Blood of Hephaestus

Author: Danii <debrabantknight[at]>

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Xander discovers that his talent doesn't lie in fighting, but in something just as important...

Disclaimer: I own no one. Don't sue me. I don't get any money from this, just headaches and odd stares.

Distribution: If you have anything of mine archived, go ahead and take it. If not, just ask...

NOTE: Don't expect for me to finish this any time soon. My muse has demanded I write this, but I have A LOT of stuff I'm working on right now, so I don't know if I'll do anything with this.



Dedication: To all those amazing writers who keep this list going. And in the hopes of more "Cat Shadows" making it's way here soon!

Chapter 1

Xander was fiddling with something. The casual observer wouldn't be able to even begin to guess what on earth it was that lay beneath his multitude of tools and his attentive gaze, but at closer examination, one could see that it was at one time a clock, despite the fact that its face, and the majority of its parts, were laying on the workbench.

It was not an unfamiliar scene. In fact, it was a daily ritual, one that Xander had always completed since childhood. He would sit down with some broken item, and work on it tirelessly until it was fixed, which usually took around an hour or so. No matter what the object, he could fix it, and in fact the young man took great pleasure in his solo activity.

The time he spent fiddling with things was his time, and his thing; it was the thing that kept him sane everyday of his hectic, Hellmouthy life. Everyone has one, such as entering the day's activities in a diary, or perhaps writing poetry. For Xander, it was fiddling with metal things, as could be attested to by the massive amount of once-broken clocks that had at one time littered his small room and now sat in various visible and unknown spots in his basement apartment.

But what he most liked meddling with was weapons. Metal and weapons. Those were his favorites. He could remember sweetly that night when he'd had to arm the rocket launcher that took out the Judge, and the fascinating trip to the army base. Despite the danger he'd known was present that night, he had nonetheless had a smile on his face as he worked on the large weapon, and it brought him joy to no end to see his work pay off in an exploding-demon way. The tazer he'd had to meddle had been fun as well.

It was this skill that had given him the first steady job since high school graduation. A repairman. The pay was good, the hours fit patrolling time well, and he loved his work. Xander wondered why he hadn't done in it the first place. But to be honest, he didn't care. He was happy now, and that was what was important. In fact, he was very happy at the moment, since he had just finished repairing the clock.

The young man looked at his work with pride, and then set it next to his bed table. It would serve until he received his next broken clock, when it would be replaced by the newest arrival. But as he gazed at his finished effort, he felt the need to work some more. He felt the need to create. This was odd, because usually, he only did one thing a day, and he'd never really felt a need to MAKE anything, just fix.

But Xander couldn't deny the yearning that he felt, so he cleared the workbench of the dirt and dust, and began to think of what he could make. He considered various things, and the advantages of producing them, not to mention if he had the parts for them. Then his thoughts turned to something else entirely. Buffy.

He hadn't seen her in three days, but he could remember every detail of her down to the last little fingernail. Xander could recall with clarity the way her blonde hair looked in the sunlight, and the lovely twinkle she got in her beautiful hazel eyes when she laughed at one of his jokes. The baser parts of him could recollect the exact curve of her figure, the swell of her breasts, and grace of her movements as she dispatched the demon-of-the-week. And that's when it came to him.

He would make a stake. A beautiful stake for Buffy to use in battle. It would be useful and gorgeous, deadly and stunning, a stake worthy of her. He could picture it now. A metal handle fitted to match hands he remembered so well, carved with some design that he knew his mind would provide at just the right moment, fitted around a carefully whittled stake of the finest Ash wood. He would put his heart and soul into the weapon, and she would love it as much as he loved her.

Xander looked around his basement, searching for the necessary metals and wood, and smiled as he found them laying a few feet from him. Pulling them over, he looked towards the metalworking supplies he had gotten years ago from one of his uncles on his birthday, not to mention the small music box that he intended to use for metal. Then his gaze went over to the piece of Ash wood that he had been planning to use for stakes. It was fine wood, and it would indeed be used to kill many a vampire. But this would not be just any stake; this would be HER stake.

Xander labored for two hours carefully working the wood into a perfect point. Aerodynamically, and aesthetically, it was beautiful. And then he began to carve. He didn't know why, or even what he was carving, but something inside him took control and began to slice in symbols and pictures. He couldn't really identify all of them, but they all felt as if they belonged there, as if they were exactly what should be upon the Ash wood. After around twenty minutes, the stake was covered in odd signs and other things, and whatever drove him to put them there, stopped.

Then he began the metal work, and that was pure joy. It took him longer, since he wanted to assure that everything was perfect and he needed to find the right mold, but in the end, he had fashioned a flawless handle to his wonderful stake. The grooves were perfect, and the small cross graced the end of it exactly as he'd wanted. Xander took time to clean up the stake a bit, dust off everything, and then put away everything he'd used to create the piece of art. And it was art. It was art in its purest form, a true part of Xander's soul made into a physical object. In fact, it felt almost alive in the young man's hand.

He couldn't wait to give it to her.


Xander knew that Buffy would be in the graveyard at that hour, so he put on his sneakers and made his way out the door. It took a while to find her, since he hadn't been sure of which of Sunnydale's many cemeteries she would be in, but finally he located the Slayer in the larger one near Giles' house.

"Hey, Buff!" he shouted with a grin, "What's stakin'?"

"Not much," she admitted with a small chuckle, happy that he had joined her on the night's patrol. Xander always seemed to make the work much more pleasant, "You?"

"Oh nothing..." the young man replied with a sly grin, pulling something out of his pocket carefully, "Except that I got a present for you!"

"A present!" she cried in exaggerated delight, though in all truth she was rather excited, "What is it!? Lemme see!"

"Ah ah ah!" Xander laughed, pulling the cloth-covered item away from her, "What's the magic word?"

"Twinkie?" Buffy asked with a giggle.

Xander sniggered, but he didn't put the object any closer to her, "Nope. Wanna try again?"

"Please?" the Slayer said, grabbing for the gift.

"So unoriginal!" the young man cried while trying to control his laughter, "One more time!"

"Xander is the bestest!" Buffy said with a laugh, tackling him onto the ground as she tried to obtain the thing in his hand. But he still kept it out of her reach, and the two of them laughed as they rolled around on the grass of the cemetery, until Xander bumped his head against something. An angry something if the growling was any indication. The young man and the Slayer looked up a dusty pants leg to see the vampire that was glaring down on them.

Buffy sprang up immediately, then looked for the stake she'd been carrying with her before. Unfortunately, it had disappeared during her play with Xander, and she was forced to try to beat the thing until she found her stake. But first, she had to get the bloodsucker away from her friend before the vampire attacked, or Xander tried to get heroic.

She sent the creature reeling with a powerful kick to the head, and then followed it with a jab to the stomach. As the vampire folded, Buffy put her hands together and whacked it in the back of the head, sending the undead monster straight to the ground. Buffy took the time to look around for her weapon, but she still couldn't see it. Suddenly, she saw a stake being thrown to her by Xander, and she caught it as the vampire pulled her legs out from under her.

Before the bloodsucker could do anything else, Buffy rolled away, then got up and into a fighting stance. It was then that she noticed the bizarre stake she was holding. It was made of fine wood, nothing like her quickly made job from earlier that night, and it had many symbols carved into it from the tip to the beginning of the metal, which seemed to fit her hand perfectly and looked to be almost melded to the wood. There was a cross at the end, finely sculpted, and the whole thing felt almost alive in her hand. Alive, and eager to kick some vampire butt.

Almost without thought, she jumped forward and lunged, sending the stake into the heart of the young vampire. A second later, the thing was dust, and she was left holding the beautiful weapon in her hands.

Xander walked over to her then, an embarrassed expression on his handsome face.

"That is SO not the way I wanted to give you that..." the young man said with a sigh.

Buffy turned to Xander, confusion in her eyes. "You mean, this is my present?"

"Yeah...It's no gold cross, but I hope you like it..."

The Slayer looked at her friend, and took in the expression in his face and the tone of his voice. Then she brought her eyes to the finely made weapon in her hand.

"Xander, it's beautiful. I love it." She assured him. Then curiosity got the best of her. Where did you get it?"

At this, the Slayerette turned almost red, and he stared down to his shoes as he muttered something.


"I said, I made it..."

Buffy's eyes widened in surprise, then turned back to the stake. He had made this amazing thing? How long had it taken him? Why had he made it? For her?


"I just thought that you'd like it..." Xander said slowly, interrupting her gently, "Maybe make you feel a little better after that whole "First Slayer" thing..."

Now Buffy was staring at her shoes, but only for a moment. "I do!" she informed him, "It does. Thanks..."

Her Xander-shaped friend smiled that strange little smile he sometimes gave her. That loving don't-worry-about-it grin that she'd come to know so well over the years, and had come to miss as they had begun to drift apart. The smile that told her that all he'd wanted was to make her happy. And he had. Not just with the stake, but with that smile. It made her feel safe, and much more comfortable with him than she'd been for the last few months.

"Don't mention it..." Xander said with a shrug, "If I can't help in the actual slaying, it's the least I can do..."

The young woman looked down at the stake once more, and was about to say something to Xander, but then realized he had walked away. She didn't know where he had headed off to, or which direction he had gone, so she couldn't follow him. But she wanted to. She wanted to ask about that last comment, and about the stake. She wanted to ask about everything he'd said, and everything he'd done since the day they'd met. But, like every time in the past, she's missed her chance by being slow.

Not one to dawdle, the Slayer gazed down once more at Xander's gift, the beautifully crafted weapon she held in her hand that even now seemed to have a life of it's own. This, she knew, was no ordinary stake. This was something special, perhaps even more special than she, or even Xander, knew. Buffy decided to see Giles right away.


Giles held the stake up to his eyes and examined it from every angle imaginable. The Watcher held it carefully, as if afraid it would attack him in some way, but nonetheless checked it over front to back, all the while muttering "extraordinary...amazing..." Finally, after around a minute, Giles put the stake down on the table, and looked up to Buffy with a questioning expression on his face.

"Buffy, if I may ask, where did you acquire this...weapon?" the Watcher enquired, unable to keep the excitement from spilling into his tone.

"Why?" the Slayer answered, avoiding her guide's question, "What's so special about it, other than the obvious? I mean, I know it's different, but how?"

Giles blinked, then pulled his glasses off without a word to clean them on his shirt. He breathed in deep, and then replaced the spectacles on his nose.

"As you are already aware, this is a rather unusual piece of equipment..." the Watcher began, "It was obviously forged by one of the Blood of Hephaestus..."


Giles gave her a tired look, then continued, "One of the Blood of Hephaestus, the great Smiths and Craftsmen..."

"Oh..." the Slayer replied, trying to sound as if she had even the slightest idea what he was talking about, even though she didn't.

The Watcher sighed. He knew that tone. If he had a dollar for every time he'd heard it, he could have bought the Bronze lock, stock and barrel. "Hephaestus, if you were unaware, Buffy-"

"And I am..."

He gave her a look for her interruption, then continued. "Ahem, as I was saying...he was the Greek god of Fire and Blacksmithing. From his forge, supposedly, the finest weapons and metalwork were produced for the greatest of heroes and the gods. It is said that he even made the lightning bolts for Zeus to hurl..."

"Interesting..." Buffy commented in a way that told the Watcher that she was anything but, "And what does this have to do with my stake?"

The former librarian exhaled noisily, and looked to the ceiling, as if begging to Heaven for more patience. Goodness knew he needed it.

"The Blood of Hephaestus is the term for a person born with smith- magic. A true Maker of weapons. They are rather rare, and they produce the finest attack implements, among other things, that can be made. When Saint George slew the dragon, he held in his hand a sword made by one of the Blood. King Arthur's Excalibur is said to have been made by one of these as a favor to the Lady of the Lake. Even the sword of Acathla was forged by someone with the Blood of Hephaestus..."

"Oh" the Slayer answered, and Giles smiled. This was the kind of "oh" he liked to hear. The kind that said "I was being impatient, but now I see how important the information was; thank you, Giles, my wonderful patient Watcher..." Hearing it was one of the few tiny victories he got in his position.

"So this was made by one of them?" Buffy asked, a strange lilt to her voice. He didn't know exactly what she was thinking, but he had a feeling it had to do with her avoidance of telling him where she got it, or possibly, from who.

"Yes..." Giles answered, picking up the stake once more, "But this is unique for other reasons as well. It is a First."

"A first what?"

"A First Work." The Watcher explained, his voice filled with something close to awe, "All their lives until a First Work, a Blood of Hephaestus will simply fix things which have been broken. But the First Work is their first creation; the beginning of the life their talent will give them. It is rather special."

"Wow..." Buffy replied, staring at the stake in his hands. She'd seen him speak of many things, but few topics had driven him with such wonder as this. The Slayer figured that it had to be pretty exceptional for Giles to get that passionate about it.

"The stake is also special because it is a Soul-piece..."

"Which is?"

Giles sighed, and he looked at he stake again with that same curious expression, then handed it to Buffy. "When one of the Blood works on an item, they shape it not just with their hands and tools, but with their heart, mind, and soul. However, a Soul-piece weapon is one in which an actual bit of the worker's soul is put into the creation. It's very rare in a First Work..."

The former librarian was quiet for a moment, and then asked in a solemn tone, "Have you used this on anything, Buffy?"

"Yeah. A vamp in the cemetery..." she answered, "Why?"

Giles looked a little shaken, but not worried per say. "Then I suggest," he told her quietly, "that you not let this stake out of your sight..."

"Why, Giles?"

"Because, after you use a Soul-piece weapon, a part of your soul gets bound to it as well..."

Buffy was about to ask what the implications of that were, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. The Slayer and the Watcher both stared at each other for a moment, trying to figure out which one of the Scoobies it could be at that time of night, and hoping against hope that there wasn't some major demon-rific catastrophe that had to be avoided. Finally, Giles went over and opened the door.

"Hey, are things? I'm bored. How about you?" Xander babbled as he walked through the door and into the Watcher's living room, "Anything I can do to help around here? Research? Clean some crossbows? Sharpen some swords? Make coffee? Anything?"


She was about to say something else, but the words flew from her mind as she felt the stake jump in her hand. Buffy cleared her throat, and then began again.


Another jump. This was weird. She smiled at him, then continued without saying his name again. The stake didn't jump this time.

"I wasn't expecting to see you again tonight. I mean, you left kinda suddenly, and then I..."

"I don't know," the young man admitted. Then he smiled. "Maybe my daily dosage of Buffy wasn't met with that short interlude earlier. Not to mention the fact that I haven't seen the G-man for a while, so I decided to drop by and see if you needed me to do stuff..."

"Could you please stop calling me that..." the Watcher said quietly, the irritation in his voice more warm then true, "And to tell you the truth, we really don't require any help, though if you'd like to look through any of my books to brush up on your demonology, you're certainly welcome..."

