Caught between a Rock and a Hardcase

Author: eckles71 <eckles71[at]>

Dedicated to all the B/Xer's out there

I own Nothing. It all belongs to Joss Whedon & 'Hollywood Pictures'

Coupling - X/J (No this isn't J for Joyce - she's dead!), B/S, eventually becoming a B/X (of course)

Xover - BtVS & 'The Rock'

<> Denotes inner thought

Latest addition

Lomac : "1962, J. Edgar Hoover is head of the FBI, some say the country. It's no secret that he kept microfilm files on prominent Americans and Europeans, DeGaulle, British Members of Parilment, even the Prime Minister ... I mean this guy had dirt on everybody in the World."

S.A. Paxton : "Yeah, I know all the Cloak and Dagger stories, where does Mason fit in?"

Lomac : "Mason was the British Operative who stole the files. But our Bureau Agent's caught him at the Canadian Boarder, of course the British claim they never heard of him. And we held him without trial until he gave up the microfilm. But he never did"

S.A. Paxton : "I'm surprised Hoover didn't use his daughter as leverage."

Lomac : "Hoover was dead in '72, she wasn't even born yet. And today ... Hell, it's a different Bureau."

S.A. Paxton : "So you held this guy without trial his whole life. No wonder he's pissed."

Lomac : "This man know's our most intimate secrets from the last half centry. The Alien Landing at Roswell; the truth behind the JFK Assination. Mason's angry, he's leathal, he's a trained killer..."

- 'The Rock'

Chapter 1

Now -

"It's been thirty minutes, how long does it take to buy something?" The thirty-three-year-old man cannot help but fidget, a man his size was not born to sit for any extended length of time in a VolksWagon. But his wife, and mother of his child, was the only one in their small, but loved family to own a vehicle, so until circumstances changed, all he could do was to grind his teeth and bare the leg cramps.

"I don't know Stan, are we talking clothes, jewellery ... or LP's?". It has been a longstanding obsession of Stanley Goodspeed to have the best collection of Vinyl records in his Division, hell ... the entire Bureau if truth be known. It's one of the reasons he has his purchases sent straight to him at work. The satisfaction of opening his new treasure and gloating at the envious eyes of his collegues was always worth the hassel. That, and the fact, that if it was sent home there was a good chance his better- half would have to sign for them, and as a result would know exactly how much he ended up paying.

Hoping to defuse the situation, before they had another 'LP's vs. College Fund' discussion Stan just cocked his head, offered his three year bride a goofy smile and said "Vinyl's are different sweetie, I could forgive him for that ... but a magic shop? Besides I don't mind waiting ... if it's worth the wait. I mean you didn't hear me complain when you spent all afternoon at 'Victoria's Secret' did you?"

"Noooooooo" was the coy and sultry reply of the woman behind the steering wheel.

"It's just ... the sooner I speak to him honey, the sooner I see what you bought ... us"

Offering another coy look, the only female in his life aside from his two-and-half-year-old daughter leaned over from where she was sitting, slipped her hand into a shopping bag with the initials V.S. and drew out a catalogue "If your so curious, turn to page 15"

2-minutes later

The same 33-year-old crossed the busy Main Street, with a definate spring in his step placing a certain VS Catelogue in his coat pocket, whilst saying to himself "If Mohammad won't come to the Mountain ..."

***Ding - Ding***

As Stanley walked over the threshold of the door he was immediantley pounced upon by an attractive strawberry-blonde salesperson "Welcome to the Magic Box, how may I help you?" Scanning the room he was surprised that aside from a teenage girl sitting at a far off table, his survellience subject was nowhere to be seen.

"Eerrr, Yes Ma'am, Alexander Harris?" The name aroused a reaction from both women <Obviously not a customer then>

A defient "Who want's to know" drew the 6'3" man's attention to the young girl as she pushed herself away from the table.

"Daaawwwnnn, please, customer!" was musically replyed by the salesperson to his side "You'll have to forgive her, she young, stupid and very rude, can I interest you in some dried chicken's feet - half price, a real bargain" .

"Uumm no, I'm Special Agent Goodspeed" he called out to the young girl now approaching him. "I have a matter I wish to discuss with Mr Harris, I don't want to cause any problems, so if you could direct me to him, I'll get out of your hair ASAP"

"oohhh well, if that's all then ...."

This obvious distraction would have been successful if not for the Teenager accidently knocking over her own chair as she made a path to the shop's sidedoor. Realising her error, she darted to the training room. Closely followed by the Agent, who was pursued by the ex-demon salesperson.

2-minutes earlier in the Training Room

<For God's sake why don't the two of you get yourself a room>

Ever since the un-marrige one month earlier, Xander Harris had been spending more time after work in the Shop's training Room, beating his aggressions out on his 'Everlast' Buddy. In that time, aside from improving his right hook, he began to notice the interactions between the Chipped Wonder and The-Slayer-of-his-Heart.

Where once was a one-sided attempt at seduction by Spike, it was now returned in two-way flirtation. Whereas Buffy and Xander had alway's engaged in innocent flirtation (it was as natural as breathing at times), there was something different with this ... the choice of word's, phrases, the seductive looks between the Vamp and the Chosen One screamed out a more intimate familiarity. So it was decided by Xander that for as long as the two chose to spar together, he would never to be out of earshot. Just to ensure thing's didn't get out of hand <can you say jealous>.


If Dawn was expecting Xander to do an impression of the Road Runner, she was mistaken. Instead he just stayed put, with a very confused look upon his face.

The drawl - "Mr Alexander Harris, I presume?" came from the man who had hastily followed the teenager through the sidedoor.

"You presume right, and you are?"

The words "I'm not going to let you arrest Xander!" were shouted as Dawn positioned herself between her-one-time crush and the FBI Agent.

"Me either..." was immediatley followed-up from Anya who had caught up to the stranger. She stood defient, like a she-wolf protecting a wounded cub, until she saw the appreciative smile from her former fiancee' "... unless he deserves it"

"I'm not here to arrest anybody, I just want to talk to the man - in private, if you don't mind."

"Then talk, I have nothing to hide from my friends" Xander then turned and continued teaching his new 'buddy' a thing or two, as Buffy and Spike curiously approached the spectical that was being created.

"You might not mind, but I do"

"Look Special Agent Goodspeed..." at this Xander tensed for a moment, between delivery of punches. To one unskilled in combat and defense this pause would not have registered. But to Buffy Anne Summers, Vampire Slayer and Chosen One it told her that her Xander- shaped-friend knew this man. "...surely this is a mistake, this is Xander, he's harmless"

"Ohhh thanks Ahn, much appreciated". Xander stepped back from the bag and roped a dry towel around his neck. "Stanley ... Goodspeed?"

A singlur nod was offered and the presentation of his FBI ID was made to the sweating 21-year-old male.

After scanning the Badge, photo, and qualification Xander returned the item back to the Agent "Bio-weapon's Specialist, Terrorism Division. You guys must be pretty busy at the moment, huh"

A sadden nod was returned "Yeah, we are unfortunatley"

"Sorry ... that was pretty insensitive of me. What can I do you for?"

"I involves a mutual friend of ours ... do you mind if we do this in a little bit more private place."

Looking at the curious features upon the assembled members of the 'Scoobie Gang', Xander made an apologetic smile, and led the Lab- Monkey to the now vacent front of the store. Before closing the door leeding to both sections, Xander shared a look with everybody in the Training Room to ensure that they understood that they were to stay put.

Upon the closing of the door, Dawn whispered into Anya's ear "Do you think he could be a Spy, like in that show 'Alais'?".

Buffy just rolled her eyes, as the two voiced the possibilities.

The Front Section of 'The Magic Box'

Directing Stanley Goodspeed to the nok once occupied by the English Watcher, the two began to speak in whispers. "Mason spoke very highly of you Agent Goodspeed"

"He did the same for you Alex"

"Xander, my friends call me Xander. And any friend of John Mason is a friend of mine."

"He made quite an impact on you didn't he?"

"Even pushing 65, that man's the real-deal, how could you not be impressed. So how did you hear about me, I mean I haven't spoken or seen him since my RoadTrip 3-years ago."

"Through a secondary source, we e-mail eachother once a month, we keep it brief. He contacts her, she me, and visaversa"

"...Jade ?" Xander couldn't help but smile as he voices her name It tore his heart out when he had to leave her, but it was just as much for her protection as it was for her fathers. The smile then whispers to a nutral expression as he also recall's that in the years that followed, he had never even honored her within his conversations to his friends. Understandibly, as to mention her would also, eventually leed to mentioning John Mason, and that was something he was not prepared to risk.

<Flashback - "Listen Lad, Tough Men make Tough decisions. It may turn your guts, but always look beyond too the big picture. Not the next day, or the day after that, but to the years that follow" -

End Flashback>

"Is she ... well, y'know, happy?"

"I guess. When I told her about my problem, John told her, to tell me to contact you. She broke standard communication, and actually phoned me. We spoke for about an hour, 55-minutes of which she talked about nothing but you." Both men then smiled at eachother.

Embarrased over what might have been discussed in that 55-minute telephone conversation Xander just surrendered. "She's quite something huh?"

"I guess it's a family thing" was all Stanley Goodspeed would reply.

After a pregnant silence, Xander continued with the discussion "So what's this problem?"

"John's been making discreet progress within the British Consulate. But with no ID, and confirmation of where he's been for the last 30- years, that progress has been slow. Anyway, some Brown-Noser, went out of chanels and contacted the American Government re: his whereabouts for those three decades. It was immediently Red Flagged, and it was bought to Lomac's attention, he's put together a special retrival unit, headed by a Guy named Harper". Xander winced at the name <Should have killed him when I had the chance>. "Anyway John's mobile again. And with his 'Resurrection', Lomac is focusing on this" From his back pocket, Special Agent Goodspeed withdrew a small metal vial.

"Is that, what I think it is"

"Yep, the Holy Grail of X-Filers everywhere. Look Xander, I've got a family, and my job is dangerous enough, without having this in my life. Lomac is on a mission to find this damn thing, and I can't risk my wife and child ... you understand?"

Accepting the container Xander said "I do, don't worry I'll keep it safe - count on it"

"Thanks Xander. If things get hairy contact me on this e-mail". Writing the address on the back of his buisness card, 'chemicalsuperfreak@y...' the Agent handed it to the Construction Worker. "Like I said, I check this once a month, randomly, so if you want me to send a message to Mason let me know alright. I'll also tell them your in reciept of the merchandise"

"Sure, ummmm Stan ... tell Jade, I miss her, and I hope life is treating her well, OK".

With this last comment, the two shock hands, and the FBI Lab-Rat left the store leaving AleXander Harris to his memories.

When the bell above the door ringed signifying it's opening and closing, three curious young women, and one Vampire trying to fain disinterset stormed the room.

Their enquiries served them not, much to thier frustration, as Xander sat back in Giles leather chair and recalled the Wisdom, and Teaching of one of the bravest men he'd ever known, and the love of someone who would never be replaced in his heart.

1914hrs; The Training Room

"OK Pet, it's time we made it all official like." The embrace Spike offered the Slayer was suppose to be reassuring, but Buffy found no comfort in it. Xander and Anya's Wedding only illustrated to her the impossibility of ever finding true happiness on the Hellmouth - so she rationalised 'you take what you can get'. And she deserved Spike, she was an awful person ... an awful friend, she felt a sense of relief when Xander's Wedding failed. She couldn't explain it, but it was wrong. She should be miserable that her closest Xander-shaped-friend wasn't married to someone who loved them, instead she was happy, ergo, she was a bad, bad, person and friend.

"I don't know Spike, I mean I know, we, I, agreed that we should tell everybody today about 'US'. But with that FBI guy showing up, and Xander being closed off about it. I just think, the timing could be a bit better y'know. I mean Xan has alway's been alittle bit ... overprotective when it comes to the guy's I chose to see. And with you, well, he'll just hit the roof."

"Look Slayer, I'm not going to be your dirty little secret anymore, I'm tired of it. As for Droopy, he'll deal, because he'll have to. Look...Buffy, you tried going it without me, it lasted what - 3 weeks? Admit it, I'm the only one who knows what you need, and how to give it to you." As Spike withdrew his arms from around the Slayers body, his voice became colder then she was used to when they were together "They're going to be told tonight, one way or another about us, whether we do it togther, or I do it alone, they're going to know!"

15 minutes later

The reaction to the news was predictable, almost.

Amy, Willow and Anya were speechless. Tara, was also silent, but exhibited to those that knew her a certain awareness of the knowledge spoken moments before. Dawn was beside herself, crying, not even permitting her older sister to approach her to offer comfort. All these were predictable, what wasn't was Xander. Xander was removed in thought, silent, pensive.


"Hmmmm, what?"

"Me and ... spike" Spikes name was barely audiable, under the sobs offered by Dawn.

"Oh, that ..." the words that ushered from Xander's lips were spoken with a casualness akin to talking about yesterday's weather. Fondling the microfilm container in his front left pant's pocket, he tried to will strength from another who's hands once held this prize. "I think it's a mistake - a big one, but your grownup now, and able to make your own decissions, even if thier wrong ones.

"Look Buffy, I just want you to be happy, you above all others in this room deserve that...and if being with Spike makes you happy, then thou this relationship doesn't have my blessing, or support, I won't condemn, or belittle it. Your happyness means to much to me."

"Xander, I ... I don't know what to say"

"I'm just tired Buffy, just so, so, tired. Tired of telling you what needs to be said, and having that ignored because you don't like hearing the truth." Shaking his head and drawing a deep breath Xander then asked "How long Buffy? You didn't wake up this morning and say 'I'm going to date Spike now', this ..." Xander gestures between the current pariah's of the scoobies "... this has been going on for a while hasn't it? Have you slept with eachother yet?" His questions were met with silence, which were answers in themselves. For the next few moment's Xander studied the grain of wood on the table before him, gently massaging it's finish with the palm of his hand.

Buffy now felt an unbelievable need to be closer to Xander, his passive reaction this evening went against everything she knew of the young man. Leaning forward she placed her hand atop of his as she stilled it's tender rubbing. Suddenly his entire body became tense, as thou he just had a revelation ", when you where invisible, and Spike was doing his exercises - naked, you were, were there, weren't you. You were having sex with Spike, while I was there talking to him, weren't you? While I was in the room!" Again his question was met with silence, only this time Dawn crying was stilled. No words needed to be communicated, everyone now knew the truth.

"Fine ... fine, if this is what you want Buff, fine, if this is how much you think of yourself, fine. But it's now over, your on your own. As far as I'm concerned the Consoling Train has left the Station, if this thing implodes, fall's apart, out of love ... whatever, as far as I'm concerned you'll be dealing with the fall out on your lonesome. Don't come looking for me, is that understood". Buffy was now speechless as the 'invisible' incident had been revealed, she searched the room trying to 'read' her friends expressions, all she witnessed were nods of agreement to Xander's words, even from Dawn. "I said is that understood?"

Buffy turned to face her closest male-friend, and roughly nodded her head in agreement, doing her best to restrain the tears she knew would be trying to escape any moment.

Slowly Xander drew himself from his chair, approached Dawn and kissed her on the forhead, and whispered in her ear "When you hit bottem, all you can go is up" this drew a grateful smile for the young man, one that he offered to the three wicca's and former fiancee'.

"Good Luck on your Patrol Buff, Spike" and with this he left the store with his head held high, and walked down the street with an air of accomplishment. That is until he turned a corner, out of sight of the 'Magic Box'. Xander's features then changed, shattering the facade he fought hard to maintain.

<Flashback - "Listen Lad, mourn your losses after the battle is won" "Yeah, but what if you aren't the winner" "Then mourn in private - no one like a sore loser" - End Flashback>

Chapter 2

AleXander Harris sat alone in his reclaimed Apartment. Nursing a crystal glass in his hand, staring intently on the still sealed bottle of Jack Daniel's before him.

<It would be so easy, after today, it would be so, so easy.>

Placing his Mother's & Father's engagement present onto the table, he cast his right hand over to the opened film canister and drew out the lengthy curled dark brown strip. Slowly, he raised the now read negative to his right temple, and his empty glass to his left.

Taking several deep calming breaths he provided the 'angel & demon' on his shoulders the opportunity to do battle with one another while he processed the evening's event's.

<I knew I was right! Those two have been waaaayyy to friendly with one another of late. With them alway's deciding to go on Patrols without back-up - Hell were they even Patroling, or was Spike the only one doing the 'Staking'? All this has has been going on since ... and they ... SHE did it with him while I was in the Room. Dammit, am I like the biggest, blindest, Stupidest person on the face of the Planet, cause if I'm not I want the votes recounted.>

A wave of intense hostility consumed the young brooder, as he violently broke the seal on the JD Bottle. His eyes focused on the liquid as it was poured into his crystal vessel.

<No ... This is wrong ... I can't do this. I know from bitter experience alcohol just creates more problems, not solves them. And at the moment I have more then I can deal with.>

Pushing his full glass, and semi-full bottle out of arms reach. Xander begins to reflect on the previous hours that had bought him to this moment.


After literally pulling himself out of the gutter, Xander began his sad journey home. Once through his front door, he immediently went in search of the Magnifying Glass which he knew was somewhere in his Apartment. His hunt illustrated two things to him. One, that with Anya no longer 'co-habitating' he had alot fewer things then he had initially thought. And two, the Law of Murphy will alway's ring true "The item you seek will always be found in the last place you look".

With his prized Lens now in hand, Xander suppressed all of his sorrow, and allowed his now burning curiosity to take over. For the next three hours, the young man read, and re-read the facts recorded upon the appearingly innocent negative.

After sating his curiousity, Xander knew several things with certainty. He was now privy to information that was never suppose to ever see the light of day. Roswell, JFK, certain unnecessary 'vaccinations' on American, and other children worldwide, high-ranking Double-Agents, economic manipulation of 'friendly' Nations, the list was almost endless with dark secrets.

Each fact was it's own Death Sentence, every bit of information would have been enough to have him killed 10-times over. Xander Harris, the resident Zeppo, and Construction Worker could now officially consider himself a 'Marked-Man'. As would anybody who became aware of the film's contents and it's existence. Lomac, Harper, and other Worldwide Government Organisations would not be beyond Assassination or torture in securing or destroying this microfilm. So therefore it had to remain his deadly secret.

And finally, Xander knew he was well and truely out of his depth. If Mason was at his side like before, he may have a decent chance. The former SAS Officer seemed to inspire the 'soldier' within him. But John Mason, for the moment atleast, was not a resource he could be relient upon. He would therfore have to go Lobo on this. And he desperatley needed to re-educate, and train himself before 'it all hit the fan', as it was bound to do - Check Murphy's Law. But for this to happen, he needed to put distance between himself and the Scoobies.

The people who would challenge him would be human, and as such, the Slayer - by Council Order, would not permit thier supernatural weapon be implemented in Human Affairs. If they found out about her involvement, she would most likely be shipped off for 're-education' in Merry Old England. As for Spike, with the chip in, he would be next to useless in a battle. Hell, even with it out, it would be doubtful that he could trust Spike enough to watch his back in a life- or-death situation.

Willow, Tara, and Dawn would be much too sensitive in battling other human's, and Anya has come too far, becoming her own person, to go back down the path of pain and bloodshed again. As for Amy ... well she's not really one of the Scoobies yet, she just helps out with the research. <Man, can you say screwed, I need a drink. Where did I put that bottle of 'Jack's'?>

<Flashback - "No one is truely helpless unless they choose to be. There are resources everywhere you look, all you have to do is open your eyes and see them" - End Flashback>


Rubbing his hand together with a exaggerated vitality, Xander stood up and began to pace his lounge room. <OK. What resources do I have available that I can count on. Resources which won't ask any dangerous, or arkward questions, and allow me the opportunity to train in a 'safe' enviroment?

Wait a minute, didn't I see a Form in one of these Draws?>

Walking out of the lounge, Xander went through four of the tweleve draws he had searched earlier until he found the Document he sought. "Perfect!" <Now all I need to do is explain to the gang that I'll be gone for a while>.


The next day, after Work at the 'Magic Box'
1722 hours.

"Ahn, I'll be gone for a couple of months. I'm planning to do that Aceditation Coarse in LA, and I was hoping you could look in on my Apartment when I'm gone."

"You ... You'd trust me to do that?"

"Sure. Anya, you could have accepted D'Hoffran's offer, but you didn't. I think you've been able to move beyond petty revenge, don't you?"

"For Starters, there was never anything petty about my vengence spells, and finally - Thanks. Uuummm ... does this mean YOU'VE moved beyond that stupid false vision nonsence, and we can get back together again?"

"It may have been 'false' Ahn, but it showed me to many things that boarder on the 'what could be'. And I don't think I could live with myself If I put you through any of that. You deserve much better."

Ever since the Wedding fiasco, Xander Harris has tried to made a concentrated effort to repair the damage done to his former fiancee'. The last two-minutes of dialogue had accomplish more then four weeks of aplogies.

Not wishing to be excluded from this surprising announcement, Willow inturrupted the 'moment' shared between the former lovers "Have you got a place to stay, if not I'm sure Angel would be happy to put you up if you don't?"

Offering his childhood friend the Xander Harris crooked smile (patent pending) he replied "Don't even joke about Angel being Happy Will, but yeah, I gave him a call, and organised a place to stay. Cordy has agreed to put me up"

At this all three females, Dawn, Willow and Anya repeated her name alouded, but only one - a former vengence demon, followed it with a the question "why?"

"Simple, I asked. I didn't like the idea of coming home to a big, nearly empty Hotel day-after-day. So I made a suggestion, and she jumped at it. I think she's a little worried that with all the time she spends working late and long hours at 'Angel Investigations', her housemate - Dennis, get's lonely."

Carefully eying the smiling young man Anya asks "Sooooo.... no sex then right?"

"I doubt it very much Ahn, first off Dennis is a Guy, and secondly he's a ghost."

"I meant Cordelia, and you know it."

Smiling Xander replied "No Anya, I'm not planning having sex with Cordelia ... but if she was to offer, well, it would be rude to turn her down, wouldn't it?"

"He's joking Anya, AREN'T you Xander!"

"Yes Willow I'm Joking"

Dawn could not remain silent any longer as she looked at the only man she though would never desert her, especially after the news of the night before "Xan, two months is a long time, when are you leaving?"

<Now comes the hard bit> Inching over to where Dawn is standing, Xander looks into her eyes and says "The coarse starts on Monday. So tomorrow after work, I'll pack up my car, head to LA. That way I'll have the entire weekend to settle in. Wes has even asked if I could lend a hand with a case he, Angel and Gunn are involved in." Xander then offers the teenager a wry smile "Besides without Giles ... let's just say I don't get the opportunity to male bond."

"There's always Spik...." almost as soon as she said his name Anya regretted her words. The glare from the Teenage Girl, and her former boyfriend was enough to incinerate cities.

"And you where going to share this with me when?" Xander then drew his attention away from the Sales woman over his left shoulder there he spied the towns resident Slayer emerging from the Training room with a very hurt expression across her features.

"Actually Buff, I wasn't. I was hoping to be LA bound before you even knew I was gone."

"But you wanted the other's to know."

"I didn't want them to worry."

"But me, me you'd let worry?"

"Buff they would have..." Xander then faced the three young women behind the counter for support. "You guy's would have told her wouldn't you?" All three nodded in union to this question. "See".

Striding over to Xander, Buffy exclaims "This isn't about an aceditation coarse is it. Coarses come and go, and this is your first mention of it"

Realising that the word 'acreditation' hadn't been used in the moment's before, Xander's browe knitted "Errr... Buff how long were you standing there?"

"I didn't have to be here to hear you." She then gestured over her shoulder to the Training Room, and then tapped the earlobe of her left ear with her index finger "Slayer Hearing."

"Oh. Well yes it is about an Aceditation Coarse. My Company needs me to do it if I'm to accept the responsibilities of a Foreman. It's all about legalities, sexual harrassment, competencies, Tax, Rostering, all reeeaallly interesting stuff. I've been putting it off for awhile, but with everything that's happened. Well, I just felt it was a good opportunity to get away for awhile, and re-invent myself so to speak. I mean, it's not like I'm needed here, you've got your boyfriend watching your back, and everywhere else..."

"I knew it was about me and Spike, what was all that about you wishing I was happy?"

"I do, but ... I said that before I found out the truth Buff. Before I found out what regard you held me in. Just believe me, right now, I can't, don't, want to be around you, either of you."

<Look away, don't cave. If you do this right you can guarrentee, two months of non-interference. Just don't succum to your emotions>


"Buffy I respect you, I always have, but last night, I learnt you couldn't return the favor <avoid the eyes>."

"Xander, I didn't ..."

"NO! You hear me out, no interuption. I've forgiven alot of things from you Buffy, and moved on. The Spring Fling, That Sexy Dance, Your part in returning Angelus to the World, Turning your back on me in Senior Year because you thought I wasn't good enough to be of any help to you, Distancing yourself from me because you were embarrassed to be seen hanging out with a 'townie'. Accepting your contempt when you found out we had pulled you out of Heaven - For Christ Sakes Buffy, you jumped into a portal leading to a Hell Dimension. We all thought you were going to be tormented for eternity. Now all that I could forgive, but... But last night when I realised you and the impotent-one did the naked Rumba while I was there, in the room..."

"Xan..." Buffy tryed to remove a handkerchief from one of her front pockets.

"No! Don't you dare start to cry, I'm not finished yet. I know you don't care for me, like I did for you, but I thought I atleast had your respect. I mean, Why Buff? What was it? Did you get off on the fact I was there, and that ... that I have alway's...cared for you. Did it amuse you to make a fool of me to humiliate in front od Spike? Did you have a good laugh when I left, both of you, or was it just Spike? I mean you couldn't even extend me the courtesy of stoping until I had left.

"I don't know you anymore, and I don't think I want to. I thought you had more class than that Buffy. I mean what's next on your 'To Do List' - Public Parks, Back Alleys* <What was that? She, she just flinched .... Oh-My-God!>"

<To Hell with Keeping My Cool!>

Xander made detirmined strides towards the down caste Slayer, until he towered over her "Alley Way's? You did it with him in Public Alleyways?" <I can feel the the three girls shift uncomfortably as they heard my claim, but at the moment I don't give a damn>. "What are you now? What do you think Giles would say if ... no, when, he finds out about you and Deadboy Jnr's escapades. And Joyce, by God,if there is a Heaven, like you claim, what the hell do you think is going on through her mind when she's looking down on her first born and seeing ... that? You ... you disgust me. I mean what kind of 'Hero' you are you?

"I wish I played no part in returning you to life."

At this statement, Xander turned from a shocked Slayer as she hugged herself, and made his way to the front door of the Store. The only sounds, the ticking of a clock and his own footsteps.

As he got to the door and opened it, he felt an uncontrolable need to clarify what he just said before he stepped onto the awaiting street. "For the record Buffy, I wasn't referring to my part in the resurrection spell. I meant when I went down to the Master's Lair!"

Chapter 3

"So, we're all in agreement?" Wesley searched the faces of those who made up 'Angel Investigations'. Aside from Cordelia who was standing to his right, all others were engaged in other practices. Angel was violently flicking through one of Cordelia's magazines, Gunn was leaning across the counter playing his colour 'GameBoy' with deadly focus, trying to get Mario to the ellusive next level. While Fred was over by the entrance playing lookout for thier awaited guest. "When Xander arrives, we'll let Cordelia deal with it." Again - nothing.

"GUYS" the shout echoed the empty hotel, and took everyone, Gunn included, by surprise, and Charles Gunn wasn't someone who could be easliy surprised. "Do-you-understand?" A startled Fred nodded franticly to the former Cheerleader, and returned to her watch for the 'SunnyDalian'. Gunn also returned to what he was doing, but replyed mid button pushes and facial spasms "Yeah, sure, whatever". The only one who hadn't respond was the one person they desperatley needed too. Cordelia and Wesley looked at eachother and then faced the namesake of thier Detective Agency.

"Angel, if we are to find out what happened, it is best that Cordelia is the one to ... 'gleam' the information from him. You and he, are ... well, like ..."

"Matches and Dynamite" Cordelia offered the stumped englishman.

"Cats and Dogs" Gunn added to thier dialogue without looking up from the 3 inch colour screen. Attempting to prove to all present that regardless, he was still paying attention to the conversation.

"Yes, all those things. Look Angel, I know you want to get to the bottem of this, I do too. But if*"

"He made her cry! Willow said that she hasn't eaten, or left her room all day. I don't care what was said, but he's going to apologise to her."

With an exhausted huff, Cordelia restrained herself from yelling out. The Souled-Vamp and Seer over the last year had been slowly developing feelings for one another, but as alway's Buffy Summers was the wedge between her and all her relationships. "Listen .... You. Whatever Xander told her, it must have been something he had to say. Something she needed to be told. But we're not going to find out if you get all machco on us.

"Anyway, you know how Willow likes to exaggerate things. Buffy probably just decided to miss dinner, wept a little, opting to stay in and not patrol because her eyes were all puffy." Cordelia finished this prediction with a gentle smile, it was a smile a reassurence, and a maturity beyond her young years.

"Fine, I'll let you have first shot. But if you strike out, I'm up to plate, and I intend to hit it out of the Ball Park."

"Figurativly speaking of course?"

"of course." Angel replied, followed by a sinister grin that looked not so much out of place on Angelus face then his.

Just then, Fred came quickly walking up to the reception desk, neviously looking over her right shoulder "It's him, I think, he doesn't look like your photoes though. A lot broader, and solid, hair a bit longer, and it is dark outside, but he*"

Wesley broke into Fred's usual paniced ramblings "If it's Xander, it's Xander, if not, it's a possible client. Either way, both are welcome." At his last sentence the former Watcher stared at his one time employer, now employee. Angel just returned his attention back to the magazine.


The front door's opened revealing the 'Heart of the Scoobies', and with the exception of Angel and Wesley, who had made regular visit's to SunnyDale. All were slightly surprised at the man now standing before them, especially Cordelia. The only photoes she kept of her 'friends', and Xander, had revealed to Gunn, and Fred a lean teenager. The early twenty-something who now stood in the Lobby of the 'Hyperion Hotel' supported a more muscular frame. And his 'Dorkyness', as Cordelia had once described it, had dissolved away to reveal a truely attractive person - with a decent fashion sense.

"Xander?... Like, WOW! Construction Work must really agree with you?"

"It pay's the Bill's, Cordy. But look at you..." Dropping his duffle bag in the centre of the open area, Xander approached his former girlfriend "... Man-O-Man, you must have Agent's lined up around the block."

"I wish" Taking his arm she began to leed him around the room "Let me introduce you, this is Fred ..."

"Only in town for one minute and already Cordy is introducing me to one of it's most attractive residents" Xander then took Fred's hand and offered a light kiss to it's back.

This gesture was enough to draw Gunn away from his game "Knock it off Romeo."

"...and this is Charles Gunn."

"Sorry man, I didn't know you and her *"

"She's a friend, a good one, and a trusting person. I don't like seeing her played. So back off until you mean it - clear?"

"Crystal. Hey Wes, Deadboy."

"Wh..Who's 'Dead-Boy'?" Fred said as her face returned to it's normal colouring after blushing a Xander's gesture.

Cordelia, Wesley and Xander smiled, as Angel said aloud "It's going to be a long night"


Wesley and Cordelia agreed that if information was to be extracted from Xander it should be done in a private setting away from the group. So as Xander drove Cordy to what was going to be his new address for the next eight weeks, she decided to broach the 'Buffy Fight Subject'.

"Willow, phoned this afternoon."


"She said you and Buffy had a 'falling out', another 'parting of the way's' Ssoooooo what did she do this time?"


"She, I mean Buffy, she's really upset. Hasn't eaten, drunk, gone to work, or patrolled ... just stay's in her room."

"It's ONLY been 27 hours, how bigger mess can she be in? Besides I'm sure I know someone who will do thier best to make it all better for her."

"Who? Willow, Anya, Dawn ... well maybe not Dawn, apparently she's upset with her too. But they are all worried about her, ... and you as well."

Xander took his eyes off the road long enough to face Cordelia, "They shouldn't."

