The Way

Author: Tenhawk <tenhawk[at]>

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

Summary: This short story follows a few days after the events in Interludes 2. No Big Bad will be rearing his head, this is a character piece... or characters as the case may be.

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.

Lowell House
Sunnydale, California

Riley paced the common room at Lowell House, his face etched with worry and confusion. The Commando's sat around looking at him in slight confusion as they watched their commanding officer wear a path in the rug.

"What's up with him? Graham nudged Forest as he whispered.

Forest didn't answer, he just kept watching the odd sight in confusion. It was an uncommon occurrence to see their 'together' CO look this bothered by something. He thought about it for a moment before he finally decided to step up to the plate.

"Yo, Finn."

Riley stopped in mid step, turning to glare at Forest. "What?"

"Look, Man. You want to take this upstairs? You're starting to scare the enlisted guys."

Riley looked around, seeing that several of the gathered commandos were looking distinctly nervous, some of them even refused to meet his eyes as he swept the room. Riley mentally berated himself and nodded to Forest.

"I'm going out." He said as he grabbed his coat off a wall hook. "I'll be back later."

"Later, man." Forest mock saluted, "Clear your head before you come back here if you can."

Riley nodded and left the building.

X&J's Residence
Sunnydale, California



Xander and Buffy shifted uncomfortably as they looked at each other. It was the first time they'd had to be alone together since waking up that morning. And waking up hadn't left them the best of situations for developing a conversation.

"Look," Xander tried, "This is ridiculous..."

"Right." Buffy interrupted him, "I mean... it was just a spell right? No big... I mean, I just slept with my best friend... and his girlfriend... and the woman who tried to kill my boyfriend... and my best friends... and me..."

Xander winced as Buffy just trailed off, losing whatever vaguely optimistic start she had managed to forge. He didn't think it would do her any good to find out that the spell had merely lifted inhibitions, and hadn't in fact added any emotions that weren't already present.

Instead he took a breath and agreed with her, "Right. Just a spell. We'll get past this right?"

"Right." Buffy repeated, unable to really get past that one word it seemed.

"I'm serious, Buff." Xander said earnestly, "I don't want to lose you as a friend over something that neither of us could have controlled."

That brought her back fast. "You won't!" She promised fervently, "Look... Xander, I'm a little weirded out right now... ok, a lot weirded out. But *we* will be ok..."

Xander nodded, a slight smile on his face as he felt the certainty in her voice. "Good... cause I really didn't want to..."

"Me neither." Buffy said quickly, "Friends?"


"How dare they!" Willow fumed, pacing her room in irritation. "I don't need a babysitter... I don't!"

Her voice was trembling as she finished up, and it occurred to her that she wasn't certain who she was trying to convince. It certainly wasn't the others... they weren't even here. She collapsed onto her bed, frustrated as her emotional walls began to crumble.

<I... I don't... do I?> Willow asked herself as she stared morosely into the mirror across the room. <It was just a simple spell... Just a small mistake... Buffy slept with Faith... God... I made Buffy and Faith sleep together... and Xander... They had an orgy... Ewww...>

She stopped, considered her thoughts, <Or is it 'ewww'? mmmmmm.... Xander, Buffy, Phoebe.... mmmmm.... Faith... EWWWW.>

Halliwell Manor
San Francisco, California

Phoebe dropped into the think sofa chair and adopted a brooding pose, her legs thrown over the arms of the chair as she stared at the cieling. She had come home with Leo when he returned to say that he had set the wheels in motion, and she needed todo some heavy thinking.

"Well... This is a disturbing picture."

"Hello, Prudence." Phoebe said without looking at her sister.

"Prudence?" Prue looked at her youngest sibling with a concerned look. "Alright, what happened?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Tough." Prue sat on the Sofa across from the chair. "Spill."

Phoebe looked at her sister sourly, deciding to see exactly what Prue was willing to handle. "Ok. I joined in an Orgy last night."

Prue would have staggered if she'd been standing up. her face dropped in shock, her breath caught in her chest, and she leaned back heavily against the back of the sofa.

"Wow." She said, "I... I...Wow."

"Very helpful, Sis."

"I always knew you had a wild streak Phoebe... but that?"

Phoebe shot her sister a dirty look, "It was a spell gone haywire. Xander's Wiccan friend, Willow."

Prue winced, that was actually worse. "Ouch."


"So what happened exactly?"

Phoebe told her, electing to leave out the majority of the details.

"Wow." Was Prue's only immediate reaction.

"Helpful as always, Sis."

"Xander does seem to attract the weird ones you know..."


Prue grinned, unrepentant. "Face it, Phoebes. Here is a guy who, by rights, should be...oh, a construction worker or something, married, kids, mortgage... the whole nine yards. And he winds up fighting demons, dating a witch, sleeping with mystical warrior women... He's living an adolescent dream."

Phoebe almost grinned until she remember the other details of Xander's life. She turned a little sad and shook her head, "But he's not... not really. He's riding on the edge, Prue... Sure he is gaining some perks from living fast, if you can call sleeping with his best friend and maybe ruining their relationship a perk..."

Prue tilted her head slightly, "Why do I hear a bigger 'but' coming along?"

"But..." Phoebe said deliberately, "He's accumulating the dark side of the life as well... nightmares... responsibilities... nightmares..."

"You said that twice." Prue pointed out.

"It bears repeating."

Prue was quiet for a while, "You haven't been sleeping well either... not for a week or so..."

Phoebe nodded, "I had a vision."

Prue was shocked, "Why didn't you tell us?"

"It wasn't a future vision... It was the past... Xander's past... What happened to him over the summer."

Prue was silent for a long moment, "Nightmares?"



Phoebe just nodded and the two sisters sat in silence.

X&J's Building
Sunnydale, California

Xander grabbed the phone on the eighth ring, having had to run for the phone form the living room where he had been talking with Buffy. Faith was upstairs, sleeping off a fit of laughing she had started when they had left Willow at Giles'.

"Phoebe?" he asked, hopefully.

"Not unless the Doctor really messed up my last appointment." the voice on the other end answered.

"Terry, Sorry... was hoping to hear from someone else."

The voice chuckled, "Yeah, figured that much. Look, kid, I don't have much time... I wanted to let you know that I think I found ya someone who can handle the special work you wanted done."

"Yeah?" Xander was interested now, "Who? and where?"

"Guy works out of a shop in LA... He doesn't like his name being spread over open lines though... just check out the address I left you on the secure message board on my web site. K?"

"Cool." Xander said, "Thanks Terry."

"No problem, kid. See ya soon?"

"I'll try, man... but this town needs watching 24/7."

"Shit." Terry said succinctly, "Same type as we had here?"

"Usually more dangerous."


"Yep." Xander grinned.

"Ok, kid. Good luck."

Thanks Terry."

"No problem."

Xander hung up the phone, smiling. That was some good news at least. He started back toward the living room but was side tracked when the doorbell rang. When he answered the door he found a very troubled looking Riley Finn waiting outside.

"Xander...can we talk?"

Xander backed up in surprise. "Riley?"

Riley grimaced, "Look, I know we're not the best of friends... but I need to talk to someone about Buffy... a Guy preferably. That leaves me you... or Giles."

Xander nodded, still a little stunned. "Ok... I guess I can see why you chose me... but uh..." he started to try to explain that Buffy was actually in the next room but Riley cut him off.

"I don't know what happened..." Riley said, striding into the room, his hands in his pockets and his back hunched. "I didn't mean to do it... I don't even know what I did for god's sake!"

"Riley..." Xander tried to interrupt. "I really don't..."

"Last night I was doing my rounds... Well... damn... that's sort of the last thing i remember until this morning..."

Xander winced. He had a fair idea of what was coming. "Look.. Riley, there's something I think you should know..."

"I can't figure out what happened... the next thing i remember I'm waking up next to this blond... I thought it was Buffy!"

"Riley, please listen for a..."

"You know who it was!?" Riley turned on Xander, his eyes actually blazing with anger. "That same damned *HST* we pulled you away from!"

At this point Xander forgot about what he was trying to say and just goggled. "You slept with Harmony!?"

"Is that her name?" Riley asked shaking his head. "Damnit! I just don't get it! I don't DO things like this!"

"Neither do I."

Riley turned in shock when he heard the soft voice from the doorway. "Buffy?"

Xander winced, "That's what I've been trying to tell ya man..."

Buffy listed as Riley came in, babbling about last night, and her heart sort of sunk. She hadn't even thought about him the entire day. She'd just *cheated* on her boyfriend and she had been so preoccupied with everything else that she forgot to consider what it would do to him when he found out.

Then she heard what he was saying, and her heart dropped even further. It hadn't occurred to her that Willow's spell may have reached farther then her own experiences. At least not on a visceral level.

<Harmony!?> Buffy cringed, feeling sorry for Riley... then for herself, then riley again, and then herself. <Ewwww!>

He took a deep breath and stepped into the room just as Riley turned on Xander, saying "I don't DO things like this!"

Buffy grimaced and forgot to check her words, instead stating the first thing that came to mind. "Neither do I."


Riley rushed to her, his tongue stumbling over his apologies. "I didn't... I mean, I don't... I... Hell... I'm so sorry!"

Buffy looked sick. She couldn't believe what was happening, not only the events but the position she was now in. She could hardly imagine saying what she knew she going to say. She took a deep breath, "Relax, Riley... Xander and I... we have something to tell you..."

Riley stopped in mid speech. "You... and Xander?"

"Whoa!" Xander held up his hands, "not like that.... ummm well... actually yeah... sort of like that I guess."

Riley turned on Xander, a glint of anger in his eyes. "What!?"

"Last night, man..." Xander stumbled a little himself as he spoke. "It was a spell."

Riley unclenched. He stared between the two in confusion. "What?"

Xander shook his head, "Come on. Let's sit down and try to muck through this."

Xander lead the two into the living room where they all grabbed seats. Far away from each other.

"It's like this..." Xander began, "Willow was a little insecure last night so she cast a spell to figure out what she wanted to do..."


"I know, I know..." Xander commiserated with Riley, "I think it's a dumb ass way to solve a problem too... anyway, She called on one of the Old Gods... very old. Summarian actually. Problem is, this Goddess, the goddess of love and sex I might add, also happens to have a wicked temper and an equal sense of... humor... justice... whatever. Presto chango... instant Spell SNAFU."

"And this affected me, why?"

Xander shrugged, "Don't know... might have affected the entire town for all I know... or maybe just the friends of Willow. It also caught up with me and Buff."

Riley winced. His own indiscretions aside it still wasn't easy to hear that his girlfriend had just slept with another guy. "Did anyone else get caught up in this... spell?"

Buffy blushed.

"What?" Riley looked between them, "Why do I get the idea that things are worse then I thought."

Buffy got up and left the room, still beet red.

Xander winced. "We... well... we also woke up with Phoebe..."

Riley's eyes bugged.

"... and Faith."


Xander was quiet. He didn't really know what to say. It was always a good sign that Riley hadn't attacked him yet, but the hits just kept coming for the Commando.

Riley got up, his eyes fixed on Xander. Xander tensed as the Commando stepped closer. "I asked a question. What the hell happened!?"

"The Spell happened." Xander said, as calmly as he could. "I think you probably got off lucky."

"Are you insane!?"

Xander shrugged, "Do you care what Harmony thinks of you?"

"No... what the hell does that have to do with anything?"

"Buffy and I are friends. Best friends." Xander said, "This is going to seriously mess with that. And now Buffy also has to worry about what Faith knows about her... and Faith has tried to kill her before... and me... and our friends. Trust me on this, Buffy is seriously messed up right now."

Riley shook his head, turning around and starting to pace again. "I can't even remember what the hell happened! Hell, I don't even know how she got out of containment... I checked the records after she disappeared this morning... but they're blank... God... what if I let her out!?"

Xander thought about it, "I doubt you did."

"How would you know?"

"A friend of mine explained how the spell worked to me..." Xander said haltingly, "And it doesn't exactly override your common sense... You wouldn't risk others lives because of it... though you might risk your own if you have a repressed thrill-seeker side..."

"Oh great." Riley said, still pacing around the room. "Now I'm a freaking adrenaline junkie!"

"That's one possible explanation I suppose..." Xander said hesitantly.

"Possible!? What other possible reason would get me in bed with a damned vampire!?"

Xander didn't think that was a question that Riley actually wanted answered, so he didn't. "Look, Riley... Go talk to Buffy. Work it out. Last night was so far beyond either of your control that it's not even in the same solar system."

Riley stopped, staring at Xander for a moment, uncertain whether to hit the young man or thank him. He settled for neither, opting instead to take the advise and try to salvage his relationship with the most beautiful girl he knew.

Xander watched the Commando go with mixed feelings. He knew that he should take his own advice and at least call Phoebe but something held him back. He couldn't decide if that was a blessing or a curse.

He finally settled for getting up and heading to his room. Last night hadn't really given him much time for actual sleep. And he had a trip to LA to plan.

<Leo, I hope to hell you get someone here fast. If Will pulls another one like this then I'm not certain if I'll be holding Buffy back or helping her beat some sense into my best friend.>


Buffy was still red, her mind revolving around the events of the last night without pause. She didn't turn to look at Riley. "What?"

"I'm sorry..."

A strangled laugh escaped her throat. "For what?" She asked bitterly. "It wasn't your fault."

Riley sort of shrugged in a miserable motion, "It feels like it..."

She finally turned to look at him, "Oh Riley... I... I'm sorry too."

He smiled at her, "Like you said, not your fault."

"But it feels like it." She moved closer to him and hugged him close.

Riley let the moment stretch for as long as he dared. "Are we going to be ok?"

"I don't know I'm going to be ok... or if you're going to be ok... but I think that we will be ok... eventually."

Riley nodded, slowly patting the back of her head as she buried her face in his shoulder. He didn't say anything, just tried *feel* comforting. "I'm glad. I don't want to lose you, Buffy."

She nodded into his shoulder and mumbled, "I don't want to lose you either."

Next Day
X&J's Residence
Sunnydale, California

"Los Angeles?" Jarod asked.

"Yeah," Xander nodded, "I'll hit the address Terry sent me...see if we can get a new ally to help out with the armory."

Jarod nodded, organizing an idea like this took a lot of work. And while he was capable of doing any of the jobs himself, he wasn't able to do them *all*. "Good. Do you want me to come along?"

Xander shook his head, "Naw. Terry vouched for the guy. I'll be alright... it's not like I'm going unarmed."

Jarod just shook his head at the toothy smile Xander flashed him. "Alright. take the Mustang."

"I planned on it."

Jarod rolled his eyes as Xander grabbed the keys off the wall and headed out of the building, grinning as he did.

Willow was miserable, still laying on her bed when she heard the nervous tapping on the door. She smiled for the first time since the previous morning and called out, "Come in Tara!"

The young blond timidly came in, smiling wanly at Willow as she closed the door. "How did you know it was me?"

"Everyone else is too mad at me right now to be visiting." Willow said, her voice a little bitter.

"M... mad at you?" tara asked, confused. "Why?"

Willow's face twisted, "A spell I cast went a little haywire."

"O... oh..." Tara didn't look any more enlightened.

"A little haywire?" A new voice called from thin air, "God Child, you do have a talent for understatement."

The two witches spun around, looking for the source of the voice. Willow paled when she saw the form materialize from a shower of light.

Xander was whistling along with the radio when a shower of light in the passenger seat startled him badly, causing him to swerve the sports car across the road as he twisted in his seat in shock.


The Whitelighter stared at the road, "Watch where your going!"

Xander looked back and twisted the wheel again, narrowly avoiding the rear bumper of a Semi in front of him. After he got control of the car again he turned back to Leo, glaring. "Don't DO that!"

Leo shrugged, "Sorry. Habit."

"It's a BAD habit, man."

"Sorry." Leo grinned, "I managed to get someone to look after Willow... And let me tell you, it wasn't easy... I couldn't find a Whitelighter who would take the job."


Leo shrugged, "A Practitioner who's already blurring the lines? No one wanted the responsibility... Powerful Practitioners almost always flip out sooner or later and go insane. They don't have the tolerance to magic that a Natural Born has."

"Ok..." Xander nodded, accepting the explanation. "So how did you find someone?"

"I was going to take the job myself, I mean... it would be rough, but I could probably manage..." Leo said, trailing off, "Luckily we got a Volunteer from the guardian Corps though..."


Leo grinned, "Call it a lateral transfer if you like. A Guardian Angel was moved into the Whitelighter Corps in exchange for taking the assignment. She knew you guys and wanted to help."


Leo looked thoughtful for a moment, "Janna Kalderesh."

"Miss Calendar!?"

"Ah, you know her?"

Xander stared right ahead, "You could say that... damn. Damn. Damn. This is going to be complicated."

"Huh? Why?"

"She and Giles were involved... sort of... and Buffy has issues with her too..."

"Oh... Sorry..."

"You couldn't have known... besides, I think she's probably one of the few who can get through to Willow... she was one of her first teachers in Magic... but she died before she could really finish the job I guess."

Leo nodded, "Well... I hope it works out. You have no idea how hard it was to find someone for this job... Only had one other volunteer... But he didn't have any real experience with Magic."

"Who?" Xander asked curiously.

Leo grinned, "Sorry... can't tell you that. Rules." he said and jerked his eyes skyward.

Xander shook his head, "Whatever. Look, thanks for the help... I really appreciate it."

Leo shrugged, "It wasn't a big deal... just some more footwork is all. It'll have been worth it if you can rein in the redhead."

Xander laughed, "A few years ago I would have laughed at the mere idea of Willow having to be 'reined in'."

"Power changes people."

Xander nodded, "Maybe... but sometimes I get the sneaking suspicion that the Willow I knew in high school was never the real Willow..."

Leo didn't respond. It wasn't something he could comment on. As the car passed a sign that said 'LA, Next Exit' the Whitelighter made his excuses and orbed out of the moving vehicle.

Xander gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and took a deep breath. <Damn. Jenny Calendar is back in Sunnydale. Things go from weird to wacked in thirty seconds in my life nowadays.>

"Miss Calendar?" Willow stammered, backing away as she paled. "But... but you're... you're dead!"

"Rub it on why don't you?" Jenny twisted her mouth ironically as she smiled at the young blond, "Hello... I don't believe that we've been introduced?"

"I... I'm Tara..."

"Ah. Tara... that's right. My second charge. Good. I'm glad to see you two together."


Jenny looked confused, "Didn't Xander tell you?"

"X... Xander?" Tara stammered as she shook her head.

"Figures." Jenny rolled her eyes, "Even leaving the solar system for a few months doesn't change Xander. I'm your Whitelighter."

Tara paled to match Willow. "N... no... that can't be. I'm not a pure witch..."

"Special case. Willow," Jenny turned on the redhead, a little annoyed, "Close your mouth. It's very unattractive... and annoying. I don't need to see your tonsils to do my job."


Xander stepped cautiously down the steps to the small hole in the wall shop that terry's directions had sent him to.


There was no answer so he moved in a little deeper, his eyes taking in the old tools and equipment that lined the walls of the dingy place. <Maybe I got the wrong place?>

He was turning around to go back outside and check the street number then an ominous clack from behind him caused him to freeze his place.

"Turn around slowly unless you want a king sized hole in your chest, boy."

Xander turned, slowly, his hands well clear of his sides. As he did the man behind him came into view. He was a powerfully built figure, his biceps bulging with the muscles of someone who takes their exercise very seriously. In his hands he held an Atchisson shotgun, one that Xander could easily tell had been heavily and expertly modified.

<Right place then.>

Xander looked down, his eyes widening as he saw that the man was sitting in a wheel chair, both his legs were missing from above the kneecaps. Xander winced involuntarily at the sight, and had to refocus his attention on the big barrel of the weapon to keep his mind off the grisly images of war time injuries that could have caused the man's current state.

"Who are you, boy?" the man asked irritably, not interested in the expression of pain and pity he had seen on the young man's face. "You'd better not be a gangbanger. I told you bastards the last time, I don't work for criminals."

"Terrance sent me." Xander said slowly, "And I'm not a criminal..."

Then Xander considered, "Well.. I don't see myself that way at least. Some police agencies and military groups might disagree with that at this point... I'm not really sure."

"Terrance? Terry sent you?" The man looked a little perplexed, "To me? He never sends anyone here. Bad for business, he always jokes."

Xander grinned, "I told him I needed a specialist from around my base of operations. He gave me your address."

"How is Terry?"

Xander shrugged, "He and his daughter are getting along fine the last time I talked to him."

"How did you meet him, boy?"

"Helped his daughter out of a bad situation she'd fallen into this summer past."

"You're Harris."

Xander grinned, "He's been telling stories."

The man finally laid down his shotgun, and grinned up at Xander, holding out his hand. "The name's Andrzej, but you can call me Andy."

Sol System Heliopause

The Tok'ra spacecraft slowed as it passed the invisible boundary between interstellar space and the Sol Solar system.

"I don't like this, Anise."

"That hardly matters, Selmac." Anise responded curtly, "I am in command of this mission."

"My name is Jacob Carter." the older man snapped, "Selmac is, in fact, in agreement with you. My concern is that you're cutting the SGC out of this. They have as much right to this information as you do."

"This has nothing to do with your government, Jacob Carter." Anise' eyes glowed with her irritation. "This is something that has everything to do with the young man we are going to see."

"I still don't see how one boy from California warrants an interstellar trip. I don't care what kind of weapon he has."

"Then you have not been paying attention to the stories Selmac has shared with you."

"Legends. Myths. Bedtime stories that no child would believe in. I've heard fairy tales with more truth to them."

Anise shook her head, "Simply because something is unbelievable does not mean that it is impossible Jacob Carter."

The older man growled and stalked off, leaving Anise to watch the controls as she guided the small freighter into the Sol system.

"So what do you need, kid?" The man pushed his wheel chair to the back of the room and tripped a hidden switch. Xander whistled appreciatively as the walls slid apart, caching the old junk into hidden compartments and revealing an impressive armory and workspace.

"Nice." He said, looking around.

Andrzej smiled slightly, he enjoyed showing off his stock. Didn't get to do that a lot though. "Thanks, but terry wouldn't have sent ya here unless you needed something special."

"I'm not looking for a weapon right now... Andy." Xander said slowly, "I'm looking to hire an armorer."

The man scowled, "I'm not for sale, kid. I've got a decent life here... some government contracts, hell even some LAPD SWAT groups buy from me... unofficially of course."

"Of course." Xander smiled, "And I wouldn't expect you to stop that... but we have a... mission... that needs the best people we can find. And you come highly recommended."


Xander shrugged, "We also checked out your CIA file. I don't think I've ever seen a government file so... concise."

The man looked at him with a quizzical look, "Really?"

"Two words?" Xander laughed, "That's pretty tight... well... three words if you include the word 'Deceased'."

Andrzej shrugged, "So I don't tell them everything. How did you get that file?"

"Friend of mine has access to stuff you wouldn't dream of. Plus, if I had to, I have a few favors owed to me by some higher ups."

"Such as?"

Xander grinned, "Couple generals, Spooks, and the CIC."

"The Commander In Chief owes you a favor?" Andrzej looked the kid over again, revising his opinion.

"I helped him out of a... jam. You'll hear all about it if you sign up."

"Sign up? I've done my time in the Marines, boy. I'm not interested in military service."

"We're not military... I guess you could call us... concerned citizens." Xander grinned even wider.

Andrzej shook his head, "Not interested."

Xander nodded, "fair enough. But... How about a... tour... of our operation though? Just to see what your missing?" <If this guy is anything like Terry described he won't be able to turn his back either.>

Andy growled. The kid had him. He couldn't turn down a chance to see what kind of place trusted a kid like this with recruitment. "Alright. Let me get my legs and I'll take you up on that."

Xander raised his eyebrows in surprise as he watched the man strap a pair of prosthesis onto the stumps of his legs and slowly get out of the chair. He grabbed a cane and hobbled forward, plucking up the Atchisson again, letting the big gun slip on its strap until it came to rest behind his back. A long coat followed it and then he looked at Xander, "Ready when you are kid."

Willow's Dorm

"You cast a spell for last night!?"

Willow winced under the glare she received from Tara, "I... I... I was confused..."

Jenny glared at her, "Confusion is hardly an excuse for irresponsible use of Magic, Willow."

Willow curled up miserably in her chair, bringing her knees tight under her chin. "I... didn't mean any harm..."

Jenny's voice turned softer, "We know that, Willow. And your friends know that too... But you caused a lot of havoc simply because you were confused."

"I know."

Tara couldn't stand the image of misery her lover presented and relented, her glare dying in her eyes as she hesitantly stepped over to Willow. "Willow... I... I'm not angry... well... not much."

Willow looked up at her as Tara laid her hand on her shoulder, "Y... you should be..."

Tara shook her head, "No... I.. I forgive you, Willow. Just promise me that you'll be more careful?"

Jenny watched as the red Wiccan nodded slowly, her eyes coated with a silvery sheen as she fought back tears. The new Whitelighter fought back her own emotions and prayed that she was watching the beginning of a new time for Willow.

Giles Apartment
Sunnydale, California

Giles physically threw a book across the room, muttering in frustration as he did. "Bloody hell!"

"Hey!" The, unwelcome, guest yelled from where the book had nearly taken his head off. "Watch it ya ponce!"

"Shut up, Spike."

"What the hell are you looking for anyway?"

Giles took his glasses off and growled low in his throat, "Don't you have somewhere to be?"