"Sure,, certainly, Giles." Xander answered with an embarrassed grin, "Mind if I use part of your couch?"

"Fine with me..." answered the former librarian, "Buffy, you have no problem with it, right?"

"Oh...none." The Slayer answered almost nervously, running her hands over the carvings on the stake she held almost for comfort, "None at all..."

"Well then, be my guest, Xander..." Giles told him, "Buffy should be going back to her dorm around now, yes?"


"But you may stay as long as you like...I'm not one to stop a young man from studying, even if I should have encouraged him perhaps a little earlier to do so..."

"Thanks, G-iles." Xander replied with a smile and a small laugh. Then he turned to Buffy, who was near the door and said, in a much different, yet still pleasant, tone, "See ya later, Buffy..."

"Bye, X- Bye..." she said nervously, confused about both the stake and the man who had given it to her.

Giles saw her the short way to the door, and before she could leave, her Watcher whispered, "Don't forget what I said about keeping an eye on that stake. There could be dire consequences should it fall into the wrong hands..."

Slightly confused, the Slayer walked out the door. She began to think about all Giles had said, and what Xander had told her earlier. All her thinking left her with two possibilities: either Xander was lying, and had found it somewhere, which she seriously doubted, or he was one of those people Giles had been talking about. Either way, she knew that explaining everything about it to her Watcher and the rest would be difficult, especially since she was staring to feel something for the dark-haired young man who obviously cared for her enough to give her something like the stake, or perhaps enough to make it. And she had no idea how she would explain it to him.

Meanwhile, back at Giles house, Xander was sitting on the Watcher's couch, staring at the book before him. He'd tried to read the last sentence twelve times already, but each time, he was unable to absorb it into his mind. He was busy thinking about the way Buffy had acted.

Xander had loved her since that first moment in the hallway, but she had always told him that he was her friend, and would remain that way. Period. Amen. Elvis has left the building. Yet, as he'd watched her leave the house, he could have sworn he'd seen something in her eyes, something that had nothing to do with friendship and everything to do with something more. And at that moment, his heart had sung its finest tune, despite his outer calm. The Slayer had no idea what it had cost him to jovially bid her adieu.

But he couldn't really keep focusing on her. Yes, every once in a while, she would do something or other than made him start to think that she reciprocated his feelings, but each and every time, it turned out just to be something friendly. He'd had his hopes dashed enough times to have given up, and sometimes he felt he had. But then she would do something, or get a certain look in her eyes, or perhaps give him a peck of the cheek, and he would begin to wish all over again. He just wanted it for once to actually happen. Even if she broke up with him a day later, he would be happy knowing he'd had a chance to be her love, and not just her friend. But, the little voice in his head screamed at him, that was about as likely as Giles being a cross dresser...

Xander looked down at that moment to see the book lying in his lap. Though he'd chosen it at random from Giles' shelf, the young man laughed as he realized just which book he had picked.

It was one he'd read before, and the Watcher had told him to please never read it again, and for a very good reason. He'd set the book on fire by doing that, as could be attested to by the charred edges on the pages. It still made him laugh to think about how he'd just decided to read one of the spells out loud, and his complete surprise/terror when it had burned the book. Not to mention his panic over what to do to put the poor literature out. Luckily, Watcher-man had come to the rescue of his precious books, and the problem had ended quickly.

Just out of curiosity, Xander began searching for the page he'd read out loud. It was rather easy to find since it was the most burnt piece of parchment in the volume. Besides, the young man found it hard to forget things he made combust.

"The Rite of Vulcan." Xander mumbled. He figured that reading the title of the spell, in English, wouldn't do anything, and fortunately, he was right. There was no spurts of flame, no smoke, nothing. "Interesting..."

Beside the spell was an illustration of a man, one Xander found intriguing for some reason he couldn't quite explain. The figure held a hammer high above his head with strong arms, and he wore very little clothing other than a dark smock that protected him from the forge he was working upon intently. On one of the legs, the young man could see a scar that ran up and down the man's leg, and he wondered why a powerful being worth summoning would be lame. But what struck him the most was the figure's face.

It was not a handsome face; the artist who had inked the page had made sure the viewer knew that, but it was an intriguing one. A square chin topped by thin lips and a blunt nose. Above that lay dark eyes, set close to the nose, which, despite the two-dimensional drawing, seemed to hold an inner calm and kindness. Beyond that, a forehead wrinkled in concentration could be seen from beneath long dark curls that appeared to lick his face like the fires from the forge.

It was a face Xander could understand. It was the face of one who had had a hard life, but despite it, had found happiness. It was the face of one who had been hurt by those who were supposed to love him, but nonetheless, had found the strength, the iron will, to get past the pain. It was the face of one who did what he did because it gave him joy. It was not the face of a fighter, but the face of one who fought the harder battle by helping the warrior. It was the face of one who was at one time under appreciated by others, but knew that his place was important. One who, despite the setbacks, had become more than anyone ever expected him to be.

Xander closed the book.


Buffy didn't know what to think. She was very confused about several things and her mind spun with all sorts of thoughts, yet all of them had a central theme: Xander.

She knew he loved her. That was not a question. It wasn't doubtable. Deep in her heart of hearts she could feel it, like a string to him, telling her that she would always and forever be the only one with the keys to his soul. She knew that everything he did was in some way done for her and only her. She was more than conscious of the fact that he'd done nothing but help and support her since her first day in Sunnydale, and she was painfully aware to the fact that she'd done the same for him only once or twice.

But what she wasn't sure of was if she loved him. Since her break-up with Angel, Buffy had been desperate to move on, to find someone who could love her like the vampire had, and it had gotten her into trouble. First Parker, with his using ways, and then Riley.

It wasn't that Riley was bad to her, or trying to use her. Goodness knew that the commando had done a great deal for her and her friends through the year, but what about what she felt for him. It was a question she'd asked herself time and time again. Did she really love him? Or was she simply desperate to find another Angel, another true love? And if so, where did it leave her? Was she, in that way, doing the same thing as Xander? Trying to replace true love with sex, even though the former was waiting for her in a little basement apartment across town?

"Wait..." the Slayer muttered to herself as she walked down the dark street towards her home, "Did I just think the words 'true love' and think of Xander? Is it really that? Do I really-"

The words stopped. She couldn't really say them just yet, not even to herself. Not even as a question. In fact, the idea was so tenuous, yet wanted, that she didn't dare even think the rest of the sentence. It sort of hung in her mind, a curious loose thought that begged to be pulled. But she couldn't deal with it at the moment. She needed to refocus.

The Slayer stopped walking for a moment, shook her head, and then continued toward her dorm, intensely trying not to think of Xander. It only partial worked. Her mind swung towards the stake that rested in her pocket.

Buffy had known it was special the minute it had been tossed into her hand, but its odd habit of jumping in her hand, the feel it had to it, as if the stake was alive, had her very confused. She could feel the weapon even now, throbbing as if it possessed a heartbeat, as it lay in her pocket, a reminder of the person she didn't want to think of. It had taken her a few minutes, but she knew for certain that Xander had made the stake. Not only that, but she knew he had put his heart and soul into it. It felt like him, like an kind, protective presence that was always with her, always trying to keep her safe. A warm blanket wrapped around her very soul. And it made her even more confused about her feelings.

It was the way it made her feel, that loving presence, which had kept her from telling Giles where she had gotten the stake. For some reason, telling him had seemed wrong. The stake, and the situation surrounding it, seemed to be meant for her and Xander, and only them. To her, it was a private thing, something she didn't want to share, like a box of special chocolates that was only brought out when all others were gone and the coast was clear. It was hers; it belonged to her. HER warm, fuzzy feeling. HER loving presence. But truly, she hadn't said anything because it wasn't really her secret to tell. It was Xander's.

While Buffy was already confused about her own relationship with Xander, she didn't have the slightest clue about Xander's relationship with the Scoobies at the time. He seemed to have drifted away, and she wasn't sure if he was still okay with "sharing everything". Not that any of the others had really gone by that for a while. So Buffy did not plan on telling anyone anything without asking him first.

"So where does all this deep thought leave me?" Buffy whispered to herself as she unlocked her front door. Giles had obviously been tired if he'd asked her about going home to her "dorm" during the summer. Not that she'd been in any condition to correct him. "All this deep thought leaves me with a deep need for Chocolate Haagen- Daaz and a lot of sleep..."


Xander stared down at the book again, unwilling to open it. He couldn't bear to see that face again, despite how connected he felt to it. It was familiar to say the least. It was his face.

Xander did not share the features of the figure drawn in the book, but that wasn't what mattered. The connection went beyond physical similarities. They were one, in ways that Xander couldn't even explain. And it boggled his mind.

Having been part of the Scoobie gang for a good four years, he had read his fair share of books on the occult and mythology, so he knew the story of Hephaestus, known to the Romans as Vulcan, rather well. Scorned at birth by a mother who thought him ugly, the god had been thrown from Mount Olympus, his fall leaving him lame for all time; though Xander didn't understand why the god couldn't heal, the very idea of it seemed to fit. Unloved by his beautiful wife even though Hephaestus loved her more than anything. Never a strong, triumphant warrior, never able to be what others wanted.

For these reasons, Xander had always felt a kinship with the god, and because of this, Hephaestus seemed less high and mighty than the others. He was more human than the other gods, less petty, cruel, and controlling. He seemed to Xander to be a kind soul, patient and even as a well-kept forge flame, and someone who knew pain well. Xander was familiar with pain. The pain of having parents who hated him. The pain of losing friends to the Hellmouth. The pain of being left behind. The pain of unrequited love.

Yet just as the Smith god forgave his beautiful Aphrodite, Xander could not hate Buffy. He couldn't even dislike her. All he could do was love her, and hope with every bit of his heart and soul that she would someday return that love. And recently, his hope seemed to be growing more possible, which brought him unbelievable happiness.

He couldn't forget the expression she'd gotten on her face as he'd walked in. It had been...beautiful. Like she'd missed him. Like seeing him again was something she wanted. It had made him want to die on the spot. No, he corrected, it had made him want to live forever just to be with her.

"But" he muttered to himself, "What about Riley?"

Did she love him? Did she want to be with him? Were all the glances and looks really just thoughts she was having of Riley? The questions flashed through his brain, each one causing him more and more pain by crushing the hopes that had been crushed time and time again the same way. And then, a thought from somewhere he couldn't exactly identify rang out in his mind, silencing the hurtful questions.

Maybe, she loved-

He couldn't finish it. It was too fragile to even think. The idea that she could, that she might, that she did...

It blew his mind. But somehow, he had a feeling, it was right. Somehow, he knew that the stake, and everything that had gone into it, had started a chain reaction in his life, one that would change it forever. He just knew that Buffy was going to finally realize how much he cared for her, and even though he could only hope at that point, something within him KNEW that she would find she loved him just as much as he loved her.

Xander looked at the book again, then set it aside onto the couch. He stood up, and then toppled back into the couch as intense pain shot up his leg. The young man gazed down at his traitorous member and figured that it must have fallen asleep or some such during the restless night. Pushing up with his arms, Xander got up again, this time putting all the weight on his good leg; it worked. Finally standing, he glanced at the small window of Giles' apartment.

Through the tiny opening, Xander could see the sun's first rays shining brightly in the sky overhead, and, despite his lack of sleep during the night, Xander felt full of energy. More importantly, he felt full of purpose. The need to create had him once again in its grasp, but this time, the work would be for himself.

He knew he was no warrior. That was not who he was, despite all his attempts to the contrary. He was the steel support, not the steel blade. He was a builder, not a destroyer. He was a Maker, not a fighter. He knew this now as he had never known it before, and acknowledged it as the truth.

But even the humblest of men are willing to fight to protect what those they love, and the things they hold dear, and Xander was no different. So, limping slightly, the young man made his way out of the Watcher's home, and headed toward his own. To where he would make himself a great weapon to defend all that he loved from the trouble he knew deep in his bones was coming.

This knowledge came from no supernatural power, or some intelligent insight. He knew trouble was coming because it had been quiet for a while, his life was finally getting better, and he was quite aware that the Hellmouth put Murphy's Law to shame.


"The little hammer is awake, my darling..." the entranced voice purred through the darkness of the large cave. There was a fire in the cave, but the figure could not be seen in the small light it provided, "He is awake, and his leg is gone, like that of his god...soon, he will know..."

"Perfect..." another replied forcefully, the voice gravely and hard, yet still compelling "And the stake, my dear?"

"That horrible Slayer has it..." the first said, the insane lilt to the obviously female voice turning to anger, "She has it, and she is careful..."

The owner of the second voice stepped into the firelight. Dark blonde hair over a handsome face, with green eyes that the female had said reminded her of a "beautiful forest in the night". These changed as he took on his demonic visage, which then twisted into a cruel grin. "Don't worry, my dear. I assure you we will be able to take the weapon. She is young, and, I suspect, in love with our 'little hammer' as you so aptly called him. She will not stay careful, and neither will he..."

"I just don't want the evil Slayer to take you away from me, Nicholas..." the female pouted, her hands visible in the firelight as she ran them over his shoulder lovingly, "And the stars say-"

"What, my darling?"

"They say that the little hammer and that evil Slayer can take you away from me, if you are not careful..." she said, her voice telling Nicholas that she was about to get upset, "If you do not take the stake-"

"But I will get the stake, darling!" he cried, pushing her off of him. She cringed away, hurt, but for the moment, he didn't care. He hated when she got like this. Saying things like she was saying, as if he was going to fail. It made him want to jam a piece of wood into her unbeating heart.

But then, he'd think of all she'd done for him; killing his sire, supporting him, bringing him to Sunnydale where he would have his greatest victory yet...and rationality returned to him.

"Oh darling, I'm sorry..." he said gently with what he hoped was a comforting smile. She moved towards him once more, and stopped whimpering. "I just get so upset when you talk know I care for you, don't, you darling?"

She nodded, and then joined him by the firelight, her dark and strange eyes nearly glowing in the darkness. She was still a little nervous, but was beginning to calm down as she pulled her little china doll from one of their still-unpacked bags. Nicholas watched as she played with it, as if it were a real child.

"Don't you worry, Drusilla..." he assured her again with an anxious grin, "We will get the stake, then we'll use it to get the little hammer, and finally that nasty'll see..."






"Buffy! Get up!"

Buffy, vampire slayer extraordinaire and savior of the world rolled over in her bed, hiding her eyes from the bright sunlight her mother was subjecting her to. She stayed there for a minute, curled beneath her covers in the hope that her mother would just give up. But after a few moments, Buffy realized her mother wasn't leaving, and pulled the cover off of her sleepy head.

"Mom..." she complained, "It's summer. Summer vacation. Emphasis on vacation. Meaning, I don't have to get up when the sun is still bright and sunny like the dale..."

Joyce Summers looked down at her daughter with a determined expression on her face, then seemed to give up with a sigh. "Fine, if you DON'T want to go shopping-"

"Shopping?!" the Slayer exclaimed, jumping up and out of her covers, "did you say shopping?"

