phoebe stared at the weapon, she recognized from Jarod's hand over a month earlier. "What...?"

Xander activated the weapon, smiling as Phoebe jumped at the sudden sound and motion from the odd device. "The firing stud is here, one shot will put a human down. Two kills him. Three... well, three and you'll be sweeping up the body."

Phoebe took the weapon reluctantly and looked at Xander with trepidation.

Xander grinned, "Let's stick with one shot, k?"

Phoebe smiled slightly, and nodded in agreement.

"Good, let's get to the briefing then," Xander hooked his arm around Phoebe's back and led her out of the SGC Armory.

Xander and Phoebe joined the group that had gathered in the War Room, where the meeting had already started.

"Are you sure these are complete schematics?" Jarod asked he looked over a large sheaf of papers.

"Absolutely," Captain Carter watched, a little surprised, as Jarod began planning out the internal defense of the base from the briefest glance at the blue prints.

"We'll establish bottle necks, here... here... and here." Jarod said pointed to tunnel junctions on the plans. "Send two squads to this point here, and reinforce them with a rifle team at this fallback point."

The Military personnel were nodding, a little stunned, at Jarod's suggestions. Hammond finally turned to O'Neill and spoke quietly, "Who is this man?"

Xander leaned over and responded before O'Neill could answer, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, General... at least not until its finished giving."

A couple low chuckles were heard from some of those who heard Xander's comment, but the General fell silent and turned his eyes back to the planning. Between Jarod and the military personnel the planning took remarkably little time, and soon orders were being sent out to the units now preparing to defend the underground base.

"When is the exterior force going to be in place?" Jarod asked, looking at O'Neill.

Jack checked his watch, "In about forty minutes. We arranged the attack to coincide with the approximations Captain Carter was able to give us after they started cutting. We still on schedule?"

Carter checked the camera's and crunched the figures. "They've stepped it up. They could come through in as few as twenty minutes."

O'Neill cursed, "Dammit. That's too soon!"

"Relax, Keep an eye on them and we'll notify the exterior teams that the schedule has been moved up."

"How are you going to..." Jack stared at Xander for a few seconds. "Oh, right. Nevermind."

"I want to announce the presence a Yautja to the Jaffa anyway," Xander said with a quiet smile.

The SG1 team actually smiled at that, remembering the reaction the last Goa'uld had to the kid's fashion sense.

Major Teal looked over the access point to Cheyenne Mountain through a powerful pair of field glasses. He shook his head as he tried to count the milling troops that had taken over the visible portions of the base.

"Perkins, get up here and tell me what you think of this."

The Sergeant stepped up and accepted the glasses. He whistled a few moments later, "Hoo wheee... What the hell have we got here?"

Teal shook his head, "I don't have a clue, but they don't look like Iranian terrorists to me."

"That's because they aren't."

The voice from behind them caused both veteran soldiers to jump and spin around, their weapons swinging up to cover the two men who had managed to sneak up on them. The one in armor just smiled at the reaction. "Pass code, Omega blue thirteen."

The two soldiers relaxed their fingers from the triggers of their weapons, but kept the two intruders covered. "Who the hell are you?"

The two men looked at each other, as if sharing a private joke, before the armored one grinned. "We're messengers from the base. That's all you need to know for now."

"All right, then how about you explain what you mean when you said that the Tango's aren't Iranian Terrorists."

"I think that was fairly easy to understand. They aren't Iranian Terrorists. What they are doesn't matter too much right now, suffice to say that the schedule has been moved up. They'll finish cutting through the blast doors within fifteen minutes."

The two soldiers looked at each other, and nodded in understanding, "Check. Our teams have been awaiting the order for an hour anyway. We're good to go."

"Excellent," The second man answered before turning to the armored form. "I'll go back and inform them that things are back on schedule."

The armored form nodded, "Go ahead. I'm going to shake up the Goa'uld a bit. Be in touch."

"Right," the second man vanished into the trees.

"How the hell was he going to get back into the base?"

The armored figure just grinned as he slipped on a helmet, when he spoke his voice was distorted. "Need to know, Major. Need to know."

The armored form began to move away, but the major stepped in front of him. "I do need to know what you're planning, buster. If you mess with those troops they'll be expecting our attack."

The armored head tilted slightly. "Hardly. I promise you that they will assume that I'm working alone," the man said as he stepped past the Major.

"How can you be sure of that?" Teal called after the retreating back.

"Oh I'm quite sure, Major. Quite sure." The armored form shimmered out of existence, leaving only a rapidly fading blur in its wake.

The two soldiers looked at each other in shock. "New stealth armor?"

"I don't know, Major... that stuff looked old to me... real old."

Xander broke into a loping run as he cleared the perimeter the soldiers had setup, weaving through the trees as he headed toward the Goa'uld encampment.

<You do have a plan this time, right?> Elan's voiced echoed through his mind.

Xander just grinned in response, without bothering to mentally form any words.

<Alexander!> Elan protested, <You must be kidding! Do you intend to spend the rest of you, soon to be short, life playing things 'by ear'?>

"Relax, Elan," he muttered as he swung himself up into the branches of a tree and started to scale the forty foot plant. At about thirty feet he stopped and crouched on a thick branch, looking down at the Goa'uld encampment and memorizing the layout as quickly as he could. "I've got it covered."

<Would you mind sharing your reasoning with me, Alexander?> the irate battle staff asked as her bearer suddenly dropped from the tree, snagging occasional branches to slow his descent.

"Not at the moment," Xander snickered under his breath, knowing his response would aggravate the ancient weapon. When his feet hit the ground he broke into another quick jog, heading slightly to the right of his previous course.

In the recesses of his mind he could hear a frustrated metal sigh from Elan.

"It's almost time," Jarod said as he watched the big blast doors glowing red hot.

Around him the first wave of defenders nodded and brought their weapons to the ready.

"Ok, men," Riley said to his troops, "You heard the Captain. If its packing any of those weird weapons or armor they showed us it's fair game. Don't stop shooting until it's down."

The troops nodded, their attentions focused on the glowing door. The first rivulets of white hot molten metal began to pour onto the ground, exposing the first hole in the bases' defenses.

"I can't fucking believe I volunteered for this shit," Jack Crow whispered under his breath as his grip tightened on the M-16 he'd been issued.

Beside him the young priest who had been his companion for the past few months smiled, he knew that Crow talked a lot rougher then he actually was. "Look at it this way, Jack. Think of it as a vacation."

Crow snorted, "Fucking right. Beats the hell out of my regular clock punching doesn't it?"

The two friends chuckled quietly as the tensions mounted around them.

On the other side of the room a very nervous Slayer looked at her best friend in confusion, "Where did Xander *find* these psychos?"

Willow shivered, "I don't know. I don't even know what I'm doing here... I'm not ready for this."

Buffy reached over and steadied her friend with a hand on the shoulder, "Relax. Your gonna be all right."

Willow hefted the odd weapon Jarod had given her and nodded, her face growing more resolved. She glanced down at the identical weapon in Buffy's hand and shook her head, "Where do you think Xander and Jarod got these guns?"

"I don't know," Buffy admitted, "But when this is over you can bet that I'm going to find out."

Their conversation was broken off as the massive blast doors finally collapsed under their own, superheated, weight.

Xander watched, motionless, as the Jaffa patrol marched by underneath him. He hadn't been able to spot the Goa'uld in charge yet, and it seemed that he would have to stir things up a bit to get what he wanted. As the group came level with him he dropped from the tree and landed in their midst, still cloaked.

Elan bucked in his hands, extending to her full seven foot length, and knocked two of the Jaffa off their feet. Xander dropped his cloak and swept the ancient battle staff around, knocking another Jaffa out before he could react.

In an instant there were only two left standing, and both were considerably more nervous then Xander was.

"Yautja!" one of them screamed, his voice echoing through the area, attracting the attention of several other patrol groups.

Xander grinned under the mask and leapt past the screamer, knocking him cold as he did, and vanished into the trees. He activated the shift field and quickly circled back around, removing himself from the killzone that erupted behind him as the Jaffa fired blindly into the trees.

"Jaffa, Kree!"

Xander grinned and paused at the edge of the clearing. Now this is more like it.

"What is going on here?!"

"My Lord, a Yautja attacked one of the patrols."

The Goa'uld paled, "Impossible. What would the Yautja be doing on this wretched ball of mud?"

"I do not know, My Lord. But several patrols saw him activate his shift suit and vanish into the trees."

"How many were killed?"

"None, My Lord."

The Goa'uld paled further. "Then he is not hunting Jaffa."

"No, My Lord."

"Guards! To me now!"

The Goa'uld and his guards retreated quickly through the wooded path, unaware that they were being followed by a nearly invisible predator.

Inside Cheyenne Mountain

"Here they come!" Jarod's voice echoed over the clanking march of the armored Jaffa.

In the next instant all sounds were drowned out in the reverberating echoes of the gunfire. Initially the Jaffa took the worst of the exchange, being forced to advance through a narrow entrance against the concentrated fire of the defenders. Before long however the first returned shots ricocheted off the tunnel walls, and impacted into the defenders lines.

The Jaffa fell with every passing moment, but more surged through the barrier to take their place. The defenders had no such luxury and, as they fell, holes opened up in the ranks. Holes that gave the advancing Jaffa their opportunity.

"Fall back!" Jarod ordered, his soul tearing as he watched the men... HIS men fall under the barrage. Still, he stayed tight to the plan and called for the strategic retreat to the fall back points.

The Charmed Sisters retreated down the long corridor, along with several soldiers they had been assigned too. As they reached the end they looked back and saw a group of five Jaffa racing after them. In a quick flurry of exchanged fire two of their soldier companions went down and Prue saw red.

She screamed in fury and brought her hands up violently. To the Jaffa it seemed that the planet's gravity had suddenly decided to reverse itself. All five crashed into the tunnel ceiling with brutal force, their weapons jarred from their hands. Prue abruptly cut off the attack, and all five hit the floor with a sudden, boneless thud.

Beside the sisters Graham turned in shock to his friend, "I think we just saw what threw that guy at us in the airport," he whispered under his breath.

"Ya think?" Forest muttered as he saw the fury seep off the beautiful face of the eldest Halliwell. "Harris has got some balls... hanging around with women who could rip 'em off takes guts."

The other initiative soldier grinned slightly as the two struggled to pull their wounded comrades down the corridor.

"I don't think he's gonna make it," Forest announced after he checked on Devon's wounds.

Piper looked down at them, "We're not losing anyone." Her hands flashed up and the soldiers froze into place, then she waved them again and the uninjured soldiers were released.

"What the!?" Graham muttered as he looked at the injured man, and at the wounds that no longer pumped blood from them.


A brilliant shimmer announced the arrival of the witches' Guardian Angel. He looked down and nodded once, his hands reaching out with a golden glow that quickly regenerated the wound. In a flash he did the same to the second man, and then turned back to Piper.

"I have to go, there are others hurt."

Piper nodded and unfroze the two soldiers as Leo vanished in a shimmer of light.

"What the!?" Forest asked in shock.

"No time," Piper snapped, "Move it!"

"Man," Forest whispered, still shocked as he helped his man to his feet, "That's what I call a medic."

Beside him Graham only nodded silently as he hooked the second 'injured' man's arm over his shoulder.

"Go!" Buffy yelled at the team she'd been assigned to as she ducked around a corner and waited. "I'll hold them back, buy you time."

The team hesitated, but they had their orders and it didn't really matter what the little girl was up to anyway. The majority of them moved down the corridor, falling back to the next rally point.

Buffy waited, tucked into a corner beside the access hatch to the corridor until she saw the first of the staff things the armored freaks were carrying. As it came through she grabbed it and swung around, pulling the armored trooper into the corridor violently and slamming him into the wall.

As the figure slid down the wall, knocked senseless by the impact, Buffy turned back to the rest of the four-man team and muttered. "And another one bites the dust. Who's next?"

Jarod nodded his gratitude at Leo as the Angel orbed away after saving another four of his troops from their wounds. Thank God for him. Then Jarod smiled wryly at the irony of thanking God for an Angel, and got back to work.

"Get ready!" he yelled, "They'll be coming through any time now."

Around him the determined soldiers, a mix of Air Force and Initiative personnel tightened their grips on their weapons and glared daggers down the empty tunnel.

One of them turned to Jarod and asked quietly, "Hey man, is what was said at that briefing true? They want to bring an invasion force through?"

Jarod nodded grimly, "Yes."

The Initiative soldier nodded one, understanding the stakes. "Thanks for bringing us in on this one."

Jarod nodded to the man once, letting a slight smile show on his face. "No problem."

Around them the initiative and Air Force people shared looks of understanding as they waited for the enemy to approach.

A few seconds later they heard the metal clanking of the marching Jaffa, and the air was filled with flying death once again.

O'Neill's P-90 bucked in his grip as his finger caressed the trigger, sending a trio of 5.7mm armor piercers into the advancing Jaffa. As the bullets put the lead Jaffa off his feet, two others advanced through the breech.

Beside him Teal'C opened fire with his staff weapon, dropping a second target. And Carter's finger tightened on her own P-90, pulling the select-fire trigger back into full auto mode, cutting into the last Jaffa with a burst of the AP rounds that flipped the armored figure onto its back.

"That's it!" Jack yelled, "Time to drop back."

The four members of the SG1 team fell back as more Jaffa forced their way through the breech.

With a loud grunt Buffy flipped another Jaffa to his back, finishing the fight with a heel strike that split the man's armored faceplate open and knocked him unconscious. She straightened up, her hair falling across her eyes as she panted from the exertion, and froze when she heard a noise behind her.

A noise she had recently learned to fear. The sound of one of the enemies Staff's being prepared to fire. Buffy spun around to see the imposing weapons leveled straight at her and the trooper behind it staring at her impersonally from behind his armor.

An electrical pulse sounded and Buffy's eyes clenched shut involuntarily. When she felt nothing she opened them again to see the enemy soldier still standing there. Then his staff drooped to the ground, and his legs bucked, and finally he hit the ground.

Buffy turned around to see Willow standing behind her in shock, her Zapper gun pointed at the ground, dangling limply in her hand.


"I... I got worried when you didn't catch up... is he...?" Willow said tonelessly.

"No!" Buffy rushed to her friend, "Remember what Jarod and Xander told us? One shot just stuns..."

"Oh..." she said quietly, "Yeah... that's good..."

"Yes. Very good, now come on... we have to rejoin the others."

The Slayer grabbed the red Wiccan and pulled her down the hallway, leaving a pile of unconscious Jaffa behind them.

"Come on you sick fucks!" Jack Crow yelled over the sound of his own M-16 as he emptied the last of his clip into the advancing horde. "Got some more of this waiting for ya!"

Deftly the man thumbed the release on the rifle and slapped a new clip home before the spent one had even hit the ground.

"Come on, Jack! We have to fall back!" Guiteau pleaded as Crow opened fire again.

"Fuck that, Padre!" Crow snarled as he dropped another Jaffa to the dust.

"Jack, the plan! Remember the plan!?"

"Shit!" Crow cursed and nodded in agreement, starting to fall back, firing as he did.

The two vampire hunters turned and ran down the long tunnel, the clanking sound of the marching Jaffa on their heels. As they rounded a corner the sound suddenly stopped, bringing them up in confusion as it did.

"Hey, Padre... Weren't they chasing us?"

Guiteau nodded and looked back down the silent tunnel for a second before shaking his head, "Doesn't matter. Let's move."


The two turned and continued their retreat.

Jen'tuk paused in his pursuit of the two retreating Tau'ri soldiers, suddenly unsure as to what direction he was running. He blinked under his helmet and looked around him in confusion. Behind him he could hear the muttering of his unit and knew that they were in the same position.

The walls seemed to be closing in on them, and the shadows were reaching out for the huddling Jaffa. In a moment the darkness shrouded their very being. None of them felt the attack when it came.

Father Cranston looked down at the odd alien weapon he had removed from the belt of the lead attacker and smiled. "What frightens monsters? The Shadow knows..."

A low cackling laughter rolled through the tunnels as the old priest made his way back to the fall back point.

Outside the Mountain

Xander stared as the Goa'uld vanished behind the cloaking device of his scout transport. <You can run, but you can't hide... not anymore at least.>

He flipped through the frequencies of his bio-helmet and finally registered them on the higher end of the spectrum. "Found the comm Jammer," he muttered under his breath as he prepared to move in.

