Best Laid Plans

Author: Charles Parker <charles_parkerh[at]>

Timeline: Post BtVS S7 (initially)

Summary: You can see someone every day and not really see them.

Feedback is always appreciated.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Oxnard, California.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

It was going to be the two of them, together, finally leaving the Hellmouth and everything they had behind. They were going to leave and start the rest of their lives somewhere else. But there was no 'they', now there was only him.

Xander Harris stared at the faded, dingy wallpaper in his hotel room. Through the window, he saw the sunset, 'No happy endings on a Hellmouth, I guess. Not for me and Willow, Cordelia, Buffy and Anya...'

He buried his head in his hands, remembering everything about her. The sound of her voice, the feel of her body, the smell of her hair, how beautiful she had looked in her wedding dress.

'I said I didn't want to become my father, and instead, I became worse then he was. I left Anya without telling her I loved her. I didn't even get to say goodbye to her. Now she's gone, forever. Along with everything else I ever had.' '.

Finally he couldn't take it anymore, grabbed his coat and left his hotel room. Xander wanted to talk with someone, Buffy, Willow, Giles...anyone.

"And that's when I told him."

Xander stopped as the sound of Buffy's voice reached him.

"I said I love you and he sort of smiled and said no you don't but thanks for saying it anyway"

"Oh Buffy, I'm so sorry" Willow sounded like she was crying.

"Geez B, sorry to hear that" Faith's voice was tinged with sadness.

"Buffy, I,. I realize that this is a bit late and long overdue but I am, sorry about what happened. I was wrong about Spike, he truly was a good man." Giles voice was joined by others he couldn't make out.

Xander turned and looked into the glass window beside him. Though the light was fading he could still see his own reflection. A dirty, disheveled man with an eye-patch and in need a shave, stared back at him.

Quietly, he turned around and walked in the other direction away from the voices.


A short time later...

Oxnard isn't that big of a town, somewhat larger then Sunnydale in terms of both size and population. Those two facts didn't really matter to Xander Harris at the moment. He had been intent on heading to a bar and then drinking himself into a stupor. Those plans changed as soon as he headed into an alleyway and came face to face with a vampire.


"I generally prefer to hear screams of fear and terror, myself." The vampire smiled at him.

Xander grabbed the stake from under his coat.

"Oh no, we don't do that anymore."


"We do this."

The gun in the vamp's hand barked twice, the sound being hidden by a sudden thunderclap. Xander felt the impact of the bullets ripping into his body. He blacked out, dropped the stake and slumped backwards against the wall. Neither noticed that they were no longer alone in the alley.

The vampire bit into Xander's neck drinking deeply until forcibly removed. There were brief sounds of a struggle, followed by the sound of the vampire exploding into ash.

"Oh man."

A figure dressed in black knelt down next to Xander. Cautiously it examined him and then touched his neck and chest, its hands coming in contact with the blood that was streaming not only from the bite but also from the bullet wounds.

"Weak, erratic heartbeat, shallow breathing, Christ. Even if I got you to a hospital, I don't think you'd make it... "

The figure paused as though thinking about something and then looked at the fallen man. "I hope to God this works for both our sakes."

Saying that, the figure placed its hand over Xander's heart and there was a brilliant flash of blue light, then darkness.

The sensation of rain hitting his face woke Xander. He blinked slowly, looking around. He checked his neck, and looked at them. Then he looked down, he was dressed in the same tattered clothes he had been when he left. There was no trace of the vampire or of the bullet wounds. No blood anywhere, if not for the nearby clock he wouldn't have thought any time had passed.

'Huh, I was out for half an hour and nothing happened? Where's the vampire? Or was there ever really a vampire here? I usually don't start seeing things until after I'm drunk, not beforehand. I had better get back to the hotel don't want to black out and get eaten.'

Slowly Xander got to his feet and made his way back to the hotel. He saw no one in the parking lot as he walked up the stairway to his room on the third floor. Unlocking the door and then pausing to lock it again, he abruptly crashed on nearest bed.

'And another day ends with a triumph. Wonder what everyone's up to, and whether or not they'll planning on telling me any time soon' he thought.

The sound of the toilet being flushed got his attention and he sat up as the bathroom door opened.

"What the hell?"

"Hey kid, nice place you got here."

"Who are you? And how'd you get in here?"

"Maid let me in, and name's Whistler, I'm a friend of a friend of yours."

"And that would be?"


"Any friend of a vampire is not a friend of mine, now could you leave before I-"


"Xander, my name is Xander."

"All right, Xander, look I know you and him don't get along, heck I don't get along with him and I was the one introduced him to the whole champion thing."

"Wait you did what?"

"It's not important, short version is I helped Angel start down the bumpy path towards redemption. And now I'm here to help you."

"Help me do what? Become a champion, redeem myself?"

"I can't help you become a champion because you've always been one. As for redeeming yourself, only you can do that."

"I'm a champion?"

"Yeah, you're a pretty highly regarded one at that."

Xander stared at the man for a long time before asking "Why? Why would anyone consider me a champion? I mean I don't have any powers or anything, hell I don't even have my job anymore."

"Wrong kid, you got the greatest power of all, the power to make your own choices."

"I don't think that qualifies as a great power, uh Whistler. At least not around here."

"From where I'm looking it is. Every time you've been faced with an important decision, you've made the right choice. Whether it was lying to the slayer to save the world, deciding when to tell the witch you loved her and when not to. Even when it came to walking down the aisle, you made the right choice, even if it wasn't the right one for you."

"Then I guess I'll have to disagree because from where I'm sitting, it looks like every choice I made either blew up in my face or doesn't matter."

"Xander, I know this may sound harsh but have you ever stopped to think that it wasn't your fault, those things ended up the way they did."


"Xander, you're one of the most easy going and loyal people I've ever met. That's why it bothers me to see you like this."

"Like what."

"Like this, I mean look at this place, even after all this time and all things you've lost; nobody cares about you enough to see who was in your room. Anyone could have bribed the maid and got in here. And not one of the others cared enough to check."

"They're busy."

"Busy doing what? Mourning the loss of a vampire? How about all the people in Sunnydale who didn't get out in time? What about your girl? Nobody besides you notice she's gone?"

"Spike did something very noble and ... made a great sacrifice for Buffy. And all of us."

"And you didn't? Or haven't? That little adventure with the bomb at the high school doesn't count? Or not letting the slayer get eaten on her second day on the job?"

"Why are you telling me all this? Why now? What makes me so special?"

"I already told you why. The Powers That Be are really impressed with you. They've kind of taken a liking to you."

"Wait a minute, the Powers That Be, aren't they like the First Good?"

"No, the PTB are strictly hands off in matters like that. All they can do is line up some options; they can't compel a person to make the correct choice. Because if they did, they would be no better then the First Evil. Xander, you've made a lot of difficult decisions in your life. Sometimes there was no right answer to the problems you faced but you always found a way to make things right for everyone around you. Now the PTB are asking you to make another decision, except this one is for you and you alone. Your real family needs you; they're scared of what happened in Sunnydale. Especially your father, he's very sick Xander. If you stay here and something happens to him, you'll never get the chance-"

"to say goodbye, I know."

The former construction worker was quiet for a few minutes.

"They never really needed me did they?"

"I don't know that, nobody does. They don't need you now, your family does."

Xander got up off the bed and started gathering his things. "You can't always get what you want and you can't choose your family but that's life. I'll go, maybe it's time me, mom and dad had a nice talk without alcohol".

He walked towards the bathroom in the back to get his toothbrush and some other things and that's when he noticed it. Looking in the mirror, he saw Whistler's reflection but not his own. Instead he saw an unfamiliar dark haired man with blue eyes looking at him. Just as he was about to start yelling for help, the man in the mirror shrugged and pointed at Whistler. Xander whirled around and stared hard at the other man, confusion, fear and anger all evident on his face.

Whistler blanched, "yeah that's the other thing."

A short time later, Whistler and Xander quietly left the hotel room together. They made their way down the stairs and out into parking lot where the agent of the PTB said his good-byes and left quickly on foot. Just as Xander was about to follow him, a familiar voice reached him.

"Hey Xander" Andrew called and ran up to him. "How are you, I missed you at dinner, anyway I got the new Daredevil DVD, do you want to come watch it with me on Willow's laptop?"

Xander hesitated before replying, "No, not tonight Andrew. Maybe later."

"Okay we can watch it tomorrow."

"Um yeah. Andrew, Can I ask you to do me a huge favor?"

"Sure, I'll do anything. Well except anything evil, I swore off doing things like that. Because I'm not evil anymore, I'm a good guy, I have left the dark side behind."

"Yeah, umm can you watch Dawn and keep an eye on her? Like be her Max Mercury?"

"Oh, of course I can, except I won't have to wear that suit will I? I mean I really don't look good in blue and white, and the whole mask thing".

"No, no suit required."

"Well then, I would be honored to keep an eye on Dawn and watch her. Are you going somewhere?"

"Yeah, I'm just gonna go out for a bit, I'll talk to you in the morning." And with that, Xander turned and resumed walking. Behind him, Andrew shrugged and headed back towards his room for the night. He never thought that the next time he would see Xander Harris again it would be under very different circumstances.

Chapter 2

St.Louis, Missouri

The man stepped back to admire his work. The shelves were filled to capacity yet there was no sense of over-crowding. It had been a real challenge to get everything properly displayed without simply stacking things up in a crude fashion.

"Looks nice." He turned around and smiled at who he saw.

"Riley, back in town long?"

"Yeah, for a little while. I see your still living the glamorous life of an assistant store manager."

"Ha ha, laugh all you want. I'm in line to get my own store in the next six months. Soon I'll be the most famous sports store manger with a glass eye in St.Louis."

"Nice to see you're still reaching for the stars Alexander."

"Alex, my name is Alex. and you're just jealous that I can get Cardinal tickets cheaper then you can." Riley frowned at that.

"All right you win, I am jealous that you can get cheaper tickets, Alex." Riley allowed.

"So how's the busy life of a married man?"

The Iowa transplant grinned, "I'm on my way home now, want to come say hello?"

"Sure, let me finish up here."


Thirty Minutes later

"I'm telling you that Iverson is the best player in the East."

"No way, Kidd is, Iverson can't shoot worth a crap."

The argument ended as they pulled up in front an apartment building. Riley knocked briefly on the main door before being buzzed thru by the security guard in the lobby.

"Hey Bobby."

"Hello Mr. Finn, Mr. Harris."

They got on the elevator and Riley pushed the button for the fifth floor. The doors closed and they felt the elevator begin to go up. The older man returned his attention to the one time construction worker. He was older of course, slightly more muscular and a well trimmed mustache.

"So Alex, how's your friend?"

"He's fine."

"Nothing exciting going on?"

"No, not recently. He saw the Rangers play and almost went and demanded a refund."

"That could have been interesting."

"Tell me about it."

With a chime, the elevator stopped and the doors opened. Both men stepped out and went three-quarters of the way down the hall before stopping in front of a door.

"Riley, Alex, it's so good to see you." Sam's greeted them warmly.

"It's good to see you to Sam", Alex smiled at her.

"How is Danielle?" Sam gave a tired smile, "she's lying down right now. She's been a very busy little girl."

Alex looked around, his gaze coming to rest on the collection of photos on top of the television. He carefully picked one of a couple in there 50's in front of a farmhouse. Samantha touched his elbow gently, sensing his change of mood.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."


"I'm fine guys, really I am. I'm not saying I'm jumping for joy but every day that goes by, the pain, it hurts a little less you know. They're in a better place now I'm sure of it."

"I'd better go check on dinner".

Riley and Sam gave Alex a comforting look before she went into the kitchen.


Crestview School for the Gifted

Winfred Burke was finishing her day; she had graded the previous evening's homework. Now she was in the midst of updating her grade book.

"Hello, pet."

"Spike? I'm just finishing up these papers the girls turned in."

"I know luv, just wanted to come and see you." He leaned in close to her, his lips less then an inch from her ear.

"Care to play, again?" Fred blushed at his words; her skin tingled as his cool hands caressed her arms. She closed her eyes as his lips touched hers briefly. Reluctantly she broke the kiss and stood up.

"Come on, Giles has called a meeting in the faculty library and everyone is required to be there."


"Yes, Buffy even wants Dawn there. I think it might have something to do with what Wood brought back from his trip overseas. Faith was happy to see him again. I don't think she let him out of their room until lunch."

Spike was quiet for a bit. "So she's back, Buffy is?"

"Yeah she's with Travis probably."

"Her loss."



"...This feels good."

"Uh huh."



"We really should get dressed."

Buffy pouted. "I don't want to. I want to lie here with you."

"Same here but I think Rupert would get upset."

"A girl can't spend time with her slightly older boyfriend?" Travis laughed; his face changed to a somewhat grayish tone with red eyes as he did so. Buffy grinned and leaned in and kissed Travis softly on the lips.

"I love you."

"I know, I love you too."

"Come on, let's go see what Giles wants." They smiled at each other as they got dressed.


St. Louis

"That was a great dinner Sam."


She started carrying the dishes into the kitchen.

"So what's the deal, Riley, I mean what's going on."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what's with the dinner and meeting me at the store?"

"Well, when I was out of the country this past few months, I learned that we had lost Graham." "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know."

"It's okay, it's part of the job. It's been a few weeks since his funeral. I was just going to see him. Do you want to come along?"

"Yeah, I didn't really get to know Graham that well. But he was a good man and I think I owe it to him to say thanks for what he did."

"There is just one thing though", Riley paused as Sam re-entered the room.

"Graham was from Cleveland."

"Good, that's fairly close by then, only a day's drive. When do we leave?"

"Day after tomorrow, if that's good for you."

"It's fine by me, I'll just get someone to cover my shift at the store. I'll show myself out if you guys don't mind."

"Well I would say be careful but I think you've got that taken care of." Alex chuckled as he left the Finn's apartment.

Sam was quiet until the door closed. "Is he okay?"

"Alex isn't really the emotional type, Sam. You know that."

"Riley, he'll be near them, Buffy, Wil--"

"I know that, so does he. Doesn't seem to bother him too much."

"Riley, he hasn't said one thing to them or seen them in almost two years. Don't you think that would matter to him?"

Chapter 3

Cleveland, Ohio

"As I have been trying to tell you all, there is some activity with the Hellmouth-"

"Giles you said that last week. Is there something going on with the Hellmouth or not?"

"Buffy, as I attempting to tell you, there is some Hellmouth activity at present but I am not certain as to what it is. It may simply be normal by Hellmouth standards."

"All right then G, what's the point then?"

The former librarian sighed, "The point Faith, was to inform all of you about the latest activity regarding the Hellmouth."

"Whatever." Faith leaned back against the wall next to Wood.

"Thank you Rupert", Travis thanked him.

"Anything else?" Buffy wanted to know.

"Well, I was reading up on this item that Wood had procured in his latest trip overseas", Wesley informed the group. "It does appear to be associated with traveling magicks but I haven't been able to learn anymore thus far."

"Oh let me see." Willow picked up the flat, circle shaped object. If not for the shapes and yellow-orangish color, it could have passed for an exceptionally dirty plate.

Kennedy watched her with interest, "Getting anything?"

"No, nothing."

"Great, the wanker goes to all that fuss and nonsense for one of Merlin's dirty dishes. Good job mate."

"Knock it off, Spike."

"Angel, Spike, shut up both of you." Buffy glared at them.

Silence settled over the room.

Travis announced "I believe all of the important business is concluded so I believe this meeting is over".


Elsewhere in the city

Leaving at 4 in the morning turned out be a wise decision, this way they would have plenty of time to settle in at their hotel and get familiar with the surrounding area. Their hotel was located within a short drive of the main city streets. With rooms on the fourth floor, they got a nice view of the neighborhood.

"Looks like a quiet place."

"So did my hometown."

"True, this place lacks the quaint small town charm though. No high school ruins to add atmosphere."

"Want to go for a quick around the block or two?"

"Yeah, beats sitting in here staring at the walls."

Alex nodded in agreement.


A few minutes later

"All right where were you this time or is that still info that your semi-experienced civilian friends can't be told?"

"Sorry Alex, no can do. But, I'll say this, canals are vastly over- rated."


The two friends continued their walk unaware they were being watched. A pair of teenage girls, each was dressed in matching schoolgirl uniforms. The black girl had her hair in braids, which shook as she turned and spoke to her friend.

"Are you sure that's him?"

The other girl had red hair that was cut short. She was a little taller then the other girl and she wore brightly colored bracelets. Her face became a frown, as she thought hard before answering.

"It kind of looks like him but I'm not sure. It's been so long and he looks very different. Still that voice." she trailed off.

"If you're not sure-"

"No, I'm sure it's him. Let's go and tell the others."

Quickly they hurried away.


Crestview School for the Gifted

The sun was just setting when Vi and Rona burst into the school office, startling the night receptionist.

"Ack", she fell out of her chair.

"Sorry Miss Kendall", they apologized in unison.

A low growl issued from the blonde woman as she stood up. She carefully brushed out her businesswoman's outfit. And then she turned around and glared at the two younger women, her face changed taking up a more demonic appearance with yellow eyes.

"All right you two, what is it THIS TIME. I work my fingers to the bone answering these phones and writing the messages for everyone. I mean I even make sure everyone has paperclips and notepaper."

"Yes Miss Kendall."

"This isn't about the school uniforms is it? I mean, Cordelia and me tried to argue for something more modern and on the cutting edge but no Buffy, Willow and Giles all said no. You know for a bunch of heroes, there are severely fashionably challenged."

"No Miss Kendall."

"Then what is it about? The bloody mugs? I swear I was going to clean those up, Angel likes a warm snack before we-".

"Um, Miss Kendall", Vi interrupted "that's not what we're excited about."

"Then why are you here?"


The School Library

"And this goes..."

"The history and culture of Peru belongs in the nonfiction section Buffy."

"I knew that Giles, I was just making sure." She huffed.

"Of course you did dear." Travis added. His businessman-like attire a sharp contrast to her more casual blue jeans and white halter top.

Willow smiled from the table where she sat with Kennedy. Fred, Wesley, Cordelia and Giles occupied other tables; each had their own collection of books and folders. They were engrossed in planning out their lessons for the next week. Wood and Faith was leaning against the back wall reading, him the latest edition of the New York Times, her the latest Rolling Stone. She resumed typing on her laptop, eagerly planning out her next week of teaching.

It was at that moment that Vi, Rona and Harmony burst in.


Everyone looked at the group with mild surprise.

"You'll never believe what we saw!"

"What Miss Kendall means, is what Rona and I saw."

"Yeah what they saw."

Buffy rolled her eyes in response.

"And what do you think you saw?"

"Well we were walking and we saw these guys going around the neighborhood."

"One of them looked older then the other and-"

"Is there a point to this story?"

"Well, we think we saw... Xander."

Silence, then chaos.


"Where was he?"

"Are you sure?"

"Holy Shit."


The brunette smirked at Giles; Wood lowered his copy of the NY Times a fraction. Cordelia's face held an expression of surprise mixed with disbelief. Wesley had he been wearing his glasses would have removed as Giles had already done.

But by far the most interesting reactions belonged to Willow and Buffy. Willow's mouth was agape. She wore a stunned expression on her face. Then slowly, Willow smiled and pushed back from her seat and started hopping up and down.

"Oh God, Oh God, he's back, he's back..."

Kennedy laughed at her reaction and looked at Buffy expecting a similar response. She was disappointed and a bit surprised to see her reaction. Buffy's expression was unchanged, she continued as she had been before, placing the book on the shelf before climbing down. She approached the younger slayers slowly.

"Are you sure it was him you saw?"

"Well not really, he had a mustache and both eyes and..."

"Both eyes?"

"A mustache? What kind?"

"It's hard to describe we only saw him for a minute and the other guy he was with."

"Wait a minute, what other guy?"

"The other guy he was with. He was older, had broader shoulders, short hair."

Vi's face scrunched up as Rona was talking.

"Something bothering you, Vi?"

"I was just trying to remember something Mr. Giles, about the other man. He seemed familiar somehow. Oh I know, I saw a picture of him in Buffy's house."

Everyone stared at her.

"You saw a picture of him in MY house?"

"Yeah, it was a picture that looked like it was in college. He had his arms around you."