"Shouldn't, but do. What happened this time Doofus?" Cordelia asked with a smile in her voice.

At this Xander took a defeated breath, and asked the front passenger his own question never taking his eyes from the road "Cordy, do you respect me?" Out of all the things the former May-Queen was expecting to exit this man's mouth, this question wouldn't have been one of them.

"Respect you? You cheated on me remember" With this, Cordelia notice Xander wince. <It's been close to four-years and he still carries the guilt of that 'fluke-thing', it's kind of flattering actually> "Respect you? hmmmm let me think .... of coarse I respect you. Your the only one of the Scoobies who made it out. Let's go through the list. I mean Giles - Watcher Guy, will be till the day he retires. Buffy - The Chosen One until she dies ... again. Dawn - Dimensional Key, Willow - Wicca, kind of stuck with the magic thing, Tara - the same. Oz - Werewolf, Angel - has no choice unless he wants to become human again. Anya - former demon, 'trying' to become human, how's that going by the way? Faith - Jail. Wesley, can't go back to what he was doing, I mean he was practicaly laughed out of the council, and where else could he go with all his Demon Knowledge. Fred is still a little messed up from 5-years in a Demon Dimension. As for me, I'm the pipeline to the PTB. Infact, you and Gunn are the only ones I know of who don't have any 'powers', or knowledge but still fight-the- good-fight. The two of you could give up and walk away, and I doubt anyone would blame you - yet you don't.

"Infact, I hear your doing very well 'Mr Construction Worker'Guy. Promotion and all, balance this with what you do at night. Yeah, I respect you! I'm also very proud of you. You've made a life out of all the crazyness. Hell, you were even going to get married - I know, I know, that didn't work out. But atleast you got to the alter, which considering the lives we chose to live is pretty incredible. And you have friends outside of the 'scoobies', I haven't got that. If it wasn't for the others, I'd be alone.

"Did you know when I got to LA, I had nothing, zip. If I hadn't bumped into Angel when I did ... who know's what street corner I'd be on tonight. What I have in my life was given to me, my Job, My Power, now don't get me wrong - I work my shapely butt off, but I need them as much as they need me.

"You and Gunn, don't need anybody, you got that job on construction and kept it all this time without anybodies help or handout, whilst at the same time patroling, researching, and romancing a vengence demon. I mean how the hell did you pull that off - she's suppose to hate all men with a passion? Anyway that's what I think, why do you ask?"

"Buffy doesn't"

"She told you this. She said 'Xander I don't respect you'?"

"She didn't have to, she proved it?"

"How?" Cordelia was searching for any evidence on the young man's face that he could have misinterpreted his lust-crushes intent. His face was unflinching and placid. If you live in LA long enough, you learn to look beyond the various false faces shown in public, you begin to see the person within. Cordelia saw Xander's 'person' and he wasn't confused, there was no doubt in it's mind, there was a bit of anger as well as alot of hurt, but no confusion. Whatever took place the previous day, Cordelia was very certain that the instigator was the Slayer <Wasn't it alway's when it came to Xander?>. The Zeppo was the victem, and the 'Chosen One', as always, was getting all of the attention. From Willow, probably the rest of the Scoobies as well, and Angel.

"It doesn't matter 'How?' Cordy. The fact is it's done, and you can't undo it. I just wish I had listened to you all those years ago when you told me I would never 'Rate' in her book. It would have saved me alot of heartache over the years."

"OK, Xander. Two thing's, One - Duh! Two, I was a spoilt brat back then, who said that to hurt you. The sad truth is, she would have been damn lucky to have had a chance with you. I mean some of the truely happiest moment's of my life - thus far, have you in it. And if she couldn't see how special you are - forget her, move on, there-are-plenty-of-other-fish-in-the-sea and ....... we're here."

As the couple exited Xander's car with Duffle Bag's in hand Xander extended his free hand offering to take both. Cordelia just shook her head indicating she wasn't above such 'turmoils' anymore and that moving one Duffel Bag 15 feet wasn't going to kill her. As she got to her front door she smiled and called out from her step "Dennis, it's me". With this, the front door unlocked itself and opened, the light's and the TV then came on, as the Video Recorder rewound it's tape and pressed play to present the screening of that day's episode of 'Passions'. In the background Xander could hear tap's turn themselves on as a bath was being drawn. All this took place before the two had even crossed the threshold.

"Xander - Dennis" Cordelia waved her free hand in a mock introduction to the empty house "Dennis - Xander". At this the light's in the kitchen went one and off several times. Still smiling Cordelia say's "Dennis say's Hello"

"Uummm Hi Dennis, nice to finally meet you" <Oh yes, this is going to work out perfectly.>


As Angel decended the the Hotel stairs he spotted Cordelia walk through the front door "So what did he say, what were his reasons?"

Freezing in mid-step the Seer turned to face the 240 year-old vampire "He ... he didn't say. But I kind of got the impression that maybe ... he's not the one in the wrong here."

"What are you talking about? Willow said they fought and now Buffy's upset, who's fault could it be?"

"I didn't speak to Willow, but heres a question O-Great-Vampire- Detective, what were they fighting about? We know the outcome, Buffy's there crying into her Pillow, and he's here. But did you ask Willow - Why?"

Angel just looked down at his feet and leaned on Gunn's desk, as Cordelia positioned herself behind the Reception Bench. Finally Angel spoke "Yeah, I asked. She, Willow, didn't want to tell me, she just begged me to get Xander to fix things with Buffy. To have him call her ASAP".

"Is it just me, or does all this smell pretty ripe. Something major has happened, and no-one is talking about it. I tried for two hours last night, and Xander just wouldn't open up. He just talked about respect, deciency, morals and claimed that what had happened the other day between the two of them was private. I think Willow's got it around the wrong way. I think if anything, it should be Buffy apologising here."

Leaning behind him, Angel picked up Charles Gunn's phone and began to dial the Summer's Residence "We won't know how to help them, if we don't know what's wrong"


On the third ring Dawn picked up the reciever.

Dawn - Hello,

Angel - Hey Dawn.

D - Oh, it's you. I thought it might have been Xander.

A - No, sorry. But I have a question involving him.

D - If he hasn't told you, then I won't.

A - Dawn, please. We just what to help you.

D - Me? You can't help me, Buffy's the one who need's help.

A - Dawn what's wrong? (despiration in his voice)

D - Ask her yourself, I'm sick of thinking about it.

(Removing the portable phone from the 'plug-in' Dawn accended the stairs and banged heavily upon a door "PHONE! IT'S ANGEL, HE WANTS A WORD WITH YOU!" Angel could hear all this, as he also heard a door slowly open, and a forceful thrust was made into a person's palm).

Buffy - Hello ... angel (the voice was soft and hoarse)

Angel - Hi, Buffy. I spoke to Willow yesterday, she told me that you and Xander had a disagreement <if I play this just right, I might get her to tell me what this nonsense is all about>.

B - It, it wasn't a disagreement. A disagreement, is when you disagree with everything that is said, everything Xander said was true. He,.... he told me he wished I had stayed dead.

A - (Angel had to fight the rage within him so it would not be betrayed in his words) He was .... probably upset, I'm sure that now that he's cooled down he regrets saying it.

B - But he's right, I wish I was dead. When I cameback the second time ... I was in a happy place, I don't know if it was heaven. But I felt safe, and loved there. And then I was back here, and after experencing .... bliss, everyhing here was just .....

A - Darker? Hollow?

B - Yes, that's right, you ... you understand. You and Spike understand, you are the only ones who truely understand.

A - <Spike?>

B - Spike was able to talk me through my confusion. The more we talked, the more I begun to learn about myself, about one another ... we,...we began seeing eachother ... alot.

A - (Angel's left hand gripped the corner of Gunn's desk, it then **Snapped** succumming to the growing pressure of his grip) Well I can understand, how if you were 'confused', Spikes word's would be very persuasive (forcing a smile to follow in his voice). It didn't occur that there maybe another explanation for what you were going through?

B - It made perfect sense at the time, with the chip in, he couldn't hit a human, but he could hit me.

A - Spike hit you? <That $#^%$^#&>

B - It was kind of like foreplay with us. He introduced me to .... things, and once I opened that door. It was hard for me to close it again.

A - And Xander found out about all of it?

B - He was able to work it out. He***** ... He didn't tell you any of this did he?

A - No, he didn't.

B - Then how? Willow? Dawn?

A - Willow phoned yesterday, and said that you had a fight. She wouldn't go into details, except that it upset you. And Dawn, Dawn didn't want to talk about it at all.

You said Xander worked it out?

B - (Starting to Cry Again) Earlier .... I was invisible for a while (sniff), we ... I, had sex with Spike, while Xander was in the room (sniff). He worked it out and felt as though I had ...

A - (Angel unable to hold his anger in any longer, stressess his disappointment in his voice) MOCKED HIM. Buffy, Xander and I have rarely ever seen eye to eye, but this ... this I can't imagine.

What your doing is wrong, Spike a demon he doesn't know how to care, granted he maybe obsessed, but someone who's in love doesn't need to hit you to get in the mood.

Buffy, I 'ran' with Spike, I know what he and Drusilla would get up to - Do you want to know what they did? Their favorites were public locations - they loved shocking townspeople, or Dirty Alleyways, the filthier the better. In the churches, and on top of priest's graves. Have you done any of this yet? Or are you still being broken in? He's probably starting small, getting you use to it all, and when you are, you won't have to worry about that meddlesome soul of yours.

It will be too tainted to go anywhere when your dead, you'll be cursed to walk the earth, unable to touch, be touched or loved. But if this is what you want. I guess Spike can love you to a worse eternal punishment then just killing you.

Tell Willow, Xander's fine, we'll look out for him and make sure he doesn't do anything foolish. As for you Buffy, I don't know what to say - I thought I knew you, but I guess I don't know you at all anymore.

--- Click ---

"Buffy & Spike?" Cordelia couldn't help but pull a face at this odd coupling as she reacted to overhearing the phone conversation.

It was parrotted back to her with venom "Yep, that's right Buffy & Spike!" both peered around the the large reception desk to witness Xander enter the Hotel Lobby with a fresh supply of Danishes, Donut's, freshly ground coffee.

"Xan, I'm sorry ... about what I said last night, she, she doesn't deserve you." Cordelia removed the cardboard coffee tray and the bagged pastries, and embraced her new housemate. She then removed herself taking the items to the Staff Tea Room.

When Cordelia left Xander and Angel then faced off with eachother, both men contemplating the sortedness of the B/S union "Spike huh?"

"Yeah, Spike. Angel, you know that saying about words coming back to haunt you?"


"I once told her that 'a guy would have to be undead to make time with her', she told me I was being harsh. But... man, I hate it when I'm right"

Angel had known for along time that the only competition he ever had for buffy's affections was Xander Harris, as far he was concerned Riley was just a seat warmer. But Angel could not comprehend how Xander must have felt when he realised that Buffy and Spike had ... No matter how much the young man bugged him at times, Angel didn't hate him. Infact he would probably classify Xander as one of his most reliable of friends. The kind not afraid to tell you what you needed to hear, and not the kind who would hesitate to stake him if he became Angelus again, Angel needed such friends in his life. "You can stay as long as you need to Xander."

"Thanks Deadboy, but Cordy has made me really comfortable at her place"

"OK, but if you want to talk, or anything ..."

"Actually you can do something for me, could you instruct me on some of those Martial Arts you know while I'm here. Just something to keep me pre-occupied between coarse subjects, you know."

"Sure, any particular style?"

"The deadlier, the better"


It never ceases to amaze me the kind of things that race through my mind when I'm in the process of getting my ass kicked. Now, you'd think it would be 'Ow! Ow! - the pain', but you would be wrong, for me it's how did I let myself get into this situation to begin with.

I came to LA with a plan. A plan under the guise of enhancing my qualifications in Construction. Granted the timing could have been better. My departure from SunnyHELL came atop of the realisation that someone I had always supported, respected and cared for could not hold me in the same regard. Finding out about Spike and Buffy was tough, no doubt about it, but finding out what she did was worse.

Distancing myself from the Scoobies, and hooking up with the 'Fang- Gang' was probably the best decision I could have made under the circumstances. Sure it may have given them the false impression of me running away, but what's one extra humiliation in thier eyes?

I've made some new friends in Gunn, Fred, and Dennis. As well as rebuilt on old relationships with Cordelia and Wesley. Yet what has surprised me the most is Angel. He's changed, I actually like him now, I can't believe it but we now actually hangout together. I mean he doesn't brood as often as he used to, and once you get him going, he can be quite funny. We also have the whole 'Buffy' thing in common. I guess it's true "The enemy, of my enemy, is my friend", his dislike of Spike is on par with mine, and that gives us a 'special' bond.

The first month in LA was the worst. of course it didn't help with Willow calling every second day trying to lay on the guilt and get me to 'make things better' with Buffy. But I don't care anymore, she wanted someone else, and she's got him. I feel truely liberated, I can move on with my life just as she has with her own.

Once I had the microfilm secured, I through myself into everything, Lectures, Hunts, even Training (Conventional Fighting Styles with Angel, Unconventional with Gunn). With each spar, it became easier for me to draw on the 'Reflex Memory' of Soldier-Guy. But Mason kept elluding me. He taught me so much and in such a short time that most of my memories of his advice and techniques just seemed to get jumbled together in a big mess of words. Of late it only seems I'm able to 'draw' on him when I'm majorly stressed out.

Hence, my current situation, and probably the stupidest experiment of all time. I decided to challenged Angel to a duke-em out session, anything goes. First one unconsious - Wins. Sure he refused, but I persisted, and he eventually agreed. Everyone is here, Wesley, Cordy, Fred and Gunn, against thier better judgement of coarse. Their just present to ensure that things don't get out of hand. Even so, thier expecting a very onesided victory. Truth be told - so am I. But winning is not the purpose of this fight, it's to see how long I could last against someone who truely knew what they're doing.

I had, up until Deadboy did his Round-House thing, lasted 12 seconds. Now I'm on my back seeing stars, not unconcious, just a little dazed and very confused.

I can hear muffled voices. Gunn telling Angel that the fight is over, and I can feel Cordy and Fred try and lift me off the ground, as Wesley inspects me for concussion. But I got what I wanted - what I needed. Sure it nearly got my head knocked clear off my shoulders, but I see him. Standing before me as sharp as a memory can be amongst the hazy chaos.

Vision of Mason - "On your arse again lad? I don't get it, you could take this joker down without a sweat, what's stopping you?"

"Your joking right?" My voice is barely a mumble.

"Did you say something Xander?"

"eerrr no Wes, I'm good"

V J.M. - "Does it looklike I'm joking. I've seen you in action and your better then this. But I guess once a 'Butt-Monkey' always a 'Butt-Monkey', huh?"

<I've asked you before not to call me that>

"Why not, that's what you are - a victem. You know how to take this guy down, in three moves. You know it, because I know it - so what's stopping you?"

<OK then, mind telling me how?>

V J.M. - "Look at the way he stands, his gestures, his moves, his defence style. It's all there staring you in the face Boy."

As Angel bent over the fallen fighter he posed a worried question "Xander, are you OK?"

"Am I still consious?"

"Still consious man" Gunn answered.

"Good, so let's finish this then."

Not for the first time since the challenge was extended and accepted Wesley asserts his outrage at the notion of the compaition, only this time his voice is supported by a chorus of affirmation from the two present females. Gunn and Angel just remained silent, knowing that this is something, no matter how it may seem foolish to them, Xander had to do.

The two men once again squared off, whilst Gunn continued the role of referee under the gazes of a hostile audience. Both awaiting his instruction for the fight to re-commence. It was then that Xander saw it, Angel's achilles heel.

Angel needed distance to execute his moves. Invade his personal space and the souled Vampire options became limited, and his vampire strengh and speed become next to useless.

"We're not finished Deadboy, so why don't we make this more interesting and up the stakes?"

"Go on." A sly smile sneaked across the lips of the addressing opponent.

"The next time we're at Lorne's, the Winner choses the Loser's song."


"All right then, time for you to go beddy-bye Overbite"

As Charles Gunn lowered his arm and made a hasty withdraw from the fighting circle. Angel bought his right leg across in an attempt sweep Xander off his. The construction worker had to fight the immediate impulse to skip back out of range of the motion, thereby giving the vamp the length he required for his follow up blow.

Instead, the Zeppo, led into the assault until he was within inches of Angel, and forcibly raised his knee to purhaps the most sensitive place on a male body, regardless of whether they are alive or undead. He then swung his right elbow into the shocked Vampire's expression. Almost on top of the first facial impact he followed it with his left elbow in an upper-cut motion.

In each action Xander threw his full reserve of strength and power into the blows, praying to himself for it to be enough to meet his objective. It wasn't. It took several hastily delivered elbow blows to the head before Angel surrendered to darkness.

As Xander allowed the Detective to slump to the floor he looked at his audience, each and all were stunned. Thou it was not impossible to knock-out a vampire, it was not something they would have expected possible from this young man, especially a vampire of Angel's calibre. Xander offered an exhausted smile at the group and collapsed <Butt-Monkey my ass!>.



His shoed feet clapped the evening footpath with piston regularity, not allowing himself to slow, or shorten the length of his desperate stride. The 18-year-old bore through sprinkler streams in his attempt to conquer the 40-degree slope before him, niether allowing the growing dampness of his best travel suit, or his burning lungs pause his curses on his choice of leather footwear or his growing contempt for City Planners worldwide <Oh, what lovely Hills, why don't we build a City on them - Idiots!>.

It had only been 3-minutes since he had left his date. And as far as his typical dates went, this one was a success. As his feet pumped the concrete and grass under heel, he cast his mind back one week earlier, to his very first day in San Francisco. of course the old 'Harris Curse' held true to form as within an hour of arrival he had reversed into a parked VW Gulf. The damage to both vehicles was minimal, infact if truth be told - his car came out worse for the experience. Yet Names, Details, Dates/Time and insurers had to still be exchanged. So Xander Harris did the responsible thing, he waited, and waited, and waited. For nearly four-and-ahalf-hours he sat, waiting for the owner of the 'victim' to show.

When they did arrive, the first thing he noticed were her eyes. Willow and Buffy had always commented to him that he had been blessed very expressive eyes, as a guy, the last thing he wanted to be told was he had pretty eyes, muscles - Yes, Eyes - NO. As far as the Xan-Man was concerned eyes were used to see things with, or maybe to cry through, but that was all. On this day his opinion changed, as he stared into emeralds afloat in pure cream. Not surprisingly she introduced herself as Jade, if ever there was a name suited to a person, it was this one. She looked at the dent briefly, shrugged her shoulders, and said "these things happen". It was then that Xander Harris knew that he couldn't let this woman go without atleast buying her coffee. Again she surprised him with her acceptence. The pair spent 2-hours in one of the many 'Starbucks' talking about thier lives and expectations of life. Over the next three days they had more coffee meetings with eachother, eachone leading to the inevitable asking of the first date.

As Xander left the resturant, arm-in-arm with a woman six-years his senior, he noticed a figure hidden in shadows. As the couple proceeded to walk off thier evening meal, Alex (he introduced himself to Jade as Alex, wishing to break away from his old identity) kept mental note of the progress of thier stalker. Living on the Hellmouth and 'hanging' with The Slayer, had honed his own 'Slayer Instinct', whoever this person was, they weren't a Vamp. As smiles and farewell kisses were exchanged at the doorway of Jade's and Michelle's Apartment, Alex casually cast his eyes in the direction of thier 'shadow'. After identifying it's new hiding place, he proceeded down the street and turn right, as soon as he was out of line of sight of the mystery man, Alex proceeded at a mad dash to circle the outer city block, with the intention of sneaking up behind the prowler.

As the now soaking 18-year-old turned right for the forth and final time, he spied the crouched figure of a man 100 meters ahead. Suppressing his exhausted panting the young man began to approach the lone figure with as much stealth he could muster. As he got closer to his target, he began to get a clearer view of the man he would be challenging. To his disbelief it was man in his late 60's, yet the way the 'Stalker' moved between shadow crops when he was escorting Jade home, led him to believe that they were being tailed by someone half that age.

A thick and unmistakable scottish accent softly boomed over the short distance set by the two men "Can I help you?"

The only reply Alex could offer was one that would have been voiced by Xander Harris "Gee I dunno, maybe you can, I'm looking for a Stalker. He's about your hieght, your build, wearing the same kind of clothes. You haven't seen him by any chance?"

Realisation struck the crouched gentleman, as he finally turned to face his discoverer. When he did, a half smile crept across his face, and an approving nod was returned.

"I'm impressed Boy. I didn't pick you up until you were a couple of houses back, mind telling me when you made me?"

"The second I left the Resturant"

This claim was met with the raising of the elderly man's eyebrows and a soft response "that early? I must be out of practice."

"You shouldn't knock yourself up over it. Where I come from Paranoia is more then just a word - it saves lives."

At this the two men silently stared at eachother, until the moment was broken by Alex.

"I'm going to give you this one chance, and I suggest you take it. Walk away from this house, never come back, or hassle it's occupants again."

"Why, because you say so?"

"Yeah, because I said so. Listen, I really don't like the idea of having to hurt an old, confused guy like yourself - but I will. I just want you to know, I've fought tougher, bigger, and badder things then you - so leave NOW, last chance before things get embarassing."

"Well - Sonny, this 'old-confused-guy' might like to be embarassed."

"Listen ... I mean it, last chance - Go!"

"Son, that's the second last chance you've given me, and I'll see my daughter whenever I like."

End Flashback

Xander Harris was stired from his dream by a very angry brunette's attempt to re-dress his injured elbows "Ow, Ow, the Pain"

"Don't be such a Cry Baby"

"Cordy? Where am I?"

"Yes, it's me and your at home What were you thinking you ... Doofus, taking Angel on like that"

"What are you talking about, I won didn't I?....I thought I won?"

*Sigh* "You did. But unlike you, Angel is nearly healed. Whereas you will not be able to do any lifting for several days - Congragulations your now an invalid!"

In a whispered voice, the male patient repeated "I won, I beat him."

"Hate to rain on your chest-beating there Tarzan, but you got lucky."

With down cast eyes Xander fell into deep thought, the former Ice- Queen of SunnyDale mentally kicked herself as she tried to repair the damage her words caused "So how long have you wanted to clean Angel's clock?"

Xander's brown eyes returned her compassionate gaze "Since he gave Buff his leather jacket"


Despite the pain throbbing in both of his elbows, Xander offered the questioned look a souled smile and a response. "Basically from the moment I first saw him. Infact, when I think of it, that was the first time I can recall Buffy lying to me. She said Angel was an 'Older Guy' she gave me the impression he was like 50, overwieght and bald. But he wasn't ... he was Buff, she never mentioned to me he was Buff"

"You really are a lost cause aren't you, all you talk about is Buffy this, Buffy that. She broke your heart, deal with it and move on. You broke mine, and I survived. You will too, just have faith that everything will work itself out for you, and it will.

"Have you thought about Wesley's offer?"

"I have to admit, it is tempting, it's not like I have too much going on in SunnyD, I mean the Scoobies are my friends, my best friends, but we're not the same people we were in High School, we have all grown differently. And granted, whilst I've been doing my coarse here, I have recieved attractive offers from other Construction Companies. But I don't want to leave Jacob in the lurch, he gave me a break, a chance, and I wouldn't be this sought after if not for him."

"Just think about it Slugger, now that I've gotten use to having you around, I'd miss you when your gone. And that goes for Wes, Charles, Fred, Lorne, and Angel" At the mention of the final name, Xander's room lights and ceiling fan turn off and on in quick succession "AAAANNNNDDDDD Dennis"

"of course the Den-Man will miss me, we're kindred spirits he and I"

"He'll miss you because your the only one who will watch 'Ghost Busters' with him, I swear that movie just gives him ideas. I'm almost 100% certain that it's him fooling around with the answering machine y'know."

Earlier that Day in SunnyDale

Gently Buffy lay the reciever back into it's re-charge cradle, as a sad smile began to draw itself across her features. She then closed her eyes and again lost herself in pained memories.

"So how was he?" The question startled the Slayer for two reasons, one she had thought she was alone in the house, and two because she hadn't spoken a word to anybody, she had just dialled, listened, and hung-up like always. With glowing crimson cheeks, Buffy turned to face her younger sister.

"Well?" The crossed armes, raised eyebrows, blank expression and the impatient tapping of her right foot informed the Slayer that this was a subject Dawn not going to let go.

"I don't know what your talking about. I,...I just dialled a wrong number, that's all."

"Oh, well don't let me stop you from dialling the right one then." With this statement, the teenager approached her sister and sat herself next to her elder sibling on the couch providing an expectant look from Buffy to the awaiting phone.

Gingerly the Slayer raised the telephone reciever once again to her ear and stared at the dial numbers on it's face, she then took a deep breath and returned the reciever back to it's original position. "H...How long have you known?"

"Ever since we recieved the itemised Bill from 'Ma Bell'" With this statement, Dawn removed herself to from the couch and proceeded to the draw in the kitchen where all the lengthy Notices got hidden away, all the while continuing with her speil. "It seems we've been making alot of ten-second phone calls to the same number in LA" As she drew the Bill from the draw and unfolded it, Dawn returned to the lounge room to her awaiting sister "Now I'm not a Math Star like Willow, but I know phone number's like nobodies buisness. So I started to ask myself 'Why would anyone want to call Cordy for only several seconds?' I then noticed the times of these calls and realised that they were all done at hours Cordelia would be working over at Angel's Hotel. I took a stab, and loe and behold, I got her answering machine, but guess what, it wasn't our favorite Seer's voice on the Message Bank, but everybodies, well nearly everybodies, favorite Foreman."

With a half-smile Buffy conceded to her Sisters conclusion "Wow, if Angel was still talking to me, I'd recommend him to take you on after you Graduate. You'd make one Hell of a Detective." At this Buffy stood up and approached the Mantle Place and picked up the familiar photograph of Willow in the background, and Her sitting down with a great big grin on her face looking down on Xander, with his crocked smile, drapping himself across her knees - If there was ever the representation of the friendship shared between the three, this humble photograph was it "When did it all go wrong Dawn?"

"Do you really need me to tell you?"


"This isn't about Spike, well yes it is ... alittle. No, this is mainly about *"

"*RESPECT! I Know" the Slayer bit out. "I know .... Dawn, I respect Xander, more than anyone else in the wholewide World. And I would never, ever hurt him. But the ... the 'incident' happened when I was so lost. Giles had left me - us, Family Services was threatening to take you away because they didn't think I was an unfit Gaurdian, Willow was miserable. And I was still dealing with being pulled out of Hea*"

"Geez, Buff, is that going to be your excuse for everything, because it's getting kind of tired"

This had not been the first time the two siblings, well the younger sibling at any rate, had nearly come to blows in the last six weeks. "How can you say that, you don't know*"

"*I know that if you earnt your place there, and I'm not saying for a second you didn't. What I'm just saying is that no matter how powerful an incantation it was that Willow cast, don't you think there was maybe a more powerful 'Someone or Something' that let you go. I mean Heaven is suppose to be His/Her/It's home base - Right? And aren't we talking 'All-Powerful' here?"

A worried look etched itself across the Slayer's face as she soaked in the words spoken by her younger sister. "Wh...Why would He/She/It do that to me?"

"I don't know, but I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with humping Vampires."

"How do you know all this?"

"Duh, when you came back and made that Singing and Dancing announcement to everybody, well the next day I went to nearly every Church in town and posed a hypothetical question to Priests, Nun's ... whoever I met. The concensus was that the Big 'G' would only have allowed such a thing to take place, only if they felt there was something you needed to do urgently before passing, and you had earnt the right for a second shot at it."

"Third shot ... it was Xander who gave me my second shot" Buffy then turned her head away from her sister "He hurt me so much Dawn" replied as she recalled her Xander-shaped-friend's parting remark.

Dawn could hear the tears in her elder sister's words but this was a discussion that she had put off for to long "You hurt him more Buffy. You know Xander has alway's been sensitive about being the weakest of the Group."

"But he isn't, if not for him there would be no Scoobies, and I don't mean just the odd rescues he's done, he's help us - me just by being there, and supporting me - us all."

"Hey, preaching to the Chior here sister. But let's be honest, it's not like we all went out of our way to tell him this is it, or to let him know how we feel about him."


"Working out his role in the 'incident', as you call it, was just the straw that broke his back. I mean I don't agree with the way he said it, but his thoughts mirrored my own."


"What's with the Answering Machine Buffy?"

"I just wanted to hear his voice" another familiar sad smile crept across her face "He sounded pretty Happy, he must be really enjoying himself"

"Why are you doing this to yourself Buff? Since Xan left you've been moping around worst then when you came 'back'. Bite the bullet, if you want to speak to Xan - call him, it's not like you don't know the number."

"I can't"

"What, because he's a guy and you can't be seen to make the first move?"

"No, that's not it. If I speak to him after everything he said I might, might *"

"* What aplogise? Oh heaven forbid."

"No Dawn, tell him I think I might Love him."

"Excuse Me? .... You Love Him? Since when?"

"I've alway's loved him, but I didn't truely realise how much I loved, or in what way I loved and depended on him until after Riley left me. Let's just say, he and I had a 'Puffy-Suit' moment. He told me I was special, wonderful, and that any Guy would consider themselves lucky to have me in thier life. And it was as thou he talking to me about himself. But he was involved with Anya and *"

"* And he would have left her in a second"

"Maybe ... but all the crazyness with Glory, the Knight's, BuffyBot, Spike and Tara going crazy, kind of got in the me declaring my Love, and oh yeah, the Dying. And when I came back he and Anya were engaged."

"But what about the Wedding, why didn't you step in after that?"

"Because I was happy it never took place, Xander was hurting and I was happy - there I admit it. If it was reversed, Xander wouldn't have been happy, he would have been hurting as much as I was. He was miserable, and I was estatic. I didn't, don't, deserve him, I deserve Spike. But this is all Mute, as I 'MOCKED HIM', as Angel had put it, before the wedding even happen. He made Anya so happy, and Anya made him happy, couldn't a Demon make me just as happy?"

With careful words Dawn clasped the Slayer's in her's "Your going to have to make a choice Buffy. Ask yourself would you prefer to have sex with Spike, or make love with Xander. Geez, and you call me a little kid." Releasing her sister's hands and bring her eyes level with the Slayer "Buffy I swear, and I mean this, when he get's back next week, you had better tell him how you feel about him or I promise you - I will. I've had it up to here with this crap, it's like a bad episode of 'Passions'."

"What about Spike?"

"Your just going to have to decide who you want in your life more - Xander, or Spike. And pray the damage isn't already done."



Drawing the arrow icon across the screen to overlap the SEND box, AleXander Harris taps a side button his new LapTop Computer and intensly stares at the e-message site. Within seconds a recognition note was returned to him advising that the e-mail sent to ChemicalSuperFreak@y... had been successfully posted.

The 22-year-old then disconnected the Modem leeds, shut down the computer's functions, and folded one of his most recent purchases, screen into place. When this was accomplished he unconciously released a breath that he was not aware he had been holding, and then addressed an empty room.

"OK Dennis, what do you think? And be honest, am I doing the right thing?" His question was only met with stone silence. "Den?" More silence.

"Den, I happen to know that ghosts don't sleep - so cool it with the silent treatment OK. Do you think accepting Mitchell's offer was the right decision?" Silence.

"Alright then - Fine. I think it was the right decision. It's better this way, and it's safer for them. The 'Fang-Gang' are alot better equiped to handle what might be coming, ... now I'm not saying it will - I just think it's better to be safe then sorry. The Scoob's wouldn't be able to deal, and that would make them vunerable, which would make them targets, which equals getting them killed." Slightly frustrated at his friends lack of involvent, Xander then raised his voice too a level, that indeed a dead person could hear him "IT'S THE RIGHT DECISION!".