<Take care, Alexander.>

<Always, Elan.>

Xander grinned widely as Elanthielle's mental snort echoed through his mind. Then he detached himself from his hiding place and began a zig-zagging approach to the Goa-uld vessel.

Xander froze against the cliff face as three Jaffa guards marched past. He waited until they were out of sight, then headed for the cloaked ship, shaking his head. <Incompetent boobs. I supposed I should be grateful, but I feel insulted.>

Elan muttered something he didn't quite catch, and considering how many languages she could curse in he was just as happy. In a few moments he was right up against the invisible hull of the ship, watching the psychedelic shimmer that his bio-mask converted the higher end radiation into.

<Cool. It's better then the cloak on my suit though>.

This time Elanthielle's voice came through loud and clear. <It is the same basic technology, Alexander. The ship is merely a more stable platform to base the shift field from. The technology hasn't changed since the fall.>

Xander actually paused as he quickly computed the time she was referring too. <Wait a second. That was over ten thousand years ago according to you... that's not possible.>

He could feel Elan's mental smile warm him, her bubbling laughter was almost contagious. <The Goa'uld are not innovators, Alexander. They are thieves and charlatans.>

Xander shook his disbelief off and passed his hand along the hull of the ship. <I know that damned door was here somewhere...>

<The Goa'uld has a remote for the door activation, Alexander. You'll have to retrieve another from one of his guards.>

"Oh fricken lovely," he muttered under his breath as he turned toward the closest patrol.

Brei'tal stopped when he heard a noise, half turning to see what it was. He opened his mouth to call to the others in his patrol when a flash of silver shone in his eyes and everything went black.

Xander put Elan away and leaned over the fallen Jaffa, <So where is this garage door opener anyway?>

<What? Never mind. I most likely do not wish to know. The remote is on his forearm bracer.>

"Ah, got it." Xander punched the button down and was rewarded when a hole appeared in the ships cloaking screen, revealing the interior of the ship. "Cool."

Xander left the Jaffa where he had fallen and ducked into the ship.

Teru sat, secured within the command center of his ship, and watched the invasion of the mountain progress. So far things were moving along nicely, despite fierce fighting the humans were actually providing *less* resistance then he had foreseen. The Mountain Stronghold would be his within the hour.

"Now if I can only survive this DAMNABLE Yautja!" his fist thudded into the console panel by his side.

Xander wove his way through the tight spaces of the ship, tracking the powerful EM radiation of the jamming device with his bio-helmet. He slipped into a small room just ahead of the clanking footsteps of a Jaffa guard patrol.

In the center of the room was a pedestal with glowing blue crystals, emitting an odd blue glow toward the ceiling.

"Nice lightshow," Xander muttered as he examined the device. "It is definitely the source of the jamming... at least if I'm reading this thing right."

<You are.>

"Coolness," Xander said, "Now how do I shut it down?"

<You cannot from here. The controls are on the command deck.>

"This IS the source though, right?"

<That is correct.>

"Cool." Xander stepped back, tagged the pedestal with the tri-laser and popped two plasma bolts into the offending device.

"Fall back!"

O'Neill fired off another semi-burst into the approaching Jaffa and then followed his own order.

The teams fell back again, allowing the Jaffa to take level three as they regrouped their forces on level four. As they formed up at the first hard point on level four a sudden crackling came over their radios.

"O'Neill. Harris. Mission Accomplished," every member of the defenders could hear the smirking grin that accompanied the curt transmission.

"About damned time, Harris!" Jack snapped into his transceiver. "Echo team, this is Stronghold, Initiate the attack!"

"Roger Stronghold."

Throughout the base radios crackled to life, allowing the defending teams began coordinating their movements. Dozens of Jaffa fell as ambushes were devised on the fly, cross fire and coordinated assaults suddenly shifting the odds slightly in the favor of the defenders.

The body count quickly piled even higher in the defenders favor, but the total numbers of troops still favored the Jaffa by over fifty to one.

And so the defenders continued to fall back.

Teru was grinning as he watched the defenders fall back yet again, retreating further into their precious 'Star Gate Command', when the explosions rocked his ship. Shocked he flipped on the exterior monitors, only to see explosions raining down on his troops.

"What is happening!?"

A Jaffa signal came over the comm system, "My Lord, we have come under attack from a military force hidden in the hills."

"Destroy them!"

"Sire, They are too well entrenched. They must have been setting up their attack for hours."

"Impossible! They do not have communications! They could not be organizing such an assault."

"My Lord," the Jaffa conceded, though obviously with little enthusiasm.

Major Teal whooped as the initial rocket assault ripped through the armored columns of troops. "Take that, whatever the fuck you are!"

"Major, The mortars have been adjusted."

"Let fly, Sergeant," Teal ordered, a smile on his lips.

"Yes, Sir."

"Hope those Air Force yahoos appreciate this."

Whining death arced through the air and fell to Earth amid the enemy positions below, hammering the entrenched troops with 80 and 120mm mortar rounds.

Despite the impossibility of the situation Teru had to concede that the Tau'ri had somehow managed to devise an ambush of his troops. He growled as he turned and swept from the ship's command center.

He could not retreat. Not now. His life would be forfeit if he returned to the System Lords having failed and, in the process, lost over four thousand Jaffa. He snarled and made a descision.

"Fall back to the Mountain! We will take the base and hold it until reinforcements arrive through the Gate! Then we shall see who has the upper hand."

The Jaffa thumped their fists over the chests and followed the irate Goa'uld out of the ship. On the way out the Goa'uld tapped a command sequence on his wrist panel and continued out of the ship.

Behind him the ship's center panel began flashing and a countdown appeared on the screen.

Xander followed the Jaffa as they marched out of the ship, only to have the doors slide shut in his face. He looked around for another Jaffa but was greeted by nothing but silence.

"Great. Where's the door knob for this thing?"

He started looking around, but finally gave up.

<Go to the command level. You can access the door or the teleportation rings from there.>

Xander nodded and turned around, "You know Elan... For someone who's been out of action for ten thousand years you sure seem to know an awful lot about this stuff."

<I told you already, Alexander...>

Xander cut her off, "Goa'uld are not innovators... yah yah. I heard you. But no changes in ten thousand years?"

<When something is working well do you fix it, Alexander?>

Xander blanked for a second, "You mean if it ain't broke don't fix it?"


"Some times you scare me, Elan."

<I should hope so.>

Xander stared at the obvious countdown on the large screen, his mouth twisting as he did. "Oh, you KNOW this can't be good."

<It is a self destruct timer.>

"Oh really?" Xander muttered sarcastically. "I couldn't tell. Why the hell did he set the damned thing?"

<Activate that monitor over there...> Elan told him, directing him to the controls.

Xander watched the scene outside, he could see the advancing US troops entering the, now deserted, Jaffa encampment. "Elan... is that a countdown timer or a proximity fuse?"

Elan was silent for a long time.

"Oh shit!" Xander cursed as he cast about the ship looking for a way to defuse the timer.

<Calm yourself, Alexander.>

"You calm yourself, Elan!" Xander yelled as his eyes searched the room, "We're sitting on a damned bomb that's going to KILL a *battalion* of United States marines!"


Xander dropped automatically into the central chair, actually losing control over his limbs temporarily as the order rang through his every nerve. "Wha!?"

<Place your hands over those controls... right... no, not those ones. To the left.>

Stunned, Xander followed her directions. He set his hands against the controls and pushed the sequence that Elan ordered. A low whine could be heard through the ship, and a rumble vibrated through the chair.

<Next push that lever all the way up.>

When he did as she directed Xander was slammed back into the chair as the ship leapt clear of the ground, spinning dizzily as it blasted through the white clouds and into the blackness of space.


"Pull back!"

Jarod's order echoed through the long tunnel as his men retreated, still firing, from the wave of Jaffa troops that had began to encroach on the last level of the SGC facility. The groups had largely rejoined each other by the point as they were slowly forced back into the last stronghold of the SGC.

"What the hell was that, Elan!?" Xander demanded after they had managed to get the ship's spinning flight under control.

<We got the ship away from the soldiers, saved them and us.>

"NOT THAT!" Xander screamed as he jumped clear of the chair. "What did you DO to me!?"

Elan was silent.

"Elan..." Xander growled in a warning tone.

<I overrode your nervous system...> Elan said quietly.

Xander seethed inside, it shook him up to have lost control of his body. "You never told me you could do that..."

<I can't... not really.> Elan said, her voice still guiltily quiet.

"Don't give me that...!" Xander began.

Elanthielle cut him off, <I mean not for long... not to you anyway.>


<You're too strong for me to take over, Alexander... Which is as good as admitting that I tried, I know... but I swear, I will never do it except in extreme cases... Please...? Forgive me?>

Xander dropped back into the chair, looking out at the Earth as it floated on the view screen. He took a deep breath before answering, forcing himself to calm down and think rationally. "Forgive? Nothing to forgive, Elan. I... I overreacted... I think. W... we'll talk about it later.... ok?"

<Ok...> For the first time ever Xander heard a tone of meekness in the ancient weapon's mental voice.

"Come on, girls! We're pulling back!"

The Charmed Ones nodded and started dropping back along side their soldier companions. They were on the last level now, and were almost to the final hard points... the places where they would make their last stand.

Phoebe had just ducked past a heavy metal door when her radio crackled. <Phoebe? This is Xander... I hope you can hear me...>

"Xander? I'm here!"

<Anyway... If you can hear me I need to you to send Leo to pick me up... I'm sort of in a bit of trouble here...>

"Xander!? Answer me! Are you hurt?"

The squad looked at each other in concern as the youngest Halliwell screamed into her radio.

<Don't bother trying to answer me... I guess I should have said that first huh? I'm sort of in orbit I think... had to jack this transmission with a ton of power to have any chance of reaching you... even with the ground wire repeaters the army has in that mountain...>

"You're WHERE!?" Phoebe cupped her hands over the earpiece, her face twisted in disbelief. "LEO!"

Xander slumped back into the chair, looking out at the stars as they shone unblinkingly around him. "You think she got it?"

Elan didn't answer. She had none to give that Xander didn't already know, and she was still worried about his reactions earlier.

Xander let out a long breath, staring sullenly at the screen. The silence had become oppressive in the wake of his reaction to Elanthielle's action, but even so he wasn't willing to concede more then he already had. She should have told him.

He was about to try to breech the subject again when a shimmer of lights appeared on the command deck of the ship.

"You called for a lift?"

"Leo!" Xander grinned as he stood up, "Man, you have NO idea how glad I am to see you."

The Whitelighter looked around the room in curiosity, "You are a strange one, you know that Xander?"

"Shut up and get us Earth-side."

Jarod and his team reached the final rally point, bare seconds ahead of the rest of the mountains defenders. They had carefully set up this last point of defense as the final fall back zone, complete with ammunition reserves and plenty of cover.

"Take your positions over there and prepare to lay down covering fire," Jarod ordered as he saw the next group rush in.

"We ready here!?" Jack O'Neill yelled as he lead his team across the sandbagged defense point into the gate room. Outside Air Force and Initiative personnel were setting up machine gun nests and mini-bunkers in preparation for the final battle.

"We're ready," Jarod's voice was flat as he noted how many people were missing from the gathering, even after discounting how many were settling in outside.

A scream came from outside, drawing their attention and guns to the door. The room seemed to chill as they watched a Goa'uld step lightly through the door, hopping casually over the body of an Air Force officer as he did. Chills ran down the backs of every person in the room as they watched his glowing eyes.

"Fire!" O'Neill ordered and the air was suddenly rent by hundreds of bullets.

All of which bounced harmlessly off of an energy field surrounding the Goa'uld.

The self proclaimed 'God' smiled at them as their weapons fire slowly petered out and the muzzles dropped toward the ground.

"I have come to offer terms for your surrender," his eerie voice echoed through the air.

To a man the defenders stiffened in outrage at the creature's presumptuousness.

"Fuck you, you sorry looking freak!" Jack Crow yelled through the stunned silence, "I don't bend over for any glowing eyed fuck that hides his ugly ass behind a goddamned Star Trek piece of shit force field, so go straight to hell and tell 'em I'll be down to kick your fucking ass later!"

The Goa'uld raised his hand and a rupture of air pulsed across the room, picking Crow up and flinging him against the far wall. As the vampire hunter slumped to the ground the Goa'uld turned back to the group.

"As I said, I offer you your lives in exchange for your surrender. You shall be treated well, as slaves under the rule of the System Lords."

Jarod stepped forward, his eyes glittering with anger as he focused behind the Goa'uld at the corpse of the Air Force officer who had died trying to stop the creature's entry.

"He wants our answer?" Jarod said coldly, "I say we give it to him."

Jack O'Neill smirked, "I thought you'd never ask..."

The Goa'uld stared at the exchange, a gnawing doubt entered his mind but he clamped down on it. His forces controlled all but this level of the Mountain stronghold, and from what he had seen they easily outnumbered the defenders by fifty to one.

Jack reached his hand out to the side, and a Lieutenant slapped a small box trailing a wire into his hand. He grasped a handle on the top of the box and twisted it three times.


The Jaffa controlled the top five levels of the SGC complex. Five levels that they won in hard combat against an enemy that inflicted massive casualties even as they were forced back.

Those same top five levels that the defenders had carefully withdrawn their force from, in a methodical and organized fashion. Those same five levels that had recently been 'upgraded' with carefully placed 'safety' devices at all doors and key points through the halls.

As Jack O'Neill twisted the detonator in the Gate Room, the carefully placed Claymore mines detonated throughout the complex.

And the Jaffa began dying in droves.

The Goa'uld, Teru, felt the shudder run through the mountain mere instants after the Tau'ri triggered the box in his hands. He looked up at the ceiling, his misgiving clearly visible in his eyes.

"What have you done?" he demanded of the human, his reverberating voice sounding alien and harsh.

"Oh, I don't know," O'Neill smirked, "Eliminated most of your attack force maybe?"


"Why don't you call them and find out?" Jarod asked, his voice harsh.

"Jaffa, Kree!"

No response.

"Jaffa Kree!" Teru looked around, slight amount of panic entering his eyes as he did. "Jaffa Kree!"

The humans in the Gate Room wore evil smiles. No humor was present on their faces, they had lost far too many friends for that, just an almost vindictive satisfaction that their comrades had not fallen in a vain battle.

The Goa'uld took a step back, his palm device sweeping up as he stared in disbelief at the humans. "Stay back! You cannot touch me but I can kill you where you stand."

"We'll just see about that!" Prue swept her arms up.

The impact from her magic caused a visible wave to erupt around his personal shield, but the alien field held under the impact.

"I warned you!" Teru fired a pulse at Prue, knocking her off her feet and back into a wall.

"Prue!" Piper and Phoebe rushed to her side, concern for their sister overriding any fear they had felt.

Buffy stepped forward, "Hey! Metal man! They're friends of mine... well, friends of friends really... but still, I can't let you get away with that, you know?"

Teru shook his head in confusion at the babbling coming from the blond. His eyes opened in shock as she actually lunged close and struck him across the face with her foot.

"You hit me!?" the alien said, shocked by the turn of events. He swept up the palm device and turned it on the blond slayer. "Die!"

Buffy froze in place as the odd device was pointed at her forehead, a strange glow emanating from it. As the energy began to warp the air and space around her head, Buffy screamed in pain.

"Buffy!" Riley yelled and charged the Goa'uld.

Teru lifted his other hand in a casual gesture, light flashed, and Riley was thrown across the room. Jarod and O'Neill opened fire again with their P-90's to little avail as the Goa'uld force shield easily absorbed the bullets as they impacted.

Behind them all, on the far side of the room a shimmer of light coalesced into two humanoid forms.

Xander took in the action as he was frozen in space by Leo's power, he raged as he watched Buffy scream in pain from the Goa'uld palm weapon. When the effect let him go he moved without thinking.

He didn't even consider the Plasma Caster, his mind needed an answer, so his will and his instinct created one. Elanthielle practically jumped from her sheath in his hands as he drew the ancient weapon. He whipped about, building force with the movement, and threw the weapon straight at the Goa'uld.

As the small, foot-long cylinder, shot through the air toward her target Elan could hear Xander's command reach across the distance that separated them for the first time. ACTIVATE!

And she did. The Ancient weapon pierced the shield as if it weren't there, bucking in mid air as it extended to its full seven foot length and shattered the Goa'uld armor at a blow.

Teru was thrown back through the air by the impact until his back met the cement behind him and he crumpled to the ground, the silver staff impaling him though the chest.