"Yes..." replied Buffy's mother, a sly smile on her face. But the smile quickly turned to confusion as she glanced at her daughter, "Has it gotten so bad that you have to sleep with your equipment?"

The same confusion entered Buffy's eyes as she tried to figure out what on earth her mother meant, when she felt the familiar warm presence sitting in her hand. The Slayer looked down to see the stake, her stake, which she was holding possessively. Buffy grinned nervously.

"" she answered, putting the stake down despite her own desire to keep it as close as possible, "And...uh...I'm was holding the stake because it's special..."

A knowing gaze came into Joyce Summer's eyes as she recognized the tone her daughter was using. It was the same tone most girls got when they said a certain piece of jewelry was special, or a sweater was special. It was special because it was given to her by someone special...probably a boy. A boy who knew to give practical gifts. Joyce wondered who it was.

"May I see it?" she asked, holding her hand out. To be honest, she was rather curious about this thing if it was special enough to warrant her daughter sleeping with it. Buffy, still looking nervous, picked up the weapon from her dresser and handed it to Joyce.

The Slayer's mother took the stake quickly, and began to examine it carefully. It was unlike any she'd seen her daughter carry, and she was intrigued by the carvings on the wood. Just out of curiosity, she gripped the stake as if she was going to use it, wondering if something odd would happen. But nothing did, except for a slight warmth in the palm of her hand. Curiosity satisfied for the moment, Joyce handed the stake back to her daughter.

"Very nice..." she told her, "Who gave it to you?"

Buffy's eyes widened in surprise and nervousness, and then she gave a tittering little laugh. "What do you mean, who gave it to me?"

"Exactly what I asked," Mrs. Summers persisted with an amused grin on her face, "who gave it to you?"

There was a moment's pause, and then Buffy told her in a slightly embarrassed voice, "Xander."

Buffy did not find her mother's raised eyebrow entertaining in the least.

"Yeah, Xander gave it to me last night." Buffy continued, gaining a little steam, "Yeah, he gave it to me as a present to make me feel better after this whole 'Initiative' thing, and he even made it too!"

Again, the eyebrow rose as Mrs. Summer asked, "Xander made this?"

"Yup," she replied with pride, "He made it for me!" Then the Slayer realized that she'd let the cat out of the bag and began to babble, "Not that I need that spread all around town if you know what I mean please don't say anything mom not even to Giles or Willow or any of them if you'd be so kind as to forget I said anything I'd-"

"Don't worry, honey..." Joyce assured her daughter, both with her words and with a motherly embrace, "I won't say a word about the stake or where you got it. Wouldn't want you getting in trouble with your boyfriend, now, would I?"

"Boyfriend?" Buffy asked in momentary confusion. Then she remembered, "Boyfriend! Yeah, as in Riley. As in, I'm supposed to be going out to lunch with him today..."

Joyce saw how upset Buffy was concerning Riley and contact with him, but she let it go, figuring that her daughter wanted to deal with it herself and ask for help if needed. So instead of making a fuss, Mrs. Summers said, "Why don't we get going if we're gonna get some good shopping in before your little lunch date, okay, honey?"

"Yeah, mom...just let me get dressed..." she replied shakily, pulling at her closet door.

"Okay, dear..." Joyce answered with another raise of the eyebrows as she walked out, "I'll be waiting downstairs..."

Mrs. Summers made her way down the steps, and sat down on the living room couch to think about some things. She was glad that Xander and Buffy were bonding again. Since the beginning of her daughter's freshman year in college, Joyce had seen less and less of the agreeable young man, and she'd wondered why the two had drifted apart. She knew that Xander's not going to college had created a bit of a gap, but Buffy's mother had always seen something special between her daughter and Xander, and it had almost broken her heart when she'd watched it disappear into almost nothing. But apparently, the young hadn't given up, Mrs. Summers thought with a smile. She wished someone had tried as hard to get her as young Mr. Harris tried to get Buffy. Joyce thought it was sweet.

Especially since she had never really liked that Riley boy. He seemed...well, she didn't really want to judge her daughter's boyfriend, especially considering her own love life since and including Buffy's father (the name of 'Ted' blasted through her mind and made her cringe)...but he was rather...stogy. Uptight. Close- minded. In her mind, he didn't really come close to Xander when it came to fitting Buffy's personality.

"Then again," Joyce whispered to herself with a grin, "That just might be some strange after affect from that love spell that went haywire on Valentine's Day a year or two happy I can remember THAT..."

"What were you saying, Mom?" came Buffy's voice from the front hall, making Joyce jump in her seat. Her daughter had the nastiest habit of getting around without making any noise, even up and down the stairs, which Joyce had almost conclusively proved shouldn't be physically possible. Mrs. Summers hated it, but realized the necessity of the skill. She just wished it wasn't practiced at home.

"Nothing, dear..."

Buffy got an odd look on her face, as if she didn't really believe her mother, but seemed to stop when she realized how much Joyce had let her get away without spilling the beans. People in glass houses and all that...

"So, we going, Mom? Before we both die of old age?" the younger Summers asked.

"Sure, Buffy...let's go..."


They were finished. All the work, all the time, all the effort transformed into the physical by his hands and tools. He didn't even know how he'd done the work exactly, especially considering the size of one of the works and the amount of equipment he had. It had been like he'd been in a wonderful haze; he had felt himself doing the work, but he didn't know what he'd done to do it. It was almost as if he'd done the work with his mind or somesuch. But that was silly. Yet as he looked at the two objects, Xander's heart swelled with pride.

The axe gleamed in the light of the near-to-setting sun, its edge sharp enough to slice a hair in two. Symbols ran up and down the blade and handle, things Xander couldn't understand literally, but knew the meaning of deep within his heart. As he held the fine weapon in his hand, he wondered what he could accomplish with some real supplies... with a good forge or something along that line. The very idea of having a place to work like that made him shiver in joy.

His second work was sitting on the table, the chain dangling over the edge just a little bit. Attached to the fine chain was a small metal hammer, which he'd crafted shortly after the axe when he'd found some extra metal to work with. It was perfect in every detail, a replica of the hammer from the book illustration. He was just waiting for it to be completely cool before he put it on.

A few minutes later, he placed the token around his neck, and it seemed almost as if he had completed some ritual. The hammer's weight around his throat felt right and good, and the bounce as he walked made him think of a craftsman in a forge diligently working. Not only that, but the closeness of the metal made him comfortable, as if its presence on his skin could somehow protect him. He was glad he had made it.

Since he was done, Xander gazed out the small basement windows and saw what time it was. Remembering the schedule, the young man recalled that it was officially his night to go with Buffy on patrol around the graveyards, and his heart skipped into his throat. Not only would he have Buffy, whose mere presence made him feel like he was in heaven, with him all night, but he would also have his new creations to help him in his slaying duties. Besides, he couldn't wait to show Buffy what he'd made. Not to boast, but to share his amazing creations with her because they were special. His heart thrummed.

So, without waiting for actual sunset, Xander put on his boots and headed over to Buffy's.

It took him a little longer than usual, because with his limp and the slight weight unbalance from the axe, it was a bit hard to walk quickly. But he got there at last, and with his free hand, rang the doorbell.

There was a muffled shout, which was unintelligible to Xander, and then a few seconds later, the door was opened. Unfortunately, it wasn't the Summers he had been hoping for.

"Hey, Mrs. S...How are you doing?" he asked, a little embarrassed to be holding an axe right up in front of her, not to mention the memory he had from a certain First Slayer's visit, "Where's Buffy? Its my cherished 'patrol-with-Buffy night' and I came to pick her up..."

Joyce Summers smiled, then told him, "I'm sorry. You just missed her. She went over to Giles for her, whatever she does before she goes patrolling..."

Xander was a little disappointed, and it showed in his eyes, but he nonetheless gave her a bright smile and said, "Okay then...guess I'll head over there then...Bye Mrs. S."

The young man turned to go, but was held back by a gentle hand. Xander spun back to face Buffy's mother slowly as she said, "Wait."

"Uh, what's up?" he asked softly, unsure if there was something wrong. He may not have been a Slayer, but that didn't mean he couldn't listen to someone who was having a problem and try to help them.

Joyce smiled, and then told him, "I just wanted to thank you..."

Xander cocked his head in confusion. He couldn't remember doing anything for Buffy's mom. In fact, that last time he'd seen her, she'd helped him with something, namely micro waved popcorn. "What for?"

"For the gift you gave Buffy. That stake." Said Joyce, "It was a very beautiful, very practical, gift, and a nice thing to do for her. I know she's been feeling a little distressed since she got you sucked into that dream world and all. So I wanted to say thank you..."

Xander chuckled softly, his eyes downcast humbly in embarrassment, "I just...I...I just wanted her to feel better. She seemed kinda upset before, and I figured a present would cheer her up a bit..."

"I know..." Joyce replied, "I just wanted to thank you..."

There was silence between the two, not uncomfortable, but still rather nervous, and then Xander turned to go again. As he stepped off the porch, Mrs. Summers said quietly, "There's something else you should know. I trust you, Xander. I trust you with Buffy. I trust you with my daughter more than anyone else..."

This time, when the young man twirled to face her, his eyes were wide in joy, surprise, and confusion. A thousand questions filtered through his mind, and he wanted to ask everyone. But only one was voiced.


Mrs. Summers face, which had changed to hold a sober expression, lightened a little from a small smile, "Because, of all the people my daughter has let into her heart, you're the only one that I know who would die to protect her."

"But, Mrs. S!" Xander cried, hating the words that were about to come spilling out of his mouth. But he knew she needed to hear the truth. "I'm just a normal guy! I'm not some super-souled vampire, or some buff commando...I'm...I'm...the Zeppo. I'm a normal human in a world where that means I can be beaten up by almost everything. I can't protect her..."

There was a pause, and then he added, "And I didn't even get into college..."

Joyce almost laughed at him, but then she realized that he'd been laughed at enough. He needed to be told something serious for a change.

"Xander, it doesn't matter if you can't fight like those others."


"I'm not finished..." she admonished gently, "Xander, I know you love her more than your own life, and that is worth more to me than anything...and besides, you can make her laugh, which, in this town, is a very necessary thing. I'm pretty sure she'd have gone crazy if you hadn't made sure she laughed.

"You aren't some impossibility that will leave her moping at night by her window like that Angel character. And you aren't all straight need and passion, like that stodgy commando. You are someone who makes her happy, who makes her life better. And while you seemed to have figured it, my slightly slow-concerning-her-love-life daughter has yet to realize-"

Mrs. Summers closed her mouth, then smiled at him impishly. "Just...I trust you. Know that."

Xander couldn't even think of what to say to that. She'd said all those things about him, and given him hope like he'd never had before. Speechless, Xander simply dropped his axe and slowly enveloped Mrs. Summers in a hug. As his face burrowed into her soft brown hair, he felt Joyce's hands wrap around him in a comforting embrace, and Xander was unable to stop the small drops from falling down his cheeks. They stayed like that for a minuet, and then Xander pulled back.

Having wiped his eyes before pulling away, there were only small signs of his having cried, but Joyce could see it and it made her smile.

"And as for getting in to college, I'm sure you would have if you hadn't been so busy fighting the forces of darkness...and if you want, I'll help you study some time this summer so that you can take the SATs again and maybe get in to UC-Sunnydale for next year, okay?"

Xander nodded, still unable to speak, then looked down at the axe. It was a beautiful piece of work, but, he realized as he limped to pick it up, it wasn't for him. For one thing, if the limp didn't go away, he couldn't be able to swing it properly. And for another, there was someone who he wanted to have it more.

The young man picked up the weapon, and silently held it out to Joyce. Startled, but touched, Mrs. Summers took the remarkably light axe from Xander.

"Can't leave the Slayer's mother without something to swing at the big bads, can I?" he said gently with a small chuckle, "It seems right for you, I don't know why..."

"Xander, I-"

"Take it...I bet its really light for you..."

"Yes, it is...but what does that-"

"Take it." He said, guessing that whatever muse guided his hand wanted for him to wait for his own weapon, "Its ways I have yet to understand///"

Joyce stared at it, and then nodded. She smiled at the young man, then closed the door quietly. Xander stared at the door for a moment more, absorbing all he'd been told there, and then started his walk towards Giles' house.


"Ah, Buffy. Here for patrol, I assume..."


The Slayer walked into her Watcher's home with a bit of apprehension. Ever since she'd inadvertently forgotten to tell Giles that Riley was in the Initiative, Buffy had promised to tell her guide everything and anything, and in a way, by keeping the identity of the stake giver a secret, she had broken that promise. But how was she going to tell him without hurting his feelings or him going ballistic?

Luckily, she didn't have to think of a way to broach the subject since Giles did it for her. As she reached the weapons chest, the former librarian noticed the stake on her belt. Rubbing his jaw, he asked in a curious voice. "Seeing the fine work once more, Buffy, the question which comes to my mind is where exactly you obtained that stake..."

"Well..." she replied, pulling out a crossbow and some holy water, "I got it from someone. The one who made it. He gave it to me as a present..."

"A present?" Giles asked in wonder, "He GAVE it to you as a PRESENT? How long have you known this character that he would give you such a costly gift?"

The Watcher paused for a moment, and then asked, "And did you say he made it?"

"Yeah..." Buffy answered nervously, "I'm guessing that means he's one of those Blood people, right?"

"Absolutely..." Giles told her, his eyes shining, "Whoever it is, we shall have to provide a forge for them somehow...perhaps I can call a few contacts of mine...I'm sure they would be willing to provide funds to supply your friend with a forge, as long as we assure them they would receive a fine weapon as a gift..."

"Whoa there, Silver..." The Slayer said, putting her hand on his arm to calm him down, "We don't even have his permission yet, and I don't even know if he feels comfortable letting you know what he is, if even HE knows what he is..."

"I'm sure I will be able to tell." Giles informed her, "I'll just look for a young man with an uncharacteristic limp. All of the Blood who have created a First Work get a limp. It is their sacrifice in exchange for their powers, and a link to Hephaestus himself...Now, please, Buffy...all I want to do is help this young man fine tune his gift and make a profit from it...who is it?"

"Fine" Buffy replied, "I guess he won't mind. I mean, it's...he shouldn't mind all that much...The Blood of Hephaestus is-"

The door opened at that moment, and a certain dark-haired young man limped in, "Hi guys! Here for patrol!"


"What?" he asked politely, his joy over Mrs. Summers' words far too great to be wrecked by a freaked-out Giles, or even the pain from his own leg, "Am I wrong? Is my patrol night tomorrow? If so, I'm sorry I bothered you..."

Giles and Buffy shook themselves out of the silent shock they had been in since Giles' exclamation. The Slayer got out of it first, though, and walked over to Xander, gently guiding him to the couch; the Watcher just continued to stare at the young man. As they walked, Xander tried not to limp so much; he didn't want Buffy or the G-man to be worried about him.

