Salem Fires

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

Disclaimer: All characters belong to their rightful owners... none of which are me.

Summary: A gathering of forces in Sunnydale presents a distinct challenge for Xander and his friends, while a growing threat outside of Sunnydale threatens to bring their secret war crashing down around their collective heads.

Warning: 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.

Initiative Bunker
Sunnydale, California
February 1, 2000 - Evening

Margaret Walsh stared at the video feed, her fingernails chewing holes into the palm of her hands. On the monitor she watched as the armored figure strode through the base, her base, with impunity. One by one it took down her guards, disposing of them with contemptuous ease.

It galled the woman to be placed on the defensive within her own base. It was a pill whose bitter flavor simply would not fade from her mouth. And beyond that, to be ordered... ORDERED to leave the bastard be when she knew where to find him. It simply would not stand.

She shut off the playback, and turned her attention to the monitor of her desktop computer.

Military Files Code Name: Predator

The more she read the more it fit the description of the armor the Harris child wore. Stealth screen. Shoulder mounted energy weapon. Face mask. Laser designator. It all fit.

<How in all that's holy did that child acquire a piece of alien technology?> She wondered for the hundredth time. The answer simply wouldn't come to her, but she had realized early on that it didn't matter. The military file was enough to solve her problem, and that was all that mattered to Margaret Walsh.

She entered a code sequence into her computer, followed by an old ARPA-Net address. A moment later the Initiative logo on the large screen in her office was replaced by a face.

"May I help you?"

Walsh looked up at the screen and smiled, "Yes. I'd like to report a Predator sighting."

Pentagon, Sub-level 5
Washington, DC
February 2, 2000 - Morning

"Sir, we have a Pred sighting."


"Affirm. Solid evidence, Sir."

"How solid?"

"Video caps."

"You're kidding?"

"No Sir. This one is pretty cocky, Sir."


"Sunnydale California."

"Scramble the team. Contact Alpha and Beta... make them the offer."

"Yes Sir."

The man looked around as he walked up to his car. His wife was still in their home, but his hearing picked up approaching footsteps. He remained relaxed, calmly slid his key into the car and slipped his other hand under his jacket.

The footsteps got closer.

He slid his Government Colt out of the hidden holster and palmed the big gun in his bigger fist. Three seconds, he told himself.

Then Two.

And finally one.

He turned around, the big gun coming up in a blinding motion. He was a big man, but none of it was fat, and none of it slowed him down. The man was startled by his motion, and scrambled back a couple steps and raised his hands in supplication.

"Jesus, Dutch!"

'Dutch'. The man hadn't heard that name in a long time. He stopped using it when he switched careers. Now he recognized the man, however.

"Colonel Greene." His voice was flat. He didn't like being tracked down, especially by old pissant bastards who tried to get his ass killed.

Greene lowered his hands slowly. "Christ, Dutch. They told me you might have slowed down... I guess they're full of shit. And I'm out of the army now. I'm with the Company."

"That's supposed to make me feel better?"

Greene cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Look, Dutch... we have a..."

The man's voice shifted to a surprised squeak as he felt a pistol press against his crotch, snugly secured between his legs from behind.

A female voice echoed in his ear as he started sweating. "Is this man bothering you honey?"

'Dutch' smiled. "Not at all."

She shrugged, and removed the gun. "If you say so."

Greene started to breathe again. He hadn't been warned that Dutch had found a woman as dangerous as he was. "Look. Dutch,"

He was again interrupted by the woman, her voice amused. "Dutch?"

The big man shrugged, "I had a misspent youth."

She smiled and nodded.

Greene tried again, "Dutch... we've got another one."

Dutch stiffened. "When?"

"He's been around for a while... Hunting in a town in California... small shit burg called Sunnydale. Dutch, we want you on this one."

"No." Dutch shook his head, "No way. I told you people, I want nothing to do with those things."

Greene's hand went to his coat, causing both Man and Wife to lift their weapons again. "Whoa! Just some papers, I swear!"

"Slowly." the man said, his hand motioning.

Greene swallowed and nodded, slowly pulling a sheaf of papers from his coat. "I may not be able to find out who you work for now, Dutch, but I know you still work for Uncle Sam. And he cut these order personally."

Dutch grabbed the papers, growling his displeasure as he did. "Damnit, Greene!"

"What is it Honey?" The woman was concerned. She'd seen her husband take on nuclear bomb's with less concern. "What's wrong?"

The big man sighed. "I have to go to California."

"Well, I'm coming with you."

He shook his head, "It's too dangerous."

"Bullshit! We're a team. We have been for years. I'm coming."

Dutch sighed. He knew he wouldn't be able to change her mind. "You don't understand... What we're going up against isn't like anything you've ever seen. It's dangerous..."

"So's breathing." She said, "I'm coming."

Dutch sighed and nodded, accepting his fate.

13th Precinct
Los Angeles, California
February 2, 2000 - Afternoon

"Lieutenant Harrigan?"

The big black man looked up and his face dropped as he recognized, not the man but the suit. "Oh shit."

"I've been sent to get your help with a... confidential matter."

"Get fucked." Harrigan muttered before turning back to his paperwork. "I told you people never to come near me again."

"We have another sighting, Lieutenant. We need your help. You are one of exactly two people to have ever faced one of these things and walk away."

"So call the other guy."

"We did. He's on a plane as we speak."

"Then what do you need me for?"

The man shrugged, "We're hedging our bets this time, Lieutenant."

"Forget it." Harrigan rasped.

The man in the suit called out as Harrigan turned away. "It's in California!"

Harrigan turned back, his face setting. "Where?"

"A small town just outside of L.A." the man said, knowing that he had already won. "It's called..."

Sunnydale, California
February 2, 2000 - Evening

Xander and Faith were on the floor, clearly enjoying the beat of the music as it flowed through them. Both were moving with little, if any, restraint and a large clearing had grown out around them. Neither dancer noticed, or cared.

As the song ended, they slowly came down from their tandem dance and grinned at the observers grouped around them they glided off the dance floor, waving and nodded at the whistles and catcalls they received from the other dancers.

"You two are crazy." Willow smiled at the couple as the slid into their seats.

Faith grinned, "Why, Red? Jealous? You want a turn with Boytoy? I'm sure I left enough gas in the tank for you."

Willow shook her head and slipped an arm around Tara. "I have my partner right here, thank you very much."

Tara smiled shyly, and nodded at her lover.

Faith shrugged, and grinned at the two Wiccans. "Whatever."

Xander was breathing deeply, though not as hard as one might expect. He grinned around the table and noticed the lack of drinks. He held his hand up for a waitress, and wasn't surprised when one appeared in seconds. He had a reputation as a very generous tipper.

"Another round." he nodded around the table.

"Right away," The girl winked at him, and he grinned and winked back.

Faith leaned in, "I think she likes you."

Xander shrugged.

"Come on, don't tell me your not interested?"

Xander shrugged again, but spoke this time. "Not really. She's cute... but my likings have changed."

"Oh?" Faith looked at him, her eyebrows arcing, "How so?"

Xander grinned at her, "I like my ladies strong."

"Strong enough to kick your ass, lover?"

"Wouldn't have it any other way."

J&X's Home
Sunnydale California
February 3, 2000 - Morning

Xander got up slowly, mildly surprised to find that Faith was still laying beside him. She usually slept in her own bed, even on nights that started out in his. He watched her breathe for a few moments, smiling at the peaceful look on her face. He took a deep breath and felt a twinge in his gut as he got out of bed.

He loved Faith, as much as he had loved anybody. But he knew that he wasn't in love with her. And he didn't fool himself into thinking that she was in love with him. Still, he had to admit that they had a pretty decent relationship. No strings, at least no obvious ones.

He got dressed quickly, slipping into his workout clothes and slipping out of the room as quietly as he could. It was a testament to her trust and security that Faith didn't wake for an instant while he did all that.

Empire Hotel

Dutch tossed his suitcase to the floor, looking around at the 'presidential suite'. "What a dump."

"It's not so bad." His wife smiled, her face etched with sadness.

Dutch nodded. They had seen worse. Much worse. "It will do."

He looked over at his wife and forced a smile. "Who are you?"

She nodded, "hello, I'm Mrs. Schaefer, I work with the NSA as a consultant. But you can call me Sally."

He nodded. "Pleased to meet you, Sally."

Sally smiled at him, and stepping in close. "You know.. I always did find this secret identity thing such a turn on."

"That's good to know." He smiled, "But we have some... friends to meet."

She sighed and backed off. "You're right... Alan."

They quickly got ready and headed out of their room.

"Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Schaefer... Good to see you again." Greene forced a smile as the couple walked in.

Dutch nodded at him, not bother to smile. His eyes swept the room, and fell on a surly black man who was already seated at the large table. "You must be Harrigan?"

The black man nodded. "Who the hell are you?"


Harrigan's eyes widened. "So you're the other guy, huh?"

Dutch nodded, smiling a little ruefully. "I'm afraid so."

Harrigan shook his head. "So why are you stupid enough to be here?"

"Orders." Dutch shrugged.

Harrigan nodded. "Ok. At least you didn't volunteer."

Dutch laughed. "Not a chance. You?"

"I volunteered." Harrigan said sourly.


"Don't like the idea of one of those things this close to my city."

That was something that Dutch could understand. And something he could respect. "Good. Glad to be working with you."

"Same here." Harrigan extended his hand and Dutch shook it firmly.

Greene interrupted with a sarcastic tone. "If the mutual respect society is over, can we get to work?"

Both warriors glared at him, but nodded their assent and settled into their places at the table. Green pulled out a map of the town and started pointing things out.

"Ok, we have sightings here, here, and here... always around the graveyards... always at night. Don't know why, but this one seems to be nocturnal..."

X&J's Building

Xander jogged up the path to the old brownstone, his chest heaving from his morning run, and quickly let himself in. He was halfway to the stairs when he heard voices in the kitchen and turned around.

In the Kitchen he found Giles, Jarod, and Buffy talking quietly. "Hey G and J-men... Buff... what's up?"

The three alternately smiled and grimaced and smiled at him, each a greeting in its own way. Jarod spoke first. "Mr. Giles here has found a piece of an old artifact that has him nervous."

"Oh?" Xander asked, his face as neutral as possible. Giles was pretty stiff sometimes, but he didn't get nervous over just anything.

"Indeed." Giles said, sliding his spectacles back onto his nose. "It's a piece of the Amulet of Amsheri."

Xander paused, hoping that Elan would have some info. No such luck. "Which is?"

"The Amulet is a very dangerous material component for a summoning spell. It can be used to raise the demon Amsheri from the third circle of hell."

Xander nodded, "ok... that sounds bad. But you have the Amulet thingy... so what's the problem? We toss it in the vault and forget about it."

Predictably, Giles shook his head. "I'm afraid that is insufficient."

Xander sighed. "I should have known. Why?"

"Because the spell has already been cast. The Amulet is broken as part of the summoning."

"Of course it is." Xander muttered.:So this Amsheri thing is running around town?"

"No." Giles answered. "Not until tonight."


"Tonight is a blood moon. The spell was cast last night so its completion would concur with the rising of the blood moon... He will arise after the sun sets tonight."

"Of course he will." Xander sighed. "Who is this guy and what can he do?"

Giles sighed himself and removed his glasses to wipe them clean. "I'm afraid the book is sketchy on that... but he is quite dangerous..."

"Of course he is." Xander muttered. "Do we have anything on him?"

Giles shook his head, "I'm afraid not."

Xander rolled his eyes and looked at the ceiling. "Of course we don't."

Bridgewater Creek, Northern California

The young man ran, his legs burning, his lungs aching, his heart pounding. But he ran. Behind him he could hear the sound of a chopper moving against the pristine sky, searching, hunting. Ahead of him was a woman, a slim dark haired beauty that he knew well. Running went against her grain, and his, but they had little choice.

They were a few miles from the nearest town, and actually going there would be suicide. For him at least. So they were heading for the river. With some luck they'd be able to ride it to the coast, even it if meant floating downstream on a log or other piece of flotsam. Whatever, it didn't matter so long as they got out of here. And got help.

They reached the river quickly and waded in, hoping that they would lose their pursuers in the swirling water. The woman held his head above water as they were buffeted by the current, at least until his hands found a short log to grasp. Then they both held on and rode the current away from the carnage they left behind them.

"What do we do now?" She asked, spitting water out with every breath. "Heather said that the charmed ones could help... they're supposed to be in San Francisco somewhere?"

He shook his head, "I'm more interested in the stories about Sunnydale."

She scoffed, "The ones about a group of witches, Slayers, and god knows what else? That can't be true."

He shrugged, "I think we could use a Slayer on our side."

She shook her head, "We need the witches more..."

"San Francisco is a big city... have you stopped to think of how we'd find them?"

She didn't have an answer.

"No, Sunnydale is our only chance."

They didn't speak again, instead spending all their energy just to stay afloat and alive as they spend down river toward the Pacific.

Empire Hotel
Sunnydale, California
February 3, 2000 - Late Afternoon

"We've had people setting up motion sensors in the UV spectrum all day. That should lead us straight to him if he shows himself."

"Hey," Harrigan looked up, "What about feeding?"


"Last time the thing set up a feeding zone in a meat locker... anything like that around here?"

Green shook his head, "We don't think so. No signs of it anyway."

"Great." Harrigan muttered, "I don't like it when they change the pattern."

"I agree." Dutch said, "I've read the field reports on eight of these things... Nothing you've shown me here fits the pattern."

Green protested, "What about the death rate in this town?"

Dutch shook his head, "No. None of the bodies are missing their heads."

"Yeah... that's right." Harrigan lifted his head, "He didn't take any trophies."

"Precisely." Dutch said.

"So... if that's true," Harrigan muttered, mostly to himself, "Why's the bastard here?"

Angel Investigations
Los Angeles, California
February 3, 2000 - Morning

"Hey Cordy," Doyle grinned as he walked in, "How's it shakin?"

Cordelia spared him a mildly annoyed glance before turning back to Angel. "As I was saying... It wouldn't hurt to add a little color to this place... You know, a painting over there... maybe a new set of drapes for this window..."

Angel sighed, he'd been listening to this for hours. "How many times to I have to tell you, Cordy, I can't afford it."

"Nonsense." Cordelia brushed that off, "Its just like buying good clothes... they're not a cost, they're an investment."

Angel looked to Doyle for help, "Any visions lately?"

Doyle spared him a dirty look. "No. And I'm so happy that you feel so concerned fot the well being of my..."

At that point Doyle's eyes slammed shut and his face was wracked in pain. He fell to his knees as Angel and Cordelia rushed to his side. "Doyle!"

Angel grabbed him up, pulling him to his feet. "Doyle, what did you see?"

Doyle staggered for a bit, "A demon... weird one... he's bending over a young woman, pretty thing... she's bleeding."


"I saw a sign..." Doyle said, looking at Angel, "You're not going to like it."


"It said 'Welcome to Sunnydale'."

Angel's borrowed blood ran ice cold. "The girl... was she blond?"

Doyle shook his head, "No... Brunette... very nice bod."

Cordelia butted in, "Very interesting... What did the Demon look like?"

Doyle shuddered. "We was wearing this weird armor... had weapons strapped all over his body.. Angel?"

"Yeah, Doyle?"

"I've never felt the visions pour on the cold like that before..." Doyle shivered, "It's like the PTB's wanted to make sure I knew who the target was..."

Angel nodded. "Then he dies... before he can kill the girl"

Sunnydale, California
February 3, 2000 - Midnight

Xander crouched on a rooftop across from the first point that Giles had listed as a likely place for the Demon to arise.

"Anything, Lover?" Faith asked from behind him.

"No." Xander said quietly, scanning the area through his hunting mask. "It's dead. The whole place."

"Well, that's good right?"

Xander shrugged in his armor, "I don't know. It might be too quiet."

Faith nodded. "You think this is the place?"

"I don't know... but someone's put out the word to avoid this place tonight." Xander shifted his weight, "Stay here... I'm going to get a closer look."

"Hey! Now wait a second!" Faith protested, but her jaw dropped as Xander shimmered out of sight.

"I said wait here, Faith." His disembodied voice echoed around her, "I can do this better on my own."

"Uh..." Faith stammered, "Yeah..."

Her sharp eyes caught a slight blur of motion and then nothing.

Tensions rose suddenly in the small room when a sharp beeping echoed around the room.

"We have a hit!"

"Where is it?" Greene asked eagerly.

"Graveyard across town."

"Send the team."

Dutch and Harrigan looked at each other, and nodded grimly. "We're going too."

Greene looked over at them, his face clouded. "I don't think that's necessary."

Dutch glared at him, "Get out of my way."

Greene swallowed, and backed off. He watched the two men grab assault rifles and grenades. "We want him alive!"

"Who's we?" Harrigan asked with a smirk, "I don't see any 'we' in here... Just you. And I don't give a flying fuck what you want."

Dutch smiled, "What he said."

Then the two warriors turned their back on Greene and walked out. Greene waited for the door to close before he slammed his fist down on the desk and grabbed the tactical microphone. "All teams! Move in now! Isolate and contain the alien!"

Xander moved through the graveyard slowly, all his senses in high gear. There was nothing at all around him, no vampires, no demon, and nothing else. Xander was getting a weird feeling crawling along his spine as he walked.

Finally, halfway out into the graveyard, he stopped. He turned around and flipped through the different settings of his mask.

Thermal. Nothing.

Light amp. Nothing.

UV. Nothing.

Air pressure was worse then useless out in the open so he skipped past it. Same went for the high band radiation settings. Finally he shifted to a computer generated rendering of the ultrasonic vibrations around him.


Xander dropped into a crouch behind a gravestone and whispered. "Faith?"

"Yah?" her voice came back through the earpiece he was wearing.

"I'm surrounded."


"I've got multiple targets coming in on me... must be vamps, I couldn't see even a hint of them on thermal."

"Vamps?" Faith asked, "Where?"

Xander frowned, "Faith, there are two of them walking on the street below you."

Silence. Then her voice came back. "No way, boytoy. I got em in my sights, but they ain't vamps."

"How do you know?"

"Two reasons." Faith said, a tight grin in her voice. "First I ain't getting a buzz off 'em... Second... I ain't never seen vamps wearing space suits."


"I'm serious boytoy. They're wearing baggy silver space suits..."

Xander's mind locked onto what she was describing. "Hazmat suits.... Heat shielded. What the hell?"

"I don't know, Lover... but they've got some wacky looking weapons too. Almost looks like... I don't know, you know those flame throwers you see in those shootem-up flicks of yours?"


"Looks like those... but a bit bigger."

Xander's mind raced as he looked at the bogeys approaching his position. "Shit. Call for backup."

Xander switched his mask back to light amplification mode and drew a Zat from his belt. He counted to ten and stood up.

Angel had the pedal to the floor as he passed the sign that read, Welcome to Sunnydale. He looked over at the lone passenger in his car. "Well?"

"What?" Doyle asked.

"Were now?"

"The Graveyard."

"Which one?"


"Which graveyard?"

Doyle looked at Angel in confusion, "It's a small town... how many could there be!?"

Angel moaned and slammed his fist into the steering wheel. "This is the Hellmouth! Damnit... this is going to take all night!"

The soldier swung his heavy NO2 dispenser around as he marched through the graveyard. "Where the hell is it?"

"Keep your eyes peeled."

"No shit." He muttered, "I've seen what these things did to the group in L.A."

He continued to stalk through the graveyard, sweating with every step he made in his thermal insulated suit. As he approached a particularly large headstone his radio crackled to life.

"Unit five, he's right in front of you."


"Two feet, at two o'clock."

The soldier swivelled and aimed his weapon, "I don't see him!"

"Fire anyway goddamnit!"

He pulled the trigger, ejecting a white cloud of super-chilled gas into the air in front of him. He blinked as a form materialized within the mist, and raised its hand. He started to scream when he saw a weapon in its big fist.

"It's not working! The gas isn't...!"

A blue electrical light brought searing pain to his world and the soldier dropped in his tracks, falling and twitching on the ground.

"Five? Five! FIVE!?"

"He's gone."

The technician sighed, but nodded. "Units four, six, eight, and ten. Converge on sector 9 alpha. Repeat, 9 alpha. We've lost the signature on the UV motion sensors, be alert! He may not be using stealth now."

Xander was running. Stumbling, staggering, scrambling, but also running. As best as he could manage as he shivered and shook and tried to get his blood moving again.

"D-d-damn.... th-tha-that's c-c-cold..." he said into the microphone.

"Xander? What happened?" Faith's voice was anxious.

"They used some kind of li... quid c-c-coolant system..." Xander muttered as he ran. "A... armor took the worst of it... b-b-but I'm f-f-f-fucking f-freezing..."

"I'm downstairs, Xander... I'll be there in a few seconds!"

"G-good." Xander said, his teeth chattering as he cranked up the armors thermostat. "The others?"

"B and Farm Boy are coming, Jeeves and the wicked wiccans aren't far behind."

"Ok..." Xander said, ducking behind another gravestone as he heard some others moving around him. "Damn... got some more c-c-coming... hang on a sec."

Xander pulled a second Zat from his belt and triggered the first level activation. He stood up, leveling both Zats at the source of the sound.

<Four of them.> He thought as he triggered both weapons in rapid fire sequence.

"Sir, we just lost four more units!"


"All their comm gear just went down. Heart monitors stopped transmitting."

"So they're dead."

"Either that or all their electronics chose this moment to go on the fritz, Sir."

Greene didn't bother to respond to that comment.

"Xander?" Faith asked anxiously, "You ok?"

"Four up, four down." Xander's voice crackled back over the radio.

Faith breathed a sigh of relief. "Who are these guys?"

"Alien hunters."


"They must be following up on some sightings of me in armor... they think I'm a Yautja."

"A what-cha?"

"Yautja, that's the name of the species that uses this type of armor."

"Oh..." Faith said, "Oh! So they're not after you?"

"Not knowingly. They think I'm an alien here on a safari."

"So get out of there and ditch the armor!"

"That's the plan." Xander confirmed as he started moving.

Angel slowed the car as he passed their sixth cemetery of the night. "What the hell?"

Doyle looked over and his eyes widened. "Well... that's something you don't see every day..."

The two demon detectives stared as an armored form came running at full speed out of the darkness, pursued by six silver suited men wielding extremely weird weapons.

"That's him!" Doyle said excitedly, "That's the demon!"

Angel shook his head to clear it, and opened the drivers side door. "Ok. Wait here."

"You don't have to tell me twice."

Xander pumped his legs and pushed off the ground in a powerful a leap as he could manage. He hit the ground in a tucked roll and came to a crouching halt behind the low brick wall that separated the sidewalk form the cemetery.

He activated both Zats and waited.

His six pursuers rolled around the corner at full runs, and ran straight into a rapid fire discharge of Zat fire.

Xander stood up and approached the silver masses on the ground, shaking his head under his mask. <Damn. I hope that's the last of them.>

"Step away from them, Demon!"

<Wha?" Xander turned around in time to see a fist plow into his mask.

"We just lost six more!"

"God dammit!" Greene cursed. "Do we have anyone else in the area?"

"Three more units... about three minutes away... and Dutch and the Cop Sir..."


Dutch hit the brakes as he skidded the Ford van into a stop at the corner of the graveyard. "From here, we walk."

Harrington hefted his shotgun in one hand, "Oh yeah."

The two got out of the vehicle and looked around. Dutch looked back inside and looked pointedly at his wife. "Sally, stay with the car... we may need to make a very fast getaway."

She looked about to refuse but Harrington nodded. "He's right ma'am. This thing is dangerous... we might have to hit the road in a hurry."

Finally she nodded. "All right... But you'd better be ok!"

Dutch smiled and nodded. "Yes, dear."

Harrington shook his head, a toothy smile on his face. "Ah, marital bliss."

As the two warriors walked into the graveyard, Dutch looked over, "You ever been married?"


"Didn't like it?"

"I liked it fine. My ex-wife, she had problems with it."

Dutch nodded. "You need to find a woman who lives like you do."

"Are you nuts?" Harrington grinned, "I couldn't live with someone like me..."

The two warriors chuckled quietly and then turned all of their attention toward the area ahead of them.

"Faster!" Buffy urged as Riley gunned the motor.

Riley didn't say anything, just pushed the pedal down.

"How long?"

Riley looked at the houses as they whipped by and grimaced. "If the roads are clear? Seven minutes. Maybe ten."

Buffy actually cursed. "And Giles and the others?"

Riley shook his head, "Even longer."

"Can't you get this heap to go any faster, Giles?" Willow glared across the at the older man form the passenger seat.

Giles gritted his teeth and put the pedal down, the old car protesting loudly as its overdrive kicked in and the car accelerated. "I'm trying."

"Try harder." This time it was a voice form the back seat, as filled with concern as Willow's was.

Willow glanced back at Tara, "We'll make it, Tara... Xander's strong... he can hold on."

Xander staggered to his feet, his vision obscured by random flashes of light. As he managed to shake his head clear he saw what, who, had hit him.

A few feet away a recognizable figure stood, obviously preparing for a follow-up blow.

<Angel?> Xander managed to think as the ensouled vampire charged him. He opened his mouth to speak.

"Ang-oooof!" He grunted out as the vampire hit him solidly, blasting him off his feet and back into the cement wall.

"Your days of killing women are over, Demon!" Angel yelled as he pushed the fight again.

Xander rolled clear as Angel's foot slammed into the bricks hard enough to raise a cloud of mortar dust. He desperately tried to get his breath back to speak but before he could do more then draw in a shuddering breath, Angel was upon him again.

Angel threw two hard punches to his head, and Xander slipped under both of them. <Oh shit! He thinks I'm a demon! Fuck fuck fuck! I don't have any non-lethals that would work on a vamp!>

Xander threw out a hard punch of his own, nailing Angel in the stomach, then followed through with a knee aimed at the vampire's face.

Angel intercepted the knee, grabbing it with both hands and powering it up into the air. Xander was thrown off his feet and flipped in mid air, landing on his stomach after a full flip. This had the unfortunate effect of knocking even more air from Xander's lungs.

He twisted and rolled just clear of a stomping attack by Angel, wheezing and shuddering as he struggled to pull air into his lungs. He struggled to his feet as quickly as he could, dropping his Zats to the ground and tugging Elan from the canvas sheath riding on his hip. He staggered around to face Angel, still gasping for breath as the vampire closed on him.


The silver staff bucked in his hand and the foot long cylinder was replaced by a seven foot battle staff. He held it between him and the vampire like a talisman against evil.

Angel took a step back. "You think that's going to stop me?"

Xander drew another painful, ragged breath and shook his head.

"You've got that right." Angel took another menacing step forward.

Xander glanced around and backed away from the vampire, shaking his head and holding up his free hand, still trying to draw in that sweet air.

Angel paused. This wasn't going as expected. Demons usually fought like... well, like demons. This one certainly wasn't acting like the unholy terror Doyle described him as. So Angel did the one thing he could think of.

He stopped.

Xander looked at Angel for a moment, and saw that the vampire had stopped. He nodded his head and bent down, bracing himself on his knees, pulling in deep breaths as quickly as he could.

<Damn it. I HATE it when I have to fight someone who's trying to kill me and I can't kill them.>

Finally he raised his head and opened his mouth to speak.

"There he is! Get him!"

Bullets ripped through the ground around his feet and Xander dove in a hurry for the closest cover. He could feel bullets ricocheting off his armor and see the spouts of dirt fly up from ones that dug into the soft ground.

Behind him he could hear Angel let out a curse and run for cover of his own.

Dutch and Harrigan charged the creature as it stood there, their M-16 rifles blazing.

"We can't let it activate it's bomb!" Dutch yelled.

"I know, man! I know!"

The two warriors cursed simultaneously as the creature ducked for cover. Dutch looked over at Harrigan and motioned him to go around the wall. Dutch took a running leap and went over it.

Xander hunkered down behind the wall, breathing heavily now that he had managed to get his breath back and cursing the fact that he had dropped the Zats. "Shit. Shit. Shit."

His radio crackled to life. "What is it Xander?"

