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: Grads over and Xander leaves on his Road Trip. He winds up going a lot further then he ever expected.

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 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; Late June '99

Alexander 'Xander' Harris breathed a sigh of relief as the 'You are leaving Sunnydale' sign flashed by him as he sped out of town. It wasn't that he really hated the place, but he definitely needed to get clear of town for a while. He had actually survived High School in this place and he wished he could say that things were looking up, but he knew better. Come fall, his friends would be heading for college and he'd likely be working in a burger joint just to pay the rent on his parent's basement.

On the passenger seat lay a ripped open envelope from UC Sunnydale, inside were his enrollment papers. Papers that he knew he wouldn't be able to use. I can't believe I actually got in. Shit. Xander shook his head mournfully, I just wish I had a chance in hell of affording it.

It was a pipe dream, Xander knew. His parents wouldn't pop for the tank of gas it would take for him to get to school, let alone four years of tuition.

Xander just shook his head, half in disgust, and the other half, despair. Finally he forced the thoughts back, clearing his mind of his worries as much as he could and turned the nose of the car North and West. He'd decided to follow the coast up as far as San Francisco before turning East and heading cross country.

"Just me, the sun, the open road. And NO DAMNED VAMPIRES!" Xander screamed into the whipping wind as he pushed the accelerator down and sped away from Sunnydale.

San Francisco, California; A few hours later

The sun has set just as he cruised into 'Frisco, causing the bay to shimmer with a thousand iridescent colors. Xander grinned as he watched the light show. Purdy. but, as The Buffster and Wills always tell me, my wardrobe has more colors...

Xander turned his car to one of the more depressed parts of the city, looking for a cheap motel room for the night. A place to crash for a day or two perhaps while he explored some of the city. He wasn't going to stay long, but it would be nice to see the mist around the Golden Gate Bridge, maybe check out the Rock too, while he was here.

Some nice, normal tourist stuff. Xander was smiling to himself when the man flew out of nowhere and crashed across the hood of his car, rolling up over the windshield, and tumbled into the backseat of the moving vehicle.

Well... Xander managed to think to himself as he lost control of the car, swerving out of his lane and narrowly missing a parked car. That didn't take long. Nice while it lasted... all HALF A DAMNED DAY!!!

Pumping the brakes and twisting the wheel Xander managed to get the car back under control, skidding to a stop alongside an old warehouse.

"Would it kill you to give me one full day off!?" Xander screamed at the sky as he unbuckled his seatbelt and turned to check on his 'hitchhiker'. "Christ, Mister. I'm not going to ask if your ok, cause even I'm not THAT stupid, but are you at least conscious?"

The man's slight moan, while not confirming or denying Xander's question, at least told the boy that the man was alive. Xander quickly checked the man out, looking for any obvious injuries that could be treated with First Aid. When the man suddenly opened his eyes and sat up, Xander jumped back as if he'd been bit.

Which, upon reflection, he could easily have been, Xander figured. As the man vamped out Xander's hands closed on a Stake he had placed next to the gear shifter.

"Sorry, Fangy," Xander joked as he vamp grabbed for him, "no ticket, no ride."

As the vamp's hands closed around his throat Xander drove the wooden stake into it's chest, smirking at the vampire's shocked look as the bloodsucker turned to dust.

"Aw damn. Now I have to get the backseat vacuumed out."

Xander looked back at the Alley the vampire had flown out of curiously, what the hell could have tossed a vamp that far?

Xander cautiously left the car, grabbing a half dozen stakes and a thick bladed machete from under the seat. Why am I doing this? This is NOT my job. Aw hell, I can't turn a blind eye.

With that last thought Xander shifted to 'patrol mode' and headed for the alley.

It had been a couple of years since the 'Soldier Boy' incident had imparted its 'gifts' to him. Frankly Xander couldn't say whether the experience had been beneficial or not. He could remember that night as clear as a bell but, of the Soldier memories, only the most intense ones seemed to have stuck with him.

On the plus side that meant that he had certain instinctive skills that tended to control his actions when he was under stress. Patrol techniques, hand to hand combat, weapon skills, and a handful of other useful traits that tended to lie hidden until he needed them.

The downside was the nightmares.

He hadn't told anyone, but the first couple months after that Halloween were like hell on earth. He could remember seeing firefights that killed hundreds, cowering in tunnels while Vietcong troops scoured the fields above him, holding countless friends and allies as they lay dying.

Even so, Xander thought as he silently approached the alley with his weapons in hand, it was a tradeoff that he was willing to accept. The nightmares were a heavy price to pay, but he'd pay more for less if it meant he could help Buffy.

At the entrance to the alley Xander could hear the sound of heavy fighting and he slowed his approach, flattened himself against the wall, and glanced quickly around the corner. His eyes widened at what he saw.

Down the alley three women were facing off against a dozen vampires and one very mean looking demon. Xander forced down a grin as on of them leapt up and spin kicked two vampires to the ground. His grin turned rapidly to a frown when the girl didn't follow up on her move, instead opting to engage another vampire further on.

They don't know what they're fighting.

Phoebe was starting to sweat. She didn't know what these things were, but they just kept coming back for more. Prue was tossing them right and left with her power, Piper was working on the vanquishing spell for the demon they had been hunting, and she was kicking ass if she did say so herself.

But this demon had minions. Some real stupid ones but they were strong and tough, and they bounced back faster then she could put them down.

Not good. Not good at all.

It was times like this that she cursed her power. Visions of the future. Right. Really helpful when it comes to demons trying to kill my sisters.

She was focusing on her fifth opponent when she was hit from behind. Staggering slightly she turned around and saw one of the ones she had been sure wouldn't bounce back, it's fanged face only inches from her.

Phoebe screamed involuntarily. Then she blinked.

The thing froze in its tracks and then vanished into dust, revealing a young man in a hideous Hawaiian shirt grinning lopsidedly at her.

"Ashes to ashes." He said, tossing a small object to her. "Put it through their hearts. Vampires react poorly to wooden stakes."

Vampires? Phoebe wondered for a moment before shrugging it off, she'd seen weirder. And it wasn't a huge leap from Demons and Witches to Vampires. Hey. Wait a second... why is this guy wandering around equipped to fight vampires?

Again she shrugged off the unproductive thought and turned her attentions to the fight at hand. A quick thrust of the stake dusted another one of the things, and she had to admit that they certainly fit the mold for Vampires. More or less.

Slowly the tide began to turn as Phoebe and Xander waded into the attacking vamps, stakes in hand. Unfortunately the Demon who had assembled the vampires had other plans.

"I will see you all dead", his voice was unreal, low and macabre as it resonated through the alley. He conjured an energy ball in his hand, the blue lighting crackling and casting shadows through the alley.

"Whoops," Xander saw the Demon lift its hand, "Incoming!"

The three sisters glanced around at the shout, each catching sight of the Demon's energy blast. Prue screamed as the demon let it fly, "Piper! Now!"

Piper's hands came up, freezing time and the ball of crackling energy a scant few feet from Xander and Phoebe.

"Ok, the spell is ready. Phoebe, Prue, get back here so we can cast it."

The three sisters gathered together, reciting the oddly rhyming spell as Phoebe threw the potion at the feet of the demon. A thick white mist rose from the splattered potion, enveloping the Demon and ripping him from the time freeze spell long enough to scream and vanish into the ground.

The sisters looked at each other, then back to the remaining creatures.

"Why didn't they vanish too?" Piper asked.

Phoebe looked around and pointed at the guy who had helped her, "He said they were vampires. I guess that means that they aren't tied to this demon."

"Great," Prue groaned, "Damned Demons are hiring help now."

Phoebe grinned, hefting the wooden stake the guy had given her. "Guess we get our hands dirty."

Piper scowled at her, "We don't have any stakes."

Prue moved over to the frozen guy in the Hawaiian shirt, "He's got a bunch in his belt."

Prue grabbed two and tossed them to Piper, then took two for herself. "Ok, let's get these guys."

The remaining vampires were easily handled, being frozen in space and pretty much helpless. When the sisters had dispatched them, they turned back to the frozen guy.

"Well... what do we do about him?" Piper said, eyeing the gaudy shirt with distaste.

"I don't know... take him shopping?" Prue snickered.

"He needs it," Phoebe grinned, "Let him loose, we'll figure something out."

"We always do." Piper said as she waved her hands.

Xander came out of the freeze lunging for the heart of a vampire who wasn't there anymore. "What the!?" he managed to get out as he overbalanced, spun twice, and landed on his ass.

On the ground, he opened his eyes in pain and saw three sets of feet standing a short distance away. Groaning, Xander let his eyes travel up the long legs, the cute... Ummm... not thinking about that now. Not thinking about that now.

Finally he settled on the three faces looking back at him. "Uhhh... What happened?"

The three sisters looked at each other uncomfortably, "Uh... the Muggers got scared off." Prue managed to keep a straight face.

Xander didn't.

First he snorted. Then a snicker broke free. And finally he was rolling on the ground in laughter, much to the ire of the eldest Halliwell.

"What's so funny?" Prue didn't notice the smothered laughter coming from her youngest sister.

"Was *that* the best you could come up with?" Xander managed to get out between breaths, "Come on, even I can tell that your witches. What type? Wiccan? Hecatian? Ummm.... those are the only two types I know..."

"How..." Piper trailed off when she got an elbow from Prue.

"Oh please. I'm driving along, minding my own business when a vamp flies out of an alley and lands in my back seat. I dust him, then come over here and see three women taking on a demon and a dozen vamps... And the kicker is that they're holding their own. What else could you be? Last time I checked Wonder Woman worked alone... Although I do see some similarities in fashion sense."

Phoebe was laughing openly now, but Piper wasn't amused. "Hey! You're not one to talk about *our* fashion sense."

Xander chuckled, picking himself up off the ground, "Sorry. My bad."

"Alright then," Piper said, mollified.

Xander looked at Prue, "You were the one tossing the vamps around right?" He didn't wait for a response before he went on, "You're powerful. My best friend is wicca, and she can't manage much more then a pencil..."

"You have friends who are witches?" Phoebe was interested now.

"Sure," Xander replied easily, "I've known a few... Only one is still around though." Xander finished the statement a little sadly.

"What happened?" Prue asked quietly.

"Life," Xander answered, "And death. It can be a tough world when you look beneath the surface."

The three witches could understand and agree with that.

Halliwell Manor: San Francisco, California

"You've been demon hunting since you were fifteen??" Phoebe was incredulous.

Xander shrugged, "Such is my life. Truth is, it beat the hell out of what I was doing before that."

The sisters looked at him in shock, "What in God's name were you doing before??"

"Not a damned thing." Xander grinned.

Piper looked at him oddly, "You mean you CHOSE to fight vampires and demons?"


"But why?" Piper couldn't understand the choice. Demons always sought her out, trying to kill her and her sisters. She couldn't fathom seeking them out.

"Why do you?"

"It's a destiny thing."

"Ah..." Xander understood now. "I have a friend with that problem. The whole 'Chosen One' scenario. She doesn't much like it either."

"So why do you do it?" Piper asked again.

"Think about it, Piper." Xander said, his face serious. "Now that you know about the evil floating around out there, could you turn a blind eye? Could you leave someone to die?"

Piper was silent for a long time, refusing speak even though the answer was clearly written on her face, finally it was Phoebe who put her feelings into words. "Of course not."

Xander accepted that, "You're a lot like my friend. You both have to understand that your destiny doesn't define you. You define your destiny."

"Easy for you to say." Piper said sourly.

Xander smiled, "Maybe. But I can tell you this. I've been dealing with prophecies, destinies, and all sorts of mystical gibberish for three years now. And I have yet to see one shred of evidence to convince me that our lives are decided for us."

Piper smiled, "Thanks. I think."

Xander decided to stay in town for a while, finding it refreshing to find others engaged in the 'good fight' as he and his friends were. The truth was, it was lonely sometimes, facing off against the darkness. And this was the first time he'd seen evidence that there were others holding back the dark.

It felt good.

A week later

"Is Xander coming over today?" Piper asked her sister, smiling slightly.

Phoebe grinned, then looked a little sad, "Yeah, but he's leaving soon. He say's he wants to get a little farther from Sunnydale then San Francisco before he goes back."

"You two going to keep in touch?"

"You bet!" This time Phoebe's grin was wide and pure, "I finally taught him how to access a web-based email account I set up for him. All he has to do is get to a computer and 'presto', we're in touch."

"That's good," Piper smiled, they all liked Xander... even if he was more then a little annoying at times.

Xander whistled as he hopped up the steps to the manor house, admiring the craftsmanship as he did. Don't build 'em like this anymore.

He stopped at the door and exchanged pleasantries with the Halliwell's handyman, Leo.

"Hey man, how's it coming along?"

"Hey, Xander," Leo answered as he leveled off the window sill he was working on, "Pretty good. I've got a few more weeks before I'm anywhere near done with this place though."

"Old places like this need a lot of upkeep don't they?" Xander was genuinely curious, he enjoyed doing some simple carpentry at home.

"Yeah," Leo smiled as he tapped the sill into place, "But they're worth the extra effort. Heck of a lot nicer to be around then a pre-fab box."

Xander laughed, agreeing with the observation, and rang the door bell.

"Xander," Phoebe grinned, "Come on in. You're just in time for another lesson."

Xander groaned, "I managed to avoid computer lessons for years before I came here and you manage to sucker me into letting you teach me how to surf the web. How?"

Phoebe grinned at him and just walked away, leading him to the kitchen and her laptop.

Xander's eyes glazed over as he watched her hips sway, Oh yeah... now I remember.

After the lesson, in which Xander learned more about web searching and email then he had ever wanted to know, Xander decided to push his luck a little.

"Hey Phoebe," Xander began timidly, "I was wondering... Would you like to go out to a movie or something?"

"Why Alexander," Phoebe grinned when he winced at the use of his full name, "Are you asking me out on a *date*?"

Xander smirked at her tone, "Yeah, I suppose I am."

"I hope you have something better then that kaleidoscope to wear." She smirked herself as she nodded at his shirt.

Xander looked down, chagrined. "What's wrong with my shirt?"

Phoebe raised her hand and started to tick off her fingers, opening her mouth to start the list as Xander interrupted her.

"Rhetorical question."

Phoebe grinned, but lowered her hand. "So do you?"

"Yeah, I figure I can pull something of a single color out of my trunk."

It was a few hours later that Xander showed up at the manor house again, this time dressing in a loose forest green shirt and black pair of jeans.

Phoebe grinned at him when she answered the door, "Better, but you still need work."

"Har de har har. Real funny." Xander smiled, a little chagrined. He didn't understand the whole deal with clothes, it was more important to be comfortable then anything else... or at least that's what he had always believed.

"Can we stop by Bucklands for a bit? Prue wanted me to bring some things by for her."

"No prob." Xander said easily, "What sort of stuff? Spell casting?"

"No." She laughed, "She forgot her lunch."

"Doh." Xander comically smacked his head as he held the car door open for Phoebe.

Bucklands Auction House, San Francisco, California

Prue Halliwell was setting up a new auction when her sister and Xander came through the door.

"Hey, sis!" Phoebe grinned, holding up a brown paper bag as she moved forward.

Xander held back a bit, looking at the items on display in the room. Truthfully, he was a little surprised that no one stopped him from coming back this far. There were signs all over the place saying 'employees only'.

I guess being a guest of the curator cuts a lot of red tape, Xander mused as he examined the various items gathering dust in the large room.

"Man, Giles would love this place." Xander whispers under his breath. He could see ancient pottery, urns, chalices, and other items that he could remember from Giles' books and private collection.

Xander moved through the room, running his fingers lightly over some of the more dusty objects, and finally stopped at an odd item that was resting on a black velvet cushion. What is this?

It was a metal rod, a little less then a foot long and almost two inches in diameter. A perfect cylinder, one that seem to be generating it's own light. Xander shook off that observation, Just a reflection... that's all it was. Just a reflection.

Xander reached out hesitantly, his fingers brushing the cool surface of the cylinder. For a instant the glow seemed to grow, but then it was gone and Xander drew his had back. Xander turned and walked over to Phoebe, not noticing that the brief glow of the cylinder had pulsed once then faded as he turned away.

"We done?" Xander asked as he walked up to the sisters.

"We're done." Phoebe said cheerfully as she grabbed his arm and led him out, "Let's go see that movie. Bye Prue!"

"Cya Phoebes."

Prue turned back to her work as the other two left. None of them noticed the faint glow return to the cylinder, a glow that slowly expanded until it encompassed the small artifact and then faded, taking the cylinder with it when it vanished.

It awakened slowly. It had been centuries since it had been touched by a worthy host, centuries that only Demons and their ilk had laid hands upon it. It hated demons, in so much as it could hate anything. They contaminated all that they touched, even to the point of spreading their plague to other species. This one, though, had a touch that was clean. Not pure, but close enough to stir the Old Ways from its memories. It bonded the touch to itself in reflex, not really certain what it would do immediately. But there was no choice really, no choice at all.

It had been passed from one demonic hand to another for over eight thousand years, or worse through human hands that were blinded by avarice, greed, or evils as black as any the demonic races could lay claim to. Those people had no concept of the fundamentals of existence. Honor. Sacrifice. Life. Death.

As far as it was concerned the world had fallen upon a dark age. Ten millennia ago had been a more civilized time. Thousands of its brethren had existed then, joined with Warriors and Scholars, Healers and Builders. It hadn't been a perfect time, the entity would not permit its memories to cloud its judgment to that extreme, but it had been better. Demons had known their place, and their place had NOT been here.

It still remembered the fall, and grieved the loss of its comrades as much as it grieved the loss of the era. It had been time when the Ancients ruled the Paths to the Heavens. Before their fall, and the arrival of the Petty Gods.

Now, for the first time in almost nine millennia it had found a host it was willing to bond. Not a warrior. No, that would be too much to ask for. This was a host that had seen the road, but had yet to decide to walk it. It would be difficult, It knew this, but it was long past time that the Old Ways were returned to the world.

Xander and Phoebe, their arms looped behind each other's backs, half staggered out of the theater, not because they were impaired but because they couldn't stop laughing.

"I wish demons were like that."

Xander laughed, "Hey, I've actually *seen* demons like that."

"No!" Phoebe pushed off him, giggling at the joke.

"No kidding. I swear." Xander held his hands up in supplication, "We had this freaky vamp a while back who actually had *access* to the Slayer's home and he just left her some gifts to play with her head."

"You've got to be kidding me," Phoebe didn't believe it, Demons weren't that stupid. Were they?

"Nope," Xander grinned, "Dumb putz was a real sick SOB but he went out of his way to piss the Slayer off instead of just killing her."

"God," Phoebe laughed, and hit Xander in the shoulder.

"Ow!" Xander whined as he rubbed his shoulder, "What the hell was that for?"

"Ruining all my delusions about how smart Demons really were."

"Jeez... I guess I shouldn't mention that there's no Santa Clause then, right?"

Another smack sounded through the night air, followed by another whine.


All right, It mused to itself, He isn't the ideal host. But he is better then any I've seen since the fall.

It was observing the boy through the bond-link. Trying to map the boy's mind so it could gage the man-child's readiness. What it found was confusing. On one level the child was an innocent, barely 'awake' to the true depth of the world that surrounded him. Yet, on another, there was a warrior essence. As it dug deeper it ran into yet another layer, one so deeply intertwined with the boy's core that it almost mistook what it found for the man-child's very soul.

Dangerous. It considered the find carefully, the boy had no less than two separate spirits intertwined with his essence. It was a miracle that the child was still sane, the stress on the boy's psyche must have been immense.

And yet he had survived. And grown stronger from the ordeal, he was even fighting off the changes invoked by the spirits within him. It was slow, but given time the boy would be free of them. For a long time the being considered the spirits, and the changes they had invoked. They were dangerous, but it was too late to do anything about that. Now, perhaps, they could be put to good use.

Low Rent Motel, San Francisco, California

Xander woke up sweating, biting down an urge to scream in terror. God. It's been months since I've had one of those dreams.

Shaking off the sounds of gunfire and the screams of the dying he tossed the blankets off him, and pushed off the small bed, and looked around. The phrase 'hole in the wall' didn't really cover the room he had gotten, but it was cheap and it was something between him and weather.

He just had this feeling that someone was in the room with him, and he couldn't shake it. His eyes flitted around quickly, but saw nothing out of the ordinary, until they came to rest on the end table.

What the...? He stared at the table and could have sworn that for an instant he saw something glowing. A blink later and it was gone. Xander shook his head and laid back down, closing his eyes, and prayed that the dreams wouldn't come back.

It shuddered. That was far too close for comfort. The boy should never have awakened, let alone been able to locate its position. It was beginning to see how the child had survived the events of his life. He had a strong spirit, one strong enough to make up for whatever other fault's lay within. That coupled with the child's remarkable tolerance to mystical energy fields made the issue of control a touchy one.

Perhaps the boy was not a suitable host after all.

It was mid-morning before Xander woke up for the day, the daylight was streaming into the room and already making the place uncomfortably hot. He was sweating and uncomfortable, but just happy that it wasn't the cold sweat of the night before.

Damn. What a nightmare. Xander tried to bring it back to mind, but all he could recall were the impressions it left. The lingering smell of sweat and cordite, and the rush of fear even though he couldn't remember what he had been afraid of.

Slowly he shook it off, pulling some clothes from the floor he got dressed and figured that it was time for some breakfast. Or lunch. Whichever.

A drive through breakfast. Man, I love living in the age of fast food. Xander chortled as he scarfed down the egg and muffin sandwich, following it with a large shake and some hash browns.

He was driving through the 'burbs, winding his way toward the Manor. He couldn't quite place it, but he had been feeling weird since the day before. The hair on the back of his neck always seemed to be standing on end, giving him the eerie impression that he was being watched.

It watched, disgustedly, as the boy crammed poison into his body. Times had changed far too much for it's liking, far too much indeed.

Just as Xander approached the Manor house, the three sisters came rushing out like the devil himself was chasing them. Something, Xander supposed, that was entirely possible.

"I had a vision!" Phoebe yelled as she spotted Xander.

"Need a hand?"

"Sure," Phoebe said, hopping over the door into the passenger seat of the convertible. "You guys coming?"

Piper and Prue looked undecided between Prue's car and Xander's, finally choosing the latter.

At least I won't have to worry about some demon wrecking my car, Prue smirked as she jumped into the back.

"Where too?" Xander asked as he pulled away from the curb.

"Warehouse district."

"Gee, imagine that." Xander shook his head, "Why is it always the warehouse district?"

"Low rent?" Prue hazarded a guess.

"Lots of room, no prying eyes?" Piper tried.

Phoebe looked over at Xander, who was smirking. "Nope, They've just watched to many bad movies."

Xander laughed as he turned the car toward the waterfront.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

"Ohhhh..." He moaned as he stumbled to the ground, his head spinning. "Christ. It never gets any easier."

He managed to straighten up and stagger toward the sound of traffic, finally finding someone out walking their dog.

"Hey buddy," he managed to rasp out. "Where am I?"

The man looks at the figure oddly, taking his smoking orange flight-suit, "Golden Gate Park."

"Cool." A grin cracked though his soot-covered face, "Right on target."

"So what are we after?" Xander tried to sound nonchalant as he drove, but failed miserably.

Phoebe smiled, "Big, nasty, demon. I saw him make some people really sick with a wave of his hands."

"So... in a word, yuck?"

"Yeah, that about covers it." Phoebe lost her smile, "You should probably stay back, Xander. We're witches, we might be immune... or at least have a better chance at beating whatever this thing puts out."

Xander grimaced, "Sorry. I know you're just trying to protect me and everything, but what I told Piper about not believing in being controlled by destiny works two ways. I may not be destined to fight the good fight, but I have a right to choose to fight. And I've made my choice."

Phoebe nodded, but shared a concerned glance with her sisters in the back seat. At Phoebe's piercing glance Piper nodded once, understanding what she was being asked.

"This the place?"

Phoebe looked at the warehouse across the road. "Yeah, this is it."

Prue leaned forward, "What time was it in your vision?"

"It was daylight, I think," Phoebe was concentrating, "Could be anytime..."

"So we wait?" Piper asked.

"We wait," Prue confirmed.

Three long hours of boredom later Xander spotted someone moving around the warehouse.

"Hey," he nudged Phoebe, "Check it out."

The young witch looked up, her eyes scanning the building. "This could be it. Piper... Piper."

"Huh?" Piper shook her head, blinking her eyes. "What?"

"Give me the detection spell we got from the Book of Shadows."


Phoebe took the spell and components, mixing them carefully as she uttered a quiet rhyme. "Reveal the source of illness foul, Open our eyes and do it now."

Xander looked over at her, "What was that?"

"Hey, you try finding a proper rhyme to go with foul."

Xander shrugged, and cracked a crooked grin, "Whatever."

The group got out of the car, and started to move across the street. As Xander stepped to the curb Phoebe looked back at Piper. Piper nodded and flicked her hands, freezing Xander in mid step.

"This is a little public," Prue didn't like the idea.

Phoebe grimaced slightly, "We'll have to take that chance, Prue. I don't want him to get hurt."

"It won't last long you know," Piper said as the sisters started across the street.

"It doesn't have to."

It observed the witch's actions with some amusement. Even on his own the child would fight off the magical field holding him rather quickly, with the bonding now complete the field would hold the boy for exactly as long as he allowed it. The being surmised that it would take the boy less then a minute to break free, less if his emotions became inflamed.

He blinked his eyes, and was even tempted to rub them a couple times to see if that would clear them. Nothing changed. There was still a man, in mid step no less, apparently frozen in the act of closing his car door.

This mission is getting freakier by the minute. He cautiously approached the young man, calling out to him as he walked closer. "Hey! You all right?"

No response.

He peered into the young man's eyes, and saw no recognition or even life. "Christ. This wasn't reported as a symptom of the plague. What the hell happened to this kid?"

The man waved his hand in the boy's face for a while, mostly out of curiosity. He almost jumped out of his skin when the boy's hand flashed at lightning speed and grabbed his wrist in a strong grip.

"What plague? Who the hell are you?"

Xander was incensed. He was also confused, puzzled, and generally freaked out. What is it with me and girls? Do I have some kind of damned sign on my back saying 'Im helpless, mother me!?'

Of course he had other problems at the moment as well, including the fact that he was paralyzed by Piper's powers, and yet had somehow remained conscious. Then this Bozo comes up to him and starts checking him out, something that Xander didn't much care for from another guy. All in all it wasn't a great turn of events from his point of view.

Hey, what's that? Plague? What plague? Hey you prick, I'm not blind! Not so damned close, what are you trying to do, stick a finger up my nose!?

That was when Xander's body suddenly jumped back under his control and he grabbed the man's wrist.

"What plague? Who the hell are you?"

The man stared at him in shock for a second, before responding to the second question.

"I'm Frank Parker, NSA."

There was a long moment of silence while Xander absorbed that. NSA? What in the hell? A thousand conspiracy theories circled in his mind while he tried to assimilate the events of the last few minutes.

"What the hell is an NSA agent doing here?"

Parker looked at him, "That's classified, Kid."

"Yeah right." Xander dropped the man's hand, "You probably don't know much more then what you were mumbling earlier. Where is your back up?"

"Back up?" Frank tried to put the kid off.

Xander ignored him, grabbing his machete from the car and fitting a couple stakes into his belt.

The ex-Navy SEAL watched as the boy fitted sticks of wood into his belt and tied a large machete to his thigh with all the seriousness and focus of a member of the 'Teams' preparing for patrol. What the hell is he doing?

"Where do you think your going?" Frank asked, his hand moving for his gun.

"After my friends, and if you grab for that pistol your nickname is going to be stumpy from now on." Xander tried to bluff him, lightly fingering the machete on his thigh.

Frank wasn't stupid, he stepped back before continuing to pull his pistol. "Hold it right there."

Suddenly they both heard a scream from the warehouse and Xander took off like a shot, yelling over his shoulder as he went. "I don't have time for this. You want to shoot me, do it."

Frank watched the kid run off, the muzzle of his pistol drooping downward. Finally he shrugged and took off after the kid. What the hell. Can't be any weirder then my other missions... can it?

Inside the warehouse things had gone to hell, or so close as to make little difference.

"Piper! Freeze him!" Prue screamed as she tried to tend to Phoebe, who was crumpled on the floor.

"I'm trying!"

The demon wasn't having any trouble fighting off the witch's attempts at freezing him. It was laughable actually, that these were the so called Charmed Ones, these three slips who couldn't muster sufficient power to so much as slow him down.

"You're dead, witches!" He spat that last word like it was a vile obscenity.

The demon strode forward, intent on ripping the three girls limb from limb when a sharp pain struck him from behind.

When he entered the building Xander had an overwhelming feeling of deja vu. Phoebe was slumped on the ground, her sisters trying to tend to her. The Demon was easily shrugging off both Prue's attacks and Piper's attempts to freeze him.

At times like this Xander didn't think. Literally. Not one coherent thought passed through his head as he charged the Demon, his machete already clearing leather.

The demon never saw him coming, and Xander made it up to his back before swinging the Machete down in a wicked arc that left the heavy blade buried in the demon's shoulder. When the demonic form swivelled about in pain, it took the blade with him, ripping the machete from Xander's hand.

Xander didn't get a chance to curse or run before the Demon's big fist connected with his jaw, and sent him flying back. He hit the ground solidly, his eyesight going black as his head struck the ground. When it cleared he could see a very angry Demon stalking toward him screaming something, but his ears were ringing so badly that he couldn't make it out.

Frank Parker followed the kid into the warehouse just in time to see him charge an eight foot 'thing' that was attacking the three girls he had been sent to investigate. Sweet Jesus, what is that thing?

The boy buried his machete blade into the monsters back, only to be thrown halfway across the warehouse when it retaliated. Parker watched as the Demon stalked toward the kid. Shit. The kid's trying to get back up. He thought as he watched the kid stagger to his feet, drawing one of the wooden stakes as he did.

Kid's got guts. Frank made his decision, lifting his Berretta and moving slowly forward as he fired.

Xander's eyes cleared as he staggered to his feet, grabbing the only weapons available to him. Two wooden stakes against THAT freak. Oh no, this couldn't be any simpler.

He was starting to circle the demon, cautiously this time since he didn't have surprise on his side anymore. He gripped the stakes firmly in each hand, points downward, and hoped for an opening. When it came it was a shocker.

That Parker joker had entered the fray, emptying a clip from his service pistol into the demon. Xander knew that the bullets weren't likely to do much more the piss the freak off, but that alone might provide him the distraction he was going to need.

"Prue!" Xander yelled, "I'm going to need my machete back!"

Prue looked up from her fallen sister, and nodded one, narrowing her eyes at the blade embedded in the Demon's shoulder. First it quivered slightly, drawing even more screams from the Demon as it did. Finally it flew free, hitting the floor and clattering a bit to the left of Xander's position.

Frank's eyes widened as the creature took his bullets and shrugged them off. He heard the kid yell to one of the girls about getting his Machete but Parker knew that there was no way that ANYONE was getting close enough to grab that knife without getting ripped to shreds.

That was when the blade apparently decided of its own accord that it wanted to return to its owner. How the hell?

Frank kept firing, pausing only to slap a new clip into the automatic, his SEAL training forcing him to keep his mind on the job instead of the weird shit that was going down. From the corner of his eye he could see the kid grab his blade in a diving roll that brought him up on the creatures far side, machete in hand and little more then a cold, focused, look in his eyes.

Xander had his machete now, and was circling the demon again, trying to stay clear of parker's line of fire as he did so.

"Come on ugly," Xander hefted the blade and grinned crookedly, "I got a present for you."

The demon roared at the mocking tone the child was using, "Come here yourself, child. I have a gift for *you*."

"Xander!" Prue screamed as he started forward, "Don't let him lay his hands on you! That's how he infected Phoebe!"

"Great." Xander muttered, "The big bad demon's got cooties!"

It didn't matter anyway. The demon was trying to hurt his friends, and that meant only one option was left open. The demon had to die. His face closing up in determination, Xander lifted the heavy blade in his hands and moved in to attack.

Frank held his fire, watching helplessly as the boy moved in closer to the beast. Kid, you are out of your freaking mind. If bullets won't stop that thing there is no way in hell that butter knife you're carrying will.

The boy got in close and, ducking the creature's first swing, slashed it across the belly with the blade. Frank winced at the demon's scream as it echoed through the hallowed out building. How the hell?

No. Definitely not 'host material'. The being decided as it watched the conflict. It was torn by the scene it saw. If it should help the child, it would risk revealing itself to a person with the potential to lock it up again for another Ten Millennia. But... it hated demons. And the child fought demons. Perhaps a host is not in the cards. But maybe... I can have a Partner again?

Xander ducked the second blow the demon aimed at him, slashing the Demon's arm as it passed. Xander smirked, mostly to himself, as the Demon's roar of pain echoed though the warehouse again. It was still going to be a hard fight, the Demon wasn't slowing down but neither, surprisingly, was Xander.

Xander leapt up after the blow had passed, planting one hand on the Demon's shoulder and the other on its head. Using his grip to boost his jump, Xander brought his knee heavily into the Demonic visage in front of him. There was no finesse to his movements, just a simple brutal efficiency that would haunt Xander when he had the time to consider it.

Frank's jaw may as well have hit the ground. He knew the fighting style he was watching the boy use. He'd learned it himself in the 'Teams'. It was distilled from several styles from around the world. The art of combat, the art of killing, distilled to it's simplest and most brutal form for use in Special Forces Units around the world.

That kid is younger then I was before I signed up. How the hell does he know that style? Frank didn't have time to think about it. He'd had enough of standing on the sidelines in this fight, the least he could do was help the kid out. Pulling his SpyderCo knife from his pocket and flipped it open he advanced on the fight.

Xander's heartbeat was hammering in his ears as he kept hammering and slicing away at the demon in front of him. For all the hits he was getting in, the Demon didn't seem to be faltering at all. Xander knew from his personal experience that decapitation would probably do the job, but the Demon was pretty good at guarding his neck.

He had just been blocked again when the Demon suddenly roared in pain and spun around. Xander could see the handle of a folding knife sticking out of its side when he did. Parker, I owe you one.

Xander took his opportunity, swinging the heavy machete blade hard into the demons neck, slicing over halfway through before the swing was halted.

Prue watched the fight, feeling helpless as she did. She knew that she wasn't cut out for a physical toe-to-toe match with a demon, but normally her powers insulated her from that necessity. It was Phoebe who learned to fight, who learned to protect herself without relying on powers, because her own powers were non-confrontational in their origins. It was Phoebe who faced off with the Demon first, giving her sisters the time to prepare their spell... A spell that they couldn't cast when Phoebe went down, taking the power of three with her.

Now it was Xander and the new guy who were battling the beast. Using no magic, just their own strength and skills pitted against a demonic entity.

Xander's scream of anger and frustration was drowned by the Demon's scream of pain. He put all his strength into the jammed blade, sawing it further along its course through the writhing demon's neck. Demonic blood and ichor splattered his face and chest as he kept pushing, following the Demon down as he fell first to his knees and then on his face. Finally Xander stood up from the motionless demon and kicked the machete blade the rest of the way through its neck.

As the Demon's head rolled clear Xander looked around, his vision suddenly spotting with bright white lights and his legs turning to rubber. He fell, not even noticing when Parker caught him inches from the floor and dragged him away from the Demon's already decaying corpse.

"Help us!" Prue yelled as the new guy laid Xander down gently, "We have to get back to our place!"

"No way, lady." Frank shook his head, "You guys are infected with the plague I was sent to stop. Hell, by now, so am I. We can't risk spreading it to the rest of the city."

Prue glared at the man, her eyes narrowing as she focused her power. "We have to get to the manor if we want to find a cure!"

Frank shook his head, bringing his pistol up. "No way. The CDC is on their way, I can't let you leave."

He never got a chance to finish as the gun was ripped from his hands by an unseen force, flinging it completely to the other side of the warehouse. Next he felt himself be picked up off the ground and tossed several feet back, landing on his ass. "What the hell!?"

"I'm telling you this one more time. Pick up Xander," Prue said, nodding toward the boy on the ground. "We've got our sister. We're going back to the manor to look for a cure. NOW."

Stupid people are not allowed into the Navy Seals and Frank Parker, despite what his friends may say, is not a stupid person. He knew a force majeure when he saw it, even if he didn't understand precisely what it was. He did the only smart thing he could think of, he obeyed the order.

The drive to the Manor was short and quiet, no one spoke because no one knew what to say. Frank was in the back, flanked by the motionless forms of Xander and Phoebe, constantly checking himself for symptoms while trying to do the same for the two women in the front. Prue was driving fast, probably too fast to be safe considering the shape of Xander's car. Piper was worrying, muttering to herself and throwing constant glances at the back seat.

It was her that Frank was worried about mostly. He'd seen it before, she was in shock and she wasn't handling very well. Not that he blamed her, it was a rough gig watching a death match like that. Especially when your sister and a friend are the ones on the line.

Once at the Manor, Frank managed to lift the kid on his own while the first two sisters grabbed the third. The group of them rushed, as much as possible, into the big house and laid the two people down on the couch.

"Ewww..." Piper moaned as the blood and ichor from Xander's face and clothes wiped off on the couch.

"Hush, Piper," Prue grinned before she rushed up the stairs to the attic.

"Oh, Hurry up with the book, and leave me to worry about getting that mess out of the fabric!"

Frank looked at the two sisters, an incredulous look on his face. They're acting like they do this every other day...

"Got it!" Prue announced as she walked back in, reading the Book of Shadows as she did.

"Belgari Demon. Hmmm... Damn, wish Phoebe's vision had been clearer earlier.... There's a vanquish here for it. Hmmm... let's see, Belgari Sickness... Typically results in a coma-like state while welts and pustules form along the victims skin... gross... Ah... here we go. The antidote requires a sample of the demon's blood."

Piper looked at Xander, "I think we've got that covered."

Prue grimaced, "Ok, scrape some off him and we'll mix the potion."


Demon? What in the....? Frank watched as the two sisters went about their task, taking a sample of the blood that had spattered the boy and mixing with herbs and roots from their kitchen. What kind of person keeps essence of toad in their pantry?

He had to admit that it seemed to work though, the potion almost instantly cleared up the visible signs of infection on the two victims and the shot he had taken, after carefully watching them take theirs, made him feel a lot better.

A low moan served to announce the awakening of the boy laying on the couch, and the three of them rushed to his side.

"Oh man...." Xander groaned as his head rebelled at his attempt to move, "What hit me?"

"A Belgari demon," Piper answered primly, her voice much more relaxed now that she was confident that her sister and friend would be all right.

"A who what now?" Xander shut his eyes, trying to ease the headache.

"A Belgari Demon. Nasty type, they collect pathogens and infect humans for fun," Prue answered, still reading from the Book of Shadows.

"Well..." Xander drawled, "Everyone needs a hobby."

Another low moan sounded through the room.

"Phoebe, are you all right?" Piper's voice had a worried tinge again.

"I was until he made a joke THAT bad," Phoebe moaned.


Frank watched the proceedings with some amusement, tempered though it was by the fact that he really had no clue what they were talking about most of the time. Finally he had had enough.

"Ok, everyone, hold it!" Frank held up his hands, "What the hell just happened?"

Xander flashed him a weak smile, "Hey, Mr. NSA. Well we almost got our asses handed to us by some kind of Demonic nerd who collects germs."

"Demon," Franks tone was unbelieving.

"Demon," Xander agreed. "I know, hard to swallow. Don't worry too much about it, it's over and you can explain it any way you like."