Xander stalked forward, still on autopilot, his hand reaching out toward the Goa'uld. Elan!

The ancient weapon shimmered and vanished from the Goa'uld's chest, reappearing instantly in the boy's hand as he continued to stride toward the dying Goa'uld.

Teru coughed, spitting up blood as he did, and stared at the advancing Yautja. His eyes focused on the weapon held proudly in the creature's hand. He shook his head.

"Not possible," the Goa'uld said as he coughed up another spurt of blood that trickled down his chin. "Those would never serve a Yautja... Only the cursed Asgard are able to tame them now... no others exist."

Under Xander's helmet, where no one could see them, his eyes flashed with a silver light. He listened to the ragged words that came from the creatures with little interest, and ignored the dying Goa'uld. Instead he turned to where Buffy had fallen and rushed to her side.

"Buff? Come on, girl. It's not check out time yet." Xander kneeled by her limp body before he turned his head toward where Leo was already running up. "Help her."

Leo nodded, and knelt by the blond slayer, attempting to use his power to heal her wounds. Finally he shook his head, "I don't know what to do... It's not like anything I've ever seen."

"Perhaps I can be of service." a female voice as distorted as Teru's spoke

Xander started, turning to meet what he perceived as a new threat. Behind him a woman in odd armor was kneeling by Teru's body, retrieving the palm weapon and fitting it to her own hand. She stood quickly and approached Buffy.

Xander moved to intercept her, raising Elanthielle to bar her path.

She raised her hands in supplication, her eyes glowing with the inner light of a Goa'uld. "My name is Anise. I am Tok'ra."

Daniel stepped between them, his hand laid on Xander's arm to restrain the boy. "She's ok, Xander. You can trust her."

"She's not getting near Buffy with that weap..." the group saw Xander cock his head, as if listening to someone, then look at the device in Anise's palm. "Tool...? It can be used as a medical device?"

Anise nodded as Xander moved aside to let her pass, her eyes looking knowingly at the staff in Xander's hand. "The Goa'uld twist these amplifiers into weapons of war, but they were designed as tools of peace by the ancients."

The Tok'ra kneeled over Buffy and focused her will through the amplifier on her hand, healing the trauma that the Goa'uld had caused. Finally Anise nodded and stood up. "She needs rest, but she will live."

"Thank you."

Clean up took a long time.

The ravaged bodies of the Jaffa who had assaulted the mountain had to be shifted and bagged as searchers put first priority on the bodies of the mountain's defenders. The top levels of the SGC were coated in blood and stank of death and carnage.

In the infirmary the bodies of those who had died in the service of their country and world were lined along every open space, from examination tables to the floor.

Xander swallowed down the bile that tried to rise in his throat as he watched yet another Initiative soldier being carried past him. Another soldier that he had brought into this fight. Another choice that he had made for someone else. He turned to leave as the last one was zipped into a black body bag, finally hiding the bloodied face and accusing eyes from the young man.

"Where the fuck do you think you're going!?"

The harsh words came from the doctor's office, and reluctantly Xander turned back to face the angry man.

Riley was walking toward him, menace in his every step. "You, you're lucky enough to be able to walk away from this! You cost these men, MY MEN!, Their lives. You brought them into a fight they had no part of! And now you walk away!?"

Xander didn't say anything. He managed to keep his face impassive and took the angry words as best he could. It was the least he could do.

Riley wasn't finished. "I'm supposed to be their commanding officer, but you took that away! You made me take them into a mission without telling me jack squat of what was going on! YOU got them killed!"

Riley was inches from him now, red in the face and filled with the fury and sorrow that had accumulated over the past few hours. "You come near me or my men again and I'll fucking kill you! Do you understand me!?"

Xander nodded and shifted to one side as Riley suddenly rushed past him into the open corridor. After the Blond commando was gone he slumped down, his posture suddenly drooping into one of defeat as he himself turned and walked away.

Teal'C watched the scene unfold impassively, not completely understanding the emotions that flared. As it ended he turned to O'Neill and asked, "I do not understand, Colonel O'Neill. How can he say that this was not their fight? They were as threatened by the Goa'uld as anyone else."

Jack sighed as he watched the slumped form of the kid walk away. "Finn's angry and hurting, Teal'C. He's not thinking straight... and he's got some cause."

O'Neill walked away himself, leaving the Jaffa to raise his eyebrows in slight confusion.

Buffy watched in shock as Riley tore into Xander, at once understanding both their viewpoints. She was sitting up in the bed the military doctor had provided for her, cradling a splitting headache when the scene occurred.

Wincing she levered herself out of bed and staggered after her boyfriend and her friend. At the door she looked down one hallway, after Xander, and then down the other, after Riley. She stood there for several seconds, uncertain where to go.

He decision was made for her when she saw Phoebe rush after Xander. She flashed the brunette an encouraging smile as she turned and went after Riley.


Phoebe's voice echoed slightly in the long corridor as she approached him. Xander half turned, giving her a slight, sad, smile. "Come to check on me?"

Phoebe smiled, "You betcha."


"He shouldn't have said those things..." Phoebe trailed off.

Xander shrugged, "He's hurting. His men are more then soldiers to him... he lives with them, eats with them, laughs with them... they're his friends. Besides, he's right. I did bring his men in without telling him."

"You wanted to stop these... things..." Phoebe began.

"I know..."

"Do you regret bringing his men?"

"Yes... no... both," Xander admitted. "We needed the troops, and I've seen his men fight. I knew they could handle it... and it was short notice."

"Would you do the same thing again?"

Xander was silent for a long time, long enough that Phoebe leaned in a hugged him tight. When he did respond the single word was laden with sorrow and guilt.



"Go away, Buffy."

"I won't." Despite how weak she felt she shifted to a determined stance. "I know you're hurting, Riley. You need someone now."

Riley was quiet.

Buffy moved closer, putting her arms around him. "They gave their lives for everyone else, Riley. They helped save the world."

Riley was still quiet, he didn't want to hear her now. He desperately wanted someone to blame, someone he could hang the hurt on.

"Buffy... I..."

"I know." She leaned in close, smiling as his arm dropped around her, "It's not supposed to be like this, but you can't blame Xander."

Riley was silent, his mind working as he held Buffy tight.

Anise watched as the young man in the Yautja armor walked into the briefing room with the young woman by his side. On either side of him the Tok'ra gave him a wide berth, unconsciously shying away from the Armor he wore. The Yautja were the 'boogy-men', as O'Neill would say, of a hundred worlds. It was disconcerting to see that armor worn by a human.

It was, however, the silver staff holstered on his hip that drew her attention now. The armor was one thing, but it was just armor. In the end merely a symbol. The staff, now that was something else entirely.

"General Hammond," Xander nodded in greeting as he dropped into a seat, Phoebe taking the one at his side.

"Mr. Harris," The General nodded in return. "I'm pleased to inform you that the danger seems to be past. We've captured a couple dozen survivors, but without Teru to lead them they seem to be somewhat controllable."

Xander nodded, "Good. I've already arranged for my friends to be transported out."

Hammond leaned forward, clearly about to object, but Xander cut him off with a wave of his hand. "I will stay for debriefing, as will Jarod and Phoebe. But the others, including the surviving Initiative people are being transported back as we speak."

"Mr. Harris, I cannot allow..."

Xander cut him off again, "What *I* can't allow is for the Hellmouth to go un-patrolled while you are trying to determine security risks. The people I brought here have jobs to do, jobs that are just as important as what went down today. You think Armageddon is a big deal, General? I've personally had a hand in saving this planet no less then five times now. It's old hat to us, we'll keep your secrets."

The General's eyes widened at the words 'old hat'. "I don't suppose you'd care to give us an example of that?"

Xander looked bored. "Let's see... 800 year old master vampire tried to drop the world into hell, demonic entity tried to gain access to the internet and work its way into the worlds computers... think WWIII. Demon by the name of the Judge tried to power up enough to annihilate humanity, then there was another vamp trying to destroy the world... don't ask, that one was nasty. Then there were the apocalypse demons... Opening portals to hell is a popular pass time where I live... Speaking of which there is my graduation... a memorable day in my life I might add. Demonic snakes are really the life of the party, you know?" Xander turned to Phoebe, "How many was that?"

"Six," She said, slightly amused.

"Have any to add?" He asked her.

"Well...," she thought about it, "There was the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse... but generally the demons we encounter are more interested in ruling the world then destroying it."

"You must have scored the smart ones. We keep getting these dumb asses who forget that if they unleash hell on Earth then they drop to the bottom of the food chain..."

The two stopped talking as they noticed the stares they were drawing.

"Ah... about that..." Daniel said, slowly. "I don't suppose you can prove any of this can you?"

Xander and Phoebe started laughing.

Riley was walking behind Buffy as they approached the briefing room, not really paying attention to his surroundings. He didn't notice anything until Colonel O'Neill grabbed him and pulled him to the side.

"You were out of line earlier, kid," O'Neill hissed as he leaned into Riley's face. "And the only reason I didn't drop on you then and there was because you were hurting and it wouldn't have done anyone any good."

Riley flinched. He wanted to lash out but this was a superior and, until he was transferred back, his commanding officer.

"You're pissed at Harris right now? Fine. But don't pull that shit around here. Harris helped pull a big one out the fire today and he's got enough problems of his own without you dumping yours on him."

Riley remained stoic, falling back into the drill easily as he absorbed the Colonel's words.

"You know what he told me when I asked him about your unit, Finn?" O'Neill demanded, "He told me that when the chips were down your guys would keep it cool and get the job done. And you know what? He was right."

O'Neill turned away for a second before looking back, "And another thing, we just saved the United States and perhaps the world from an invasion, if that isn't the business of every soldier in this country then I don't know what is. Don't trash the memory of the people who died here by saying this wasn't their fight. The lived well, they died well. Show some damned respect, Captain."

Riley paled under the verbal barrage but swallowed and merely nodded. O'Neill was finally finished and turned away, walking into the briefing room.

Xander smiled at Buffy when she came in, and she smiled back with an encouraging look. He looked over at General Hammond, "We have an agreement then?"

Hammond nodded slowly, "All right. If you can prove your allegations to SG1, I'll recommend to the President that your people be free to go. However, even then I must warn you that you are bound by the Official Secrets Act and can be subject to military justice if you choose to violate National Security."

Xander grinned, "General we all have secrets of our own that are bigger then your little base here."

Hammond frowned, but chose not to comment.

O'Neill walked in a moment later, followed closely by Riley. Xander nodded to them both and was mildly surprised when Riley nodded back. He turned to Phoebe and nodded.


The shimmer of light that announced Leo's arrival went unremarked this time. He merely looked at Riley and Buffy. "Time to go, you two."

Leo laid a hand on their shoulders and was about to orb out when Buffy stopped him, "Wait, what about Xander?"

Xander smiled at her, "I'll be along in a bit. Have to pick up some passengers first."

Buffy nodded slowly at Xander reassuring tone and Leo orbed them out in a shimmer of light.

Xander looked at the members of SG1 and grinned slightly, "You guys better pack... you just drew Vampire hunting duty."

The four officers looked at each other warily for an instant.

O'Neill raised his hand tentatively, "Is it just me or is it really frightening to hear someone say those words so cheerfully?"

Anise stepped through the Gate with the rest of the Tok'ra and reappeared on the Tok'ra's current base world.

"That child, he had a weapon of the Ancients did he not?"

Anise nodded in response to the question.

"They haven't been seen in the hands of humans in thousands of years. We know that the Asgard have a very few of them, but even there they are scarce. I thought the Ancient's weapons were gone, destroyed?"

Anise frowned as she activated the ring transporter to bring them down to the subterranean base. "You do not know of what you speak. Those cannot be destroyed, not by anything I have ever heard of at least. They have merely been hidden. It was inevitable that one would resurface eventually."

Her companion shook his head, "Perhaps. I do know as much on the subject as you, Anise. But I do know this, where one of those weapons arises others will soon follow. And with them the beings that sought to hide them in the first place."

Anise nodded. "I know. Soon we may find that the Goa'uld are the least of our concerns."

She walked for a few more steps before turning sharply to one of the men following her, "Have a transport with a cloak prepared. I wish to speak with Xander Harris privately."

Initiative Bunker: Sunnydale, California

The returning troops trudged into the bunker looking exhausted, physically and mentally. They stripped down, carefully placing their gear back into place and headed for the showers. Riley knew they'd be heading for sack time shortly after, and envied them that luxury. He had things to deal with first.

"Agent Finn!" a base security officer stopped smartly in front of him and saluted.

Weasel. "Corporal," Finn returned the salute.

"Professor Walsh would like to see you, Sir."

Tiredly, Riley nodded and headed for the briefing area. She was waiting for him when he arrived.

"Agent Finn," Walsh looked pissed, her facial muscles even ticking slightly as she talked. "I demand an explanation for your misappropriation of Initiative resources last night."

Resources... fucking lovely. Riley didn't respond immediately, taking his time to consider what he knew he had to say. "Ma'am, you have not been cleared for that information. Telling you would violate my standing orders and the Official Secrets Act of the United States."

Walsh reddened. "I suggest you rethink that attitude, Agent Finn."

"No attitude, Ma'am. Just following orders given to me by a three star General and the President of the United States, Ma'am"

Walsh stared at the impassive soldier for long moments before she finally bit out a response. "Get out of my sight."

Finn turned on his heal, and marched out.

Finn dropped into his bed, not bothering to even try to soften the impact. His big frame caused the bed to shake as he hit and just lay where he had fallen.

"So what did you tell her?"

Riley would have jumped if he had the energy but he just lay there and spoke into the pillow. "Graham, how many times have I told you to knock before coming in here?"

Graham shrugged even though Finn couldn't see him. "I don't know, so why bother adding to the list?"

Riley groaned. "Get out of here, man."

Graham shook his head. "Nope. Come on, man. I'm worried about you. What did you tell Walsh?"

"Not a damned thing, Graham." Riley finally said, irritated by his friends presumptuousness.

"Good." Graham dropped into a chair by the bed, "I was worried that you would be pissed off enough at Harris to violate your orders."

That brought Riley out of his stupor. "Those orders were signed by the Commander in Chief, Graham. No matter what Harris did, I wouldn't violate them."

Graham nodded. "Good. I know your hurting man, but Harris did what he had to do... You know that as well as I do."

"That guy worries me," Riley admitted, "How the hell does he warrant the kind of support and firepower he managed to pull together?"

"I don't know..." Graham shrugged, "I'm just glad he and his friends are on our side."

"Are they?" Riley asked quietly, dropping back onto his bed. "Are they really?"

Silence followed those words, but Riley continued the question in his mind. <Is he on our side? Are we on his? Or something else entirely?>

Walsh stared at the monitor thoughtfully, before turning to a technician behind her. "Have Harris' file bumped up to level one priority."

"Yes, Ma'am."

<Who are you, Alexander Harris?>

Jarod and Xander's Building : Sunnydale, California

"All right, now that is just really freaky!" Colonel Jack O'Neill said as he materialized in the basement of Xander's building.

"Come on, Jack," Daniel smiled, "Its not as bad as the first time we went through the..."

"Ahem!" Jack stared at Daniel, his eyes flicking to Phoebe and Leo.

"Oh... ummm... right," Daniel said, "Sorry."

Xander just grinned at the group. "Come on upstairs guys. It's daylight so we have time to catch some quality sack time before patrol."

Leo hesitated, "Uhh.. I'd better go... check on the others."

He looked at Phoebe who glanced between him and Xander. "Go on without me, ok?"

Leo nodded, "Ok. I'll see you later."

The group watched as Leo orbed out of the room in a brilliant show of lights.

"Really REALLY freaky," O'Neill muttered and shook himself slightly, as if to get rid of an itch.

Xander started stripping his armor off, carefully placing each piece into its place within the heavy steel cabinet. SG1 watched with interest as he locked it away under two levels of security before turning back to them, "Come on, let's go get some sleep."

The group followed him up the stairs.

Xander was finishing up his shower when a cool breeze brushed across his back. He turned around and his jaw dropped a Phoebe joined him in the shower. "I... I..."

She closed his mouth with her index finger and smiled at him, "Not the most romantic timing, I'll admit but... Wash my back?"

Xander nodded, a little dumbly as she pressed closer to him and gave him a quick kiss.

"All right, Rat Boy," Miss Parker began, poking Jarod in the chest with her finger. "What in the hell have you gotten me into?"

"Miss Parker?" Sidney asked from where he was watching the confrontation.