"Like where?" Spike asked, "It's daylight out... I go anywhere and it's deep fried Spike."

"Oh and that would be such a pity." Giles muttered under his breath as he picked up another book.

"Like I said, what are you looking for?"

"Something to do with Xander."

Spike raised an eyebrow, "What? The dolt? What's he got that has your tweed in a ruffle?"

"Shut up, Spike." Giles turned back to his books.

Spike flopped down into a chair, pointedly ignoring the librarian. "Bloody useless old man."

"You run a Spec Ops group out of *Sunnydale*?" Andrzej asked as the Mustang cruised through the small town.

"In a way." Xander answered off handedly, "But you could say that we just go where the work is."

Andy snorted, "What kind of work could you possible find here?"

"You'd be surprised."

"I'd better be."

"Tonight." Xander promised with a smile, "Tonight, you'll see."

Anise slipped the cloaked craft into orbit over the south western part of the continent Selmac had identified as 'North America'. "Where is this... Sunnydale?"

Jacob shrugged, "How should I know? I never worked for Rand McNally."

Anise ignored the odd comment, something she had been learning to do over the course of the voyage, and sighed. "Very well. Perhaps we can tap into one of those communications satellites to aid us."

"Try for one of the GPS network. You might be able to tap their information services and get an accurate map. That or one of the backbone satellites is your best bet."

"Back... bone?" Anise asked, her face confused.

"Information superhighway. Most of the information that passes through the internet and global telecommunication networks are routed through one of those satellites." Jacob explained.

"I see." The blond Tok'ra smiled, "That will do perfectly."

Jacob shook his head as Anise ignored him and turned her full attention to the computer console.

Sunnydale PD
Sunnydale, California

"Detective Chen!"

Grace Chen snapped up from the file she was reading, suppressing a glare as she saw Stein approach.

"This file is NOT part of your cases."

"No Sir," Chen said, trying to cover. "I was just reviewing old cases to see how things work here."

"I don't know how things worked in the LA MCU, but here we have rules." Stein snapped, "And one of those is that you STAY AWAY FROM MY CASES!"

Officers around the room looked studiously away from where Stein was ripping out the new girl.

"Yes Sir." Chen managed, consciously emulating the stereotypical 'passive Asian' persona that tended to catch people, men especially, off their guard.

Mollified, Stein grabbed the file and stalked away from Chen's desk. As she watched his retreating back her mind slipped back to the file. As spotty as it had been it had raised many more questions then it had answered. <Why keep a file on a bunch of teenagers that no one has signed any complaints against? And why would a bar have had a stakeout assigned to it for four years?>

Grace Chen got up slowly, grabbing her gun, badge, and coat. <I think I'll have a look at 'Willys'>


Anise growled in frustration as she dug through the data they had intercepted from the backbone satellites. "What is ALL this!?"

Jacob glanced over her shoulder, turning slightly red as he did. "That's... ummm... pornography."

"I know THAT." Anise muttered, "I mean, why is it clogging your planet's data streams?"

Jacob twisted his face, trying not to grin. "Public access I guess... some people don't have anything better to do..."

"This is hopeless." Anise tossed her hands up in frustration. "None of the intercepted transmissions seems to have anything to do with 'Sunnydale.'"

"I don't suppose you can insert search parameters from here yourself?"

"No. I can only intercept data from searches initiated planetside."

"I can see where that would be a problem." Jacob grinned.

Anise mumbled something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like 'perverted bunch of savages.' but Jacob diplomatically ignored her.

X&J's Residence
Sunnydale, California

"Nice setup, kid."

Xander grinned, "You can tell that to Jarod. I'm deadweight around here compared to him."

"Hardly." Jarod said as he stepped into the basement. "You must be Mr. Konzaki."

Andrzej extended a hand, "Mr...?"

Jarod smiled, a little sadly, "Just Jarod. I... grew up without a last name... Even after I found out what it was I didn't really feel comfortable with it."

Konzaki nodded and shook the man's hand. "Just Jarod then. You set this place up?"

Jarod nodded, "I've done work like this before, so when Xander asked me to join up with him I pulled out some plans I'd set up for CIA... took a little polishing to get them just right for what we do here... but I think it's worked out right."

"So you're the one who accessed my file with the Agency?"

Jarod grinned, "Yes. And I must say, its an honor to meet someone that James Greer had only two words to say about... "Trust him"... a glowing recommendation from the head of the CIA."

Konzaki smiled, "You knew Mr Greer?"

"By reputation only." Jarod responded, "The people I worked for... thought very much about him."

Konzaki raised an eyebrow, "You mean 'thought very much OF him?'"

Jarod grinned, "No. He kept screwing up their plans... he was constantly on their minds, but they didn't like him much. A glowing recommendation coming from them, I assure you."

Konzaki nodded, He'd worked for groups like that a couple times in the past himself. "Jim was a good man."

"I know." Jarod said, smiling mysteriously.

"So," Konzaki shifted on his prosthesis uncomfortably, "What exactly did the kid recruit you into, Jarod?"

"Xander... opened my eyes to the world, I guess you could say."

"That doesn't tell me much."

"You have to see it to believe it, Mr Konzaki."

"Call me Andy." Andrezj insisted, "So... Who's the boss around here?"

Jarod smiled, "That would be Xander."

Xander goggled, Konzaki looked shocked.

"Me!?" Xander managed to gurgle out.

"Him!?" Konzaki said in shock.

Jarod shrugged, "It's not me... and no one else comes close."

Konzaki looked at the stricken boy in shock, "Kid, now I know you people are insane."

"Tell me about it." Xander muttered under his breath.

"So, Mr. Konzaki, we're more of a loose organization of affiliated groups. We each do the same job and it makes sense for us to be able to call on each other for help as we need it."

"Interesting. But *what* do you do exactly?"

Jarod smiled, "That will come later... Like I said..."

"Yeah yeah... see it to believe it." Konzaki sighed.

Jarod quirked a lopsided smile, "Sorry." He said, completely unapologetically.

"Yeah, right." Andrezj sighed. "So, show me your internal security... I may as well see the whole pitch as long as I'm here."

"Right this way..." Jarod waved his hand and led the man away.

Outside Willy's Bar
Sunnydale, California

Grace Chen looked at the sign on the bar. <Open from dusk till dawn... well, this was a wasted trip.>

She looked around the area, noting the depressed buildings and surroundings. It was definitely a bad part of town.

<Ok. I'll have to come back later then.>

Detective Grace Chen walked away from the ragged old building, not noticing the eyes that followed her movement from behind the heavily shaded windows.

Sunnydale Park
Sunnydale, California

"Why are we here?" Willow asked as she walked along with miss Calendar and Tara.

Jenny looked around the natural expanse, taking a deep breath as she did. "If feels so good to breathe again. I love the air here in the park, it's been a few years."

"Oh... ummmm.." Willow blushed a little, not sure how to address the woman's 'death'.

"It's alright, Willow." Jenny smiled, "It wasn't unpleasant, being dead. I was told that I could move on... or I could help watch over you guys. So I stuck around."

"You did?" Willow asked in confusion.

"I did." Jenny said softly, "It's not easy, you know... Being a Guardian is frustrating work. You can only provide suggestions... support... and then, only if your charges will let you."

Willow and Tara watched as the older woman sighed, "You know, out of the bunch of you, Xander was the only one who ever listened. And he rarely believed what he was hearing."


"There was this one night... all of you were pushing him out... trying to keep him safe. You know, he was really depressed for a while."

Willow thought about it, "The Apocalypse demons?"

Jenny nodded, "It took me hours of whispering to him, cajoling him, even threatening him to get him to pull it together enough to do what he had to."

"What? He stayed out of it that night."

Jenny smiled and shook her head.

"He... He didn't?"

"Since when does Xander ever stay out of anything?" Jenny laughed lightly, her face open and carefree. "That night he saved Faith first, then saved all of your lives with one stroke. And the world was the icing on the cake."

"W... world?" Tara asked hesitantly.

Jenny just smiled mysteriously and continued on her walk.

Willy's Bar


Jarod and Xander looked at each other in confusion as Andrezj stared chuckling over his drink. His laughter didn't sound disbelieving.

"You're vampire hunters?"

"Among other... things."

That brought Konzaki up, "What other things?"

"First, why don't you explain your reaction." Xander said slowly.

"I ran into a vampire a few years ago. Nasty little bugger tried to have me for lunch. Took me a full drum from my Atchisson to kill the bugger... got lucky, too. The last eight rounds ripped his head off." Konzaki grimaced at the thought of how close that thing had gotten. "I searched for hunter groups to work with then, but the best I could find was a small group of street kids in LA. I supply them with weapons as I can, but its tough figuring out what kills the bloodsuckers."

Xander nodded, "We use these right now." And he rolled a bullet across the table.

Konzaki picked it up, eyeing the small round with a practiced glance. "What is this?"

"Magnesium Flare." Jarod said simply, "Uses a thermite fuse to ignite a few feet after it leaves the barrel of the gun."

"Nice craftsmanship. You do this?"

Jarod nodded.

"Why do you need me?"

"Jarod is a... generalist. He's damned good at a lot of things, but we need a specialist to keep things moving."

"You said that you hunt other things?"

Xander nodded, "Demons, various supernatural threats, some terrestrial threats, and occasional ET's."

"ET's?" Konzaki stuttered, a little shocked.

Xander smiled, "That's a long story... but there are other groups that handle that usually, so it's a minor problem for us."


Xander chuckled, shaking his head. "I know... I know, tough to believe. But it's true, I swear."

Konzaki stared at Xander for along moment before he shook his own head, "If you say so kid."

The three men chuckled a little for a moment until a commotion at the bar distracted them.

Xander looked up, seeing a vampire accosting a woman. He undid his coat and slipped out a .45, holding up clear for the bar to see. A quiet sort of registered as the vampire glanced over and stared at him in shock. The vamp nodded once, and Xander smiled at him. Evilly.

"Hey sweet cheeks, wanna come out with me? For a... bite?"

Detective Chen grimaced at the heavy handed pickup line, "Buzz off, creep." she turned away from him.

The vampire glared at her, a bare hint of yellow in his eyes. "Hey, bitch! I'm talking to you!"

Chen tensed, expecting the creep to try and grab her. When he didn't she looked at the sleaze and saw him staring over her shoulder at a table with three guys. One of them, a young kid it seemed, smiled at her in a friendly manner. She looked at him oddly before turning back to the creep.

"Hey... uhhh" he held up his hands, "Sorry, lady. I'll be going now."

Chen glanced back at the table, but the three men had turned away from her and were talking amongst themselves. <What the hell?>

"What was that all about?" Konzaki demanded.

"We have a reputation among the local undead and demon population." Xander said, "I was reminding that vampire of the rules."


"Willy's is a safe zone. Safest place in the town for a mortal. Now, anyway."

"How come?"

"Unofficial agreement of sorts. We don't mess with them here, and they have a place where they can buy blood without killing for it." Xander shrugged, "Its not much, but it keeps some of them off the streets every night... there are a few vampires who just want to live... not many, but some."

Konzaki shook his head, "I've heard rumors of a place like this..."

"Really?" Xander raised an eyebrow, "Where?"

"In LA... Some place supposedly called Caritas."

"Huh. Guess I'm not surprised... It's only logical. Even demons need a place to relax, I guess."

Konzaki nodded, "So this is what you've been so secretive about?" he grinned lightly.

Xander smiled ruefully, "Sorry, but most people..."

Andrezj waved him off, "I know. So... Does the offer still stand?"

Xander nodded, "If you want it."

Andy nodded, "You just hired yourself an Armorer."

"Cool." Xander grinned.

"Uh oh." Jarod said seriously.


"New demon in town."


"So, he probably doesn't know the rules."

The three men turned to watch the large bulking figure approach the slight Asian beauty at the bar.

"Shit." Xander and Konzaki said together.

Detective Chen tensed as she heard/felt the figure approach behind her. <He might just be going to the bar... wait and see.>

At five feet she was able to confirm that he was heading straight for her. At three feet she felt the breeze he made as he crossed the floor. At two feet she heard the rustle of his arms brush against his coat as he reached out for her. As his hand touched her shoulder she slipped into level one.

"Back off, creep." Her voice rang out, clearly heard across the bar.

His voice came back, low and rumbling. "Not tonight, little one."

Grace slipped into level two.

Xander was halfway to his feet when Jarod laid a hand on his shoulder, "Wait. Look at her."

Xander looked at the slight Asian as the big demon approached her. He took in her body language and the tilt of her head. He didn't drop back into the chair but he stopped his upward motion. "She knows he's coming."

"Right. And she's ready for him."

Xander realized that Jarod was right. The Asian shifted her balance slowly, her weight slipping off the stool and onto her left foot as her right foot slid clear of obstructions. Xander made a decision. "Let's see how she handles this."

Konzaki smiled slightly, "Could be fun."

Jarod just watched the scene with growing interest.

A quick flick of her shoulder, and a follow up twist of her arm, had the man's arm twisted nicely behind his back. Grace whispered into his ear softly, "I said, buzz off."

<Damn,> She though as the man didn't respond, not even a flinch. <This guy is BIG.>

The low rumbling voice sounded again. "Does little one want to play? Ok... I'll play."

Slowly, inexorably, the man untwisted his arm. Grace tried to keep up the pressure but she was shocked by the feeling of pure power in the man's movements. He just seemed to be going in one direction with a single minded 'nothing is going to stop me' motion. In a few seconds he was facing her, his arm still in her grasp.

"Play time." The low, rumble, seemed to vibrate through her.

Grace Chen stepped up to level three.

"Uh oh." Xander said as his eyes swept the room.

"What?" Konzaki asked, nervously fingering his Atchisson under his long coat.

"New guy has some friends."

Konzaki looked around the bar. He noticed no less then three others moving closer to the confrontation at the bar. Most of the Patrons were following the kid's example and enjoying the show. But that still left four hulking demons for the little girl to handle.

Xander rose to his feet, hearing both Jarod and Konzaki do the same behind him. "Cover us, Andy."

Konzaki nodded, even though the kid couldn't see him, and gripped the modified Atchisson under his coat in a firm grip.

Grace leaned back against the bar, lifting her weight of her legs, and swept both feet up in arcing kicks that struck the man across his hooded face. The blows pushed him back a couple feet and knocked the hood clear of his features. Grace gasped as his face came into view.

The man had an almost scaly face, with two long curving horns that swept back to where he should have had ears. His eyes were black on black, with just a hint of an evil red tinge.

"What the hell are you?"

Again the low, rumbling sound. "Hell? Yesss... That would be a good description, Little one. Play now." And he lunged toward her.

Grace skipped level four and shifted directly into level five.

Xander was moving across the bar, trying to intercept the three demons before they reached the girl. He wasn't going to make it.

<Elan. You know anything about these guys?>

He could feel Elan shifting as she examined the brief glimpses they had gotten of the demon before it had lunged at the Asian.

<Terknal Demons.> Elan said finally, <Prepare yourself, I'll try to project their weaknesses.>

Xander lurched as a series of vivid images washed across and behind his eyesight. They didn't exactly block out the bar around him, but were instead overlaid on his regular eyesight. Xander had to fight back the urge to vomit as a wave of nausea washed over him.

<Don't DO that.> He thought scathingly from where he had been forced to stop in mid run.

<Sorry, but I think it was important.>

Xander mentally reviewed the information as he resumed his rush forward, and had to admit that the information was valuable. Teknal demons had completely different weak points then humans, he wouldn't have faired well without the data.

Grace hit the ugly thing with a palm strike to the sternum and followed through with a savage kick to the knee. To depressingly little effect. The thing grabbed her at the shoulders, its grip like some irresistible force that tightened like a hydraulic press.

She brought her hands up between his arms and struck at them in a vain attempt to loosen the grip. Next she brought her knee up hard, striking at the groin, but again nothing. The thing came closer, its grip tightening, and behind it she could see three more advancing on her with what she took for leers on their ugly faces.

Grace let her legs buckle, her body weight dropping her out of the creatures grip and she struck out with an iron fist at the things kidneys. A lethal blow, but she didn't know what else to do. When that had no effect she tried rolling clear. <Body armor. Bastard must have body armor.>

She was halfway through her roll when the thing caught her ankle and drug her back. She was about to scream in rage and frustration when the weight over her suddenly vanished.

Xander struck the first demon in the small of the back with his knee, sending a spear of pain through the creatures entire body. As the big demon stiffened he pulled the thing off the Asian lady.

Xander turned to look at the other three demons as they turned their attention to him. "I think you should back off."

"Why you think that?" one of them asked in the same rumbling voice of his companion.

"Cause you're new here, and that means you don't know the rules." Xander said, smiling tersely as he helped the woman to her feet.

"Rules?" The three creatures that weren't currently moaning on the ground looked genuinely puzzled. "What rules?"

Xander smiled wider, "This town is currently under the protection of a half dozen witches, a military commando unit, *two* Slayers, two angels, a handful of lunatics, a few other fighters... and me and my... friend."

The creatures had gotten increasingly nervous as Xander listed the local defenders, but when he reached the last bit they laughed. "Who are you that we should fear?"

"Me? I'm no one..." Xander grinned and held out his hand, a sliver shimmer flashed and suddenly his hand was locked around a seven foot silver staff. "But my friend here has a *really* nasty temper."

Grace accepted the hand up, her ears already focusing on what the young man was saying. <Rules?>

She watched as he rattled off a list of things that made no sense. <Slayers? Commando's? What the hell?>

When the battle staff appeared in his hand she jumped in surprise. "What the hell is going on here?"

The brown haired man grinned, "Relax. We'll have you out of here in a moment, miss...?"

"Detective." Grace corrected, "Detective Chen."

The young man's eyebrows shot up, "Detective? I thought the PD told their recruits to stay clear of Willy's?"

Grace looked at the three creatures who were growling again and moving closer. "Can we talk about this later?"

"Huh?" the kid looked back at the group, "Oh... right. This'll take a sec."

Grace shook her head and shifted into a fighting stance as she watched the kid confront the creatures again.

"Last chance guys." Xander said, smiling as he tried to exude confidence.

"I think the chance is your last."

Xander shrugged, sweeping Elan in an easy stroke between them, casually shifting his stance.

The first demon lunged forward and Xander reversed his grip on Elan, driving the end of the ancient weapon into a point several inches above where a human's kidney's would be located.

Grace Chen watched in shock as the creature dropped like a stone from the relatively minor hit.

Xander smiled back at her, "His 'kidneys' are located a bit higher then a normal person."


Xander ignored her and looked back at the two remaining mobile demons, "Don't suppose your willing to talk now?"

They growled and charged in tandem.

Xander and Grace met the two creatures together.

Her earlier experience had told her not to try to out force these creatures, she couldn't win. Instead she shifted her weight and allowed the thing to rush past her, adding her own strength to the power of his lunge. As the thing over balanced she kicked out with a light jab of her foot and swept its legs from under it, changing its lunge into a dive that drove it through the hardwood bar.

Xander used a different tactic. He met the thing head on, hitting it in three places simultaneously. Elan clipped the creature under the jaw, staggering it back. Xander heel's drove into the demon ankle, mashing into a nerve bundle and paralyzing the leg, and his elbow drove into the creature's equivalent of a sternum.

It dropped to the ground at Xander's feet, clutching at its mid-section as it attempted to draw in breath. Xander looked down at the three at his feet and the third that was picking itself out of the remains of the bar and shook his head.

<Elan, background please.>

<Terknal demons are a fairly low order group. Violent, but not exactly the brightest of the race. They usually work for more powerful individuals and groups as enforcers.>

<Threat level to civilians?>

<Depends on who they work for. Alone, they usually steer clear of humans.>

Xander nodded and stepped over the one that was struggling to get up from the shambles of the bar and placed his foot at the nerve cluster at the small of its back. It howled in pain as he forced it back down to the floor.

"Let me get one thing straight here. This place is a NO FIGHTING ZONE!" He mashed even harder into the nerve cluster. "You start something in here again and I'll send what's left of you back to your employers in an ashtray. You got me?"

No answer. Xander dug his heel in a little deeper, causing the creature to scream out in pain. "Got you! Got you!"

"Good." Xander kicked it solidly on the side of the neck, knocking it unconscious.

A cowering figure rose from behind the bar, looking at Xander in annoyance. "Geez, kid. How many times I got to tell you? Don't trash the bar!"

"Shut up, Willy."

Willy shut up.

Xander sighed and fished some cash out of his pocket, glanced at it for a second, and tossed the money on what was left of the bar. Then he spoke loud enough for everyone in the bar to hear, "You wanna post a bigger notice, Willy? I'm not gonna let this place stay standing if Mortals start disappearing from here."

"Sure sure, kid." Willy promised as he scooped up the cash. He knew that the threat was only half a bluff. The kid needed him and bar, but only to a point. So he'd make the sign and post it, and even try to enforce it as he could. Trouble with the kid and his friends wasn't something he needed. "I'll do that... Just try not to rip the place apart next time, k?"

Xander didn't answer he just turned back to where Konzaki and Jarod had weapons trained on the rest of the bar. "Put 'em away guys. I think everyone here has got the point?"

As Xander's eyes looked over the bar even Vampires turned a little paler. Several creatures nodded, some even spoke out. "Yep! Lesson learned... no killing mortals in the bar..."

Xander frowned at those that added the line 'in the bar' to their promise, but knew it was the best he'd get. "Good."

Grace Chen stared at the military grade weapons the kid's two friends slipped back under concealment and tried to decide if she should arrest them... or thank them. "What the hell is going on here?"

Xander glanced back. "Detective Chen, I'd suggest that you avoid Willy's in the future. Sunnydale PD is not equipped, mentally or otherwise, to handle the types that hang out here."

Several of the demonic patrons snorted and chuckled at that comment, causing Grace's Asian features to redden slightly. "Hey! Listen up, I could run your two friends in on weapons charges, and I'm sure that a quick search would give me something on you too!"

Xander chuckled, "Detective, You haven't got the slightest clue what's going on here. You've stumbled into something your better off not knowing... Go back to chasing purse snatchers and pick pockets, detective, this place is out of your league."

Grace reached forward and grabbed his shoulder, spinning him back around to face her. "Oh yeah? What the hell does that make you then?"

"A survivor." Xander said simply, dropping his shoulder and slipping clear of her grasp. "And if you know anything about Sunnydale at all you'll, back off. The Police won't touch me anymore then they'd touch your playmates back there if you had called for backup."

"What do you...?"

"Stein would have let them have you, Detective. He's not going to cross them or their kind, and neither are any of the other cops around here... except maybe a few rookies like yourself."

Grace ignored the rookie crack, "You're trying to tell me that the entire police force is on the take?"

"No. I'm trying to tell you that the police force was a healthy desire to go on living. And that is something that doesn't come cheap here in Sunnydale. You pay for every breath you take here, Detective. Some pay by ignoring the dark. Some pay by living in it."

Grace looked at Xander, still not understanding. "How do *you* pay?"

Xander joined his two friends and walked out of the bar, "By kicking it in the ass every chance I get."

Grace left the bar right behind the three guys. She slipped onto her black motorcycle as they left in a red mustang convertible, gunned the engine and raced after them.

"We've got company." Jarod said, glancing in the review.

Xander turned around in the backseat and grinned. "Cop has guts."

"Should I lose her?"

"Do your stuff, J-man."

Jarod grinned. "Cool."

Grace gunned the motor as the mustang started pulling away, she wasn't going to lose this group. The two vehicles sped through the empty nighttime streets of Sunnydale at speeds surpassing a hundred miles per hour, neither vehicle slowing much for anything... even corners.

"Whoa!" Andrezj let out as the car skidded by a lamp pole.

"Hang on." Jarod ordered as he cut down an alley, tapping the brake once as he went into the turn then flooring the accelerator as he came out of it.

Xander just hung on. He wasn't exactly having fun, but he trusted Jarod's driving and figured that if he said any of the things running through his mind he might distract the man form the road.

"Damn!" Grace yelled as she skidded her bike to a stop after she overshot the alley. The Mustang had just made a ninety degree turn down a narrow alley at almost a hundred miles an hour, and even she wasn't crazy enough to follow.

By the time she had gotten turned around and back to the alley the car was long gone. "Damnit!"

She shook her head and spun the Kawasaki Ninja around and headed for her apartment.

It only took her a few minutes to arrive at her small apartment. She climbed off the bike and went up the stairs, brushing past the English gentleman she lived next to as she did. She barely noticed him, but heard him as he mumbled something about 'typical American rudeness'.

Under her breath she snickered, it was odd being mistaken for an American even after all this time. She figured she'd have to apologize to the man later, but for now she had too much on her mind.

Inside her apartment she went straight to the phone and dialed from memory. It was answered on the third ring.

"Amy? Its Grace. Yeah... No... No, it looks like you were right. Something is seriously screwed up in Sunnydale. I'll fill you in later, but I'm telling you that something really weird is going on here.... No... If you think that's wise... ok, I'll be glad to see Terrell... Ok. I'll be waiting. I will. Bye."

Grace hung up the phone and looked at herself in the mirror. It had been a rough night but she had finally started to make some headway into the town... even if it was a very weird way to do it. She sat down on her couch and stared at the wall for a long moment.

<Who were those guys? And what am I getting mixed up in now?>

"Where the hell did you learn to drive like that!?" Konzaki asked as he got his breath back.

"Indianapolis." Jarod answered easily.