Frank thought about it long and hard, there was no way in hell that anyone back at Never Never Land was going to buy into a story about demons... even if he couldn't find another more likely explanation. What the hell am I going to tell them?

Finally he took a deep breath. "Here's what happened. A terrorist brought a bio weapon into the country. I, along with some local help, prevented it from being deployed." Frank rubbed his forehead, "As for anything else I may have seen... I didn't."

Xander grinned, "I've heard that tune before. But before you go forgetting everything you didn't see I want to thank you."


"Cause you saved my ass when you distracted the thing that wasn't there. Twice. We'd be dead if you hadn't come along."

Parker nodded, You and three quarters of San Francisco. "Anytime kid." Frank laughed, "Man, I've seen some weird shit, but this one is going down in the record books for sure."

Xander laughed along with him, wondering why he was getting such a strange vibe off the NSA agent. It wasn't bad, it just felt like the guy was out of place.

It watched the events with satisfaction. It hadn't been discovered, and it had secured some very valuable information. It was beginning to hope that it might be able to trust the boy, his willingness to sacrifice himself for his friends was a good sign.

The other man, the one called Parker, bothered it however. He was carrying a powerful aura about him, one that the being had seen only rarely. He was a man out of time. And that was something that always brought trouble. The being hoped that it wouldn't have to deal with that man much in the future, time travel made it nervous.

Halliwell Manor, Two Days Later

"You sure you have to go?" Phoebe sounded slightly plaintive.

Xander smiled, "Yeah, You guys don't really need me around and I want to get a break from the whole 'demon hunting' gig for a while. Besides, it's not like I wont be back, heck I only live a few hours away... We'll probably be calling each other up for help every time an apocalypse rears its head."

The sisters grinned, it was a little strained... but it was a grin.

"Bad joke?"

"Out!" Prue pointed to the door, her eyes narrowing.

"I'm going, I'm going!" Xander laughed, holding his hands up in supplication, as he made a run for the door.

Phoebe stopped him at the door, "Be careful."

"Aren't I always?" Xander grinned.

Phoebe hit him. "I'm serious you nut."

Xander's smile turned serious, and whispered. "So was I. I only take stupid chances when the prize is worth the gamble."

Phoebe smiled wide at that, and leaned in and kissed him lightly on the lips.

"Be seeing you."

Xander stared at the door as it closed, and whispered, "You bet you will."

With that he headed down the driveway and hopped over the drivers side door of his convertible and bade San Francisco good by.

Terrace Point, Montana; Two Days later

Xander was sleeping in the back of his car, he had tried renting a room the night before but couldn't get any sleep anyway because of the nightmares. So he figured, why waste the cash? The dreams were starting to get odd though. They used to be predictable, terrifying, but predictable. Like flashbacks from old war movies, except he was actually there instead of just watching. Now they were different.

They had the same feelings, but the subject matter had changed. Instead of Vietnam, Korea, or a Black Ops mission into Columbia or Peru he was fighting demons and vamps. Xander figured that he should have expected that twist sooner or later, but it just didn't sit well with him.

Some times he would see a demon in his dreams and, suddenly, he'd just KNOW. He'd know its name, its weaknesses, hell he remembered walking up to one of them in his dream and chatting back and forth in its language. The weird part was that he didn't understand a word that either the demon or he was saying... Just this overwhelming feeling that it WAS a conversation.

Sighing he reached over the seat and turned on the radio, deciding that if he couldn't sleep then he'd listen to some tunes and hope to drift off eventually.

"Your listening to KBTP radio, the sound of the heartlands. We'll be back in five with more songs from the heart, right after this news break."

Xander groaned, the last thing he wanted to listen to was the news. His life was depressing enough.

"Top story tonight is the shocking murders in the small town of Terrace Point, fifteen deaths have been attributed to this sadistic killer in the past two nights..."

Xander sat bolt upright in the car, his head swiveling until he caught sight of the sign he had parked next to.

Welcome to Terrace Point, Population 5032.

Shit. 5017 you mean. Xander shook himself awake, reaching around for his machete.

"Police refuse to comment but some eyewitnesses claim that the murders were committed by monsters. Witness descriptions have been written off as mass hallucinations and public paranoia concerning the dangers of having a murderer in the area..."

Shit. He thought again. Why am I always in the middle of this crap?

Why is he always in the middle of this crap? The being watched as the boy prepared for war, even as he hoped that the communication was a false alarm. The boy was a born Sentinel, unable to walk away from a threat to the whole. The being sighed, and marshaled its own energies in case the boy again bit off more then he could chew.

The child will soon require my capabilities directly. Can I trust him?

Xander drove into town slowly, his eyes scanning the road as he did. This seemed odd for a Demon attack, they usually kept a lower profile. Something this big usually meant one thing. They were preparing a sacrifice for some major bad, and things were about to hit the fan.

He was within sight of the town when the screams started. Screams so loud that he could hear them over the engine and the sound of the tires on the road.

Xander hit the breaks, slewing the car to a stop, as he looked for the source of the cries. Jesus, what the hell is that?

The screams were coming from a small grove of trees that was a short distance off the road. Xander couldn't make out much more the some frantic movement through the branches, movement that looked altogether too familiar.

Next time, I bring more weapons. He thought, disgustedly, as he once again strapped the machete to his thigh and carefully fit his remaining stakes into his belt.

Lynn Johnson cowered away from her attacker, its grotesque figure no longer the source of her terror so much as the fact that she had just witnessed it rip the stomach from three other people with less regard then a person would give a rabid animal.

It was advancing on her, following her as she shrank away, until she backed against a tree. It grinned at her, a disgusting image, and reached out its arms for her dace. Then its smile turned to shock as it stumbled once and then fell over, revealing a young man behind it holding a bloody machete and a slightly insane look on his face.

The young man looked at her for a short moment then said, "Come with me if you want to live."

Lynn stared at him in shock for a second until his face broke into a goofy grin and he spoke again, "I've always wanted to say that. Come on, girl. we've got to get moving."

Xander pulled the young girl to her feet and half dragged her across the clearing to where the other people had been gathered together.

"Come on people, let's not let the grass grow here. We've got to get moving."

"Who.. Who are you, man?" One young man asked as he looked around in terror.

"Name's Xander, but we don't have time for introductions. Move it!"

That last was snapped in a tone of command and brooked no argument, even from terrified teenagers. They grouped up behind him as he led the group of eight people back towards the main road. They hadn't gotten more then a few steps when three demons stepped forward to block their path.

Xander continued toward them, even as the people following him shrank back in fear, showing an outward confidence that he certainly didn't feel inside. "Hey, uglies. What say we call it a night and everyone goes home, k?"

The Demons didn't even bother to respond, they just attacked.

Xander ducked under the first punch, and swiped at the demon's underbelly, gutting the thing where it stood. The second demon's punch caught him on the jaw and threw him back, crashing him into the group he was protecting.

"Ouch." Xander muttered, tightening his grip on the machete. "Toss me back in, guys."

The two men who had caught him gave him a strange look, shook their heads, and did as he asked. As they watched the young man wade back into the fight, they both shrugged their shoulders and one muttered to the other.

"Aw hell."

Both men followed Xander into the melee, keeping well clear of the young man's machete, and tried to flank the two remaining monsters.

Xander didn't bother to duck the next swing, instead opting to block it with the business end of the Machete. The demon screamed as the blade cut deeply into his arm, and Xander winced in sympathy as he drew a wooden stake with his left hand and drove it into the general area of the Demon's heart. He hoped.

The demon let out another scream and fell to the ground, twitching.

"Well, he didn't turn to dust, but what the hell." Xander muttered as he tried to extract the machete from the Demon's arm while the other two guys struggled to hold back the last monster.

"Be right with you, guys!" Xander yelled as the blade finally jerked free.

"Oh, please, take your... ugh... time!" One of them yelled back sarcastically as the Demon landed a solid blow to his chest, cracking ribs in the process.

Xander charged in again, bringing the machete down in a powerful stroke that actually cleaved through the distracted Demon's skull. As the ugly creature fell to the ground Xander screwed up his face in disgust at the slime that clung to the machete as he pulled it out.

"Ewww." Xander bent down and wiped the blade off on the ground. "That's really disgusting."

The group of people have come a bit closer as the fighting died down and were gaining enough nerve to ask questions.

"What the hell was that thing?"

Xander grimaced, and straightened up. "Funny you should mention hell..." He trailed off as the lights came on in some of their eyes.

"No way."

"Demons? Please. Those are myths."

"They've gotta be aliens."

Xander rolled his eyes at that one. Aliens, yeah right.

"Naw, man. Government conspiracy. That's the ticket."

Paranoid much? Christ, these people watch too much TV. Xander's eyes widened in shock, Oh God! Did *I* say that!? Crap I have to find some better guy pals then Giles, Wolfman, and Deadboy.

"Look!" Xander yelled above the growing voices, "We don't have time to argue. Let's haul ass and worry about naming the bastards in the morning, K?"

That, was a suggestion, the group could get behind. They followed Xander out of the small grove and back to his car.

Oh goody. Now I get to see how we can fit nine people into my car. If one of them makes a joke about clowns I'm gonna stake him.

The town meeting was amusing to watch, from Xander's point of view at least. He sat off to one side slowly running a whetstone over the blade of his machete and tried to keep from grinning at the wild theories that were flying around the room.

"Mutants!!" One man was screaming, "They're mutants I tell you!"

Xander shook his head, Another one reading too many comic books... GOD! I did it again. If I start snacking on tea and crumpets instead of soda and twinkies me and G-Man are going to have a serious chat about the responsibilities of role models on today's youth.

"Get serious Mike! They have to be some government experiment. Nothing else makes sense."

The first voice, presumably Mike, immediately started arguing and Xander let out a sigh at the uselessness of the debate. Keep them from killing you first. THEN worry about what to call them.

"Were you serious?" an older man had approached him softly, almost causing Xander to jump when he spoke.

"About what?"

"Demons," the man spoke the word almost reverently, as if it meant something to him.

Xander took a look at the man and understood why instantly, "Yes, Father. I was serious."

The priest sat down, the look on his face was a cross between fear and relief. "Why do you think this?"

"Been protecting my hometown from the things for nearly three years now." Xander shrugged, "They're not hard to spot once you know what your looking for."

"But..." the man trailed off for a moment, "What evidence do you have that they are demons?"

"This bunch? Nothing but personal experience." Xander watched the older man sigh, "But since Vampires and most Demons react badly to religious icons and holy water it's a safe bet."

The man smiled, "Crosses hold them back?"

"Like I said, I don't know about this bunch. Maybe, they are a lower level group."

"Lower level? How..."

"Do I know?" Xander smiled and hefted his machete, "This thing killed them easily. That's a pretty good sign, even if I did have it blessed by a Priest, a Rabbi, and a Wiccan witch."

"Witch?" The priest paled slightly.

Xander smiled again, continuing to run the whetstone over the blade. "Sounds like the setup for a joke doesn't it? A Priest, a Rabbi, and a Witch go into a bar..."

The priest actually chuckled at that, "I suppose it does."

"Witches are a powerful force on the earth, Padre. But they're human, so a few bad eggs ruined their name over the centuries. From what my friend keeps lecturing me on," Xander smiled at the thought of all the Wiccan lectures Willow gave that he had tried to tune out, "Witches, the Wiccan ones anyway, draw their power from the nature spirits that roam the planet. Call it the Earth Mother, Gaia, or whatever else... Same thing, different names. You and other men of the cloth draw your abilities, whether they are blessings, holy water, exorcism or some other stuff that only a few of you probably have any clue about, from your God."

"Which faith?"

Xander laughed, "Any of them from what I've seen. I had to hold a Vamp back once with an Egyptian symbol, can't remember what it was called, and a friend of mine used her Star of David to good effect. Frankly I prefer crosses, but that's mostly cause they're easy to hold in a fight."

The priest laughed at that, "I never considered that as a good reason to carry a cross before."

Xander chuckled, "Considering my after school hobby, it's sometimes all I think about."

The priest became serious again, "Do others... know?"

"What? About Demons?" At the Priest's nod Xander continued, "Sure. I've personally had a hand in preventing Armageddon at least... oh three? Four times? Something like that..."

The Priest paled at the calm manner the boy in front of him spoke of the End of Days.

Xander ignored him, and continued. "Now, granted, my town was built on a dimensional portal to hell, so that sort of thing happens a bit more often there then elsewhere. But I doubt that all the worlds evil is located in Sunnydale. So, since we're still alive, it's safe to say that there are other groups fighting the good fight around the planet."

"You don't know?" The Priest asked somewhat fearfully.

"I've met some. Not many, but some." Xander shrugged again, it was becoming a familiar gesture, and continued to sharpen his machete. "Our fight isn't meant for the light of day, Padre. Most people don't want to know what's out there, and they're pretty militant about it."

The Priest followed Xander's eyes to the argument that was still burning through the town meeting. Sadly he shook his head, uncertain whether to feel pride that there were people like the boy beside him willing to fight the evils of the world, or shame that the members of his flock were so quick to bury their heads in the sand.

"What will you do now?"

Xander considered his options slowly, "I think I'll hang around town for a bit, Father. Those four last night might have been the bunch, but I doubt it. Probably something big going down if they are desperate enough to attract this kind of attention."

"Do you need any help?"

"Wouldn't mind some Holy Water, and a couple crosses," Xander winced, "I lost mine in a fight a few days ago."

The priest smiled, "That I think I can help you with, anything else?"

"A gun would be nice," Xander grinned.

"That too can most likely be arranged."

Xander eyed the priest with his eyebrows raised. "Really?"

"I wasn't always a Man of God, my son."

Xander and the Priest left the town meeting while the 'discussions' were still in full swing. The local Sheriff seemed to want to stop Xander on his way out, but an odd look from the Priest turned him the other way.

"You have a car, padre?" Xander asked as the hit the curb.

"No," the Old Priest replied, "I normally walk."

"Well, not tonight." Xander wasn't walking anywhere. "I'll give you a lift."

The old man acquiesced, climbing into the passenger's side. "Let's go to the church. I live in the Rectory."

Xander nodded, he could see the steeple from where he was, and drove off in that direction.

"Do you mind if I make a long distance call?" Xander asked he looked around the room.

The old Priest smiled slightly, "Not at all, but may I ask why?"

"I want to call a friend to see if he can figure out what's going on here in town."

"Then by all means," The Priest waved him towards the phone.

Xander picked up the phone and dialed Giles number from memory, watching with some interest as the Priest opened a large wooden truck in the corner.

"Yo, G-Man."

Xander smirked, "Yeah I know, what's your point?"

The priest raised his head at the bantering tone, Obviously a good friend.

"No. Look, I'm here in a town called Terrace Point in Montana... Oh, It's made national news has it? Yeah, well here is what didn't make CNN." Xander launched into a rough description of the demon's, often using words that fell far short of actually being descriptive. "They're a WHAT demon? Oh, ok... well that's different. Oh. That's not good. You sure? Great. No, no... She'd never make it here in time anyway. I'll see what I can do, give you a call in a day or two. Relax G-man, I'll be fine. Ok, cya when I get home. Bye."

Xander put down the phone and sighed.

Giles put down the phone and sighed. Dear God, I thought it was Sunnydale that attracted the vampires and Demons... but perhaps its Xander.

"What is it?" The Priest walked back across the room with a hardwood case in his hands.

Xander bit his lip, digging around in the military duffel bag he had brought in with him, "Sh't Demons... And that's their name. I'm not cursing. Who names these things?"

The Priest chuckled, "I don't know, but perhaps they have a sense of humor?"

"They'd better," Xander replied, pulling a pair of military khaki's from his bag along with a black tee shirt. "Or else someone upstairs really likes to mess with our minds."

The Priest shook his head, the small smile still in place. "Here, these may be of some help."

Xander looked up, and took the hardwood case the Priest offered him. He put it down on the small desk he was sitting beside and gently opened the box.

"Holy," Xander whispered reverently.

Inside, nestled in the red felt interior, were two Pearl Handled, Nickel Plated, Colt .45 automatics with three extra clips apiece. Neatly folded into a side compartment was a well worn leather shoulder harness for the two pistols and a box of .45 caliber ammunition.

"Not exactly Holy," the priest shook his head, "Those guns have a long history, on both sides of the line between good and evil."

"They must be worth a fortune," Xander said as he examined the craftsmanship on the weapons.

The Priest snorted, "These are weapons, not collectors' pieces. I retired them a long time ago, and never thought that they would see the light of day or the dark of night again. Now, I see that maybe they have a job to do after all. I give them to you, and trust that you will put them to good use."

Xander nodded slowly, not really trusting his voice, and drew the two weapons from the case. The two Colt's felt molded to his hands, awakening buried memories of the Soldier Spirit as he professionally disassembled the two weapons and, finding them in perfect working order, reassembled them with fast, sure movements.

When he was done he looked up and saw the priest looking at him oddly. "You do that very well for someone your age, I see you have used pistols a lot in your work."

Xander shook his head, "This is the first time I've actually held one in my hands, Father."

The Priests eyes widened, he believed the boy was telling the truth but, it didn't seem possible.

"A couple years ago I decided that it would be a good idea to dress up as a soldier for Halloween. Unfortunately I live in a town where weird sh... stuff happens. An old enemy of one of my friends came to town to play a little prank. He cast a spell that turned everyone into their costumes, I became a Vietnam vet for a night." Xander looked at the two pistols, a little moodily. "I still have the nightmares but, sometimes, I also remember the skills."

The old man shook his head, "You have led a very interesting life for one who's true adventures are only beginning."

Xander smirked, "Don't say that, Padre. I've had a bellyful of adventures, more then enough to last me."

With that last Xander grabbed his clothes, the guns, and the leather harness, and moved into the bathroom to get changed.

"May you live in interesting times," The old Padre smiled sadly, "The Chinese said it well and I fear, Alexander, that you have been cursed as was I."

Xander emerged from the bathroom, dressed in a pair of surplused khaki army pants and a black tee shirt. He was wearing both pistols in their leather shoulder harness, and had stuffed the clips into the large pockets of his pants. He reached into his duffel and pulled out a purple button up shirt and tossed in on loosely, using the baggy shirt to cover the two Colts underneath.

"My friend say's that the Sh't Demons," Xander winced as he said the name, "Are just lackeys. They had to be summoned by someone else."

The Priest nodded slowly, "So we have something more powerful calling the shots?"

"Or someone." Xander said, grimacing. "We could have a local, dabbling with the black side of witchcraft."

The old Priest winced. He didn't want to believe that one of his flock was the cause of the town's troubles. "How will you find out?"

Xander pursed his lips, "I don't know. Depends on whether these things can speak English I guess."

"What now?"

Xander grinned, "Now, I go out and reacquaint myself with a time-honored tradition of demon and vampire hunters."

The old priest smiled hesitantly, "And that would be?"

"I hang around the graveyards and try to look tasty."

Time honored or not the process of 'patrol' according to the book of Buffy was all too often a dull waste of time. That's what Xander found himself up against this time, hours of boredom to be followed, if he got lucky, by a second or two of terror.

It was worse then he expected.

Xander wandered the town, hitting both Graveyards the Priest directed him to in the first hour to no avail. Only two graveyards? Man. I am SO in the wrong town for *this* tactic.

By the end of the night, when the first glimmerings of dawn were first showing on the horizon, Xander was completely and totally demoralized.

"I'm going to need a new tactic." He whispered to himself as he followed the road back to the church, "Slayer patrol methods aside, this isn't working. Maybe you have to be a blonde bombshell, or other petite beauty for this technique."

When he reached the church he noticed the lights were still on in the rectory so he knocked and went in.

Inside the old Priest was seated comfortably in an old chair talking animatedly on the phone.

"Yes, yes. I see... That's very... oh, wait... He's back. Yes, he looks fine. Would you like to speak with him, Mr. Giles? One second... here he is."

The priest grinned at Xander's confusion, "I was curious about these demons, so I hit redial. Interesting man this, Mr. Giles, once knew someone like him myself."

Xander grinned slightly, and accepted the phone. "Hello G-man. No, I'm fine. No, not a bite. The town is dead at night, not undead. Ok, I'll give that a shot this evening, anything else? Well that's good at least. Ok, you get some sleep too. I'll probably check in before I go out. No, don't tell the others, they'd only worry and there isn't anything they can do. K. Talk later. Bye."

Xander laid the phone down, "Well, nothing tonight. But G-Man say's that there's a good chance I can find them tonight if I can figure out where the power center of the caster is. Shouldn't be to hard in a town like this, there can't be many mystical centers of power."

"Where would you look?"

"Giles told me that they usually have certain signs around them. A network of caves with an underground stream might do, or a series of hotsprings..."

The priest shook his head as Xander listed off the things Giles had mentioned.

"Well, they could use a grove of..." Xander trailed off.


"Damn it!" Xander cursed, then remembered where he was, "Sorry Father, I just had a Homer Simpson moment. That grove I pulled those kids out of yesterday, that's the place. They were preparing a sacrifice and I busted it up, I should have seen it."

The priest laid his hands on the boy's shoulder, "You see it now. That will have to do, now you must get rested for your work tonight."

Xander nodded reluctantly.

"You may have a bed here, child. It is only a cot but it will do better then your car's backseat."

"Thank you, Father."

It watched as the boy drifted off to sleep. Now was the time. Now or never. It would reveal itself to the boy and cast its lot to the wind. Should the fates, or fortune, smile then the times ahead would be interesting indeed.

Calmly it waited, and when the boy began to dream it slowly slipped inside and began to call.

He ducked under the fire, huddling tight to the ground as the flames scorched the air over his head. He could feel his hair singeing in the heat, and he rapidly patted his head down with his free hand to make certain that there was no actual flames caught. The smell was sickening, a combination oh his scorched hair and the smell of frying flesh that permeated the rest of the room.

He couldn't remember how he had gotten into this mess, his mind kept screaming at him that it couldn't be real. He could feel the heat, see the monster breathing flames, smell the stench. And yet his mind rebelled against it, told him that something was wrong, that something... that his own senses were lying to him.

He ignored his gut, as much as he hated to too, what his eyes were telling him was too dangerous to ignore. He rolled to his feet, pulling a pistol from his hip, and fire at the beast.


He shook his head, trying to clear it. 'Stay Focused.' He kept shooting, trying to drag the beast down with sheer firepower.


The voice was more persistent now. It dragged his attention away from the... 'The what?'

'What was I shoo... what was I doing?'

"Alexander. I'm behind you."

He spun around, and almost dropped on his ass at the vision in front of him. She stood six feet tall easily, her hair showered down around her shoulders like a light rain. Literally, Xander realized as he stared at her. Her hair was light sea green, casting odd reflections on her lily white skin. Around her left eye was a light blue tattoo that depicted a design Xander thought was familiar from some of Giles' books, sort of a layered design surrounding her eye on three sides with a tail that followed her jaw line down to the neck and continued down to her shoulders where it disappeared under the armor she was wearing.

Xander blinked. It was barely armor, he realized. Her breast plate, which barely covered her chest, was a combination of partial plate and chain mail that hung raggedly under her breasts, dangling loosely over her bare mid-drift.

Xander swallowed. Hard. Her waist was covered in the same fashion, a partial plate decorated with hanging pieces of chain mail that only seemed to accentuate her legs. Her boots were among the few things she was wearing that seemed somewhat practical, being armored and running up her shins to just above her knee at the front, just below at the back.

"Who... who are you?" Xander couldn't break his eyes away.

"I am... I was... called Elanthielle."

"Was?" Xander was almost afraid to voice the word.

"I was sacrificed many thousands of years ago. I no longer have a name as you would know it."

"Ok. Say I buy that for a moment," And in truth Xander did buy it, in fact, though he wasn't sure why, everything seemed very believable to him right now. "What do you want with me?"

She smiled, something that radiated through Xander and illuminated the entire place he found himself in. "The reason you believe me is because this is the Dreaming. It is human nature to believe everything they see here, at least until they awake."

"I'm... asleep." It wasn't a question. He knew it for the truth before he spoke.

"Yes." She smiled again, "But I am real, as you shall learn when you awake."

"What are you?" Now that he understood the situation, at least somewhat, he could see that this was a hellmouthy kind of deal.

Elanthielle's eyes flashed in anger. "I am NOT associated with that abhorrent portal!"

Xander back pedaled quickly, his hands raised in supplication. "Sorry, sorry! I didn't mean anything like that. 'Hellmouthy' is just how I describe anything that doesn't seem to fit my definition of normal."

Her ire died as quickly as it flared, and her smile returned, bringing a feeling of peace to Xander. "I apologize. Understand, Alexander, I am very old and have battled demons and monsters from places you can not imagine for over a thousand years before I was sealed. I will not be compared to them."

"K... I can uh... get that. I wouldn't want to be compared to them myself, and I've only been fighting for a couple years."

"Three years, or very nearly, Alexander. You have done well for someone thrust into the battle with no formal training."

"Uh... thanks I guess..." Xander shifted uncomfortably, "Uh... not to rush you or anything... but what do you want with me?"

Elanthielle smiled slowly, "I am a Rune Staff, Alexander. I wish you to be my bearer."


She sighed, and began to recite as if from a book. "Rune magick is an ancient, and thankfully lost, form of magic. It channels a sentient soul into an item of power, in my case a Battle Staff, during a sacrificial ritual. Since a soul is immortal, the item becomes virtually indestructible and the soul is bound for all eternity to it. I was made to defend against outside threats, and I wish to do so again. It gives me... purpose."

Xander stared at her in shock, "You were... sacrificed and imprisoned in a weapon?" He whispered in shock. He had once thought vampiric immortality was scary.

"I was." She said simply, if a bit sadly.

"I... Well.." Xander stammered slightly, trying to turn her down. Then he looked at her and was lost in the pure emotion he saw in her sea green eyes. "What do I have to do?"

Elanthielle smiled at him again, warming him to the core. "You just did it. Wake now, Alexander. And remember."

And Xander woke.

He sat bolt upright in her cot, eyes locked and staring straight ahead at the residual image of those sea foam eyes. Slowly, he blinked. Once, then twice, then a third time, until his vision cleared.

"Jesus," he whispered, "What a dream...."

Xander trailed off as his hand closed tightly around a cool metal cylinder that he remembered seeing during his visit to Bucklands with Phoebe.

"Oh. Shit."

Xander sat on the edge of his cot, staring at the metal cylinder for long moments on end. Finally he turned it over slowly, wondering how he was supposed to use it.

<Just will me to activate,> the voice whispered through his mind, startling him for a moment as he looked over he shoulder for the speaker.

Finally calming himself he twisted the cylind.... no. The weapon. And, staring at it, he thought one word, <Activate.>

The weapon bucked in his hands, extending three feet on each side in a blinding flash. The top part rocketed past his eyes, narrowly missed knocking him cold, while the bottom crunched solidly into his big toe.

"OW!" Xander screamed as he dropped the staff, "Son of a!"

He hopped around the room for a moment, cursing wildly under his breath.

The old priest, hearing his screams, rushed into the room, "Are you alright?"

"No," Xander groaned, cradling his foot as he balanced precariously on one foot, "I think I broke my toe."

"How?" the priest asked, "Did you stub it on something?"

"No I... uh... yeah... I stubbed it. That's what happened." Xander collapsed onto the cot, still cradling his foot.

"You should be more careful." The Priest looked at him oddly, "I'll let you get dressed."

"Sure. And I'll take more care," Xander managed to get out between clenched teeth.

After the priest left Xander pickup the metal staff, seething in anger. "You could have warned me," he hissed.

<Sorry,> came a giggling voice, <It's been thousands of years since I've been used... and I've never been wielded by someone without training before.>

"At least stop laughing," his voice had turned plaintiff.

<I'll try,> he heard between snickers.

"Crap," Xander muttered, deactivated the weapon, and started tossing on his clothes.

Xander limped out into the main room of the Rectory, with Elan tucked into a deep pocket and the twin Colts riding in leather under his baggy shirt.

"Hey, padre?" Xander started, "Is there a military surplus shop in town?"

The Priest nodded, "Yes, there is one downtown, a man named Terrence runs it. He's considered a little... odd."

Xander grinned, "My kind of guy. I'm going to visit there before closing, what time is it?"

"Almost five, you'd better hurry. You slept most of the day."

Xander nodded and headed out the door to his car.

The shop was dark, cluttered, and filled with things that cause Xander to break into a smile the second he walked in. Ok, focus. Can't afford much, just a couple basics.

He browsed through, still limping in pain from the fractured toe, and grabbed a pistol belt and a couple ALICE clips. He looked longingly at the body armor hanging on the wall but kept moving. Next he grabbed a canvas sheath designed for Mag-Lights, figuring that it would hold Elan securely.

Next he looked through the knives, finally picking up a solid, thick bladed, knife with a straight edge and a chiseled tip. The blade had been carbon coated to a flat black finish, and only the razor sharp edge gleamed with reflected light. His soldier memories identified the blade for him. Tanto, Japanese Dagger, modernized though... Americanized actually, debatable whether it's an improvement, but it's still a good weapon.

It was expensive, over a hundred dollars, but Xander added it to the pile anyway. Trip is shot to hell anyway, I'll cut it short and head back to Sunny-D.

Terrence watched the boy as he selected things from around the store. The whole town was talking about this kid, he'd been the one who saved the kids the other night. Terrence watched the boy move, recognizing his motions.

Aside from the limp, the kid moves like a soldier. Wonder where he learned that?

The boy finally stopped browsing and came up to the register, laying his selection down with a wry grin. "Ring it up."

"Ring it up." Xander said, grinning at the man. The Father was right about this guy. He's standing here like a soldier ready to go on patrol, I'm surprised that he's not 'packing'.

The man shook his head, "It's yours."

"What?" Xander looked at him in confusion.

"You're the guy who saved those kids the other night right?"

Xander nodded.

"My daughter, Lynn, was one of them. If you want this stuff, it's yours."

Xander wasn't certain what to say. He couldn't remember anyone bothering to thank him for a save before. "Uh.... Thanks."

The man suddenly peered at him intently, looking between Xander and the gear he had picked up. Pistol Belt, ALICE clips, canvas sheath, combat knife, clip pouches for a forty five...

"Your going hunting them aren't you?" Terrence didn't specify who 'they' were. He didn't need too, as far as he was concerned it didn't matter.

Xander tried to gage the man's intent from his voice, but soon gave up. What the hell, I'll go with the truth.

"Yeah. I have a tip that they'll be trying something tonight."

Terrence looked at him hard for a long moment, "You want some company, kid?"

Xander sized the man up, he looked like he could handle himself, but it was hard to tell. "Were you ever 'in'?"

The man smiled, "Special Forces. Did a tour with a sniper team in 'Nam."

Xander nodded, "Meet me at the Rectory before dark, bring a good knife and a machete or sword. Anything else is up to you."

The man's eyebrows went up at the mention of a 'sword' but he nodded.

Xander smiled, said goodbye, and left the shop.

Church Rectory, That Evening

Terrence 'Terry' Powell knocked softly before going in, not really certain what he was doing. He just knew that he wasn't going to let a slip of a boy protect his family alone. He'd brought what the boy suggested, a nice heavy machete he'd had in Nam, and a K-Bar combat knife from the store. In addition he had his service pistol, a 1911 Govt Model Colt .45, and a Remington combat shotgun.

Once inside he waited while the kid, who'd introduced himself as 'Xander' geared up. The boy had all the focus of a combat vet, though his attitude by times was almost completely at odds with his movements. Terry shook his head, It was like the kid had all the skills without going through the discipline it took to gain them.

"You almost ready kid?"

Xander looked up and grinned, "Damn near."

He watched as the kid snapped a lovely pair of .45's into a shoulder holster and checked out several clip pouches on his pistol belt. Damn, those are beauties. Wonder where the kid got 'em?

Next the boy put what looked almost like a silver polished Mag-Light into a sheath on his right thigh, almost but not quite. There was no switch, and no apparent 'bulb' end either. Almost looks like a club, but its too damn short to be of much use.

Next came the machete his daughter told him about, and that he had seen the night before while the kid watched those idiots at the town meeting. Finally the Tanto blade he had given the kid earlier found it's way into a sheath on the kid's lower leg. After he was the done the boy tossed a baggy shirt over the whole thing and went from 'Commando' to 'Geek on vacation.'

Terry shook his head, Kid is good at not being noticed.

"Let's move out." Xander grinned as he gestured toward the door

"I'm coming with you."

Xander turned to look at the priest in surprise, "This is going to be dangerous, Father."

The old man shook his head, tucking a cross into his pocket along with two bottle of holy water. "This is my town, Alexander. And I have been in dangerous situations before."

Xander sighed, he wasn't one to tell someone to stay out of a fight, but he'd rather avoid the death of a Priest on his conscience. "All right. But you stay in the car. Understand?"

The priest just smiled.

The grove was already occupied when Xander pulled the car over a half mile from the target. They could easily see the light of a fire in the distance, throwing shadows in all directions. Xander and Terry climbed out of the car and did a quick final check on their gear, making sure that everything was in place and tied down to prevent clanking and other unwanted noise.

"Wait here, Father." Xander said, "We'll be back as soon as we're done."

As the two men moved away from the car Xander reached into his pocket and handed Terry a cross and a bottle of water.

"What the hell is this for?" Terry looked at the two items with some disdain, he had learned a long time ago not to hump useless gear into an unknown situation.

"Demons and vampires." Xander replied seriously.

Terry just snorted.

"I'm serious. And before you interrupt me, understand this, It isn't important that you believe that they are demons or vampires. It's only important that THEY believe it."

"Are you telling me that we're going up against some kinda cult?"

Xander shrugged, he didn't see the point to arguing. "Keep an open mind and you can answer your own question later."

The rest of the hike passed quickly and in silence as Terry mulled over what Xander had said.

The two men stalked quietly around the edges of the grove, taking their time and moving silently through the sparse vegetation despite Xander's limp. As they got closer Xander stopped and held up his fist, stopping Terry behind him. He flashed a series of hand signals to the older man, who then nodded, and the two split up to circle the fire.

Terry shook his head as he moved away, where the hell did the kid learn battle signs?

Xander got in fairly close before he was able to hear anything, not that he could understand much of what he heard. A long low mumbling that sounded faintly like chanting echoed up from around the blazing fire, and he could see shadows dancing around the grove as people, or things, moved around the miniature inferno.

Looks like the G-man called it. Xander considered the scene before him. It was definitely a ritual of some sort, involving more of the uglies he'd hacked apart a couple nights early. That caused him to breath a short sigh of relief, Giles had informed him that the Sh't demons were basically as mortal as any human, even if they were devoid of any shred of humane emotions. That meant that his pistols and Terry's shotgun would be effective.

Xander slipped the twin Colt's from the shoulder leather and flicked the safeties off with an easy move of his thumbs. The nearly silent clicks sent a shiver up his spine, bringing more buried memories to the surface as he advanced in a crouch toward the clearing.

Party's heating up. He thought when a scream attracted his attention. Two of the demons were drawing forth a young girl, kicking and screaming, to the fire. Well, crap.

Xander's eyes searched the other side of the clearing, looking for Terry. When he couldn't find him, he didn't know whether to be annoyed or impressed at the man's concealment. Going to have to move, and hope he catches on.

Xander drew a bead on each demon with his pistols and aimed high, above the girl's head. His finger's caressed the triggers lightly, both pistols bucking in his hands as he sent two demons to their afterlife.

With that Xander swivelled and fired again, catching a third demon in the shoulder with a .45 round that sent it tumbling. As he moved into the open clearing, looking for more targets, he also kept an eye out for the head troublemaker. Whoever it was who started this mess should be here if G-man was right.

Xander had taken only a few steps when he was tackled from behind.

Terry watched as the things danced around the flames, the kid's words burning in his mind. Demons. vampires. Shit, what the hell did I get into here?

He watched as two of the things dragged a girl into the light, cursing to himself. Shit. That's Jenna. Jesus, I've got to do something.

For a brief second his eyes searched for the kid, but he couldn't find him. He knew that his shotgun was useless here, and went to pull his pistol when he heard a double crack of pistol shot echo through the area. He blinked. Both demons went down, hard. Another crack sent a third demon tumbling to the ground, then he saw the kid step out of the shadows.

Terry's eyes widened as he saw another form detach itself from the shadows, he started to yell to the kid but it was too late. Both forms went down in a tangle of arms and legs.

Xander twisted as he fell, managing to come face to face with the demon that had tackled him. "Hooo, ugly! Get a damned breath mint, will ya?"

The demon just growled, its talons already wrapping around Xander's throat.

"Gnnnk!" Xander gasped, trying to draw breath through his rapidly constricting airpipe. He had lost the pistols in the fall, and was trying to grab for anything that could help. His left hand clawed at the demon's face, trying to get it to loosen it's grip to little avail. Xander's right hand, however, closed around the cool metallic surface of Elan.

Pulling the staff from the canvas sheath he braced it against the dirt and managed to activate the ancient weapon.

Terry moved forward as fast as he could toward where the thing was strangling the kid, pausing only occasionally to shoot any of the things that were coming at him. He'd gotten within twenty feet when the thing was suddenly thrown clear off the kid, and sent tumbling back almost fifteen feet. Terry stared at the boy as he slowly got up, a seven foot long pole in his hands.

"What the hell?"

The boy stepped forward, gripping the pole like an over sized baseball bat, and clobbered another thing with a solid shot to the jaw that caused Terry to wince. Christ that must have hurt.

Xander was breathing hard, his face flushed as he took down another demon with a heavy swing of the staff.

<Alexander!> Elanthielle sounded annoyed, <I am NOT some 'tree branch' you just picked up!>

"Huh?" Xander managed to mutter between ragged breaths.

<If you are going to wield me, I would appreciate it if you did so *properly*.>

"What are you talking about?" Xander demanded under his breath as he moved in on another Demon, "I hit the other guy with the hard thing. What's wrong with that?"

<And if I were a sword would you claim that 'the pointy part goes in the other guy' is a proper way to do battle?>

Xander didn't know a whole lot about women but he did recognize *that* tone, and it meant that he was in trouble. As usual he didn't understand why. "Can we talk about this later? Maybe when I'm NOT fighting for my life."

There was no reply form the irate weapon, just an eerie echo of an angry sigh floating through his mind.

Oh great, like I needed another woman with an axe to grind in my life.

Xander and Terry met up in the center of the clearing, and took up positions on either side of the sobbing girl.

"You do this often?" Terry asked over his shoulder as three more beasts approached on his side.

Xander flipped a grin back at him, "More often then I'd like to remember."

Terry shook his head slightly, popping off a round from his shotgun that took out two of the spread of buckshot. "Here I thought my childhood was tough."

Xander just snorted, thinking about his parents more then his 'nightlife', "You don't know the half of it."

Terry shook his head again, wondering how the hell this kid could had gotten involved in this sort of thing. "Whoops... Incoming."

Xander followed Terry's gaze to where three new demons were approaching. Two of the type they'd been dealing with and a new guy.

"Uh oh." Xander didn't like the look of the new one. He was bigger, looked meaner, and was snapping orders. "This could be bad."

Terry shrugged, "Let's see if he's bullet proof." he said confidently.

Terry racked back the slide of the shotgun, and triggered wave after wave of twelve gage buckshot aimed at the trio approaching. The two Sh't demons fell from the wave of pellets, but the new one didn't even flinch under the onslaught.

"Shit," Terry muttered, "I had to jinx it."

Xander winced, "I really hate this part."

He stepped forward, the staff still in hand, and sized up the enemy. This is going to hurt. Hopefully him, but I doubt it.

"Say, Elan." Xander whispered under his breath, "Please tell me that you can kill this thing."