"Faith!?" he seized on her voice like ti was a lifeline. "I've got two maniacs trying to fill me full of lead, and Angel just showed up thinking I'm some kind of super-demon!"

To his everlasting annoying, Faith laughed out loud. "Jeeez, loverboy... you're having a bad night."

"No shit! Help?"

"I'm a few seconds away, Xan. Your fight took you across the graveyard... I'm coming through now."

<Thank you god.> Xander thought as he glanced up at the sky.

What he saw wasn't a sign from the almighty. He hoped. It was a two hundred and fifty pound mountain jumping clean over the section of wall he was hiding behind.

"Uh.. Faith?"


Xander watched the man land and turn his M-16 around.


Dutch turned his weapon on the crouching hunter and quickly squeezed the trigger.

The stream of bullets chewed into the wall where the creature had been a few moments earlier, but the thing had ducked low and was charging him.

<No!> Dutch screamed internally, <Don't let him get close with those claws!>

He tried to bring the bucking assault rifle down but the thing moved too fast, plowing into him in a classic tackle that lifted him clean off his feet. The M-16 pointed skyward as the two figures tumbled to the ground.

Harrigan burst around the corner, his M-16 searching for a target, only to see the alien plow into Dutch like a linebacker for the Rams. "Shit."

The two figures were too closely entangled for him to do much with his rifle so he lifted the muzzle and ran into help. He hadn't take three steps when a figure burst form the graveyard, moving faster then he had ever seen, and plowed into him.

He was lifted up and thrown a dozen feet, landing square on his back with his rifle a dozen more feet beyond. He felt a weight land on his chest and he looked up.

"Ohh... you're a big one...." The small brunette grinned at him, "Just so you know... no one hurts my friends."

Harrigan tried to say something, Anything, that would either explain that he was the good guy or maybe ask who her friend was... but the girl cold cocked him in the next instant and the lights went out.

"How much longer?"

Riley cursed under his breath, "Five minutes. Maybe six."

Buffy's knuckles turned white were she was gripping the armrest on the door. A few seconds later the plastic and vinyl construction crumpled and crumbled into pieces of foam and plastic that used to have a shape.

"The three units are almost on target, Sir."

"Tell them to capture the creature at all costs."

"What if someone gets in the way?" He asked, leaving little doubt who he meant.

Greene muttered coldly, "They have guns don't they?"


"Tell them to use them."

Xander scrambled to his feet, with the big man only a heartbeat behind. The man had lost his rifle in the scuffle and for that Xander was happy. But the man outweighed him by more pounds then he wanted to consider at the moment and also held himself in a very familiar fighting stance.

<Oh shit.>

Dutch threw the first punch, aimed squarely at the hunter's mask. The hunter ducked, as he expected, and Dutch's foot snaked out to break the creatures knee.

Xander lifted his leg and caught the kick with his own foot, blocking the kick. <Thank you Morpheus.> The he responded with a pivoting elbow aimed at the big man's gut.

Dutch back stepped fast as the spinning elbow came at him, and he grabbed at it in an old move and gave a quick tug to hyperextend the limb.

Xander felt the tug and recognized what it meant. He went with the motion, pivoted back, and reversed the grip. He used his proximity to slam his mask into the man's face.

Dutch reeled back from the blow, his head swirling. <Holy... That was a Green Beret trick!> He brought his hands up fast, slipping back into his fighting stance. Something was way off with this one. It didn't fight like the one in Columbia. It didn't fight like any of the ones in the reports. The Dutch frowned.

"You're a lot shorter then the others... We musta gotten the runt of the litter this time."

Xander glared at him. "RUNT? Who're you calling Runt you overgrown posterboy for steroid abuse!?"

Dutch's eyes bugged, his jaw dropped. "You can talk?"

"Well no shit, you muscle brain." Xander said, pissed off, "Not that you'd think of asking that before you try to fucking kill me!"

Dutch tried to figure out what was going on. This one talked. It was short. It had a very American vocabulary. Something was fucked up.

"What are you?" he asked.

Xander was about to reply with he heard pistol shots from behind him. "Not again! Can't I catch a fucking break tonight?" He moaned, then turned around.

In the next moment he was moving as fast as he possibly could.


Faith got off the black man, grinning smugly. She turned to see that Xander was struggling with his man, but before she could move in to help she heard the scuffle of approaching feet.

"Great," She muttered, "More of the damned spacesuits."

Faith ran toward them.

"Miss," The first of them spoke when they saw her, "please get out of the way."

Faith just grinned and charged.

She hooked the first one in a simple throw that sent him sprawling, the hose to his space gun disconnecting and sending clouds of gas everywhere. She footswept the next closest and dropped him to his ass.

But as she got up to meet the last one she saw the barrel of his pistol coming up. Faith cursed and ducked as fast as she could.

The first shot went over her head.

Charge or go for cover? She dove for the brick wall just as the second shot went off. It went wide, chewing a chunk of the brick out and spraying her face with shards.

She was almost to the wall when the next shot sounded. She felt her body twist around and could suddenly smell a sickly burning smell of flesh. An instant later she realized that it was her own. The pain hit after that, but she bit it down and kept from screaming. In the distance she could hear Xander screaming her name, but the only thing she saw were the three space suits aiming their guns at her.

Then the muzzles flashed, and everything went dark.

Xander felt the wind rush past him as he moved, his perception of time slowing to the point where he imagined for a second that he actually saw the bullets leave the muzzles of the pistols. The, suddenly, everything returned to normal speed.

Xander leapt over Faith and crouched low over her bleeding body, taking the bullet hits on the strongest part of his armor, the triple shielded back compartment. The vibrations send shivers through his teeth as each shot impacted and bounced off.

"Faith." He whispered as he checked her wound with a cursory glance. It looked clean through the shoulder, but it was bleeding heavily and he knew he didn't have a lot of time.

Angel watched the action from his cover, more the a little confused. <That was Faith... and that things voice sounded familiar... what the hell is going on here!?>

"Angel! Hey, Angel!" Doyle waved his hands, trying to get the vampire's attention. "That's her, mate! That's the girl!"

Angel looked over, "That's Faith! And he's not killing her you idiot, he's saving her!"

Doyle looked confused. "I don't get it... I KNOW that he was the one the vision sent us after... I know it."

Angel shook it off. He'd figure it out later. First, he had to get things calmed down. He jumped over the wall where he was crouching and charged the silver suited gunmen.

Dutch watched in shock as the alien covered the young girl with his own body to protect her from the onslaught of bullets. He couldn't figure it out, why were a human and one of those things working together?

As he was trying to figure out what to do he saw another man, the one who had been fighting the thing when he showed up, jump up and charge the gunmen. Unfortunately they saw him too.

The three of them turned their weapons on the charging figure and opened fire. Dutch winced at the useless waste of life, then his eyes widened as the figure continued charging right into their midst. The resulting fight was over in seconds and all three of the soldiers were dropped to the ground, unconscious.

Dutch slowly got up, more then a little confused, and watched as the man turned around and looked back at the alien and the girl.

"You can get up now." he said calmly.

The alien got up, brushed himself off, and turned to the man. "Glad to see you figured out whose side you were on... Deadboy."


Sally Schaefer had abandoned the car shortly after her husband and Harrigan had slipped out of sight. She figured that if he didn't know her well enough by now to realize that she wouldn't wait in the car, he deserved to be shocked.

So she fond herself picking her way across the graveyard slowly, keeping an eye out of any sign of movement. That was when she found the first body.

The man was still in his silver suit, and she swallowed as she knelt down to examine him. <Odd... no sign of injury...>

She broke the seal on the suit and reached a hand inside to check his pulse. <He's alive...>

She got up and kept moving. Through the graveyard she found others in the same situation, all unconscious, no sign of injury, and apparently in fine health. It didn't make sense with what the briefings on this creature said. She shook her head, and was startled into a run when she heard the sound of gunfire from the other side of the graveyard.


Xander grinned under his mask at the shocked look on Angel's face. He was about to respond when he heard a scrape of boots on gravel behind him. He spun around and glared at the big man he had been fighting a few moments earlier, unconsciously stepping between Faith and the muscled man.

Dutch swallowed as the creature took up a defensive position between himself and the girl that had been shot. The thing had a loyalty, that much was certain, the way he had put himself in the path of the pistol fire for her was ample evidence of that.

Dutch let his eyes drift down to look at the girl, and his breath caught in his throat. "Dana?"


Faith struggled to open her eyes against the pain, and looked up at the blurry figure that was slightly hidden from her by Xander's form. She grinned weakly, "Come on, Lover... Let a girl see what's going on."

Xander shifted slightly out of her way.

As her eyesight cleared she stared in shock. "Daddy?"

Xander looked down at Faith in confusion as she asked him to move, "Dana!?"

"Daddy?" Faith's voice was almost a whisper, her shock evident even through the pain of being shot.

Xander looked up at the big man, his head snapping and his eyes bugging out. "Daddy!?" He said incredulously.

"Dana..." Dutch... Harry Tasker, whispered reverently. His mind was in shock, and he was processing everything at a very slow pace.

He had been searching for his daughter for over four years, ever since a mission had gone horribly wrong. He shook his head, trying to clear it as something else clicked in his mind. He turned on the creature, only one word forming.

"Lover!?" He growled and took a half step toward the thing that his daughter had called lover.

Xander held his ground but started sweating even more. He didn't want to go another round with the huge man. He glared down at Faith, "Why does it not surprise me that your father is a walking *mountain*!?"

Faith ignored him, struggling to her feet to step between her father and Xander. "Daddy... no..."

She had only taken two steps when her strength gave out and she was lost in the darkness that passed through her.

Xander dropped to one knee, barely getting his arms under Faith as she fell. He grunted slightly as her weight settled into his arms and forced himself back to his feet. He was relieved to see that the mountain man had stopped coming forward, and was actually touched when he saw genuine concern enter the big man's eyes.

"Dana!" Harry growled, "We need to get her to a hospital."

"No." The creature said in its hollow voice as it shook its head. "That won't be necessary."

"What are you talking about!?" Harry yelled, striding forward to take his daughter, "She's been shot!"

Xander turned to Angel, "Heads up!"

Angel nodded and reached his hands out as Xander tossed the unconscious Slayer to him. He caught her with ease and held her securely.

Xander turned back to the big man. "I don't know who you are. But I'll cut you some slack here. She'll be fine, I promise you that, but if you don't back off right now all you're going to accomplish is slow me down so I can't get her some help as fast."

Harry Tasker wasn't a stupid man. "Alright. But if you hurt her..." he growled warningly.

Xander slipped off his mask and glared at the big man. "If *I* hurt her? It was your goon squad that shot her!"

Harry stared in shock at the boyish face that had been hiding behind the alien mask and remembered his words the last time he had seen a mask like that come off.

"You're one ugly mother fucker." He whispered in surprise.

The boy snapped him an outraged look. "WHAT!?"

Despite the gravity of the situation Harry actually smiled. "That's what I said to the last thing I saw take off a mask like that..."

Xander's lips twitched, his chest shook a little, and finally he laughed. "Yeah. I can understand that."

Dutch watched the boy tap an earpiece he was wearing and heard him start talking into it urgently.

"Wills... Any word on Jenny?... Well, call her back! Shit. Look, Faith took a bullet... no, she'll live... but we need some help her fast. That'll take too long. I'm calling Phoebe... Leo can help, or maybe get a message to Jenny."

The boy tugged a cell phone from his pocket and hit a single button.

"Phoebe? Xander. I need some help. No, no. I'm fine.... Look, I'm sorry to call but Faith's been shot... no, Jenny is up with the Elders trying to get some info on a demon.... can you..? No, you haven't been here... we'll meet at the bronze, it's a couple blocks from here. Thanks."

He clipped the phone shut and looked over at Angel, "I hope you're up for a run."

Angel looked down at the bleeding slayer in his arms and just nodded.

"To the Bronze. I have help that will meet us there."

The two men took off at a run.

Harry Tasker watched them go for a second before his mind caught up with him, and he raced after them. He'd be damned to hell before he let his daughter of his sight after all these years.

Sally Schaefer, aka Helen Tasker, ran up to the scene of a fight just in time to see her husband run around a corner at full speed. She glanced around and then took off after him. "Alan!"

Outside the Bronze fours figures appeared in a shimmer of light. They looked around and made certain that they were alone.

Phoebe stepped out of the alley they had appeared in, "Disgusting. Couldn't you have popped us into a slightly less gross place?"

"Sorry." Leo shrugged, "Didn't want to be spotted."

Prue looked up and down the street. "Where are they?"

"Xander said that they were a couple blocks away..."

Piper looked around, "Lets hope they get here in time."

The group nodded in accord and settled in to wait.

Tasker matched pace with the boy in armor, who was struggling to keep up with the dark haired man who was carrying his daughter. "Where are we going?"

"Bronze." Xander replied, "Local nightclub."

"What!?" Harry raged, "Why are we going to a *nightclub*? My daughter is bleeding to death."

Xander glanced at the man, placing him easily as military special forces. "Medi-vac. Needed a local landmark to meet at."

Tasker grunted and accepted that as he kept running.

"There!" Piper said as she spotted three figures running toward them.

The three sisters and the Whitelighter ran out to meet the group, stopping by a man they didn't recognize. Leo ignored that and moved straight to Faith, looking her over.

"Who are you?" Piper asked the man.

"He's Angel." Xander smirked as he caught up with the vampire.

"The how come he didn't heal her?" Prue asked.

"Not an Angel... that's his name." Xander chuckled, the pressure lifting as he saw the glow emit from Leo's hands.

"Hey!" The sisters turned to see a big man run up, "What do you think your doing?"

Phoebe looked up, craning her neck. "Whoa. Who's the brick wall?"

Xander shrugged. "Apparently... Faith's dad."

Phoebe looked back up at the man. "You've got to be kidding me... let me guess... he just tried to kill you?"

Xander glanced at her sharply, "yeah... how'd you guess?"

"If I found out my daughter was sleeping with someone dressed like that I'd try to kill him to."


Tasker growled from where he was standing, but didn't pay any more attention to it as he watched his daughters eyelids flutter. When she moaned the boy in armor got in close.

"Faith... come on Faith, snap out if it..." he urged.

Faith looked up, and smiled. "Hey, lover... Man I had a wicked weird dream."

Xander glanced back, and Harry stepped forward. "I don't think it was a dream, Faith.... or is it Dana?"

Faith's eyes widened and she struggled out of Angel's arms, planting her feet on the ground. "Daddy?"

"Dana." he said, grabbing her in a hug that practically swallowed the Slayer up. "I thought I lost you."

Faith reveled in the warmth of his hug and swallowed a lump that simply refused to go down. "Daddy... I... I thought you were dead?"

Harry stepped back, holding her at arms length so he could look at her. "God, let me look at you... You've grown up so much..."

Faith swallowed again, her eyes sheening with tears. "What happened to you?"

Reluctantly, Harry let her go. "You're mother and I, and your uncle Gib were captured on our last mission to Pakistan... they held us for a few months before we escaped..."

"We...?" Faith asked, her voice unbelieving. "Mom?"

Harry was about to speak when a slim redhead ran up and Faith heard a familiar voice. "Alan? What's going on?"

"Mom!?" Faith broke free of the group and ran to the slim figure who had taken a step back in shock.

"Dana...?" She whispered.

Faith grabbed her in a hug and held her tight. "Mom, I thought you were dead!"

"Dana!" Helen wrapped her arms around her little girl and squeezed. "Dana... God it's so good to see you!"

Around them the group was staring in shock at the odd reunion.

Xander shook his head and swallowed a lump that was forming in his own throat as he watched. He frowned as his radio crackled to life.

"Xander? Xander!? Are you alright?"

He nodded. "I'm fine. Faith is fine. We're at the bronze..."

Harry turned to look at him as he talked.

"No. Negative. We're good. Riley, Proceed directly to the graveyard. There are a bunch of sleeping beauties there that need a babysitter. That's right, make sure noone gets turned into a late night snack... Disarm them and hold them until we get back. My Zats are lying at the entrance to the yard... secure them. That's right. Ok, thanks."

Harry looked at him oddly. "Sleeping beauties?"

Xander shrugged, "Your goon squad."

"They aren't mine."

"You were with them."

"No." Harry smiled, "They're orders were to take you alive... I was planning on cutting your arm off and ramming whatever was handy through your throat."

Xander grinned back. "Cool, try it again and I'll introduce you to a twenty thousand year old battle staff... in a very painful manner."

Harry shrugged, "Sounds fair. Of course, we still have to have a little talk about your intentions toward my daughter."

That caused Xander to role his eyes and elicited a giggle from Phoebe. "Please. If you knew your daughter you'd be more worried about her intentions toward me."

"What's this?" Helen Tasker looked up from where she was holding her daughter.

Harry wrapped a big arm around Xander's shoulders, "Honey... I'd like to introduce you to our daughters boyfriend... her very *serious* boyfriend."

"Oh?" Helen smiled, holding Faith away from her and looking into the girls tear streaked face. "I suppose we have no say in this?"

"Mom!" Faith protested, laughing a little too highly, a she pushed away.

"Is he at least a nice boy?" Helen grinned, teasing her daughter.

Faith struggled back into her devil may care persona and shrugged. "He's saved my life a few times..."

"Sounds like a nice boy." Helen grinned, pulling Faith back to her again.

"Saved your life?" Harry glared down at Xander, "Why did you need saving!?"

Xander sighed uncomfortably in the big man's grip. "Now that... is a long story."

Riley pulled the ford to a stop and got out and looked at the entrance to the graveyard. "Damn."

Bodies were lying around the arced entrance to the graveyard, sprawled in various positions that all looked very uncomfortable.

One of them was waking up.

"Ohhhh..." A big black man groaned as he sat up. "What hit me?"

Riley walked over and slipped the man's automatic from its holster before the man could react. "Don't know. I just got here. Care to tell me who you are and why the hell you're operating a black op in Sunnydale?"

"What?" The man asked, annoyed as he stared down the barrel of his own .45 auto.

"Why. Are. You. In. Sunnydale?" Riley said very slowly, as if talking to a particularly stupid child.

"Hey, it's a free country."

Riley raised his eyebrows. "Not that free... you can't walk around armed like this."

"I'm a cop, I've got a right to carry that."

"Really? You're not local. I have files on all the locals."

"I'm from LA. Harrigan."

"Harrigan? That your name?" Riley received a nod, "Well, Harrigan, why are you in Sunnydale."

"None of your business."

"Wrong." Riley said, glancing up as Buffy returned with an armload of weapons.

"This is all of them." She said, "The rest are out cold... they won't be getting up anytime soon."

"Good." Riley nodded, "Xander said that he hit them with the Zats so we should be able to take them into custody before they wake up."

"They're alive? That thing left them alive?" Harrigan asked with incredulity.

Buffy glared at him, "that *thing* is one of my best friends! And if you people hurt him..."

"Hurt him! He's a killer! I faced one of those things in LA three years ago... it ripped through my city like a fucking knife through tissue paper!"

"Those things?" Buffy looked confused for a moment, then her face cleared up. "Oh! You think he's a Yautja!?"

"A what?"

Buffy looked at him, "You don't even know the name of what your hunting... boy... you guys really need Giles. A Yautja. Alien big game hunter."

"How do you know they're name!?"

Buffy shrugged, "Dug it up in some old books... besides, Xander can speak their language."


"Never mind." Buffy said, looking around nervously.

"What is it Buffy?" Riley asked, picking up on her mood.

"Something's wrong..." Buffy swallowed, "I feel... cold."

Riley frowned. It wasn't remotely cold out. He walked over to where two weapons were lying on the ground. Xander's Zats. Riley picked them up and tossed one to Buffy, then activated his own.

"What's going on?" Harrigan looked around as the two people holding him captive started looking nervous.

"You people walked into a shitstorm." Riley muttered, "And maybe fucked up our entire operation... if you get any of our people killed I'm going to put a bullet in you."

Riley activated his radio, "Xander... yeah, got em. Look, Buffy is getting some weird vibes from..." Riley trailed off as a groaning roar came from the graveyard. "Oh fuck. Harris! It's here! It's here!"

Xander's eyes grew worried as he listed to Riley's last message.

"Dammit!" He cursed, "The demon is coming up in the graveyard! Buffy and Riley are still there alone!"

"What!?" faith broke loose of her mothers hug, looking at him in shock. "Let's go!"

Angel looked around, "What demon?"

"No time." Xander and Faith broke into a run. "We have to get back before Riley and Buffy get killed!"

Angel chased after them, "Who's Riley?"

Behind them the rest broke into a run, getting more and more nervous as they heard a loud groaning roar coming from somewhere up ahead of them.

As they ran, Xander slipped his mask back on and half turned. "Leo? Can you give us a lift? Its two and a half blocks straight ahead."

Leo shook his head, "Too many..."

Xander thought for less then a second, "The sisters and me then?"

Leo nodded. "Sure."

"Do it."

Leo glanced at the sisters and they nodded. "Ok. Let's do it."

Leo reached out in mid run and touched the four people. As they vanished Xander shouted out, "Meet at the graveyard."

The remaining group, except Faith, stared in shock as the four people vanished into a blinding shimmer of lights.

"What the hell was that?" Helen Tasker asked in shock.

Faith didn't slow her pace, just half turned her head and shouted back. "I'll explain later! We have to move! My friends are about to go up against some major heat!"

Harry just blinked and shrugged it off. But his daughter would have a lot of explaining to do later.

"That is a BIG mother fucker." Harrigan said in awe as the demon breached the ground, plowing tons of dirt aside as it dug its way out of the ground. "What the fuck is it?"

Riley wasn't in the mood for twenty questions. "That is the thing that we would have had a team on sight and ready to tackle if you dumb fucks hadn't gotten involved."


Buffy swallowed as the thing stepped up, sweeping around as it looked over the graveyard. It was fifteen feet tall and looked like a cross between a bull elephant and a Hollywood monster movie director's wet dream. She took a step forward and glared at the creature as she shouted out. "Amsheri, I presume!?"

Riley turned white.

Harrigan would have too if it were physically possible. "Uh... do you really think that was a good idea?"

The demon turned around to look at them, then laughed in a deep throaty way. "Amsheri I yes. Who you?"

"I'm the Slayer!"

He laughed again, "Slayer no can harm."

"I guess we'll just see then." Buffy lifted the Zat and opened fire.

Riley followed a second later, both weapons firing blue blasts of power into the demon. Unfortunately it just shrugged them off, and laughed again. Disgusted, Buffy tossed the Zat to the side. "Fine. We do this the old fashioned way."

"Uh... great..." Harrigan muttered as the huge thing started stomping toward them. "What's the old fashioned way?"

Buffy grinned and dipped her head into the Ford van and pulled out two swords and a crossbow.

"Oh you have got to be shitting me!"

"There it is!" Giles said as he pulled the small car into the parking lot. "Oh my god... and there it is!"

"What?" Willow looked at where Giles was pointing. "Oh.. Ohmy... thiscantbegood!"

"Willow, breathe." Tara touched her shoulder lightly.

"It's so big!" Willow said, staring at the huge thing that was walking away from them toward the front entrance of the graveyard.

"Yes... well," Giles shouldered a shotgun borrowed from Andy's private collection and opened the door. "The bigger they are and all that."

Willow swallowed and nodded, quickly following Giles as she tried to bring every spell she knew back to memory. Behind her, Tara was quick to follow.

"Holy shit!" Harrigan cursed as the ground under his feet actually shook when the creature moved.

"Harrigan!" Riley yelled.


"Catch!" Riley kicked an M-16 into the air at Harrigan, who caught it easily and turned it on the creature.

"Oh yeah, now this is more like it." The black man muttered as he racked back the slide and checked the clip. "Ready to roll."

"Then hit it!" Riley ordered as he brought a shotgun to his shoulder and racked a shell into the breech.

Both men opened fire at the huge beast and the sound of gunfire echoed through the formerly peaceful cemetery.

The brief flashes of gunfire from ahead of them told Giles and the two Witches that the demon had encountered some of their friends.

"Bloody hell." Giles leveled the shotgun from the hit and fired a three round burst. The three slugs struck the demon from behind and stitched it in a jagged path that went from its leg to its shoulder.

Giles stumbled in surprise and adjusted his glasses before leveling the imposing weapon on the creature again. "I must say, I *like* this weapon."

Xander felt the hold of the transport let him go and swing around, looking for the creature immediately. "Holy...!"

Leo and the sisters followed his gaze to where they saw the massive creature shrugging off the combined fire of three gunmen. It continued to stalk closer to where Xander saw Buffy and Riley standing shoulder to shoulder with the black man Faith had decked earlier.

As it got closer, Buffy stepped between it and the two men, who shifted their aim higher. Buffy leapt forward, slashing at the things legs in an attempt to slice its tendons or whatever it had down there.

Xander saw that the sword had an effect, just not enough, as the creature yelled in pain and took a swipe at Buffy. The huge claw slipped just over her head as she ducked low, slashing out again with her sword.

"Whoa!" Prue muttered, "That's a BIG demon."

"Yeah..." Piper said, "Who did you say this guy was?"

"Amsheri." Xander said as he tagged the demon with his laser designator. "Jenny still isn't back with the info on him..."

Leo looked over, "I can go check..."

"Will it take long?"

Leo shook his head, "Less then a minute. I don't need to look for anything, just find her."

"Do it." Xander said tersely as he started firing with his plasma caster.

Harrigan ejected the clip as he backed away from the monster, slamming a new on into the receiver as quickly as he could. He racked back the slide and aimed the M-16 at the creature, but paused as it was suddenly struck from another side by energy bursts.

"What?" He tracked back until he saw the familiar armor that haunted his dreams. "Son of a bitch..."

Harrigan fought back the impulse to train his weapon on the hunter, forcing his attention back to the huge fucker that was stomping toward him. <At least the hunter's fire is having some effect.>

And it was. The monster was flinching away from the blasts and roaring in pain, or anger, or something. It quickly forgot about the three people in front of it, and turned on the hunter's position in a raging fury.

Harrigan shrugged, <Better him then me,> and opened fire again with the M-16.

Prue cursed as he tried to hit the thing again to little avail. It wasn't even phased by her powers, anymore then it responded to Piper's attempts to freeze it. The creature shuddered under continued fire from Xander's shoulder mounted cannon, and slowly turned toward them.

"Xander...?" Phoebe muttered, "Is he coming this way?"

Xander nodded under his mask, "Yep."

"Shouldn't we move?"

Xander pulled Elan from his hip and activated the ancient weapon. "You three better get out of here."

"Xander?" Phoebe asked, "You can't mean..."

"Get her out of here, Prue." Xander ordered.

Prue swallowed and grabbed her sister, nodding at Xander. "Good luck."

Xander just nodded once and turned his attention back to the demon that was slowly stalking toward him. Behind him Piper and Prue dragged Phoebe away from where Xander was preparing to make his stand.

"No! Let me go!" Phoebe struggled, "Xander! Don't be an idiot!"

Xander ignored her and watched as the creature slowly lumbered toward him. He ceased his fire, the creature wasn't being much more then annoyed by the plasma caster anyway. He hefted Elan and took a deep breath as the creature lumbered to within twenty feet.

He looked up and smiled under his mask, "Yo, Ugly! You got a green card!?"

"Green card?" Amsheri rumbled in confusion, "What that?"

"I'll take that as a no." Xander grinned, hefting Elan to a better position. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to vacate the area and return to your place of origin."

"Pest." The big demon rumbled as it took another step.

"Don't understand me?" Xander yelled up, "I said, go back to hell and stay there you ugly son of a bitch!"

"No hell me. You go hell."

"Maybe." Xander shrugged, "But you'll be coming with me."

The big demon took its last step forward and took a swipe at Xander. Xander ducked low, barely avoiding the swipe and lunged forward with a strike that caught the demon at the knee. It didn't budge.

Xander rolled clear and got up again, turning toward the demon and holding Elan up. <Ummm... Elan?>

<Yes, Alexander?>

<Please tell me you can kill this thing...>

He could feel her mental shrug. <Not at my current power level.>

"Great." Xander ducked another swipe, <You said I could handle ten percent?>

<Perhaps twelve now... but not without risk...> Elan cautioned.