Xander snickered from the background, "I told you, Jarod is a generalist... he's damned good at a *lot* of things."

"Christ." Konzaki muttered under his breath. "Why do I get the idea that I'm hooking up with a bunch that makes Lyons and his pals look *normal*?"


"Never mind." Andrezj muttered and stared out the window as Jarod turned the sports car toward their building.

Giles Apartment
Sunnydale, California

"J... Jenny?" Giles asked in shock, his glasses sliding halfway down his nose as he stared at Xander.

Xander nodded, "Yeah. She uh... Volunteered according to Leo."

"My lord."

Xander half chuckled, "Hey-la Hey-lay, your girlfriends back."

Giles glared at the young man, "This isn't funny, Xander."

Xander sobered quickly, "I know that, G-man. But you know me... Bad joke guy."

"Yes... quite." The British Watcher said sourly as she absently cleaned his glasses.

"Look, I just wanted to let you know before she orbed in on you while you were talking to Willow or something. I still don't know how this is going to work out..."

"Umm... what?" Giles looked up form where he had bee staring, "Oh. yes... you're absolutely right of course... could be very... sticky."

"Yeah." Xander said, "Look, I'm going to let Buffy know..."

"Hmmm? Oh... yes... right. Are you sure you don't want me to handle that? What with the... unpleasantness of the past few days?"

Xander grinned, a little wryly. "Interesting way of putting it, Giles. But, No... I need to talk with her anyway. Its funny, about the only person I seem to be ok with right now is Faith...and isn't she supposed to be the troublemaker?"

Giles chuckled softly, his mind still half on other matters. "Yes... Perhaps you should take that as a sign?"

Xander groaned, "I don't need signs to show me the bumps in this road, G-Man."

Xander turned to leave the small apartment as Giles spoke, "Xander?"

"Yes?" he half turned back.

"Don't call me that."

"Willow?" Buffy called out as she entered the room. She wasn't sure what she was going to say to the young witch, but she felt the need to clear the air... to start healing the breech that Willow's spell had opened.

It was funny in a way, she thought as she looked around. It was her room too but it suddenly felt alien to her. Like it wasn't home anymore.


"Buffy!" Willow's voice was shocked, and filled with trepidation.

"hey Will." Buffy said, smiling a little sadly as she stepped over to her friend. "I guess we need to talk, huh?"

"Uh... Buffy...This might not be a good time..."

"What?" Buffy glowered, "I came over to talk about putting what happened behind us, Will! You can't just brush this off..."

"I'm not! Please, believe me! But you shouldn..." Willow cringed as someone else entered the room from another door.

"Willow, we really should get back to... Oh... hello, Buffy."

Buffy turned white.

Xander had looked all around for Buffy and finally decided to check her room. which, he suddenly realized, sounded absolutely insane.

As he climbed the stairs of her dorm he heard a very familiar scream, followed by yelling he recognized as Willow's and sounds of a scuffle. He broke into a run and dashed into the room.

And stopped dead as he took in the scene in front of him.

Buffy had charged Miss Calendar, a stake in her hand, while Willow and Tara tried to keep them apart.


The room went silent.

The Blond Slayer turned to look at Xander, her eyes wide in shock. "Xander?"

"Why are you attacking Miss Calendar?"

"Miss Calendar is dead, Xander!"

Xander nodded, "You have a point there... still no reason to be rude."

Buffy goggled at him while the Whitelighter giggled. "Dead. Evil. Evil. Dead. Slayer here, remember?"

Xander quirked his mouth in a slight smile, "She's the new Whitelighter for Willow, Buffy."

Buffy backed up slowly, falling onto her bed in shock. "Oh." She said quietly.

"Apologize to the nice Angel, Buffy."

Surprisingly Buffy actually obeyed the gently chiding voice, "I'm sorry..."

Miss Calendar smiled softly, "It's alright, Buffy. You couldn't have hurt me anyway."


"Really." Jenny grinned, "But you still need to tone down that Slay reflex, you might hurt someone who can actually be hurt someday."

"Ummm... yeah..."

Xander watched the outcome, a little relieved but still berating himself for not getting to Buffy earlier. "At least I got to Giles in time..." he mumbled.

Jenny's head came up, "Rupert knows?"

Xander nodded.

"Thank you," She said, "That would have been... very awkward..."

"True." Xander grinned. "Well... that's everyone I think..."

Everyone nodded.

"Good." he said. "I'm going home. This has been one hell of a week."

Tara giggled under her breath at the understatement as he walked out.

X&J's Residence

"Let me be sure I understand this..."

Xander nodded patiently, waiting for Jarod to continue, even though he didn't feel terribly patient. He had just managed to wrap this stuff up with the others and he now found himself explaining it again.

"This woman...died."

Xander nodded.

"Murdered by a vampire? Who, is now a good guy?"

Xander nodded.

"And Buffy sent that same Vampire to hell?"

Xander nodded.

"And he's back.... and now, so is the woman he killed?"

Xander nodded.

Jarod sat back and thought about it, finally he leaned forward intently. "Does anyone stay dead around here?"

Xander was about to answer with a flippant response when a thought struck him. "Jessie..." He trailed off sadly.


Xander's mouth twisted a little, "My best friend... we grew up together... He was sort of my first real introduction to the world of Vampires... I... I..." Xander's voice faltered, "I staked him."

Jarod's mind instantly slipped into sim mode, culminating data as it fed him probable scenarios and situations. His face grew sad as the emotional hit came over him, immersing him in a simulation of what Xander must have felt. Finally he sat back heavily. "I'm very sorry, Xander."

Xander shook it off, "So am I, but there's nothing to be done about it now... just have to keep on moving."

Jarod nodded, but inside he worried about his young friend. He recognized the symptoms of repressed emotions and unfinished business. However all of Xander's other demons made it difficult to chart a path that might help the young man. Finally Jarod just shook his head, his face etched in sorrow, as he shifted the idea to the back of his mind where he would continue to work on it until he found a solution.

Three days later


Jacob looked up from the screen he had been reading, "You got the location?"

"Yes. Someone finally ran a search that resulted in a map of 'California' being presented."

"And it only took..." Jacob looked at the computer, "Five days."

Anise growled at his flippant tone, "five days of people calling up pornography, bitching about television, and cursing at each other for little to no reason. You have a very strange culture, Jacob Carter."

Jacob shrugged, "We like it."

Anis shook her head, "I've plotted the map against the terrain below and believe I've located Sunnydale... that's odd..."


"Some sort of interference is blanketing the area... I can't get any readings on the town."

"let me have a look at that." Jacob slipped in behind the computer, allowing Selmac to take over. When he spoke again it was in a strange, resonating, voice. "You are correct, Anise. The interference seems to be strongly focused in extremely low frequency radiation... I've never seen anything like it."

Anise nodded, "Very interesting. I wonder what is causing it?"

Jacob/Selmac shrugged, "I do not know."

"No matter. We have a mission to complete... and perhaps the boy will know."


The two Tok'ra agents checked the cloak on the transport and prepared the small ship for landing.

X&J's residence

"Morning Xander." Jarod grinned as he stepped down the stairs. When the was no answer he looked around. <Odd... I was sure that Xander came down first.>

He stepped into the kitchen and looked around, "hello? What the...?"

The table was a mess. There was an empty carton of milk, and two empty boxes of Cap'n Crunch. Jarod quirked an eyebrow and looked around. An odd noise caught his attention and he stepped out into the hall.

<What the?>

Jarod walked down the hall, and stopped at the half open door to the bathroom. Inside he could hear sounds of someone retching.

"Xander?" Jarod said, looking inside.

Inside the bathroom Xander was kneeled over the toilet, looking pale and sickly as he emptied the last dregs from his stomach into the toilet. He looked over at Jarod, his face stricken by nausea.

"It was worth it." He said through his teeth as he tried in vain to hold back another bout of retching.

Jarod grimaced, and turned away from the bathroom. <Only Xander would do something like that.>

Giles Apartment

Giles slammed the last of his books shut in frustration. His entire collection, largely worthless to him at the moment. He stared at the rough sketches he had made and debated what to do. He could ask the Council for help, but if his suspicions were correct it would attract unwanted attention on Sunnydale.

"Bloody hell." He muttered as he stood up, holding the hand drawn sketches of the silver weapon in his hands. He stared at them for a long time, looking from paper to paper to paper, and then looking at the phone.

"Bloody hell." He snarled again, his hands turning into fists as he crumpled the paper in his hands. He walked across the room and dropped them in a metal waste bin and, after further thought, lit a match and dropped it along with them.

<I hope I'm doing the right thing.> he thought as he watched the paper burn.

"H... hello?" the quavering voice echoed through the large foyer as the blond stepped inside hesitantly.

Jarod popped his head out, smiling, "Hello, Tara. Come on in, make yourself at home."

The blond Wiccan smiled hesitantly, but took a few more steps inside. "Is Xander here?"

"He's... indisposed for the moment." Jarod said, smiling slightly.

"Oh!" Tara looked surprised, "Its not serious is it?"

"No..." Jarod grinned, "He just needs to learn to be more careful with his dietary habits."

"O...ok..." Tara said, a little confused. "As long as its not serious..."

"He's riding the porcelain train." Faith grinned as she walked into the room. "Dumb bastard must've ate three boxes of Cap'n Crunch in a sitting."

"Why?" Tara asked, completely confused.

Jarod smiled, "I think he finally snapped off his enforced diet."

Tara blinked. "He'll be alright?"

"He'll be fine." Jarod promised, "How's the new Whitelighter going?"

Tara's face beamed, "Jenny's great... she knows all sorts of things..." The she darkened again, "But she won't teach them to Willow yet..."

Jarod nodded.

"I hope not." Xander said, coming into the room. "Willow needs to take a break from learning spells for a while... At least for a little while..."

Tara nodded, almost against her will. "But she loves learning..."

"Knowledge without wisdom is the path to purgatory." Jarod said.

Xander shot him an odd glance, "Where do you get those lines?"

The Pretender shrugged, "I read a lot."

"Remind me to introduce you to comics... You'll love them."


Faith smirked, "Great, instead of one geek I have to deal with two."

Tara watched the exchange, a half smile on her face, as the three people argued good naturedly. The environment here was so different from her home. Even when it came to how they dealt with Willow. her family would have suppressed Willow's desire to learn... would have forced the young Wiccan to bend to their will. Here, they got her help... both to learn magic and control. Tara sighed, wishing she had grown up in a place like this instead of Darynville.

The two men missed her sudden moment of melancholy as they bantered back and forth, only catching the forced smile she put in place as soon as they turned back to her.

"So, Tara," Xander grinned, "Any reason for the visit?"

" I can go if...?"

"Nonsense," Jarod grinned, "Come on in... We have a slack day. As Xander keeps telling me, let's pig out and watch the tube."'

"Christ girl," Faith shook her head, "You are *way* to timid. C'mon, while they're watching sports or something I'll teach ya some confidence."

Tara shied away from the dark Slayer, remembering Willow's dark comments about the girl. "I... I don't think..."

Xander laughed and pulled the reluctant witch into the living room as Jarod grabbed food from the kitchen. "Come on. She won't bite... well, actually I won't guarantee that come to think of it..."

Faith shot Xander a dirty look as the group retired to the living room.

"Are you certain this is a good place to leave the ship?" Anise asked as they walked away from the invisible craft.

"Sure." Jacob grinned, "Saw it on a movie once..."

When Anise glared at him he hurriedly corrected himself, "Kidding... just kidding! Look, who's going to look in the wreckage of an old building like this?"

"What type of building was it?" Anise asked, "It appears to have been destroyed in combat."

Jacob frowned, "Yeah... that kinda bugs me... It was a school from the looks of things... but there shouldn't have been any combat in this area... the United States is generally safe that way."

Anise shrugged, "Perhaps the child, 'Xander', will know."

"Maybe," Jacob said reluctantly as he followed Anise toward town, tossing occasional looks over his shoulder.

Faith, Tara, Jarod, Miss Parker, and Xander were in the living room, watching weekend movies over the satellite receiver when the door bell rang.

Xander groaned and got up. "Be right back guys..."

Faith grinned, "No worries, lover. We'll save ya some popcorn... and pop, and sweets... and..."

Faith burst into laughter as Xander turned a little green and rushed from the room. "Not funny, Faith."

"I thought it was... how about you guys?"

Miss Parker just grinned nastily, Jarod nodded in amusement, and even Tara smiled slightly.

"So there." Faith said to the empty doorway, "You're outvoted. It was funny."

"Miss Summers?" Xander said in surprise as he opened the door.

"Hello, Xander." Joyce Summers smiled, "Is Buffy here?"

Xander shook his head, "No... why? Is everything..."

Joyce quickly interrupted him, "Everything is fine. She's just not at her dorm..."

"Come on in, I'll give Riley a call and see if he..."

"He hasn't seen her."


Xander stopped and thought about it, "You try Giles?"

Joyce nodded.

Xander looked out at the bright blue sky and thought about it. "She's probably off thinking... Someone just came back into the group... and she and Buffy had some problems before..."

"Oh..." Joyce looked at Xander questioningly.

Xander grimaced, "You remember Buffy ever mentioning a Miss Calendar?"

Joyce looked blankly for a moment, "Isn't she...?"

Xander nodded.

Joyce shook her head, "I need a drink."

Xander laughed, "All I can offer you is some milk, but come on in and I'll explain what I can."

Anise looked skeptically as Jacob rifled through the book that was chained in the small booth. "What are you doing?"

"I'm looking to see if Alexander Harris is listed in the phone book."

"I see." She said in a tone that clearly meant she didn't.

"Nothing." Jacob pulled the phone off its cradle and looked around. "Hey buddy! You wouldn't happen to have a quarter would you?"

"Buzz off, freak." The man said as he walked by the two outlandishly dressed people.

Anise didn't react well. Her arm flashed out and grabbed the man by the collar and pulled him close. Her eyes flashed with a white light and her voice resonated, "He asked you for a 'quarter'."

The man gulped. "Sure... sure... here ya go." He fished out his wallet and handed it to her, then broke and ran when she let him go.

Anise handed the wallet to Jacob.

"Don't DO that!" Jacob growled at her.


"You just robbed that man."

"I didn't no such thing. He handed this to me."

Jacob growled and shook his head, but fished a quarter out of the wallet anyway. He popped it into the phone and dialed information. "Yes, hello... I'm looking for the number of an Alexander Harris? I see... well, thanks anyway."

"Nothing?" Anise asked.


"What do we do now?"

Jacob sighed and ripped a page from the book, "We check all the Harris'... maybe one of them knows where to find Alexander."

"So... she's not a vampire?" Joyce shivered at speaking the word out loud.

Xander smiled slightly, "Nope. Opposite end of the spectrum."

Joyce raised her eyebrow questioningly.


"Isn't he a vampire?"

"Not The Angel..." Xander laughed, "an Angel. Whitelighter actually..."

"And that is?"

"Sorry," Xander shook his head, "Its tough sometimes remembering that not everyone is as deep into this stuff as I am. A whitelighter is a guardian Angel assigned by the higher ups to watch over witches... and future Whitelighters as I recall."

"A real Angel?" Joyce looked shocked, "With wings and a halo?"

"Not that I've seen..." Xander grinned, "Though that teleporting trick does a nice simulation of the 'heavenly lights' though."


Xander sighed, but smiled as he did. "I think I'd better start at the beginning... You see last summer I decided that I had to get out of town... so I drove up to San Francisco..."

Anise looked at the house with growing irritation. "How long must we do this?"

"This is the eighth house on the list..." Jacob said, looking at the phone list. "An Anthony Harris lives here. We have another four if this one doesn't pan out."

"Very well... let us get it over with."

The two Tok'ra walked up to the front door and rang the bell.

There was the sound of cursing inside, and they could hear the TV being turned down.

"Football game," Jacob said as they listened to the sound of someone stumble to the door.

The door opened and an unshaved man answered, "Waddya wa..?"

The man stopped in mid sentence and stared at the two Tok'ra. "Jesus... why does this town bring out the freaks?"

Anise looked at Jacob in exasperation but Jacob just smiled, "Excuse me, but we're looking for an Alexander Harris?"

"Don't live here no more." The man lifted a bear can to his mouth and took a swallow.

"I see," Jacob said slowly, "Would you happen to have his new address?"

"Nope." The man growled, glancing back when he heard the faint cheering of a touchdown. "Lil bastard walked out and never came back a few months ago. Now I'm busy here, so if you're done?"

Jacob nodded, "Thank you very much."

They were walking away when the door opened another crack, "You might check the Rosenberg brat or that Summers ditz... they always know what he's up to."

"Thank you." Jacob said, but the door was already shut.

"Rosenberg or Summers?" Anise asked.

"Last names."

Anise grimaced, "Another phone booth?"

Jacob grinned and nodded.

Joyce stared at Xander in shock, "You went to another planet?"

Xander shrugged, "After I met Buffy I knew that there was more to the world then I thought... but I have to admit that one threw me for a loop too."

She chuckled slightly, "I'll bet. So, this... whitelighter... is here to help Willow?"


"Why does she need help?"

Xander blushed, turning a bright red as he did. "She... uh kinda messed up a spell."


Xander looked away, "Don't ask... please?"

Joyce looked at the young man, and frowned at the request. But his voice was so plaintive that she finally sighed and nodded. "Alright... I won't."

Xander let out a breath, "Thanks."

"But you think that Buffy's ok?"

Xander nodded, "Yeah... She's probably just in serious need of some fresh air and time to think."

"Well... that's a relief I guess..." Joyce said finally, "But I think I need a leash on that girl sometimes..."

Xander laughed out loud. "Sorry... Mental image there..."

Joyce looked at him sharply and Xander backpedaled.. "Uh... no! Not that kind of... ummm... I'm just going to shut up now."

"That's probably a good idea," She said, smiling at him sweetly.

Xander swallowed and headed for the fridge. "I think I need some juice."

Anise sighed, "No one here either."

Jacob shrugged, "That's the only Summers in town... I guess we try the Rosenbergs..."

"And how many of those are there?"

Jacob glanced at the page they had ripped from a phone book. "Thirty four."

Anise growled but followed Jacob as he started walking along the road, examining street signs as he went.

Xander led Miss Summers into the living room, "Hey, Jarod... You have one of your cell phones around here?"

"Sure." Jarod said easily, "I always keep a couple in case I need to allow someone to trace me somewhere."

Miss Parker shot him a dirty look.

"Can I have one?"

"Sure... why?"

"I'm going to give it to Buffy... The Slayer should be able to call in backup if she needs it don't you think?"

"Sounds good." Jarod got up, "I'll have it out here in just a second."

Joyce looked at Xander in surprise, "Thank you, Xander. That's very nice of you."

Xander shook his head, "I should have thought of it before now. Stupid actually..."

"Nonsense." Joyce reprimanded him, "It's hardly your job to keep my daughter safe."

Xander didn't answer her, but instead turned away. <Yes. It is.>

The man looked over the two people at his front door with a little trepidation. "Certainly, I know Alexander... May I ask why you're looking for him?"

"We're interested in speaking with him about an artifact he found..." Anise stated openly.

"While he was on a dig this summer past." Jacob finished smoothly, sharply tapping Anise on the back.

"A dig?" Mr. Rosenberg looked perplexed, "Alexander never struck me as the type who'd be interested in archeology."

"It was a summer job I think... he just got lucky from what I understand... but he was the first on the scene."

Mr. Rosenberg looked at the duo for a long moment. <If they are archeologists it might explain their clothes... Those outdoor types have some strange fashions...> he mused as he looked at the odd apparel. "I'm not certain where he's staying now, my daughter mentioned that he had moved out of his parents house."

Jacob nodded, hearing the tone of censure when the man said the word 'parents'. "I see..."

"Try at the university, Willow said that he was registered to audit courses this semester." Mr. Rosenberg said at last, "They might have an address I suppose."

"Thank you very much."

"Not a problem."

"You're going to go looking for her?"

Xander nodded, "Yeah. If she's faded on everyone she probably needs to talk as much as to think... and she's had time to do the second part already."

Joyce nodded, "Tell her to call me when you see her."

Xander held up the cell phone, "Will do."

"And Xander?"

Xander glanced back, pausing in his walk to the garage. "Yes?"

"Thank you."

Xander crooked her a grin, "Not a problem, Miss S."

Joyce smiled at him as the door connecting to the garage closed. A moment later she heard the roar of an engine that signaled that Xander had left the building. She smiled softly and shook her head, <Buffy is lucky to have good friends like she does.>

Xander rode with the top down, slowly cruising a few of the spots that he knew were important to Buffy. It was the last place he expected to find her where he saw the blond Slayer sitting, staring up at an old mansion.

Xander shook his head and parked the car, turning the key to silence the powerful motor. <Damn it, Buffy. Why do you do this to yourself?>

He got out of the car and walked over to the slumped blond. "Hey."

Her voice was soft. "Hey."

"So how do you want to do this?"

Buffy actually looked up at him, "huh?"

Xander shrugged, "How do you want to do this? Do I get straight to the point, or should we dance around the subject a bit first?"

She looked at him as if he were crazy, "Go away Xander."

He nodded, "Dance it is then. Nice day today don't you think?"

Buffy tried to look angry at him but finally sniggered slightly. "You're insane you know that?"

Xander smiled and sat down next to her, "So people keep telling me. Me, I think the phrase 'takes one to know one' sums up my response fairly well."

"Hey!" Buffy thumped him on the arm.

"Ouch!" Xander grinned, "Slayer strength."

"It's not what it used to be." Buffy said softly.

"What?" he asked, genuinely confused.

"Slayer Strength." Buffy answered, "I used to think that it solved all problems you know?"

Xander didn't answer, he figured she had more to say.

"But then Angel... Angel..."

"Became Angelus."

Buffy nodded, a glisten forming over her eyes. "Yeah. That. And since then nothing is as simple as it used to be. As it should be."

"Miss Calendar is fine, Buff."

"No thanks to me." Buffy said angrily, "I let her die... and when she comes back to help us... I attack her myself."

"You screwed up..." Xander hesitated, "I hate to tell ya this, Buff, but it happens. Get over it and keep moving."

"It's not that easy!" She growled.

"Damn it, Buff. You've saved the world. A lot." Xander said, his voice growing as he tried to get through to her, "You've faced down monsters that have frightened man from the dawn of history, and you kicked their asses. Don't tell me that your going to let the fact that something is hard stop you."

Buffy let out a deep breath but didn't respond.

"You know something Buffy?" He asked finally, after the silence had stretched from seconds to minutes. "You know what I think to myself when the going gets rough? When things get really hard?"

Silence. Then finally a soft voice, "What?"

Xander let out a breath, relieved that she was still listening. "I ask myself 'what would Buffy do?'"

The blond looked up at him in surprise.

"I'm serious." Xander affirmed, "When things get hard for me and I don't know what to do, I try to do what I think you would do. You want to know why?"

"Why?" Again the voice was soft, but there was genuine emotion in it now.

"Because, Buff," Xander took a deep breath as he prepared to confess something he had long held to himself. "You're my hero."

A wash of emotions fled across her face, but all she managed to say was. "I... I?"

Xander smiled, but didn't look at her. "You're the one who keeps the monsters from under my bed, the one who makes sure that the closet really is empty... You're light that shows me the way when I'm surrounded by darkness, Buff."

The silence stretched out for a long time, before Buffy finally spoke out.

"Oh, Xander." She leaned in and pulled him into a hug.

Xander wrapped his arms around her gently, holding her tightly for a long time before he finally lifted her to her feet and guided her to his car. "C'mon. Your mom is looking for you."



The two stared at each other for a long moment before Giles broke the silence.

"You look well..." he said awkwardly, "I mean... well... Considering..."

Jenny smiled, "I am well, Rupert. And you look good as well."

Giles smiled slightly, "Thank you for the gracious lie, Miss Calendar."

Jenny frowned, "None of that between us, Rupert. I'm Jenny to you."

Giles removed his glasses and smiled, "Now and forever."

Jenny laughed. "It is good to be able to speak to you again, you can't imagine how frustrating it was to be able to see you... you all, and not be able to be heard by you unless you were willing to listen."

Giles sighed, "No... no, I suppose I can't."

"Don't be like that, Rupert." jenny admonished him, "I'm not blaming you for anything. It's just the way things were."

"I know. But..."

"It's still hard." Jenny smiled sadly, "I know that too."

Giles smiled at her, "I'm glad you called me and arranged this head to head, Jenny... I... I missed you."

"I know." She said, impishly.

The two finally sat down and began to talk.

Joyce had accepted the invitation to join the impromptu party that had begun to form in Xander's living room, though she was still uncertain what to make of the return of the brunette Slayer.

She watched Faith laughing with the shy blond, Tara, and thought back to when Buffy had told her that Faith had returned. Buffy had been afraid for Xander then, worried about what Faith might do while living under the same roof.

She was relieved that things seemed to be working out, that Faith seemed to be adjusting to life on the right side of the line again, but she couldn't feel comfortable around the girl who had tried to kill her daughter and friends.

"Mrs. Summers?"

Joyce looked around in surprise, then smiled. "Yes Jarod?"

"You looked... pensive."

Joyce smiled warmly, she had liked Jarod from the moment they had met a few weeks earlier. The man had this aura about him, one of innocence mixed with power. It was strange, invoking feelings of both trust and security in those around him. "I was thinking about Faith, and the troubles she had before."