When they reached the couch, Xander sat down, relieved to have his weight off of the pained leg. But just as he was about to relax for a minute, the young man noticed the odd looks on the faces of his friends.

"What? We aren't going on patrol tonight?" Xander asked, his voice close to a laugh, "Holiday on the demon calendar or something? Or do we have to research some new evil that's come to destroy the world?"

The Slayer's eyes went blank for a moment, not truly processing what he had said due to her worry, and then she quickly answered him, "No, nothing like that. There is something up, and it's important, but it's not about any new demon or anything. It concerns that stake you gave me..."

"What?" he said with a small chuckle to hide the hurt he felt inside. Painful thoughts ran through his mind. She didn't like it. It was horrible. It was crap. My best try was crap..."It doesn't work or something? And here I thought even I could make a stake the right way..."

"Oh no!" Buffy cried, pulling him closer to reassure him. At least that was what she told herself she was doing. "The stake is wonderful...its perfect. And that's what we have to talk to you about."

"Why?" Xander asked, not entirely comfortable with talking about his work. It felt...personal. Like describing to a complete stranger what he had dreamed last night. His voice turned slightly flat. "It's a stake. Yeah, it's a really nice one that I worked on a lot to make you feel better, but there's nothing to it..."

"And I suppose you'll be telling us next that the pendent you wear around your neck means nothing as well." Giles put in, staring at the hammer that rested on his chest, "It is the Hammer of Hephaestus, or Vulcan, as he was known to the Romans, as illustrated in that book you were reading the other night, isn't it?"

Xander swallowed as his throat went thick. The Watcher was being so...cold. So...clinical about something that meant so much to him. Why was he being like that? Had he done something wrong? For the life of him, Xander couldn't think of anything horrible that could be triggered by making a stake. But instead of letting himself become sad like he always did, Xander got angry. This was HIS work, and something he was proud of. What right did the Watcher have to act like that?

"Yeah, so what if it is?" He told them, the edge in his voice clear to hear, "I like it. Is that a problem?"

Buffy felt the change in his tone and the stiffening of his body, and she began to pull him closer. For reasons she couldn't admit to herself, she didn't like to see Xander upset like that. It made her angry, angrier than a friend was supposed to be. Angry like a girlfriend. But that was silly, she told herself, I love Xa-I mean, Riley...

"No, no..." Giles reassured him, making him relax a little, "It is anything but." There was a pause, and then the Watcher asked, "Xander, do you know anything about the Greek god Hephaestus?"

"Yes, Giles...after four years of reading up on demons and myths, I have picked up a few things..." he replied, his voice still bitter, "I'm familiar with it..."

'Then you would know that Hephaestus was the god of Blacksmithing...and the greatest of weapon-crafters..."

"The point of this being?"

Giles 'humphed' and then continued. "Well, there are certain people born with his gift of smith-magic. They are called the Blood of Hephaestus..."

Xander stared at the Watcher, expecting him to go on, and when he didn't, the young man rolled his eyes angrily, and began to get up. Even the presence of Buffy wasn't helping him feel better. "Thanks for the lesson, G-man. Now, if we aren't going slaying tonight, I think I'll retire to my basement. My leg isn't feeling so hot, and I'd really like to lie down."

Buffy looked about to hold him back, but Giles nodded at her to leave him go. He seemed almost hurt that she didn't follow him, as her heart wanted her to, but nonetheless started to head out alone. As his limped towards the door, the Watcher's voice rang out. It was nearly a whisper, but the silence of the room made it sound as loud as a bull horn.

"Your leg isn't going to feel better..."

Xander spun to face Giles, his eyes wide and filled with pain. What did he know about the leg?

"Your leg is going to be like that till the day you die. It's part of who you are, part of what you are. Just as Hephaestus' leg remained lame, so shall yours, till the day you die."

"How do you know?" Xander demanded, his eyes showing him to be hurt and confused, "How do you know what will happen to me?"

"I know..." the Watcher said slowly, making his voice more gentle now that he realized how his cold tone had injured the boy, "because it is the same with all of those who are of the Blood of Hephaestus..."

Xander stared, and then sat down in the chair nearest the door. He couldn't believe it. Buffy obviously saw this in his eyes, for she immediately sat next to him and put her hand over his. She knew he needed some comfort for this, and the Slayer had resolved that she would never push her friend (was he her friend? Or something more...) aside like she had for the past year or so.

Xander's eyes grew again as he saw her hand upon his, and then he smiled at her. Her insides melted as she let that smile truly sink into her as she had never done before, and she squeezed his hand lovingly to let him know how much the smile had meant to her. She was rewarded with another grin. Then Xander's attention went back to Giles.

"What does it mean to be a Blood of Hephaestus?"

"Well," the former librarian explained, "You possess smith-magic. It is a combination of craft-, metal-, fire-, and weapon-magic, which allows you to create the finest of weapons and metalwork. Weapons as great as Excalibur."


"Yes," Giles agreed dryly, "I would agree it is worthy of a 'wow'. In exchange for these gifts, you must lose the power of one leg, becoming lame like the Smith god himself."

Xander tapped his pained leg. "Guess that's already happened..."

"Yes, indeed..." the former librarian commented, a small bit of sympathy in his voice. Giles couldn't even imagine how it would feel to have the power of one of his legs taken from him at such an early age, despite the benefits it would entail. "But there is something important I must tell you..."

Xander rolled his eyes. He could see it coming. Hell, he could practically smell it coming. It was a 'you are the Chosen one' speech.

"Your gift is very rare, more rare than that of a Slayer, and with it you can do more help for the powers of good then you could ever imagine. But you will need to train yourself, learn the magics of your trade, and be wary of who you create for..."

"'Who I create for'? What do you mean, Giles?"

The Watcher sighed, and then looked Xander in the eyes. "Being one of the Blood means that you will be asked by many to create weapons. It is a service you will provide to the otherworldly community, as your kind has for eons to make a living. You have no idea how much the stake you gave Buffy would have gone for in a market...However, it is your choice which clients you will take, and that choice will affect how you are seen by the aforementioned community and the powers that be."

The young man's eyes widened in surprise. "You mean, I can get paid for this?"

"Yes." Giles answered simply, smiling slightly at Xander's amazement, "You can get paid for your work, and from the quality I see of your First, you will be paid very well indeed. But before that, you will need to train, and I need to provide you with a forge..."

"Sign me up!" Xander said enthusiastically, his anger gone, not that he could stay mad at his favorite Watcher anyway... "For once, luck is with me! Of all the things that could have happened, I never imagined I'd get a useful power that paid..."

"Yes, I'm very happy for you, Xander..."

"And so am I!" Buffy shouted happily, finally speaking. She was so happy for her friend she felt like...

Xander shook his head to clear his mind, and to stop the daydream. Or what he figured had to be a daydream. He'd gotten a gift. He'd gotten a gift that paid well. Buffy had kissed him, on the lips, deeply. And it had been great, better than anything he'd ever experienced before, exactly what he'd always dreamed it was going to be like, and so much more. Truly mind blowing, as if their two souls at that moment were melded, connected. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. His hear was singing.

It was then that the dark little corner in his mind that was far too damn accurate for Xander to be happy whispered, "Oh yeah, something bad is coming to Sunnydale...or it's already here..."

Chapter 2

The little voice was, unfortunately, absolutely right, though for once the demony side of Sunnydale had nothing to do with the trouble. Normal, everyday, non-Hellmouthy life had decided to screw with Xander this time, which, while being a nice change of pace, was almost as bad as mouth of Hell opening.

"What the hell?" came a voice from the door, followed by the sound of military boots stomping toward Xander's chair. He didn't even want to turn and face this, and he refused to, even as he heard the stomping stop right behind him. But he knew he couldn't ignore it forever, so Xander at last stood up painfully and turned around.

Standing behind the chair was a blonde man, with clear blue eyes and an expression of pure hatred on his face. His arms, muscles tense, were down at his sides, obviously held there by pure will, while his hands curled into fists. He wore army fatigues on his well-built frame, and a variety of weapons hung from his belt. Xander couldn't even pull the man's name from his mind in the first second due to his nerves. But after that second passed, the name came blasting through his mind.

Riley. Riley, who was outfitted for patrol. Riley, who had been fed super chemicals. Riley, who looked like he wanted to pound Xander, with his lame leg, into the ground. Riley, who had just seen his girlfriend kiss another man.

"And I repeat," he said, his voice that deadly quiet tone that most people fear more than screaming, "What the hell?"

Xander realized something had to be said, and since Buffy and Giles weren't being talkative at the time, the task had somehow fallen to him.

"I can explain-"

"Then explain away! Tell me why my girlfriend was kissing you!" Riley shouted, the cool front abolished by his angry tone.

Xander looked around for help, but saw nothing helpful in neither Buffy nor Giles' faces. So once more, he was alone to face the music.

"You see, Giles and Buffy were just explaining to me about my new- found skills as a blacksmith..." the dark-haired young man started, "And then we were talking about-"

"Can it, Harris..." the former commando said heatedly, "You're obviously giving me bull to stall. As if you had any skills, townie...Now, Buffy, this is ridiculous! Is this-"

"What do you mean, 'as if I had any skills'?" Xander demanded before Riley could finish. True, perhaps Buffy shouldn't have kissed him like that while still dating Riley, but that was no reason to insult him or his craft.

Riley, who had been starting to ask Buffy about the entire situation, turned to face Xander again, "Exactly what it meant, idiot...I don't believe you have any ability to do anything that is in the least way important. Your greatest skill is the ability to eat twinkies faster than anything else human. I mean, can't even keep a job for more than a week..."

"Now..." Giles interrupted tentatively, "I really think-"

"Shut up!" Riley shouted irrationally.

The Watcher did just that, but glared at the commando. What right does that little whelp have to talk to me like that, he thought. I was killing demons when he was in bloody diapers. Giles had thought that Riley was perhaps a little hard-headed and maybe a bit close- minded...Giles mentally muttered 'stubborn ass'.

Then Xander began to speak, but Riley stopped him by pushing him back into the couch. The young man, having only one working leg, tumbled down onto the cushions. It hurt his bad leg, but he kept silent.

"Leave him alone!" Buffy shouted, getting up from her chair, "He didn't ask me to kiss him! It just happened, okay? And I started it!"

Riley sneered at Buffy, then turned it downwards so that Xander could see his teeth in something that only vaguely resembled a smile. "What? Now you have to have the little skank to defend you? I mean, I knew you carried a flame for her, but I didn't think it was because you needed a body guard..."

Suddenly, everyone saw something go very still within Xander. It was if every part of his body had frozen at once into rock hard ice. His hands did not curl into fists, and his arms stayed as they had, but it was plain to see that there was deep rage in the young man's heart. The normally warm chocolate brown eyes looked almost dead, colder than ice could ever be. Buffy had only ever seen him like that once, and the very memory of it chilled her to the bone. It took a lot to make Xander angry, but when he was, it was frightening in its intensity. The Slayer and the Watcher stepped back.

Slowly, despite the pain in his legs, the dark-haired young man got up and walked up to the commando, and in a voice that promised death at the wrong response, he said, "I don't care what you say about me. Yes, I didn't get into college. Yes, I have employment troubles. Yes, I will probably spend the rest of my pathetic life in this evil little town. And I'm okay with that. I've dealt with that fact. I've even found some enjoyment in that knowledge somehow...

"But if you ever, for the rest of your life, refer to Buffy Summers as anything but the upstanding, heroic, beautiful, intelligent, incredible, loving, kind, and amazing lady, yes lady, that she is, I swear to everything I hold dear in my life that I will see you beaten and broken on the floor, with your blood flowing somewhere from a cut made with a weapon I crafted and used. And I won't kill you, because I'll want you to remember what I did. Now I know you are a little slow, being a soldier and all, but I'm only going to ask you once. Do you understand everything I have just said?"

There was a pause, and it seemed that everyone was holding their breath, mentally if not physically, as Xander's rock-hard gaze bore into Riley's blue eyes. Buffy watched in amazement. She'd never expected her boyfriend to fly off the handle like that, and the fact that he had scared her. It didn't bode well for the future of the relationship. And she'd never thought of Xander as being scary, but now she knew that, when he needed to be, he was. But most of all, she was in pure delighted shock at how seriously he took her honor.

The Slayer turned to Giles, and saw that he was observing the proceeding with as much surprise as her. The commando seemed to be thinking about what the other man had said, and considering the various answers he could give. It took a minute, but finally, after looking Xander up and down a couple times, he seemed to have reached a decision.

"Fine." Riley answered, his eyes hard and yet somehow smiling, "Take the cheating bitch..."

The other two in the room didn't even see Xander's hand as it flew forward and into the soldier's face. All they saw was Riley's form as it toppled to the ground, his one hand on his broken nose as the other struggled to push him up. Nor did they see the swift kick to Riley's side. The commando grunted in pain at the second assault, but then recovered enough to look straight up at Xander's hard face. He seemed about to say something, but Xander cut him off before a single word could escape the blonde man's lips.

"Don't." he said simply, punctuating the warning with a cold glare, "Just leave, and then you might have a chance to pick up the pieces later..."

Riley looked into Xander's eyes one more time before silently getting up from the floor. He stood there for a moment, and then turned to Buffy.

"Buffy," he said in a much calmer voice, his injured nose making his words sound slightly off, "I know what I just did...getting physical, and shouting, and calling you...what I called you...I know it wasn't right, okay? And I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I acted dumb and cruel, but you have to know that what I did, I did because I love you, and it hurt me to see you kissing another man."

The Slayer looked about to step forward, but then she paused. Breathing deeply, Buffy brought her eyes up to stare into Riley's and she said quietly, "I'm not sorry I kissed him..."

The commando's eyes opened wide at her statement, and he looked as if he was going start crying this time. But before he could ask anything, Buffy continued.

"I'm not sorry I kissed him. I'm sorry that I kissed him when I was already going out with you. I mean, I didn't mean to hurt you, Riley..."

"Well you did." He replied flatly.

"But" the Slayer slowly, "I...I don't know if I really want to be going out with you anymore..."

Riley's eyes widened even more, and his hand slipped off of his broken nose in pure shock. As if he too possessed a lame leg, the commando stepped back unsurely, his entire body screaming of the pain his heart was going through. Yet, through it all, he found that he could still speak.


Xander, Giles, and Riley watched with rapt attention as Buffy again bowed her head, and took in another breath for strength. It was so unfair, she thought. The one part where I can be hurt is the one place I can't defend with my Slayer strength. And it's the one place that hurts the most.

"I...I don't really know when I decided that I couldn't...that I couldn't do this anymore..." she said at last, keeping her head down for another moment before lifting it to stare into Riley's eyes, "I...when you and I met, I was still a little off balance from another relationship, as you, I was...I don't know, desperate. Desperate to love someone, to be loved by someone. And after Parker, I..."