"Boy Genius over here," Parker spat the words slightly, "Just got me involved in a freaking war!"

"Jarod?" Sidney turned his attention to the tall man, using his best 'couch voice'.

"It was something that had to be done, Sidney." Jarod said simply, his face betraying his inner turmoil over the events of the past day.

"Jarod," Miss Parker said, slightly exasperated, "We just fought in a *war* where over five thousand people were killed. A lot of them at our hand."

Sidney's look turned form curious to concerned, "Jarod? Is this true?"

Jarod nodded, "Yes. Though I'd call it a battle... not a war. From what I can tell the war is ongoing."

"Jarod, you shouldn't be involved in this... this is very disturbing." Sidney began.

Jarod interrupted him, "What's disturbing, Sidney, is what would have happened if we hadn't been there to stop it. And the fact that we're at war and know one even knows."

Xander and Phoebe dropped into bed, looking at each other uncertainly.

"We... uh... don't have to..."

Phoebe nodded, "I know. Timing sucks. How about if we just talk for now?"

Xander nodded and pulled her closer to him, speaking softly into her ear. "What about?"

She sighed, "About what happened last night. About what Riley said."

Xander stiffened. "I don't really want to..."

"I know, but your hurting as much as he is. Xander, you have to talk about it."

"Do I?" his voice was slightly wistful. "Do I really?"

"Yes," her tone was firm, and she shifted around to look at him. "I'm worried about you."

He smiled, "I know. And believe me, I'm grateful. But I'll survive this, Phoebe."

"I know you will, Xander." Phoebe tilted her head up to look him square in the eyes, "But sometimes survival isn't enough."

Xander sighed, "Can we do this later? Please?"

Reluctantly Phoebe nodded, lowering her head to the crook of his neck. "Just promise me that we will."

"I promise," he said, and slowly closed his eyes as he felt sleep overtake him.

"So," Jack looked at the other members of SG1. "What do you guys think we'll really see tonight?"

Carter shook her head, not offering an answer. Teal'C merely raised an eyebrow and looked distinctly uncomfortable without his Staff weapon.

It was Daniel who spoke up. "I have the feeling that we're going to see real vampires."

O'Neill scoffed. "Come on, Daniel. Aliens I could buy, but vampires?"

"Before you saw the Stargate the first time, did you believe in Aliens?" Daniel asked lightly.

"No...." O'Neill trailed off slowly, "Oh no you don't! Don't try to turn that around on me..."

Daniel smiled, "Sorry, Jack... but sometimes it takes a watershed event to rid us of our preconceptions. I think we may be in for one tonight."

"Ok," Carter said, "I'll bite... What makes you think that?"

"Did you see the people Xander called in to help us?"

"Yeah, so?" O'Neill asked.

"Well, I saw one of them teleport entire squads into the SGC, another toss Jaffa around with a wave of her hands, another slip of a girl took on an entire squad of Jaffa in hand to hand and kicked their asses... And then there was the soldiers he recruited."

"What about them? They were good sure, but not the best I've seen... nothing special."

Daniel shook his head, "What was special was that Xander and Finn told them that we were up against Demons... and they believed them."

"Well... that was a rather bracing affair," Giles said as he dropped Buffy and Willow off at their dorm.

"Don't try to change the subject, Giles," Buffy said in a tense tone. "You held back on us. You knew more about Xander then he was telling us."

"Ah... well, yes. I did."


"He asked me to."

"That's it?" Buffy glared at the older man.

"That was enough," Giles said simply as he started the car again. "I'm sure that we will finish this later, but I do believe that Xander should be present."

"Fine," Buffy glared some more, "But this is not over."


Buffy continued to glare at the old car as her Watcher drove off. Finally she relented to Willow's coaxing and turned toward the dorm.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon when his moaning awoke Phoebe. He didn't move much in his sleep, but Xander's face was contorted alternately into aspects of terror, rage, and sorrow. The young witch tentatively reached her hand out lightly and stroked his face with a gentle touch.

And suddenly froze as the visions washed over her.

"Hello, Elan," Xander said as he again stared out at the empty wastes that had been filled with monsters a short time earlier.

"Hello, Alexander."

"It's desolate here, isn't it?"

Elanthielle looked over the desert wastes that stretched as far as the eye could see and shrugged. "This place is as you see it, Alexander. It is a reflection of your own self."

Xander was quiet as he looked over the expanse for the second time, this time with a more concerned eye. "That can't be good."

Elanthielle smiled, "Do not worry overly about it, Alexander. This is an emotional reflection of your nightmares. I can rid you of the monsters, but even I cannot repair the damage they have wreaked on your mind so easily. But it will be repaired, in time."

Xander sighed, and settled himself on the ground. "I guess I'm pretty messed up huh?"

The ancient soul didn't answer immediately. She thought about his latest bout with the nightmarish realm his mind had created. The worst demons were no longer his attackers, they were his fallen comrades. Men and women who called out to him for help while he struggled in vain to reach them in time.

Sighing, she shook away her own reverie and turned back to the young man sitting cross legged beside her. She settled herself down beside him, matching his position as she did. "You are perhaps one of the most sane people I've known, Alexander. Of course, I am a weapon who has been born by some of the greatest warriors of their times... and to achieve that one must often give up a portion of ones sanity."

Xander smirked, "Gee thanks. Way to make a guy feel adequate."

Elanthielle's laugh rang pure and clean through the wasteland, echoing off of the very air as she leaned into Xander. "Oh My Lord, Alexander," she laughed as she spoke, "Do not worry about your 'adequacies' child. For one with no preparations and training you survive remarkably well."

Xander's face grew somber. "Yeah... but... Survival isn't always enough."

Elan was about to reply when her attention was suddenly diverted.

"What?" Xander asked as he noticed Elan's sudden distraction.

"Your witch."

"Excuse me?" Xander looked at her as if she had lost her mind.

"She has tapped into your nightmares, Alexander. Probably by accident."

Xander whistled, a long mournful sound, "Great."

"One moment,," Elanthielle seemed to focus on the skies for a long second.

Phoebe suddenly slumped back to the bed, landing across Xander as the visions stopped and everything went black.

Xander blinked when Phoebe appeared in front of them, the effects of the dreaming keeping him from being more then mildly surprised. "Hey Phoebe."

"Uh... hello?" Phoebe looked at Xander in confusion, "Xander? How did I get here? Better yet... where is here?"

"Welcome to my nightmare," Xander replied, sounding altogether too chipper considering the statement. "As for the how... well, thank her," he finished, nodding toward Elanthielle.

"Oh?" Phoebe stared at the very beautiful and semi-dressed woman seated by Xander's side. "And who is she?"

"Phoebe, Elan. Elan, Phoebe."

"Please to meet you, Miss Halliwell," Elanthielle rose to her feet and bowed slightly.

"Uhhh... Nice to ummm... meet you... Elan?"

"Elanthielle. Alexander does not often make use of my proper name."

"Elanthielle. I see." Phoebe shifted slightly, "Not to be rude or anything... but aren't you... well...?"

"I am Xander's Battle Staff, yes," Elan smiled at the obvious confusion. "I apologize for bringing you here, however you should be more careful where you exercise your powers. Tapping into Alexander's psyche could have had serious effects on your own."

Phoebe stared at Xander, a question in her eyes.

"Don't look at me," he shrugged, "She's got one helluva lot more experience in magic then I do."

Phoebe looked at Elanthielle, curious now. "How much?"

Elan pondered the question for some time before answering. "Three thousand years of practical experience, ten thousand of theoretical applications."

Phoebe dropped to the ground.

"Hello?" Buffy walked into the building, looking around for someone.

Jarod walked out, "Oh, hello. Xander's not up yet."

"Oh," she paused for a minute, "Maybe I'll wake him?"

Jarod smiled slightly, "I don't think that would be wise."

"Why not?"

Jarod raised an eyebrow, "Other then the fact that he just got back from fighting a small war?"

"Point," she conceded. "You mind if I wait?"

"Not at all." Jarod said, "Make yourself at home. Just stay on this floor."


"People are sleeping upstairs."


"Thirteen thousand years?" Phoebe asked weakly.

"Give or take." Elanthielle shrugged, "I don't tend to watch time very closely when I don't have a bearer."


Xander snickered slightly, "Welcome to my world, Phoebe."

"Thanks," she replied dryly, then frowned. "Wait a minute... you two can talk to each other when you're awake, can't you?"

Xander smiled, "We actually tend to yell at each other more then strictly 'talk', but... yeah."

"Oooohhh," Phoebe growled, "So *that's* how you keep coming up with all the weird solutions!"

Elanthielle grinned and mock bowed in a gesture, Phoebe noted, that came straight from Xander's repertoire.

Phoebe stuck her tongue out at Xander, "Cheater."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Sorry. Guess we can't all be one of the Charmed Ones."

The three chuckled slightly.

Finally Elanthielle spoke, "You should both get some sleep."

Phoebe looked confused, "Aren't we sleeping now?"

"Your bodies are, but your minds need rest too."


Elan smiled softly, "Sleep now."

The two young people slipped away, drifting into a dreamless sleep within sleep.

Buffy settled into the living room after glancing around the first floor curiously for a bit, turning the large screen television on and channel surfing.

"Hello," the voice sounded patronizing as it spoke.

Buffy turned around, "Hello, Miss Parker."

"And how are we today?" Miss Parker sank into the couch facing the TV but didn't pay much attention to it.

"*We're* fine," Buffy replied.

"Good," Miss Parker put such a tone of perverse pleasure into her voice that Buffy actually shuddered.

"Don't mind her," Jarod said as he walked into the room. "She talks like that to everyone."

"I'm surprised she has many friends."

"She doesn't." Jarod grinned, as did Miss Parker.

Buffy shrank slightly into her chair. For a human, Miss Parker was certainly capable of a truly feral smile. "Right."

Buffy stared at the screen blankly for a while, trying to ignore the shivers that ran up her back as she felt Parker's eyes bore into her. She was about to turn and snap at the woman when another voice joined the group.

"Fuckin-A!" Crow exclaimed as he entered the room and dropped onto the couch beside Miss Parker. "I haven't slept in a room that nice in... oh five or ten months."

Miss Parker inched away from the man with distaste, "Really? I wouldn't have guessed."

Buffy rolled her eyes, "The jerk."

Crow just grinned and tossed a leer at both women. "I'm a fucking vampire hunter, ladies. Manners aren't exactly the most important qualification for my job."

"Your manners would hardly qualify you as human," Miss Parker said.

Crow leaned back, dropping his arms around Miss Parker's shoulder, "I could always prove how human I am."

An instant later he paled, his eyes dropping down to the nickel plated Smith and Wesson resting against his crotch.

"How would you like to have your 'humanity' spread across the couch?"

Her voice was soft, but there was little doubt in Crow's mind that she would pull the trigger. He quickly withdrew his hand.

Buffy grinned. Maybe I can get to like this Parker woman after all.

It was two and a half hours later when Xander and Phoebe semi-staggered into the living room, still bleary eyed from sleep. Phoebe greeted everyone and sank gratefully into an empty seat while Xander headed for the kitchen.


Jarod grinned, "I figured you'd be up soon. Check the percolator."

"Thanks," Xander rasped out and grabbed a couple cups from the cupboard. As he filled them up he looked over at Jarod, "You have that gift we were getting ready for Willy done up yet?"

Jarod smiled, "Yes. Didn't take too long to set up."

Xander grinned back. "Good. We'll drop it off to him tonight when we take SG1 out on patrol."

"Your going on Patrol!?" Buffy asked sternly from the doorway.

Xander winced, "Not so loud. Coffee first, yelling later."

"Xander, you can't go on patrol...," Buffy started to trail off as her mind caught up to what her mouth was saying. "I mean... well..."

"Keep trying, Buff," Xander smirked as he watched the emotions pass across her face. "Eventually you might get the second foot in there."

"Excuse me?" Jarod looked confused. "What second foot? What first foot for that matter?"

Xander shook his head, "Later, Jarod. I'll tell you later. And yes, Buffy, I'm going on patrol with Jarod, Miss Parker, and the SG team tonight."

"I'm coming with you then."

He shrugged, "Fine with me. But you'll have to wait outside when we go into Willy's."

"What?" Buffy glared at him, "Why?"

"Because he'd never believe we'd follow through on the second part of the gift if you were there," Xander replied enigmatically.


"Later, Buff." Xander edged past her with two cups of coffee and headed for the living room.

Willow was barreling out of her dorm room when she ran, literally, into Tara.

"Willow!" Tara said in shock as she picked herself up off the ground.

"Ohmygod!" Willow babbled, "I'm so sorry... I'm just in a bit of a rush."

"Oh... that's ok... I understand."

"I have to get over to a friend's place..." Willow said as she helped the blond to her feet, "I'd invite you along but...."

Tara waited for her to finish but soon realized that that was as far as Willow was going to get. "That's ok... really... I have some homework to do..."

"I'm really sorry... I just have to go..."

"Then g...go..." Tara said as firmly as possibly when stuttering.

Willow smiled, half in apology and half in gratitude as she ran out the door.

Xander looked over the motley crew he had sitting in his living room, occasionally shaking his head in amazement that no one had killed anyone else yet. Crow and Guiteau were sitting off in a corner, Father Cranston was chatting with Giles, who had just arrived. Miss Parker was alternately shooting glares at Crow and trading barbs with Buffy. God that's a scary combo.

The rest were more or less peaceful, though The SG team did seem to be on their guard around Buffy and Jarod. Wrong two, Jack, its Parker and Crow you should be worrying about.

"Ok, so we're decided?" Xander ventured, looking around the room. "Jack and Daniel will come with Jarod, Miss Parker, and I. Buffy you can show Crow and the rest around the vampire hot spots. We'll all meet at the graveyard down the road from here at midnight?"

"Why do I get stuck with the Jerk?"

Xander grinned, "Because he's the one who'll be in charge of setting up the Vatican team that will be assigned to this area. Who better to show him the sights."

"Hey, I've got my own fucking sights in mind right now," Crow leered at the various women in the room.

"Can I stake him?" Buffy asked, "Please?"

Xander sighed, shaking his head as he sank back into the seat. He turned to Phoebe. "You should get back to your sisters. Nothing big happening here tonight."

She shook her head, "I called them, it's quiet on the demon front in San Fran too. Leo can find me anywhere I am if they need me."

From across the room Crow piped up again, "Hey, now that the fucking war is over I want some answers."

"Crap," Xander muttered under his breath. "What about, Jack?"

"About your girlfriend there for starters, but her sisters especially. How did they pull that shit with the tossing people around with a glance and all that?"

Xander glanced at Phoebe, who shrugged and said, "It's not like he didn't see us in action..."

"You have a point. Still, this secret identity crap is starting to slip, you know?"

"Yeah," she said a little dejected.

"Well? Come on, and quit with the fucking melodrama already."

Xander was about to respond when a red whirlwind rushed in the door.

"Hi, am I late for anything big? I hope not, you know I had class today and I was so tired I almost fell asleep on Professor Walsh and she looked so mad that.... What's everyone staring at?"

"You fucking went to class today!?" Crow looked at her, incredulous. "You save the world one night and you don't bother to sleep in the next day? What kind of anal bullshit is that? You people should be out getting laid or something!"

Willow blushed bright red as she inhaled for the first time in almost a minute.

"What do you know?" Miss Parker said from across the room. "She does breathe."

Willow's shade of red deepened by several degrees, prompting a response from Jarod. "I didn't realize someone could turn that color and not have a stroke..."

"Enough of the redhead," Crow said after the chuckles had died down, "I want know about your girlfriend and her family, kid."

Xander tossed Crow a glare before he responded. "Nutshell? They're witches."

"Well, no shit," Crow said, smirking slightly at Guiteau who had paled.

"You work with witches?" Guiteau asked, a little stiffly.

Xander was quiet for a second, reading the change of emotions in the room quietly. Willow and Phoebe had stiffened perceptively. Among most of the rest there was a puzzled reaction, all except Jarod, Giles, and Buffy.

"You have a problem with that?" Buffy almost jumped clear of her seat as she glared at the two men in the corner.

"Thou shalt not suffer..."

Xander was on his feet instantly, "You finish that sentence and your going to be in a world of hurt, Crow."

"Don't threaten me, punk." Crow glared, coming to his feet. "I'm just giving you the company line is all."

Xander shifted his eyes to the priest. "What is the church's position on this?"

"Officially?" Guiteau asked quietly.

"For now."

