Interludes One

The Long Road Ahead

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

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: This short story follows a few days after the events in Home Again. No Big Bad will be rearing his head, this is a character piece... or characters as the case may be.

Warning: I'm a B/Xer and this will be a B/X Series, but NOT FOR A WHILE. The Characters do as they will in this bit, I just toss stuff at them and see how they react. I swear. No really... I'm serious. For the moment X/P just wants to happen... I didn't plan it, but I'm enjoying it myself and hope you are too. At any rate you can expect some serious B/X friendship and confrontations to come as I try to iron out the differences between these two friends. Hang on, its going to get a little bumpy in the months ahead.
Crossovers ahead. (Yes Plural.)

Rating: PG-13 to PG-16; for mild 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
J&X's Residence

The racket of the two wooden staff's rapping against each other filled the top floor dojo. The motions were lighting fast as both fighters forced their staffs onto the other's, trying to pierce the defenses with the stout wooden weapons. It was an obviously one sided fight however, for all the speed the two fighters used.

Xander's shirt was clinging to him as he evaded the attack, his sweat had long since soaked it through. Giles didn't let up though, he moved closer and rapped Xander smartly across the knuckles with his own staff.

"Ow!" Xander cursed as he hopped back, rubbing his knuckles through the padded gloves.

"Watch your guard, Xander." Giles admonished him, "You drop it far too easily."

"I know, I know." Xander said, accepting the criticism.

"I really wonder how you've managed to stay alive using a Staff..."

"Two words." Xander said simply. "Batter's up."

Giles stepped back and pinched his nose, as if in great pain. "Please tell me you're joking?"


"Lord." Giles looked up to the ceiling in supplication, "You truly do watch over fools and lunatics."


Giles smirked at the outraged cry from the boy, but his expression became perplexed as he watched the boy tilt his head to the side, as if listening to someone else. Of a sudden Xander's eyes widened again and a new expression of outrage crossed his face. Giles could read his lips as the boy silently mouth one word. Hey.

Giles frowned as Xander took up a combat stance again, then sighed and followed suit. Moments later the sound of wooden impacts again echoed through the large Dojo.

After the session, Giles hurried off to an appointment he had made and Xander stripped down. He was breathing pretty heavily from the workout Giles had put him through, and frankly he was pretty impressed with Giles. He'd actually started to figure that he was in decent shape considering the events of the past months, but Giles had managed to keep up with him and continually beat his best attempts to breech the older man's defenses.

He reached out casually and called Elanthielle to him as he prepared to move on to the second stage of his morning routine. Xander kneeled down on the gym mat in the dojo. He crossed his legs and carefully laid Elanthielle, the ancient battle staff, on the mat in front of him. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, taking in the oxygen deeply and expelling carbon dioxide. He felt his pulse slow down from his workout, listened to it as it dropped steadily to the point where an observer would have to pay close attention to be certain he was still alive.

He likewise slowed his breathing as he let his mind wander, his thoughts clearing as his body slowly slipped into a sleep state.

<Very good, Alexander.> Elan's voice came to him, soothing and calming. <This is perhaps the best you've done yet. Now we shall try something new.>

He didn't answer in words, allowing instead his acceptance to wash over her in an emotional wave. Though his face didn't change, he smiled inwardly when he heard her pleased laugh echo in response.

<Excellent indeed, Alexander. Now try this,> Elan began, <focus on your eyes. Imagine an energy building within them, charging them. It starts as a tickle just behind your eyelids, and slowly grows into a strong vibration almost like an electric charge but not painful.>

He could feel it happen as her words rang across his mental plane. The tickle that begged to be rubbed soon gave way to a powerful vibration that seemed to run through his entire body. Then, suddenly, he could feel it reach crescendo.

Xander's eyes snapped open, and glowed a bright silver white that cast reflections and shadows across the room.


Xander stared at the Dojo around him with, literally, new eyes. The entire place seemed clearer and more... perfect. Like seeing a composite of a thousand pictures of the same room, but only taking the clearest point in each picture. Where before the light was dim, everything was now clear.

In the back of his head he could hear Elanthielle giggling with pleasure at the force of his emotional response. He was awash in it himself, the sheer wonder of it all echoing through his mind and reaching crescendo. Then it was gone. His concentration shattered, the glow in his eyes dimmed and the room returned to normal.

"Wow," was all he could think to say as he slumped in place, mentally exhausted.

<Very well done, Alexander. But you do need to work on your focus.>

"What was that?"

<That was a small portion of what your mind is capable of, Alexander. In essence you did the same thing your armor's mask does when you use the light amplification mode. You took many images over a period of less then a fraction of a second and overlayed them on top of one another, using each successive image to enhance the whole.>

"I did?" Xander shook his head, "No... it was you... it had to be."

Her sparkling laughter echoed through his mind again. <Hardly. I'm merely... the catalyst... I'm the teacher, and you the student. Nothing I can show you is beyond the capabilities of any human. Between the supernatural events in your life, and my help, you merely have a head start.>

"Wow." Xander said again, stunned.

<Indeed.> He could feel her bubbling laughter welling below the surface of his mind, adding a bounce to his step as he got up and headed for the shower.

Xander slipped down the stairs, taking them three and four at a time, a little anxious for breakfast. When he got there, Jarod and Miss Parker were already sitting down to their meal. Xander smiled his early morning greetings, and wise mildly surprised when Miss Parker smiled back.

"Sleep well?" He asked, wincing as he started preparing his regular breakfast. <Gruel. Damn, I can't believe I've been reduced to this.>

"Very well, thanks." Jarod answered as he shoveled another spoonful of Cap'n Crunch into his mouth.

"Perfectly." Parker purred, a slight look of disdain entering her eyes as she watched Jarod shovel the sugary cereal into his mouth.

"Cool." Xander dropped into his seat, looking enviously at the bowl of cereal in front of Jarod. "Man, I miss that stuff."

"It's very good." Jarod grinned through his spoon.

"I remember." Xander said mournfully as he began quietly eating his porridge.

Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg entered the building just after their last class of the day, chatting and laughing and generally relieved that they didn't have any afternoon classes.

"Hey Jarod!" Willow called into the building as they entered.

"Hello, Willow." The tall man smiled, looking up from a newspaper article he was clipping.

"Xander around?" Buffy asked as she eyed the article over his shoulder. <Woman killed under mysterious circumstances, death ruled accidental by local Sherif's Department. Eww... Morbid much?>

"Yes. He's in the basement with Miss Parker."

Buffy looked at Jarod strangely, "Why?"

Jarod smiled, "Go on down and see for yourself."

The two girls nodded and headed for the basement.

"Told ya." Xander cocked his head and smirked at the older woman.

"Best two out of three." Miss Parker snarled.

Xander grinned at her, "Your funeral."

He racked the slide on the .45 in his hand, putting another round in the breech. In reality he had to admit that he was being overly cocky considering the measly three point lead he had on the woman. He slipped a pair of ear guards on and shifted to a combat stance as he focused down the length of the shooting range, waiting for the targets to turn.

The sound of gunfire assaulted the girls ears as they walked down the steps and they shared a concerned look as they slowly continued. When they got to the bottom, they could see Xander and Miss Parker standing side by side as they fired along the length of the basement, at a pair of silhouette targets at the far end.

"Xander?" Willow asked, slightly taken aback by the look of pure focus on her oldest friend's face.

Both shooters ignored her, if they could even hear her through the blasts of gunfire and the ear guards they both wore. Finally they emptied their clips and thumbed the return on the targets, both grinning in a cross between enjoyment and competition. They watched the target roll in, Xander with a nervous smile and Miss Parker with an absolutely feral one.

"Ha." Miss Parker grinned. "Gotcha."

"I'm still ahead by points," Xander defended himself.

"One point." Miss Parker carefully enunciated the lack of a plural component to the word.

Xander laughed freely, "That's all it takes."

"Third match, you little brat."

"Uh... Xander?" Willow tried again.

Both shooters turned to face the girls, a total lack of surprise on either face.

"Hey Wills," Xander said genially, "What's up?"