Buffy's expression changed matching the ice in her voice, "Riley."

"What would Riley be doing with Xander?"

"If it is Xander. It could be anyone. Willow find Riley, NOW."

The redhead nodded, her earlier joy gone, replaced with determination as she hacked into the local hotel registries. It didn't take long for her to find what she was looking.

"Buffy, look here he is, he just got into town from the looks of it. Even registered under his own name. I wonder what he wants."

"Whatever it is, it can't be good. Willow, I think you and I alone should visit Riley."

"Excuse me, what about the rest of us here. We know Xander too, granted we may not have talked since Graduation day but still, we're his friends."

"Cordelia, you don't know Riley. He might get suspicious if people he doesn't know show up at his hotel room asking questions. Besides you need to finish your lesson planning."

The former seer grumped in response, "great, I spent 4 years trying to be in show biz and now I'm left to teach glee club. This sucks."

"Great why you guys do that, I'm going on patrol by myself."

"Be careful Kennedy, please, with the activity of the Hellmouth, we simply do not what is going on."


Hotel room, half an hour later...

Riley watched as Alex paced back and forth across the room. He was clearly agitated and kept running his hands thru his hair. Eventually the commando's concern for his friend prompted him to ask why was Alex upset.

"It's not me, it's him. He's anxious, wants to go out and look around for himself."

Riley nodded. "It probably wouldn't hurt to let him look around a bit."

Alex sighed in agreement. "Tomorrow we visit Graham?"


A sudden pounding on the door distracted Riley. With a quick glance at the other man, he went to the door and looked out the peephole. He saw two familiar young women, one with red hair and one with blonde hair looking at the door. Mentally cursing he unlocked the door and opened it, greeting both women as he did so.

"Hello Buffy, Willow".

"Riley." Buffy's voice was flat; Willow merely smiled faintly.

"I suppose I should ask what you're doing here or how you found me. But I don't think that's important right now, is it?"

"We're here because, well because we heard that you and Xander were in town together."

Riley looked unfazed, "Me and Xander?"

"Yeah, you and him were in this hotel."

"That's funny Willow, because I have no idea where Xander is."

Buffy didn't even look at him as she walked further into the hotel room. She spotted a dark haired man sitting with his back to her in a recliner. She pursed her lips and as she strode in front of him, a carefully prepared speech already rehearsed for this moment. And as she came to face him, she realized something.

This wasn't Xander; the dark haired man had a pair of dark sunglasses on and sat nervously in the chair. He was dressed in a black jacket and wore a dark blue T-shirt with black jeans. She opened her mouth to apologize but then noticed he hadn't yet reacted to her presence.

"Riley? Are your friends here? Because if they are, I can always leave and come back later, If...if that's o-okay with you?" He spoke in a surprising high-pitched voice and seemed extremely nervous.

Riley came back in the room behind Willow to find Buffy staring at the other man. He spoke carefully and clearly, "their already here, in fact there is one front of you."

The seated man's head jerked at that and started babbling, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry, I'm Joshua Higgins, a high school classmate of Riley's, I moved here a few years ago. I just bumped into him at a local book store, he was in town for some insurance convention that his company sent him on.."

Riley walked closer to the seated man and laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

"It's okay Joshua, they're not going to hurt you." Riley told him.

Behind him, Buffy and Willow nodded then seem somewhat surprised when Joshua seemingly relaxed and slumped down in the chair a little. Experimenting Buffy waved her hand in front of Joshua, trying to get a reaction. Willow glared at her and she stopped and looked somewhat embarrassed.

"Oh, oh, well umm, I think I've taken up enough of your time, so I'll be going now." Joshua spoke. Tentatively he stood up and started towards the door. The other people watched as he somewhat clumsily made his way to the door. Riley followed him and led him to the door itself.

"I'll see you around sometime, Joshua."

Silently, he shut the door and made his way back to where Buffy and Willow waited.

"So do you lie to everyone you meet about what you do or just your friends."

"Joshua is an old friend, he doesn't know what I did after I left high school. Nor do I plan on telling him."

"All right, fair enough. Where is he?"

"Where's who?"

"Xander, where is he?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Where is Xander Riley, we know he's with you."

"I honestly have no idea about what you're talking. I have no idea where Xander is right now."

Buffy and Willow frowned as they prepared for a long talk.



'Joshua Higgins' left the hotel via the back way. It led out into an alleyway unsurprisingly, pausing he took a look around at his surroundings. A small little network of paths, roads, alleys and walkways all bathed in the night.

"Perfect hunting ground for vampires and demons..." he paused "Or those that hunt them."

Smiling the man lowered his sunglasses for a moment revealing a pair of blue eyes. He took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of garbage, car exhaust, dust and a host of other smells that made up the night air. Suddenly, he stopped, slowly turning to face in one direction.

"And the winner of tonight's multimillion dollar prize is vampire... or several." Smiling the man disappeared into the night.



Kennedy groaned as she regained consciousness, opening her eyes, Kennedy saw she was lying on a cold, somewhat damn concrete floor. She tried to move and discovered that chains that rattled loudly in the still night bound her arms and legs. Her face became grim as she recalled how she came to be in this current situation.

"Enjoy your nap little girl?"

Her gaze fell upon the leader of the vampire pack that had subdued her. The pack had once been eleven but now numbered only seven. She had intended on further reducing their ranks before a cattle prod had rendered her unconscious.

"Not really, I enjoy your idea of first aid even less."

"Oh well, I never paid attention to that class and I ate the nurse anyway."

"When I get loose, I'll show the proper way to apply a split."

"Oh there will be a class and plenty of lessons for all but I'm afraid it will be us doing the teaching and the learning. You on the other hand, will be our 'classroom' tonight."

The leader's face took on a leer as he looked down at her. Her face tightened as the meaning of his words sunk in. An evil grin spread across his face as he stepped back from her.

"Now let's begin with her jeans, they'll simply get in the way, so let's rid of them."

Seeing the slayer's anger, he started chuckling, chuckling that became full-blown laughter as other members of the pack stepped forward. And they were immediately bathed in darkness. The vampires looked around in confusion.

"Quick go get the lights turned on again, I don't want to miss her expressions in the darkness."

One of the minions hurried away in the darkness.

"Now where were we."


"What the?"

The pack leader looked around in annoyance.

"What was that?"

"That was me saying you're dead. You know that's part of the whole being a vampire deal. A human corpse animated by demon spirit. A dead man walking minus the whole washed up lead singer bit."

"Who's talking? What the hell is going on?"

The pack leader demanded; he was angry and agitated. He and the other vampires kept looking around, peering into the darkness. Kennedy was also looking and listening, she was trying to find the source of the calm voice. Her slayer senses were in overdrive as she strained to hear anything. Then one of the vampires jumped back and pointed at the darkness behind him.

"Found him."

"Yep you did, guess what you're dead, again."

The vampire was seemingly struck by green light and exploded into ash. Kennedy and the remaining vampires focused on the intruder. All she could make out in the darkness was a man shape but in his right hand, he carried what looked to be a blade composed of pure, green energy that cast little light. Idly, the man twirled the blade as he walked somewhat closer to her. The vampires seemingly backed off somewhat, ill prepared for the nonchalant air the man had.

"Well let's see here got five vampires here trying to cause trouble, and a beautiful young girl chained up to a concrete slab with nary a video camera in sight. If I didn't know better, I'd swear you boys were up to some mischief."

"No mischief, just several felonies and there's six of us."

The man lunged forward striking the nearest vampire in the stomach with his blade and then he withdrew the sword. The vampire grabbed at his stomach; a look of agony crossing his face as greenish light seemed to blaze forth from his eyes, mouth and other orifices as though he was burning from the inside out. Then like the previous vampire he exploded into ashes.

"Five now. That's not exactly fair is it? Let me even the odds."

And then the blade flashed towards Kennedy's legs. Reflexively she closed her eyes as she braced for pain. When none was forthcoming she slowly opened her eyes and she looked down at her legs and the chains that held them sliced neatly open. Cautiously she stood up only to see the blade come close to her again. This time she didn't close and watched as the blade struck the chains that held her arms, slicing into the metal as though it were paper. She rubbed her wrists where the chains had been, trying to get circulation going as she peered into the darkness.


He threw something to her and she grabbed, recognizing instinctively as a wooden stake. She opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by the pack leader.

"Get them."

Cursing she turned and began fighting the vampire that had charged her. The pack leader hung back as the other two vamps attacked the unknown man. She kicked the vampire in the head and struck it right in the heart. The vampire had a look of rage on his face as he dusted.

Kennedy turned to observe her unknown rescuer and was surprised to see both vampires still alive. The man appeared to both taunting and waiting. Losing his patience, the vamp closest to him, charged only to be struck across the midsection with blade. Shifting his attention away from the dying vampire, the man focused his attention on the remaining opponent.

Closing the distance between the two of them, the man shifted the blade to his left hand. The vampire took this as a sign to throw a punch that was deflected away by the man's right hand. Still using his right hand, the man grabbed the vampire's arm, twisting it at first and then yanking. The sound of muscle and flesh tearing was heard as the man slammed his foot into the side of the vamp's knee. There was a crushing sound as the knee gave way and the vamp slumped forward. With the blade still in his left hand, the man cut from left to right thru the vamp's torso. Finished the man stepped back and turned his attention to the pack leader.

"Guess that just leaves us toodles."

"You don't impress me human, not with having to dependent on that weapon of yours."

"Oh this? This is nothing, it's a nice addition but I don't need it to kill vamps, demons, warlocks, whatever. In fact, let me show you."

The glowing green blade suddenly disappeared leaving them in darkness again.

"Come on leech, let's see what you got."

Kennedy looked on, noting that the other two were now in front of a window thus providing some illumination. She had just noted that her unknown ally had somewhat hair that reached his shoulder when the pack leader charged. He swung an overhead left with his full undead strength behind it at the other man. Quicker then he thought possible the unknown man brought his right arm and deflected the blow away. The ease of the move surprised both the vampire and the slayer watching, it also left the vampire off balance. The man quickly capitalized on this by punching the vamp in the stomach with his left hand.

The force of the blow, leaving him weak and defenseless expelled whatever air was in the dead man's lungs. The man simply raised and delivered a punch with his right hand straight to the vampire's chest. The pack leader went flying backwards slamming the wall behind it with enough force to crack it and cause loose debris to fall from the ceiling. The vampire struggled to get to its feet, surprised by the strength of the human. Enraged, he spun and threw a roundhouse kick with his right leg. His opponent was already in motion, stepping into the kick and blocking it with his left side as he turned away from the vampire, crouching as he did so. The man lashed out his right leg, kicking the vamp's left leg out from under it and knocking it to the floor.

The vamp tried to get back it's feet only to find its head caught in between the man's hands. It struggled to free itself but was unsuccessful as the man lifted it up and slammed him back down on the concrete. Dazed, the undead creature was unaware that the man still had his hands on its head.

"Well it's been fun playing with you but now, game's over. Bye."

Pain brought the vampire back into focus as it felt its neck being wrenched. It barely had time to scream before the man ripped its head off. There was a pause then the man released the vampire's head as it and the body dusted.

Kennedy stared in shock at what had happened. Though the darkness had prevented her from seeing what had exactly happened, she couldn't miss the vampire's fate. Silently she gripped the stake for reassurance before speaking.



"Girls like yourself shouldn't be out and about by themselves."

"I'm not a little girl to be coddled, I can take care of myself."

"So I can see, do you always plan on being captured, eaten and lord knows what else every time you go out? Do me a favor. When the sun goes down, stay inside. I have enough on my hands trying to keep innocent people from being eaten. I don't need to waste my time saving wannabe vampire hunters from becoming another item in the obituaries."

Saying that, the man started walking away from her in the darkness.

"Who are you?"

"Let's just say I'm a friend."

"I don't need a friend like you."

"I never said I was yours."

There was silence and then the lights cut back. Caught unawares, Kennedy shielded her eyes and blinked rapidly trying to accustom herself to their glare once again. She looked around searching for any signs of the stranger and saw nothing save the piles of ash. Annoyed, she flung the stake away from her, not paying attention as it caught the seventh and last vampire in the chest and dusted him.

"Damn it."

Chapter 4


The sensation of warmth stirred him from his sleep, warm feelings that he had desperately missed for years spread through his body. Still asleep, he smiled as memories from a more pleasant past flowed in his mind. One in particular, his high school swim team tryouts stood out. He remembered being somewhat uncomfortable and embarrassed and then diving into the pool. The cold, wet water provided a sharp contrast to the-.


Alex opened his eyes and sat up in his bed. Looking down, he removed his hand from the bowl of water that it had been. He turned and glared at his roommate and best friend. The older man was sitting in a nearby chair reading the newspaper.

"I always wanted to do that."

"Fuck you Riley."

Finn simply smiled in return.

"Anything happen last night of interest?"

"Yeah, He ran into a few vamps and Kennedy."

"Kennedy? That's Willow's girlfriend isn't it?"


"What did he have to say about her?"

"Cute butt."

Riley shook his head slightly in response.

"Anything happen with you after he left?"

"No, Buffy and Willow were pretty determined to find out why I was here. And I told them it was none of their damn business. Buffy got a little ticked off at me and they both left."

Alex simply nodded before starting to get up and grabbed the clothes he had laid out the night before.

"Guess I'll shower and we can go see Graham."

The other man merely nodded and went back to reading his paper.


Beneath the city

Three, large hulkish-shaped figures shuffled through the sewer. They had traveled a great distance to reach this town. The largest of the three walked in front, hunched over to fit into the small space. They were dressed in dirty; brown robes that concealed their appearance completely save for their glowing yellow eyes that peered into the darkness. Save for the shuffling of their feet, no sound came from them. In silent, they continued their journey, determined to see its end.


Crestview School for the Gifted

"Well if there is no other business to attend to, I would declare this meeting over." Travis looked over the group, he was still dressed in the blue-gray Armani suit he had worn earlier in the day when meeting with new students and their parents. Satisfied, he prepared to head for his and Buffy's room to change for the rest of the day when Kennedy spoke.

"Guys, we have a problem."

Everyone looked at the normally confident girl who now had a subdued look on her face. Travis noted the somewhat apprehensive look in her eyes.

"What sort of problem, Kennedy?"

She shuffled her feet under the table and cleared her throat. Beside her, Willow watched with alarm, as her girlfriend became very nervous. Finally, Kennedy looked over the other people present and spoke.

"We have a new player in town."

"A new what?"

"Last night I was patrolling the north side and I got ambushed by one of the vamp gangs up there. There were eleven of them, I got'em cut down to seven before they zapped me."

"Zapped you?"

"With a cattle prod. Anyway I woke up in an abandoned factory chained to a concrete slab with the pack leader threatening to do all sorts of THINGS to me."

"He didn't do he? I'll kill him if he did; he'll be days, weeks, and months in the dying. And then I'll resurrect him and kill him again."

"No, Willow he didn't do anything. He didn't get the chance to do anything."

"You staked him?" Wood asked.

"No, someone tore his head off bare-handed in front of me and he dusted."

"What? What happened?"

"He was laughing and taunting me, then lights in the place, went out and this voice, a man's voice started talking to the vamps. Saying they were dead and were going to be dead again this time permanently. And then this guy, I think it was a guy, shows up with a green glowing sword and just starts cutting the vamps down with ease."

Giles removed his glasses before speaking.

"You're saying that last night, you were captured and someone, a man, you presume, with a green sword saved your life? And destroyed several vampires with this weapon?"

"All but one, he killed the pack leader with his bare hands. And I don't think he needed the sword to kill the others."

"Why do you say that?"

"Giles, he taunted the head vamp. He didn't show any sign of fear. It was like he was bored. One of the other vamps attacked him and he tore its shoulder out of joint. I know I heard the muscle and everything rip. He took the pack leader on in hand to hand combat and slammed him so hard into the floor that the concrete broke."

"And you say this all happened in the dark?"

She nodded.

"Was he a?"

"A vampire? No, I didn't sense anything from him. It was like he wasn't there."

"Maybe he's a half breed?" Willow suggested.

"I doubt it." Travis answered. "I've trained most of life and even with my strength, I don't have what it takes to tear someone's head off with bare hands. And neither does a slayer now that I think of it. Besides, even a half breed would have triggered the slayer's senses." He looked at Buffy and smiled.

"I know something that could."

Heads turned and looked at Spike.

"ADAM. He could do it, he was stronger then any demon in Sunnydale."

"ADAM's dead."

"So we thought."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Spike carefully lit the cigarette in his mouth, taking a drag before replying.

"What I'm saying is how do we know that ADAM's dead or whatever? All we have is them Government bloke's word and they're about as trustworthy as the bloody Council was."

The room grew quiet.

Giles turned and looked at his former charge. "I take it you and Willow were unable to persuade Riley to tell the reason for his visit?"

Buffy's eyes narrowed as she spoke. "No we didn't, he wouldn't tell us anything. And now we know why."

"We do?" Fred was confused.

"Isn't it obvious? The government didn't give up on Walsh's work; they have a brand new ADAM version 2.0. And they brought here to test it."

"Buffy we don't know that for certain."

"Sure we do Giles. Brand new super strong guy shows up in an abandoned factory to save a slayer. And Riley's in town, not talking that's all the proof I need."

"In that case, I believe we should discuss this matter further before acting. The presence of the government here proves that they are aware of the Hellmouth and we also have to consider the fate of the school and the students."

The others nodded and the next round of discussions began.


S. Lakeland Cemetery

"Looks like they found a nice place."


Graham had been laid to rest in one of the corners of the cemetery. A nearby tree provided just the right amount of shade to keep the sun from wilting flowers easily. The grass had been mowed sometime within the past few days by the looks of it. The granite headstone gave the appearance of being freshly cleaned. It simply read 'Graham Miller, 1972-2003. Loyalty, Trust and dedication'. Somehow those few words summed up Graham perfectly.

Alex ran his hand along the headstone's edge, feeling the smoothness of the cut and it's coldness at the same time. Riley stood in front of the grave, eyes on the resting-place of his one time Initiative teammate. Alex silently moved around until he was behind him.

"What did they say happened?"

"Training accident."

"What really happened?"

"There was a hot LZ, he was taken out while covering the extraction from behind a minigun."

"Died a hero."

"He'll get an award in the sealed section of his personnel folder."

"Is he 'in there'?"

Riley looked back at him and nodded.

"Good, sense of closure for the family."

Alex stepped up close to the headstone and knelt down.

"I never really took the opportunity to get to know you. I'm sorry for that. Now I wished I would have. You were a good, brave man, braver then a lot of people I though of as heroes. Thank you."

He reached out touching the stone, then the grass growing on the grave. Alex remained that way for a bit before slowly standing up. He backed a few steps away from the grave until he was shoulder to shoulder with Riley again. The former Iowa corn boy turned soldier slowly and quietly gave his fallen comrade a last salute. Quietly the pair left the graveside and headed towards their car.

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

"It's something that has to be done one way or another. Might as well get it over with."


Crestview School for the Gifted, 45 minutes later...

"Nice layout."

Riley and Alex examined the school while sitting in Riley's car, an old sedan. The school was built on a fairly large parcel of land about 1.5 acres. On first glance both were surprised to find the plot of land still contained fairly dense woods. A large wrought iron gate built into a brick wall that ran around the boundaries of the property marked the entrance to the school. The gate and wall were around seven and a half feet high and the wall appeared around eighteen inches wide. Riley squinted and tapped his companion on the shoulder before pointing at something in the wall. Alex looked closer at the walls and he saw what had caught Finn's attention. Built into the walls, just beyond the gate was a line of crosses that ran from the top to the bottom.

"I wonder who thought that up."

"Probably Giles."

Riley put the car in gear and pulled into the driveway of the school.

"Hello, we are not expecting any deliveries, I mean. Please state your business." An annoying yet familiar voice blared forth from a speaker box near the gate.

Riley lowered his window and responded. "This is Riley Finn. I've come to speak to Buffy and the others."

There was a long pause, followed by some indistinct chatter before the speaker replied. "Um, Come on in, they're in the library, if you pull into the parking lot, someone will guide you there."

"No thanks, I'll find it".

Riley looked over at his passenger who seemed unfazed by what was going on. Alex simply shrugged, "Vamp or not, that's Harmony for you."