Xander watched as a small drop slid down her cheek and onto the floor. Buffy choked for a second, and then continued painfully. "I wanted someone who would be another true love, Angel was. And so, I guess I...I mean, please don't misunderstand..." she pleaded, flinging her arms out emotionally, "I do care for you. I care for you a great deal...and those nights I spent with you...I will never regret everything we shared. I don't ever want you to think that all your support and caring was for nothing. I do love you, but not the way you need me to love you."

There was a pause, a silence that seemed almost unbreakable. But it was broken by a near-to-tears Riley a second later.

" love him that way?" he asked, "After all we've shared, you've decided that you love him like that, even though you haven't gone on a single date with the guy?"

"Riley, I've known Xander for four years," the Slayer informed him, "I know him...I know his heart. And I know that, of all the people I've ever known, there is no one I know who loves me more, or who has stuck by me like he has..."

The hurt commando took this in, and then turned to face Xander, something between pure sadness and unadulterated hatred in his eyes. "And I suppose you think this is funny? You've probably been waiting for this, for her to dump me? Inside, you must be laughing it up..."

The dark-haired young man shook his head slowly as he took a seat on the couch. "No, it doesn't make me happy to see you hurt. Because I know exactly how you feel. I know how it feels to be pushed aside for another person. Did that job for four years, the only one I seemed to be able to keep. I mean, I won't cry, but I won't party either."

There was more silence, and then Xander told him quietly, "And I'm sorry I hit you..."

Riley seemed to soak all this in as he stared first at Xander, then Buffy, and finally Giles, whose angry glare had softened to become more sympathetic. His eyes seemed to glaze over, and then they returned to normal as everything was processed. Finally, he stilled, and a second later, he began to laugh.

"Well, you certainly handled it better than I did..." Riley said in between his slightly bitter laughs, "But I guess I must bow to the lady's choice...okay?"

And with his last word, he held his hand out for Xander to shake. The other young man stared at it warily for a moment, and then put his hand into the commando's and heartily shook it.

As they finished shaking, Riley's laughter died, and he stared into Xander's eyes with complete seriousness. "She chose you, and you sure as hell better live up to what being with her details. If anything happens to her, I'll kick your ass. And if anything happens to you, don't expect me to even wait till you're in the ground..."

An odd smile graced the soldier's face as he finished, and Xander found an even stranger one gracing his own face. He decided that, despite the townie jokes, he liked Riley. It wasn't the Treaty of Versailles, but it was something.

"Got you..." Xander replied, "But don't worry. I'd sit on an oven in Hell for all of eternity while drinking Tabasco sauce before I'd let anything happen to her..."

Riley blinked, then grinned again. "Just checking..."

The little moment was wreaked by a pointed grunt from Giles, who was tapping his shoe rapidly.

"Now, if this little scene is over, at least two of you have to head out and do patrol tonight. Or we could all four do it, if you don't mind my presence..."

"Sure, Giles!" Buffy shouted, jarring everyone with her volume. She was obviously still rather nervous despite the little truce her love and former boyfriend had made, and any excuse to have an outsider with them (i.e. someone to stop people talking about the situation any more) was certainly welcomed by her.

Riley and Xander shared an odd look, and then the commando did a small movement with his eyes to indicate to Xander what he should do. So he limped over to Buffy and said, "I'll go with the Buffster; Riley, you go with Giles, okay?"



The silence was deafening as they all pulled things from the weapons chest, the Watcher all the while observing with a bit of amusement how much the two men were trying to be polite to each other. He knew everything would work out. Now, all he needed to worry about was how he was going to get enough capital for a fully furnished forge.

The three young people finished shortly after, and then stood there in front of Giles, obviously itching to do something that required no lengthy, complicated thinking. The Watcher sighed.

"Let's go kill something before you three get any more awkward with one another..."

Xander, trying to help the situation, inconspicuously pointed towards Riley's nose, and the Watcher, luckily, picked up the hint.

"After we do something about young Mr. Finn's injury..."

Riley, who had been trying to ignore the pain in a sort of macho contest with Xander, sighed in relief. He was glad someone else had mentioned it, and more than a little surprised that it had been the person who gave him the pain. The commando began to admit to himself that Xander Harris wasn't really a bad guy.

Well, I guess if she isn't with me, Riley thought, glad it's with him then. At least I didn't get dumped over that mopey vampire guy.

But Riley didn't really get to think anymore, because he was too busy trying not to scream like a girl as Giles put some bandages and other things on his face. The Watcher was trying to be gentle (except for the one time when he 'accidentally' nudged Riley's nose...'how dare that little git tell me to shut up...') but the nose, while luckily not actually broken, was not in good shape.

A few minutes later, Riley was all taped up and ready to go. Xander, who had watched the whole ordeal with a bit of guilt, held his arm out, and Buffy took it, her whole body still a little wired from her nervousness. Riley watched the display, then turned to Giles.

"Well, we'd better get going, shouldn't we?" he asked the former librarian good-naturedly as he made his way to the door.

"Yes." Giles agreed, following him. Then he turned to Buffy. "Best of luck tonight. And I mean that both in the slaying of vampires, and in another way which I will not detail since you will no doubt complain about an 'old person' talking in such a way..."

"Oh, Giles!" the Slayer complained, half teasing and half mild disgust, "How am I supposed to kill anything with that kind of a thought in my head?"

The Watcher smiled from the door, then told her, "I'm sure you'll do fine..."

As soon as Giles and Riley were gone, Xander looked nervously at young woman beside him, who was still holding his arm, then smiled. She smiled back, and they continued to grin at one another as they walked out the door and all the way to the graveyard.

Xander was so happy. Despite the guilt over hitting Riley, he was still in euphoria over Buffy's speech. She's said she loved him. Like really loved him. Like, more than a friend loved him. She loved him like he's always dreamed she'd love him for four years. Yet, he had enough self-control to wait till they were at the cemetery to ask her about it.

"So, Buff..." he started, nervously fingering her arm, which was a rather pleasurable sensation for the Slayer, "Did you actually mean everything you said in there?"

They stopped walking, and Buffy turned to face him, her expression confused and a little hurt. "Of course I meant it. I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it..."

"So, what you're saying is," Xander continued, unable to wipe the smile off of his lips, "Is that you love me?"

"Well, y-"

"I just want you to know that I love you."

The Slayer looked up into his face as the words reverberated through the night, amazed at the honesty in his words and in his expression. She knew how many times Xander had been hurt in love, not only in the physical sense, but the emotional as well. Buffy knew that Xander boasted about his many romances, but she knew that in truth, he had cared for every one, and whether the relationship ended from slayage or a simple parting of ways, she knew that each break up had caused him pain. Not to mention the large part of that hurt had been from her, from her rejection and her disregard for him and his feelings. So, despite the fact that she knew it, it was incredible for Buffy to hear. He loved her.

"I love you too, Xander..." she replied, putting her arms around him in a tender embrace.

Buffy felt his body stiffen in shock at her words, then melt into her hug. She shifted slightly to a position that didn't stress Xander's lame leg, and they stayed like that for a minute. They didn't kiss, and for the moment, they didn't need to. They just held one another, simply enjoying the feel of the other's warmth.

Xander pulled back, and for a second, Buffy thought that he was trying to break off the contact, but her fears were laid aside as she felt his lips on hers. Soft, warm, slightly moist, they felt perfect on her mouth. And as the kiss deepened, she forgot all about pain and suffering, and let his love wash over her mind and soul in ways she had never experienced before, not even with Angel.

When they finally parted, Xander let out a whistle, while Buffy simply stepped back to recover. A second later, the dark-haired young man seemed about to make a joke, but the Slayer quickly put her finger over his lips. His lips...her mind did loop-di-loops.

"Nope...' she told him with a smile while still being serious, "No self-depreciating comments. I'll tell you right now that I was definitely missing out all these years, so you are not allowed to say a word about it. Clear?"

"Clear" Xander answered in the middle of a small laugh. Then the giggle died, and he said in all honesty, "Thanks."

She didn't exactly know why he was thanking her, and she pondered it in silence as they walked a little more, enjoying the time spent with one another despite the location and the darkness. Finally, Xander turned to Buffy, his warm chocolate eyes deep enough for Buffy to drown in.

"So, how are we going to tell the gang about me...and me and you?" he asked, the somberness his tone had taken lifting slightly at the mention of their relationship.

The Slayer cocked her head, then shrugged. "I don't know. I figured we'd get them all together and just tell them all about your Blood of Hephaestus-yness, then sort of gently explain the rest of it to them."

Xander nodded, then spun to ask her one more thing. She knew what he was thinking before he said a word.

"And as for Anya, I don't know. You're gonna have to figure that out on your own..."

The young man's head slumped, and he raised it only slightly to throw her a pair of the finest puppy-dog eyes Mother Nature had ever produced. As expected, she melted.

"Look," she said, irritation at her quick surrender peppering her tone, "I'll help you figure out a way to break up with getting her ticked enough to cause problems later, okay?"

"Yes, dear..."

The Slayer rolled her eyes at his goofiness, and she was about to mess with him back a little bit when she saw the vampire right behind her. She nodded her head quickly, and Xander picked up the hint to duck, which sent the charging vampire behind him to trip over his body. Before she moved, she saw Xander's arm fling out to smash the vampire right in the face, sprawling him face-up onto the grass. Buffy took advantage of it, and pulled out Xander's stake to dust the thing immediately. The thing was so much powder in a second.

Buffy laughed, "Nice teamwork-"

"-if I do say so myself..." Xander finished. Still on the ground, the young man dusted himself off, then attempted get up. He forgot about his leg, and this time he went sprawling on the grass. The Slayer didn't laugh as she would have in the past. She knew how it must have hurt to not be able to get up by himself, and Buffy was aware that had the situation been reversed, she would not have taken the loss of a limb as well as he had. Or seemed to be. The Slayer resolved to talk to him about it more later. But for now, she knew all he needed was help up, and Buffy held her hand, with the stake still in it, out for him.

Xander smiled up at her oddly, and then took the proffered hand. As they touched, Xander's finger brushed against the stake, and the world changed in ways both could feel, but neither could understand.

Buffy was in a whirlwind of memories and feelings, none of them hers, yet all familiar somehow. She could see herself at three years old getting into a sandbox with a little redheaded child and a little boy, and the ensuing good-natured battle over the biggest scooper that grew into a lasting friendship between the three.

Now she could feel the pain of a father's fists as they slammed into a five year old body, then a six year old, then a seven, and...each one felt even less as the mind within the flesh learned how to deal with the physical pain. She could also feel the agony of the emotional scars such abuse caused, the doubts it planted in the subconscious about its worth, the thoughts of running away that were always stopped by the answering idea that no one wanted him anywhere.

Next came the insecurities of adolescence, each one blasting into her mind, the searing emotions only slightly tempered by the presence of his memories of Jesse and Willow. I'm not smart enough. I'm not cool enough. If I get one pimple, they'll all laugh at me. They're all laughing at me. Do they like me? Am I worth liking? Are they laughing at me or with me? Am I funny? Maybe if I act funny, no one will find out how worthless I am...

And then she saw herself. Buffy, as seen through Xander's eyes. An angel sent straight from heaven. Is this a stake? What's she doing with a stake? I don't care; she's the most wonderful person on the planet. I wish she saw me, really saw me. So what if she killed vampires? She was amazing. Gorgeous. Intelligent. Witty. A person going places and doing things. All the things you'll never be, Harris.

And the Slayer saw everything that was Xander, everything that had made him what he was. Buffy was right along with Xander as he staked his former best friend. As he tried to help her in any way he could. She saw his feelings while he was a hyena, the deep need within him to have her as his mate. She saw how he felt every time she kissed Angel, each show of affection digging into his frail confidence and his delicate hopes.

His fear of clowns. His frustration and terror on the night of the Master's ascension. She saw him drag Angel down to the cavern, saw him tell Angel that he loved her. Watched from his view as he pulled her back from the darkness of the next world. Felt his relief as she breathed again.

Xander's experience as a soldier. His heart being broken by Ampata. Angel turning evil. The Valentine's day he'd never forget, where she'd worn that raincoat, and he had not taken advantage of her. Cordy. Xander standing up to Angelus outside her hospital room while he felt like he was about to faint from fright. His fear of becoming a fish.

The lie he told her on the night that Angel went to Hell. His anguish at her leaving. His joy and anger at her return. How he felt when Angel came back, the crushing of his hopes as he saw the souled vampire in the mansion. That night with Willow. Cordy. How he saved her life, everyone's lives, from zombies with bombs while they ignored him and pushed him aside, and he never said a word about it.

His fear on graduation day. The planning. The adrenaline. The moment. The explosion. The summer. That night in Oxnard. All of it. All of the year past. When he'd been a bartender. Thanksgiving. Watching in pain as Buffy's relationship with Riley grew. Why not me? Why did she have to pick him? I love you, Buffy...

Then came the last few days. His intense concentration as he worked on her weapon. The joy he felt as he finished it. The live he had fused into it. The immense pride he felt as he held it. His nervousness. Will she like it? Something's gotta be wrong with it. She won't like it...but she has to like it. That night when he gave it to her. The happiness from her very presence, and the pleasure he felt as he saw that she liked his creation. Then the amazingly strong bliss at her mother's words, and her own. And the kiss. She'd thought it was amazing, but now that she knew it from both sides, she was completely astounded.

She felt all of it. She felt every single second since his birth. Every memory, every feeling, every thought. All the love he had for her. All the things he had done, all the times he had saved her life. All the sacrifices he had made for her. All his doubts. All his fears. The constant terror that he pushed aside to help her, and the constant terror he came home to. All the pain he had gone through in his short life, and the knowledge that most of his joy came from her. From his love of her. From Buffy.

The Slayer tumbled over and onto the grass, and Xander simply fell back. There was silence, for they didn't really need words at this point. They already knew everything that had to be known, and they had said everything that needed to be said in their hearts. Finally, Xander pushed himself up to look at Buffy.

"Buffy? I saw you...all of you..." he asked, the tear that was still falling on his cheek shaking slightly as he spoke, "Did you see..."

"I saw..." she answered, getting up as well as she stared into his eyes. His wonderful, beautiful eyes. "Everything..."

"Me too..." Xander replied quietly.

There was silence again, and then Xander asked, "Do you still love me?"

He said it so softly, so carefully. He was so scared. So scared that she wouldn't love him anymore. So scared that when she saw his soul, she would find something wrong with him, something unlovable. And it made Buffy just want to cry that she'd ever hurt him. That she'd ever let anyone else hurt him. That a man as wonderful as he was should ever doubt that he meant something. The tears ran freely down her face as she hauled herself up and fell onto Xander, kissing him desperately, trying to show him how much she loved him, all of him.

And Xander kissed her back, and everything was perfect, until she realized where she was. A few more moments of affection, and then Buffy pulled back.