"We... ummm... wanted to know if you'd like to go out to the Bronze tonight?"

Xander shrugged, "Sure. I'm flying Solo though, Phoebe is back in San Fran for a while."

"No problem." Buffy said, cheerfully. "Not a date night... just some friends time, then?"

"Sounds good." He said, "What time?"


"Eightish it is." Xander grinned, slipping his ear guards back on. "But first I have a bet to settle."

"You bet your ass you do, G.I Joe." Parker growled as she slipped her own ear guards into place.

"Yo Joe!" Xander mock yelled as he slapped the new clip into place and racked a shell into the breech.

"Let's do this." Parker snarled, a slight grin actually tugging at her lips.

Willow and Buffy watched as the two shooters shifted their stances and again forgot that anyone else was in the room.

"So who won?" Jarod asked as the two shooters and the two girls came back up the stairs.

"Xander," Parker said, smiling sweetly, "Why don't you go get me a drink? Something not too sweet, if you don't mind."

Xander grimaced but dutifully headed for the kitchen.

"I see." Jarod said smiling.

"Was there ever any doubt?" Parker asked, her look warning Jarod that he should be careful.

"Of course not." Jarod grinned as he listened to Xander's mumbling from the kitchen.

"One lousy point!" Xander yelled.

"And *that* is all it takes." Miss Parker returned softly, but somehow her voice managed to carry.

"Let me be sure I understand this," Jarod began as Xander entered the room carrying Miss Parker's drink. "You bet her... what? A session of servitude?"

Xander shrugged, "Figured it would be good for a laugh."

"It is." Buffy grinned from behind him.

Jarod shook his head, "Trust me, Xander. You came out better then you think."


"If you had won the match do you think she'd be getting you a drink right now? Or practicing with you as the target?"

Xander considered, swallowing. "You probably have a point."

"Rat boy knows me." Miss Parker smiled as she accepted the drink from Xander.

That Night, The Bronze

Xander walked in, a little slower then he'd been walking earlier, and winced under the grins of the girls.

"Have a nice day?" Buffy asked him, grinning wide.

"Don't." Xander said as he dropped into the chair beside them.

"Was the bad lady mean to you?" Willow asked him playfully.

Xander groaned and waved over a waitress. "Willow... do not go there. This is Bronze time, ok?"

Willow and Buffy snickered into their hands as Xander ordered a diet soft drink. Xander groaned into his hands. It was going to be a long night. It had already been a long day.

"Can we please forget about that for a while?" Xander begged.

"Ok." Willow said easily, "How about you tell me what classes you're going to take next semester... I was thinking that you could get caught up on your math and maybe get one of the Calc courses..."

Xander groaned as Willow droned on. He was smiling slightly, couldn't really help loving Will for her priorities, but she sometimes bored him into the ground.

Sunnydale Hospital

"Where is she!?"

Two nurses and a Doctor stared at the empty bed that had held, until recently, the comatose body of one of their more mysterious patients.

"Get security looking through the building, and someone get me her chart and contact information." The Doctor ordered wearily. He'd had a pretty bad day and losing a patient wasn't something he felt like explaining to the board.

"Right away, Doctor."

Two floors down the brunette slayer known as Faith was slipping into some stolen clothing and slipping out a second floor window. Seconds later she had vanished into the night.

The Bronze

"So... Xander... How are you and Phoebe getting along?" Buffy asked.

Xander grinned, <Thank you, Buff, I don't think I could take another minute of Will planning my future.> "Relationship conversation is it? You ready to spill about Riley?" He asked jokingly.

"Well... He's really..."

"Stop!" Xander said quickly. "I do NOT want to know. That was a rhetorical question."

"Oh." Buffy grinned at him. "So... about Phoebe? What's it like dating one of the most powerful witches on the planet?"

"Scary." Xander grinned, "But at least she doesn't mess up spells as often as Willow."

"Hey!" Willow yelled, "Right here you know..."

The other two laughed at her expression of mock hurt and outrage until Willow joined in. The three friends spent the rest of the evening talking and joking about anything they could think of, and for a while they were in their golden day's again. The Scoobies forever.

Abandoned Building, bad side of town.

Faith stared at the screen, trying to absorb what she had just heard. <The Mayor lost? He's dead?>

Despite herself she felt a sheen of tears well up in her eyes, and a lump form in her throat. The Mayor was a bit of a prude true, and evil and all that... but he had cared about her. <And now he's dead. Like the others.>

Her hand sort of limply held the device the Mayor had left her. Revenge. She took a deep breath and set her face. Revenge. She nodded slowly. Revenge. Not for herself, though she had enough reasons, God knew, but for the Mayor. She owed him something, maybe that was it. Revenge.

"I'll catch you guys later!" Xander waved as he Buffy and Willow headed back up to their dorm. He was smiling as he drove away, it had been too long since they had a scoobs night out. It took him only a couple minutes to reach home and he parked quickly and headed down to the basement.

He had business with Elan tonight.

In the basement he opened up one of the armored weapon cabinets and pulled out one of the items he had... appropriated from the Initiative a little over a week earlier. Elan had been putting him off when he asked about them, insisting that he wasn't ready. Tonight, she said, he was ready.

"Alright, Elan." Xander said as he took the small item and headed over to a work table. "Spill."

<Place your hand on it, and focus like we've been practicing in your sessions.>

Xander held the small palm-sized item up and laid his hand over it, trying to clear his mind as he did. It took three minutes for him to calm himself sufficiently to reach the necessary point of focus. When he did his eyes shot open wide and he stared at the small item.

Above it glowed a circle of reddish light, at its center floated a lone silver dot of light. Around that were a few specs of, barely visible light, extending outward from the center. Xander whistled. The light was very pretty, and the display was impressive.

"What is it?" He whispered reverently.

<A San'Quai.> Elanthielle responded. <It is a... detector of magical energy.>

"What?" Xander looked intently at the display, this time trying to fathom what the lights meant.

<Each light you see are indications of magical power, either latent or in use. The more powerful or active the brighter the light.>

Xander nodded, suddenly understanding. "And the silver dot?"

<Is me.> Elan said, somewhat proudly.

Pride Xander could understand. The Silver dot was the only light that was plainly visible, a veritable spotlight compared to the other specs. "It's pretty tough to read the other lights."

<That is due to interference.> Elan said simply.


<The red globe of light is interference from the Hellmouth.>

"Damn." He said, looking at the device with new understanding.


Buffy was heading for her class, in a fairly good mood. She'd had fun at the Bronze, and felt that her friendship with Xander was finally beginning to rebuild itself after the long time out the seemed to have taken after his summer trip. She shook her head, thinking about what must have happened over the summer bothered her... as much because she didn't KNOW, as because she knew that it was bad.

"Hey, Killer."

Buffy spun around, coming face to face with someone she hadn't really expected to see again.

"Faith." He voice was flat, but the tone of threat still managed to sound clearly through. Buffy dropped her books and shifted to a fighting stance.

"Blondy." Faith smirked, shifting her own stance as she waited for her opponent to move first. She knew Buffy. She knew what to expect.

"Let me guess," Buffy smirked herself, "Hospital kick you out? Stink up the room maybe?"

<Keep talking twinkie.> Faith cricked her neck, feeling the tendons crack under the unaccustomed pressure. <So predictable.>

"What? No banter?" Buffy brought her fists up, still loose but ready.

"Naw." Faith smiled, "I'm not feeling so good so I thought I'd just kick your ass."

That did it, Buffy growled and swung for the head. Faith stepped back and intercepted the punch easily, grinning wide as Buffy's hand slapped into the device she had been holding. Buffy's eyes grew wide as she felt something change. Something fundamental. Everything went white for an instant, then black. A wave of nausea passed over her then she straightened up again, feeling weaker then before. Here vision cleared and her eyes widened as she stared into a mirror.

"But I'm five by five now." She saw herself say. "Good night."

She saw the fist coming but her body wouldn't react fast enough, and everything went dark again.

The phone's ringing echoed through the apartment. One ring. Giles stumbled out of his room. Two rings. He thumps into the wall as he staggers slightly, blinking his eyes in an attempt to wake up faster. Three rings. He grabs the receiver and blearily greets the caller.