"Risk!?" Xander said aloud, "Any riskier then playing pattycake with bozo the clown here?"

Silently Elan had to acknowledge the point. The ancient weapon slowly began to glow as Elan channeled her power, her very soul and essence into Xander. His muscles began jumping and twitching like he was holding a live wire in his hand. He could see the silvery gleam of the weapon bouncing off the ground and casting eerie shadows all around him.

Xander lifted the staff to an 'en-guard position and tried like hell to keep his muscles steady.

"What the?" Harrigan muttered as the staff the alien was holdong began to glow and it faced off against the huge monster. The big cop shook his head and kept shooting. <Dumb bastard is a complete loco.>

"Xander...?" Buffy whispered as her eyes caught sight of the glowing staff.

"Oh dear god." Giles breathed in awe, "Good lord Xander... are you ready for this?"

"Ready for what?" Willow asked.

"If he attempts to channel too much power, he could be killed by his own weapon."

Willow stared at the face off between the demon and her best friend and swallowed. "He... wouldn't would he?"

"To save us?" Giles asked rhetorically

"Oh god..." Willow whispered in dread.

The staff flashed in a brilliant burst of light as Xander ducked under another swipe of the demon's claws and struck back. Every hit was accompanied by an electrical noise and a brilliant flash of silver light.

And the screams of the demon.

Amsheri staggered back from the power assisted strikes that were raining on it from the challenger it was facing. The pain was more then the demon had felt in a thousand years, and pain was not something he enjoyed. At least not when it was inflicted on him.

As Xander increased the pace and drew more power from Elan he began to glow with the silvery light, his armor practically becoming incandescent as he felt stronger, faster, and powerful. He had to fight to keep his mind on the job, the surge of power and strength threatening to pull his attention away. His imperfect control continued to leak energy at a ferocious rate, casting shadows and lights all around the graveyard as he whirled about and slammed Elan into the Demon's knees.

Amsheri screamed in pain and collapsed forward, narrowly missing Xander as the boy rolled clear. He rolled on the ground, his eyes seeking the source of the pain and finally lighting on Xander. From it's prone position, Amsheri struck out will all its remaining strength and felt the blow connect with the glowing figure.

Xander was lifted into the air and thrown clear of the graveyard in a high arc that placed him over twenty feet off the ground at its apex.

"Xander!" Phoebe screamed as the silver streak that marked his passage was burned into her retinas.

"Oh my god!" Willow sobbed as a lump caught in her throat.

Beside her Giles lowered his shotgun in shock. "Good lord."

Tara didn't say anything, she just let out an incoherent gasp of pain.

"Xander." Buffy whispered as the glowing figure went right over her head. "No..."

Faith was in the lead of her little group when a flash of light from the graveyard just ahead nearly blinded her. "What the hell?"

Like a shooting star a form hurtled through the air, striking the road jut ahead with an agonizing crash. It's strange glow faded after it hit and a piece of it was thrown away by the shock. A shower of sparks created a wake of light behind the form as it skidded on its back toward them.

As it approached the figure began to turn around, then it suddenly broke into a fast tumble. Arms and legs were a blur as it rolled and tumbled to a stop just ahead of them. With a sinking heart Faith recognized the form.


"Phoebe! Calm down!" Prue stopped her sister from trying to run to where Xander had vanished. "We have to deal with that thing first!"

"Exactly right." A voice announced from behind them.

They turned to see the last twinkle of light fade from around Jennie and Leo.

"Leo! Jennie!" Piper cried, "Tell me you found something."

Jennie nodded, "It wasn't easy... Amsheri hasn't been around for over a thousand years."

"I don't care if it was easy!" Phoebe yelled, "What is it?"

Leo looked serious, "A vanquishing spell... but you'll have to do it. It requires the power of three."

"Well, tell us already!" Prue snapped as she saw the creature start to climb to its feet. "It's getting up from what Xander did to it?"

"Xander?" Jennie looked over, "I don't understand... He shouldn't have been able to harm it in the slightest..."

"Well he did!" Phoebe snapped, "and then it threw him over the wall and into the street! So give me the damned spell so I can vanquish this bastard and check on Xander!"

Jennie paled. "Right... Here's the spell..."

Phoebe grabbed at the ancient piece of parchment and looked at it, then she held it out so her sisters could see it.

"Xander!" Faith rolled him over as gently as she could, her hands being burnt on the metal of his armor. "Oh god, Xander... please say something..."


She fumbled with the release for his helmet, wincing back in pain as it seared her fingers. Finally a hiss signaled her success and she tugged the mask off.

Xander's face was burned, his eyes open but unseeing as they lolled about in his head.


She could see him try to speak as he finally seemed to see her. "Damn that hurt..." He rasped.

"What did this?"

"Amsheri... others... help..." Xander rasped. "Go!"

Faith shook, knowing that she could really help him now. Only Leo or Jennie could. She nodded and stood up, "I'll be back."

The other three looked down at the armored figure but Xander waved his hand at them, "Go... Go! I... I'll live..."

They nodded and ran toward the graveyard.

"I think..." Xander rasped on last time before letting his head relax to the pavement. "Damn that hurts."


Prue and Piper nodded.

"It's getting up... hurry..."

The three sisters began chanting and the power of the ancient spell began to shimmer around their forms. As they picked up the pace and began to flow into the words they drew more of the power and combined it with the power of each other their sisters. As it combined, the magical energy wasn't simply added together, instead it was multiplied geometrically. Compounded and focused the power built up around the sisters and slowly became visible until they finished their chant. Then the pure energy was released like water through the floodgate of a dam.

"Good lord..." Giles whispered as he witnessed the energy release that surged toward the demon.

"I've never seen that much power..." Willow whispered.

Tara watched in silent awe as the energy struck the demon.

Faith, her parents, and Angel arrived on the scene in time to witness the massive energy burst strike the huge creature.

"What the fuck is that?" Harry said in shock.


"What?" He asked looking at his wife.

"Since when do you curse!?"

The rest just stared at the energy in shock and awe.

"Holy fucking god." Harrigan muttered in shock.

Beside him Buffy and Riley could only nod in mute agreement to the sentiment.

Amsheri screamed in pain as the magical energy swept over him and wrapped around him. It drew tighter and tighter, forcing him to curl up and tuck his limbs in closer and closer. Until there was no more room.

That was when the burning pain truly began.

As he screamed in impotent rage and pain Amsheri felt his limbs being burned away by the pure white energy, first his extremities, then his torso, and finally his bulbous head. With a final wail of pain he vanished into the night.

The group walked and stumbled forward until they were all staring at the smoking section of ground the demon had been standing on.

"Fuck." Harrigan muttered as he stared at the charred ground. "What in the fuck was that thing?"

"Demon." Buffy said calmly as she nodded at the sisters. "Nice spell."

Prue nodded and was about to say something when Phoebe broke clear of the group and headed in the direction the demon had batted Xander. Suddenly the shock of the demon wore off and the group remembered their friend.


The whole group, as one, ran out of the graveyard to the street where Xander had vanished. They stopped when the arrived and saw the armored form sitting up and breathing heavily. He looked up at them and the only features they could see were the white of his eyes and teeth as he grinned at them.

"Hey guys." He said tiredly. "Amsheri go down on schedule?"

"Xander!" Phoebe and Faith ran up to him and helped him stand up. They winced sympathetically as he hissed in pain.

"Let's go home?"

Riley looked back, "I guess I'd better stay here... Wouldn't want those guys you left back there to be turned into a vamp's midnight snack..."

Xander nodded, "Giles... you and Buffy stay with him..." Then he glanced at Harrigan and Dutch, "One of you want to keep an eye on your men?"

"I already told you," Harry said, "They're not my men. As long as you're not planning on killing them I don't give a damn what happens. I'm staying with my Daughter."

Xander nodded, then glanced at Harrigan. "How about you?"

"Same thing... uh... minus the daughter bit."

Xander shrugged painfully and nodded. "Up to you guys. Hey, Leo... Jennie? I wouldn't object to a shortcut home."

The two laughed and nodded. "Everyone who's going come in a little closer."

"What?" Harrigan muttered as he was pulled in. "The fuck!?"

The group orbed out of the street, leaving Riley, Buffy, and Giles behind. Riley pulled a phone out of his pocket and hit a button. "Graham? Yeah... get a squad out to Pine Ridge Cemetery... No, just cleanup... yeah... yep. K, cya in a few."

"Was that!?" Harrigan completed his sentence as a fairly large room materialized around him.

"Later." Xander said tiredly as he started to pull off his armor.

Faith and Phoebe helped Xander peel the sections of armor off, wincing as sections of skin were ripped off along with it.

"Ahhhh!" Xander moaned. "Jesus!"

Jennie leaned in, "My God, what happened?"

"I'm still finding that out..." Xander said through clenched teeth.

Jennie shook her head and started healing section of his body as they were uncovered. "Dear lord."

"Jesus Boytoy, what the hell did you do?"

Xander shook his head, hissing as a leg section came off and revealed raw bloody skin underneath. "I tried to handle an energy jolt from Elan... I couldn't channel it right, so the energy leaked out... I didn't feel it at the time but it was like I was in an oven... it heated up my armor and started cooking me."

"Fuck." Faith whispered as she pulled another section of armor off him, wincing at the disgusting sucking noise it made.

"Tell me about it." Xander groaned and leaned back, sighing as Jennie healed the exposed flesh.

"You are NOT doing this again." Phoebe ordered.

Xander nodded tiredly, "Yes mommy."

Phoebe growled and moved as if to thump him, but Faith caught her hand and grinned. "How about we wait until he whole and healthy again before we beat the crap out of him."

Phoebe looked embarrassed, then smiled and nodded. "Deal."

Harrigan snorted, "Lucky guy."

Harry and Helen Tasker looked at each other, a little uncertain what to make of the scene.

Prue, Piper, and Leo just grinned their heads and walked out of the room, heading upstairs to relax. They were quickly followed by Tara and Willow, who had relaxed a lot now that they knew Xander would be alright but were more then a little sickened by the injuries he had sustained.

"You guys coming?" Prue asked over her shoulder, looking at the four not involved in treating Xander.

Harrigan, Doyle, and Angel shrugged and followed them, but the Taskers glanced back at Faith.

"Don't worry about them." Leo said, "They'll catch up in a couple minutes. He's hurt bad, but he'll make it."

The couple nodded and reluctantly followed the group out the door. On the other side they found themselves in an indoor shooting range, complete with an extensive workshop for customizing firearms. A man in a wheelchair spun around and grinned at them.

"Leo, good to see you. What brings you to town?"

The handyman shrugged and smiled, "Xander called us in for the Amsheri."

Andy nodded, "Makes sense. The kid knows when to get help. You guys handle it?"

Prue smiled, "Vanquished it's ass."

"Good, good. Anyone hurt?"

Piper nodded grimly, "Just Xander. But he'll live... Jennie is looking after him now in the Armory."

Andy winced, then nodded. "Well... if anyone was going to get hurt it was going to be the kid."

The two sisters and leo nodded soberly, "Yeah..."

Harry Tasker stepped forward, "Excuse me, but does this happen often around here?"

Andy sort of grinned, "Seems like... oh once a week since I got here..."

Willow giggled a little bit, "Yeah... once a week about covers it."

Prue nodded but added, "They usually aren't that big though..."

"True," Willow said, "but at least that one wasn't casting spells."

"Thank God." Piper said with feeling.

"Spells?" Helen Tasker looked nervous.

The four witches turned and looked at her, a little nervous but nodding.

"Yeah. Magic, you know? Hocus pocus? That sort of thing..."

Helen nodded slowly, "Oh... Harry, is there something else you might want to tell me?" She looked at him accusingly.

He held up his hands, "Honey, I swear! I have no idea what they're talking about."

She glared at him for a while before finally nodding her acceptance. Harry breathed a sigh of relief and looked at the four girls. "You're trying to tell me that magic is real?"

They nodded and Willow added, "And vampires, demons, and all sorts of weird stuff..."

"That's crazy!" Helen said.

Harry shook his head, "I don't know... It makes a weird kind of sense... We have a file section full of this crap. Weird reports and findings that no one can figure out... We usually dump it all on a couple FBI agents we know of, and let them waste their time chasing it down."

"You can't be serious."

Harry shrugged and looked at his wife, "Honey when I was in the army I saw a lot of weird shit. And heard of a lot of even weirder shit. Story of dead soldiers carrying their buddies out of a fire zone, things that don't die when you shoot them... there are a lot of strange stories out there."

Helen nodded, accepting that for them moment. In the light of what they had both seen there was little else to say or do.

"GAAAHHH!" Xander let out a scream as his last boot came off, ripping an entire layer of skin with it. Underneath his foot was a little charred and a lot bloody. Jennie immediately bent to the task of healing it, the cooling energy immediately bringing relief from the pain.

"Ahhhhh...." Xander sighed.

"That's it," Jennie said, "Except for the burns on your face."

Xander nodded and closed his eyes as she bent over him. A white glow was etched against his eyelids and he felt a cooling touch pass over his face. When the glow was gone he opened his eyes and smiled slightly. "Thanks, Doc."

Jennie grinned down at him, "No problem. You'll have my bill by tomorrow."

Xander started to get to his feet, only to be helped instantly by Phoebe and Faith. He grinned and glanced at the two of them, "Jeez... Maybe I should fry myself more often... I could get used to this attention."

Phoebe blushed slightly, but Faith just grinned. "You don't have to turn yourself into an entree just to get *my* attention, and you know it Lover."

Xander laughed slightly and shook his head, "Whatever you say, Faith. Whatever you say."

"Don't you forget it, boytoy."

"Hey kid," Andy greeted him as the four of them came out of the armory. "Heard you got a little roasted?"

"Medium rare." Xander grinned.

Andy shook his head, grinning ruefully. "You really should be more careful you know."

"So they tell me, Andy. So they tell me."

Konzaki grinned and jerked his head toward the stairs. "The others said they were heading up to the living room. I think that Red and Tara are probably going to break out the scotch you guys keep... Some of your new guests look like they need it."

Xander nodded. "I guess I'd better get up there. Be a proper host and all that."

Konzaki grinned and nodded as Xander started moving stiffly up the stairs, supported by the two young women.

The group was sitting in the living room stared at each other uncomfortably as the situation wore off and they realized that they had not idea who anyone really was. Or worse, they did know who some of the others were.

Angel, until this point hadn't had any time to think. Now he stood in a corner and stared at Jenny Calendar like a man who's seen a ghost. Which is a fair assessment of his current state of mind considering that he remembered very clearly the sound of her neck snapping as he killed her.

Jenny, for her part, was trying to ignore Angel's stare as much as she could. Not because she harbored ill feelings toward the vampire, being an Angel tended to flush out misdirected anger quite effectively, but because this wasn't the time or place for that particular conversation.

The Taskers were sitting stiffly side by side on the sofa, trying to process the events of the evening as much as coming to terms with the fact that their daughter was alive.

Willow turned to them and smiled, trying to make them feel at ease. "You're really Faith's parents?"

Helen smiled back, relieved that someone was talking. "Yes... I guess... Her name is Dana though..."

Willow looked a little said, "She never told us... but Faith keeps a lot of things to herself."

Helen leaned toward the red head, "Has she... has she been happy?"

Willow's face darkened. "I think you should talk to her about that... she... she hasn't had the easiest time..."

"No... no I suppose she wouldn't have..." Helen replied sadly.

Harry shifted in his seat, "How long have you known Dana?"

Willow looked over at the big man, "almost two years now..."

"You're her friends?"

Willow paused, then nodded. "We are now..."

Harry heard the hesitancy, but let it pass after making a note to come back to it later. "Who is this 'Xander' person she is with?"

Now Willow smiled, "Xander? He's my best friend... we grew up together."

<Ah, now this I can work with.> Helen thought as she leaned forward, "So... what's he like?"

Tara smiled from where she sat, "He's Xander."

There were chuckles from the women around the room, and a snort from Angel. Harry turned to look at Angel, "You don't like him?"

"Like?" Angel shook his head, "Hell no. Respect? That's something else."

"Why don't you like him?" Helen asked.

"He calls me names," Angel grinned, "And generally annoys the hell out of me. Though he does have his reasons."

"And they are?"

<Why do I feel like I'm being interrogated by professionals?> Angel considered his response, "He uses humor to keep the group together... I happen to be his favorite straight man when I'm around... we also have had differences in the past."

"Why do you respect him?" Harry asked quietly.

Angel wasn't sure he wanted to answer, but he did understand why these people were asking. "Xander... can always be counted on to watch your back when you need it... I... I know a lot of people that I can trust to save my life in a pinch... but I've always known that, if it came down to it, I could trust Xander to... do what had to be done."

Harry and Helen looked confused, but Angel refused to elaborate when they questioned him further.

"Mom, Dad... Stop interrogating my friends."

The room turned to look at where Xander had appeared with Faith on one side and Phoebe on the other. He grinned a little ruefully and nodded at everyone. "Some night huh?"

Chuckles floated around the room and even Angel cracked a slight smile.

Xander soon found that he was absolutely not allowed to walk on his own, and was escorted to a chair and forced to sit down. When he was down the two women took up places on either side of them and made certain he wasn't getting up.

"Come on, Faith... Phoebe..." Xander protested, "I'm ok... Jenny's got the magic touch, you know that!"

Both shook their heads, "No way, boytoy. You ain't moving until its time to I tucked you in. Simple as that."

Harry and Helen glanced at each other again, not certain what to make of this. Both realized, however, that their daughter had grown up a lot since they had last seen her. Probably far too much.

"Dana..." Helen spoke up, "What's going on here?"

Faith actually grinned, her normal demeanor solidly back in place even in the presence of her parents. "Just a pretty average demon hunting team, Mom... if it goes bump in the night, we kick its ass."

Xander interjected quickly, "We handle patrols in this town to keep the vampire population down and try to keep the peace between the demon and human inhabitants. I know it sounds weird but most large cities have at least one or two groups that handle this sort of thing, though on a smaller scale."

"Assuming I believe you, why are large cities working on a smaller scale?" Harrigan stepped in.

Xander shrugged, "Sunnydale needs major protection, this is spook central."


"The Spanish called it Boca del Inferno." Jenny stepped in, "In English it means..."

"The Mouth of Hell." Harry Tasker interrupted. "Tell me you are not serious."

"They are," Angel said quietly. "Sunnydale is known around the world as a place where Demons rule the roost... or it was until a few months ago."

"What happened a few months ago?"

Angel shrugged, "Stories started filtering out... most of them are pretty hard to believe, but I'm starting to see where they got their basis..." He finished while staring at Xander.

"What sort of stories?" Helen asked, not really understanding the subtext of the conversation.

Angel shrugged again, "Talk of two Slayers... that much I knew was true, but they also said that the Charmed Ones had resurfaced and were protecting the Hellmouth, and then there was a military group, all sorts of other weird stuff... and someone the stories only called a hunter. No name, no title... Some stories even went so far as to say that the Vatican had a team stationed here..."

"Hey, you're famous, lover!" Faith jabbed Xander in the ribs.

"Ow!" Xander twitched, "cut that out! And I doubt they mean me..."

"Who else?" Faith laughed, "Farm boy?"

Xander rolled his eyes, "They're just stories Faith..."

Helen and Harry again exchanged glances filled with concern. "Dana, honey, I think this is a dangerous place for you to be living..."

Faith broke out laughing and even Xander had a hard time keeping a straight face. He managed to sober up fast when Harry growled though. "Sorry! Sorry... It's just... well, no where is safe for Faith anymore... She's a target for vamps and such now, they don't much like her kind."

"Her kind!?" Helen looked confused.

"Faith is what's called a Slayer..." Xander said, "And right about now I wish Giles were here... he loves giving this speech."

Faith snickered, "Aw, I think we can handle it just once..."

"Slayer?" Harry growled out.

Xander took a breath, "The Slayer is sort of the lower level demon's ultimate boogey man... girl... whatever. Anything that can be killed by physical combat quakes in their boots at the mention of a slayer... or they quiver in excitement at the challenge of one. Slayers are girls, human girls usually 15 or 16 that are gifted with speed and strength... not to mention instinctive combat knowledge and then charged with the defense of humanity."

"And our daughter is a... Slayer?" Helen Tasker cringed at the thought.

"I do not believe it." Harry said.

Faith grinned and stood up, "Thumb war."

Harry let out a loud laugh at the memory she had invoked and nodded, "Alright... but you asked for it."

The two grasped each others hands and spoke together. "One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war."

In seconds, Harry's big thumb was pinned under Faith's dainty one and try as he might the big man couldn't move. Then he tried to pull his arm back, but Faith just grinned and held him in place. His muscles strained and Faith's arm tensed as he exerted a lot of pressure, but she didn't crack. Finally he gave in. "Alright... alright, I believe you..."

Harry sat back down and glared at Xander, "Who did this to my daughter!? Who put her in the line of fire?"

Xander shrugged, "One of the higher powers... God, Fate, hell it could have been a demon for all I know... some of those guys have wicked senses of humor. The standard line is that she was chosen by God as a warrior for the light... guess it just depends on what you believe."

Tasker shook his head, "Dammit..."

"Hey, dad, relax... it's not like I was Ms safety before you know?"

Harry laughed, remembering some of the antics his daughter had gotten herself involved in. "That may be... but you're still my daughter... We'll talk about this Slayer thing when we get home."

Xander winced and ducked away from Faith.

"Home!?" Faith raged, "This *is* my home, Dad! I have people who care about me here... who need me!"

"We love you, Dana," Helen said, "And we need you too..."

Faith shook her head, "No... you need Dana... But I'm not her anymore. I'm Faith, The Vampire Slayer. I've saved the world, I'm not the little kid who used to swipe Uncle Gib's money anymore..."

Xander snickered, "No, you just steal my credit card."

Faith turned and glared at him, "You stay out of this!"

Harry looked at Faith, uncertain. She was almost eighteen now, and had been on her own for just over four years. He thought back to his life when he was seventeen, and remembered the first firefight he had been in and the loyalty he felt for his comrades. He swallowed. "If you want to stay here... then that's fine with us."

"Harry!" Helen objected.

"Honey, she's a grown woman now... she grew up without us..." Then he looked back at her, "But I hope you won't mind if we visit... a lot."

Faith grinned, "You'd better expect me to be visiting you too... I've missed you guys, I really have... but I can't leave the life I've made here... the life... that Xander and the others helped me make."

Harry nodded and reached out for his daughter. Faith got up and was again lost in the big man's arms. Then Helen joined them and the reunited family shared a very long and very public hug.

Xander watched, a smile growing on his face that was as sad as it was happy. He was happy for Faith to the point that he might have cried if it weren't for all the others in the room, particularly Angel. He smirked inwardly, it would be a cold day in the hot place before he cried in front of *that* vampire.

Even so, as happy as he was, he felt a slight pang as he watched Faith with her parents. Parents that so obviously loved her. He dug inwardly, trying to place why he felt that way. Was it because his own parents couldn't decide if they were humans or jackals? No. He couldn't be jealous of someone else for that kind of good fortune. Then he found it. He felt a sense of loss, like he had just lost part of his connection to Faith. He felt like she had taken a step out of the darkness his world have become.

Once he placed the source of the feeling he viciously annihilated it with brutal efficiency. It had no place in his heart, such as it was. Then he turned his eyes back to the family and smiled again, without the sadness this time.

As the embrace broke up Harry looked down at his daughter and frowned. "I suppose that it was magic that healed that bullet wound?"

"Bullet wound?" Helen looked at her husband and daughter in shock, "What bullet wound."

The answer came from across the room.

"No exactly." Jenny spoke up, smiling a little shyly when they looked at her. "Magic doesn't do healing very well... Usually the only way to heal using magic is to transfer energy from one person to another... but that also transfers the wound back to the caster. It all has to do with the balance of nature that magic revolves around..."

Harry shook his head, "Then how?"

Leo spoke quietly, "A granted power... from well..." He pointed up.

Half the occupants of the room looked at him with wide eyes.

He shrugged, "It's a long story."

"Enough." Harry held up his hands, "Enough for one night... I'll be up for weeks just trying to figure all this out."

The group laughed, and Xander nodded. "Tell me about it. Every time I turn around I'm getting hit with something new and completely screwy. Gets to be a pain after a while."

About half the room nodded and a couple words of agreement were muttered with feeling.

Harry looked at his daughter, "Dana... What happened after we... left?"

Faith looked uncomfortable and shifted. Xander picked up on her mood quickly and forced himself to his feet despite Phoebe trying to keep him in the chair. "I think that we should probably give you guys some privacy... Everyone, if you please, We have a great gym on the top floor and some surprisingly extensive recreation rooms... My roommate, Jarod, tends to be something of a packrat so you never know what you might find. We'll leave Faith and her... parents to their discussion."

The Taskers nodded at Xander in gratitude and Faith shot him a grateful glance. As everyone filed out of the room she spoke softly, "Xander? Could you... stay? I mean... You can if you want to?"

Xander paused, hearing a tone he usually didn't hear from Faith. Pleading. He nodded and turned to Phoebe, "Take them up to the lounge on the fourth floor, would you? You know where everything is..."

She nodded and smiled, then started ushering everyone out of the room and up the stairs.

"It started just after you guys went missing..." Faith began haltingly, "I was still at home... sort of throwing a party..."

"Dana!" Helen said involuntarily before she remembered herself. "Oh... I'm sorry...."

"No... no, mom, it's ok." Faith threw her a smile. "You guys told me that you were trusting me and I... well, I didn't exactly deserve it. In the middle of the party Uncle Spence showed up at the door with about five guys I didn't know... He didn't say anything about all the people and music, I'd never seen him look so serious..."

Harry smiled slightly, no one but Dana ever got to call Spencer Trilby 'Uncle Spence'.

"He... he told me that you were missing... that he was taking me someplace safe until they found you."

Faith got a hold of herself quickly and continued, "He had me moved to a foster care place..."

Harry shook his head, "It was a safe house... Omeg... My agency uses it when an Agent's children are at risk... It's disguised as a Foster facility to stay under the radar."

"Oh." Faith said quietly. "I didn't know..."

"You weren't supposed to..." Harry said, his face set. "But my group does take care of its own."

Faith bit her lower lip and nodded. "I stayed there for a couple days... but I couldn't take it. Everyone was... sickly sweet... I couldn't stand it. When I kept asking if there was any word on you they kept putting me off... So I broke into office and jimmied the lock and pulled my file. Under parents it said 'deceased'."

Helen sucked in a breath of dismay. "Oh honey... That was there in case one of your fathers enemies found you... it was to make them think that you weren't of any use to them... it was just to protect you."

Faith swallowed. "I... I didn't know. I thought it was for real. I left the home that night, and never looked back. I found myself in Boston a few days later... running from the tears I guess."

Helen took a step toward Faith, but the Slayer backed away.

"I lived on the street for almost two years... I... I've..." Faith stopped, she took a breath and changed tack. "I changed my name when I started running with a Gang in the third month... No one used their real names there..."

"Why 'Faith'?" Xander asked quietly, thinking he probably knew the answer.

She looked at him. "I... it was a joke on myself... A reminder of what I had lost when I found out my parents were dead."

Xander nodded slowly.

The Taskers closed their eyes, their faces masked by the pain they felt for and from their daughter.

Xander reached out and laid a single hand on her shoulder. Nothing more. No hug, no words of comfort. Just one hand. But that was all it took, and Faith relaxed and tossed him a slight smile.

"I'd been on the street for just over two years when I was called..." Faith grimaced at the rush of memories that flooded back. "When my Watcher was killed I did what she told me to do... I came to Sunnydale, looking for Giles."

The Faith swallowed, and tensed up. Xander knew what she was about to say and his grip on her shoulder tightened. "Faith... that's enough for now. We'll deal with the rest another time."

Harry Tasker was about to say something but the glare Xander pierced him with warned him off and he nodded.

Helen missed the byplay completely, instead she went again to her daughter who didn't back away this time, and held her. "Oh baby..." She said over and over again in a mournful voice. "I'm so sorry..."