Jarod nodded, "I understand. Are you worried about her?"

Joyce nodded, "And for her. But mostly for Buffy and Xander... they are the ones who are closest to the center of this..."

"That's true." Jarod conceded, "But... I like to believe in people. And I respect Xander for accepting the risks and responsibility that come with giving her another chance."

Joyce looked to where the dark slayer was poking the blond, trying to get her to laugh openly at some joke, and nodded. "So do I... but it doesn't mean I can't worry as well, does it?"

Jarod smiled, "I... I think that that is what mothers are supposed to do..."

Joyce looked at him, hearing the uncertainty in his voice. "When did you talk to your mother last?"

He smiled, sadly. "Last night. But... it's not the same... I..."

"Go visit her, Jarod." Joyce urged, "Spend some time with your family."

"But... I... I have so many responsibilities here..."

"Jarod," Joyce said firmly, "Connect with your family. You need to remember what it is that you're defending. Then you can come back."

Jarod nodded, slowly. "I... I'll think about it."


The two smiled at each other for a moment until the phone rang and broke the silence.

"Call your mom." Xander ordered with a smile as he tossed a cell phone to Buffy, "She's at my place... worried about you."

Buffy had wiped her eyes and cleared her mind a bit. She smiled at him slightly and nodded, "Thanks, Xander."

Xander shrugged, "No big, Buff. No big."

"Way Big, Xander. Trust me."

"Whatever you say." He grinned at her.

Buffy smiled, shook her head, and dialed the number into the phone.

"Mom? Hey... yeah, he found me... No, I'm fine... just had some things to work out. I'm sorry, I'll try to let people know where I am next time... Ok... Dinner sounds great. Yeah, I'm with Xander now, we're heading back to his place. Meet you there. Bye."

Buffy shut the phone off and went to hand it back to Xander.

He shook his head, "Its yours, Buff. Call it a pre-Christmas gift from Jarod and me."

"I can't take this..."

"Take it." Xander grinned, "It's all paid for, and the monthly bills are covered... but uh... don't loan it to Giles, K? I don't want to see the overseas bills he'd rack up."

Buffy laughed involuntarily at the image of a five pound phone bill thumping to the floor of Xander's place. "Deal."

"Cool." Xander grinned and headed for home.

The Mustang pulled into the garage, and the two occupants got out and headed for the connecting door to the house. Inside they immediately headed toward the noise that was coming from the living room area.

"Hey guys," Xander grinned, "I'm back."

"Lock up your daughters, here's Lover boy."

Xander and Buffy glared at Faith, who just smirked back.

"Lover boy?" Joyce asked.

"Nothing!" Buffy said, quickly. "Don't we have dinner to go to?"

Joyce looked between the glaring Xander, the smirking Faith, and the rapidly reddening Buffy. <Something is up here...> "Sure... Let me get my purse, Buffy... We'll head out now."


Xander and Buffy breathed a sigh of relief as Joyce walked past them.

"And you can tell me all about what Faith is talking about over Dinner."


After the two Summers women had gone Xander glared at Faith, "You just can't help yourself can you?"

Faith grinned back, unrepentant, "Sure I can... I choose not to."

Xander growled, shook his head, and left the room.

Miss Parker smirked at his back, Jarod looked a little confused, and Tara looked at Faith a little darkly.

"T... that wasn't nice..."

"Maybe." Faith grinned, "But it was fun."

"I... I think you went too far." Tara said, surprisingly firmly.

Faith looked at the shy blond in surprise, and thought about it for a moment. "Maybe..."

"You should at least apologize..."

"Don't push it, blondy."

To the Slayer's surprise the shy bond didn't back down, she actually met Faith's eyes and glared back at her.

"All right... I'll go say I'm sorry..." Faith got up and walked out of the living room. <Damn... girl's got some spunk... got a real Tiger on my hands here.>


Xander turned to glare at the brunette Slayer, still angry over her earlier words. "What?"

"Xander... I... ah..." Faith stammered a bit, drawing Xander's curiosity.

"What is it Faith?"

Faith looked at him for a bit, "Tara... Tara said that I went to far..."

"You think?" Xander said sarcastically.

"I... I guess I'm sorry."

Xander blanked out. Two apologies from Faith... that had to be some kind of record. Xander looked at her for a moment, seeing the almost lost look in her eyes and pulled himself together long enough to respond. "Apology accepted, Faith. But try to tone it down some, will ya? Especially around Riley, Mrs Summers, heck... even Giles..."

Faith grinned at him, "No promises..."

Xander glared at her and she laughed a bit, "But I'll try."

"Good enough." Xander said, then he added. "For now."


Jake looked around, "Hurry up, man, haven't got all night."

Ricky looked around, nervous. "Quiet man... The Slayer checks this place out a lot."

"Yeah man, I know... that's why we're here."

"Huh?" Ricky looked at Jake as if he was insane.

"Hey, if it's important to her it must be something special."

"It's just Sunnydale High, man. I wasted a lot of years here... Don't want to spend no more."

"Shut up and follow me."

The two Vampires walked into the wreckage of the old school, picking their way through the debris. Then there was a sudden thump and Ricky hit the ground in pain.

"Ouch damnit!"

"What?" Jake hissed, annoyed.

"I hit somtin!"

"There ain't nothing here, man."

"I'm telling you I hi..." Ricky had tried to stand up but instead managed to ram his skull into an invisible barrier. "Ouch!"

Jake looked over to where Ricky had hit the ground. He approached slowly, his hands outstretched. His eyes widened in shock when he actually touched something. "Damn! There IS something here..."

Ricky moaned on the ground, "No shit... What the fuck is it?"

"Shutup." Jake snapped. Then he stopped to think, "You know... I might know someone I can ask about this... C'mon man... we're gonna get some help."

Ricky slowly got to his feet and limped out slowly. The two vampires walked and limped away in search of some help to solve the mystery they had found.


"We've been running around this blasted town all day for nothing." Anise fumed as they made their way back to the ship.

"It takes time to locate people in a town this size." Jacob said patiently, "It would have been a lot easier if you had simply asked the SGC for his address."

"This is not their concern." Anise snapped.

"This is everyone's concern." Jacob snapped back.

"Not now." Anise said, then she looked at the ruins of the school they had left the ship at. "What's that?"

Jacob paused and looked ahead of them. He could see several figures moving around the ruins, and more seemed to be approaching. "I don't know."

"We must hold back." Anise demanded, "We can not risk discovery."

"What if they find the ship?"

"We'll keep watch. If they come close I'll have it return to orbit on remote."

Buffy looked at the ruins of the old school suspiciously.

"Why are we here Buffy?"

She glanced back at Riley, "I like to keep an eye on the school... Weird..."


"Usually there isn't too many around here... I just skip through to make sure... but check this out..."

Riley lifted a pair of nightvision binoculars to his eyes. "Right... vamps... lots of them."

"What are they up to?"

Riley shook his head, "I'm calling for back up."

"You do that." Buffy said, "I'm going in for a closer look."

She scrambled off as he put in the call. When he looked up again she was gone, "Buffy!" He hissed, "Buffy!"

"Damnit." Riley cursed under his breath, then he followed her toward the old school.

Next Day
Giles Apartment
Sunnydale, California

"Hey G-Man, what's up?"

Giles looked up as Xander and Jarod entered the room, Faith trailing just behind.

"Don't call me that."

Xander smirked at the ex-watcher, unrepentant.

Giles sighed, "Oh very well. Buffy reported some odd happenings last night during her patrol."


Giles glared at Xander, "Yes. Thanks you she can now call me after midnight with vague 'gut feelings'. Remind me to properly repay you."

Xander grinned, "Anytime, G-man."

Giles was about to give him another verbal berating when they heard Buffy's voice coming clear through the door.

"I don't care what it looked like! I had it under control."

"But, Buffy..." Riley was trying to argue.

"Don't 'but Buffy' me!" She said, her voice taking a slightly mocking tone, "You stepped in and almost got yourself killed!"

The two came through the door, Buffy in a huff and Riley looking genuinely confused as to what was going on.

"He was sneaking up on you..."

"Hello?" She said, hands on her hips as she ignored the people in the room. "Slayer here! Vampires don't just 'sneak' up on me!"

"I was just..." Riley tried again.

"Getting in the way... I almost staked you myself before I realized you were there!"

"Come on, Buffy... You're not perfect... I was just trying to..."

"No. Look, Riley, I know you were trying to help but I didn't need it."

Riley looked around the room for help, but no one volunteered so much as a whisper. When his eyes locked with Xander's he saw the younger man lift a finger to his lips and gesture to the couch. Riley took the hint and sat down.

Buffy took that as a sign of capitulation and turned to Giles with her report. "Giles, something is going on around the old high school."

"The Hellmouth?" Giles sat up straight.

Buffy nodded, "I don't know what it is but Vamps and Demons are floating around there like Willy's on half price night."

"Oh dear." Giles pulled out a series of books. "I'll start looking for any portents immediately."

"Cool." Xander grinned, "Research party. Call Willow, and Riley and I'll do a snack run."

Riley looked up at Xander in surprise as the young man volunteered him for a run to the local store. "Uh... sure..."

"Good." Buffy said, "You know what I like Xan?"

"You bet, Buff."

Xander headed out the door with the confused Initiative Soldier in tow.

Riley looked over at Xander from the passenger seat of the Mustang. "You going to start the car?"

"In a minute." Xander said, "Look... I want to talk to you about what happened last night."

Riley held up his hands, "Hey! I get it ok? Slayer doesn't need help."

Xander shook his head, "That's not true, Riley. And you should know that."

Riley shook his head, "I know... but damn it... what is with her?"

Xander was quiet for a bit, "Its about control, Riley. Slayers... they need to feel like they're in control... and if they lose that feeling they need to get it back, anyway they can."

"No one can control a fight... not even Buffy." Riley protested.

Xander nodded, "I know... I know. But she doesn't see it that way, man. When you saved her last night you stole some of her control."

"What!?" Riley looked shocked, "I didn't..."

"Mean to. I know. But you did. Look, I'm not blaming you for it.... I'm just trying to explain why Buffy is reacting like this."

Riley shut up and nodded at Xander to continue.

"Slayers... they can't stand to feel like they're not in control of a situation... and when someone takes that felling from them they have to get it back... anyway they can."

"So... ripping into me is her way of getting control back?" Riley sounded disgusted.

Xander nodded. "There is an up side though..." he said with a grin.


"Well... right now she's convincing herself that you didn't actually save her... But that's only part of what you took from her. She still has to assure herself that she has control over you as well..."

"How's she gonna do that?"

Xander started the car, thinking back to the 'dance' Buffy had 'thanked' him with. "If she's anything like Faith, your gonna have one hell of a night after the patrol."

Riley looked at Xander in shock. The last thing he wanted to hear from Xander was something about Buffy's sex life. "How the hell would you know? I thought that spell was a one time deal."

"It was." Xander assured him. "But I know Slayers, even if I don't really understand women..."

Riley shot Xander an unbelieving look as the Mustang pulled out of the parking lot. "Why are you telling me this?"

Xander hesitated.

Finally he spoke, "You're seeing a Slayer now, Riley. You have to know what your getting into. And I don't think you do...not yet anyway."

Riley protested, "I understand... She has a destiny...she's stronger, faster..."

"No. You don't get it." Xander cut him off. "You think she's stronger and faster? You haven't seen anything. Buffy and Faith barely run a few degrees above human norm most of the time... You've never seen either of them in top form."

Riley paled slightly, "She's stronger then this?"

"By far." Xander said as he steered the car through the streets. "I've seen her walk through vampires like they literally weren't there... I'm not even sure if she does have a maximum speed. Every time I think I've seen her max out something happens and she surpasses everything I thought I knew."

"How do you keep up?"

"I don't." Xander replied. "I rewrote the rules. She patrols, I hunt. From a military point of view, she's special forces, I'm a Sniper. Different skill set."

Riley nodded. "You said that she needs to feel in control...what happens if she loses that?"

Xander took a deep breath, "A Slayer who feels out of control starts to fall apart. She starts to self destruct..."

"So that's why you told me to shut up and take it?"

Xander nodded, "Slayers are a bunch of contradictions... Strong, yet feminine... Confident... but underneath it they have this hidden inferiority factor..."

"Buffy!?" Riley said in disbelief.

"And faith." Xander confirmed. "It comes from the weight of the world on their matter how many times they save us all... they keep wondering if they are really good enough... if maybe, their being called was a cosmic mistake... and if maybe the next time they won't be enough."

Riley was silent.

"I've known three Slayers in my lifetime... and I hope to never know another." Xander said quietly. "But I will if either of them lose that feeling of control... because then I lose another of my Slayers."

Riley's eyes widened at Xander's declaration of 'his Slayers' but he kept quiet when he looked over and saw that Xander wasn't really listening to what he was saying. he was just speaking from the soul.

Riley and Xander were continuing their conversation as they climbed the stairs to Giles' apartment, arms loaded down with food.

"Slayers are all about saving lives," Xander said as he walked alongside the Commando, "So when they're the ones who get saved it throws their world view for a loop."

"But sometimes you need a hand, that's what a team is for." Riley protested.

"Riley," Xander said patiently, "You have to stop looking at this from the point of view of someone trained by the military. Slayers are teenage girls. Hell, the most dangerous thing Buffy had to deal with before being called was backstabbing cheerleaders."

Riley shook his head in disbelief.

"I think she's doing pretty damned good, all things considered. But learning to trust a teammate is going to be a long road, she's got too much working against her. The Slayer spirit is a loner... a predator that definitely doesn't hunt as part of a pack. If you want to be able to help Buffy in a fight you have to be one of two things."

"What are those?"

"Subtle... or Patient." Xander grinned. "Me, I decided a long time ago to try my hand at both... unfortunately subtlety isn't my strongest attribute."

Riley smiled slightly at that, "No shit."

Xander didn't bother to respond as the two of them topped the stairs and turned down the hallway to Giles' apartment. And ran smack into a shocked looking woman.

"You!" She said, looking at Xander accusingly.

Xander looked surprised for a moment, but quickly covered. "Detective Chen, How nice to see you again."

Grace Chen stared at the kid who had evaded her a few nights earlier, uncertain what to do.

"I ought to arrest you..." She started, her hand inching toward her gun.

Xander just grinned, "Riley, I'd like you to meet Detective Grace Chen."

Riley looked between the two, a little confused, "Nice to meet you detective."

Xander continued, "Ms Chen here is a Chinese national who has been working with the L.A. MCU for the past three years, She was recently granted an extended work visa and is rumored to be considering applying for citizenship."

Grace felt her face drop as the kid started rattling off her background.

Xander ignored the look on her face and cheerfully continued, leaning over to Riley and whispering loudly, "Immigration has orders to immediately accept her application if she forwards it."

"What?" Grace blurted involuntarily. *She* hadn't known that.

"She been investigated twice for espionage, once allegedly for the Chinese government and the second time for a Chinese criminal organization. Cleared both times, received written apologies for the second investigation, and numerous citations from the city of L.A. and the State of California." Xander grinned.

Chen looked at him in shock, her mouth working but no sounds coming out.

Xander continued cheerfully, "She has three black belts on record in Karate, Judo, and Akido. And is rumored to be at black belt level in at least two other styles, but no official records exist to confirm it. Officially she transferred to Sunnydale, citing that the workload in the MCU was to high for her to handle on a constant basis. Unofficially she was assigned to infiltrate the SPD and determine if and how deep local corruption runs."

"That's enough!" Grace looked around to see if anyone else was in hearing distance, "How do you know all that?" She hissed.

Xander shrugged, "The CIA keeps track of Foreign nationals in the country."

"You're CIA?" She asked incredulously.

Xander smiled, "Not today..."

Grace looked at the young man for a moment, trying to gage how seriously to take him. His face was a blank, telling her nothing. His companion, on the other hand, was staring at him in shock. <Which could mean a lot of things... dammit... Who is this brat?"

Xander laughed, "You know Detective, we could probably help you with your investigation... Why don't you join us for the evening? We're checking out some stuff thats going down in town tonight."

Xander watched as the detective considered his offer. <Take the offer lady. People die when they look too deep into Sunnydale without proper backup.>

She sized him up and shrugged, "What the hell? What's the worst that can happen?"

Xander choked. "Christ, Detective... do NOT ask that question in this town."

When Xander, Riley, and Detective Chen entered the apartment the gang was already deep into the books and waiting for the sun to go down.

"Xander?" Buffy looked at him oddly, "Who's this?"

Xander quirked a smile, "Buffy, I'd like you to meet Detective Chen."

Buffy looked at the Asian woman with a certain amount of distrust. "Detective." She nodded her head at the woman.

Giles looked at Xander as if he were insane. "May I speak with you for a moment, Xander?"

Xander grinned, "Sure thing, G-man. Riley, you want to pass the snacks around?"

Riley nodded and Xander followed Giles into the kitchen.

"Are you mad!?"

Xander chuckled, "Nope. Look, Giles, I checked her file... She's a good cop."

"What difference does that make??" Giles was flabbergasted, "This is not a police matter."

"That's not what I meant, G-Man." Xander said, "I mean, she's been sent to Sunnydale to find out what's going on in the local PD... and She's a tough, *tenacious* cop."

Giles was silent for a moment. "Oh dear."

Xander nodded, "Exactly, and you know what happens to people who dig too deep into weird stuff in Sunnydale... especially without guidance."

Giles winced, "Are you quite certain she won't be diverted?"

Xander laughed, "Giles, this woman spent months undercover in an international terrorist organization in order to bring it down. She's a pitbull when she has an assignment."

"Oh bloody perfect." Giles muttered.

"Exactly." Xander agreed, "If she's going to find out anyway, I'd like to make sure that California doesn't lose a damned good cop."

"I hope you know what you're doing."

"So do I, G-Man." Xander said slowly, looking back at the living room, "So do I."

"So, we got anything?" Xander asked as he re-entered the room.

Buffy just shook her head, still watching the 'cop' with distrust.

"Umm... Well... that is to say. No."

Xander chuckled a bit, "So we check out the old school tonight and see if the activity is still going on?"

Everyone except Chen nodded.

"Old School?" She asked.

"The old highschool, well... wreckage of it." Xander explained, "Buffy spotted some odd activity in the ruins last night."

"What kind of activity?"

Xander smiled, "Detective, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."

She frowned at him, her eyes piercing him with a sharp glare, but remained silent.

Xander looked around, "So... Think we need Jarod and Faith on this one?"

Buffy snorted at the mention of Faith's name and Willow glowered.

Xander just nodded, "Just checking. Well, we've got a few hours to dark. You guys want to hang here or do something else?"

Buffy and Willow shifted uncomfortably, neither making suggestions. Riley just shrugged, and Giles looked at little sickened at the thought of having an extended 'research party' minus the research in his home.

Xander shook his head, "Hang here it is I guess..."

He sighed and dropped himself into the couch, "Aww Come ON Giles, can't you even pop for basic cable?"

Giles shot him a glare from across the room, but said nothing.

Grace just stared at the group, perplexed at the attitudes she was seeing. None of them seemed terribly concerned that a cop was in the room, with the possible exception of the blond. Not exactly classic criminal behavior, but they certain had an air of a group that was doing something that at least stretched the limits of law.

She finally shook her head and sat down beside the young man, Xander, and watched the broadcast he had put on. <No way am I leaving until I figure out what is going on.>

Jack Crow didn't bother knocking on the door to the Watchers apartment, he just twisted the knob and headed in. Inside he found an abridged portion of the Sunnydale group, including Xander, The Slayer, Her Soldierboy, the Watcher, the Redhead witch, and a new girl.

"Oh great," Buffy growled, "The jerk. Just what we need."

Jack whistled as he looked over the new one. She was a beauty. Fine Asian features, nice body, the full package.

He walked over to Xander, "Damn Kid, how the fuck do you manage to attract all these fine babes?" He asked, looking straight at the Asian.

Xander winced, and looked at Crow with a piercing glare. "Jesus, Jack. For one thing I don't curse every second word out of my mouth... and for the record I really wish you wouldn't say things like that while I'm close enough to get caught in the crossfire."

Jack spared another fast glance at the Asian, "Why? She another Slayer?"

"No." Grace spoke quietly, "Whatever a Slayer is. I'm a Cop with six black belts and a 9mm in my pocket."

Jack stared at her for a long second, "Christ Kid, are you insane? You keep collecting women like this and one of them is gonna kill you sooner or later."

"Hey, leave me out of this!" Xander protested, "Besides, All things considered I think death would be a small price to pay... I can think of worse company to spend my last days with..." he looked pointedly at Jack as he finished speaking.

Crow laughed, "Sometimes kid, I think you're completely insane... then you say something like that and I realize that we're not so different after all."

"Oh god!" Xander moaned. "You had to ruin my day, didn't you?"

"It's what I do, kid." Jack grinned, pulling out a cigar.

"No smoking!" Buffy growled, batting the offending item out of his hands.

"Aw fuck!" Jack growled right back, "That was a Cuban!"

Grace raised her eyebrow, "That's Illegal..."

Jack matched her stare, "So's half the shit I do for a living... what's your point?"

"Who are you people?" Grace looked around the room.

Jack looked around in confusion himself. "You guys never told her?"

"Told me what?"

Xander smiled, "Tonight's her... initiation."

"What are you talking about!?"

Jack grinned, "Hoo boy, I love it when they break their cherries..."

"Jesus, Jack..." Xander groaned.

"Ewww..." Buffy threw a throw cushion at Crow, nailing him in the head.

"Hey!" Jack grinned, "It's accurate ain't it?"

"What the hell are you people talking about?" Grace demanded.

Giles sighed, pinching his nose, "Miss Chen, I assure you that you'll understand our hesitancy to speak of it later."

Buffy looked over at the police detective, "Why are we bringing Cop Girl along anyway?"

Xander looked over at her, "Detective Chen has been assigned to investigate certain... oddities... in the Sunnydale PD. She already visited Willy's a couple nights ago..."

"Oh."Buffy said.

"Exactly." Xander said, "I figure we may as well give her a fighting chance at survival in Sunnydale."

The blond Slayer just nodded, not arguing the point.

Grace Chen looked around the room, still lost. "What!? What are you people talking about?"

Have the room smiled, the other half shook their heads. No one answered her.

That Night
Sunnydale Highschool Ruins

"Lord..." Chen breathed out as she looked over the remains of the school. "What happened to this place?"

"Officially? Giles asked rhetorically, "A gas leak."

"And unofficially?"

"Ask me that when we get back to my apartment."

Grace shook her head again, <these people are starting to ride my last nerve.>

"Buffy was right," Xander whispered, "Way too much activity here for my liking."

"What you want to do about it kid?"

Xander looked the place over, "Break out the hardware."

Crow grinned nastily and ducked back, heading for the Church owned van that had brought them here. He returned quickly with two large duffels and dropped then to the ground at the groups feet.

"Time to really give the kids party favors a field test."

Xander didn't bother to acknowledge that, he knew the ammunition would work fine. he busied himself preparing for the confrontation. He quickly shed his long blank trench coat, stealth would be the last thing he had to worry about in a moment, revealing a black kevlar vest and twin colts in shoulder leather. He reached into the first duffel and pulled out an MP5-SD6 and tossed it to Chen, "You checked out on that?"

Chen looked at the weapon in shock, but nodded. "I did some training in counter terrorism in Germany."

Xander nodded, "Don't worry about where you aim for. The ammo we're using makes a kill a virtual certainty. But don't miss either. You hit one of us or a civilian with that and I guarantee you'll have nightmares for a long time to come."

"Now hold on!" Chen raised her voice as she spoke, "I'm not letting you guys go in to whatever this is like Rambo or whatever other movie icon you people worship. I'm a cop, I can't let you do this."

Xander nodded, "I know. But you don't know what we're up against here. Tell me, Miss Chen, have you ever heard of Vampires?"


"Vampires." Xander repeated himself, "The undead. Demonic spirits in human form."

"You don't really expect me to believe that crap?"

Crow barked in laughter, "lady, we don't give a shit."

Grace lifted the MP5 toward Crow.

"Point that thing somewhere else, lady, or I'll feed it to ya."

"I'd like to see you try, creep."

Crow's hand flashed in a motion that seemed like a blur to Grace, and the MP5 was suddenly in his hand, pointed the opposite direction.

"Wha? how?"

"lady," Crow snarled, "I fight monsters that average four times the speed of a normal human... you think I wouldn't be used to working fast myself?"

"I still don't buy it." Grace said as she looked at the muzzle of the weapon.

"then don't." Crow growled. "You stay back and watch."

"I can't let you..."

Xander interrupted. "You really don't have much choice...."

He picked up a metal bar that had once been part of the school and tossed it to Buffy, "Show her."

Buffy smiled and took the bar in both hands, and with little force bent it into a clover leaf. She then handed the four pound piece of metal to Chen.

The Asian stared at the piece of metal in shock, and tried to bend it straight but couldn't manage to so much as flex the bar. "How?"

Xander looked at her with a smile, "More things on heaven and earth..."

With that the group finished gearing up and turned back to the center of the commotion.

Grace watched, helpless, as the group made their way toward the ruins of the old school. She looked around, unsure of what to do, but finally decided to follow her gut and stick close to the kid. She shook her head and drew her service pistol, following the heavily armed group into the wreckage.

Prue had finally had enough. "That's it!"

"What?" Phoebe looked up in surprise at the outburst.