He listens for a few seconds, a look of shock ranging across his face.

The receiver drops to the ground as his hand goes nerveless with shock.

"Faith." He whispers to no one.

In another place the same phone call was made, but an entirely different reaction was forthcoming.

"Send a Team to Sunnydale."

Faith left Buffy tied up in the old warehouse and headed out to enjoy her new body. For about a quarter of a second she actually looked back toward the campus before snorting. School wasn't her style, she headed downtown. It was still early but she figured that she could easily scare up some fun.

She was walking along main street when a red Mustang Convertible pulled along side her amd matched her pace, a strange man grinning at her.

<Perv.> She thought to herself and turned to give him a piece of her mind.

"Hello, Buffy." The man grinned, forcing her to check the tirade she was about to unleash. "I thought you had a class today?"

<Who is this guy?> Faith wondered as she tried to formulate an answer. <Blondy's new boytoy? Nah... He's not allergic to sunlight for one thing... Dresses the part though.>

"Nope." She said, trying to imitate Buffy's cheerfulness. "Have the morning off."

"Ah." The man said, "You need a lift somewhere?"

"No, I'm good."

"Ok. If you see Xander today could you let him know I'm going out of town for a while? One of my 'projects'." The man said, somewhat apologetically. "I'd have told him myself but he was up and gone for his morning run at dawn."

Faith managed to nod and say that she would indeed let Xander know about his 'project'. <What the hell does *that* mean?> She thought as the car sped up and drove off. <And since when does Xander get up and go *running*?>

She was looking at a black leather jacket when she felt someone stop close behind her. Faith spun on her heel, her fists coming up.

"Whoa! Whoa! Learn to relax Slayer! Fuck, I was just stopping to say hello."

Faith shook her head and looked at the guy. He looked older then his posture and reactions seemed to show. She guessed that he was maybe forty but looked fifty or more easily. <He's had a rough life,> she guessed. <Who the hell is this?>

"Sorry," She ground out, dropping down from her alert stance.

"Yeah, yeah. My bad, Slayer." The guy backed of a bit anyway, "I'll remember not to sneak up on you... Like I need another fucking concussion. Hey, tell Xander that I'm setting up the hunting party I told him about, guys'll be in town by tonight. Damned if I can find that kid anywhere when I need to."

Faith watched in confusion as the white haired man walked away, still shaking his head and cursing under his breath. Her slayer's hearing picked up some mumbling about how 'dress like one and then get ticked when someone calls her on it'. Faith shook her head in irritation and marked the store mentally for a return visit... after hours.

<Why the fuck is everyone leaving messages for *Xander*?> She thought disdainfully as she moved on.

The black van crossed into Sunnydale limits less then an hour after they got the call. They kept a team on Standby in L.A. in case of emergencies of this nature, and for the occasional hit and grab run on the local demon community.

In the back of the large black van the team was going over their gear one last time. Walther P99 9mm's, Silenced G3 SBS submachine guns, flash bang grenades, and various tranq guns were being checked and packed away into holsters and duffle bags.

"Remember the order's." The Team Leader turned to his group. "Minimal interaction with Giles' group. The target is to be taken out quickly, quietly, and with as low a profile as possible."

The team nodded in response, remaining focused on their weapons and gear.


Willow turned around to see a, panting, Giles running up to her. "What's up, Giles?"

"Where is Buffy?"

"I don't know... she hasn't been around today..." Willow looked mildly concerned, "Why?"

"Faith woke up." He replied curtly, "She left her room last night, no one has seen her since."

"Faith?" Willow paled, her memories of the dark Slayer were far from fuzzy.

"Precisely," Giles answered, "I must find Buffy and warn her."

"I don't know where she is, Giles."

"Very well." Giles said as he turned to leave, "If you see her, please ask her to contact me at once."

"I will." Willow watched, color slowly returning to her face as the British man walked away.

"Faith..." Willow whispered, fear in her voice, then turned and ran for her room.


Faith turned around, but didn't stop walking, at the familiar voice, forcing a smile to her face as she did. "Xander, hi."

Xander stopped a little short at the curt greeting, but managed to keep his own smile plastered across his face. "Hey, I though you had a class this morning?"

"I'm playing hooky." She grinned at him, her every expression challenging him to question her.

Xander wasn't biting. "Cool." He grinned and matched his pace to hers.

"You're not going to lecture me on responsibility?" She eyed him curiously.

Xander looked at her as if she were nuts. "This is *me* we're talking about, Buff. Mr. Irresponsible. Hell, I'm supposed to attend a party with Crow sometime this week... and you know what he's like."

<Crow?> Faith shook it off and just nodded. "I guess I misjudged you."

Xander laughed, adjusting his sunglasses as they headed a little further along main street. She looked at him a little closer, suddenly noticing some off differences in him. He was wearing a black leather jacket for one, black jeans for another. In fact his entire wardrobe seemed to consist of dark colors, except for the white shirt she could glimpse when his jacket swung open.

"Nice clothes." She said simply.

Xander reddened slightly, "Yeah... well, like I said before, the colorful stuff doesn't fit my mood since this summer... and Phoebe likes this stuff."

"Phoebe... right." <Who the hell is Phoebe?>

Xander looked at her oddly, "I thought you liked Phoebe?"

<Like her? I don't know her...> Faith shrugged, "I do..."

"Oh..." Xander grinned again, "Good. I don't want my best friend fighting with my girlfriend. Besides, I wouldn't want you two to get in a fight... I really don't need to be visiting the two of you in the hospital."

"Two of us?" Faith said scornfully, "Please, I'm the Slayer."

Xander chuckled, taking it as a joke. "Yeah... and if she didn't turn you into a toad, her sister would put you through a wall... or ten."

<Toad!? Wall or TEN!? WTF is going on in Sunnydale?> Faith smiled weakly, "Sure... wall..."

Xander chuckled as they walked, enjoying the joke.

Sidney answered the front door of the building, looking surprised to find a very frazzled Rupert Giles waiting outside. "Mr. Giles, didn't Alexander give you the access code?"

"Ummm... yes. I'm afraid I forgot it. Is Xander here?"

Sidney shook his head, "I'm afraid that he's not back from his morning run yet. You could probably reach him on his cell..."

Giles stared at him blankly for a moment, "Cell? Yes... Of course! I'm terribly sorry, do you remember his number?"

Sidney stepped aside as Giles entered the building and headed straight for the phone. "I think it's written by the phone."

"Yes... here it is." Giles dialed immediately.

Outside Willy's Bar

Three men stepped out of the bar, cleaning their hands off as they stepped up to the van.


The leader nodded, "She's using an abandoned building as a base for the moment. A couple of the 'locals' saw her go in last night. I've got the address."


The men crowded into the van and it pulled away from the run down bar, heading from the bad side of town to the worse side.

Xander was chatting continuously as they walked, trying not to notice that Buffy seemed particularly quiet. He hoped it wasn't something he had done... He really didn't want the Slayer dislocating his shoulder again. He stopped talking as his cell phone began ringing.

"Hello... Giles? Slow down... She's what!? Ok... No... No. Buffy is right here.... Yes, she's fine... Ok, coming in. We'll be at my place in a few."

Faith looked at Xander as he slid the phone shut with a concerned look on his face. "What is it?"

"It's Faith. She woke up."

Abandoned Building

The Watchers Council Strike Team stared in shock at the sight before them. They had expected a pretty simple mission, after all one slayer really couldn't be much of a challenge on her own, but this was ridiculous.

Splayed out on a ragged old bed, bound solidly with chains and gagged with duct tape was their quarry.

"Bloody hell." One of them whispered as he stared at the wild eyed Slayer. "What's going on here?"

The Team Leader looked around, shaking his head. "Don't have a clue. Maybe Giles' group has more on the ball then we were led to believe?"

"Not bloody likely." The first guy said again, taking a half step toward the dark slayer, his eyes flitting around for any sign of a trap. "If Giles' people got here first, we wouldn't have found a damned thing. I know him, Michael. He wouldn't leave her to us, not now."