In the windowless office, Harmony was having a full-scale panic.

"Okay, Buffy and the others are in an important meeting. And she expressly said NO disturbing her or them specifically unless it's an apocalypse."

Harmony thought for a moment before speaking out loud again. "Well she said don't disturb her specifically, she didn't say anything about a general school-wide announcement." She smiled and keyed the intercom.


Riley frowned and looked over at Alex as they continued down the walkway to where Buffy was. Seeing no response, he continued walking towards the inevitable meeting. As they came around a corner, the library building came into view. Setting his jaw, he pushed the double doors open and walked in with Alex right behind him.

He looked at the counter and office as he entered and was surprised to see no one there. Looking around, Riley spotted them gathered around a couple of tables in the back of the library. Finn waited as Buffy got out of her seat and walked a little closer to him. Behind her, he saw Willow; Giles and some other people he didn't recognize shift a little and focus their attention on him and her. A movement in the shadows caught his attention briefly and Riley saw two figures lurking back there, one with blonde hair, Spike and Angel.

Buffy cleared her throat and addressed him with a flat tone in her voice, "Hello Riley. Come to see me for help for another disaster you created?"

"I didn't come here for me, Buffy."

"Oh? Then why did you come here?"

Instead of answering her, Riley merely stepped aside. Behind her, Buffy heard a muted gasp from Willow. Standing behind Riley was a dark haired man with a different yet familiar face.

"Xander", Willow spoke softly and slowly started tearing up. Holding back the floodgates, she got out of her chair and made her way closer to him.

Behind him, Riley heard the library doors bang open and he looked back as Dawn entered the building. With her came a woman that could have passed for a model, a thin, timid looking man and another somewhat mousy woman.

"There you are Xander." The model said somewhat harshly but with a warm grin on her face.

Willow was still smiling as Xander started walking towards her and then went right by without saying a word. Both she and Buffy turned and watched as he made his way toward the table. Stopping short, Alex looked at the other people at the table. Starting with an unfamiliar man in business attire, then Giles, Faith, Wood, Kennedy, and in the shadows, he saw Spike and Angel lurking. His gaze fell upon each in turn, some more intently then others. Satisfied, he turned his back and walked away from them. Again he passed by Willow and Buffy without saying a word; he stopped and looked at Dawn, Cordelia, Andrew and Fred. Finally he turned, looked at Riley and spoke without any emotion in his voice.

"I've seen enough, we can go now."

Finn nodded and the two of them prepared to leave.

"Go? Go where? You just got here. And now you're leaving without even saying hello to me? To Buffy?"

Alex didn't answer her as he and Riley started to walk away.

"Damn it Xander. I'm your best friend answer me."

"Alex. My name is Alex Harris. Not 'Xander'."

"What? Xander, what's wrong with you, why are you leaving."

He turned and looked at the confused red head.

"Nothing is wrong. I finished my business and I'm going home."

"But, you're leaving and we haven't. I mean you haven't even hugged me and I'm your best friend."

She looked up at him, with a weak but hopeful smile. And Willow's hope was dashed by what she saw; Xander was looking at her as though she was a stranger. When he spoke there was no emotion in his voice.

"You're not my friend, you haven't been my friend since junior high school. I stopped thinking about you as a friend long time ago."

Willow opened her mouth but could say nothing and she closed it again.

"What did you do to him Riley?" Buffy snarled at the other man. Finn ignored her as Alex turned and looked at her for the first time since entering the library.

"What did he do to me?" he paused noting Buffy was still looking at Riley, "He talked to me. He treated me like a person, like a friend would."

Buffy broke off the glare she was giving and looked at 'Alex'. For the first time she noted he had two eyes, eyes that were looking at her as though they had never met.

"Xander, why are you acting like this?"

"Seven years."


"For seven years, I was there, fighting the good fight. Lending a hand when someone needed to fight, my compassion when someone needed to cry and my money when the bills came. I never asked once for anything in return and I don't intend to ask for anything now. I'm done fighting now."

"Xander..." Willow tried to get his attention.

He continued, ignoring her. "I have a life now, a normal life, not a great life but a good one. I get up in the morning, work all day, come home, watch TV and go to bed at a reasonable hour. I don't fight demons. I don't patrol for vampires. I don't read musty old books written in languages. It's a nice life."

Buffy smiled, "that's good to hear Xander."

"And I don't want you in it."

Buffy stopped smiling, "what?"

"I don't want you in my life, I don't want Willow in my life, I don't want anyone here in my life now. I'm done with you."

Willow started shaking quietly, "w-why?"

"Every time we fought the bad guys in the past, someone always lost something dear to them. Whether it was Ms. Calendar, Jessie or ...Anya, someone always paid the price. And that someone wasn't the hero, it wasn't the strongest person in the fight; it was always the people that no one noticed that lost the most. Normal people like me."

Buffy stood silent as he continued.

"I lost everything in those fights my closest guy friend being turned into a vampire and dying by my hand. I lost my virginity to a psychopath who tried to kill me on the same bed where we had sex. I lost my future as an executive with the construction company. I lost my eye saving the life of a girl whom doesn't know a single thing about me and doesn't care. I even lost the one woman who accepted me for what I was and that I would have married. Then a few months ago I lost the two most important people in my life, my parents."

There was a soft but audible intake of breath when he said that.

"It was for them I left Oxnard, dad was all sorts of liver problems, he ended up in the hospital. I thought for a while he was going to die then and I realized that he's still my father and I still love him. Somehow, he got better, they both stopped drinking, went to therapy. He and Mom helped me I helped them. It wasn't perfect but for the first time in years we were a family again, little by little piecing our lives together. Then came one night, I got a call at work saying they had been in a car accident, a drunk bus driver had hit them head on. Mom died instantly and Dad was fading when I got there..." His voice started cracking as he spoke.

"The doctors told me he was bleeding internally, too far gone to save. I went to his bedside and stayed there. When the time came, I held his hand and told him I was proud to be his son and that I loved him and mom. He smiled, took one last breath and went to be with mom."

Alex paused and took several deep breaths, trying to choke back his tears. There was a sound of soft crying from Dawn. Cordelia pulled the younger girl into her arms and held her as she sobbed. Willow remained where she was, crying softly. Buffy did nothing, her face was free of tears and it held no expression.

Finally he regained his composure and continued, "Now, there's just me. My last real family is gone, so I'm moving on as best I that I can. I'm building a new life and leaving my old one behind. And that's why I don't want you in my life.

Surprised, Willow lifted her head with tears still in her eyes, "w- what?"

"I need friends, real friends in my life now."

"Xander... we're..."

"No we're not. We never really were friends Willow. Jessie and me were just the two kids who paid attention to you. When Jessie died and Buffy came to town, she became more important to you then I was. When Oz entered the picture, I faded into the background. When you started practicing magic and got involved with Tara, you pushed me out of your life completely. And a few months after Tara's funeral you went and jumped into bed with a girl you barely knew."

Willow was literally shaking; he continued his voice flat and free of emotion.

"One of the things that make friendship work is caring about the other person. I cared a lot about you Will, more so then I ever thought. But you never cared about me; all you cared about was the power, the attention. You're just like Buffy, the person doesn't matter, all that matters is are they powerful enough for you."

With that, he nodded at Riley and they made their way to the door. Andrew, Fred and Cordelia holding a now confused Dawn parted as though afraid of them. All four had mixed expressions of grief, confusion and fear on their faces. Behind him Willow sunk to the floor, tears streaming down her face, sobbing and shaking she curled into a ball and lay there.

"Xander, What the hell happened to you in the past two years?" Cordelia asked.

Pausing before he followed Riley out the door, Alex answered her.

"I got older."

Chapter 5

"Well that went well."

"I thought so."

Riley and Alex were headed for the parking lot where the rental car waited. Riley spared a glance at the other man. Alexander Lavelle Harris had changed a great deal from the construction worker he had met in Sunnydale. When Sam had bumped into Alex in town more then a year ago she had mentioned the same thing. He was different; he rarely smiled, much less laughed. The honest, hard working young man had become a grim, solitary figure.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

"You want to pay that much for the thoughts of a farmboy?"

"Well it beats paying for my thoughts, I find it much easier to mimic others rather develop my own original way of thinking."

Finn laughed. "Just thinking about how you were and how you are now?"

"If you're sucking up to in the hopes you won't have to eat Sam's meat loaf alone, save your breath. No amount of Pepto-Bismol is worth that agony."

"It was pretty bad wasn't it?"

"Pretty bad? No the food in that diner on the way here was pretty bad. That meat loaf was Hellmouthy."

"I'm gonna tell her you said that."

"You can't it violates the buddy rule. Men shall not rat their best friends out to wives, girlfriends or one-night stands."

"Is that a rule?"

"Yes it is. And if you tell on me, I'll tell her about your little adventure involving Crown Royal."

Fear, embarrassment and a host of other emotions flashed across Riley's face at the mention of that particular incident.

"So. You sure you're okay with what went on?"

Alex was quiet for a bit and he answered Riley as they reached the car.

"I thought it was going to be harder."

"Really? What happened"

"I saw their faces again."


Back inside the library

Willow was curled up in a ball crying on the floor. Sobs racked her body as tears streamed down her face. Kennedy ran to her and pulled her into her a tight hug. She kissed Willow's forehead as she rocked back and forth trying to calm her girlfriend.

Buffy stood silently staring at the open door for a long minute before she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned and looked up into the face of her lover. Her eyes seemed to waver a second, then she took a deep breath and started walking back to the table, not paying attention to those behind her.


The oldest slayer sat down and resumed her reading.


She turned her attention to her younger sister. Dawn's face was red from crying and she was clinging to Cordelia. Her voice trembled as she spoke.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm going back to researching, Dawn."

"Buffy, Xander he was just here and he talked to us and now you're going back to research!"

Her elder sister sighed.

"Dawn we have a lot of work to do. If you don't want to help, then please leave so we can concentrate."

Her sister watched as Buffy picked up her book and resumed reading it. Shortly thereafter Giles, Faith, Wood, and Travis also returned to researching. Dawn's gaze fell on Willow still crying and sobbing in Kennedy's arms. Abruptly she came to a decision and spoke.

"I don't want to be here."

Following that, Dawn ran from the library with Andrew hot on her heels. Cordelia shot a look in Buffy's direction before following. Fred watched them leave before heading back to where the others were. Spike saw her heading towards them. Smiling he made his way out to her and pulled her into a tight embrace, followed with a kiss. Fred was blushing when they parted.

"Missed you."

"I know pet." He lightly stroked her hair and face.

A snort from Buffy caught their action and they pulled back somewhat. Trying to calm herself, Fred took a breath before asking the question that was on her mind.

"What was that all about?"

"That pet, was Captain Cardboard, Riley Finn and one fairly weak man named Xander Harris."

A look of confusion came over Fred's face, "But I thought you said Xander was a lamb. That he would never act like that?"

Spike chuckled, he lightly stroked her hair while answering, and "Harris didn't have the stomach for dealing with rough times He was always so threatened by being around strong women. Kept threatening his masculinity they did. Had to figure he would snap sooner or later."

Fred looked around at the others and saw that they weren't paying attention.

"Well I have to go back to class now, so I'll see you tonight." She smiled, kissed him and left.

As she was walking by she paused by Willow and Kennedy, a concerned look on her face.

"Is she still crying?"

Kennedy looked up at her, still rocking Willow and nodded her head. Fred kneeled down and touched her friend. "Willow, are you okay?"

The witch looked up at her with red, puffy eyes, tear tracks still on her face. Kennedy took the opportunity to get to her feet while still holding Willow.

"Come on, Willow let's get you to bed".

The red head nodded slowly and allowed Kennedy to take her to their room.

Angel looked at the group from the shadows where he lurked. He had seen Xander's actions and heard every word spoken by him. Now the former detective was watching the others act as though nothing had happened. A hand touched his shoulder lightly causing him to look in its direction. Harmony was standing beside him, looking confused. She looked as though she had taken time to freshen up before coming.

"Where is he?"

"Xander left already"

"Xander was here?"

"Yes he and Riley were here."

"Oh." She snuggled closer to him. "And I hurried thru the tunnels and still missed it. I hope he's okay?"

"He's fine, Harmony." Angel sighed as she wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder. Automatically Angel slid his arm around her as well. He paid little attention Buffy glancing in their direction. While his mind began pondering the events that had unfolded earlier, his gaze settled on the hardwood floor of the library.


Beneath the streets

They had arrived.

They're long journey was at its end. Soon the time to strike would come. They would carry out their mission. And they would reap the generous rewards of their master. For now, they would simply wait.


Crestview dormitories and faculty apartments

Cordelia was watching Dawn and Andrew with a great deal of interest. Since leaving the library earlier, Buffy's younger sister had an air of quiet determination. She and Andrew had Willow's laptop open and were looking up Willow's earlier searches that had led her and Buffy to Riley's hotel room. There was a knock on the apartment door and the one time May queen opened it. In the doorway she found Kennedy supporting Willow. Taking a step back to allow them into the apartment, Cordelia watched the pair as they entered.

Willow's eyes and face were still red, as even now she looked ready to cry again. Kennedy's concern and fear for her were emblazoned on the young slayer's features. Slowly with little energy, Willow made her way to the couch and sat quietly. She turned her head slightly and watched Dawn and Andrew playing with her computer.

"Willow honey, do you want some tea or hot chocolate?"

She didn't answer.

Kennedy's concern became frustration as she finally had enough.

"Damn it. Willow why are you doing this? Just because some guy came back here and said you weren't friends? What does that matter?"


The slayer turned her attention on the ex-seer. Indignant, she glared at the older woman. "And why should I? That man, he basically told her she was worthless to him and ever since then she's been crying. What does his opinion matter so much?"

Cordelia spoke softly, "It matters because for a long time, Xander was the only person Willow ever had. He was the only one who paid attention to her."

"But, that's not true anymore, there's me. There's Buffy, Faith, Giles, Angel and Wood. All those people and the younger slayers, they all pay attention to her now."

"He's right you know."

They turned and saw Dawn looking at them while Andrew was still busy on the computer.

"Xander said that only people with power matter to Willow and Buffy. And he's right."

Kennedy became angry again at hearing that. "Dawn that's not true, Willow treats everyone fairly. Whether or not they have power has nothing to do with it."

"Then why didn't we go looking for him?"


"We had work to do, Dawn." Willow's throat was dry and rough after her crying. She blinked slowly trying to hold back the tears that had been flowing freely.

"The mission is what matters." Kennedy added.

Dawn's face flickered at that phrase. She turned her back on them, "Maybe to you but not to me."


Riley and Alex's hotel room

With a practiced motion, Riley reloaded the pistol. It was an older Second World War era Colt .45 that had been issued to his grandfather. Despite the move to the newer, lighter Beretta and it's 9mm rounds, Riley preferred the older gun. It's heavier weight and fewer rounds were made up by for by its firepower and stopping ability. Smiling he replaced the gun in its shoulder holster. The ringing of his cell-phone interrupted him.


"Hey, how are you doing?"

"I'm fine dear, unfortunately Alex was eaten by a large mutant rat."

"Ha, how is he?"

"He met them today."


"It went as expected."

"... Riley, did he?"

"He told them what he needed to tell them. We'll be headed back tomorrow."

"Okay. I love you."

"I love you two."

Riley hung up as the bathroom door opened and Alex came out dressed in some old sweats.

"Just talked to Sam. Told her we were going back tomorrow. You know barring any natural disaster."

Alex grimaced at him, "You do remember we're on a hellmouth right?"

Riley smiled, "yeah but I don't think there's anything out there that we can't handle."

Before Alex could respond the phone in the room rang. Riley looked at it with mild surprise before answering.


"Hi Riley."

"Oh hello Dawn, I suppose I shouldn't ask you how you got the phone number to this room."

"Willow keeps very detailed notes."


"Is Xan-, I mean is Alex there?"

"Yes. He's here."

"May I speak with him?"

"I'll ask." Riley covered the phone with his hand and mouthed 'You want to?' to Alex who reluctantly nodded. He took the phone from Finn and sat down on the bed.

"Hello Dawn."

"Hi Xan-, I mean Alex. Look I don't want to keep you busy so I'll just come straight to the point. I don't know if I did anything wrong- " "Dawn-"

"No, let me finish. I don't know if I did anything wrong. But I want the opportunity to try and apologize. Will you please come by the school tomorrow? So we can talk?"

Silence as Alex drew a deep breath.

"All right, I'll be there around eleven."

"Okay. Thank you Alex. Have a good night."

"Good night Dawn."

With that Alex hung up the phone. Riley watched him for a bit. Then he picked up the remote and clicked on the TV, he quickly found the Indians game and they settled down for the night to watch it.

Chapter 6

Riley and Alex's hotel, later on that evening.

Riley Finn had long ago mastered the ability to sleep lightly enough to awaken easily, yet refreshed. It was a useful and sometimes necessary skill to survive. He had learned that the hard way after seeing one soldier disappear into the night while resting. The other man in the hotel room watched him sleep for a short time. In the dark, he dressed and as quietly as possible he left the room. As he locked the door from the outside, Riley opened his eyes slightly and smiled before rolling over and going back to sleep.

He surveyed the empty hallway before making his way towards the stairs. The elevator was simply more trouble then it was worth, too many questions could be asked by riding it down. Instead, he opted for the stairs where he made his way down the back entrance again. This time he wasn't out on business, this time was strictly personal.


Crestview Library

Rupert Giles was in the midst of transcribing his notes to his latest watcher's diary when the knock came. Looking up he saw Robin Wood standing in the doorway. He waved the younger man inside as he returned to his task.

Wood watched him for a few minutes before clearing his throat. Reluctantly Giles put his pen down and looked at him.

"Kind of an interesting afternoon we had wasn't it?"

"Yes, I suppose it was."

There was a pause before Giles spoke again.

"Is something bothering you, Robin?"

"You might say that. Today we had a guy, two guys actually. One of whom I know lost one of his eyes to an agent of the First Evil and lost his former fiancée in the same war. He shows up here and tells the same friends he fought alongside to go to hell."

"Yes. That does seem to summarize the events of the day."

"Is that all you can say?"

"What would you have me say?"

"I don't know? Maybe an explanation?"

Sighing Giles removed his glasses and pinched his nose lightly.

"Robin, Xander was and is an impulsive young man with many positive and negative qualities. Among the latter is a lack foresight that frequently gets him into trouble. That he has decided to limit those kinds of trouble by removing himself from our lives shows he is at least partially aware of that fact. "

The black man looked skeptical.

"Rupert, Can you honestly say that young man is any less a liability then Spike is? Or Andrew?"

"Andrew has several useful abilities not the least of which are his knowledge and summoning abilities. He is also quite useful with that infernal computer when Willow is not available."

"Spike is a vampire."

"Yes, he is, he is also in possession of his soul."

Wood snorted.

"I understand your distrust and hatred of Spike for the actions of his demon. But, his sacrifices first in Sunnydale and then in Los Angles for Angel, have convinced me that he is trustworthy, Robin."

"If you say so."

"I would not have thought it so when I first encountered him. But, the former William the Bloody is more useful and more of an asset to us then Alexander was. It is with his help that normal people such as Alexander are no longer needed."

"Guess that means I am ready to be replaced as well?"

"Absolutely not. We are in need of your skills as principal not to mention your skills as a fighter are quite formidable."

Wood got to his feet, deep in thought. "Faith wants to go out tonight so I'd better get ready."

"A patrol?"

"No, bar."

"Oh well be careful, Angel was able to suppress the pursuit of Faith and the Hellmouth's energies make it less likely she will be noticed, it remains possible that she will be recognized by someone."

"We know, low level bars and dives tonight. Places less likely to ask questions."


In town

The Brown Derby was once a somewhat respected gentlemen's establishment. Founded nearly 50 years ago, it had catered to a modest middle management clientele. It's wood trim, soft lighting and cushioned seats had lent to an air of quiet comfort on many a night. That ended a few years ago when the club's ownership had changed hands. The new owners had gutted much of the club's interior, installing a more modern sound and lighting system. Platforms had been installed and patrons were often encouraged to 'use' them. The club's bar had been redesigned and expanded. The exterior was the same as it had been while the interior was garish and new. The mix of the two was somewhat jarring and caused quite a bit of discussion among the locals.