"It's ok Mom... It's ok..." Faith tried to reassure her, but her voice cracked and all the pain flood out.

Helen had ushered Faith out of the room, Mother and Daughter moving off to console each other.

Harry sat down heavily on the sofa, and buried his face in his hands. Xander sat down opposite him and just watched the big man quietly.

"I looked for her, you know." Harry said without lifting his hands.

Xander said nothing.

"When we escaped, and found that Dana was gone... I looked everywhere. I had agents searching for her across the country... There is still an notice in every police station in the country with her last photo and a description."

Xander took a breath, "Faith's been very good at avoiding the police... and anyone she didn't want to be found by."

Harry looked up, shaking his head. "I just don't understand it. I've been able to find terrorists hiding halfway around the world... but I couldn't find my own daughter when she was only a few hundred miles away."

"She was on the streets." Xander said quietly, "She wasn't exactly using a credit card or making deals with people you could watch. And sometimes it's easier to hide in your backyard then it is to disappear anywhere else. You did what you could, I believe that... and so will Faith."

"Faith..." Harry said, "I... She really is Faith now isn't she? My Dana is still gone."

For a moment Xander didn't have an answer to that.

When he spoke he looked straight at the stricken man across from him. "Let me tell you about Faith. She's tough, mean, and as strong a person as I've ever met. She talks dirty, fights dirty, and lives life from one second to the next..."

Harry looked up, his face still stricken by Xander's assessment of his daughter.

Xander continued, "But that's a mask. Underneath she's scared, fragile, and still your little girl. I've known Faith for almost two years now, off and on, and I've only just begun to get as close to her as you managed in ten seconds tonight. Be patient, and be there for her... and I promise you that you'll get your daughter back. She'll be grown up, and a little harder maybe... but she will be your daughter."

Harry nodded slowly. In truth there wasn't anything else he could do. He got up slowly and looked at Xander. "You looked after her didn't you?"

Xander shook his head, "Not like I should have. To my regret."

The big man wasn't certain how to take that. But he nodded at Xander and looked toward the hallway. "I should go see my wife and daughter."

Xander nodded. "Yes you should. I'll show you where her room is."

"Thank you."

Outside X&J's Place

"This the place?" The woman asked.

The man shrugged.

"You're not sure?"


She looked at him in annoyance, "Well lets find out."

The two of them walked up to the door and rang the bell.

And more trouble had come to Sunnydale.

Halfway up the stairs Xander cursed as the bell rang, he turned to Harry and shrugged, "Hang on a sec."

Harry nodded, "Not a problem."

Xander stiffly made his way to the door and opened it. His eyes widened, "Oz!?"

"Hey, man." Oz nodded.

Xander looked at him, and the pale woman behind him. Xander's face changed noticeably when he saw her. He stepped back, leaving the door open, but didn't say a word.

Oz smiled slightly and nodded, then walked into the building. The woman looked a little confused, but followed him in.

Xander relaxed and grinned at Oz, "Damn, man. Good to see you again."

Oz nodded and smiled.

"You never change, do you?" Xander laughed.

"I change." Oz said quietly.

"If you say so."

"Is Buffy around?"

Xander raised an eyebrow, "She's on cleanup duty out at a graveyard... We took down a 3rd circle demon tonight, buncha dumbass military jokers got in the way... She and her boyfriend are babysitting them until they can get them inside and away from the night life."

Oz nodded. "Angel?"

Xander shook his head, "No, New guy. Angel is upstairs, he usually works out of LA but he popped by tonight to kick my ass."

Oz raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment.

"Who's she?" Xander glanced at Hannah, still with a little distrust in his eyes.


Xander snorted, "That tells me a lot. Oh, the brick wall back there is Harry Tasker... Faith's dad."


"Yeah, shocked the hell out of us too." Xander grinned. "Come on, we've got a bit of a 'saved the town' party going on..."

"Can't." Oz said simply, "Trouble."

Xander's heart sank. "Shit. Ok, spill."

Oz shrugged, "Friends in Orwell, a town north of here, need help."

Xander sighed. Getting information from Oz was like pulling teeth. "What kind of friends?"


"What kind of trouble."

Oz shrugged, "That's the weird thing."


Hannah cut in, "Some group led by a priest is running a witch hunt... They said that they had the Vatican's backing..."

Xander cursed, "Fuck! I told them what I'd do... I fucking told them!"

Oz, Hannah, and Tasker watched in something akin to shock as Xander grabbed for the telephone and started dialing.

"What the?" Harry muttered.

Oz just shrugged.

"Jack? Jack!? What the fuck do you people have going on Orwell? Don't give me that! Well get a hold of your boss and check it out. I've got a report of a fucking witch hunt being led by a priest. No, I'm not kidding you. Listen, Jack... I told you what I'd do. Alright... get back to me. I'll be prepping at home for the next few hours. You know I can't do that, Jack.... You've got a few hours. Max."

Xander hung up.

Oz looked at him, and raised a single eyebrow.

Xander growled, "Jack Crow, he leads the Vatican team they assigned to the Hellmouth."


Talon growled, "You know those bastards?"

Xander shrugged, "The teams have a lot of autonomy in the field... They aren't supposed to go after non-hostile groups. Generally speaking they deal in Vampires and demons only."


Xander shook his head, "Come on, we'll go up and break the news the to the rest of the guys."

"What is going on?" Harry stopped Xander at the bottom of the stairs.

Xander sighed, "We're not done for the night yet. A team of vampire hunters has started targeting some witches."

"This is a bad thing?" Harry wasn't fully certain.

Xander looked at him, "Those three girls who saved all our lives tonight?"


"Witches. The guy who healed Faith?"

"Yeah?" Harry's voice became grimmer.

"A Whitelighter. A guardian Angel assigned to protect witches."

"I see."

Xander headed up the stairs with everyone following behind.

At the top of the stairs Xander suddenly stopped cold and looked back. "Shit. Oz, man... I... I've got something to tell you... about Willow."

Oz looked up at him, "Is she alright?"

"Yeah... yeah! She's fine... it's just..."

Oz nodded slowly, "She's seeing someone."

Xander bit his lip and nodded, "Yeah... it's... well, She's seeing a very nice... ummm... girl. Her name's Tara."

Oz stopped breathing for a second. "Whoa."

"Sorry man."

Oz nodded. "It... its ok. Surprising... but ok."

Xander snorted. "Yeah... Threw us for a loop too, but me and Buffy couldn't exactly comment much at the time."


"Long story." Xander grimaced, "One better told over beer... lots and lots of beer."

Oz smiled. "Ok."

"C'mon, let's go."

Xander walked into the recreation room, Harry and Oz flanking him and Hannah trailing behind.

"We've got problems." He announced grimly.

"OZ!" Willow squealed as she spotted the young man, shock evident on her face.

Oz smiled and nodded at her.

Xander sighed, "Like I was saying... We've got problems."

"When did you get back!?"

"Just now." Oz shrugged.

"Uh... Problems...? We have a situation..." Xander tried again.

Willow moved across the floor, looking like she was going to hug Oz for a moment before she paused and looked distinctly uncomfortable. "I... uh... It's... uh.. Good to see you..."

Oz smiled gently at her, "It's good to see you too, Will."

Xander sighed and leaned against the wall, giving up any attempt to deliver his message.

"I... umm..." Willow stammered.

"I know." Oz smiled a little regretfully, "Xander prepared me."

Willow's eyes widened as she blushed a hot pink and glared at Xander.

Xander raised his hands, "Hey... I'm not going to let a buddy walk into a minefield like that without some warning."

Willow still glared at him, but he stared back unrepentant. "And if your quite through, I'd like to let you guys in on something that Oz just brought us."

"What is it?" Phoebe looked over, catching something in his voice.

"A witch hunt."

Five witches and two Whitelighters stiffened.

"What!?" Prue stepped forward, her eyes blazing.

"A coven in a town call... Orwell?" Xander glanced at Oz and received a nod, "A Vatican team is overstepping the bounds."

Phoebe growled. "Where is Crow?"

"I've got him checking the story now. I told him that he has a couple hours while we get ready."

Phoebe looked like she was ready to kill, "Xander... we have to stop them!"

Xander stepped over to her, "Phoebe... calm down. I told you and I told them what I would do if they stepped over that line and I found out about it. We'll get them."

Phoebe nodded slowly and turned to her sisters, pulling them into a corner where the started talking softly.

Harrigan stepped forward, "What the hell is going on?"

Xander sighed, "A shitstorm."


"They failed."

"All of them?"

"The Father. The Champion. And Amsheri."

"Amsheri failed? How is this possible."

"She helped him until the Charmed Ones stopped the Demon."

"We still have one more play to make."

"If that fails?"

"Then we will be forced to intervene personally."

Buffy and Giles let themselves into Xander's place and looked around. "Hello? Anyone here?"

A few seconds later the intercom chirped to life. "Armory, Buffy. Trouble."

Buffy groaned and looked at Giles. "Isn't there some kinda rule about multiple crisis in one night?"

Giles shook his head and started down the stairs without answering.

"Isn't there? Come on... There HAS to be!"

Buffy kicked the floor and pouted for a second before finally following Giles down the stairs. "Someone is gonna get their ass kicked over this."

Xander grimaced as he checked out his armor. "Oh god... I can't believe how bad this smells already."

Jenny laughed, "You did leave more skin in it then on your body."

"Don't remind me." Xander groaned, "If it weren't for you I'd be in a burn ward with burns all over my body."

Jenny laughed outright, "*All* over is right... Maybe you should get yourself some asbestos underwear."

Xander winced, squeezing his legs shut involuntarily. "I said don't remind me."

Phoebe giggled. "You're just lucky that the rest of the group left the room before Jenny had to heal... those."

"Enough!" Xander groaned, "Please!"

"Alright," Prue stepped in, "Fun is fun, but we have something to do now."

"Right." Xander shook his head, trying to clear the memories. "Everyone, gear up."

"Right." Harrigan muttered as he grabbed one of the Second Chance Kevlar vests off the wall and fitted it on. "Why am I going along again?"

Xander looked at him oddly, "Don't ask me... You volunteered."

"Damn. I have to stop doing that."

Xander chuckled and glanced down at his armor. "How the hell am I going to get this mess cleaned out?"

Willow raised a hand, "Ummm I think I can help..."

He looked at her curiously, "You can?"

"Ummm... if Jenny thinks its ok?"

Jenny sighed, "Yes... we are in a bit of a hurry... but don't make a habit of it."

Willow smiled, "I wont."

She stepped up to the armor and focused her will over it. "Nictor Erisum."

A brilliant white light surrounded the armor, then faded a short while later, leaving the armor sparkling.

"Whoa..." Xander muttered, with a rueful grin. "That's cleaner then it's ever been... of course, a few minutes ago it was smelling like Ruatcha's ship... so I guess it didn't have to be too terribly clean to beat that."

"Your so welcome." Willow pantomimed a gagging motion, "And next time keep the extra info to yourself."

"Who is this... Ruatcha?" Harry asked curiously as he strapped on a shoulder holster and two beretta pistols.

"That's the... well, I think it was a guy, who gave me the armor."

"Gave you!?" Harrigan looked shocked, "I thought you took it off one of the buggers."

Xander shook his head, "Hell no. This stuff was built for one of their kids... I'd never get one of their adult suits to fit..."

"Wait a minute." Harry interrupted, "One of those things... GAVE you a suit?"

Xander shrugged, "He wanted me to hunt with him for a while, but he decided to pick a prey that was really dangerous..."

"You hunted with those things!?"

Xander nodded as he started strapping the newly cleaned armor back on. "Yeah... No humans, if that's what your worried about. They hunt other things..."

"Like what?"

Xander grimaced, "Don't ask. Really sick things... Makes your average demon look cuddly."

Harrigan shook his head, "Were the hell did you find something like that?"

"Not really sure," Xander admitted, "I'm not really very good a astrophysics."


"Long story."

"Boy I've heard that one before." Buffy smirked from where she was standing at the door, "So what's the newest?"

Xander grinned and strapped the last section of armor on, and looked around. "Everyone got their stuff?"

The occupants nodded.

"Ok, lets take this upstairs."

The group started to file out when Xander noticed that Hannah was still dressed as she had been earlier. He reached out and stopped her, "Hannah... why didn't you put on some armor?"

She knocked his hand off, "Cause I don't need it."

"You don..." Xander stopped in mid sentence, "Excuse me... hold onto this would you?"

She frowned at him but took the silver cylinder as asked. Xander's expression cleared up. "I see.. Ok, let's go."

"Huh?" She frowned as he took the cylinder back. He didn't say anything, just winked at her and followed the others out of the basement.

"You've got to be kidding me!?" Buffy raged.

Oz shook his head.

"What are you planning, Xander?" Buffy looked at him.

Xander stared at her evenly. "You know what I'm planning, Buffy. You were here when I told Crow what I'd do."

Buffy swallowed, "Xander... that part about killing the control officer? You weren't serious... right?"

Xander didn't answer he just turned back to the others, "Alright. We ready?"


Xander turned back to Buffy, "I'm not going to let them get away with this. Anything, I'll decide on site."

Buffy swallowed but didn't object.

"Ok, If everyone is ready we should..."

Xander was interrupted when the front door burst open and Jack Crow entered, followed by Adam Guiteau and Father Cranston.

"You almost missed us, Jack." Xander said after he relaxed. "What do you know about Orwell?"

Jack sighed, "It's probably a cluster fuck."


"The control officer up there is a Cardinal by the name of Garen. He's one of the hardliners in the organization... and he likes to recruit from the ranks of old KKK."

Xander snorted. "Fuckin lovely."

"You've got to be kidding me?" Harrigan muttered.

Jack shook his head, then did a double take. "Hey... who are you? Who the hell are half you people?"

He looked across the room, taking in every face until his eyes came to rest on Angel. "Shit!" He yelled and went for his gun.

Xander leapt across the room and grabbed Crow's arm, forcing the pistol to the ceiling. "What the hell are you doing, Jack!?"

"Fuck, kid! He's a fucking vampire!"

Xander snorted, "I *know* that, Jack..."

"Fuck kid, I've gotta dust the bastard!"

"Jack, Jack, Jack," Xander chided, "This is my HOME... and you're packing magnesium bullets, you want to start a fire? Wait a second and I'll get you a stake."

"Xander!" Buffy and Angel yelled at the same time.

"Or not..." Xander laughed, "Angel is ok, Jack."

"He's a fucking vampire, kid."

"He's got a soul, Jack." Xander said patiently, "And while I understand the desire, I really can't let you kill him just now. We might need the muscle."

"A soul?" Father Cranston walked toward Angel, his expression curious. "I didn't think that was possible..."

Angel shifted uncomfortably under the old priests stare, "I... well, the demon, pissed off a Gypsy clan... Not a good idea, they tend to be creative when it comes to revenge."

Cranston smiled slightly, "Yes... I can see that."

With that Cranston turned away, apparently satisfied.

Jack Crow set his jaw, "I'm not working with a fucking vampire."

"Fine." Xander said, "Stay here. Right now I need him more then you... and I can be more sure of his loyalties in this mess then yours."

Jack swallowed. He couldn't let the kid go into this without him, he had to make sure that the kid was reading the situation right, and if he was then Jack had to help clean it up. "Fine." He gritted out, "The vamp lives. For now."

"Good. If that's settled, we have a job to do."

With the help of the two Whitelighters the entire group materialized in a small glade perched on a hill that overlooked the small town of Orwell.

Xander stepped forward and carefully fitted his mask over his head and examined the town.

"What do you see?" Jarod asked, stepping up beside him.

"Not a damned thing. The town is cold. Literally." Xander shook his head and flipped through the other settings. A moment later he whispered. "Got some radio activity down there... hang on a sec... got it."

He listened to the garbled nonsense for a few seconds before shaking his head in disgust. "Whoever it is, is using a scrambled signal. I'm running it through the computer, but I don't know if it'll be able to unscramble it."

He turned back to the rest, looking the 'team' over. Angel and Doyle were standing to one side, along with the other L.A. resident, Mike Harrigan, looking around a little nervously. Given the rest of the team it wasn't a huge shock. The Whitelighters were standing by their respective charges, Buffy and Giles along side Jenny and the younger Wiccans.

The Vatican trio, Crow, Guiteau, and Cranston were standing off to the other side alone. Again, not a surprise given the situation the group found itself in. Faith and her parents rounded out the rest of the loosely assembled group, except for himself, Jarod, and Miss Parker.

Xander took a deep breath. This wasn't exactly the sort of team he'd prefer to have at his side in a crisis. Oh, they were all competent, hell they were downright scary, but they were not a team. Xander hoped to hell that they would watch out for each other long enough to finish up what had to be done. Frankly, Xander didn't like the fact that most of the people here had deferred leadership to him. That responsibility he didn't need, want, or wish on his worst enemy.

He sighed, remembering the good old days when he was the goofball with fondness for a few seconds before he stepped forward and spoke in the hollow sounding voice his mask gave him.

"Ok, Let's go down and check this out. Those of you with weapons, be careful... This is a small town, we don't want a body count here. We just want to get the witches out alive. Fair 'nuff?"

Everyone nodded.

Xander nodded toward Oz, "Oz, Hannah... walk with me."

"So," Xander began as they marched down the hill, "What happened?"

Oz started to speak, but Hannah cut him off. "We stopped in town for gas on our way back from Toronto..."

"Toronto?" Xander glanced at Oz, then withered under Hannah's glare. "Sorry..."

"Like I said," She continued, "We stopped for gas, but no one showed up. We got curious and went into the station... the place was deserted. The whole damned town was deserted."


"Yeah... It's a small town, maybe a hundred people. Maybe. We got curious, started looking around..."

"What did you find?"

Hannah looked grim and nodded up ahead. "That."

Xander glanced to the small hill they were approaching. He saw a large pole sticking out of the top of it, and another behind it, and two others behind that. Xander swallowed as he realized that each of them was blackened and charred. He turned slightly and climbed the hill.

Under his mask he could see the fading warmth in three of them, embers buried deep in the pile of ash that still had some heat. He knelt over one pile and scrapped his gauntlet through it, until he hit something solid. Drawing the item out he looked at it and growled low in his throat.

He didn't see it, but behind him Harrigan and Tasker both looked nervous when that sound echoed out form under the mask. Both men reached involuntarily for their weapons.

Xander clenched his right hand into a fist, triggering the blade release on his gauntlet. He lightly scraped the object he had pulled out of the ash with one razor sharp blade. Xander's voice was cold when he spoke. "Bone."

Behind him Hannah nodded, "Yeah. One of them was still burning when we got here. She... I think it was a she, was dead but the fire was still going pretty strong."

"Jesus." Harrigan muttered behind them and Xander could hear the sobs and gasps coming from the five witches.

"We've got to get these guys." Buffy spoke, her voice thick with emotion and raw anger.

Xander shook his head, <I don't know who you people are... but I'd start looking for some deep fucking holes to hide in.>

He got up slowly and turned back to Hannah, "You knew that there was a witch hunt going on, so you must have met some of them right?"

Hannah nodded.

"Tell me." He ordered.

Hannah pointed toward a wooded glade just to the west of the town. "They were hiding out there, when they first saw us they thought we were with the hunters and attacked."


"Binding spells, they called them. Non-lethal."

Xander nodded, his respect for the victims rising a notch even as his anger with the attackers floated higher still. "After that?"

"They were questioning us when the attack happened."

Jarod, walking alongside, spoke up. "How did they attack? How many people? Can you remember what weapons they had?"

Hannah glanced over at the tall man and nodded. "They were well equipped, automatic weapons, a helicopter, and something that let them walk through magic with being affected."

"Anti-magic talismans." Giles said softly from behind, "There are several varieties that could be of use in this type..."

"That's enough Giles..." Xander said, "We'll worry about what kind they were after we have some hard facts."

"Oh... ummm, yes, of course."

Hannah continued. "The attack was hard and fast, they weren't letting them catch their breath or recover... I don't know why, I mean they were immune to magic..."

Xander shook his head, "Only directly... You can pull a few tricks using indirect magic that the talismans wouldn't help with. They were using good strategy."

"Good strategy!" Willow protested, "They were monsters!"

"Willow." Xander said sharply, "I'm not endorsing their actions, just pointing out that they aren't idiots. We're going to have to be careful."

Willow quieted down, Tara resting her hand on the red Wiccan's shoulder.

"What else?" Xander asked quietly.

Hannah pointed beyond the woods, "I know that the townspeople retreated into a system of caves just on the other side of the glade. The Vatican boys 'rescued' us and managed to break the magic that was holding on to us... They were pretty friendly until they somehow realized what we were."

Xander nodded. "Yeah. A werewolf and a walking dead lady wouldn't be high on their list of friendly types."

"How did you...?"

Xander turned to her, the moonlight glinting off the alien mask. "Never mind. So you broke away from them?"

"Not quite." Oz muttered, "They broke out silver bullets and were going to execute me. Hannah snapped the rope they tied her up with and took down half the men in the area before one of them got her with a bullet meant for me."

Hannah nodded, "I haven't felt pain like that since I died. It didn't kill me, but it almost put me out for the count. That's when Oz changed."

"Changed?" Xander asked sharply.

Oz nodded. "I told you, everything changes."

Xander smiled under his mask, "So you succeeded?"

Oz laughed slightly, "Look up."

Xander did, but didn't know what he was looking for until he realized. There was a full moon. "Holy..."

"Then we ran... well, Oz carried me for the first bit... got me out into the woods and checked me out." Hannah winced, "He cut the bullet out of me with his pocket knife. After that I healed, slower then normal, but I healed. Then we decided to make a run for it."


Hannah shook her head, "Sunnydale, or San Francisco. I wanted to try to get to the Charmed Ones we'd been hearing rumors about... and I didn't believe the rumors we'd heard about Sunnydale."

"Really?" Xander smiled under his mask.

Oz shrugged and answered for her, "We've been hitting vamp bars in major cities across the country... they're saying some really strange stuff about Sunnydale. Even I don't believe them all, but I figured that if we could get to Buffy we'd be set."

Xander chuckled, "Hannah, Oz, I'd like you to meet Prue, Piper and Phoebe... The Charmed Ones."


Hannah looked shocked, "They were in Sunnydale?"

Prue nodded, "Tonight we were."

She smiled slightly and looked at Oz, "I guess I owe ya one, wolfie."

Oz shrugged and smiled.

The group arrived at a path that led into the woods and Jarod walked out in front. He knelt down and examined the ground carefully. "Maybe twenty people in army boots went through here last... they haven't come back yet."

Xander nodded. "Ok, I'm going to scout ahead. The rest of you, give me a two minute head start and then follow."

"Xander! You can't go ahead alone..." Buffy objected.

Xander turned toward her, and triggered the shift field. "I'll be ok."

"Oh." Buffy searched but couldn't see him in the shadows of the woods. Her sharp hearing could pick up his footsteps though as he walked away.

Jarod straightened up and pulled a Zat from his belt, activating the alien weapon. "Safeties off people."

The group followed suit, preparing whatever weapons they had brought and staring grimly around them at the eerie bluish cast the moon gave to the shadowy woods.

Xander stayed on the packed dirt of the path and allowed his pace to become a quick jog as he made his way toward the cave system that Hannah had spoken about. It had just come into sight when he spotted the first two men with the light amplification system on his mask.

He slowed to a stop and watched them for a moment.

<Guards.> He decided finally, they stood at the mouth of the cave and chuckled and joked to themselves. Xander noted they had nightvision goggles as he slipped a Zat from his belt.

Xander casually fired two Zat bursts into the two guards, dropping them where they stood. Then he emerged from the path, still using the shift field, and walked over to their unconscious bodies. He kicked them both over and kicked their weapons from their limp hands, sending the two M-4 carbines several feet away.

He knelt down, taking his time, and removed the nightvision goggles from both men and set them down on the path. He smiled, and knelt down beside them for a moment, then got up and entered the cave.

The group made it's way down the path, weapons ready and Jarod in the lead, until they arrived at the entrance to the cave. Jarod noted the two bodies and smiled slightly, <Xander's been here.>

He stopped at a pair of things on the path directly in front of him. <Nightvision goggles.>

Jarod almost laughed out loud when he spotted a note scribbled into the dirt.

J-man, Remind me to get some of these for the armory... X-man

Jarod smirked at the dirt and picked up both devices. He tossed one back to Miss Parker and Fitted the other over his head. "Miss Parker and I will go on first, the rest of you take up the rear. Harrigan, Angel... stay here and guard the exit."

Without waiting for a response Jarod slipped into the tunnel.

Xander prowled the tunnels, working his way down the deep cave until he saw a gleam of light ahead. He slowed down, trying to mask his footsteps as he approached the light.

There were seventy people huddled in the large cavern the tunnel opened into, and five people holding them hostage with the same M-4 carbines the guards used. Xander swallowed as he examined the layout, the guards were well placed and the people were kept tightly under control. As he watched a slight altercation broke out.

"Come on, Harry," One of the guards chuckled to another as he approached a young woman who was shivering with fear. "She's gonna burn anyway... what's the problem if we have a lil fun first?"

Harry just shrugged and leered at the woman. "Go ahead frank. I'll wait my turn."

As Frank approached the woman one of the young men stepped between them. "No!"

"Ah shut up you dumb fucker." Frank growled as he swung the butt of his rifle at the young man.

The woman screamed as the man took the hit to the side and groaned in pain, but didn't go down. Instead he struck back, flattening Frank with a heavy punch to the jaw that knocked the armed man on his ass.

Harry immediately leveled his gun on the boy, "Back off! Back right off!"

The man stayed standing between the woman and the two guards.

Frank got to his feet quickly, bringing the business end of the weapon to bear on the man. "Do as he says boy!"

"Please, Evan... Please... do as they say!" The woman pleaded.

White faced, and tight lipped, the young man shook his head refused to back off.

Harry stepped closer and dropped the rifle to point at the young woman. "I said back off!"

Shaking the man finally did as he was told, backing away from the two gunmen and the woman he had tried to protect.

"That's a good boy." Frank leered as he slung his rifle and started toward the woman again.

He got closer to her, and unzipped his fly. As he reached for her a sudden blinding pain enveloped his body and he saw nothing but black.

Xander watched the altercation with growing anxiety. When the man backed down he breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that the matter had calmed down. When the first guard started approaching the woman again, undoing his fly as he stepped, Xander set his jaw and tried to ignore the tick that was forming under his left eye.

He lifted the Zat, knowing that it wasn't covered by the shift field and opened fire.

Jarod paused when he heard the sound of gunfire from up ahead. He quickly signaled Miss Parker and the two of them stepped up to a quick jog as they ran down the tunnel.

"What the fuck was that!?" Harry screamed as he saw Frank's body hit the ground.

The other four guards were on their feet, weapons searching for a target. Most of them were aiming at the huddled people, their fear causing them to lock onto the first targets they could see. The hostages.

Harry didn't. He knew that the shot of whatever it was had come from outside the cave. He had seen it streak in. He aimed his weapon for the cave entrance, his eyes wildly searching for a target.

Joseph, another guard, was screaming as he aimed his gun into the hostages. "Who did that!? Who was it! I'll kill every last one of you! Tell me now! God dammit, I'm going to count to three then I fucking kill you all!"

He got to two before another blast jolted into him and dropped him to the ground, quivering.

Harry spotted the source this time. Or at least the point of origin. He aimed and opened fire on full auto.

He aimed quickly and nailed the next closest gunman with a shot from the Zat, Xander ducked and rolled away from his place, barely escaping the whining bullets that ripped into his last position. He got to his feet and stepped into the room, letting the shift field fall away as he aimed the Zat at the closest gunman.

Harry swept the rifle back toward the hostages as they started to move. "Freeze! Freeze God dammit!"

The froze and he shifted his aim back to the tunnel entrance. "Did I get it!? Did I get it!?"

"Did you get what!?" The leader of their little group yelled over from where he had taken cover behind a table. "What the fuck is it!?"

"I don't know! But it's up in the tunnel!"

"Bullshit!" the last guard yelled from across the room, "There ain't nothing here!"