Michael shook his head, clearing it, "Don't matter. Steph, grab her. Everyone else cover him."

Steph walked forward cautiously, picking the bound Slayer up bodily and flipping her over his shoulder. The group ignored her muffled screams and useless attempts to escape as they quickly shuffled out of the abandoned building and back to their van.

Giles' Apartment

The phone rang. And rang. And rang.

Finally the answering machine picked up.

"Giles? Giles! Pick up the damned phone.... Damn it, man! Ok... listen closely..."

Willow's Dorm

Willow searched through her room, pulling out her small collection of spell books and parchments. She scattered them around the desk and floor as she searched for the one she had in mind. Finally she held up the old parchment and breathed a sigh of relief.

She left the mess behind her as she rushed out the door.

J&X's Building

"Who is this 'Faith'?" Sidney asked as Giles settled down to wait for Xander and Buffy.

Giles took a sip of his tea, feeling somewhat chagrined as he spoke. "Faith was... IS a Slayer."

"Pardon me?" Sidney looked confused, "I thought that one Slayer had to die before another was called?"

Giles nodded. "And she did. Die that is. Buffy drowned in a subterranean pool after being drained by a master vampire. Xander and Angel pulled her out... brought her back. We found out shortly after that another Slayer was called, her name was Kendra. She died shortly after being called."

"And Faith?"

"Was called next." Giles nodded. "She had a hard life, even before the pressure of her calling was applied. She needed more support then we gave her... I... I treated her like I treated Buffy. Gave her too much free rein, and too little of my time."

"What happened?"

"She slipped. She killed a man in the heat of a battle. He wasn't a vampire but she didn't know it until it was too late."

Sidney looked at Giles intently, "Accidents happen in war."

Giles nodded. "Yes. But she didn't know that. She... she was too young to know that. She tried to cover it up at first, then tried to shift the blame. She set Buffy up for it, but no one believed her."

"And then?"

"Then the Council got involved. And any chance we had to redeem her was thrown straight down the Hellmouth."

"She snapped?"

"Quite." Giles said dryly. "She switched sides. Went to work for the Mayor, who was preparing to ascend to demonic form in a ritual that would have likely destroyed the Town. At least."

"My God." Sidney let a touch of his emotions slip past his professional veneer.

Giles nodded sadly and took another sip of his tea. "Yes."

"What will you do now?"

"I don't know. I'd like to think she can be saved... but some things... some things you don't come back from."

Sidney leaned back and pondered the man's words.


Willow turned, slightly surprised to see Tara running up to her. She smiled hesitantly. "Tara, hi!"

"W... what are you doing now?"

"Something's come up..." Willow shifted nervously.

"S... scooby stuff?" Tara's eyes drifted downward as she asked the question, as if she was ashamed for prying.

"Big time." Willow answered, "I need to find Xander and Buffy fast."

"Can I come?"

Willow hesitated, "It'll be dangerous..."

"Th... that's all right."

"Ok." Willow beamed at her, "Come on."



"Make certain that she's secure." The leader barked as he watched the road.

"On it."

The man checked the dark slayer's bonds, and shook his head. "We'll have to redo her. This duct tape isn't going to hold a Slayer forever."

"Well use the cuffs we brought along. Those will hold a bloomin Elephant is they 'ave too."

The man nodded and grabbed Buffy's hands, lifting them above her head to the stainless steel cuffs bolted to the van wall above her. He leered at her as the motion caused her shirt to stretch tight over her breasts, his motions slowing slightly as he stopped watching her hands and feet.

Buffy's eyes twinkled back at him. Not from lust or seduction, but simple humor. She had already worked one leg free and he had just given her the opportunity to make use of it.

Her foot snapped up, catching him in the side of the head and throwing his two hundred and twenty pound frame into the black wall of the van. He slumped against the wall, crumpling to the floor of the moving vehicle, unconscious.

The interior of the van became a flurry of motion as the Council team grabbed for their tranq guns and tried to shoot the, liberated, Slayer.

Buffy, for her part, broke loose of the rest of her bonds as soon as she managed to move enough to gain the slightest leverage. She dove under the sweeping arc of one of the pistols now tracking her and elbowed it away from her as she drove her fist into the man's sternum. As he crumpled over she grabbed his arm and pointed the gun toward the next armed man.

She could hardly aim the weapon, but at the point blank range of the Van it didn't really matter. She jerked the man's hand, compressing the trigger, and grinned at the shock on the other's face when he looked down to see the red plumed dart sticking out of his chest.

"Bloody hell." he mumbled as he collapsed to the ground.

"Get her!"

Buffy shoved the man she was holding with all the diminished strength of Faith's body and dove for the rear door of the vehicle.

"Yo, G-Man!" Xander yelled as he led Buffy into the building. "Got a Sit-rep for me?"

Giles came out of the living room, "Pardon me?"

"Situation report, G-man." Xander grinned as he tossed his leather jacket onto a coat hook.

"Ah... Well, No... actually."

"Figures." Xander headed toward the phone. "How did you find out about our wayward Slayer?"

"The Hospital phoned me..."

"Anyone else on their contact list?" Xander checked for messages, frowning when there were none.

Giles considered that, "The Mayor, certainly... perhaps..."

Xander turned to look at Giles, "What?"

"The Council." Giles said, "I should check my own messages. I have a friend in the council who might be able to help."

"Do it." Xander said. "They'd send one of their wet work teams right?"

"With certainty."

Xander nodded, "I'll be downstairs." And he headed for the armory, with a very puzzled Faith following behind.

Downstairs Xander started opening the armored cabinets and pulling weapons off the shelves.

Faith, shifting a little nervously watched as Xander slipped into a leather holster with two pistols snapped tight. <What the hell?> "Umm... Xander? Do you really need all this for Faith? I mean, Slayer Gal right here."

"These aren't for Faith." He said simply, "These are for the Council's team."

"Uh... Why? She's evil girl right? Let them have her..."

Xander shook his head. "You know, a few months ago I might have agreed... not anymore. Faith is our responsibility. We failed her, Buff. As much as she failed us. Now, if she has to be taken down then I'll do it. If she doesn't... well, that's another matter. Either way I'll be damned back to... I'm not letting them take her."

His voice carried a tone of finality as he snapped the last piece of equipment, an empty canvas sheath, to his leg. Xander reached out his hand and silently summoned Elanthielle to him, his fingers tightening around the cool metal surface as she shimmered into his hand. He was putting the ancient weapon into the hip sheath when Buffy cried out in surprise.

"What the fuck was that!?"

Xander jumped at her outburst, looking at her strangely. He finally realized that she was stairing at Elan. "It's Elan, Buff. You've seen me use her before."

"Right..." Faith covered quickly. "It just takes some getting used too... ya know?"

"Sure." Xander replied nervously, his eyes going slightly vacant as if he were listening to someone's voice. "Let's get back upstairs."

"The council sent a team." Giles said, sounding worried. "They're probably already in town."

Xander nodded. "Ok. Take this." He tossed a small object to Giles.

Giles caught it in a fumbling move, "What is it?"

"A San'Quai." Xander said, noting the recognition on Giles' face. "I liberated it from the Initiative."

"Good Lord." Giles said, looking at the small device. "It's operational?"

Xander nodded, "Yep. It should be able to track Faith by the slayer essence?"

Giles nodded slowly. "Yes... Her signal should be much the same as Buffy's..." Giles focused on the magical device and activated it, comparing the lights he could make out to what he knew of the room. "What is the silver light? Could that be Buffy?"

Xander looked over Giles' shoulder, "Nope. She's the purplish dot. The Silver is my staff."

Giles examined the faint purple dot and compared it to the reading for the bright silver one. He looked at Xander with an odd expression, but he decided to let it pass. "Very well... We should get started."

"Call Crow." Xander said, "He wants to have a word with the Council anyway. Go ahead without us for now though... I need to speak with Buffy alone."

Giles looked confused but nodded as Xander led Buffy up the stairs.

They stepped into the Dojo and Faith looked around. <X-Man has come up in the world. Wonder what happened?> Out loud she said, "What's up Xander?"