None of which mattered at all to the man currently sitting in the darkness. He had chosen this spot specifically to avoid being noticed. His eyes roamed the club, slowly tracing a lazy pattern in the noise. He dropped his gaze to the tabletop and the half-filled glass of ice and water on it. A distinctive voice reached his ears and he found its source at the bard. Faith, the slayer from Boston, was present. Beside her, was an older black man, Robin Wood. They were dressed for a night on the town, she in black leather pants, a matching black halter and a leather jacket. Wood on the other hand opted for something less eye catching, black jeans and a dark blue shirt. They seemed in the midst of an animated conversation that had Faith gesturing and talking as Wood listened in.

"It sounded like a fucking freight train."

Hearing that phrase, the man eye's closed and he thought back to before....


It was safe now to go outside, the immediate danger had passed. Slowly he crept forth from his shelter and saw what had happened. This had been a fairly average neighborhood, brick and wooden houses with chain link fences, bird feeders and lawn sprinklers. Now most of the neighborhood was gone, obliterated by the terrifying power that had passed through. Homes that had stood for more then a decade had been reduced to piles of rubble. Even those places that still stood showed signs of extensive damage. Trees, boats, automobiles were interspersed throughout the rubble at random.

He turned his attention to the east, following the roar. Its path of destruction seemed to lessen as it got further away from them. Even as he watched, the storm lost its strength finally and the funnel disappeared. But the damage it created was proof its strength. Homes and lives ripped apart as though they were tissue paper and scattered across the ground. He smiled grimly, there would be time enough to mourn the dead once the living were saved.

**End Flashback**

The man jerked his attention back the present. His senses buzzing, he scanned the room. A woman dressed in red clothing and her date attracted his attention. Quietly he watched as they made out before leaving the club as a new influx of people entered. Silently the man paid for his drink and followed them outside.

The vampire had just begun to feed when it was struck from behind and its victim was yanked away. It quickly got to its feet, growling at the strange man that dared interrupt. The man seemed unconcerned as he checked on the victim. The vampire had been prevented before it could drain too much blood.

"That was rude."

The red garbed woman spoke a thin trail of blood dribbled out of her mouth. The human seemed untroubled by the vampire.

"Dinner's cancelled leech."

"No, not cancelled. Changed, it's two for one now."

The man chuckled, his blue eyes full of mirth before replying.

"Give it a try."


Less then five minutes later.

Faith and Wood burst forth from the club. They looked around tensely, having to work their way through the crowd while not drawing attention to themselves would be hard under most circumstances. Trying to do so in order to save someone from being eaten had made them even more difficult.

"Damn it, I know that bitch came out here to feed."

"Faith, over there."

Wood made his way over to the young man lay propped up against the wall. Wood quickly checked for a pulse and sighed in relief when he found. He checked the man and found a makeshift bandage around the man's neck. He removed the bandage and saw the wound wasn't life threatening but resolved to call 911 as soon as possible.

"This sucks, where the hell is the vamp? Her meal is here but where did she go?"

In frustration, she kicked an old soda can that lay near her foot. The can flew into the wall, bounced off and rolled before coming to a stop. Faith's eye's widened when she saw a familiar looking pile of ash next to the can. Wood joined her and they both stared at the pile of ash.

"Guess we know what happened to the vampire."

Faith turned her attention back towards the intended meal, now merely unconscious while Wood took a few steps nearer the remains of the vampire. Faith's confusion increased as she looked at the otherwise unmarked alley. Robin looked up to say something to her but a flicker of movement caught his eyes. He turned towards it and just for a moment caught the outline of a figure.

"We had better get back to the school."

Faith nodded and the two of them set off for home.

Chapter 7

The next day at Crestview School for the Gifted.

As before they pulled into the driveway and Harmony buzzed them through. This time though they found Andrew waiting for them in the parking lot. Alex examined the younger man as he left the car. Andrew looked remarkably like he had two years prior. He was still rather thin with an expression between curiosity and concern always on his face. Andrew wore a pair of khaki slacks with a dark blue short- sleeved shirt.

"Hello Andrew."

"Hi Xand-, I mean Alex." The former trio member corrected himself. "I'll take you to where Dawn, Cordelia and Willow are."

The other two nodded and followed him into the school.

"Hey Andrew." Alex spoke


"Thanks for being a good Max."

Andrew blinked and smiled at him.


The library

Spike sat slumped down in his chair. He glanced down at the book open in front of him. A scowl crossed his face and he turned his attention to the open notebook beside it. Several sentences were scrawled in it, some of them rhyming, some not. A shadow fell across the notebook, causing Spike to look up and scowl even further.

"Hello Poof."

Angel looked down at the younger vampire for a moment before taking his seat. His attention went to the other side of the table where one of the surviving watchers sat. Phillip Mallard had worked for the lower levels of the council early in his life but had retired to a small town in Vermont. Faith and Wood had found him by accident and recruited him as a member of the 'new' council, which Giles currently headed.

"I take it that Mr. Giles, Principal Wood, the slayers and Ms. Rosenberg are on their way?" Mallard inquired.

"Willow's going to be a little late."

"May I inquire as to why?"

"She's meeting with an old friend."

"So Droopy came back to apologize and beg for forgiveness did he? Harris had better be glad that he isn't a toad or a rat right now. Arrogant little sod, always harping on about himself."

Angel paid no attention to Spike's comments, opting instead to wait for the others in silence.



The sound of footsteps reached their ears well before the figures came into sight. Five large men with demonic faces and yellow eyes crept into view. The newcomers eyed the larger figures carefully; one of them stepped closer. He locked eyes with the largest of the brown robed figures for a few minutes. Then both and the other creature turned and gazed up at the ceiling. It was almost time.


Crestview faculty apartments

Andrew led the two of them into a recently remodeled three-story building that served as home. It had required a great deal of money and work to bring the building up to spec. New wallpaper, fresh paint and all new fixtures in the bathroom. He led them up the stairs, down the hallway and stopped in front of a door on the second floor. Nervously he knocked on the door twice.

"Come in." came Dawn's voice.

He opened the door for the two men and followed them in. Andrew led them into the living room where the girls waited. Alex looked around the modestly furnished room, eyeing the other people there, Dawn, Cordelia and Willow. Willow was dressed in black pants and a red shirt with long sleeves that were up at the elbow. The red head's expression was one of hurt mixed with guilt as she eyed her childhood friend. Beside her, Cordelia wore a black mini skirt with a white cotton blouse. Her soft, black hair was almost as long as he remembered it was in high school. But it was Dawn who surprised him the most. She wore a full-length festive looking skirt and a light tan blouse. She became extremely nervous as she saw him studying her.

"You look like-"

Dawn's lower lip trembled as she answered, "Like Tara". Upon hearing that name Willow inhaled deeply, briefly resting her head in her hands. An awkward silence settled over the room for a time. Finally Willow looked up and spoke.

"Xander I-"

"No." Cordelia cut her off and gestured to Dawn who nodded and addressed him.

"Alex, I-I don't know what happened. I'm sorry about Anya and I'm sorry that I took you for granted. And I-"

"Dawn. You don't have to apologize for anything. You didn't do anything wrong so you have nothing to apologize for anything."

Alex paused before continuing "I want to say thank you."

She looked up surprised.

"Thank me? For what?"

"You pulled me out of the school, after." His voice trailed off then resumed; "You saved me when no one else did. Thank you."

Dawn looked flushed at his words. Cordelia shot an ugly look at the witch before smiling as well. Willow flinched at his words and sunk deeper into her seat.

Cordelia stood up, drawing everyone's attention to her. She took a deep breath and then addressed her former boyfriend. "Alex, I want to say I'm sorry for not saying anything to you after graduation. I should have called you at least once in a while. And I want to thank you for making me a better person." She finished.

The youngest and only surviving Harris looked at her for a long time before answering, "I didn't make you into a better person Cordy. You were always that person, You just needed the opportunity to show it." Cordelia brightened considerably at his words. She took several steps closer and embraced him in a hug, resting her head on his chest for a few moments. Hesitating Dawn came up behind her and took one of Alex's hands and simply held it with both of hers. The redhead slumped even further into her chair, casting her eyes down.

Reluctantly Cordelia released her hug on him and took only a step back. She looked up into his face and smiled. Silently Willow got to her and moved past the group. The closer she got the door, the quicker she moved. Andrew caught sight of her moving towards the door.


"I- I just can't Andrew. I have to go." She slammed the door in her haste to leave the apartment and ran towards the library.

Riley observed the whole thing in silence.


The Library

The doors to the library banged open for a second time in two days as Willow burst into room. She paid no attention to the stares she was getting from the others.


She turned and saw Kennedy coming toward her. "You've been crying again." Willow nodded numbly and allowed herself to be led back to the table.



The largest of brown robed figures looked up and growled. It was time.


The Library

Willow jerked her head up as she felt something at the base of her spine. She barely had time to register her surprise before it happened.

The floor of the library seemed to glow briefly before exploding upwards sending wooden splinters out like shrapnel. Angel and Spike had instinctively ducked behind the table and were both shielded from the barrage. With the boom of the explosion still ringing in their ears, they stood up to take see what had happened. Phillip Mallard had been in his mid forties when his hair was just going gray and he would now never see fifty. A large piece of wood had been hurled like a javelin and struck him through the chest killing him instantly. The others were alive though bleeding from a variety of wood inflicted cuts and scratches. Spike was immediately by Fred's side holding her as she tried to stand up.

"Are you all right pet?"

"No she is not." An unfamiliar voice reached his ears. Spike and Fred looked in the direction of it. Standing by the now gaping hole in the floor were three large brown robed things with yellow eyes. Behind them on the other side of the hole were five large men though their faces revealed them to be vampires. The largest of the brown robed things spoke as it stepped forward.

"The human isn't all right and neither will you be." It intoned in a menacing tone. Spike growled as he shifted moving between Fred and the thing.

"We'll see about that mate".


Dawn's room, faculty apartments

Following Willow's departure, Cordelia and Dawn had found seats on the couch. Alex was sitting in a beige recliner while Riley leaned against the wall near the entranceway. Andrew was in the kitchen getting everyone drinks. The girls were explaining what had happened in the past two years.

"The building was going to be a real school but then local funding dried up and it was abandoned. Giles managed to get a good deal on the property with Angel's help. After what went down in LA, we decided to move here and help train the new slayers."

Alex was quiet for a little bit before he spoke, "I thought you were going to be an actress Cor, what happened?"

A look of regret and sadness came over her face as she answered. "I got older too."

Alex looked over at the former cheerleader, contemplating her words as he did so. He opened his mouth to reply but then shut it as the sound of an explosion was heard. Riley was off the wall in an instant, his eyes turned towards the door as he listened for footsteps and he reached inside his coat. Hearing none his hand remained in his coat but he quickly looked around as Andrew came running into the room. Cordelia looked a little pale as she spoke.

"That sounded like it came from the library".

The group looked at each other for a second. Seconds later the door slammed shut as they ran towards the source of the explosion.


The library

The first thing that Alex saw as they burst into the building was a rather large hole in the wooden floor. The second thing he saw was a reddish-yellow flash of light towards the back. He quickly looked back in time to see Wood, Giles, Wesley and an unfamiliar man slam into the back wall. Standing in the back were three larger then human figures dressed in brown, dirt-covered robes. His attention was quickly shifted back to in front of him as he noticed five large men with cruel twisted faces. The vampires growled for a bit before charging them.

Riley fired at the nearest vampire; the bullet caught the creature in the shoulder jerking it back a little. Without hesitation, he shifted his aim and fired a second time this hitting it in the kneecap. Howling in agony, the vampire dropped to one knee. Riley was prevented from firing a third time as he was tackled by another vampire. With one vamp down and another engaged with Riley, the remaining three attacked Cordelia, Dawn, Andrew and Alex.

One of the vampires attacked the girls, the other two split up, one taking Andrew, the final one on Alex. Andrew grabbed a nearby chair and hit the vampire attacking him with it. The creature shrugged it off and grabbed him around the throat. It hoisted him up and threw him against the wall, stunning him. Alex threw a punch at the vampire striking him in the face. The undead shrugged it off and kicked him in the stomach, doubling him over. He was kicked in the jaw and sent flying over the counter. Alex tried to regain his breath as he heard the creature coming to finish the job.

"Okay, take over".

The remaining vampire had backed Cordelia and Dawn back into a corner. It smiled a thoroughly evil smile as it stalked closer. Dawn and Cordelia looked at each other for a second, nodded and attacked the vampire with surprising intensity. A look of shock was on its features as the young women's fists and feet struck it repeatedly. With a snarl, the creature grabbed Cordelia's arm and held it in place. Dawn grabbed a piece of wood and stabbed it in the chest. To Dawn's surprise the vampire was unharmed and casually backhanded her to the ground. It then grabbed the offending the makeshift stake, yanked it free and smiled at the former seer as it prepared to strike her through the chest. That plan fell apart as another vampire crashed into it, sending it sprawling and allowing the young woman to escape. She looked up and saw a strange man standing on the counter staring towards the back of the room.

"Hey toadsuckers!"

The man's voice rang out but none of the creatures paid attention. He tried a second time, "Hey you human-loving, slime encrusted piles of rat turds." That got their attention and the largest of the group turned it's gaze to him.

"Why don't you quit screwing around with the JV squad and step to play the varsity."

"Do not be anxious human, you will join them shortly."

"Oh really?" The man seemed amused by the demon's words. Smiling he rolled up his left sleeve and showed the creature his exposed shoulder. The thing's eyes focused on the strange mark, afterwards they narrowed and a low growl rumbled forth from it.

"Hunter." It hissed the word. "Kill him."

The man smiled at the demon's words. He turned his attention towards the two vamps that had crept closer to him. His gaze shifted to a fragment of wood lying nearby.

"That won't help you human. Stakes don't work on us."

"Yeah I know." Saying that the man drew back his coat and held his right hand open. Something flew from inside his coat into his hand. A blade of pure green energy erupted from the end of it.

"Stakes don't work but I reckon this will."

The vampires charged in response. The man flipped off the counter, twisting as he did so and landed behind them. He stabbed the first vampire from behind and then slashed the second one across the back. The reaction of both vampires was immediate. They both screamed in pain, as green light seemed to emanate from their bodies. Cordelia and Dawn watched in shock, as both vampires seemed to burn from the inside out. They caught glimpses of each creature's skeleton as their bodies melted and fell apart.

The stranger smirked at the results of his strike, "Vampires.' He turned his attention to the other vamps, "Next?"

Meanwhile Riley was struggling with the one that had attacked him earlier. Andrew had regained consciousness and was trying to help him. The former geek spotted a bottle of wood varnish, grabbed it and smashed it on the vampire. It's contents soaked through the vampires clothing, distracting the vamp. Riley used the opportunity to grab his fallen firearm and jam it into creature's clothing. He squeezed the trigger twice and the muzzle flame ignited the varnish setting the vamp on fire. It screamed as the flame consumed its body, and turned to ash.

The remaining two vampires met the same fate as the others, dying via single sword strikes from the green blade. The stranger seemed to pause for a bit before turning his attention across the hole to the brown robed figures.

"Well it looks like you're gonna need some new vampire guys."

The largest one growled something and the other two abandoned their current targets and strode toward the man. They removed their robes as they did so, revealing themselves to be a cross between a bull and a lizard in appearance with green scaled skin. One wielded a large metal rod with a hook on the end, the other an unusual shaped axe.

The man nodded and attacked striking at the axe wielder first. The second demon intercepted his attack and deflected it. The first demon used the opening swing his axe with the aim of slicing off the human's hands. The man let go of the sword not watching as it dropped to the ground. He danced back narrowly avoiding the swing. The hook wielder took the opening and struck him across the ribs. The other demon took the opportunity and raised the axe to strike. Riley took aim and fired at the axe wielder striking it in mid-swing. With a painful cry it's grip on the axe weakened and the weapon clattered to the floor as the demon sunk to its knees.

The second demon was distracted by the fate of the first and that allowed the man to get close and deliver a backhand punch to the face. He followed that up with a strong punch to the thing's stomach stunning it. Finally he slammed his right forearm into the thing's chin and finished by executing a spinning roundhouse kick to the other side of the thing's head. Dazed, the creature dropped its weapon and crumpled to the ground. The stranger took a second to look at fallen demon.

"Good old hell chain."

With a roar the wounded demon rose behind him and charged. The man flipped up the axe with his feet, got a firm grip and swung it like a baseball bat. The axe connected with the demon's chest and the blade sunk in more then halfway. The demon slumped to the floor dead. There was little time to celebrate as the stunned demon began stir. The man sighed as he picked up the rod and walked over to the demon trying to stand up. He kicked it's knees from behind, yanked back on the head and rammed the rod into the demon's mouth so hard it burst forth from the back of the head. The stranger let the dead body fall to the floor and turned to address the remaining demon.

"Offhand, I'd say you're out of flunkies. You might want to quit while you're still alive twinkle toes."

The demon threw off its robe in response. It was larger then the other two with yellow patches on it's body. And a large sword with serrated edges in the thing's hands.

The man smirked and gestured at the demon. "Come on."

The remaining demon charged and hopped at him. Suddenly the man's green bladed sword leaped off the ground and flew into his hand in time to block the attack. Sparks flew briefly as the weapons clashed and then the two combatants backed off. Snarling the demon swung down at the man, forcing him to use both hands on his weapon. He seemed to wince in pain as the demon pressed further backing him against the wall. The man took the time to look up at the smiling demon flinching as he did.

"When's the last time you brushed? You desperately need a mint or something. Your breath can strip paint."

Angered, the demon shoved him back into the wall. The demon then tried to stab him but he dodged and quickly ran past it. The creature altered its strike and whirled around slashing as it did so. All of which struck nothing but air. The demon saw nothing but noticed the young blonde female human looking upward. It looked up in time to see the man come straight down and feel his blade cut through its body straight down. The demon had time to see the coldness in the human's blue eyes before it split in half.


The man fiddled with his weapon for a second as he reached inside his coat for a pair of sunglasses and slipped them on. Behind him, Buffy stared in shock at what had happened. Ignoring the pain from her injuries, she shyly stepped closer to the brunette and lightly touched his back.


The man turned around, lowering his sunglasses as he did. Buffy shivered involuntarily as the coldest blue eyes she had ever seen settled on her. There was a long pause before he spoke to her.

"Not quite."

Chapter 8

Spike had seen many things during his time. He had seen the creation of new countries, peoples and cultures. He had played a part in the creation and destruction of creatures born of pure darkness. William the Bloody had killed two slayers before falling in love with another, going so far as to regain his soul for her. Spike had accompanied her into the mouth of hell where he had perished only to be reborn as a ghost tethered to a man he loathed. As a ghost he loved a normal human that restored him to flesh. And he helped to save the life and future of Angel. None of those past experiences had prepared him the slightest for what he had seen.

"Who the bloody hell are YOU?"

Seeing that he was being ignored Spike prepared to 'introduce' himself to the stranger. Before he could move, a vise-like grip grabbed his forearm. Irritated, he turned and looked into the face of Angel. Angel shook his head sideways. The younger vampire prepared to let him have it when he noticed a look of real concern, even worry in the elder vamp's eyes and expression. He elected to hang back and allow someone else to deal with the man.

"Not quite."

An expression equal parts surprise, fear and awe was plastered on Buffy's face. With a great deal of effort, she found her voice again.

"Not quite?"

The stranger smirked as he looked down at her. "What I mean is, I'm not the man named Alexander Harris."

She blinked. "What? Who are you? What have you done with Xander?"

The last question was leveled in a harsh tone of voice as Buffy's anger grew. The man ignored her and turned his attention towards Riley and the others.

"You all right Finn?"

"I'm a little bruised. Nothing a few aspirin and some sleep won't cure."

"How about you 'Max'?"

Andrew merely nodded. "Oh and nice thinking with the wood varnish." The young man nodded dumbly not saying a word.

"Ladies, how are you two?"

Cordelia and Dawn looked at each other and straightened each other's clothing. Brushing a lock of hair out of her eyes, Dawn spoke for both.

"We're fine."


"Hey. I'm talking here. Who are you and what happened to Xander?"