<Me?> Elanthielle sounded annoyed, <I'm just a weapon. You're the one who has to wield me.>

Xander's heart sank, "You're magical or something though, right? Demon killing?"

<Sure,> She said into his mind, <If you've had a couple decades of training. What did you expect? A weapon that did all the work?>

"A guy can dream, can't he?" Xander watched as the big guy lumbered forward. "I'm a dead man, aren't I?"

<I guess we'll just see.... oh and Alexander?>


<Do not call me Elan.">

Xander stepped forward, shifting his grip to a more classical one for a quarterstaff type weapon. He did remember some of the things he picked up from Giles after all, even if not many of them. He shook his head as he stepped closer to the big Demon.

"I don't suppose you recognize this puppy do ya, Elan?"

Elan didn't answer for a moment, and Xander almost thought she wasn't talking to him. Finally he heard her whisper through his head, <Do not call me Elan, but No. I can feel his demonic energy though, it is powerful.>

"Great," Xander whispered under his breath.

<I can monitor your thoughts, Alexander. You do not need to speak out loud.>

Xander didn't answer, he just looked over his shoulder at Terry. "Get her out of here, Terrance. This isn't going to go down easy."

Terry swallowed deeply, pulling Jenna up into his arms as he started to back away. He didn't like the idea of turning tail, but he couldn't imagine what he could do. The damn thing didn't even flinch when it took a twelve gage shell full on. As far as he could tell the boy was taking on a suicide mission.

"Come on girl, we gotta get you outta here fast."

Xander heard the shuffling steps, as Terry drug the girl away from the fight. He didn't know how this was going to turn out, but he was glad that they were away. For the first time he understood why Buffy kept him at arms length when it came to patrols, only involving him when the consequences of not doing so were worse than anything that could possibly happen to him in a fight.

He took a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart and keep his mind in the game. His mind flashed back to something his soldier counterpart learned in training, and Xander could hear the instructors words ring through his mind.

When a human is in a life and death situation, he regresses to a more primitive state. We call this fight or flight, people. His body is producing adrenaline, his rational mind retreats and lets the inner beast take control. This is a natural reaction for most humans. YOU are NOT most humans. You are Soldiers! You will not allow your thought process to be impeded by such trivial matters. Your mind is the most lethal weapon in your arsenal, you will not allow fear to take it away from you!

He continued taking his deep breaths, feeling the rush of adrenaline fade into the background as his system calmed down.

Finally he took another step toward the imposing demon and cracked his trademark grin, "Come on, ugly. I don't know about you but I haven't got all night."

It breathed heavily as it stalked around the edge of the clearing. It had been tracking its prey for three days, only to find itself beaten to the punch by a human. It snarled low in its throat, but held back. The Human had staked his claim to this one, but there were others in the area. In the meantime perhaps it would find the human entertaining, not likely it admitted to himself but sometimes the humans could surprise you.

Things were going somewhat better then Xander had expected. Of course all that meant was that he was still breathing and relatively whole. After the first minute of the fight he was bleeding from a dozen shallow cuts to his arms and chest from the demons claws, for which he had inflicted a few minor bruises on the Demon which had apparently served only to severely piss him off.

Xander ducked another swipe that was intended to take his head off and retaliated by swinging Elan into the demon's knee. It howled out in pain and dropped it's arms solidly down onto Xander's back, driving the boy to the ground.

Ouch. Xander rolled clear as the Demon stomped the ground where he had been laying, barely clearing the area before the hooked claws that passed for the demon's toes sliced into the ground.

Jesus, I wish Buffy were here. Xander scrambled to his feet, using the staff as a prop to pull himself to his feet. "For such an ugly SOB you pack a mean punch, bozo."

<Are you sure it's wise to aggravate him?> Elanthielle asked mildly as the demon charged Xander again in a rage.

"Shut up, Elan." Xander muttered as he connected with the Demon's jaw in passing. "I'm busy right now."

Elanthielle shut up, though Xander was left with the distinct impression that he was going to pay for saying that. He mentally shrugged and sidestepped the demons next charge, swinging Elan like a baseball bat into the back of the demons head as it passed. Xander smirked as the demon was driven to the ground by the impact.

"That had to hurt."

The Demon growled and rolled back to its feet, staring at Xander for a long moment while it caught it's breath. "You're tenacious, human."

"You're ugly, demon."

It growled again, but came in slowly this time, refusing to be baited by the humans sharp tongue. It ducked under the staff, and lashed out with a claw strike to Xander's belly that drew blood. Backing off momentarily the demon grinned, licking blood off its claws, "Tasty. I'm looking forward to some more."

"Stand in line, Bozo." Xander snapped back, "You ain't the first to say that."

Man. How sad is my life? That was actually TRUE. Xander shook off the thought and held the staff in a defensive position, warding the demon off. He's gonna take me... not a damned thing I can do about it.

Elanthielle considered Xander's thoughts. That wasn't entirely true, and she was about to speak when a series of shots rang out and distracted her.

The demon dropped, screaming in pain. "It burns!"

Xander looked at the writhing demon is shock, then he twisted his head around looking for the source of the shots. He was shocked when he saw the priest standing at the edge of the field with an old colt revolver, smoking, in his hand.

The priest flipped open the revolver, feeding a speed loader into the six open holes. Flipping the weapon shut with a practiced flick of his wrist he made the sign of the cross over the weapon and muttered in latin.

<In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost I bless thee.>

Xander stared at the old man in shock. He blessed his bullets!

The demon was writhing on the ground, screaming incoherently about the pain.

"Cool." Xander grinned as he looked at the Demon, "Blessed bullets don't kill the sucker, but he sure don't enjoy them either."

Xander tipped his head to the old priest and stepped forward, drawing his machete with his left hand. "I don't suppose you'd promise to go home if I let you go?"

The demon on the ground started cursing through the pain, "I'll eat your entrails you..."

Xander winced at the string of obscenities that came form the creatures mouth and shook his head. God, these things are stupid. He grimaced in distaste as he swung the machete down, severing the demon's head with a stroke.

As the demon's corpse gurgled it's last Xander collapsed onto his ass, breathing hard as his body let itself start to shut down.

"Shit." He moaned as he flopped down on his back, "I hate this crap."

Hardly impressive, though the human is probably tougher then most of his soft-skinned brethren. All things considered it had been an enjoyable show, but now it was faced with the dilemma of what to hunt since its prey was dead.

A flicker of motion attracted it's attention. Ah. There are the prey's comrades. They will do nicely.

Xander was laying prone on the ground, bleeding from a dozen places as his chest heaved from the exertion. He could see Terry, The Priest, and the young girl walk up to him. He weakly pulled Elan over to him and deactivated the weapon, sliding her into the canvas sheath with a painful motion.

"Hey guys." He smile weakly, "I thought I told you to stay in the car?"

The Priest chuckled slightly, "I apologize for my rash actions."

"Naw," Xander said as he painfully rolled to his feet, "Don't apologize to me for that of all things. I'm a lot of things, but I'm no hypocrite. I've done the same and worse in the past couple years, usually with results somewhat less positive then yours."

"Well then," the old man smiled, "I'll accept that as a compliment."

"You do that," Xander said as he walked across the clearing and retrieved the two pistols he'd dropped. Snapping them into their leathers he turned and headed back to the small group. "Helluva night, huh guys?"

Terry smiled weakly, the priest chuckled lightly, and the young girl giggled almost hysterically at the comment.

Wasn't that funny, girl. Xander thought, watching her carefully. She was going to need help... Help that was very hard to find in this world. Her best hope would be the priest, Xander decided.

"Is it over?" her voice was timid, but clear. Better then some he's heard in the past.

"Yeah," Xander smiled at her through the pain. "Im pretty sure it's ove..."

Xander was cut off by a horrible screech that came form the surrounding trees.

Xander arrived at the scene of a struggle a few seconds later, limping and breathing hard when he did. He hoped to hell that it wasn't another thing like the last one, cause he wasn't fit to walk let alone fight.

There was nothing more then a dropped knife that looked ceremonial, and a lot of broken branches and splattered blood.



Xander spun around to see that the other three had followed behind him, "Are you guys crazy? Get her out of here!"

The priest ignored him, and looked around. "What happened?"

Xander sighed, kicking dirt over a pool of blood. "I don't know. Another one of them maybe? Could have been anyth..."

Again he was cut off in mid sentence as a crash of breaking branches startled all four of them. Xander jumped back as a body hit the ground inches from his position, slapping into the dirt with a boneless thud that told everyone present that it was quite dead.

Xander's pistols were out in a flash as he scanned the tree's for whatever dropped the body. Seeing nothing after several moments he slipped them back into leather, but didn't snap the holsters shut.

He kneeled at the body for a moment and was surprised to find that it was a Demon. A headless demon at that.

"Awww... sick." Xander groaned as he flipped the body over to see that its head had been literally ripped from the creature, along with a sizable portion of its spine.

//The fucking night ain't over yet,// Xander moaned at the thought. //How the hell am I going to find this thing? Let alone stay alive afterwards.//

<I can help,> whispered Elan into his mind.

//You can? Do it,// Xander ordered mentally, not bothering to ask questions.

<You should think on this, Alexander,> Her voice was earnest but he ignored it.

//No. Do what you can. I need to find whatever did this, Demon's often kill their henchmen when they fail. I don't want the ringleader getting away.//

Elanthielle sighed, <Very well.> She dug into her abilities and tapped into the boy.

Xander was kneeling with his eyes away from his companions, which was just as well because they suddenly glowed with an eerie green light for a brief moment before the color faded back to normal. He smiled, a feral grin, and slowly stood up and sniffed at the air.

He slowly turned towards the three people standing behind him and looked them over with barely concealed disdain. Fishing the keys to his car out of his pocket he tossed them to the Old priest.

"Take these. Return to town. I'm going hunting." Xander pulled Elan from it's sheath and activated the ancient weapon before turning and loping off through the woods at a nearly inhuman pace.

The priest reflexively caught the keys as they flew towards him and watched worriedly as the boy's body language changed. His whole manner altered, exuding pure confidence and an almost bestial aggression. He didn't have a chance to answer before the boy vanished into the night, and could only turn to his companions and smile wanly.

"So, Terrance," he began weakly, "Will I be seeing you at my next sermon?"

Terry looked at the colt revolver in the old man's hands and flashed a smile of his own, "Father, I can safely say that I will NEVER miss another Sunday at church."

"Hell," he continued as they marched toward the car, "If I'd known you were my kinda preacher, Father Cranston, I'd never have missed any in the first place."

The Hyena marveled at the world around him, the sensations he hadn't experienced in over two years. The wind rushed past him as he sped through the trees, ducking and weaving through the branches that reached out for him as he passed. He was tracking a scent, a bizarre, completely foreign scent that triggered some bestial warning within him.

A predator was on the move.

Every instinct in his body told him to run. They told him to run for his life in the opposite direction with every ounce of strength at his disposal. But, try as he might he couldn't run. Something else was forcing him on, pushing him toward the confrontation he desperately wanted to avoid.

He was an alpha. The top dog of the pack. Those whispers fought against the urges to run, pushing his instincts to survive with his desire to remain the top dog. They told him that the scent was a challenger. Another alpha who wanted his place in the world. A position that he refused to give up. Ever.

Elanthielle would have been breathing hard if she needed to breath. Keeping the boy's Hyena persona under control was incredibly hard work, a matter of whispering the right words into its mind every few moments or risk losing the tenuous grasp she had on it.

Alexander was almost completely subsumed by the spirit, only a few pieces of him remaining in the forefront of the spirit now. Pieces that had controlled the spirits blood lust for the few moments required to send the Priest and his companions home. Pieces that allowed her to direct the rage of the beast against it's prey.

He was strong, but the spirit was stronger in this form. Elanthielle was glad that it would not last, but she feared for Alexander's life when the spirit broke.

The Hyena didn't pause when it reached the stream, it dug the staff into the bank and vaulted the twenty foot span with breaking pace. The situation disturbed the Hyena, it felt trapped by something it didn't understand. And when backed into a corner it had only one option remaining. It had decided to locate it's prey quickly, and eliminate it as a threat.

The scent was getting stronger as it moved, the prey was slowing down.

It stopped. Something was wrong. It balanced itself on a tree limb and looked back, waiting patiently as only a hunter can. There was nothing for long moments, then it saw what was trailing it. The human.

It almost laughed.


Something was different now, wrong somehow. For someone who had nearly died in a fight a few moments earlier this human was moving remarkably well. Better then it had before the battle.

He hadn't come close to feeling fulfilled on this hunt, the locals he had found were of a pitiful variety. It was difficult to find decent prey this far from the major population centers. Perhaps this little one would be fun to play with.

With that thought in mind the hunter began to circle back.

Sniffing at the air the Hyena paused in its loping run, looking curiously from tree to tree. The prey was circling. His face broke slowly into a wide, feral, grin.

"Ohhhh.... Hunted wants to be the hunter... let's see who's the Alpha around here."

The Hyena ducked through the shrubs, following the forest trail that led away from the grove. Staying on the path that he knew had been prepared for him to follow. Hyena in sheeps clothing to the slaughter. But who's slaughter? He could feel the prey, moving behind him now. Preparing. Waiting. Stalking.

He smiled, this one didn't know who he was dealing with.

He had to force back the urge to bubble in laughter at the joy he felt in the hunt. Two years he'd been cramped up, unable to breath, unable to hunt. Unable to kill.

It was his time again.

It was behind the human now, tracking it's thermal pattern easily as it raced through the wooded area along the false path. It tagged the boy, targeting him easily.

It smiled an inhuman smile and opened fire.

The Hyena felt an odd sensation along the back of it's neck and spun quickly about. Seeing noone it moved its hand along its neck and froze at what it saw. On it's hand were three red lines, forming a triangle that floated along its skin.

The soldier memories clicked, snapping out two words and a command. Laser sight! Move!

The Hyena twisted as a blast ripped past where it had been standing, missing by mere inches, and splintered a huge pine tree behind him. Almost instantly the Hyena's senses felt the gentle tickle of the beam float across its skin again, causing him to twist violently in the opposite direction.

The second blast came even closer, raising a wisp of smoke on the Hyena's clothing as it vaporized several stray fibers of cloth.

The second shot was all the Soldier memories needed to triangulate the shooter's position, and the Hyena leapt into the brush.

It was stunned. The human had been tagged, and it still evaded fire. That shouldn't have been possible, especially for a human. And it did it *twice*. Dodging a plasma bolt was possible with some luck, but twice in a row precluded luck. This human was beginning to impress.

The Hyena deactivated Elan as it dove through the shrubs, tucking the ancient weapon close to it's chest as the branches tore at its clothing. Normally it would have tossed the thing away as worthless, preferring to do it's damage with its claws, but the voices inside whispered and cajoled it into keeping the weapon.

The Military spirit showed it images of all the nasty things it could do with what was strapped to its body. The soft gentle voice told it how it could use the staff, and how it could fight the hunter it was hunting. But most annoying was the quiet, but strong, voice that kept it from running. Kept it to its task. That voice, it wished it could shut out.

It ignored the branches that swept past, focusing on the scents in the air as it closed the distance to the prey. The Hyena grinned nastily when it smelled something familiar. Shock. It wasn't fear, but it would do.

It was moving fast, actually being run from its position by the sheer surprise of being charged by a human. It didn't go far, only relocated to a different tree so it would get the drop on the human. But it was still bothered by how fast the human moved.

Mentally it shrugged, the trophy would be worth more this way. It had seen the human with a staff, so it could meet the human in kind. It pulled its own staff from the sheath on its back, extending the three foot device to a five foot weapon topped with eight inch blades and waited for its prey to arrive.

The Hyena paused, looking oddly at a tree in the near distance. He could feel something wrong practically emanating from that spot. And the longer he stared the more it felt like something was staring back.

Abruptly he saw it. A blur that moved through the branches, a blur that was staring back at him. The Hyena grinned nastily, held Elan aloft, and activated the weapon. The staff bucked in his hand, extending to its full length, and gleamed in the moon light.

A challenge offered.

A challenge accepted.

It dropped from the tree's, falling twenty feet to the ground and landing solidly in front of the human, absorbing the shock with flexed knees. It dropped it's stealth and stalked up to the human, raising its own staff in salute.

"Oh... so the big boy wants to play with sticks does he?"

The Hyena grinned and shifted to a battle stance, staff extended toward the seven foot tall monster.

The thing was waiting when the Hyena made the first move, easily blocking the staff as it slashed for its head. The Hyena responded with a reversal, bringing the metal pole back and striking out again at the creatures legs.

It hopped easily over the strike, lashing out at the Human with the heavy blades on its own battle staff.

"Not fast enough," the Hyena taunted as he evaded the strike.

The two combatants floated back and forth, driving strikes at each other intended to main, kill, or paralyze the enemy, but each always staying one step ahead of the other. The creature struck with speed and brute force, often destroying smaller trees that were in the way when the Hyena evaded a strike. The Hyena would respond with a speed and agility almost impossible for a human to achieve, coupled with a brutal viciousness that added to the damage of its attacks.

As the battle wore on the creature began to gain the upper hand, its stunning strength beating the Hyena slowly into submission. It forced the hyena backwards, one step after another, until it tripped on an exposed root and was sent tumbling to the ground. Under its mask the creature smiled its alien smile and moved in for the kill.

The Hyena twisted, trying to get to it's feet but the creature was on top of him already. As the creatures pike came at him, the Hyena struck it aside with Elan, flinching as the blades drove themselves deep into the earth by it's head. The two combatants grappled, their weapons useless in the close quarters of the fight, and again the Hyena found itself inexorably losing the battle to the creatures superior strength.

That was when the soldier's voice whispered to him, telling him what to do again.

The hyena reached for his ankle, drawing the blade it had forgotten about, in a slow and painful maneuver. The creature's talons were ripping at his throat while the Hyena drew back and jammed the carbon black blade into the creatures thigh as far as it would go.

It roared in pain, relinquishing its hold on the Hyena and falling back to scramble furiously at its wound.

The Hyena was on its feet in an instant, kicking Elan up into the air and catching the ancient weapon with a finesse that came with its natural agility. It lashed out twice, bashing the weapon against the creatures head and causing sparks to fly from the mask the creature was wearing.

"Come on ugly, I thought you wanted to play?"

Again he struck out with the staff, this time knocking the mask clean off the creature's head and exposing the creature for the first time. Its face was almost a caricature of horror, with four fangs at each corner of its mouth and an evil countenance.

"Man. I was right on the dollar when I called ya Ugly," the Hyena drew back to end the fight with one more blow when a sudden wave of dizziness washed over him, causing him to stumble backwards.

"Oh, hell..." he mumbled as he staggered forward again, intent on finishing the fight before he weakened again. "what is happennnnn....."

The Hyena's entire world went black and he fell forward across the Hunter's body, his own body suddenly as limp as a wet noodle.

The Hunter stared in shock as the human stumbled. He didn't understand what had happened, the human had won. The human should have killed him. But the human had fallen.

The hunter staggered to its feet, and looked over its fallen prey for wounds. Finding none that could account for the sudden collapse it just stared at the body in puzzlement. The human had fallen, so the trophy was his by rights.

But. The human had not fallen by his hands, of this he was certain. Besides, the human was a worthy hunter. As powerful as any Yautja, and he would not disgrace so strong a hunter in that manner.

Finally the young Yautja kneeled down and, with surprising gentleness, picked up the fallen human. No. The fallen hunter. And, in an easy loping stride, he turned and headed back in the direction of his ship.

Yautja Spacecraft
Two Days later

Xander groaned as his eyes flickered open. Oh man, that hurts.

He moved his head, slowly, to take in his surroundings. There was an odd mist drifting across the floor, and the room seemed constructed of archways.

"Where the hell am I?" He struggled to sit upright, his vision sparkling with white lights as he did so.

When there was no answer he tried to focus and search the room more carefully. Beside him lay Elan, looking like the weapon had been carefully placed by his side. He was still wearing the twin Colt's, and the rest of his gear except for the Tanto knife. That was laying at his feet, still covered in green blood.

He picked up Elan and deactivated the weapon, returning it to its sheath. //Elan, what the hell happened?//

The Weapon's voice slipped back into his mind, <You blacked out during the fight.>

//Why did the Hyena take over?// Xander's mental tone was tense.

Elan came back quietly, <It was the only way to boost you high enough to be able to survive another fight. I did try to warn you.>

//Next time, try harder.// There was only silence in response, until finally Xander sighed and gave in. //Why did I... The Hyena black out? That never happened the first time.//

<When you were possessed by the spirit the first time, you were linked to the Earth Spirit that empowered it. This time it had only your own internal reserves to power the enhancements.>

//I ran out of GAS?// Xander asked incredulously.

There was another long pause while Elan searched his mind in an attempt to understand the phrase. <In its most basic form... yes.>

Xander stared brooding at the wall for a long moment, //So where am I anyway?//

<That would be, as you say, the bad news.>


<You're on a spacecraft that has been traveling away from Earth for almost two full days now.> Elan waiting for a response, but none was forthcoming. First a minute passed, then two, then five. Finally she tried again. <Alexander? Please answer me, Alexander.>

//Don't call me that. My name is Xander, Elan.//

<And mine is Elanthielle, Alexander.>

//We're actually on a spaceship?// Xander asked very slowly.

<We are.>


Elan was silent for a moment, <That is a very difficult question. I'm not certain, but I think that you impressed the creature.>

"So he kidnaped me?"


"Oh bloody fricking beautiful."

Xander had just finished checking his gear when he heard a noise from the far side of the room, near one of the open arches. His pistols cleared leather as his military memories prodded his instincts with an urgency he had rarely felt.

He had to fight down the urge to open fire when the creature he remembered from the Hyena's battle literally appeared out of thin air, a cannon mounted on its shoulder tracing a line through the air between them.

Xander swallowed, <This is real bad. Even if I can take him with a pair of .45's, I'd be stuck on this ship. Shit.> Xander twisted the guns away from the creature, pointing their muzzles at the ceiling and then, moving very slowly, he returned them to their leathers.

The seven foot creature stalked closer to him, a taloned fist reaching out towards Xander. Xander held his ground, forcing down the urge to run in fear. A single talon touched Xander on the chest and the creature spoke.

"Oooman." it rasped.

Xander blinked.



"Human. Yes, I'm human," Xander wasn't sure where this was going.

The taloned fist retracted, until the creature thumped itself once on the chest and spoke again.


Why do I suddenly feel like I'm in a national geographic special?

Elan's voice cut into his thoughts sternly, <This is hardly the time to be flippant, Alexander. The Yautja is introducing himself. Do the same.>

//Do you know these guys?//

Elan paused for a second. <Yes. They were well known when I was alive, but none of them dared approach Earth in that time.>

//Me and you are going to have a long talk soon,// Xander promised the weapon as he stepped forward and repeated the creatures motions, touching it on the chest. "Yeocha."



The creature seemed to nod, as if that was close enough. Next is tapped itself again. "Ruatcha."

"Ruatcha?" Xander repeated, "Is that your name?"

"Ruatcha" The creature tapped itself again, then touched Xander questioningly.

Xander got it. He thumped his own fist over his heart and said, "Xander."


"Let's try that again." Xander repeated the motion, "Xander," he enunciated carefully.


"Close enough," he smirked, opting not to show his teeth. Maybe some of that sci-fi and fantasy I read will come in handy.

A planet. Somewhere. Later.

Xander remained silent in his perch, asking himself once again how he'd managed to get himself into this mess. By his best calculations he had been 'hunting' with Ruatcha for over a month. But he figured that only because he thought that he'd probably slept about thirty times or so, not counting cat naps. In truth, it was probably longer then that since the Yautja didn't seem to sleep as often or as long as humans tended to and he'd been forced to adapt to their timetable. That alone had been hell for the first couple weeks or so.

It had been a rough relationship in the beginning, Xander didn't really have much use for hunting and it seemed that was all Ruatcha did have a use for. If it weren't for the big Yautja's respect for the Hyena, Xander figured that he'd already be a decoration in the ship's trophy room.

The seventeen-year-old shuddered. The 'Trophy' room was enough to give him nightmares on his nightmares. Skulls from a dozen species littered the room, a fair portion of which were human.

Only his sense of self preservation, and Elan's calming words, allowed him to keep his cool after his single trip to that room. After that confrontation, Ruatcha seemed to question his strength and fortitude.

That caused another shudder. He had to resort to bluster and bluff to work his way out of that one. He all but challenged the bastard to a fight. He'd never been so relieved as when Ruatcha broke out laughing in appreciation of his actions.

"Yeyinde." The big alien laughed and clapped Xander on the back.

If I ever get back to Earth there is no way in hell that any fuckin Vamp is going to scare me again.

Maybe three weeks ago they had arrived on this planet. Nice place to visit, Xander had though at the time. Now he knew better. The damned place was infested with creatures that made demons look warm and cuddly. Xander remembered the second day after they had arrived, and shuddered again at the thought.

Three weeks earlier.

The planet looked like a lush tropical jungle as far as he could see. Hell it looked the same as far as he could see from orbit when they landed. This was the second planet they'd visited in the time Xander had been traveling with the elder Yautja. They had just left a world less then a day earlier that for some reason didn't satisfy the Yautja's desires.

//No surprise there,// Xander shivered, the damn world seemed to be in a freaking glacial age.

"Kainde amedha."

Xander turned in confusion. He'd been piecing together word here and there, a lot faster then he would have thought possible, but those words were not part of his vocabulary. "What?"

"Kainde amedha. Setg'‑in."

Now that word he caught. Setg'‑in. Fast and Dangerous. Shit, I so don't want to see what HE thinks is dangerous.

Xander was wearing a light padded armor that Ruatha had given him, he doubted that it would provide him with much protection but it had kept him warm on the ice cube they had just left. Other then that, however, he was packing the same gear he had come aboard with. He glanced at the combat armor the big alien was wearing with some envy.

//I don't suppose you have any idea what those first words meant, do you Elan?//

Xander almost smirked at the annoyance in her voice when she replied. <Would you please use my proper name? And, to answer your question, no. I told you, I have very little experience with Yautja language. They did not approach Earth during my day.>

Xander sighed, accepting the answer... again.

They headed out into the jungle, the big Yautja remaining on the jungle floor out of 'tolerance' for Xander's limitations. Though, Xander didn't figure that would last for much longer. The big guy seemed to be a big believer in the 'sink or swim' philosophy.

Ruatha walked along side Xander, pointing out things in the jungle quickly and quietly as they passed them. Most of it went over the boy's head, but he managed to pick up what he considered the most important.

Don't eat this, poison. Don't touch that, dangerous. And so forth.

The had traveled perhaps a mile when Ruatha stopped them and ran one of his wrist blades along the length of a tree. "Te'dqi."

Another word Xander hadn't heard yet. He was about to ask when Ruatha went to a battle alert, snapping Xander into a combat stance as well. The twin Colt's cleared leather as he tracked along the path Ruatha was looking.

Six of the ugliest things Xander had ever seen, Ruatha included, were charging toward them with absolute disregard for subtlety. Ruatha fired his shoulder cannon from fifty yards, and Xander opened up an instant later.

The first of the black creatures fell to Ruatha's plasma caster, then a second. It wasn't until Xander had almost emptied both clips into one of them that it staggered and fell. The other three soon closed within the Plasma Caster's minimum distance, causing Ruatha to draw his war staff.

Xander popped the remaining bullets from his clips into the lead creature before tossing the handguns to either side and whipping Elan from her sheath.

Xander and Ruatha stood side by side as the two healthy creatures charged past the one Xander wounded, each selecting one of the two defenders to charge. Xander stood his ground, bracing Elan along his arm, and waited. He could hear Ruatha growling in excitement, or laughter... He wasn't really sure which.

They waited for the two things to get less then three feet away before the two defenders struck. Ruatha thrust forward with his Combi-Stick, skewering the creature with a fluid grace.

Xander activated Elan at the last possible instant, the force of the weapons activation sending the end of the staff through the tough outer shell that covered the creature. Xander winced at the harsh shrieks that sounded through the air as the two things were injured, but withdrew the staff in a swift motion and swept it around in a viscous arc that caved in the creatures skull at the point where the weapon had damaged the carapace, dropping it to the ground.

Xander panted, the battle tension still riding high in him as he turned to look at Ruatha. For some reason he didn't fathom the wounded creature had elected to team up with the one attacking the Yautja, and while they were both wounded they were still mobile to a certain degree. Xander moved to the big Yautja's side, using Elan to fend off one of the thing on Ruatha's right side.

When his arm was freed the big Yautja extended the claws from his wrist and slashed at the one on his left side, ripping its throat in one swipe. He turned to see Xander fending off the other with his staff, and laughed in appreciation of the spectacle.

"Hey! A little help here!" Xander muttered between pants as he batted the creatures claws away again. Finally he managed to land a solid blow to the creatures jaw, actually ripping a large section of it off and dropping the thing to the ground. He soldier instincts took over and he thrust Elan down into the creature, finally stilling its horrid screams.

Leaning heavily on Elan, Xander panted and looked at the fallen creatures in distaste. He leaned forward to touch one when Ruatha grabbed him back, speaking urgently.

"Thei‑de Thwei"

Xander looked down at the creatures, then at the places their blood had landed. Wherever it had touched a wisp of smoke was rising, and even the ground itself was being eaten away.

Thei‑de Thwei. 'Death Blood' indeed. Xander shivered, What kind of hell hole is this place?

Present Time

Xander shivered again at the memory, damn creatures were as dangerous dead as they were alive. He'd never thought it possible to find a species he found more vile then Vampires, but this... things... were on a whole different level. Like the vamps, they were parasites, their entire existence depending on other species as hosts.

Another shudder passed through him as he remembered the scene in the lair they had tracked the creatures too. Some of the local primates had been stuck to the walls by what Ruatha called 'Te'dqi' and were writhing in terror as they passed. Xander had moved to help them loose, but the big Yautja had pulled him back urgently.

Xander didn't think that he'd ever be able to lose the nightmares of what followed. Those things as they burst... He shook his head, clearing the memories before they would flood back. Xander wasn't stupid, and with the information he could recall from the Soldier and the ever so helpful input from Elan he knew that he wasn't 'well'.

Shell Shock. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was weird being on this side of the line. He'd seen so much and pulled through in the past few years that he's started to think that nothing could phase him. And, of course, as soon as he thought that he was screwed.

Then again, Xander mused, is it possible to have Shell Shock if you know you have it?

He shrugged it off. Maybe it's not Shell Shock, maybe I'm just becoming jaded.

Halliwell Manor House, San Fransisco California
August 23rd '99

Prue walked into the attic to find your youngest sister sitting and staring at a bowl of water, a melancholy look on her face.

"What's wrong, Phoebe?" Prue's voice was filled with concern.

"I'm worried about Xander." Phoebe answered, "He hasn't been answering any of my emails.. So I cast a divining spell to find him..."


"Nothing." Phoebe eyes were coated with a glistening sheen of tears, "Nothing at all."

"He's dead?" Prue asked tentatively.

"No." Phoebe was certain, "If he were dead or had left this plane if would show as a specific color. Black, white, or a shade of grey."

"What did it show?" Prue asked.

"I told you already. Nothing."

"How is that possible? Did you do the spell wrong?"

Phoebe cradled the book of shadows, "I don't think so. It says in here that when the subject of the spell is nearby the color shifts closer to the blue, being at its deepest if the person is in the same room. The further they are away the more it shifts to the red... A yellowish orange is the highest color listed here... and that's for some place in China."

Prue wasn't following.

Phoebe stared at the divining bowl for a long moment, "The only thing I can think of is that the color shifted into the infra-red."

Prue stared at her little sister in shock, "How far away would he have to be for that to happen?"

"I don't know."

Present Time

He couldn't see Ruatha from his position, but he knew that the elder Yautja was out there. Watching.

Xander did a quick inventory again, checking his equipment with trepidation. The big Yautja had insisted that Xander leave his pistols behind, as he himself left the Plasma Caster at the ship. The best Elan had to say about it that it was probably a ritual hunt of some sort, a test of courage.

On the bright side Xander had been afforded some, ill fitting, armor that actually seemed useful. At least it's not a suicide test of some sort.

He looked over the scene from his perch, thirty feet above the jungle floor, watching the comings and goings of the beasts below through the eerie heat vision the armor's mask provided. From what he could tell that option was nearly useless when tracking the things they were hunting, but as long as the area teemed with 'normal' life it was a safe bet that those things were nowhere to be found.

For the hundredth time in an hour Xander sighed, this wasn't like him at all and he knew it. The last thing he wanted to do was hunt anything, with the possible exception of vamps. These creatures, though, were a plague at least as bad as Vampires... though for different reasons. And, he sighed again, since I'm here...

It was at that point that he saw the rapid scattering of the heat signs below, a sure indication that a local predator was on the prowl. He quickly scanned the area and, seeing nothing, switched the helm's heat register off and relied on his own eyes as much as the equipment would let him.

Ruatha watched as the human shifted the visual spectrum on his gear, nodding at the move. The Kainde amedha were in the area, and the trial would shortly begin. The old Yautja had enjoyed the time he'd spent with the young human, even finding the human's constant chattering and joking to be amusing. He wondered often if the human would ever realize that he could understand many more languages then the human could guess at, and that English was one of the more recent ones he had learned.

He growled in laughter at the thought.

Any of the young warriors would have killed the boy when he blacked out, but Ruatha had grown bored over the centuries. It was occasionally interesting to hunt alongside one who might normally be prey, particularly when he was a Yeyinde as this one was. If he survived this he would be blooded, though he would never be a true hunter... He was too much of Kine'Iende.

The things moved slowly beneath him, slowly and warily. Xander wondered how smart they really were from time to time over the past three weeks. They were pretty stupid individually, but they were often capable of acting together with a cleverness that put most vamps Xander had known to shame.

Still, they might have been Patton himself and it wouldn't have saved this group. Xander dropped from the trees, landed squarely in the center of the trio of beasts. He lined up the collapsed staff with two of the creatures and activated the ancient weapon, penetrating both alien skulls as they turned to hiss at him.

Christ. Three weeks of sink or swim changes you damned fast. Ruatha had made it quite clear that Xander had to fight or die early on, and Xander had a very healthy desire for life.

He retracted Elan as the two creatures fell, and whipped the battle staff around to connect with the third as it charged him. Not for the first time, he thanked whatever Gods there were that Elan was not only impervious to the Alien's acid, but also seemed to cause it to slide off like water off a non-stick frying pan.

<Well I would hardly be indestructible if I allowed every dime store acid and lava pool to tarnish my surface now would I?>

"Less mid-battle chatter, Elan. More carnage." Xander jammed the staff into the creature as it lunged, dropping back into a roll, flipping the horror into the jungle behind him.

He rolled over to his front, and climbed quickly to his feet as he watched for the creature to return. When it did, it struck at him from his right flank, ramming into him hard enough to jolt Elan from his grasp and drive them both to the ground in a tangle of claws and limbs.

"Sonuva!" Xander muttered through his mask as he hit the ground, a hissing and screaming creature clawing at his armored form.

Ruatha watched the human's opening move and growled in appreciation. It was smooth, brutal, and effective. He hadn't seen better in a long time, even among the Yautja. He almost regretted not killing the human and taking his staff as a trophy, but he doubted the thing would operate for him anyway.

He was old enough to remember the stories of when others wielded those weapons, and weapons of similar power. Old enough to have been glad that those days were gone. The wielders of those weapons were Kine'Iende like the human. They didn't approve of the hunt, and they were able to enforce their will.

Now though he was not so sure. If the Kine'Iende returned then they would make for worthy prey.

Ruatha watched the boy struggle with the Kainde amedha with growing excitement. With luck, there would be worthy times ahead.

Xander slowly forced the creatures claws back, away from his mask, and lashed out with as powerful a kick as he could muster. It did nothing more then push the creature back a few feet, but that allowed him to pull his heavy bladed machete from its sheath and flip back to his feet.

Xander and the alien circled each other warily, looking for any openings to exploit. The alien moved first, swiping at Xander's blade arm as it lunged in, hissing. Xander danced back from the swipe and then moved forward to meet the creature's lunge. The two combatants met face to mouth, war cries erupting from them both as they clashed.

When the creature's mouth opened Xander was waiting, his machete already slashing across the predictable path of the inner mandible, slicing it and spattering acid through the air. The creature drew back in pain as the mandible dropped to the ground, and Xander pressed his advantage. He swept the smoking blade down in an overhead strike that ended with the remnants of the once heavy blade buried deep in the creatures black carapace.

As the final thing dropped to the jungle floor Xander quickly grabbed up Elan and looked around for any others that might have approached. Seeing none, he looked back down at the last alien and pulled the machete clear of its skull. He slowly turned the misshapen blade and watched as the metal smoked and dissolved before his eyes.

He suddenly hissed in pain as the back of his neck burned. Scrabbling at the armor he pulled it off, only to see that a few splatters of acid had eaten through the neck guard and eventual reached his skin.

His hand was stopped inches from attempting to wipe it off by the big fist of Ruatha, who nodded down at the shorter human in respect and applied a counter agent to the acid on the boys neck. Xander sighed as the cooling sensation spread, easing the pain, then he moaned at the realization that it was certainly going to leave a scar.

I really want to go home and only have to worry about vampires and the occasional demon.

A week later

They had been straying further afield over the past week, tracking the trails of the alien creatures through the winding jungle paths for days at a time. Xander blessed both Elan and her abilities to pull up his soldier memories during these times because living off the land wasn't something his civilian life had exactly prepared him for. Ruatha had fully equipped him for the hunt after the 'test incident' a week earlier, and Xander was glad to have the extra gear that came with the cut down hunting armor he was wearing.

He was using the cloak system as he moved though not to, as he found out the hard way, hide from the aliens since they seemed to see right through it, but instead to avoid scaring the other animals and thus warn their prey. He had something Elan called a plasma caster mounted on his shoulder, and a retrofitted control system for it and the mask he wore was tied into the armors gauntlets and wrist computer.

'Wrist computer'. Now, that thing was a pain. He had to learn an entirely new alphabet to use that thing, or at least the symbols that corresponded to the options in the suit. Trial and error, he reflected, is not the best way to test a personal weapon system.

<Hey,> Elan chimed in, <Seems to be the only way you learn.>

Elanthielle had been riding him about the broken toe incident ever since he fired off a plasma bolt that nearly fried Ruatha. It was lucky for him that the big hunter seemed to have a sense of humor that matched his own.

"Oh, shut up."

He shook his reverie away as he approached the watering area they had been watching over for the past couple days. Ruatha seemed quite certain that a group of the things were going to come through here soon, though how he knew Xander wasn't sure.

Xander paused when he saw the local wildlife scampering for the hills. From past experience he knew that they didn't tend to run from him or Ruatha, though they did keep their distance. He quickly hopped up and snagged a low branch, pulling himself up into the jungle canopy to watch the scene unfold.

Motion from below him caught his attention, but it wasn't moving like the creatures. Xander thumbed his mask over to thermal vision and confirmed the thought. Even through the obstruction of the jungle foliage he could easily see the heat signature of the creature below, and even the long heat trail it had left behind it.

He observed it as it approached the water, not moving to get a clearing picture for fear of scaring it away. That was when he saw the first alien creature moving in, following the heat trail. He'd have missed it except that the creature stood out against the warm trail the first animal had left behind. Xander quickly shifted his helmet controls to the normal visible spectrum and monitored the alien as it stalked the animal.

He tagged the creature with the laser targeting system, examining the three dimensional display the helmet gave him. Hey... This thing is different from the ones we ran into a few days from here. Xander knew from several encounters with the creatures that they tended to vary depending on the hosts they used. Ruatcha had a lot to say on the matter, most of which Xander hadn't completely understood.