"I love you, Alexander LaVelle Harris, more than anyone else in the world. And everything I saw within you only makes me love you more..."


She again put her finger to his lips. "No 'buts'. No faking. I love you. And I know that you love me. And I never want you to doubt that love, or that you mean more to me than anything in this world, understand?"

Her hazel eyes held his brown for a moment, and then Xander nodded. A second of complete silence followed this, and then the dark-haired young man flipped her to the ground with a laugh.

"I love you, Buffy Anne Summers..." he said, his eyes shinning with a beautiful light, one she wished would never leave him. And she knew she never would. But she had no time to think because he was kissing her now, his soft lips caressing every inch of skin that was bare. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world, and she wanted more, just not on the grass in the graveyard.

"Xander, how 'bout a rain check?" she said, pulling him gently off of her, much to both his dismay and her own.

The young man looked around, then held his hand out. "No rain."

The Slayer giggled, and then pushed herself up again. "No, silly. I mean, how about we postpone this wonderful thought until later, when we're in a nice place."

Xander cocked his head, then seemed to think about it for a moment until he nodded. "Yes, I would prefer a location with a bed, and a serious lack of perfume de dead-rotting-corpses..."

"Then" she said, getting up and helping him to his feet as well, "let's finish patrol and-"

"head back to that place with a bed and lack of cemetery smell..."

As they got up, they noticed the stake on the floor where they had been lying, and their brains finally started making a few conclusions. Buffy and Xander hold the stake, a magical weapon, at the same time and have visions. It is a weapon with pieces of their souls in it, and they have visions of one another. Conclusion: Watch that stake.

"We had better get that stake somewhere safe..." Buffy said, picking it up and placing it in her pocket, "Cause if it did...what I think it did, who knows what use some baddy could put it to..."

The young man nodded, and then started walking back towards the Watcher's home, feeling that patrol was pretty much over after everything that had happened. The Slayer quickly caught up, her face holding an odd expression that Xander couldn't exactly place.

"So..." she said slowly with a strange grin, "You really peed your pants in second grade for pizza?"

Xander's eyes widened, and then his head went down in embarrassment. He stayed there for a moment, apparently holding down a giggle and changing the color of his cheeks back to one that wouldn't stop traffic. Then he took a deep breath and lifted his face to hers, though the shine was still in them. "Well, you saw why! I mean, I wasn't gonna wait on that line again! By the time I'd gone to the bathroom, got back on line, and made it back to the front, there would be no more of the pizza left! And I'd begged my teacher to let me out early for just that reason!"

Buffy looked to him for a moment, then smiled brightly and nodded. "So, you peed your pants?" she asked with a chuckle, affirming it.

Xander rolled his eyes at her, then whispered "Well I wouldn't talk, Ms. Hot Fudge Trousers!"

Buffy's eyes widened in shock at the mention of her horribly embarrassing moment. "Xander! That was not funny! I mean, how was I supposed to know that Ashley Johnson had just squirted chocolate sauce on my seat! By accident, by the least, that was what she said..."

At this, the dark-haired young man began to laugh outright, and though she was feeling humiliated about that ill-fated Ice Cream Sundae Day, she found his laugh to be wonderful. A warm, life-filled sound that she knew she wanted to hear for the rest of her life. Something she wished she hadn't turned away for the last four years. But, Buffy thought to herself as she pulled another memory from her quickly-disappearing set that actually belonged to Xander, she still had to get him back...

"I don't wanna grow up, I'm a Toys R Us kid!" she sang loudly, rocking her body back and forth as she watched in exultation as Xander's face blanched, "A million toys at Toys R Us that I can play with!"

"Buffster, don't you dare..." he warned her, his tone bellied by the glitter in his eye and the slight twist to his mouth that she knew was a held-in smile.

"Now." She said, smiling as she completely ignored him, "All I need is a little blue rocking horse, and then I can totally imitate you in 9th grade..."

"Look, I was in Jesse's little brother's room, and it was there, and then the commercial came on, and-" Xander paused, seeing that this tactic wasn't working from the wide grin on Buffy's face, "Don't you ever want to play with things that are way too kiddy for you?"

"Yeah, but I don't-"

"Oh, don't lie!" Xander shouted good-naturedly, "I've seen you stare longingly at the things in the playground during your patrols every once in a while...and I always wondered why you didn't just get on and try one..."

Buffy was about to laugh at him, but then she saw the look on his face. His eyes still held that shine of joy, but he was serious. And it made her ask herself the question. Why hadn't she tried it? Just once? Why hadn't she, the Slayer, gone on playground equipment? It wasn't as if there was anyone there who would be watching her...

"I don't know, Xand..." she replied at last. Then her look became devious, "Wanna go now?"

Xander saw the expression on her face, grinned, and then nodded, "Yeah...I think we could do's only a block away from Giles' house anyway...not much of a change in destination."

Buffy nodded to clinch the entire thing, and then they continued walking, now in silence. On the way, Buffy began to work through the more painful memories that she had acquired from the other. Obviously, Xander had done the same thing, and as they reached the corner where the playground was, Xander asked her about one of them.

"So, you're parent's divorce really had you messed up for a while..." he asked, trying not to show any emotion since he was unsure of which would be appropriate.

She sighed, and then answered, "Yeah". There was a pause, and then she continued, "I mean, they were never very good together, always shouting and fighting...and then I blew up the high school and things kinda fell apart from there..."

"Oh, Buffy, you shouldn't-"

"No, Xander. It's all right. They're actually better this way." She told him, "I see my dad every once in a while, which is enough for me, and now there is no fighting in the''s a good thing for everyone."

Xander stopped for a moment to allow the information to sink in, and then, when she thought he was done, she said, "And besides, if they hadn't broken up, I wouldn't have moved here, and then I wouldn't have met all of you..."

This statement seemed to brighten the young man's mood a bit, and he gave her a smile to let her know it. Buffy smiled back to inform him that she was okay, and then they continued walking in silence toward the playground.

"What about your dad?" the Slayer asked in what she hoped was a light tone as they reached the gate.

The young man's body stiffened immediately, and then Buffy watched as he made himself relax. The smile that he'd worn before was still there, but it was no longer to his eyes as it had been in the beginning. Now, those chocolate orbs were filled with barely contained fear, and it made Buffy want to do several painful things to Xander's father.

"My dad..." he answered at last, his voice unsure, "My dad...well, you saw what he did...but he doesn't do it any more, so it's okay now..."

She looked him over, from his hair to his toes. He was, at this moment, so different from the Xander she knew. Quiet, afraid, nervous. He was frightened to even talk about his father, and it made Buffy's blood boil. She wondered how anyone could do that to their child.

"No, Xander..." she replied, "He might not hit you anymore, but he still abuses you..."

"Not really," he argued, "I mean, he's right. I didn't get into college. I can't keep a job for more than a week, except for my recent time as a repairman, and I'm living in my parent's basement..."

"And? He shouldn't be reminding you of that like he does. He should have helped you with your work if he was so concerned about it."

There was silence as the two stood at the gate, neither really willing to go through yet, each one working out things in their minds. But they finally seemed to reach their decisions, and Xander asked, "Can we know...remember the good stuff?"

Buffy thought back to all she had seen in Xander's life, all the pain and all the times he and his wishes had been pushed aside. There was no sense in making him relive the pain. As long as he now knew that he meant something to the Scoobies, and especially to her, she knew that he would be happy. His father wouldn't be a problem any more, since Buffy promised herself that she would help him get into UC- Sunnydale for the next year, and find the money for it. And besides, considering her ignorance prior the visions, she had no right to make any decisions for him. So she said at last, "Okay..."

"Good." Xander replied, the smile going back to the way she liked it: genuine. "Now, let's find those springy horses and 'giddyup!'"

Buffy giggled, letting out her nervousness and anger, and followed him. Or rather, she allowed him to drag her towards the little rides. She watched as he jumped on one that looked like a horse, and then fell to the ground laughing as he started to sing.

"I don't wanna grow up! I'm a Toys R Us kid! A million toys at Toys R Us that I can play with!"

Then he saw that she was still not on a 'horse' and cried, "Join me! Saddle up!"

She did just that, and then they started to sing together, the little toddler rides flying around wildly. Buffy knew she must look incredibly dumb, but at this point she didn't care. She was happy. She was with someone she loved who loved her, and they were playing, oblivious to the problems of the world. It was wonderful.

But the singing eventually dissolved into laughter as the two of them fell off of their 'horses' and onto their behinds. Buffy, who landed on Xander, began to get up, but, with a strong yet gentle hand, the young man held her there.

"You know, Buffy..." Xander said quietly with a certain note in his tone, "We keep on falling like this...I think fate is trying to tell us something..."

"I totally agree..." the Slayer answered, her face flushed from laughter, "They are trying to tell us to get to the Watcher's house so that we can finish things in a much more delightful manner than just getting up..."

"I'm kinda up already, Buffster..."

Buffy was blank for a moment, and then realized what he'd said. The Slayer was in a similar state, if not as honest about it as Xander. But despite the fact that she'd had a slower romance even with Parker, this felt right. This felt okay. All the warning bells were quiet as she stared at the dark-haired young man. She smiled seductively. "Well, Cowboy, think you can herd the cattle another block?"

"I think me and the boys will just make it..."

"Then we'd better saddle up..."

"You keep up with references like that, and I won't be held responsible for the results..."


"So, you can see why I got so upset, can't you? Why I flipped out, and called her...what I called her?"

"I do understand, Riley..." the Watcher answered him, quickening his pace to keep up with the younger soldier, "But I must say that you handled that rather badly."

"I know!" the blonde man cried, putting his hands to his head in aggravation, "I know! I just...I wasn't thinking, you know?"

"Yes, my boy, I am quite aware of what you were experienced when you walked in to see Miss. Summers eh-"

"Making out with Xander..." the commando finished with a sigh, shaking his head to clear it, "I mean, of all the people, I never expected..."

"Never expected Buffy to fall in love with Xander?" Giles asked with a raised eyebrow. The Brit held in the urge to snort. "Riley, my boy, I must let you know that young Mr. Harris has been deeply in love with her since their first meeting. And as for are aware that she had a previous relationship with..."

"With Angel." Riley finished with a grunt, "Yeah, I'm aware of that. Funny, Xander was actually the one who told me about him. Told me to watch out for competition should the vampire ever come into town...huh..."

The Watcher let the boy talk, then said, "Well, you should know that Xander hated Angel with a passion. Because of the vampire, he and his affection for Buffy was pushed aside, just as you feel you have been. I don't mean to be frank, but Xander has been subject to a great deal of disappointment and pain over the wonderful Miss Summers. Pushed away for a vampire, then a string of 'normal boys', and then you. He's felt what you're feeling dozens of times, and yet..."

"And yet, he's never acted as badly as I did that first time." Riley said with a long sigh, "And I get what you're saying, but-"

"But you still want her?" Giles asked, "Well, I'm sorry to say, but the lady has made her decision. Which leaves you with one of your own."

"Which is?"

"Firstly," the Watcher replied, ticking off on his fingers, "you can forget about her completely. Move home, pretend she never existed."

"Don't like that."

"Secondly, you can become an angry lout. You can whine and moan about the loss of your girlfriend, and be a general bother to the entire group."

"Again, not looking nice to me..."

The Watcher grinned, then finished, "Or thirdly, you can do as Xander did. Let the lady decide her own path, and be a good friend and support her through whatever she does. Which do you want to do?"

"Well," Riley admitted with a smile and a sigh, "As hard as the third one sounds, it's the right thing to do. So, being the good-old Iowa boy I am, I had better take door number 3."

Giles gave the boy an encouraging look, then put his hand on Riley's arm. "I thought you would pick that...and I'll be happy to help you with dealing should you ever require the assistance."

The soldier got an embarrassed expression on his face, then looked up to face the Brit with a smile on his face. "Thank, Mr. Giles, I-"

The commando was interrupted by a loud scream from Giles' apartment, which they had nearly reached. The young man and the Watcher shared a look, then began to run toward the apartment at top speed. They added speed when they heard another scream.

Giles quickly opened the door, and then headed toward the guest room door, where the scream had come from. His heart was pounding in his ears as he rushed up the stairs, Riley beside him, and as the Watcher was about to knock on the door, he heard something that immediately inspired not fear, but annoyance.

"Xander!" sounded from within the room.

"Oh, boy..." Riley said, his face red as he walked back down the stairs. He didn't really want to hear anymore about that.

"Yes..." the Watcher replied, "Though I was thinking something along the lines of 'oh bloody hell'..."

There was silence between the Brit and the commando, but that allowed them to slightly hear the goings on upstairs.

"I thank the Good Lord above me that I have a guest room..." Giles said at last.

"Have to agree with you there..."

"I don't even want to think of what it would mean if I didn't..."

"Neither do I..."

"This is hard for you, I'm guessing..."


"Not the best way get used to it."


"Would you like to go out for some dinner?" The Watcher said, "I'll buy."

"Yeah, sure, Giles..." Riley replied with a slight glance up the stairs, "Thanks..."

"Don't mention it, my boy..." Giles answered, getting up and pulling the young man with him, "Don't mention it...I did the same many a time for-"

"Please don't."

The Watcher's eyebrow twitched up, and then he gave a small chuckle, "Quite right..."


"They left it, my sweet..." said the voice from behind a tree in the playground, "While the little Slayer and the Hammer were playing, they left the piece of their souls on the ground...what silly children..."

"Well, be glad that they were as incautious as they were, my dearest..." replied Nicholas from behind a neighboring tree, "Otherwise, we never may have gotten the one thing we need..."

"Yes," Drusilla answered with a smile on her beautiful, if frighteningly pale features, "The piece of their souls is ours, and with that, we will have ourselves two new pets."

"Indeed, my dearest..." the male vampire told her, stepping from behind his tree to pull her close to him.

"And now we will have all of the Hellmouth as our playground?" Dru asked.

"Yes, dearest...."

The dark-haired vampire seemed to think of this for a moment, and then informed him, "Miss Edith will just love it. She never has any little playmates..."

"Well, my dearest," Nicholas assured her, kissing her lightly on the nose, "We shall all have new playmates. And new meals, and as I said before, two new pets."

"The little Hammer is mum's Kitten..."

"I know, dearest..." her companion told her, "He shall be your pet, and the Slayer mine. And we will rule the Hellmouth-"

"Our playground..."

"Our playground" he amended with a smile at his beloved, "Together for all eternity..."

The dark beauty grinned back at him, then leaned over to pick up the stake from the ground, the carvings on it glowing in irritation, causing her to drop it. It caused her pain, so she dropped to the floor and began to mew.

"Oh dearest..." Nicholas said, going down on his knees to see her eyes in the darkness. How they intrigued him. "This stake is a First of a Blood, and so it is can't touch it with your bare hand, darling..."

"Papa, it hurts!" She whined, nursing her hand with s scowl, "I don't like that!"