Harry was about to yell back when a blue flash of energy ripped into the man, dropping him to the ground, twitching. Harry spotted a red beam, then the air seemed to shimmer and a nightmare form walked out of the gun smoke and dust.

"Holy shit! Holy shit!" Harry cursed, his mind ordering his finger to tighten on the trigger, but his nerves refusing to obey. "What the fuck is that thing! I thought the medallions blocked all magic down here!"

"They do!" The leader yelled, "They do! Otherwise these freaks would turn us into frogs or some shit!"

"Then what the fuck is that thing!?"

A booming, hollow, voice echoed through the cavern. "Why don't you ask me?"

"Why don't you ask me?" Xander said coldly, forcing himself to remain calm. <As long as they're aiming at me they aren't aiming at the hostages.>

The tri-laser had tagged the man at the far end of the room, and the plasma caster was whirring on his shoulder as he walked into the cavern, tracking the man as he moved. Xander had his Zat aimed at the other one, who was cowering behind a table.

The one behind the table ducked lower, but yelled out, "What are you!?"

Xander shook his head, "Wrong question."

"What?" The man's voice quavered.

"Wrong question." Xander repeated, "What you really need to ask is what do you have to do to walk out of here alive?"

He could see the man swallow, but he didn't speak again. It was the man at the far end who finally spoke.

"W... what do we have to do to walk out of here alive?"

"Throw down your weapons. Surrender."

Xander tried to split his attention between the two men, not certain which to watch. The one he had tagged nodded once and tossed down his rifle. Xander turned his focus to the one behind the table.

"Give it up. I have you covered."

Xander walked toward the man slowly, covering him with the Zat.

The man behind the table stood up, dropping his weapons and raising his hands. "I give up, man... or whatever you are... I give up!"

Xander approached him slowly, keeping him covered as he did. As he got within a few feet a flicker of motion caught his eye.

Harry saw the thing turn partially away from him as it approached Larry, and saw his chance. His hand sped for his .44 magnum revolver, bringing the big gun up in a blinding motion to point at the creature standing there. He leveled the gun until he had the big thing in his sights and started to squeeze the trigger.

Evan, the young man who had tried to face down the guards earlier saw the motion and yelled a warning.

"He's got another gun!"

Xander reacted instantly, his fingers tightening on the firing stud for the plasma caster and unleashing a shot that ripped across the cavern and holed through Harry's chest. The gunman stayed there for a moment, blood running from his mouth as he felt an odd pressure in his chest.

A few seconds later he fell to his knees, then collapsed face first to the floor. His big pistol clattered across the rock floor as his head bounced off the ground. Then motion just stopped, and Harry died.

Xander's chest tightened and his stomach knotted. He lifted the Zat and shot the last man in reflex before the alien weapon fell from his deadened fingers.

The hostages watched in shock as he ripped off his mask and fell to his knees, doing the same thing he had done eight months earlier when he had killed humans.

Xander threw up.

Jarod and Andrea burst into the room, their weapons out and sweeping across the room. They saw some bodies on the ground, and some huddled people who looked terrified. Then they spotted Xander on the ground ahead of them.

Jarod rushed over, "Xander... Xander! Are you alright?"

Wordlessly Xander pointed across the cavern, to where Jarod saw another body only this one had a hole the size of a dinner plate ripped out of its back. Then Xander leaned forward and heaved again.

Jarod winced. "Oh god."

Xander heaved again, staring at the ground as he did, and tried to gain some semblance of control as the last of his supper hit the ground. Jarod patted his shoulder sympathetically and looked around the cave, his Zat held ready. The people were slightly less terrified then before, some of the closer ones were actually curious.

While Xander kneeled there he heard a scraping noise come from the tunnel. He glanced back and tried to steel himself, straightening up and spitting the last of the vomit from his mouth. He grimaced at the taste and fitted the mask back over his face.

"You going to be ok, Xander?" Jarod glanced back at him.

Xander nodded once, then squared his shoulders as the rest of the group cautiously entered the cave. Jarod nodded imperceptibly as he saw Xander kick dirt over the vomit on the ground.

"Jesus fuck." Crow muttered as he entered the room with his .45 held at the ready. "What the hell happened here?"

"You know these guys?" Xander asked in his hollow voice as he pulled the one he'd Zatted from behind the table.

Crow walked over, "Lawrence Wilks. He's part of Team Reinhold, that's the group Cardinal Severson told me was in the area."

Xander nodded once and dropped the man to the ground, "You and me, Jack. We're going to have a little word with your superiors after this is over."

Jack Crow didn't look happy about that, but he nodded and turned away.

Xander winced when he heard twin screams from the far end of the cave and looked over to see Buffy and Willow staring at the corpse.

"Gross..." Buffy moaned as she turned her face away, "What happened?"

Xander took a deep breath. <This isn't going to be pleasant.> "He went for a gun."

"You did that!?" Willow stared at him in shock.

Xander just nodded and turned to the survivors. "Is everyone all right!?"

Some of the nearest hostages nodded, and even smiled weakly a him, but most were still terrified. One person, an old man pushed his way through the crowd.

As Xander watched the man, Buffy came up beside him. "You killed him!?"

"Not now, Buffy."

"Now, Xander!"

Xander turned to her, "Yes. Ok? I killed him. He was a sick fuck that was planning on raping one of the women here, and even though I gave him a chance to surrender he pulled a gun on me while my back was turned! Now back off while I try to find out what the hell is going on here!"

Buffy stumbled back, shocked and surprisingly mute.

Xander turned back to the old man who, by now, had arrived right in front of him. "You ok, Sir?"

The man nodded slowly, then spoke in a wavering voice, "Who are you?"

"Xander Harris, Sir. We're here to help."

The man swallowed and nodded, his eyes flicking around the cave. "I'm quite certain you are, young man. But why?"

Xander snorted under his mask, an odd sound that reverberated in the cavern. "Do you think your people deserved to be treated this way?" He asked, his hand sweeping the cavern.

The old man stiffened, "Of course not!"

Xander gazed down at him, "That's good enough for me."

Behind him he heard a few murmurs of assent from Jarod, Andrea, the Taskers, and most of the group he had brought with him.

Xander was about to speak again when he felt an arm on his shoulder. He half turned to see Phoebe behind him, "Xander... our powers don't work down here."

"The gunmen," Xander started, refusing to call them by their affiliation to the church, "were screaming something about medallions... I assume that means they put some of those anti-magic things that Giles was talking about down here."

The old man looked surprised, "You have witches with you?"

Xander turned back, and spoke with a slightly humerus tone. "That a problem?"

The old man wheezed and Xander looked concerned for a moment until he realized that the man was laughing. Two younger people, and man and a woman, came up behind him and tried to help him. The man beat them off impatiently, "Get off me, I don't need help now... Don't you get it? We've really been saved!"

Xander rolled his eyes under his mask, but had to smile at the antics. "Yes. But I need some information."

At the old man's words a small group began to gather around Xander and the others, most looking at Xander in awe but a good portion staring at Phoebe with curiosity.

"Are you really a witch?" One of them asked hesitantly.

Phoebe swallowed, and smiled nervously, but nodded.

A ripple of relief passed through the group and the old man turned back to Xander, "What do you need to know, lad?"

"How many of *them*," Xander spat the word in disgust as he pointed to one of the unconscious gunmen, "Are there?"

"Twenty five!" A young man called out. "We kept close track of them early on."

Xander nodded, "Good. Are these all of the people from the town?"

Sad looks ruled the crowd and the old man nodded somberly. "They took the others away... we heard them joke about burning..."

Xander was glad that his mask hid his features, he didn't want anyone to see the look that passed over his face.

"They dragged the others out of here in two groups..."

"Two?" Xander asked sharply, "When was the last?"

"A couple hours ago."

"Jarod," Xander turned, "Is there anyway those ash pits were lit a couple hours ago?"

Jarod shook his head, "Not possible. Those burned out at least 24 hours ago."

"Then we might have some more hostages." Xander turned back to the group, "Do you know where they took them?"

The old man nodded, "They were using the town jail. It was only built to handle fifteen people, that's why they were taking us out in small groups."

Xander glanced back and looked over the group, then turned to Jarod, "Where are Harrigan and Angel?"

"I told them to cover the exit from the cave."

"Good thinking." Xander nodded, "We have to get these people out of here and somewhere safe... then we can deal with the rest. Harry, Jack, Faith... secure the remaining gunmen, we'll leave them here until we get through with their playmates."

"They're still alive?" The old man asked as the group started moving.

Xander nodded, "I just used a stunner on them... bodycount isn't the name of the game."

The man grimaced, but nodded. "I only wish they had a similar philosophy."

As they began moving the people out of the cave Piper turned to Leo, "Why is this happening? You're an Angel right?"

Leo looked miserable, guessing what direction the questioning was going, but nodded.

"Then why haven't you or another gone and told them that witches are on their side!?" Piper's voice rose higher as she spoke.

"Piper... it's... it's not that easy. I'm a Whitelighter, a guardian angel. I'm not allowed to interfere in the development of humanity. I'm just here to protect you."

"You don't think that telling them to back off would protect me!?"

Leo sighed, "It's not my jurisdiction, Piper... and you already know what happens if I step out of line."

Piper sighed, "Yeah... I remember."

"I wouldn't be able to do anything if I were powerless... but its more then that, Piper..." Leo sighed again, "Mankind has come a long way on its own... if we start interfering now we stand a good chance of reversing all of that."

Phoebe interrupted, "I don't see how getting the church to accept witches would reverse anything."

Leo looked over at her, "You remember Physics class? Newton's third law?"

Phoebe looked confused, "ummm... Body at rest?"

Leo shook his head, "That's the second law. The third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That goes triple for magic and supernatural actions. It's the oldest rule of nature I know of... The threefold rule is merely a branch on the tree that grew from that rule."

"Oh." Phoebe said quietly, she was intimately aware of the repercussions of *that* rule.

"And that is why we don't interfere. Man's beliefs are beyond my power. As they should be."

A chorus of 'amen' came from those townspeople who were close enough to overhear the conversation.

"You agree with him?" Piper asked them in surprise.

An old woman smiled at her, "You've been witches a short time haven't ye?"

Piper nodded.

"Then you have a lot to learn about magic... but I can see that you have a wise guardian, Ye'll do fine."

"Ummm... thanks."

The old woman smiled and shook her head, "No child, I'll be thanking you. Now and again later, I am sure."

"Everything go ok?" Harrigan asked as Xander stepped into sight.

Xander shrugged, "It went ok. We have some townspeople coming out. We're going to get them to a safer spot, then we have to check out the town jail... we could have as many as fifteen more to rescue."

Harrigan and Angel nodded.

"It's been quiet out here, Xander." Angel said, "Wherever they are... they're not in a rush."

"No..." Xander said quietly, "They wouldn't be."

"What do you mean?"

"You remember the Inquisition?"

Angel smirked, "Even I'm a little young for that."

Xander almost chuckled, "Well if they're burning at the stake I figure they're also running their own little kangaroo courts to justify it."

Angel grew silent.

"What does that mean?" Harrigan asked.

"Torture." Angel muttered.


Cardinal Garen leered at the young woman in front of him, his eyes gleaming as he pulled a long slim needle from a tray by his side. She was strapped to a table, her arms and legs bound by leather straps. She had been completely stripped, and despite the chill air her skin glistened with terror sweat.

"You know," He started in a conversational tone, "I really am something of a traditionalist. Sometimes the tried and true methods are the best, don't you think... Sarah is it?"

The redhead growled and jerked in her bonds, but didn't reply.

The Cardinal smiled at her, "Now, now, that won't do you any good young lady. This room is quite well protected against your satanic powers."

Finally she spoke, "I am NOT a Satanist!"

He shrugged, still smiling as he laid the needle down and examined an oddly shaped brand. "Semantics, my dear... mere semantics."

He showed the brand to her, holding it a few inches from her eyes. She could see that it was a pentagram within an iron circle.

"Nice isn't it?" he asked, as he lifted it away from her. "Yes... I do believe we'll start with this."

She jerked in her bonds again, her muscles and tendons popping as she tried to break free of the makeshift rack they had strapped her to. He ignored her and dropped the ornate end of the brand in a pile of hot coals that were glowing red.

"That will take just a few moments, Sarah... In the meantime, why don't we have a little chat." He sat down beside her brushed the back of his fingers along the side of her face, then down her jaw and neck, until his hand finally came to rest along side her breast.

"You're a sick bastard, you know that right!?" She snarled at him.

The Cardinal just smiled and shrugged, "Coming from one of your kind, Sarah, that is hardly much of an insult."

She turned her face away from him, her mouth a thin hard line.

He shrugged melodramatically and sighed, "Ah well... back to business then."

He got up and pulled the brand out of the coals and approached her, his smile a sinister line cut across his face that was lit by the deep orange glow that came from the brand. He smiled down at her and said a few words in Latin, she didn't understand him, then he pressed the glowing metal down just above her left breast. Her scream echoed through the jail, causing the others still held there to cringe in terror and sympathy.

Xander looked at the old building that had the sign, 'town jail' over the door. "That place is built like a fucking fortress. No wonder I didn't get a heat reading off it."

Jarod nodded, "It's not going to be easy to take."

"One way in... one way out. Heavily guarded..." Xander muttered as he examined the building through his mask. "Damnit..."


"I can hear screaming from inside."

"What!?" Buffy hissed from behind them, "We have to get in there!"

"Let me guess," Xander said sarcastically, "Kick down the door? Run in a beat the crap out of everyone?"

Buffy didn't answer.

"Thought so. Buffy, I love you, but you seem to be forgetting that we've lost a lot of the punch we usually have. Our magic users are effectively disarmed, we're pretty lucky considering who all we have along... but we're still outgunned and heavily outnumbered."

"So what do you suggest?"

Xander's voice was cold, "Whoever is in there right now is just going to have to hold on until we can get in there to help them. They aren't going to kill anyone in there... they burn them at the stake remember?"

"But... but..." Buffy swallowed, "You're going to leave them to be tortured?"

"Only for as long as I have to, Buff. Only for as long as I have to." Xander crawled back to the others, leaving Buffy and Jarod to stare at the jailhouse.

"Hey, Giles..."

Giles glanced up to see Xander slipping back to him, "Yes Xander?"

"Don't suppose you can work out a way to detect what area is covered by those medallion... other then blundering into a null zone?"

Giles thought about it, "perhaps... The simplest method would be to summon a magical mist..."


"A magical mist... it's an illusion spell that creates a realistic looking sea mist... the spell would fade out wherever the medallions are."

"Giles, it's nighttime..." Xander protested, "We'll never see it."

"The spell can be altered to cause the mist to glow..." Giles smiled, "I once cast it in downtown London during the cold war... Some residents are still talking about the radioactive fog that rolled in that morning."

"Giles! I'm shocked and disappointed in you..." Xander reproved Giles, "Why didn't you ever mention this before... That would have made a great trick to pull on the swimteam."

Giles smirked at him, "Terribly sorry..."

Xander thought about it, "Would we be able to see through it?"

Giles shrugged, "I could make it very light... but even then it would reduce visibility slightly."

Xander nodded. "Do it. Cover the town."

"Very well," Giles nodded and slipped back to prepare the spell.

"What's up, boytoy?" Faith grinned as Xander slipped toward her.

"Trouble." His voice was grim as he slipped of the alien mask. "We've got a torture session going on in the jail."

"What!?" Harry leaned in.

Xander nodded, "Picked up the screams through my mask. I've got Giles getting a spell ready that should let our own magic types avoid walking into any magic free zones."

"Killer." Faith grinned, "So when do we go in?"

Xander shook his head, "I don't know yet. The building is a fucking fort. Only one way in... I can't figure out why they ever needed a jail that solid."

A new voice entered the conversation, "We have a few werewolves and similar residents. It seemed wise to err on the side of caution."

"Werewolves? What kind of fucking town is this?" Harry looked over at the old man they had rescued from the cave.

The old man smiled, "We believe in... alternate lifestyles."

Xander laughed quietly, as did Faith. Harry and Helen Tasker just shook their heads.

Xander looked at the old man, "Don't suppose you know any other way in?"

He shook his head, "I'm afraid not."

Xander nodded, "Didn't expect it."

He sighed and shook his head, "This isn't going to be clean. I'm going to need an entry team... Faith, you up for it?"

Faith grinned, "You bet, lover."

"Now wait just a second!" Helen Tasker objected, "You can't send my daughter into that kind of danger!"

Xander frowned at her, "I'm not sending Faith anywhere... I'm going to lead her in, along with Buffy, Angel, and Jarod."

"Why them?" Harry asked quietly.

"Because I know them and they can do the job. Buffy, Angel, and Faith are the strongest and fastest fighters we have. Jarod and I have been working together for several months now and are both up to date on military tactics. We can't take the full team because there isn't enough room, and the witches would probably be helpless inside. So we need to leave some people to guard them out here."

Harry nodded grimly, "Alright..."

"Harry!" Helen protested, "You can't be..."

"Helen, This isn't out decision."


"Mom!" Faith interrupted, "I'll be ok... watch over my friends while I'm gone."

"But..." Helen trailed off as she looked at the grim resolve on her daughter's face. "Be careful?"

Faith grinned, "Promise."

Xander fitted the mask back over his head, "C'mon, Faith. Let's go assemble the team."

"Five by five, lover."


Angel moved over to where Xander and faith were standing, "What is it Xander?"

"We're setting up an entry team. You in?"

Angel nodded without hesitation. "When?"

Xander nodded his head toward where Buffy and Jarod were still watching the Jail. "Now."

"Good." Angel looked grim. "I've been listening to the screaming for the last three minutes."

Xander nodded. "I know."

The trio joined with Jarod and Buffy a few seconds later. "We're going to go in, while the others cover us and make sure we don't get caught in a pincer."

Jarod nodded. "Alright."

Xander pulled out a stash of Zats he had gathered, "I grabbed these off Jack and a couple of the others. Enough for one each. Angel, your new to these so here's the thing... One shot will put a human down for the count, two kills. Three and they make like a vamp with a stake in his heart."

Xander paused and grinned at the vampire, who shot him a dirty look in return. "So keep it down to one shot per person and you don't have to worry about killing anyone. Oh, but it hurts like hell, so try not to shoot any of the victims... they don't need the additional pain."

"Right." Angel nodded and accepted the alien weapon. "Where did you get these anyway?"

Xander smirked under his mask, "You really don't want to know."

He tapped the radio under his mask, "Everyone ready?"

Those who had radio's answered back in the affirmative for the entire group.

"Good. Giles, do your stuff."

They could hear the muttered words of the spell behind them as they sprinted across the street toward the jail. They just reached the other side when the eerie green glowing fog floated down the street and covered the place in an unearthly light.

Xander and Jarod flanked the heavy oaken door that was the only entrance to the town jail. Xander glanced out at the street and frowned. He could see the eerie green mist flowing through the town, but it's glowing tendrils stopped dead five feet beyond the door of the Jail. They were standing in one of the Magic free zones.

His hearing, enhanced by the alien mask, could pick out moaning and the occasional cry of pain from inside but no indication that anyone inside had picked up on the mist yet. <Just as well.>

Xander held up two fingers and pointed to Buffy and Faith, motioning them to the door. The nodded and stepped up to the heavy door together. The two Slayer's grinned at each other as they pulled back and delivered two hard kicks that cracked the heavy door and ripped it off the hinges.

Xander and Jarod slipped past the two Slayers, Xander crouching low and Jarod going high, their Zats already spitting electrical fire as the entered the room.

Garen looked down at the young girl and shook his head. "You are a resilient one, I'll give you that. But we have all night, my dear."

Sarah Baily glared up at him, blinking through the tears that had flood her eyes from the branding. She could feel the searing heat still emanating from the scorched brand on her chest, but now it was feeding her anger instead of her pain. "Go fuck yourself you pervert!"

The Cardinal showed a flicker of emotion at that, anger shadowing his eyes as he glared at the helpless witch. "You my dear need to learn when not to annoy someone."

Sarah just glared at him, trying not to show the fear she felt when he picked up a scalpel from the tray and turned toward her. The blade was inching toward her face when a crashing sound from the front of the building caused Garen to jerk around in surprise.

"What the hell is going on out there!?"

Xander and Jarod moved into the reception area of the Jail, stepping over the unconscious bodies of the first three gunmen they had encountered. Behind them the two Slayer's and Angel followed suit.

Xander crouched by the door that led back toward the cells and risked a quick glance down the hall. He looked toward Jarod and flashed three fingers, then pointed down the hall. Jarod nodded and moved in beside him.

Xander beckoned Angel to move up, and whispered so low that even the Slayer's didn't hear him. "Three down the hall. I'm going to go through. You and Jarod cover me, then follow while Faith and Buffy cover you."

Angel nodded one, indicating that he heard the whisper.

Xander risked another quick glance, this time picking out his path, then broke cover and sprinted toward a heavy looking table about halfway down the hall. He heard a rapid exchange of fire, the electrical spit of the Zats against automatic fire from down the hall, but didn't pause to see the results. Instead he hit the table at full speed and flipped it over, using it as cover.

He peeked out and fired a shit from the Zat at the one man he spotted, striking him and dropping him to the ground. The Xander glanced back and waved Jarod and Angel in.

Garen walked to the door of the interrogation room he was using as a... well, interrogation room, and risked a glance out the door to the hall that led from the cells to the reception. He could see muzzle flashes from his men's rifles, and odd blue flashes that came back in answer.

The Cardinal's blood ran cold as he watched one of his men take a hit and fall to the ground twitching.


He swallowed, trying to tell himself that it was impossible. The building was one of two places they had carefully spread the anti-magic medallions around when they took over the town. It wasn't possible that magic could work in here.

He gripped the scalpel tightly in his hand as he watched and waited

Faith grinned as she and B made their sprint to the measly cover that Xander and the other two were ducked behind. Xander had waved them back, but she and B had just grinned at each other and jumped in. He could yell at them later.

The three guys shook their heads and started firing covering shots down the hall, keeping up the barrage until she and B were safely tucked between the three guys behind the table.

She grinned as she rubbed up against Xander and Jarod. "You know, another time another place and this could be fun."

Buffy made a face at her, "Shut up, Faith."

Faith just grinned and popped over the Table to fire a couple quick shots down the hall.

Sarah watched as the Cardinal stared out the door and sweated. She wasn't certain what was going on, but anything that scared that bastard was a good thing.

"Shit!" The 'Holy man' cursed at something he saw outside the window, and he scrambled away from the door. In a few moments he was piling debris in front of it and jamming things under the jam to keep it shut.

Xander looked over the table and, not seeing movement, got up and moved a little down the hall until he was crouching in a doorway and aiming down the hall.


Jarod leapfrogged him, and moved down to the end of the hall and dropped into a crouch by the corner. His Zat spat once and he glanced back. "Clear."

Xander got up and motioned the rest to follow him. He moved down to the end of the hall and glanced at the room that housed the cells. There were no more gunmen in the area, only unconscious ones laying on the ground. He looked back at Jarod. "Not enough."

Jarod nodded. "I know. I don't know where the rest of them are though."

Xander stepped into the open room, sweeping the are with his laser designator and watching the readout the mask gave him, looking for armed individuals. Nothing. Only the prisoners cowering in the cells were moving and they were cringing away from him as if he were the devil himself.

Or a demon. Xander had to admit that he could understand that misconception, it seemed to happen a lot when he was in the Yautja armor.

It didn't matter anyway, he didn't have time to reassure them just now and it was better if they were scared. They keep their heads down more surely that way.

Behind him he could hear Jarod and the others coming out and looking around themselves. Jarod moved to the cells. "It's ok, we're here to help. Are there any others?"

A few of the braver ones pointed wordlessly to a closed door on the far side of the room. Xander looked at it and switched to thermal mode. "Two bodies inside. One mobile, the other is laying down. Another source of heat, but its hotter and smaller then a human."

Angel nodded and moved over to the door. He tried the handle and found that it was locked. The ensouled Vampire stepped back and slammed his shoulder into the door. It shuddered but held. He tried again with the same results.

"Buffy." He called.

The blond Slayer walked over and nodded, "Let's do this."

The two of them hit the door as hard as they could, and a deep cracking noise could be heard, but no visible damage was done. They shook their heads and hit it again.

Still nothing.

"Step away." Xander said, running his laser designator over the door.

"Xander... are you sure..." Buffy asked as she got out of the way.

Xander aimed low, angling so the bolt would drive into the floor. "Yeah, The door doesn't open directly onto the heat sources, they're off to the side. They'll be alright."

<Until I get in there.> Xander thought as he fired the plasma caster.

The Cardinal shivered as door shuddered and the debris shook. When the door cracked he shook almost as much as the crap he had placed in front of it to barricade the roof. Then there was no sound for a while and he dared to hope that whoever it was had missed him.

Then the door literally exploded.

When the smoke cleared there was a gaping hole in the bottom of the door, and though the top was still intact he didn't think it was going to do him much good. Terrified the Cardinal wished for a moment that he had a firearm, but it had never been necessary that he sully himself that way. He never wet into an area until it was secured.

He gripped the small scalpel tightly and inched closer to the hole.

A scrap of boot on cement alerted him that someone was coming in and Garen tensed. When the demonic figure ducked through the hole and straightened up inside the room he struck.

The scalpel struck sparks as it scraped across the demons face, not leaving so much as a scratch. The demon struck out at him, knocking the scalpel out of his hand. Garen pulled his crucifix from where it hung around his neck and held it up to ward off the demon.

For a moment it seemed to work. The thing paused and stared at him, as if frozen i place. Then something happened that chilled the Cardinal to the core. The thing laughed.

When the scalpel scraped across his mask Xander reacted instinctively, striking out and knocking the weapon away. But when the man held up a cross Xander stopped in surprise. <I wonder if this is how the vampires feel?>

Shaking the surprise off Xander started laughing. "You have GOT to be kidding me!?"

"Back filthy creature from beyond!"

"Oh please." Xander reached out and pulled the cross from the man's hands, snapping it off the chain that held it. "You come into a peaceful town, torture, terrorize, and burn people... and you expect God to help you out?"

"I... I am doing God's work!" The man declared, albeit fearfully.

Xander looked around the room, his eyes stopping when they lit on the nude woman who was strapped to a long table. His eyes quickly picked out the brand above her left breast, numerous bloody wounds along her side and legs where she had been poked, and a needle that was still sticking out of her left arm. Xander growled and his fist clenched, sliding the razor edged blades out of the gauntlet as he turned on the torturer and stalked toward him.

Sarah Baily struggled in her bonds as the demon stalked the man who had been torturing her. She stared with a morbid fascination as blades erupted from its wrist and it advanced on the Cardinal with a slow inevitable motion that forced the man back until he came flat with the far wall and had nowhere to run.

Her breath caught in her throat at the thing lifted its bladed arm and pulled it back to strike.

Then came a cry from the door.

"Xander! No!"

"Xander! No!"

"Stay out of this Buffy!" Xander's voice was cold, "Look at what he did to her! This piece of scum doesn't deserve to breath the same air as that girl!"

"Xander..." Her voice was calmer now, at least he was talking to her and not slicing the man into ribbons. "You... WE can't kill him in cold blood."

The girl on the table spoke, weakly. "No... not for me... not because of me..."

Xander swallowed, Buffy he could have ignored. He was ready for her objection, but the girl had a bigger stake in this then he did. "What else am I supposed to do? Turn him into the cops!? That would make for one hell of a court case..."

"We'll figure something out, Xander..." Buffy said quietly as she approached him. "Don't become a murderer."

Xander's breath was coming in short pants as his face tightened under his mask. "I already am."

He suddenly lunged for the man, his blades slashing down at the Cardinal.


"I already am."

Garen's eyes slammed shut as he saw the thick blades sweep down at him, the blood hammering in his ears hard enough so that the girl's next scream was lost to him. He heard a loud crunch and jerked in panic.

Then nothing.

He slowly opened his eyes to the image of the heavy blades driven several inches into the cement wall beside his head. He turned and found himself staring at the demonic visage of the creature only a few inches from his face.