"Hands off. We don't encourage teams to employ supernatural aid in the fight, but we don't encourage hunting of peaceful... entities."

Xander's voice was cold, "And unofficially?"

Guiteau didn't answer so Crow spoke up. "Some teams and their control officers have been known to employ a scorched earth policy when it comes to witches and other non-hostiles."

A long silence permeated the room.

Finally Xander spoke, "You tell your local 'control officer' that if he tries that shit around here I'll personally deliver what's left of his corpse to Rome. Same goes for any teams pulling that shit *anywhere* if I hear about it."

Crow nodded, "Personally I don't give a fuck. I've used witches and even a werewolf once," he grinned at the slightly outraged look on Guiteau's face. "Whatever it takes."

Xander nodded, "Just so we understand each other."

Xander looked over the group for a long moment. "Plans changed. Crow, you come with my group, I think I can use your reputation. Everyone else, same as before."

Tara got out and headed out of the dorm, her head was buzzing with the essay she'd been working on and she needed some air. The sun was setting but she decided to take a quick walk anyway.

She got out and headed toward the local club, a place Willow had called the 'Bronze'.

Guiteau and Crow were talking softly to each other when they had managed to get some privacy.

"Fuck that Padre. You mess with this kid and he'll make good on his threat."

"I'm not saying we do anything, Jack," the Priest emphasized, "But we need to talk to our superiors about this. Besides, since when are you afraid of anyone Jack?"

"I'm not afraid of the punk, Padre. But I'm not stupid either. We mess with him over this, which I don't happen to fucking agree with anyway, and we open up another fucking front to the war. Don't be stupid, the vamps win if we start fighting amongst ourselves. And I like the idea of having the kind of resources this kid has on our side."

Guiteau frowned, "All right, Jack. But you know they'll find out soon enough."

"Yeah. I know," Jack conceded bitterly, "And some of those dumb fucks they assign to field teams are sure to try to cross the kid eventually."

"What happens then?"

"Then? Then we try to get things fixed up or we have to choose sides in a damned useless fucking war."

Jarod and Xander led the two groups down into the basement of the building, quickly unlocking the weapons cabinets. Whistles echoed through the area as the group took in the assembled MP-5 submachine guns and Berretta pistols.

"All right, whoa! Time out!" Jack O'Neill looked down at the weapon he'd been handed. It was the exact same issue as the SGC had. "How did you lay your hands on military issue firearms."

"A friend," Xander smirked as he tossed out clips taped with bright orange along the base. "These are specialized issue ammo guys. Do NOT miss. Keep your shots controlled."

"What are they?" Crow asked.

"Magnesium soft tips, with a Thermite fuse. Works like a delayed action flare... goes in, gets real hot."

Crow grinned, "I like your toys, kid."

Xander didn't return the smile. "Keep that in mind for the future, Crow."

"Don't worry, kid. I always do."

"Everyone, grab some stakes," The group armed themselves with wooden stakes as Xander opened a third locker. From inside they saw him slip a sword into an inverted sheath on his back, a dull black knife into a leg sheath, and a pair of nickel plated colts over his shoulders. When he topped it all off with a long black trench coat the groups silence was finally broken.

"You do know that you like you're about to go postal right?" O'Neill said.

Xander smiled lightly, "Camouflage, Jack. I'll explain it later."


"Everyone ready?" Xander asked, counting the nods. "All right. Let's move then."

The sun hadn't quite set, when Xander's team reached Willy's bar, and the place was empty when Xander and Crow kicked the door in.

"Hey!" Willy yelled from where he was setting up the bar. "You can't just come in here and do that!"

Xander walked over to the weasely bartender and stared him down. "You remember what I came in here a week ago to talk to you about?"

"No way, kid," Willy said, his eyes darting to the windows in case someone was watching. "I told you before, no way."

"I think you should reconsider, Mr. Snitch," Jarod said over Xander's shoulder as he handed the small man a sheaf of papers.

"What's this?"

"This say's that your working for us now," Xander grinned. "Unless you want a visit from *them*."

Willy looked at the papers and paled, "You can't do that!"

"Only if you make us," Jarod's voice was cold.

"Aw come one guys..." Willy whined, "You wouldn't do that to 'ol Willy would ya?!"

"Not if you do what we say, Willy," Xander smirked.

Willy closed his eyes, "They'll kill me if they find out."

Xander looked at him, "So don't get found out. Here's the number, leave a message if anything big hits town. Or *anything* else that might concern us. Understood?"

Willy reached out and grabbed the card. Xander tightened his grip on it and held it tight until Willy looked up into his eyes. "You even consider ratting us out and trying to use this as a trap and I'll bury you, Willy. Alive."

Willy tried to bluster the steely eyed young man, "You're one of the Slayer's friends. You wouldn't do that."

Xander grinned, he'd been waiting for that line. "Jack, I'd like you to meet someone."

Jack Crow stepped forward, looking at the weasley bartender, "This the asshole who serves vamps and demons?"

"This is him."

Jack pulled out a Berretta and jammed it into Willy's shoulder, "You mess with the kid and I'll blow your fucking brains out. Got that?"

Willy started stammering. "W... who the h... hell are you?"

"Name's Crow. Jack Crow."

Willy went whiter then the proverbial ghost. "Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. I promise man, I won't tell anyone... I swear it."

The group smirked at the quivering bartender and turned and walked out. Behind them the shivering man poured himself a drink, and shakily swallowed it down.

"What the fuck is that psycho doing in town anyway?" he asked of the empty bar as he quickly hid the card Xander gave him under his jacket. Shaking he looked at the papers again. "Aw man, who'd have thought they'd sick the IRS on me!?"

"What was that all about?" O'Neill asked as they headed away from the bar toward the closest graveyard.

"Willy the Snitch." Xander said simply, "He runs the demon bar here in town."

"Demon bar!?" Jack O'Neill asked.

"Local place where vamps, demons, and various obviously non-humans can find their drinks of choice," Crow replied, "Most large towns and cities have a few of them, they tend to hire mages and witches to put spells on them to keep the normals away."

"Look," O'Neill began. "Assuming I buy this crap... which I don't, I'd like to point out for the record... Why don't you shut him down?"

Xander shook his head, "Are you kidding me? Shut down Willy and we lose one of our best sources of information, and all the vamps that go there are on the street hunting instead. Not a good mix. We even try to avoid violence at Willy's unless we're looking at the end of the world, encourages the quieter ones to stay inside at night and away from civilians."


"Let's raid a couple graveyards, see what we can scare up," Xander grinned as he walked.

"Ah," Jack O'Neill said, raising his hand. "Could you *not* say it like that?"

"So, if I understand this right, Vampires are human hosts of an alien essence?"

"Huh?" Buffy looked at Giles for help.

"Precisely, Captain Carter. Though the term alien might not be entirely accurate depending on your point of reference."

"How do you mean?" Teal'C asked in his stoic manner.

"Well... Mr. Teal'C... Demons were here before humans. A long time ago the rise of humans on this world forced the demons out and sealed many of the dimensional gateways that permitted them access."

"I am not certain I understand," Teal'C said slowly, "It is my understanding that early humans did not have sufficient technology to do combat with beings of the power you suggest."

"Quite," Giles said, unhappily. "There are many missing pieces in the histories I'm afraid... I'm really not certain how the demons were first driven out."

"I see."

"So this is what you do for fun in this town?" O'Neill complained as they marched through the graveyard.

Xander shrugged, "Party at the Bronze, hang out in the graveyards... its all good."

The group had walked a little further when Xander spotted the first vamp of the night. "Ah, our first contestant."

"That's a vampire?"

Crow looked at O'Neill, "What? The pale skin, evil look, dark clothes, and bad hair don't give it away?"

"Come on!" O'Neill protested, "You just described every teenager I know."

"Hey!" Xander protested.

"He does have a point," Crow conceded.

"Hey!" Xander tried again.

Jarod smirked and pointedly looked Xander outfit over. "I'm starting to agree..."

"Hey!" Xander said for the third time. "I do not have... bad hair," he finished lamely.

By this point the lone Vampire had approached the group and vamped out, startling everyone but Xander and Crow.

"That's a matter of opinion, kid."

Xander ignored the vampire, "Watch the hair jokes, Crow."

The group had fallen back as the demonic creature lunged at the only two who hadn't moved. Crow sidestepped and kicked the demon in the balls as he passed. "Look, kid. I'm telling ya a little styling wouldn't kill ya."

"Oh come off it, Jack!" Xander said as he jammed his elbow into the vampire's back bone, driving the creature to the ground. "Look at that mop on your head, where to you get off giving me style tips?"

Crow jammed his boot into the neck of the squirming and moaning creature, holding him down against the ground. "Kid, when you look as good as I do then you can get away with my casual 'devil may care' look. But you, you need to work on it."

Xander shook his head in disgust and turned to look back at the group who had started to cautiously approach again. "What do you think... be honest, do I need to see a stylist?"

"And that is a vampire," Buffy said proudly as she watched the wafting dust drift to the ground.

"Indeed," Teal'C said quietly.

"Fascinating," Carter said as she leaned in closer. "What caused it to disintegrate like that?"

"The vampire is bound by demonic energy that is focused in its heart. Pierce the heart with an object that is born of life energy, wood preferably, and the demonic spirit is destroyed."

"Ok..." Carter said slowly, "But that still doesn't answer the question."

"Ummm yes, well... Demonic energy tends to rot and erode everything it touches so when that energy is gone there is nothing left to bind the creature's corporeal body together."

"So you're saying that the energy that inhabits the human hosts is actually destructive to the cellular construction of the host? But while it's present it maintains cellular cohesion despite the increased rate of decay it imposes on human tissue?"

"Ummmm..." Giles slowly untwisted her words. "Yes... I believe that is an accurate explanation."


Tara left the Bronze, a little bored. She wished that Willow hadn't been busy when she stopped by to ask her to join her. Idly she wondered what the red Wiccan was doing as she worked her way back through the dark streets.

She never noticed the dark shapes closing on her position as she meandered her way back toward the university.

Xander's group was headed back toward the university campus and the meeting place when a scream from ahead of them caused the lot to break into a run.

"This happen a lot around here?" O'Neill asked as he kept pace with Xander.

"Every night," Xander replied, as he drew Elan and held the deactivated weapon ready.

O'Neill shook his head and muttered something under his breath.

"Incredible," Xander heard Daniel wheeze from behind them, "That an entire sub-culture could exist within the modern world."

Xander ducked into the alley the scream had come from, speaking over his shoulder. "Well, vamps and demons tend to keep their profiles low... Sunnydale is an exception, the night stalkers have a real good grip on this town."

"No," Daniel answered, "I mean the vampire hunters... an entire human culture dedicated to preserving life while fighting a secret war... it's reminiscent of..."

Xander didn't hear the rest of Daniel's thought as the words were cut off by the shock of running into a dozen big vampires surrounding a small blond.

Tara shrank back into the corner as the... things... surrounded her. Her mother had warned her that there were dangers in the world worse then even her own terrible legacy, but she never really believed it completely before. Her mind cast about for a spell as the largest of the creatures advanced on her.

"I...inciendre!" she splayed her hand and cast the spell, more then a little nervous about whether it would actually work.

A burst of flames leaped from her hand and caught the big one in the arm, transforming his jacket and arm into a blaze. As he started to rush about, trying in vain to douse the magical blaze, she tried to make a run for it.

"Oh no you don't girly!" a second grabbed her from behind, pinning her hands down. She could smell the rot on his breath, the death and decay of other victims.

"Lu... lumos!"

A bright flash of light blinded the vampire behind her as it tried to bite her. "Ah! My eyes! You little bitch, you blinded me!"

His grip didn't loosen unfortunately. She could feel his breath return to her neck, and then the world seemed to explode.

Xander actually paused when the small blond showed some steel under her hesitant exterior. He smiled and even let out a sharp laugh when the first vamp started flailing around with the rapidly growing flames running up his arm. He got serious, though, when the second vamp grabbed the girl from behind.

"Toast 'em all except that one," he snarled as he extending Elan to her full length, pointed directly at the one who had grabbed the blond.

The group behind him didn't bother to respond, sweeping MP-5's from under their long coats they leveled them on the vampire gang and opened fire with short, controlled, bursts.

Jak snapped his head around at the sudden report of firearms to see a squad of people with military weapons firing into his brethren. He grinned to himself, Good. The others can eat those guys, and I'll keep the little tidbit here to myself.

He watched as the vampires shuddered with the impact of the bullets and then moved to advance on their attackers. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped as, one by one, the vampires fell to the ground screaming and smoking from the inside out.

"What...?" His voice trailed off as he gripped the girl tighter, not as a meal but as protection, "What are you guys!?"

He watched as one of the group stepped forward, a silver staff in his hand. "Let her go."

"No way," Jak said nervously, "I look stupid to you? You can't shoot me with those things if I've got her in between us."

The guy nodded slowly, "All right. Then we've got ourselves a problem. Cause I can't let you walk out of here with her."

Jak sneered, "Like you'd let me walk out without her."

The guy shrugged. "Tell you what, how about a little one on one? Winner walks out free and clear."

Jak shook his head, "No way man. I don't trust you..."

He started shedding his weapons. First slipping off his trench coat and slowly stripping himself of all weapons by tossing them lightly to a pile on the coat. In a moment the young man was dressed in nothing but a pair of jeans and a tight t-shirt. He turned around a couple times to show the lack of weapons.

"What about them?" Jak jerked his head toward the group behind the kid.

"Back out of the alley, guys."

None of the group seemed to like it but they nodded and slowly backed away. When the alley was clear Jak vamped out and shoved the blond away hard, then charged the young man.

The man shifted to a defensive stance and snapped out a single word.


Jak caught a glimpse of a silver shimmer, then felt a odd pressure in his chest. He looked down and saw the silver staff buried halfway through his torso. Jak shuddered and began to dust. "How?" he croaked before vanishing completely.

"I hate vampires," Xander said as he retracted Elan and slipped her back into the hip sheath. He walked over to where the girl had been tossed, "You ok?"

"I....I'm.. F... f.... fine," she stammered out as Xander helped her to her feet. "T... those were vam... vampires?"

Xander raised his eyes slightly, then realized that he shouldn't be too surprised at her acceptance. She was obviously a witch. "Yep," he grinned, "You should be careful around here at night... vamp central, you know."

"P....pardon?" she barely managed to whisper the word out, as if she expected to be punished for her lack of knowledge.

Xander shifted his grin to a gentler smile, "Come on, I'll get you home and explain a bit on the way. Ok?"


Jack Crow shook his head as he watched the kid talk amiably to the young girl as he slipped his gear back on. He had to smile at the way the kid took the bastard out, but at the same time the weapon the kid used bothered him. What the hell is that thing anyway?

Xander walked back to the group with Tara, as he had just found her to be called, following close behind. "Crow, you and Jarod take the other two to the meeting. I'm going to run Tara here back to the dorm and meet with you later."

Jack nodded easily. Jarod and the SG members looked a little uncomfortable.

"You sure about this, Xander?"

Xander nodded to Jarod, "Yeah. No worries. I'll meet you guys later."

"Ok. If you're sure," Jarod said hesitantly as he started to turn away.

Xander watched the group head toward the graveyard and then turned to Tara, "So, a witch huh? How's that working for ya?"

Tara stared at him in mute shock as the two began to walk toward the university dorms.

"Where's Xander?" Buffy asked as the group arrived.

Jarod smiled slightly at her, "Relax. He's escorting a vampire victim home."

"Alone?" she said, her voice calm but tinged with worry.

"He'll be fine," Jarod said confidently.

"I guess..." she said, a little uncertainly as the group gathered. Finally she shook it off and watched as the SG people got together and talked vampires.

"So you saw them too?" Jack O'Neill asked, almost disappointed when the answer as in the affirmative.

"They... seemed to be vampires," Carter admitted.

"Yes..." Daniel said, "They do fit many of the historical references to vampiric creatures..."

Teal'C remained silent, not having any idea of the historical stereotypes of vampires.

"Hammond is going to pitch a fit when I report this," Jack shook his head mournfully.

"I doubt if General Hammond will 'pitch a fit'," Teal'C corrected tonelessly.

"Shut up, Teal'C."

"Target in sight."

"I want Harris brought here.... ALIVE."

"Confirmed," the man replied into his radio. He turned to the IMP beside him and nodded.

The Initiative Military Police goon nodded, "We taking her too?"