Still... Idly he tagged the creature's prey with the laser designator and waited for the computer to establish a target profile.

"Holy shit!" Xander barely managed to keep his voice at an urgent whisper.

The creature's prey was human.

Jahna walked cautiously to water, she'd been searching for her husband for over a week and needed a moment to rest. Finding the water was a relief, she hadn't been certain she would be able to locate it as it was normally frequented only by the hunters. She had just kneeled at the water when an evil hiss from behind her caused her to jump around.

What she saw startled her back into the slowly moving water. A black apparition that must have come from the depths of the underworld itself. It seemed to observe her as she sat, frozen, in the water. It cocked its head to one side, its mouth opening and showing its teeth as it hissed at her again. Slowly it stalked toward her as she scrambled backward, slipping on the slick rocks that lay beneath the surface of the stream.

It was right on top of her when a splash a short distance away startled both her and the beast, attracting their attention. She watched as a blurry section of air became covered in blue white lightning that finally flickered out as an armored figure came into sight.

"Devils and demons" she whispered in terror as the figure stalked toward her and the black beast.

Xander slowly moved toward the creature, unwilling to use the plasma caster on his shoulder since the creature was hovering over the girl and the acid splash back would likely kill her. He drew Elan and flicked the weapon to its full length and gestured a challenge to the black monstrosity.

"Here doggy doggy doggy..."

Ruatha snorted in disgust as he watched the human challenge the Kainde amedha. He was supposed to be tracking, not hunting. The boy was certainly no hunter, his mind was too soft when it came to the hunt. Ruatha couldn't understand the boys insistence on defending the other human. If she was too weak to hunt then she was of no value to the clan. Leave her to her fate.

Xander continued forward slowly, trying to bait the creature from its prey. The girl was frozen in place, terrorized by the creature and, no doubt, himself. The thing hissed at him, either in defiance or in an attempt to warn him off. In either case, it mattered little to Xander. He wasn't going to leave the girl to become a host for those things.

The creature refused to leave its position, as if knowing that the girl was its only defense against destruction. Xander was forced to move in closer, until he was within staff range of the tensing creature.

When it finally leapt at him, Xander met it in mid air with a sharp strike from his staff that deflected the creatures course into deeper water. It twisted as it struck the water, its talons digging into the soft river bed as it charged out of the water back at Xander's position.

Xander stood his ground, whipping Elan in vicious arc that ripped the creatures jaw off and splattered molecular acid across the running stream. He followed through with a reverse strike that cracked the thing's carapace and dropped it into the water, writhing from the pain. Without giving it time to recover Xander drew back the staff and jammed it into the creature's skull, penetrating the carapace at the point where he had cracked it, and killed the thing.

Xander stepped back from the bubbling and hissing water, pulling the girl with him as he moved clear of the acid that was now being drawn downstream by the current.

"Come on, girl. This isn't the place to go swimming."

Jahna screamed as the armored thing drug her out of the water, babbling something in an arcane language.

"Let me go!" She quailed from the imposing figure, tears of terror running down her face. "Please, whether you be god or demon I care not. Just let me go!"

<She's asking you to let her go,> Elan sounded faintly amused, <She seems confused as to whether you're a demon or a God.>

"Huh?" Xander muttered as he got the kicking girl clear of the stream. "How do you know?"

<She IS speaking a human language, Alexander. There are very few of those that I do not know.>


Xander tried to calm the girl, but she continued to kick at him and try to pull away. He finally let her arm go and held out his hands.

"It's ok."

He slowly tripped the release on his bio-mask, watching as she flinched away as the pressure equalized with a short hiss. He slipped the mask off and held it in the crook of his arm, and smiled at her as reassuringly as possible.

She stopped crawling back and stared at him in shock for a long moment. Then she suddenly rushed him, clinging to him like he was her only lifeline. Xander looked around his eyes desperately search for a way out before he dropped one of his armored hands tentatively to the back of her head.

"It's ok..." he whispered quietly. "Shhhhh... it's ok."

Between sign language and Elan's help Xander managed to get the girl's story from her. She'd been looking for her husband who had been one of the village hunters and had gone missing a week earlier. When she mentioned that Xander couldn't keep his eyes from drifting to the corpse of the alien creature for a brief moment. A moment that was, apparently, not brief enough.

She followed his eyes, and made the connection herself, which brought on another fit of tears. Xander, uncomfortably, held her as gently as he could. He couldn't stand the sight or sound of her tears.

Ruatha watched patiently, waiting to see if the boy was looking for a mate or, preferably, if the two humans would attract some more of the Kainde amedha so he could track them back to their queen.

Xander followed behind the girl as she trudged back to her village, saying nothing as they went for several reasons. First he didn't have anything to say, what could he offer her in the way of comfort? That her husband had probably died screaming while an abomination forced its way out of his ribcage? No. Better for her not to know. And even if he did he couldn't speak her language, not without parroting whatever Elan told him to.

He shook his head, and followed along behind the stricken girl, scanning the jungle carefully as they went. He was relieved to see nothing but normal animals moving beyond the thick cover of the jungles foliage.

As they approached the village, Xander could tell that something was up. The people were milling about, almost in a panic, as they hastily mounted fortifications around the small group of buildings. He could see blood trails that led off into the jungle, and those villagers that were armed were actively scouting the edge of the trees.

Xander shook his head. If it was, as he suspected, the aliens then those scouts were performing suicide missions for no reason.

Their arrival created quite the disturbance, as a large group of people rushed from the village to surround them. Xander nervously fingered the sheath that Elan was secured in, he didn't want to hurt these people but he would defend himself.

The girl he had saved interposed herself between Xander and the villagers, though whether she was doing it to protect Xander or the warriors wasn't entirely clear.

<She's telling them that you're a friend,> Elan whispered into his mind, <She telling them about the creature you killed, and how it was probably what killed her husband. They recognize the description. The creatures attacked during the night, they drug off at least a dozen of the villagers, mostly the warriors who tried to stop them.>

Xander winced. He knew that it was already too late to do anything to save those people, the creatures didn't waste time when it came to implantation. Those men were probably still alive, though they likely wished they weren't.

He spent the next several hours helping the villagers with the futile task of fortifying the village. Xander figured that they could do some serious harm to the swarm but, in the end, it wouldn't make a lot of difference. The primitive weapons that were in evidence around the village were not likely to be much of a match for the aliens talons and armored carapaces.

He was showing them how to build a makeshift pit trap when the village echoed with screams and shouts.

"Ooman, Ssander."

Xander turned to see Ruatha stalk into the village, heading straight for him. <Time hunt, Ssander.>

Xander looked at the big Yautja for a long moment before shaking his head. <No. Not hunt. Protect.> He waved his hands to encompass the village.

The big Yautja snorted. <No protection possible.>

Xander nodded reluctantly. <I know. But we leave, they all die. We stay, some may live.>

<No stay. Time for hunt.>

Xander was getting angry. <No hunt! People more important then trophies!>

The Yautja angrily gestured, <Not people. These weak... worthless!>

<No one is worthless! No one!>

Ruatha turned away angrily, stalking out of the village. He stopped at the edge of the village, glanced over the terrorized inhabitants, and muttered one last word loud enough for Xander to hear.

<Kine'Iende.> he spat.

With that the big Yuatja vanished into the air from which he came.

Xander watched as the hunter faded from sight, shaking his head in anger and disgust that was aimed at himself as much as the big Yautja. Shit. Now I'm fucking stranded on this hell hole.

In the end it didn't matter though, he couldn't walk away from the people here, even if it meant his death or exile from his home. He shook his head once more, and turned back to his work until he heard the shimmering of laughter echo through his mind.

//What are you laughing at, Elan?//

<What he said,> Elan giggled.

//I thought you didn't understand his language.//

<I do not,> Elan said primly. <That was in the language of the Ancients.>

//What did it mean?//

<Roughly it translates as 'Crusader',> Elan considered, <Or perhaps 'Holy Crusader' is more appropriate.>

"Great," Xander moaned. "You mean he called me a 'White Knight'."

<Yes,> Elan mused, <that would probably be an accurate translation.>

By evening the defenses were as prepared as they would get. Xander carefully donned his mask, and checked his equipment. Got two clips apiece left for the forty-five's. That sucks. Machete is a pile of twisted metal out in the jungle, but I still have the Tanto. Great. That'll take one of the bastards before it's wrecked. On the bright side I have the plasma caster and Elan.

Xander looked at the rapidly darkening jungle and cast his eyes toward the heavens. //I'm fucked.//

<Gee, tell me what you really think of me,> Elan muttered dryly.

Xander ignored her and scanned the jungle's heat signatures, swallowing deeply as he watched them scatter and finally fade into the darkness. He turned and looked at the tribal warriors beside him.

"It's time."

The Next Morning

Xander collapsed, exhausted, to the ground as the brilliance of the morning light borke over the top of the jungle. He looked around, seeing nothing but carnage for the length of the village, those few people who had survived the night were huddled together in terror. His armor was covered in the blood of a dozen warriors who had stood beside him when the horde had attacked, his mind was still bathed in the horror of their screams combined with the evil hisses of the creatures as they attacked.

Jahna was unconscious next to him, in bad shape from the night of fighting but still alive. Xander moaned and pulled himself to his feet, dragging her away from the smoking pits of acid that had been the corpses of alien creatures. That shit can't be good for your lungs.

The fighting had been over when the creatures had died or gotten what they came for. The latter in far too many instances. They grabbed people kicking and screaming from the arms of their loved ones and vanished into the night with their prizes.

And for every one person they grabbed we face another one of those things tomorrow night.

Xander dropped to his knees when he had reached the huddled group of survivors. Perhaps one in four had survived the night, leaving the village with less then eighty people still breathing. Xander shut his eyes for the first time in over twenty hours, willing the darkness to overtake him.

<Wait! What was that?> Elan suddenly shouted into his mind.

Xander practically teleported to his feet, the Plasma Caster on his shoulder whirring quietly as it tracked the jungle. "What?"

<What did that man say?>

"Huh?" Xander spun around, still riding the adrenaline rush that Elan's words had initiated. "What man?"

<The one in the group. Ask him to repeat what he just said.>

Xander looked around, finally spotting a small group that was talking rather then sobbing or sleeping. He walked over to them and repeated what Elan whispered to him.

The man looked at him curiously, and with a fair bit of awe and fear, before repeating himself.

<Chappa'ai,> Elan said the word reverently. <He said they were going to pray for deliverance at the Chappa'ai.>

"So?" Xander was confused, being half dead from exhaustion had done little for his mental capability.

<The Chappa'ai is a word from a language older then even I, Alexander. It is used to describe a portal that connects to a pan-galactic network of conduits that connect hundreds of thousands of earth type worlds. If there is a Chappa'ai here, we can use it to evacuate the people to safety, and perhaps find a way to return to Earth.>

"Whoa." Xander was waking up fast. "Why didn't you say so?"

<I just did,> Elanthielle sounded somewhat annoyed.

It took most of the morning to figure out the details and establish a plan of action. After almost an hour of stumbling over his words and dumbly repeating what Elan told him to say, they managed to ascertain that there was indeed a gateway located on this world. After that it was a matter of getting everyone to grab what they could and abandon the village.

By early afternoon Xander was supervising a column of single and double file villagers on a three mile forced march. They were hanging a lot on the words of a few villagers in Xander's opinion but he didn't see any other option. Another night here and everyone would be dead or worse.

Despite his fatigue Xander patrolled along the length of the column, scanning the jungle for any signs of attack. They had hit the halfway point when the first indications that they were being followed occurred.

Xander could see the heat signatures scattering and knew instantly that there was trouble in the wind. He moved away from the main group, searching for the creatures he knew where stalking them.

They found him.

The forward scouts of the column heard the horrid hissing they remembered from the night before, followed by sounds of struggle, and a bestial battle cry. They broke from the group and charged into the area, their weapons held at the ready.

As they broke into a clearing they saw a sight that stopped all of them in their tracks, only long experience keeping their weapons from dropping from nerveless hands.

The warrior who had fought by their sides the night before was besieged by a half dozen of the creatures of their nightmares, and around him lay the bodies of half dozen more.

When the first one struck him, Xander went down. Hard. He could feel them scrabbling at his armor as they started to drag him away.

He drew Elan with a practiced motion, bracing the ancient weapon against the ground before activating it. The sudden expansion of the weapon broke the swarm apart, sending three of them flying away from Xander and giving him room to move.

Xander was back to his knees when the swarm regrouped and charged him again. He fired the plasma caster by reflex, holing three of them at point blank range and scattering acid around the clearing. He slowly backed into a large tree, keeping his back to the trunk and warding the rest back with careful movements of his staff.

Xander cursed himself repeatedly. He knew that they should never have gotten so close without him knowing, but he had been fatigued and nowhere near the top of his game. He shifted the staff to his left hand, crooking it in his arm, and swept it in a hard swing that cracked the tough carapace of one of his attackers.

His right gauntlet activated, eight inch blades snapping out and eviscerating the closet alien with a vicious slash.

Internally Xander had slipped into a trance, the outside world had faded into blackness. Inside that darkness was only him, and the creatures of his nightmares. All he could hear was their screams, their hisses, and his voice above it all chanting a mantra that would have shocked him a few short weeks earlier. Not alive you bastards. Never alive. I won't let you take me alive!

The warriors were torn. Their honor demanded that they help the one who had fought for them the night before, but it was suicide to enter the boundaries of the clearing he fought in. The demons poison blood had created a circle of evil that defied any attempt to enter. And within the circle... Within the circle they didn't see a fellow warrior. They saw a berserker, a being as demonic in his fierce manner as the creatures he fought.


Xander didn't hear the voice, he slashed down with another strike that shattered a black carapace.


Xander whipped his staff around, annihilating another gleaming black talon.


"What!?" He asked as he thrust the staff into another creatures skull.

<They are all dead, Alexander. You can stop now.>

Xander paused, feeling the world return to him, and looked around the clearing with lifeless eyes.

The corpses of a dozen of the aliens were scattered around the field, the acid from their bodies filling the entire area with poisonous fumes. Xander rapidly checked himself out and found, to his relief, that by some miracle he couldn't fathom he had emerged from the battle unscathed by the alien acid.

At the edge of the field he saw a group of warriors grouped against the edge of the acid circle, watching him in awe. Awe that quickly turned to fear as he stalked toward them, his body language clearly showing his current state of mind.

He walked like someone who had lost his fear, his anger, and perhaps his sanity.

Ruatha watched as the human forced his charges to double time their march. He didn't know what hope the boy possibly had that would cause him to do this, there was no way to outrun the Kainde amedha. Silently he considered what he had just witnessed. The human had taken on a dozen of the Kainde amedha and emerged victorious. It wasn't an unprecedented feat, but for one with as little training as the boy it was disturbing.

"Is that it?"

<That is the Chappa'ai,> Elan said with some satisfaction.

"How do I activate it?" Xander asked dully.

Ruatha stared in shock. //A Chappa'ai. By the gods, had we known there was a gate on this world we would never have seeded it with a Kainde amedha colony.//

He knew what had to be done. The Gate of the Heavens must be buried until the colony was expunged. The Yautja thumbed the recall button on his gauntlet and summoned his ship.

"So we can't dial Earth?"

<No. The primary gate on Earth was buried.>

"What about the secondary?"

<It would be unwise to bring these people to that gate. It is located in what you would call, Antarctica.>

"Oh." That pretty much summed things up. "Any suggestions?"

<Normally I would not want to rely on information that is ten thousand years old, but in this case...> Elan gave Xander a series of symbols to dial. <We have no choice but to travel blindly. I do not know the name of this world, or its coordinates. There is no return.>

"Crap." Xander cursed. "Slow death here, or possibly fast death through the big circle thingy. I love my life."

Ruatha watched from his ship as the human activated the Chappa'ai, and began to shuffle people through it. He shook his head in disgust at the waste of energy, why save creatures who were totally helpless?

His attention was attracted to his ships sensors when they began to bleat a warning. The Kainde amedha were approaching the Chappa'ai.

He targeted the Gate and his talons tightened on the firing stud.

The helmet's acoustic sensors hissed with the evil sound that haunted Xander's mind, causing him to snap around to look at the jungle. What he saw caused his blood to run cold.

From the jungle came a horde of the glistening black carapaces, all heading straight for the gate and Xander's group.

Xander opened fire, his plasma caster blowing holes through the creatures, sometimes two at a time as they advanced. But the horde was too large, and it was closing fast. The villagers began to run into the portal, their only hope for salvation an unknown world hundred of light-years away.

The horde was almost upon them when fire rained from the sky, creating a wall of destructive force between them and the nightmarish creatures. Xander looked up and saw the Yautja's ship.

"Ruatha." Xander whispered.

Then he turned back to the running people and screamed at them, "Move!"

He hoped they understood the intent, even if they didn't understand the word, but he didn't spare them another glance as he activated Elan and moved to cover their retreat.

Between the Yautja's shipboard weapons clearing up the majority of the creatures as they made a rush for the gate and Xander eliminating any stragglers, the field was cleared quickly. The Yautja slowly lowered his ship to the ground.

Xander watched as the Yautja stepped down the gangplank, staring at him from thirty meters away.

Xander tensed, he knew that Ruatha wouldn't likely shoot him at point blank range... not without giving him a warning at any rate. His fingers tensed on the laser designator's controls when the Yautja reached behind his back.

Xander started when the Yautja tossed an object at him. He caught it reflexively, staring at it dumbly for a moment before he recognized it. A short sword. Japanese. Very old from what Xander could tell, and very ornate. A prize trophy.

Xander looked up at the creature then lifted his leg and slipped the carbon black Tanto from its sheath. He looked at the blade for a long moment, then tossed it to the Alien.

Ruatha caught the blade easily, and stared at it for a few seconds. Suddenly the big Yautja growled in wild laughter as he recognized the blade that had nearly led to his death. He saluted Xander with the black blade.

Xander returned the salute with the Wakizashi short sword, then turned and stepped through the Star Gate.

One Week Later

Xander looked over the surviving villagers, who were watching as he stood in front of the Chappa'ai.

<You could stay a while longer.>

Xander shook his head, "No. We've scouted the area, there are no threats within days of here. I can't stay here, not my style. Not anymore anyway."

"I'll come back and check from time to time as I can." Xander sighed and tapped out a series of coordinates into the pedestal, ducking back involuntarily as the gate energy exploded outward at activation. "So where are we going anyway?"

<These coordinates are to a world that may have the ability to get us home.>

"How the hell can you remember all this stuff, anyway?" Xander asked curiously as he walked up the steps.

<What else do I have to do? Memories are all I have left.>

Xander grimaced, "and on that happy note..."

He stepped through the gate.

Planet PX-975, September 14th '99

SG1 stepped through the Gate, looking around curiously at the planet as the wormhole closed behind them.

"Nice place." Colonel Jack O'Neill said as he glanced at the winding forest path.

"Huh? Oh... yes, very." Daniel Jackson looked up from a sheaf of papers he was fumbling with.

Captain Samantha Carter glanced at the two of them with a small smile, "The UAV spotted a settlement in that direction, probably along this path. It should be a little less then a mile away."

"Indeed," Teal'C planted his staff weapon in the ground and looked around the area slowly, "Perhaps we should proceed then?"

"Yes, let's." Jack smirked slightly and waved at Teal'C to lead the way.

The group began to follow the path through the thick trees.

"Everywhere I go I find these bastards!" Xander fumed from his perch in the tall tree as he looked down at the slave camp below him.

He and Elan had been hopping from world to world for almost three weeks, looking for worlds that might have sufficient technical ability, or even magic users powerful enough, to send them home. Unfortunately at each place that Elan remembered as a possibility they found these bastards in ornate Egyptian body armor riding local populations into the ground.

<The Goa'uld have expanded their operations considerably since the fall.>

Xander winced. Elan had told him about the Goa'uld. "Does the universe have nothing better to do then continually reinventing these freaking parasites? Vampires, those black alien nightmares, and now these Gold pricks."

<Goa'uld,> Elan corrected automatically.

"Whatever." Xander didn't care. "And what's with these weird weapons anyway?" Xander fingered one of the liberated 'Zap guns' he had on his belt.

<The Zat'nikatel were primarily police weapons, they are designed to be distinctive and effective.>

"Yeah fine, but what about those staff things they lug around?" Xander shook his head, "Those things are ridiculous."

<The staff weapons were designed by the ancients as weapons for their ceremonial guard. The Goa'uld are unimaginative, they are merely using what little of the Ancients technology they are capable of comprehending.>

"Great." Xander muttered, "Not only are they thieves, they're stupid ones too. So how come they are ruling so damned many planets?"

<I do not know,> Elanthielle had considered the question a lot over the past weeks. <The Fall must have been wider spread then I believed.>

"What 'Fall'?" Xander could hear the capital 'F', "You've mentioned it before."

Elanthielle snorted, a sound that was at odds with Xander's mental image of her. <The Fall is my private term for whatever must have happened to bring Earth down to it's current level.>

"Down?" Xander protested, "Hey, we have twinkies and the playboy channel. That's as high as it gets in my book."

<I'm going to presume that you are joking,> Elanthielle said finally, after searching Xander's mind for references to what he was talking about.

"Uh... sure." Xander said quietly, his eyes instinctively look around for help even though there was no one around to help. "Joking... that's what it was."

<Good,> Elan muttered, <because if I believed that you were comparing over ten millenia of culture and civilization to nutritionally deficient deserts and mostly nude women dressed in rabbit costumes, then I would have to find some manner in which to harm you.>

Xander swallowed at the tone of Elan's voice. "Definitely joking."

Movement from below attracted Xander's attention a moment later, and he watched as four people walked through the path. One was about what he'd come to expect. Big, tall, and carrying a staff weapon. But he was dressed all wrong.

And the other three were even worse. They had MP-5's and Berretta sidearms, not too mention sunglasses and various other things that screamed 'Home' to Xander.

All four of them are dressed in military fatigues. United States military. What in hell? Xander shifted his position and dropped to the ground after they passed, intent on solving the mystery the group presented.

SG1 topped the ridge and looked down at the fields below them, fields that stretched as far as they could see.

"Wow." Daniel looked at the expanse, "Obviously an agrarian society, it seems to bear some resemblance to certain modern Asian countries. I wonder if they are growing rice or some other crop?"

Jack O'Neill slipped his glasses off, wiping his brow carefully before returning them to the bridge of his nose. "The climate is similar to certain Asian countries too. And we have enough rice at home, Daniel. Let's see if we can find their population centers."

"I do not believe that would be wise, Colonel O'Neill."

Jack turned to look at Teal'C curiously, "Why's that?"

"Look," he pointed to a position in the fields some distance off.

Jack raised a pair of binoculars to his eyes and followed Teal'C's gesture. He saw them almost immediately, a pair of Jaffa guards shaking a fallen farmer and forcing him to his feat and back to work.

O'Neill cursed. "We'd better get back to the gate."

Behind him he heard a sudden shout that sounded all to familiar, causing his heart to sink.

"Jaffa, Kree!"

A group of Jaffa burst from their cover, a Goa'uld following behind them, their staff weapons aimed and charged. SG1 looked at each other in resignation before they slowly raised their hands away from their slung weapons.

"Man," O'Neill griped, "I can't take you guys anywhere."

Xander watched, his shift suit activated, from just outside the ambush. //At least these guys aren't friendly with the gold's.//

<Goa'uld,> Elan corrected, mildly annoyed.

//Whateve,//. Xander thought absently. //Like I care.//

Elanthielle sighed dramatically, but settled down to watch the confrontation through Xander's eyes.

"So," Jack drawled, "I guess talking is out of the question?"

"On the contrary," The Goa'uld intoned, his eyes glowing, "I expect that you'll be doing quite a lot of talking very soon. Where is the other?"

"Ah... Other?" Daniel asked tentatively.

"The one who came through the Chappa'ai earlier, where is he?"

"Uh..." O'Neill said, "Anyone know what he's talking about?"

Each of the SG1 team just shook their heads, as much in confusion as in answer to the question.

"Very well." the Goa'uld smiled slowly, "Kill the woman."

The Jaffa charged their staff weapons, aiming them at Captain Carter.

"No!" O'Neill lunged forward, moving to cover Sam.

//Ah crap,// Xander watched as the confrontation went south.

He stepped forward, coming up behind the Goa'uld and his bodyguards, and deactivated the shift suit. He could see the Military people's eyes widen as they saw him appear from the air, raising a pair of stolen Zat'nikatel hand weapons.

He stayed silent, triggering the stunners simultaneously as he gunned down the Jaffa guards.

The Goa'uld jerked around in shock as his bodyguards fell under Zat'nikatel fire. As he complete his turn he saw his attacker and the human members of the SG1 team were shocked when the self proclaimed 'God' turned pale.

When they turned to each other they realized that Teal'C had turned just as white as the so called 'god'.

"A Yautja," both 'god' and ex-Jaffa spoke at the same time.

"A whatcha?" Jack asked irreverently.

"It is a Yautja, Colonel O'Neill," Teal'C said under his breath, "They are hunters."

"What? Like bounty hunters?"

"No. Like what you would call 'big game' hunters."

Daniel looked at the armored figure for a moment, "What sort of game do they hunt?"

"The more dangerous the better, Daniel Jackson."

"I assume you don't mean wild boar 'dangerous'?" Samantha was drawing some conclusions quickly.

"I do not," The big Jaffa said slowly. "They often hunt Jaffa, and occasionally even seek out Goa'uld as prey."

"Oookay." Jack muttered under his breath.

Xander stared the Goa'uld down, not really certain if he should stun him or not. Finally he shrugged and fired the Zat. Xander raised an eyebrow beneath his mask when the electrical discharge impacted on a force shield and splattered around the Goa'uld.

"Yautja," The Goa'uld back pedaled as Xander returned the Zats to his belt, "Perhaps we can reach an agreement..."

Xander painted him with the laser designator for the Plasma Caster. What is the word for 'run' in his language, Elan?

<Fekta,>. Elanthielle responded.

Xander stalked closer to the pale 'god' and muttered one word in a gravelly voice, "Fektal."

The Goa'uld staggered backwards in a panic, finally turning and breaking through the SG1 group at a dead run.

Jack half turned to watch him go, "Well... that was interesting."

Xander stepped closer to the military group, noting the rank and unit emblems on their chest and shoulders. He stepped face to face with the one he identified as a Colonel and snapped off a perfect salute.

Colonel Jack O'Neill returned the salute reflexively, a look of pure consternation plainly visible on his face. He held for longer then he should, but the imposing figure in armor in front of him didn't budge until he broke the salute. When he did the figure seemed to relax, dropping its arm and cocking its head to one side. Jack could have sworn the armored figure was grinning at him.

Xander was barely keeping his laughter in. The look on their faces was priceless. Man, I wish I could record them... hey! I can!

He thumbed the makeshift controls on the mask's recorder and saved the last few minutes to memory. Oh man, I'm gonna get a kick out of this mask...

By this point the Colonel, Colonel O'Neill Xander read off his uniform, was starting to look annoyed.

He's laughing at us... "Alright, you!" Jack started forward to grab the figure in armor until his three teammates grabbed him and dragging him back.

"Think about it, Jack." Daniel said earnestly, "This guy is packing more hardware then the special operations team."

Jack looked the figure over and had to agree with Daniel's observation. He saw two Zats, a sword, what looked like retractable blades in at least one of his gauntlets, a pair of *Colt* automatics, and some kind of cannon on the guy's shoulder. Reluctantly he backed down, "Who are you?"

The group watched, their curiosity turning to shock, as the armored figure depressurized his helmet and removed the mask to reveal a smirking human face.

"Alexander Harris of California, US of A."

The group had moved into the forest, where Xander led them to his camp.

"I've been here for a couple days now, was starting to get kinda discouraged. I've been hitting planets that were supposed to have the ability to get me home for about three weeks or so, and every place I hit I find these Gold creeps."

"Goa'uld." Teal'C corrected him.

Xander flashed him a disgusted glare, "Don't start, I get enough of that from..."

The SG team looks at each other in confusion as Xander trailed off.

"Wait a minute," Daniel spoke up, "You have a list of planets with high technology?"

Xander shrugged, "Sort off, but its about ten thousand years out of date. And those damned snakes have moved in all over the place," He finished in disgust.

"But... how?" Daniel asked, his face showing true interest.

Xander smirked slightly, knowing that the man would never accept the truth. "The Yautja live a long time, Mr. Jackson."

"Speaking of which," Jack interjected, his hands waving slightly. "How exactly is it that you came to be over a thousand light years from Earth, wearing a piece of Alien body armor that scares the crap out of a self-proclaimed god?"

Xander grimaced. "I ran into the Yautja back on Earth, when we both were tracking the same prey. A demon that killed almost twenty people in a small town in Montana attracted my attention. The Yautja had been tracking it and its friends for a few days, we took the demons out together but I made the mistake of thinking the Yautja was another demon. So I hunted him."

"Ah... Demon?" Daniel asked quietly

"You hunted a Yautja?" Teal'C asked, his face impassive but a tone of disbelief ringing in his voice.

"To my regret, Mr. Teal'C," Xander smiled, "I took him on, staff to staff and hand to hand. I won, but I lost. At any rate, he was impressed so he decided not to kill me. I've spent the last couple months or so hunting with him on a world... well, I don't know its gate address and I never want to see that hell hole again so I'll just leave it at that."

"Ah...excuse me, Demon?" Daniel repeated, again too quietly to be noticed.

"Uh... Why?" Jack asked.

Xander grimaced, that one word causing screams to echo through his mind. "The planet's infested with a life-form that makes the Golds look sweet and cuddly. Damn near wiped out a village I was trying to protect, less then a quarter of them survived. If they hadn't mentioned the Gate..."

Xander trailed off, his eyes haunted with the memories of the dead and the dying. The SG team looked at each other in slight confusion, only Jack O'Neill really understanding what he saw in the boy's eyes. Pain.

"Could we get back to this 'Demon' thing?" Daniel asked, oblivious to the byplay between Xander and Jack.

Xander smiled tiredly, "Yes, Demons. Vampires, Ghosts, things that go bump in the night. I found out about their existence a few years ago, and I've been fighting them ever since."

"Oh come on." Captain Carter said with a slight smile, "You don't really expect us to believe that do you?"

"I don't care." Xander said simply. "You can believe what you want. Trust me when I say that my friends back home aren't likely to believe me if I tell what I've been up to this summer either."

Daniel leaned forward, "So you mean to tell us that demons are running around Earth causing problems?" He turned to Jack with a 'lecturing' look on his face. "They could be remnants of the Goa'uld and maybe other aliens left on Earth after the Gate was buried."

"Yeah..." Jack said slowly, "I could buy that."

"I couldn't." Xander said firmly, bringing the attention of the group back to him. "Not unless you've run into aliens that react to holy water like its acid, and crosses like they're cattle brands."

"Ummm... no," Daniel said finally. "I can't say that we have."

"Then I doubt it's aliens," Xander said with a smirk.

Jack leaned over and whispered to Daniel, "He's lost it. Completely loopy."

Daniel looked uncomfortably around the group, but said nothing to contradict Colonel O'Neill.

<Did you really have to tell them about demons?> Elan asked, <You do realize that they think you're insane now, right?>

Xander shrugged, //I slipped... I haven't spoken to humans in months, except for those villagers... and they all believed in demons, hell they thought I *was* one.//

She sighed in response, <What are you going to do? They're likely to try and have you locked up if you go back with them.>

Xander smiled, confusing the group of people around him that weren't privy to his inner conversation. //They were going to do that anyway, Elan. These people work for the government.//


Xander shook his head slightly, amused at the naivete of the ancient being. //So they don't want someone kicking around Earth who knows about Aliens... Certainly not if he's packing as much alien tech as I am. Best case scenario is I spend several months debriefing before they let me out with little more then a free pair of underwear and a bus ticket home.//

Elan recognized the tone in the young man's mental voice. <What are you planning?> She asked suspiciously.

//I'm planning on testing their security.//

After a short while Xander stood up, replacing his bio-mask and speaking to the SG team. "Look, We'd better get you guys back to the gate. I don't know these Golds well, but I doubt that one Yautja is going to scare him for long, he'll be coming back soon."

"I concur," Teal'C said stolidly as he stood.

"Alright then," Jack muttered, "Let's get a move on."

The odd group made it's way back through the forest, staying clear of the trails as they moved back toward the Gate. It didn't take long before they reached the clearing that the gate stood in the center of.

Xander snorted, "My luck's holding true to form."

Surrounding the gate were two dozen Jaffa and the Goa'uld that Xander had frightened earlier.

"I'll set up a distraction," Xander told the SG team, "You guys get ready to run for the gate. Get it open and get through, if I can I'll be right behind you. If not... don't worry about it. I'll catch up later."

"No." Daniel said quickly, "You can't go through the gate to Earth, we keep an Iris over it. You'd never materialize. Without the proper code you'd splatter across the Iris."

Xander forced a grimace, "Ouch. Ok, don't worry about me anyway. I'll find another way home if I have to." Then he flashed a grin, "Besides, I'm not planning on missing the trip."

With that Xander broke from the group and vanished into the woods.

//Perfect.// He grinned, //I couldn't have planned this better...//

Horan, the Goa'uld taskmaster of the world, stared out at the expanse of jungle that lay between him and the hunter he knew was out there. A Yautja would fetch a valued price if he could kill it without it arming its failsafe bomb, and the technology would be a boon to him and his ambitions on this world and beyond.

He arrayed his warriors around the Gate, knowing that either the Yautja or the Tau'ree had to return this way. If any of the Tau'ree had survived the encounter with the Yautja that is.

Horan smiled ruthlessly. It was unlikely that any of them had survived. The Yautja had not pursued him, so they must have been the hunter's prey.

Xander was crouched on a low branch in a tree near the edge of the clearing, watching as the Jaffa patrolled the area. He smiled, they're sloppy. Poor form for a group of galactic conquerors.

The Goa'uld are ruthless but stupid. They prize form over function.

Xander shook his head at the stupidity of the situation, but said nothing. Instead he painted a bush at the far side of the clearing with the laser designator and turned up the heat. A few seconds later the bush flashed into flames, drawing shouts and half the Jaffa in that direction.

"God. They are idiots," Xander whispered to himself. "This is gonna be easier then I thought."

"No!" Horan shouted, "He's not over there you fools, it's just a distraction!"

Suddenly a pistol shot rang out and a bullet impacted off the Goa'uld armor. Twice more the report sounded until they spotted the muzzle flash.

"Over there! Get them!"

The Jaffa broke from their positions and charged into the jungle.

SG1 moved quickly out of the woods, rushing to the DHD and dialing the Earth coordinates.

"Where is he?" Daniel looked around.

"I do not know, Daniel Jackson."

"Teal'C! Through the gate now!" Jack ordered.

"We should wait."

O'Neill understood the sentiment, but his team was the priority now. "The kid can take care of himself. He's bought us the time we need to get off this rock, so move! We'll get some help and come back for him."

Reluctantly the team stepped through the gate, glancing over their shoulders with every heavy step they took.

Xander grinned as the Goa'uld charged his position, and snapped the forty fives back into their leathers. He easily evaded the clumsy search attempts of the Jaffa and arrived at the Gate just behind the SG team. He listened to their conversation, amused.

//Aww... so sweet, they're going to come back for me. I'll have to leave a thank you note.//

Elan groaned at the joke, <Must you be so flippant?>

//Hey, it's either this or I go postal every now and then and shoot some people for no real reason. You got a preference?//

<Give me some time to think about it.>

//You do that.// Xander grinned under his mask and stepped into the Gate right behind Colonel O'Neill.

SGC, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

"SG Team Returning!"

"Open the Iris!" Hammond bellowed into the microphone.

The iris retracted quickly and the gate shimmered and wavered as the members of SG1 came through the wormhole, shivering slightly from the after effects of the gate as they did.

"General!" Jack O'Neill shouted as he waved off the soldiers standing guard, "We need to organize a rescue op, fast."

"Colonel?" Hammond double checked and, seeing the entire SG1 team looked at O'Neill curiously.

"We met a civilian, a citizen of the United States no less, on PX-975."

"How is that possible?"

"He... ah... hitched a ride." Jack said slowly.

"He what!?"

"Long story."

"Colonel, I have time."

Xander almost whistled in appreciation as he stepped out of the gate into the cavernous room that housed the Earth gate. Budget cuts haven't affected this group too badly.

He stopped dead, staying motionless to minimize the visible blur from his shift suit and watched as SG1 moved toward an exit. He smiled to himself as Colonel O'Neill yelled about preparing a rescue team, then frowned. Damn. I'll really have to leave a note, don't want them risking themselves for nothing.

A sound behind him startled him, but he kept his cool and thumbed the 360- degree vision option on his bio-mask. He watched curiously as a metal shield closed over the Star Gate. Must be that 'Iris' doohickey Daniel was talking about? Cool.

He smiled under his mask, with a dark and solid background behind him he was probably more invisible then Angel when there was work to be done. He snickered at the thought but had to admit, How he used to be anyway. He's gotten better since that side trip to hell, must be a helluva motivational place.

Xander turned a little somber for a moment, a shiver of guilt running through him, before shaking it off and noticing that the guards had broken up. Time to move.

"So, your telling me that an Alien vessel penetrated NORAD detection, *landed* in the United States, and abducted one of our citizens!?"

"Abducted may be a bit harsh, Sir," Daniel said.

"Doesn't seem like it to me." Hammond muttered, "So this, Mr. Harris, what's he like?"

"In a word sir?" Jack asked rhetorically, "Looney. Scary as hell, but a total loony-toon."

"Ah... that might be overstating this slightly, Jack."

"Come on, Daniel, he was talking about demons and vampires as if they were real."

Daniel Jackson squirmed uncomfortably in his chair, "It's an outside possibility... but he may be right."

"Excuse me?" O'Neill looked at Dr. Jackson in shock.

"The texts I've been reading all refer to creatures and beings that even the Goa'uld consider to be the 'incarnation of true evil.' It's possible that these are more then just myths, and have some basis in reality... much like the Goa'uld themselves."

"Aw come on," Jack moaned, "What about that crap about holy water and crosses?"

"It's possible that the cross became a holy symbol because of its effects on these creatures rather then the other way around," Daniel speculated, "As for holy water... that I don't know."

Jack raised his hand, a victorious look on his face. "Aha!"

"But," Daniel continued, "That doesn't rule out the possibility that something is happening."

"Ah..." Jack slumped back into his chair. "Right."

Xander rummaged through the base's laundry room, grabbing a large military duffel bag and some fatigues from the piles and stuffing them into the armor's backpack. When he was done he cracked the door open and looked out, when the hall was clear he silently moved down the long corridor.

Ahh... here we go. This looks like an office. He ducked in and grabbed a pen off the desk and a couple index cards and started jotting down a note.

/Dear SG1, I thought I'd let you know that I hitched a lift with you guys after all. Sorry for the tricky move but I didn't feel like going through 'customs'. Catch you guys another time. Alexander./

He looked at the note and grinned for a moment and, as an afterthought, jotted his email down on the second note, folded it over and labeled it carefully... /To Dr. Jackson/

He'd dropped the first note off in the gate room, ducking a roving patrol as he did. The second was trickier. It took him longer then he thought it would to locate Dr. Jackson's office though, in retrospect, he probably should have figured to look for the one place that looked like a tornado hit it.

He placed the folded note in the middle of the disaster area he assumed was a desk, and moved quietly out of the room looking for an exit.