The thing reached up with it's right hand and flipped something at it's neck and two hisses of gas startled Garen. Then the thing removed it's face with one hand, removed a mask he now realized, and the Cardinal found himself staring into the face of his terror.

The face of a boy who couldn't be far into his twenties, if that.

His eyes were cold, his face hard, and he leaned in even closer. "That girl on the table over there? She just saved your life."

Then, with a sudden jerk the blades pulled out of the concrete and the boy stepped back, cradling the demon mask in the crook of his right elbow. He turned away and walked over to the table that held the girl, and Garen began to breath again. Then the boy turned his head toward the door and said one word.


A raven haired girl at the door grinned and replied, "With pleasure, boytoy."

A spat of electrical blue, a searing scream of pain, and then everything went black for the Cardinal.

Sarah stared in shock as the armored demon... no, person, approached her. His eyes were still hard but a touch of sadness had crossed his face when he looked at her.

She suddenly blushed furiously as she realized that she was naked in front if this young man. The Cardinal had been scum, it didn't matter to her after a short time, but she was suddenly self conscious when confronted with the sad expression on this man's face.

She saw him turn slightly, and speak. "Faith?" He nodded his head back toward the Cardinal.

"With pleasure, Boytoy."

When the Cardinal went down part of Sarah screamed out in betrayal, and another part in joy. Her eyes must have reflected her thoughts thought because the man smiled sadly.

"He'll live. Its just a stunner," He said as he ejected the blades from his arms again and sliced through the leather that was keeping her down. "I'm told it hurts like hell though. Hold on... don't try to get up..."

He gently pushed her back down onto the table and touched something at his ear. "Jenny? Area secured... we have someone here who needs medical attention."

A familiar shimmer of light descended into the room, solidifying into an unfamiliar form. Sarah's breath caught in her thought. "You... you're a Whitelighter."

Jenny smiled and nodded, but her face quickly changed to shock as she looked at the girl's body. "My god... Xander? Who did this?"

Xander gestured at the limp form of the Cardinal, but continued speaking into his earpiece.

Jenny snarled at the body but quickly went to work, "Hang on... I'll patch you up in a sec and we'll get you some clothes. Sarah just nodded and laid back. As the healer went to work on her wounds she watched the group that had saved her.

First, of course, was the man in the scary armor. He was young from what she'd seen, but he'd turned his head away as soon as the Whitelighter arrived. He was speaking urgently into a earpiece radio, and it sounded like he was giving orders.

At the door were two girls, one who was also looking away and one who met Sarah's eyes when she looked at her. Sarah saw pain in the brunette's eyes and quickly moved on. There were two men as well, but they had both turned their backs and left the room when they had seen that there was no more danger.

<Who are these people?> Sarah thought as the Whitelighter finished up.

"All done." Jenny smiled down at her, then turned away. "Can we get some clothes in here!?"

"Here," An arm snaked into the room and tossed a black leather jacket toward the table.

Jenny snagged it easily, "Thank you, Angel. We still need some pants though."

Sarah heard a mumble from outside but couldn't make it out. The two girls at the door started giggling.

"What did he say?" Jenny asked.

The brunette grinned at her, "he said that your pushing it, Jenny."

Jenny chuckled, and even Sarah cracked a weak smile as she slid the leather jacket over her bare skin.

"Here." The armored form spoke quietly, handing a pair of jeans back to the Whitelighter.

"Xander?" Jenny asked in confusion, "Where did you get these?"

"I packed them in case I turned this thing into an oven again and needed to ditch it before we got home."

"Oh." Jenny said in surprise... "Where?"


"Ok..." Jenny handed the jeans back to Sarah, "here."

"Thanks." She said as she started pulling them on. "What's going on in town?"

The boy, Xander, turned to face her as she finished pulling the pants up and buttoned them They were a fair bit too large, but would do well enough.

"We have people looking for the rest of the gunmen. We only accounted for fifteen, and that leaves us at least ten to go."

Sarah looked up, "They said something about a helicopter... maybe they left?"

Xander shook his head, "Not likely. In any case we have to check."

"I want to help."

Xander shook his head, "We have some very good people...."

"Sarah. Sarah Baily." She pushed herself off the table and glared at him, "And I know this area better then you do."

Xander chuckled, "That may be so... but I'd like to point out, that they also know you better then they know us. We'll find them."

"No! I'm helping!"

Xander sighed, but smiled and shook his head. "What is it with me and hardheaded women?"

Sarah stared at him in confusion as he walked out the door. Finally the brunette smiled and leaned closer to her, "Hey... Yes, you can come."

Sarah smiled tentatively at the smirking brunette and the smiling blonde.

"Don't encourage her Faith, You give Xander enough headaches."

"Me!?" Faith looked at her, mock outrage on her face, "What about you, twinkie?"

Sarah looked even more confused when the blond blushed deeply at the odd nickname and left the room quickly. She shrugged it off and followed Faith out of the room into the large room that led to the holding cells.

"I don't suppose anyone knows where they keys are?" Jarod asked one of the prisoners in the cells.

Surprisingly, to Jarod at least, the man nodded and pointed to one of the unconscious guards.

"Thanks." Jarod kneeled down and retrieved the keyring and started unlocking the cells. "Everyone, please remain calm. It might be best for you to remain in the building until we've secured the town... there are still at least ten gunmen unaccounted for."

Most of the people nodded, and those that didn't were soon calmed down by the others. Jarod smiled at them gratefully.

A creaking noise shifted their attention to the shattered door and they watched as the armored demon stepped out. Some of the cried out in fear and cringed back, until his head came into view.

"He's human!?"

"Not a demon?"

"Who is he?"

Jarod smiled but ignored them, "Xander... is she going to be all right?"

Xander nodded tiredly, "She's already giving ME orders. She'll be fine."

Jarod chuckled but didn't bother to comment.

"Sarah!" A woman broke free of the crowd when she was the young woman come out of the room. "Are you alright... we... we heard..."

"Mom..." Sarah smiled through her tears and hugged her mother to her, "I'm fine... I know, I know... but I'm fine now..."

"I thought you were..."

"I'm ok, mom... I swear."

Xander watched the touching reunion, his eyes catching Sarah's as she hugged her mother. He saw the haunted look in the young woman's eyes and knew that she wasn't fine yet. And probably wouldn't be for a long time.

Jack Crow lifted the MP5 he'd borrowed from the kid's armory as he looked down the main street of the hick town. He felt a chill run up his spine as he watched the eerie green glow form the mist swirl around him and drift along against the wind.

"Hey, Rupe!" He called out, "You sure that this shit is harmless?"

Giles grimaced but nodded, "Yes I am quite certain Mr. Crow."

Father Cranston grinned as he watched the swirling mist. "This brings me back."

"What are you talking about, Padre?" Crow growled.

"Nothing, my dear Mr. Crow... Nothing at all."

Crow shook his head and growled again, "You know I really don't like this shit."

"What would that be, Jack?" Father Cranston asked as he stepped up beside the vampire hunter.

"Going against our own people. It's not supposed to work like this."

The old Priest shrugged, "Our people are not supposed to be reinstating the Inquisition."

Crow let out a breath of irritation and walked faster, leaving the priest behind.


"What is it, Sullivan?"

"I can't raise anybody in town!"

Jason Reinhold glared at his radio man, "What are you talking about!?"

"They're gone Sir. All of them." Sullivan shrugged, "At least they are as far as I can tell."


"Sir, I'm just the radio man. I'm not psychic, and I'm sure as hell not a witch." The man grinned at his own joke.

Jason just stared at him until the man looked away, flustered. "Fine. Pilot!"


"I want a fly by of the town! Make it fast and hard!"

"You got it, Boss." The pilot grinned and pulled the stick of the ageing Huey over, turning the chopper from its patrol route and heading bac to the small town of Orwell.

Hannah Foster fidgeted where she stood, leaning against an old building and looking into the street. Oz stopped beside her and eyed her carefully, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." She snapped.

Oz just stared at her.

Finally she cracked. "I should be in there."

Oz tilted his head and looked at her, "Why?"

"Cause I'm a Crow! It's what I do!"

Oz shrugged, "They fight too. It's what they do."


"Slayers, Vampire with a Soul..." Oz shrugged.

"And the other two?"

"I don't know Jarod... but Xander's nuts."

Hannah snorted. "I'd already figured that one out."

"I know." Oz smiled. "You're a quick study."

The two chuckled for a short while until they heard a faint noise on the wind. Oz looked at Hannah, his face saying more then words could.

She nodded. "The chopper."

Oz nodded and the two of them split up and ran to warn the others.

Crow lifted his gun, aiming it skyward he looked around, trying to locate the source of the noise.

"Chopper coming in!"

He glanced to see the dark haired woman come running up and nodded. "I hear it."

"We have anything here for that kinda thing?"

Crow shook his head, "I don't think even the kid packs ground to air rockets."

"What do we do?"

Crow thought fast, "get everyone under cover... NOW!"

"Hey now! Wait a second!" Hannah growled at him.

"No time, girly." Crow growled, running for the side of the street. "We need to get out of sight!"

"Girly!?" Hannah growled in outrage, then she chased him to the side of the road.

Harry Tasker looked up at the sky, recognizing the faint sound as it grew closer. "Oh dear."

"What is it, Harry?"

He looked at his wife, "Chopper."

"Oh dear."

Jack Crow came running up, "Get everyone under cover! We've got to get them to land!"

Harry nodded instantly, "Good idea. Everyone!"

Crow jumped as the big man's bellow startled him and attracted attention all around.

"Get under cover! Stay out of sight! If the people in the chopper don't see anyone they'll probably land!"

Everyone scrambled and ran for cover.

Jason Reinhold looked down at the streets. "What the fuck?"

The streets were covered in an eerie glowing green mist that flowed through the town like a serpent.

"Take us over the Jail house!"

The pilot nodded and took the chopper over the Jail. "Looks ok, except for that fucking mist Sir!"

Jason shook his head, "We should have kept a few more of the medallions with us!"

Beside him another man shook his head, "You know we don't have enough! Whatever we do, we'd better move fast, Jason, the medallions won't work much longer."

Jason nodded, "Yeah... Take us down!"

The pilot nodded and circled back around, heading toward a clearing just outside of town.

"They're leaving!"

Harry shook his head, "No. They're landing."

"How do you know, Harry?"

"The sound."

Harry got up and sprinted after the descending helicopter. Helen glared after him, then flung up her hands and chased him.

"We've got to get to where they're going!"

"Ok." Oz responded to Hannah's comment calmly. "Let's go."

The two broke from cover.

Phoebe looked at her sisters and the two Sunnydale witches. "What do we do?"

"We'd better go and try to help." Willow said quietly.

Tara looked nervous, "They probably have more of those medallion things..."

The others glance at each other, until finally Prue spoke up. "We still have to try."

The five witches nodded, "let's go."

"It worked." Guiteau said quietly.

"I noticed, Padre."

"What now?"

Crow shouldered his weapon, "We go take care of business."

"Jack!" The young priest laid his hand on Crow's shoulder, "These aren't vampires Jack."

Jack Crow sighed and turned around, "I'm not so sure I see a difference, Padre."

"Just try not to kill them! Ok?" Father Guiteau slumped as Crow and Father Cranston jogged off toward the landing sight. He sighed and shook his head, "Aw fuck it."

The young priest shouldered his shotgun and chased after the other two.

The big Huey touched down lightly and the twelve occupants jumped off fast, covering the area with military precision as they watched for anything odd.

There was nothing, other then that damned green fog that seemed to flee from them as they walked.

"What the fuck is that shit?"

Jason looked at it as he walked, noting how it vanished as he approached it. "Illusion spell."


"It's not real, the medallions are making it vanish... it's just an illusion."

A booming voice came out of the fog, "An illusion maybe, but I assure you gentlemen... it is not the only thing you face tonight!"

Jason waved his team down in a crouch and they all brought their weapons up, their eyes searching the green fog for the source of the voice.

"Where is he!?"

"Shut up and keep looking!"

"Both of you keep your mouths shut!" Jason hissed as he tried searching the fog.

An eerie, cackling, laughter rolled out of the fog. The laughter seemed to come from all around them, rolling in from every side.

"Who are you!?" Jason challenged the bodiless voice.

"Someone who knows your secrets, Jason Reinhold!"

Jason looked around, still searching for the voice. "That's very interesting... but it doesn't answer the question!"

The voice echoed back, "Your kind once knew me as... The Shadow."

Jason swallowed, "That's impossible! He's dead!"

"No... Merely retired."

Then the cackling laughter returned.

Father Guiteau looked at his fellow priest in confusion, but it wasn't until he looked at Jack that he realized that something was weird. Jack had gone pale.

"Jack... what?"

"Later, Padre. Later." Jack said, his voice firm.



"Good lord."

"What is it Giles?"

Giles swallowed and stared over at the elderly priest. "I... I always though he was a myth."


"The Shadow."

Willow just looked confused, but Giles turned away from her and put his focus back on the team that had unloaded from the helicopter.

Jason stared into the mist. "What do you want!?"

He watched as a figure appeared in the mist, garbed in black and walking slowly. His eyes widened as he saw the white collar and the man's face.

"I know you."

The man nodded, "We met a few months ago, Jason. Cardinal Tyler was showing me your operation."

Jason nodded slowly. "You're the Shadow?"

"I used to be."

Jason raised his rifle, "Then you're a target too."

Father Cranston drew himself up to his full height, his posture correcting and his face growing younger. Then he laughed loudly, chilling Jason Reinhold and his men to the bone.

"Shit." Crow muttered as he scrambled to his feet.

"What are you doing Crow?"

"Stay put Padre. I'm going to try to keep this from turning into a fucking blood bath."

Father Guiteau stared as Jack Crow scrambled toward the confrontation.

Jason's finger tightened on the trigger, but he stopped when he heard a yell.

"Pull the trigger and you're all fucking dead men, Jason."


Jack Crow stepped out of the mist and walked up beside Father Cranston. "Yeah, it's me Jason."

"What the fuck are you doing here, Jack..."

"Trying to keep your team alive." Jack grimaced, "You really stepped in it this time."


"You pissed off some friends of mine, Jason... and they've got enough power to seriously fuck you over."

Jason laughed, "I heard that you were playing with some witches, Jack. But I've got that covered."

Jack shook his head, "You don't get it, Jason. Those medallions aren't going to save your ass."

"How do you know about the medallions!?"

Jack shook his head, "Never mind that, Jason. You don't have time to waste. They already have your other men in custody, including the Cardinal."

Jason looked around, his mind starting to see shapes in mist. "Are my men alright?"

"All but one. Didn't recognize him, Jason, but he went for a gun... He died quick."


"Lay down your weapons, Jason." Jack spoke quietly, "These people are deadly serious."

Jason Reinhold shook his head, "No. Not going to happen, Jack."

"Be smart, Jason!"

Jason swallowed, "What happened to you, Jack? You were the best..."

Jack eyed him coldly, "I still am. But this isn't our mission... We handle vampires and demons, Jason. Not witches."

"Fuck! That's short sighted, Jack, and you know it!" Reinhold's arms shook, "They are all coming after us, Jack!"

Jack Crow shook his head and continued trying to reason with the man.

"He's not going to talk them down, is he?" Willow asked quietly.

Giles shook his head, "I can't be sure, Willow, but the odds would seem against it."

Around them the others nodded slowly. Prue growled in frustration, "What are we supposed to do? We can't even use our powers on them."

Phoebe slid a Beretta automatic from under her blouse and set her face. "We do what we have to."

"Phoebe." Piper hissed, "Where did you get that?"

"Miss Parker." Phoebe replied as she checked the clip and racked the slide back.

Prue narrowed her eyes at her youngest sister, "We need to have a long talk."

Phoebe nodded, "Later."

Prue shook her head, but reluctantly nodded. "Later."

Miss Parker dug in a bit more, laying prone as she watched the confrontation with growing anxiety. She tapped her radio link, "He's not buying it."

Jarod's voice came back a second later, "We're a couple minutes away. Can you stall?"

"Don't know. Probably not."

"Can you handle it?"

Miss Parker smiled, "No problem."

"Be careful, Andrea."

Miss Parker didn't respond, she just smiled. "Tara, you listening?"

"Y... yes." her voice was hesitant.

"Good, is Willow and Phoebe with you?"

"Yes." The voice was more confident.

"Did you bring your pistols?"

"O... oh. Ummm, yes..."

"Get ready. Tell the others."

Miss Parker actually heard the blond swallow over the mic, and smiled when her soft voice came back. "Ok."

Jarod turned sharply and looked at Xander, "Tara? Willow? Phoebe!?"

Xander smiled and reached out and stopped him from interrupting Miss Parker's plan. "Relax. She knows what she's doing..."

Jarod looked at him oddly, "You know something."

Xander just grinned, "Yeah... but don't tell Buffy or Faith."


"Jason... listen to me you dumb fuck!" Jack yelled at the man, "They're going to take you out! Fuck man, I promise you, just put down the gun and I'll make sure that your team is protected! They aren't here to kill you, they just want to save the witches!"

Jason shook his head, "No... no way. I can't fucking trust you! You're a goddamned traitor, Jack! You're standing with *them* you son of a bitch! You've turned your back on all of us!"

Jack shook his head, "No! Come on, Jason! You fucking well know me better then that!"

The other man shook his head sharply, "I thought I did, man... but you're a fucking traitor! You betrayed us all, Jack! Every last man and woman on earth!"

Jack cursed as he saw Jason's grip tighten on the M4, and he threw himself to one side as the black weapon spat flame. In an instant guns were blazing all around him, and the whine of bullets ripped past his ear.


Jack Crow hit the ground rolling and came up in a crouch as he searched around for a target. Jason was only a few feet away, his M4 already tracking toward Jack's position. The vampire hunter kicked off the ground as hard as he could and dove directly at his one-time comrade, striking Reinhold low in the legs and toppling the man to the ground.

As those two tangled and grappled on the ground several of the remaining men were staring in shock at the man who called himself, The Shadow.

The once frail looking old man had grown several inches to just over six feet, his face sharpened and became more and more chiseled. He cast his arms out and a black cloak of darkness grew up around him, flowing out from his body and framing him as he suddenly strode into the center of the gunmen.

"What the fuck!" Cried one man as the darkness enveloped him, his yells being cut off sharply a second later.

Shivers traveled up the men's spines as they heard a low rolling cackle emerge from the shadows.

"I can't get a clear shot!" Harry Tasker cursed under his breath as he rolled to the right and tried to find a target, "That fucking... whatever it is, is blocking me!"

"Harry! Stop cursing!"

Miss Parker opened up with her MP-5, using short bursts, and caught on of the gunmen in the shoulder. As he spiraled to the ground she shifted her aim, her eyes widening as she caught sight of the weird black shadow that had taken over a quarter of the area the men stood in. "What the hell?"

Her radio crackled to life, "What's going on, Andrea!?"

"Things just went south," She said into the mic as she shook her head clear and shifted aim to another target, ignoring the shadow.

"We'll be there in less then a minute!"

"It'll be over by then." She fired another burst into a man who was firing blindly into the mist around him. <Idiots like that get innocent bystanders shot.>

For a brief moment as he swept through the battle, Lamont Cranston missed his old .45's.As he entrapped another gunman in a mental fog and disarmed the man with a casual twist of his arm the old crime fighter smiled tensely and shook the rare emotion away. He couldn't be using lethal weapons while he wore the collar, despite his past even he had limits.

<It does feel good to be back in the old fight though.> He thought as his trademark cackling laughter bubbled past his lips.

Jack Crow grunted as he took a heavy right to his jaw that sent sparkling lights dancing across his vision. He shook it off and swung back, nailing Jason Reihnhold under the arm with a heavy left. Jason grunted as he felt a rib crack, but locked his arm over Jack's despite the pain and trapped the seasoned vampire hunter's fist.

"Give it up, old man!" Jason growled as he rolled over top of Jack and punched him hard across the face.

Jack growled up at him and drove his knee into the younger man's crotch. As Jason Reinhold fell off him, gasping and choking in pain, Jack snarled. "I may be old you dumb punk, but I'm still Jack Crow."

Jarod, Xander, Faith, Buffy, Angel, and Sarah Baily topped the ridge that overlooked the clearing that the helicopter had landed in. All but Xander stopped dead and stared in shock and surprise at the events below them.

"What the hell is that?" Buffy said in shock.

Xander paused and looked back, confused. "What?"

"That black cloud!"

"What cloud?"

All of them looked at Xander like his was insane. "You don't see that?"

"See what?" Xander looked back, "Hey... is that Father Cranston kicking that guy's ass?"

A few scant seconds after the first shot was fired the echoing of gunfire died out and the battle crawled to a finish.

Jack Crow stumbled to his feet, holding his side and wincing in pain, and surveyed the clearing. By the moonlight he could easily see the bodies of Jason Reinhold's team as they lay strewn about the ground. He swallowed deeply and a knot formed in his stomach as he looked down at his one time comrade. "Fuck it, Jason... It didn't have to come to this."

The man just lay on the ground, still moaning in pain.

"It always comes to this, Jack."

Jack looked over to where Father Cranston, standing tall and remarkably straight for a man who a few moments earlier walked like a ninety year old man, was striding toward him. "It shouldn't have gone this far."

Father Cranston nodded, "I know."

As the old priest turned away Jack spoke up again, "You and me, Padre. We're gonna have words later."

"I know that too, Jack."

Xander walked down into the clearing, looking around with a sad smile on his face. "Looks like you guys handled yourselves well."

Father Cranston looked over at him and smiled an identical smile, "We did our duty, Alexander."

Xander nodded and walked past the old priest, "Oh, Father?"


"What Jack said... goes double for me."

Cranston chuckled low in his throat, but didn't respond.

Xander chuckled himself and shook his head. He was about to say something else when a noise caught his attention.

"The Chopper!"

Everyone turned to see the blade of the helicopter starting to speed up, preparing to lift the big machine off the ground.

Mike Dearborn Pushed the throttle forward and pulled back on the stick, he wasn't going to stay in this deathtrap one second longer then he had to. Unfortunately he didn't realize that he had already stayed several seconds to long.

The cool voice in his ear was his first hint that he wasn't alone.

"Hey there, big boy. How do you feel about the way your head is placed?"

Through the sudden terror in his stomach he managed to blurt out a single syllable. "Huh?"

"Cause if this bird leaves the ground, then another bird is going to clip your wings. Me."

A chill ran up his spine as his hands froze on the controls.

"Power it down and take your hands off the controls, big boy."

Mike nodded slowly and did as he was told.

"That's a good boy."

The group watched as the chopper powered down and, a few moments later, two figures hopped out of the air craft. The pilot was being forced along by a slim woman with a chalk white face.

"Attack of the killer mime." Xander cracked as he watched Hannah push the pilot along.

"Hey," Oz nudged him, "Careful... she doesn't like the mime jokes."

"Who would?" Xander grinned. "Hey, Hannah! Good work."

The woman merely sent him a dirty look and pushed the pilot into the group of prisoners who had survived the gunfight.

"What now?" Giles asked as he walked up.

Xander looked at him, then glanced at Xander. "I think that we have a little time for some fun and games."

Jarod smiled, and the people around them looked confused.

"The last card has been played, and the game is lost."

"Not the game. Merely one hand."

"Our next move?"

"We make him the offer? Or we kill him."

"Perhaps we must do both?"

"It is decided then."


Cardinal Garen woke up to the sharp odor of smelling salts, his head rolling from side to side in a vain attempt to escape to escape the stench. As he mind cleared he realized that he couldn't move. In a sudden panic if looked up and stared around himself with wild eyes. "What? Where am I?"

Around him a group of people, nearly a hundred of them, appeared out of the darkness and looked at him with dead eyes. One of them, a tall dark haired man with a frightening look on his face stepped forward.

"Don't you know? Don't you recognize this place?" The man asked with an evil laugh. "You should. This is the place where you burned eight innocent young women alive!"

Garen flinched when the man snapped that last word out. He looked around, belatedly realizing that it was indeed the place and worse, that he was tied to the center stake. Around his feet was a pile of wood and he could smell gasoline.

"They were witches!" He protested in a panic as he saw a torch passed forward through the group of people, "Abominations before god!"

The man smiled, chilling the Cardinal. "I wonder what that makes you?"

The Cardinal started to scream as the man accepted the torch and stepped forward. The man smiled at him again, that same chilling smile. "Why don't you ask God when you see him? IF you see him!"

"No! NO!" Garen screamed as the torch fell from the man's hands and landed on the ground. He clenched his eyes shut as the flickering flames rose up, snapping at his legs. A few moments later he opened them, and the flame was gone, the smell of gasoline vanished. "What?"

"We're not monsters, Cardinal Garen." The man smiled at him, "We don't burn people alive... the innocent... or the guilty."

"You think that changes anything!?" Garen screamed, spittle flying from his mouth as he cursed them. "You're still satan's spawn! Even if you kill me you still face His ultimate judgment!"

Jarod stepped back in distaste, wiping the spittle from his face. As he did Garen saw a small woman step forward, her face as white as a corpse. She walked up to him and kneeled in front of him, her hands raking the ash at his feet like rakes. She finally pulled up a charred object and stood up, her face inches from his.

She drew in a shakey breath, her face a mask of pleasure and pain. Her eyes snapped open and she looked straight into her eyes. "We said we wouldn't burn you... we never said that you wouldn't find out what it feels like!"

Her hands snapped out and she glared at him as all the pain of one young witch as she burned at the stake was poured into him. He screamed in pain and terror, his nerves being raked by the searing flames that he himself had set.

The group watched impassively as the Cardinal shrieked one final time and collapsed in his bondage, his head lolling as he began to mumble and cry to himself.

Xander watched, wincing at the thought of what the man was going through but not regretting it. The man deserved that, and probably more. He turned to Jarod and Hannah and nodded solemnly.

The nodded back, Jarod was grim, but Hannah seemed to be enjoying herself. Xander sighed and shook his head, he didn't feel much cause enjoyment but he wasn't going to begrudge her, her own feelings.

"Ok... now we hav..."

He was cut off as a booming clap of thunder and a flash of brilliant light erupted around them. He snapped around to look at the source and saw two glimmering forms, a female and a male, striding toward him.

"Alexander Harris..."

"We have come for you."

Xander looked up at the sky and moaned, "Can't you cut me ANY goddamned SLACK!?"

Xander looked across at the two beings that had just arrived with pomp and circumstance, "Who the fuck are you and what do you want?"

"Ah... Xander?"

Xander looked over at Angel, "What?"

"Those are the Oracles... They're part of The Powers that Be. They send Doyle his visions."

Xander looked around, surprised to note that Angel was looking paler then usual and that Doyle was looking terrified. His eyes scanned the rest of his group and he quickly note that both Leo and Jenny were also looking seriously frightened.

<Oh shit. What scares a pair of Angels?> "Jenny... what is it?"

She shifted uncomfortably, "They're... our superiors, Xander. They give the orders."

"Great." He muttered and turned back, "Fine. You've got my attention. What the hell do you want?"

The two glittering forms looked at him for a long moment before they spoke.

"We are here..."

"To offer you the mantle..."

"And the power..."

"Of Champion."

Xander stared at them for a second, "What?"

Angel spoke next, "They want you to be one of their champions... like Buffy, Faith, and myself. It means they are willing to grant you power to fight, Xander."

Xander turned back to the two glimmering forms, his face inscrutable while they waited patiently.

"No." He said finally, ignoring the gasps of shock around him.

"You will..."


"No." he repeated, "You guys hard of hearing? I'm not going to sign on so you can jerk me around like you do my friends."

"Ummm... Xander..." Angel said quietly, "Pissing them off... not a good plan."

Xander didn't look at the vampire, "I don't care, Angel. I've seen what they do to Buffy and I've heard of what they do to you. Screw that! I'm not signing away my right to choose just cause these two jokers show up and demand it."

The two glittering forms began to advance on him, their normally impassive faces now filled with fury.

"Then, you leave us..."

"No choice. For your acts that endanger..."

"The victory of light, you must..."