Xander turned to look at her, his eyes flat. He held up a remote control and triggered something. Faith jumped and spun around as every door and window slammed shut, steel shutters covering even the skylights above them.

She turned to look back at Xander who hadn't moved. He just looked at her for a moment before speaking. "Hello Faith."

Xander's voice echoed over the intercom, causing Giles to jump. "Faith!?"

"Shhh..." Sidney said, "Listen."

Faith took a step back, pressing against the locked door behind her, until she remembered who she was and who was facing her. She sneered slightly at Xander and stepped forward again. "How'd ya guess, Zeppo?"

Xander didn't react, outwardly at least. "Have a friend who can read aura's. You really confused her you know... She could tell that you weren't Buffy... but she could also read the Slayer essence in you. It's been a long time since she's seen something new."

"What are you talking about?"

The first glint of humor showed through his mask as Xander matched Faith's advance with one of his own. "If you hang around long enough, I'll introduce you."

Faith cocked her head, "You think you'll be in any shape to talk by that time?"

Xander stood his ground as she advanced on him. "So tell me, is your looks just a spell? Or is that really Buffy's body?"

Faith stopped, smiling at him as she ran her hands along her body. "This old thing? It's all real, lover."

Xander nodded, ignoring the 'lover' jab. "G-man, I hope your getting this. Get Crow and find Buffy. NOW. Faith and I have some personal problems to work out."

Faith stared at him in shock, "What are you...?"

She broke off when Xander held the remote up, a red light blinking over a button marked 'intercom'. She screamed and rushed him.

"Good Lord." Giles muttered from outside the Dojo doors as he listened to the sounds of a fight over the intercom. He and Sidney had both tried to open the doors, but without Jarod or Xander's knowledge of the security codes they couldn't override Xander's orders to the system.

"Go!" Sidney ordered, "You heard him, Buffy might be in trouble. I'll work on the door."

Giles looked uncertain for a moment.


He finally nodded and turned, heading down the stairs.

Xander sidestepped her first charge, catching her unprepared with an edge hand across the throat. Faith's momentum was halted by the potentially lethal hit and her legs were swept out from under her. She hit the ground solidly on her back, her hands grasping for her throat in shock.

Xander winced and stepped back. He hadn't really intended to do serious harm, and he didn't think he had, but that shot could have killed a normal person. He rubbed his own throat with some empathy for the shock and pain Faith was feeling.

His eyes were welling with tears as he stepped back, shaking his head as it sank in. <I just hit Buffy. No! No. It's Faith... and she's not going to listen to reason yet... she's got too much anger in her still...> His eyes cast upwards as Faith staggered back to her feet. <God, please let me get through this without killing my best friend's body.>

Giles was rushing out the door when a thought struck him and he stopped. Slowly he turned and looked at the basement door. He swallowed and entered the access code to the basement, slowly walking down the stairs.

He looked over the cabinets and selected one from memory. Opening it he pulled out a Beretta pistol, and several clips. His slapped one into the pistol and racked the slide back, wincing as some bad old memories returned.

Giles sighed, placed the pistol in his pocket, and headed back up the stairs.

Faith held her throat as she got up, "Nice shot." She rasped hoarsely.

Xander just shook his head, "That would have killed anyone else, Faith. Don't come at me like that again."

Her smile slowly returned as she heard the catch in his voice. "What's the matter, lover? Don't want to hurt blondy's body?"

"Or you Faith. Or you."

"Gee thanks." She said, wiping some spit from her lips with the back of her hand. "But I don't think that'll be a problem."

Xander suppressed a groan as he watched Faith shift into a fighting stance, "Don't make me do this, Faith. I don't know if I can stop you without killing you."

"Then don't." She said as she flew in with a fast combination of punches.

Xander didn't back off, instead he ducked past the fists, letting her clip him lightly as he did. He got in so close that their faces were practically touching, and he could feel her breasts against his chest. "Sorry." He said, then he drove his hand like a dagger into her sternum.

The two fighters broke apart, Faith gasping for air and Xander cradling his hand in pain. "Shit! Like hitting a damned brick wall!"

Faith was down on one knee, sucking air as fast as her body would allow, but she was grinning. "You've got better, Lover. That hurt."

Xander leaned against a wall and crooked a grin at her, "Tell me about it. I think I might have broke a finger."

Slowly, Faith got up with a feral smile twitching on her lips. "I'd offer to kiss it better for ya, but I think I'll just break the other ones instead."

"Talk to me."

"Mr. Crow?"

"... Yo, Rupes. What's up?"

Giles grimaced, "I need some help. A council team is in town after a rogue slayer, and I believe they might mean harm to Buffy."

"She's gone rogue? Good for her."

"No." Giles shook his head, "Another Slayer."

"That's not possible, Rupes."

"I'll explain it later, suffice to say that Buffy is in danger and I believe that Xander said you wanted to have a word with the Council?"

"You've got a point. Meet me at the Church down the road from the kid's place."

Xander danced back, keeping out of the Slayer's reach. If this had been the Faith he knew a half a year ago he would already be dead. Her movements were erratic, her mind was unstable. She wasn't playing with a full deck.

That was his sole advantage. He could dodge her berserker attacks with ease, always staying one step ahead of her flailing fists. But it didn't get him anywhere. He needed to reach her, and that wasn't going to happen if he didn't wear her down. And she was the Slayer, she wasn't going to tire herself out like this... She'd tire him out long before.

He hardened his heart and moved on the offensive. <I'm sorry Buffy.>

Buffy ran. She could hear the Council team running behind her, cursing and scrambling through the alley as they tried to run her down. And they were succeeding. Faith's body was tiring fast, only the fact that she was the Slayer kept it moving at all.

"Bloody hell!" A voice cursed behind her. She heard the sharp pang and whine of a silenced bullet ricocheting by her head and he pressed on, forcing her legs to pump faster.

"So how's that piece of junk going to find the Slayer?"

Giles didn't look up from where he was staring intently at the San'Quai. "This piece of junk, as you call it, is an ancient device that even the Council believes to have all been destroyed. It tracks magical energy."

"Can that thing track a vamp?" Crow asked, his curiosity aroused.

"Certainly, though I doubt it would be much use here. A vampire's energy would be difficult to tell apart from the background signature of the Hellmouth."

"Where the fuck did you get something like that anyway?"

"Xander stole it from the Initiative."

"Where did they get it?"

"Presumably they stole it from a demon."

"Why would a demon be running around Sunnydale with that thing?"

"That, Mr. Crow, is the question of the day."

Xander barely ducked a wild punch, rotating his body and putting his entire weight into an elbow strike that doubled the Slayer over. He straightened up from his crouch, driving his shoulder into her face and putting her on her back again. He stepped back, wiping blood from his split lip and waited for her to size up the situation.

It was a move that went against every instinct he had, and he could feel the voices inside him screaming against him as he held his place. The Hyena, still present in the back of his soul, screamed in a feverish voice that demanded, alternately, blood and lust. The Soldier was cold, it wanted the fight finished, at any cost. And even Elanthielle was sullenly against the quarter he was allowing the rogue slayer.

<This is unwise, Alexander.> her voice echoed through him, <Finish it quickly and worry about her mental health when you are safe. This girl is quite capable of killing you.>

<I know that. But there are only so many ways to reach a Slayer, Elan, and usually the easiest and fastest is also the most direct.>

<You're going to *beat* her into talking to you!?> Elan asked incredulously, <That is suicidal, Alexander. You are NOT a Slayer.>

Xander didn't respond. He didn't have too, she knew as well as he did that Slayer or not, walking away wasn't in the books for him. He watched as Faith picked herself off the ground, swishing blood around in his mouth for a moment before spitting it out onto the floor and looking back at her.

"Nice backhand, Faith." He said, rubbing his tongue along the slip inside his cheek. "But you know, your style is piss poor. Out of practice I guess, huh?"

She felt her nose as she straightened up, wincing as she felt the fracture under the skin. "You broke Buffy's nose." She said, incredulity filling her voice.