Angerly treading a familiar path to the kitchen, the newly accredited Foreman continued in a softer tone "... Besides, after the things I said, and how I left <sigh>. I doubt we could all go back to how things were. Cordy and Charles are right, I have to move on, on from Sunnydale, on from Buffy ... just on with my life"


Slamming the Refrigerator Door shut Xander then challenges the entity he now considers one of his closest friends. The ghost who due to his inability to speak provided the young man the opportunity to tell him things about himself none other, except those who were involved, knew. Tales of his parent's physical abuse, his unrequainted love of a Slayer, his feelings of guilt over leaving Anya at the alter, the adventure he had in San Fransico, that now overshadowed his life - every doubt and insecurity Alexander Levalle Harris possessed, Dennis knew. The mute occupant became his confidant. "Dammit Den, this is annoying, what's wrong? What's with all the sulking?"

At these questions the Sterio in the Lounge was turned on. And realisation struck the features of the Room-Mate, as a sly smile drew itself across his lips "I'm sorry Den-Man, if I could take you with us, I would - You know that. But as I don't want you to miss out, I did the next best thing. It was going to be a surprise, but as you've decided to go Baby on me ...." With this, he exited the kitchen, and made his way to his bedroom. When he got there he opened a small cardboard box and revealed it's contents to the vacent bedroom, knowing full well that Dennis would have followed him in. What he displayed was his second most recent purchase - a portable, Pocket Tape Recorder. "... Just because you can't be there, it doesn't mean you have to miss out"


"No, I won't do it, this ... this is pure butchery, and I won't stand for it, not in my Bar. Not while I still draw breath, and my hearts still beat."

"It's just a song Lorne."

"It's not just a 'song', it's one of my favorites. And to suggest that I let Tall, Dark and Tone-Deaf attempt it is an insult."

Angel couldn't let this slight go, as he repeated for the fifth time in as many minutes "I'm-not-that-bad!"

And for the fifth time, in union, five familiar voices (Wesley, Cordelia, Gunn, Fred, and Lorne) responded to the souled Vampire's claim "Yes you are."

Desperation begun to soak into the read horned, green skinned demon's voice "OK, my little Village Person, how about 'Rider's of the Storm', another classic, one ... one I'm pretty sure he could pull off"

At this statement Charles Gunn returned a grisiled reply "Wanna bet"

"What is it with you guys - I can sing"

It now fell to Wesley to respond "Sure you can Angel - Just not very well."

"I, I think we should go easy on him everybody. Angel, just hasn't found his voice yet"

"What are you talking about Fred, I've got voice, voice I got!"

"Sorry Lorne, a bets, a bet. And my mind is made up. I've been looking forward to this all week."

Meeting the smug expression of the construction worker, then drawing his attention to the seated Vampire, the Host departed the small party of friends with a closing statement "MURDERERS!" and returned to his usual place at the bar and listened to the latest effort of a Slime Demons vocalisation of 'I Feel Pretty'.

Wesley leaned over pasted Cordelia and conspiricaly enquired "So, er ... are going to tell us what song it was on the piece of paper?"

"You'll all find out shortly, but before we do, I have an announcement to make. As you all know, I concluded my coarse yesterday" The table raised thier glasses to the claim "Wait, I'm not finished, this morning I got a call from Peter Mitchell, he's with my companies Human Resources Section - Head Office. They offered me a Job ... here in LA, at a third more than I'm earning in SunnyHell .... I accepted."

The sudden news stunned the table until Cordelia found her voice 'Wh, What about that Jacob guy?"

"He's the one who recommended me for the Posting. I'll still be going back on Friday, Jake's got a contract deadline, and he'll need a hand. But once the Project's over ..."

Xander couldn't finish what he was saying as he was then immediently embraced by his former girlfriend. "I know just the place for you to move in to, you even know it's number. God, I can't believe this, this is so great. There's this Woman at my Gym, she's an Aerobic's instructor, she is sooooo perfect for you. Now that your staying I can arrange an introduction."

"Congratulations Xander, well done"

"Thanks Wes."

"Ahem" Five pair of eyes were drawn to the dark dressed individual seated in the corner of thier table "I'd hate to break the moment, I'm really glad your going to stay Xander, but what about ... Sunnydale."

"Look around you Dead-Boy, we're all still here. We're all still alive - most of us at any rate. The Scoobies can handle it. They have for the last two months, they don't need me."

Before anyone could object to this statement the Bar was inturupted by Lorne's voice. "Your up Deadboy, make us proud." as Angel arose from his seat and made his way to the platform stage Xander pulled out a tape recorder from his jacket pocket and placed it on the table under the curious gaze of those assembled "... for Dennis." Nod's were returned as the Green Skinned, Red-Horned Saprano continued with his introduction.

"Ladies, Gentlemen it is with sorrow in my Heart that I present our next preformer as he <through gritted teeth> 'attempts' to ... 'sing' a favorite of mine. Lay your hands together for Angel, the Vampire with a soul, and 'It's Raining Men'."


The digitial chime gently arose the slumbering form. She didn't need to look at the clock, she knew it was early morning. But she did so more out of habit, then curiousity. The florescent crimson numbers washed the room in a low red radience, providing shadows across the contents of her bedside table and her chair. It digital display read 2:35am, which meant it was actually 2:20am. As she was rarely ever on time anymore, she had set all her personal clocks ahead 15 minutes.

Clumsly picking up her Mobile Phone she responded with a weary, and confused "Hello?". of course she knew who it would be, no one else called her in the early hours of the morning. And the fact she had also left him a message to contact her also cancelled out any doubt.

For five seconds she strained her hearing for any sounds out of the ordinary, aside from the roadside traffic on the other end. Clicks, echo's and light buzzing meant they were being monitored. When she heard none, she awaited for the familiar scottish words to escape her earpiece.

- Hello Sweetheart.

"And a very early morning hello to you to."

- <with a good natured tone> Your the one who contacted me remember.

"Yeah ... Alex sent Stan a message a couple of day's ago, he's returning to Sunnydale tomm ... today, he want's to know if you have an ETA. By the way he worded it, it looks like he's only going to be there a month."

- I'm still a couple of weeks away, tell Goodspeed to relay 2 at the earliest, three at the latest.

"Actually I was hoping I could deliver the message myself ... personally"

- Honey, I don't think that would be a good idea. "Why no? ... No forget that, I Do!"

- Jade, please.

"No! When you get the film and deliver it to the Embassy, I'll be wisked away with you to places unknown. This might be my last chance to see ... to be with him."

- Jade, I know you still care for him, I ... like him alot too, he kind of reminds me of another idealised young fool I knew lifetime ago. I just don't want either of you to get hurt when all this is finally over.

"I'm going!"

- Fine, but take Michelle then.

"That's a given. So I have your blessing?

-Your there, I'm here, I really don't think I could have stopped you.

"Is there anything you want me to pass onto him when I see him?"

-... Tell him I expect him to conduct himself like a gentleman. And remind him I still know how to kill a person with just my thumb.

"Only you could express your feelings through a death threat."

- <chuckle> Becareful, Be Safe. Love You.


She then switched the Mobile off, and placed it once more on the bedside table. Afterwhich she lay staring at the ceiling, too excited to return to sleep. Thinking that in little over 12 hours, she was going to be reunited with the man who hadn't escaped her thoughts a single day in under three years.


With his car parked out the front, Xander strolled through the entrance of the Hyperion Hotel to say his temparary goodbyes. In the middle of the foyer floor was a small suitcase. Standing over the case were Angel, Wesley and Cordelia. As he approached the Trio, it became obvious that they were in the midst of a discussion involving him. As he got closer the 'discussion' ceased.

"OK Guy's what's the what here? Is something happening that I should be made aware of?"

Before the other two could speak Cordelia responded "I'm going with you." It wasn't a question, a command or statement. It was a fact.

"OK, who decided this, when, and why wasn't it discussed with me?"

Assuming the old 'Ice Queen' demeanor that made her a force to be reconed with in SunnyDale High, Cordelia answered "I decided. A few moments ago. And there is NO discussion.

"Xander, when you go back, your going to need someone on your side when you tell them the news. I can run interference. I mean, it maybe three years, but I'm pretty certain if I snapped my fingers Willow will still ask 'how high'.

"And as for Buffy, we've had the odd verbal run in, her and I, and she's never been able to get the better of me - Ever. And I know you Harris, they'll be all weepy, begging you not to go. And -- You -- Will -- Cave! Besides which, I have some pretty choice thing's I want to say to the Slayer *"


".... Which I won't do Angel, if she doesn't provoke me."

"What if you have a Vision?"

"That's why God invented Mobiles."

"How are you going to get back?"

"From a fabulous invention called the Bus."

"I can't talk you out of it?"


"Then I guess, were SunnyDale bound."




"Your a Hell of a friend."

Chapter 4


They had been driving for three hours in silence. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence as you would expect. It was the opposite; it was born of comfort between two people who didn't see the need to engage in conversation to pass the time. Both identities were satisfied with the lack of speech as they enjoyed the tunes emanating from the car speakers. Both lost in their private thoughts.

As the wheels turned the closer to their destination they became. It wasn't until the 'Welcome to Sunnydale' sign came into full view that both occupants automatically drew themselves back to reality. From the passenger side Cordelia lent over in front of Xander and activated the indicator light. The now accredited Foreman followed the silent instruction and complied with the now honey-dyed beauty, and pulled his car over to the side of the road.

There they both sat in additional silence, until the former head cheerleader could take it no more.

"You can do this Goof!"

"I know."

"Don't take no crap!"

"I know."

"Victory or Death!"

"I kno* .what?"

"Just seeing if you were paying attention." Cordelia's lips spread into a motherly smile. And not for the first time since he arrived in LA two months earlier did he question why he threw it all away for that fluke-thing with Willow. She was magnificent.

"Cordy--- I want you to know - again, that I truly appreciate this. This and you."

The Mom smile softened as she answered her travel partner. "Xander, I'm your friend, I like to think I'm one of your better friends*"

"*You are!"

"I know. I just don't want you to think you're all alone, cause your not. Whatever happens between you and the Scoob's, just remember you will always have a home and a place with me and the Fang Gang. If you stay here or move to LA, we'll still be your friends."

Xander lent over and cupped the back of her neck. "I don't deserve you."

"You never did." With a mischievous twinkle in her eye and a grin on her face the Seer communicated to her former Boyfriend that it was time for him to face the music.

With a deep sigh, the former Zeppo once more indicated and adjoined the traffic on Main Street and made his way to the Magic Box, and a very difficult confrontation.



"This is what you're wearing?"

Dawn's question bounced off the walls of the Training Room. The tone it carried was of shock and outrage. "What happened to the 'CFM' Dress we selected last night? It was perfect. You wanted to get Xander's attention, then that was it."

"What Dawn, that I'm Slutty? Is that the message you want me to send?"

"At least it would have been an effort Buff. Sweat's is not an effort, infact it say's 'I don't care enough about you to make myself look presentable'. That's the message your sending now."

"The dress was over the top Dawn, and you know it. This isn't going to be easy for me; this has to be slow --- progressive. I want what I have to say to Xander not be awkward, and I don't think I can accomplish that if I'm afraid I'll pop out of my top every time I sit down."

"Fine it's your funeral; I just think you should shock him a bit that's all."

"NO! I don't want this to be physical."


"I mean sure I want this to be physical; I just don't want him to think that's what I'm all about. Besides--- Spike. If we do, y'know ---"


"Yeah, I know Xander well enough, and I know he'll be thinking of nothing but Spike."


"Not like that, like I'm ---"

"Damaged goods?"

The Slayer took a deep breath and hit the Punching Bag - Xander's 'Everlast Buddy'. "That's me 'Damaged-Goods' Buffy. Xander will have to want me for me. All of my history and mistakes. Not with the image of me, that was Spike's bag. I don't think he really loved me anyway, I think he just loved the idea of a Vamp and a Slayer. It made what we did exciting - for both of us."

The fifteen year old arched her eyebrows at this confession and replied. "So you don't think Xander will be exciting enough for you?"

"No. I mean that what I did was Spike was wrong, and a piece of me - a very dark piece of me was thrilled at that. I know from Anya's bragging that Xander is no slouch in the passion department, but I don't want him to have these expectations of me. That part of my life is over."

"So you told Spike to beat it?"

"The other night, he didn't believe me at first. He thought I was trying to make an argument, so we could have wild-makeup Sex later. I still don't think he really believes it's over between him and me."

Just then from the other side of the door in the shop, both Summer's women heard Anya and Willow call out in a single chorus "Xander!"

Dawn beamed at her elder sibling as she grabbed her and physically dragged her to meet her oldest male friend.



On the other side of the 'Magic Box' entrance, Xander and Cordelia cautiously peered in through the windows. What they saw was Willow sitting at the Scooby Table and Anya tallying 'The Money' from the register.

"I don't see Buffy" The young man said.

"Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?" The Seer replied.

"A good thing I guess, I don't know how I'd take seeing her again. I'd much rather take care of what I have to say in front of Ahn and Will first then look her in the eye."

"Geez Xander, she's only Buffy. Sure she's the Slayer and all, but she still puts her panties on like the rest of us."

"Okay, for starters don't need that visual. It'll be hard enough talking to her again without that thought running through my head. And secondly, I know that - I would just rather do this piecemeal, a bit at a time."

"You can be such a girl at times Harris."

"Considering the source, I'll take that as a compliment." With a deep breath and shaky legs. AleXander Harris led the former May Queen over the threshold of the 'Magic Box'. Before he had treaded a single foot inside the Domain of his former fiancée his name was joyfully called out by both women present. A brief moment later the door to the Training Room anxiously opened.



The door flung open with Dawn leading the charge. Before the Zeppo could gather his thoughts he received a strangle-hold hug from the fifteen year old beauty as both sides of his body were assaulted by his childhood friend and former Demon fiancée.

Willows slap's were playful and followed by the question of why he never tried to call her back from her numerous efforts to speak to him. Anya's were much more physical, each blow represented by the question regarding his fellow traveler. "What's she doing here?" Pointing to Cordelai still standing in the doorway. The accusations continued as Dawn released her grasp and Cordelia approached the small huddle. "You had SEX with her - didn't you? You said you wouldn't, and you did! You can be such a Male-Pig Xander!"

"Okay, Oww, Oww, and I missed you to Dawnie." The tree women backed off slightly from the only male in the room. "First things first. Will, I needed a break. A break away from everything Hellmouthy, it wasn't personal.

And it was definitely not a slight towards you. I just needed to be with my own thought's that's all." The oldest living friend of the construction worker happily accepted this answer, she was just happy he was home again, and that everything could return back to normal.

"Second - Anya, I haven't had sex with Cordy, sure she offer* Owwww!" The blow to the back of the Zeppo's head was not delivered by the ex- Demon, but by his LA bud. "Okay, Okay, she didn't offer. But I'm pretty sure you thought about it a couple of times."

A predatory smile that resembled Faith's snuck across the Seer's features as she replied to the statement "Not that you'll ever know."

With all greetings made the two returned Sunnydalian's finally noticed the Slayer standing before them both.

Cordelia approached the bottled-blonde with both the grace and intensity of a lioness protecting its territory. "Sooooooo Buffy, you look well, sleeping with the Dead has done wonders for your complexion."

"Cor, play nice. Remember your promise to Angel."

Willow looked at her friend slightly stunned. "Angel? What happened to 'Deadboy'?"

"That was before I got to know him Will, he's not a bad Vamp --- just a bad singer." With this comment both visitors looked at one another and shared a moment and a polite chuckle at what must have been a private joke between the two.

Buffy Summer's coughed discreetly drawing the attention of both Xander and the rest of the group once more. "Ummmmm, Xan --- can I talk to you for a moment or two in private."

The Slayer tentatively turned and began to take steps towards the Training Room door. Only when she got to the entrance did she realize that Xander hadn't followed. That had never happened before. In the past when she had always asked him to do something, he was always willing to do it. She turned to face one of her dearest friends, but all she saw was resolution on his face. Only then did she realize her error and offered a single and important word to her request. "Please, Xander."

Cordelia who had now approached the core group again spoke loud enough for the Slayer to hear her words "Go on Xander, you tell her and I'll tell them. Sounds fair?"

"Sounds Fair." Was his answer. And with this reply the 'Chosen One's' heart froze in her chest, dreading the implications of what these two words meant.



Xander passed the Slayer and said 'Hello' to his old friend. He then began to repeatedly strike out to his old buddy, using a variety of combination blows.

After a moment of admiring her friend's grown technique Buffy spoke up. "I guess I can't call you a push over anymore, huh?" It was supposed to be one of those amusing jibe's that she and her Xander-shaped-friend frequently engaged in. Only when the young man stilled the Punching Bag, and looked at her with shattered feelings in his eyes, did she realize how inappropriate her approach had been.

"You thought I was a push-over?"

"NO! No - Never! I was ---" The Slayer cast her head down, and then continued with out taking her eyes off the training matt. "This isn't going well is it? Xander, can we please start over again." The request was meant to start this conversation once more afresh, forgetting about the 'push-over' remark. But her dearest friend interpreted it differently.

"No. I don't think we can Buff, I regret what I said to you when I left. It was spiteful, but I was deeply hurt. Hurt and offended."

"I know" was the whispered reply.

"Then you must know I can't easily move on from that. And I won't. I deserve better. I've been a good friend to you Buff."

"I know Xander, you're my bestest friend*"

"*No I'm not. We stopped being bestest buds when you started College. We just became friends. Which is cool Buffy, I never expected what we had in High School to last forever. People grow up, people grow apart.

It's part of the 'Circle of Life'. We can't go back in time and fix our mistakes."

"What about the future? Our past may not be that good, but we can build something in the future right?" The treble in Buffy's voice was heart breaking to the Construction Worker, but Cordelia predicted Buff would take this approach, and you should never argue with a bonafied Seer.

"Buff - the foundation we would be building on would be a bad one. I have no future here. Buffy, I accepted a job in LA, I start in a month."


"WHY? Because it pay's well, and we don't have any fun anymore Buff. We - you, me, Will, Tara, Giles and Dawn. We use to 'Hang-out', sure we'd fight the Unholy Warriors of the Damned nearly every night - but we use to have fun doing it to. We don't any more, this year has just --- Bit the big one, everything has been so, so dark and depressing."

"And how do you think it's going to be when your nolonger around, did you think of that?"

"Buffy, we are all still here, you don't need me."

"I NEED you Xander."

"No you don't - you WANT me, you don't NEED me. Whatever muscle I could offer, can now be provided by your Boyfriend, a Vamp has Seven-times the strength of an average man remember. You should you keep telling me just about every chance you got on Patrol. I don't have your strength, or your speed, or your heightened senses - Spike does."

"Why are you doing this Xander?"

"I've told you why." The Construction worker paused and took in Buffy's Summer's defeated pose before he continued. "Buff, you want to know what I did the other night."

The Slayer shock her head, her bottom lip beginning to quiver.

"I sat down with Angel, Lorne, Gunn, Wesley, Cordy, and Fred and had a drink. We talked, we laughed, and then when went and saved LA. When was the last time all of us got together down at the Bronze and did that? I miss that Buffy. I want that spontaneous friendship, but and it's no longer here for me - it's in LA now."

A gentle tap could be heard on the other side of the door, two seconds later Cordelia entered. "Xander, errrr Willow, Dawn and Anya would like to talk you into staying. You are still going right? Your defenses didn't crumble?"

"No Cordy, defenses stayed firm, I'm still moving."

"Well you better talk to the bawling three out here then."

Xander feeling that what he had to say to Buffy had been said, side stepped past her to the door. Leaving Cordelia and Buffy alone.

The Blonde 22-year-old felt suddenly very naked in the presence of her former School friend. She had never felt so vulnerable or exposed in her entire life.

Gripping her body into an assuring hug, she whispered as she backed defensively away from the approaching figure. "Please Cordelia; I'm not in the mood. So please just leave me alone."

A broad feral smile graced the aspiring Actresses lips "What, you think I'm going to tear chunks out of you? Oh Buffy, how little you know me. I just want to thank you. Thank you for finally revealing your true nature to Xander and Angel."

Turning her head to face the door the Zeppo had just walked through moment's before the Seer continued which each word dripping with venom. "He's finally out from under your thumb. He would have fought and died for you.

But no more, your claim on him is now rescinded. It's funny, I always thought, eventually, you would wake up to reality and realize just how great that Goofball really is. And that the two of you would have one of those Fairy-Tale endings. I was rooting for it, even Angel. Does that surprise you? It sure as Hell surprised me.

"Apparently something and he's never told me what, happened one night when he was Angelus. Something that made him realize the measure of Xander's love for you. At any rate that love I think is finally over now. You broke his heart, and if there is a smidgen of justice in the Universe I pray that you have yours broken just as bad."

With these words Buffy's eyes refocused. She wasn't going to let that happen. Her heart was already breaking, and had been breaking for eight weeks. She loved Xander, and now Cordelia had just confirmed that Xander also loved her. With fresh determination she strode past the Seer invigorated for another attempt to claim her friend's heart. To make him understand the depths of her feelings for him.



The petite blonde once more rejoined the people who made up her world in the main shop.

Xander was justifying his decision, as 'his girls' were doing their best to sway his decision. Buffy was relieved to witness that the 'resolved look' that had been fixed upon his features when he was speaking to her was beginning to break. The façade of wanting to 'create a future somewhere else' was beginning to crack.

Just then the bell above the Magic Box's front door twinkled chirpily and the 'conversation' immediately ceased and silenced as the group all turned to face potential Magic Shop patrons.


The two women looked amused at the spectacle before them. Both smiling, both caught in a relaxed joy of seeing a never forgotten friend and a long lost familiar face.

The 5'9" blonde's smile spread from ear-to-ear "Hey there 'Butch', break anymore hearts lately?"

Xander stood stunned, the silence of the room becoming deafening as all eyes became transfixed upon him. But his set was upon another. His eyes were lost once more within those that had captured him years earlier. The greenest eyes he had ever seen.


"AND Michelle. You always forget Michelle, everybody forgets poor Michelle. Hard to believe with a body like mine, bbbuuuuttttt---"

Xander quickly corrected himself to the mock hurt of the woman before him. "Sorry 'Sandy', still choreographing the best Strippers in the City by the Bay?" If Michelle/Sandy answered the question it was lost on Xander as he began to take awkward steps forward to separate himself from the women surrounding him. He staggered forward and dropped to his knees before the woman who had once more entranced him with her eyes and natural beauty.

Stretching out his hands he began to feel the cool metal framework of her wheelchair. Touching it as to make it all the more real to him of her presence.

When he had last seen Jade she was bleeding from a Gunshot wound delivered by Harper. He had always wondered if there was any permanent injury. Now he knew. If he had been faster, if he had not have hesitated in opening fire on the 'Delta' she would still be walking today.

He knew that she was still alive, if she had died Mason would have contacted him immanently. That was the one and only condition of him agreeing to leave her. That if she had not pulled through, that her father would contact him and they would both send those responsible for her death to Hell.

He looked up at the woman in her late twenties with eyes begging forgiveness. She smiled down on him, no forgiveness was necessary, as far as she was concerned he had saved her life, and Michelle's life that night.

"I'm so sorry Jade."

"These things happen." It was the same phrase she had used when she met him years before. And with these simple words he knew that he was truly forgiven.

The apprehension he had felt all morning towards returning home and facing his friends and Buffy melted away as he buried himself in her seated form.

Encapturing her in an embrace that seemed to all present that it would never end.

Looking down on the reunited Lovers 'Sandy' smiled warmly for her friend and stated to the room "Ain't true love grand!"



Anya stood behind the counter and polished the bench top furiously "He's having Sex with her!"

Willow looked at the couple seated just meters away and replied to the former demon's accusation "Anya, they haven't even left the Shop."

Still polishing the same area she had for the past ten minutes the ex- fiancée replied to the Wicca "I know that look. Xander is having Sex with her in his thoughts, and I'm pretty sure she's having Sex with him as well."

Cordelia interjected, she was happy that Xander appeared happy. Sure she would have enjoyed the opportunity to fix him up with the Aerobic Instructor she had planned, free lessons being the motivator, but she was happy for him none the less. "I think it's sweet, look at them - it's like their both teenagers again."

"It's not sweet - it's disturbing. She's old enough to be his, his elder sister." Was Dawn's contribution to the discussion. Inwardly hurt for her own sister as she seemed to have indeed missed the opportunity she had desired with Xander.

Buffy was caught between hating this person and wishing her the best. She just wanted Xander to be happy after all, and deep down she knew with her track record it may have only have been a while before she ruined it all. She was confirmed she wouldn't, but she couldn't deny the odds. Yet she still wanted to know as much as possible of this stranger. "Are they even talking? I haven't seen their lip's move once."

From behind the gossiping group an equally hushed voice answered Buffy's query "of course their talking, their talking the language of Luv."

The introduction of the new voice caught the female huddle by surprise. The small group turned to face the Blonde Tanned Aphrodite 'Sandy' with a Jar containing a Pig fetus. Anya offensively snatched the property from the visitor. "Okay enough with being nice*"

"*You were being nice? Where I come from Miss, nice people don't whisper behind peoples back, and they sure as Hell don't do it while their still in the room."

Anya's face was unfazed by the insult - she wanted answers. "How does Xander know you, and more importantly how does he know HER?"


Dawn pointed to the man staring intently and passionately into the eyes of the Wheel bound visitor "That's Xander!"


Buffy shock her head trying to grasp the nickname. "Okay, what's with this 'Butch' stuff?"

Sandy smiled at the small female group. "You really don't know him to well do you?"

"Hello, Childhood friend here since forever."

"Then you should know." Sandy looked over the five female faces before her and nearly burst out laughing. "Oh My God! You really don't know - he never told you? I don't believe it."

The five young women then said in hushed union "What?"

"Butch --- Alex --- 'Xander', this guy is my hero. He's the 'Man' three years ago ---" Sandy paused unsure whether it was her right to tell the story. If her 'Butch' had wanted them to know he would have told them years earlier. "Xander is like the best guy to have in a clinch, he's Action Man and Rambo rolled into one. I mean I saw him take on six Deltas' and four S.E.A.L.S. How could you not have known this - you're his friends, aren't you?"

"of course we're his friends, we're his BEST FRIENDS."

"Then why didn't he tell you about what he got up to in San Fran in the Summer of '99. He and Sundance turned that town upside down. It made all the Paper's for over a week. National AND International."

"Butch? --- Sundance?"

"Yeah, from the movie 'Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid' - Robert Redford and Paul Newman."

Dawn look quizzically at Xander. "I don't get it?"

"Rent the Movie, then you might understand."

This was too much for Buffy; she knew who S.E.A.L.S were but what the Hell were 'Delta's'. But another more interesting point raised itself in her head.

"Okay, if Xander is Butch then who is 'Sundance'?"

With this question Sandy looked the Slayer straight in the eye and answered "Someone you never want to get on the wrong side of."

Chapter 5

Jade Angeleo entwined her fingers in the ones of the man seated in front of her and gently squeezed.

Her eyes transfixed on his.

What she saw in his chocolate orbs were what he was, and always would be to her.

Jester, Philosopher, Warrior, Hero, Her first true Lover and Love.

When she had met Alex Harris she had been in her mid twenties and single, she had always been single.

It had nothing to do with men parse, she knew that there where 'good ones' out there. She was just reluctant to go in search for them.

People who knew her full history would say she harbored a distrusting nature of the male species.

And maybe there was a little bit of truth in that, given the circumstances of her conception.

Most children were raised in the belief that their birth was the product of love; hers was the outcome of raw 'need' and animal passion.

Her mother had attended a Led Zeppelin Concert and stopped off at a bar on the way home.

There she was 'Picked up' by a stranger and the two 'retired' to a roadside Motel.

If the story had ended there with it being a simple 'one-night-stand' her psyche could probably deal.

But instead it ended with a twist.

As her mother and future father were caught in the afterglow of the shared experience.

US Marshall's kicked in their door and took her then unknowing and forthcoming Dad-to-be away in Leg and Hand Irons.

Not a pretty story, but her mother was a woman ahead of her times in many ways, and she had felt that it did not serve her daughter to be shielded by things as important as the truth.

It wasn't until twenty four years later that she finally laid her eyes upon man who made her birth a possibility.

There was a lot of things about that meeting that stuck in her mind - the expensive suit he wore, the fact he said all the right things (the things she had wanted to hear so desperately since she was a little girl), the fact that three minutes later a swarm of FBI Agents surrounded them both.

Her first instinct was to run away and to never trust another man in her entire life.

Yet Special Agent Stanley Goodspeed had assured her that her father was helping them and that he had not once more escaped from custody.

The seconds of doubt that had crept into her heart were washed away by the Agent's words (After all, why would the FBI lie), and she believed him.

But more importantly, she now believed in her father.

As he was lead away by Agent Goodspeed, the silver haired and bearded Glasgow born offered her a gentle smile.

That simple gesture of a soft smile lost her, and she could now see what her mother saw in him all those years ago.

Her last vision of her father (before he was forwarded to a Black Mini-Van) was when another person - presumably a Superior Officer, approach them with other Agents flanking him.

The Officer-In-Charge seemed very upset as he spoke to her Dad, his face red with anger and his right arm in a sling.

Thou that extraordinary meeting didn't change her life perspective towards men, it did however present her with the revelation that maybe men weren't a lost cause, and that there were others in the world worth getting to know better.

One year later she met such a man.

A man she imminently put into the 'worth getting to know better' category.

An 18-year old who had spent hours waiting for her to return to her (then) damaged vehicle - just so he could exchange Insurers.

Another person probably would have left a note of sorry and then departed the scene of the crime.

But he remained.

He remained, and he offered her a humble smile and an apology.

A smile that was so much like her father's.

She couldn't help it, she was lost again.

But it wasn't just his smile that claimed her; it was other things as their acquaintance grew.

His honesty and humor, his wish to always do the right thing, the way he would put other's needs above his own.

There may have been 'good-ones' out there, but as far as she was concerned she had one of the 'best-ones' on her arm.

She knew that the moment their first official date concluded.


As the front door closed Jade slid herself down from its wooden surface into a seated position and smiled euphorically.

It was a great night, and an even better goodnight kiss.

From the kitchen she heard activity and knew from the constant opening and closing of the refrigerator that it was Michelle organizing her 'What happened?' mini banquets.

The smile momentarily vanished as she knew she had to face the endless question bombardment of her house mate.

With this realization she picked herself off the floor and said to herself.

"Might as well get this over with."

Michelle Kramer was her best friend and Flat Mate.

The two had been inseparable ever since they were roomed together at their College Dorm.

Michelle would joke that their friendship was based on the fact that it was because no-one else would've been able to put up with her, which in a strange way was true.

Michelle was the fifth, and youngest child of her family 'brood', as such she always had to fight to get attention.

Over the years that 'attention seeking behavior' just filtered itself into her personality, and became part and parcel of the Michelle package. But despite the ups and downs her behavior and attitude had wrought, Jade would have had it no other way.

As predicted, Michelle had laid out a smorgasbord of post date food, Chips and Dips (for a good/great date); a supply of Oreo Biscuits (for a Maybe-it-will-be-better-next-time-date); and Banana/Mango Ice-Cream (for 'he/I-never-want/'s-to-see-me/him-again- date).

As Jade turned the corner into the squared off kitchen Michelle mirrored the contented smile on her best friends face and began to put the Cookies and Ice Cream away.

"So tell me everything you 'Cradle-Robbing-Hussy', what happened?"

Jade slid onto the stool in front of her, selected a Chip and swiped it over the bowl of Dip in front of her.

"Nothing except the most perfect of nights.

Alex was the ideal gentleman.

We talked, danced a little, talked."

"You already said that."

"I know, we talked *a lot*.

He's --- interesting."

Taking a chip for her self, the Housemate eyebrow rose in curiosity.


O' how Great One?"

"I asked him what his hobbies were, and he said that if he ever had one it would be Researching old Myths and Legends.

What 18-year old does that?

We then spent most of the evening talking about the inconsistencies of Hollywood movies towards their portrayal of Werewolves, Vampires, and Mummy's.

He got a little depressed when we touched on the Mummy subject, don't know why, but it was all fascinating.

He was also telling me of the various cults' that had existed throughout history.

Did you know that there is an African Ceremony that is supposes to instill into the body of a person the spirit of an animal.

It was so --- so --- so*"



Most guy's either talk about sports or cars, which is death to me. But Alex ---"

A dreamy smile passed over her face.

"Mich, I didn't want it to end."