"You!" Prue growled, "You are going to go back and talk to Xander. I'm sick of you moping around here."

"I'm not sure..."

"I don't care!" Prue said, cutting her sister off, "Leo!"

The Whitelighter orbed into the room, "What's up?"

"Phoebe needs to go to Sunnydale."

Leo just nodded, he agreed with Prue but this was Phoebe's decision. He hoped she'd make the right choice, having a sister around moping over man trouble was making his time with Piper a real pain.

Reluctantly Phoebe nodded, "Ok... Let's go."

Leo smiled, mostly in relief, and took her hand. <Maybe tonight Piper will be in a better mood.>

Xander moved in quietly, his motions unhurried yet fast as he wove through the debris and wreckage in a cool and casual manner. He slipped up against the remains of an old wall and flattened against it, risking a quick look around the corner.

Quickly he drew his head back and glanced back toward Crow. He held up three fingers, then closed his hand into a fist.

Crow nodded once and returned the closed fist signal then flashed his hand, palm outward, toward the far side of the wall. He pointed to his eyes with his left hand and then motioned around the far corner.

Xander smiled, nodded, and turned back to the corner.

"Xander?" Phoebe looked around.

"Xan-man's not here!" She hear faith yell down the stairs as she stepped down, "How's it goin Wiccan One?"

Phoebe shook her head, but smiled slightly, "I'm ok, Faith. You?"

"Better and better." Faith grinned at her as she stepped down.

"Where's Xander?"

Faith shrugged, "Don't know. Give 'em a call."

Phoebe nodded, "K. Leo?"


"Hang on a second will you? I may need a lift."

Leo smiled, "I live to serve."

Faith walked over to him, "Oh really? Hmmm... Just what do you serve anyway?" She asked in a suggestive tone.

Leo blanked out.

"Back off, Faith." Phoebe warned, "This one is spoken for."

"Story of my life, girl." Faith grinned at the two.


"Yes Leo?"

"Hurry up."

Xander stepped around the corner, sneaking quietly up on the vampire who seemed to be standing some kind of guard. He was only a few feet away when a silent buzz from his pants pocket surprised him.

"Huh?" He blurted stupidly as he glanced down.

The Vampire spun around, "Hey! Who'r you?"

Xander looked up and rushed the guy, driving them both to the ground as he felt the buzz again. <Damned phone!>

The struggle didn't last long, Xander was able to drive a stake into the vamp fairly easily, but even as the creature dusted the noise had drawn others.

"Oh fabulous." Xander muttered, fishing the phone from his pocket as Elan flashed into his free hand.



"Xander?" Phoebe said, "I'm at your place, I think we should talk."

Leo and Faith watched as the witch paused for a second, "No. I don't think this is a bad time. Xander! We need to deal with this... what's that noise? Don't tell me it's nothing, that sounds like yelling... are you at a bar?"

"No I'm not at a bar, I'm..." Xander was cut off as he ducked another vampire's punch and swept the creature's legs from under him with a smooth sweep of Elan. "Phoebe... will you listen for a sec... No! Look, I'm serious this really isn't a great..."

Xander dove to the side, almost losing the phone as he rolled clear of another vampire's outstretched hands.

"Xander? Xander!?" Phoebe said into the phone, "Where are you?"

"You're *where*?" her voice was shocked, "I'll be right there."

Before Xander could respond she slammed the phone down and turned to Leo, "I need to get to the old highschool."

"The Hellmouth!?" Faith said, shocked, "What's Xan-man doing there?"

"Hellmouth?" leo paled, "That can't good."

"It aint." Faith said, "And I'm coming too."

"Phoebe?" Xander said into the phone as he leapt over a broken wall, three vampires on his tail. "Pheobe!? Hello? Damn it!"

The two vampires watched in confusion as the human they were tailing stopped short, cursed, and put his cell phone away casually.

"What is it with this guy?" The first said as they approached him, "They usually fight or flee... This guy practically ignores us."

The second vamp shrugged, "Donno. Let's kill him."

The first nodded, "Yeah. Sounds good."

The two continued closing on their prey as th young man turned and looked at them with a calm demeanor. As he did they saw his fists come up, closed around two big pistols that glinted in the moonlight.

The loud echoing shots from Xander's .45's reverberated through the entire field. They didn't add much to the chaos of the fight though, most everyone was already knee deep in too much trouble of their own to pay much attention to the double crack that sounded.

Grace's pistol sounded only seconds behind Xander's emptying both clips into a charging brute that had been trying to kill her for the past two minutes. She had tried every move she knew, but her best hits only seemed to daze it momentarily.

To her horror the things face shifted into an inhuman caricature of a human being as the bullets ripped through its chest. But it kept coming.

"What are you!?" Grace demanded as the thing got close enough to grab her, her eyes widening as she saw the bloodless holes in the things chest healing over even as it growled.

"Your death, bitch."

Grace struggled in its iron grasp but couldn't break loose as she saw its teeth come for her throat.

Xander stepped over the two drifting piles of smoking dust and hopped back over the wall he had used to slow them down. <Total clusterfuck.>

He glanced around, looking for the others, but didn't see any. He growled and started off in a loping run toward the sound of gunshots.

Anise looked at the chaos emerging as the battle began to shape up, "Jacob, what is going on?"

"I don't know."

"I thought you lived around here once?"

"In this country, sure... but that's not the point. This type of thing is too damned weird. Why are those things vanishing into dust?"

"I do not know." Anise admitted, "Perhaps those weapons are similar to Zat'nicatel?"

Jacob shook his head, "Nope. Good old fashioned firearms... nothing spectacular about those... hey! Isn't that Harris?"

Anise' eyes narrowed as she watched a black clad form appear from the shadows and jog toward a fight between a female and one of the unknown creatures. "Yes it is."

"We know who's side we're on here?" Jacob asked questioningly.

Anise shrugged, "The boy's I presume. He was helping the SGC..."

"True." Jacob conceded. "Perhaps we should give him a hand?"

Anise nodded, "yes. I believe that would be prudent... but we must take care."

Jacob smiled, charging the Zat as he plucked it from his belt. "No worries."

Grace struggled with the thing that was grappling with, she could smell blood and decay on its breath and gagged as she tried to force its teeth away from her neck.

Then, suddenly, the pressure was gone, the creature turning to dust in her hands.


Above her she saw Harris, grinning down at her as he held a silver staff in a light grip.

"That would be a vampire, Detective."

"Oh." Was all she could manage to say.

"Here," Xander handed her one of his Colts, "This is loaded with magnesium flares... vamps are highly 'allergic' to fire."


Xander raised an eyebrow, "Maybe I should hang on to that... if your mind isn't on the game you could kill someone with those..."

Grace shook her head clear, " I'm ok."

Xander smiled, "Good, come on. We still have to check on the others."

Grace gripped the big pistol and nodded once as she got to her feet. "Let's go."

Crow was cursing.

Not particularly uncommon, but he was being uncharacteristically loud about it.

He had taken down three vamps in the past four minutes since the mission had gone to hell, and wasn't in a great mood.

"C'mon you fangy, mother fucking, son of a bat faced bitch!" He snarled as the fourth vampire charged him. Crow sidestepped, slapped out with a hand, and a cloud of dust burst past him a second later.

"Four down!" Crow grinned nastily. "Who's next?"

Riley struggled with his second vampire of the night, trying to drive his stake into the creatures chest while it tried to gnaw on his neck.

"Son of a...!" Riley gurgled as he managed to twist free of the vamp's grip and drive a foot into the creatures knee, twisting its leg at an ugly angle.

As the vampire screamed in pain, Riley continued twisting and drove his stake into its back. Riley felt a moment of satisfaction as he watched the thing turn to dust. A second later he caught sight of blond hair moving toward a large group of vampires.

<Buffy!> He took off toward the fight.

Xander hurdled the debris easily, used to the heavier weight of his hunting armor, heading toward where he had caught a glimpse of Buffy and a group of vamps.

Behind him Grace kept pace easily, matching his movements with and easy grace that matched her name. She looked around nervously as they went though, uncertain what she would see next. What she did see, as it turned out, wasn't the problem. It was what she, or they, didn't.

Xander hit it first, running face first into an obstruction that swept his feet out from under him and laid him out on the ground.

As he lay twisting in the ground, trying to get his breath back, Grace ran upto him with the intentions of checking him out. She struck the obstruction with her shoulder and twisted through the air until she landed solidly on the ground a few feet from Xander.

"Ooooohhhhh...." Xander groaned, "What the hell hit me?"

A few feet over Grace was holding her shoulder and wincing in pain. "Better question... what did we HIT?"

Xander looked around, but saw nothing. <Wish I had my Mask.>

He got up into a crouch and straightened to his feet.

A screamed in pain when his head collided with the same object that had dropped him in the first place. "Shit!"

A dozen feet away a column of shimmering light deposited three forms in the middle of the rubble.

"Xander!?" Phoebe's voice called out as she was let go of the orbing effect and she ran toward where Xander was kneeling on the ground, cradling his head in pain.

"Stop!" He screamed out, holding his hand out at her.

Uncertainly she halted, looking at him with worry.

"There's something here..." He said, looking up painfully.


Xander didn't answer, instead he felt around with his hands, until he felt them touch cool metal. Slowly he worked his way out from under it, looking for all the world like a mime doing a 'man in a box' routine.

"What is it?" Grace asked as she limped over slowly, cradling her arm.

Xander finally managed to find his way out from underneath it, "It's a space ship."

"A what?" The phrase echoed from the lips of Grace and Faith as they stared at the empty space, as if hoping it would be visible now that it had been named.

"Spaceship." Xander said flatly, "And that means trouble."

"Why?" Faith asked, she wasn't ready to believe in little green men, but trouble was something she could probably beat her fists into.

"Last time we ran into a ship like this we fought a pitched battle that cost over seven thousand people their lives."

Phoebe and Leo nodded, looking around nervously.

"Ok, hold on!" Grace said, wincing in pain. "I suppose I have to buy the vampire thing... I mean one of em did just try to chew on my throat... but space ships!?"

Xander shrugged, "Seen weirder. Trust me."

Grace turned toward him, an angry retort on her lips, but the motion swung her injured arm slightly and she could only hiss in pain.

Leo stepped forward, "here, Miss, let me take a look at that."

"What are you going to do?" Grace asked, "I pulled a muscle in my shoulder. It'll take weeks to heal."

The group just smiled.

Leo lifted a hand to her shoulder, and a silver-white glow came from it. A second later Grace was lifting her arm in shock.


"It's what I do." He smiled gently.

"Who are you people!?"

Faith snickered, "We're the ones that give the Boogyman nightmares."

Anise and Jacob scrambled down from their position, rapidly approaching the fight that had erupted around their cloaked ship.

Three of the creatures they saw the Harris boy fighting spotted them quickly and they opened fire at long range.

The zat fire staggered the creatures, one shot putting them to their knees, but they recovered quickly and charged.

Jacob fired again.

The second shot, the kill shot, didn't do much better.

"Hit them again!" Anise yelled as the first of the group was almost upon them.

They opened fire, striking the charging creatures with the third blast from the Zats. Both Tok'ra winced as the creatures kept coming, only to turn to dust that swept harmlessly past.

Jacob looked at Anise in shock, "What were they?"

"I do not know." Anise admitted, "I've never seen humans who could survive two shots from a Zat'nikatel."

"You quite certain they were human?"

Anise shook her head but didn't answer.

The two Tok'ra eyed the conflict ahead of them with new eyes, but stolidly moved forward.

Buffy looked around nervously, eying the eighteen vampires that had surrounded her.

"Hey guys..."

They just growled.

"Not talkative tonight, huh?"

No response.

"Ooohhh kaaayyy." She drawled, lifting her hands and motioning the vamps toward her. "Let's get this done then."

The group growled and charged as one.

Riley jumped over a chunk of debris, landing hard and stumbling on the other side. He looked up from a kneeling position in time to see a gang of vampires charge toward Buffy.

"BUFFY!" He screamed as he surged to his feet and charged in.

Xander was leaning on empty space, trying to clear his head when he heard the yell. He snapped his head around, ignoring the sparkle of lights that crossed his vision. "Buffy!"

Before anyone else could react he broke into a run, gliding along the invisible obstruction until he had worked his way around the ship.

"Xander!" Phoebe yelled as she tried to catch him.

Faith didn't speak, just broke into a run as she chased both of them.

Grace looked at Leo, Leo looked back.

"Shit." She said.

"Damn." He replied.

Both took off after the runners.

Xander rushed around a corner, and was staggered by the sight in front of him. Buffy was fighting eight vampires at once, and seemed to be holding her own, but was starting to look haggard. At her feet lay Riley, blood pouring from a head wound, his stake lying a few feet from his left hand and his pistol gripped limply in his right.

No vampire that dared approach Riley survived long enough to regret it's hasty action, but her focus on defending her prone boyfriend was costing the Slayer the initiative in the fight. And now the tide was slowly turning against her.

Xander poured on the speed, his .45 leading the charge as it belched flame. One. Two. Three. Four. Four shots and the slide locked back on an empty chamber, causing Xander to curse, a loud and profane utterance that would have impressed even Crow if he had been in a position to hear it.

Xander tossed the gun aside as he launched himself into a flying tackle at the closest pack of vamps to Buffy.


The Ancient weapon shimmered and appeared in his outstretched hands, already activated. Xander leveled the weapon ahead of him, using its seven foot length as a battering ram when he struck the group.

They went down in a rolling, hissing, cursing, ball. Nine vampires, and one human. All clawing, kicking, cursing, punching, and gouging at whatever seemed to be the enemy at the time.

Buffy staggered under another hit, but stolidly refused to give ground. Her world had become a eight foot circle of dirt, at the center of which lay her boyfriend. Beyond that nothing mattered. Any vampire that dared enter her world was signing its own death warrant, and that was all she could spare to thought.

The shots of gunfire were the first things that broke through her reverie, startling her out of her self imposed battle trance. When her eyes found the source she relaxed.


Her strikes picked up in intensity as hope flared through her. Xander had never once let her down when she needed him. As much as she couldn't stand to see him in danger she knew that, right now at least, nothing and no one else on the world was a more welcome sight.

She blinked as he stopped shooting and let out a curse, but didn't stop his charge. <Xander? What?>

Her eyes widened as he launched himself head first into the fight, his staff appearing in her hands as if by magic. <Xander! No!> She screamed internally, but nothing would escape her laboring lungs.

Suddenly the pressure of the vampires advance was gone, eight of them taken temporarily out of the fight as they and Xander hit the ground in a rolling, cursing, bundle of limbs.

Suddenly she found her voice.


Phoebe and Faith circled the corner in time to see Xander's suicide leap into the group of vampires and to hear Buffy's scream.


Phoebe echoed the scream a second later and lunged in to the fight herself, Faith a split second behind.

Grace and Leo rushed around the corner and stared in shock at the massive brawl that had developed. Two Slayers, A Witch, and presumable Xander was some here in the rolling gangle of limbs that was on the ground.

Grace brought up the Colt Harris had given her by reflex and shifted into a weaver stance. <Who do I shoot?>

She shook her head and started looking for the deformed faces that seemed to mark a vampire.

"Hey Ugly." She whispered as she caressed the trigger of the .45, sending a tumbler into the creature's chest. She kept the muzzle on the thing as it seemed to shrug the bullet off, <Oh damn...these things don't work!>

As she was about to fire another shot into the beast it suddenly screeched in pain as the half healed hole in its chest began smoking. Suddenly a jet of fire burst out of its chest and it collapsed to the ground in pain. A few seconds later there was nothing but another pile of dust drifting along the ground.

Grace closed her heart, narrowed her eyes, and moved to the next target.

Xander yelped in pain as he felt something crunch down on his leg, a second later he felt the blood flow down his leg. He gritted his teeth and rolled with the group of vamps, deactivated Elan, and pried the foot long cylinder in between two of the vampires that were clawing at him.


Elan bucked once, extending at full force, and skewered three vampires. Only two dusted however, Xander had gotten third in the lower stomach by pure luck.

Dust or not, the mystical weapon burned at its insides as Xander managed to get himself free of most of the arms gripping at him. He retracted Elan again, and rolled as fast as he could away from the largest group.

The vampires had abandoned their attempts to get at Riley and her, so Buffy waded into the pile that Xander had created when he made his dive with her stake flashing. Across the way she spotted Faith doing the same, and could hear the slow, deliberate, shots coming from the police detective.

She ignored them all, forcing herself to trust them to do what they could while she focused on retrieving Xander from the pile of vamps.

Her eyes widened in shock as she saw two vamps dust, and Xander's Silver battle staff emerge from the dissipating cloud. She shook her head in wonder, and continued pressing through the horde, staking vampires right and left as they tried to extricate themselves from the clawing mess that Xander had created.

<They couldn't tell what hit them...> She wondered, realizing that many of the vampires were sporting injuries inflicted blindly by their own compatriots.

A few feet ahead she finally spotted Xander emerge from the struggling mess and try to roll clear of the fighting. Just as it looked like he would make it her breath cought in her chest as she saw a vampiric hand shoot out and drag him back.

The vampire slowly pulled him closer, bringing its fangs down on Xander's shoulder. Buffy screamed as she saw the blood flow.

Xander felt the blood hammer in his ears as his heart pumped harder to make up for the sudden drop in pressure. The pain in his shoulder felt distant, something that was happening to someone else perhaps, or simply a memory. His conscious mind began to shut down as the stress and sudden terror returned him to his past.

Xander surged up with a rage and power that took the vampire by surprise, ripping its teeth from his shoulder as the young man regained his feet.

As the vampire struggled to get up and reclaim its victim it happened to look into the human's eyes. A thrill of pure terror shivered from its groin to the back of its neck as it saw nothing but death in the eyes of a living being.

Some thought of pleading for its life had begun to form when it felt a pressure in its chest and realized that it was far to late for that.

Xander didn't bother to watch the vampire turn to dust, he had already moved on. His mind had catalogued the area around him with the barest glance, and his body was on autopilot. Even Elanthielle had lost positive contact with the young man as he began to move on reflex and without thought.

"Xander!" Phoebe screamed as she tried to rush forward, but at every step she was blocked by a vampire. So she fought, slamming her stake into one, and kicking another. Beside her she knew Faith was having the same problem, struggling to reach someone who was beyond her reach, and hating herself for being helpless.

Phoebe started in shock when she saw Xander surge to his feet, bleeding from a gaping shoulder wound and numerous scratches and cuts along his face and body. His eyes were flat, no life in them at all, and his body was moving with a simple brutal efficiency that she had never seen before.

"Xander..." She whispered in shock as he casually shifted his grip on the Staff in his hands and dusted two vamps with a single fluid motion.

Buffy fell back in shock as the vampires were suddenly forced away from Xander, all trying to avoid the sudden sweep of that silver staff. Some of those more experienced had fallen far back, fear written plainly on their faces.

Buffy remember something that Giles had once told her, how the one thing in the world that was more dangerous then anything else was a person who had given up all will to survive. Who was intent on only one thing. Destruction.

Xander had the look that her mind had produced when Giles had told her that. The haunted look of someone who was already dead.

<Alexander!> Elanthielle screamed, trying to regain communication with her bearer. She shivered, this had only happened once before but it was a frightening aspect of the young man. Even to her.

She had existed for millennia and encountered only a small handful of people who had this internal berserker mode. Each time she had seen it she had been taken aback. Never had she imagined that one of her bearers would be like this. <The berserker attack is Tur'oks speciality, not mine.>

<Alexander!> She tried again, to no avail.

Grace gave up. She couldn't get a clear shot anymore, not with the three girls and the kid moving around so much.

She held the weapon at the ready, but allowed her eyes to sweep the battle. She shivered when she saw the vicious battle in its entirety. Neither side were offering or asking for quarter, no arrests would be made, and only the victors would walk away from this site.

She shook her head, trying to clear it of the thoughts that had started to plague her. <Now is not the time... later... questions and answers come later.>

A lone vampire split away from the group and Grace shifted smoothly and fired. A few seconds later, no more vampire.

Crow rushed toward the sound of fighting and came up short as she spotted the battle. The vampire hunter was bleeding from a dozen shallow cuts and had bruises on his bruises, but he smirked when he saw the fight that had formed.

<Thirty vamps against a half dozen humans...> He smirked, <And the vamps may as well dust their own fucking asses and save us the trouble. Damn I wish I could get some of them for my team.>

He shrugged, ignoring the pain that shot through him, and charged into the fight himself

Anise watched the battle with wide eyes. "That is not human."

"Which?" Jacob asked sarcastically, "The kid or the things he's fighting?"

"Both." She answered flatly.

The two aliens raised their weapons and moved to help their, hopefully, ally.

Xander's vision had tunneled, visually regressing him to little more the colors. He could feel the hammering of the blood in his ears, even as it slowly began to weaken, to grow softer even as he pushed himself harder.

Black. That was the color of emptiness.

Red. That was an enemy. Strike.

Red. Strike. Red. Strike. Red. Strike.

His body moved on reflex, attacking faster than skill, faster than thought.

Silver. A long slim line of light that struck out at the Red. A line of light that brought comfort even as he felt his heartbeat slowly wind down.

He ignored it, both the comfort and the slowing of his heart. They didn't mean anything to him. All that mattered was eliminating the Red.

He struck out again.


Buffy drove her stake into a vampire and tried to get through the press to where Xander was battling, only to be forced to duck low to avoid being struck herself by the silver staff as it whirled about.

"Slayer!" Crow yelled, "Back off! The Kid's lost it!"

Buffy shook her head, she refused to believe that of Xander. "No! I won't leave him!"

Crow shoved through the vampires, striking them down as he passed. When he got close enough he reached out and grabbed the blond slayer by the shoulder and ripped her back.

Buffy was startled as she was hauled off her feet and pulled away from the fight. She struggled, but Crow held her in an iron grip without giving her any leverage to break free.

"He'll kill you if you get too close, Slayer!" Crow yelled into her ear as he hauled her back.

Buffy shook her head wildly, "No! He... He can't!" <Not Xander! He couldn't!>

Her pistol locked back on an empty chamber and Grace cursed. She was out, and she didn't have any more ammo for the weapon. Her own pistol was useless, and she was starting to feel that way herself.

<What do I do?>

She tensed and moved to wade into the fight herself, but a restraining hand held her back. She looked back to the grim face of the man who had healed her. He shook his head slowly.

"You won't do them any good like that."

"I can't just stand here!" She growled in frustration.

Leo shook his head, "Without weapons you're only going to get in the way. You don't even have a wooden stake."

Grace growled as she watched the fight progress, her fingernails digging holes into the palms of her hands as her clenched fists whitened.

Phoebe and Faith hung back, dusting any stragglers that came into their sphere of influence.

"Damn, girl." Faith muttered, "X-man really lost it."

Phoebe just shook her head. "He's out of control..."

Faith nodded, "Glad I'm not a vampire tonight."

Both girls just shook their heads in agreement with that statement as they watched Xander crippled another vampire before striking it down with the silver staff and leaving it to dust behind him.

"He wasn't like this..." Faith muttered.

"I know... I knew him before..." Phoebe swallowed.

Faith licked her lips nervously, "What a mind job."

"Remember, Three shots each!" Jacob yelled as they rushed into the fight.

Anise didn't bother to respond, just opened fire.

As electrical fire spat across the battleground Crow looked up from the struggling blond he was holding back. <Who the...?>

His eyes widened as he recognized the woman. <Her!?>

Grace jumped in shock as the electrical charges ripped into the vampire's around them. "What the hell is that?"

Leo looked over and half smiled, half frowned. "The Cavalry... I think."

"You think!?"

"If I'm right, it's their ship that you two ran into..."

Grace eyed the approaching coupled, <They don't look like aliens... but they sure don't dress like locals.>

"Whoa!" Faith yelped as a series of blue blasts vaped a vamp that was charging her. "What the fuck!?"

Phoebe looked over, "We just found our aliens."



Xander struck out again, and again, and again. They were all around him. He couldn't let them take him. Turn him. They had to die... or he did.


He shook his head, trying to clear the buzz that was starting to form in his mind. He didn't have time for distractions.

Elanthielle mustered every bit of strength and control she had. <ALEXANDER, YOU WILL STOP NOW!>

Xander stopped.

He was in mid strike, his form overextended and off balance. He could feel himself fall but he didn't have any control over his limbs.

<Wha?> His mind snapped back into control, his eyes searching around him in desperation. He was halfway to the ground before his muscle control came back online.

He hit the ground hard, shoulder first, and winced as pain lanced through the open wound. He ignored it and tucked into a roll that brought him back to his feet a second later. He straightened and look around.

There were broken bodies and drifting dust all around him. A few dozen feet away he could see his friends and allies staring at him in shock.

<What happened, Elan?>

Elan's voice came back, subdued. <You were badly injured... you regressed to fight or flight again... You chose 'Fight'.>

<Oh crap.> Xander groaned. He looked around. A few feet away he could see Riley on the ground.

Xander took an unsteady step, gritting his teeth as a wave of nausea and pain swept through him.

<Xander... you're injured. Get help.>

<In a minute.> Xander groaned. He gritted his teeth but managed to speak. "Leo. See to Riley. Now."

Leo snapped almost to attention, his military training responding to the command. He rushed to where Riley lay on the ground and knelt over him. A few seconds was all it took to heal the visible wounds. He looked up. "I think he'll be ok, but he might have a concussion... we should get him to a..."