After another hour of debriefing SG1 managed to secure permission for a rescue operation and moved to meet SG12 in the Gate Room. As they moved in Colonel O'Neill noticed a piece of paper on the ramp leading to the gate. He leaned down and picked it up.

"What the hell?" he muttered, flipping it over. His eyes widened as he read the note. "Son of a bitch!"

"What is it Jack?" Daniel came up behind him, looking at the note over Jack's shoulder. His eyes widened as he read the signature. "Hell! How could we forget about his suits stealth capabilities?"

"Damn it!" Jack turned and stalked past a confused SG12, "Mission's scrubbed! Stand down."

General Hammond looked down as O'Neill stormed out of the gate room. He waited impatiently as the Colonel climbed up to the control room and handed him the note. He looked it over slowly, reddening as he finished it.

"Seal the base!" Hammond bellowed, "We have an intruder on the base!"

Xander watched from the forest, amused, as the alarms blared and the soldiers closed the gates leading into the mountain stronghold. He figured he'd best avoid the road for a while, preferably until he could find a byroad or something similar.

Grinning he turned and slipped into the thick forest, leaving the mountain literally buzzing behind him.

"Who is this person!?" Hammond roared as the reports came back in negative for the location of the intruder.

Colonel O'Neill grimaced, "He's someone who managed to survive hunting with a species that scares the hell out of the Goa'uld."

Hammond glared at him for a long moment, "And it didn't occur to you that he might try something like this?"

"General, he risked his life to distract the Goa'uld away from the gate for us," Daniel objected, "How could we be expected to realize he'd be capable of doing that and getting back in time to slip through the gate under stealth?"

Hammond growled.

"Look, we can find him. How many Alexander Harris' can there be in California, anyway?" Jack asked slowly.

"Find out." Hammond ordered.

Xander cleared the first mile in eight minutes, jogging easily even in the armor he was wearing, and slowed down when the suit's audio pickups heard cars from ahead. He crouched on an overhang and observed the traffic flow for thirty minutes before making his decision.

No military traffic... Ok, time to arrange some transport.

"Sir?" Captain Carter looked up from her computer screen.

"Yes?" Hammond moved over.

There are over a hundred 'Alexander Harris' in the computer lists for California. Almost thirty of them are in the right age group. But here's the strange thing, sir." She said as she pointed out one of the names on the list, "This one from Sunnydale has a military file."

"Well, open it."

"I can't, sir. It's classified beyond my clearance."

"What?" Hammond reached down and typed in his own clearance, only to receive the same result. "What in the hell?"

Jack stared at the screen for a moment, "How much you want to bet that's our boy?"

"No bets, Colonel." Hammond stared at the flashing 'classified' sign in frustration.

"Permission to take a team to Sunnydale, Sir?"


Underground bunker, unknown


"Yes, Soldier?"

"Someone just tried to access one of our flagged files."

"Which one?"

"The Harris boy, Ma'am."

"Harris? We've been looking for him since he left Sunnydale. It's like he vanished off the face of the Earth. Who's trying to check his file?"

"I don't know, Ma'am. I don't have the clearance to check that."

"What? Here, let me check... Damn. Who are these people? I have top level clearance and the computer just kicked me out."

"No clue Ma'am."

"What the hell has Harris been up to now?"

Xander Harris slung the duffel bag over his shoulder and stepped out onto the edge of the road. He was wearing a crumpled and loose fitting set of fatigues that he had pulled the rank and insignias off of. Elan was riding securely on his thigh, and he had the twin Colts tucked into shoulder leather under the heavy fatigue jacket he wore. Opting to go for overkill he tucked one of his stolen Zats into his belt at the small of his back.

He started trudging along the road, sticking his thumb out at the passing traffic. He was starting to get discouraged after almost a half hour of walking backwards and begging for a ride when a red mustang convertible slowed to a stop, the driver looking at him curiously.

For a long moment the man looked at him, and Xander stared back. The man was dark haired, and sported an oval pair of dark sunglasses. Finally the man spoke.

"Excuse me," he said hesitantly, "But, if you don't mind, may I ask what your doing?"

Xander stared at the man for several seconds longer before he replied, "Huh?"

"I asked," the man said, "What are you doing with your thumb?"

"I was hitchhiking."

"Hitch... hiking?" The man looked confused.

"What?" Xander asked, "You've never heard of hitchhiking?"


"I'm trying to get a lift... you know, a ride?"

"Oh..." The man thought about it, "Where are you going?"

"Montana. I need to pick up my car."

"Well," the man said cheerfully, "I'm heading in that general direction. I can give you a 'lift'."

Xander grinned, "Thanks." And hopped into the car.

"Hi, my name's Xander. Xander Harris." He held out his hand.

The driver reached over and shook it firmly, "I'm Jarod..." He glanced down at his steering wheel, "Jarod Ford."

Air Force C-130 en-route to Sunnydale

"Hey Jack, check this out."

O'Neill moved over to where Daniel was typing into a laptop computer. He looked at the screen and saw what looked to be a battlefield. "Where's that? Iraq? Iran?"


Jack choked. "What!?"

"That's Sunnydale Highschool. Picture taken this summer, the news reports called it a gas leak."

Jack stared at the picture in disbelief. "Who the hell wrote that up!? Look at the burn marks, and the debris field. That was a bomb blast. Who the hell would blow up a highschool?"

"You mean other then the students?"

Jack looked at Daniel sourly, "Real funny. Could you please be serious."

Daniel tapped a key and brought up another picture, "I am serious. This is a grad photo from Sunnydale High. Check out the third guy form the left in the second row."

Jack squinted at the picture, easily recognizing Alexander Harris. "Shit."

"So Jarod, what's got you out and on the freeway this time of year?"

"Oh, I'm just moving around some. Getting a taste for freedom, you know?"

Xander smiled wryly, "Yeah, I was going to do that myself this summer... turned around and bit me on the butt though..."

"Really?" Jarod asked, curious. "How?"

"Oh, stuff kept cropping up. Little things here and there, life... that sort of thing." Inside Xander was alternating between laughter and choking as he casually denigrated his summer to 'life'.

They chatted back and forth for a while, enjoying the relaxed drive as they headed north. At one point Xander picked up a newspaper from the dash.

"You mind?" He asked, holding the paper up for Jarod to see.

"Not at all."

Xander glanced at the article the paper had been folded open at, frowning at the headline.

'Ritual Serial Killer Claims Three More Victims'

Xander glanced through the story, frowning and mumbling to himself as he did. Is it just me, Elan, or does this story stink.

Elan's voice echoed back a few seconds later, <It's definitely an occult ritual. The mysterious blood symbols on the wall they describe sound like an appeasement ceremony.>

"Appeasement ceremony?" Xander asked aloud, forgetting himself for a moment.

"What was that?" Jarod looked over at his passenger, noting with surprise the grim look on his face as he read the paper.

Xander looked up in surprise, "Sorry, thinking aloud. This story, it sounds like an Occult ritual. Probably some nutcase thinks the deaths will satisfy some demon or dark god who's granted him a gift of some type."

Jarod looked even more surprised. //That was what I decided it was.// "Do you have much experience with the occult, Mr. Harris?"

Xander smirked, "More then I'd like. But actually I just tend to hang around with the experts on the subject. I wish I could call one of my friends about this, he'd probably be able to tell me everything down to the name of the ritual and what demon it was for."

"Are you serious?" Jarod was seriously interested now.

"Sure." Xander shrugged, "G-Man specializes in this stuff."

"G-Man? Is he a profiler with the FBI?"

Xander laughed, "No, he's a librarian. But I think he used to be the curator at some museum in London too."

"Could you call him?"

Xander looked over, puzzled. "Why?"

Jarod pulled out one of many pieces of identification from his pocket, "Because I am with the FBI and I was heading to Billings to investigate this case."

Xander shrugged, "Got a phone?"

Giles Apartment, Sunnydale California

Giles stumbled through his apartment, wiping the sleep from his bleary eyes. He'd been researching locator spells for the past three weeks, in the hopes of finding a clue to Xander's whereabouts. The girls had been near hysterics when the university term had begun and Xander hadn't shown.

Willow had privately performed a locator spell nearly a month ago, secretly worried about the lack of contact from her oldest friend. She had come to him nearly in tears when the spell had failed. Since then he and the girls had been in 'research mode' nearly full time as they attempted to locate Xander.

The picked the phone up, and managed to rasp out a tired, "Rupert Giles residence."

"Yo, G-Man. I need some 411."

Xander winced at the yells coming over the phone and he pulled the cell away from his ear.

"Jeez G-man. Take a breath, man," Xander managed after a few seconds. "No, I *couldn't* call you. No, I swear. Look, I was out of reach ok. No, I'm serious... look... no, listen would ya? Giles! There were no phones. No computers. No, are you kidding me!? I didn't even know they used telegraph anymore."

Jarod looked over in curiosity as his passenger tried to calm down his friend.

"Look, I'm back. Ok? Tell the girls that I'm alive, I'm fine... nothing more then an extra scar or two and a head full of memories I'm going to try to forget. You finished? Good. Look, I'm here with an investigator for the FBI who's looking into a case in Billings... Christ Giles, what do you do with your day? Channel surf looking for Occult murders? You do?!? Get a life, man."

Jarod flickered another glance at the young man, trying to gage whether he was joking or if the man he was talking to actually spent his time looking for things like this. He didn't think the boy was joking.

"So, what's the 411 on the Billings murders? Yeah, we figured that. Uh huh... Is he a major demon? Great... Ok, well that's not so bad... Oh crap, Scratch that. What? Man... that sucks. Ok, sure. Yeah, I'll take care... No, I'm going to stay with the fed... hell no. He's gonna need backup who knows what's up. Alright. Will do. Kiss Buffy and Wills for me..."

Xander pulled the phone away from his ear again, this time grinning as the words came through crystal clear over the cell phones small speaker.

"I will do NO SUCH THING!"

"Alright... alright. Yeeesh... You really should see someone about that fear of intimacy you have..."

Xander flicked off the phone before Giles could answer and turned back to Jarod. "G-Man says that it's definitely an appeasement ritual. The 'murderer' is almost certainly stinking rich and this is a series of thank you notes to a demon by the name of Mel'kai. He has three more of these to do before he's done, unless there are some that haven't been found yet."

Jarod looked at Xander oddly, "Demon?"

Xander shrugged, he figured that Jarod was going to find out eventually but he knew that the man wouldn't believe him now. "Not important if you believe it. Just important that the murderer does."

Jarod nodded his head. That was something he could understand. "Anything else I should know?"

"The guy is newly rich, within the last year. Probably made the papers as he climbed the ladder too."

"So it's all over money?" Jarod spat out the last word.

"'Fraid so." Xander shrugged, "I've seen worse."

Jarod gave him such a penetrating look that he decided to expand on the statement.

"I've seen worse done for less, Jarod. I've known 'people' who killed for fun, and I use the term people loosely. You mind if I ride with you to check this out?"

Jarod considered the request, something told him that the boy wasn't going to go away even if he told him no. Finally he nodded his assent. "Ok, but you stay close to me and do what I say. If things get dangerous, you run."

Xander grinned, "Sure."

<I notice you didn't say what direction you would run in,> Elan muttered into his head.

//Oh, shut up.//

Giles Apartment, Sunnydale California

"You're sure he's all right?"

Giles sighed and rubbed the bridge of his knows, "As far as I could tell over the phone, yes. He's fine."

"He won't be when I get my hands on him," Buffy promised, "I mean, leaving us like that! How could he? Not even with a message or a good bye?"

"He did say that he was unable to communicate, Buffy... Perhaps you should consider giving him a chance to explain?"

"Y... yes..." Willow added, "Obviously he wasn't over in Oxnard or something... my locator spell should have found him no matter where he was on Earth..."

"All right." Buffy fumed. "First he explains. THEN I hit him. That sound good?"

"Oh... much better," Giles sighed again.

"Ss... so Buffy, you have a date with Parker tonight?"

Buffy smiled, "Yeah... Oh my god... I have to go get ready."

Willow and Buffy left the room in a tear, leaving Giles thinking to himself. Where have you been, Xander?

"Hey, Jarod," Xander asked, "I don't want to run up your minutes or anything, but could I make another call?"

Jarod looked over, "Sure, go ahead."

"Thanks, man. I owe you one," Xander dialed the number to the Halliwell house.

Halliwell Manor, San Francisco California

The phone rang three times before Prue grabbed it, "Halliwell residence."

"Prue? It's Xander..."

"Xander!" Prue yelled into the phone in shock, "Where have you been? We tried a scrying spell and..."

"We tried a scrying spell and..."

Xander winced as Prue was cut off and a loud bang echoed through the receiver. "Prue? Prue?"


Xander smiled, "Hey Phoebe, how are you?"

"Don't you 'how are you' me! Where have you been?"

"Would you believe... out?" Xander asked lightly, wincing at the scream he heard through the line.

Jarod swerved the car slightly in surprise at the loud noise that came from the phone. "Vocal isn't she?"

Xander quickly covered the phone, "Well, I have been missing for... say what date is it?"

Jarod raised an eyebrow. "Sept 14."

"Hmmm... July... August... I guess that's almost three months."

Jarod looked at his passenger curiously, and considered asking but he decided to let Xander get back to his conversation.

"So... Phoebe, how have you been? I... No... Well... Actually yes. No, I'm not kidding. No they weren't demons. Yes, I'm sure. No... No, I'm sure that's why the spell didn't work too... No, I'm not kidding with you. I'll swing through San Fran before I head for Sunny-D... Yes I promise. You sent me how many e-mails?? Ok... ok... I said ok didn't I? Yes, I'll answer them all... No, I don't know when. Look, I'm heading into Billings now... No... No... well, yes, it looks bad. Of course I'll be careful this time. I told you, I only take stupid risks when there is something worth winning. Bye. I'll see you as soon as I can."

Jarod smiled and accepted the cell phone from his passenger, "You'll be careful *this* time?"

Xander grimaced, "Lets just say that this isn't the first occult related murder I've investigated. It's starting to become a full time job."

"Surely there can't be that many?" Jarod asked.

"You'd be surprised. Most cases like this get buried by the police department before the media shows up, they don't like panicked people screaming 'devil worshipers' through the streets."

"Very interesting," Jarod mused, "And you're saying that there are enough cases like this to occupy you full time?"

"Me and God knows how many others," Xander muttered. "I'm not the only so called 'demon hunter' running around the country... I know at least a dozen personally, and that's just in California."

"I must say that I find it shocking that there are that many crimes of this nature."

"I used to say something similar," Xander grinned, "Although with much more panic and fear in my voice. A friend of mine told me, several times, 'There are more things on heaven and earth'... Shakespeare I think."

Jarod smiled, "Yes. I suppose your friend was being overly philosophical."

Xander smiled slowly, looking over at Jarod. "Ask me that after we catch the guy who killed those people, Jarod. Ask me that after."

Halliwell Manor, San Francisco California

"Well?" Piper asked, having come into the room about the same time as Phoebe tackled Prue for the phone, "Is he all right?"

"He says that he is," Phoebe stared at the receiver for a moment, "But I'm not sure he will be when I get my hands on him."

"Did he say what happened to him?"

"He said that he was abducted by aliens. I think he was serious."

Her sisters just stared at her for a long moment, uncertain how to react.

Finally it was Piper who broke the silence. "You have got to be kidding me."

Sept 15, Sunnydale California, Sunnydale High School

"Gas leak, my Aunt Fanny," O'Neill muttered as he looked at the ruins of the high school. "Look at the chemical burns over there. Hell, check this out..."

Jack leaned down, and picked up a piece of debris form the ground. "This is a military grade detonator... What in the name of hell happened here?"

Samantha Carter walked up to him, a sheaf of papers in her hand. "The local PD interviewed everyone present at the time of the explosion... It looks like they were all hallucinating, sir."

"Excuse me, Captain?"

"Everyone present reported that the Mayor turned into a giant snake that ate half the assembled people... Parents AND students said the same thing... hey... wait a second."

"What is it?"

"A few people were apparently clean, they said that they smelled gas and thought that was what caused the explosion and the hallucinations."

"Do they list names?"

Carter nodded, "Three guesses who tops the list."

"Alexander Harris," Jack simply shook his head.

"That's right."

"Who are the others? We'll look them up and see what they know about our friend Harris."

"Let's see... Rupert Giles, Elisabeth Summers, Willow Rosenberg, and Daniel Osborne."

"Let's get cracking then."

Billings, Montana, Local FBI offices

"Special Agent Jarod Ford, I've been dispatched here from the Nevada office to look into your ritualistic serial killings. This is my assistant, Alexander Harris."

The FBI agent behind the desk looked over the two men casually, noting that the Agent looked typical but his 'assistant' was scary. The young man walking behind the agent had long, scraggly hair that looked like he hadn't been able to visit a barber in months and a weeks growth of beard that looked like it had last been dry cut without a mirror.

"Would you and your 'assistant' like to get started immediately?"

"No," Jarod smiled, "We're just checking in, procedure you know. My assistant is just back from a survival exercise in the Colorado mountains. We'll be back this afternoon."

The agent smiled, "Very good. I'll inform the Section Chief of your arrival."

"Thank you."

The agent watched as the odd looking duo walked out the offices and shook his head. Man. What kid of 'survival training' do they give the agents in the Nevada office? That kid looked like he'd been through the ringer.

"You want to what?"

"Sorry, Xander," Jarod said, "But if you're going to be my assistant we need to get you some new clothes."

"I can't afford that."

"My treat," Jarod grinned.

"You're going to make me regret coming with you aren't you?" Xander grimaced.

"Not at all. I'm going to get you a proper wardrobe."

Xander groaned, "I've heard that before."

"You look good."

"I feel like a dork."

Xander examined himself in the full length mirror. He was wearing a solid black suit, with a black dress shirt underneath. No tie, thank god, but a pair of polished black oxfords were cramping his feet.

"I can't afford this."

"Will you relax? I told you, I'm paying."

"I can't ask you do that." //Don't WANT you to do that.//

<Will you relax?> Elan mimicked Jarod. <He's right, you know, you look *good* like this.>

//Don't *you* start, Elan.//

Elan's giggles rang through his mind as he considered himself again in the mirror. Finally he turned to Jarod and spoke, "Don't suppose you'd be willing to pay for some food too? It's been almost three months since I've eaten anything better then roots, berries, the occasional fruits..." Xander winced, "Not too mention the occasional snake, and some other things I don't want to remember right now."

Jarod looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "Sure. But, if you don't mind my asking, where were you for the past three months?"

Xander grinned, "I tell you what, when I think you're ready to hear it... that's when I'll tell you."

Reluctantly Jarod nodded, and the two left the store and headed for the closest restaurant.

Underground Bunker, Unknown


"Yes, Soldier?"

"We have four Air Force representatives poking around town looking for Mr. Harris."

"Air Force? Are you certain?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Why in the hell would Air Force officers be looking for Harris?"

"I have no idea Ma'am, but they seem to be looking into Ms. Summers and his other friends as well."

"Is it possible we underestimated his importance in the area?"

"I don't think so, Ma'am. Not unless he's been hiding a lot more then we thought. We have video of him at the high school graduation... He seemed to be one of the leaders, but he took orders from Ms Summers."

"So why is the Air Force tracking him?"

"I don't know."

Colonel Jack O'Neill watched as the red head worked her way across the campus, comparing her to the photo's in his hand. That's her all right.

"Excuse me, Ms Rosenberg?"

Willow turned, surprised to see a man in a military uniform approaching her. "Yes?"

"Hi, my name is Jack O'Neill, I was wondering if I could talk to you about Alexander Harris?"

"You've seen Xander!?" Willow beamed, "Is he all right? I mean, I know he said he was all right... but you never know with Xander..."

Jack waited for the girl to run out of breath, something that took a lot longer then he would have expected. "Yes. He's fine, at least the last time I saw him... Has he contacted you lately?"

"Yes! He..." Willow trailed off, looking the Colonel with suspicion. "Why are you asking about Xander?"

"Well he helped us out a few days ago and we wanted to talk to him about the mission."

"Mission?" Willow's eyes flared, "Mission? He didn't say anything about fighting! We told him to stop risking himself like that. Ohhhh when I get my hands on him Buffy is going to have to stand in line to hit him."

Jack raised his eyebrows in confusion, "Excuse me?"

Meanwhile Willow had continued on her rant, oblivious to the people around her. "He *swore* to me that he wasn't going to go looking for trouble this summer!"

"Ma'am?" Strange as it seemed Jack felt like he should defend the boy, "He did save our lives."

"Of course he did! He always does that!" Willow was flailing her arms around as she turned away from O'Neill and started to stalk off, "Excuse me, I have to go talk to someone."

Colonel Jack O'Neill watched, stunned, as the petite red head stalked off, an almost visible fog or fury floating around.

Damn kid must be a saint if he puts up with this shit all the time.

"Excuse me, are you Elizabeth Summers?" Captain Carter approached the small blonde tentatively.

"Yes?" Buffy turned to the woman in military dress uniform with a curious look on her face.

"Would you happen to know an Alexander Harris?"

"Xander?" Buffy looked up sharply, "How do you know Xander?"

Carter shifted slightly, "He pulled my team out of a dangerous situation a few days ago."

"What!?" Buffy's eyes flashed with anger, causing Carter to take a step back. "He told us that he wasn't fighting!"

Carter opened her mouth to say something but Buffy kept on, "He should know better! He's just a normal guy! He could get hurt..."

Buffy growled and stalked off, completely forgetting or ignoring the Air Force officer behind her.

Carter watched as she left, her jaw hanging slightly down in shock. Normal guy?

"Hey," Graham nudged Riley, "Check it out."


"Your Girlfriend is talking to an Air Force Captain,"

Riley turned in annoyance, "I don't have a girlfriend... hey, what's Buffy doing talking to an Air Force Captain?"

Graham rolled his eyes, but held his tongue.

The two commandos watched as the small blond suddenly got furious and stalked away from the Captain. The looked at each other in confusion, a single thought echoing through both their minds. Weird.

Daniel Jackson knocked softly on the door, and waited patiently for it to open.


"Rupert Giles?" Daniel smiled when the man nodded, "Hello, my name is Daniel Jackson."

"Dr Jackson?" Giles opened the door, "The expert on ancient languages? I'd heard that you dropped from sight years ago, while I was still the curator at the museum in London."

Daniel looked surprised, "You're *that* Rupert Giles? I read your paper on the ancient beliefs and myths of Babylonian society. It was fascinating, though I think you gave too much credit to Kauffman's theory of demonology and civilization."

Giles smiled, "Indeed, I rethought that aspect myself after reviewing new evidence, but I've not had the opportunity to publish my new findings... won't you come in?"

"Thank you," Daniel stepped into the apartment, "I've always wondered, what do you think of the Egyptian culture and it's effect on...."

Teal'C listened patiently as the teenagers wound down their practice before he approached the one that matched the photo he had been given.

"Daniel Osborne?"

"Yeah." Oz turned to look at the imposing figure.

"I wish to speak with you about Alexander Harris."

Oz raised an eyebrow, "Shoot."

Teal'C matched the boy's facial expression, "Do you know Alexander Harris?"


"Have you seen him recently?"


Teal'C nodded, "Thank you."


"So anything?" Jack asked Carter as she approached.

Carter frowned, "Just that his friend seemed to consider him the 'normal guy' of the group."

Jack choked. "What!?"

"She was worried that he'd get himself hurt... something about him being helpless... at least I think that's what she was muttering as she stormed off."

Jack shook his head, "Mine had something similar to say as she stalked off. Who the hell are these people if they consider *him* normal?"

Carter shook her head, "Maybe they're just blind, Sir."

Jack grinned. "I hope so. Here's Teal'C, let's see if he has anything."

"So?" Jack asked as the big Jaffa walked up.

"Daniel Osborne has not seen Mr. Harris lately."

"That's it?" O'Neill glared at his friend.

"That is it."

"Great," Jack griped, "Hey... where's Daniel?"

Carter shrugged, "I sent him to talk to Mr. Giles... The folder said that he was an expert on ancient cultures."

"WHAT!?" Jack yelled, startling Carter. "Oh Hell! You sent Daniel to someone as boring as he is?? Crap. Now we have to go find him ourselves... Otherwise we won't see Daniel for a week."

"Buffy!" Willow shouted to her friend when she saw the blond stalking across the quad. "I need to speak to you."

Buffy was relieved to find Willow so quickly, "Yeah, Me too. This Army Officer was asking me question about Xander!"

"You too?" Willow asked, "Mine was an Air Force Colonel. He said that Xander had saved his team from some trouble."

"Ohhhh!" Buffy growled, "I'm gonna hit him when he gets back! He swore that he wasn't looking for trouble this summer!"

"Stand in line!" Willow griped as she sat down beside the blond Slayer. "I knew him first, I strangle him first!"

Giles and Daniel were engrossed in conversation when a polite knock sounded on the door. Neither man heard it and they continued talking for some time before the door suddenly rattled on its hinges under a somewhat heavier knock.

Giles reluctantly got up to answer the door, and was surprised to find two military officers and a rather imposing gentlemen standing on the other side.

"Ah... yes?"

"Is Dr. Jackson here?"

"Oh, hey! Jack!" Daniel looked over Giles' shoulder, "Sorry, I've just been discussion ancient myths and legends with Rupert here..."

Jack waves his hands in front of him, trying to stop the young doctor from continuing. "I don't want to know. What I do want to know is if Mr. Giles here has seen or heard from Alexander Harris lately?"

"Xander?" Giles was shocked, "What do you want with Xander?"

"He helped our team out of a jam a couple days ago and we wanted to talk to him about it."

"Ah... I see." Giles removed his spectacles and cleaned them, "Well, I can't say that I've heard from him in quite some time I'm afraid."

"Well, if you do," Jack began, "Could you let us know?"

"Certainly, certainly," Giles said, "Now... if you'll excuse me I have some work to do."

The four members of SG1 looked at each other in confusion as they were hustled out of the small apartment and the door closed behind them.

"Mr. Harris has some very strange friends."

Jack looked at Teal'C, slightly surprised. If the Jaffa considered them odd, then something was really screwy.

Jarod and Xander closed the door to the office they had been given and started opening boxes of evidence and casework that the local agents had dumped on them.

"Well," Jarod grinned as he opened the first box, "Let's get to work then shall we?"

Xander looked at the tons of material and groaned.

Sept 16th, Billings Montana

The word had come through the offices pretty fast that another victim had been found. Same M.O. as the previous three. Jarod and Xander had immediately dropped their research and followed the rush of agents out of the offices.

At the scene Xander was struck by how many people had shown up. He counted police, FBI, paramedics, reporters, civilian looky-loos, and god alone knew how many others. Xander shook his head and followed Jarod into the scene. //Christ. Why doesn't anyone ever show up BEFORE the damned massacre?//

Xander followed Jarod as he led the way through the crime scene. The area had been sanitized by the forensics experts a few minutes earlier, but the sight and smell caused even Xander's experienced stomach to turn.

"The perp arranges the organs of his victims in a way that satisfies his image of what his private demon expects," Jarod playing his flash light over the body, examining the symbols inscribed in blood around the carefully placed body. "The incisions are precise, but not surgical. Probably indicative of a ceremonial dagger as opposed to a scalpel."

Xander shook his head, he couldn't fathom how Jarod kept his head given the situation. Xander was able to force down the bile sufficiently to operate while he was exposed to horrors like this, but Jarod had totally pushed it aside. He could see the emotion present in the man's eyes, but that was the only place it showed through.

Xander stood back and watched as Jarod moved through the scene as though he'd done it a thousand times before.

Sept 23rd, Billings Montana

"So we have it down to three suspects." Jarod looked over the files carefully.

Xander shifted his head from where it had fallen on the desk and muttered quietly, "Jeeez man, are you human? How do you sift through that stuff so easily?"

Jarod shrugged, "I had a very focused childhood."

"Man, that's not natural."

"It's who I am," Jarod said simply as he spread the files out on the desk. "How much time did your friend G-Man say there was going to between rituals?"

Inwardly Xander snickered, Giles was going to kill him if he ever met Jarod, "Thirteen days."

"So that leaves us less then twenty four hours to narrow down the suspects."

Xander forced himself back up, and shook his head to clear it. "Ok... Research boy rides again. Let's look at these guys one more time."

"Janice Tesh. She rode the dot com rocket last year and bailed just before the crash. Reinvested her money into steady industries, gold, oil, and blue chip companies. Slightly odd that someone who made their money by risking everything would suddenly become so conservative in their portfolio."

Xander looked at the file. Janice was a fairly attractive blond, late thirties, with no listed family. She had no obvious links to any occult groups or anything even remotely hellmouthy. "Next."

"Raymond Silano. Played the market last year, took a lot of big risks that paid off. He's currently under investigation for insider trading."

Xander shook his head, "No. G-Man was pretty specific. If this was our guy he'd be clean, the investigation would have been shut down before it got started."

Jarod nodded, he wasn't certain about that but the man didn't fit the profile in other ways. He was a Christian who never missed Sunday mass, he had two kids and a wife, and according to a psych report Jarod had hacked from the man's therapist he had an almost pathological fear of blood.

"That leaves Dennis Pierce. He was 'discovered' last year and has made a small fortune playing the part of Rick 'Rocker' Richards on a series that's being filmed on location here."

"Its probably just paranoia but the fact that he's involved in show business kinda spooks me. L.A. is pretty close to my hometown and I can tell you that we get more then our fair share of the weird stuff around home."

Jarod looked over the file closer, "He was away on location when the second 'sacrifice' was found... but the time of death places the murders several hours before his plane left."

"So he's still a possible then?"

Jarod nodded. "Yes. The third sacrifice was thirteen days after the first. That's confirmed by both, your Mr. G-Man, and the coroner's time of death report. He was back in town two nights earlier."

Xander pushed himself off the desk, "Let's check him out."

Las Vegas, Nevada

Miss Parker scowled as she watched the sweepers rummage through the room, looking through the latest 'nest' that Jarod had left behind.

"Miss Parker, take a look at this."

She jammed a stick of nicotine gum into her mouth as she strode across to the darkened room that the sweeper had called from.

"What?" She snarled.

The sweeper wordlessly flicked on the lights. Miss Parker's jaw dropped as she stared at the room, the half-chewed stick of gum falling to the ground.

"What in the hell?" She whispered as she stared around the back and red painted room.

On the floor was a pentagram, painted in blood red, and the walls were covered in arcane symbols. An ornate dagger was resting in a bowl of what appeared to be blood, alongside a cutting board that was plastered with some of the most disgusting things she'd had the misfortune to see.

Without a word she stepped over to the table and dipped her finger in the bowl. Lifting it to her face she sniffed at if for a moment before popping her finger into her mouth and licking it clean. Around her, the hardened sweepers suddenly paled and look like they were about to be sick.

She turned around, a disgusted look on her face, "Its movie blood you idiots. Corn syrup and food coloring. Get back to work."

She walked across to where Sidney was studying several texts on Satanism and occult worship. "What is Rat Boy sticking his nose into now, Sid?"

Sidney shrugged, "I do not know, but it would appear that he has simulated a cult environment, complete with ritual sacrifice."

"Tell me something I can't see with my own eyes, Sidney."

Outside they could hear the sound of Broots retching.

Dennis Pierce was living the American adolescent's dream. He was constantly surrounded by movie stars, and starlets, and was paid to pretend to be someone exiting. When Jarod and Xander caught up to him, he was wrapping up a shoot.

"That's a wrap! Good job everyone, head home and be back by six in the AM, people!"

Xander and Jarod hung back, watching as the subject as he headed for his trailer.

"What do you think?" Xander asked as he watched the man.

"It's too early," Jarod shook his head and moved to follow the man.

Xander nodded once and followed after the FBI agent. //Elan, can you pick up any demonic vibes off this guy?//

<Get me closer, Alexander. The demonic energy from this type of ritual would be very slight.>

//All right.//

Xander caught up with Jarod and laid a hand on his shoulder, "I have an idea. Let me go ahead."

"If you're sure." Jarod looked curious, but held his questions.

"I am." Xander grinned up at the man, and walked past him to the actors trailor.

When Dennis Pierce stepped out of his trailer he was surprised to find a young man waiting for him.

"Mr. Pierce, I'm a big fan and I was hoping to get an autograph?"

Dennis smiled, "Certainly, young man. Do you watch the show often?"

"All the time, Mr. Pierce, I never miss an episode."

"Really?" Dennis loved to hear that. "Well, who should I make the autograph out to?"

"Alex Harris."

Dennis scribbled down a dedication and was about to hand it back to the young man when he noticed the boy twirling a silver baton in his hand.

"What's that?" He asked curiously.

Alex smiled, "This is Elan, I guess you could call her an *old* friend. Kept me safe in some rough neighbor hoods."

"A self defense baton?" Dennis had considered getting on himself, "Mind if I have a look?"

"Certainly," the boy grinned wider as he handed over the foot long silver club.

Dennis toyed with the baton for a moment before shaking his head and handing it back. "No, I think I'm going to get one of the telescoping models. More versatile don't you think?"

The boy chuckled, "Yeah, and less annoying too, I'd warrant."

Dennis frowned in confusion as the boy turned and left. What the hell was that supposed to mean?

<What the hell was that supposed to mean!?> Elan demanded as they walked away from the actor.

"What?" Xander muttered under his breath.

<You know damned well 'what'! What did you mean by that annoying crack?>

Xander grinned wide, //Exactly what I said. Now, was it him?//

<Oh, I'm going to make you regret that.>

//Let me guess, your going to annoy me some more?//

<Yes!... No!... I mean... Ohhhhh, why you brazen...> Elan fumed.

//Was it him?// Xander pressed.

<Huh? Oh... no. He's clean, no demonic energy at all. He isn't the subject of the spell.>


"What is it?" Jarod asked as Xander walked back, looking frustrated.

"He's not our man."

"How can you be sure of that?"

Xander sighed, "I just am. Trust me on this, Jarod. I know."

Jarod wasn't certain what to say or think. He could feel that Xander was sure of what he was saying, but could he trust the boy's confidence? Peoples lives were at stake.

"What do you suggest?"

Xander thought back, "The woman. Lets scope her out."

Cheyenne Mountain, SGC

"He wasn't there?"

"No Sir, General Hammond."

Hammond ignored the slightly sarcastic tone to Colonel O'Neill's voice. "Then where was he?"

"We don't know, Sir." Daniel sighed as he took his place at the long table.

"Frankly, Sir, considering some of the things we found in that town I wouldn't be surprised if he never went back." O'Neill played with a pen as he spoke, his face perplexed.


"From what we could tell the kid blew up his school, or at least helped to blow it up."

"What!?" Hammond blew up. "And we have this nutcase running around with advanced alien technology and weapons?"

"Not that simple, General." Carter spoke up. "By all accounts he did it to save the lives of everyone present at the graduation ceremony. We got a hold of some police records..."

"Hacked some police records." Jack interrupted her.

"Ummm... Yes sir. I hacked into the police database." Carter blushed slightly, "They wouldn't give us access, Sir."

"Go on." Hammond prompted.

"According to the police files, as well a some files that were secured in a triple encrypted directory labeled 'mayor', Harris has been a local vigilante of some skill for three years. He's disrupted gang activity and saved the lives of dozens of citizens, including several police officers and fire officials."

"If he's a vigilante, then why hasn't he been arrested?"

Carter shook her head, "I have no idea, Sir. The only notation we could find on him was that the Mayor had handed down orders to leave him and his friends be."

"The Mayor is protecting vigilantes? Who the hell does he think he is, Commissioner Gordon?"

"Was, General. Was."


"He vanished on graduation day. No one has seen him in over three months, he's presumed dead. Killed by 'gang members on PCP.'"

Jack jumped in, "And that's another thing, for a crime with no witnesses and no evidence, that police report was terribly specific. Gang members on PCP. It says that same line over and over again, as if it's a code for something."

"For what, Colonel?"

"I don't know, General." Jack conceded, "But I'll tell you this, that town gave me the creeps."

Janice Tesh lived in a very nice neighborhood, surrounded by a very nice wall. Xander looked at the security floating around the home and swallowed.

"This isn't going to be easy."

"Leave it to me." Jarod spoke with certainty.

Janice screamed in frustration. The power had gone out twenty minutes earlier and she was losing money every minute she couldn't get on her computer. The power company had promised to have someone over as quickly as possible, but they had the *nerve* to tell her that it could be up to three hours.

She was about to throw a book at the unresponsive computer screen when the doorbell rang. When she answered it a man in coveralls lowered his dark sunglasses and smiled at her.

"City Electrical Services, did you call about a power outage?"

Xander shook his head and, lifting a tool kit, followed Jarod into the house. How the hell did he get all this gear and the van so quickly?

"Please, the breaker is down this way."

Xander just followed Jarod as Jarod followed Janice down the hall. //Elan, can you get anything off her?//

<Not yet. I have to get very close, physical contact would be best.>

"Great," Xander muttered under his breath, "And how am I supposed to do that? She doesn't seem like the type to ask to check out what the repairman is working with."

//Not my department.//

Xander sighed and followed Jarod into the basement.

The Center - Blue Cove, Delaware

"Talk to me, Broots."

"Well... uh..." Broots stammered, "I found three cult related situations that have made national news... Two of them havn't involved the authorities yet, so I wasn't able to get much on them. The third is a series of ritual murders in Billings, Montana. Oh, uh... and get this. A new investigator just took over the case, a Jarod Ford."

"That's it. Have the jet readied for takeoff," Miss Parker snapped to the sweeper behind her.

Broots looked nervous but spoke up, "There is one off thing... Jarod Ford brought an assistant with him from his home office."

"An assistant?" Sidney said, looking curious. "Jarod normally works alone."

"I know, I know..." Broots looked even more nervous.

Miss. Parker narrowed her eyes, "We're checking it out anyway. What are the odds that an investigator named Jarod shows up at a cult crime after that disgusting scene in Vegas?"

Janice sighed in relief as the lights flickered back, and headed to the basement stairs to let the repairmen know that the power was back. She's reached the bottom of the stairs when a clank at her feet caused her to look down.

One of the repairmen must have dropped this, She mused as she picked up the metal tube. She couldn't figure out what it was for but she held it out when she got to the two men. "Did one of you drop this?"

The younger one grinned up at her from where he rummaging in a toolbox, "Thanks Ma'am, I was just looking for that."

She handed it down to him and turned to the older repairman. "The power's back on upstairs, are you almost done down here?"

"Yes, Ma'am." He smiled again, "Just finishing up."

Jarod led the way out of the house, feeling frustrated. His quick search of the house had yielded no connection to the murders or the occult in anyway. "That was useless." He turned back to his companion and was surprised to see a grim smile on Xander's face.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that." Xander said simply, "She's our man. So to speak."

"How can you tell?"

"Inside info." Xander grinned, then looked thoughtful, "You know, if we're going to do this I suppose I should try to fill you in on a few things."

"What kind of things?" Jarod started the engine of the van and they pulled out of the driveway.

Xander took a breath, "Well, it's like this..."

Twenty minutes later.

Jarod stared at the boy in the passenger seat for a long time, trying to decide if he was lying or insane. Normally he would be able to decide something like that quickly, but Xander showed none of the signs of insanity, and he honestly seemed to believe the things he was saying.

"Let me be sure that I understand this." Jarod began, "Demons and Vampires are real. And they run around the planet trying to end the world?"

"Some of them." Xander answered, "Actually I think that most of them probably try to avoid the End of Days scenario as much as we do... The ones with any brains at any rate. Problem is that humans really weren't intended to be immortal, and the power goes to their heads."

From a theoretical viewpoint Jarod had to admit that he could see what Xander meant, but he shook it off quickly. "Look, I don't mean to insult you or anything but..."