The first man considered, then shrugged, "Sure. She isn't normal that's for damned sure... Walsh won't mind another body to dissect."


Xander led Tara onto the campus and grinned as they hit the well lit area's, "Almost home."

"Than.... thank you."

"No problem. But you be careful out around here at night. Its not a safe place."

She nodded vigorously, "I will."

Xander smiled and nodded back. "Good."

He was about to leave her at the door to the dorm when his hand flashed to his throat, feeling the dart embedded there as his eyes began to go dark. Beside him he could see Tara do much the same, her yelp of pain and fear coming to him as if from far off. He crumpled to the ground in a boneless heap, and his last sensations were of being manhandled into the back of the dark SUV.

"Mission accomplished."

Walsh sat back and allowed herself a smile. "Good."

Initiative Labs

The still body lay, strapped in a dozen places, on the cold examining table. A dozen machines were arrayed around him, all actively scanning, probing, sampling, or otherwise examining the still form. Three lab-coated doctors were bouncing from one display to another as they studied the data the machines sent them, while three nurses kept careful observation on the IV that was pumping chemicals into the helpless form.

It took hours but the results came back, triple checked by no less then two doctors and five technicians. They weren't what Professor Walsh had expected, nor what she had hoped.

"What do you mean?" she practically screamed at the third scientist in an hour, "He can't be human! I have tapes of our soldiers talking about him in demonic armor!, doing things no human can do. Humans can't teleport! They can't turn invisible! He can NOT be human!"

"Professor," the technician said calmly, "We can detect no genetic baselines to match any HST on record, and there are none of the energy spikes we get from examinations of the more human like HST's. He is 100% human, Ma'am."

Walsh cursed before calming enough to ask, "And the girl?"

"She is human," the technician confirmed, "But there are some of the odd energy spikes present in her system... extremely low powered however, I'd say that if she has any HST in her genetic background that it has almost been bred out."

Walsh was silent for a long moment, "Prepare her for dissection. I'll deal with Harris."

"Ma'am," the technician nodded and backed out.

Walsh turned to the camera that monitored the examination room that Harris was still occupying. "If I can't learn anything by dissecting you, Mr. Harris, I'll have to find some other way for you to contribute to my research."

She flickered through the security monitors until she came to rest on one of the security cells in the detention block. In the cell was a blond HST they had recently captured, one that hadn't undergone the chipping process. "Excellent," she smiled.

"I've always wanted to monitor the process that occurs when one of these creatures propagates."

"Has he checked in?" Jarod asked tersely over the cell phone.

"No," Phoebe answered, just as tense. "I'm going to get the ingredients for a locator spell."

Jarod was silent for a moment, "Good. I'm coming back, there is much more that can be accomplished running around like this."

"I know," Phoebe said quietly.

"We will find him."

"I know."

The phone went dead and Phoebe turned to thin air and called out, "Leo!"

When the shimmer finally arrived Leo looked tired. "What is it, Phoebe?"

"Xander's missing."

"What!?" he started, his eyes popping open.

"I need to get some things form the manor."

"All right, hang on," Leo reached out and touched her shoulder and the two people vanished into the air.

"So your telling me that Harris was right?" Hammond didn't sound happy. "Vampires are running around a town in California?"

O'Neill sounded even less happy. "Sir, if what I'm being told is accurate it's a lot bigger then that. But in a nutshell, yes. Harris gave us the straight goods."

The General took a deep breath and let it out, "Is there anything you'd like me to recommend to the President when I tell him that there really are monsters living under the bed?"

Jack grimaced into the phone, "Sir, if he doesn't already know then someone is pulling some strings on the black ops budget, because there is a Government facility in place already."

"I see," actually Hammond was happy to hear that, it meant that at least someone was on the ball. "I'll have Harris and his people cleared from further investigation and I'll arrange a commendation for them."

"Thank you, Sir," O'Neill hesitated. "Sir? Harris has gone missing. Permission to join the search teams?"

"Granted," Hammond said immediately, "Do what you can."

"Thank you, Sir." Jack said, with relief. "I'll be in touch."

"You do that. I'll be seeing you, Colonel."

"Yes, Sir," O'Neill said and hung up the phone. He turned to the other members of SG1 and smiled. "Harris and his 'Irregulars' have been cleared."

The team smiled.


"That's excellent, Sir."


Jack nodded, "Now. Let's find him and tell him the good news."

The group nodded and headed back to the first floor of the building, to join the search effort.

Phoebe and her sisters orbed back into the kitchen as SG1 and Jarod both hit the room. Behind Jarod a very agitated Slayer and entourage were not far behind.

"Where is he!?"

"Calm down, Buffy," Giles said quietly, "You are not helping."

Buffy stayed quiet but was obviously fuming as she grabbed a chair.

The Charmed Ones quickly assembled their spell ingredients and began preparing the locator spell, to the active interest of Jarod and Willow. A few minutes later Phoebe added the last ingredient, only to have a fair portion of the spell to explode in her face.

The sisters stared at the ruined spell in shock for a moment before Piper spoke, "Well... that's never happened before."

Giles got up and looked at the spell curiously, "I say. What spell were you casting?"

"Just a standard locator spell..."

"Hmmm... The Hellmouth tends to cause those to be somewhat indistinct... but I've never seen one react like that before."

"What do you use if a locator spell won't work?"

Giles considered, "Generally we use 'sniffer' spells... they are less accurate then a full powered location spell but they do the job well enough."

Phoebe sighed, wiping some of the guck off her face, "What do we need for that?"

Willow chimed in, "Something personal of Xander's and some basic supplies... I think you have everything here."

"Ok, I'll get something from his room," Phoebe said as she headed up the stairs. They all heard a disgusted mutter echo back after she was gone, "And I'll get a towel while I'm up there."

Elan raged from her metallic prison, unable to contact Xander in anyway. Even the Dreaming was unavailable, and she could barely feel his pulse as it hammered slowly through her being. She had a decent idea of why, but it did her little good. Drugs were the only possibly answer, because even comatose she would be able to make contact with his subconscious mind. Some heavy sedatives and neurological poisons however tended to slow or scramble even the subconscious mind, leaving her cut off from him and helpless.

They sniffer spell worked as planned, even better then Giles had expected, when the sisters cast it. His eyes widened as a realization came upon him. "Of course!"

Everyone looked at him in confusion. "What?"

"The reason the locator spell reacted so... ummm... energetically."

Prue looked at him, "Well? Don't leave us hanging here?"

"You're the Charmed Ones," he said, ignoring the confused looks he got from Willow and Buffy. "Your own Magic is extremely powerful, but here on the Hellmouth you get a substantial boost from the latent energy that permeates the area. You over energized the spell."

"Ok..." Prue said, "I can understand that."

Her sisters nodded, thinking about a trip to the future they had recently taken in which their maturing powers had been magnified beyond control of their, still young, minds."

"We don't have time for that now, though," Phoebe interrupted. "Lets follow the spell."

"Oh... ummm... yes, quite."

Riley was leaving Lowell House, heading for his first class, when his eyes widened at the grim faced group stalking straight toward him.

"Uh... Guys? What's going on?"

"Where's Xander!?" this came from the young brunette in the lead, Phoebe he belatedly remembered.

"What the hell would he be doing here?" Riley demanded, still a little angry over the events of the last few days.

"Riley," Buffy interposed herself between the two, "He went missing last night. We know that he's alive, and a spell led us here."

Riley shook his head, "No... no, he can't be. He doesn't have clearance to be... unless..." He trailed off slowly.

"Unless what?" Phoebe demanded.

"Walsh sent out the security goons last night. One of my guys noticed... they don't normally leave the base while they're on duty..."


Riley shook his head, "So I don't know. Look, I'll check out the base. That's the best I can do, if he's around I'll find him."

"Not without us, you don't."

Riley saw a group of them agree with the young woman, but he shook his head. "No way," he said firmly, "Not going to happen. None of you are cleared for entry to this base. If you try I'll have you all arrested."

Several of them looked like they were willing to take the chance, but Miss Parker stepped forward. "You have three hours, Riley. Then we come looking again. The same way Xander would come looking for us, armed and dangerous."

Riley swallowed. He had seen this group in action, and didn't want to be at cross purposes with them. He nodded, and turned back to Lowell House. The group watched him go in for a moment before turning away themselves.

"Is this a good idea?" Phoebe asked.

"It's the only one we have right now," Miss Parker's answer was curt.

The group mumbled it's, unhappy, agreement.

The lab-coated techs rolled the large medical bed down the hallway toward the holding cells, both men studiously ignoring the unconscious form strapped to the white bed. When they reached the proscribed cell they stopped and one turned to the other.

"We just going to leave him like this?"

The second one shrugged, "Walsh's orders."

"No, no... I mean with the dope running into him... kinda screws the baseline for the tests doesn't it?"

The second one considered the question, "Yeah... probably.... what the hell, take it out. It's not like he's gonna wake up for hours anyway... 24 to 48 hours if the field reports on the transition are accurate," he finished with a grin.


They slipped the long needle out of the prisoner's arm and detached the elevated IV from the bed. A moment later, under the guard's supervision, they rolled the bed into the cell and left the helpless figure alone with the cells sole other occupant.

Riley stepped off the elevator and made his way to the security console, checking around for anyone watching before he went in. He figured that the first place to check would be the security camera's for the holding cells and began cycling through the ones he knew should be empty.

He slipped through over half the pens when the door opening startled him into flicking the monitors off and turning around. When he saw who had come in he relaxed slightly. "Christ Forest, are you trying to give me a heart attack?"

Forest grinned, "Of course. I want your job, didn't you know?"

"Wiseass," Riley growled under his breath.

"You know it, boss," Forest kept grinning ear to ear, "Why you in here anyway?"

Riley had turned back to the monitors. "I'm just checking the status of the holding cells."

Forest stepped closer, dropping his grin, "Don't give me that, Boss. You don't get this jumpy for no reason."

Riley sighed, and kept flicking through the security monitors, "Harris went missing. Buffy and her friends seem to think he's in here somewhere."

"What?" Forest leaned in, his voice concerned, "What the hell would he be in here for?"

"I don't know," Riley said tersely, "But remember last night? Graham said that the goon squad went out in full gear."

"Holy shit," Forest whispered, "You don't seriously believe...?"

Riley didn't answer.

"No way," Forest objected, "Walsh wouldn't do anything *that* dumb would she?"

Riley just shook his head and pointed to the monitor. Forest looked closer and watched as a female HST approached one very unconscious, not to mention tied up, Alexander Harris.

"Oh shit," Forest said.

Riley just growled as he left the security room at a dead run.

Elanthielle grabbed the sliver of light the second she saw it. It wasn't much, but it was coming from Xander, and that was all she needed. When she slipped into his mind there was nothing there that she could see. None of the nightmares, desolate landscapes, or monsters that plagued him over the run of months that she had known the young man.

Nothing but the oddly fuzzy light that seemed to permeate everywhere. She muddled through for several precious instants of time, looking for anything she could recognize and use.


The two lab-coated technicians stopped as they were leaving and looked at each other in confusion.


The vampire behind the screen turned to look at them, a strange look of distaste twisting her human features. "I said 'Ewww'. I'm not touching him."

The two technicians looked at each other, still confused. "Why?"

"He's loser-boy Harris. I do have some standards you know."

"Is she serious?" the first asked the second.

He shrugged, "I don't know."

"Some of these things seem to be faulty conversions..."

"Maybe it's the original personality?"

"You call *that* a personality?"

Finally they turned back to her and lied through their teeth. "Turn him and we'll let you go free."

The vampire thought about it for a moment before nodding. "Deal. But bring me some good blood to wash the taste out, k?"


Xander floated in a strange place, with barely any sense of 'self' at all. He did, however hear the far off call, and the voiced sounded familiar.


It was closer now but still faint, as if being heard through a thick fog. He could tell it was coming, but not from where... or whom.

"Alexander! Thank God!" Elanthielle exclaimed as she spotted his drifting form, "I finally found you."

Xander blinked. Or he thought he did... It didn't seem to make a lot of difference in here. Pretty white light with my eyes open... Pretty white light with my eyes shut.... Pretty.

"Alexander! Listen to me!" she was shaking him now, as much as one can shake a non-corporeal dream essence a any rate.

"Leave me 'lone... nice here."

Elanthielle ignored him, instead using his proximity to lock herself back into his, badly muddled, mental process. "And I thought it was chaotic in here before," she muttered as she got to work.

"Who'r you!?" he demanded belligerently as she held his face tightly.

"Shhhh...." Elanthielle whispered, "Just a few more seconds and I'll have the process started."

"What prcesss?" he slurred his words drunkenly as his eyes widened and the sight of her hit him. "Yrrr pruty... nice eyes......"

Smiling, she shook her head and focused on her task. "Thank you, Xander. Now be quiet."

"K..." he smiled goofily and let his head droop to one side.

"That's it!" Phoebe said, "I'm going back!"

She was mildly surprised and grateful when not only her sisters but the Slayer rose from the table to join her. It was the other side that interjected their words 'of rational thought'. That phrase was driving her insane. She didn't *want* to be rational about this.

"We'll give Finn the time we promised him," Parker said firmly.

"Oh yeah?" Piper answered when Phoebe didn't, "And if he's in on it? He could be preparing defenses right now."

Buffy glared at the witch and opened her mouth to object, but then just sat down. Riley was really mad at Xander... could he?

"He didn't know," Jarod said confidently.

"How can you be sure of that?" Piper demanded in her sister's place.

"I know people," he said, smiling mysteriously.

"I agree," Giles said calmly. "Riley isn't the type. We'd do best to give him the time we promised."

Phoebe was breathing heavily, and her sisters laid their hands on her shoulder's to bring her back to the table. Buffy reluctantly returned as well, smiling sadly at Phoebe when their eyes locked for a few seconds.

"We'll get him back," Buffy told her with full confidence.

We have to.

Xander blearily opened his eyes, blinking continuously as he tried to clear them of the fog that seemed to surround his very soul. When they finally did he slowly began to make out a form leaning over his face. Slowly the blond hair came into focus, and then her face. He started in recognition and screamed, "Harmony! Get away from me you, bloodsucking bitch!"

Harmony jumped back in shock when he yelled, shocked by the sudden movement from the unconscious form. She glared at him from behind her shock. "How did you know I was a vampire?" she demanded.

Xander shook his head, trying desperately to clear it, and looked at her in confusion. "You're a vampire?"

The blond ex-cheerleader growled and vamped out as she advanced on her helpless prey.

<ELAN!> he screamed through the mental fog.

The two security guards were going over the confiscated equipment from the night before, whistling in appreciation as they took note of what their quarry had been carrying.

"Will ya take a look at this?" the first one demanded, holding up an ancient Japanese short sword. The expert craftsmanship was obvious even to a laymen. From the gently curving blade with the chiseled tip, to the ornate ivory handle, the blade was a work of a master's hands.

The second grinned, "Forget about that kung fu bullshit, look at these Colts. Ivory handled, nickel plated... probably go for ten grand easy."

"Yeah," the first man agreed enthusiastically. "Poor bastard had some taste in weapons. But I wonder what this thing is?"

The second glanced to the small metal rod that was held up. "Piece 'a junk. Some half assed defense club or something."

"Yeah" the first agreed, tossing the cylinder into a box at the far end of the table and sweeping the sword around again in admiration. "Man, what this would do to those freaks in the cell block."

The second laughed at the image, "It slices, it dices... huh?"

"You know it."

Neither of them noticed a silver shimmer come form the box where they had tossed the cylinder. And neither of them noticed that the box was emptier by one item.

Riley and Forest hit the detention block at a full run, ducking and dodging past security and scientists as they made their way to the cell the saw on the monitor. Uppermost in each of their minds was the fact that they would surely be too late.

When they finally reached the cell they both stopped in their tracks, involuntary laughter rising to their lips.

Harmony was inches from his throat when Elan shimmered into existence in Xander's hand. He crooked the ancient weapon against the straps and table and willed it to activate, wincing when his wrist was jerked by the snap. His lower arm came free and he swept his arm around as much as he could, knocking the blond vampire solidly on top of the head.

"Ouch!" Harmony cursed as she jumped back. "Where the hell did you get that!?"

"None of your business!" Xander mumbled as loudly as he could through his dry mouth. "Stay away from me you... you... cheerleader!"

Harmony snarled and came at him again, only to catch the flailing tip of Elan across her face. "Ow! Stop doing that!"

Xander ignored her, and kept flailing the ancient weapon around with his one, partially, free hand.