He was cut off as Buffy and Phoebe screamed in unison. "Xander!"

Xander had buckled, sweat pouring off his brow, and collapsed to the dusty ground beneath him.

Leo rushed to him, wincing as Xander hit the ground solidly, his head bouncing off the cement. He kneeled over him, rushing to heal the visible wounds, his breath hitching as he found several that had been hidden under the kevlar armor the boy was wearing. He proceeded to check out Xander's vitals and shook his head.

"I've patched him up, but he's lost a lot of blood... I don't know if he's going to make it... we have to get him to a hospital."

"Do it, Leo!" Phoebe ordered.

Leo nodded and, putting a hand on Xander's chest, orbed away.

The remaining people looked around the ruins of the old school, then at each other. Crow was the first to speak.

"What the fuck are you people doing here!?" He glared at the two Tok'ra.

Anise stepped forward, "We cam to speak with the boy. It is none of your concern."

Crow took a half step toward her, growling as he did.

Jacob moved between them, "Whoa! Slow down... let's work this out, ok?"

Crow stayed tense for a moment before he reluctantly slowed down. "Fine. But you've got some explaining to do."

Wilkins Memorial Hospital
Sunnydale, California

The Doctor in the ER had been working the night shift off and on for eight years in Sunnydale. She had a fair idea that there were things out there that you didn't want to meet in a dark alley.... and things that you simply would never see in a lit one. So when the man smashed through the doors carrying a black clad figure in body armor she actually blinked.

<Cops don't go out at night... They aren't that brave... or stupid.>

She pushed the thoughts aside and ordered the triage team to pull the pale young man into the closest bed. The man who brought him in jogged alongside, snapping out information.

"His name is Alexander Harris, he's lost a lot of blood. He's going to need a transfusion immediately, and you should check him for shock."

The Doctor eyed the man curiously, but filed away the information.<Guy talks like a doctor.>

She got the gourney into the room, an orderly forcing the man to stay behind, and let the doors swing close behind them.

"Alright, people!" She ordered, "I want the wound located and sealed, cut this stuff off him."

The group went to work, using a razor sharp pair of scissors to slice away the kevlar the boy was wearing, peeling the blood socked armor clear of his body. Underneath the kevlar and trauma plates, his skin was coated in drying blood that they quickly and gently cleaned it off.

"No wound!"

"Impossible!" The Doctor looked the body over, but there wasn't a wound. "Turn him over!"

The orderlies gently flipped the body over, still looking for the wound. Nothing. Two of them winced when they looked at the back of his right shoulder however.


"What the hell is that?"

The Doctor spared a second from where she was checking his pulse. "Acid burns... nasty ones too."

"Jesus. Where the hell do you pick up something like that?"

The Doctor ignored the question. "Put him on his back again."

They rolled him back over. She checked his eyes, looking for pupil dilation. "Damn it! Where's his file!?"

A nurse came running up, "Right here doctor!"

She grabbed the file and checked the blood type, "Get some B Negative up here now!"

The orderlies took off.

She finished looking him over, eyeing the shoulder holsters her wore. <Empty... still...> She looked toward the telephone that was nearby in case they had to call for police assistance. Just a quick intercom patch and she'd have the cop who was stationed here tonight in the room.

The her eyes fell on the cross that was strapped to the kid's left thigh.

She made a decision then and there.

The Doctor quickly removed the leather holsters and slid them into her smock. Her eyes pierced the nurse who watched them, daring her to say anything.

The Nurse nodded, and then left without a word.

Sunnydale Highschool Ruins
Sunnydale, California

"C'mon Slayer," Crow said as he knelt over Riley, "Help me get Soldier boy to the van."

"Should we move him?"

Crow looked him over, "Yeah... He took a lump to the head, but it doesn't look serious. We'll get him back to his base and his doctors can check him out."

Buffy nodded and grabbed Riley's shoulders while Crow grabbed his feet. Together the carried the unconscious soldier to the van they had come in and loaded him carefully into the back.

Crow looked around, "Slayer, you call the soldier boys... Hey, someone grab the gear off the ground! We can't leave guns and shit lying around for someone to pick up!"

Buffy pulled out her phone and dialed a number. "Forest? It's Buffy... Its Riley... He's... No! No... He'll be ok, he just to a lump to the head. Huh? Thirty or so... No, we got 'em. Riley? He got five or six I think... Yeah, we're bringing him in.... Just Xander. He's in the hospital now. Don't ask... I lost count. K, we'll be right there."

Buffy looked at Crow, "They're expecting us at Lowell House."

Crow nodded and looked around the group. "That everything? Good. Everyone aboard!"

Lowell House
Sunnydale, California

"Finn's been injured, they're bringing him in!"

The commotion built fast as Agents moved around quickly, clearing the path from the door to the hidden elevator and pulling a rolling gurney out of a closet.

"What happened?"

Forest shook his head, "Not sure, but from the sounds of it they hit heavy resistance."

"How many?"

"Summer's said thirty plus blood drinkers."

"Shit. How many people did they lose?"

"None. Riley took a shot to the head and Harris is in the hospital. No other injuries."

There was a long silence. Then the voices came back.


"No way!"

"How the fuck?"

"How bad is Harris hurt?"

Forest shook his head, "I don't know. bad enough that their medic couldn't bring him all the way back."

Another long silence. They all remembered the 'medic' Harris worked with.


That pretty much summed up the reactions all around.

Initiative HQ, below Lowell House
Sunnydale California


Walsh stared at the screens for a short while. <What medic are they talking about?>

She glared at the screens moodily for a while, trying to think of a way to turn this to her advantage. Unfortunately she could trust anyone around her, George could have co-opted any of them to spy on her. <Hell, they could all be spying on me and each other...>

She shook her head. <Thirty HST's... How did they survive? Even with the so-called Slayer on their side...>

Growling she shut the monitors off and stared out the large plexiglass window at where the base doctors were preparing to receive Agent Finn.

Xander looked around the, now familiar, dreamscape.

"Well..." He drawled, "I guess that didn't go as planned."

"Really, Alexander?" Elan said sarcastically as she walked up to him, "And what, as you would say, was your first clue?"

Xander rolled his eyes, "Cut me some slack, Elan..."

"Why, pray tell, would I do that?" Elanthielle looked at him with a piercing glare, "You very nearly got yourself killed."

"Am I going to be ok?"

"Yes." Elanthielle nodded, "In fact, this is as good a time as any to work on something I've been meaning to show you."

"Oh great. I'm near death and you decide it's lesson time."

"The best lessons are hard learned."

Xander sighed, "All right. Let's have it."

"Look around, what do you see?"

Xander looked around. The Barren wasteland had begun to evolve somewhat. There was a small lake forming in the distance, and he could see trees and shrubs working their way up through the parched ground.

He blinked. The trees and shrubs looked damaged. "What happened there?"

"The life in this place reflects your own life force. When you are injured so is the life in here."

Xander walked over to a broken tree and winced. "Ouch."

"Precisely. Concentrate and visualize the tree becoming whole."

Xander looked at it and focused his mind on the tree. Slowly it straightened, absorbing the damaged bark and wood into itself and healing over. In a few moments it was a tall and healthy spruce, standing proud in the middle of the slowly rejuvenating wasteland.

"Excellent. Now do the same for the others." Elanthielle waved her hand across the field.

Xander swallowed and looked at the dozens of damaged plants and trees. "There are so many."

"Just try."

Xander took a deep breath, an illusion but still comforting, and focused his will on his environment.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the flora began to regenerate.



"his EKG,"

The Doctor looked over at the machine and was startled to see that her patients brain waves had jumped from nearly comatose to a level normally associated with certain mental disorders.

"What the hell!?"

"Excellent, Alexander." Elanthielle smiled as she looked around. He had even initiated some new growth.

Xander grinned, exhilarated by the success. He could feel an almost giddy high sweeping over him. "What's next."

"The lake." Elan said, "Refill it."

Xander looked over at the, now tiny, lake. "Elan?"

"Refill it." She ordered.

Xander shook his head, "Ok..." He said uncertainly.

He closed his eyes and tried to visualize the lake filling up.

"Jesus! What the hell is going on?" The Doctor looked at the readouts pouring around her.

"His blood pressure is climbing."

"Impossible! We haven't gotten the B-Neg up here yet!"

The nurse just shook her head, watching in disbelief as the pale face on the table began to grow pinker before her eyes.

"Well done."

Xander looked at the lake in front of him, now large enough that small waves were lapping gently against the shore. The giddiness had gotten worse, and he was almost giggling at the patterns the waves made in the shimmering water.

Elanthielle looked at him in concern. "You need to wake up now."

"Not yet, Elan." Xander giggled, his eyes sweeping around the environment as he grinned widely at everything he saw. "I'm having fun."

Elanthielle looked at him sternly. "NOW."

Xander lost the grin, and looked like a five year old who had just bee scolded. "You're no fun." He complained.

"Alexander..." Her voice carried a warning.

"Ok ok..." He said, relenting. The he closed his eyes and did the first thing she had taught him. He imagined himself back into his body.

The Doctor looked at the patient as he began stirring. She heard a low groan come from him and reached out her hand to brush the sweat matted hair from his eyes.

The his eyes snapped open, his hand lancing up in a blinding move to catch her wrist.

"Where am I?"

Her breath hitched in shock, but she managed to gasp out an answer. "Wilkin's Memorial..."

He winced. "I still can't believe they renamed this place after that dirtbag."

She looked at him in confusion as he slowly got up. "I... I don't think you should be moving yet..."

He pivoted off the bed, to the shock of everyone present, and planted his feet on the ground. "Relax, Doc. I'll be fine..."

Just then the kid's stomach growled loud enough to be heard outside the room.

He flushed a little pinker. "Sorry... Damn I'm hungry..."

"Wha?" The Doctor stared in shock as he looked down at his ruined cloths.

"Aw crap..." He looked around, grabbed a hospital gown and tossed it over his shoulders.

The Doctor followed him as he walked out of the room, "Th... The cafeteria is..."

"Oh, trust me. I know my way around this place." He grinned at her, "I've even seen you around before Doc."

"I'm... not sure you should be eating right now... you c... could have internal bleeding."

He paused, tilted his head, then shook his head. "Nope. I'm cool. Just need to get some food in me to replace the energy I used up."

She chased him down the hall, two orderlies following at a discreet distance, waiting for the order to restrain the patient. "I really do have to insist..."

He ignored her and strode into the cafeteria, looking decidedly odd with his matted hair, dirty black jeans, and hospital gown. He walked straight up to the line and started grabbing food, tossing it onto a tray. She watched in shock as he grabbed some of the highest energy foods he could find, and piled them high on the tray. He reached the cash and tossed a couple hundred dollar bills on the register.

"Keep the change."

The young woman behind the register stared in shock at the pile of food, and didn't even look at the money. "Yes Sir... th... thank you sir."

"Clear the road!"

Forest had the rolling bed at the front door when Crow burst through with Riley in his arms. "How long ago did it happen?"

"He's been out for almost twenty minutes now."

Forest nodded, "Got it, any other injuries?"

"No. Leo handled them."

"All right, we'll handle it from here." Forest started pushing the bed toward the hidden elevator. "Thanks for getting him here."

Crow just nodded at the back of the departing man's head. It wasn't anything that he needed thanking for, he may like to rib the Soldier Boy a lot but the guy was a trooper and an ally.

"I'm going with him." Buffy said from behind Crow.

Crow nodded, "Go on, I'm going to get to the hospital and check up on the kid."

Buffy nodded and chased after Forest. She stopped for a second, "Thanks."

Again, Crow just nodded. Then he turned and left.

Anise and Jacob sat in the back of the van. Anise was staring woodenly out of the vehicle, while Jacob leaned back and talked amiably with the other occupants.

"So...." faith drawled, "Alien huh? How's that working for you?"

Jacob laughed, "Actually I was born in Washington... Jacob Carter is 100% Earth human... It's Selmac that's an alien."


"Selmac," Jacob tapped his temple, "A symbiote that joins with a host... He and I are roommates so to speak."

Phoebe looked over interestedly, "I thought those things were the bad guys?"

Jacob shrugged, "The Goa'uld are pretty nasty, but Selmac is Tok'ra... you could call him a Goa'uld in a way, but he would take offence. The Tok'ra are completely different on a philosophical level. They don't take hosts by force, for example."

"Some people let these things into their heads?" Faith said, more then a little skeptical, "I mean, knowing the whole story? Kinda like wanting to be a vamp..."

Jacob shrugged, "I was dying. Selmac offered me a chance at a productive life. Now I'm fighting an enemy of the Earth, and seeing things I never believed possible. It's not that bad a life."

"Maybe." Faith said a little flatly.

Jacob just shrugged again, "It takes getting used to I guess. But I don't have any regrets."

At that point Crow returned, "Blondy's staying here, let's hit the hospital and check on the kid."

Wilkin's Memorial

The Doctor had given up on trying to stop her patient and just stared as he wolfed down some of the worst hospital food she had ever had the distinct displeasure to see.

"Damn, I'm hungry." He mumbled as he stuffed another bland omelet into his mouth.

"You just ate enough food to feed a half a floor!"

He shrugged, "Sorry..."

She just stared at him.

"Hey," He got out between mouthfuls, "I've been meaning to ask... How'd I get here?"

"A man brought you in..." She described him.

"Ah... Leo. How long ago?"

"Thirty minutes maybe?"

"K. I'd better finish up."


"My ride should be here soon."

The group burst into the ER, looking more then a little harried.

The brunette in the lead surged up to the desk and demanded, "Harris. Where is he?"

The night nurse pointed wordlessly toward the cafeteria.

"Huh?" The Brunette in leather leaned over the counter, "Our boy was hauled in here in bad shape, lost a ton of blood... And you're telling me he's in the cafeteria!?"

The nurse nodded.

The brunette smiled, "That's Xander. C'mon Phoebs let's haul his ass out of there."

Xander was stuffing a granola bar into his mouth when the gang burst in. He grinned and waved them over.

"Xander!" Faith growled at him, "Why aren't you unconcious?"

Xander stopped chewing and tilted his head as he pondered that question. He looked up at Faith, his eyes clearly saying 'Do you have any idea how stupid a question that is?'.

Phoebe just stood back, watching him nervously.

Xander swallowed, "Hey Phoebe..."


"You guy's here to pick me up?"

Phoebe didn't say anything.

"We were here to sit by your bedside... but I guess that's out." Faith said, "Unless you and Phoebe want to do some role playing later... I could be the doctor..."

Xander turned beet red as he shrank under the stares of the people around him. "She's kidding."

"Say's you." Faith grinned.

"Ok, That's it!" Xander stuffed one last piece of bread into his mouth and got up, "Let's get out of here before you give me a stroke."

"What would you like stroked?" Faith called after his retreating form, her grin just growing wider as he made a run for the door.

Behind them the Doctor watched them go, still in shock. <Crap! I didn't get him to sign out!>

Xander hopped into the front seat of the van, juggling three apples and a large slice of pie as he did. he glanced around the inside of the van and nodded in greeting to everyone before turning back to his food.

He stopped in mid-bite.

Slowly he turned back and looked over his shoulder into the crystal blue eyes of the Tok'ra, Anise.


Xander nodded again in response to her greeting. He turned back to where Crow was getting into the car. He just pointed silently to the back.

Crow nodded, "Tell me about it kid, Damned if I'm picking up any more hitchhikers."

Xander nodded, accepting that without comment. <This is going to be a long night.>

X&J's Place

"What the hell are you doing here?" Xander looked pointedly at Anise.

She shrugged, "We came to speak with you."

"So speak."

"In Private."

Xander rolled his eyes, "Oh please. What's this about?"

Anise looked directly to where Elanthielle was strapped to his thigh.

Xander nodded, "Oh. That."

"Indeed." Giles said from the corner of the room, "I wouldn't mind having a few words with you about that myself."

Xander sighed, and sat down. "Definitely a long night."

After a moment had passed he looked around the group, "Ok, lets have it."

Anise stared at the assembled people suspiciously, unwilling to be the first to speak.

"Oh for the love of..." Giles muttered as he cleaned his glasses, "Very well. Obviously you are carrying an item of some power..."

Xander heard a giggle sound through his skull. <Not now, Elan.>

"And after your display earlier tonight," Giles continued, "I have to wonder how it is affecting your mind."

Xander kept a straight face, "Other the annoying the hell out of me on a daily basis?"

Giles nodded, "Other then th... what!?"

Xander started laughing. "Relax, G-man. I'm still me, no possession this time. Just a voice in my head..."

Giles was silent for a moment, "I hardly think that having a voice in your head is something to be taken lightly..."

Xander shrugged, "Compared to what? Hyena possession? Turning into a fish monster? Becoming Soldierboy for the night?"

"I... yes, well... I suppose I do see your point..."

Anise leaned forward, "Does this voice have a name?"

Xander tilted his head, and leaned forward to match her position. "Elanthielle."

Anise gasped, her eyes widening and her mouth dropping open.

Jacob's eyes widened slightly, "Are you sure?"

Xander smirked, "Unless she's been lying to me for the past 8 months or so... yeah."

Giles watched the reactions with some interest, and turned to Anise. "May I take it that you've heard of this item before?"

Xander winced, "Hey, G-man? Do me a favor... don't call her an item... Women really hate being treated like possessions... you get me?"

"Women?" Giles stared at Xander.

"Yeah, you know...Not-Men..."

"I know what a woman is, Xander." Giles said testily, "What I meant was, this... voice... is female?"

"Elan is *very* female, G-man.... not just her voice." Xander smirked for a second, then winced again. <Damn it, Elan...cut that out!>

No response. Just a sense of her satisfaction with her jab.

Xander shook his head, <Women.>

Jacob spoke, slowly. "Elanthielle is a rather well known name in certain histories... I highly doubt any of them have survived here on Earth though..."

Giles looked at him, "Really now, I think I would have run across..."

Jacob cut him off, "From approximately thirteen thousand years ago..."

"..." Giles stared at him, "I see."

"Anyway," Jacob continued, "Somewhere around thirteen thousand years ago... you do understand that this is very roughly dated right?"

Everyone nodded at him to go on.

"So, back then, there was this... cadre of warriors, in the Ancients language they were called the Kine'Iende. Roughly translated it means..."

"White Knight, or Holy Warrior." Xander said dryly.

Jacob looked at him oddly, "That's about right, though 'Honor Knights' might be more accurate... At any rate, these people were the mobile enforcement arm of the last tribe of the Ancients. They kept the law and peace across a thousand worlds... maybe more. Back then they understood the full capabilities of the Gate system..."

"Gate system?"

Jacob looked around, then back at Xander. "They didn't know?"

Xander shrugged, "I didn't want to involve them too much... The Official Secrets Act."

Jacob nodded, "Sorry."

"No big. They'd have found out sooner or later."

"Hello?" Faith looked around, "Found out what?"

Jacob sighed, "The Stargate is a device that creates a stable wormhole between worlds that have another gate. Currently the gate has been limited to travel within this Galaxy only... which still connects hundreds of worlds. Originally however the gate spanned dozens, maybe more, Galaxies across the universe."

Everyone stared at him in shock.

"Galaxies?" Giles whispered.

"Galaxies." Jacob confirmed. "Back to the point though, these Warriors maintained law across the network. You have to understand, even in those days most of these worlds would make the wild west look civilized. You had upstarts like the Goa'uld and the Yautja challenging their law at every opportunity, testing defenses and potential weaknesses. Even so, they kept order across most of the network for thousands of years... It was a remarkable achievement."

"What, exactly, does this have to do with the weapon Xander is carrying?" Giles asked. "Was it one of their weapons?"

"Yes..." Jacob said, "And no. Elanthielle was one of the greatest of the Honor Knights. She and four others founded the corp, trained the initiates, led them into countless wars and battles."

At this Xander perked up, "Four others?"

Anise nodded, entering the conversation for the first time. "Four others. Like Elanthielle they were formed into Rune Weapons. Those weapons became the symbols that led the Kine'Iende for over four thousand years until... well, until something happened that brought down the last tribe of the Ancients."

<The Fall.> Elanthielle said mournfully into Xander's mind.

"Elanthielle and the others were turned into five of the most powerful weapons in history... You must understand, that they were the pinnacle of the craftsmanship of the Ancients."

"What... Who were the other four?" Giles asked.

"Their names were known as Tur'ok, a Battle Axe, A Spear who was once Seinele, A Hammer that currently is rumored to belong to the Asguardian, Thor, named Mjolnir. And the last one was rumored to be a sword. However we have no information on that one."

Xander titled his head, and his eyes widened. When he turned back to Anise he had a look of awe on his face, "The sword remained on Earth... It's name was... is.. Excalibur."

Shocked rippled though the room.

"My lord." Giles muttered as he furiously wiped at his glasses.

Anise looked around in confusion, "Excalibur?"

Jacob licked his lips, feeling the rippling shock pass through him and the room. "Excalibur emerged approximately thirteen hundred years ago... at best guess. It was... it became... legend."

"Quite." Giles added dryly, "However there has never been a single scrap of evidence that the blade truly existed... or that even Arthur existed. Not anywhere, in the magical community or the scientific."

Xander frowned, his head tilted as he listened. "The sword is real, but I'm afraid I don't know about the legend of Arthur... Elan wasn't active during that time."

"Wait a moment," Giles looked at Xander, "She's speaking to you even now? Feeding you information on the conversation?"

Xander smiled, "You haven't wondered how I was able to keep up with you when you went all watchery on me?"

"Well I simpl..." Giles stopped, "Excuse me? 'Watchery?'"

Xander laughed and smiles and snickers floated around the room. After a few seconds he lost his smile and looked at Anise curiously, "Why did you come all the way to Earth? It certainly wasn't to give me a history lesson."

Anise smiled, "Hardly. I wished to ascertain whether you were fully aware of what you were carrying."

Xander raised an eyebrow, "And you think you know more then I do?"


"So speak."

Xander smiled as Elanthielle's voice echoed through his mind, <This should be interesting.>

"The weapon is capable of considerably more then you showed at the SGC battle." Anise began, "Histories, legends, and myths suggest that it contains more brute force then a brigade of Jaffa."

Elan snorted. <Is that all?>

Xander grinned and shook his head.

"The weapon's power is by far too dangerous for you to risk using." Anise warned, "Should you tape even a fraction of it's power it would destroy your mind and most likely fry your body."

Xander raised an eyebrow, "A fraction? How much?"

"Less then a percent."

<Actually, Alexander, I would estimate that you're currently able to channel almost ten percent without permanent damage.>

Xander smiled, "Your numbers are off."

Anise looked surprised, "How?"

He shrugged, "Elan estimates I can handle up to ten percent and survive."

Jacob leaned forward, "Can you be sure if you can trust her?"

Xander stared at him, "Can you trust the voice in *your* head?"

Neither Anise nor Jacob responded. There was no way to impart the trust they felt for their symbiotes to one who wasn't joined. And they rather suspected that was what the boy was pointing out.

Xander let the silence stretch out for a long moment before continuing. "I doubt that is all you came here for. You could have sent such a warning through the SGC. So spill all ready."

Anise looked puzzled for a second, until Jacob whispered something to her. Her face cleared up and she looked at Xander intently. "The Tok'ra would be very interested in taking over the responsibility of the weapon..."

Xander laughed.

"I am quite serious." Anise said, "You have little to no clue the dangers that will come looking for the weapon."

"Lady, I live on an interdimensional gateway to a universe so bad that humans mistook it for HELL. Danger comes to Sunnydale on a weekly basis. Whether Elan is here or not, I'm going to be facing off against creatures who literally want to kill every human they see, at least with Elan I have a fighting chance."

On the other side of the room Phoebe shifted in her seat as Xander's speech, a frown marring her features. No one noticed.

Xander paused in mid-speech, then cocked his head to one side. A second later he smiled, "Besides. She doesn't wish to leave. And that, my friends, is that."

His voice carried a finality that managed to impress itself on even the two Tok'ra.

"Very well." Anise said slowly, "If you wish to reconsider..."

"I won't."

"If you do," She persisted, "You may contact us through the SGC..."

Xander shook his head and smiled, "All right."

Anise sighed, disappointed. "I do urge you to reconsider..."

Xander just grinned.

"... But since you apparently will not, I wish you luck... I feel that you will most certainly need it."

"Luck's a funny lady, Anise," Xander said, "She tends to come and go as she pleases. I'll trust my friends instead."

Smiles floated around the room and Xander's speech, touching all but Anise.

Jacob leaned forward, "Now that that is over with, I have to ask... What were we fighting earlier... they looked almost human... but Selmak has never encountered humans who could survive two shots form a Zat'nicatel."

Xander grinned, "Selmak still hasn't."


"They were Vampires." Xander explained, "Your Zat fire couldn't kill them because they were already dead. The third shot dusted them, same as it would for any corpse with a previous double tap charge in it."

"Vampires?" Jacob shook his head, "You've got to be kidding me."

Xander shrugged, "Nope. Surprised those aren't in your histories actually..."

"They are." Anise said, smirking. "Jacob Carter believed them to be... children's fairy tales."

Xander chuckled, "Join the club."

"The Universe gets weirder and weirder everytime I look at it." Jacob muttered, "I wonder if I'll ever get a handle on things?"

Giles grinned, "I would hope not, Mr. Carter... As one of my favorite authors once said, if anyone ever understands the universe it will likely be replaced by something even more obtuse and confusing."