Xander grinned and finished for him, "But, I'm insane? Lying? Both?"

"Well... I was going to say confused, but yeah. Both sounds about right," Jarod actually smiled back.

Xander laughed, "I said the same thing... or close enough the first time I heard about vampires."

"I don't suppose you have any evidence?"

Xander patted himself down with a puzzled expression on his face, "Evidence... evidence... hmmm, Let's see, I have proof that aliens exist... but no... nothing on the supernatural. Except Elan."

"Elan?" Jarod asked slowly as he pulled the van into a parking space.

Xander nodded, and got out of the van as Jarod shifted into park, he waited for Jarod to join him and drew the silver cylinder from the sheath it rode on his hip. "Jarod, meet Elanthielle."

Jarod raised his eyebrows in confusion, "Your defense baton?"

Xander smiled and, after glancing around for spectators, activated the weapon. "My ten thousand year old battle staff."

Jarod started in shock when the foot long baton became a seven foot long staff, gleaming in the setting sun. He stared for a long moment before speaking, "How did you do that?"

"I didn't, Elan did."

"That's not possible." Jarod said, "That much volume couldn't have been contained in such a small device."

"Huh?" Xander looked at him for a second before his mind started to unravel what Jarod had said. "Oh... Well, all I can say is... Magick."

Xander deactivated the staff and tossed it lightly to Jarod, who caught it neatly. "Elan has kept me alive through some very nasty situations. I owe her a lot."

"You keep speaking like this weapon is a girl, why is that?"

"She is." Xander shrugged, "I don't pretend to understand it, but Elanthielle was a warrior at one point who's soul was entrapped in the device your holding. She's still in there, and will be for eternity if what she's told me is true."

Jarod looked at the small device, his eyes sad. "Entrapped for eternity..."

"Yeah, I know," Xander said quietly. "I have a hard time imagining it myself. Elan is how I know that Tesh is our woman, she's got a spidey sense for demonic energy."

Jarod shook his head, passing the weapon back to Xander. "You're asking me to take a lot on faith."

"I know." Xander said, "But look at it this way, you don't risk anything by assuming that I'm right and taking some precautions."

"Such as?"

Xander grinned and grabbed his duffel bag from the back of the van.

Later that Night

Jarod shook his head as he followed Ms Tesh into the caves she had driven to. Tonight was possibly the last sacrifice she had to make, to appease the demon she had forged a pact with and he didn't know what he expected to see here. An insane woman who believed she could speak to demons? Or a demonic entity who had been harvesting sacrifices from selfish men and women like Ms Tesh for thousands of years?

He knew that Xander was in the area, following them both while nearly invisible in that odd armor her wore. Jarod's mind was actually rushing to understand something for the first time in years. The existence of aliens, demons, magick... It was almost too much, even for him to process. //I wonder if the Center knows about any of it?//

He smiled as he realized that the world had just gotten even larger then he had thought it to be. There was more out there to learn. More to study, and even more to do. He was feeling challenged for the first time in well over two decades. And Jarod loved that feeling, he had sorely missed that feeling.

Jarod felt the slight weight of the weapon Xander had passed him, a 'Zat' gun, and recalled the boy's instructions. One shot will stun a human. Two will kill. And three is when you don't want the bodies to be found. A versatile weapon. I'll stay with one shot.

Janice drew her robe over her shoulders as she went over the incantation in her mind. The victim, a young boy she's snagged from a playground earlier in the week, was tied solidly to the altar and anointed with blood and oils for the sacrifice.

The others had already arrived, taking their positions around the circle of power as she approached the altar.

"The time is here." She began the ceremony, as she had the other twelve times. This was the last sacrifice she owed to Mel'Kai, the thirteenth victim in exchange for her thirteen weeks of success.

She stepped over the bound child and raised the blade into the air, "Mel'Kai, come forward and accept this offering!"

The air over the altar shimmered, and slowly coalesced into a familiar demonic form.

"I am here, woman. Grant me by boon." The demonic voice reverberated through the room, causing those present to shiver in fear and anticipation.

"As you ask, so shall it be."

Janice lifted the blade slightly higher and prepared to drive it down when a shout startled her.

"FBI, Freeze!"

She turned in shock, and stared at the man pointing a pistol in her direction. The electrician! "Kill him!" She screamed at the assembled people.

The cultists stared at each other, Janice, and the FBI agent, but didn't make a move.

"Mistress," one began, "he has a gun."

Janice roared at them, "I don't care! Kill him!"

The demon spoke, it's voice quietly reverberating through the room again. "I will handle that one. Be prepared to grant me my boon, and another in payment for this service."

Jarod stared as the big thing actually floated across the floor towards him. My god. They do exist.

He fired reflexively, each shot hitting the demon straight on but not even phasing the abomination that was drifting toward him. Jarod watched, helpless as it got closer, and was surprised when a blast from the far wall caught it in the shoulder and wheeled it about.

He saw a blurred form detach itself from the wall and shimmer into existence, recognizing the armor that Xander had put on.

"Mel'Kai!" Xander shouted as he deactivated the shift suit, "I would have a word with you."

The demon turned and stared at him, unrecognizable emotions playing across his demonic face. "Yautja," he snarled, "What is your business here? I am not prey to your kind."

Xander smiled under his mask, //Damn. Ruatha and his people have one helluva rep.// "I'm not Yautja, Demon. And your kind are my only prey."

The demon roared and went after Xander.

Xander thumbed the firing stud for the plasma caster again, catching the demon square in the chest as it advanced, eliciting another roar of pain from the demon. When it was almost on him he dove to one side and rolled clear.

<Xander, draw me and show me to him. Act confident.>

//Huh?// Xander thought as he came out of the roll.

<Trust me.>

Xander mentally shrugged and slid Elan clear of her sheath, and shifted his stance to stand square on to the demon. He held Elan aloft, parallel to the ground, and activated the ancient weapon.

"Do you recognize this, Demon?"

Mel'Kai stared at the glistening staff as it glinted with light reflected from all over the room. "It is not possible! We destroyed them all!"

Xander's voice was ice cold as he repeated what Elanthielle said, "You, above all, should know that these weapons can not be destroyed. Not even by your kind, Demon. You hid them, you banished them, and you even corrupted them. But you never destroyed them."

Xander lowered the Staff into a combat stance and stared at the demon, "Come on, Demon. My weapon wants vengeance, and I always try to give my friends what they want."

Mel'Kai roared, his voice tinged with as much caution as anger now, and moved forward to engage the armored warrior in battle.

While the cultists watched the Demon and warrior start their battle, Janice Tesh edged toward the exit. She didn't care who won, she just wanted to get clear of ground zero.

She had just reached the door when a cold voice interrupted her thoughts, "Going somewhere?"

Then a sudden blinding flash of blue light sparkled against her eyes, and a rush of pain wracked her body. Janice never saw the source of the voice, but she knew who it was just the same.

The Electrician. Was her last thought before the world went dark.

Xander ducked to the said and spun Elan into the Demon's back as it passed. //Damn this guy is slow. Those black monsters were more challenge then this!//

<Do not get cocky, Alexander. Mel'Kai is no warrior, but he will not die as easily as those creatures you faced off world.>

Xander nodded as he ducked another powerful swing by the demon, and struck out with Elan at the demon's wrist. He heard a satisfying crack, followed by the demon's scream of pain.

//In that case, I'll have to take him down one piece at a time.//

Xander lashed out again, bouncing Elan off the Demon's jaw, and moved to follow through when the demon struck out with a hard shot that impacted on the armored mask Xander wore. The blow lifted him clear of the ground and through him across the room, slamming him into the far wall with enough force to shatter the cement.

"Ouch." Xander shook his head clear, and tagged the demon again with the laser designator. He opened up with the plasma caster from twenty-five feet and poured on the firepower until the creature dropped to the ground.

Xander stumbled forward, eyeing the bleeding demon uncertainly. //How do I kill this one?//

<Until you learn to wield me properly? Same as usual.>

Xander nodded, and drew the Japanese short sword Ruatha had given him. "Something to be said for the basics."

Jarod watched as the Demon went down under fire from the armored figure that was Xander. He saw Xander stagger to his feet and approach the wounded creature, drawing a sword as he did. Internally his emotions were raging. The boy was about to kill another being in cold blood. But... a demon? A demon who had caused the ritual sacrifice of at least eleven people, and most likely hundreds of others. A demon who could not be held accountable by law.

Jarod turned away from the sight as the blade flashed down, wincing at the sickening noise that he heard.


Janice Tesh awakened in the dark, she frantically tried to move but realized that she was tied down. She looked around, her eyes widening when she saw the gleam of a dagger over her.

"Who are you!? What do you want!?" she screamed.

"What do I want?" the voice asked, coldly mocking. "I thought it would be nice to be rich. So I'm going to sacrifice you. Like you did to those innocent people."

"No!" She screamed. "You can't do this to me!"

The voice began to heat up with anger, "I'm sure that's what they thought! Awakening here, scared and alone. But you wanted to be rich. So you killed them so your own private demon would grant your wish. Didn't you?"

"Didn't you!?"


"Yes!" She screamed, her terror building. "I did it! Now let me go!"

"No," the voice turned cold again. "Like I said, I want to be rich."

The dagger flashed down at her and she screamed, first in terror, and then in pain. Then it all went black.

Xander watched in awe as Jarod played the woman's fears to the hilt. Man. Jarod is SADISTIC. I think I really like this guy.

He watched as the dagger flashed down, narrowly missing Janice's throat, and Jarod triggered the Zat in his hand, knocking the woman unconscious.

"Nice," Xander complimented Jarod as he walked up, "What now?"

"Now, I call the local FBI office and have them come and pick up her and her cultists. Unfortunately I don't think that any of them will see the inside of a prison, but I can be fairly certain that they'll all be committed to a top security asylum for a long time."

"Cool," Xander shook his head as Jarod moved to hand the Zat back to him, "Tell you what. Why don't you and I stick together for a while? Unless you have something else to do?"

"Sure," Jarod smiled, "I'm very interested in the new world you've shown me. Where are we going now?"

Xander cradled his mask in the crook of his arm and grinned, "I have someone I need to say hi too in Terrace Point, then I think I know some people you would like to meet in San Francisco."

"Who?" Jarod asked curiously.

"Remember you told me you were looking for your mother?" Xander asked.


"Do you have anything that has a connection to her?"

Jarod pulled out an old, beaten photograph and looked at it sadly. "Only this."

Xander glanced at it and grinned, "Should be perfect. I'm going introduce you to a wicked trio of wiccans who cast a really cool locator spell."

FBI Offices Downtown

"Excuse me, but have you seen this man?"

The Agent looked at the photo for a second before answering, "Sure, that's Agent Ford. He just took down those cult murderers. Flippin loony tune bunch, thought they were sacrificing the people to some demon in exchange for financial success."

"Really." Parker didn't care. "Do you know where I can find Agent Ford?"

The Agent shrugged, "Sure. He and his assistant just cleaned out their office. They're probably in the parking lot, don't know how you missed them coming in."

Parker swore under breath and spun around, heading for the exit.

The Agent watched her go, grimacing. //Christ. That guy, Ford, sure know how to pick the people he deals with. That assistant of his was scary enough the first day they showed up, but that lady is something else.//

Miss Parker swept out into the parking lot, three sweepers on her heels, and scanned the area for Jarod. "There he is!"

She and the sweepers moved fast, maneuvering to corner Jarod as he slammed the trunk of his mustang and rushed around to the driver's seat. She drew her pistol, but kept it low and under her jacket as she saw Jarod sitting in the drivers seat of his car, his hands already in the air.

"Hold it right there, Jarod!" She said as she leveled the pistol at him, across the passengers seat.

"I'm not going anywhere, Miss Parker." Jarod grinned, "Not yet, anyway."

"Oh your going somewhere all right." She growled, "You're going home to the Centre."

"I don't think so. You see," Jarod paused for effect, "I think my new friend would object to that."

"What new friend?" Parker snarled and turned around.

Behind her she saw the three sweepers laying on the ground, unconscious. Hovering over them was a gleaming metal staff that seemed to be suspended on a blurry cushion of air. She watched, her jaw dropping, as the blur shimmered and coalesced into an armored figure.

"What the hell are you?"

"I would be the friend he was talking about," the figure's voice was distorted, sounding hollow under the armored helmet. "Put down the gun."

"Are you and that stick gonna make me?" She snarled, leveling the pistol at the form.

"No," it replied simply, a device on its shoulder abruptly coming to life and aiming directly at her, "But this will."

"I'd do as he says, Miss Parker," Jarod smiled, leaning over her shoulder and taking the pistol from her limp hands. "That's quite a lethal weapon."

Xander grinned at the look on her face and casually depressurized the helmet, and slipped it into the crook of his arms. "I have to hand it to you, Jarod. You called it perfectly. How did you know that she'd be here?"

Jarod smiled, "I've gotten to know her quite well over the years. She rarely does anything to surprise me."

Parker snarled, watching as the smirking, armored, form got into the Mustang. "I'll show you surprise yet, Jarrod."

"Ta ta!" Jarod called as he pulled out of the parking lot, tossing the pistol back over his shoulder as he did. Parker winced as the nickel plated automatic clattered along the pavement.

"Man, you have to tell me who those people were," Xander laughed as they sped down the highway.

"The lady was Miss Parker, she's a hunter for the corporation that kidnaped me as a child and raised me. They want me back."

Xander crooked an eyebrow at him, "Why?"

"I'm what they call a pretender. I can be anything I want to be. Read a book on surgery in the morning, perform the operation in the afternoon."

Xander was silent for a moment. "Damn. I take that your not an FBI agent then?"

Jarod grinned, reached into his pocket, and handed Xander a dozen ID's.

Xander looked through them, "Forest Ranger, Doctor, Fireman, SWAT Officer, Army Ranger?"

"Jeez, man." Xander whistled, "I thought my life was screwy."

"Being hunted by the Centre does tend to put a crimp in any long term plans I might make."

Xander grinned, "Ha! I'll see your mysterious corporation and raise you a clandestine unit within the Air Force."

Jarod looked over at him, "Oh, this should be good."

Terrace Point, Montana

"Pull in over there," Xander pointed to the small parking area outside the church.

Jarod nodded and pulled in, looking at the old church thoughtfully.

Xander hopped out of the vehicle, and headed to the rectory and knocked. He was startled when a young man in clerical cloth answered the door.


"Oh. ummm..." Xander stammered, "Is Father Cranston here?"

The young priest shook his head, "No. I'm afraid that Father Cranston requested a transfer two weeks ago."

"To where?"

"I believe that he was brought to Rome for some reason, but I'm not certain if that is a permanent position."

"Ok..." Xander trailed off, not sure what to say. "Thanks for you time."

"Not a problem, are you sure I can't help you with something?"

"No... no... that's all right."

Xander turned and left, heading back to the car.

"What's wrong?" Jarod asked, seeing the look on his face.

"Nothing... I think." Xander paused, "Let's go downtown."

Terry had to double check his eyes when the two men strode into his store. He hadn't thought he'd ever see the kid again, but here he was, walking in like nothing had happened.

"Christ, Kid!" Terry came out from around the counter and hugged Xander. "I thought you was dead, kid!"

Xander grinned and grunted as his feet left the ground, "Sorry, man. I... well... You won't believe what happened to me... Let's just say that I was way out of touch for the past few months and leave it at that, k?"

Terry grinned, mostly just happy as hell that the kid who had saved his daughter and the others was still alive. "Whatever you say kid. After what you did this town owes you, even if most of 'em around here have gone to pretending that it never happened."

Xander smiled, "I'm used to that Terry. Look, I was wondering, what happened to Father Cranston?"

Terry shook his head, "Damned if I know, kid. He just vanished one night, and we got the new guy. Damn shame, I loved those sermons that old fart gave. Wish I had never missed 'em. This punk preacher thinks that fightn's a sin, no matter what. I hate that 'turn the other cheek' crap... All it ever got me was two red cheeks and a kicked ass."

Xander nodded, "Well damn. If you hear from him, let 'im know that I'm still kicking ok?"

"Sure will. Say, kid, I got your car. The Father told his replacement to give it to me, but I gotta tell ya that the damn thing don't run. I don't know what happened, but I think she seized up."

Xander grimaced, "Damn. Well, it doesn't surprise me. You got a scrap yard around here?"

When Terry nodded, Xander sighed and said. "Could you sell it to them? Give whatever it brings to the church, in Father Cranston's name."

"Sure kid. I can do that."

"Thanks," Xander smiled gratefully. "Say, you wouldn't happen to have another one of those carbon black Tanto's would you?"

"Yeah, I think I got another one kicking around here. Why? Lose yours?"

Xander grinned, "Nope. Traded it."

Terry raised his eyebrows, "Whatcha get for it?"

Xander slipped the old Wakizashi from under his jacket, grinning.

"Damn kid." Terry shook his head, "You got the better part of that deal."

"Oh, I don't know," Xander grinned, "The tanto had sentimental value to the other guy."

"Why's that?" Terry asked as he pulled a carbon black blade from under the glass.

Xander chuckled, "I nearly killed him with it."

Terry choked. "What?"

"Long story, let just say that there was a series of misunderstandings that eventually got straightened out."

Terry looked at the kid grinning face and decided not to press it. "Sure kid. Here you go."

Xander took the blade gratefully, dropping a wad of cash on the counter.

"Kid, you know your money's no good here."

"Take it, Terry," Xander said seriously, "The first one was a gift, but this one isn't."

Terry nodded reluctantly.

"I've gotta go, man. I'll be in touch." Xander smiled again as he turned to leave.

"Wait a minute kid, here" Terry passed him a business card for the store. "If you need anything. And I mean *anything*, I can probably find it."

"Thanks." Xander looked at the card for a moment, pocketed it, and left.

"What was that all about?" Jarod asked curiously as they hopped into the Mustang.

Xander was silent for a bit, "Huh? Oh. Last time I was through here they had a similar problem as you saw in Billings. I helped 'em out, Terry's daughter was one of the first girls I pulled away from the demons."

"And the card?"

"I think," Xander said slowly, "That I may have found a supplier if I ever need some things that are... shall I say, a little hard to get."

Jarod nodded, "Where to now?"

Xander looked over and smiled, "Full circle, Jarod. Full Circle. It's time to head for San Francisco."

Jarod smiled, and pulled the Mustang out of the small parking lot and headed back for the highway.

Halliwell Manor, San Francisco California, Two Days Later

"Are you sure we should just drop in on them?" Jarod asked, looking mildly worried.

"Relax, man." Xander grinned as he knocked in the door, "It'll be fine."

When they heard a crash and a scream from inside Xander opened the door as quickly as he could and headed in. Only to meet an airborne body headed *out*. The force of the impact tossed Xander off the porch, and crashed him and the body to the driveway.

"Gnnnkkk," Xander managed to let out as he tried to get his breath back.

"Xander!" Phoebe looked down at him in shock, "Thanks for the catch."


Xander managed to get enough of his breath back to speak, "Phoebe? What happened?"


"Oh," Xander shook his head and looked back up at the house from the tangle he and Phoebe were in, "Jarod!"


"Demon! If it's ugly, Zat it!"

Jarod nodded and slipped the Zat from under his coat, activating the alien weapon as he slipped into the house. Xander let his head drop back to the ground, trying not to think about the asphalt scrapes on his ass and back.


"Yes?" She was still trying to clear her own head.

"I'm going to hate myself later for asking this, but could you get off me?"

Jarod recalled his time with the SWAT team when he slipped into the old Manor house, keeping his head low as he swept the foyer with the Zat. He could hear growls from the next room and proceeded quickly toward the noise.

In the room, the living room he realized, he was two young women struggling to fight off an odd looking man with blue skin. I would guess that that is the demon.

Jarod aimed the Zat and fired as the demon charged an energy ball in the palm of its hand. The bluish electrical charge form the alien weapon struck the demon full on, eliciting a scream of pain. The demon lost it concentration and dropped the energy ball to the ground, where it started a small fire.

"Who the hell are you?" The smaller sister yelled at him as he moved into the living room.

"A friend of Xander's," Jarod answered, "I take it that you have a demon problem."


Jarod smiled and moved into the room, the Zat held in a single handed grip, firing as he did. Three shots wracked the demon's body, then another two. Finally it went down with electrical discharges flickering over its body.

Jarod looked at the alien weapon in his hand, then down at the writhing demon on the floor. "Damn. Those things are tough, Xander told me that three shots from this thing would vaporize a human."

"Well, he ain't human," the girl who had yelled at him responded, while the other one remained on her guard.

"You can say that again," they turned to see Xander limp into the room, supported by Phoebe. "You guys have a vanquish for this beasty?"

"Yeah," Phoebe replied from his side, "He hit me before we could do it."

Xander collapsed onto the couch, "Well, don't let me stop you."

The sisters nodded and chanted their spell, consigning the demon to the pits from which he had risen.

"So," Jarod began, "Does this happen often to you people?"

The girl who had spoken to him earlier, Piper, sighed. "Every week it seems."

Jarod just shook his head, but Xander laughed from where he was reclining on the couch by Phoebe. "It's part of the game, Jarod. Especially around the people I associate with."


"Well, back home I hang around with the Slayer. She's sort of the 'chosen' vampire and demon hunter for the world. So naturally demons and vamps like to turn the tables and hunt her. These three..." Xander trailed off and looked at them questioningly.

The three sisters looked at each other for a moment, then all nodded to Xander.

He smiled, and continued. "These three are the artillery to the Slayer's infantry. The Charmed Ones. Destined to be the most powerful white witches the world has ever seen... well, of the Wiccan variety anyway."

"Wiccan variety?"

Phoebe jumped in, "Magick comes in different flavors, Jarod. Wicca is a religion of sorts, and the magick it invokes is based on ritual. Wiccans are divided up into three groups. You have the natural born, that's us, people who are born with magick flowing through them. Practitioners, those are people who learn to manipulate magick through study and practice. And finally there are the Devote, those are people who practice the Wiccan religion but never master the power behind it."

"I see," Jarod said quietly, "And the other 'flavors'?"

Xander shrugged, "Well, you have Hecation magick. I think that's based on invoking a god, but I'll be damned if I know for sure. I've also see another type I guess, but I don't know what it's called. G-Man can fill you in."

"I'd be grateful," Jarod said.

For the first time Phoebe noticed what Xander was wearing. She frowned briefly as she took it in, a black leather jacket, black jeans, and motorcycle boots. "Xander, what's with the clothes?"

Xander looked down at himself and flushed, "Jarod offered to buy me a new wardrobe after I helped him out... but he wouldn't let me choose the clothes."

Phoebe flashed Jarod a grateful smile, got up, and kissed him on the forehead. "Thank you. His last wardrobe nearly made my eyes bleed."

"That sounds... painful."

Phoebe grinned, "It was."


The girls laughed at Xander's exclamation, and Jarod flushed slightly at Phoebe's thanks. Phoebe returned to her previous position, grinning.

"Xander mentioned that you might be able to help me find someone."

Prue looked at Jarod curiously, "Who are you looking for?"

"My Mother. I was taken from his when I was very young."

The conversation quickly progressed into what they could do, and what the sisters would need to cast a locator spell for Jarod.

"It shouldn't be too hard," Phoebe said, thinking about the last locator spell she had cast, "As long as she wasn't abducted by aliens."

Phoebe grinned down at Xander, expected another wisecrack from the young man, only to find that he had drifted off to sleep at her side. "Hey! He fell asleep? Anyone else think I should be insulted?"

Jarod looked over at her quite seriously, "Feel complimented. In the time I've known him he never slept well, he's been on edge the whole time. From what he's said he spent the last three months in constant 'Fight or Flight' mode... This is probably the first time he's felt safe in months."

The three sisters looked at their sleeping friend, trying to understand what he had gone through.

Two Days Later

"You sure you want to head out alone?"

Jarod nodded, "This I have to do on my own. I've been looking for so long..."

Xander nodded, "I understand, man. You do realize that if I don't hear from you once a week a certain place in Blue Cove is going to receive a visit from one pissed off hunter."

Jarod chuckled, "In that case..." He tossed his car keys to Xander.

Xander caught them reflexively, "What?"

Jarod held up a plane ticket, "I'm catching the redeye. I'll see you in Sunnydale within a month."

"Hell, man." Xander looked at the keys, "Thanks."

"No problem. I left a credit card in the dash, don't worry about the charges... The Centre picks up my tab."

Xander laughed, "Trying to break their pocketbook?"

Jarod grimaced, "I'm not sure that's possible."

Xander's eyes gleamed, "I do love a challenge, but I can't accept that from you, man."

Jarod waved his hand, "Consider it partial payment for the 'Zat' gun. Do you have any idea how much a weapon like that would go for on the open market?"

"Uh... no?"

"Trust me," Jarod said, "You're not likely to scratch the surface of what it's value would be."

Xander nodded once, accepting that.

"Oh, one more thing," Jarod handed Xander a small box.

"What's this?" Xander opened it curiously. Inside was row after row of .45 caliber bullets that looked like they were hand tamped. Each was a dull silver color and had a bright orange line around the copper casing.

"Magnesium soft tips." Jarod answered, "With a thermite kicker. They'll burn up after about fifty yards, but inside that range they burn anything they hit. Take care not to hit any innocent bystanders. I coated the outside with a teflon shell, it will contain the glare from the magnesium so you don't blind yourself."

Xander looked at the box with a sudden grin, "Vamp killers."

"From what you tell me, they should kill a vampire no matter where you hit him... though an extremity may only wound him if he can put out the fire."

"Cool." Xander said, then he cocked his head, "Actually... Hot."

Jarod chuckled at the joke, "Look, I have to go, my taxi is here. I'll be seeing you soon."

The two clasped hands and nodded, then Jarod headed out the door.

As Xander watched the cab pull away, Phoebe came up behind him, "You leaving too?"

Xander considered, and shook his head. "Not yet, the school term has started and I doubt the gang really wants me around anyway, not until the next Armageddon at least."

Xander was somber for a long moment and Phoebe was quiet, not knowing what to say. Finally he slipped an arm around Phoebe and grinned, "Want to go for a ride in a new Mustang?"

She grinned and nodded, and the two left the Manor and headed for the driveway.

Three Weeks Later

Xander smiled sadly when Phoebe hugged him, "I'm not going very far."

"You're still leaving."

"Hey," Xander tried looking a little more cheerful, "Sunny D is only a few hours away. And whether they like to admit it or not the gang needs me around. I've been away too long as is."

"I know."

"You have my cell number, call me."

"Count on it."

Xander broke away from her and hopped over the car door, sliding into the driver's seat with practiced ease. He waved at the youngest Halliwell as he backed out of the drive. A few moments later he was pointed out of San Francisco, heading for Sunny Dale.

November 2nd, Sunnydale, California

Xander rolled into town well after dark, smiling at the familiar sights and sounds that passed by. Damn. It's actually good to be home. He was actually surprised at that, and had to consider that maybe there was more to this town then he thought.

He slipped the car into his parents driveway and looked at the dark house, not overly surprised that the lights were all off. He turned the key to the car, shutting down the quiet engine and the lights. He moved quietly as he tried to go into the house.

Locked... damn. Hey... what the hell? The lock is changed?

He stepped back, looking at the house and back to the driveway. "Well, that's my parent's car... so they didn't sell the place on me."

He snickered under his breath and stepped back. Looking up, he jumped up and snagged the eve of the porch, hoisting himself onto the roof. He crawled up the incline silently, jimmied open the window to his room, and slipped inside.

Hey! What the hell happened to all my stuff? He looked around the room slowly, it had been converted into a storage room. His father's unused weight training gear and his mothers massive collection of dust gatherers were stacked through the room.

A few minutes of prowling later he found his stuff, piled haphazardly in a corner of the basement.

Xander sat on a trunk for nearly twenty minutes, considering what he was looking at before he came to a decision.

"Fuck it," he cursed, uncharacteristically. "I need some air."

Fifteen minutes later found him prowling through one of Sunnydale's graveyards, dressed in full armor and armed to the teeth.

The first three vamps he saw never had a chance to scream. He hit them from thirty meters away with the Plasma Caster, ripping holes in their chests large enough to pass Elan through... sideways.

//Bastards!// He raged inside, loping through the graveyard in stealth. //I may have well died as far as they're concerned.//

Elan listened silently, uncertain what to say.

It took another thirty minutes before he calmed down enough to consider things. Hell. It's not like I wanted to stay there anyway. I've got that credit card Jarod left me... I can get a place.

He calmed down quickly, slowing his pace through the graveyard as he did so. He was still calming down when his bio-mask picked up sounds of a struggle from the other side of a wooded section. Xander changed course, increasing his speed again, and headed toward the noise.

He slowed down quickly as he reached a clearing within the trees that had several heat signatures evident. Who the hell would be out here this late? Too many hot spots to be the scoobs.

He quickly reached the edge of the treeline and adjusted the masks spectrum frequency to normal vision, then hopped it up to light intensification. What the hell? Who'r the commando boys?

A dozen young men in military gear were brawling with a group of vampires, neither side really gaining much advantage. Xander quickly counted five vamps, and wondered why the hell the commandos hadn't dusted them already. A few seconds longer answered his question.

Those dumb twits aren't carrying any stakes! What in the hell are they doing out here if they're this ill equipped for the job?

Xander growled under his mask, realizing that he couldn't tag any of the vamps without fear of frying one of the commandos. He unsheathed Elan and lept from his perch, shedding the shift field as he dropped into the fray.

Agent Riley Finn struggled with the HST he was engaging, trying to overpower the creature for capture. Around him he knew that his men were doing the same, but they were having a difficult time despite outnumbering the HST's by more then two to one.

Vampires. Riley thought to himself as he threw a solid punch to the creatures jaw. Who'd ever believe this shit?

"Heads up!"

Riley ducked as Graham nailed the vamp with a nightstick, then followed through with a knee to the vampire's guts and finally dropping his elbows into the back of it's neck.

"One down."

Graham grimaced as he was tackled by another one, but managed to call out as he went down. "Yeah, and five to go!"

Riley moved to grab the one that had Graham, but something beat him to it.

Xander caught the first vamp with a swing of his staff that lifted the demon off the commando he'd tackled. He followed through quickly, smashing the vamp with a solid shot to the bridge of its nose, dropping the creature to its knees in pain. Crooking elan in his left arm he swung around, braining a vamp that tried to sneak up on him, and pulled a stake from his belt.

"Bye bye, dusty." Xander said as he drove the stake into the first vamp, slipped it out, then drove it down through the back of the doubled over vampire that he had brained. Under his mask he was sweating from the exertion, but he shrugged off the complaints from his muscles and pushed on.

Two down. Three to go.

What the hell? Riley stared as the creature ripped through the brawl, dusting two vamps with ease. It never did more then glance at the Commandos, who were fighting for their lives, merely shrugged through the battle toward its next target. Within a few short minutes the only vampire left 'alive' was the one that he and Graham had double teamed.

"Blasters!" Riley commanded as he shook himself clear of the fog he was in.

He was proud when his men dove for the weapons they had lost when the vamps ambushed them, grabbing the weapons and rolling back to their feet in fluid motions. In seconds the newcomer had a dozen blasters pointed at him.

Uhhh... Xander stared in shock at the sudden change. "Ungrateful SOBs," he muttered under his breath as he tensed to move.

"I don't know what you are pal, but you ruined our hunt... so we'll take you into the good professor for dissection instead."

Xander stared at the blond soldier, an incredulous expression on his face. //Dissection?//


A dozen bolts of artificial lightning swept over Xander, buckling him to his knees. He braced himself on Elan, barely managing to stay conscious despite the armor taking the worst of the energy. Dropping the stake in his right hand he drew his remaining Zat from his belt and straightened his arm out at the commandos.

The alien weapon spat its own lightning in rapid fire, striking down the soldiers even as their own weapons were charging for a second volley. Seconds later only the unarmed blonde soldier was still standing.

Xander slowly propped himself back to his feet, using Elan as a crutch because his own legs were too rubbery to work well on their own. He slowly moved toward the blond soldier, watching him tense as he did.

"You soldier boys don't learn gratitude in basic training do ya?"

"You soldier boys don't learn gratitude in basic training do ya?"

Riley paled at the distorted voice, "Gratitude?" he got out, his voice surprisingly steady.

"I just saved your asses from those vamps. And I'd like to know why the hell you shot me!"

Riley swallowed, looking over the creatures armor and weapons. "We didn't need saving."

The thing snorted. "Right. What's the casualty rate on these missions anyway? Thirty percent? Forty?"

Forty five. Riley winced at how close the creatures guess was, but didn't back down. "That's classified."

"Right." It turned to leave.

"Hold it right there!" Riley brought up his sidearm, aiming directly at the creatures head.

Xander watched through his masks 360 degree view as the commando aimed his gun. He brought Elan up and swept around, driving the solid metal staff into the commando's wrist. As the pistol went flying he whipped the weapon around again, cracking the commando across the side of the head and dropping him to the ground, unconscious.

Xander stood in the middle of the unconscious soldiers for a long moment, considering what to do. Well shit. I can't leave them here...

His reverie was cut off by a yell from behind him, he turned just in time to see a foot collide with his mask and drive him off his feet.

Buffy was moving on patrol when she heard the commotion. It sounded like the blasters that Riley's people used so she smiled and veered in that direction, hoping to see her new boyfriend in action. Boyfriend. She tasted the word, after Parker she had almost gone looking to Xander for comfort, but he had been gone. Riley had seen her moping around the campus and worked on cheering her up.

She smiled at the memory, he wasn't as good as Xander at bringing her out of a funk but he was good enough. It had been a shock when they had literally ran into each other on patrol less then a week of dating.

//Commandos in Sunnydale.// She shook her head, amused at the notion. //What was next? Aliens?//

She reached the clearing the noises had come from in time to see Riley pull a pistol of a big armored demon. She stared in shock as the demon easily disarmed and knocked Riley unconscious, then broke into a charge at the creature as it stood there.

"Hey you!"

She jumped up and nailed him in the head with a flying kick.

"Buff..." Xander started to say, but he had to roll clear as she dropped a hard stomp into the ground where he had been.

"I'll teach you to mess with my boyfriend!"

//Boyfriend?!?// Xander moved as fast as he could, dodging one blow after another. Finally she connected again, a reverse kick to his mid section lifting him clear off the ground and tossing him into a tree.

Ow. He saw spots flashing in front of his eyes, flickering across the image of Buffy charging him again. He pushed himself off the tree and met her charge, lashing out with a strong punch that she easily ducked under. Her fists into his armored stomach was the next thing he felt. The Yautja armor absorbed a lot of the impact, but he still winced and new that he would be sporting a major bruise by morning.

He tried to grab her again, only to have Buffy reverse his grip and use it to throw him through another tree. A blinding pain shot through his arm as he landed, causing him to cry out.

"Cry all you want, this is just gonna get worse," Buffy snarled, "But I promise, it'll all be over soon.

Uh oh... Buffy has that 'kill first, don't worry about questions' look. He managed to think through the pain. He rolled clear of her next attack and managed to activate the controls of his shift suit with his one good arm. As the cloaking field shrouded him he got to his feet and ran.

Buffy was moving for another strike when the thing just vanished into thin air. "What the!?"

She spent several moments, nervously looking around and jumping at every slight noise until she decided that it was gone. Quickly she remembered Riley and moved back to the fallen Commando.

Xander was moving fast, his teeth clenched in pain as each motion jarred his arm. He had to get it looked at but the hospital was too far, he doubted that he'd be able to drive anyway.

//Giles//! The decision made he veered in the direction of Giles apartment, and increased his speed despite the blinding pain.

It only took him a few minutes to reach the dark apartment, and even less then that to gain access. G-Man needs a better lock.

He moved through the room quietly until he accidentally knocked over an end table.

"Hello?" Giles' voice echoed through the apartment. "Who's there?"

The lights came on and Giles stepped into the living room, brandishing an umbrella. Xander chuckled through the pain.

"God, G-Man, you have a small armory of weapons for the slayer and that's the best you could find to deal with a burglar?"

"Who are you?" Giles stared through the room, his eyes finally fixing on a blurry spot in the center of the room. "Good Lord... what are you?"

Xander belatedly realized that the shift field was still active. He tentatively deactivated it, favoring his limp arm as he did.

Rupert Giles stumbled back as the form materialized in the center of his room, bring the umbrella back up in defense.

Xander laughed again, "It's ok, G-man." He slowly depressurized his mask with one hand, and lifted it off his face.

"Dear Lord," Giles said as he recognized the boy, "Xander... what... How?"

"That'll have to wait... I think I may have a dislocated shoulder."

Giles rushed forward, examining the boy as best he could through the armor. "My god, what did this to you?"

Xander grimaced. "Buffy."

With Giles help Xander managed to get the armor off without unduly jostling his arm. That is to say, he only screamed out in pain three times before they were done.

Giles cut away his black t-shirt and looked at the discoloration and swelling that had begun to set in. "Dear me... Xander, I have to pop it back in... this is going to..."

Xander cut him off, "Hurt. Yeah, I figured that."

He grabbed the torn sections of his t-shirt and twisted them up with his one good hand, "Ok, do it." he said as he popped the material into his mouth and clenched down.

Giles nodded and grabbed his arm and shoulder, testing them slightly to see what way to push, and suddenly wrenching them back into place with an audible 'pop'.

"GNNNNNNK!" Xander's scream came from low in his chest, forcing its way out through his nose and the material crammed into his mouth.

After it was done Giles collapsed beside Xander in almost as bad a shape as his young friend. Sweat was pouring down both their faces as their breathing slowly returned to normal.

"I have to tape it up now," Giles said.

Xander spit the cloth out, but only nodded his assent.

Giles slowly placed the boy's arm across his chest and started wrapping it tightly with gauze and tape, until it was held motionless across his torso. "You really should go to the hospital, Xander, to insure that it heals properly."

Xander nodded, still silently.

Giles sighed and, taking his glasses off to wipe them clean, asked, "What happened?"

Xander winced, "I got home late this evening. Found that my parents had claimed my room as a storage bin... got kinda pissed so I suited up and went hunting. Figured I could work off some aggressions, you know?"

Giles winced, but nodded. He did know. He also knew that it wasn't a healthy way to deal with problems.

"Anyway, I was out in the graveyard a few blocks from here when I heard the sound of a scuffle. Came across these dimwit commandos hunting vamps without stakes, crosses, or anything resembling appropriate equipment."

This time Giles didn't wince, he had already seen what Riley considered to be 'proper' gear for a vampire hunter. Riley seemed to be a respectable fellow so it was, in Giles opinion, the institutionalized idiocy of the military that was responsible.

"So, being the idiot that I am," Xander said sourly, "I jumped in to help them out. Took down the five vamps they were having trouble with, only to have them turn their tasers on ME! That blond ingrate that Buffy claimed as her boyfriend actually said they were going to take me back and *dissect* me for Christ sakes!"

"Uh... yes, I had heard about that habit of theirs... I suppose they want to know about the different types of demons and how to kill them."

Xander snorted. "Get real. If that was all it was they wouldn't have been trying to capture vampires. Anyone who can rent a video can figure out their weaknesses pretty damned fast, G-man."

"Umm well, yes there is that. And don't call me that."

Xander was still shaking his head, "No, they're up to something else."

Giles thought about it a moment before speaking, "Well, there is also Spike."

"Spike?" Xander asked in surprise. "What about him?"

Giles actually smiled briefly, "They put a chip in his brain that won't permit him to harm humans."

"What?" Xander didn't like the sound of that. "That's not good."

"Excuse me?" Giles looked perplexed, "Not harming humans is very good."