Xander shrugged, keeping the inner turmoil he felt over that capped under a mask of indifference. "I'm not exactly the same guy you knew, Faith."

"Let me out of here!" She demanded, for the first time speaking instead of attacking.

"No." He said simply, "You want out, you have to go through me to do it. One way, or another."

"Fine by me, Lover." She sifted back into a combat stance, this time moving with more deliberation and focus.

<Oh shit.> Xander thought, <The Slayer's Back.>

Buffy ducked through a chain link fence, her pursuers literally on her heals, and scrambled along the ground through the broken boxes and refuse that scattered the alley.

"Get her!"

"She's too low! I can't get a clear shot through all the crap lying around!"

"I don't give a shit! Stay on her!"

The men scrambled under and over the fence, struggling to keep up with the escaping Slayer.

Buffy ran for the exit to the alley as fast as her weakened body could take her, breathing a sigh of relief when she saw the sun shining on the shops of main street. As she exited the alley, a strong pair of hands grabbed her, covering her mouth and dragged her to one side.

"Xander!" Willow screamed as she burst into the building, Tara hot on her heels. "Giles!? Anyone?"

"Up here, Ms Rosenberg!"

Willow and Tara looked at each other, slightly confused. "That was Sidney wasn't it?"

Tara nodded.

They both headed up the stairs toward the voice.

"Sidney?" Willow asked tentatively when she saw him futilely tapping codes into the door.

"Xander locked himself in there with some person named Faith..." Sidney said.

"What!?" Willow screamed as she pushed him out of the way and took a crack at the door herself. "She'll kill him!"

"That would appear to be her intent..." Sidney admitted, "Though as of a few minutes ago he seemed to be giving as good as he got."

"Where is Giles!? And Buffy?"

"Giles is out looked for Ms. Summers with Mr. Crow. Apparently this 'Faith' person somehow managed to assume Buffy's identity."

"W.. What?" Tara asked, confused.

"She apparently stole Ms. Summers body somehow..." Sidney shook his head, "Quite frankly I'm starting to wonder if my years at the center finally cracked my mind. Body snatching... really now..."

Willow just shook her head, ignoring the information for the moment as she worked on cracking the security Jarod had built around the lock-down systems.

Xander hit the ground, rolling away just one step ahead of Faith's followup kick. His ribs felt like they were cracked and he was having trouble seeing through both eyes. One was swelling up fast and the other was filling with blood from a scalp wound he had gotten when she threw him into a wall.

Faith, for her part, wasn't in much better shape. Xander had managed to catch her with a shot to her armpit that certainly cracked at least two ribs, though probably not severely. Her own face was bloody from the shot her nose had taken, and she could taste the copper on her tongue as blood flowed from a split lip.

"You've toughened up, Lover."

Xander shrugged, weaving slightly as he tried to keep his feet. "It was that or die. Had a sink or swim kinda teacher."

"Nice guy." Faith muttered as she circled around him.

Xander shook his head, grinning through the pain. "Not really. He was a sick son of a bitch who liked to hunt humans for sport."

"Sounds like my kinda guy, Lover."

Xander winced again under her verbal dig. "Maybe, but he has this 'honor' thing that you probably wouldn't understand."

"Honor don't pay the bills."

The two fighters continued circling, content to use verbal jabs instead of physical ones as they tried to get their breath back.

Xander grinned, "Tell me about it. You think this place came from hard work and fair play?"

Faith looked at him curiously, "Where did you get the money to buy this place?"

"Friend of mine stole it of course." Xander grinned, "But don't worry, the guys he took it from don't need it right now. Most of them are running from the military police, or rotting in some hole of a prison."

"You put 'em there, I suppose?" Faith shot back sarcastically.

"Well, the military sure as hell didn't, they couldn't find snow in the arctic."

Buffy tried to scream as strong arms pulled her tight, trapping her arms against her body. "Shush up, Slayer, Xander thought you could use a hand."

<The Jerk?>

The hand let her go and Crow flattened her against the wall, motioning to Giles who was standing on the other side of the alley opening. Giles nodded back at him and they both shifted to a 'ready' position.

As the council team ran out into the open Giles caught the first one across the teeth with his Beretta, knocking the unfortunate man to the ground with a single strike. He then pointed the Beretta at the ones in behind, leveling the automatic pistol with a steady hand.

"I'd suggest you don't move."

The Council team froze, staring down the barrel of the 9mm weapon, and looked at the man with a little confusion.

"Rupert?" One of them said hesitantly.

"Hello Michael."

"Rupert, we're only here after the rogue. Council orders. You know that we can't let her go."

"Even if that was Faith, I wouldn't let you have her, Michael. I know what the Council would do to her, remember? She's my responsibility. Go back to merry old England and tell Travers to suck an egg."

"Be reasonable, man!" The Team Leader stepped forward, "She's a killer. Can't have that runnin 'round the country 'elping the demons."

"As I said, My Responsibility."

"Not no more." The leader flashed a signal to the rest and their weapons came to bear on the ex-Watcher.

"Giles!" Buffy screamed in terror for her mentor.

"Not bad, lover." Faith said, wiping away some more blood from her mouth.

"Pretty good yourself, Faith." Xander said, neutrally as he followed suit.

"You know you can't win, right?" She grinned at him.

"I don't have to win to *win*, Faith. I just have to convince you to accept help."

"From you?" She said scornfully.

"Not necessarily." Xander shrugged, "But if you want it to be me, then yes. If not, well I can find someone willing."

"Why!?" She demanded, her voice trembling with rage, or terror, or something Xander couldn't identify. "I'm a KILLER!"

Inwardly he was trembling too. He felt sorrow, anger, fear, pity, and an entire mix of emotions he didn't want to try to identify. Outwardly his face may as well have been carved in stone. He had learned to hide things very well through his life, and had mastered the art when hunting with Ruatcha. The old Yautja was always watching for weakness, always ready to pounce on any sign of inadequacy. The old hunter had once told him that feeling weak was acceptable, even natural, but showing it, well that was a death sentence.

"You know what a friend of my once told me? He once told me the secret to earning forgiveness."

Faith snorted in disgust. "Oh Yeah? What's that?"

"Ask for it."

Faith was silent for a long moment, her face gone blank. Then she looked back at him and her face contorted into a visible rage. "I don't want to be forgiven! I'm EVIL! I KILLED PEOPLE!"

She rushed him, raining blows across his face and chest faster then he could see, let alone stop. "I don't deserve forgiveness!! I'M EVIL! A KILLER! YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND THAT!"

Xander countered, not with a defense, but with an attack. He caught her with a palm strike to the chest that cracked another rib, and followed through with and arm-bar that sent Faith face first into the Dojo wall.

"Oh No!?" He said, his voice raising with tension. "You think you're the only one who's killed people Faith? I've got your body count beaten by at least a dozen. EASILY!"

Faith slumped down the wall, an unbelieving look of shock on her face as she slowly turned to lie on her back. The fight drained out of her as she stared into Xander's dead eyes and realized that he wasn't kidding.


Buffy's scream drowned out the soft chuffs that came from the silenced Berretta in Rupert Giles hand. One shot. Two. Three. Four.

Jack Crow slid out from behind the wall and his own weapon entered the fray, spitting electrical pulses at the Council team. Though a couple of the Council's weapons went off as they fell, the bullets merely dug into the walls of the alley.

Giles nodded and Jack and walked up to the fallen men as Jack moved into position to cover him from behind. Giles looked down at the team leader as he held his bleeding arm. "You didn't know me before, so I suppose you can be forgiven for underestimating me. This time. I suggest you ask Michael about 'The Ripper' when he wakes up, and think well on it before you come back to my town again."

The team leader stared up at the cold eyes of the supposed 'librarian' and shuddered. He hated it when the council didn't give him all the information about potential players. Painfully he nodded.

Giles stepped back, satisfied with that response and nodded again to Crow. Crow smiled and stepped forward, trusting Giles to cover him. The vampire hunter looked down at the wounded man and smiled.

"I've been looking forward to chatting with one of you Council lackeys for a couple weeks now. Ever since I found out something interesting..."