The Choreographer lent forward and posed her next question suspiciously.

"He didn't try anything?"


Absolutely not - he was like I said, the perfect gentleman."

The recent returnee of her perfect night then bit into her chip defiantly.

"Jay-bird, you do realize he's Gay don't you?"


"He's gay, it's the only explanation.

I mean look at you Girl, if my door swung that way, *I'd* be jumping you.

It's a crime for a woman to look as good as you do tonight and not have the moves put on.

The only explanation - total Gayness."

"He's not Gay."

"Hey Sister, there's nothing to be ashamed of.

This is San Francisco, these things happen, I've dated my share of Gay Guy's by mistake too.

You learn to notice the sign's and move onto the next 'confused' male."

"He's not 'confused' either.

He is neither of those things."

Jade then removed herself from the stool and aggressively made her way to her bedroom undoing the zip on the side of her dress as she did so.

The blonde housemate gave an amused sneer at the reaction her teasing had created for her friend as she watched her leave her chip munching presence.

She then buried herself in her hands thinking 'how easy was that'.

And thou she would have enjoyed prolonging the torture a bit further; she knew she had better put an end to the joke now or it would just begin to take on a life of its own.

She then followed the path to her best friend's door.




I'm just teasing you.

I know he's not Gay."

From behind the closed door a heated reply was returned.

"It wasn't funny Michelle.

Why would you say something like that?"

"Because that's the kind of gal I am."

The door then flung open to present Ms. Angeleo's pride and joy in her underwear.

Her very *sexy* Black satin underwear.

Michelle raised her right eyebrow again at the sight as everything now fell neatly into place.

It did not take a Nuclear Scientist to work out what her best friend was hoping tonight, or to realize why she was so upset with the whole 'Gay- implication'.

She sighed deeply, and then prepared herself for the 'talk' she wished she wouldn't have had to make.

"Come on Jay-Bird, you got to expect those digs - especially from me.

I love Alex; I think he's a real sweetheart.

But even you have to admit the age thing is just weird.

I know you're serious about him - one look at your lingerie tells me how serious.

But don't rush it - please.

I know, I'm the last person you'd expect to dispense this kind of advice.

But where it's okay for me, it's not okay for you.

Hypocritical I know, but we are two totally different Peas in this Pod, Girlfriend.

I can love em and leave em, but you would only do it because you would be in love with the guy.

Which begs my next question - Your not are you?"

A light crimson flush of embarrassment lightly raised itself upon her face as she answered.

"I don't know."

"Jade, Alex is only 18, your 25 - that's seven years if you've bothered to do the math.

Granted, seven years - not much, but when one of you is still a teenager its closer to a 20-year gap.

If your looking for a commitment I don't think you should be chasing fella's just out of High School."

"Alex is different.

If you sat down and talked to him long enough you'd realize that.

He's sensitive, sweet, kind, gentle, honest, smart, witty*"

"*He's also 7 years younger then you, and nothing you can say will change this fact."

"Alex isn't that shallow.

He has an Old Soul.*"

"*'Old Soul' or not Girlfriend, he's still only 18, Jade.

You like him - I get that, I do, really.

He's a first rate guy and he shows a lot of potential.

Hell, if you didn't snag him I would have.

But give him a few more years of seasoning before you confess your heart to the guy.

"Look, I just don't want to see you hurt when he gets what he wants from you and realizes that maybe the age-gap between you two isn't tragically romantic anymore.

Cause at the end of the day Jay-Bird he's still just a teenager driven primarily by hormones."

"You're wrong about him.

Alex isn't like that, tonight I gave him all the signs and signals to come in and stay till tomorrow - but he didn't.

He escorted me to my door, kissed me goodnight, and left.

Like a true Gentleman."

"Okay, okay, *are* you sure he's not Gay, cause if he isn't he must be the stupidest guy on the Planet?"


This repeated amused question just earnt Michelle a sour look and the closing of her best friends Bedroom Door in her face.

The Choreographer knew better to not pursue the topic, though she had plenty more ammunition to continue with.

The tanned blonde then turned and approached one of the windows in their lounge, thinking that she'd make it up to her best friend tomorrow after she had a good night sleep.

As she pondered her apology she picked up a pair of high powered Binoculars. Several weeks ago the Choreographer, who sometime performed as an Exotic Dancer under the stage name of 'Sandy', joined Neighborhood Watch.

She had felt it her sacred duty to watch her neighborhood incase of threats and burglary, coincidently that was the same time Mr. 'Hung-Low' (her nickname for the man who moved in next door) started to take showers with the screen and the window open.

From the streets his modesty was protected, for the house across the way (to which Michelle and Jade were residence) it was full view - 'Selling-Tickets-Here-Folks'.

The Neighborhood Watch was just a scam of hers incase she was ever caught spying she would have a believable back up tale that could be substantiated by others in the 'Watch'.

As she played with the focus for the lens her line of sight fell to the front yard of her neighbor.

There she saw something she didn't expect to see.

"Oh --- Oh my."

She then stared to the heavens and mouthed a thank you, her mind racing with more mischief.

"There is a God."

With another playful smirk gracing her face the young woman approached her best friend's door once more.

She then tapped gently upon its surface.

"Go away!

I don't want to talk to you again tonight." Was heard being voiced from the inner room.

"Hey Girlfriend, that's all fine and good.

I just thought you should know that the Guy you think is not Gay is currently on our neighbor's front lawn making out with a Sugar Daddy."

And for the second time that night the door flew open with Jade Angeleo still in her under wear.

The housemate didn't say a word, she just offered her friend the Binoculars that were still present in her hand.

And with less time then it took to think the Computer Programmer covered the distance to the lounge window.

The 25-year old then bought the instrument to her eyes and refocused. What she saw made her heart break.

It was Alex, and it looked as thou he was hugging someone.

The two figures began to roll around on the grass in what seemed to be an excessive display of passion.

She could not pry her eyes from the exhibition.

That was until the second person's face came into view and revealed itself.


She lowered the Binoculars and blinked out a tear then raised them once more to her eyes.

"That's my father!" She then passed the spying instrument to her room mate and departed the premises, completely oblivious to her current state of dress.

The two men continued to wrestle, each trying to gain the advantage on the other.

The elder had experience and training from the best the SAS had to offer.

The younger had only a phantom memory of his Soldier's persona and three years of going hand-to-hand with Vampires and Demon's in Sunnydale.

Every effort Xander made to dominate the struggle was effortlessly dismissed by the veteran.

Every hold was countered and expelled.

And what was worst, aside that the old guy was winning, it was that that very same old guy was smiling at him as he did so.

"Is that the best you've got 'Cupcake'?"

In a haggard breath Xander replied.

"I told you this would be embarrassing."

He then lowered it to a notch above a whisper.

"I just had no idea I would be the one embarrassed." No truer words had ever been spoken by him; this was humiliating to the Nth Degree.

Two weeks ago he was leading the charge against a Full Blooded Demon-Mayor-Snake.

A year earlier he had stood down the legendary Angelus - the Scourge of Europe.

And now he was getting his rump handed to him on a silver platter by a guy who could probably not eat Solids.

But the strangest thing was, amidst the struggling - somewhere deep inside of him, he knew.

Some part of him *knew* that if this man, who had identified himself as Jade's father, wanted to beat him up - he could do so quite easily.

Some of the grapples he was noticing coming from the aged fighter were pure 'Special Forces'.

His 'Soldier' memory maybe sluggish at times at kicking in, but when it did - he recognized such things. This realization then formed a question that circulated in his adrenaline pumping thoughts, 'Why hasn't he ended this?'

The only answer he could come up with was because he was testing him.

This was all fine good for him, as he was of the mind to do something he had never done before - get an A+.

As he thought these words, his body continued on 'Auto-Pilot' drawing on long forgotten and rusty actions to his HELLoween Memory.

In the not too far off distance he then heard his name spoken - Shouted, actually.

The aged figure in front of him then relaxed his grip on his right forearm.

This momentary distraction offered the Sunnydalian the opening he had desired.

He then threw a punch with all his remaining might into the left side of the Scotsman's Jaw.

John Mason accepted the blow and the blood it introduced in his mouth.

He returned his gaze to the 18-year old, no words were communicated - only a look.

The Scotsman's eyes seemed to become like cold cobalt blue, and the Zeppo knew what was going to happen next was going to hurt - hurt *a lot*.

Xander never saw the strike that followed; he just felt its repercussions.

His eyes imminently misted, as he cradled himself into a fetal position, gently rocking himself as his body dealt with the dull - intense - sting in his groin.

In the midst of this - totally Male - agony, he inwardly prayed that he might one day still have children.

He then felt his body embraced in a warm, soft form.

As his eyes opened from their scrunchedom, his now cleared vision was met by a sight that made - to him, anyway - the agony all worth while.

Two breasts cupped in a black satin bra.

"What do you think you're doing?"

Xander knew the voice that spoke the words, and his heart quickened as it shrank. Quickened because he could hear the full emotion in her tone for him, and shrank because she had just witnessed him humiliated by a guy just over twice his age.

A Glasgow accented voice answered awkwardly "Jade."

"Tell me!"

"Err Jade, sweetheart."

Xander wished he didn't have to move.

Despite the pain in the lower part of his body, this moment was the closest he had ever been to heaven, aside from when Buff hugged him in the Sunnydale Hospital a year earlier when Drucilla and her Hench-Vamp's killed Kendra and put Willow in a Coma.

Jade's fingers were gently stroking his cheek and combing through his hair.

He could die at that very moment, and never be happier.

But today was not a good day to die, with a whimper, the Zeppo extracted himself from her lapped pillow form and stood.

Staggering upright, he looked down upon his 'savior' and a twinge of chivalry consumed him.

He then removed his damp evening jacket (from running through the various sprinklers earlier) and offered it unsaid to the half naked green-eyed beauty.

It was only with this gesture that Jade suddenly realized what she was wearing - or rather, what she wasn't.

And why her father had been trying to point out to her embarrassingly seconds earlier.

Her face became scarlet once more as her eyes darted to the windows of her neighbor's homes, praying that she would not see a familiar face in the planes of glass.

She then wrapped the wet tweed jacked (a Graduation gift from Giles) over herself and scampered quickly across the neighbor's and her lawn to the front door of her and Michelle's rented flat.

Xander couldn't help a goofy smile grow upon his face as he watched her navigate through one of the hedges.

Opting to take the longer, more concealed route then risk further exposure on the street lit footpath.

This smile however retracted as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand end-on-end.

Slowly turning the former Zeppo face met the thousand-yard stare of his aged foe.

"Find something amusing 'Cupcake'?"

Xander instantly composed himself and returned the warning he had ushered earlier.

"Get out of here.

You're not wanted."

Mason took a step forward; to his surprise Xander stood his ground.

"And who are you to say whether I'm wanted here or not."

"I'm the guy who likes your daughter a lot.

I don't know what your deal is, but she told me about you.

And I don't think she deserves to be put through a Ringer again."

"Is that so 'Cupcake', now what has she told you about me."

"That you were in Prison and had been throughout her entire life, and that when you finally did get out the two of you met, and you promised her that you would make those years up to her - but you didn't.

Surprise, surprise, you went to ground.

Didn't call, didn't write.

You abandoned her - Again.

You don't deserve to be part of her life 'Old Man'.

And if you try an' hurt her, I'll hurt you."

The side of the former SAS Operative lip curled upwards.

"You'll fail, but I believe you when you said you'd try."

"*No 'Try' about this.

You break her heart or hurt her again, and I swear I'll put you in the ground."

The silver haired man nodded and smiled at the youth in front of him.

"Do you usually jump into dangerous situations without thinking of the consequences, cause that's what your doing now 'Cupcake'.

Don't you dare threaten me unless you're prepared to see it through?"

Xander didn't respond, he just stood firm.

Mason looked over Xander's shoulder and saw that the front door of his daughters House/Apartment remained opened, the warm light that exited her home beckoned to him.

But he knew that the 18 year old before him would not let him move a step further without another fight.

John Mason heard Xander's reasoning for attacking him, and could not fault them, in fact he respected it.

If the situations had been reversed it would be possible that he himself would be standing in the teenager's position.

His daughter's obvious affections for the young fighter also meant that, if anything, he should be won over and not dismissed.

But what could he offer that could possibly pacify the teenager?

"Your moves earlier, where did you pick them up?"

Xander considered whether he should answer, in the end his curiosity won out.

"Around, like I said - I come from a tough town.

The 'moves' I picked up one night."

"Just one night?"

Xander's voice now represented little more then a growl as he answered.

"I'm a fast learner, and there were extenuating circumstances.

Now my question - You're Special Force Trained aren't you?"

Mason hesitantly nodded, surprised that the youth was able to recognize the training.

"Now what would a guy with a Scottish accent with Special Force Training - I'm guessing that would make you what?

SAS? Be doing rotting in an American Prison?"

John's eyebrow rose again, this was the third time this evening that this boy had surprised him.

The first was when Xander had 'Made' him; the second was when he had successfully snuck up on him moments earlier.

And now this.

"None of your business 'Cupcake'.

But yes, I am.

Your good.

You know how to take care of yourself, sure you could use some 'refining', but you were very good."

"You were better."

"I could teach you if you want."

"Let me guess, the price is your daughter?

Sorry, but you can't bribe me."

Mason smiled and answered.

"Do you honestly think that if I wanted to get pass you, that you would be able to stop me?"

Again Xander didn't answer.

The Veteran extended his right hand out.

"If my daughter doesn't want to see me again, I'll walk away.

God knows she deserves better, but if she welcomes me back into her life - you let us make one, is that clear."

The Glasgow voice then hollowed.

"If she say's no, on my word of Honor, I'll walk away.

And I'll still teach you.

I want her looked after, promise to look out for my daughter and I'll teach you everything I know."

It was funny, but Xander's first thoughts at that second were not of Jade, but of Buffy Anne Summers.

He knew the Slayer often looked upon him as the weakest of weak links in the Scooby's, and he knew that his Soldier-Boy Memories were becoming less and less reliable as the day's past by.

Maybe what this 'Strange Old Guy' was offering him was enough to make her opinion of him change.

It was a selfish thought however, one that did not involve Jade's welfare, so he imminently suppressed it.

If he agreed, it would be for Jade, not Buffy.

Seconds later Xander sent his own hand out to meet the one of the Man who would change his life.

They then both made their way towards the inviting front door.


Back at the Magic Box, Real Time

"I missed you."

"You should have forgotten me."

"I'm sorry Alex, but you're not an easy person to forget."

Jade once more gently squeezed his hand as she lost herself in his presence.

"This feels --- good."

Xander cupped her chin, and allowed his thumb stroke her jaw line.

He then spoke in a voice softer then any he had spoken before.

"No it doesn't.

This feels Right."

The two then smiled like shy lovers at each other.

Each creating in their mind a universe of untainted love where the other was worshiped like a God.

Each remembering the most intimate moments shared during their three month relationship.

Each wishing an eternity to remember those thoughts, unfortunately, the spell was broken by a shrilled voice from across the Shop.

"That's IT!

Xander, stop having SEX with her!"

The majesty of their moment was then lost, as the Foreman gently banged his head against the wooden finish of the table they had been sitting at.

After five taps, he looked up apologetically to the woman whose hand he still held, and then he turned and stared daggers at his former Demon Fiancée.

"I think we should finish this up in private, don't you?"

Jade didn't respond to her past boyfriend's question, she just smirked with a playful twinkle in her eye that suggested something more 'appropriate' then just play.

Xander stood up and walked behind Jade's wheelchair and slowly pushed it to join the grown group of his dearest female friends.

"You couldn't have given us 5-minutes?"

"Hate to break it to you Butch, but the two of you have been staring into each others eyes for close to half-an-hour."

Xander looked down upon his watch, and did the math - the choreographer was right.

Suddenly a fresh dread consumed him as he realized that Michelle and 'his Girls' had been left unsupervised for over thirty minutes.

If his memories of Michelle were still accurate, then even 5-minutes of unsupervision would be devastating.

As if reading his thoughts the blonde San Franciscan answered his concern.

"Relax Butch.

Or would you prefer it if I called you 'Xander'?

I didn't tell them anything."

Xander looked at her doubtfully.

"Okay, I didn't tell them anything they shouldn't already know."

Xander continued to stare at the woman with an intensity that would have made Buffy proud.

"Okay, okay.

I touched on a few---little things."

"How little?"

The fifteen year old decided to field that question with her own.

"What are Delta's Xander?"

The former Zeppo looked sideways at Dawn then returned his eyes to the now embarrassed visitor with a look that could peel paint.

"Their Heroes Dawn.

That's what they are - Heroes."

"Okay, I told them that.

But I also*"


You, Mouth - Closed.

You and words are not anybodies friend."

Xander to the surprise of everyone then grabbed the young woman by the arm and then forcibly dragged her to the other side of the 'Magic Box' Show Room.

Once there Xander began to speak heatedly to the Part-Time Stripper, unfortunately it was in hushed urgency, so few words traveled.

Jade looked upon the scene her nearest and dearest were creating for the other five woman in the room.

"Don't worry.

Alex won't do anything to hurt Michelle."

The five then looked at her surprised.

"We know that, Xander would never hit a woman."

Jade smiled at the Red-Haired female who had addressed her.

"of course he would, but only if he had no choice.

Right now he's probably telling Mich how disappointed he is in her.

But he would never hurt her, and she would never hurt him either - not intentionally anyway."

Cordelia turned to look once more at the duo on the other side of the room; Xander was now hugging the Woman he had been berating earlier.


"Because she loves him, like a big protective brother.

Ale- --Xander saved her one night."

Buffy chimed in as she also followed Cordelia's line of vision and witnessed to two embrace each other, desperately wishing to distract herself from the spectacle.

"Yeah she mentioned the S.E.A.L.S. and the Delta's."

"No, not that.

That was a month later.

Michelle is a, well as he said when we came thru the Door, a Choreographer for Strippers, one of the Best in San Fran.

She's good, knows a lot of Guy's.

Anyway she does Bookings as well.

One night one of these Guy's decided that Michelle should either Put-Up, or Shut- Up.

As you probably guessed by now, Michelle can be very --- sexually suggestive at times."

Dawn looked upon the tight jeans and skin adhering T-Shirt the blonde was wearing and suddenly felt very self-conscious.

"No kidding."

Jade nodded, understanding the 15-year olds inner thoughts.

"Anyway, one of these guys's she was organizing a Booking for became 'forceful' with his affections, just minutes before Alex and I got back from shopping.

We heard Michelle's muffled screams for help coming from her bedroom.

He was incredible, he tore him off her and ---."

Jade smiled warmly as she noticed all five pairs of eyes were turned to her, pleading for her to continue her antidote.

She offered a proud motherly smile, devoid of any superiority.

"He said no-one hurts one of 'his' Girls and he then broke the guy's Nose and Collarbone.

He then disappeared with 'Don Juan' and took him to Emergency.

Alex came back to the house 8-hours later, with the Gig-Money that Guy was going to earn for his 'set' and gave it all to Michelle.

Not only did he rescue her from being raped, but he saved her business as well by fulfilling her Booking.

"Reputation is everything in that Business, if you say you can deliver a Male Stripper and don't come thru, well you might as well close up shop, cause that kind of thing travels."

Cordelia, Anya, Willow and Dawn eyes bugged out of their head, as they said together in one voice.

"He was a Stripper?"

Buffy smiled; finally she had an opportunity to prove to these strangers that she knew Xander just as well as they did.

"Yeah, but it was only for one night."

The Scoobettes then looked at the Slayer, startled that she knew all of this.

"You knew that Xander shook his groove thang, in front of a bunch of female strangers and you didn't tell us?"

Buffy looked at Willow.

"He told me never to mention it to anyone - or again, so I put it in 'The Vault'."

The Slayer then became victim to the dreaded Willow Rosenberg 'Resolve Face' and back tracked in her confident claim.

"Hey, it's not like he was completely honest with me y'know, he said one of the Dancers got sick and he was asked to fill in for them.

Now I find out that he was the one that got them 'sick'."

Jade rocked herself in her chair as she chuckled politely.

"That's not why 'Xander' didn't want you to mention it again.

It's because the Venue was at an 'All-Male' Bar."

The four women and the teenage girl looked at her puzzled.

{Sigh} "Homosexuals like watching Men Strip as well you know, not just Women."

It was if a light bulb lite above each of their heads as they all 'Oh & Ahhed' in union.

As the five women now understood why, he didn't mention it to anyone.

By this stage Xander had returned to the small group with Michelle pouting playfully.

Xander surveyed the Sunnydale Crew with suspicion, four out of the five of them looked as though they were about to burst out in hysterical laughter, while the fifth - his one time bride-to-be radiated and fumed.

Xander knew that look well enough to realize that what ever she had to say, she would be saying any second now.

And he was right.

A Windex damp cloth catapulted to his head, when the material made contact with his face, an accusation was heard.

"You stripped for MEN!"

Willow, Buffy, Dawn and Cordelia, could no longer contain their mirth as they burst out in laughter.

Xander looked down at the chair prone woman as she too began to join the four females.

"You told them?"

"Oo Oo Oo, now your going to get it Jay-bird."

"How could you tell them that?"

"I was just making conversation, and it came out."

Placing the rag that was thrown at him back on the counter Xander offered the thrower, a certain Magic Shop owning ex-fiancée, a look that spoke of unsaid perils if she tried or said anything in the near future, and the response to his former love- interest.

"That's quite alright, no *real* harm done.

I guess."


No Fair!

Pure and simple Favoritism.

When I let something slip it's come over hear and let's talk - harshly, I might add.

But when Jade does it?

Nooooo, can't traumatize Jade by yelling at her can we?"

Xander crossed his arms, and looked meaningfully at the blonde beside him.

"Finished, you got that out of your system now?"

Michelle once more fake pouted, and spoke in her best 'baby- voice'.

"Just admitted it - you like her better then me?"

"Do you really want me to be honest here?"

Her smile widened to Xander's question.

"Noooooo, not really.

I'm quite happy in my ignorance thank you."

She then pecked the man she called 'Butch' on the cheek then gave him a rough hug.

"C'mon Jay-bird, Mommy's got her self a new Sugar Daddy.

Butch here is loaded."

She then flashed a mixture of several crisp $50.00 and $100.00 notes.

With a straight face Jade answered her long-time friend.

"Men giving you money - how novel."

Michelle's eyes squinted menacingly at the statement.

"We're going to buy ourselves something nice - you especially.

We can also forget about scopeing a Hotel, Lover-boy has agreed to put us both up in his Apartment for the duration of our stay.

Aannnddd, drum roll if you please, tonight we are going to the best Restaurant in town."

Jade looked at the now folded bills in her best friends hand as she began to stuff them into the front pocket of her tight jeans.

"Are you sure you can afford this Alex?"

Xander knelt down to face Jade eye to eye.

"A lot of bad things have happened to me lately Jade.

I thought my heart was too broken to ever beat again.

And I had to go away for a couple of months to get my perspective back.

And like that, you come back into my life.

And now feel this."

Xander then unbuttoned his top three buttons of his shirt and place her hand over his chest.

"It started to beat again.

I left you because I had too, not because I wanted too.

"Second chances are a rare thing in this universe.

So when it's offered to you, you'd be a first class fool to look the other way when it comes.

When you love someone, you damn the consequences and you go for it.

"The 'Harris Curse' is that I fall in love with the most incredible of woman, and one by one I've either disappointed them, or turned my back on them.

Whether it's because they can only love me as a friend.

Whether I was so emotionally mixed up that I jeopardized what I had with one that I would risk it with the possibility of what I could have with another.

Or whether it was grasping at love with someone because I was to afraid that I would find no-one who could truly love me for me.

I'm not doing that anymore, I'm going to fight this time.

I'm not going to turn my back, and I'm not going to walk away either with my head held low.

I'm fighting this time.

Fate has given us a second chance Jade.

I'm willing to take the gamble and roll the dice, are you?"

The green eyed visitor then took Xander's hand and navigated it through the buttons of her blouse, placing it over her left breast and whispered in his ear.


The moment they had lost at the Scooby-Table earlier was once more reclaimed.

Michelle gushed, Cordelia smiled broader then the Cheshire cat, Willow was about to tear up at the romance of it all.

Anya turned her head away from the site and continued to polish the area by the Cash Register.

Dawn just looked to her elder sister, what she saw was a gambit of emotions playing across the elder Summer's face, and Dawn knew each and every one.

Buffy's eyes became heavy as they began to stray downwards.

'I love you' - three simple, easy to understand words.

She had the opportunity, she had the desire, what she lacked was the fortification to announce them.

What could have happened if she had found the courage earlier to announce them to Xander?

Would it be her he would be taking to Dinner tonight?

All she knew was that she had once more screwed up her chances with a Man she trusted above all others.

"Okay, all very romantic and touching you two.

But shopping hours at ticking away.

The pair of you can grope each other later."

Michelle then removed the wheel locks and pulled Jade's gentle smiling face from Xander's half turned one.

When the San Franciscans got to the shop's front door, Xander called out.

"Remember your promise Michelle."

Michelle's face formed an O'familiar taunting smirk as she answered.

"Yeah, yeah.

Get Jay-bird to buy something short, tight, and see-through."

A forced smile presented itself upon the features of the foreman Carpenter.

"No, not that one.

The one where you promised to be at my Apartment before Sundown."

"Sure no prob's.

Catch you later 'Stud'."

As the bell twinkled above the door, Jade turned her head towards Xander as she was wheeled across the threshold; she smiled evilly and then mouthed 'later.'

The Goofy smile that seemed lost all those years ago returned to his face.

When he turned on his heels back to the counter, the blurred faces refocused to present five young women.

All looking as though they each had a thousand questions for him.

The smile then drooped.

He was not looking forward to this.


Chapter 6

Xander steered the sullen Shop Manager out the rear door and closed it firmly behind them both.

It was a feat making his way through the various questioning women present and only selecting the one who was maintaining silence. Ignoring the many intrusive queries being directed at him as he took her hands in his. The goofy smile that had spread across his face instantly retracted to witnessing the hurt in her eyes. Where moments earlier she looked as if she would erupt at his display of affection at the reunion of himself and Jade, she now easily presented as someone who was about to break down in tears. He couldn't let her do that, not here and certainly not infront of these people she had embraced as her new family. For such a strong woman he would do anything to spare her that kind of humiliation, especially as it would also spare him the title of 'Complete Bastard of the Year' for doing this to her.

Gently, he navigated her through the current of queries of the 'Who were they & what did she means?' guiding her into the back Training Room. From here they kept walking until they reached the Shop's Rear Exit. Now there were two doors, a 15-meter chasm of empty space and a background noise of the outdoor streets to protect them from being 'accidentally' overheard in their discussions by any Chosen Ones present.

After an awkward moment basking in the sunlight that played down upon them both he reapproached his one time Fiancee, looking into her eyes caringly. "This is one of those things I wished you never, ever, not in a billion years, found out about."

It was a simple and isolating statement that only bought a rage to the fragile former Demon. "But I did. Who is she, Xander? Were you were cheating on me?!?"

More indignently then he had intended, the recently returned Sunnydalian countered the accusations. "I never, EVER, cheated on you, Anya."

"But what about in you Heart, Xander? You were cheating on me in your Heart." It was after she had made this pointed-question that the heat that exited in her words became twisted into unforgiving ice and her earlier look of loss was replaced with fierce contempt. "It was obvious to everyone that you cared for this woman. Hell, before she and her slutty friend left you, you practically declared that you loved her more then love would allow.

"How do you think that makes me feel, hearing you say that? Hearing you tell this person, hearing you tell her in front of everyone, our friends - *my* friends, people I asked to be my own Bridesmaids that --- that everything I thought we had together didn't matter to you at all. That *my* feelings for you didn't matter to you in comparison to the feelings you had for *her*."

Xander remained silent and starred at the rear door they had walked through together several seconds earlier, imagining the others in the main shop discussing amongst themselves the events of the last 30-minutes. Meekly he then turned and looked at the one time and latest keeper of his Heart again and spoke sombrely. "It matter's, Anya. How I feel about you, and how I feel about Jade, it matters. And you deserved to say all of that, you're right. I shouldn't have done and said those things infront of everyone. You deserve better. But you know me, I always get caught up in the moment and I always speak before I think things through. Without considering how or what I say will affect those I care about." The construction worker then found strength to meet her tearing rage-filled eyes. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Ahn. I love you. I do."

Anya barked out a sarcastic laugh at the announcement as her first tear rolled down her cheek. "Love?!? Do you even know what that word means?"

Xander maintained his caring look, unwilling to waver. "You have the right above all others in that room to be angry with me, Ahn. You have the right above all others in that room to know the truth about how I feel."

With a quiver that belied the effectiveness of her assertive question the former demon asked what she needed to know. "Do --- do you love her more then me?"

Xander turned his head away and in doing so he revealed a chink in his armour. Looking longingly down the rear alley for a moment before he addressed the question. "I loved her differently to you, Anya, not more."

"That's not an answer."

With a troubled sigh the once-upon a time Zeppo nodded. "Your right, it's not. But it's the only one I think I can offer you honestly. Ahn, I love you, I always will love you. You taught me that I could love again, but Jade, she taught me something else. Something different."

The Shop Manager unconsciously stepped back before she retorted. "Was it that stupid 'Highland Fling' manoeuvre?"

Xander cheeks became flushed at the reference and he offered a nervous laugh. "Er, no. She did however help me perfect it though, but that particular 'activity' was actually taught to me by someone else. Besides, I thought you liked it when I did it with you?"

Anya slowly nodded as she wiped her eyes dry. "I did when I thought you had never ever done it with anyone else but me. Naive maybe, but I never wanted to question on how you came about it, I thought Faith might have shown you. I bragged to the other's that you were a Natural, believing you were as good as you were because we --- we were 'right' for one another."

"Ahn, lets not *"

The anger that existed in her a minute earlier flared up once more at Xander's desire to move away from her heart ached conclusion. "*No, Xander, lets! You can't evade and dismiss me any more. I'm the Wronged Party here, Xander. I have the right to pose the questions; I had a right to know about this person. We were going to be married - I had a right to know about her!"

He reacted sternly to the demand. "No you didn't, and you didn't because it *didn't* involve you. It involved me. And only me."

"You? What involved you, involved me! We were engaged, I love you, and you said you love me. Was there any part of what we had real, Xander? Or was I just --- a - a you know a convenience - one of 'Them' to you!?!"

If anyone else had made the oblique comment-question they would have had Xander scratching his head in puzzlement. But he knew Anya too well, he knew what 'one-of-them' was referring too. For Anya there was only one form of life a notch above unfaithful males on the Despicable-Scale, and that was the women they were unfaithful with, or the women that allowed themselves to be used to get over someone else. Otherwise known to many popularly as 'The-Rebound-Girls'.

Xander's discomfited silence was an unwelcomed answer.

"Oh My God. You did! You made me one of THEM!"

Desperately the Carpenter tried to curb the heated-distress mounting in his former fiancé. "NO! I didn't make you one of them, Anya. And it doesn't matter how we started - It was real, I love you. I mean that." He held both his hands up in an open halting gesture of understanding and sincerity. But he easily recognized that despite his words she was not buying into what he was saying. He then decided that the blunt approach was probably the best one to take under these circumstances, so he took it with reluctance. "C'mon Ahn, if we're going to discuss this like this then let's us at least be completely honest with one another. At the beginning, at the *very* beginning, you weren't looking for a relationship, and neither was I. I practically did and said everything I could to tell you that I wasn't ready for one. So please, let's put it all in perspective - you're the one who showed up at *my* place uninvited and you're the one who stripped down to their birthday suit pleading with *me* to have sex with you. You, not me. And you did this so that you could move on with your life."

"And *YOU* were more then happy to do it with me - weren't you!"

"Yeah, I was. Because I needed to do it as well, I needed to start fresh. I needed to know I could move on despite everything that happened to me. And I can admit it - I'm a guy, it was the whole 'Breast-Thing' in Senior year again Anya. I had a beautiful woman standing naked in my room asking to have sex with me with a 'No-strings-attached-Policy'. I surrendered, I caved. I gave in, hoping that you could distract me.