"Sure, G-Man." Xander said, "But what about when they refine the chip a bit more so the vamps just can't harm 'Americans'? Or 'White people'? Or any other group that they happen to like, or dislike at the moment."

"They wouldn't do that, this is the government..." Giles trailed off, "Oh dear."

A noise outside attracted their attention.

"That will be Buffy returning," Giles said, "And she'll almost certainly have Riley with her."

"Damn." Xander forced himself off the couch, "Help me get my gear out of sight."

Giles looked at him questioningly for a second.

"Giles," he said impatiently, "I trust you. I trust Willow, and I even trust Buffy. But this gear and some other things I've been up to are not entirely my secrets to tell. And I DON'T trust the bastard who pulled a gun on me while my back was turned."

Giles nodded and helped him scoop up the armor that was strewn about the floor. "We can put it, and you in my guest room if you like?"

"I like," Xander nodded and headed in that direction.

Xander fit the bio-mask over his face and turned up the audio pickups until he could hear the conversation in the living room. Then he gently laid down and closed his eyes, trying to ignore the dull throb from his shoulder.

"Giles!" Buffy screamed as she helped Riley through the door.

The blond commando had seen better days. He had a white bandage around his head, stained blood red in the center, and his wrist was wrapped and held in place with a stiff brace.

"Good Lord." Giles said as he came into the room, "What happened to you?"

"Some big nasty demony thing hit him with a metal stick."

"Ah.. Yes...," Giles muttered, "A demony thing... why didn't I think of that?"

"We need to hit the books, Giles." Buffy said, "This thing could turn invisible or something, and wore armor, and had weapons... Demons don't usually like weapons, Giles... he shouldn't be that hard to find..."

"Ah... research. yes, quite. Well, get cracking then," Giles waved them to a stack of book, "I'll put on some tea and do some other things."

Buffy stared at Giles as he left, slightly confused. Giles running from research? Nah...

<A metal STICK!?!?> Elan was outraged.

"Be quiet, Elan. Let me listen."

<A STICK!? What kind of Slayer doesn't at least *recognize* a battle staff when she sees one?>

"Buffy has always been... unique." Xander muttered under his breath, "That doesn't mean she's incompetent. Now let me listen."

Elan fell silent after a few seconds more of muttering.

"Found him!" Buffy yelled out victoriously.

Giles goggled and dropped his cup of tea, "What!?"

"Yeah, right here... He's a Yaucha... Weird name... you suppose he yells 'yeouch' a lot or something?"

"I doubt it, Buffy," Riley said with a small grin.

"Yes... quite... here, let me see that," Giles slid the book over to himself and looked through it.

"Hmmm... yes. Hmmmm... oh dear."

"What? It's bad right? I know it's bad..."

"Huh?" Giles looked up in slight confusion, "No... not for us at any rate."


Giles sighed and began to explain patiently, "The Yautja are, for lack of a better term, 'Big Game Hunters'. Since he left the soldiers alive they weren't his prey. He obviously is after 'bigger fish' as they say."

Riley slumped back, "You mean we got our butts handed to us because we got in the way of some hunter's safari??"

"Ummm yes. Quite."

"Lovely. Walsh is gonna love this."

"Well... why did he attack them in the first place?"

Giles raised an eyebrow and looked at Riley, who remained silent but looked guilty.

"Riley?" Buffy stared at him in determination, "What did you do?"

Finally he broke down. "I ordered my men to bring him down so we could bring him back for study."

"What!? Why?"

"He IS an HST, Buff," Riley defended himself, "I have my orders."

"You're quite lucky to be alive," Giles said as he looked up again from the book, "A Yautja generally kills any and all armed persons between him and his prey."

"You mean THAT was a peaceful one??" Riley asked in shock.

"Put simply? Yes."

"How do we kill it?"

Giles looked back at the book and paled, despite knowing that they weren't talking about a Yautja at all the text frightened him, "We.. Uh... don't."

"What?" Both Riley and Buffy asked.

"The text's mention one time that a Yautja is thought to have been killed..."

As Giles trailed off Buffy spoke, "Thought?"

"They couldn't tell for certain... No bodies were recovered... from *anywhere* within a quarter mile diameter crater that the explosion left."

"Explosion?" Riley looked stricken.

"Apparently these creatures object strenuously to being killed."

"No kidding," Buffy said, stunned.

Xander listened with amusement to the argument as it deteriorated into stupid questions and bad theories. //I missed that.//

He eventually removed the mask and lay back, willing himself to drift off. When sleep finally claimed him his face relaxed from the grimace of pain it had been carrying and he smiled.

Giles finally got rid of Buffy and Riley and headed back to check on Xander, several questions upmost in his mind. When he looked in he saw the boy was sleep more or less peacefully and quietly closed the door.

His questions could wait until the morning.

And Xander dreamed.

And Xander dreamed.

His dreams had been growing progressively more violent since he had arrived in San Francisco, his mind allowing itself to finally process the nightmares that it had suppressed in favor of surviving the rigors he had endured.

He was back in the village, standing side by side with some of the bravest people he'd have the honor to know. They could see the glistening black horde approaching, but to falter in their defense now meant worse then death. It meant the deaths of friends, families, women and children. The fate of an entire village rested on them, and it had become a matter of more then mere honor that held them fast against the nightmare horde. It had become life.

But bravery does not ensure success. One by one his companions fell to the monsters that plagued them. One by one they would vanish into the night, their trailing screams the only evidence that they had existed. Their screams... and the splattered blood.

Xander tried to wash it off, but he couldn't. He could smell it permeating the air, he could feel it through his armor as it soaked through to his skin. His mind told him that that was impossible, but he still felt it. The world was a nightmarish warping of reality. He saw through his visor, saw the heat of the soldiers cooling as they died. Saw the splatter of heat that marked the blood as they died. The sounds of their screams was recorded indelibly in his mind and on the suit's computer, as if he'd ever need a backup.

And through it all Xander fought.

Elan watched, disturbed as the dreams grew bloodier and more violent. More violent even then the reality that had spawned them. The alien creatures alternately became vampires that shredded and drank from everyone around. The villagers became familiar faces. Phoebe, Buffy, Willow, Prue, Piper. The warriors who died at his side became Jarod, Oz, Giles, and a face she could not place immediately until Xander's mind produced a name for it. Jessie.

Elan chuckled involuntarily for a moment when the identities surfaced in his dreams. All the men are fighting to defend the helpless women. The boy is *such* a chauvinist at heart.

Her thoughts had no bite to them, however. After all, in her own nightmares she did the exact opposite herself.

The nightmares went on for an hour before Elan decided to step in. That is enough cleansing for the night. You'll need your strength on the morrow Alexander.

The battlefield was dead of a sudden, the hissing and screaming nothing more then echoes on the wind. And in his mind.

Xander let his arm drop, his staff hanging loose in his hand, as he looked over the barren village.

"They're all dead."


The voice came from behind him but Xander didn't move, he didn't care if it was hostile or not.

"They survived. Some of them, anyway," Elan walked up behind Xander, dressed in her 'unique' armor, and laid a hand gently on his shoulder. "We... You saved them. Remember?"

"Yes," Xander said sadly, looking up into the blood red sky. "I remember. Where are we?"

"The Dreaming," Elanthielle answered simply.

"Oh," was all he could think to say.

"Be at peace, Alexander. This battle has been fought and, though it was hard pressed, you won."

"Won?" he laughed bitterly. "How many did we lose? Two hundred people? Easily. That was not a victory when we only started with three hundred and our only intention was to save as many as we could."

"Had you not chose to stay they would all be dead. It would not truly matter if only one of them survived. By staying you would have saved that one life, and that is victory enough."

Xander collapsed, his knees buckling under him as the emotional impact suddenly hit him. "So many dead, Elan. So many..."

Elan crouched behind him, wrapping her arms around him. "I know. I know. But everyone dies, Alexander. A few years earlier or later makes little difference in the end. What does matter is how they lived, and those people lived well. The warriors who fought by your side lived and died for their people, one can not ask more then that."

Xander pressed back against her, rocking slightly as the tremors passed. "I know. But... I lived."

Behind him Elanthielle smiled sadly, "Yes. You lived."

And that was the crux of Xander's problem. He lived.

For a long time after that Elanthielle just held the young man as he slept in her arms. Sleep within sleep. Dreamless.

Dallas, Texas

"Get him!" Miss Parker vaulted the small fence, straining to keep her quarry in sight.

The sweepers, the two that were still conscious, rushed to follow her as she chased Jarod into the parking lot of a local high rise. Jarod had twenty meters on them, fifteen on Miss Parker, and was pulling away when he reached the revolving door that marked the main entrance.

Jarod dove clear as soon as the door let him through, triggering a signal on the remote in his pocket. He rolled to his feet and stopped, turning back to watch.

Miss Parker hit the door first, the two sweepers a few seconds behind, pushing through until it was just about to open into the lobby of the FBI building. Then the door stopped.

Jarod smiled and walked up to Parker as she growled and slammed her hand into the unresponsive door. "Now, now. That's not nice."

"Jarod!" she growled, "Get me out of here!"

"No," he grinned. "I arranged this little... detainment, so you could deliver a message to your father for me."

"Oh yeah?" she snarled, pulling out her pistol. "How about you deliver it in person? Get me out of here or I'll shoot you."

"Ah ah," Jarod chided, "I wouldn't do that... Bullet proof glass..." he said while tapping the door with the back of his finger, "You might cause a ricochet and hurt yourself. Tell your father that the chase stops here. I don't need the Centre anymore. I've found what I was looking for, and if they send anyone else after me I'll break the Centre, the Triumvirate, and anyone else I find in their files. I've already transferred a hundred million from Centre funds as a warning."

"Jarod? What?" Miss Parker was stunned. Jarod was normally non-confrontational, he avoided trouble with the Centre in so much as he could.

Jarod smiled, "I told you. I found what I was looking for, so the Centre holds no more use for me. Good Bye, Miss Parker."

Parker stared in shock as Jarod turned and vanished into the gathering crowd.

Airport, Short Time Later

"Welcome Sir, how may I help you?"

"Well hello there, Little Lady," said the man in the large cowboy hat, "I'd like a ticket to Sunnydale California, if you please."

"First Class or Coach, sir?"

"First Class all the way, little darlin."

"And the name?"

"West. Jarod West."

"He said what?"

"Daddy, I've already said it twice." Miss parker sighed over the connection, "He said that he'll break the Centre if you send anyone else after him. He said that he had already transferred Centre funds as a warning."

"How much?" The question was terse.

"A hundred million."

"Damnation. So that's what happened to Lyle and Raines' budget allocation."

Miss Parker rapidly covered the phone with the palm of her hand while she snickered. Finally she put it back to her ear and asked, "What do you want me to do?"

"Return to the Centre, honey. I'll handle it."

"Bye, Daddy."

"Bye, Darling."

The Centre - Blue Cove, Delaware

Mr. Parker gently laid the phone down on his desk and looked over at the bald man beside him. "Tell the triumvirate that Jarod has become an unacceptable risk."

The man wheezed, "I'll have my best cleaners assigned the case immediately."

"You do that." Mr. Parker looked at the man sharply, "And see to it that Sidney learns *nothing* of this."

Mr. Raines nodded and left the office, dragging his oxygen tank behind him as he did. Mr. Parker watched as the ornate glass doors swung shut behind him and laid his hands out on the desk in front of him.


Xander woke up slowly, feeling refreshed and rested. He wasn't used to that. He dressed slowly, pulling on his black jeans with his good arm, fumbling for a long time before he managed to button them up. He glanced around, but he didn't have any shirts here. He glanced out the window and shrugged, it was a nice day and the car wasn't far away.

He tucked Elan into his jeans pocket, not bothering to try strapping the canvas sheath on with one arm.


Her voice came back quickly, but softer then usual. <Yes?>

//Thank you.//

<You are welcome, Alexander.>

He left room, walking quietly, and headed for Giles' front door.


He turned, chagrined, to see Giles staring at him from his favorite chair. "I believe that we need to talk."

Xander grinned, a goofy smile that lit up his entire face, "Sure will, Giles. But I have to go pick up my car from the graveyard parking before someone thinks it belonged to a resident, know what I mean?"

"Uh... yes, quite." Giles stood, "I'll come with you. You can't very well drive with that arm any how."

Suppressing a chuckle, Xander agreed. "Worried I might run off?"

"It had crossed my mind, actually."

The two men laughed, heading out of the apartment for the short walk to the closest graveyard.

"Good Lord, Xander!" Giles stared at the brand new Mustang. "How did you get a car like this?"

Xander fished the keys out of his pocket with his good arm and tossed them to Giles, "It's a loaner from a friend, G-man. A little luck and I'll introduce him to you soon."

Giles caught the keys awkwardly, "Umm... Yes, Quite."

Xander pulled his jacket off the front seat before Giles sat down and slipped it painfully over his shoulders before he sat down in the passengers seat. He grinned as Giles actually revved the powerful engine a couple times before shifting it into reverse and pulling out of the graveyard parking.

"Watch it, G-man," Xander smirked, "You'll ruin yourself for your car."

Giles flushed, "How many times must I tell you, my car is a classic."

"Antique is the word you're looking for, G-man."

"Would you please stop calling me that."

Xander didn't answer, just leaned back and enjoyed the sound of the engine as Giles turned the car back towards his apartment.

"So will you tell me what in the name of heaven is going on now?"

Xander and Giles were back at the apartment, sitting across from each other with Xander squirming in his chair under Giles gaze.

"It's been a helluva summer, G-man," Xander began, "You remember that demon problem in Terrace Point I called you about?"

When Giles nodded Xander went on, "Well I wasn't the only one tracking them."

"A Yautja?" Giles hazarded a guess.

"Got it in one," Xander smiled, "I figured him for the 'big bad' causing all the trouble so I went after him."

Giles drew in a sharp breath.

"Yeah, that about covers it. Anyway, turns out that honor means a lot to the Yautja, so when I matched him in hand to hand combat I 'impressed' him as a hunter."

"Good Lord," Giles whispered, cleaning his glasses as he did.

"Oh, by the way, I suggest you tell the Council that their books are way off on the Yautja. They're not demons."

"What?" Giles fitted his glasses back on and stared owlishly at Xander, "What do you mean?"

"I mean that they don't come from down below," Xander smiled.

"Then where?"

Xander flickered his eyes upwards.

Giles choked, "You don't mean that they're from... from.. Heav.."

Xander cut him off, laughing hard, "No. Angels these guys are NOT."

"Then what?"

"Giles, they use technology. Non-human technology. What does that tell you?"

Giles stared blankly at him for a long moment.

"Oh for crying out loud, G-man," Xander said, exasperated. "If you don't figure it out soon I'm going to make you sit through a Star Trek marathon until your mind comes out of the twelfth century."

Giles shivered involuntarily, and seemed about to object to the threat when he drew a connection and stared at Xander in shock. "Surely you're not serious. They can't be...?"

"Little green men?" Xander grinned, "No... Big UGLY green men. Just not literally green."

"Good Lord..." Giles trailed off.

"Well... I don't know how much He had to do with it..." Xander smirked, "But the sentiment is about right."

"Then..." Giles began hesitantly, "When you said you were somewhere with no phones..."

Xander smirked and looked up.

"Good Lord."

"Careful Giles... your vocabulary is slipping."

"Right... well... I mean... Good Lord."

So that's pretty much what happened, G-man." Xander finished, "Leaving out some details that would be considered matters of national security..." Giles was about to ask when Xander held up his hand, "You do NOT want to know."

Giles closed his mouth, considering the statement for a moment, "Does that have anything to do with the Air Force officers who visited us asking about you?"

Xander looked at Giles sharply, "Who?"

"I'm not certain of all their names, Dr. Daniel Jackson was there, and Willow said that Colonel Jack..."

Xander cut him off, "O'Neill. Yeah, it has to do with that. So, SG1 paid a visit did they? Hmmmm... I really shouldn't have told them my real name."

"Excuse me?"

"Don't worry about it, G-man," Xander said, "Nothing you can do about it anyway. I'll get some help from Jarod when he gets here."

"Ah yes, the 'friend' who loaned you his car..."

"Yeah, him," Xander said, rubbing his face as he tried to think.

They sat silently for a moment before Xander straightened up, his face clearing. "Oh well, I'll deal. No matter what, I'll deal."

Giles nodded, thinking to himself that the boy most likely would, "What are you going to do now?"

"Well..." Xander began, "I hate to ask this but would you mind if I stayed here until I got a place of my own? Shouldn't be more then a few days..."

"Certainly," Giles responded instantly.

"Thanks, G... Giles," Xander grinned, conceding at least one victory to the older man.

"That was Buffy and Willow," Giles called from the living room where he had just got off the phone.

"How are they doing?"

"They're fine, and they say that they're glad you're back. I believe that they are coming over now to escort you to the Bronze for a celebration?"

Xander winced. "Great... Well... I'd better get dressed."

"How is the arm?"

"Better," Xander said, "But I'm not going to be hunting anytime soon."

"I should think not," Giles said sternly.

Xander chuckled, "Relax, G-man. Hand me the black shirt over there?"

"Here you are..." Giles looked at the clothing laid out around the room, "Since when do you have taste in clothing?"

Xander looked at him, smirking as he did, "Listen up, you can't belittle my taste in clothing, tweed-man."

Giles just stared at him for a long moment until Xander finally sighed, "Jarod paid for my new wardrobe... and he seems to love black for some reason..."

"I should have known," Giles mumbled as he passed Xander the shirt.

"Xander!" Willow rushed forward before Xander could say anything and hugged him.


"What!?" she backed off in shock when he yelled in pain, only then noticing the sling his arm was in.

"Xander! What happened?"

Xander opened his mouth to explain but was cut off by Buffy. "You've been fighting! A vampire did that to you! Right?"

Xander grimaced, "Not exactly..." he tried to put her off.

"Oh? Then what was it? Something to do with that Army lady who was here?"

"No," Xander said firmly, "I uh... had a misunderstanding with this girl."

Buffy smirked, "Yeah right. What happened? Her boyfriend think you were hitting on her?"

Xander's lips curled up slightly, "No. She thought I was hitting h... on him."

That floored the two girls, and Giles snorted his tea over the dining room table.

//Good lord, Xander...// Giles thought as he tried to wipe up the mess. //Staying close to the truth without telling her a thing... how often do you do that?//

The girls stared at him stunned for a long moment before breaking into giggles.

"You're joking?" Willow managed to get out.

Xander grimaced and shot a dark look at Buffy, but both girls were too caught up laughing to notice, "I wish I was."

Initiative HQ

"Are you quite certain of this information?"

"Yes Professor," Riley responded instantly, "According to Mr. Giles books the HST from last night has some type of failsafe. If it's killed it sets off some type of explosive."

"I see," Maggie Walsh looked perplexed as she tried to understand, "And you reported that it seemed to use technology?"

"Yes Ma'am."

Walsh took a deep breath and considered the information, "If you encounter this HST again attempt to lure it away from the populated area and terminate it."

Riley swallowed, but nodded, "Yes Ma'am."

Walsh looked up at him and smiled, "You have a date with Ms Summers tonight?"

Riley smiled back, hesitantly. "Yes Ma'am. One of her friends came back to town and they're going out to celebrate."

"Friends?" Maggie Walsh looked at him sharply, "What name?"

Riley shrugged, "Xander Harris."

Walsh stared for a long moment, "I want a full profile on Mr. Harris, Agent Finn."

Riley raised an eyebrow but nodded, "Yes Ma'am."

"Have a nice date, Riley," Walsh smiled maternally.

"Thank you, Ma'am."

"So you finally get to meet the infamous Xander Harris?" Graham kidded Riley as he shucked his body armor and grabbed for his civvies.

"Yeah," Riley admitted, "Walsh wants a full profile on him."

Graham snorted, "No surprise there. How many people do you know that warrant a visit from four Air Force officers assigned to NORAD HQ?"

Riley shook his head, "Not too damned many. I still can't believe how high those names were classified. All we got was Captain Carter's current assignment. The rest were totally blacked out."

"We wouldn't even have that if Rosenberg hadn't dropped her name to you."


"Wonder what he did?" Graham mused.

Riley pulled on a sweatshirt and shook his head, "If O'Neill and Carter told the girls the truth he pulled their team out of a tight spot."

"Come on," Graham scoffed, "What kind of 'tight spot' could a radio astronomer possibly get into?"

"Damned if I know," Riley admitted.


"Yes, Ma'am?"

"Re-open the file on Mr. Harris. He's back in town."

"Yes, Ms. Walsh."

The Bronze, That Night

"Oz left!?" Xander was incredulous, as he watched Willow come back from the bar.

"Yeah," Buffy told him quietly, "She's pretty sore about it right now, so don't bring it up... k?"

Xander nodded and forced a grin when Willow rejoined them.

"So Xand," Willow sat down with her drink, "What did you do all summer."

Xander's eyes narrowed at the tone of her voice. Interrogation time. "Just kicked around mostly, Wills. Had some excitement here and there, some good times and some bad times."

Xander couldn't keep the emotion from his voice and he knew immediately that both girls had picked up on it.

"Bad times?" Willow asked tentatively.

"Life," Xander said simply, "Life, Willow."

The table was silent for a long moment before Buffy looked up and smiled brightly, "Riley! Over here!"

She waved him over and Xander got his first look at the commando out of his BDU's. His face darkened as he saw the blond soldier walk toward them, but he tried to put his emotions aside. //He thought I was a demon... He thought I was a demon...//

<He tried to shoot you in the back of the head after you saved his team.>

//You're not helping, Elan.//

The ancient weapon was silent after that.

"Riley!" Buffy smiled, "This is Xander."

"Xander," Riley smiled and extended his hand.

Xander forced a smile and took his hand and shook it firmly, "Riley."

"It's good to finally meet you, the girls here have talked about you a lot."

Now Xander's smile turned genuine. "Really? We must compare notes then."

Both girls mock moaned as Riley sat down.

"Uh oh," Xander said, "That sounds like they've been telling the embarrassing stories."

"No, nothing bad. I swear," Riley said a little too quickly, winking obviously in Buffy's direction.

Xander snickered, "I see. Maybe I should tell some stories of my own then..."

"Xander!" both girls shouted him down.

"... or not."

The whole group laughed. Xander looked at Riley, a calculating look entering his eyes. "So, Riley. I hear that your part of a commando group 'round here?"

Riley stared in shock for a second, before looking at Buffy.

"I didn't say anything," She defended herself, "How did you find out about that?"

"Giles brought me up to speed on the slayage last night," Xander explained, managing to look hurt, "After all I am still part of the Scoobs right?"

"Of course you are," Willow jumped in, "its just,,, you know, we didn't think you'd find out so fast."

"Ah," Xander grinned, the turned back to Riley, "So how's that working for you?"

"Pretty good," Riley said simply, "Why? You interested in signing up?"

Xander chuckled, "No thanks, I get enough action as a civilian. And I don't have to worry about what my superiors do with what I find."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Xander shrugged, "Nothing, man. You just can't trust the brass, ya know?"

Riley nodded reluctantly, a little disturbed by the comment despite the fact that he and his unit said the same types of things in the locker room all the time. "I guess."

Riley looked at Xander curiously, "What happened to your arm, man?"

Xander's face darkened somewhat and the girls started giggling.


The night had moved on, the conversations jumping around a lot as both Xander and Riley tried to sound each other out. Xander was asking about the Initiative when he spotted familiar faces approaching from across the room.

"Phoebe!" Xander said in shock, but managed to grin widely. "Prue, Piper, Why are you guys here?"

Phoebe's face was dark, alerting Xander that something was up. "Are these your friends?"

"Yeah," Xander said cautiously.

"I had a..."

Xander got up fast, his eyes warning Phoebe not to continue, "Care to dance?"

"Sure," she said weakly.

Buffy and Willow watched as Xander walked out onto the dance floor with the pretty brunette.

"What's up?" Phoebe asked as they started dancing to the slow song, "I thought your friends knew about witches?"

"They do," Xander said into her ear, "But the blond guy is new. He works for the military and I don't trust him yet."


"Why are you guys in Sunnydale?"

"I had a vision, Xander," Phoebe said quietly, "Jarod is going to be shot at the airport here in Sunnydale... tonight."

Xander pulled away from her in shock, "When?"

"I don't know. Soon."

"Let's go."

Xander led Phoebe back to the gang, who were talking uncomfortably with the two remaining Halliwell sisters.

"So ummm... How do you guys know Xander?"

Prue looked down at the young blond for a moment, "We met this summer, he's dating my sister."


The group shifted uncomfortably for another moment, then Xander reappeared with Phoebe.

"Guys, I'm sorry but I have to go. Personal business," he explained, "Can you guys get home ok?"

"Oh," Willow said, "Well... ok... I guess."

"I'll see you guys," Xander promised and headed out the door with the three sisters.

Buffy stared after them, "Wow. Wonder what was so important?"

Riley answered before thinking, "If I were dating her I don't think I'd keep her waiting either."

"Oh you wouldn't, would you?" Buffy turned her, irate, gaze on the hapless commando.

"Uhh... I mean..."

Outside Prue turned to Xander, "What was that all about?"

Phoebe answered for him, "The blond guy is a commando hunting demons. Xander doesn't trust him."

"Oh," the two sisters accepted that easily.

Phoebe suddenly glared at Xander, "What happened to your arm?"

Xander grimaced, "I'll tell you about it later. We have to get to Jarod."

"Not like that," Phoebe glanced around, and seeing no one called out, "Leo!"

Xander almost jumped out of his skin when a shimmer of light formed beside him and Leo appeared, "What the hell!?"

"What's up, Phoebe?" Leo asked genially, "Hey, Xander."

Xander swallowed and answered weakly, "Hey."

"Xander's hurt, can you help him?"

"Sure," Leo looked Xander over and passed his hand over the boys shoulder. A golden glow covered the area and suddenly Xander's shoulder didn't hurt anymore.


"Yeah," Phoebe smiled proudly, as if she had done it herself, "Leo's an Angel."

"Literally," Piper said dryly.

Xander stared at Leo for a long moment, "Angel?"

Leo grinned and shrugged slightly.

"Ok... I guess I can buy that... I mean, I believe in Demons... why not Angels?" Xander suddenly shot Leo an odd look, "Wait a sec. Why were you working as a *handyman*?"

Leo grinned, "It's tough making ends meet nowadays... Sometimes a guy needs a second job."

When Xander just stared dumbly at him, the whole group laughed. Finally Xander joined in, and led the way to his car. He opened the trunk, tossed the useless sling inside, and pulled out his pistols in their leather. He quickly strapped them on, grabbed the Zat from a duffle bag and slipped it into his belt. Elan's sheath was next, and he moved the ancient weapon from his pocket to the canvas on his thigh.

"Ready." He said, tossing his leather jacket on over the pistols. "Let's go."

Graham nudged Forest as he watched Harris leave the Bronze with the three brunets. The two commandos looked at each other, nodded, and followed him out.

"Whatever else you can say about the guy," Graham said as they hit the door, "He has good taste in women."

Forest nodded, "Damn right. Summers, Rosenberg, and now those three... It's enough to make me retire and try being a civilian again."

Graham laughed as they stepped out into the night air, "What a pain. Coolest job on the planet, and we can't use it to get laid. Hey, there he is over there."

The two Commando's watched as Harris, the three ladies, and a new guy approached the red Mustang he had arrived in.

"What the?" Forest muttered as Harris flipped off his sling and tossed it in the trunk.

"Holy..." Graham joined in as Harris slipped on a shoulder holster with twin automatics snapped into leather.

"Who is this guy?" Both muttered together as he slipped a silvered defense baton into a thigh sheath and tucked something they couldn't see into his belt.

"I don't know, but we'd better get to our car if we plan on following them."

The two commandos turned and jogged to their vehicle just as Harris and his group ripped out of the parking lot, tires squealing.

"Man, he is in some hurry."

Buffy looked at Willow, who looked back. Both nodded and said one word, "Right."

Riley watched in shock as both girls jumped up from their table and raced out of the nightclub. "What the hell?" he muttered and chased after them.

The three got to the parking lot just in time to see Xander's red Mustang skid out of the parking lot, burning rubber as he poured on the gas, and head out of town.

"He was in a hurry," Riley said.

"Ya think?" Buffy asked sarcastically, "You have a car, right? We have to follow them."

Riley nodded for a moment before he spotted the Initiative SUV peel out of the parking lot after the Mustang, "Uh... I walked tonight."

"Crap!" Buffy yelled, and stared at the receding tail lights.

Xander had the sports car past a hundred and twenty when he hit the freeway.

"Uh... A little fast, maybe?" Prue spoke tentatively from the back seat.

"Nah!" he yelled back, "Trust me, I know where all the speed traps are in the area... Misspent youth."

Prue sat back and muttered to Piper, "SO not what I meant."

Piper just nodded as she watched the taillights of cars blur past as Xander ripped down the road.

In the front seat Phoebe was whooping with excitement whenever they came particularly close to another car. "I love this!"

Xander grinned, but it was tight. It would take several minutes, even at this speed, to reach the Airport and he didn't want to be late.

"Would you keep him in sight!"

"Christ, Graham, he's got a goddamned Ford Mustang! How do you expect me to keep track of him in this clunker!?" Forest yelled as he dodged another car.

"What's out here anyway?"

"The airport is a few miles up the road, other then that he may be on a damned joy ride to L.A. for all I know!"

Graham was silent for a second, "We've lost him if he is. Grab the exit to the airport when it comes up."


Xander pulled into the airport lot, grabbing a spot on the edge of the crowd as close to the door as he could find with quick access to the exit. "Let's go."

Phoebe jumped out, "You'd better stay clear of the metal detectors."

Xander chuckled, "No, really?"

The group charged for the doors, running into the large building and looking for any sign of what was going to go down.

Xander looked at Phoebe, "Any details would be really handy."

Phoebe thought hard, "There are five of them, and Jarod was wearing a cowboy hat..."

"A cowboy hat? Knowing Jarod's sense of humor..." Xander glanced over the arrivals list. "There. A flight arriving from Dallas in five minutes. Nothing else from Texas or the surrounding States for at least a half hour. Let's go."

The group made a dash for the gate the Dallas flight was due on.

"There's the Mustang!"

"Thank God," Graham breathed, "I didn't want to report back to Walsh that we'd lost him."

Forest just nodded in agreement as he found a space for the SUV. The two commandos jumped out, grabbing their sidearms as they did, and headed for the main building. Inside they looked around, "Any clue where we go?"

"None," Graham confessed, "Let do it gate by gate."

Jarod stepped off the plane, taking a deep breath as he stared down the boarding causeway. It had looked like a nice town from the air as they approached, Jarod was almost amused at the fact that appearances were so deceiving if what Xander said was true. He moved along with the crowd of travelers toward the disembarkment gate, smiling at the reunions that were taking place around him.

//I like airports,// he smiled as he stepped around a couple who were kissing in the middle of the floor.

When he stepped clear of the causeway and into the building proper he spotted four faces he recognized. Smiling he raised his hand to wave, but then noticed the grim looks on their faces. His eyes quickly scanned the crowd and found several more faces that were familiar.


Jarod dipped his hand into his carry on bag, grasping the handle of the Zat'nicatel firmly. Inwardly he smiled as he remembered the odd look the alien weapon had drawn from the baggage checker. Of course, I've actually got stranger looks for the Mr. Potato head and the Pez dispensers.

The cleaners and his friends spotted Jarod at the same time.

"There he is."

The man nodded and started his approach, a silenced pistol folded into the newspaper he was carrying. Around him the others did the same.

"There he is!"

"Let's move," Xander said to Phoebe, "If you spot one of the gunmen let us know."

Phoebe nodded and Xander reached under his coat for the Zat. He locked eyes with Jarod a moment later and the two just nodded.

"He knows," Xander said quietly, pulling the Zat clear of his belt.

"There," Phoebe whispered, pointing to a man with a folded newspaper in his hand.

Xander didn't answer, instead he stepped closer and pulled his Zat out completely, letting it point toward the ground as he approached the gunman. As he got closer he caught a flash of steel in the newspaper and that clinched it, he aimed from the hip and fired.

Xander's shot was the signal Jarod was waiting for. His Zat cleared his carry on quickly and swept toward the second assassin he had spotted, spitting a stun bolt that dropped the man in his tracks.

There were three more, and they had dropped any attempt at subtlety. Their silenced pistols tracked upwards, aiming for Jarod as Jarod and Xander shifted aim to take two more of them down. The third man got off two shots that were lost in the sudden screams of the crowd.

"No!" Prue screamed, seeing the puffs of smoke and brief glints of light that signaled the shots. She saw Jarod go down, flashes of red spattering around him. Her anger flared and she swept her arm out at the lone gunman, hitting him with the full brunt of her power.

Graham looked up ahead, seeing something move, "What's that?"

"I don't know..." Forest squinted, then his eyes widened in shock, "Hit the deck!"

Both commandos dove for the ground, narrowly missing being nailed by the flying body of a man that swept by over head.

Both men watched as the body crashed to the ground ten full meters behind them, and went on to skid for another thirty. "What the hell was that?"

"I don't know... but how much you want to bet that Harris is in the middle of it?"

"I don't take suckers bets."

The two commandos climbed back to their feet and ran back along the path the flying body had taken.

"Jarod!" Xander slid to a stop on his knees beside his fallen friend, "Christ man, are you all right?"

"No," Jarod winced, "But I'll live. He got me in the leg... help me up."

Xander grabbed Jarod's arm and hefted him to his feet, "We've got to get out of here."

Jarod nodded in agreement and the two hobbled back to the main group, "Leo, got another patient for ya."

Leo nodded and moved closer but Xander shook him off, "Hang on. Too public. The washrooms over there."

Leo braced under Jarod's other arm and helped the injured man into the toilets. Inside they quickly checked around and saw no one so Xander blocked the door while Leo checked over Jarod's wounds.

"What?" Jarod asked as the glow emanated from the Angel's hands, bathing his wounded leg in a golden light and instantly easing the pain. A few seconds later and the injury was completely gone.

"Done?" Xander asked from the door.


"Let's go," Xander glanced down at Jarod's leg, "You know... for once your fondness for black is paying off. I don't think anyone will be able to tell that you were shot."

Jarod looked down, "I can't tell I was shot... what happened?"

"Jarod, meet Leo. Leo, this is Jarod," Xander grinned, "Leo, Jarod is a pretender. Jarod, Leo is an Angel."

Both men stared at each other with a mix of curiosity and confusion.



Graham and Forest had reached the center of the disturbance only to find nothing but unconscious bodies and milling security guards. Forest was looking at the bodies when Graham nudged him, "Hey, check it out."

Harris and two friends came out of the washrooms, chuckling and laughing like old friends having a reunion. They were soon joined by the three girls as they strolled casually down the hall, looking for all the world like three couples together to pick up a friend.

The two commandos looked at each other, the Graham spoke, "If I hadn't seen him belt on those guns..."

"But we didn't hear any shots," Forest objected.

Graham had to concede that, "But why was he wearing them?"

"And what hit that guy who almost took our heads off?"

The two commandos shook their heads and trudged back along the hall, following their subject.

Initiative HQ

"You were almost hit by a WHAT!?"

Forest and Graham flinched under the Professor's tone.

"An airborne body, Ma'am."

"And how exactly did this body *become* airborne?"

"We didn't see that, Ma'am."

Professor Walsh glared at the two agents, "And where was Harris while this was going down?"

The two men winced, "From the looks of it he was in the washroom, Ma'am."

"Let me quite certain that I'm understanding you," Walsh bit out, "You watched Harris arm himself, rip out of a parking lot, speed all the way to the airport, to USE the BATHROOM!?"

The two agents looked at each other guiltily.

Walsh seethed for a moment before speaking again, "Get out. Get out NOW!"

Forest and Graham gratefully ran for the door.

Giles answered the phone on the first ring, he'd been expecting a call, "Xander?"

"It's me."

"What happened? Buffy and Willow said that you tore out of the Bronze like a madman."

"Friend in trouble."

That said it all, "I see. And now?"

"Friend's not in trouble anymore," Xander said simply, "Are the girls there?"

"No..." Giles said, "They left a short time ago."

"Good. I'm coming in with some friends. We're going to be holding a war council, G-man."

The line went dead and left Giles staring at the phone for a long moment. "Good Lord.  What in the world?"

Giles watched in shock as the five people barreled into the apartment, the three young women who had stopped by his place earlier asking about Xander and a new man.

"May I presume that this is Jarod?"

Xander flashed a smile, "Yep. Jarod, this is G-man."

"Good to meet you, G-man," Jarod extended his hand.

Giles glared at Xander as he shook the man's hand, "Rupert Giles."

Jarod looked quizzically at the older man for a moment, "And G-man?"

"Is an infernal nickname that Alexander over there uses."

"Ah," Jarod smiled, "My apologies, Mr. Giles."

"N... not a problem." Giles looked over the room, "And the young ladies?"

Xander glanced at them, a question in his eyes, "I trust Giles."

The sisters nodded, "Ok."

Xander turned to the watcher, "Giles, allow me to present Phoebe, Piper, and Prue Halliwell. Better known in demonic circles as the Charmed Ones."

It wasn't often that Xander got to see Giles truly shocked, and he savored the moments when they happened.

"Oh... I say!"

Xander grinned at the sisters, "Your reputation proceeds you."

"It's nice to be recognized," Phoebe grinned.

"Now that that is over with," Xander grinned, "We have a small problem to deal with."

"Ah... Yes," Jarod grimaced, "Those were 'Cleaners' employed by the corporation that abducted me as a child. Paid assassins working for Dr. Raines, one of the Frankenstein's that run that place."

"I see," Giles said slowly, removing his glasses and wiping them clean.

"The question is, what do we do about them?"

Xander's question floated around the room for a moment.

Finally, Jarod answered, "I'm not sure. I could probably drain their finances severely, but they have assets that are not stored electronically. They would recover."

"I suppose a frontal assault is out of the question?" Xander grinned.

"Completely," Jarod said seriously. "The Centre is well insulated from the law, they have a small army of sweepers and cleaners for this sort of thing."

Xander sat back down slowly, thinking hard, finally he smiled, "I have an idea."

The Centre, Blue Cove, Delaware

"What happened in California?"

Mr. Parker's shout echoed through the Centre's upper floors.

Dr. Raines drew in a deep breath, "My cleaner team was arrested for illegal weapons possession. Airport security found them unconscious in a loading zone, silenced pistols in their hands."

"Can they be connected to the Centre?"

"No," Raines took another breath, "I made sure of that."

"Good. Make certain that they can't implicate us."


"And have more teams sent to that town. I want Jarod eliminated."

"I want Jarod eliminated," The voice echoed through the ventilation shaft, bouncing off the narrow walls until it reached a form crouched quietly. Listening.

The trembling form shook itself back and forth, "Jarod in trouble... needs help... needs help."

Angelo snapped up and suddenly shuffled off through the ventilation system at high speed. He slipped from the vents and broke quietly into an office. He quickly accessed the computer and tapped out a message. Smiling he hooked a small device up to the computer and transferred a file, then attached it to the message, and hit send.

"Jarod have help," he smiled and rocked himself in the chair for a few moments before scrambling off the chair and ducking back into the vents.

"Sidney? What is it?" Miss Parker snapped as Sidney's attention was suddenly diverted to his computer.

"My god," Sidney whispered as he read the message, "The Centre has put a termination order on Jarod."

"What?" Parker practically jumped around the desk, "This doesn't make any sense."

"Of course it does, Parker," Sidney said, "Jarod challenged them openly. They can't allow that."

"I'll talk to my father, he'll be able to..."