Crow reached out casually and grabbed the man's wounded arm, grinding his thumb into the injury.

"Mmmpphhhh!" The man ground out through clenched teeth.

"The name's, Jack Crow." Crow paused, smiling at the look of recognition that entered the eyes of the wounded man. "That's right. THAT Jack Crow. I've got a message from my 'employers'... you know who they are, right?"

When the man nodded vigorously Crow smiled again. "Good."

"You see, I'm a little annoyed with you guys over something." Crow continued in a casual voice. "I mean, it's a little curious you know? How you had a Slayer on the Hellmouth for four years and the Council never bothered to inform us about its whereabouts?"

"I ain't got no part of that!" The man insisted. "That was decided higher up!"

"Oh I know... I know." Crow assured him, "But you see, you're here now... and I need a messenger... so you've got the job. Tell your bosses that I'm going to pay them a little visit later, so we can have a nice... civilized... discussion about sharing information that might be vital to the continued existence of humanity."

The man paled as Crow smiled at him. He had little doubt that the man was serious, so he just nodded. "I'll tell 'em! I swear it!"

"Good." Crow got up, and backed away from the men. "Bye now."

As Giles huddled the trembling Slayer away from the scene, he looked at Crow curiously. "Where did you get that weapon, Mr. Crow?"

Crow shrugged, "Lifted it from the armory of that base we defended."

"Does Xander know you're stealing from his friends?" Buffy asked.

Crow laughed, "I saw him and Jarod lift at least four for themselves."

"It happened this summer." Xander said calmly as he eyed Faith. She wasn't moving from where she had propped herself against the wall, except to occasionally wince in pain.

"What?" She asked quietly, suddenly unsure of herself.

Xander turned away, a show of trust given to the rogue Slayer. "I was hunting with the teacher I mentioned..."

"People...?" Even Faith's voice sounded horrified.

"No!" He replied quickly, "No... never that. These things... they were worse then Vampires. They would plant eggs inside human and animal hosts... then just leave the egg to hatch. When it does... the baby creature then bursts from the host's chest... ripping its way out..."

Xander swallowed his revulsion as the memories assaulted him. On the ground Faith was looking more then a little sick herself, the pain and fatigue had beaten down her defenses enough that she wasn't hiding her emotional reactions. "Oh god..."

Xander nodded. "Yeah."

He was silent for a long moment, and Faith didn't push. She could hear the revulsion, grief, and terror that filled his voice and didn't know how to respond. Finally he spoke again.

"You see, I found this village a short distance away from the creature's hive. They were primitives... trying to fight those things with spears and arrows. It was suicide."

"You... you helped them." Faith said, a certainty in her voice that managed to make itself heard from beneath her fatigued voice. Xander couldn't have changed that much.

"Yes." He replied calmly. "I did. I stayed with them when my... friend... wouldn't. We spent eleven and a half hours preparing the village for the creatures attack." Xander snorted, "We may as well have slept and saved our energy. They came through our defenses like a knife through tissue paper. We started with almost three hundred people. I delivered a little over eighty of them to safety a day later."

Faith heard the catch in Xander's voice, and somehow knew that wasn't the end of the story. "What else happened?"

Willow smashed her hand into the console in frustration, "I can't break the encryption!"

"Jarod is very good at what he does." Sidney said mildly.

"Too good." She growled.

Tara put her hand on the red wiccan's shoulder. "It'll be alright..."

"How!?" She turned in anger, startling the blond witch. "How will it be alright? Xander is trapped in there with a psychotic Slayer! She's already tried to kill all of us at least once..."

Tara didn't have anything to say in response, she just stared, stunned, at Willow's anger.

Willow suddenly looked shocked, and swallowed her anger. "God! I'm sorry, Tara... I didn't mean..."

"No!" Tara said suddenly, the she stopped as if ashamed of her outburst. "I... I mean it's alright... you're worried about your friend... t... that's good."

Willow nodded, ducking her head and looking up through her bangs with a small smile. "Thank you."

She turned and looked at the door, "We'll have to use a different tact." Willow pulled out a parchment from a binder she had brought with her and smiled.

"It was during the battle." Xander said slowly. "We were overrun... those black... monstrosities were everywhere. We tried to hold them off, but one by one they dragged us down. Grabbing one warrior after another with absolute disregard for their own safety. They were like ants or something... swarming us."

Faith watched as Xander's voice caught as he stumbled, from the grief rather then the pain. She didn't know what happened but it had nearly killed the man she saw in front of her.

Xander composed himself. "We split up, falling back into a sort of zone defense... guarding the women, children, and other non-combatants. I was protecting a group of fifty people... mostly children... young women... a couple elderly warriors as backup."

"What happened to them?"

"To them?" Xander laughed bitterly. "Nothing at all. Every one of them is now living safely on... in a new village I guided them too."

"Then what?"

"I was stuck there, you see? I couldn't leave them or I'd be signing their death warrants... But the creatures were ripping through our defenses... and our defenders. The were grabbing people by the dozens... and dragging them away."

Faith's breath caught in her throat. She remembered what Xander said about the creatures' reproduction. "What... what did you do, Xander?"

Xander pulled out his Colt's from under his jacket. "I drew these. I couldn't shoot the creatures you see... their blood was acid. It would have killed their victims... painfully."

"And..." Faith's eyes widened in shock, and she whispered her revelation. "You shot the victims."

"I shot the victims. One shot between the eyes at distances up to a hundred paces... I never missed by so much as an inch... I couldn't afford to." Xander was having trouble talking now, the grief in his voice was so thick.

Xander laughed bitterly, "You know the worst thing? As soon as they were dead the creatures dropped them and grabbed someone new. They couldn't use a dead person you see. I killed in the hundreds that night... drained my Plasma Caster, I fired it so much... Emptied both my pistols. Fourteen shots... fourteen people I killed before I couldn't do it anymore... before I had to watch those creatures drag them off."

Faith swallowed, about to speak before Xander cut her off with a fire in his eyes that she hadn't seen before.

"So don't you DARE tell me what I can or can't understand!" He turned on her, his uncovered grief fueling a rage in him. "You killed a man. By ACCIDENT. You killed another on purpose, yes, but I somehow doubt he was as innocent as those poor people."

"He wasn't... but..." Faith tried to protest.

"You screwed up." Xander said flatly. "In fact, you fucked up royally. But I will NOT allow you to throw yourself away because you don't have the strength to climb out of the pit you dug yourself into."

Faith's eyes flashed, "Strength! What do you..." Then she shut up. He had just told her what he knew about strength.

Xander didn't rise to the bait of her aborted challenge, he just stared at her with burning eyes. "I'm warning you now, Faith, if I have to I'll drag you back to the light kicking and screaming. If I can't wallow in my pain and guilt then I sure as hell won't let you off so easily either."

Faith giggled, almost hysterically. She looked at the beaten and battered young man who was standing there, confidently informing her that he would drag her into redemption, against her will if necessary, and the situation struck her fatigued mind as so insanely funny that she couldn't help but laugh.

Xander stared at her, almost in shock. He slowly thought back, checking what he had just said. He had to think hard, he hadn't been thinking as he spoke. He was speaking from the gut, not from the mind. Suddenly he got it, and he snickered himself, even through the grief he had bared for her benefit, he saw the humor.

"Willow?" Giles asked as he climbed the stairs.

Willow smiled and looked up from the parchment she and Tara were studying, only to pale in shock when she saw Faith walking behind him "Faith!"

"No!" Giles yelled, worried that the young Wiccan might use magic on Buffy. "Faith switched bodies with Buffy."

"Oh." Willow looked blankly, remembering what Sidney had said. ""We're getting ready to cast a spell to get in there... Xander shut the intercom off a while ago and we haven't heard anything from them."

"Xander's in there with Faith? Alone!? In MY BODY?" Buffy cried out in shock.

"Later, Buffy." Giles said wearily. Cast the spell, Willow."

Willow and Tara nodded at each other, stared at the door, and began chanting. A few seconds later a pulse wave emerged from them and shattered the steel door to the Dojo. The entire group rushed into the room as fast as they could only to stop in shock.