"But you know what?!? It didn't take! I couldn't move on that easily, all I saw in you was her. With each movement, with each touch, all I could do was picture you with Jade's face the entire time." As soon as the hot claim left his mouth the Carpenter would have given anything to take them back as he watched Anya's eyes grow as the words implied a meaning in her mind.

"You --- you used me, and --- you were imagining I was someone else when we were making love?!?" The accusation was soft and very pained, and it struck deep into his heart at hearing it issued from her lips.

For a moment Xander's hands turned to fists in frustration and anger at what he had just given away, of how much his words had just hurt his onetime Bride-to-be. He could have denied it; he could have said that he was just letting off some steam with her. But he wasn't in the mood for deception anymore. He was tired of it, so he did the unthinkable - he decided to be honest.

So as gently as possible he offered too her that truth she deserved. "Ahn, why did you think I couldn't look you straight in the face afterward? That I avoided even speaking to you. I was ashamed of what I did and how I was going about it to achieve it. I thought that we were going to be a one-time thing, that's what you promised. So as you were there to use my body to get me out of your system, I rationale that I would use yours to get Jade out of mine.

"At the start, Ahn, we were just about the 'Sex', and only the Sex. And no doubt - 'The Sex' was great. But after a while you began to matter more to me then the 'Booty-Calls', after a while I started seeing your face and not Jade's. You, not her. Anya, you taught me to love all over again."

Anya closed her eyes and steeled herself as she repeated her earlier question once more. "But do you love her more then me?"

With another deep sigh and a shake of his head, Xander answered her as best he could. "Anya, where you taught me that I could love again, she showed me that I was someone who deserved to be loved."

Xander then kicked a broken piece of concrete from the corner of the cement loading dock he and Anya were standing upon and carried on with his confession. "God knows I wasn't looking for it Ahn, it just happened. What I had with her, it wasn't an Affair; it was something different, something deeper.

"I didn't break-up with her, and she didn't break up with me. I had to leave her, but it wasn't by choice. If I had to choose I would have stayed. But like I said - I had *no* choice. Jade came into my life when I needed her to come into my life the most. She showed me I deserved to be loved, and in a lot of ways in her showing me this she laid the ground work for me to fall in love with you as well."

Xander watched as Anya chewed her bottom lip, caught between a range of negative emotions that were undoubtedly swirling within her. "I really didn't think I could be loved after everything that happened to me in my Senior Year. Buffy wasn't capable of returning my feelings; I screwed up my relationship with Cordelia and jepodized my friendship with Willow. Both are good now, but then it was --- it was a pretty dark memory. One whose fault I could not point the finger at anybody else but myself. And then there was the whole 'I understand' Faith-thing. Man, did I misread her and her 'affection' for me in a big way.

"I was having a really sucky time in the romance stakes, as well as a couple of other issues, and I thought that some time away from everybody and Sunnydale would enable me to make myself into the kind of Man I wanted to be. So that when I came back home I would not be thought of as the same 'Couldn't-Get-Into-College-Like-Everybody-Else-To-Save-His-Life' Loser I was when I left."

"And she showed you all this? She showed you who it was you wanted to be?"

"No, Ahn. She showed me a love I always wanted. Her Old-Man however showed me the kind of person I wanted to be."

Anya stepped back from Xander once more, and pulled a face of someone who had made a startling realization. A face of a person who had finally been able to place all the Jigsaw pieces together mentally in their head. Lifting her trembling hands to the golden chain she wore around her neck her gaze remained fixed with the Man standing in front of her. As she unclasped the tiny 'catch', she posed another query; one she feared an answer too. "You said I deserve to know the truth." To this Xander carefully nodded. "But I don't need to know the truth; I just want to know what the lie was."

Before Xander could offer her a reassuring answer, she held up her hand to pause his words as she threaded a ring off the Chain she wore. She then held the Engagement Ring that was given to her and she had kept from him, distastefully holding it between her right thumb and index finger. "My favourite Gem is Ruby. You know this, yet you bought one with a Diamond adorned with Emeralds. You know my finger size, but you got me one that was too small. I had to get it refitted, remember? Prior to Glory's Tower you did not leave the single sight of any of us. We always went where we went in pairs for safety reasons, and yet you still seemed to have found the impossible time to stop by a Jeweller and buy this!?!

"How can someone who knew so much about me have gotten it all so wrong on the basics? I --- I always thought it was strange. You bought me a Ring that did not fit or have my favourite gem anywhere on it. Why go to all that trouble and mess up on the obvious?

"And then there is the fact that months after your Proposal you still didn't want me wearing it out in public, or to tell anyone of our Engagement."

With each word that passed, the one-time Vengeance Demon's voice quivered in dreaded anticipation to the awaiting response. "I'm not *stupid*, Xander. Tell me if what I now believe in is a Lie. Tell me that this Ring, this beautiful Ring, the Ring which you gave me down in the Shop's Basement wasn't used by you to just pacify me from the Anxiety of having to face that deranged Hell-God. That you didn't use my feelings and this --- this Ring to inspire me with a false future with you. Tell me that this is *my* Ring and was not meant for anyone else. Tell me that that wonderful memory wasn't a Lie. That this 'Thing' I have in my hands isn't some kind of a hand-me-down."

Xander's sorrowed eyes betrayed to her his answer.

"You --- you Bastard!!!!!" She then threw the treasured belonging at his face, taking a small amount of pleasure that one of the sparkling stones had nicked his cheek as it made contact with his skin. "If I had taken D'Hoffran up on his offer you would be --- be --- I can't conceivably think what you would be right now. But it would be bad, and it would make the whole 'Olaf the Troll' thing look like kids stuff."

Smudging the small trickle of blood clear and picking up the Ring from the paved surface, the Construction Worker addressed the fury infront of him unhindered at her threat. "I proposed to you because I love you and I wanted to Marry you. This Ring, yeah sure, I didn't buy it before Glory. I've had it --- had it for a while. I carried it whenever I was about to face some kind of Apocalypse. Having it with me was like a good-luck charm, I felt strong and more confident when I had it with me. Just as I felt stronger and confident when I had *you* with me. I never wanted, or expected you to leave me and I thought you could use as much strength and confidence as I could give you. So I gave it to you, I asked if I could Marry you. The Ring isn't a Hand-me-Down; I've never had the chance to ask the question I asked you that night. I wanted to Marry you, Ahn."

"But you didn't - Did you!"

"That's because I realized late that it would have been a big mistake if we did."

"So you say."

"So I know!"

"How do you know, Xander? Make me believe you. You say you love me; well I love you as well. Isn't that what Marriage is? Wasn't --- *wasn't* my love for you enough?"

Whispering out an answer the Male Scooby held his head low. "No. No, it wasn't." There was a pause, and the words that followed carried an air of defeat in them. "Anya, you know I received 'Visions' on the day."

"FALSE Visions!"

"No, they were real enough to me. I saw our future, and it wasn't a good one. I resented you Ahn, and you resented me too. You had Affair's with old flames, and one of our kids --- well --- I don't exactly think it was 'mine'. You hated me because you blamed me for getting injured trying to save Buffy. It --- it was my Back. I pushed Buffy out of the way of something that was falling, and it damaged my Spine. That Vision reminded me of --- of someone else who had done something simular for me." Xander averted his eyes, carefully critiquing his words to not include Jade in them, fearing the response if he did.

"I wasn't the Breadwinner anymore. That responsibility now fell to you, and you hated the fact that we were a single income Family. All because of my 'Stupid Act of Heroism'. You also hated that I couldn't --- that I hadn't been 'Intimate' with you since Buffy's third and final Passing."

"They were FAKE!!!!"

"I know. I figured that out on my own, remember. But there were elements there, Ahn. Things that I think my mind was trying to push me to realize. The accident to my Back, Buffy, me hating you and you hating me. I was afraid that I would make you miserable, and if I went ahead with the Wedding I probably would have. I saw my Parents in our future, only they weren't them, they were *us*. Sure it was all a big 'Fake-Maybe', but I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I did put you through that 'Maybe'.

"Besides, these visions also illustrated that I still had a lot of unresolved feelings towards people, and if we got married I would have taken these doubts with us into matrimony. And I think that if I did then that would have been the Powder-Keg that got me to start despising you and you me. I never wanted to hate you, or have you hate me in return."

Twelve-seconds passed before the Strawberry-blonde actioned a timid response to the explanation. "Buffy."


"You said her name. You said Buffy. You have unresolved feeling towards her - Still! You said you couldn't have sex with me after she died the final time. Your still infatuated with her."

"No, I just used her name because it was in my 'Wedding-Vision'. The feelings I have, or rather had, are pretty much dead now. They're all pushing up Daisy's somewhere. At the time --- yeah, I still had that awe-crush thing going, but that was months ago. And a lot of home truths have come out since then. I --- 'appreciate' her, Ahn, because she's saved my life and the Planet. But that's as far as it will ever go now."

"Just answer me this, Xander. Why now? Why is --- is 'she' here now?"

The lone son of Mom and Pop Harris scratched his head, before he then leaned down upon a wooden create, using it as a make shift seat. "Do you remember that guy who visited me before I left? The guy from the Government."

Anya nodded. "Special Agent - Stanley Goodspeed"

Both of his eyebrows raised slightly in surprise, sometimes Anya's memory astonished him no end, but after 1,100 years of cursing mortals and performing complicated spells. He guessed an excellent memory was the less astounding of what she was able to do at times. "Yeah, that's him. Jade set him on me. He had a favour that needed doing and Jade and her Father - John, told him that he could rely on me to do it. I'm guessing that she's only here for the meet-up when her Old-Man comes to Town. Not that I'm complaining. I --- I missed her."

"You *missed* her."

This time it was Xander's turn to not allow his gaze to wonder. He stared Anya down as she again repeated the three words.

"You MISSED her?"

Both visions locked with the other. One a mixture of anger and sadness, the other of a unique blend of both acceptance and defiance. Acceptance of the hurt he caused someone he cared so much about and defiance for the truth of his feelings. If Anya was waiting for him to again cave to her will, like he did nearly 100-life and death struggles ago in his Parent's Basement. Then she was to be mistaken. As much as he loved Anya, their time was done; it was now that they both had to find strength to move on from the other.

As cruel as it may have seemed, he now had Jade back in his life for however long it was. Jade and that confidence and that strength to be the Man he wanted to be was back again. And the Man he wanted to be wanted to be with Jade Angelio. As if reading his mind and knowing his thoughts Anya turned, and slowly began to approach the door they had both walked through four minutes earlier.


Her steps ceased at her name. "Don't. Just --- just don't."

"It was never you, Anya. The fault here lies solely with*"

Without turning to face him, Anya interrupted the apology. "*I swear, Xander. If you deliver me that crappy line of - 'It's not you, it's me'. I will call Hallie up right now and have her Curse you into the Neither-Realm. Of coarse it's *You*. I was a good Partner. I laughed at your stupid jokes, I supported you, I made you Dinner, cleaned you Apartment and I was always more then accommodating in the Bedroom. I did nothing wrong. I was a good and dutiful Girlfriend!"

"That's just stuff, Anya. The Dinner's, the Cleaning, the Laughter, the Bedroom and I love you all the more for it, but it's still just 'stuff'. The Bastard-Truth, Anya, is that we, you and me --- *I* wasn't ready, and if you knew the whole story. You'd know why, and that you wouldn't have been ready for it either.

"When you Marry someone it's the richer and poorer, sickness and health, the good and the bad. You stayed with me through the Sickness, through the Poorer and the Bad with all the expectation that it was now time for the Richer, the Health and the Good. And I wasn't confident that I could deliver on that. You deserve better."

"And you. You know what you deserve? You deserve Buffy."


"You heard me - You deserve Buffy."

"Anya, I have no feelings for Buffy. I told you that."

"That's why you deserve her - you deserve to be miserable for the rest of your damn life, Xander Harris!" The Shop Manager pushed the rear door open angrily and disappeared from view as it closed, leaving a very confused and unhappy man in it's closing.


Anya re-enter the Main Floor of the Magic Box and all whispered voices ceased as she tried to walk with confidence to the Retro-Cash Register. Doing her best to present an air of invulnerability as she did so. Unfortunately the redden eyes were a dead give away that this was not true.

Under the other four women concerned stares she commenced recounting the takings thus far for the day. After a full minute and the frustrating start-finishing-start-finishing of the counting, Xander sheepishly entered the same room. As the door was heard closing the Shop's Manager paused in mid-count, refusing to look up and meet the worried eyes of everyone that was laid down upon her or address the awkward silence that still reigned. She felt Xander approached from behind and wrap his arms affectionately around her waist. An hour ago she would have adored this loving embrace, but that was an hour ago and a lot had happened in that hour.

In a primal shrug she escaped his protective attempts to regenerate at the least a loving friendship with her. She was not prepared to forgive him; she made that quite clear with her body language. Sometimes, there are things that can't be forgiven with a one-minute span of time and a hug. This was one of those things. She couldn't even bare being in the same room with him at the moment. She sought out her purse and removed from its contents two set's of Key's, slamming them down upon the wooden counter. Xander recognized the set instantly; they were the spare to his Apartment. In one simple gesture she made it clear to him that she wanted nothing else to do with him. Without saying any vindictive words she began to lock up the Cash Register and made preparations to leave the Shop early.

Anyone who knew her, knew just how upset she must have been to be doing this. Anya, never closed up early. It went against her whole work ethic to do so. From out of no-where Buffy's voice was heard to break the uncomfortable silence as Anya began to secure things away. "Anya, why don't I drive you home?"

The once-Demon paused, and looked up. Her eyes still very much reddened, and nodded to the question delivered by the Slayer. As Buffy followed the hesitant mobility of the woman to who she had been secretly envious of for a year she heard Xander's voice address her. "Buff. --- thanks". When she turned around she met his appreciative eyes for a split second before he quickly diverted them away. Her mouth made a small involuntary twitch of a smile. She took her victories, no matter how minor, where she could and after what was told to her by him in the Training Room 45-minutes earlier, she counted his gratitude for this friendly-caring deed as a victory worth savouring.

The Bell above the front door ringed with its closing, Xander reached out his hand to Cordelia's. The Seer as if sensing his pain at what had just been shared between him and the jilted-Bride embraced him warmly as Dawn and Willow looked upon the display, unsure what to say and how to say it. Suffocating himself into her shoulder they could hear him choking on something, words that the two could not clearly make out. It was a break down of emotion that had worn thin on him in the past half hour. Drawing on two Poler's of Happiness and Misery.

Again Willow and Dawn looked awkwardly to one another. And as if sensing this awkwardness, he stopped cold, and righted himself by wiping the smeared tears from his cheek. Offering the mousy-brown haired teenager and red-headed Witch a weak and embarrassed smile. "She'll understand. She'll understand that what I did was the right thing for us. She many not never like what I did, but --- but she'll work it out that I did what I did for the eventual best of us both. C'mon Cordy, let's get on back to my home and set the place up for two extra visitors, huh?" He then picked up the available keys from the bench they were placed upon.

It was un-nerving to see him compartmentalize like he did, shifting his problems easily aside and tackle a fresh challenge so fluidly. That kind of thing took a special type of discipline to achieve. Dawn looked at Willow with the same worried expression that was reflected back upon her by the Wicca. Undoubtedly, she was asking herself the same question - 'Where did he learn to do that?'

Both watched them leave the Shop together without another word said to them.

When the front door closed for the second time in as many minutes it was then that the two raised a voice. The first was the long-time childhood friend. "That was as weird as I expected his Homecoming to be. I expected it to be memorable, but nothing like that."

"Yeah. Anya, looked like Xand had ripped out her Heart."

"I think maybe he did."

The teenager nodded as her eye's glazed over. "Who do you think they were? Jade and Michelle. They said some really weird stuff too. I mean Xander couldn't take on S.E.A.L. --- could he? And who are these 'Delta's?"

Bitting her lower lip nervously, the Witch answered. "If I remember rightly, their an Elite Anti-Terrorism Strike Force belonging to the American Defence Force. Riley once told me last year when I was trying to get to know him better, that he had applied to join the ranks of the few and the Proud before he got connected to the Initiative, but was knocked back because of his psyche-evaluation. He said he was told that he was not in possession of the 'Mind-Frame' to make him an effective member of a Unit."


"You're telling me. I then checked out a Documentary on 'Delta's by the History Channel, y'know, Elite Fighting Forces or whatever. To better understand why he didn't qualify. They're scary, tough and really, really good. And Xander is right, they are Heroes. The type of 'Heroes' you want on you side, especially with the Political Climate the way things are in the World at the moment. These guy's go in to take out an 'Action-Cell', they come out and nobody else follows. The Best of the Best of the Best of the Best with a no-nonsense take-em out attitude."

"And this Michelle said that *Xander* took them down?!? Sorry Witch-pal. That does not compute. Where would Xander learn to do that kinda stuff?"

"She's probably exaggerating, Dawn, but then again there are a lot of what just went on now that just doesn't compute anymore."

Again Dawn nodded slowly. "Do you think he's actually going to leave us? To move to LA to be with --- with Cordelia and Angel and Wes?"

"They did seem pretty close. Maybe. I haven't seen those two that friendly since they were dating."

"You --- you don't think ---?"

"Nah. I think they're close, but not that close. It was actually good to see them together like that again, now that I'm not seeing them through the whole veil of jealousy thing. They both look very happy. But not as happy as he was when he was talking with that Jade though."

"It's not fair. What about *" Dawn halted her question, she was going to say her sister's name, but quickly reintroduced another ending to Willow's curious look. "What about *us*? He can't leave us. I want things back the way they were, no --- I *want* things better then what they were."

"I don't want him to leave either, Dawn. But as he pointed out to us - It's his decision, and he has received a good job offer, and let's be honest. With everything that happened with the Wedding, then with what Buffy did with Spike when she was invisible. He can't have too many warm and fuzzies about being here. We can't force him to stay if he doesn't want to. What Buffy did to him was pretty low, and she's done some pretty low things to him in the past*."

Stressing her voice out the teenager interrupted. "*She's going to fix it. Buffy promised me she was going to make things better with him."

"But what if Xander doesn't want her to make things better? He's been avoiding my calls for eight weeks, avoiding *us* for eight weeks, Dawn. He said it was time he grew up and moved on with his life. Sure I don't like it - I actually hate it. I can't think of a single week since I've known him that we haven't talked, wrote or spoke to one another. But we just went through two-months of that, and with this Jade woman, he looks happier then I have seen him in along time. Maybe we should accept it, accept his wish and move on with our lives as well."

"No. Not me. I won't accept it, and if Buffy knows what's good for her neither will she. She can't let him leave us like this, they got to sort things out between them, she'll never be happy unless she does."

Willow again looked at the once-Dimensional Key with a curious expression on her face. She had of coarse observed Buffy's funk when Xander left for LA, with the 'Wishing he had never bought her back to Life' Remark.

The aftermath of the comment nearly destroyed her; the Witch remembered watching Buffy's expression become passive and unemotional as she politely asked to be excused after Xander had left the store, removing herself to the rear Training Room. There was silence for a few seconds after that, and then a shrilled scream was heard supported by ranking hoarse sobs as they broke through the set silence. They entered the Training Room to find her beating wildly into the Punching Bag as tears eagerly flowed down her cheeks.

After that day, Buffy was not the same.

She spent most of her time in her bedroom, only coming out for Work, Slaying or to attend to other necessities of Life and living. At the beginning, the Witch was so concerned for her best friend that she tried to bully Angel into having Xander call Buffy and apologize for what he set in motion.

But no phone-call that she knew of came.

It had only been in the last couple of days with his expected return did the Slayer once more demonstrate any positive behaviour.

"I'm going to find out what the story really is. Willow, can I borrow a couple of bucks?"


"I need to make a visit to 'Blockbuster' Video."


5-minutes later out side of 'Whedon Place' Apartments.

Only as Buffy pulled up to the curb of Anya's own Apartment did she realize that this was the first time the two of them had ever been together alone in which did not involve the other doing something else, such as research of tending to customer's. Throughout the journey Anya stared out the front seat window, watching the streets pass by in silence.

The Slayer didn't wish to intrude on what were obviously troubled and personal thoughts but it was obvious that she was lost in some pained world. "Anya, we're here."

The Part-Owner of her Watcher's Magic Shop did not move and Buffy did not exactly feel like prompting her along to get out after the lack of recognition. So they both sat in still silence.

As a car passed them by a minute later and it's passing appearance resembled Xander's own new Saden, right down to the colour. Its visual similarities encouraged a ragged voice to consume the interior of the Summer's 4x4. "I can't hate her. I *want* to hate her. I want us to be enemies, but I can't. She's in that Chair; if I hate her then people might think I hate her because of that. That I'm prejudiced. Well maybe I can't hate her. But I can hate him. Him, I can hate."

Buffy remained silent behind the steering wheel, giving Anya the right to vent without interruption.

Anya continued talking; ignoring that she was being witnessed by another, leap-frogging from one emotional reaction to another. One second she detested Xander, the next she was saying that she loved him and wanted him back. If a stranger was watching this display they would be concerned at the emotional irregularities, but this was Anya. And the Slayer had long ago recognized that Anya was a person of many contradictions.

"He say's he love's me. He say's he loves me so much that he couldn't marry me. I tell you - is that not the classic reasoning of a *man* for you. No wonder I was always so busy.

"It's all that Agent Goodspeed's fault, if he didn't approach him the day before he left for LA then 'she' wouldn't be here now. Trying to steal him away from me. He was supposed to come back, and I was supposed to forgive him for his stupidity. Then we were to go and have some fantastically-incredible Make-Up sex afterward. The kind of Sex you see in those movies you hire, the ones which are in that special section of the Video Store.

"But, noooo. Instead he apologizes for using me and admit's that the engagement - OUR engagement was all but a sham to him."

Buffy couldn't keep silent anymore at hearing this. "Sham? He said it was a sham?"

Turning to look in the direction of Buffy's voice, the former Demon only then seemed to have registered that she was sitting there with her. "No, he said he *Loved* me, but he also said he had unresolved feeling towards other people. He didn't mention her name, but I know he was referring to the Wheelchair-Woman, and *you*. Always you. Always - 'we have to help Buffy out.' Why couldn't you have just left him and me alone? Why?"

The Slayer was staggered; she wished she could have given Anya an answer. But she couldn't. Yes, if she HAD wanted to she could have forced Xander out of the group. But she couldn't. He was the Group's enduring Heart, whenever he was gone the Scoob's always suffered emotionally, or more specifically *she* always suffered emotionally from not having him around. Whenever he was absent from her life she felt hollowness, so why did she always try to sabotage their friendship by testing it's limits?

Anya unbuckled and opened the car door, but before she exited she had one last thing to say. "I always knew that when we were sharing his bed that there was someone else under the sheets with us. But the funny thing was, I always thought that person was *you*." With this the former Demon exited the vehicle as Buffy watched her walk up the path to the Stairs of her Apartment Block.

Angel, Cordelia and now Anya. In the past hour she had heard the opinions of three people she would sacrifice her life for; Cordelia had passed Angel's opinion as well as her own, and now in a round about way so had Anya. All were saying the same thing, that they always suspected there was something more then friendship between herself and Xander. Something that had a potential for more. Even without the encouragement of her little sister she had to see this through now. She had to know more about Jade. More about her rival for the Heart of the Scooby's.

Pulling out into traffic, the Slayer indicated into the Main Road that passed by the Sunnydale Mall. Maybe it was impulsive but she felt it was time for a coincidental meeting and a bit of Q & A with their two female Strangers' regarding Xander and their intentions towards him. One person in particular.


Xander's Apartment (10-minutes later)

"Be it ever so humble there is not place like home. At least for the next 4-weeks." With one hand full of various mail that had piled up in his letterbox, Xander Harris pushed open his Apartment Door to the awaiting eyes of his female guest. "So, what do you think?"

Cordelia walked into the open room her mouth a gape. "This is yours? Xander it's so huge."

Placing the correspondence on his kitchen counter the recently accredited Foreman smirked over his shoulder at the opportunity too good to pass up. "Yep, that's what all the women say."

"No, not that. I mean *this* you Doof, this Apartment is huge. How do you afford it?"

"No trick, I worked hard and saved. Coarse it helps that this is SunnyHell, and the property prices here are below decent. So---" The Construction Worker trailed the sentence off as he began to do a quick inspection of all his 'stuff'. To his relief, but not to his surprise, Anya had proven herself trustworthy to the responsibility of Apartment care without venting any vengeance upon the Pot Plants that littered each corner of the Main Room. All five were still green and healthy and devoid of any ill-will towards him for not marrying her.

"But still, Xander. This is quite the Pad."

Casting a comment over his shoulder as he approached his front door to the slightly stunned Seer, he began to mentally work out what furniture he would have to shift to make the place more wheelchair accessible. "It's no bigger then yours, Cordelia. And you live in LA, prices there are nothing in comparison."

"Yeah, but Dennis's Mom, the poltergeist from Hell, helped keep that within my price range. Before we vanquished her wrinkly old butt too where ever of course." Cordelia then took full advantage of the leather recliner, that despite the months of absence, still had a Xanderish impression upon it. Lying lazily down she then fed her growing curiosity. "So, I got the silent treatment in the car over here. I got the silent treatment in the elevator and in the passageway. I take it from all this silence that this is the place you've decided you want to break down and finally tell me all about it?"

Xander then moved his and Cordelia's luggage, which was still lying out front of his door, into his domicile before answering. Doing his best to sound as quizzical as possible to the question posed. "Break down and tell you all about what?"

"Xander, come on! Michelle, Jade? What's the story with you and Roller-Girl?"

"HEY! Don't call her that, and besides it's --- it's not something I think you guy's would understand too well. We had ourselves a 'Thing', Jade and me, a couple of years ago. It ended as most of my romances end - in disaster. I decided that instead of doing the right thing and stay and fight for her, I went instead and did the *smart* thing and run, hide and be a coward. Y'know, the typical Xander thing I do."

Cordelia pulled an annoyed face at the self put-down. "Between Right or Smart? Not much of a choice there. Personally, I think the two of you looked adorable together. So um, why did the Smart win out over the Right thing? Was it the whole 'Chair thing'?"

"Where'd you get that dumb-assed idea?"

"Maybe, you for starters. I mean, you did seem to focus most of your attention on it." The Seer slowly stood up from the comfortable recliner and stared Xander down on the issue. Not wishing to believe her claim, but willing to say anything that would encourage a verbalized justification for his obvious feelings towards the other woman.

She and him may not have been together anymore, but as she figured it this was the woman Xander had replaced her with as his 'girlfriend' after they had broken up, and after Graduation. Jade was the missing 'Companion' link between herself and Anya. Anya, she knew all about, but this other one? This other one was an unknown, and as the prior-girlfriend she had the right to know the full merit and worth of her replacement.

Stonily Xander answered the untrue claim that was issued by her with a steeled tone in his words. "No, Cordelia. It was not the 'Chair-Thing'!"

"So then, why keep her a big secret?"

"It complicated, and I mean complicated too the 12th Power. It's not like it was a conspiracy or anything, it was just something I didn't want anybody to know too much about."


"12th Power."

"Xander, come on. You can tell me, I mean if the PTB trust me with the Big Whammy Future Stuff then so can you."

"I do trust you, Cordelia. But the truth is I'm alittle afraid that if people knew everything, and I mean *everything*, then I don't exactly know how well they would take it, or how well they would then think of me after hearing it. So for this, I've kept silent. For everyone, not just for my own --- selfish reasons."

"I don't think your selfish, *Butch*." Michelle's nickname for the foreman was emphasised by the LAer and as hoped it made the Construction Worker smile a bit to the taunt. "I think you're stubborn, aaaannnnndddd I think there is more to all this then meets the eyes. So yeah, if I have to call Angel and the rest of the Fang Gang back home and ask them to go into research mode on what happened two and a half years ago in San Fran, then I will. It shouldn't be that hard to track, especially if it involved Navy S.E.A.L.S & Delta's. I mean after all, it was something that made *both* National and International news. The Bimbette may not have said much to us, but what she did say was pure gold."

"You're actually going on what Michelle told you? Cordelia, please."

A certain air of smugness consumed the ActressModelDetective/Seer. "Hey, I know she's an Attention Seeker, but what she 'might and might-not' have told us while you were playing handsies with Jade really seemed to have bothered you big time. I could tell by the expression on your face when you wheeled her over to us. Directly before you *then* took Michelle away to have a private word with her."

"Cordelia, --- please." This time the word and the name weren't delivered with false arrogant amusement it had carried a second earlier. There was gentle concern now.

As sensitively as she could she pressed forward. "Okay. What's the story here, Xander?"

"Cordelia, you wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Xander, I work for a souled Vampire, I receive future visions from God-Like-Beings. Do you wanna take bets on what I can believe in and what I can't?"

"The Zeppo."


"Remember the name?"

"Yeah, umm, not exactly my shiniest of moments."

Xander smiled at the awkwardness given off by the confident woman as he began to push the leather couch back to a far wall, thereby opening up the space of the Lounge Room. "That's what it was all about."

"Again with the 'What'?"

"The Sisterhood of the Jhe*"

"*Hey, you weren't part of that, I mean, I wasn't either. But I heard Angel talk about that night acouple of times. So I know how it all played out and in all of those re-telling of the night the Hellmouth was nearly forced open, you weren't in there."

"No, Deadboy got that wrong. Sure I didn't fight at the Mouth with the others. But I *was* there, fighting my own little battle."

"With who?"

Moving the Coffee Table to the side, Xander looked up with a confident smile. "Myself."

"Okay, Xander. I'm rrreeaaallllyyyy starting to get tired and annoyed saying 'What'? So explain yourself Harris and not with the kind of explanations that pose more questions."

"I guess I could say that it was all about a Gang of Psycho-Zombies, a home-made Bomb and a stray member of the Sisterhood, but in truth that stuff was pretty much just 'Dressing'. That night was one of the best and most important Nights of my life, and not because I lost my virginity to Faith. That Night I fought on my own.

"Every instinct I had was shouting at me- 'Go to the Guy's and ask them to help you out'. But every time I was face-to-face with one of them, something else inside of me said 'No - You can do it yourself!'

"I faced down 'Me'. I faced my own fears and insecurities that Night. Before that little adventure, the name you gave me, y'know - 'Zeppo', would have bothered me big time, which was probably why you called me it. But after that Night however, nothing you could say could touch me. I stared my Demon square in the eye and I beated it down until its ears bled.

"I could've bragged about it all the next day. Especially when I was being talked down too by Buffy, Willow, Giles and yeah, even you. But I didn't. Didn't really see the point to it. See it wasn't about what I did or didn't do; it was all about the fact that I did it and that I did it alone. I proved myself to my worst critic - Me.

"I didn't need anybodies endorsement or congratulations. It was about that quiet feeling, that confidence, that pride of self. I felt more a Man walking away from Buff and everybody else then I have ever felt before then in my life. Them with all their scrapes, bruises, and injuries, and me with nothing. For the first-time I walked away from an 'Active-Night' out without a single injury. I survived the 'Night of the Zeppo' on my own, *and* on my own terms."

Xander looked over to where Cordelia was staring and grew amused at the stunned look upon her face at his confession. He then moved to the kitchen and placed a glass under one of taps to get a drink of water.

"Okay, okay, --- right. But what does that have to do with San Francisco?"

Xander took a gulp of water before he continued with his explanation of 'growth' his words however became heavier, almost darker with their creation in his throat.

"I thought that feeling would stay with me after that. I knew my 'Measure'. But it just didn't stick. It disappeared the moment Buffy and Giles revealed to us of their Faith/Mayor-Sting with Angel. It hurt me, Cordelia, and not in the 'Angel's Fist Flying at my Face' kinda way. I thought that I was back 'in' with the Scoobs, but I guess I was still on the 'outs' as far as Buffy and Giles were concerned. It --- it affected me. That they thought I couldn't have been trusted to keep my big yap shut. Willow I got - She couldn't keep a secret to save her life. I dealt with it, but that whole self-worth-thing packed its bags and went to parts unknown.