"I know, dearest..." Nicholas explained calmly, "But handled correctly, it will bring us much joy and power..."

"If you say so, Nicholas..." Drusilla replied. Then she asked, "If it shall bring us the Hammer and the Slayer..."

"Oh, it shall, dearest..." Nicholas said, picking up the stake with a piece of cloth and a smile, "It shall..."


The Slayer awoke to the rather pleasurable sensation of a large warm body spooning her own. At first, this feeling made her assume she was in Riley's dorm room, but then she realized that the body behind her that was cuddling up to her so nicely was a bit taller then the commando. This confused her until she remembered the night before. Xander. It was Xander. Xander Harris and she had come to Giles' house yesterday night, nearly tearing the clothes off of one another as they rushed to the door. And then...

"Well, that was..." came a husky voice from behind her, the breath running over her ear and shoulder to give her a delightful little shiver, "amazing, if I may say so..."

Buffy smiled, then turned around in the bed to face the dark-haired young man. "You may definitely say so. I have no arguments to the contrary."

The easy smile on his face went a bit more somber, then he asked, "Really?"

The Slayer looked at him for a moment. He was so damned unsure of himself. So positive that he wasn't good enough, that he wasn't going to keep anything good in his life. She wished that she could take that attitude from him in one quick swipe, but Buffy was quite aware that it would require a lot of time and love to get him to have more confidence in himself. So, as a start, she told him the truth.


This brought the smile back to his lips, and once more she could see the wonderful light in his chocolate brown eyes. Gods, he was beautiful. Not just handsome (for he really was that too), but beautiful in his utter and complete love for her. Once more, Buffy wondered what had blinded her to this wonderful young man. And since she was so busy thinking about that, she missed his next question.


"I asked..." he repeated patiently, pulling his arm up from between the covers to caress her face, "Do you have any regrets? Is this too fast for you?"

Hazel eyes shot open in shock, and then a giggle escaped the Slayer's throat. At his look of worry, though, she stopped and answered him.

"No, Xander. I have no regrets, and I'm not worried about speed. This is right. This...makes me happier than I've ever been before. I mean, just being with you-"

"-is heaven." The dark-haired Maker finished for her, "I know. It's the same here. Always has been..."

And then the two of them sat in the silence, simply enjoying each other's presence and the warmth of the other in the bed. Then Xander broke the moment with a question.

"Earlier...wasn't that really...odd?"

Buffy cocked her head to the side, her face clearly showing her confusion.


"That scene with Riley..." Xander continued with a sigh, "I mean, I don't like the guy, but..."

"But you've never seen him act that badly, even when he was messed up by Walsh's drugs..." Buffy finished. She nodded, "Yeah, I noticed. And I thought it was kinda weird. But I had other things on my mind at the time."

"So did I." Xander answered with a sheepish grin, "But just sitting here, going over the last few days, I came to think about it. It was really odd. a play that I've seen before a thousand times..."

#That would be because I have...#

The young man sprang out of bed, his eyes scanning around the room, looking for the owner of the voice he had just heard. Buffy, eyes wide with shock, ran out of bed with the cover around her body, and stood beside him, glancing around even though she had no idea what for.

"What, Xander? What's wrong?" she asked, the concern in her voice warming Xander to the core.

He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. This is silly, he thought, there are no voices in your head.

#No. There are no little voices. You're not talking to yourself. I happen to be a god...#

He jumped again, this time a little higher. Buffy, her arms around him protectively, pulled the young man to face her.

"Xander? What is it? What's wrong?"

##The same thing that's wrong with you...## a voice in the Slayer's mind said dryly, ##Though, I can't really say it's something 'wrong' exactly. Just a little odd. I mean, not everyone has a goddess tied to them...##

"A GODDESS!" The Slayer shouted out in shock, falling backwards and into the bed. Xander, who was completely confused at this point, just stared.

"Did you just hear a voice in your head?" he asked, pointing to his own temple.

#Of course she did...# his own voice answered, #that would be my wife, of course. #

"You're wife?" Xander asked out loud. This was just getting weird. Or, he amended as he thought of the past, weirder.

#Yes.# the voice answered patiently, sounding rather like a friendly old uncle, #You didn't think that...act was meaningless? I mean, considering what the two of you shared? And what you are? Don't you know what you did? Or who my wife and I are?#

"No," Xander told him out loud, while Buffy tried to figure out the conversation from the one side she was hearing. Apparently, so was her little voice, for she was quiet as well.

#I# the voice said with a smidge of pride, #am Hephaestus. And my wife, who is now tied to your beloved Slayer, is Aphrodite...#

"Well, that's interesting..." Xander said far too calmly.

"What?" Buffy cried, grabbing his arm in confusion, "What are you talking about?"

##Oh...## the voice told her, slightly smug, ##He just told your honey who we are...##

"And that is?"

##Aphrodite...## the goddess answered with what Buffy could hear was a smile, ##Goddess of love. And my husband, Hephaestus...##

Buffy, who had closed her eyes to better concentrate on the voice in her head, opened them now to look up to Xander, who was looking only slightly less nonplussed than she felt.

"So, we're currently containing two Greek gods, eh?" he asked, his voice again far too calm for the Slayer to stand.

"I guess so..." Buffy said, just a bit miffed.


"And what?" the blonde girl growled.

"And that means that everything we had...everything we felt was a lie." Xander said, his voice that of a broken man, "That stake...what we was all magic...or these gods, or...Damn it, I don't know!"

Buffy listened to his words, and she felt her heart break. She knew it wasn't that. Her feelings had nothing to do with any goddess or any magic. All the magic had done was to show her just how much she loved him, just how wonderful he really was, and how lucky she was to have him. It wasn't the basis of her love, that she knew.

##Then you'd better tell him fast, sweety...## Aphrodite warned, her normally smug voice frantic, ##cause I don't know about your Xander, but Hephy has REALLY low self-esteem...##

Carefully, Buffy took his bowed head into her hands and lifted it so that she could look into his eyes. Those chocolate pools of love and adoration that she had discovered meant so much to her.

"No, Xander..." the Slayer told him with determination, "I loved you long before now. It may not have seemed like it, but I did. Way back when I first came here, I had a choice. You or Angel. And after my parent's divorce, I...I didn't have any faith left in love. I thought that if I loved someone, they'd leave. The passion would burn away, and there would be nothing..."

"So I tried to ignore what I felt for you...I tried...I tried to stay away from what felt right, because I thought, like everything else, that I would be wrong. So I went with Angel...and what I feared happened. It burned out. The great tragic romance burned out, but I held onto it because if I didn't, all I'd be left with would be the night. The darkness. The vampires...and I couldn't stand that..."


"NO buts!" the Slayer cried, a shiver running through her as the intense emotion went up and down her body, intensified by the goddess who knew what she was going through, "No buts!"

Xander's eyes looked resigned, and he gave her a nod to show her that he wouldn't interrupt again.

"Then, after Angel, I lost faith again. I didn't think you'd...well, I really didn't think at was so much easier just to feel. Just to go along with it. You know that better than anyone I think."

There was a pause.

"But then I came back...I couldn't stand it anymore, so I came back. And then I was faced with you again. With someone who loved me so much, despite all the pain I put you through. And I ran. I ignored you, and hoped that you'd finally hate me. Finally stop loving me, so that I wouldn't...I wouldn't have love."

"Buffy, I-"

"NO, I have to say this!" the Slayer cried as she felt the warm tears running down her face. She didn't know why she had to say this, but she did. Xander had to know. He had to understand. He had to realized that what they had was more than magic, more than the effects of the gods. She didn't know exactly why it was so important, but she knew it was. Something within her told her they'd be tested soon. Xander was quiet.

"Then all the insanity happened with the Ascension, and Angel left...and I was back where I started. All my stupidity had caused was the deaths of a lot of people, and a great deal of unhappiness. And I looked to you again."

She laughed a small, nervous laugh.

"I remember how much I missed you that summer...and how I felt those first days of college. How confused I much I wanted someone to love again. And then I saw you in the Bronze, with your great big grin on your face. And you did it again!"

More tears poured from her.

"You did it again! You were good, and supportive! And you told me about your time...and your trip to the Fabulous Ladies Night Club, which I will tell you had the finest effects on my dreams..."

Buffy gave him a little smile, and Xander gave her an even smaller one in return. Progress, but small progress.

"And then you told me I was your hero, and I just...I just melted. I was so happy, and so mad at the same time. It was too couldn't be that good to me so soon. So I again ran from you, this time to someone I barely knew. I figured that it would lead to a normal life. I mean, he's from Iowa, right? Doesn't get much more normal than that?"

The laughter that bubbled up from between her lips wasn't entirely healthy, and the sadness in Xander's eyes quickly turned to concern. Dear god...she'd hidden it as well as he had. The pain, the suffering, the stress. And despite the fact that he'd seen everything about her, he hadn't truly picked up how badly this had effected her. Lovingly, he put his arms around her small frame.

"Buffy..." he said softly, his voice soothing and as calm as he could make it, "'s all right...I believe you. I believe everything, okay? You don't have to go through this any more, all right?"

The Slayer's eyes clouded in confusion, and then they cleared. She wiped her eyes with her hand. Slowly, she nodded, and then Xander pulled her close. Dear gods, what the Hellmouth did to people...what people did to people...

"We'll get through all this craziness together, okay?" he murmured into her hair, "We'll be okay. I love love me...and we've got two gods on our side..."

##And one...## the voices chorused to them both, ##sort of against you...##

"What?" Xander said for both of them.

##We said## the goddess repeated, ##that there is kinda a god against you...and don't stop touching...##

"Why?" the Slayer asked, shaking her head to calm herself. She'd said what had needed use in crying anymore, her more logical parts said.

#As long as you two touch, we can talk to each other and you both at the same time## Hephaestus said, #so much easier to work that way, you see...##

"Well, you don't see me complaining..." Buffy replied with a small smile as she ran her hands up and down Xander's arm. The young man was rather muscled underneath all his baggy clothing. The Slayer made a mental note to go clothes shopping with him soon, then asked, "Now, about that god?"

#Ares# the Smith god said with only the smallest hint of disgust, #and he's not so much against you as against the two of you together. He still has a thing for my wife, you see.#


##Yeah...## Aphrodite said with a mental smirk, ##You screw a guy and- ##

There was pause as everyone, both corporeal and non, felt some heat from Hephaestus, followed by a blush from the Love goddess.

##What I meant to say was...he gets emotional attachments really easy.##

"And, don't tell me...Ares is in some other person's body now?" the Slayer asked, not liking the idea at all.

#Well, he's been there for a while. Since...#

"Since tonight's little fiasco at Giles' house...the one earlier tonight..." Xander put in tiredly, "And don't tell me...don't tell me..."

"What?" Buffy asked, anxious to know.

"Ares is Riley!" the young Smith exclaimed in a mock-surprise, "The person who wishes we weren't together...the one who still loves you, Buffy, is Riley..."

There was a pause as the Slayer waited for the Olympians to make a comment. She was hoping it would be that Xander was wrong. She might love Xander, but that didn't mean she wanted Riley to be possessed by the god of War.

##Actually, honey...he got it right. Ares is in your previous boyfriend...##

"Which is why he reacted so badly..." Xander finished, sitting down on the bed with a small sigh, "I mean, I knew something was wrong when he was so nasty to you because, as much as I don't particularly like the guy, I know he's polite. And then, he went back to normal when I hit him..."

#That was my idea, if you were wondering...# Hephaestus said quickly, #At least, it was my idea to give him a quick knock that would bounce out Ares' influence...#

"Oh." Xander said, with a nod to no on unparticular, "I thought I was being a little violent, considering..."

#Oh no, that was all you, my boy...# the god assured him with what sounded like a laugh, #I just made you jump your inhibitions and do it...#

"Oh." Xander said again. He'd put his head down to talk to the god, but when he raised it, the young man found himself face to face with the Slayer, who was smiling. She gave him a quick kiss, then sat down beside him.

"So Ares is part of Riley, just like the two of you are part of Xander and me?" Buffy asked the room in general.

##Yeah## the two chorused. Then Aphrodite explained, ##We're tied to you because...well, we aren't even sure of that ourselves. But when we started to lose our followers, we needed something to keep us alive. Then, while Hephy and me were trying to figure out how, we suddenly appeared in the head of a Blood and his wife. And the wife's ex-husband, a warrior who had been missing for ten years (and presumed dead) was suddenly Ares...##

"So you guys don't even know why you're with us?" Xander asked incredulously, "Wonderful!"

#Oh, shut up!# the god cried angrily, #I don't see you having an explanation for it! And I do know more than you do!#

"Well, the fact that you're a god might have something to do with it!" the young man yelled back, "I'm the Zeppo! It's my job to be clueless! You people are supposed to know stuff!"

##Well, we don't know on this score. We don't know about this sort of stuff...## Aphrodite answered calmly, ##Ask Hecate...not us. I know Love and Sex, he knows Forge and Flame, okay? That's OUR jobs, kiddo...##

"And what exactly is going to happen?" Xander asked angrily. He hated when the Hellmouth got involved with his love life. Wasn't dating the Slayer weird enough? Actually, he thought guiltily, I'm dating an ex- demoness...of vengeance. How the hell do I get myself into this crap?

#It's kinda like a cycle...but while the cycle always ends up with Dite and me together, nothing else is the same.# Hephaestus explained with a mental sigh, #so we can't really tell you anything about that...#

"Great, just great!" the dark-haired young man cried, "We've got two clueless gods in our heads, another one angry at us who's stuck in Riley's brain, and I just realized that I cheated on an ex-vengeance demon..."

#Oh, shut up!#

"No!" Xander growled as Buffy watched. She was thinking about what Xander had said about Anya, former vengeance demon. How were they going to break this to-


"Okay, okay." Buffy said, running her hands up and down Xander's arms to calm him, "Stop with the fighting...fighting solves nothing. Lets just get everything out in the open. Like what exactly is going on with Xander...what he is and all that...and what it means to Riley and me."

#He's one of my Blood...## Hephaestus said with a shrug to his voice, #He has the Smith magic, which I'd be happy to instruct him with if he'd stop being a smart-ass.#

##Oh, just stop now, Hephy...## Aphrodite said with a slight scolding tone, ##And tell them about what they's kinda important...##

The two mortals could practically hear the god smack his forehead in frustration.

#Oh yeah...that would be important, wouldn't it?# the Smith god said with an odd note to his voice, #You two dropped the stake.#

"What?" Xander asked slowly, praying to whomever that what he'd just heard from the god wasn't true. It couldn't be true. They couldn't have been that stupid, could they? Then again, he cheated on Anya...

##He said...## the goddess repeated slowly, ##you dropped...the the playground...##

It was like an explosion had occurred in the Watcher's guest bedroom.


Chapter 3

"Oh my God..."


"Oh my God..." Xander repeated as he picked up his pants from the floor.