Xander swallowed and summoning Elan to his hand, activating the ancient weapon with a thought. <Please tell me some good news...>

Elan's voice was worried. <I am sorry, Alexander. At full power we might be able to fight them, but as it stands now... no. It is not possible.>

<Now you tell me.>

Her voice was sarcastic when it came back. <Perhaps in the future you might consider asking me whether the two Angelic Warriors you intend to PISS off are too powerful to handle.>

Xander grimaced, but held his ground as the forms glided closer. He was shocked when Buff and Faith barred their path.

"Uh uh, sparkles." Faith shook her head, "You ain't getting to him without going through us!"

Buffy glared at them, and lifted her fists, nodding in agreement with the dark Slayer.

The rest of the group quickly stepped between Xander and the two glittering forms. All of them nodding in agreement.

"You'll have to take us all down!" Angel said, his voice calm.

"Get out of the way, guys!" Xander protested. "This isn't your fight!"

They all shook their heads. Father Cranston turned and flashed him a smile. "We have decided to make it ours, Alexander."

"You got that right, Padre." Jack Crow slammed one big fist into his open palm.

The three Charmed Ones nodded in unison, each of them raking their minds for spells from the book of Shadows.

Even the two Angels, Leo and Jenny, stepped into place to bar the way.

The two forms glared at the assembled group. "You dare? You are nothing to us, all of your combined powers are meaningless."

Buffy just glared back at them, "Even if that's so... It doesn't change a single thing! You want him, you go through US!"

"As you wish."

The two forms slid forward, directly at the two Slayers. The two girls tensed and prepared to fight but a sweep of the female form's hand slapped them aside like flies. Faith hit the ground sprawling and Buffy smashed into an upright stake hard enough to crack it in two.

Xander screamed. "You bastards! Leave them alone! If you want me, come get me!"

"Dana!" Harry Tasker bellowed as he drew his pistol and turned it on the things. He was struck by an invisible force and sent flying.

Helen Tasker rushed to her daughter's side, turning just in time to see her husband crash into the ground. "Harry!"

Next were the Charmed Ones, Prue lashed out with her powers as Piper tried to freeze them, neither power had the slightest affect.

"Do you truly believe that even the vaunted Charmed Ones may stand against even a single Archangel?"

A wave of the male's hand sent them flying across the hill and sliding painfully through the dirt.

Father Cranston stepped directly in their path, "I do not know what kind of monsters you are, but you are no Angels!"

The Shadow summoned his abilities, forming a deep cloud of utter darkness and sending his mind out to strike at the two forms. As he did a single gleam of pure white light split his skull with a pain he had never imagined, crumpling the one time Crime fighter to the ground in agony.

"Our minds are far beyond your meager abilities."

Jack Crow, Giles, Jarod, Willow, Tara, Sarah Baily, Oz, Hannah, and all the rest save Leo and Jenny were dealt with in similar ways. Each stood firm, but was batted away like minor pests.

As each one of his friends fell in futile defense of his life Xander's stomach knotted and his heart tightened.

The two forms stopped in front of Jenny and Leo.

"Stand aside..."

"Or be punished."

The two Whitelighters shook their heads. "We will not stand aside."


They struck out again, slapping the two Angels like they were nothing. Both hit the ground in pain, rolling and gasping from the shock of the hit.

"NO!" Xander screamed, his throat going hoarse as all his friends were batted aside like toys. His grip on Elan whitened, and he began to pull power from her into himself. The ancient weapon glowing a brilliant silver white as the power made its way up his arm and through his body.

The two beings casually slapped out at him, sending him flying into one of the stakes behind him. The heavy wooden pole cracked and Xander lost his focus, the glow dying out as he tried to shake the stars from his eyes. He fell to the ground on all fours, his head down against his chest as he tried to breath. Finally, with a single-minded will, he looked up to see them gliding closer to him. He struggled to his feet and glared defiantly at the creatures as stood unsteadily, using Elan as a prop to hold him up.

A hysterical laugh distracted him for a moment and he glanced around to see the Cardinal laughing with a certain madness in his eyes. "I told you! I told you! God's wrath comes for you devil spawns! He sent his angels to avenge me!"

Xander growled and turned back to face the two glittering forms as they closed on him. He summoned up enough will to try to channel Elan's power again and the ancient weapon's glow began to light the hill upon which the stood.

He had only just started, barely able to pull enough power to begin to recharge the energy he had lost when the two forms motioned towards him at once. In the next instant all Xander could see was fire.

Xander tried to jump back as the flames burst in front of him, his eyes slamming shut as they were pierced by the bright fire. He was stopped by the stake behind him, his armor fitting into the cracked contour that he had left when he had struck it moments earlier.

He froze there, a strange calm passing over him as he almost accepted what has happening. It was then that he realized that he wasn't burning, and he wasn't dying.

Xander opened his eyes, blinking a couple times to clear them as best he could, and gazed at the huge pyre of flames mere feet from his position. He shook his head as he heard a faraway voice booming something he couldn't make out.

As his heart slowed he stared at the fires and was shocked to see them due down and two figures walk out of them. The first was a man in a black suit, impeccably dressed and walking with a regal bearing. He had a face that screamed authority and power, and Xander swallowed as he watched the man.

The woman was a walking contradiction in terms. She was young, but walked with the same power and bearing that the man had. She was dressed in gaudy, flashy clothing, but exuded a tangible aura of dignity and power that dwarfed even that of the man beside her. Her face was a mix of mischief and sadness that struck Xander to his soul in a way he had never before known. He automatically felt drawn, and simultaneously pushed away from her.

He staggered to his feet, still staring in shock at the two figures, and completely forgetting the oracles who had just attacked him.

As he took his first, hesitant, step toward the two he suddenly winced as Elan came barreling into his mind, snapping orders with a definitive air of command that brooked no question or hint of disobedience.

<Do as I say, NOW, Alexander... First....>

Buffy moaned as she forced herself to her feet, her entire body aching like one huge bruise. Ignoring it the Blond Slayer groaned and shoved herself up, her eyes already seeking the Oracles and her minding plotting what she would do to them if they had hurt Xander or any of her friends.

Her eyes came to rest on them and she stared at the two glittering forms in shock.

Both of them were prostrate on the ground, their hands spread out before them and their knees tucked under them. They were bowing, practically groveling, to someone.

The Slayer looked in the direction they faced and was shocked to find that both Jenny and Leo were in much the same position.

As she stared even further she gasped in shock as she spotted Xander.

"Boytoy?" Faith mumbled as she pushed herself off the ground. Her seeking eyes quickly spotted the two figures who were approaching Xander.

The Dark Slayer cursed and forced herself to her feet and took a step in their direction, her mind focused on violent thoughts. She stopped in mid thought, however, when she saw Xander drop to one knee, his silver staff planted in the ground ahead of him, and bow his head to the two figures until his forehead lightly grazed the metal of his staff.

"What the fuck?"

All through the battleground people were sitting up in pain, and were caught by the sheer insanity of seeing two Archangels, two Whitelighters, and the young man who had just cursed out the two Archangels all bowing to two new figures.

The common thought was pretty much summed up by Jack Crow as he glared at the odd scene from a half seated position on the ground. "Has everyone in this fucking place gone totally psycho?"

Xander's hearing finally cleared as he slowly lifted his head to look at the two.

"...GOD." The man's booming voice finished as he looked at Xander, obviously expecting a response.


That was not the response he expected.

"Oh for crying out loud. You bloody Americans never listen the first time. I always have to repeat myself, I mean..."

The woman smiled and laid a hand on the man's arm. He instantly shut up and nodded. "Very well. Again, from the top then?"

He spoke again in the booming impressive voice that Xander had barely heard before.

"I Am Le Metatron, Herald Of The Almighty And Voice Of The One True GOD!"

Xander was about to ask who, but a mental jab from Elan and a sudden flood of information stopped him just in time to avoid pissing off the man further. Instead he just said, "Oh."

"Oh!? Is that all you've got to say?" The man ranted in a cultured British accent, "Bleeding teenagers. Nothing impresses them anymore... I really don't know what's become of..."

The woman at his side just stared at him until he trailed off, mumbling an apology. She grinned at Xander and winked mischievously, her manner in complete contrast to the aura she exuded. The she whispered something to the man and he straightened up and nodded.

"Right. To business then," He turned around and glared at the two Archangels. "Would you mind explaining yourselves!?"

The two looked mildly frightened, but spoke calmly and in tandem.

"We were merely..."

"Endeavoring to eliminate a wild factor in our plans."

The man nodded sagely, "Let me get this straight... just to be absolutely certain I understand you. You decided that this... child... was a wild factor in your assignment to manage the war against the dark threat?"

The two Archangels nodded.

"Bloody Archangels," The man muttered, half turning toward the woman, "You know I never really understood why you created them... Oh sure, Gabriel worked out fine but most of them are insanely paranoid about anything that doesn't fit their world view."

The woman shrugged.

Le Metatron sighed and turned back, "So, what next?"

"We offered him a place..."

"Among our chosen Champions."

Le Metatron looked back at Xander with an appraising eye. "Interesting. He turned you down?"

"Yes. So it was decided that..."

"He must be removed..."

"To ensure the continued operation..."

"Of our battle plans."

The man rolled his eyes, "So you decided to kill him?"

The two nodded in tandem.

Le Metatron closed his eyes and pinched his nose. "I don't suppose it occurred to you that you are fighting this war to PRESERVE the FREE WILL of MORTALS!?"

The two shared a miserable glance. "He is no..."

"Mere mortal..."

"Perfect. Just bleedin perfect. You think I don't know everything there is to know about the boy!? I know what you know, and we both know that unless he accepts the mantle of Champion or you can turn one of your champions against him, you have no rights in this matter. Your direct interference is a violation of your oath!"

"He must not..."

"Be allowed to disrupt..."

"The plan."

Le Metatron sighed, "How can I put this nicely... HANDS OFF!"

The two shrank back from the man's anger, and the woman at his side laid her hand gently on him again. He relaxed visibly and nodded grimly at her. "We will continue this in a moment. Return. Wait for us. NOW."

The two nodded in misery and vanished into the air, leaving with much less fanfare then they arrived with.

Xander watched from where he continued to kneel as the two turned back toward him. The man sighed and looked at him with something that reminded him strangely of Giles when he was particularly annoyed.

"They have a point, you know."

Xander swallowed. "What?"

"The Oracles, as you know them, have a point. You are meddling in things that are best left alone..." The man shifted his gaze from Xander to Elan, "And *you* should know better. Really now, a child like this? And you offer him your powers? Are you trying to bring about another fall of civilization like that which sunk your own culture?"

A long silence was both Staff and Bearer followed. The man tapped his foot in annoyance, "Elanthielle. Answer me..."

Still nothing.

"Very well," The man glanced at the woman who smiled and nodded.

A flash of light enveloped the staff, and it vanished. In its place was Elanthielle in her dream form, standing tall and proud as she always did when Xander saw her. She bowed her head respectfully but didn't change her haughty expression. "My Lord," She said as she nodded to the man. She said nothing to the woman, merely took a step back to fall in step with Xander and dropped to one knee beside him.

"Arrogant as always, Lady Kine." Le Metatron said sarcastically.

"No, My Lord Metatron. Merely respectful. My kind never did fall to the ground at your feet."

"Yes, and how many of your kind still exist?" The man asked snidely, "Pride goeth before the fall."

"Perhaps." Elan looked him in the eyes, "And perhaps that is a lesson you also will learn. And to answer your question, there remains at least one." She glanced sideways at Xander.

The man shook his head in annoyance, but the woman smiled in delight and clapped her hands in a childlike manner. Le Metatron looked over at her and nodded.

"For what it is worth, Lady Kine, She approves your decision... and his." The man said calmly, "But do not take that as having our support..."

Elanthielle smiled, "I would never assume that, I know the rules My Lord."

He smiled, "Yes. I supposed you do."

He turned away from where Elanthielle kneeled and looked at Xander. "As for you, boy, you've taken on much more then you know... and much more then your friend here has told you. Take care, else you may find yourself following the path that led to the destruction of the Kine, and the deaths of those they were sworn to protect."

Xander swallowed, not really understanding what the man meant but feeling the impact of his words strike deep. "I will."

The man nodded, then his look changed to one of compassion. "Know this also... Your deeds, from greatest to slightest, are recorded in heaven. And those actions which cause you your greatest pain, have never been one that requires forgiveness from any other than yourself."

With those words the man turned and strode away with the woman at his side, a few feet away they simply vanished into the air.

Xander watched the two fade away, his mouth dry and his eyes wide. He turned to Elanthielle without thinking, reacting to her presence as had become normal in the dreamtime. "Elan... was that who I think it was."

She nodded.

Xander slowly got down and sat on the ground, his eyes still fixed on the point in space the two people had vanished at. "Wow."

Elan rolled her eyes, "Be glad I intervened... had you elected to insult the Deity in the same manner as those Archangels things may not have gone so well for you."

Xander's mouth worked as he contemplated insulting the woman he had just seen. He couldn't imagine it without shuddering in shame. Finally he managed to speak, "Thanks."

Elan shrugged and grinned, "I couldn't very well let you get a lightning bolt between the eyes, now could I?"

Xander smiled weakly back and shook his head ruefully as Elanthielle slid to the ground beside him. She casually dropped an arm around his shoulders and gave him a quick hug, "Relax, Alexander... The first time you mean the Almighty or the Voice is a rough one..."

"You met them before?"

She laughed and leaned in on him, "Of course. The Almighty has the strangest habits... Sometimes even to the point of dabbling in the weirdest hobbies. I remember once I walked in on the Creator in a public pond playing Skitchal with a group of children... The children always won."

"Skitchal?" Xander asked, then thought better of it, "Never mind. Doesn't matter... Holy crap... I mean... God."

She laughed and squeezed him lightly again.

"Xander?" They looked up in surprise, both of them forgot that there was actually other people around.

"Hey Buffy..." Xander said weakly.

"Xander... what was that?"

Xander glanced up, "That was... Le Metatron and... friend."

"Good Lord." Giles said in shock, the name ringing a bell in the watchers mind.

Xander started laughing, "You got it in one, G-man."

Giles goggled in shock and abruptly sat down, hitting the ground hard. "Good Lord..." He whispered to himself.

"Forget the stuffed shirt and the freaky chick, Boytoy," Faith said, drawing stares from Xander, Giles, Leo, and Jenny, "I want to know who the hell this is." She finished, staring straight at Elan.

Phoebe smiled and walked up, "Hello Elan, nice to see you again."

Elan tilted her head and smiled back at the young witch. "And you as well Miss Halliwell."

"Elan!?" Faith goggled, then she changed her expression slowly to one of mischievousness. "Damn, Boytoy... you've holding back on me. You never mentioned that you had a girl on the side."

Xander groaned and buried his head in his hands. "Faith!"

To his surprise Elan pulled him in closer and nestled her head in the crook of his neck. "Relax, Alex... We knew we couldn't hide it forever."

Xander froze, his face still buried in his hands. His muscles jumped as Elan's hands explored his body in a slow manner, "Elan?"

She nuzzled his ear, whispering at the same time. "Be at ease, Alexander... I'm merely toying with your friend."

Xander risked a peak through his fingers and saw that she was actually getting to Faith. The dark Slayer was actually flushing a bright red and the look on her face almost ripped a laugh from his throat.

"Xander!?" Her voice laced with surprise.

He couldn't help it, he started to laugh. Silently at first, the quiet chuckles rocking his body with soft tremors that slowly grow until he couldn't hold it back any longer and he laughed out loud.

Faith stared at him as if he were insane.

That was when Elanthielle joined in the laughter, her own bubbling chuckles rolling like waves on a shore as she stopped paying undo attention to Xander and merely laughed beside him.

"What are you laughing at!?"

Faith reddened further as the laughter erupted around her, Phoebe first, then Buffy and soon the rest of them as they caught onto the joke. When she realized what it was her face suddenly shifted from confused to understanding. She suddenly glared at the strange woman, "You... You... Bitch!"

The laughter redoubled and Faith slowly joined in, shaking her head and glaring at both Xander and Elan.

Elan got to her feet and smiled at Faith, "My Apologies, Ms Tasker. But after observing the 'fun' you have had with Alexander... I could not resist."

Faith eyed her carefully, "Aren't you supposed to be... you know, a stick?"

Elanthielle's eyes flashed, and she glared sidelong at Xander. "Do *not* mention that word."

Faith stepped back in surprise. "Umm... ok. But uh... how come you're... mobile?"

Elan shrugged, "Le Metatron desired to emphasize a point to me... The Creator agreed."

"What kind of... point?" Giles asked quietly.

Elan grimaced, "He wished to ensure that I remembered who was in 'charge', so to speak."

Xander raised his eyebrows, "Now that it's been mentioned... How long is this going to last?"

Elan smiled sadly, "No more then a few minutes, Alexander. My status as a rune weapon is not something that even the Creator would permanently alter."

Xander looked at her sadly and swallowed. "I'm sorry, Elan..."

She smiled a little less sadly, "It is of no import, Alexander... I am... what I always have been."

"You weren't always a weapon, Elan..."

She let out a soft chuff of laughter, "Alexander... even when I was alive and had this body you see before you... even then, I was a weapon."

Xander shook his head, "That is a sad view of life you have."

"No, Alexander." She said, her face serious. "It is my view of life. I am, have been, and will continue to be, a warrior. If that means that I must fight from within the confines of a weapon... then so be it.

The group slowly pulled themselves back together, as most of them tried to come to terms with what they had just see or, in some cases, what they had just missed.

"Well shit." Hannah growled, "If I had known that I would have asked her to send me back to my daughter."

Oz glanced over, but didn't speak.

The two of them glanced around when they heard a strange noise. They spotted the Cardinal, still tied to his stake, staring wide eyed at the entire group. Hannah eyed the man with slitted eyes, usually it took longer for people to recover from the pain transference, in fact she was still feeling much of it herself.

"What are you looking at?" He snarled at her.

Hannah looked at him, her head tilted to one side. "A piece of trash who just fell off his power trip... too bad."

The Cardinal snarled at her, and she felt a certain vindication when she spotted the remnants of the pain in his eyes. "What the hell just happened?"

Hannah was about to answer when Xander walked up with the strange woman, and she spoke. "We were visited by God, and some of the holy Creator's Angels."

The Cardinal's eyes widened. "The man in the suit?"

Xander laughed, "Nope. That was the Voice of God. The Woman in the cloths that even I wouldn't wear... that was God."

The Cardinal laughed, "God? A woman... HA!"

Xander looked closer at the man and noticed a card pinned to his shirt. "Hey, at least she has a sense of humor."


Xander retrieved the card and held it up in front of the Cardinal's face.

The Cardinal read it aloud, "Dear Cardinal Garen, I have some good news and some bad news for you. The good news is that you will be meeting your hero, Torquemada, in the afterlife... The bad news is that I genuinely doubt you will be pleased with the accommodations. Sincerely............ God."

Xander shook his head and chuckled as the color drained from the Cardinal's face. "You should know better then to piss off a woman, Cardinal... especially one with that kind of power."

Xander sat beside Faith and Buffy as they watched Elanthielle stride through the trees, touching and smelling everything. Xander sighed as she leaned over and picked up a rock and just felt it for several seconds.

"What is it, Xander?" Buffy asked in concern.

"She... looks happier then I've seen her... like a child... innocent."

Faith snorted. "Innocent? That babe? Riii-ght."

Xander shrugged, "Just cause she put one over on you, Faith, is no reason for jealousy."

Faith grinned, "Jealous I ain't, Lover. Surprised, shocked, and maybe a little envious... but hey, I figured why should you have all the fun?"

Xander's eyes widened as he turned to look at Faith. "What?"

Faith shrugged, still grinning. "She's hot, Lover. I wouldn't mind having her in my dreams."

Xander couldn't tell if the Slayer was serious, or just messing with him. Finally he gave up trying to figure it out. "She... well, Elan is most definitely a woman."

"What's that supposed to mean!?" Buffy glared at him, her tone dangerous.

Xander grinned, "It means she drives me absolutely insane 95% of the time... but I wouldn't trade even the worst of it for anything."

Buffy gave him an odd look but didn't comment, unsure as she was on whether that was a complimentary statement or an insulting one.

The group looked up as the woman in semi-armor approached. "Xander... It's time."

Xander nodded and stood up.

"Elan..." he started.

She smiled, "I know."

He nodded and reached out, and spoke in a commanding tone. "Elan."

The beautiful woman vanished in a silver sparkle, and the collapsed cylinder that was Xander's ancient weapon appeared in his hands. He looked down at the weapon and a tear formed in his eye. It slid down his cheek a second later, leaving a distinct trail along his skin, and fell onto the silver weapon. The minute splash echoed in his mind for a long time.

Xander stood on the hilltop and watched as the townspeople set to wiping the last traces of the fires from the hill. They had already removed the stakes and all the remains they could find. When asked they had said that they would use a spell to identify the shards of bone that remained and arrange for proper burial.

Xander took a deep breath as the work progressed, his mind still drawn in and occupied by the events of the past twenty fours hours.

He heard a snap of a twig behind him and snapped around to see Faith's father, Harry Tasker, a few feet behind him. "Hey."

Harry nodded in greeting and stepped up beside him. "I've seen bad things before, but this is on a different level."

Xander nodded, "Yeah. You know, I think that this is the first time I've ever dealt with humans who were as bad as the demons I've seen. At least on this level."

Harry nodded, "I face terrorists who have more compassion for the people they kill than this. What are you going to do with them?"

Xander grimaced and shook his head, "Honestly? I don't know. We aren't exactly in a position to arrest them, and even if we did it's less likely that the people here would press charges or testify."

"Why not?"

Xander snorted, "A witch burning case? The town would be infamous within hours... they'd be flooded with looky-loos, federal investigators, other demon hunters with the same attitude as these jokers..."

"I see," Harry muttered under his breath. "What then?"

Xander shrugged, "Not as much as they deserve I'm sure... but I do have at least one plan.


Xander shrugged and smiled, then turned and walked back toward the town.

"We done here?" Jack Crow asked Xander sourly as he walked back into the group.

Xander nodded, "Almost. You sure that your up to this?"

Crow grimaced but nodded.

Xander turned to Jarod, "You sure you can handle it?"

Jarod smiled, "No problem. The Huey is a pretty simple machine."

"Good, take the prisoners to where Father Guiteau guides you."

"What do I do with the chopper?"

Xander shrugged, "Spoils of war. Do whatever you want with it."

"That is Vatican property!" Father Guiteau objected.

Xander looked at him, "Consider it a very minuscule fine for what they did here. And don't think it's the last. Father Cranston, Jack... Jenny? Let's go."

Vatican City, Rome

Cardinal Beauchamps was the senior man at the Vatican's Department of the Supernatural and Occult, a job he had faithfully served for the better part of twenty five years. As such he wasn't prone to surprise, or shock, or much else when something new occurred. He had literally seen it all, and unlike many of those who served under him he could say that he had seen most of it first hand.

The man was something of a legend in the group, he had been a field agent during his youth and had personally been involved in thwarting the evils that demons and their brethren attempted for over fifteen years.

Even he, however, was shocked when four figures materialized in the counsel chambers in a glittering sparkle of lights that could only be described as... heavenly. Still, he was the first among his colleagues to recover, and the first to voice his thoughts.

"Who are you, what is the meaning of this!?"

One of the figures stepped forward, and Beauchamps instantly recognized him.

"Jack? Jack Crow?"

A low murmur went through the assembled officials at that. What was Jack Crow doing arriving at one of their meetings via an obviously mystical transportation method?

"That's right, Cardinal." Jack confirmed, "There's been an incident in the states."

"What kind of... Incident."

Jack shrugged and stepped aside, revealing a young man in outlandish armor that was holding something large in his right hand. He lifted his hand, pulling what was apparently a body off the floor and glared at the group as he stepped forward, dragging the limp form with him.

"My name is Xander Harris." The man said quietly, "I believe that Mr. Crow relayed you a message from me late last year?"

Beauchamps glanced around, unsure what the boy was referring to, and noticed that on of the council was nodded. "Luke? Do you know what he means?"

The man nodded slowly, "We received notice of this young man as a possible recruitment candidate. He turned us down but subsequently provided Mr. Crow with the location of the American Hellmouth."

Low murmurs swept around as people began to realize and in some cases remember who they were looking at.

Luke continued, "Mr. Crow indicated that Mr. Harris worked with a supernatural team to guard the portal and had, in fact, prevented several attempts to bring about the Apocalypse."

Beauchamps looked impatient, "Yes? Get on with it."

"When Mr. Crow and his control officer represented the official Church position on seeking supernatural Aid and mentioned past occurrences where teams turned on innocent supernatural entities Mr. Harris asked him to deliver us a message."

"What was it?" Beauchamps asked, his voice a little grimmer now as more mutters passed through the room.

"He said... and I quote, You tell your local 'control officer' that if he tries that shit around here I'll personally deliver what's left of his corpse to Rome. Same goes for any teams pulling that shit *anywhere* if I hear about it." Luke at down, looking embarrassed.

Xander stepped forward and hefted the limp form of Cardinal Garen until it was more or less standing upright. He then shoved the Cardinal forward across the table that Beauchamps sat behind. "Consider this a warning rather then an actual attempt to make good on that promise. He's still alive, though I'm fairly sure he'll wish he wasn't when he wakes up."

Beauchamps swallowed, "And why is that?"

Xander eyed the man coldly, "Because we impressed the memories of eight witches he ordered burnt into his mind, what they saw from the moment his men captured them. Their pain when he tortured them until they broke and confessed to dealings with a devil that only existed in his mind. And their pain and terror when he burnt them alive at the stake. He'll be feeling that every morning for the rest of his life, Cardinal. And some of my friends think we let him off easily."

The room grew deathly silent as Xander turned his back and walked back to the group. A few seconds later an old man walked over to them and they saw that he was a priest. He looked at them with piercing eyes that sent shivers up each man's spine, and when he spoke his voice reverberated through the room.

"Tonight I have seen some of the greatest atrocities that I have ever had the misfortune to see," The spoke quietly and... changed... as he did. He straitened up, growing taller and his face grew younger and more clearly defined, "And I, gentlemen, and something of an expert on atrocity."

The man reached up to his throat and, with a tug, ripped the white color from his neck. "For twenty years I wore this, having reached peace with myself and my own soul. I served the people of a small town to the best of my capacity, and thought that I had finally become part of something pure. Tonight I return it to you," He flung the collar to the table, "because I can not bear the taint of it. My soul is no longer at peace, Gentlemen. Where I had once redeemed my crimes of youth, now I must seek redemption for my association with the crimes that you and your people have perpetrated on innocent blood."

Beauchamps fingered the collar that rested on the table and looked surprised, but not overly concerned.

"My name is Lamont Cranston, Gentlemen. Your files will have me listed under the title, The Shadow."

Astonished words were bandied around the room and a look of shock again passed over Beauchamps face.

"And now I put this question before you," Lamont stood tall, no indication of his age present in the way he held himself or in the smooth lines of his face or the sudden crop of pure black hair he sported. "What secrets do you hide from your fellow man in the name of God?"

No one responded and he turned around and rejoined his group, as the silver shimmer grabbed them up and whisked them away a last rolling line echoed off the walls of the room for what seemed an eternity.

"The Shadow Knows."

X&J's home
Sunnydale, California

A tired and exhausted group materialized in the basement armory and started shucking their weighty armor and weapons. They shuffled out of the room and went upstairs, falling heavily into the furniture that decorated the spacious living room.

No one spoke, no one felt the need. They were each dealing with the events of the past few hours in their own ways, some healthy, most not.

Xander finally looked up, taking in the new man that stood in the place of his friend, Father Cranston. The man was young, at least in comparison, perhaps in his mid thirties or early forties by Xander's best guess.

When Cranston looked up and met his eyes, Xander motioned to the door with a nod of his head. Cranston nodded and smile and the two men got up and left the group.

Jack Crow watched them leave sourly, but made no move to follow.

"Who are you, Father?"

"Call me Lamont," The man smiled, "I just left the priesthood, remember?"

Xander scowled at the man, but nodded. "Who are you... Lamont?"