"Even after leading the Seniors against the Mayor and Vamp minions I didn't feel too victorious. Six students died, Snyder got ate, and the High School got demolished. Sure, we didn't lose, but I felt as if we hadn't won either. Buff of coarse was only interested in one thing, not us, or the Seniors who perished or of everyone's families who came to attend the Ceremony and got hurt. Only one person mattered to her - Angel. We all knew he was gonna leave after the battle, he wasn't gonna stick around and say good-bye. Just disappear into the night like he always did. But still, she had more concern for the life of a person who existed 230-years then with those who had barely reached 18."

"He was the Love of her Life, Xander."

"Yeah, this was why I didn't say anything about it at the time. But it stunk, Cordy."

"So whatcha do then?"

"Oh, you know, kept quiet and did what I had planned to do for months. As everyone knows, after Graduation I was going to do a personal American Odyssey kinda thing. I was expecting to be gone for a while, a year maybe. Give the Country a good looksee whilst at the same time giving Buff ample opportunity to move on from Deadboy. Y'know, too get that 'Measure' back, and then return home worldlier, with a swag of stories and experiences. Maybe kinda hoping that I would be able to whisk her off her feet with my New-Man Charms."

"You're hopeless."

"What can I say; I was a stupidly-romantic-stubborn Fool. I always thought Buff was my future. Hell of a future, huh? Anyway, that was the Plan - hoping that absence *does* make the Heart grow fonder. But things, obviously, didn't work out that way."

"So, is it now story time or what? Give me the dish."

"Fine, but you asked for it. Anyway, I made it as far as San Francisco and there, by chance, I met someone who gave me that quiet good feeling and confidence back." Another goofy smile spread across his face at the happy memory that he had long ago exiled from his thoughts. "There I met Jade."

"So are we talking Lovers at first sight, or what?"

"For me, yeah." Xander then stopped speaking, scratched the back of his head and looked at the female sheepishly. "Look Cor, I know you probably don't want to hear all of this given our history together*."

"*Spill it, Dweeb!"

"Okay, okay, fine. I don't wanna romanticize it or anything, but when I first saw her it was like a bolt of lightening struck me from above and for the first time in my life Fate seemed to have smiled warmly down on Ma and Pa Harris's little boy Xander. I knew, I just knew that she was 'it'. The One. At that moment every other woman just disappeared for me, even Buffy.

"You wanna an example? I mean, you've seen Michelle right? She's got a Body and the imagination of a Porn Queen. But nothing, zero, she could be standing infront of me buck naked, and err, truth be told she has if you must know. But it wouldn't faze me; I only had eyes for her best friend. Jade and me just clicked straight from the get-go, Cordy."

"Okay, so what made her so special?"

Xander inhaled deeply and a light whisper of a grin formed as he exhaled, answering his female friend's question. "When she smiles at me, Cordelia, she is able to give me the strength to be able to fight back the entire World with just one hand, and with a single kiss she could take all that strength from me away. And you know what, Cor? I welcomed and wished for that weakness on a daily basis."

Cordelia's expression melted a fraction and her voice cracked as she questioned further on the doomed lovebirds. "Sounds --- sounds almost too perfect. So what happened, Romeo?"

"An 'Old Confused Guy' is what happened. Jade's father entered the mix."

"He didn't like you?"

"The fact that I'm still breathing is evidence to the fact that he *did* like me, which was touch and go sometimes, especially after he found out me and Jade were sleeping together." Xander then subconsciously rubbed the side of his face at the painful yet still pleasant memory. "Yeah, he liked me well enough I guess, I mean he never said he *hated* me outright. Sure he said he wanted to snap my neck acouple of times, throw me under a Tram, and sometimes off a very tall building, or drown me in the Bay --- but he never said he *hated* me."

Sounding unimpressed to the description the Seer commented bitterly. "Sounds like quite the charmer."

With a mirthful twinkle in his eyes the Carpenter answered. "You would have been nothing but putty, Cor. The guy wrote the book on Suave and could turn it on like nobodies business. At 65 he could still land any woman he wanted if he put half of an effort in. He just had that kinda magnetism. Michelle was all over him."

"Soooo he threatens you and you admired him. Right --- interesting dynamic you got going."

"It was just his way of always keeping me in line. He didn't want me to hurt his daughter, and he made regular references to the fact that if I did he would hurt me a lot more. Jade was everything to him, her happiness was paramount."

"And you made her happy?!?"

"Not at first. But, err; he helped me out with that."



A mouthful of blood was spat out and a look of hatred was directed towards its cause for the extreme amount of pain that resided in the right side his face. "Was that totally necessary?" was ushered venomously by the 18-year old.

The silvered haired and bearded assailant shrugged and gave a friendly smile. "You asked me to Train you, Boy. Is it my problem you can't take a swift kick to the mouth."

"Yeah --- well, you can perhaps warn me before you try and leave me toothless."

"Life does not give you warnings. Life throws blows you can't see coming, and like those blows, much like my foot, you have to learn to take it all on the chin."

"Admit it, your enjoying disfiguring me?"

"I'm hardly disfiguring you, just giving that pretty face of yours character. That's all."

Xander didn't wait for a helping hand to be given to assist him up from the Warehouse floor; he had been in this position too many times since meeting John Mason to know that it wouldn't be offered. One of John's harsh reality lessons - 'You can never rely on anyone but yourself.' The younger of the two males scowled at the senior and superior fighter as he stood up with a slope in his posture and a pain burning his ribs from an earlier combination punch he took.

"If you think this will turn Jade off, me showing up for our date all red, bruised and swollen then you don't know her as well as you think you do. Sure the date will be a bust, but she'll spend all night trying to make me feel better for all the hurt her big bad Daddy-Man caused me." Even though his face did indeed hurt he couldn't help but find some fulfilment at how stiff and scathing John Mason's posture and gaze at him became.

But just as fast as the tense look revealed itself on the Ancient Fighter an other more amusing one entered replacing it --- and that was by far a lot more frightening. "Well I'm sure for thirty-two seconds you'll be in complete paradise, but what will you do for the rest of the night 'Cupcake'?"

The injured teenager's pained filled face dropped at the unmistakable reference to time. "How did you --- How? She told you?"

"No, she told her flatmate, and she, with a little flattery told me."

Xander staggered back. "Can't --- breathe --- Breathing --- hard. World falling in around me. She--- she told Michelle? Why?"

A smug chuckle escaped the aged veteran at the displayed antics. "She was hoping that Michelle might know some --- techniques that could 'prolong' things for you." Another chuckle rose up in Mason's throat that echoed throughout the empty building.

"Oh God. Can my life suck any more?"

John's face surprisingly became gentler and softer. "Relax Lad, if you did know how to do things right at your age. That would have made me madder then when you told me about the two of you last week. Because it would mean that you would know far more then I was comfortable with. The fact that Jade is discreetly enquiring on your behalf, to less then --- reputable sources*"

"*Oh My God! Michelle - she's been asking her Stripper friends hasn't she?!?"

A pitying smile parted on the 65-year olds face. "Without a doubt. Does that matter to you?"

"Stranger's knowing I'm finding it hard to take it 'Home' with my Girlfriend - yeah, that matters!!! It matter's a lot!"

"Your Girlfriend is my Daughter, and I'm certain that Michelle is handling the situation in a fashion that would not embarrass her 'Jay-bird'."

"But what about me?!?"

"What about you? I don't care so much about *your* reputation." A row of white teeth revealed themselves and then was covered by lips to create a light smile before he posed the next question. "Jade is your --- 'First'?"

Sitting down upon a wooden box, with the Flash of a naked Faith in his mind, he answered automatically. "She's my second on both counts. Second partner and second time. I guess I wasn't that good the first time either, because it sure as Hell didn't change anything on how that other person thought of me afterwards."

"Your disappointed that you're not an instant 'Straight out of the Gate' Success Story?"

"NO! I'm disappointed that Jade is * --- that I'm not able to make Jade as happy as she makes me."

John Mason approached the slumped teenager. When he opened his mouth again there was a soft wisdom that carried in his words. "Out of all the answer's you could have given me, Cupcake, that was the right one."

Xander looked up in surprise. "What do you mean by that?"

"I mean I'm going to impart to you, something I thought I would never pass on to another living soul. When I was --- younger, women were more then an interest to me. They were a passionate hobby. During that time I became --- knowledgeable in an 'arrangement' of actions that I dubbed the 'Highland Fling'. Done out of accord, it could take you 6-8 times longer to reach your desired 'destination'. But done in the right order, and the right timing you would be able to achieve a --- multiple end within 2-3 minutes."

"You're kidding."

"Never about this. Jade is now the single passion and love of my life. What makes her happy makes me happier. If she is unhappy because of your --- inexperience and ineptitude then I must do something drastic to repair that."

"I would have though you'd be encouraging her to --- dump me, to find someone 'better'."

"Alex," The name caught him by surprise, John never called him by that name. It was either Lad, Boy, Cupcake or Buttmonkey - but never Alex. "As much as I am uncomfortable with the idea, she cares about you. My opinion is not one that you should look upon negatively. I'm uncomfortable because you remind me alittle of --- someone who died along time ago. I want her to be happy, and you make her happy --- except in the Bedroom. So let's remedy this and try and imagine we are talking about someone else other then my only child, hmmm? I'd hate for some unsuspecting Fisherman pull you up in their Trawler Net."

"This 'Highland Fling', it's really that good?"

"Lad, if used irresponsibly you could have a score of women chasing you down the street. Desiring only one thing from you - Sex!"

Trying to hide a growing smile the 18-year old couldn't help but retort. "Been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt."

"Only in you dreams, Cupcake."

"Actually, it was closer to being one of my Nightmares."

˜End Flashback˜


The glazed look left him as he quickly returned to the track his mind and mouth were travelling. "Anyway, there were certain people who didn't care for John too much and I kinda got caught up with all of that. And so for the last 120-weeks, it's these 'Certain People' I have been doing my best in avoiding. These people are not only dangerous, Cor, they're sanctioned."

As Xander's voice cracked a little at the concluding sentence so did the fortitude of the woman his words were directed to. "Your --- your scared."

"Yeah, Cordelia. I am. Because this craziness is back on my doorstep, in LA I had you guy's. I could *trust* you guys if things got wicked. Here? All I got is --- is me. All I can depend upon is me. Look, I'm not knocking Jade being here, I've wanted to see her again for longer then I dare admit too. But I was afraid to make direct contact with her because I knew that she would probably be 'staked-out'. But yeah, Cor, I am scared. Because despite the training I received from both Angel and Gunn, as well as other things I now remember being able to do and was taught. I know beyond a shadow of doubt that I'm still not going to be good enough if things hit it."

"Okay, now your starting to scare me too." Cordelia's mind quickly darted back to the fight that went to far between Angel and Xander with the conclusion of his words. Xander - barely being able to remain standing, and fighting a concussion, he was still able to gain an unexpected advantage over the Vamp and beat the Boss-Man into unconsciousness.

Where seconds earlier it was considered a lock that Angel would win the Fight-Bet, Xander had turned it all around in a near blink of an eye and bested her Boss. The same Boss who she had seen take-out and take-down some of the toughest Demon's and Merc's in the City. After witnessing that accomplishment, anything that would scare her Doofus, scared her even more.

"That's good. It's a scary World, Cordelia. You should be afraid." Xander turned and opened the balcony door, allowing some fresh air to enter the stale room. As he stood at the threshold he took a deep breath and spoke a question to the woman who had been a confident to him for two-months. "Do you really want to know the truth so bad, Cor?" Xander then turned and looked at her intently. "Cause the truth won't set you free, it might get you killed, but it won't set you free."

"Xander---. If you don't want to tell me, then don't."

Cordelia's gentle tone and pitch however displayed to the once 'No-body' a wilfulness on the Seer's part to know what the matter was. And he knew that regardless of how he would warn her off she would do exactly what she said she would and contact Angel and Crew if she wasn't given an explanation. Out of this combined concern, Deadboy, Wesley and Gunn would then begin turning up rocks that shouldn't be turned up.

Xander then turned back to face the view offered to him. Knowing full well that if Cordelia was going to spend the night, then she should atleast be given a partial account of his 'Adventure'. Just in the event Michelle was as tactless and indiscreet as he remembered her being. And given the nuggets she had thrown away at the 'Magic Box' it was almost reassuring to discover that this had not changed so much with time.

Still, despite his desire not to get her involved it was safer that Cordelia remained in the know, just incase she overheard something said between the three of them.

With a flat voice he spoke up. "Cassidy. I'm called 'Butch' by Michelle because I called myself 'Cassidy'. I didn't want to give them my real name, and that was the one that popped into my head at the time. Mainly because Jade and I went and saw 'Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid' at one of those Nostalgia Nights at a local Picture Theatre aweek earlier. She really loves that olden-day kinda stuff. Anyway, she had pointed out the familiarities between me and her Pop's dispositions. Me with the smart-mouth and him with the harsh-edge. Michelle thought it was funny as all Hell, and if there is one thing she likes doing it's causing mischief. So she started calling me 'Butch' and John - 'Sundance'.

"These, err, 'Other People' know me as Alexander 'Butch' Cassidy. And there is nothing any of them would like and love more then to plant me into a six-foot deep hole and be forgotten about. One guy called Harper, in particular."

"They want to kill you? Why? Xander, if you've been threatened, then call in the authorities!"

Xander laughed, it was a sad and tired laugh which displayed a bit of bitterness to the statement made. "Cor, these are the 'Authorities'. Don't you understand? I can't turn to anyone about this."

Stunned at the implication that it was Law that wanted him dead, the Seer blunted out an angered reaction. "What. Did. You. Do?"

With an almost shy like expression of his face the one time Zeppo answered the stressed and halting question. "I think the techniqual term for it is 'Treason' and err --- Terrorism."

Cordelia sprang forward, her eyes darting across the room. She then quickly closed the recently opened balcony door and drew the blinds back. Sending the room back into a shadowy darkness. She then cautiously moved over to the stereo, glaring mental daggers at the other occupant as she did so. Turning the radio on and raising the volume before she spoke freshly under the security of background noise. "Please tell me that what you just said is one of your lame practical jokes. Please tell me you didn't just use the two 'T's."

Xander just shrugged at the horrored, yet slightly angered look given to him and sat calmly down upon his favourite Recliner as Cordelia began pacing back and forth in the Lounge Room. He actually now felt pretty good about himself. Finally being able to get that off his chest was like a dead-weight being released from around his neck. Always there was this in his recent life --- this secret that prevented him from knowing true harmony. It was true what they said - 'A Problem shared is a Problem halved', another smile stretched across his face, but it wasn't the atypical one he always used, this one was an illustration of the inner-peace he now felt. "In all fairness Cordelia, I didn't think that when I used my hand-grenade on that wall, that it was infact a Load-Bearing one. But apparently any wilful destruction of a Government Building is deemed an act of Terrorism. I looked it up."

"What Hand-grenade? What Government Building?"

"The FBI Headquarters in San Francisco."

Suddenly a lot of things fell into place for the Seer. She *did* now remember the story Michelle had mentioned. "Oh --- Crap. You mean 'The Fiasco in Frisco' was you?!?" As Xander nodded, still with that contented smile present she staggered back and collapsed onto the moved Couch. Trying to Will her reeling mind to recall any useful facts about the incident that preceded the Planes in NY, and whose footage and example had been used to demonstrate the Federal Government's lack of preparation for internal Terrorist Threats. "Xander, Terrorism and Traitor are two very unpopular labels to wear at the moment. Please, God, I'm begging you. Please tell me this is some twisted joke of yours."

Xander's lite smile disappeared from his face and he became sombre as the desperate words carried to his ears. "Trust me, Cordelia. I wouldn't joke about that. Betrayal of one's Government and taking hostile action towards the same are not things I would make funny with. But those things are just the aftermath of what I thought was the right thing to do at the time. I got caught up in it all, and when the dust settled I was a hunted man. Hindsight they say is 20/20, and if I could go back in time - sure there are a few things I wouldn't do, not using that Grenade for a start, but I *still* would have taken the position that I took. Because 'America' was in the wrong.

"I left Jade, John and Michelle and returned home to a life of avoidance of the Spotlight. I then moved into my Parent's basement because I didn't want Realtor's to do a background search on me. Taking meaningless no-where jobs with no future and then getting myself intentionally fired after every couple of weeks."

"Fired? Why get fired? You should have left the damn Country!"

Xander shook his head, displaying in this simple action a wealth of thought and understanding towards his purpose of doing what he had done. "They would have been expecting something like that and had all the Ports, Airports and Boarders staked out. It was smarter to just lay low for a while and wait until all the interest in me had died down. As to the Jobs, I figured that if you move from one 'opportunity' to another nobody gets to know you too well. Nobody ever really remembers you; you just become that face that belonged to that 'Guy' who used to work there. That and the fact I could bail out at anytime if things got too toasty for my liking.

"My liking however didn't include me falling in love again so soon with Anya. I wasn't expecting her or her persistence with me. At the start it was just a 'Sexual' arrangement and I saw her as a distraction I needed, but as the weeks and months passed by I started to fall for her. Denying the belief we were in a 'Relationship', that we were just friends who had sex with one another. Then it happened. It was surreal, I had been cursed by this dead Indian and I was totally wasted, and not in the 'Happy-giggles watching the Walls move' Wasted. I was running late for this casual job I was doing on a Construction Site, and she came into the Basement and started berating me, telling me that I was far to sickly to go to Work. She sounded just like Jade after one of my Training Sessions with John that the word Girlfriend just snuck out. It took her by surprise to; anyway I realized that I liked referring to her like that and it was then that I was finally able to admit that she and I were in a boyfriend and girlfriend relationship. After that our 'Relationship' changed as well, and it was all for the better. She became a lot less 'her' and became softer and nurturing. I really started to fall in love with her."

Cordelia then approached one of her dearest male friends and placed a supportive hand on his upper arm. "Do you --- y'know, wanna talk about it. About what went down out the back with you two? I won't crack wise, Xand. I promise."

Xander touched her assaulting hand as gently as it was delivered and paused for a few seconds for consideration. "No. Not so much, Cor. I fell in love with her, I screwed it up, I apologized, I learn from it, I move on to make more screw ups. The whole eternal 'Circle of Xander'. You, Willow, Anya. See the pattern? The only people whose love and trust I haven't betrayed are Buff's and Faith, mainly cause they were smart enough to not want to be involved with me. And as to Jade? We were just getting started --- but as much as I would've tired, you can't question history, I probably would have screwed that up as well given time."

At the depressing words, Cordelia strayed the discussion onwards to something alittle more positive. "So when you got back here, and you didn't think of putting into effect the great 'Plan' with you and the Conceited-One? Smart, your to good for her Xander. Even if you are a Traitor to your Country, and a Terrorist."

"No, I didn't put my 'Plan' into effect, but I had thought about it though. When I came back to SunnyHell I spied on her for about a week, using some of the tricks of the trade John taught me to avoid notice. Just mustering up the courage to talk to her. But how could I, Cor? Knowing what I had done, what I was accused of doing, with the two 'T's and the other stuff.

"Then one night I noticed her walking the streets of Sunnydale looking about as miserable as I had ever seen her. It seemed some low-level Vamp Trash kicked her ass and she took it all to heart. She felt humiliated and worthless, I knew that feeling well having lived with it for most of my life. I re-introduced myself to her and gave her a little speech that seemed to have returned that spark to her eyes.

"I could've taken advantage then and pressed the whole 'let's try something new with our friendship', but I wasn't in that 'place' yet. And then Ahn showed up a couple of days later. I tried to talk Anya out of it. Y'know, me and her. I really did. But it was obvious that she wasn't prepared to let me go until we had finally been 'together'.

"We then did the deed. That should have been it, but Anya kept coming over to my place. And then Buffy got involved with a creep called Parker who left her broken hearted. That on the heels with Deadboy leaving her and --- I couldn't put her through that. She really needed a break from the relationship-spit out cycle so I stayed out of the picture having my fun with Anya. Of coarse that's when Riley made his play for her, and the Initiative became involved in our lives.

"With Riley and the Initiative about I was pretty paranoid and suspicious. Everyone thought it was because of Anya, with her whole former Demon-status, and that I was concerned for her well being. I was, don't get me wrong, I *was* concerned. But truth is I was expecting my door to be kicked down by the FED's nearly everyday. Yet, nothing happened.

"Riley told me he had submitted my, Buff's, Giles and Willow's name for a Background search and I came back as 'Clear' with a Security Classification. After that I felt a measure of safety in my personal life. I mean if the Initiative had found 'Suspected of Terrorism & Treason' on my Jacket I would have been snagged - Do not pass go and do not collect 200 dollars. But nothing happened and then of coarse the 'Initiative' disappeared from the landscape.

"During this time I started to scrimp and save every nickel I earned, I've now got close to $8,000 in a Safety Deposit Box at the Sunnydale Air Terminal along with a false Passport I bought through Willy. They're all just waiting for the day I have to burn some serious shoe leather and say Bon Voyage to this dump.

"The others, the Scooby's, however never thought twice about all the jobs I had and considered it completely believable that hopeless old Xander couldn't maintain anything stable. And never even questioned why for a guy who couldn't hold down two-weeks working at the 'Double-Meat' could go on to lead his own Carpentry Team and Crew, and pull in more money than any of them with their College Degrees could upon Graduation.

"I mean if they looked hard enough they would have seen clues everywhere, for example - when I was separated by Toft, into positive and negative aspects of myself. I disarmed myself and had the gun pointed squarely at 'me', I was prepared to kill me - both of me was prepared to kill the other self. Buff never thought it strange that I was easily considering this*"

"*But you told us in LA you thought that the other 'you' was a disguised Demon."

"Didn't change anything, it looked human enough. I was going to kill me. Buff and Riley showed up, she asks me to hand the Revolver over to her, but before I did so I took a precautionary measure and removed the bullets first with a wrist flick. She thought I was just showing off, probably thinking I was channelling my Soldier experience*"

*But--- you weren't?"

"Nope, Soldier-Me knew Rifles, the Xander-Me knew handguns. Buffy never thought any of it was strange, just goes to show how much she paid attention to me, huh? Man, the 'Positive'-Me was the closest I had come to being the 'me' I was in Frisco since I got back here. When I was 'returned' I was depressed for weeks afterward.

"Anyway after that I then started to settle down a bit, and stuck-it-out at the same Job. A job in which I escalated through the ranks reasonably quickly. I still provided my false Referee Voice - 'Alfred', when called upon, just as a precautionary measure to find out who was checking up on me. But I started to make a new life for myself.

"But then 2-months ago Special Agent: Stanley Goodspeed walked into my life. I recognized the name from one of John's stories. He's a GOOD-good Guy, and he left something in my care to be collected by John later on.

"I'm telling you all this Cordelia, because Jade and Michelle are here and you might accidentally eavesdrop on a few things being said between us that you won't be able to make sense of. That and the fact that I have to treat all of this as if they might both still be under 'Observation'. I don't think that's a possibility, Jade's pretty cluey. And I don't think that she would have come here and put me in jeopardy if she thought she would bring the trouble back into my life.

"But, just in case, there is something you should know in the event that something happens to me. The item I was given to protect by Stan --- well, you see it's not here. You have it, or rather Dennis has it. And he has promised me he will not let anyone else take it from your place unless it's either by me or someone I have sent with a password. The password is - 'Buttmonkey'. If when you return back to LA you don't here back from me within three-weeks. Tell Dennis you know, give him the password and contact this e-mail address - chemicalsuperfreak at Yahoo. Just leave a contact number and that you are in possession of the 'Merchandise'. We clear? "

"We Clear? You're kidding?!? Buttmonkey and ghost's what have you involved me in you Moron?"

"Buttmonkey is a personal thing John used to call me when he was particularly frustrated with my performance. As to hiding the stuff at your Apartment, weeelllll, I couldn't think of a safer place to store this thing then with something that has complete control over the physic's of their environment and can't be killed. That's the *real* reason I came to LA, the Accreditation and the Spike and Buffy thing was just a --- unhappy coincidence"

"Hang on, just outta curiosity, with me having this item in my apartment, and being told of your other 'Activities', I mean I'm no Lawyer - I *hate* Lawyer's. But does this mean I'm now an Accessory or something?"

"To Aiding and Abetting a known Terrorist and Benedick Arnold, concealing Government Secrets and stolen goods. Technically?"

"Yeah, 'Technically'."

"Well if we're talking 'Technically' then I guess 'technically' you're nearly as screwed as I am."

"Does this 'Technicality' mean I get an injection or electrified?"

"Oh, these people probably won't kill you, Cordy."

"Why doesn't your tone of voice reassure me?"

"Because your smarter then the average Bear. They won't execute you, Cor because that would be way too public. They'll more then likely find the dingiest Cell, in the worst Shit-Box in the USA, put you in it and throw away the Key, leaving you there until your nothing but bleached bones."

Cordelia shook her head in disbelief. "I can't believe I ever 'Frenched' with you."

"I sometimes can't believe that either."

"Well then, if I'm as screwed as you, then I want the *whole* friggin story. From start to finish with no commercials or intermission."

Directing Cordelia to the Leather Recliner and awaited until she had made herself good and comfy he then sat down upon the neighbouring sofa. "Well then, I guess it all started with my first official date with Jade. We were coming out of a restaurant and I notice this guy following us ----."


This wasn't going as well as she would have liked. She wanted her meeting to look like chance, and maybe to Michelle it did, but then again Michelle didn't seem like much of a Rocket Scientist. But too her true quarry --- well, she wasn't fooled a bit. The Slayer could easily tell this from the knowing expression upon her face. Her green eyes peered across the table at her with an equal amount of amusement and curiosity.

Michelle had happily left the two to go further with the hunt to find something 'Short, tight & see-through' with Xander's money. Leaving them both seated in adjacent silence of a cozy indoor Café upon the main strip.

She supposed she should say something, but this wasn't a Vamp or a Demon. Her quips didn't come as easily when facing an actual person, sure maybe to people she didn't actually like, or was comfortable being around, sure then the banter would flow. But to actual stranger's she was at a significant loss for witty-ness. No words were coming from her, and she desperately wanted to say something. Something that would get the awkward ball rolling.

Sensing this and with a smooth and honey soaked tone words were passed over the table towards her. "You can relax, Buffy. I'm not all that bad once you get too know me."

The first gesture of friendship was made, and she silently hated herself that it wasn't her who made it. "I am relaxed. Totally and truly relaxed. If I was anymore relaxed I would be sleeping."

Jade's smile at this frantic comment was warmer then she dared believe a smile could be, no one was this nice, you had to take lessons to be THIS nice. With a casual wave of her hand the wheelchair bound beauty beckoned one of the Coffee Shop attendants over. When she arrived with pad and pen the early thirties woman made a polite request. It didn't seem as if she was placing a service to the teenager before her, but rather asking for one as nicely as possible. "Could I please have a short white and a slice of Banana Cake. What about you, Buffy?"

"Umm, the err, the same I guess."

The Order was taken with a generous smile returned to the original giver of it and the 17-year old left the two once more in uncomfortable silence. A silence that existed for only several seconds until Jade Angelio broke it once more in the service of starting a productive dialogue. "For someone totally relaxed your not much the conversationalist, Buffy."

This was becoming worse by the second, the longer she stayed saying nothing; the worse it was getting for her. This was a mistake, and now she had ordered food and drink with this woman. She was now obligated to atleast remain until it was delivered and then eaten. If she bailed-out as her quicken heart was dictating to her to do she would come-off as rude, and this rudeness would undoubtedly make its way back to Xander's ears. And she couldn't have him thinking any worse of her. She had too much bridge mending to do too risk any further negative appraisals in his eyes of her.

In these quiet seconds she could actually feel her body begin to sweat. Why was that? Jade wasn't a threat to her. Atleast not a physical one, she was just a normal and nice person. Yet, a person who had a hold over Xander she needed to understand. This question, it seemed, was as good as any to start with in getting that proverbial ball moving. "How?"

"Excuse me?"

"How did you do that with Xander? How did you get him to look at you like he did? Like you were the most important person in the room. How?" The Slayer watched Jade's expression alter as her voice became more high pitched with her delivery of questions. Her desperation easily revealing itself and taking form in the queries made. With each hasten word Jade's left eyebrow arched a fraction more then it did the second before, just as the right side of her almost permanent smile raised in accompaniment.

With slight amusement in her voice the woman posed the questions with an answered statement. "I see, this is all starting to make sense to me now."

"Wh---what do you mean?"

"This. You 'bumping' into Michelle and me. Your threatened by me and my past relationship with Alex. You have a thing for him."

"No. No, I'm don't. I just --- I just --- yeah, kinda." Buffy placed both her hands over her face and gave an exasperated 'argh' at how apparent she must have looked to have been found out so quickly. Then with a light shake of her head she removed her hands and took a deep breath. "Look, I just want to understand it, that's all. Okay, my feelings for him aside, I want to understand how a person whom he hasn't seen for over two years, or spoke to his best friends about - and I mean EVER. Can have him drop to his knees, literally, within seconds of seeing you and then confess a continued and undying love.

"I --- I just want to understand a bit more about you and him, that's all. Cause he's never even breathed so much as a word about you, you or Michelle too anyone of us. And the weird thing is, it's like for him knowing you, him being in love with you was like some kind of big secret for him and I just want to understand that a little. Because it --- it really bothers me knowing that even at the best of times between us over the last couple of years that he didn't trust me well enough to tell me about any of this. About the two of you. That's all."

Jade looked down at her armrests and rubbed her metal frame for a moment before looking up and meeting the pleading face of the Slayer. Her smile, though still present was alittle bit sadder now and her green eyes dimmer. "Just so I understand it, just for my own interpretation, you are alittle bit threatened by me *and* curious?"

Reluctantly the Slayer again conceded this truth in-order to progress to with her queries. "Yes, I'm threatened and I guess I am alittle bit jealous and *Marjory* curious. I can admit that. My own realizations kinda feed all of these things. But you shouldn't be. Threatened, I mean At least you shouldn't be by me. Xander and I --- well, I screwed that up. I don't wanna go into details with you, because the specifics of it aren't to flattering for me. But I will say that I messed up in one of those days and stupid, impulsive decisions I'm renowned for, one that I wish I could go back in-time and make never happen.

"I royally screwed up my friendship up with him all for a cheap fifteen second thrill. A thrill that betrayed every caring moment we ever shared. I traded all his caring moments for one cheap-shallow one. One that in reflection, really wasn't all that great. I thought that when he got back this morning from LA that I could have fixed it all. That I could make it all right with three little words. And I want to fix it - I do. Really do.

"But --- but he's not interested in repairing anything with me. What I did to him was the last straw as far as he was concerned, and to be honest I don't think I can blame him. Over the years I've known him there have been a lot of 'straws', sooner or later his back was bound to give-out. Now he's bailing out of town, he say's it's not connected. But I know him well enough to know that it is. He's leaving here because of me, and I don't want him to leave. I've never begged for anything in my life. But I would have gladly, and was prepared too beg for him too give me another chance. *US* another chance. To make it all up to him. But seconds before I could do any of this you came rolling through those front doors. And --- and all the distrust and all the disappointment I'd seen in his eyes directed at me, it --- it all disappeared into something I haven't seen in them for a long time. Not even for Anya. Well, except for this one time last year when he was kinda of 'two' minds on something.

"Seeing you again pulled something out of him, something he had buried deep, something truly wonderful. And with you --- with you he rediscovered it. I need to understand how you did that. I need to know how you did that so he'll stay here with me, with *us*."

"You're thinking that I --- what? That I bewitched him?"

Buffy met the comment with a nervous laugh. "No. Absolutely not, but just to be sure, you --- you haven't have you?"

Laughing lightly at the unusual question Jade replied. "Of coarse not. You're a very strange girl Buffy."

Removing one of the Napkin's and placing it upon her lap the Slayer off handily commented. "Yeah, I get that a lot. Then --- then how did you do it?"

"To understand the 'how', you have to understand everything between us." At the completion of this sentence both their orders were bought over by the waitress. Jade took a sip of her coffee and looked across the table with the same dreamy expression she possessed in the 'Magic Box' an hour before hand. "I guess it all started for me when I saw a smile that had been beaten down, yet life couldn't make unturn. I guess it started for me with seeing his eyes, eyes that looked as if they had seen nothing but hardship and pain yet still never lost any spark and faith in the life about him. It started with him reminding me of someone very important to me, someone I had met briefly a year before. That's what it was. A simple reminder at first, and then it grew into something else. Something special and valuable and something I will always treasure." The teller of the tale sighed happily, pausing a moment to recollect her thoughts before she proceeded.