Sitting, propped up against the far wall, was Xander and Faith. They both looked like they had been through a respectably sized war. Both were bleeding, broken, and looked like they were in desperate need of medical care. But the strange thing was that they were leaning on each other, tears running down their cheeks, and giggling hysterically.

Xander looked up at them, a goofy smile on his lips but a sad and distant look his eyes. "Hey guys, you know, you could have just knocked."

Faith started giggling again, her tone rising as if she were holding back something with her laughter. Giles and Sidney looked at each other, concerned looks passing between them as they looked at the two young people sitting on the ground.

"Good lord," Giles whispered to himself as he tended the injuries on the blond Slayer. "What happened?"

Faith laughed, wincing as the pain shot through her ribs. "Boy wonder over there happened."

Giles shot a glance to where Xander was being tended, and molested it appeared, by Buffy and Willow. "He did this? He used a weapon of course?"

"Nuh uh." Faith shook her head painfully. "Hand to hand. He never even tried to draw his guns."

"How?" Giles whispered rhetorically.

Apparently Faith didn't see the question as rhetoric. "By fighting dirty of course."

Giles looked at her blankly as he tightened the wraps around her ribs.

"Ahhh!" She hissed out, "Damn he did a number on those."

Giles cast and involuntary glare at Xander as the image of Xander causing bodily harm to Buffy flashed through his mind.

"Don't get like that, Jeeves." Faith said when she caught the look. "I wasn't giving him much choice at the time."

"Oh... ummm... Yes, of course." Giles shook his mind free of the image and continued patching the rogue Slayer. His eyes, however, continued to travel over to where the group was gathered.

"Ow!" Xander yelled, "Geez, Sid, not so damned tight."

Sidney shrugged apologetically but continued tightening the wrap around the boy's rib cage.

"How could you!" Buffy glared at Xander, her eyes flashing over to where her body was being patched up. "You broke my nose!"

Xander winced, "Yeah, well technically, your nose broke my fingers. And your fist broke my face. And your foot broke my..."

"All right! All right! I get the point, already." Buffy looked over at the bloody mess her body was in and winced. "Jeez... now I don't know if I want it back."

Xander could hear the mild humor in the Slayer's voice but decided to take her seriously. "Well... I could get use to you in this body... You know.. I wouldn't have to use my imagination to picture you..."

"Shut up!" Buffy glared at him. "Do NOT go there."

Xander shrugged and grinned at her, unrepentant.

Willow spoke quietly, "What are we going to do with... her?"

Xander turned to watch Giles tend to Faith, "You aren't going to have to do anything Will. But I'm going to try to help her through this."

"What!?" Both girls said in shock.

Xander sighed and pushed himself to his feet, against Sidney's protestations. "You both heard me."

"But.... but... she killed people!" Willow hissed.

Xander pierced her with a look that could have melted steel, but didn't say a word. He turned to look where Buffy was recovering from her shock. "You have anything to add?"

Buffy grimaced. She had a lot to add, but she had a distinct feeling that it wasn't going make much difference. Too much distance had formed between her and Xander over the last year and a half or more for her to have any chance of changing his mind. "You know we'll never be able to work together."

Xander looked between the two Slayers, "never say never, Buff."

"Never say never."

He walked over to where Giles was finishing up, "You ok?" he asked Faith.

She nodded and extended her hand. He grabbed it and pulled her to her feet. "I'll live. Might regret it, but I'll live."

"Oh I can guarantee you that." Xander said, a mischievous grin tugging at his mouth.

"Thanks," She said, then she paused. "Hey, did you mean you can guarantee I'll live or that I'll regret it?"

Xander didn't answer, he just turned away, still smiling, and left the room.

"Hey, Jack." Xander said as he limped down the stairs.

"Fuck, kid." Crow looked him over, "You look like you've been through a blender."

Xander rasped out a chuckle, "You try going twelve rounds with an enraged Slayer. Then we'll see how goo you look."

Crow shook his head. "No thanks kid. I like my body parts intact."

"Good call." Xander looked at him seriously, "Hey, I need a favor."

"What kind?" Crow looked at him suspiciously.

"I need you to go to the warehouse on fifth and eighth to pick something up for me. I'd do it myself but..." Xander shrugged painfully as he indicated the bandages.

Crow nodded, "Sure kid. Just don't make a habit of it, I'm not a fuckin messenger service."

Xander laughed, and immediately regretted it. Then he described the body switching device he had gotten faith to tell him about, and where she had hidden it.

"You got it, kid." Crow said as he grabbed his coat.

Two Days later

Leo and Phoebe shimmered into Xander's basement and headed up the stairs. When they got into the living room they stopped and stared in shock at the scene.

The room was split into three camps. On one side, Buffy, Willow, and Tara were sitting with the first two throwing occasional glares across the room. On the other side Xander sat, fending off the attentions of a brunette who was literally draping herself over him. Phoebe lurched forward instantly, something caught her eye that stopped her.

The glares from Buffy and Willow were directed at the brunette who was, obviously to everyone but Buffy and Willow, merely fawning over Xander to aggravate them. Phoebe's outrage slipped down a peg, but only one, as she looked at the third camp.

Rupert Giles was sitting between the two groups look exceedingly miserable.

"Xander!" Phoebe spoke clearly, in a tone that should have sent any sane man scampering for his life.

Xander jumped up, dropping the brunette to the floor where she landed with a smile and catlike reflexes, and turned to Phoebe with a wide grin. "Pheobe, God it's good to see you."

She watched, tapping her foot, as he painfully rushed to her and pulled her into a light hug. "Help me." He whispered into her ear.

Phoebe started out of her irate mood and nodded into his shoulder, still confused. She turned to the group and smiled, "Excuse me, my *boyfriend* and I need to have a chat."

She saw Buffy and Willow smile at the brunette, who smiled back at them even wider. Then the brunette turned. "See ya, Lover."

Xander winced but didn't turn back, he kept walking stiffly toward the hall with Phoebe glaring at his back the whole way.

"Ok, now what the hell was that all about?" Phoebe demanded, her hands on her hips and her eyes flashing.

Xander winced, "before I get into that... Leo?"

"Yes Xander?" Leo walked up.

"How are you at healing cracked ribs?"

Leo looked at him oddly, then his eyes widened as he recognized the signs of injury on the boy. "My god, Xander. What happened to you?"

"Had a friend that needed some sense beat into her." Xander sighed in relief as leo started healing the damage. "Ahh.... Thanks, man. Could you go do the same to Buffy?"

"Buffy did this to you!? AGAIN?" Phoebe demanded, anger rushing to her face.

"No... no... well... not exactly." Xander said as Leo headed into the living room. "It's a long story and it has to do with Faith."

"The brunette who was all over you?" Phoebe growled.

Xander nodded, "Yeah, but she was just trying to get Willow's goat."

Phoebe didn't drop the frown, but a snort of humor came out of her. "She was doing a damned good job."

Xander laughed, "yeah... but I wish she wouldn't keep dragging me into the middle of it."

Phoebe softened, "So what happened?"

Xander told her. And Phoebe's eyes widened as she listened. "Christ. I leave for a couple days and this happens??"

Xander chuckled, but grew somber as he related how things turned out. Phoebe raised a hand to her mouth. "You told her...?"

Xander shrugged... "I couldn't let her go without a fight, Phoebe. She's helped save the world, dammit. She deserves better. I needed something that would get through to her..."

Phoebe nodded slowly. Saving people was something she understood, but to hear that Xander bared his soul to this woman. Told her secrets that hurt him so bad that he couldn't sleep without help from an ancient mystical weapon. She looked at Xander in shock. "Oh Xander..."

"I'll be ok." he said. "I promised, remember?"

Phoebe nodded, pulling him to her and holding him for a long moment. "I know... but... how long do you have to keep hurting?"

Xander smiled sadly, "I wish it was just me, Phoebe. But I heard you after you pulled down my memories. You're as stuck in my nightmares as I am."

Phoebe nodded sadly into his shoulder as Xander wrapped her up and held her tightly. They stood like that a long time before anyone interrupted them.



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