He sighed as he looked down at her. "What part of I'm not Alexander Harris did you not understand? Did you get through college on your knees or what?"

There was silence as Buffy sputtered in rage. Before she could form a suitably nasty reply, Kennedy cut her off.

"You're him. The guy who dusted those vamps the other night."

"And saved your life"

"Yeah, that too." She admitted in a quiet voice.

The man smirked for a few seconds, "I knew there was another reason besides that cute little ass I liked you. You have those nice warm eyes too." Kennedy suddenly got very warm through her body. She started fidgeting somewhat trying to meet his gaze. "Too bad you couldn't have said 'thanks' to someone else that saved your hide." The young slayer looked up confused. He slowly brought up his hand and covered his left eye. Kennedy paled, confusion replaced with shame on her face. Similar expressions spread to the faces of Faith, Wood, and Giles. The stranger turned around and saw Buffy looked startled and confused.

"Please can we talk to Xander?"

Willow was shaking as she asked.

"I don't know, ever considered that he might not want to talk to you?"

Buffy looked up at him, "Please?"

He looked at both girls before speaking; "It's your call X."

There was a pause and then the stranger's face and body shifted becoming that of Alexander Harris. Buffy reached out tentatively to touch him, "Xander?"

"Don't touch me, Buffy." Alex snapped at her.

The blonde recoiled at his outburst with a hurt look on her face. She looked closer at his face, searching for something. Alex glared at her with hate in his eyes. He flicked his wrist slightly, the blade extinguished itself and he twirled it absentmindedly and hung it on his waist.

"Xander, What's wrong? Are you possessed by the Hyena again?"

He had enough and snapped. "Is that the best you can do? I'm possessed? I guess I really was like a little dog to you. "Get this Xander, go get me my notes, my stakes. Pay my bills. Stay here. Watch me fuck Spike. "

Buffy cringed at that last part.

"What you didn't think I was smart enough to figure that out? Willow told me all about your little invisibility episode and I saw Spike doing 'naked push-ups' in his bed. I can put two and two together Buffy. You fucked him then and you didn't give a damn that I was there to see it."

Buffy looked down at the floor not daring to meet his gaze. She spoke in a small, timid voice. "That was a long time ago Xander. I was lost and he was there for me."

"And the rest of us weren't?"

"Xander, I-I needed Spike then."

"You didn't need Spike. All you needed was someone with super powers that you could screw. Someone you could at least pretend to respect after you fucked."

Her voice was barely above a whisper in reply. "I always respected you Xander."

"Sure you did Buffy. That's why you told the man, who raped you, you loved him." Buffy looked up in shock. Spike had been looking on interest. He perked up at the last part, as the vampire pondered what Xander was doing. A growl from his left attracted his attention. He turned just in time to be punched in the face.


Angel tackled the smaller vampire and slammed him into a bookcase with enough force to break it. Spike slumped to the ground as the books fell down around him. Angel was on him in seconds, pummeling the blonde vampire repeatedly. Seething, he pulled back, looking around Angel snapped a chair leg off and prepared to ram it through Spike's chest.

"Angel STOP!"

The former detective stopped and glared back at Buffy. She was shaking slightly as she spoke. "Angel, please stop. He didn't... I stopped him before he could..." She closed her eyes and looked away.

Angel reluctantly threw the makeshift stake to the floor He spit on Spike and walked away from the fallen vampire. Dazed, Spike struggled to his feet, looking around for assistance. Faith was alternating looks of disbelief at Buffy and rage at Spike. Wood's face was one of disgust aimed at Buffy while Kennedy and Willow looked confused. Angel had his back to him no doubt sporting a face similar to the murderous one on Giles. Spike turned and looked at Fred only to see her shaking as she stared him.

"Fred I," She stepped backwards, moving away from him.

Alex watched the vampire slump at his lover's rejection and then looked at Buffy.

"I have nothing more to say to you Buffy. Goodbye."

She looked up in time to see Alex's face shift back to that of the other man. He blinked for a bit and looked around.

"Well that went over smashingly. Who's for foosball?"

The others looked at him incredulously. Dawn interrupted them before anything could be said.

"Um excuse me, Mr. But could you tell us who you are?"

The man smiled before he answered. "Why certainly Ms. Summers, my name's Cole. Cole Rayne at your service."


"Any other questions?"

Andrew raised his hand, "um I have a few, How did you beat up those demons? How did you and Xander become? And how come you look like Aragorn?" He gestured with his hands.

Riley laughed at that last question, ignoring the dirty look he was getting. "You do look like him, you know. I told you that. Hell Sam told you that"

Cole merely flipped him the bird in response and then answered the questions.

"You know, I like you Andrew, you're a bit of a geek but at least you're honest. As to how Alex and I came to be like this. Well that's a long story but the short version is, I found Alex bleeding and dying in an alley in a town named Oxnard."

Willow and Buffy paled at hearing his story the wicca spoke first.


"Yeah a vampire shot him and was feeding off of him. After I dusted the vamp, I checked on him. He was too weak, I didn't think he'd make it to a hospital. So I merged our bodies."

Giles had recovered enough to speak, "and how did you manage that?"

"Sorry English, trade secret."

Travis stepped forward walking towards him, "That does leaves the other question. How did you defeat those vampires and demons so easily? " He stopped in front of the strange young man. "You're human."

"And you're not, you stink like a demon. Half breed?"

Travis nodded slowly.

"Thought so. That and you stink of bottle Blondie here." Cole gestured at Buffy.

"Enhanced senses? A werewolf?"

The younger man smiled, "That's need to know info. And you don't need to know."

"So what, you're some big mystery man here to save the day?" Faith demanded.

Cole turned and looked at her with a smirk. "No, because that would mean having to put up with your slutty Southie ass drooling over me along with bitchy there. No, I'm not here to save the day; I'm just here to do a job. I could care less what happens to your skanky ass and the rest of the Super Friends here. Them excluded." He jerked a thumb in the direction of Dawn, Cordelia and Andrew.

"So I'm a skank now?" Faith demanded.

"No, you're not a skank. You give skanks a bad name. Now, you're just a ho. A ho with super strength but a ho nonetheless. Remember that when you're giving your Shaft wannabe his nightly BJ and remember a real ho swallows not spits.

Faith's anger boiled over as she charged only to have Cole sidestep her at the last second and snatch her from behind in a full nelson. Enraged Faith tried in vain to break the hold.

"What's the matter Southie? Oh I think I know what the problem is."

Saying that, he lifted her up and slammed her down, bouncing her head off the wood floor. Faith lay there, stunned by the force of the impact. Cole loomed above her with a smirk on his face.

"Gee, I guess you're not nearly as strong as you thought, huh little girl. Do yourself a favor, don't challenge what you can't defeat."

He glanced up and addressed Wood, ignoring the murderous look he was. "Don't get too upset there Denzel. She's not nearly as hurt as you think, I held back to avoid any permanent injuries. She's just going to have a nice sized lump on the back of her head for a few days."

Cole turned his attention back to his left, "So ready to go Rambo?"

Riley rolled his eyes and shook his head, "Come on Champ, we got work to do."

The two were headed for the door when Cole stopped. "Oh I almost forgot. Andrew, you're a cool guy don't let anyone tell you different. Dawn, you're spitting image of your mom, lord rest her soul. You'll make some lucky guy happy for the rest of his days. Cordy, well, I don't know what to tell you. I've been in Hollywood and how someone like you could NOT be a star puzzles the hell out of me. Well that's their loss. Take care children. Don't run with scissors or anything."

And with that, the two men left the library.

Chapter 9


Buffy flinches at the insult. She is not surprised at the tone or the wording used. She is only surprised at who her accuser is.

"I mean it, what the fuck is wrong with you?"

"Kennedy, I did some bad things before."

"Don't give me that crap. I want to know what the hell is the matter with you?"

The elder slayer was silent as Kennedy's shock turned to anger. "You used that THING to train us, you had SEX with him when we were there. You told EVERYONE that HE was the only one watching your back and he tried to RAPE YOU?"

"That was before. He has his soul now."

Kennedy's hands balled into fist, she gritted her teeth. Only a firm hand on her shoulder prevented her from jumping out the chair and hitting the other girl. Travis lightly and warmly tapped the brunette as Willow tried to reassure her.

"Buffy's had a lot of problems."

Kennedy gave her girlfriend an incredulous look.

"Buffy's had? Buffy's HAD! Excuse me, we had a RAPIST VAMPIRE living in the house with us for several months and the only defense was HE HAD HIS SOUL?"

Willow winced at her tone. She opened her mouth to speak but Angel cut off her.

"Souls aren't a guarantee against sin if the past is any indication." He said as he turned around to face the group. "I should know."

Robin had gotten on his hands and knees and was holding Faith's head in his hands. Dawn returned from the office and handed him an ice pack, which he held on Faith's forehead.

"Yeah it looks like we all managed to misjudge people in the past". He spoke while glaring at Giles. "I really don't know if I can blame Buffy for her poor judgement. It looks like she had even poorer role models."

The Englishman looked away rather then meet his gaze.

"Oh don't blame this entirely on Giles. She was a total screw up long before this. She wouldn't even TRY to stake Angelus. Buffy always put herself first." Cordelia Chase interrupted. The others looked at her, some with raised eyebrows.

"Coming from you Cordy, that's a real funny. The reigning bitch queen of Sunnydale high." Buffy shot back.

"I may have been queen of SunnyD but you were always head bitch in charge."

"You don't know what I went through Cordy. So just leave at that."

Cordelia's face grew dark. "Well here's a newsflash for you Slayer. Everyone has a rough life."

"I'm so not in the mood for this Cordy. I have to go find Xander."

The former cheerleader didn't move. "Why now? Why is finding Xander important NOW Buffy? What's so different that finding him is something YOU want to do? You didn't want to do it YESTERDAY"

The smaller blonde didn't answer.

Cordelia pressed forward "Is it because he's not 'normal' anymore, is that it?" Buffy couldn't look her friend in the face. "God you're shallow. Always fawning over guys because of their looks or because they're special." She finished with disdain in her voice.

"Isn't that what attracted you to Angel?" Fred asked.

Cordelia faltered and sadness spread across her face as she looked at other woman. Fred had recovered from the earlier admission. Now she faced down the ex-seer with a look of determination on her face. Her lover looked on from his knees as Fred continued.

"You told me you loved Angel and wanted to be with him forever."

Cordelia's voice dropped to barely above a whisper as she replied. "Things change Fred. I changed. Angel changed. I did love Angel. I still care about him. But it's different now." She crossed her arms in front of her stomach and stared down. Fred followed her gaze; instantly regretting it as she realized what Cordelia was referring to.

After some degree of difficultly Cordelia spoke again, "I just can't keep doing this." She looked up at Fred and the others; "I made a mistake with Xander by not keeping in touch with him. I'm not going to let you go out and hurt him again."

Dawn cautiously gave the older woman a sympathetic squeeze. Wordlessly Cordelia drew Dawn into a hug that both needed. Buffy stood nearby, forearms crossed as she rubbed for warmth, watching them.



This bar was vastly different from the last one he had heard about. It was decorated in more of a traditional 'bar' theme. There were a few scattered pool tables in use, lit by soft lighting and a few tables took up the remaining space. The music was a mix of country and rock tunes that seemed to alternate between melancholy, remorse and anger.

"You know this song seems to fit this particular situation in a sad sort of way."

Riley looked at his companion with his eyebrow raised.

"Well the singer you see. She's singing about being brought BACK to life that she was dead or something. It's like she's FINALLY realized that something was missing in her life."

Finn thought about that for a few seconds. "Okay that covers Buffy but what about the others?"

"It works for them too you, just step back think about it."

The former farm boy wasn't buying it, "shut up and drink your vodka. You need to get to level four of drinking. Right now you're all philosophical and crap."

Cole grinned at him. "Shows what you know. I'm not even the SLIGHTEST bit drunk right now."

Riley wasn't buying it, "You've had like 10 shots of Jack and you've drank three quarters of that bottle of vodka in front of you."

The other man waved his hand, dismissing Riley's words. "When I hung out with Lemmy, James and the rest of the boys, THIS was merely the start of a Friday. I haven't even BEGUN to get tanked, believe me. Besides, my metabolism burns this stuff off in about half an hour at most."

"Shit and here I thought all that talk about 'emptying a bar' was crap."

"No, no, I did that a few times, mostly in Boston. Great way to get a Technicolor yawn. Seriously I can eat like four large pizzas in one setting and burn it off in one day. Makes dieting and watching what I eat, a NON-issue."

"Lucky bastard."

"That's right."

"Are you sure about what you're doing? I mean this is kind of a big decision to make."

Cole's voice took on a more serious tone, "I know it is. Believe me, I'd rather not have to make it. If it were just them, I'd say hell with it and leave. But, the Hellmouth, it's the wild card in this whole thing. I don't have clue one about it."

"And what's Xander got to say about it?"

Cole lowered his head, hiding it from view with his arms and shoulders. When it came back up, it was the face of Alex Riley was staring at.

"How are you doing?"


"I guess he explained everything."

"Yea he did."

"You don't have to do it, you know. He would understand if you didn't."

Alex was silent for a long moment. "Do you really think he would stop trying if I said no?"


"Neither do I. If the roles were reversed, I wouldn't either. He's got a job to do and I respect that."

An uncomfortable silence followed as Alex poured himself a drink.

"So, what's the play?"

Alex didn't respond as his face changed back to the other man's. Cole frowned for a bit as he downed the glass in front of him.

"I guess that's a yes." Riley ventured.

"Yeah, look. I'm gonna need your help on this one, Cornbread."

Riley's interest peaked, "Oh really? Doing what may I ask?"

Cole looked at him with an air of amusement and regret, "doing stuff only you can do, Finn-man."

"Such as?"

His answer was a grim smile.


Crestview faculty apartments.

Faith paced back and forth in the gym. She was supposed to be taking things easily in the wake of her injury. However, Faith was not the type to take ANYTHING easily. The bump on her head and the manner in which she had acquired served only to piss her off further. At length she kicked the punching bag with enough force to send it swinging wildly from its chain.

"Calm down Faith."

She whirled and yelled at Wood. "Calm down? CALM DOWN! That son of a bitch dropped me on my head and all you can think of is 'calm down'?"

"It could have been worse. He could have broken your neck." Wood spoke smoothly not fazed in the least by her outburst.

"His mistake."

"Maybe. Or maybe he just doesn't think too highly of you."

"We'll see about that."

"Why did you never apologize?"

"Huh?" Faith was caught off guard.

"Why did you never apologize to Alexander for trying to kill him?"

"What is wrong with you? I got dropped on friggin head by a guy we don't know jack shit about, that's somehow 'merged bodies' with Xander and you're asking why I didn't say I was sorry?"

"Faith please. I'm trying to figure out this guy's motives and why he acts the way he does. If he did merge bodies with Xander, it stands to reason Xander's view of us may have influenced Cole's opinion of you as well. And explain why he picked you out as a target."

Faith thought about that for a bit before speaking. "It just didn't make any sense to."


"It didn't make any sense to say I'm sorry. Hell B and Red never did for all the crap they put him through."

"All the crap they put him through?" Wood was interested.

"Yeah, back in high school, when he and the queen bitch broke up over him and red smooching, B didn't seem to give a damn about him. And after they found out I tried to kill him they really didn't seem to care, even let me back into the group and everything."

"And you didn't apologize because they didn't."

Faith shrugged a 'yes'.

"Well that is interesting-" Wood's thoughts were cut off as the sound of heavy metal blasted through the school's PA speakers.

"What the hell?" He demanded.

Faith looked up at the speakers, a little surprised. "I know this song. I never knew Harmony loved Metallica."

Wood turned and looked at her before speaking, "I don't think this is Harmony doing this." Quickly they hurried to the office. They arrived the same time as Angel, Buffy, Travis and Spike reached the office. Angel opened the door and led the others inside; his eyes focused on the black office chair facing away from them. With a hint of anger in his voice Angel spoke as he approached the chair, "Harmony if this about you being not having your needs met again, this absolute worst way to get attention."

As soon as the words left his mouth Angel was hit by a familiar scent as the chair turned around and faced the group. Cole sat staring at them, unconcerned in the slightest by their presence as he spoke.

"On the contrary, I find this is the perfect way to get your attention. Play a song about puppets on strings and their puppet master and you come running like a well heeled dog."

His voice carried a hint of amusement. "I especially like this part 'Come crawling faster/Obey your Master Your life burns faster/Obey your Master'. Seems kind of fitting where you two are concerned."

Spike growled as he stepped closer to him, "Listen mate, I ain't nobody's little doll to be toyed with."

In a flash, Cole was out of the chair and had snatched Angel and Spike around the throats. Effortlessly he lifted the two vampires until each was about a foot off the ground. He spoke with a calm, malevolent voice that shook both vampires.

"No, you're wrong, leech. As of this moment, your lives are MINE. Your continued existence is dependent on NOT pissing me off. I am content to let you exist for now, If you so much as spit in my direction, you will both be dust in the wind. Is that clear?" He tightened his grip around their throats; somehow Spike and Angel managed to nod.

"Good." He released both of them and walked past them and the others. He was headed off campus when Buffy finally caught up with him. After a half dozen fruitless attempts at calling his name, she finally grabbed his arm in the midst of a wide-open yard between buildings. Several dozen young slayers had come outside to see what was going on.

"Listen you, what the hell is your problem?"

"My problem? My problems are YOUR problems slayer."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"Why don't you try using that head of yours and THINK about it."

"I'd rather just kick your ass and make you tell me."

"Oh is that right. You need a lesson like the one I taught the Southie?"

"Kick his ass B."

Buffy said nothing and took up a stance.

He shook his head, "very well I shall teach you too a lesson in the art of fighting."

Buffy set her feet and dashed in, throwing a barrage of punches and kicks. Cole managed to block most of them but a few got through including one that grazed his jaw

"Not bad. Not very good but not bad at all".

The blonde slayer grew angrier and snap kicked him in the knee, dropping him down a bit. She spun and delivered a roundhouse kick to his chin and was rewarded with a satisfying 'pop' and a thin trail of blood from his mouth. But his eyes told a different story as he stood up again and looked down on her.

"Nice kick little girl. Too bad that's all you got."

Buffy moved to attack him again only to be front kicked in the stomach. All the air left her lungs as she collapsed. Cole moved in, grabbed her hair and lifted her to face him. She was still trying to regain her breath when he head-butted her and knocked her to the ground again. With a businesslike attitude, he helped her to her feet and put her head between his legs. Then he reached down and grabbed her around the waist and hoisted her up until his head was between legs Smiling he slammed her into the ground. Buffy folded up on impact as her shoulders and back absorbed most of the blow but she was still stunned.

Cole knelt down next to her, an unreadable look on his face as he spoke. "Now you see the difference between us. I am as far beyond you as you are beyond the vampires. Do not challenge me a second time Slayer, you will lose and this time it will be you in the coma."

Having said his peace, Cole turned and looked at the congregated students. Smiling he addressed them, "Move along, nothing to see here, back to your classes children."

He walked away leaving a very confused, and angry Slayer lying stunned along with several of her companions.

Chapter 10

"Nothing like a hot shower to wake you up in the morning."

The man emerged from the shower and wiped away the condensation on the mirror. Alex looked at himself in the mirror. Aside from the aborted swimming team membership, he had not been an athlete in high school. Almost four years worth of construction had built up his upper body. Not to an over exaggerated level but a respectable one. He ran a hand through his short hair as he thought back to the evening at the bar.


They had been leaving the bar via a side door when they bumped into her. He almost didn't recognize her it had been so long. But there she was staggering towards him, intent on gaining entry when he touched her arm.


The woman looked up in surprise as she heard her name. The face and voice were familiar yet different.


He nodded slowly and he spoke gently, "It's me Amy."

Relief seemed to spread across her face and tinge her voice. "Xander, I'm h-happy to see you." Slowly she brought her hand up and stroked his face as though exploring it for the first time. He flinched as her fingers neared his left eye and cursed himself as he did so. Amy reacted by yanking her hand away and trying to turn away from him.

"Amy, I'm sorry, it's not you."

"Yes it is, it's always me." She mumbled.

Alex took a step closer to her noticing as she tried to retreat. He continued moving towards her as she hugged the wall. "Amy, I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to help you."