Another round of snickers passed around the room.

Jacob grinned at Giles, "Isn't the same guy who also said that he thought that had already happened?"

"The very same."

"Wouldn't surprise me."

Anise shook her head in irritation as the low laughter echoed around the room again. <These people take everything far too lightly.>

She moved to stand, "As I can see that I will not be able to get anywhere with you at the moment I'll take my leave. Selmak and I have duties to attend."

Jacob sighed and stood, "She's right... Harris," He began hesitantly, "If that weapon is half as powerful as the histories suggest it would be invaluable to the cause... if you won't pass it on would you consider helping us on a case by case basis?"

Xander thought about it, and nodded. "That's fine with me and Elan. The SGC has my contact information if you need a hand quickly, and you know where to find me now..."

Xander didn't noticed Phoebe's sharp intake of breath at his statement, nor did he see her frown deepen.

Jacob grinned, "thanks."

Xander stood up, "Say... I was wondering... could you give me a hand with something...?"

The two Aliens and Xander left the room, chatting in low voices.

The Next Day

Xander grinned at Phoebe as she walked in the room, but he quickly lost his smile when she didn't return it.

"What's up?" He asked cautiously.

"We... W... Can we talk?" Phoebe asked.

"Sure..." Xander swallowed, <This isn't good.>

Phoebe sat down, "Xander... I..."

Xander took a deep breath, "Ok, I know I'm not liking this... but spill all ready. Let's have it."

Phoebe sighed, "When you threw yourself at those vampires last night I... I thought you were going to die."

Xander's heart tightened, he could feel the small pains constrict through his chest. "I'm all right, Phoebe..."

Phoebe shook her head, "It's not that... I know... But..."

"What is it?"

"Xander... You just volunteered to fight another war on top of the one you already accepted... Don't you have a limit? Y... You could die out there... so far from home.. From me..."

Xander reached out a hand, but Phoebe shrugged it off and glared at him. Her eyes were glistening with tears, but Xander couldn't tell if she was crying, angry, or something in between.

"Don't you get it!?" She yelled, "You could DIE!"

"Phoebe... I..." Xander wasn't sure what to say, "This is who I am..."


"I already told you."

She shook her head, "No... You didn't explain it well enough..."

Xander stared at her blankly for a moment. "I can't turn away... I can't leave my friends... you... to fight alone."

"It's not your job..."

"It's not yours either!" Xander snapped.

Phoebe looked at him in shock, "I'm... I'm a Charmed..."

Xander turned away and started pacing the room. "Don't give me that destiny crap. You were chosen? FINE! But. I. CHOSE."

Phoebe stared in shock as he continued.

"Do you think that you're the only one who can fight?" Xander was fuming, bottled up anger from years venting as he paced. "If it was just you and the Slayers we'd all be dead! Don't you get that? Humans... normal humans, have to step up to the plate too. There isn't enough destiny to go around sometimes."

Phoebe still didn't say anything, but Xander suddenly seemed to run out of words. After a long silence he spoke again.

"I went through this with Buffy, Phoebe... I don't want to do it again." Xander said softly, "I... I am who I am. I can't... won't change that. Not now."

Phoebe nodded slowly, two tears streaking down her cheeks, "I... understand. But, Xander?"

Xander looked at her.

"I... I can't live like that. My life... I need something steady... something safe."

Xander just stared, knowing full well what was coming but unable to think of a way to prevent it.

"I..." Phoebe stammered as she looked at him through watery eyes. "I think we should..."

"Break up?" Xander's voice croaked out.

Phoebe didn't answer. She just nodded.

Xander swallowed, or tried to through the dry wasteland his mouth had become. "I... don't want to..."

Phoebe took a painful breath, "I know."

A long silence permeated the room.

"G... goodbye, Phoebe."

Phoebe's face fell even further and she rushed to Xander, and he pulled her into a hug.

"Oh Xander..." She said, her voice cracking.

"Shhh..." Xander managed to get out from under the pressure in his chest, "I understand..."

"I... I think I..." Phoebe stammered, "I love you."

Xander smiled, though she couldn't see it, a sad smile that did nothing to disguise the pain he was feeling. "I love you too, Phoebe. I just wish things had been different."

He felt her shaking in his arms and clenched his jaw, his teeth biting into his cheeks as he tried to keep himself under control. "I'll always be here for you, you know that right?"

She nodded slowly into his shoulder, then pushed away. "I... I'm... I have to go..."

He nodded, and watched as she turned her back and rushed out.

Xander collapsed into the chair behind him as he heard words filter in from the next room.


"Phoebe? What happened?"

"Just take me home... please?"

Then there was nothing but silence.


A few nights later

"Unit Three Kilo One, this is dispatch."

Grace Chen sighed and picked up the radio, "This Three Kilo One, Go."

"We have a report of a disturbance at Willy's bar, Three Kilo One."

"So?" She asked annoyed, "Give it to a uniform."

"Negative, Three Kilo One," The dispatch replied, "Stein specifically stated that you were to handle it."

Grace cursed and hit the dash of her car, then calmed down and thumbed the mic. "Roger, Dispatch."

Willy's Bar

Grace walked in cautiously, her fingers lightly caressing the butt of her automatic and thanking god that she had managed to squeeze a few clips of the vamp-killer ammo out of Xander.

Her eyes widened as she spotted the source of the disturbance standing in the center of the bar. Xander was standing in the center of a cleared out section of the bar, challenging anyone and anything that would approach.

"C'mon!" He slurred, obviously drunk. "Aint none of you got the... guts?"

Remarkably there were very few who appeared even slightly interested in taking up the challenge. Most were studiously trying to ignore the drunken warrior, and some few seemed grateful when they saw Chen step in.

"Officer!" Willy came around the bar, "Thank god you're here!"

Grace ignored him, moving instead to confront Xander. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Xander grinned at her, "Hello De... Detect... Detective..."

She sighed, "hello Xander."

Willy came up beside her, whispering. "You've got to get him out of here... he gets any more sloshed and some of them will take him up on the challenge..."

She growled at him, "What do you care?"

"Are you kidding me?" Willy looked shocked, "Even drunk this kid could cause some serious damage to my place... and he might not remember to pay me for it."

"Get out of my face!" She growled and shoved Willy away. Grace turned back to Xander, "Come on, Xan."

Xander shrugged, and reluctantly let her lead him out of the bar. She looped his arm over her shoulder and wound up half carrying him to her car.

"Ooof!" She groaned, "Damn it, you weigh a ton!"

He shrugged, the motion almost collapsing her. "Sorry..."

Grace shook her head and opened the door to the car and shoved him in to the backseat. "Don't worry about it..."

"Shur..." he slurred, "You think I need to lose weight?"

"What?" She asked in confusion as she tried to belt him into place.

"Maybe that's why she left..." he mused drunkenly.


"Phoebe." He muttered as if she were stupid.

"Phoebe?" Grace muttered to herself as she walked around the car, trying to remember. She'd only met the girl for a few moments, and couldn't really remember what she looked like. Grace got in the car and started the engine. "Didn't she say why she left?"

Xander nodded drunkenly, his chin burying itself in his chest. "She said I too... took too many risks."

Without thinking Grace laughed. Took too many risks. Hell she had just pulled the guy out of a demon bar where he was drunkenly challenging anything around to a fight. Nooooo, he wasn't a risk taker.

She looked back to say something, but saw that he had fallen asleep and was drooling on his shirt. Grace shook her head and wondered at the change in the young man. A few days earlier he had been in control, confident, and sober. Tonight... well, she hoped he got over the girl fast or he was going to be taking a major downward spiral.

Faith staggered to the door, wrapping a shirt over her bare breasts and blinking the sweat from her eyes. She stopped at the door and hit the security button. A panel slid open and she look at the small screen behind it.

"Xander?" Faith opened the door, "Xander!"

Grace half drug Xander through the door, letting out a sigh of relief with his body weight was taken off her shoulder. Faith lifted him bodily and carried him inside.

"Where did you find him?"

Grace winced, rubbing her shoulder. "Willy's bar... he was cursing the place out and challenging half the occupants to a brawl."

Faith snorted despite herself. "Any takers?"

Grace grinned, "Nope. Willy practically kissed my feet when I pulled him out of there... the sleaze was worried someone would take Xan up on the offer and they'd wreck the place."

Faith unceremoniously dropped Xander onto a couch and shook her head. "Just as well... He hasn't been up to a fight since Phoebe walked out on him."

"Jeez... the guy's taking that seriously." Grace muttered.

Faith nodded, "You want a drink?"

Grace took a breath, "Sure... I'm done for the night anyway."

Faith walked across the room and opened up a wall cabinet, revealing a fully stocked bar. She grabbed a bottle of scotch and a couple tumblers and walked back. "Here."

Grace raised an eyebrow and accepted the glass. She stopped Faith when her glass was about half full. "Thanks."

Faith shrugged and dropped into a chair beside her. "Xander's the kind who takes stuff seriously. He'd probably be married in a couple years and happily raising kids if he hadn't met B."

"B?" Grace asked, taking a sip of her drink.

"Buffy." Faith said, "You know? The blond he took a nose dive into a dozen vamps to save?"

"Oh... her." Grace said. "How's she factor in to this?"

Faith shrugged, "He found out about her being a Slayer... A Vampire killer."

"And she asked him to help?"

Faith laughed. "No one asks Xander for help... Be honest, does he look like the hero type to you?"

Grace shrugged, "I've seen less likely ones."

Faith looked at her appraisingly and nodded with a smile, "I haven't. But the thing is, Xander makes up his own mind... I didn't see that when I first met him, thought he was what he pretends to be... A geek, klutz, whatever else... But he's not, you know?"

Grace nodded at her to continue and took another sip.

"He just can't turn his back, not like most people... Most people see a vampire, the next day its just a bad dream, ya know? Not Xander. So he signed on for the long haul with B, whether she liked it or not."

Grace smiled, "Did she?"

"Hell no." Faith grinned wide, "She fought him tooth and nail when I was around. Cut him out of everything, told him he was in the way, basically made him feel useless."

"Didn't work?"

"Nope." Faith laughed, "He stuck around, even if it meant hiding in the shadows and saving her ass anonymously."

"He sounds like a helluva guy."

Faith nodded, "He is that. Saved my ass more then once..."

Grace smiled, "He makes a habit of that, then?"

Faith nodded again, "Guy's got a major superman complex...." Then her face darkened, "Or maybe not..."

"What?" Grace noticed the change.

Faith shook her head. "It's nothing... or rather its something, but its private."


"Anyway," Faith drained her glass, "Thanks for seeing him home."

Grace finished off her drink, "No problem... but try to get him some
help ok?

Faith grimaced, "Easier said then done."


"You ever try to help some who lives his life to help others?"

Grace thought about it, then nodded. "Yeah... half the time they think they don't need help..."

"And the other half they think they don't deserve it." Faith finished with feeling. "He fits in the second category... believe me, I know."

Grace heard something in her voice, "How?"

"Takes one to know one." Faith smiled a little sadly as she got up. "I'll be seeing you, Detective."

Grace nodded and walked to the door. "I'll be around."

The door closed behind the detective and faith looked back to where Xander was snoring softly on the couch. "Damn, Xan-man... What the hell am I going to do with you now?"

Xander held his head against the brilliant influx of light, trying to block it out. Unfortunately the morning sun can be a little persistent that way, it doesn't go away because you want it to. Xander groaned and rolled over in bed.

A promptly fell off the couch.


He opened his eyes, and stared across the floor of the living room, his cheek pressed solidly into the carpet. <What the fuck?>

<Oh, look who's alive again...> A scathing voice echoed in her mind.


<Oh, so you're actually listening to me this morning are you? Couldn't do that last night when you were trying to get yourself killed?>

"Wha?" Xander pushed himself off the floor, the hammering pain slicing through his skull.

<Don't 'wha' me you... you...> Elan trailed off into a muttering language that Xander didn't recognize.

"Ow.. Ow.. Ow." Xander repeated to himself as he got to his feet.

"Hey Lover boy, you're not looking so hot this morning."

Xander winced and looked over to where Faith was standing, a steaming cup of coffee in her hand. His eyes locked onto the mug instantly.
"Coffee..." he took a step toward her.

"Whoa!" Faith grinned and held the cup away from him, "Mine. Go make your own."

Xander groaned and stalked into the kitchen.

"Ahhh..." Xander sighed as he sipped at the coffee. "That's better."

<Oh yeah?> Elan muttered and poked him with a mental nudge.

"Ahh!" Xander grabbed at his head, dropping his coffee to the floor. The mug shattered and coffee splattered across the floor.

"Xander!?" Faith looked over in surprise.

"It's nothing!" Xander muttered.

"That's some hangover."

"Right." Xander muttered sarcastically under breath as he went for a cloth to clean up the mess.

Faith watched, amused, as Xander got down on the floor and picked up the shards of the mug and wiped up the coffee. Her Slayer's hearing could
pick up muttered threats as he finished up.

"Enjoy talking to yourself, Lover?"

Xander speared her with a glare before he trashed the shards of his mug and got himself another coffee. "Don't you start too."

"Too?" Faith looked at him oddly, "You know, Lover, you really need to find someone else to talk to instead of you're imaginary friend."

Xander winced. "Ouch. Don't make cracks like that..."


"Cause my 'imaginary' friend takes it out on me." Xander winced again.

Faith looked at him oddly, "So you really have a voice in your head?"

Xander nodded.

"Here I thought I was the crazy one." Faith smirked and walked out.

Xander watched her go and sighed. "The crazy thing is... I'm starting to agree with her."

This time he managed to put his coffee down before grabbing for his skull in pain. "Ow! Damn it, Elan!"

Xander groaned as he changed out of the clothing he had been wearing the night before, and looked at his bed longingly. Instead of crawling between those inviting sheets, however, he slipped on one of the expensive dress shirts Jarod insisted that he buy and buttoned it up.

He looked at himself in the mirror and sighed. He was wearing black dress pants, black silk shirt, leather belt, and polished oxfords. Xander shook his head.

"I look like a coroner."

One last glance at himself in the mirror, a quick shake of his head, and he left the room.

"Yo, Lover boy!" Fath grinned when he stepped downstairs, "Where are you going all spiffed up like that?"

Xander winced at the noise. "I have an appointment with the Dean today."

"Oh yeah," Faith took a chunk out of a carrot and grinned at him, "The school thing... Bet ya wish you'd stayed home last night instead of picking fights at Willy's."

Xander stopped in midstep and looked back at her, "You heard about that?"

She grinned at him, "You betcha. That Grace chick half carried you home last night."

Xander groaned, but could vaguely remember something like that. "Shit."

Faith looked at him, her grin fading. "You know, Lover, You and me... we're going to have a serious talk about your after hours habits."

Xander looked her in the eye, "Back off, Faith. My life."

As he walked out the door Faith nodded, "Your life... My business."

UC Sunnydale

Forest nudged Riley, "Check it out, man."


"Look who's dressed to the nines."

Riley looked over to where Forest was pointing, and saw Xander Harris walking through the halls dressed in what probably amounted to half a years salary for any of the commandos. "Wonder what he's up to?"

"No clue. Didn't you say that he was enrolling next semester?"

"Supposed to... Not sure though."

"Oh well," Forest grinned, "at least he aint heading for Lowell House this time."

Riley chuckled, "Thank god. Next time they might take the cleaning bill out of our salaries."

The two commandos chuckled a bit and went on their way.

Dean's Office

"A Mr Harris to see you sir?"

"Send him in."

Dean Maerkin looked up as the door entered and a young man walked in. He raised his eyebrows in a bit of surprise, the young man wasn't what he'd been led to believe by his scholastic records.

"Alexander Harris?" He asked quietly, the files said the boy preferred the nickname 'Xander'.

The young man just nodded and extended his hand. "Dean."

"I understand that you wish to enroll for the winter semester."

Xander smiled and nodded, but the Dean noticed that the smile didn't reach his eyes. "Yes, I would."

"You've been auditing classes for a good part of the semester, why did you wait this long to make an appointment with me?"

Xander shrugged, "I've been busy."

"I see." He shuffled his papers, looking at the file. <A joker and class clown, Alexander Harris is incapable of taking anything seriously. Something's changed... I wonder what?> "Have you selected a course to study?"

Xander nodded and slid a sheet of paper across the desk. The Dean picked it up and glanced through it.

A moment later he looked up, a little confused. "Are you quite certain?"

Xander nodded confidently.

"This is a police prep course load... we usually don't give this unless the Academy is overloaded... You could simply apply there."

"No," Xander shook his head, "I want the courses here."

"Very well," The Dean marked down a few notes. "Including the PE courses?"

Xander nodded.

"They are quite rigorous..."

"I should hope so."

The Dean nodded, "Very well... I'll require your signature and tuition fee by the end of the month."

Xander grabbed a pen, and signed off on the sheet. "I'll arrange payment by the end of the week."

The Dean reached across the desk and extended his hand, when Xander grabbed it and shook it he smiled. "Welcome to UC Sunnydale, Mr. Harris."

Buffy and Willow had just wrapped up a class and were walking through the halls together when Willow called out.


Buffy looked over to where Willow was looking and did a double take. <Is that Xander?>

"Xander!" Willow waved, but the figure didn't seem to notice.

"Are you sure that's Xander?"

Willow nodded and tried again, "Xander! Over here!"

The figure ignored her and strode out the door. Willow rushed toward the door and, a moment later, Buffy ran after her.

They stepped outside, and Willow cast about but didn't see the figure. "Where'd he go?"

Buffy shrugged, "Are you *sure* that was Xander?"

Willow looked at Buffy as if she were nuts, "Of course... I saw his face..."

"Oh... I didn't."


"Well, he's gone somewhere... We'll find him later." Buffy said.

Willow nodded, disappointed. "Yeah, I guess so..."

The two girls walked away, heading toward their dorm. Behind them, perched on a piece of intricate stonework, their quarry watched them leave. <Sorry Wills, I'm just not in the mood.>

That Night
Willy's Bar

Xander walked up to the bar, his mood black a the night around him. He wasn't bad at hiding his emotions during the day, but sometimes it seemed that the sun took what little strength he had with it. He took a breath and walked toward the door.

He was a few steps from the entrance when a shadow detached itself from the alley and approached him. He slipped into a combat stance, but relaxed reluctantly an instant earlier.

"What are you doing here?" he asked coldly.

Faith shrugged, "Could ask you the same thing, lover."

"My life, Faith."

She nodded. "Your life, Xander... but my choice to walk alongside you if that's what it takes."

He kept walking into the bar, and Faith followed behind him.

Willy watched them come in and flinched. "Aw hell no, kid! Not again, please!"

"Shut up, Willy." Xander muttered, "Scotch. Neat. Now."

Willy swallowed and nodded, then glanced at the slayer.

Faith shrugged, "Make it two."

Willy shook his head and bent under the bar, muttering something about insurance.

"Get out of here, Faith."

Faith shook her head, "Sorry boytoy. I feel like a drink, and since I'm here..."

Xander sighed and dropped a bill on the counter as willy poured him his drink. "Go ahead and say it then. Get it over with now."

"Say what?"

"Whatever speech you're preparing. Evils of alcohol maybe?"

Faith laughed, "Sorry. Not my bag. Besides, I know a bit about your folks... I think you already know the evils of alcohol."

Xander winced, pausing as he brought the drink to his lips. Finally he shrugged and knocked it back. "Yeah, I guess I do. Willy!"

Faith sipped her own drink, "I could tell you that there are more fish in the sea... but somehow I don't think that Phoebe is the real reason you're here."

Xander shot a glare at her, but didn't answer.

"See, the way I figure it, you've been through worse breakups before this and it didn't drive you into a depression. So something else has got to be cutting your strings... or maybe weakening them enough that Phoebe could cut 'em."

"Sounds like you've got all the answers." Xander tipped back his second drink, half draining it.

"I've got enough of them, L... Xander." Faith said, "You've been letting things eat you up inside now for months... So the way I figure it, this was the last straw... right?"

Xander drained the glass and slammed it down, gesturing at Willy for another. "Mind your own business, Faith."

Faith's armed snapped out, grabbing Xander by the shoulder. "You are my business!"

Xander spun on her, glaring. "Take your hand off me, Faith."

"Or what?" She glared back, challenging.

Xander's arm twisted up, wrapping around hers and turning her wrist until her nerves caused her fingers to go limp. As her hand came off his shoulder, Xander twisted it around and bent it back until her wrist was behind her neck. "Or this."

Faith struggled to keep her face steady under the pain on her arm, and just returned his glare. "Make you feel better?"

Xander dropped her arm like a hot torch. He turned back to his drink and tossed it back, draining it in a single gulp. He slammed the glass down and stared straight at the mirror behind the bar, "Leave me be, Faith."

She shook her head, "I'm not going to do it, Boy toy."

Xander shook his head, "Give me the bottle, Willy."

Willy looked at the two of them, his eyes glancing between Faith and Xander.

"Now Willy." Xander's voice was cold.

Willy shivered and nodded, handing the bottle to the young warrior. He walked away, passing by Faith and spoke quietly. "Sorry."

Faith just nodded.

Xander grabbed the bottle and spun on his stool, sliding off and walking across the bar. Faith moved to block his path.

"This is getting real damned old, Faith."

"You going to drink your life away, Xander?"

"If that's what it takes."

Faith shook her head, but didn't move. "Takes to do what? Forget? Forgive yourself? What? Come on, Lover, I want to know... what's the goal here?"

Xander growled and tried to slip past her, but Faith shifted her stance and blocked him again.

"Goddamn it, Faith!" He tried again.

Faith's arm snapped out, grabbing the bottle of liqueur from his hand.

Xander didn't say anything, just glared at her. He had an urge to demand the bottle back, but that was stupid. It didn't mean anything to him, he could easily get another. The problem was that Faith wasn't backing down.

"You happy now?" he asked her coolly.

Faith saw that the bottle was capped and shrugged as she deftly tossed it back to where Willy was watching. The small bartender caught the bottle awkwardly and juggled it briefly before her managed to set it down on the bar.

Xander ignored the toss, and just glared at Faith. The few drinks he had downed were starting to spread through him, pleasantly numbing him. He stood face to face with the dark slayer and glared down at her, "Why don't you mind your own damned business!?"

Faith matched his stance and glared up at him, "You are my damned business!"

Xander shook his head, and turned back to the bar.

Faith grabbed his shoulder and spun him around, "What's it going to take to get you to come to your senses, you idiot!?"

Xander stared down at her and smiled. It wasn't a nice smile, but it was one that she remembered. She had seen it in the mirror several times.

"Fine." She snapped, then cocked back her arm and nailed him across the face. "I'll beat some sense into you."

Xander reeled back in shock, his hand automatically checking his cheek where it burned. He stared at Faith for a second, then a slow smile spread across his face. "You want to play, Slayer? Let's play."

As the Slayer and the Hunter faced off in the middle of Willy's bar, the local vampires and demons were treated to an unusual treat. For once, two of their worst enemies were ripping into each other.

"What's this?" One vamp asked with a grin, "A floor show?"

"Shut up and enjoy it..."

"Hey... twenty bucks on the Slayer..."

"You got a bet... I've seen the kid fight."

"You saw that nutcase fight? And your still alive?"

"Don't ask."

"Hey Willy!"

Willy nervously circled around the two fighters, who were testing each other's defenses, and approached the vampires. "What?"

"We got a bet going here, hold the cash for us will ya?"

Willy stared at them dumbly for a second, then grinned as a gleam entered his eye. "A bet?"

"Come on, Lover." Faith taunted, "Show me what you've got."

Xander was feeling just good enough from the drinks that he wasn't as uncomfortable as usually with Faith's comments. "You already know what I've got, Faith." He leered at her as he struck out with a probing swipe.

Faith blocked the shot easily, and returned a jab of her own. Xander twisted away from it, and faked with a clumsy shot to her head. As Faith ducked it she felt a sharp pain in her leg and fell to the side as his kick crumpled her leg. She hit the ground rolling and was back on her feet in a second.

"Not bad, boytoy." Faith winced.

Xander shrugged, "You can call it quits anytime you like, Faith."

She grinned at him, "Oh I'm five by five, loverboy. Let's go."

Faith slid in, pushing on the offensive, and struck out at him with a combination of punches. Xander leaned back, avoided the first two, then blocked two more but her next three clipped him solidly across the face. Xander staggered a bit, his lip bleeding and turning an ugly red. He straitened himself up and smiled at her, "Nice shot. My turn."

Xander threw two well placed jabs that were blocked, as expected, then followed with a powerful kick to her midsection that lifted Faith off the floor and threw her back several feet.

Winded, Faith barely managed to stay standing when she landed, and clutching her stomach the Slayer struggled to draw in air. Xander didn't give her time, he closed on her immediately and sent a kick at her doubled up figure in an attempt to end the fight quickly.

Faith caught the kick, twisting his ankle hard as it came up, and sent Xander spinning to the ground.

Xander struck in a roll, his arm slapping out to absorb the impact, then he lifted his legs up and balanced on his shoulders for a split second before 'kipping' back to his feet in a practiced move.

"Come on, X-man." Faith taunted, with a grin. "You know you can't hold out against me... Not for long."

Xander shrugged, "Don't have to. I could just kill you and be done with it."

Faith's eyes widened slightly, but she shook the threat off. Xander was holding back, and she knew it. Which was cool, cause so was she. "I don't think so, Lover." She said quietly, "If you were going to do that you'd have done it by now."