Lamont shrugged, "Just a man."

"You said that you were the Shadow."

Lamont nodded.

"I've heard of you." Xander admitted, "I thought you were an urban myth, something they made up to sell newspapers and radio shows."

Lamont smiled wider, "I personally financed many of those papers and shows... A mythos of that type was useful to me."

"You must be over eighty years old."

"Ninety seven."


Lamont shrugged, and grinned. "Really, Alexander... What kind of boy do you take me for? I never kiss and tell on the first date."

Xander barked in involuntary laughter. "I can accept that... But remember, Lamont... You endanger my friends... and what happened to Garen will look like a vacation compared to what I'll do to you."

Lamont smiled and nodded, "I would expect no less, Alexander."

Xander nodded, "Oh, and Lamont?"


"Call me Xander."

Vatican City, Rome
Two days later

Cardinal Beauchamps read the reports on the Orwell incident for the ninth time. Jack Crow, Father Guiteau, and Jason Reinhold had all submitted their own versions of what had happened and he was trying to piece together the truth.

He growled again as he went over the reports of the bones found in the ash pits outside of the small town. He had little love for the supernatural himself, but this was insanity. Actions like this could turn many neutral powers to the other side, and they were fighting a losing battle as it was.

He finally leaned back in his chair and sighed heavily, even Reinhold's report confirmed the events in question. He shook his head and got up and left his office, walking through the halls until he reached the upper rooms of the building.

"Sir?" An aide looked up as he walked in.

"Is he in?"

"Yes sir."

"Inform his holiness that I have some disturbing information."

"Yes sir. One moment."

Beauchamps waited patiently and was finally admitted to the large living quarters that doubled as both rooms and offices for his superior.

"Cardinal, what is it?" Asked the man, his voice wavering with age.

Beauchamps looked at the name and started grimly, "We have had some disturbing reports from America. One of our teams backslid."

The white haired man sat heavily down in his chair and shook his head sadly. "I thought we had weeded out those of that nature."

"I apologize, your holiness. Cardinal Garen must have had some friends push his dossier through the screening."

"What is the damage?"

"Eight dead... burnt at the stake. Another tortured, but rescued."

"Rescued?" The old man looked up, hopefully.

"Yes. A team led by an American boy captured and held our team and liberated those being held."

"Good. Good... any casualties?"

"One dead on our side, several injured... and Cardinal Garen."


"Worse, your holiness. His mind has been shattered... the leader of the American group told me that they had forced him to relive the pain he had caused..."

The old man shook his head again, "Fitting perhaps... harsh... so very harsh."

"Yes sir."

"What do we know of this team?"

"Not enough... Jack Crow has filed some reports, but only a very few and they are not as detailed as we would like."

The old man pushed himself up and nodded, "Crow is a good man. What has he to say about this regretful event?"

"He hasn't put forward his opinion... only facts. But it is commonly believed that he sympathizes with the victims."

The old man nodded and walked away from the Cardinal, "A good man... a good man indeed."

J&X's Place, Sunnydale

Xander stopped at the bottom of the stairs, hearing voices from the living room. He recognized Faith and her parents. He hesitated for a moment, then started to turn away.

"Xander?" Faith's voice came out of the room, "Come on in here... I want you to meet someone."

Xander turned around and walked into the room, "Hi... I didn't want to disturb you..."

"Nonsense." Harry grinned, "I want to introduce you to an old friend of mine, this is Gib."

Xander nodded at the cheerful looking man, "Hey."

The man strode forward and grabbed his hand, "Hey there! So you're the guy who's making time with little Dana are ya?"

"Gib!" Harry and Helen yelled, Faith just grinned.

Gib grinned and leaned in, mock whispering. "Good work, man! She's totally hot... but uh... you do know that we're gonna have to kill you, right? I mean, that's a given..."

Xander chuckled and shook his head, while Gib stepped back and kept grinning even under the glares of Harry and Helen. Faith walked up to Xander, "Now you know where I got my sense of humor."

"God help me." Xander said, then glanced up involuntarily, "And I mean that figuratively... you under stand me!?"

Gib looked at him in confusion as Faith burst out laughing, "What's that all about?"

Harry shook his head, only half smiling. "You don't want to know, Gib... you really don't want to know."

'The Castle' Maximum Security Military Prison

"Stop him!" The man screamed, spittle flying from his mouth. "I gave you a direct order! Do not let him desecrate that flag!"

The men in uniform swallowed and looked around, uncertain. Things had gotten out of hand and they didn't know what to do. Follow an order they felt was ethically wrong and almost certainly illegal? Or disobey that same order and face probable court-martial.

To a man they stood down. They would not follow an order to shoot an unarmed man, no matter what the man was going to do to a flag.

Former General Eugene R. Irwin walked stiffly toward the flagpole, one objective in his mind. He ignored the ranting of the man behind him and locked his eyes on the flagpole. He slowly attached the flag to the pole and started to pull it up.

Warden Colonel Winters broke loose of his staff, grabbing a sidearm from his aide as he did and aimed it at the former General. "Stand away from the flag!"

Irwin pulled the flag another few inches upwards, then felt a hammering pain in his back. When the roaring reverberation of the pistol shot reached him he knew he had been shot. And again, and again.

Irwin collapsed to his knees and stared up at the flag that was fluttering above him. With his last strength he pulled it to the apex of the pole and tied it off. Only then did the mortally wounded man collapse from his wounds.

Colonel Winters aide grabbed the Warden's gun and turned it on him. "Colonel... I am arresting you for the murder of Prisoner Irwin."

The Warden didn't respond, he just looked at the body of the legend he had just killed and then let his eyes drift upwards to the flag that the general was going to fly upside down as a signal to those outside the prison. When his eyes locked on the flag they widened.

Far above the courtyard the American flag flapped lazily in the breeze, bright, proud, and entirely upright.

Prison Morgue, three hours later

The morgue was dead, no pun intended. No one had been admitted since the General's body had been laid out, and the word was that no one would be admitted until the man's troops came to escort him home.

Into the silence a man in black appeared from the air, looked around in distaste, and pulled open one of the drawers that housed the bodies and stared down at the dead face of Ex-General. The man in black made a show of looking at the back of his wrist, though he wore no watch.

"Three... two... one..."

Irwin arced up form the tray and gasped for air, his face a mask of shock.

The man in black rolled his eyes, "They always look like drowned rats when they come back."

Irwin rolled off the metal tray and stumbled to the floor. "Wha... what happened?"

"You died." The man said simply.


"You died." He repeated. "And you came back. Usually someone else would give you this speech, but we have use for you now."


The man smirked at him, "WE."

"Who are you?"

"I am... Le Metatron."

Irwin blinked. "The voice of God?"

Metatron smiled brilliantly, "Someone who actually knows me! I like you already."

Irwin shook his head, "I don't believe you."

"What?" Metatron sounded hurt, "but I really do like you..."

Irwin straightened up and glared at the Seraph. "Not that, I don't believe that you're Metatron. You have any proof?"

Metatron smiled, "Stand back."

He focused for a second and his wings slid out from behind him, "How's this?"

Irwin swallowed. "That'll do... for now. Why do you need me?"

Metatron smiled, "Ah now... *that* is a fascinating story... You see there is little town in California....."

The Seraph placed an arm over the man's shoulder and led him straight into a wall, vanishing from sight just as they reached the white surface.

Twenty minutes later
Overlooking Sunnydale, California

"Let me get this straight." Irwin muttered, "There is a bunch of demon hunting lunatics down there that are being led by a nineteen year old civilian with no training?"

Le Metatron shrugged, but nodded.

"And you want me to what? Take command?"

"No." Metatron shook his head, "They would not trust you. We are asking you to advise the boy..."

"Look, I'm not an advisor... hell, I'm not even a commander anymore. I got people killed."

"You think that makes you special? You made a judgment call... you were wrong. Your military record is still balanced heavily the other way."

Irwin shook his head, "Not to me."

"And that is exactly why you can't lead this group. But you can help the boy... and I can tell you that he'll learn fast. He's already at a level that would place him on even ground with any graduate of your 'West Point'. What he needs now is experience... and we want you to see that he lives long enough to get it, and that his people do as well."

"What is so important about this boy?"

Metatron shrugged, "Absolutely nothing... and a lot. He is the first of his kind to exist in almost eleven thousand years... and even by those standards he is something a little... extra."

"His kind?"

"An ancient order of Knights that once defended countless worlds. They fell when their king committed an unpardonably foolish act, dragging his kingdom and all his followers down with him."

"Eleven thousand years?" Irwin frowned, then whispered in shock. "The Republic..."

"Exactly." Le Metatron smiled.

Irwin stared at him, eyes a little wider. "The boy is descended from that?"

"As are you... and all the people on this world." Le Metatron smiled, "although the boy does have a certain... unique heritage of his own."

Irwin glanced at the Seraph but didn't ask, "Why are you doing this?"

"He has chosen a path that will place him at the fulcrum of events... He and his allies will almost certainly swing the balance of power in the universe... either for good, or ill. And because he was not expected, not planned for, only one person knows whether he will be a boon to humanity... or a bane."

"Who's that?"

Metatron smiled, "God. And He isn't talking."

The former three star General snorted, "Why does that not surprise me. Alright, Why me?"

"Three reasons, actually..." Metatron smirked, "One, he needs you. Two, you can help him."

"And three?"

"You need him too."

X&J's Place

"We still have to deal with the Alien Hunters." Harry muttered as he sat down at the table with the group.

Xander nodded, "You know, I have an idea on that."

"Whoa..." Gib looked around, "Did I miss something... or did Harry actually just say 'alien hunters'?"

Chuckles passed around the room. "It's a long story, Uncle Gib." Faith grinned, patting the confused man gently on the head. "Don't worry about it."

Gib looked around, a look of mock hurt on his face as the group laughed good naturedly.

Xander just grinned though and walked over to the phone. He dialed a number form memory and waited. "Hey, Jack... yeah... look, got a little problem here... no, nothing that big. Just a government team playing alien hunter... yeah, I need to call in that Favor with the chief... thanks. Oh, hey... one more thing..."

Empire Hotel

Colonel Greene cursed. "Two days! Two whole days and nothing. No word from our men, Dutch, or Harrigan... not even any bodies!"

The aides looked at each other, but didn't speak. Greene had been in a tear since their men had vanished a couple nights earlier. He wasn't pissed about the men, but the fact that the creature had escaped had driven him to rage for the entire time.

"Oh shut up, Greene."

Greene turned around in shock and found himself starring at Dutch and Harrigan as both of them stood their grinning at him. "Where have you been!? Did you find it?"

"It doesn't exist, Greene." Dutch told him calmly, you're report was in error.

Greene shook his head, "That's not possible! We have it on video."

Dutch smiled and shook his head, "No. What you have on video is an operative for a unit that you are not cleared to know anything about wearing a captured suit of armor. I suggest you read this."

Greene stared at him in shock and grabbed at the paper the man was holding out. "What is this?"

The Colonel's eyes grew wider as he flipped through the sheaf of papers, "This can't be right... This is a presidential order..."

"That's right." Harrigan grinned, "And guess who's on his shit list?"

Greene paled as he finished reading the papers. "H... how did you get this?"

"Your men attacked someone who had a favor to call in." Dutch grinned, "Take my advice... pass on this one, and stay clear of this town."

Greene swallowed as he reconfirmed the presidential seal and signature. "I... I'll take that under advisement."

"You do that." Harrigan turned and walked out.

Dutch turned to follow him, and Greene called out. "Wait... where are you going!"

Dutch shrugged, "Read the last page."

He did, and his eyes widened. His authority over Dutch had been revoked in no uncertain terms, and the president himself had added a line that basically amounted to telling him to mind his own business. "Y... you... how?"

Dutch grinned back, "Friend of the family."

Phoebe walked into the dojo quietly, not really certain what she was going to find. She could hear the sound of hard breathing and the sound of something slicing the air inside and was cautious about sticking her head in.

Inside Xander was twirling his staff at high speed, his control miles beyond what she had seen the last time she observed him in practice. He was getting better, much better.

She walked softly, staying close to the wall as she watched Xander run through his Kata. He disposed of dozens of invisible enemies before winding down and coming to attention, She smiled in appreciation of both his technique and the way the sweat glistened off his upper body.

"What's up, Phoebe?" He asked without turning around.

He smiled again, "I wanted to talk."

He nodded and pivoted around, tossing the wooden staff to one side with a casual flick that landed it neatly on the wall rack he stored it on.

"Practice that move?" Phoebe grinned wider.

Xander tilted his head in a dismissive gesture and smiled, "I thought it looked dramatic..."

"Oh, it does, it does..." Phoebe assured him with a grin.

"Well good, I'm glad I didn't waste my time then."

Phoebe nodded and laughed slightly, "Yes, cause it would be so terrible to have done all that instead of oh... actually learning something useful maybe?"

Xander shrugged. "Everyone needs a hobby, Phoebe... What's up?"

Phoebe sobered quickly, "I wanted to talk about... what I said before..."

"I thought it might be something like that," Xander nodded and toweled himself off before pulling a t-shirt on."

"I've been wondering if I did the right thing..."

"Phoebe," Xander smiled, "You know I love you right?"

She nodded.

"I know why you left, and I understand..." Xander sighed, "and though I wish it could be otherwise, I guess I should have expected it. You're more like Buffy then I thought at first..."

Phoebe shook her head, not knowing where he was going. "What?"

"You want the white picket house... the two point three kids... you know, the American dream." Xander flashed her a half smile.

Phoebe nodded slowly, uncertainly.

"But I can't give that to you... I wish I could, but how unfair would it be?" Xander walked over and sat down on the bench beside her. "Not only to you... and me... but can you imagine having the pair of us as parents?" Xander laughed bitterly.

Phoebe shook her head, not understanding. "What?"

"Think about it... worrying that mom and dad might not be coming home... that some vampire or demon finally took them down. Or the day it finally did happen... and you have to know its coming, Phoebe... Someday I'm not going to make it back to the house."

"Xander... No..."

He smiled sadly, "Sure it will. I don't have the power of three backing me up, and I'm sure as hell no Slayer. You know that most Slayer's don't live to see their eighteenth birthday? The way I figure it, I'm already overdue... been doing this about as long as Buffy had when she hit eighteen. That means that I'm running over the life expectancy of someone who was built to do this job..."

"Xander... that doesn't mean that you're..."

"No." He cut her off, "I know that... But sooner or later it's going to catch up to me, Phoebe. Hell, without you and Leo I'd have been dead long ago... Without Buffy, I'd probably be vamp food... or turned..."

Phoebe took her turn to cut him off, "From what I understand that scale isn't completely tilted in her direction."

He shrugged, "Maybe. Maybe not. Doesn't matter, Phoebe... The point is that You need someone who can give you what you want... you deserve someone like that. You don't deserve to be straddled with me, constantly risking my life and yours."

Phoebe swallowed. "Xander... I..."

He got up, "I understand, Phoebe. Don't worry about it."

She watched, tongue tied as he brusquely walked away. As the door closed on him, she whispered. "I love you and I'm sorry for what I said..."

"Hey, Andy!" Xander called as he shook of the depression his speech to phoebe had dropped him in.

"Yo, Kid. What's up?"

"You finish that package I asked for?"

"Yep, got the Smith ready right here... Ammo's in the case over there."

Xander looked over the nickel plated weapon and whistled, "Nice work, Andy."

"Present for someone?"

"Yeah... Miss Parker did me a big favor... even though she thought I wouldn't find out. I owe her one."

Konzaki laughed, "You picked the right gift for that lady. I've met some cold chicks in the past, but she is one scary lady."

Xander laughed, "Yeah... but it feels good to have her at my back."

"Better then at your front."

"You've got that right." Konzaki snorted and slid the case full of ammo across to Xander. "When you going to give it to her?"

"I'll leave it in her room tonight. Don't tell her about it, got that?"

"Lips are sealed, Pal." Konzaki assured him. "Why?"

Xander smiled, "Cause she thinks she got away with it without me finding out... and I figure I'll let her have her illusions if they keep her happy."

Konzaki shook his head and smiled, "Dangerous game."

Xander shrugged and took the case, "Don't I know it."

Margaret Walsh swallowed as the call came in. Nothing from Oversight was a good thing.

"Ah... Maggie." George smiled at her from the screen.

"George." She said neutrally, "I assume you're calling for an update on the ADAM project? It's almost complete, we'll be activating the..."

George waved his hand casually, "yes, yes... All very well... but I am not calling about that. I called to inform you that your attempt on the life of Mr. Harris has failed."

She paled, "I don't know what you're talking about."

George just smiled, "Of course...It was quite enterprising actually. I hadn't made the connection between his armor and the predator program...Quite enterprising. Unfortunately it failed."

She took a deep breath, "What do you intend to do?"

"Me?" George looked surprised, "Nothing at all. However, should Harris or his people discover your involvement... you're on your own. I will not be expending any resources to protect someone so... sloppy, as you have proven to be. Good bye, Maggie... and Good luck, I fear that you will be needing it."

The signal went dead and Maggie stared at it for a long time without breathing. She could read between the lines, and unless she was seriously in error, she had just been placed on Abeyance.

Eugene Irwin stuck his hands in his pocket as he watched the large building from across the street. The kid had a lot of visitors, even one that he knew.

<Dutch. Damn it, the kid might be something more then I thought if he managed to convince Dutch to work with him.>

"So, are you up to the Challenge... General?"

Irwin turned to look at the man in black standing behind him, "I'll consider it. But first I have to check the kid out a little."

Metatron nodded, "Fair enough. I can tell you anything you want to know..."

Irwin shook his head, "No. I'll do this myself."

"Alright. I'll tell you what... limited time offer, you call and I'll drop by. Once. Don't waste the dime."

Irwin nodded. "Deal. I'll let you..."

He turned around, but Le Metatron was gone.

"Agent Finn!"

Riley grimaced and turned to where Maggie Walsh was walking up to him. "Yes, Ma'am?"

"Who are these people?" She waved her hand to the holding cells.

Riley shrugged, "Some black ops team that decided to run an operation in town."

Maggie paled in anger, "Agent Finn, we are NOT authorized to detain human prisoners."

"When did that stop you?" Forest muttered under his breath.

"They were interfering in a joint exercise that we had running with the Slayer to eliminate a newly risen HST. They had to be removed from the operation and protected from the local HST's. This was the most expedient method, Ma'am."

"Have them released immediately, Agent Finn."

Riley saluted, a mocking tone in his motions. "Yes, Ma'am."

As Maggie staled away Forest leaned over and grinned at his commander, "How'd you keep her from finding out they were here for this long?"

Riley shrugged and grinned, "The camera's in the cell block have been... selective lately. I think we might have a security breach..."

"Ain't that a damned shame." Forest grinned.

"Yeah." Riley smiled, "A damn shame."

"So you're going home?" Faith asked, her trademark smirk nowhere to be seen.

Phoebe nodded, "Yeah, We've been here too long already. Time to get home and look over Frisco..."

Faith nodded, "He's still yours you know."

Phoebe shook her head, "I don't think so. You have him now, Faith."

The Dark Slayer snorted, "Sorry, Pheebs, but you've got that one wrong by a long shot. Me and him, we're just friends."

Phoebe actually laughed, "Yeah, lots of friends sleep together without giving a damn."

"Hey!" Faith snapped, "I never said I didn't give a damn. But I ain't in love with Xan either... and he's not head over heels for me."

"But could you be?"

Faith shrugged, "How the hell should I know? Never happened to me before... hell, as messed up as my head is it probably never will."

That pulled Phoebe up short, and she turned to look at the Slayer with a softer expression. "You shouldn't talk like that."

Faith shrugged and flopped down on a chair, "Hey... don't worry about me. I get by... But I know you've still got it for Xan... and he's still hooked on you."

Phoebe didn't respond right away, she just looked thoughtful. "No... no, I don't think he is... or I am either." The she smiled, "But we could have been."

"Could have?"

"In another life." Phoebe said quietly, "Or maybe a little earlier or later in this one. Timing sucks I think."

That brought a smile to the Slayer's lips, "That I can understand. So what? You backing off him?"

Phoebe nodded, as she finished packing up her stuff. "Yeah. I guess I am."

Faith shook her head and grinned. "You're loss, Pheebs. Anytime you want a trip down memory lane... come on by and I'll make sure the Xan-man gives you a *personally* guided tour."

Phoebe blushed lightly at the leering grin and the emphasis on the word 'personally'. But she quickly matched the Slayer's leer. "I might just do that, Faith... if you promise to join us."

Faith's jaw dropped as the Charmed One slipped out the door. Slowly a sly grin passed over her face, "You know... I'm just gonna have to hold you to that one..." She whispered to no one.

X&J's Place

"Hello, Xander."

Xander looked up, startled. "Christ!"

Lamont Cranston merely smiled as the boy jumped away from him.

"How did you do that!?" Xander demanded, one hand over his chest.

Lamont shrugged, "Practice."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Great. Another Angel wannabe."

Lamont raised his eyebrows, but didn't rise to the bait. "You called for me?"

Xander nodded. "Yeah... give me a second to keep my heart from bouncing off the walls and we'll get to it..."

Lamont grinned and nodded. Finally Xander nodded himself and motioned for Lamont to follow him down into the basement.

"You know, I've been thinking," Xander said as he walked down the stairs. "You say that you're coming out of retirement, right?"

The man known as the Shadow nodded silently behind Xander, but someone how Xander felt it.

"So I figured," Xander said as he pulled something out of a locker, "that you'd be needing these back."

Lamont reached out and took the proffered items, his old guns, and looked at them for a moment. "I gave these to you... Xander."

Xander nodded, "Yep. You did, and they saved my life more then once. But I think that they belong with you... or maybe I should say that I *feel* that they belong with you."

Lamont let out a long slow breath as he fingered the grips of his old weapons, remembering the history he had with them. From his earliest days they had been at his side, through the worst and the best his life had to offer. Finally he nodded and looked up. "Thank you, Alexander."

Xander shrugged, "No need. Like I said, they just felt like they belonged to someone else. I guess that's you."

"Indeed." The Shadow said as he slipped the shoulder leather on, letting the two comforting weights thump against his sides.

"One more thing," Xander handed over a small attache case.

"What's this?"

"Ammo." Xander said simply, with a smile on his face. "Everything from hollowpoints to demon killers, with a stopover at a few things that were banned by the Geneva convention."

Lamont Cranston smiled, his eyes glittering darkly. "Sounds like a fun stopover..."



The two ex lovers stared at each other for a long moment, silence building up between them. Finally it was the vampire who spoke.

"So... Riley, huh?"

Buffy nodded. "Yeah."

"He seems... nice." Angel said, his voice a little cynical.

"He is." Buffy replied defensively, "and he's..."

"What?" Angel asked, still a little cynical. "Safe?"

"Yes... No! Riley... I can trust Riley."

Angel didn't have an answer for that. No smart remark, no scathing comment. He just sighed inwardly and nodded, "I'm glad." he said with no trace of cynicism or falsity.

Buffy nodded, accepting the remark at face value.

Angel half turned away from her, then glanced back. "I have to go... Doyle had another Vision... I guess the PTB's are back in business..."

"You trust them!?" Buffy asked, incredulous.

Angel shrugged helplessly, "I don't have a lot of choices... can't take the chance... I can't have that on my conscience."

Buffy frowned, but nodded in agreement. She half turned away, then looked back, but Angel was gone. The Slayer shook her head and stuck her hands in her pockets as she turned and headed for her dorm.

Miss Parker shucked her coat, tossing it haphazardly against the far wall as she closed the door to her room. Slowly she stretched out her muscles, groaning in a cat-like purr as she felt the tension under the surface of her skin. She shifted her neck, and winced at the slight pain in the muscles, then smiled.

She peeled off her silk blouse and tossed it onto the bed, her eyes absently watching its trajectory. When it landed on a metal case she looked sharply at the bed. <What the?>

She lifted her blouse off the aircraft aluminum casing and looked at it closely. On top was a card that said, simply, 'A Gift.'

She smiled, and opened the case.

Her breath hitched as she looked over the contents. Inside was a custom built Smith, she presumed from Konzaki's bench. The weapon had been completely retooled, and she could feel the difference when she balanced it in her hand.


It was a nickel and chrome plated 9mm, same model as she carried normally. But the similarities ended there. The action was smoother, the trigger had the feel of an electric typewriter key instead of the long pull she was used to, and the sights had been redone with a tritium 'three-dot' system. Inset into the grip was an unobtrusive 'Crimson Trace' laser system that activated as soon as her hand closed around the weapon.

<Very nice.>

After examining the weapon she looked inside the case and pulled out the remaining contents. Six clips, each marked with a band of paint along the base. She looked at a card that had been nestled in with the clips.

"Explosives are Red, AP is blue, Hollow-points you'll know... To Miss P, Thank you."

She frowned/smiled as she read the card and looked over the boxes of ammunition settled in beside the clips. Rereading the note she smiled, <Jarod, you do know a way to a girl's heart.>

Hey Faith, "Xander smiled as the Dark Slayer slipped into the room. "Feeling a little up tonight?"

Faith grinned at him, "Oh, I'm feelin fine, lover. How 'up' are you?"

Xander chuckled shook his head, and pulled her onto the bed beside him. "You really are wicked you know that?"

"What?" Faith pulled away for a sec, looking at him curiously.

Xander looked surprised by her sudden motion, "Wicked... you know, nasty? Evil, in a good way..." He grinned and played his eyebrows at her.

Faith relaxed and grinned, "Come on Lover, you don't know the half of it... but I'll show ya."

The two quickly got closer and were shortly rolling around the bed.

"I'm home!" Phoebe called out, looking around. "Hello?"

No one answered her so she turned back to where Jenny stood behind her, "Thanks for the... lift. I guess, you call it..."

Jenny grinned, "No problem. Glad you asked me, Leo had some plans with your Sister this weekend that I don't think he wanted interrupted."

Phoebe grinned, "I know. Who do you think helped him set them up?"

The Whitelighter laughed softly, "A girl after my own heart. I hope your visit was ok?"

Phoebe nodded, "Yeah. Wish we could have done more for that Coven though..."

Jenny nodded, "We did what we could. And at least we've prevented a recurrence."

Phoebe tilted her head in an affirmative manner. "Yeah. Hard to believe that sort of thing could happen today you... you know?"

"Fear and panic lead people to do frightening things." Jenny said somberly, then she abruptly shook her head and tried to clear the thoughts. "Anyway, did you have that talk with Xander?"

Phoebe nodded.

"That bad huh?"

"Not really..." Phoebe said, "But I don't think we'll be getting back together..."

Jenny nodded, "Why?"

"Something he said..." She trailed off, "It sort of hit me."


"He told me that he couldn't give me what I wanted... what he thought I deserved. He said he could probably give me what I needed... but sometimes that wasn't enough."

Jenny smiled sadly, "That boy has moments of actual wisdom. Problem is, I can never tell them apart from when he's being a complete ass."

Phoebe snorted, bubbling laughter forcing its way out of her lungs. "I know exactly what you mean."

"You giving up on him?"

Phoebe looked her in the eyes, "Never. But that doesn't mean that I think we should be together either."

Jenny shrugged, "Do as you will. That's the biggest blessing and most horrible curse I can offer."

"Thanks. I think."

The Whitelighter smiled and vanished in column of light, and a peal of laughter.

Willow and Tara let out twin breaths of relief as the collapsed onto their bed. "That was horrible."

Tara just nodded in agreement.

"I never knew it could be so bad..."

Tara nodded, "I kn... know. It was like... being... *there*."

Willow shuddered and Tara felt the shiver run through the bed. She turned to her lover and pulled her into an embrace, "That's why we have to be careful... you see that now right?"

Willow nodded, burying her head in Tara's shoulder. Her voice was muffled when she spoke, "I know..."

"Good." Tara whispered, as she lifted Willow's chin with one hand.

Willow looked at her and smiled hesitantly, "Thank you..."

Tara smiled back and bent her head in, capturing Willow's lips in a deep kiss. Moments later the two Wiccans were entwined in each others arms.

"Wicked." Willow whispered between kisses.

The End


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