She turned around to face him.

Alex took another step closer to her and was promptly slapped.

"Yea you want to help me just like all the rest. No one can help me." Amy hissed at him. She drew her hand back for another slap only to have her arm grabbed by Riley.

He lightly rubbed his cheek as it still stung from Amy's slap. Alex returned his attention to the witch who had slapped him. She looked angry and ashamed at the same time.

"Alex," Riley got his attention and gestured at Amy's arm.

He followed his friend's line of sight and sucked in his breath at what he saw. Amy's sleeve had slipped down her arm almost past her elbow revealing Amy's shame.

Needle tracks.

Alex turned his attention to her face. Amy's face turned scarlet under his gaze. She spoke in a quiet, low voice. "See there is nothing you can do for a whore like me. Now just leave me alone, Harris."

He looked at Riley and the two conversed silently with their eyes.


Some time later

"Thanks for doing this."

Riley looked at him for a second before returning his gaze to the rental car. Amy sat in the front passenger seat, securely belted in. She looked confused and surprised at what had happened.

"No problem but, can I ask why?"

Alex sighed before he spoke; "I've known Amy since we were kids. Her, Jesse, Jonathan, Willow and me. Now Jesse and Jonathan are gone. Willow got her second chances time and time again. Why shouldn't Amy?"

He found Riley, looking at him. "What?"

The older man smiled, "You really are one in a million Alex", his expression changed as he continued. "Sam and I will do our best to help her get clean and turn things around. No guarantees though."

"I know, I just want her to have a shot at a better life."

"She'll get it." Riley decided to change the subject.

"Room's paid until the end of the next week. Should be plenty of time."

Alex barely nodded. "I'll find something."

"Good luck."

"Riley, thanks for being a buddy."

He shook his head before he replied, "No thank you Alex for being my buddy. Been a while since I had one of those out of uniform."

The two shook hands before Riley got in the car and started it. Amy watched as Alex turned around and walked back inside. "Why? Why is he doing this?"

"Because he can." was Riley's answer.

**End Flashback**

(Man, do you know any ugly women?)

Alex was jerked back to the present by the question. He smiled as he responded, "I thought witches weren't your type?"

(They aren't. Just saying that girl was fairly good looking if I do say so.)

"Well, I have other things to worry about."

(Yeah, finding a job, a new place to live. Dealing with the fuck-ups that run that school.)

"Not impressed are you?"

(I've seen three-legged dogs that have their shit together better then that bunch. They are the biggest group of screw-ups I have EVER seen.)

"And yet they're still here. They somehow beat everything thrown in their path with luck or chance."

(Luck doesn't last forever X. If you want to make that job interview; you'd better hurry and get dressed.)

Alex nodded and got dressed.


Later that day

"And you say you worked at Dynamic Sports for how long?"

"A year. I was promoted twice in that time."

Alexander was seated in an office located within Jakked & Plains record store. Sitting behind the desk in front of him was a man in his late forties named Nick Whittsmore. Nick was the current owner/store manager of J&P. Alex had spotted the ad in the local papers for assistant manager and called. As Nick pondered his next question, Alex looked around the room. Photos some autographed covered most of the walls and music memorabilia was scattered throughout the room. Despite his own life experiences, he was still surprised and a little bit of awe looking at how many famous people this man knew. He shifted his gaze to a blackboard hanging on the wall behind the desk. It listed upcoming dates for bands and other acts of note in the area. Alex smiled as he read one name in particular.

"See something you like?" Whittsmore inquired.

Alex nodded at the board and answered, "Yeah that group's from my hometown. Went to high school with the singer and lead guitarist."

That impressed the older man apparently. He leaned back in his chair, considering his words carefully. "So you know Daniel and Devon real well then?"

"Daniel? To me he was always 'Oz'. "

Nick nodded at his response. "They were a real big hit around here for awhile. This is their first time back in a long time. And to be honest, I'm thrilled to see them myself." He paused before continuing, "Tell you what kid, I'm gonna give you a shot. Let's see what you got."

Alex grinned. "I'm always up for a challenge."

As he left the building, Alex was quietly pleased with himself. He had managed to get a decent job in less then two days and helped out an old friend. By most standards, a great day.

(Good, the hard part is over, now for the easy part.)

Alex didn't miss a step as he responded. 'You sure about that?'

(Trust me.)


The backalleys of Cleveland

Jimmy Quarters had been in the long enough to know a good night from a bad one. Tonight was shaping up to be a VERY good night. It held just the right amount of business, booze and broads to keep his interest. That was becoming harder to do in his life, more and more he used the things he sold to others to create excitement in his life. Now as he walked away from his latest transaction, he was pondering whether or not to wait until after midnight before getting started. Deep in thought he was started when a hand snatched him back into the darkness of an alley.

"Hey, what the fuck! I got no beef with no one." Even as he spoke his hand dove inside his jacket for the pistol he carried. A heavy blow to his chin stopped that as he saw stars. Dazed he was lifted and thrown against the alley wall.

"Got a question for you about a new customer of yours."

"Man I don't know what the fuck you're talking about."

A fist slammed into his stomach driving the air from his lungs and destroying the dealer's air of denial.

"I don't want to ask you again. You gonna cooperate or shall I ask a little harder?" a hint of menace crept into his voice. Wearily the injured man nodded.

"Now, this new customer, a woman from out of town. She's in her mid twenties. Know who I'm referring to?"

"Lot of girls like that on the street."

"Not this one, she's special. Think harder. Think witchcraft"

Recognition dawned on Jimmy's face. "Yea her, I remember her. She was a good blow man."

The other man didn't respond to the taunt. Instead he gripped the smaller man around the throat and lifted him off his feet. He gritted his teeth as he spoke.

"She's off limits from now on."

"Hey she owes me man."

"Not anymore. You get me?"

Struggling for breath, Jimmy replied "Yeah I get you."


And the pressure around his throat disappeared and he dropped to the ground. Quarters took a deep breath trying to get his air back. Suddenly he was slammed into the wall again. The drug dealer looked up in surprise at the attack.

"I hope you didn't think that was the end of our business tonight."

Surprise became fear as the brown-eyed man's face shifted and changed to that of a different man with blue eyes and a different voice.

"Because Jim. I still need you to tell someone something."


An abandoned warehouse and storage building near the highway.

"I hate this fucking place."

"Yea we know Joey, we heard ya the first hundred times."

The other man continued not paying attention. "I mean look at this place. Bars on the windows, soundproofing in the walls and shit. There's only one way in, through that fucking door."

"That's why we use it Joey. It keeps things nice and quiet, which is perfect for us. Right boss?"

A large green skinned humanoid in a business suit nodded before speaking. "Nice quiet and neat Joey. It helps keep that slayer bitch and her band of helpers out of my way by not attracting her attention. I don't like attention, it creates all sorts of problems."

Before he could continue there came a loud pounding on the door.

The demon flicked his wrist at one of his flunkies. The man walked over, opened a little viewing slot and looked out.

"What is it?"

"It's some guy. Wait a second, It's Quarters from mid-town."

"Ain't Quarters that two-bit smack dealer? I thought he only worked with humans?"

"Bring him in. Ain't nobody gonna hear him scream in here."

The man nodded, unlocking and then opening the door.

"Hey Jimmy, what's up."

Jimmy didn't answer as he fell forward and dragged the other man partially to the floor.

"What the hell do you think you're doing Quarters? Fuck he's bleeding. What is he doing?"

"He's sending a message."

"What the fuck?" The man holding Jimmy exploded into ash as a stake struck him from behind.

The others had been distracted by the commotion at the door. Now they watched as it swung shut and a man wearing a trench coat came into view.

The boss demon tried to remain composed. As he addressed the stranger. "A message, well what is it?"

Silently the man brought up a shotgun into view and racked the first round into the chamber. Cole's eyes had a twinkle in them as he replied.

"It's closing time."

Chapter 11

Cole yawned as he entered his 'new' home. He plopped down on black leather couch of his 'living room'. It had been a fairly long day, getting up before 7:00 am and then roaming the sewers, cemeteries and other places where things of the dark hid by day. Still, hunting by daylight had been a practice he adopted long ago. One reinforced by spending time with Riley and hearing the mantra of 'the enemy attacks on two occasions when he's ready and you're not' again. His eyes traced the layout and appearance of his current abode as he rested.

The price had been just right and the former owners had been very easy to negotiate with. Of course the fact that the former owners were a wannabe demon crime lord and his vampire underlings, all of whom were dead, didn't hurt either. The hardest part had been the clean up afterward, cleaning the blood, sweeping away the piles of ash. The bullet holes he didn't bother with. Disposing of the bodies had been as simple as throwing them into a nearby furnace after dismembering them.

No, the real tricky part had been settling on a 'look' for the place. Then procuring the furniture and equipment quietly followed by moving in. That it had to be done with out alerting the slayer and her companions had been the real stretch.

Running a hand through his hair, he took a deep breath and then frowned as a familiar and unwelcome scent assaulted his nose. The other man seeing no point in concealing himself further stepped into view and addressed him.

"Hey kid."

"Well if it isn't the bane of my refrigerator, hello Whistler. I take it this isn't a social call."

"No it isn't."

"Okay, what's on the docket then? Apocalypse? Rampaging demon hordes? Crazed nuns armed with bleach filled water pistols?"

The balance demon sighed, "No Apocalypse. No out of control demon hordes. Just you."


"Yeah, you. Or rather a promise you made."

Cole's face darkened. "I've kept my word. I do my job and I don't complain about it."

"Have you? You were brought here with a specific purpose."

"Which was rendered moot BEFORE I even got here."

"True the original mission was different. Nonetheless, you sworn an oath to see it done."

"And I am. Nothing has happened to them. I killed the only serious threat to them, remember."

"No you didn't kill it. You replaced it."

Cole sat back, a surprised look on his face. "Say WHAT?"

"Look junior, you saved their lives all well and good. But since the moment that demon died, you've turned into a first rate asshole, beaten the shit out of two of them, intimidated the vamps and generally wreaked havoc with how the younger slayers view them."


"And what? Don't you get it? You're acting more like an outcast then a hero."

"I_am_NOT_a_Hero. I'm not even the best man in my own BODY."

Whistler remained silent as the young man got up and began pacing. "So I beat the shit out of two slayers and scared a couple of leeches. Did it ever occur to the PTB that MAYBE, they deserved it?"

The balance demon looked at him curiously as he continued. "I mean the Southie, the psycho bitch from Boston. Me beating the crap out of those things turned her on. And the other one, She's even sicker. Did you know she got aroused by me hitting her? I mean Christ. "

He turned around and looked at Whistler. "I was expecting a lot of reactions by not to have them TURNED ON for God's sake. Do you have any idea how disturbing it was to learn that two chosen champions were THAT screwed up?"

"And you're sure about this?"

"Yes I'm sure, I smelled it on both of them. The Southie would have done me right in front of them if I had tried."

"So you assaulted both of them but why?"

"To try and jar them back into reality. Of Course little did I realize that little miss blonde gets off on that sort of thing. She was a necrophiliac and now she's just plain sick. It's no wonder that her sister idolizes a dead girl that she barely knew for more then two years. Anything would have preferable to that."

Whistler was silent as he looked at the young man in front of him. He pondered several courses of action before speaking.

"Cole, no is asking that you be a savior here. All they're asking is you be you."

The young man didn't look convinced at Whistler's words. With a sigh, the balance demon reached into his pocket and removed something. He tossed it to the human. "Here."

Cole easily caught the object and casually glanced down at it. He stiffened as he recognized it immediately and looked up to see the balance demon headed towards the door. Whistler paused before he left, "Remember what we talked about and think on it okay?"

Cole nodded.

Later as he examined himself in the mirror after his shower, he replayed the conversation over in his head. His eyes lingered on the markings on his chest, the scars of his life and symbols of the man he once was.

'Fuu Rin Ka Zan.' Words to live by.

The hard driving sound of guitars playing filled the room as he picked up the object Whistler had left behind. It was a smooth; stone layered with shades of blue and white, no larger then a tennis ball. Silently he remembered the first time he had seen the stone.


"I am SO dead."

Quickly he ditched his bike and made his way around to the back of the older manor house. Cole found who he was looking for waiting patiently on the back porch. Gulping he spoke nervously. "Hi, I'm here."

"I can see that. I take it you enjoyed your little Friday night trip to see that Jedi movie?"

"Yeah, it was great. It's the last one you know, the last part of the trilogy."

"I see. And was this one longer then the others?"

"A little longer ma'am."

"I see. And that is the reason that you proved unable to keep your promise to be here promptly at dawn. Instead here it is nearly ten o'clock and you are just now arriving." She spoke sharply towards him.

Cole fidgeted as he stared down at his feet briefly before he apologized. "I'm sorry ma'am. I was selfish and I didn't think or act responsibly last night."

The woman waited for a few minutes, reading her charge's face as shame and disappointment washed over it.

"Did they kill the emperor?"

He looked up at her confused.

"The Emperor? Did they kill him?"

"Yes. Yes ma'am they did. They killed and the galaxy was saved."

"Good I am glad to that the good guys did indeed win in the end." She smiled warmly at him as she continued. "I am not without a sense of humor, Cole. I was once your age and I understand a little some of what you are experiencing. But you must not abandon your responsibilities. You have chosen a different path then the others around you. A path that is not easily traveled especially when you are late for appointments."

"Yes ma'am." He breathed a sigh of relief.

"Good now climb the pole."

"What?" He looked around before spotting a tall wooden pole close by the house. Blinking he started looking around for something to use.

"Don't waste time looking for the ladder. Just climb the pole."

"Yes ma'am."

He jumped and clasped his hands around the pole only to slide back down. Near the bottom he jerked his hand away from the pole and yelped in pain.

"Ow. Splinter."

Determined he jumped higher and firmly grasped the pole. He managed to brace himself by placing one foot against the pole and one against the house. Cole managed to work his way to the top of the pole. He stopped as he reached the top and looked down at her confused.

"Well what are you waiting for. Get on the pole."

Nodding he clambered to the top of the pole, only to find there was only enough room for him to stand on one foot. Balancing uncertainly, he looked down only to find her missing. Cole wondered what was going on for a few minutes before he heard someone in the room across from him. He noted for the first time, a window was level with the pole. As he watched the window opened and his instructor smiled at him.


"Um. No."

She nodded before handing him two books. Somewhat awkwardly he took them, trying not to fall down as he did so. With some trepidation he opened one of them only to discover it wasn't in English.

"What the?"

"It's Latin."

Confused he opened the other book and was surprised to see it was a Latin to English dictionary. He looked at her expectedly.

"Your task this day is to translate and read the story I have marked."

"But it's not in English."

"And I have given you a dictionary to help you translate it."

He looked down at the ground with some unease. "I could fall."

"Then I guess you'll just have to be careful."

Smiling she shut the door as Cole looked downcast.

Sometime later, She heard Cole calling out her name. The woman composed herself as to not appear to eager before approaching the window. She found him looking a little sad still standing on the pole with the books under his right arm.


He nodded.

"Then come inside."

He tensed and then jumped managing to dive through the open window. Cole rolled as he landed and then popped up, turned around and handed the books to her. She placed the books on a nearby table.

"Come with me Cole, I'll fix us something to drink."

Downstairs she observed the young teenager over her cup of tea. He appeared somewhat sad and confused at the same time.

"Is there something bothering you Cole?"

He reluctantly answered. "Yeah, Why did you make me read that story? It was very um... sad."

"Is that how you felt reading that story? Sad?"


"Tell me Cole, How is it that when I left you, you knew not a single word of Latin and were worried about falling yet when I returned you are sad because of a story written in a language that is older then you?"

"I don't know, Ms Post."

She sipped her tea letting him think before responding. "You are an extraordinary young man, Cole Rayne and you have been placed in an extraordinary situation."

"I don't feel extraordinary, I mean, aside from the obvious."

"Cole, today you managed to translate a language you did not while in a situation where carelessness could have very easily led to self injury. And yet the most important thing you remember is feeling sad from the story. Do you know what that tells me?"


"It says that for all your strength, the two most gifted things about you are your ability to find compassion and to focus on a task."

Cole nodded dumbly then felt an odd sense of pride surge through him. He beamed at her words.

"Here," She passed him smooth blue stone. "Do you know what this is?"

He looked down at it. "A rock?"

The woman laughed at him. "Yes it's a rock but not just any rock. It's a rock taken from the bed of the Grand Canyon. For millions of years, the waters of what is now called the Colorado River cut through the land. Through mountains, rocks, sand and clay, the river flowed, eroding away whatever it encountered. Though the river cared not, its actions affected things beyond what it immediately touched as well as things touched by its waters. For all their impressive size and majestic beauty, those mountains were reduced to stones by that river. And despite your power, you are still just a man like your friends, your father and even the man who works at the cinema."

"How did you get to be so smart?" He blurted out?

She laughed at him; "I am your Keeper, Cole. I am only here to guide you. I am not as smart as you believe me to be. There will be a time when you must stand on your own."


"But nothing. Time waits for no man or woman. I will not be here forever and when that time comes you must be ready."

He nodded.

"Now then you'd best hurry home before your father gets upset. We shall continue your training at the quarry on Monday after school. Is that clear?"

"Yes mom."

There was an awkward silence after that as Cole silently cursed himself for saying that.

"M-Monday then." He managed to stutter out and raced out the front door.

She watched him retrieve his bike and pedal for home. 'He is a good young man, and he will grow to be an even better man I think.'

Smiling, Gwendolyn Post gathered her tea as well as his glass placed them in the sink and retired to her study to enter the day's events into her journal.

**End Flashback**

"I'm no better then she is. No better then they are. Thanks Whistler for the reminder. And you too Ms. Post for the rock."

His thoughts were cut off as the cell phone rang. "Hit pay-dirt with K-dirt."

"Very tacky Cole."

"Hi Sam."

"I need to speak with Alex." There was a pause as Alex took control and spoke into the phone. "Here."

"Hey Alex, I'm sorry to bother you but it's Amy."

"Is something bothering her?"

"She's not doing real well. Can you come and talk to her?"

"I'll be on the next bus."


Later as Alex sat by Amy's bedside in the Finn's home, he watched her toss and turn, muttering and saying strange things in her sleep. Eventually she flung her arm out as she cried out her mother's name. Alex touched her arm lightly, stroking it gently as he spoke to her.

"It's okay Amy, It's Xander. Your mom isn't here, you're safe, she can't hurt you anymore."

Amy reacted to his voice, calming down and her face became less troubled. Alex held onto her arm throughout the night, reassuring her that she was safe with his presence. Even when he grew tired, he didn't let go and shifted to find as a comfortable position in which to pass the night.

Chapter 12

She stirred gently from her sleep. Amy was confused at first but slowly her surroundings began to make sense to her. The former witch turned mouse turned witch tried to move but found she was held by something. Or someone rather, a man with a familiar face held onto her wrist gently but firmly, a man that was once a boy she knew, Alexander Harris.

"You're awake."

A man that was awake and watching her. Her gaze drifted to his light hold on her arm. Silently he released her arm but still held it in his own. Amy looked away from him, shame on her face.

"What happened to you Amy?"

"What does it matter to you Xander? All you needed me for was a spell to make your girlfriend jealous."

He pondered her words before speaking, "Yes. Yes I was a real selfish bastard. I'm sorry I used you. I honestly didn't think about what I was doing. And I'm sorry I wasn't there for you when you were changed back."


"I'm here now Amy. And I'm asking what happened to you? I still remember going to birthday parties with you, Cordy, Harmony, Larry, Jonathan, Jessie and Willow."

"Dad started working longer hours to bring more money in. It didn't really matter; it was never enough for mom. No matter how much he brought in, she always spent it and wanted more. And she started practicing magic to help her get more. Then after Buffy stopped her I moved in with Dad. Because he worked long hours he wasn't home much and spoiled me rotten. I started practicing magic too, if only to feel something."

Alexander nodded at those familiar words while she continued.

"I just got deeper and deeper into it. Hanging out with Michael and the others... I just wanted to be special, so someone would stay with me. When Willow managed to change me back, I was happy at first. Then I found out Dad had left town. He was convinced I had run away. After I got done with Rack, I drifted around from shelter to shelter, barely scraping by. And I got jealous."