The two commandos stared at the incredibly strange scene before them, unable to completely fathom what was happening. A bound and, supposedly, helpless man was holding off a vampire with one partially free arm and a metal staff.

The vampire, for her part, seemed content to charge in time after time only to retreat from a minor hit and a string of curses from her intended 'victim'.

Riley finally shook himself clear of his laughter and tapped in the security code to the cell. As the glass slid open Harris looked at them with foggy eyes and cursed again.

"What? Didnja think I'd be able to hold off a vampsh with one arm behind my back? Gonna tie the other one up again?"

Forest held his blaster on the vampire while Riley started undoing the straps that held Harris down. "I had nothing to do with this, Harris. I don't like you. Doesn't mean I want you dead."

Harris looked at him suspiciously as he helped him out of the bed, "You know, bud... I do kinda like you... Jusht don trusht ya.... thash all..."

"Oh great," Riley muttered to Forest as they backed out of the cell and closed it again. "He's drunk or stoned or something..."

Harris popped his head up at that. "Yep." he said cheerfully. "Don worry tho... Purty lady fixing things... Her name's Elanth... Elanthi... hmmm... Elan! Yeah... She's helping me."

"Hallucinating too," Forest observed. "Wonder what they had him on?"

"I don't know," Riley said flatly, "But we have to get him out of here before his friends decide that time's up and storm this place."

"I heard that," Forest declared, "Let's get a move on."

Harris popped his head up again, his eyes a little clearer this time. "No! Blond girl... find her."

"Blond girl?" Riley asked, incredulous. "You want to bring the vampire with us?"

"No!" Xander shook his head wildly, side to side. "Other blonde... down here somewhere... help her too..."

Riley and Forest looked at each other, "You know what he's talking about?"

Riley shook his head. "No, but if someone else was brought in, they should be along here."

Shaking their heads, the two commandos half dragged their drugged burden between them as they worked their way through the detention block.

Walsh stared in disbelief as two of her best Agents aided a prisoner to escape.

"Riley..." she whispered, "What do you think your doing?"

Her anger grew as she watched them move, until finally she turned to the technicians behind her. "Sound the alarm! I want Riley and Forest detained and Harris back where he was!"

After her order, Walsh stormed out and left the technicians to look at each other with misgivings. No one noticed a quiet woman at the far terminal quietly lift a phone to her ear and dial a number from memory.

They were halfway down the hall when the alarm went off.

"Oh great," Riley muttered, "There go our careers."

"Fuck it," Forest said, "I didn't sign up to kill people without cause."

Riley didn't answer, just kept shaking his head as they continued their shuffling walk down the hall.

Xander was starting to straighten out with each step as Elan slowly purged his system of the drugs. As the alarms reached past the ringing in his ears, he realized the trouble they were in. <Can't you do this any faster, Elan?>

<Sure, but I'll probably fry some of your brain cells.>

Xander snickered, drawing strange looks from the two commandos dragging him down the hall. <No loss... Do it.>

<Alexander... I...>

"I said, do it, Elan," Xander ordered in a remarkably clear voice. "Hit me!"

"Who are you talking t..." Riley cut off as Xander's body suddenly went stiff, as if he were being electrocuted. Then, a few seconds after he drooped into their arms as limp as well cooked pasta. "Whoa! What the hell was that?"

"I don't know man," Forest said, "Maybe they did more to him then we thought?"

A low voice came from the last person the expected to be capable of speech. "Hooo boy. That packs a punch," Xander shook them off and slowly straightened himself up, standing on his own power.

"What the?"

"No time," Xander said. "We have to find Tara."

"Who's Tara?" Forest asked, looking at Riley who just shook his head in confusion.

Xander never answered them, instead he palmed his silver 'defense baton' and strode down the halls as if he just woke up from a nice afternoon nap.

Both commandos stared at the weapon in confusion.

"Wasn't that...?"


"Then how...?"

"I don't know," Riley shook his head and followed Xander up the hall.

Tara squirmed in her restraints, trying to get a hand free from the straightjacket she had been strapped into. She had woken up behind glass, like an animal on display, bound and gagged presumably so she couldn't cast a spell.

She had over heard what they planned to do to her when the last guard patrol came through and she shivered at the thought. <Dissection? My father warned me what was waiting for me out here. Maybe I should have listened.>

She was falling quickly into a depression when three more guards showed up outside her 'window'. She glared at them for a moment, until she recognized the lead one as the young man who saved her last night.

"Unlock it," Xander ordered.

Riley waved his hands in frustration, "I can't. My codes have been locked out."

Xander didn't bother to wait for another try. "Cover your face."

He turned back on to the bulletproof glass partition and held Elan up perpendicular to the surface. He willed the ancient weapon to extend at full force, shattering a glass shield that was designed to take any bullet up to a small cannon round without cracking.

He stepped lightly over the remains of the glass and security wiring, immediately moving to the bound young witch. "Have you free in a jiff, Tara."

"Mmmmgfff..." she mumbled under her gag.

"Let's get that clear first," he said, unstrapping the gag and pulling it out of her mouth.

"Thank you," she said in relief as she sucked in a deep breath.

"No prob," Xander undid the buckles quickly, hustling her out of the cell as he worked. "We've got to keep moving though... the guards will be on us soon."

"Right," Riley said, leading the group back down the hall.

The group was running along one corridor when they saw a group of guards rushing after them, weapons drawn and ready.

"Oookay," Xander said as they turned around. "Not that way."

"Duh," Forest said as they stepped up the pace, rushing back through the detention block.

The creatures in the cells began to bang on their electrified glass walls as they watched the 'prison break' in progress, alternately cheering the runners and hissing at the guards.

When they rushed around another corner, they came rapidly up on a dead end. Xander turned to Riley fast. "Phone," he demanded.


"You have a phone?"


"Give it to me! Now!"

Riley fished the small device out of his pocket and tossed it to Xander. Xander rapped in a series of numbers and waited as the thing slowly dialed through. "Come on... come on..."

Beside him his three companions shifted nervously as they heard the approaching sounds of footsteps.

"Yes! Buffy, I need to talk to Phoebe! NO! Not time for that, put her on NOW!" Xander yelled into the phone. He turned to Riley, exasperated. "For crying out loud... like I need her ripping me a new one for being kidnaped right now."

Riley commiserated silently, as far as he was concerned getting ripped into by Buffy at anytime was a really bad thing.

"Phoebe... I'm fine... no... could I... please list... PHOEBE! I need a lift really really bad here!" Xander finally yelled into the phone, then covered the mouth piece and mouthed the word 'women' to the two commandos. "Yes... yes... the spell was right on. Under Lowell House," he looked at Riley for confirmation and continued when the commando nodded. "That's right... ask him to hurry."

The guards approached the corner nervously, edging around it slowly. When they finally stepped around there was nothing but a dissipating shimmer of light to greet them.

When the glimmer of Leo's power let him go Xander finally let his anger to the surface. "Son of a bitch!"

The group stared at him in shock as his hand swept an end table clear, throwing books and a lamp to the ground in a great clatter.

"Xander?" Phoebe and Buffy said together, both voices nervous at the sudden display of rage from the normally calm person.

"Tara?" Willow stared at the blond who arrived with them, herself showing signs of the same anger that was overtaking Xander.

Xander held up a hand in a violent gesture, silencing the people in the room. He nodded once to Forest and Riley, a small amount of gratitude showing through his anger. He turned away from the group and stalked down into the basement.

"Where are you going?" Giles called after him.

"To get my stuff back!"

"What do you mean 'they're gone'?" Walsh demanded of the security team as they shifted nervously in their places.

"Gone, Ma'am. As in, vanished into thin air. There was no way out of that dead end... they just... vanished."

Walsh glared at them, but behind her eyes her mind was already working. <Teleported? Or turned invisible? It appears that the recorded tapes of the Agents were accurate after all.>

"Ma'am?" A lab-coated technician appeared behind her.

"What is it?"

"You have a call from Oversight Ma'am."

"Xander, think about this," Phoebe pleaded with him as he strapped on the armor.

"Oh, I'm thinking all right. I'm thinking about what I'm going to do to that bitch when I get my hands on her."

"That's not what she meant," Buffy said pointedly.

"Really?" Xander replied flippantly, "I didn't notice."

Xander turned away from the two girls and pulled down the torso armor, slipping into the big chest piece and clamping it tight around him. He could feel the suits internal systems start to come online as the computer core was reconnected to the rest.

"You can't do this, Xander," Phoebe tried another tack. "She's human... you can't kill her."

Xander grabbed two Zats from the armored cabinet and smiled viscously at nothing, "Who said anything about killing her? These things are suppose to sting like a real bitch. Fitting."

Phoebe glanced at Buffy, hoping that she had another attempt ready.

Buffy, being Buffy, cut to the chase. "I'm not going to let you do this, Xander."

Xander turned on her, half in anger, half in disgust. "You think you can stop me? Go ahead. But I warn you, if your try, one of us will be going to the hospital... or the morgue."

With those words he grabbed his helmet, turned on his heel and strode out of the basement, neither rushing nor taking his time. Behind him the two women stared at each other, feeling helpless.

"What did they do to him?" Phoebe asked of no one in particular.

Riley spoke quietly, his voice soft and regretful, "Walsh tried to have him turned. So she could see what a vampiric transformation was in a lab setting."

Buffy's gasp of shock served to tell Phoebe that there was perhaps more to the horror then even she could see. "What is it?"

"Xander's best friend was turned... He had to kill him. I... I think that's maybe the thing that Xander is scared of most."

"Oh my God."

The group looked at each other in horror, then chased their friend out of the basement armory.

"Th... they were going to dissect me," Tara said with just the barest hint of anger beneath her nervous voice.

"They were WHAT?" Willow's anger was clearly visible on her face and audible in her voice.

And anger that had no chance to fully form before she was interrupted by the sudden appearance of Xander in full hunting armor, with a grim look on his face.

"Xander? What?" Willow asked. But he just brushed past her, fitting his helmet as he did. The two girls stared as his retreating figure shimmered away into thin air, opening and slamming the door as it left the building.

Xander half turned as he walked up the driveway, keying the lock-down remote Jarod had given him. It wouldn't stop them for long, but all he needed was a bit of a head start. He tossed the remote into the Mustang as he hopped into the driver's seat and started the car.

Buffy rushed past the confused Willow and Tara, slamming into the door just as it locked on its own. Around them they heard and saw steel shutters slamming shut over the windows, doors clicking locked, and a soft red light begin to permeate the building.

A computerized voice announced from the walls. "This building has enter lock down. No entrance or egress is now possible."

Jarod looked up as the security system he had designed came online. "Oh boy."

"George," Walsh nodded with false respect as she looked up at the irate face starring back at her from the central screen.

"Maggie," his greeting was full of false cheer and insincere smiles. "I understand you took it upon yourself to abduct the Harris lad?"

Walsh paled slightly, "May I asked how you know about that?"

"You may not."

She rallied, "He was a potential HST. It falls under my jurisdiction."

George shook his head, still smiling that false smile. "And your tests revealed what?"

She hesitated, "That he's human."

"I see," he said calmly.

Walsh watched as George's entire attitude changed to one of barely controlled anger. "So you abducted a normal human, whose current profile is so high that the *President* of the United States owes him a favor? A person, who by my count, has helped save the lives of every man woman and child on this planet at least three times over? A person who is quite capable of pulling together sufficient resources to destroy or, worse, EXPOSE the Initiative? Maggie, do you have any idea how close I am to having you canceled here and now?"

Paling, but still holding her place, Margaret Walsh searched her mind for an answer. A way out. "No one was supposed to know..." Was the best she could come up with.

"Oh. I see, that is supposed to make it better?" George replied sarcastically. "When I told you that I was unwilling to interfere with this young man, you should have BLOODY WELL TAKEN THE GODDAMNED HINT!"

Riley looked around as Jarod accessed the computer. "What's going on? Open the damned doors."

"It's not that easy," Jarod said from where he was tapping at the keyboard. "The system is designed to close fast and be secure. It takes time and the right commands to shut it down."

"How long?"

"A couple more minutes."

Riley growled and pulled out his phone.

"What are you doing?" Buffy demanded.

"I have to warn my men, Buffy. I can't leave them hanging."

"Oh no you don't," she batted at the phone, but he stepped back and held on tight.

"Buffy..." Riley said with a warning tone, "I won't leave my people hanging like this. Harris has flipped. He could seriously hurt someone."

"I wonder why?" she demanded sarcastically as she lunged for his phone again.

"I'm not saying it's his fault, but my men had nothing to do with it, Buffy. I won't leave them in the line of fire without some clue as to what is going on."

Miss Parker stepped between them, her hand restraining the Slayer's next move. "He's right, Buffy. His men deserve some warning."

Riley shot her a grateful glance, but got only a glare back.

"But if they hurt him, then they'll deserve a lot more," she purred quietly.

Riley nodded, accepting the warning. He dialed the number.

Graham picked up the phone on the third ring, "Yo."

"Graham? Riley. You've got trouble headed your way."

"What is it, boss man?"

"Harris is headed for Lowell House and he's hunting Walsh."

"What?" Graham demanded, "Why?"

"She tried to feed him to a vamp."

There was silence for a long time.


"... Shit."

"Exactly. Get your blasters and try to take him alive and as unharmed as possible. He's flipped out but if we can calm him down we might be able to talk some sense into him."

"Fat chance, man." Graham said, "If someone did that to me I'd..." He cut off as the big double doors at the front of the house suddenly shattered and blew into the living room. "I've gotta go man... Company just arrived."

Graham dropped the phone to the ground, where he could still hear Riley's voice coming from the receiver, "Graham? Graham?"

A shimmering blur slipped through the dust and debris of the shattered doors, heading straight for Graham's position.

"Oh shit," he said as he dove for the concealed location of the closest blaster.

The dust and debris shorted out his shift field as he lunged across the room toward the moving commando. Xander blocked the commando halfway to the hidden compartment he remembered from the last time he had been in this place. "Sorry. Can't let you do that."

Graham looked up at him, a look of resigned defiance on his face. "And you know I can't let you go by me, Harris."

Xander nodded behind his helmet and held up Elan in a swift motion, allowing the commando's eyes to lock onto the ancient weapon. The he activated her, and Graham's eyes widened as the weapon snapped to its full seven foot length. Graham looked at the armored figure for a long moment, noting the odd tilt of Harris' head. He nodded and closed his eyes.

"Sorry 'bout this," Xander said as he whipped Elan down and knocked Graham cold. He kneeled down, checking the commando's pulse and, upon finding that it was strong he straightened up and headed for the back of the building.

Walsh turned away from the monitor when the first alarms went off. When she turned to the security monitors she turned pale.

"What is it, Maggie?" George asked from where he sat. In safety.

"Lowell House is under attack. An armored individual has penetrated security and is moving toward the access to the Initiative."

"That would be young Mr. Harris, I believe." George said, with a cheerful grin. "You seem to have annoyed him somewhat. That's odd... our profile on him doesn't suggest that he would react violently to a detainment."

Walsh paled even more.

"Ah..." George said lightly. "I see... You didn't stop at mere detainment..."

"Damn," Jarod said, "He took the car."

Phoebe turned to Leo, "Get me to the Frat house..."

Leo nodded and reached out a hand to her.

"Uh uh!" Buffy interjected, "Not without me!"

"And me," Riley put in.

Tara looked at them and hesitated, "C...can I come?"

Everyone looked at her in surprise, so much so that Willow stopped in mid-demand. She just looked at her feet and continued, "I... I mean he did save my life twice... I'd like to help..."

Buffy and Phoebe looked at each other and nodded. Leo orbed the four people out instantly, leaving Willow staring at the dissipating lights. "Hey! I wanted to come too..."

Xander stared at his reflection in the wall sized mirror for a long second, his mask reading the empty space behind it. He didn't bother with the tri-laser, just popped off a couple plasma bolts are close range to shatter the mirror and more solid doors behind it to pieces.

Xander glanced in and fired two more bolts into the floor of the elevator. He nodded in satisfaction at the hole the blast had created and tossed a coil of rope down, after attaching one end to a wall stud with a mountaineering piton he had borrowed from Jarod's supplies.

He clipped a descender to his belt and dropped through the hole, free falling for the first couple dozen feet.

"Security to the Elevator!" Walsh ordered over the intercom.

George smiled over the link and shook his head, "Maggie, if your field Agents couldn't handle him then I doubt your security forces will have much luck."