"I don't think so," Sidney pointed to the attached file.

"No..." her whispered voice trailed off.

"He gave the order," Sidney said gently.

Miss Parker jumped up, grabbing her coat and headed for the door.

"Where are you going, Miss Parker?"

"Sunnydale," she snarled.

Xander looked around the room, "Any objections?"

The sisters grinned and shook their heads quickly, Prue answered for all of them, "We're in."


"It's dangerous," he said, "People could get hurt."

"It's possible, but the only other option is to eliminate the Centre personnel wholesale."

Jarod nodded, "I'm in."


Rupert Giles looked at the assembled group, uncertain what to say. He agreed with the goal, but Xander's plan was nothing short of lunacy.

"Xander... I..."

"Come on, G-man," Xander urged, "This is Jarod's life we're talking about. These people stole it from him once, I won't let them do it a second time."

Giles stammered slightly, but finally conceded the point, "Very well," he sighed, "I'm in as well."

Xander smiled. "Good. Then here's what we do..."

"Buffy..." Willow asked hesitantly, "What do you think Xander is involved in?"

"I don't know," Buffy said, slightly worried, "What did you think of that Phoebe girl?"

"She looked nice..." Willow ventured, "But worried... really, really, worried."

"Yeah... you got that too?"

The two friends looked at each other for a moment, the same question running through their minds. Xander, what did you do now?

Two Days Later

The Cleaner's had been moving through the town, searching for their target through the small town with a single mindedness born from fear of their employer.

"How the hell are we supposed to find him in this burg?"

The passenger glanced over at the driver, "Don't know. He's probably not here any more anyway, so relax."

"Relax?" the driver asked, snorting. "After what happened to the last crew that hit this town?"

The passenger didn't say anything. Raines and the Centre brass had tried to keep them from finding out, but they were professionals. They found out that the five cleaners sent to Sunnydale last had been found 'mysteriously' dead of unknown causes in their jail cells.

"Just focus on the job," the passenger said finally, "And we won't wind up like that. He's only one man, I don't care how smart he is."

The driver nodded once, "Right. What's up next?"

"UC Sunnydale campus. We'll check and see if there are any new employees or even students auditing courses. You never know with this guy."

"No shit," the driver chuckled under his breath and turned the car in the direction his navigator indicated.

UC Sunnydale

The Cleaner team moved casually through the campus quad, carefully observing the milling of the student body as they did.

"Shit!" the first one exclaimed, "Look over there!"

The second followed his finger, and his jaw dropped at what he saw. Leaning against a tree, in black jeans and a black leather jacket, was the target. He was smiling, watching them over his dark sunglasses, with a smirking look, as if he knew something they didn't.

"Come on. Get him."

The two cleaners broke into a run toward their target, losing sight of him as he ducked behind the tree. As they circled the tree they stopped and stared around. There was no cover for a hundred yards in any direction but Jarod was gone. The only people in sight were a small group of students who were talking and joking as they ate their lunch.

The Cleaners approached the group, holding out a picture of Jarod, "Excuse me, did you just see this man pass by here?"

A young man leaned forward, looking at the picture thoughtfully for a second, "Yeah. He headed over that way." The man pointed away from the campus center.

"Thanks," the Cleaners took off, pulling out cell phones and calling in their backup as they did.

"No prob, guys," the boy whispered under his breath as he helped his girlfriend to her feet. They both watched the assassins race off across the campus, "Glad to be of service."

Buffy Summers strolled across the quad wondering what she was going to do until her next class. She frowned when two men in suits ripped past her, violently jarring her books from her hand. "Impolite much?" she called after them but they didn't even bother to acknowledge her existence.

She bent down and gathered up her books, aggravated at the event. As she straightened up she saw two people vanish around a corner and frown, "Xander?"

Curious she moved off to follow them. It sure looked like Xander and that 'Phoebe' girl... what are they doing on Campus? And since when does Xander wear black leather and jeans?

The Cleaners waited for their backup to arrive, an additional ten two-man teams that had been assigned to Sunnydale.

"Where is he?"

"He was last seen moving toward this section of the campus. Be careful, he's probably up to something."

"I don't care how bright a puppy he is," replied the first man who had spoke, "He can't outsmart a bullet."

The teams split up into three groups and started moving through the area is a search pattern.

"Wonder what he's up too around here?"

The cleaner shrugged, "Doesn't matter. He won't get a chance to do it no matter what it is."

His partner smiled, a stiff grin, "Yeah. Poor guy."

The two chuckled under their breath as they moved through the crowd. The second man grabbed the first's arm, "There!"

"After him."

Both men took off at a full run, pushing their way through the crowd in pursuit of their target.


Xander turned and groaned audibly. Not now.

"Be nice," Phoebe slapped him slightly, "She is your friend."

"I know, but her timing stinks." Xander smiled goofily as Buffy caught up to them, "Hey Buff, what's the haps?"

"Oh not much," Buffy smiled, "I wanted to know what happened the other night... And why you've been ducking me for two days."

"Ducking the Buffster? Moi?" Xander grinned, "Never. I've just been really busy with a personal project."

"And the other night?" Buffy pushed.

"Oh that," Xander waved his hand dismissively, "Phoebe asked me to come with her to pick up a mutual friend from the airport."

"Oh," that sounded reasonable, "So that's why you left in such a hurry?"

"Yeah, his flight was running on time..." Xander grinned wider, "Who knew?"

"Ok..." Buffy trailed off for a minute, she'd been so sure that something was up. "So why are you hanging around campus?"

"Oh! Giles didn't tell you?" Xander asked, surprised.

"Tell me what?"

Xander held up a class schedule, "I'm auditing classes this semester and starting here full time in the next term."

Buffy beamed, "That's great! I thought you couldn't afford it?"

"Oh, I came into a little money through a friend. I've got a small place just off campus, I'll be throwing a little apartment warming part this week... You'd better be able to come."

"Of course I'll be there," Buffy smiled, happy for her friend, "The scoobs are all together again. This is gonna be great."

"Scoobs?" Phoebe finally entered the conversation.

Xander flushed somewhat, "Just something I coined for our little clique of friends back in high school...  I'll tell you about it sometime."

Buffy shot Xander a warning look, but let it go. Phoebe just smiled as if she knew something that Buffy didn't.

"Hey, Buff," Xander said, looking at his schedule. "I wish I could hang around but I have to catch a lecture in a few minutes. See you later?"

"You bet you will. Maybe get something to eat?" Buffy asked. "That Diner just off campus? Say around five o'clock?"

"Yep. Sounds good. We'll see you then," Xander said as he and Phoebe turned and left.

Wow... Buffy thought as she watched her friend leave, Xander in college... and he's looking damned good too.

"We've got him! He's in the southern sector, moving south!"

The two cleaners faltered in their pursuit to look at each other, perplexed at the message that came over the radio.

"That's not possible," the lead man radioed back, "We have him in our sights now, he's in the western sector, heading east!"

A third voice came back almost instantly, "What the fuck are you people talking about? We've got him in the eastern sector heading west!"

Three copies of the man in question met each other under a small grove of trees, grinning behind their darkened sunglasses.

"If you'd like to do the honors, Miss Halliwell."

"With Pleasure, Mr. Giles," Prudence Halliwell waved her hand and dropped the glamour covering her, her sister, and the Watcher.

As the spell shimmered and dropped the three people started strolling along the trail, watching for their pursuers.

"I must say that these clothes bring back some very old memories." Giles smiled slightly as he removed the darkened glasses and dropped them into the pocket of his black leather jacket.

"Good ones I hope," Piper grinned up at him.

Giles smile darkened slightly, "Some. Some."

The three groups of cleaners ran into each other at full tilt, barely avoiding an embarrassing collision. Their prey was nowhere in sight.

"Hey you!" the lead man called to an older man who was walking by with two female students..

"Pardon me?" the man asked in a cultured English tone, "Are you speaking to me?"

"Yeah I'm speakin to you," the man said, roughly, "Have you seen this guy come by?"

The man fished out his glasses and peered at the picture, "Why yes... He ran by here, headed into that building over there," he finished by waving his hand in the general direction.

"Which one?"

"Oh, you couldn't miss it," the man said, "It's an old fraternity building... there is a sign out front that reads 'Lowell House'".

"Thanks," the teams ran off.

"Anytime, you ruddy buggers," the man's accent slipped from its cultured English roots momentarily as he favored the retreating men with a evil grin.


Buffy turned and smiled as Riley jogged up to catch her, "Hey Riley, how's it going?

"Pretty good, have some time off. You?"


"Walk with me?" Riley raised his eyebrows questioningly.

Buffy grinned wider, looping her arm around his waist, "Sure."

Miss Parker slammed the door to her sedan as she stared across the university campus, his lips curled up in distaste. She thumbed the portable scanner on her hip and listened carefully to the Cleaners conversations.

//Lowell House. What? Is monkey boy joining a frat now?//

He smiled darkly and started across the campus toward the Frat house, her right hand unconsciously resting against the comfortable weight of her Smith and Wesson automatic. She could already see the dark suited cleaner teams as they started setting up their assault on the unsuspecting building.

//Cleaners,// she thought in disgust, //No pride in their job, always going for brute force.//

The Cleaners watched as a Blond man and Girl strode into the Frat house, oblivious to the gathering of assassins around the building.

"Ok, that's it. We have to move before we get anymore sheep in there to eliminate."

"Agreed. Pass the word, we move in five."

The three cleaners nodded and split apart, heading for their groups and organizing the assault.

Riley Finn stepped into the house, smiling as he wrapped his arms around Buffy Summers. He looked across the room, catching the eye of Graham as he did and nodding. Graham nodded back in greeting and the Commando continued across the floor of the main room of the building.

"Hey Riley, Buffy!" one of the Lowell House 'brothers' called out in greeting as the couple smiled and nodded their greetings to the assembled people, "Looking good!"

"Hey," Riley returned amiably, turning to smile at his girlfriend. He dipped his head and kissed her firmly before looking back with a goofy grin, "Thanks."

The people all grinned and laughed cheerfully as the couple settled into a couch in front of the TV. Graham watched them thoughtfully for a moment and then got up and moved to the window. Casually he parted the curtains and looked out, suddenly frowning at what he saw.

"Hey, Finn!"

Riley looked up, "What?"

"You expecting company?"

"No," Riley frowned at the odd question, "Why?"

"Cause there are a pack of suits with silenced pistols covering the south side."


The Soldiers that made up the Lowell House fraternity scrambled into motion, some heading for the other windows, "Shit! Some here too!"

"And here!"

"What the hell is going on?" a soldier at the front said, "We're surrounded."

Riley jumped up from the couch and started snapping orders, "Establish a perimeter! Grab your blasters!"

The soldiers started popping open hidden compartments through the room, revealing nasty looking weapons nestled carefully into the oddest places. Quickly these were tossed around the room as the troops armed themselves.

"Take them alive, people!" Riley ordered as he primed his blaster, "I want to know what the hell this is all about."

The hard eyed college students nodded at the order and settled themselves in behind furniture, door jams, and anything that would provide cover.

Miss Parker easily slipped past the cleaners as they prepared their assault, approaching the house quietly. She slipped in though an unlocked door and started moving from room to room, looking for Jarod. She stopped at one door and observed the main room of the first floor in shock when the 'students' began arming themselves and settling in for a siege.

She slipped her gun from her him, holding her arm straight and pointed at the floor as she watched the room carefully from her hidden position.

//What the hell are Raines' people getting into here?//

Her breath caught in her throat when she felt the muzzle of a weapon press against her back, and a firm hand pull her S&W from her limp hand.

A strange voice whispered softly in her ear, "You have excellent timing Miss Parker. Watch what happens."

//Who the hell?//

The cleaners checked their watches carefully as they approached the front door, pistols hidden behind their backs. Around the building they knew that the other teams were doing the same, one thought passing through every mind, //Twenty seconds.//

"Here they come!" a soldier called as he stepped back from the window he was watching from and kneeled behind an overturned chair, his blaster aimed at the door.

Around the house the soldiers tensed, listening to the high pitched whines coming from their weapons, and slipped the safeties off.

"Steady," Riley called, pulling Buffy closer to him as they watched the door closest to them, "Let them come to us, wait until you see them all."

The soldiers calmed as they listened to their commander's steady voice. A few of them smiled slightly, others just glared along their fields of fire.

"Bring it on," one whispered as his fingers cracked along the trigger of his blaster.

The cleaners moved as one, kicking in the doors and sweeping in with their weapons looking for targets. The point man on each team stepped through the door and sidestepped as he moved to cover the room, allowing the next men to move through.

To a man the cleaners blinked in surprise as they entered the building. The rooms were in a chaotic mess, furniture was tossed about haphazardly and nothing seemed in place. Then they noticed the people ducked down behind the obstructions. The, apparently, *armed* people.

As the cleaners realized the trap and their fingers tightened on the triggers of the pistols, all hell broke loose.

"Take them down!"

Riley's order rang through the main room and a dozen blasters fired simultaneously, catching the surprised intruders in a web or blue-white electrical discharges.

Silenced pistols went off, shots chewing into furniture or drilling into walls and ceilings as the fingers of the hapless cleaners jerked from the electricity running through their twitching bodies.

Miss Parker watched in stunned silence as the twenty-two man cleaner team was ripped apart in moments by a group of college students armed with weapons she didn't recognize. "What the hell?" she whispered, still extremely conscious of the weapon digging into her back.

The same strange voice whispered into her ear, "The Centre is biting off more then even they could possibly chew."

Though she could still feel the weapon on her back she recognized the muzzle of one of the strange weapons as it slid over her shoulder, discharging its energy into a cleaner who had gotten too close to the blond soldier who was calling the shots.

"Who are you?" she snarled in frustration as the battle continued.

The Commandos' weapons shifted to recharge mode, pouring power from their energy cells to the capacitors for the next round of shots, but most of the soldiers discarded the weapons and closed on the stunned 'suits' before they could react.

Buffy jumped up and got a fast spin kick on the closet cleaner, knocking his pistol from his hands. She quickly followed through with a sweep that took his legs from under him and rolled up beside the prone man and jabbed her elbow into his face.

"That's gotta hurt," Riley winced as the man was taken down roughly, "But I do love your style."

"Thanks, you know you're not so bad yourself," Buffy grinned at him and the two went after the next cleaner.

In minutes the 'battle' was over. The Cleaners had been taken down quickly and effectively by the forewarned 'college commandos.'

Riley surveyed the scene and started snapping order, "Cuff them. I want them taken for interrogation. Graham, you're with me and Buffy. We're going to patrol outside and see if there are any more around."

The men snapped to attention and nodded at the orders. They quickly began gathering the unconscious bodies and cleaning up the mess. Graham appeared from where he had been concealed, with a dark haired woman at his side.

One of the men noticed her and cracked a grin at Graham, "Hey man, don't you think she's a little old for you?"

The woman stiffened at the soldiers words but Graham just grinned and pulled her tighter, "No, I think she's just my speed."

Miss Parker was raging inside, but she couldn't do much about it since the stranger had her own pistol sticking uncomfortably into her side. Every instinct she had was screaming for her to take the man down, but between the gun in her side and the armed college students around her she kept her peace.

Riley just quirked an eyebrow when he saw the brunette but accepted the nod from Graham that everything was alright. Graham and Riley tucked weapons under their jackets and escorted their girlfriends out of the battleground to look for more of the 'suits'.

One of the soldiers on cleanup duty watched as his Commander and Graham left, smirking at the brunette's ass as she walked out the door, "I don't care how old she is... That's one nice piece."

The soldier next to him grimaced, "Graham better hope he comes up with a good explanation for all this, or else Walsh might have her brought in for 'debriefing'."

The first soldier winced, "Yeah. Damn, that would be a waste."

Outside the four people quickly put distance between them and the building. Finally Riley turned to Graham, "We good?" he asked, looking at the brunette suspiciously.

"We're good," Graham replied.

"Ok. Phoebe?"

Phoebe smiled and muttered a couple words, dropping the glamour and revealing herself, Xander, and Jarod.

"What the hell!?"

The three friends grinned at the shocked look on Miss Parker's face as she tried to understand what she had just seen.

"Why Miss Parker, haven't you ever heard of magic?"

"Xander's going to college?"

Buffy grinned, "Yeah, that's what I thought when he told me. He said he's got an apartment somewhere near here, he's throwng a party sometimes this week."

"Why wasn't I invited?" Willow pouted slightly.

Buffy smiled, "I'm sure you are. He hasn't actually decided on when yet, it's just an idea still."

"Oh," she brightened, "It's gonna be like old times then... all of us here... in college..."

"Looks like," Buffy said brightly, "Giles even cornered me and Riley earlier talking about some weird prophecy."

"Just like high school," Willow grinned.


Riley walked into the Initiative Command Center with a perplexed look on his face.

"Ah, Agent Finn," Walsh stepped forward, "I've been waiting for your report."

"Report?" Riley looked confused, "I came down here to find out what the hell happened upstairs?"

Walsh looked at him strangely, "You were there Agent Finn. You and Summers led the defence of Lowell House."


"You weren't there?" Walsh said uncertainly.

"Where?" Riley asked, "Look, I just want to know what the hell happened to my men upstairs. They look like their coming down off a mission and I didn't think any was scheduled."

Wordlessly, Walsh turned a computer screen toward Finn. Equally wordlessly he watched as He and Buffy led his men against group of pistol wielding suits, he heard his own voice snapping orders and rallying his men. Finally he collapsed into a chair, still staring at the screen.

"What in the hell?" he managed to say.

"That, Agent Finn, would appear to be the question of the day. I don't suppose that this is actually Ms Summers?"

"No," Riley said weakly, "Buffy and I were walking across campus at that time... Mr. Giles talked to us at some length about some prophecy he had found in his books."

"It would appear that someone felt the need to help your men against their attackers," Walsh frowned at the screen, "In some ways this reeks of HST interference... but the Attackers were human... and the imposters caused no damage. Most perplexing."

Riley nodded, "And the attackers?"

"Undergoing chemical interrogation as we speak."

"Good," Riley's voice had gone cold, "I want to know why those bastards attacked my men and who they work for.

"As do we, Agent Finn. As do we."

"Magic?" Miss Parker's voice was as skeptical as it was sarcastic.

Jarod grinned at her across Giles' living room, "Magic," he replied simply.

Phoebe nudged Xander and whispered in his ear, "He's enjoying this way too much."

Xander returned the grin and whispered back, "He's like that. Boy has a real sadistic streak in him... glad he's on our side."


The two turned back to the argument.

"Magic is all smoke and mirrors, Jarod," Miss Parker snarled, "I've seen enough of you're handiwork to know that."

"You have no appreciation for hard work," Jarod chided her calmly. "Besides, that wasn't *my* handiwork. It was her's," he smiled and nodded in Phoebe's direction.

"I *don't* care." Parker said, "What have you done to the Centre, Jarod?"

"Ah... that," Jarod smiled.

Xander chose this moment to join the conversation, "Nothing much. We just arranged for those men to break into a top secret government research lab."

"That was a *Frat* house. Not a lab."

"Appearances can be deceiving, Miss Parker," Jarod smiled, "It is what was *under* the Fraternity building that truly matters."

"Under....?" Parker's voice trailed off as she considered the implications.

"As we speak, they are interrogating those cleaners."

"And when the find out who they work for?" Parker asked slowly.

Xander smiled, "Then, 'the marines have landed'."

Miss Parker snapped up, "Jarod, you have to let me warn my Father and Sidney."

"All in good Time, Miss Parker. All in good time."

"In the meantime," Xander began, "We have some bags to pack."

"Giles?" Buffy called out as she opened the door to the apartment, "You here?"

"Yes, Buffy. Do come in."

She went in and looked around, the place looked like Giles had just thrown a party, "What happened here?"

Giles grimaced as he picked up the remnants of snack food and crumpled paper, "Xander had a few friends over."

"Oh," Buffy grinned, "I guess you'll be glad that he got his own place then?"

"Yes, quite," the British voice didn't sound entirely sincere.

"I take it that Xand's not around is he?" she asked, looking around a bit.

"No, he had to leave."

"Oh," she smiled, "Could you tell me where his new place is?"

"Actually, no," Giles said, "He hasn't told me yet either. I think it needs some repairs. However you wouldn't find him there either."

"Where is he then?"

"He left town."

"He what!?" Buffy practically screamed.

"I believe that one of his friends had a 'family emergency'. So he and a couple others caught a plane less then an hour ago."

"Oh..." she said slowly, "An emergency... well that's important I guess."

"Yes. Quite."

"Ok, he's coming back soon though right?"

Giles smiled gently, "Yes, he is coming back quite soon."

"Well... good," she said firmly, then looked at Giles curiously, "Say... why do you get to meet his friends and me and Willow get left out in the cold?"

Giles coughed, in an attempt to cover up a sudden choking fit, "Well..." he managed to begin, "Xander does sort of live here fore the moment."

"Oh... yeah. That makes sense."

Redeye Flight from Springfield to Delaware

"You sure about this, Jarod?"

"Yes. Sidney was like a father to me. Broots is a good man, his daughter needs her father. Angelo deserves better then the Centre, but I doubt that the army will provide it. We have tog et them out."

"What about her?" Xander tipped his head toward where Miss Parker sat, scowling at them.

Jarod smiled, "I trust her... in a way. She's loyal to her family, you can't fault her for their shortcomings."

Xander grimaced, "No, I'd be last person to throw stones at someone else's family."

At the mention of family Jarod's face lit up, causing Xander to remember something.

"Jeez man, in all the excitement I forgot to ask you, how is you're Mom?"

Miss Parker's face registered shock, "You found your mother?"

Jarod grinned, a look of pure happiness, "She's fine. I helped get them out from under the watchful eye of several Centre teams. They have a very nice home away from the dangers of my world now."

"Good," Xander smiled, "You going to join them when this is over?"

Jarod shook his head, "No. As much as I'd love too, I've found something that needs to be done out in the world. Something more important then I'd ever thought possible."

"Lovely," Parker growled, "Back to Demons and ghouls again."

Jarod and Xander just looked at each other in amusement.

The Centre, Blue Cove, Delaware

"Sidney!" Broots hissed urgently, "Something weird is going on upstairs."

"Broots," Sidney responded patiently, "This is the Centre. Something weird is always going on upstairs."

"I mean *really* weird. Raines is freaking out."

"Raines?" Sidney looked skeptical, "I doubt that."

"I swear. He actually threw his telephone out of his office... Willy had to run out and get it."

Sidney sat down, staring blankly at the wall as he considered his words, "Have you heard from Miss Parker lately?"

"No," Broots looked sharply at Sidney, "Not since she hit Sunnydale... You don't think that has something to do with this do you?"

"Could be, Broots. Could be."

"What happened to them?" Raines wheezed.

"I don't know," Willy looked nervous, "The teams reported in that they had Jarod cornered and then nothing. We haven't heard from them since. I could call them...?"

"No!" Raines shook his head, "Under no circumstances are you or *anyone* to call those cell phones ever again."

"Yes Sir."

"All Passengers are asked to fasten their safety belts and prepare for our arrival in Blue Cove, Delaware."

Jarod and Xander looked at each other as the Captain's voice rang over the intercom, "Almost Game Time."

"Game Time?" Jarod asked curiously.

Xander quirked a grin, "I mean it's almost time to go to work."

"Ah. Game Time... huh."

Miss Parker groaned in her seat, "Would either of you have some nicotine gum?"

Initiative HQ

"Blue Cove, Delaware?" Maggie Walsh looked up from the report.

"That's correct," the man in the white labcoat answered, "Every one of them revealed that as their place of employment."

"And why they came here?"

"That's where it gets strange," the man looked perplexed, "Something about an experiment, codename Pretender."

"Pretender? That's not our nomenclature."

"No Ma'am. There was also some confusion among the men as to what it was exactly. Most of them seemed to think that it was a human, but some were very insistent that it wasn't. As you know Ma'am, Chemical interrogation can be difficult to interpret sometimes."

"Not human," Walsh said to herself, "That's enough for me. The chances that they show up here and mutter about non-humans during interrogation are too remote. I want all the files on this place dug up, I don't care where they are or who's protecting them."

"Yes Ma'am."

The Center - Blue Cove, Delaware

"There's still no word from Miss Parker?"

Broots flinched, "No. And I'm thinking that is a really bad thing."

"Indeed," Sidney looked thoughtful, "Mr. Parker looked very angry this afternoon."

"You noticed that to?" Broots almost whispered as he looked at Sidney.

Sidney smiled, "Yes. I noticed that to."

"Good," Broots looked relieved, "I was wondering if I was going nuts or if it was the Centre."

"Trust me, Broots. It's always the Centre."

Sunnydale, UC SD Campus

"He left town!?"

"Calm down, Willow," Buffy said, "Giles said that one of his friends had a family emergency, and you know Xander."

Willow took a deep breath, "Yes, I know Xander. But he should have called or written a note or visited or something like that. It's not like him to just run off without telling anyone..."

Buffy jumped in when Willow drew a breath, "He did tell someone Willow. He told Giles, remember?"

"Yeah, but Giles isn't ME!"

A silence loomed between the two friends after Willow's outburst. Finally Buffy broke the quiet, her voice soft and full of regret.

"I know. It's not me, either."

The Centre - Blue Cove, Delaware

Sidney walked into his office, maneuvering from memory as his attention was fully occupied by the sheaf of papers in his hands. He walked around his desk and dropped the folder by his computer, before sitting down.

"Hello, Sidney."

The voice startled him out of his reverie, causing him to stare at the figure casually leaning against the wall of his office. "Good God," he whispered. "Jarod?" he stood up slowly, tentatively, and walked around the desk. He never took his eyes off the black clad figure, as if it would fade into the shadows if he so much as blinked, "My God, Jarod, it is you! What are you doing here? This place isn't safe for you."

"It's not safe for you anymore, Sidney. Nor Broots, or Angelo. It's time to leave the Centre behind, Sidney."

"My God man, what are you talking about? I can't leave my work, you know that."

"Have Broots backup your files, because the Centre is coming down. Along with anyone still here when it does."

"What have you done?" Sidney asked in shock.


Miss Parker strode into the office, ignoring Mr. Lyle and moved straight to her father, "Daddy, you have to get out of here."

Mr. Parker frowned, "What? Why?"

"Jarod conned the Cleaners you sent after him into raiding the cover of a Military laboratory. It won't be long before they send people here to raid the center."

"What!?" Parker blew.

Mr. Lyle looked over, concerned, "What kind of lab? Do you know what branch of the military they were with? We might be able to smooth things out through the Tower's contacts..."

Miss Parker chopped her hand through the air, cutting Lyle off, "There's no time. I'm getting out of here, and I'm cutting all ties to the Centre. Jarod gave me the chance to come and warn you, Daddy. I've seen these people in action, if the cleaners talk, the Centre is finished."

"Well..." Mr. Parker started, "There must be something we can do."

"Daddy, do you really think that Jarod will have left you an 'out' this time?" Miss Parker's tone was lethally sharp, "You tried to kill him."

"I did no such thing," the man blustered.

Miss Parker lifted a portable recorder and pressed the button. Mr. Parker's voice came through it, loud and clear. "I want Jarod terminated!"

In the silence that ensued Miss Parker turned to leave.

"You're not going anywhere!" Mr. Lyle drew his pistol, "Hold it right there, Sis."

Miss Parker's Smith and Wesson swept up, leveling straight at Lyle and she stared at him over the rail of her gun, "Back to this are we, Lyle?"

The standoff lasted only a few seconds when a silver staff appeared from thin air and cracked against Lyle's wrist. He yelled in pain as his gun clattered to the ground, his eyes widening as a blurry form stepped from the shadows of a nearby corner. It wavered for an instant, then solidified to reveal an armored form that was tracking his every move with a tri-beam laser.

As the two men stared at the form in shock a distorted voice came from it, "The Centre's operating privileges have been cancelled. For this country at any rate. You lose, thank you so very much for playing."

"What the hell?" Mr. Parker stared.

"A new friend of Jarod's, Daddy," Miss Parker answered as she walked out of the office, "I wouldn't annoy him if I were you, he has friends of his own that make Raines best cleaner teams look like little leaguers."

The armored form performed a mock bow, then turned to follow Miss Parker out the door, shimmering into the air as it did.

"Holy hell." Mr. Parker muttered in shock.

Broots looked over his shoulder at the two grim men behind him and shook slightly. "I don't understand. Why am I doing this?" He asked as he order to computer to dump all data to a series of DSA disks.

"Because the Centre is coming down, Mr. Broots. And you don't want to be here when it falls."

"Just asking," Broots wiped the sweat from his brow as he kept dumping every piece of information from the Centre's mainframe network onto the small digital disks. Encrypted data, open data, even the top secret stuff he wasn't supposed to have access too. Broots shuddered and refused to contemplate where Jarod got those access codes.


There wasn't a verbal response but Miss Parker could hear the scampering in the vents. Finally a timid voice came out.


"Time for what?" she was confused.

"Time to go!" Angelo scrabbled clear of the duct, grinning at Miss Parker and at an indistinct section of the wall behind her, "Friend go too?"

She glanced back, her eyes easily picking up the slight blur now that she knew what to look for, and smiled. "Yes, we're all going."

Under his armor Xander raised an eyebrow as he followed the two people down the hall. //How the hell did he see me so fast?//

"Hurry up, Broots" Sidney urged as Broots packed away the last of the DSA's.

"I'm almost done."

"That's a relief," Miss Parker came in the door, striding fast with Angelo in her wake.

"Miss Parker!" Sidney smiled, "I'm glad that your all right."

"I'll be all right when we get out of here, Sidney," she snarled.

Jarod smiled slightly at Angelo and turned to Sidney, "Take Broots and Angelo and go pick up Broots' daughter. After that go directly to the airport, I have tickets waiting for you under these names," he handed them a series of passports and identification.

"Don't stop for anything, I've included instructions on where to go and who to get in touch with if we don't contact you soon. There's enough money in these accounts to get you well settled into new lives."

Sidney looked at Jarod, calmly accepting the documentation and cards, "I can't thank you enough, Jarod. Please, get through this all right."

"I will, Sidney. Don't worry."

The three people moved fast through the corridors of the Centre, duffle bags tossed over their shoulders. It was after hours and the place had largely cleared out, leaving only a skeleton support staff who were mostly in their offices. Those that were passed in the halls shrunk back from the lead man, who's armored form brooked no interference.

"Where too?"

"SL 15," Miss Parker answered, "That's where the central archives are."


The three people entered an elevator and selected their destination, calmly staring at the doors as the floors ticked by. The doors opened, revealing a dozen sweepers with weapons aimed.

Xander stepped out casually, Zat in hand, and opened fire with a rapid fire series of blasts. From behind him another series of electrical blasts spat into the Sweepers. As the assembled group hit the ground, shivering from the discharges running through their bodies, he crooked a grin under his helmet and kept walking.

Behind him he could hear Miss Parker curse as her Initiative Blaster whined into recharge mode, "Damn it. I like your toys better, where'd you get them anyway?"

"Took 'em off a squad of guys who tried to kill me about three thousand light years from here."

Miss Parker stared at the retreating back of Xander's armored form, then looked at Jarod, "Is he serious?"

"I'm never sure."

A few moments in the archives was all they needed.

"You done, Jarod?"

"Yes," he replied, "I've inserted a virus into their system that will search out and destroy all information concerning me, Miss Parker, Sidney, Angelo, and Broots. The Pretender data is also being destroyed as we speak."

Xander nodded, not really understanding the level of emotion in his friends voice, "Charges are planted too, Timers set. We're done here."

"Let's go."

They didn't go back up, instead they took the elevator back down to SL19. From there the trio evacuated through an old storm drain system that most of the people at the Centre had long since forgotten about. Assuming they ever knew.

Once they were in the clear Jarod took out a cell phone and hit an autodial button, "Yes, is this the Centre reception? Thank you. I'd like to report a bomb."

As he dropped the phone into a nearby ditch he glanced at Xander, "Time?"

"Five minutes."

They watched as people stormed out of the building, some hanging around the parking lot while others got in their cars and roared clear of the area. Five minutes later they felt, rather then heard, a shudder ran through the ground. A few moments after that smoke began pouring out of the Centre's doors and windows.

"We done?" Miss Parker asked, looking at the scene with distaste.

"We're done." Jarod responded. "Let's go... home."

A few hours later the three of them were waiting for the next flight to the west coast.

Xander turned to Jarod after a few moments of thought, "Did you finish the plans for the building?"

Jarod smiled, "I sent them to the construction company. They should be well underway by the time we get home."

Xander's eyes widened, "How?"

"The Centre had me design a similar building to use as a CIA safe house and fallback point in the middle east. I lifted the schematics from one of my old sims."

"CIA safe house? Jarod, I just wanted some repairs done... what the hell?"

Jarod just smiled.

"Why am I going back with you?" Miss Parker interjected.

"Why Miss Parker, after you've chased me all around the country I'm hurt that you want to ditch me so quickly."

Parker gave Jarod a dirty look.

Xander decided to have pity on her, something Jarod often seemed to lack, "We thought you might like proof that Vampires exist."

"Oh please," she sounded disgusted.

"Well," Jarod said cheerfully as he pulled a pez from a mickey mouse dispenser, "I have to say that I have yet to see a vampire myself..."

"So I'm expected to take the boy wonder's word for it?"


Jarod shrugged, "I have seen a demon. Or something that certainly wasn't human."

Parker was silent. Jarod wasn't the type to outright lie to her, despite the head games he liked to play. Normally if he said something flat out it was the truth, it was when he turned cryptic that you had better call your therapist and make certain he or she had plenty of couch time for you in the near future.

"Fine," she said finally, "I'll give you your chance monkey boy."

Jarod nudged Xander, "Is this where I should say 'hey!'?"

Xander nodded.


Parker looked away in disgust, "I need a cigarette."

Giles hung up the phone and turned to Buffy and Willow, "That was Xander, He says that he's coming back tonight."

"Is his friend's family all right?" Willow asked.

"Umm, Yes. Apparently there was a... small fire at their place of business. Things have been cleared out now."

"That's horrible."

"Quite," Giles said lightly.

Riley looked back and forth between the girls and Mr. Giles, "What friend is this anyway that he would take off across the country for them?"

"You do not know Xander Harris, Mr. Finn, and for that reason I will overlook your inane question. There is little that Xander would not do for his friends."

"Ok," Riley said quietly, sitting back.

"Yeah, but Giles," Buffy spoke up, "Riley has a point in a way... I mean, who are these people? I've never met them, and Willow doesn't know them either... Xander isn't exactly the best judge of character sometimes."

"Yeah," Willow spoke up, "remember the mummy incident? Or mantis lady?"

"Right," Buffy jumped in.

"Of course," Giles said testily, "Much like Parker perhaps?"

Buffy turned bright red, and Riley stiffened and leaned forward. "Hey, that was low Giles."

"Y... yes, perhaps it was," Giles adjusted his glasses, "I apologize."

"It's all right, Giles. You're right... We've *all* made some mistakes in the past."

Giles winced at Buffy's stress of the word all, "Yes. Quite."

SGC - Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

"General Hammond, Sir?"

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"We're getting hits on the Harris file, Sir. Some unit code-named the Initiative has requests all over the network."

"What the hell?"

"Sir, I can't get access to know more about them then the code name," the officer looked frustrated.

"Don't worry about it, Lieutenant. That's more then we got the last time."

"Yes, sir."

General Hammond retired to his office and sat down heavily in his chair. After a moments deliberation he grabbed the red phone off his desk and spoke into it tersely.

"This is Hammond. Get me the chief."

Initiative HQ


The man on the other side of the satellite link saluted and cleared his throat. "We raided the complex without incident, Ma'am. It had been evacuated a short while ago. Our tech experts managed to recover some information from their computers, the ones that weren't destroyed, and we are preparing raids at locations across the country as we speak. They have safe houses and satellite offices in nearly every major city, Ma'am."

"Who are these people?"

The man shook his head, "I'm not sure Ma'am. We've already uncovered evidence that they've participated in abducting children, aiding the Yakuza crime syndicate, and were possibly involved in an attempt on the lives of a United Nations Peace delegation."

Walsh whistled, "Nasty bunch then."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Continue, and report back as things develop."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Phoebe? This is Xander."

Phoebe brightened up, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. I'm calling from the plane, we'll be landing in Sunnydale shortly."

"Did everything go ok?"

"Perfectly," Phoebe could hear the smile in his voice.

"That's great!" she smiled herself, "I wish you would have let us come."

"Thanks for the sentiment, but these weren't demons Phoebe. They just acted like it."

"We help people, Xander. Demons aren't the only evil out there, we know that."

Xander's voice came back gentle, "I know, but it's ok. Everything went according to plan. Besides, there was no point in risking your exposure on this." Phoebe was silent for a moment, forcing Xander to speak again, "All right already... I'm sorry for leaving you out. Forgive me?"

His voice was so plaintive that the witch giggled into the phone, "You're forgiven. Do it again and I'll turn you into a toad."

"Just as long as it's not a rat," Xander grinned into the receiver.

"Oh you!" Phoebe growled.

"We're landing, I have to go. I'll see you in a few days, right?"

"Right. You're place or mine?"

"Mine. I have an apartment warming party, remember?"

"Fine. But that's twice in a row I visit you... next time it's your turn."




The big plane touched down smoothly just north of Sunnydale, its occupants delivered safely into the mouth of hell. Only two of the people on board truly appreciated the irony of that, and they weren't talking.

THE END OF : Journeys Book One


Ok guys, this is it for the first part of journeys. I know I promised some B/X in here, but I don't rush my stories... and I don't feel that the characters are ready. There will be B/X in book two... (Anyone think it's presumptuous to call this a 'book'?)
But don't expect it to happen instantly... There will be a major rebuilding of their friendship first... and there will likely be some setbacks along the way. Such is life. I hope to Continue with Book Two (I'll think up a title eventually) soon, but first I have a Wandererverse story to complete and an original novel to add some stuff too. Also there is always RL. :) In the meantime 'Wheels Of Fortune' will be coming along to further expand on the start I've made and keep you entertained. :)



Below is a 'Trailer' for the second book of the Journeys series. This is NOT a teaser. It is several 'clips' from the story that may or may not be in order. Those who do not wish to see this should proceed no further


















Xander Harris kneeled down on the gym mat in the dojo. He crossed his legs and carefully laid Elanthielle, his 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 please laugh echo in response.

<Excellent indeed, Alexander. Now try this,> Elan began, <Focus on you're 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.

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

Walsh proudly turned to the assembled generals and announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd like to present... Adam."

Xander woke slowly, an odd sensation in the back of his head. He felt like his had a hangover and couldn't remember how he'd earned it. He pried his eyes open when he felt a soft chuff of breath against his ear.

They suddenly snapped wide open when they recognized the source of the breath, driving a spike of pain through his brain as too much light was admitted.

//Buffy!? What the hell?//

He stared at her, she was beautiful as she slept. Innocent. He gently shook his head to clear it, but was only rewarded by another sharp pang of pain. He froze in place when a motion on the other side of him attracted his attention and an arm thumbed down across his side.

//I'm in bed with Buffy and someone else? Who? Oh god. If that's Riley I'm throwing myself out a window, I swear it!//

Slowly he turned over. His eyes widened in shock, fear, and panic. What the FUCK happened last night!?

Walsh glared at the assembled Commandoes, "I want Harris brought here.... ALIVE."

Xander's hand flashed to his through, feeling the dart embedded there as his eyes began to go dark. He crumpled to the ground in a boneless heap, and his last sensations were of being manhandled into the back of the dark SUV.

Book One - End


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