"Of Willow's power."

She turned back to face him.

"No, of everything."

Alex looked surprised at that, "I thought you were jealous of how easy magic came to Willow. That's what Kennedy said. She said you were jealous of how easy it was for her while you had to work for it."

"She was wrong, I was so jealous of everything she had that I didn't. She had a chance to go to college, a good education, a family that was still there, a life that was hers'. She had people who cared about her. Who loved her." Her voice cracked on that last part.

A sad look was on his face; "I'm sorry Amy, had I known. I would have tried to be there."

"It's not your fault, Xander. Everyone has their own life to live. Their own choices to make."

"Amy I."

"Xander no. After I left Sunnydale, I hitchhiked my way cross- country. For a while I thought of finding my father and explaining things to him. I did manage to find him but he was... He was gone. Heart attack. He worked himself to death. I just felt so lost; I started looking for some way to cope. I found other things instead what I was looking for."

Alex slowly blinked as he watched her continue, " I still don't know what I'm looking for."

"Maybe you should look for yourself Amy. Maybe it's time for Amy Madison to decide what kind of woman she should be. And, if you want, I'll be there. So will Riley and Sam. It won't be like the old days but then we're not kids anymore."

Her hand drifted up to his face and again he flinched as she neared his left side.


"It's not you Amy. It's me. My eye is gone, that's a glass one."

She paled, "What happened?"

Quietly Alex told her not just how he lost his eye but what had happened leading up to it and beyond. When he mentioned the fate of Anya and his parents, his voice became heavy as his grief again came to the surface. He struggled but held back his tears as he finished telling her.

When he was finished, Amy lay silently in the bed looking at him. Then slowly she sat up and moved closer to him.


She brought her finger to his lips and drew him into a hug. Alex slowly wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her in close. They stayed like that for a time appreciating each other's presence and warmth.

"Xander", Her breath felt warm on his neck and he unconsciously started rubbing her back up and down along her spine and lower back. Amy lifted her head from where it lay on his shoulder and faced him. She looked deep in his eyes as he looked into hers. Slowly they leaned closer to each other, he felt her lips brush his almost tentatively. Then with greater confidence they kissed for a long time. When they finally parted, he looked at her with both confusion and warmth. Expressions that he saw mirrored on her face.

Cleveland, Ohio

Willow stared at the screen of her laptop. She had been staring at it off and on all day. On screen was a photo from her elementary school. It was taken in 3rd grade, in it she could see Cordelia, Harmony, Jesse, Larry, Jonathan, Amy, Xander and herself. She still remembers the day the photo was taken. Xander had been late and almost didn't get in the photo. But he had just barely snuck in and there she was by his side. Willow had never expected to see this photo again but for some odd reason Harmony and Cordelia still had theirs while hers was buried in the rubble of Sunnydale.

She looked from the photo to her reflection in the window. Willow was no longer the shy, computer nerd who pined for a love that ignored her. Now she was one of the most powerful witches in the known world who dated girls and was looked up to by the younger slayers.

The apartment she shared with Kennedy was quiet. The younger girl having gone to the gym to work out her frustrations and anger, something she did more of recently. The room was decorated similar to the way the Summer's household had been. Yet, for the familiar fashions, the warm glow of the lights and the memories she and Kennedy had made here, Willow never felt more alone then she did right now.

Silently she returned her gaze back to her laptop.

Elsewhere in the city

"Damn it Faith, I told you to watch the lights."

"Well I did, it just turned Red, Wood."

The black looked back at the approaching policeman from behind. He noted that the man's partner was staying behind and covering him. Faith and him had been out 'cruising', looking for trouble and now here it was. Only instead of vamps it was the police that had cornered them. Wood was extremely concerned, while Willow had managed to 'create' new identities with his help; an expert had never examined them up close. Now in a few minutes they would be, his freedom and possibly Faith's life hung in the balance.

Faith rolled her window and smiled her sexy best at him. "Good evening officer. Busy night?"

"License and registration please." The cop ignored her attitude.

Silently she handed them over. The policeman took the papers quietly, stepped back and spoke something into his radio. Faith started fidgeting nervously as time passed with nothing happening. The officer turned around as his radio squawked something. Faith heard him ask the dispatch to repeat what was just said, nodding as he heard it a second time. Then he stepped closer to the car again and compared the photo on the license to the woman behind the wheel. Faith smiled at him while gripping the door handle tightly, ready to run if the cop acted on the harsh look on his face. Abruptly he leaned back, apparently satisfied.

"Here you go, Miss. I'll let you go with a warning this time. Next time pay closer attention to the lights."

"Yes officer."

Faith quietly restarted the car drove off at a sedate pace, careful to not draw attention to herself.

"He knew they were fake."

To her credit, Faith didn't lose her composure. "What?"

"The cop, he knew that license was phony. And so was the registration."

"How do you know that?"

"The look in his eyes. He made them as fakes after a seconds."

"Then why didn't he slap the cuffs on?"

"I don't know. Didn't you hear what dispatch said?"

She shook her head, "Too garbled to understand."

"Great. Let's go home Faith."

The car turned and headed for the school.

St. Louis

Alex looked around as he walked into the kitchen; he smiled as he saw Sam trying to feed Danielle. The little brown haired girl was making things difficult for her mother. Thus far it appeared as though more food was on the table then in her mouth.

"Hi Sam."

"Hello Alexander. How are you?"

"I'm good." His smile grew a little.

"Oh? And how is Amy?"

"She's asleep again but it looks like she's doing better."

"That's very good to hear, when Riley first got her home, I wasn't so sure she was going to make it. She was depressed and refused to eat. It seems as though having you around brightened her up and made her come around."

He seemed somewhat embarrassed by that and quickly changed the subject.

"Speaking of which, where is Riley?"

"Oh he's out."

"Business or pleasure?"


Somewhere in the city

After living a life specializing in covert ops for almost six years, Riley Finn was not easily surprised. Yet, as he walked through a city park on his way to a meeting no other word seemed appropriate to describe what he was feeling. The meeting itself was a bit of surprised and when he discovered with whom he was meeting with, surprise turned to shock briefly.

Spotting the park bench where he was supposed to be, Riley quickly looked around the area. He noted only one other person visible, a middle aged man in a wheelchair next to the bench. He casually strolled down, crossed in front of the other man and sat down. To an outside observer, it would seem as though two men were simply spending the day relaxing in the park.

"Congratulations Mr. Finn, you're here on time. Something that is very much appreciated in these times."

Riley didn't look at the other man as he responded.

"Thank you very much sir. I don't suppose we can skip the rest of the pleasantries and get right down to business?"

The man chuckled and handed him a newspaper, "Fascinating things in the newspapers these days."

Riley carefully opened the paper and spotted a folder concealed with it. With skills he had practiced for years, he flipped open the folder and read it while only appearing to read the boxscores. A frown flashed across his face as he processed the information.

"This is bad."

"Things appear to changing again and we must assume not for the better."

"Making assumptions in our line of business gets people killed."

The older man shifted somewhat in his wheelchair. Sighing, he answered Riley, "Our line of business is a hazardous one regardless of the decisions we make. We can hope that the ones we make are the best ones at the time. The time is fast approaching when we must make our presence known again to ALL the players in this fight."

"You're tired of hiding?"

"I am tired of watching the people closest to this situation bungle it and nearly bring about the total destruction of the planet because of their ineptness."

Riley for the first time looked at the older man and noted his anger. "And you don't consider yourself responsible in some way for their actions?"

The anger seemed to fade from the man as he spoke, "Of course I consider myself responsible. I am responsible for allowing this foolishness to spiral out of control and nearly destroy mankind. As it was, many good men and women were lost because of my decisions, a fact of which I am painfully reminded of every second of every day by this BLASTED chair."

The former farm boy seemed amused and impressed, "You're really devoted to this fight."

"Of course, it is the fight of my family and now it is my fight. I am even more committed to it now in light of what happened." He watched the younger man stand with the newspaper carefully folded under his arm.

"I take it you shall show that to them?"


"You know," His words gave the other man pause, "you're not quite what I was expecting Riley Finn."

"Neither are you, Quentin Travers."

The Englishman smiled, "Good day to you Mr. Finn."

Chapter 13

Amy slowly walked into the kitchen to find Alex and Sam sitting at the table laughing. They noticed her standing in the entranceway and waved her over. She hesitantly pulled a chair out and sat down beside Xander.

"Are you okay Amy?" Alex asked.

"I'm fine. Just tired." She smiled at him.

Sam beamed silently at the pair. She was happy for two reasons, the first being Amy appeared in better health both physically and mentally with Alex present. The second was that Alex himself seemed pleased to be around Amy. The sound of the front door opening drew her attention as a few seconds later her husband entered the room and found the trio around the table.

Riley was surprised to see them around the table, he was especially surprised to see Alex's hand around Amy's but that would wait until later. His wife got up from her chair and embraced him in a tight hug. He stroked her hair absentmindedly. Reluctantly he broke their embrace and looked at Alex.

"We have a situation that you two need to know about."

Alex merely nodded but Amy looked confused as Alex stood up.

"What do you mean, 'you two'?" Her confusion and concern grew from the look on Xander's face. "What is going on Xander?" He looked guilty at hearing the pleading in her voice. Alex reached out and took her hand and rubbed it slowly as he spoke to her.

"Amy, do you trust me?"

She nodded slowly.

"I would never do anything to hurt you, okay? I need you to know this because what I have to say and do will be hard to understand."

Again, Amy nodded.

"Good because this," Xander's face shifted to that of another man "is a bit hard to understand."

Amy did what most people would have done in her shoes.

She fainted.

Sometime later, after Amy was moved to the Finn's couch and revived, Alex explained what had happened and Cole introduced himself to the young girl. It took an awful lot to surprise Amy after her life in Sunnydale but the tale Cole and Alex told her did it.

"So you there's two of you in one body but you're separate people?" She hoped she had it right.

"Yes." Alex told her.


The sound of Riley clearing his throat drew them back to the present and it drew a hard look from Sam to her husband.

"I really hate to interrupt the moment but this really important." Riley informed them.

"Sure Riley, what is it?"

The former member of the Initiative handed him a vanilla folder and spoke, "I think you and Cole might find these interesting."

Alex flipped open the folder and started perusing the contents. The first thing he saw were some aerial photographs, it took him a second to realize what he was looking at. It was the crater that held the remains of Sunnydale. The remains of his life with Anya. He swallowed with some difficulty, pushing back the pangs of grief he still felt. There were other photographs of the crater some apparently taken from different angles with different cameras. Parts of those photographs were highlighted, with symbols noted on them. There was also a single page report that Xander briefly skimmed through not really understanding. It was after going through all of it that he looked up at Riley confused.

"So what does it all mean?"

Finn hesitated before speaking, "I think Cole knows what it means."

There was a pause as Xander looked off into space and then his face shifted as Cole took over. He stood up with a scowl on his face. Shaking his head, he started pacing and drumming his fingers on the countertop. Amy hesitated and picked up the folder, she was confused as she looked through the contents.

"What's wrong?" She asked.

"Not what. Who was wrong. And in this case, Buffy Summers a.k.a. 'The legendary Slayer' was wrong. Very wrong."

"What do you mean?"

"Alex told you about the last days of Sunnydale and the final battle, right?"

She nodded.

"Good because it's all crap."

Now Amy was really confused, "What?"

Cole looked her in the eyes, "The hellmouth on Sunnydale, is still active."

There was silence in the kitchen before Amy managed to speak again.

"But, Xander said that the vampire, Spike wore some mystic amulet of a champion and sacrificed himself to seal the hellmouth."

He nodded before replying, "Couple of things, One Spike is 'alive' we saw him in Cleveland with the others. Two, I have a hard time believing that a demonic spirit, the thing that keeps a vampire ticking would ever WILLINGLY be the thing that shuts the door to the mouth of hell. And finally, I may not have graduated high school but I got my GED and even I know that something as old and smart as the 'First Evil' wouldn't have uncovered a weapon like the Slayer's scythe AND handed it over UNLESS it had something in mind."

"Then what is it planning," Sam asked.

"I don't know." He turned and looked at Riley, "And you got this from Travers?"

"He handed it over in person."

"I thought you said he was dead." Amy spoke again.

Riley and Cole looked over at her, silently prompting her to continue which she did.

"Xander said that Giles was sure the Watcher's council had been destroyed and the potentials were dead."

Cole considered her words before answering. "Amy, the Watcher's council has been around since the dawn of civilization. That's literally thousands of years, trust me they didn't survive this long by being lucky."

She blinked, trying to figure out what he meant "So they weren't killed?"

"No, granted they were a little surprised at the method the First chose but they weren't unprepared. They had a few backup plans, they're not stupid after all."

"But how?"

This time Riley spoke, "There are quite a few groups involved in this fight Amy. The Watcher's council, my people, not to mention several powerful covens, magic users and others."

Amy slowly nodded as understanding came over her, "magic".

"Yeah, Travers isn't an idiot, he did what countless heads of the council did before him. He prepared and updated the guidelines of the council. Especially what to do in the event of the attack on the council building and the potential slayers."

"Other council heads?" Sam asked warily

Riley answered his wife, "During the Second World War, records indicate that some members of the Nazi party dabbled in the occult. Almost of their 'doings' involved demons. Hence the firebombing of London and other places throughout England. Not to mention the numerous arrests and executions of otherwise ordinary people in every country they conquered."

"Watchers and potential slayers. And the bombing, they were targeting the Watcher's council."

"Correct and the council hid protected by the British government and the other allies."

"So after the First's attack, they hid again?"

"Yep, re-trench and regroup. The surviving field Watchers contacted their host governments and were placed in protective custody along with the potential slayers."

"No wonder Buffy's Watcher couldn't find them. He thought they were mostly dead but they were in hiding." Sam spoke out loud.

"Yeah and after Willow's little spell, the council had a whole NEW set of problems to deal. Fortunately, they adapted pretty quickly and started training the 'new' slayers with government help."

"So why didn't they step in and help against the First?"

Riley was uncomfortable as he answered, "They were. Had Buffy failed... well that section of California would be glowing in the dark for the next few thousand years."

All the color drained from Amy's face at that response. "Oh my god, they would have, I mean you would have. Why?"

"Why not?"

Amy's gaze shifted to Cole stunned at what he had send.


"I said 'why not?' It's acceptable losses."

She stared at him, "Look Amy, you may not like it but the alternative was either nuke Sunnydale or lose California and possibly the West Coast of North America, if not the world. Seems a pretty easy decision to make to me."

He stopped, glanced at the photos again before speaking, "But, now this hellmouth is active again and so is the one in Cleveland. New rules, new players, a whole new ball game is about to start."

"So what happens now?" Sam asked.

Riley and Cole stared at each other for a long time before Finn answered his wife, "We tell Buffy and the others. They have to know."

"They won't believe you." Amy's voice was trembling as she spoke, "I know Buffy, she won't believe that anything's wrong. She thinks she's always right."

"Well it really doesn't matter anymore what Buffy thinks." Cole answered her, not bothering to slow down as he continued, "I think it's time somebody brings bottle blondie back to Earth and I know just the guy."

He looked at Riley, Sam and Amy. "I'm going, are you guys game?" Riley looked over at his wife and saw the answer in her eyes. "We are."


She nodded.

"Good. Well that's all I got to say. See y'all in a little while." With that his face shifted and Alex took over. He walked over to where Amy sat and she grasped his hand in her own. Seeing this, Sam and Riley left the kitchen, partially to get ready for the road trip and partially to give Amy and Alex some space.

"Are you gonna be all right?" She asked him.

"Yeah. I'll get over it."

"Are you sure?"

"He asked me if I wanted to or not and I said yes. I'm fine Amy."

Alex brought his hand up and brushed her cheek lightly.

Cleveland, Ohio

Dawn sat her bed, a look of sadness and regret on her face. She looked out at the overcast sky outside her window and wondered where Xander was. And if she would ever see him again.

"Dawn?" A tentative knock accompanied Cordelia's voice.

"It's open." Her voice was quiet.

Cordelia cautiously made her way into the room. The former cheerleader felt her feelings of sadness and loneliness intensify as she saw Dawn. Quietly she sat down on the bed beside her.

"Hey, how are you doing?"

"I'm fine." The younger girl said in a very unconvincing voice.

"Dawn, you've barely eaten in the past few days. You've got us all worried about you. Even Buffy."

"Really. I guess it must be serious for sis to interrupt her bitching about getting her butt kicked to say something."

The ex-seer smiled at Dawn's words, "She does tend to go on about that, doesn't she?"

"That's all she and Faith do is bitch about how they lost. They don't care about the other part or anything else. Just that they lost."

Cordelia sensed what Dawn was referring to, "he'll be back Dawn."

"He was gone for two years last time."

"It won't be two years this time. I promise you that."

Dawn looked unconvinced, "what makes you so sure?"

"Call it my Xander-shaped intuition."

The younger girl smiled at that.

"Hey is she gonna eat tonight or what because this pizza smells really good."

"IN A MINUTE HARMONY." Cordelia called out to her best friend, she spoke softly to Dawn, "Same old Harm, vampire or no vampire."

Dawn giggled at that and Cordelia pulled her into a warm hug for a few seconds before they both stood up.

"Come on, we better get out there before she scares Andrew anymore."

"He's not that scared of her anymore."

"Oh sticking up for him are we?"

"No, I'm not."

"Uh huh, you're blushing."

"I am not."

Chapter 14

It was still dark when Amy, Riley, Alex and Sam woke up. They packed with a minium of fuss, taking great care to avoid making noise. After a short trip by the Finns to take Danielle to stay with friends, they started loading the luggage in the car. They were in the midst of loading the last of the suitcases when Riley's cell phone rang.

"Hello." He stepped away from the others briefly to speak.

Alex felt a gentle touch on his arm and turned to see Amy by his side. There was concern on her face as she looked up at him in the dark early morning hours. He squeezed her hand reassuringly and stroked her hair as Riley came back to them.

"That was Travers. He's going to meet us there."

The younger man raised his eyebrows in response.

"It sounds like he has some business to settle to. Probably with Giles."

After Sam came back from locking up the apartment, they got into the car and headed out of town.

(Way too early to be up)

'No argument from me.'

(Hmm, tell Riley to pull in here)


(Just do it)

"Riley pull in there."

He did so and looked back at Alex with a questioning look on his face. But the other man was already opening the door and heading towards the front door when Riley caught up with him.

"What's going on?"

"Cole has an idea."

"Oh, what is it?"

"Just tell me you have your credit card on you."

"Got it."

About twenty minutes later, they returned to the car purchase in hand. Riley slid behind the wheel and soon they were off again. In the back seat, Alex sat with a book in his lap. Even he was a little unsure about what Cole had in mind.

'Are you sure about this?'

(No. But it's worth a shot)

'I don't know if I can do this.'

(Alex, I dropped out of high school and never held onto a real job. If I can do this, then TRUST me you can do it with ease.)

He then noticed the looks Amy and Sam were giving him and smiled to reassure them. Sam turned and quietly engaged her husband in conversation. Amy rested her head on his shoulder and was soon asleep. Alex opted to look out at the scenery instead of sleeping. When it was light enough, he opened his book and started reading.

Cleveland, Ohio

Travis was a blessed man in many ways. He was financially secure because of his family; he managed to live a normal life inspite of being a demon half-breed. But, the biggest blessing was Buffy Summers. She was now as she was then, bathed in sunlight. Then it had been in Europe, Paris to be exact. She had been traveling through the countryside apparently on vacation, in reality she was searching for herself. Buffy had discovered his 'other half' after a fight with several vampires had left her injured. He had dispatched them and took her into his care on his private estate. After some initial tension they had grown closer and became lovers. When she elected to return to Cleveland to open her 'Slayer School' he had accompanied her without a single thought.

There had been some awkwardness in the beginning, her returning from Europe with a brand new boyfriend. That awkwardness had been intensified when Angel had joined them from Los Angles bringing with him Spike. It wasn't until a brawl happened between the three when Buffy finally laid some things out. She had been in love with both Angel and Spike during her relationships with them. But neither could make her happy and give her what she wanted. Not just because each was a vampire but for individual reasons.