Her fist hovered over the button that would terminate the connection, but thought better of it. Hanging up on the guy who could have you killed with a word isn't the best idea.

The security officer groaned in pain as he felt himself get pulled off the ground. The last thing he remembered was the elevator doors blowing open like a whirlwind, knocking his entire team to the dirt.

Xander slammed the semi-conscious man into the wall, snapping out a question as he did. "You've got twenty seconds. Where's Walsh?"

The man groaned under the pressure Xander was putting on his chest and throat, but didn't respond. Xander gave him to the count of twenty then tossed him aside with a contemptuous motion that sent the man sprawling down the hall. He turned to the next one, the evil tone of his voice clear even through the distortion of the mask.

"You're next."

"Don't hit me!" the man cried out as he scrambled back.

"Where's Walsh? And, for that matter, where do you keep the stuff you steal from the demons you capture?"

The man watched in fear as the laser tracking unit on the figure's helmet burned to life, painting his chest with its triple bar signature. "Impound room is down the hall, fourth door on the right. Walsh is in control... Over there," he jerked his head toward a large door across the hall.

"Thanks," Xander drew a Zat and hit the coward with single pulse.

Leo, Phoebe, Buffy, Riley, and Tara materialized in the center of the disaster area that was Lowell House.

"Xander has some temper," Leo said as he looked at the destruction.

"Yeah..." Phoebe trailed off. "I hope he doesn't kill anyone."

"Xander wouldn't do that..." Buffy said slowly, "He couldn't."

"He hasn't told you about his summer yet has he?" Leo asked quietly.

"No. Why?"

"Ask him... If he'll tell you maybe you'll understand that he's not entirely the same person anymore. You don't survive something like that and not..." Leo stopped when Phoebe tossed him a warning glance.

"What!?" Buffy demanded, looking between the Whitelighter and the Witch.

"It's his secret," Phoebe said, shivering at the memories she had absorbed from his nightmares. "He has to decide if he wants to trust you with it... or burden you."

Buffy didn't have an answer to that.

Xander kicked in the door easily, surprised that the impound room would be so minimally fortified. He shrugged, probably don't expect anyone to be able to get in this close.

"Hi," he said, cheerfully to the startled men inside, "I'm here to pick up my stuff."

They grabbed for weapons, ironically *his* weapons.

The first one opened fire with Xander's own Colt's from halfway across the room, taking him by surprise. The soft tip slugs spattered across his armor, not standing a chance in hell of piercing. A moment later the magnesium ignited.

Xander grinned, the Yautja armor was proofed to higher temperatures then a mere magnesium flare could produce. He actually chuckled as the pure white light blinded the two guards long enough for him to dispatch them to dreamland with two quick swipes of Elan.

"You should always know your weapons, even if you don't know your enemy," he said as he picked up his gear. On an impulse he ripped open the lockers and glanced over the other items the Initiative had stolen form the demons they had grabbed.

Elan's attention was immediately drawn to several items. <Take those.>


<Later.> Xander could hear the smile in her tone.

"Cool." He replied coldly, tossing the items into the armor's backpack.

Xander left the impound room, and two unconscious guards, with his weapons and gear back where they belonged. He set his eyes on the massive sealed door to the control center.

"Knock knock," he whispered as he tagged the door and put a plasma bolt into it from twenty meters.

"Guards! Guards!" Walsh was screaming over the intercom, but no one was responding.

"They're all down!" a technician said.

"Well, get the Agents down here!"

"I already sent the request, but they'll never get here in time... the elevator is ruined Ma'am and the garage entrance is too far."

Walsh's cursing reply was lost in the sudden destruction of the door. The occupants of the room turned their fearful eyes on the shattered security door in shock, watching as and armored figure appeared out of the smoke and debris and slowly stepped over the remnants of the big metal door.

Xander stepped casually over the shattered steel and looked around the large control room. He ignored the frightened techs, they weren't his enemy at the moment. He stalked toward Walsh as she backed into a corner.

"Mr. Harris, I presume?"

His attention was diverted to a large computer screen on the far wall. A distinguished man in a quality suit was smiling at him from it. "And you are?" he asked, his voice still cold.

"You may call me... George."

While he was talking to the man Walsh tried to edge around a desk to where she'd have a clear shot at the door. Xander turned and casually popped a plasma bolt into a computer short distance in front of her. She jerked back under the shards of glass and plastic that flew around her.

"You move, you die," Xander said, his distorted voice sounding eerie and thoroughly evil.

Walsh nodded and collapsed into a chair.

"Impressive," the man, George, complimented him.

"What do you want?"

The man shrugged, "Nothing really. I'm simply pleased to meet you."

Xander's stance clearly indicated his disbelief.

George smiled, "Very well... If you would, perhaps you wouldn't mind telling me what Maggie did to annoy you so much? Mostly just curious you understand."

Xander equalized the pressure in his mask and slipped it off, "She tried to feed me to a vamp."

"Ah... yes. Your friend Jessie, yes... that clears up the confusion in your psyche profile quite nicely. Thank you."

"You know a lot."

"Ah, my boy... Now that is my business after all."

"You're a Spook."

"King Spook, if you please," George said with a smile that seemed to hint at secrets within secrets behind those words.

"Color me impressed."

"Yes, well... back to the business at hand?"

Xander glanced over at where Walsh was shivering on her chair. "She has to be punished."

"Oh, I agree... I agree. But I need her at her post for a while longer. I don't suppose you'd accept some form of reprimand?" the voice was joking, obviously not expecting Xander to accept that.

Xander did as expected, and slowly shook his head. "Here's the deal. Riley and Forest reinstated without reprimand. They prevented the execution of illegal orders, they deserve better then whatever she had planned."

George nodded in agreement.

"Get someone down here to keep her in check. She grabs anymore civilians or non-hostiles and I'll rip this place apart at the foundation."

"I'll have a military officer sent to take charge of the capture teams. Maggie will remain in charge of research, however."


"Good," George smiled, "And her punishment?"

Walsh watched in horror as Xander presented a strange weapon to the screen. George smiled and nodded his agreement. Xander fired the weapon without turning his head, the electrical burst searing across her body ripping a scream from her as the pain tore through her nerves and finally, mercifully, shut her down.

George nodded again, "A Zat'Nikatel... I've been told that it is the most excruciating pain that a human can endure..."

Xander turned away and walked out of the room. The computer barely picked up his response as he left. "I hope so."

Leo and his group orbed into the Initiative complex only to find much the same scene as they had witnessed above.  Destruction and sprawled soldiers were spread across the massive underground complex like cards across a table.

"My god," Leo said under his breath.

"Are they...?" Buffy trailed off.

"No," Leo said, "He left them alive, I can feel it from here."

"Thank you..." Phoebe whispered to the air.

They were still looking around when the Armored form of Xander Harris strode through a wrecked door and spotted them.  "I'm done here," he said simply.

"Riley looked through the door to the control room, "You didn't?"

"She'll live," Xander said coldly. "Don't worry about her."

Riley actually breathed a sigh of relief, though he wasn't sure why exactly he was relieved.  Whether it was because Walsh was alive or that Harris hadn't become a murderer was not a question he wanted to answer at the moment.

"Let's go," Xander's voice was still flat and walked up to the group, looking at Phoebe uncomfortably.

She made the decision for him, stepping in close and wrapping an arm around his armored figure. "Leo?"

"Right." Leo said, "You coming?"

Riley looked up at the question, uncertain.

"You still have your job, Riley," Xander said. "I was talking with Walsh's superior.  He wasn't pleased with her actions either... Nice guy, for an oily lying privacy invading lawyer type."

Riley looked at him dumbly for a moment, "I'm not going to be court-martialed?"

"Nope," Xander said, a fragment of his old humor reflected in his eyes and voice. "Not unless they want a return visit."

"Then I guess I'd better stick around... clean up this mess."

"Your call," Xander shrugged. "Me? I'm going to throw a party. Tonight. Be there."

Riley snorted under his breath, "I will," he said and walked off, shaking his head.

"Can we go now?"

"Let's go." Xander answered the Whitelighter, and the group vanished into the air.


"Not now, ok Will?" Xander said, cricking his neck as he headed down to the basement, unbuckling his armor as he did.  Phoebe looked back at the two girls apologetically and followed him down the stairs.

Willow stared after him, her mouth alternately opening and closing.  She started to rush after him.

"Willow," Buffy stopped her with an outstretched arm. "Don't."

"Why?" Willow asked, "I have a right to know what happened!"

"Willow..." Buffy said slowly, "The Initiative people had him captured... Walsh tried to have him turned."

"Turned?" Her hand flew to her mouth as Buffy nodded sadly, "Jessie."

"Excuse me?" an older man, Sidney, Buffy remembered asked. "May I inquire, who is Jessie?"

"A friend of mine and Xander's..." Willow mumbled as she collapsed into a large sofa chair. "He was turned into a vampire... Xander had to kill him."

Sidney was silent for a moment, "I see.  And this, Walsh person... tried to turn Alexander into a Vampire as well?"

The two girls nodded, caught up in their own thoughts. Sidney was quiet too, as he mulled over the facts he had just heard.

"Are you ok?"

Xander continued packing away the Yautja armor, shaking slightly as his nerves caught up with him.  The anger and adrenaline surging through his body. "No," he answered coldly.

He felt her move in close to him, wrapping her arms around him, and he softened.

"But I will be," he promised softly, "I will be."

That Night

Xander's party was in full swing, and for the fourth time in as many days the place was literally rocking with music, laughing, and binge eating (or drinking in a couple cases).  This time the entire Initiative complement of 'Agents' had joined in and the first floor was crammed full.

Xander chuckled as he noted with some irony that if they hadn't had the soundproofing installed throughout the building the town would probably be tossing *them* out for the same reasons the previous tenants had gotten the boot.  For his part, Xander was a little quieter then usual, but not overly so.  A fact that drew concerned stares from several people in the crowd, as they wondered if he was over his ordeal or if the worst was yet to come.

Had they asked him he could have told them that neither was the case.  He had a long way to go before he could be 'over' anything.  But sometimes, despite what they say on TV, a little revenge shaped justice was just what the doctor ordered.  As long as you don't let it run your life then getting even can be a very healthy way to manage your emotions.

He noticed the Agents were shying away from him with the exception of Riley, Forest, and surprisingly, Graham.  Of those, Riley was still keeping his distance, probably out of residual anger over the Battle for Cheyenne Mountain.

Forest and Graham, however, were actually integrating fairly well into the group of friends Xander had invited.  They and Crow seemed to be almost finished with a drinking contest.

"Pussies," Crow slurred as he finally had the satisfaction of watching the two commandos slide under the table.

"Meow," came a drunken voice from the ground.  Crow burst out laughing, even though he couldn't tell who had said it.

"Youse guys are all right."

"Some party."

Xander turned to smile as Buffy stepped up behind him. "Yeah. Jack really knows how to party huh?"

Buffy looked between where Jack Crow was laughing his ass off at the two commandos, and where Jack O'Neill was sitting between Daniel Jackson and Giles, looking desperately for any possibly escape.  She grinned, "For once I hope you mean the Jerk, cause the other one looks like he wants to die right about now."

Xander chuckled, looking at where Carter had joined the conversation.  O'Neill looked like he'd be happy to sink through the floor into the ground at that point.  Xander didn't want to think what Giles, Daniel, and Carter had managed to find in common.  If Jarod went over there he figured it would be time to abandon the building... cause there was no way he was staying with a hundred meters of those four.  They'd be able to suck all the fun out of a room without half trying.

"It's been quite a week." Buffy ventured.


"I hear you had an interesting summer," she tried again.


This time Buffy stayed silent, she didn't really know what else to say.

Finally it was Xander who spoke. "I'm not really ready to talk about it Buff."

"You told Leo and Phoebe..."

"Leo and Phoebe have their own ways of finding things out," Xander corrected. "And I think Phoebe is sorry she did... She hasn't been sleeping well since she did."

"Oh... umm... you two are...?"

"Serious?" he asked.


"Yeah... I guess we are.  We fit, you know?  She and I see things the same way."

"How is that?"

Xander considered his answer for a long time. "We look at the world and see the darkness... but we also see the light, you know?  Neither of us can leave the light to face the dark alone... it's not our way."

Buffy looked a little confused, maybe concerned. "But... didn't you guys say that she was a 'Charmed One' some kind of destined champion?  She can't ignore the darkness... It's her destiny."

Xander shook his head, a little annoyed. "You just don't get it.  She doesn't fight because of her destiny, Buff.  She enjoys what she gets out of helping others, She's embraced who she is and what she wants to be...  That's a miracle of a sort...  To have, who you are, BE, who you want to be..."

"I..." Buffy trailed off.  She understood what he was saying but she didn't really feel it.

"I know." He said simply, "You and Piper have a lot in common you know?  You dream of homes in the suburbs with white picket fences and two cars in the garage.  You know something though, Buff?"

Buffy didn't say anything, just looked at him curiously.

"Those people who have the two point five kids and the homes with the white picket fences? They dream about saving the world, and making a difference.  They dream about being you."

Xander turned and left, leaving Buffy to stare after his retreating back in shock.

"So..." Tara said, sitting across from the red headed Wiccan.

"So..." Willow echoed, not really knowing what to say.  Finally she looked up, "I guess I should explain a bit more about me and m... my friends huh?"

Tara smiled slightly, "It might be nice..."

And so Willow talked, telling old stories and new ones.  Occasionally skimming over bad times, and glossing the good ones.  Generally just telling her stories in the grand tradition of the bards, and the occasional Hollywood writer.

And Tara listed, her eyes widening and occasional gasps of surprise and shock punctuating Willow's telling.  She began to have an understanding of the events that had forged the young woman sitting before her, and as she listed she grew sadder and sadder as each moment passed.

<I wish I had friends like this,> Tara thought as her mind trailed back to her parents, and her family in general.

Xander sat on the stairs and watched quietly as the party wound down.  His and Jarod's guests had mostly retired for the evening, heading to their rooms to sleep or just to get away from the crowds.  Jarod seemed to be in his element, reveling in every new phrase or comment, absorbing everything that happened around him as he watched the party slow down.

As Giles was making his excuses to Daniel and Carter, Xander intercepted him.  "Hey, G-man?"

Giles sighed, "Yes, Xander?"

"I was wondering... You're pretty good with a Quarter Staff right?"

"I'm passing fair.  Why?" Giles asked him curiously.

"I'm going to need some training," Xander said simply, reminding Giles of the weapon he had seen Xander wielding.

"Ah... yes." Giles said, thinking furiously. "I'm sure that can be arranged."

"Thanks... Giles." Xander grinned. <Have to let him have his small victories every now and then.>

Giles smirked at him, obviously reading the boy's mind. "You are most welcome... Alexander."

Xander grimaced comically as the Englishman tossed on his coat and left the building, his distinctive chuckle echoing behind him until the door closed and cut it off.

Xander shook his head and turned away.

<It's about time,> Elan smirked into his mind.

"Oh shut up," Xander said tiredly as he climbed the stairs to his room.

"I hope you're not talking to me," came a mildly amused voice from behind him.

Xander smiled and turned back, extending his hand to Phoebe. "No, never.  Just trying to silence the voices in my head."

"Oh? Anyone in particular?" she cocked her head to the side, grinning.

Xander grinned back, "Other then the annoying one?"


"Other then that."

"Well... the voice of restraint is getting to be annoying..."

"Why's that?"

"Cause right now, holding your hand... restraint is the last voice I want to listen to."

Phoebe leaned in close and whispered into his ear, "Shut up."

He grinned and hooked his arm around her and the two of them disappeared up the stairs.

It was four am and the town was quiet, even the demons it seemed had called it a night.  In a private Hospital room only the steady beep of a monitoring machine indicated the slightest presence of life.

A beeping that, for a moment grew faster as the signals began to approach those of a waking person.  Then they slowly tapered back off, dropping back to the slow steady rate of a comatose victim.

No one heard the change, and no one would bother to check the printout for a long long time.  But the machines continued their jobs, paid, as they were, by a private fund in the name of the late Mayor Wilkins.


Short, I know... Sorry.  I should have added this to the end of Part 25... My Bad.

I know, I know... Didn't give you all the scenes I promised last time..  I'm sorry, but sometimes the characters just don't cooperate, Y'know? :)
Relax.  The scenes WILL be used.  I'm not abandoning anything.
They'll just pop up in the next story... or the one after that.  Sorry for any disappointment. :)


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