"We met by accident, and I mean that literally. There were no witnesses to what he did. He could have driven off, and I wouldn't have been any the wiser to his poor parking ability. But he stayed to face the unknown wrath of me." Jade's smile stretched and became warmer at the memory her words churned. "Later on when I asked him why he did that when he could have gotten away with it easily. He just answered that it was simply the right and honourable thing to do. It was then that I thought how special and uniquely extraordinary this young man was. So little his age have that kind of --- of decency.

"He asked me out to some coffee at a 'Starbucks' which was down on the corner, too help settle me down. I wasn't fretting over the dent, I was fully covered. But it was as good of a place as any to exchange our Insurers. The Formalities were over in two-minutes, but we stayed chatting there for over an hour, maybe more. At least until early evening.

"The next day he showed up at my work place saying that he misspelled a couple of things on his Insurance Form and needed to make sure everything was, in his words, 'hokay-dokey'. The Form was perfect, everything was on the Form was perfect. But we still did it again all over Coffee, and it still took over an hour and a bit to do so.

"On the third day he showed up again with another Insurance Form. This time he stated he forgot to dot an 'i'. He was so awkward and nervous just standing there in the middle of my Office. By this time the old Water-Cooler Brigade had noticed him and taken note of the second visit. I don't have too many guys' show up and ask to see me, and having a teenager ask me out for an afternoon Caffeine and Muffin Break was something that got a few tongues wagging. It was a bit of thrill, even if it was under the guise of something else entirely, besides I didn't mind his company, infact I enjoyed it. It was at this third meeting I realized what it was we were really doing in his eyes, and to him we weren't having an innocent afternoon coffee break."

"You were both dating."

With teeth showing, Jade smiled at the Slayer's deduction. "Apparently he had a pretty rough time in the L'amour area, not that I'm any expert. Still, I suppose it's the trial of every teenager and he wanted to be extra careful proceeding with me. When I asked why I frightened him he gave me a full scope of his dating history. He didn't hold back either, presenting me with quite the range for someone so young." Jade then extended out her hand and started to count off the various 'conquests', with the folding back of one finger apiece. "A substitute teacher, an exchange student, a weird one who talked all through his Prom. But they were all single-dates that concluded for him, in his own words, without the possibility of progressing any further.

"I had to admit I was alittle turned off, especially with the whole Substitute Teacher thing. The only thing that kept me interested was the fact that he didn't seem to be bragging about the 'accomplishment', as I was sure a lot of men his age would but was rather embarrassed over it. And as he kept talking I began to understand how indeed an older woman could easily be misled by his youth. I have never met a more 'older' teenager in my life. He spoke with such a sadden passion that he drew me in, and I've been stuck there ever since." Jade then tore off a piece of her cake and ate it. Waiting until she had swallowed before continuing.

"For example, there was one girl he loved more then oxygen that had a Romeo and Juliet thing going on with an older gentleman. But she apparently couldn't see past her nose where he was concerned, for her he would always be her 'Alex-shaped-friend'. 'Alex-shaped-friend', what girl could possibly be his friend and not fall in love with him. She must *really* have lived in her own little World. Anyway her loss was my gain. Because I think if she paid him the slightest mind and attention he would have moved Mountains for her. I remember when he was telling me about how beautiful she was to him. Not only physically, but mentally and spiritually. His eyes would shine at his own description of her. That kind of raw devotion and love is rare even in an adult; I couldn't imagine the maturity he had to possess them as an 18-year old."

To this testimony, and unseen underneath the table they were both sitting, Buffy, the most feared and accomplished Vampire Slayer in history, twisted her paper napkin into oblivion upon hearing the words passing her neighbours lips.

"He didn't deny or close off his feelings. He didn't place the blame on anyone but himself for his various failures. And he admitted there were more then a few catastrophes, and that the fault was always his own.

"He earnt himself a steady girlfriend, but she was more to help him move on from this unhealthy infatuation. But still he jeopardised that relationship with an insecure curiosity with someone else, as you might have guessed neither romance ended well for him. He said he was a first-rate Bastard for doing what he did, and that he had taken advantage of the situation when he should have been better. As both of these young women he said deserved to have been treated as such. He didn't say he was seduced, he didn't say he was drunk. He just said that he made a mistake and he learnt from it, with the intention of never making another one like it ever again. Oh, and then there was another one, well, all he would say to me about her was that she was nearly the Death of him."

"He never gave you any of their names?"

"I never asked, besides it wasn't any of my business. I suppose he thought I had a right to know the kind of person he was, so he shared that with me. But he didn't see the point of telling me their names, as their identities weren't all that important to what he had done in the past. Besides, I didn't want to pry too deeply.

"Infact, in telling me nothing about them Alex was actually telling me so much more about himself. My father has a saying - a TRUE gentleman never kisses and tells. And Alex kept his lips sealed.

"Anyway, after our third 'outing' I told him that the next one had better involve a Dinner. He looked so adorable. With his smouldering eyes, and that damn break-your-heart smile of his. He stuttered out the question of what I was planning on doing the following night. I could've toyed with him a bit, but I decided to put him out of his misery and told him I was planning on having dinner with an 18-year old I had just met.

"You see, that's Alex. If your interested you have to be aggressive with him, otherwise he will take things slow. And if you take things too slow with him you can easily fall into a pattern of just 'friendship'. If you like him Buffy the worst thing you can do is not let him know it and too wait for him to figure it all out for himself."

Buffy scowled at the comment and advice given, feeling slightly offended that it was coming from the mouth of a 'stranger'. But when she then did some back thinking of all of Xander's various relationships she had to agree there was some truth to it. Mantis-Lady was the deadly-initiator, and Ampata was practically forced down his throat with major prompting by herself. Cordelia wasn't exactly a shrinking violet and as to Anya, well, the Slayer had never met anyone so one-tracked then the former-Demon when her mind was made up on something.

It was true, Xander always tried to take things slowly and carefully. It was always the various females in his life that sped things up for him.

"Alex carries in him a quiet integrity, Buffy. And I found that attractive. He's not the boastful kind; he doesn't try and impress people. He just does what has to be done, and he does it quietly. But there was also something else that interested me about him, he always underestimated himself. When I complimented him on his manner's and attentiveness he would get all embarrassed and acted like he wasn't good enough for the praise received. I honestly don't think he ever heard any positive encouragement from anybody when he was growing up. This was a pity, for he had so many wonderful and strong qualities in him, but with confidence, in this he was lacking."

"THAT'S NOT TRUE!" The Slayer quickly darted her head around to the public area's when she realized she had involuntarily raised her voice to the smother the claims made, hoping and praying that in doing so had not made them both a spectacle. "I won't let you character-assainate him like this. There isn't anyone I could think of who inspires more confidence in me, or who I trust more in a midst of a crisis then Xander*"

"*In a Crisis? In a crisis, Buffy, I agree. I've seen Alex in a 'Crisis', and there is only *one* other person who impresses, and terrifies me more then Alex. But when he was *not* in a crisis, Buffy, he is completely different. If you know him, then you must know this. He is one of the sweetest, gentlest, and kindest soul's I have ever met, but he wrapped this --- this insecurity around him like a shroud. He constantly underestimates himself, doing his best not to measure up because he is afraid of both failure and success.

"If you want to make your mark in this world Buffy, you have to accept the fact that people are going to start expecting things from you. Nobody *ever* expects things from someone who is just mediocre. Alex had lived his life being part of people who were undoubtedly exceptional in his view. And he saw himself less so. But he wasn't. He was anything but mediocre. He is smart, and brave, and talented, and --- and exceptional! It was just too bad no-one ever told him that. And my heart just melted more for him at seeing this flaw.

"I wasn't a teenager anymore, Buffy, and I had long since moved on from drooling over the various 'BadBoys' on the Movie Screens and TV Shows. The various two-dimensional guy's with the attitude, the edge and the dangerous mystery. There comes a time, Buffy, when you must look beyond the surface and look at the substance. And with Alex, it was all about 'still waters---', I knew if I didn't take a chance and look beyond the obvious age thing that I would regret it."

There was something stirring within the Slayer now, something in the way Jade was talking to her. This woman was being completely honest and open with her and it was like she was receiving advice from a bigger sister. So caught up in this fostering dynamic the Slayer decided to drop the whole analysis of Xander's life, and not point out the glaring untruths she believed had been shared. Not so much as to avert an argument, but out of fear that she maybe proved wrong about her own conception of the man called 'Xander Harris', which to be quite honest, at that particular moment wasn't all that hard to do so. "But wasn't it --- y'know --- strange, going out with a younger guy?"

"No. No, it was surprisingly comfortable. Besides, as I have always defended him in the past with Michelle and my Father. Alex is in possession of one of those 'Old-Souls' you read about in those tacky Romance Novels. Owning in him a maturity and wisdom beyond his years. He was a gentleman through-and-through that night, as well as with all the other nights that followed. He didn't even try to take advantage when it was freely offered; I couldn't have made the signals any less clearer on our first 'official' Date."

Buffy sat riveted to the story, leaning further to capture every word. "What signals?" Ms Angelio didn't say anything. Allowing her same amused smile and silence answer the question for her. "Oooooo. You mean those kind of 'Signals'. But---but nothing happened, right? You said he didn't take advantage." Buffy then realized she had asked the questions you shouldn't ask, at least not until you had gotten a chance to know the other person a little bit better. Yet she still couldn't help it, for some strange reason she was now feeling very territorial. This only amused Jade more at her displayed awkwardness in enquiring into Xander's and her sexual history.

"No, nothing like *that* happened. But it was an eventful night for other reasons. And that's not to say that we didn't 'do' anything day's later. Just not that night." Jade smile stretched. "Do you want to see a photo of what happened when we did?"

With this Buffy's eyes exploded out of her head. "You --- you took photographs?"

Jade chuckled. "No. No photo's, and besides I don't think that the first-time that we were together was characteristic of what followed. It wasn't until a little while later after that, that we found a --- um --- rhythm. One which worked best for us, only it went beyond the word 'Best' if you know what I mean."

Knowing full well of the numerous praises Anya used to lavish on Xander's skill she wasn't fazed so much by the comment from the woman infront of her. "Yeah, I've heard he's a real Viking when he wants to be."

"You could not fantasize how good he became in such a few short weeks."

"Are we talking 10 out of 10?"

"No. We're talking 'Speaking in tongues'!"

Buffy's eyebrows rose dramatically. "That --- that good?" If Anya had said this it would have been cast off and aside. The former-demon was always paying homage to the bedroom-skills of Xander. But when Jade made an equal impressed comment then there was now secondary support given to these claims.

"I kept 2-litres of fluid by the bed for after, and I used to keep Michelle awake at night for hours. She got so curious at what it was we did in there that she once dared us to Video Tape one of our --- private moments."

"Did you?"

Again, Jade allowed a knowing smile pass between them as she began fishing for her purse in her handbag. Knowing full well that in not answering she was encouraging a burning curiosity, one that was now flaming in the blonde opposite her. "Ahh, found it. Here we are." Jade slid out a worn photograph from one of her purses clear plastic compartments and presented it across the table. The wear upon the glossy print looked as it had been pulled out a hundred times a day for over a hundred day's. And who knew, maybe it had been.

The photo revealed a younger Xander smiling widely; embracing the same woman seated across from her now, with a mature silver haired and bearded man besides her, offering the camera lens a more subtle smile then the other two. But still a smile that easily portrayed a man content. It was a happy photograph, but one thing struck her imminently at the 2.5 year image. "Where did Xander get that Black Eye?"

Jade laughed gently. "As I said, Alex is if nothing else an honourable man. He came to the decision of telling my Father that our relationship had progressed to the next level. My Dad had been absent my entire life, and I guess he was seeing me as a little girl and not a grown woman. I think he liked the idea of me being the former and not the later."

"So for having sex with you he hit Xander?"

"Alex can consider himself lucky my Dad actually liked him, otherwise it could have been a lot worse. In a surprising way, my Father and Alex became a lot closer after the event. I mean not too many men can take a punch from John Mason and still remain conscious.

"Alex's demonstration of respect and toughness really impressed him that day. And that's the kind of the Code my Father lives by. Honour and Strength. My dad took a definite shine to him, even if he never expressed it in the way most men do. That's him standing next to me. It was through my Father that Alex grew as a person, becoming more --- I don't know --- assured in himself, I guess that's as good of a way to describe it. He staggered my Dad by being able to pick up on things shown him really quickly and he never complained. He would take whatever punishment was delivered and would be willing to go back for more the next day. This is the only photo I have of the two most important men in my life together with me."

Buffy took in the features of the elder of the three in the image and handed it back reluctantly to Jade. As she accepted the photo from the Slayer, John Manson's little girl repeated the name the Slayer had used earlier. "Anya? Who's Anya?"

"Oh, umm, the woman behind the counter who was yelling at the two of you."

"The rude one?"

A lite chuckle raised in the Slayer's throat. "Yeah, but she's not normally like that. Well, she can be, but never with strangers. I guess she saw the same fresh look in his eyes as I did and she didn't like it too much. I guess she was jealous, they --- they were once engaged to be Married you know."

The rich dark red haired woman stuttered out in surprise. "N---n---no, I didn't know." Jade then placed both hands flat on the table and stared down at the photo of her and Xander at her fingers tips. Her face betraying a look of a one lost a million miles away. She held this look for several uncomfortable moments before she continued. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised though. My Father did tell him to move on with his life. To try and forget everything. To keep a low profile. I suppose it would have been a fool's dream to expect someone like him to remain single forever." Again the green-eyed beauty then looked down mournfully at her chairs armrest, slowly removing her hands from the table and massaging the padded arm frame before continuing.

The tone that carried now in her voice wasn't as positive however as it was before and it flowed with a hurt that the Slayer was beginning to know only too well in her own voice. "This Anya, despite her behaviour earlier, she obviously has pretty good taste in men, and I don't doubt that she is a good person. If Alex --- if he proposed to her then she must be. How long were they---?"


Jade nodded but didn't look up from her stroking hands.

"Pretty much as soon as he got back from his 'Trip', it was actually pretty odd. They seem to share nothing in common. So when they started to date from the get go, it took us all a bit by surprise. But over time she changed, not in a big way, but she became more tolerable. Xander, was good for her. And then he proposed last year."

The voice that followed this news was hollow and barely a notch above a whisper, but with the benefits of Slayer hearing Buffy heard it as clear as a bell. "And she was smart enough to have said 'Yes'."

Offering a solitary and unseen nod the blonde Chosen-One answered. "Yeah, --- yeah she did." Looking across the table at her 'foe', Buffy was overwhelmed with a shame that bought this sadness into this woman's life at hearing the news. She didn't like this feeling one bit. So she quickly countered it with as much believable enthusiasm as she could muster. "But he didn't go through with the ceremony though. He couldn't."

Buffy, despite her best and worst intentions, did feel awful at being the source of Jade's present unhappiness even though there was a small piece of her that revelled in causing it. Her jealousy for this striking woman was not as overwhelming as she was sure it was for Anya towards the same, but it still existed within her. But this was just a small fraction of her, and it was a small fraction that was easily overshadowed by the desire to understand this strange female more, and how she and Xander had became so close in such a short four-month period of time.

In an effort to establish a bond she attempted to ease her companion's distress by then imparting too her the reason, stated by Xander, for not marrying the former Demon on the day in-question. "He --- he told her that it wasn't right, and that they were both rushing it. He told her he didn't want to end up hurting her."

This last sentence got Jade's attention, and her sad smile returned to her face as she looked up. But despite the sadness carried in her upturned mouth there was now a glimmer of happiness in her eyes at this news. "That sounds just like Alex, always putting other peoples happiness ahead of his own."

Returning the same sad smile, Buffy corrected her. "No. That sounds just like Xander." The two women remained silent for a few seconds as another unsaid understanding crept across the table between the two. It was fortunate that it was during this lull that the Bill for their Coffee and Cake arrived. When the teenager left their company once more it was Buffy's turn to instigate the continued discussion of the male Scooby. "Do you love him?" The question was abrupt and direct, but she needed to ask it and she needed it answered.

Without looking up as she stirred sugar into her hot caffenated drink Jade answered matter of factly. "I never stopped loving him. I hated him for weeks when I was in Hospital, and then for months as I suffered through Re-Hab. But then I realised that in hating him I loved him all the more because I was hating him due to the fact that he was not there with me. And that him not being there with me was his way of showing how much he loved me in return."

"You--- you hated and you loved him because he abandoned you?"

"Buffy, I can't tell you much. If Alex felt safe with you knowing he would have told you everything himself long ago. In not making you apart of the problem he's protecting you from it. I'm part of the Problem, Michelle is part of the Problem, my Father is a BIG part of the Problem, and so is Alex. There are something's in this World you can't fight; you can only hide from. Michelle and I, we can't hide. We have no cause to hide, we're recognized Innocent's. My father and Alex however --- please understand this, they're hiding, and they're hiding for a good reason. Because to be found for them is to be lost forever." Jade finished stirring her cup and looked up into Buffy's eyes. "But they won't be hiding for long; soon, a few weeks at the very least, they can both stop hiding and start living again."

Jade watched Buffy's face become more question-orientated as the enigmatic words crossed the half-meter chasm between them, and she knew that the blonde infront of her probably would have no appreciation of the dangerous life Alex had been flung into two-and-a-half years earlier. A life that in knowing her, and loving her, had made him a target for life within the same Country he lived.

"Do you know that old cliche people would say about being 'Willing to die for the one they love.'? Well, things become a cliche for a reason. In a two second span that measured years for me I knew that I would die for Alex, and I was prepared to do just that. I do love him, Buffy. You never know how much you love someone until you willingly jump between them and a bullet. When you knowingly or instinctually act as a Protective Wall for them from definite harm, it is then you know the depths of your feelings. It was then I knew how much I loved him. I love him more then my own life."

There was a meaning in Jade's words, but all Buffy could do at hearing these sentences was drift her mind back to the numerous times of memory when Xander had done the exact same thing for her without thinking twice over each instance. And her angry and rebuking words that followed his various heroic acts about foolishly risking his life. These words would probably now never again leave her mouth, as it was doubtful he would ever want to shield her from harm again. A part of her has happy in this knowledge; another however was saddened at realizing it.

Yet as her mind drifted along these pathways of memory and recrimination, another active part of her brain gave a voice to a series of questions and realizations. "Bullet? What do you mean Bull---* That's why you're in that chair, aren't you? Someone tried to shoot Xander and you jumped infront of him!"

A protective heat flushed over her face as she dared imagine anyone trying to shoot at Xander. Everything was making a little bit of sense to her now, the words he spoke to Jade at the 'Magic Box', the silent and brooding guilt she observed him carrying over the years but never dared enquire upon. Everything was now falling into place. Even Michelle's comment of 'Delta's & Navy Seals'. She was slowly acquiring the combination to a Pandora's Box, a Box with Xander's face upon it. And she sat in a curious fear of the secret that lay within this locked container.

He didn't speak much of his road trip after Senior Year, she had thought it was because he was embarrassed at working as a Kitchen Hand and One-Night as a Stripper. But the events of this day were revealing another explanation entirely. Something happened to him during this 'Road-Trip'. Not just meeting and falling in love with a woman he never mentioned to anyone. It was something that involved Jade's father. Of this she was almost 100% certain, especially with the earlier comment of him being a BIG part of whatever problem there was.

It was obvious from what had passed in casual conversation moments earlier that this Father was the instigator of all these decisions involving her best friend, and that he was someone he respected. Xander leaving San Francisco. Xander laying low. Xander starting up a new Life. On a hunch the Slayer spoke out another question to add to Jade's now silence of her earlier ones. "This 'Sundance' person Michelle mentioned to us. It's your Dad, isn't it? He's Sundance and Xander was Butch."

Jade's eye's penetrated Buffy's and for the first time the smile that was always plastered on her face disappeared. "You never heard those names, Buffy. Don't mention it to anyone ever again, are we clear? You have no idea how much worse your life will become if you do."

"Did your Father threaten him? Did he?!? What does this have to do with San Francisco nearly three years ago? What happened there with you four?"

A sad chuckle left Jade's lips as she remembered the unique relationship shared by both. "My father always threatened Alex. He would threaten him and then Alex would push his buttons to get him to threaten him some more. Like I said before, it was the entire basis of their association with one another, and neither would have had it any other way. But there was absolutely no malice in it. My Father would kill to protect Alex, just as he would willingly die to do so as well."

"Jade, please tell me something. Anything. Was Xander in danger? What went down? Maybe I can help. Tell me everything and I promise I'll help you. I'll help you both. But you have to tell me."

Jade began to slip the photograph back into her purse and then once more into her handbag, her actions betraying someone who was starting to grow very annoyed. "No offence Buffy, but what could you possibly do?"

"You'd be surprised."

Jade paused her motions and then looked at the Slayer compassionately, weighing everything that had been passed between them over the past five-minutes. "Buffy, this doesn't involve you."

"Xander is my best friend. What involves him, involves me."

"But you don't know him; you don't know anything about him."

"And whose fault is that? Am I supposed to be a Mind-Reader or something? If nobody tells me anything how will I know what I should? Xander is my best friend, my bestest best friend. I did something inexcusable to him; I want to make it better. Tell me how and I will. But I need you to tell me everything and not flog-off this analysis crap. I know more about Xander then you will ever believe possible, we have been through more things with him that you cannot conceive - Ever!"

"Very well. If you know him so well, then tell me - What did Alex want to be when he grew up?"

Buffy's brow scrunched at the question. She didn't have an immediate answer, Xander was always, or seemed to her at times in High School pretty much aimless, but he did liked helping and protecting people so she took a stab. "Police Officer?"

Jade shook her head. "No, Buffy. All Alex ever wanted to be when he got older was too be Loved." Jade then leaned forward, as if to emphasis her words. "He didn't care what he did professionally, as long as he was loved by the people who mattered most to him. What about you? When you were a little girl, Buffy, what did you want to be?"

"Huh? I don't understand what this has to do with anything."

"It might help me understand you a bit better. It's a harmless question, Buffy. What did you want to do?"

"Well --- I --- I wanted to be a professional Figure Skater. You know, skate in the Olympic's and stuff."

"And what do you do now?"

"I umm, flip patties down at the Double-Meat." Buffy admitted this last piece with some embarrassment, but to her astonishment Jade didn't waver in her compassioned gaze. Unaffected with the humbling no-where job.

"Have you always been lonely, Buffy?"

"Huh? What? No. Where did you get that idea?"

"Ice Skating --- out of all the jobs for a little girl I would think Ice Skater would rate as one of the loneliest. Out in the middle of an Arena, barricaded off from other people. Performing in front of strangers to get their approval and acceptance upon a cold, cold surface. You must have been a very lonely little girl, Buffy."

"I --- I liked the Ice-capades, and I was a kid. So don't read too much into it. I mean, what about you? What did you want to be?"

"Me? I wanted to be Lois Lane."

"Isn't she the one who is always being rescued by Superman and wasn't smart enough to work out it was Clark Kent?" Buffy didn't mean her retaliation to sound so bitter, but the impromptu analysis had cut too close to home for her.

Jade nodded, still smiling and immune to the venomous tone given. "Yes, but every time she had those misadventures she was in search of the Truth, besides, I was smarter then Lois in that I was able to identify that my Clark and Superman were both one in the same. And now I am her, Lois Lane, a Journalist, chasing down the Truth where ever I find it, and it is because of this Career that I have been --- insulated and 'protected'. I have become what I dreamed of being, I now maybe confined to a Wheelchair, but I'm still living my dream. Most Print Reporting these days are done on the Phone or via Contacts. I'm still unearthing the Truth as best I can in the Lies I've found. I've even won a couple of Awards for my work."

Jade then released the breaks from her wheels and drew herself out from her place from across the table and directed her wheelchair over towards the Slayer. Once repositioned she spoke again with an air of authority. "But me and what I have done with my life is beside the point, Buffy. You should never limit yourself and you don't have to be lonely if you don't wish to be. I can help you there if you want. But only if you tell me the truth. No 'Thing' answers this time okay, I need to hear you tell me straight. I need to hear you say it. I need to know how much you Love and care about Alex?!?"

With a silent gulp and refusing to meet her rival's green eyes, Buffy began again twisting another paper napkin into oblivion under the table.

"Buffy, you can't help me and Alex with our problem. But I can help you and him with yours. But only if you tell me honestly what you feel. I promise I won't hold what you say against you."

"Why? Why would you help me with Xander? Why?"

"If you answer my question, then I will try to answer yours."

"I --- I love him." The declaration came out weak and almost as a whisper. But when she finally admitted this to Jade there was now no longer any hesitation of thought for her anymore. She had stalled with her admittance with Dawn, but not anymore. She was proud of how she felt, so she repeated her answer with more pride and determination. "I love him enough to stand in front of a bullet for him."

Throughout the entire exchange Jade had never stopped smiling, sometimes it was a warm smile, other's it was a sad one. But at hearing Buffy's sentence the smiling ceased again, but it ceased only for a fraction of a time as the San Francisco visitor processed the meaning and purpose behind the Slayer's words. Once that was accomplished she soothed out a reply. "Well then, it looks as if we have something in common, Buffy. Now, let's get you two together then, huh?"

"Hang on. What* --- Why are you doing this?!?"

"You love him don't you?"


"And he, Buffy, loves you too."

"No. No, he doesn't. H---he* How do you know how he feels about me?"

"You're her aren't you? You're the one he loves more then Oxygen. Alex may not have told me your name, Buffy, but he did describe you to me. He described you perfectly; he described all the women in his life perfectly."

"You --- you knew?"

"Yes, just as I know that Cordelia is the woman he dated to get over you and Willow the girl he cheated with when he was seeing Cordelia. He described your physical descriptions to a 'T'." Jade began to inch closer to the seated Slayer. "Buffy, for the last two years I have replayed every loving conversation I ever had with that man over and over again. You are all ingrained in my memories to the point that I feel as if I know you all."

"Then why help me with him? As far as you must be concerned I must deserve this."

"Buffy, you were 17 and 18 years of age, still pretty much a child to know what love really was. And as for Alex? I don't think he ever really was one. You made a mistake years ago, but now you've finally opened your eyes. You've finally worked out who 'Superman' is, sure it may have taken you longer then some, but you finally figured it out. So it's never too late to make things right."

"It is as far as Xander is concerned. He can't even spend two minutes with me."

"Then spend only one-minute with him and work your way up. He's well worth the effort, Buffy. Take it from me, you won't be disappointed."

"Why are you saying this?"

"Because I love him, and I want him to be happy. And I know that I will never really make him happy." The wheelchair bound woman then once more stroked the armrests of her chair, it wasn't a gentle massage this time, there was a vigorous and nervous application of it that communicated her meaning towards the blonde seated besides her.

Buffy spied the action taken against the metal framed wheeled chair and thought that in some way an insult was being delivered to the man that now had her heart. As such, she felt honour bound to defend him even at the expense of inflaming the woman permanently seated next to her. "Xander isn't like that. He's not the superficial kind, it wouldn't matter to him whether you could walk or not."

Jade Angelio's eyes darted up and met the Slayer's. There was no longer a compassionate look in them anymore but rather a heated one. "I don't need to you to tell me what kind of person he is. I know he wouldn't care about --- about this. But *I* would care. Because he would be blaming himself everyday that we are together."

Buffy felt suddenly very much younger then the adult she always claimed to be. Her response was a pathetic one, but true none the less to her feelings. "Sorry."

Jade composed herself to Buffy's apology quickly and apologized herself. "No, I'm the one who should be sorry, Buffy. It's just not easy. The last man I ever loved is here. The last man who ever touched me in the way a woman wants to be touched by someone that they love is here. And I feel --- *" Jade released a dismal chuckle. "And *I* feel threatened and jealous. Despite your claims that I shouldn't be.

"I know my feelings, and they won't change. And I know Alex's feelings towards me as well, and I know a piece of him will always belong to me. But as to the other things, the big and the little, in those things I can offer him absolutely nothing. You, Anya, Cordelia, and Willow can offer him so much more then I would ever be able too. I can only ever offer him my Love, but you four? You four would be able to reciprocate it."

"What do you mean?"

There issued a deep tired sigh from the mouth of the visitor before she spoke. "Buffy, I could pour your coffee into my lap and the worst thing that would happen to me would be that I would receive 1st- Degree burns. Burn's I would not be able to feel. Buffy, I am completely 'numb' from the waist down."

"Yeah, so? That would not alter how things are, he would still love you more then me."

Jade shook her head as she again tried to make the Slayer comprehend her meaning. "Buffy, try and understand what it is I'm saying to you - I cannot feel anything below my hips. *Anything*. His 'touch' that I loved, well, I can't feel that anymore. Not since --- there --- there was major nerve damage. Buffy, I would not be able to 'respond' and 'react' to anything he could do for me as a woman. Do you understand? Because if you can, and if you know Alex as well as you say and claim you do. Then you know that he would not be able to get over this."

Buffy sat at a complete loss of words, looking back and forth between Jades lap and her own. "You mean --- nothing? You can't feel anything, not even 'there'?"

Jade didn't answer; she just kept her eyes steady with the Slayer's.

The following silence was un-nerving to the point that the Chose-One wanted too scream out. This news *would* destroy Xander if it was true. But was it? Buffy struck her hand out quickly, using all her Slayer speed and lightly pinched the top of the chair-bound woman's thigh. The reaction was none to the effort, no movement, no facial twitching to the activity. So she slowly started to apply additional pressure, as the seconds elapsed it became obvious that with the superhuman strength in her thumb and index-finger that even the toughest person would have uttered out a startled yelp. But Jade remained motionless and silent to the application, her expression unwavering. Come morning there would be an ugly bruise, but the Slayer's curiosity and suspicions were now sated.

Slowly Buffy withdrew her hand and looked at Jade apologetically. "I'm sorry, I just had to know if you were*"

Jade interrupted and concluded the explanation. "Being honest? Buffy, I am not a selfish person, or a liar. My Mother raised me better then that. But I understand. Obviously I didn't feel anything from your little 'Test' so you now know I'm telling you the truth. But Buffy, if you want me to help you earn Alex back, you have to start trusting me."

"I do, at least I do now."

"I'm not your enemy, Buffy. I want to be your friend. I want; when my Father comes to collect me in a couple of weeks, too leave knowing that there will be someone with him who will love him as he should be loved. If you don't think this person is you, tell me now. Please, please tell me now."

There was more shame blossoming in Joyce Summer's eldest daughter for how she was presenting herself in front of this woman then she had ever felt in her life before any other 'stranger'. "I--- I am, I do love him. But it doesn't matter what I feel, what about Xander?"

Jade shook her head in disappointment. "Oh, my Father would just love you. Do you often talk yourself into giving up before you have even made a single attempt?"

"N---no, but this is Xander. He knows me too well. He's not someone who will let himself be 'Played'."

With a hard tone Jade replied to the statement. "I'm not planning on 'Playing' anyone. I want Alex to be happy, if you say you will do everything you can to make him happy. Then I will take that on faith and you will have my support. Just promise me you will give me what little time I have to be with him." The Slayer nodded, understanding the unselfish desire. Agreeing that this was the very least she could do if a pact was formed.

"Buffy, look, there was a time when Alex cared deeply about you. Those kind of things just don't just stop because that person isn't around anymore, trust me, I'd know. You said that he was now disappointed and distrustful of you. Maybe it's deserved, and maybe it isn't. I don't know. It's not any of my business unless you want to make it my business." Jade's words were welcomed with silence as Buffy looked regretfully down at her lap.

"Well then, lets make him see that you are someone he can still trust and be proud of. I believe you when you say you love him, but Buffy you can't give up because you think it will be too hard or will lead you to heartache. One chance in a Billion is still one chance, Buffy, and sometimes a single chance is all you need."

"Jade, Xander has seen me at my best and at my very, VERY worst. Most recently it has been the very, very worst part. It's not going to be easy to get him to change his mind and opinion of me. He can be pretty stubborn when he wants to be."