"Get him, Slayer!" A vampire yelled form the sidelines, clearly enjoying the show.

"Come on, you bastard! Kick that bitch's ass!"

The crowd had polarized long three lines. Those vampires and demons who were rooting for the Slayer, those who were backing Xander, and those who were smart enough to realize that they didn't give a damn who won. The latter group was marked by a peculiar quiet, along with silly grins plastered across their faces.

Willy, in the meantime, was running around grabbing cash and marking down bets.

"Come on, Lover," Faith got out between punches, "Talk to me already!"

"Nothing." Xander gasped as one of Faith's punches connected with his ribs, "To. Talk. About."

Faith growled and lashed out with a crescent kick that Xander deflected away from his head with a well placed block. "Don't give me that shit, boytoy! Come on! I wanna hear it!"

"Do I look like I give a damn what you want?" Xander asked, catching Faith's arm in a talon grip and pulling her into a follow up punch.

Faith staggered back, blood pouring from her nose. <Fuck this shit!> She growled internally as she set her stance carefully and glared at him. The copper taste of her own blood was on her tongue when she attacked again, her fists and feet a blur.

Xander was blocking on instinct, his arms and legs flashing out to meet blows that he hadn't even seen coming. Even so, her was being pummeled back by shot after shot until his back hit the wall. He could feel bruises forming along his entire body, and the flow of warmth in his mouth indicated a deep split in his cheek.

He regrouped as best he could, catching Faith with a straight jab to the stomach and following up with a lifted knee that caught her doubled up form and dropped the Slayer on her ass.

The vampires and demons were cheering and screaming from the moment the saw blood.

"YEAH! Kill her!"

"Come on, Slayer! Roast this fucker!"

Faith looked up at Xander from the ground. He looked tired. Not physically, but mentally tired as he stood there waiting for to make the next move. The problem was, she didn't know what move to make.

She got back to her feet, stretching a few kinks out of her neck, and looked at Xander. "You know, Lover, if you're this rough in the sack maybe that's why she left ya."

Xander's face darkened.

Faith saw it, but pushed on. "I mean, come on... the bitch was a pansy, Xan-man."

"Shut up, Faith."

Faith wouldn't, "Why? She didn't want to hack living with you... she musta had a reason. Maybe your more like you dear ol dad then I thought."

"Faith..." Xander growled, warningly.

"What!?" She said, her tone challenging. "Prove me wrong. Talk for Christ sakes! What the hell is this all about!?"

Xander stood there, blood dripping off his chin as he glared at the dark slayer, but he didn't speak.

Faith was getting frustrated. "Come on! At least tell me this, is all this shit really about the witch?"

Xander growled.

"So It's not, then is it?"

"Back off Faith!"

"No!" Her voice was firm. "So this shit is over that deep dark secret?"

Both warriors stared at each other across five feet of space.

Finally Xander spoke. "You don't know what you're talking about, Faith."

"Bullshit!" Faith screamed, "You had to kill some people. Fuck, get over it! They were dead already and you know it!"

Xander was shaking.

Faith took a step toward him, her fists up, but Xander didn't react.

"Goddamn it, Xander! Are you just going to curl up and die!?"

No response. Faith took a stride forward and slapped him. "I asked you a goddamn question! Are you going to let your guilt over shooting some people who were already dead cause you to curl up and die?"

Xander's arms flashed out in a blur and grabbed her by the shoulders pushing her away violently. Faith fell to the ground and looked up at the fury on his face.

"You don't understand anything!" Xander screamed, "I don't feel guilty over shooting those people!"

There was a long silence, a lull during which Faith just stared up at him.

His voice, when he spoke was quiet but it still carried to her ears. "I feel guilty because I ran out of bullets before the job was done."

Then Xander stepped over her and walked out of the bar.

Faith got up and slowly dusted herself off. She looked at the door that Xander had stepped out of and swallowed, uncertain how to take his last revalation. She stepped up to the bar and grabbed the half full bottle of scotch that she had tossed back to Willy. For long seconds she looked at the bottle, then she palmed it casually and walked out of the bar.

Willy watched her leave, waited several seconds, then checked his books.

"Ok, who had their money down on a draw!?"

Apart from the crowd a single vampire stared at the closed door, his bottled blood all but forgotten on the table.

"Cor..." He whispered, "Bloomin stories are true. I never would have believed 'em if I hadn't caught 'im for myself. 'Ol droopy grew a pair o big brass ones. Wonder what's all this about killin people? Better yet... I wonder if his friends all know yet?"

The bleach blond vampire stood up and walked to the door of the bar and looked outside, a moment later he slipped out into the night and was gone.

Faith stepped outside and glanced around, not really expecting to see anything. She was surprised when she spotted Xander, just standing there.

"Took you longer then I expected." He said quietly.

Faith nodded, "I stopped to pick up this."

Xander glanced back and saw that she was holding up the bottle of scotch. He laughed slightly, but shook his head. "I don't need that now."

"Who said it was for you?" She took a swig and followed Xander as he started to walk. Silence followed them for two blocks before faith spoke again, "What the fuck happened to you on that trip anyway?"

Xander sighed, the night air was actually chilled enough that his breath made a small cloud that wrapped back around his face as he moved. "A lot."

"No shit." Faith said sarcastically.

"I was tracking a demon in a small town up north, turns out I wasn't the only one..." Xander said as they walked along, "When me and this other hunter met... well, He was as ugly as any demon I'd ever seen... and twice as dangerous."

"A demon hunting demons?"

Xander shook his head, "No. He's more 'local' then your average demon. He's from this dimension at least... just not from this planet."

Faith took another swig of the scotch. "Fuckin little green men."

Xander chuckled, "Seven foot tall, ugly, yellowish green man actually... and packing enough hardware to make Rambo jealous."

"So what? He take you on?"

"Other way around." Xander smiled, "I took him on. Pretty much kicked his ass too until I blacked out."

"Blacked out?"

"Yeah. Longer story. Anyway, when I woke up I wasn't in Kansas anymore... hell I wasn't in the solar system. Ruatcha, turns out he had a name, wanted a hunting partner."

Faith nodded, remembering this part of the story. "That's when you ran into those things you mentioned."

Xander nodded. "Kiande Amehda... Hard Meat. Best way to describe them is as something that would give demon's night terrors. They look like they were cut from the night itself. Oily black, armored bodies... fuckers drooled on everything... And they were as dangerous dead or dying as they were alive."

Faith shook her head, "How?"

"Their blood makes battery acid look like mineral water... Eats through almost anything, so if you wound them... you better hope they don't splatter on you." Xander muttered, his hand automatically rubbing the scar on the back of his neck and shoulder.

"Jeez. So that's where you got that..."

Xander nodded. "And that's the nice things about them..."

Faith winced, remembering what else Xander had said before.

Xander didn't notice, and he didn't seem to remember that he had already told her this. "When they catch you, they stick a fucking egg down your throat and string you up to a wall somewhere to wait for it to hatch. The poor bastard they catch even stays awake for it... the animals I saw... they knew when it was going to hatch... they'd start to panic, probably form the thing moving inside them... they tear at the shit holding them to the walls, trying to get loose so they can run... but even if they did it would just come along for the ride... Then, when its ready, it rips out of the chest... pushing the bones aside like drinking straws... Not until then do the victims get to die..."

Faith shudder and took another pull on the bottle.

Xander monotone voice kept spilling out the words. "I was hunting those things for a few weeks before I stumbled onto this watering hole that a local village had been using. I hadn't even known that there were humans on the planet, but I spotted one of those things tracking new prey and for some reason I was curious enough to get a reading on the poor thing... It was a young woman. Human."

"I told you the rest of it, more or less... about defending the village... and pulling my guns that night... I still have nightmares about it."

Xander's breath caught as he forced down an urge to sob, his stomach tightening as he tried to talk. "I want you to understand, Faith, I do feel guilt over pulling the trigger... but I feel a lot more over the ones that the creatures took. I... Who am I to decide who gets a quick death, and who has to live for hours of torture... knowing that no one is coming... and that even if they did, they couldn't save you anyway?"

"What a mind job." Faith muttered under her breath as she walked. The she took a deep breath and looked at Xander, "Xander... You've got to deal with it. You can't let it pull you down... not now, not after you got so far. I... I wish I was good at this, but I fucked up for less... I guess all I can say is... I know that your strong enough to get through this. I *know* it. But maybe... just maybe, you need a hand... I'm here, Xander. And so is Jarod. Heck, even Jeeves would be willing to help, and you know it."

Xander shook his head, "I don't want to put this on to them. I didn't want to put it on you."

At that Faith grinned, "I didn't feel like giving you the choice."

Xander laughed quietly, "You can say that again."

Spike shook his head, <The wanker's either a complete loony tune, or...> the vampire's thoughts trailed off. He didn't want to think of the options.

He trailed the two white hats, really uncertain what to think. He didn't have any love for the group, that was for certain. Particularly the wanker. That brat had been treating him like he was worth nothing more then a stake and a dustbuster.

Of course, when he stopped to think about it, that was probably the most flattering reaction any of them had toward him. At least droopy still thought he was dangerous. That damned Slayer treated him like a freaking house pet now.

Spike smiled slightly, amusing himself with the brief fantasy of turning the Slayer into an altogetherly different kind of pet. He tossed the idea almost as quickly as it came to him, the town was too dangerous to his kind, and him in general, to risk alienating both sides of the fence. And humping the slayer would certainly get Ripper pissed enough to put a stake through his heart, and now it seemed that Droopy might be capable of it too.

Spike was, if nothing else, a fairly keen judge of when to move and when not to move. And now was certainly not the time to rock the boat he was riding in.

So the chipped Vampire just shadowed the two people ahead of him, staying well out of reach of the Slayer's detection. Luckily that was made easier by the constant swigs she took from that bottle of hers. He wasn't even really certain why he was following them, though the wanker's bedtime story would keep him in nasty dreams for a few nights.

He grinned, <Those things sound like some right fun bastards... I'd luv to see 'im rip through a town or two down 'ere.>

Xander and Faith walked up the path to their home, stepping through the door and activating the security system behind them. They were quiet, walking shoulder to shoulder through the darkened building with as much confidence as if it were daylight.

They moved up the stairs, quietly to avoid waking anyone else, and stopped at Xander's bedroom. Xander glanced back at her, and shifted uncomfortably. "I..."

She looked at him uncertainly, "You wa..."

He cut her off gently, "Good night, Faith."

She nodded and smiled, "Good night, Xan."

He watched her walk away, then turned and let himself into his room. The door shut behind him, the click echoing though the darkened hall.

A few days later
December 16, 1999

Faith watched as Xander when through his morning routine, moving with the brutal grace that she had become accustomed to seeing in him. His motions with the staff belied the brutality of his hand to hand technique, however, emphasizing fluid grace over the economic brutality of his normal fighting style. Faith assumed that was due to the influence of Giles' staff lessons since it didn't fit with any other method Xander used in a fight.

Even so, it was fascinating to watch. Faith was good with a staff herself, as was Buffy, but Xander's skills were growing quickly and she had little doubt that he'd soon master skills that went beyond her own fighting instincts.

At the moment Xander and Giles were battering at each others defenses, their staffs blurring even to her eyes. After a moment the two sparring fighters broke apart and faced each other. Xander and Giles faced each other, their weapons cradled lightly in the crook of their right arms, and bowed.

"Good match, Xander." Giles complimented him.

Xander grinned and brushed his bangs aside, sweat glistening on his forehead. "Thank you, Giles."

Faith's eyes widened at that. She always smirked whenever she heard Xander talk to Jeeves after a match, he never used the same flippant attitude that he had at other times. She figured it was a matter of respect, but knew that Xander would probably swear up and down that it was just a slip of the tongue.

Giles, for his part, merely smiled. "You've gotten much better, Xander. Soon I will no longer be of much use in this sparring matches."

Xander shook his head, "You're still better then me by a long shot."

Giles shook his head, "No, Xander. Not by as much as you think, you've come along remarkably quickly."

"You say so, Giles." Xander smiled and placed his training staff on wall hooks.

"I do say so, Xander." Giles followed suit. "I've often wondered... What is the rest of your training routine?"

Xander smiled. "Meditation is up next."

Giles choked. "Meditation? You?"

Xander laughed, "After a little cooling down, anyway."

Giles shook his head, "I find it very hard to imagine you meditating."

Xander peeled off the training pads, and then his tee shirt, tossing them into a hamper in the far corner. "You meditate G-man?"

Giles sighed, apparently his time of grace was over. "At one point I did. I haven't in many years."

"That's too bad," Xander said as he stepped back out onto the mats, moving through a series of Tai-Chi type moves, stretching and cooling himself as he did.

"Perhaps." Giles said, moving through his own cooling down sequence. "I suppose I simply got frustrated with the process... That was before my... Ripper days."

Xander nodded slightly, but didn't break his routine. "Ripper wasn't much for patience then?"

Giles chuckled lightly as he stretched, "Hardly. He was surprisingly like your Mr. Crow... only a good deal less polite."

Xander let out an involuntary snort, then laughed. "Less polite?"

"Certainly," Giles smiled, "Though, even then, I was a great deal more refined of course."

"Of course." Xander grinned.

Faith, leaning against the wall, grinned as she watched the two men cool down. Her eyes were mostly on Xander, of course, especially since he had ditched the sweaty shirt. <Boy toy has gotten hard since the first time I saw him... Not bad, not bad at all.>

The two were wrapping up when the door to the gym burst open. Both turned in surprise to see the Blond Slayer come through in a rage, her eyes locking on Faith.

"You!" She said, pointing directly at Faith.

Faith looked at her in shock, pointing to her self.

"Yes you!" Buffy strode across the room, "What did you do to Xander?"

Xander looked around, "Uh... hello?"

"Shut up, Xander!"

Xander's eyes widened as he stared in shock at the Slayer.

"Umm, Buffy...?" Giles began.

"Stay out of this, Giles." Buffy turned back to Faith, "What did you do to Xander?"

Faith shrugged and grinned, "Is this multiple choice?"

"Why are half the demons around town talking about the Slayer beating the crap out of Xander?"

Faith laughed, "Is that what half of them are saying? You must not have talked to the other half."

That stopped Buffy for a second. "What?"

"The other half are probably talking about Xander kicking the crap out of the Slayer." Faith grinned.

"What happened!?"

"None of your business... twinkie." Faith grinned.

Buffy actually blushed, but then came back. "I'm making it my business."

"No. Your not." Xander's voice calmly entered the discussion. "That was between Faith and myself."

Buffy turned on Xander, "What happened? She slip again? Are you covering for her?"

Xander's eyes turned hard. "What part of none of your business don't you get?"

Giles looked at Xander, "Xander... the question is valid. If Faith is not staying the path we have a right to know."

There was a long silence until Xander finally spoke. "Faith didn't slip. I did."

"What!?" Buffy asked, shocked.

Xander turned his back on her and walked out.

"What?" Buffy almost whispered, still in shock.

"What indeed?" Giles said slowly.

Faith looked at the two of them, "If he wants to tell you... he will. Until then, butt out."

Buffy stared at Faith as she left by another door. "Giles... what just happened?"

"I'm afraid I don't really know." Giles admitted reluctantly, then he thought to himself. <But I am going to find out.>

Xander finished his meditations, a process that took longer then usual due to his heightened tensions, and got up slowly. He was halfway back to his room, thanking whatever God there was that Buffy was no where to be seen, when he heard the doorbell ring.

He headed straight downstairs, and reached the door before anyone else.

"Andy!" he grinned, "I thought you wouldn't be back for another couple days?"

The big burly man shrugged, an interesting motion when one is leaning on a cane. "I finished clearing out the workshop quicker then I expected."

Xander looked past the big man and noticed the large U-Haul truck in the driveway. "I can see that... You can drive with... uh... well...?"

Andy grinned and rapped his left leg with his cane, eliciting a wooden rapping. "Yeah... it took some getting used to at first..."

Xander nodded, "I'll bet. Come on in, I'll get a shirt and call in some help to get you unloaded."

"Thanks kid."

Xander shook his head, "No, man. Thank you for accepting this job. We need the help when it comes to weapons and ammunition development. We barely have enough time to make the magnesium bullets sometimes... especially when we get multiple crisis at once."

"That happen often, kid?"

"Too often for my taste," Xander shrugged.

Konzaki grinned, "I remember what that is like, Kid. Used to happen to the last people I worked with too."

Xander looked at him speculatively. "And who would that be?"

Andy smiled, "Sorry kid, but I don't talk about classified stuff."

Xander nodded. <He didn't get the head of the CIA to put 'Trust him' in his file for nothing.> "No problem, I'll just give Jack a call... and I think we can scare up a fair size workgroup to get this job done."

"Hope so, Kid. I'd like to get the truck back before I'm charged extra."

Xander laughed and started making phone calls.

"Christ, Kid," Crow griped, hauling another box down the stairs to the basement. "What the hell are you going to do with all this?"

"Start a small war." Xander grinned as he passed the vampire hunter, coming up the stairs after another load.

Crow shook his head and kept going.

Xander stepped outside to the U-Haul truck and looked up at where Andy was standing. "What's next?"

"You'll need help for this one..." Konzaki muttered, sliding a large crate to the back of the truck.

Xander glanced around, "Jarod... Riley... let's get this."

The two other men nodded and they slowly slid the heavy crate off the truck and started carrying it into the building.

"Holy hell!" Riley muttered, "What's in this thing?"

Konzaki's reply could be heard from the back of th truck, "Machining lathe..."

Riley spared Xander an odd look, "Who is this guy?"

Xander grinned, "Later..."

The three continued into the building, grunting and groaning under the weight of the wooden crate.


The entire group was slumped around the living room in various slouched forms, and cold beers in their hands.

"This would have been a lot easier next week." Jarod said.

"Huh? Why?"

Xander quirked a grin, "Jarod called for a company he knows to put in an elevator."

Crow glared at them, "You mean we could have just put it off a week and had a lift to use?"

Jarod shrugged, and Xander grinned apologetically. "Sorry."

Crow shook his head in disgust. "I can't believe you two."

"You're putting in an elevator?" Konzaki asked.

"Yep. Aside from the heavy equipment we may need to store down there, we thought it would be better for you that way. Beside, you're into weight training right?" Xander asked eyeing Konzaki's muscular torso.

"Yeah, so?"

"The training and Rec rooms are on the fourth and fifth floors." Xander grinned, "Nicer view."

Konzaki shook his head, "You guys certain take care of your employee's."

Jarod shook his head, "We take care of our friends. We don't have employee's."

Konzaki shrugged, remembering the Farm and the way his co-workers were there. Suddenly he was starting to feel at home. He raised his can of beer, "To friends."

Everyone half grinned and responded in kind. "To friends."

As the finished their toast the doorbell rang and everyone groaned. Xander and Jarod looked at each other, until finally Xander groaned again and pushed himself up. "I'll get it."

He made his way to the door and opened it up. His eyes widened and he smiled involuntarily at the person standing there. "Hey Doc, what's up with the house call?"

The doctor who had treated him a few nights earlier was standing outside, looking a little nervous. "You... ummm.. Left something at the hospital."

"I did?"

She lifted her hand, and handing him a small bag. He took it, a little confused, and looked inside. His shoulder leather was carefully rolled up and sitting at the bottom. He looked back at her, his eyes questioning.

She shifted slightly, "I took it off you so the cop on duty wouldn't have to report it."

"Why?" he asked neutrally.

"The cross you had on your hip."

Xander's eyes widened, but he nodded. "Thank you, Doctor?"

"Bella, Doctor Maria Bella." She said, "And there's no need. I lost a very close friend of mine a year ago..."

"I can understand that, Doctor." Xander said, then he looked at her spectulatively, "Would you like to come in? We're just relaxing from a bit of manual labor. Offer you a beer or something else if you like?"

She hesitated, then shook her head. "No, I don't think so..."

"Up to you Doc, I thought you might like to meet some people you may windup treating." Xander grinned, his voice flippant.

She half smiled at him, uncertain how to take the joke. "Are you serious?"

Xander shrugged, "never know... Generally we take care of our own... but sometimes..."

She shook her head in wonder, "I'd better go."

Xander nodded. "Thanks again for returning my... item."

She smiled, "Not a problem Mr. Harris."

Xander waved goodbye and then closed the door as the doctor left. He shook his head, and remembered another one of the reasons he did what he did.

December 20, 1999

Xander and Faith stumbled down the stairs, their eyes clouded with sleep.

"Jeez, what is it Jarod? It's five am!" Xander moaned.

Jarod, dressed in a red and white suit and a santa hat, just grinned. "Well, since I'm going to be with my mother for the holidays I wanted to give you your gifts early."

Xander's eyes cleared quickly, "Gifts? Cool."

Jarod laughed, and led them to the garage. "Come on."

Xander's eyes practically popped out of his eyes when he stepped inside. There were a host of brand new motorbikes sitting in the garage, three of them identical BMW's except for color and a beautifully restore Harley.

"Xander, Faith," Jarod tossed them a set of keys and just sat their grinning.

Xander grinned back and, checking the key, went a straddled a Grey and Silver BMW. "Nice."

Faith just stood there, staring at hers. "Jarod.... I..."

"What is it, Faith?" Jarod suddenly looked concerned. "Don't you like it?"

Faith blinked, "A... are you sure?"

"Sure?" Now he looked confused, "What do you mean?"

"I just got here, Jarod... I mean... we're friends, but this is too much..."

Jarod smiled gently, "Faith..." He said, his voice firm, "Enjoy it. It's yours."

Faith swallowed, and hesitantly hugged Jarod before going to look at her new bike.

"Hands off, He's mine." Miss Parker grinned at her from the door.

Faith flashed her a grin and nodded, for once not coming up with a smart assed remark.

"So, rat-boy," Miss Parker growled slightly, "Where's my gift?"

"I thought that this," Jarod tossed her a different type of key, "Was more your style."

Miss Parker caught the key and looked at it, "The Harley?"

Jarod grinned and nodded.

"Well well, Jarod... How well you know me." She moved over to check her bike.

Jarod sat back and grinned at the three of them as they examined their gifts.

December 25, 1999

Xander and Faith sat in front of the fireplace, they had the house to themselves. The Scoobie Christmas celebration had been the day before, and the rest were spending this day with their families. Even Giles had caught a flight to England a couple days earlier, opting to spend a rare week at home.

There was a comfortable silence between them, one that neither really felt the need to break. They'd been getting closer as friends over the past month, and didn't always feel the need to fill the silence with the cluttering effect of empty words.

Of course, some words aren't empty.

"Xander?" Faith spoke quietly, knowing that what she wanted to ask was going to ruin the moment, but not being able to hold it back.


"Why aren't you going to visit your parents?"

The silence returned, but it was no longer comfortable. Finally Xander responded, "Like you guessed, they and I don't exactly see eye to eye."

Faith nodded slightly, but her face was sad.

"What about you?"

"What?" She asked, even though she had heard him clearly.

"What about your parents?"

"They're dead." She said flatly.


"I'm sorry."

Faith took a deep breath, "They... died when I was fourteen."

"What were they like?"

She shrugged, trying to put it off as nothing important. "Better then I deserved probably. I caused them a lot of trouble..."

Xander smiled slightly, "Faith you cause everyone a lot of trouble. We still love ya for it though."

She looked at him, her eyes narrowing even as she smiled. "We?" She asked teasingly.

Xander shrugged, "We, I... whatever. You're a good friend, Faith... I'm lucky to have you."

"Got that right." She smirked cockily at him, eliciting another laugh. She slid over and leaned on him, "I'm lucky to have you too, Xander."

Xander's breath caught in his throat. He knew that a statement like that from Faith was like a nugget of gold. A precious commodity. He wrapped an arm around her, "Got that right."

December 26, 1999

"Ok, now *that* was disgusting." Faith bitched as she staggered into the building.

Xander walked behind her, "Well... its not so bad..."

She spun on him, "How do you figure that?"

He looked at her, his eyes gleaming. "Well... If I pretend that's actually jello a lot of interesting thoughts happen to enter my mind."

Faith's jaw dropped. She looked down at herself, the glistening slime from the Ventral Demon still dripping off of her, and laughed. "I think I've been a bad influence on you, Lover."

Xander shrugged, still eying the way the slimed fabric hugged to her curves. "I can live with it."

Faith eyed Xander's dry clothes, a gleam entering her own eyes. "Me too."

Xander was starting to get a bad feeling when Faith lunged at him, wrapping her slimy body around him. "Faith! No!"

Her face was only a few inches from his, spots of the slime drying on her face. "After a crack like that you think you deserve to be clean and dry?"

"Apparently not." Xander muttered with some distaste as he pried himself away from her. He sighed, "At least it wasn't the expensive stuff..."

Faith laughed.

Xander looked at her, still grinning. "I need a shower. Scrub my back?"

"Don't say that unless you mean it, Loverboy." Faith grinned at him, her eyes narrowing.

Xander shrugged, and headed upstairs. "Suit yourself."

Faith stared after him for a second, still feeling pumped from the fight. She suddenly grinned and followed him up the stairs, ditching occasional pieces of clothing as she walked. Ahead of her she heard the shower in Xander's room running and grinned.

"Oh, boytoy," She said quietly, "Hope that ticker of yours is in as gooda shape as the rest of you..."

The Way

That can be gone

Is not the Eternal Way

The End


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