#I heard you the first time.#

"Not you!" the young man shouted angrily to the deity that inhabited his mind, "I was pleading to someone that might actually HELP us! You know, someone who doesn't need to piggyback themself on a hapless human host to still survive!"

#Why you little-# Hephaestus started, then he broke it off. He might not have the same powers he once had, but he still had thosands of years of experience...and those told him that fighting his current co- habitant in this body on such a level would just take up time and accomplish nothing. So instead, he just reminded Xander, #Well, we did help. We told you that it was missing, didn't we?#

"Fat lot of good that did us..." the young Smith grumbled, pulling on the aforementioned pants angrily. Then he glanced at his watch, which had survived the extremely well-done stripping Buffy had done on him earlier. "Since it happened two and a half hours ago..."

##Well## pointed out Aphrodite as Xander's arm brushed Buffy's while they both dressed, ##It's not as if you would have listened earlier, Lover-boy. You were a bit preoccupied, if I remember correctly.##

Xander grimaced, smiled, grimaced, then smiled again as he remembered their earlier activities.

#Besides# the Smith-god pointed out, #We couldn't talk to you until the two of you...had your fun...#

"Yeah." Xander agreed.

"Yeah, what?" Buffy asked. She had been able to figure out the conversation from hearing Xander's half while she pulled on her shirt and fixed her hair, but this one comment she hadn't been able to discern.

"Nothing..." the dark-haired young man said with a sheepish grin as he pulled on his shirt, an action that made Buffy sigh in disappointment.

Jeez, one kiss...and you're already sighing at him getting dressed, Buffster. You've fallen, haven't you? the Slayer asked herself, and she could swear she could hear a totally unappropriate muffled giggle from the Love-goddess that was in her mind.

However, before Buffy could ask 'Dite about it, all four of them heard the doorbell ring. The sound put Buffy into battle-stance, which despite being genuinely deadly looked rather comical since she had a hair-brush in the place that a stake normally went. Xander, on the other hand, grabbed to the pendant that hung around his neck as if it would protect him.

There was silence, until Xander broke it.

"Who do you think that is?"

Buffy, hair-brush in hand, turned to look at the man she loved as the doorbell rang again.

"Giles?" she asked nervously.

Xander shook his head. "His house, remember? Why would he ring?"

Buffy then shrugged.

There was another moment of silence, then Xander raised another possiblity. One that made the young man sick to his stomach and raised hackles on the Slayer he loved.

"Anya?" he suggested in a squeaky voice as his mind thought up thousands of ways that he could die painfully while Anya watched in glee.

#Oh please, half of those aren't even physically possible...# the god within his mind scoffed, #Or you'd die within seconds, which wouldn't be much fun for her at all...#

"Thanks for that little tidbit, oh mighty Smith-god," Xander growled, "That helped..."

"What?" Buffy asked.

"Nothing..." Xander told her once more as he attempted to glare at his own head which, as most know, is pretty impossible. But he tried.


"So," the young man repeated.

"Let's...go see who it is..." Xander reasoned out loud, "then we can find out where the stake is-"

"And get back to what we were doing..." Buffy finished with a grin in his direction. It made a major improvement in his expression.

"I love you, Buffster." he told her simply as he started towards the door, the limp no better for his bit of rest.

The statement took her by surprise, but immediately she responded with total honesty, an honesty that surprised even her.

"I love you too, Xan-man..."

The two waited a moment, just soaking in the emotions that had played out in the room moments ago, and the rest of the night, then Xander reached out and opened the door.

It opened like a door normally did, and the two made their way quietly down the steps until they were at the Watcher's front door. Then, with the care that most people reserve for defusing bombs and carrying nitroglycerin, Xander opened the door...

To reveal a rather upset Anya.

"Xander!" she shouted immediately as she jumped into his arms. The action made the young man think of Anya's Halloween costume, and because of this, he nearly ended up rolling on the floor. However, he was able to keep a straight face...barely.

"Xander, where have you been!?" the ex-demoness asked him with a pout as she hung on him, "I've been looking all over for you, and you've been gone for two nights practically, and we haven't had sex, and I tried to call, but you weren't there, and we didn't get to have sex, and I missed you Xander, and I didn't get any sex!"

Buffy, her eyebrow raised nearly to her hairline, watched as Xander carefully pulled his ex (yes, the little voice in the Slayer's mind cried with joy, his EX) off of his body, much to the aforementioned ex's displeasure.

"Xander?" she asked in confusion, the pout now curious as well as upset.

"Anya..." the young man in question started. Then he looked to Buffy. "Can I talk to you in private, honey?"

The ex-demon of vengence shrugged, then followed as Xander lead her past the kitchen and into the small resting area beyond. Buffy watched them disappear, wondering what on earth her love was going to say to get out of his relationship with Anya sans dieing and/or maiming. However, she kept her ear perked for cries of help just in case the red-headed former demon blew her top and did something hasty. She couldn't have her Xander in bad shape.

##Your Xander?## the sarcastic voice of the Love-goddess invaded her thoughts, ##My my. One night and you're all protective and jealous...##

"I am NOT being overprotective..." the Slayer argued quietly, "OR jealous. I mean, what do I have to be jealous of?"

##Nothing.## 'Dite answered, ##But you are. You're worried that she'll convince him to come back. That she has some sort of charm that will make him fall out of love with you. That they'll come back here with their hands entwined and their eyes glued to one another...##

"Am not!" she protested. But it was rather pitiful.

##Please. Love-goddess...## Aphrodite reminded her, ##One that is literally inside your head...##

Buffy didn't have a response for that, so she just let her mind wander on the topic. However, this was interrupted as well.

##Sweetheart, don't worry...## 'Dite told her soothingly, ##He loves you. He's always loved you. He's stuck by you for five years of being boyfriend-sans-perks...he sure as Hades isn't going to screw it up now! This is the guy who brought you back to life. The guy who saved you countless times. The guy who would give up his very soul for you, and you know that it's all true!##

Buffy didn't answer.

##Considering all that, I don't think you need to be worried about a clueless and tactless, if sweet, little nymphomanic you?##

Again, Buffy didn't answer, but the Love-goddess could tell that her message had been taken to heart. She was positive of it when Buffy smiled.

##That's better, dear...## 'Dite told her with an audible grin, ##Don't frown. It gives you wrinkles...##

"So does smiling too much..." the Slayer argued, her spirits renewed.

##Yeah, but then the wrinkles are worth it...##

This made Buffy break out into an even wider grin, which got even wider still as Xander and Anya walked back into the room. But she was rather surprised at what she saw.

Xander looked the same as he had going in, if a little better for having the whole thing over with. But Anya, who she'd expected to either erupt with anger or turn into a sobbing heap, looked just as cheerful as she had been she they'd opened the door. Curious, Buffy asked him about it the second he joined her side.

"How'd you-"

"She was turned into a demon before 'let's just be friends' stopped working..." Xander whispered to her.


"That," he continued, "And I promised I'd help her hook up with the guy at the Burger Barn she likes...think his name is Graham something...not to mention the fact that I promised that I'd give her one of my works as a break-up present..."

Buffy's eyes widened in shock.

"She's a not a horrible beast, Buffy..." Xander defended his ex, "Anya can be understanding...if you sell things right..."

Then Anya, who had been standing around while the two whispered back and forth, told Xander, "See ya at the Burger Barn then...FRIEND..."

"Yeah..." Xander said with a smile and a wave, "Till then..."

However, as she reached the door and was about to turn the knob, a figure burst through the opening. It took a moment due to the abruptness of the entry, but finally they all figured out who it was.

"Riley?" Buffy asked, frightened that her own ex was about to do something terrible.

However, to her even greater horror, the man who looked like Riley shook his head, then told them all in an angry, raspy voice.

"Sorry. You must have mistaken me for someone else, MA'AM. Name's Ares..."

Chapter 4

In complete shock, Buffy grabbed onto Xander for support. She knew that SHE was the Slayer, and that her love, even disguarding the fact that he had a bad leg, couldn't protect her better than she could protect herself...but that was only in a physical fight. When it came to emotions, Buffy didn't know anyone nearly as strong as the dark- haired young man next to her. And she knew very well that the battle that would occur shortly would be far more important in the emotional sense.

But this protective touch also gave them another advantage, and the gods within them took advantage of this as soon as they could.

#Give us control!# they both heard Smith-god shout in their minds, #Now!#

Xander, unsure about the intellegence of this idea, looked across the room to the door where Buffy's (and Aphrodite's) ex stood, his large frame heaving with each angry breath. Truly, Xander could feel, this was ARES. It was the god of War who was in control of that body, and unlike Xander and Buffy, it was without choice.

Quickly, Xander clutched to the pendant around his neck to comfort himself. The feel of the metal on his skin, the shape of the hammer in his hand...they gave him power. Power not just to Hephaestus, but to Xander himself. Power, and confidence, and renewed courage. And with these, he let himself go and gave the god control of his body.

"Get out of here, Ares..." said a voice that Buffy knew from within her love's mind, a voice that was older and more tired than Xander's could ever be.

"Thanks, Gimpy, but I think not..." the figure in the doorway answered with a sneer, "I'm here to get my girl and get the hell out of this place..."

This comment got him a disgusted snort from Buffy, or rather, Aphrodite, to whom she had given her body as soon as Xander had given his.

"Please" the Love-goddess said with a roll of her eyes, "I am not your 'girl' and I'm staying right here, thank you..."

"I don't think so," said the Xander-clad god with a cold calmness that was far more frightening than all of Ares' sneering anger.

"Oh yeah?" asked the War-god, stepping forward towards the dark- haired young man with a rageful snarl.

"Yeah, you over-confident asshole!"

The god within the soldier growled, then stepped even closer to where the couple stood. As he did, Xander/Hephaestus limped till he was in front of his love. True, he knew that Buffy could defend herself just as well as he'd known it earlier, but it was an instinctual action. Every man, no matter how peaceful, defends what is his, what he cares about.

"Yeah." the young man repeated, just to emphasize it.

"You and what army, Gimpy?" the god of War asked, getting right in the other's face.

"Don't call me that..." he said coldly.

"I'll call you whatever I want, GIMPY..."

"I'll kick your ass, sword-boy..." This time, more heat filled the dark-haired man's voice. Heat like a physical thing, like being too close to a forge fire.

"I'll kick yours so far you'll need Cerby to find it, G-I-M-P-Y!" the War-god taunted, shouting right into the other deity's face.

"You're just mad Uncle Hades left him to me..."

"Yeah, well, you always sucked up to him, just like the others. What did you expect?" Ares asked angrily. Then his voice turned to a mocking falsetto. "Oh, Uncle Hades, I've made a new collar for Cerby. Oh, I made a new staff for Charon. Oh, I-"

However, the War-god was interrupted by a loud yell from behind his adversary.

"Oh, just stop it! The two of you!" shouted Aphrodite, shoving past her love (gently, of course) to glare at both of them (far more gently at Hephaestus than at Ares), "You're acting like a couple of children!"

"Am not!" came the unintentional chorus from the two opposing deities.

"You both are!" screamed 'Dite, "And it's ridiculous! Is this what the great Olympians are reduced to? Threatening each other like school-children?"

"Well, he started it!" answered the Smith-god, showing exactly just how similar he was to the young man who normally controlled the body.

However, Riley/Ares was unable to make the expected retort because they were interrupted by an extremely confused, extremely loud ex- demoness.

"What the hell is going on here?" she asked, stomping into the middle of the fight between the three possessed bodies, "And why are you calling him Ares!?"

All three of them lost their anger in the complete shock. They'd completely forgotten the fact that Anya was there...and listening. However, like always, Xander/Hephaestus was cool and recovered first.

"Cause...he is," the Smith-god told her simply, "Ares. He's...Ares."

"No, he's Riley." Anya told them with just as much simplicity.

"Nope," Buffy/'Dite refuted with a rather ditzy-looking twirl of her hair, "He's Ares...he's just inside of Riley. Like I'm inside of Buffy and Heph is inside Xander."

Anya looked stricken. "WHO'S inside of Xander?"

"Hephaestus," the deity within the aforementioned young man told her, "God of the Forge and Fire, one of the Twelve Great Olympian Gods."

"Well, get out!" Anya shouted at him, getting between him and Ares/Riley. Then she hit him on the head with her purse. "Out! Out! Get out of Xander!"


"OUT!" repeated the ex-demoness, hitting him again as Ares watched with a grin on Riley's face. "I don't care who you are! This is my boyfriend's-"

She thought.

"Ex-boyfriend's body, not yours!" Then Anya looked to Buffy with a look of confusion.

"Hey," she asked, "Why aren't you helping me? You're, like, Slayer- gal. With superpowers? Miss Totally-against-possession?"

Buffy rolled her eyes, then took the purse out of Anya's hands gently so as not to startle her.

"Anya," she explained slowly, as if to a small child, "Xander is a Blood of you know what that is?"

She nodded.

"Well, then you know that they share their bodies with the god Hephaestus, right?"

Another nod.

"Then you understand that Xander is just ALLOWING Heph to use his body for a while? You know, since Buffy is ALLOWING me, Aphrodite, to use hers? And how Riley...well, I don't exactly know what happened with Sword-boy over their, but now the commando is really Ares?"

One last nod.

"Good," said 'Dite with a small growl, "Then stop hitting my husband and Buffy's boyfriend."

"Yes..." Hephaestus/Xander agreed weakly, "Cause that hurt. Damn, what do you keep in there? Forge tongs?"

"Actually," Anya said, brightening a little, "I keep a small bottle of mace there, just in case. And since you're all really scaring me with all of this, I think I'll leave now. And hopefully Willow with Demeter in her body won't come busting through the door to stop me this time, okay?"

And with that, the ex-demoness nervously made her way out.

"Well," Ares said with a smirk as he watched her go, "Looks like I didn't need an army. Just a confused ex-girlfriend..."

"Shut up, Ares..." grumbled Xander, "I could kick your leathered ass any day..."

"Whatever, Gimpy..." answered the War-god, blowing off his brother deity.

Which Hephaestus answered by ignoring the comment. Instead, he turned to his wife with a small smile.

"Thanks, dear..."

"No problem, toots..." she answered with a smile, "Now I think we really should give Buffy, Xander, AND Riley their bodies back, don't you?"

##I'd appreciate it...## came Buffy's voice within the mind of Aphrodite.

#Same here...# responded Xander similarly.

"No dice..." answered the god of War, "I like controlling this body, thank you."

"Ares," Hephaestus said in way of warning, "Give it back!"

Immediately, the god within the commando jumped towards the dark- haired young man. "Make me!"

"Boys!" 'Dite shouted, getting quite sick of breaking the two of them up, "Will you both just stop and sit-"

However, she was unable to finish her command because, to both of the deities' horror, it was at that point that her body seemed to lose all it's energy, and she crumpled onto the floor.

TBC...sometime : )