Angel's curse precluded any sort of real relationship with him and Spike was simply unavailable because of his current relationship with Winfred Burke. She had told them this plainly and matter of factly, she had chosen another because he made her happy. Neither vampire had been pleased but both understood her decision. Travis for his part had studied both and understood what attracted the slayer to them. Each had been a passionate person in life, that passion still carried over in death. Both extruded the air of tragic romance that so many young girls had fallen for. To see Buffy now choose someone else had ripped away at something within yet neither said a word about it.

As for the others, Rupert Giles had been somewhat distressed to discover his slayer was someone older then she was but was pleased that at least he was part human and a large contributor to their cause. Buffy's best friend, the witch and Faith the other slayer had accepted him without question into their group. Faith's beau, Robin Wood had been pleased to meet him because of their similar situations. Dawn, Buffy's sister had been concerned and he wasn't sure she accepted him completely. But Dawn wasn't his concern, only Buffy was.

Or had been until recently.


She turned towards him, a tired smile on her face.


"Are you doing all right?"

"Yeah, I'm just tired. Training the new slayers and patrolling can wear a girl out."

He cupped her face in his hand; "well you have been pushing yourself harder since."

"Since I got embarrassed."

"I wasn't going to say that."

"You didn't, I did. I know I'm just upset that some guy could just walk in here and smack me around like that."

"Buffy, are you sure that's what's bothering you?"

"Of course", she brought her hands up stroking his arm and chest, "Faith's mad she got beat too. We're gonna kick that guy's ass next time he shows up here." Buffy's hands stopped moving as she looked up into his face.

"Have I told you how much I love you?"

"Not today."

"Well I do." She pulled him down for a kiss and relaxed as his arms encircled her waist.


"Angel, how come we don't stay in bed all day like Spike and Fred do?"

"Their relationship is a little different Harmony."

"Oh. You mean he gets to have sex all the time and you don't because you would lose your soul and go 'Grrr' on everyone."

The former detective sighed, "Something like that Harm."

"How come having sex with me doesn't cause you to lose your soul?"

Angel looked uncomfortable at that question, Harmony's bottom lip started quivering and she burst into tears. "I knew it you don't care about me. You're like every other man in my life, all you care about is yourself." She spun around and started sobbing.

He slowly approached Harmony from behind and placed his hand on her shoulder.


"Don't touch me." She continued crying.

"Harmony I do care about you."

Her crying slowed, "You do?"

"Yes I do." Slowly she turned around to see him, fresh tears in her eyes, "But you don't love me."

"No. Not yet."

She looked confused at what he said. Angel pulled her closer to him, "Harmony, I told you when this started I would help you. I didn't say I would fall in love with you."

"Could you?"


Hearing that, Harmony rested her head on his chest. "That's good enough for me."


Chapter 15

They arrived at the school after a long, tedious drive. A quick conversation with the office secretary and they were buzzed through the gates. Riley pulled into the nearly empty parking lot, noting nothing had changed since last time. As they went about the process of extracting themselves from the car, a van pulled into the parking lot beside them. The van's driver got out and opened the back doors. He emerged with a wheelchair, which he brought up to the passenger door and opened it. Quietly he assisted Quentin Travers into it. The head of the Watcher's council nodded at the others and spoke to his driver, instructing him to remain with the vehicle. He moved towards the group with his motorized wheelchair.

"Well, shall we?"

Riley and Alex nodded and led the group onto one of the walkways.

"Where are we going?"

"The library, they're always in the library."

As they reached the building, Travers pulled off to the side.

"Please go on ahead, I'll join you when it's time."

Alex nodded ad Finn led the group to the building. As before when they entered, the others were congregated in the back away from the doors. He spared a glance at the floor and noted the hole had been repaired although the differences in the wood used made it easy to see.

"Nice to see you again Riley". Buffy's voice was cold and harsh.

As before he and Alex ignored her as they moved towards her group. Buffy's annoyance grew and then she noticed that they weren't alone this time.



Willow stared past Xander in surprise, beside her Kennedy let out an audible growl. Amy ignored the youngest slayer, stepped closer and touched Xander's arm. Reflexively he placed his arm around her waist, a move that sent feelings of shame and sadness across Willow's face as she slumped down. Cordelia reacted similarly to his actions and greeted him in a voice tinged with sadness, "Hey Alex."

"Hello Cor."

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Faith demanded, remembering the last time Riley and Xander had been present. The soldier casually tossed the folder he had been carrying on to the table. It landed in front of Wood who opened it and started looking through.

"What is it?" Giles asked the other man, clearly attempting to avoid a confrontation. The black man leafed through the contents with a confused look on his face as he read. Robin looked up at Giles, answering "They look like satellite reconnaissance photos."

"They are." Riley told them and then continued, "Did you notice what they are of?"

Wood looked down again, "It looks like a hole filled with rubble." His facial expression changed as he realized what he might be looking at. "This is Sunnydale, isn't it?"

Riley nodded and the room's tension instantly increased. Hesitantly Wesley picked up one of the photos and examined it. "This appears to have been taken by a different kind of camera then the first, an infrared one perhaps?"

"I'm not at liberty to say what kind of camera took that photo but yes it was a different camera then the first. NSA noticed something odd when they were sweeping the area and called in an outside expert to examine the photos. The expert determined through that the strange energy was a result of mystical energies coming together in a focal point. Through analysis, he and the NSA reached only one viable conclusion: The Hellmouth is still active."

All the air seemed to leave the room taking with it Buffy's anger. She and the others were caught off balance by the news.

"BOLLOCKS" Spike was indignant at hearing the news. "I bloody well sacrificed myself to seal that thing. I know for a fact it's slammed shut."

"And yet here you are." Amy fired back at him.

Buffy looked incredulous at the news, "No that's not possible, we. I saw the Hellmouth collapse. Spike did destroy it."

"Not according to the NSA test results."

"NSA?" Buffy asked.

"National Security Agency. You know like the CIA."

Buffy's eyes narrowed, "More government hacks."

"Not hacks, professionals. They have been monitoring the hellmouth since it's discovery early in the 1900's."

"You said an outside expert was asked to examine these photos. Who may I ask is qualified to do so?" Wesley inquired.

"Why I am Mr. Pryce" an oddly familiar voice echoed through the room. Everyone turned to see Quentin Travers roll into the room on his wheelchair. He maneuvered himself beside Riley and addressed the two former Watchers.

"Hello Wesley, Rupert."

"H-hello Quentin." Giles managed to stammer out, as did Wesley.

"Now Rupert, you seem surprised to see me."

"I had thought you dead, killed in the explosion."

"Somehow I am not surprised. Tell me Rupert, the Watcher's council predates civilization, as we know it. It has survived countless attempts to destroy it and you think a crude bomb destroyed us all?" Shaking his head, Travers continued, "Why am I not surprised at your thinking. You remain as ever a great disappointment."

Giles grew cold at that remark, "Now see here Quentin, I am not one little lackeys. I have seen more glimpses of the evil we fight then you could ever hope to. And furthermore, I have stood quite well on my own without any assistance from the council and we have done quite well."

The handicapped man looked at him with pity on his face. "No, Rupert. You have done nothing that we have not allowed you to do."

The man once known as 'Ripper' removed his glasses, "What?"

"Come along now Rupert, you didn't honestly think you survived all this time with the council being ignorant of your actions. We were very much aware of what was going on in Sunnydale until the attack. And it was a good thing too as you desperately needed the help."

Giles stood there, surprised etched on his face as Travers spoke; "You were given great leniency in dealing with your slayer because we were surprised she had survived her initial foray against the Master when she was supposed to have died. Afterwards the council was even more interested in what was going on so surveillance was increased and better records were kept not only of Summers and yourself but also of her friends. When it was appropriate, we intervened such as when the slayer's witch friend fell to darkness."

All the color drained out of Willow and Giles's faces. The former librarian started to speak only to be cut off his one time superior. "Now Rupert, tell me you honestly didn't think you, a disgraced Watcher, could go to a coven of that power and gain their assistance without our allowing it AND arranging it? Or that you could find the potentials? Or gain access to one of our many bank accounts?"

Giles's body seemed to sag as Quentin continued speaking. "It was only because of your family that you were allowed to become a Watcher after that disgraceful period when you fled your responsibilities."

He looked over as the former Watcher slumped down in his seat.

"Excuse me, Mr. Travers."

"Patience, Wesley, patience. All in good time."

Quentin looked at Buffy, "Hello Ms. Summers."

"What are you doing here?"

"And still rude I see. I am here to do what should have been done some time ago. I am correcting some problems and seeing to it you do no further damage."

"You don't have any power over me. Or over any of the new slayers." She looked over at Faith and Kennedy who nodded in response to her words.

"I see, you saw the box then?"

Buffy was caught off guard, "Box?"

"The box that was in Nikki Wood's possession when she was killed by William the Bloody."

She nodded.

"Tell me something Ms. Summers, if that box were so important and so vital, why would the Watcher's council have left in the care of her young son and former Watcher?"

There was an uncomfortable silence before Robin spoke, "because it wasn't important at all, was it?"

The head of the Watcher's council turned and addressed him, "Correct, Mr. Wood. The box was something created by the council as a means of answering questions by the earlier slayers. It does nothing more give the answers the slayer in question seeks."

"You mean, what I saw and did."

"Was precisely what you wanted to see."

Buffy's face fell at that news.

"But that is irrelevant. What is important now is the future of this training facility."


"We had hoped to avoid doing this for another year but with the recent reactivation of the Hellmouth in Sunnydale, we must accelerate our plans."

"Plans? What plans?" Faith was instantly on the defensive.

Quentin looked around at the group before speaking; "We have decided that in good conscious that Buffy Summers can no longer be allowed to lead this group. She poses too much of a risk of corrupting the younger slayers. "


Angel interrupted before Buffy could get going, "Not that's my area of expertise but if you remove Buffy as leader, who will replace her?"

Travers looked at the vampire before replying, "We have a pair of candidates that we feel can do the job and do it better then her."

"I ain't going to do it, screw you Q."

"You were not and never considered a candidate Faith."

The other slayer was thrown, "Who then?"

He gestured at Alex, "They are."

There was quiet in the room before Spike burst out laughing. "Oh this is rich, Droopy a leader? Now I've heard it all. He couldn't lead a goldfish to water."

Alex's face took on a serious tone as he stepped to the forefront. "You don't know me Spike. You have no idea what I'm capable of."

Spike didn't even look at him as he replied; "Oh I think I know what you're capable of droopy. Fixing windows and cutting boards but I reckon there isn't a market for a carpenter who can't bloody well see."

"He's right you know."

Alex turned and looked at Faith. She stood there shaking her head, "Sorry Xan but you ain't got what's needed to do this gig."

"And how would you know Besim"

Faith's eyes widened and her lower lip started trembling. She spoke in quiet unsure, "How did you?"

"Here's a little surprise for you Faith, you don't know ME. You don't know anything about me; you don't know what I can do. Or what I did."

Cordelia leaned over and asked Wesley "What did he call that's got her in a tizzy?"

Without looking at her, he replied "Her name."

Wood watched with interest what was going on. He lightly tapped the table to get Alex's attention. "Not that I agree with Buffy, Alex but this would require a little bit more then what you're used."

The younger man looked at him for a few seconds before replying, "And how would you know what I'm used to? Buffy's second day in Sunnydale I had to pull her out of a sewer or she would have been killed by vampires. When she went to face the Master, it was me who forced Angel to go after her and use CPR to bring her back. When the Judge was reassembled, it was me who thought up the plan to kill it. So don't tell me what I'm used to."

Wood was about to respond when Angel interrupted him, "He's right. Any man that can scare off Angelus unarmed can handle running this place."

All eyes shifted to Angel and Alex at hearing that.

"He stopped Angelus?" Giles inquired.

"Not stopped. He scared him into leaving."

"What? How? When? Why?"

Angel paused before answering studying the man in front of him. "When Buffy got sick with the fever and had to be hospitalized, Angelus came to see her. Xander was there. He scared him into leaving."


"If you have to ask, then you wouldn't understand."

Buffy was feeling lightheaded as she spoke in a quiet voice, "Why?"

"Because he loved you. And he wasn't going to let anything happen to you."

Spike stared at Alex with his mouth hanging open. "What's wrong Spike? Surprised or ashamed that a seventeen year old kid could do in one night what you never could and face Angelus face to face."

The vampire's mouth snapped shut as he hissed, "Sod off."

"Enough." They turned to see Giles looking at them and Alex with a newfound respect, "Even with this newfound information, I do not believe that Xander is capable of -"

"Capable of what?" The former construction worker cut him off. He leaned in closer to Giles as he spoke, "Because you know," Xander's face changed becoming that of Cole, "There is two of us here."

Giles took a deep breath before answering, "And what makes you capable?"

"Because Cole is also Chosen."

Everyone looked up and saw another man walking towards them. There was a sense of unease towards him until Angel spoke.

"Hello Whistler."

"Hey Fang. Nice to see you've kept that soul of yours still."

"I beg your pardon but who is this person." Travis said speaking for the first time.

"He's Whistler, a balance demon. He got me started as a champion." The souled vampire turned and spoke to the new arrival, "What do you mean 'Chosen'?"

Whistler picked up an apple from the fruit bowl and rubbed it on his coat while he answered.

"What's wrong big guy, you never heard of Alternate realities?"

The former detective blinked, "Yeah I've heard of them."

"Good because that's where Cole is from." Saying that Whistler took a bite from the apple.

"Say WHAT?" Buffy demanded.

After chewing and swallowing the balance demon replied, "Look different realities have different rules. Not every reality has a chosen that's female and is called the slayer. In Cole's case, the chosen line runs through men and they're called-"

"Hunters." Cordelia spoke.

"That's right princess. Cole is the latest in a long line of chosen ones, the Hunters."

"And what's that supposed to mean." Kennedy asked tersely.

"He's a mirror image of the slayers." Cole glared at him and Whistler added, "With some improvements."

"What sort of improvements?" Wesley was curious.

"Well I don't sleep with the things I hunt. As for the rest that's for me to know and you not to find out." He told the former watcher.

"I don't get it." Dawn spoke quietly but got everyone's attention nonetheless. "Why is Cole here though? You say he's chosen like that's the answer but I don't see what that changes."

Cole thought before he answered her, "You're right kid. Me being a champion means absolutely nothing in this whole thing. See what matters more is being human and loving your humanity. And that's where your sister and the rest of this bunch have messed up. They lost touch with their humanity," His eyes turned and raked over them, "with their heart. I can't say everything is going to be fixed but we're gonna damn sure try."

He turned and looked over at where Riley, Sam and Amy stood and saw each of them nod their head slowly. Giles opened his mouth to speak but Travers spoke first.

"Don't say anything Rupert, you no longer have a vote in this matter."

"What?" He turned and stared at the other man.

Travers continued, "It has been determined that you will return with me to the Headquarters of the Watcher's council to answer questions about your actions and those of your slayer. Please do no cause a scene Rupert."

The former librarian rose from his seat, anger evident in his voice, "And just who the hell do you think you are? Barging in here, making demands of me and people you refused to help?"

Travers looked amused at him, "Demands? Rupert this isn't a demand, this is an order and you shall obey it or there will be consequences."

"Such as?" 'Ripper' snarled.

"Such as, all financial access and aid to this school being cut." That slowed him down. "Not to mention the deportment of yourself as well as having everyone taken into custody by the US government for various crimes ranging from escape from prison to attempted murder to theft, child endangerment and so on."

His words seemed to drain the anger out of the former watcher. Giles looked around at the others seeing matching looks of concern and resignation on everyone's faces. All save for Cole's whose indifference threatened to become a smirk. "And you must be overjoyed at this series of events."

Cole grunted before he responded, "Yeah I'm pleased as punch to be in this twisted world where vampires are considered champions, nobody pays a damn bit of attention to the normal people and everyone I love and hold dear is viewed as a monster."

"Why you?" Giles stopped, studying the young man more closely then he ever had before, "There is something familiar about you."

The Hunter tilted his head slightly and spoke, "Is that so Ripper?"

Giles eyes went wide in surprised, as Cole's features suddenly made sense and a single word escaped his lips, "Ethan."

The male chosen nodded, "Ethan Rayne is my father."

That revelation seemed to complete let the air out of Giles who sat back down.

Cole turned his attention back to the group. "Now that the intro's are out of the way, it's time to get to work."


He ignored Kennedy's comment and spoke, "Well seeing as how Alex and I are going to be in charge of reorganizing this place into an effective school, I'm thinking we'll need a place to stay to stay on campus. I know, on the top floor, we'll take one of the corner apartments, the one on the right hand side."

"Hey, That's mine and Spike's place." Fred interrupted.

"Not anymore. But cheer up, you can always stay with one of the other girls."

"What about me?"

"You shut up or your next resting place will be an ashtray."

"It's MY apartment." Fred practically growled.

Cole sauntered up to her, and got right in her face "And I said 'not anymore'. See here's the thing, little girl. The second you took that THING into your bed, your opinion ceased to matter. As a matter of fact, you ought to be grateful that I don't dust him and ship you off to a mental ward. Because right now, you're days of having a cozy love nest with him are done. As is your relationship."

Spike grew incensed at that, "Now listen here mate-"


Casually, Sam flipped open her coat and revealed the handheld crossbow, which was pointed at Spike. She spoke in a flat voice; "I have a very beautiful little girl at home and having read up on your activities, don't think I won't dust you to protect her, vamp."

Spike wisely said nothing and backed away from her.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" Buffy spoke at last; she had enough of what was going on. "And what makes you think you can just barge in here and force everyone to follow along with whatever you plan on doing."

The hunter turned and walked confidently towards her, speaking as he did so, "Who am I? Well I think we've more then answered that question. As for the second, No one is forcing anyone here to stay. You want to leave? Go ahead, you'll get a nice one way bus ticket out of here to the city of your choice. After that you're on your own. No money, no info, no contact with anyone here. As for what I'm doing," he paused and his face shifted becoming that of Alex again, "I'm clearing up your mess again Buffy."


"Don't 'Xan' me Buffy. All I ever was to you was the cleanup crew. I fixed your windows when they broke. I made you laugh when no one else could and I let you lean on me when you had no one else. And in the end, you picked the vampire that tried to rape you over me. When I was strung up and bleeding like a stuck pig, you didn't bother to check on me, the first thing you did was check on Spike. Not me. "

Her voice was trembling as she asked her question, "Why are you doing this?"

"Because you wouldn't. You forced hundreds of thousands of young girls to follow in a lifestyle that you HATED from the beginning. You raped them of their innocence as much as any monster. You took away whatever choice they had and you don't give a damn that you did it. That's why I'm doing this Buffy, not for you, but for them. Now you can make a choice, either it's our way or the highway."

Silence settled over the room. Abruptly, Robin Wood stood up and walked away from the group with Faith staring after him. Wood walked up to the other group and introduced himself, "Robin Wood."

"Riley Finn."

They shook hands and Finn continued with their introductions, "This is my Sam"

"Pleased to meet you."

Cordelia and Dawn looked at each other, then at Andrew and nodded. As a group the three stood up and left. "Hey Amy."

"Hey Queen C."

The former high school classmates embraced.


"Amy, this is Andrew."


Angel looked at Buffy and Xander standing near each other. He considered how much had changed from the girl he loved and the jealous young man he had met in Sunnydale. Then he walked over and grabbed Fred by the elbow. Dragging her behind him he made his way to where Wood had gone. Harmony smiled and followed them. Buffy watched them walk away in shock.


He didn't answer her as he turned to face the dwindling group. There was an audible gasp as Kennedy stood up from the table and walked away from Buffy to take a seat by the others.

Willow paled as she watched her girlfriend's actions, "Kennedy."

"I'm sorry Willow but those two are really screwed up."

Willow faltered and her gaze began alternating between Buffy and Kennedy.

"Don't move Willow."

She looked up in surprise at Xander. Without looking at her, he continued, "You're part of the problem that needs fixing too. Come hell or high water. This job will get done."

The End.

Author's notes: And so ends the first official storyarc of this series. I have tentative plans regarding the second storyarce which will take place in a series I'm calling "A Fair Exchange" for right now. That series, I'm hoping will start on Sunday if not sooner. In the meantime, I welcome all sorts of feedback on this arc.