"Again with the giving-up? Buffy, I'm not talking about your worst or your best, I'm talking about *you*. Alex was once head over heels in love with you, the whole package you. The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. He didn't discriminate."

"No, I did that. If I'd known how my life would have ended up*"

"*Buffy, look at me! Look what happened to me, if not for Alex I'd probably be still walking. But you know what? I would have felt emptier. Hindsight is always 20/20 and if I knew then what I know now, I still wouldn't have changed a damn thing."

Anger began to rise in the Chosen One's throat, it was not intentionally directed at Jade but at how she seemed to be trivializing her problem with Xander, when in truth it was for from simple and neat. It was a pure betrayal of friendship and respect. But how do you explain to someone not in the know that the reason for everything was because you were having sex with a Vampire while invisible when the man you now loved entered the room searching for you out of concern for your safety. You can't, not unless you were prepared to be taken to the Loony Bin directly afterwards. And that was a kind of experience she wasn't looking forward to ever repeating again.

"If it was so perfect, then how did it go wrong with you two?"

Jade paused for a moment before replying, in obvious mental debate over what she should reveal. After a couple of seconds she took a rocky intake of air. "It was my fault. Alex and I were going to go do some 'Swinging'*"


"Swinging, you know, Swing Dancing."

"Oh" A rosy flush claimed the cheeks of the Slayer at her misunderstanding as her early momentary anger diminished. "I didn't know Xander, err, 'Swung', I mean he never mentioned it to me."

"Haven't you already figured out that maybe there might be a lot about him he hasn't mentioned to you?"

"I guess that's now a given, huh?"

Jade's eyes became lost in memory as she spoke further. "He couldn't dance well, born with two left feet, but --- if he ever asks you to dance with him Buffy, never turn it down. Because if you do you'd end up regretting it for the rest of your life.

"In his arms I never felt so safe, so protected, so loved. That's what I miss the most I guess, dancing clumsily with him, laughing and smiling at him as he held me in his arms. Take my word for it, Buffy. If he ever says he wants to Dance with you, don't ever be stupid enough to turn it down. Because then you will be missing out on a true expression of how he feels about you."

The Slayer remained silent, lost in her own memory at these words just as much as Jade was lost in her own of the same man. Lost to a time before everything went too Hell in a hand basket, of a time when Xander had innocently declared to her that all he wanted to Dance with her. Of a time that wasn't now "So, umm, Swing, what happened?"

"Alex had something big planned, something special. Something he wanted my Father and Michelle to be apart of and present for. I --- I didn't know exactly what he had on his mind, but I suspected. And I would have said 'Yes'." Jade issued the last sentence almost in silence, pausing sadly for a moment in her words and trying to look distracted by something as she wiped her eyes clean before she continued. "Anyway, with 'Swing-Culture' it's always more fun if you dress for the part. It's all Social and a laugh. Alex was training with my Father---."

Buffy brow crunched, taking an extra titbit to her memory.

"--- and they were going to meet me and Michelle for an enjoyable night at a local night club that specializes in those theme-things. Michelle and I were the last appointments of the day so we asked them to meet us at the Salon."


"Hair Appointment. I got a flyer of a new Salon that opened down near my workplace. Michelle and I were all dressed up and getting our hair done in accustom for the 'Era' of Swing. Like I said, it was being planned by Alex to being a fun and special night for us. I --- I shouldn't have talked so much to the stylist, but he was so friendly and personable, and I was so excited. He was just one of those people you open up too.

"I told him of Alex and my suspicions of what was going to happen. When I confessed my thoughts Michelle was over the Moon. I told him about how my Father and I had reconciled after he had been absent for nearly all of my life. Of the big night ahead. Of Everything.

"Anyway, right on time Alex walks into the Salon to collect us and everything in those two-to-three seconds is all fine. Then my Father stepped through the doorway and my Hair Stylist then totally flips, we're talking full born panic attack. Lost between the Fight-or-Flight response, eventually he choses Flight. Running and screaming out the back way. The rest of the evening after that just went down hill; it seemed, according to my Father, that he and my Stylist had a brief association with one another."

"What kind of man gets Hairdressers to run away in fear?"

With another sad but amused smile, Jade answered the Slayer's query. "The same kind of man who knows how to kill another with just his thumb."


The Slayer sat impatiently behind the steering wheel of her late mother's 4x4 and viewed a heartbreaking spectacle from halfway down the quiet street. She had left Jade's polite company an hour earlier, but that did not mean she stopped being a 'presence' around her. From a discreet and cautionary distance the renowned 'Chosen One' maintained an unseen vigil, trying her best to blend in with the other customers that were scattered throughout the Mall. Spying, not because she didn't trust the stranger - because she did, she spied because she wanted to. This person was so natural in everything that she did, there appeared to be no false fronts, she seemed to be a person who complimented her Xander perfectly. But there was something else, there was character. A dignity. A 'Quality'.

Michelle and Jade continued shopping for a further 50-minutes before they both seemed to have decided to leave the various retailers' that littered the Mall and made their way to the Parking Garage with their fresh purchases in hand.

From a still safe and discreet distance she followed them both and then 'tailed' the simple, yet current model silver Ford sedan. The vehicle circled some of the more familiar streets of the Town in which the Slayer now called her home. At first the 'Chosen One' thought that they were lost, it was not until the streets became more and more recognizable that the 'killer of the Undead' realized that the erratic and seemingly confused journey was not a sightseeing activity but rather one in search of a very familiar Apartment address. An address that she herself was guilty of driving, or walking by on some of her more self-inflicting moments of inner self resentment over the last two months.

With the timed twice honking of the Ford's horn she witnessed Xander emerge from the building's entrance and practically spring down the front steps of his Apartment Complex towards where the vehicle had positioned itself. Cordelia followed behind the enthusiastic male acouple of seconds later. The beauty's movements and behaviour revealed a slightly more cautious person then the one who had tried to intimidate her in the backroom of the Magic Box 3hours earlier. The then once 'Most Popular Girl' in her graduating class began too suspiciously scan the street in both directions before stepping out to join the three on the curb.

Not wishing to be seen or recognised even though she was confident her vehicle would not have been identified, the Chosen One, quickly dropped and hid herself from view when the LA Seer looked in her direction {Man, LA really breeds the paranoia in people. Why is Cor all on guard all of a sudden? The Sun hasn't even gone down yet.}

When Buffy Summer's righted herself once more in her seat she immanently witnessed Xander lifting Jade from the car as Michelle quickly unfolded the wheelchair infront of them. He maintained to hold her weight in his arms even though the reassembled chair was now sitting ready for use, and did so for a full minute as Michelle began to unpack the trunk of the sedan.

It seemed that only through the increased agitation of Cordelia at being out in the open of the street that Xander was able to draw himself back once more to his surroundings and not anylonger to the green eyes he was peering into. Placing Jade carefully down in her cushioned seat he then took the hind handles of the wheelchair and began to push the handicapped ex-girlfriend and guide the two recent arrivals into his Apartment Complex.

The more Buffy observed Xander and Jade together the more distressed she became. Though nothing had been majorly shared of his dramatic association with the two San Franciscan's years earlier, aside from the various titbits of info given, it was all enough to create an uncomfortable image in her mind of a man she thought she knew, but obviously did not. She had wanted an 'understanding' of the bond Xander had with this woman. It was the sole purpose to why she had sought her out so soon after their initial meeting at the 'Box'.

It was to simply understand the origins of everything the two had for one another.

That old saying of 'Being careful of what you wish for' rattled in Buffy Summer's head now as she looked down the street to the disappearing couple and a seemingly now over vigilant Cordelia. Because now she knew what Xander saw in this woman, she knew because she saw it in her as well.

She saw a female with an incredible forgiving nature, a woman who was a true nurturer to everyone around her, a young lady who put other's happiness ahead of her own. How could Xander *not* be attracted to her, she was so much like himself.

There were gentle properties in this crippled woman that shamed her and had reminded her of an older sister, just as once upon-a time Xander had once reminded her of an over protective older brother. But as their brief company grew the Slayer abandoned this earlier judgment. Jade didn't reminder her of an older sister anymore, Jade reminded her of a younger Joyce Summers. As this presented in her thoughts she wondered if Xander had ever made the same comparisons she did. That would have been too bizarre, weird --- and kind of twisted. If Xander did ever make that same connection did that also mean he would fantasise about her Mom as well, as some kinda substitute for dreaming about Jade?

The Slayer shook her head as she mentally counselled herself towards this thought, repeating that she didn't want to even go there. The last thing she needed to know was that Xander had dreams of her Mom and him together in 'compromising' bedroom like situations.

These were *bad* thoughts. And right now she had to maintain a centred focus. That focus being Xander and how to win his trust back.

Sure it was all easy to say stuff like 'start with one minute and work your way up to two'. Sure, maybe if there wasn't a distraction posed by certain Old Flames appearing from out of nowhere then maybe she might have a chance in achieving this. But that wasn't the case, and what was worse, what was far worse aside from the unannounced arrival of said Flame, was that *this* Old Flame had taken pity on her predicament with the self same male. And had promised that she was going to play cupid for the two of them.

With Dawn urging her on the right and with Jade guiding Xander on the left. It was a 'Slam-Dunk'. So why wasn't she thrilled? Was it because Xander was not having a 'say' in the union? Was it because that Xander looked, even from a 50-meter distance, mind-numbingly happy lifting this woman and holding her like he was about to step across some magical threshold in a tradition reserved for a Bride and Groom.

Yes, she understood a lot in the past few hours, but she needed to understand more. She needed to know about the absence of time that Xander had never commented upon. Jade had warned her off of asking such questions, advising her that they were not productive and would offer her no enlightenment to the Man Xander was. Maybe that was true. But then again how could she know this was certain? Afterall, Jade knew what happened!

Still, despite this the Slayer could offer no anger towards the green-eyed one; there was no cause. Whatever secret was being concealed by them both, it was pretty obvious that it was one that was being done to protect her and everybody else that Xander cared deeply about.

Tilting the rear mirror to look her reflection in the eyes, the Chosen One addressed no one but herself. "Dawn's right - I'm an Emotional-Mess, and I'm a Dependence-Freak. How could he care for me after all I've done to him? Do I really want to do this to him? He looks so happy with her." There was nothing but silence that welcomed her words, but in her mind there was noise, there were the whisper of thoughts. Small, gentle but determined conclusions. The answer was {yes} and the explanation was {because you love him}.

The Vampire Slayer remained silent, becoming more resolved in herself and her intentions by the lagging seconds. More so then she was an hour before at the Café. In her thoughts, Buffy systematically began to run down the Fact's as she knew them, and of the truths that had been casually offered to her that day. Doing her non-Willow, non-Giles best to uncover a common thread that would explain everything that had come to light.

With her delicate fingers she began to count down the gathered intelligence of the day aloud.

"1) Anya mentioned a link between Jade and Michelle's arrival and the FBI Agent that visited the day before Xander left town two months ago. Coincidence? No such thing in Sunnydale.

2) The Day Xander returns, both Jade and Michelle show up practically on his heels.

3) Xander was undergoing Training during his 'American Odyssey' from Jade's father. And that Jade's father, John Mason, may have been Special Combat Trained himself. <The reference of killing a man with just his thumb truly stuck out in their conversation and reminded her of something Chuck Norris had said in one of his Movies. Movies she remembered seeing with Pike in her Hemley Day's.>

4) And then there was the reference of Xander fighting S.E.A.L.S. & Delta's, whom I know through my Riley-association were organizations of trained Anti-Terrorist personnel, funded and supported by dear old Uncle Sam."

Every fact presented a dozen questions for each and each question a myriad of additional queries. Though she thought it ridiculous, she had to consider the possibility that Dawn might just have nailed it when the FBI guy arrived and she naively stated that Xander might have been a Spy just like her TV Heroine - Sydney Bristow.

Agent Goodspeed, was a member of the Terrorism Division of the FBI (another incredible link and coincidence to the two Terrorist Unit's). Could Xander have been under going some kind of special Training for the FBI? Bizarre, but then again bizarre was the norm for Sunnydale. Was Xander some kind of Special 'Sleeper' Agent?

Did he work for the FBI under a code-name of 'Butch'?

Buffy shook her head again at her reflection being offered by the rear-view mirror, and then buried her head into her hands trying to dismiss these contradictory thoughts of facts and personal knowledge, still speaking aloud her considering's.

"No, that kinda thing would take years of in-depth training --- but then again Xander did have that phantom Soldier thing going for him and he always did pick up on things pretty quickly. Even if he isn't in the same realm of smarts as Willow and Giles he's far from stupid. He just isn't an academically smart guy; he's more a practical learner. Show him something once and that was all you had to do. And fighting and surviving on the Hellmouth would foster an un-natural ability to sense anything suspicious or unordinary.

"It --- it might be possible. He could be a Spy. It would certainly have been a lifestyle he would have loved. When he came back from the trip and he attended the Halloween Party on Campus, he dressed up as --- as, what did he call himself --- a Super-Spy-Guy, *arrgh* what was that stupid name he called himself --- 'John Roans' or --- something. Gawd, I can't remember. Not with that stupid accent he was using at the time.

"He --- he told me he was dressed like this guy just incase we all became our costumes again, that way be could be cool-secret-super-Agent Guy and be better at taking care of himself in a crisis. But if that was the case, why did he use an identity nobody has ever heard of? Unless maybe this person *did* exist, and Xander knew about him and wanted to be just like him. No, this --- this is just making my head hurt.

"I'm making no sense. Talk about feeding an overactive imagination."

But as the minutes continued to tick on by, little by little Buffy began to justify the absurdity of Dawn's two-month old suspicions to herself with her own leanings of thoughts. {When he showed up at the Bronze after he rolled back into Town, he was --- different. He had muscle. Muscles he sure as Hell didn't have when he left. He also practically found that Vamp Nest on his own just by searching through the Archives of the Campus. There was --- there was a tired courage in everything he threw himself into, but his Heart wasn't in anything we did. What *Happened* to you in San Francisco, Xander?}

This was enough. Answers she wanted and answers she would get. Engaging her indicator light, and then drawing out into the quiet street the Vampire Slayer drove towards her home and a Cyber-Witch she knew who could track down any bit of obscure information from around the World if she had the right references and parameters for the search. And Buffy had *five*.

Answers. That's all she wanted, and maybe if she could find out what had happened to him and offer him help out of whatever it was he hiding from then maybe she might be able to prove that he could begin trusting her again.


5-minutes later at the Summer's home.

The front door opened under the hand of an emotionally exhausted human being. At the sound of the television, Buffy strolled into the lounge to see both Tara and Dawn curled up on the sofa watching a Movie with their backs to her. Peering over their shoulders the Slayer viewed the screen. On the television infront of her were two respected and revered Hollywood Heartthrob's in their golden days of youth.

<Robert Redford: "I can't swim!"

Paul Newman then began laughing at the comment, "What are you talking about? The fall will probably kill ya.">

The side of Buffy's lips twitched up in amusement at the words spoken by the now Veteran of the Silver Screen. Dawn, or possibly Willow, had gone out and rented the movie Michelle had mentioned earlier in the day. The Video box 'Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid' lay on the Coffee table infront of her. Hearing Newman's remark to Redford reminded her so much of being something Xander would say, always trying to find the light in any dire situation with a joke - 'The fall will probably kill ya.' Standard Damned-if-you-do-Damned-if-you-don't' Xander Harris. With the stating of the obvious and the rationalisation of 'What do we have to lose?'

"Any good?"

Dawn and Tara turned around quickly, both startled, but not surprised that they had been easily snuck up on, as they were both engrossed at the predicament of their video heroes. Dawn pressed the pause button and addressed her sister. "It's great. Really, really not bad. I can see why the guy behind the counter called it a Classic. Humour, action, some explosions, romance, suspense. The whole enchilada."

Buffy nodded as she straddled the armrest beside her sister. "We got a clue on why she called him 'Butch' yet?"

Dawn looked at Tara and nodded hesitantly. "I think so. We're only half-way through, but Paul Newman, who plays Butch, and Xander are kinda alike in character, they're both funny, polite, sensitive, cunning and waaayyy cute. This other guy Sundance, is played by Redford and he's grimmer, the fighter of the two, y'know --- the muscle. If Xander is like Butch, then this 'Sundance' person must be a humourless thug, just like the character in the Movie."

Dawn then bit her bottom lip as she then recalled the circumstances of why Buffy had left the Magic Box. "Ummm, how's Anya?"

Buffy removed herself from the armrest and began shifting her weight back and forth on feet before she answered. "Not as good as the Movie I'm afraid Dawnie. She was --- she was understandably upset and completely all over the place when I dropped her off. Talking about --- stuff. Stuff like Xander's proposal being a sham, and about that Bureau Guy who visited him. It was pretty messy."

Tara, who was always cautious not to intrude on anyone's conversations, spoke up out of concern. "Do you think that was a good idea? Just leaving her. Maybe she shouldn't be alone tonight? Maybe we should invite her over, keep an eye on her. Just in case she does something --- rash, something 'permanent'."

Buffy shook her head slowly. "No, I don't think she'll go that far, and besides I don't think she would accept the invitation even if we offered it. I think she's in serious need of Anya-Time at the moment." Buffy stared at the frozen image on the screen for a couple of seconds. "Do you mind rewinding it all the way back to the beginning so I can watch it with you guys?" Tara and Dawn shoulder's shrugged at the request and then Dawn complied by pressing the Stop and then the Rewind Button. "Um, err, where's Willow?"

With a dismissive wave, Dawn directed Buffy to the Dining Room as Tara went off to make some more popcorn for the re-viewing.

Buffy approached the Dining Room with the same kind of caution she would approach a Vamp's Lair. Treading quietly and taking a seat next to the un-noticing Willow. The Slayer wasn't particularly startled to see her friend with her nose nearly pressed up to the computer screen with the CNN Archive Web Page displayed. It was exactly what she was expecting; her voice then broke the silence of the room. "Great Minds, huh? Any luck?"

Willow jumped alittle in place at the unexpected voice, and crunched her brow in frustration. Nothing needed to be passed further between the two young women; they had been with eachother for so long that the others habits and eccentricities were almost as well known as their own. Buffy knew what Willow was looking for, and Willow knew what Buffy was enquiring about.

"Define Luck. I'm getting a lot of hits for San Francesco, but no mention of Xander in any of them. Now, Michelle said that Xander and this Sundance-Guy 'turned the town upside down', but the only thing that really stood out anywhere during that three-month period was a Bombing a couple of weeks before Xander showed up back here in Sunnydale. The rest is pretty mundane and pedestrian, unless of coarse you actually live in San Francesco. There were a few things, but that Bombing was really the only one that made National and International News."

Buffy nodded, casting her mind back. She remembered a bit of the story and how it had startled her mother. But she was too focussed on starting College and trying to get over Angel to really take any of it in at the time. "Yeah, I think I remember hearing about that. Somekinda Government Building --- right?"

"Uh-huh. FBI San Francesco HQ."

With those now familiar letters Buffy's eyes bugged out of her head. "FBI!"

Willow looked at the Slayer oddly at the stressed but also surprised sound in her friend's voice. "Yeah, the FBI as in the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Why?"

Buffy lowered her voice and leaned in closer to the Cyber-Witch so that Dawn would be unable to hear them clearly in the next room. "Don't you remember us telling you, Xander was visited by an FBI Agent the day before he left? A guy from some Terrorist-Division, Bio-something or other."

Willow's fingers snapped at the memory as they then danced over the keyboard of her Portable Computer, drawing up the reference page of the event as she asked. "You think Xander might have been involved somehow?"

"I don't know, but I've learnt some things in the last few hours that tell me that that could be a big maybe."

Willow's eyes skimmed over the condensed version of the Report, after thirty-seconds she looked up and gave Buffy the summery of what she had read. "Okay, heres the gist. The FBI were holding two unidentified people in Protective Custody, and a small Terrorist Faction tried to enter one of the secured areas. How they did this was quite novel - they blew half of the Building up.

"With all the chaos that followed they just fought and busted their way in with minimal resistance by whatever Guards were inplace, as everybody else was trying to get out of the slowly collapsing Building.

"No images were taken because the explosion damaged all the security cameras and the power being delivered to the area was severally compromised. As a result to the immediate power loss and with no backup kicking in, all electrical locks automatically opened as a People-Failsafe, just in case of Earthquakes. This was installed to prevent the trapping of people inside during times when they should be out. Nobody could call for assistance via the emergency telephone lines because --- well, y'know, wiring all bad now. The Terrorists just made a Beeline to the place they wanted to get to. No Pictures, No Barriers, Confused and disorientated Resistance. These guys's knew their stuff and they didn't mess around either. Professionals through-and-through.

"The guy who set the explosion was either was one of the stupidest Demolition Men in the world, the luckiest, or the best. Cause thou they did access the area, nobody, themselves included, ended up getting killed by the event. The article states that the reported Terrorist's principal targets weren't there; and that they were being kept somewhere else. But instead of walking away and making an escape they instead kidnapped and took alive a visiting Senior Agent. An Assistant Director from Washington by the name of --- Lomac. Walter Lomac. He was later released by these Terrorist's at a Hospital along with a couple of other civilians. His right shoulder was dislocated however in these Terrorists care.

"Ass. Dir. Lomac went on record to the gathered Press later that day stating that these Terrorists would be bought to justice and that the FULL protection of the United States Government was being extended towards the civilians who were harmed in the assault."

"Willow, did they mention the sex of the unidentified people the FBI had in protective custody?"

"No Buff, unidentified pretty much means that - unidentified. Why?"

"Two. It said two people. Two people as in possibly two Males. Two people as in a possible 'Butch' and a possible 'Sundance'. I think Xander might have gotten mixed up with something he shouldn't have and that the FBI was offering him somekind of protection. Does the Report later state that this Lomac guy was able to bring this --- this 'Terrorist Cell' to justice?"

Willow flipped on a follow up Report of the incident. "No, nothing has been presented to the Press post the whole 'Fiasco' thing. It's still an open File I guess."

"Sooooo, these terrorists are still at large, then?"

"I guess, either that or maybe dead."

What followed this casual claim was a silence. A silence that seemed un-natural as Buffy's brow crinkled and displayed all the earmarks of someone in deep pondering and deep judgement. If the silence seemed out of character, then the visual ness of features upon the Slayer's face during this period seemed to match it. After a recognized spasm of time, the Chosen One's vision seemed to clear and sharply focused on the Witch behind the keyboard. "No. No, it makes sense, all of it. It all makes perfect sense."

"What does?"

"Everything. I learnt earlier this afternoon that Xander was under going some special training while he was with Jade. What if it was somekind of special Operative-Training or something for the FBI? Y'know, get people to infiltrate radical Anti-Government Groups, gather evidence on their dissident activities and bring em down with it. Just like the Authorities used to do in the 60's for the extremist's Anti-Establishment stuff. Remember in our American History class with Mr. Evans, he used to say 'The Man' was always sending narcs into various Young Citizen Group Rallies."

"Yeah, well if you remember Mr Evans had a very one-way perception of things, not saying it wasn't true, but Xander would be far too young to participate in that type of thing, or to be employed by the FBI."

"No. No, he would be perfect for that stuff and you know how idealistic he is; this is the kind of thing he would do. Don't you remember how bummed he was that he never had a 'Calling' like you, Giles, Oz, and me or that he never got into College with the rest of us? He always said he wanted to be able to make a positive difference in the World.

"Xander would've joined the FBI to do just that, his youth would actually count for him in the recruitment for these 'Extreme Organisations'. He would fit all the criteria they'd be on the hunt for in perspective members - Barely passable grades, not from the best home life, wanting to prove themselves to others, rutterless on their future. They'd snatch him up in a second and then he would be the 'Plant' the FBI would need on the inside."

"Buffy this is the FBI. I wish Xander did have something special like that happen for him, but there are all these kind of Test's. IQ, Psyche, Physical, Moral, and Emotional-Stress Tests. I --- I just don't know if that's believable, Buffy."

"Mr Evans said that most narcs weren't actual G-Men or Undercover Cops. They we're everyday citizens who had been deputised. People who saw something wrong and wanted to help make it right. People who respected the Law. That shout's Xander to me." The Slayer was now deaf to any other words that were being issued from her best friend's mouth that was countering her suspicions. Her imagination was again running riot like it had done in her car ten minutes earlier. Yes, Xander being a Sleeper was ridiculous, but this alternative was far more feasible, and it still explained everything neatly. Buffy held up her hand to halt the continued argument she was ignoring from the red-head and proceeded to voice a story her head had created to cover what Xander had been through all those years ago. "But then he got 'Made' maybe, by these people and they decided to come after him. Him and his --- what do they call them --- 'Handlers'. That's it isn't it? Xander is 'Butch' and his Handler - Jade's Dad is 'Sundance'.

"The FBI takes him and Mr Mason into protective custody and then after the unsuccessful siege on the FBI HQ they send them off to parts unknown, participating in a type of witness relocation/protection thingy. Xander comes back here because here is where he is the safest - with us! Remember, he told Jade that he 'Had to go, he didn't *want* to go, he HAD too! He said he had to run, have you ever known Xander to run from anything? Towards, yes. But away? Only when he's told to. Mark my words the FBI are involved in Xander leaving Jade and him coming back here."

"Buffy, do you realise how incredible that story sounds, and how do you know what's Jade's fathers name is? I don't remember her mentioning it to us."

"She, err, didn't. She mentioned it to me. When I dropped Anya off at her Apartment, she was going on with a couple of things, and I needed to get some answers because of what was said. I knew Xander wouldn't give them to me, and I knew Jade and Michelle would probably head to the nearest and only Mall in Sunnydale. So I kinda bumped into them by accident. Me and Jade got to talking about her and Xander and a few things came out. John Mason, was just one of them." Buffy looked up ashamedly from the lap she was staring into and at her friend. "Willow? Willow, don't give that look."

The red-haired Witch tilted her head slightly to the left, her expression unchanging. "And what look might that be?"

"That one. The look that I just crossed the line of friendship in a big way."

"Oh, and you haven't?"

"To a Layman sure, maybe that's how it might look. But I was worried about him, Will. I messed everything up with him so badly and I just wanted to make stuff better between us again. And the only way I could think of doing that was to find out everything that happened. So I decided to swallow some pride and went Stalker-Girl on the new-people."

"And what did you discover?" The voice belonged to Dawn. Buffy turned her head and Willow looked up to seen the teenager standing at the passageway with her arms folded into one another with a very unhappy expression on her face. "Well?"

"H---how long have you been standing there?"

"Since Willow finished telling you about the article, oh and by the way the Video is now rewound. So? What did you discover from her?"

Buffy pushed herself out of her seat and slowly stood up, meeting both pair of eyes. "I found out that she is in that Chair because she leapt infront of a bullet meant for Xander." Twin upset expressions spread on the Hacker and the younger sister's face as the Slayer continued with her discovery. "She saved his life. Somebody, and I'm guessing it's one of those Terrorist's the article referred too, they pointed a gun at Xander with the cold intent to kill him and she stopped that from happening. She saved his life."

Neither of the two people audience spoke up as they absorbed what was shared, Buffy stepped back and pushed her chair in under the Dining Room Table. In the silence she whispered out additional words as she performed the motion. "She loves him so much that I am almost ashamed to do the same."

Willow missed the words, but Dawn upon hearing the earlier attempt on Xander's life just wanted to be held, hugged and assured that no-other threat would take place against him again. She wanted assurance, so she slowly began to inch closer to the eldest with the hope to receive just that. It was as she was within embracing distance that she had heard them leave Buffy's mouth clearly.

After a couple of laboured seconds Willow looked up from her screen, her eyes wide. "Buffy, if these Terrorists haven't been caught, and if Xander is some kind of witness to whatever they were planning to do, and if they tried to kill him once --- he's still in danger isn't he? He's still a threat to them."

Buffy didn't answer; it was after all only a theory, *her* theory. And her theories always had a tendency of sounding good, but always at crunch time they tended to fall flat on their face. By this stage Dawn was now standing right beside her, the younger hands grasping her own and squeezed it lovingly. It was through this physical support that more things stirred within her. Little things she had not noticed, or had bother to notice when he had returned. "Remember when he came back, and we had just started at College?"

Willow looked slightly put-off at the track down memory lane when Xander's overall safety was to be now considered, but she nodded regardless at the memory.

"Remember how he used to spend all his free time around the Campus."

Again Willow nodded remembering the time well. "I remember you telling him off, and giving him a hard time cause he wasn't a Student."

The comment wasn't meant to come out snippy, but it did. And what was worse, the Slayer had to admit it was true. She did give Xander a hard time, so avoid dayly rebuling he started to find job's on the College Grounds. He didn't care what it was, whether it was serving Beer, or working construction on the 'Native American Museum'. He wasn't proud to accept any position no matter how small as long as it allowed him the right to loiter close to his friends. She remembered teasing him about him holding on too tightly to her Apron Strings, but now, something else materialised in her minds when she thought back then. "I think he was there for us."

Willow almost laughed, yet held her composure of the seriousness of what was said moments earlier. "Of coarse he was there for us."

"No, I mean he was there for us to protect him. He kept finding excuses to be on Campus, near *US*. Maybe he was afraid that if something bad was going to happen to him, that being close to us, having you, me, and Oz immediately available, it might offer him some kind of protection. A Witch, A Slayer and a Werewolf, not to mention having Riley and the Initiative accessible to him. If these people came after him during the day we could have been there to help save him in a heartbeat. *That's* why he hung around us on the Campus so much when he got back. He was afraid that these people might make a second attempt on him and he needed to be around people he could depend on be able to rescue him if they tried another kidnapping and assassination."

"And *you* used to send him away!"

"Guy's!" Both women looked at the teenager, surprised that she had raised her voice to them both. When Dawn had their full attention she continued. "As incredible as this maybe, and I'm not saying that it's all false. We all know for a fact that something happened, and Buffy has just laid down that someone did try to kill Xander. Not a Demon or a Vamp, but a normal guy with a Gun. WE don't know what happened! WE only think we do. The only one who does for certain is Xander. We have to call him out on this!"

Buffy walked over and stood behind Willow's chair. "He won't say anything, Dawn. If he hasn't after nearly three years, I doubt he'll break down right now. And Jade told me all she was prepared to tell us."

"What about the Strip-Teacher, she seems a blabber mouth."

Buffy nodded absently, her mind taking different tracks to the truth then Dawn's. "Why don't we put her in the last resort pile? I got another idea, one that will give us the 100% skinny of what happened back then, and Xander and Jade needn't be involved, or know anything about it."

Willow stretched her neck to look behind where she was sitting, and to meet the Slayer's eyes. "How?"

"Simple, we call the FBI Office, ask them about the incident and about Xander and Jade and whether they were involved in it or not."

Willow then pushed her chair back and looked directly up at her best-friend. "Buffy, you do realize that this is one of those Secret Organizations you hear talk about. They would not be prone to giving that kind of info out to anyone, let alone 'Jane Q. Public' just because they happen to ask for it. There's Due Process, Legal Order's and Releases for 'Access to Information' type stuff.

"Remember JFK? This wasn't as big, but let's face it Buffy, the Bureau walked away from this Media mess wishing J. Edgar Hoover never started the thing. It was coined a 'Fiasco' by them for a reason. They were displayed for the entire World to see with their pants down around their ankles. Not only demonstrating themselves as being vulnerably ill-prepared for any Domestic Attack, but also seemingly un-equip to bring them to justice."

Buffy squared her shoulders. "Then we won't go through channels. Riley always said that you got to go to the Top for these kinda things, never give it a chance to be lost in red-tape. We call them up, introduce ourselves as good friends of Xander's, Jade and Michelle and hint that we know what we know and that we're concerned for their welfare."

"And if they deny ever hearing of any of them? I mean, claiming friendship will only get us so far, Buffy. They'll want evidence that we know more then we're supposing to." To this statement the right eye-brow of the Witch raised questionably to the Slayer.

"Then we tell them something that is a little more knowledgeable about the incident, something that the general Public isn't supposed to know. Something John-and-Mary-on-the-street wasn't privy too in that article.

"We tell them that what they already know, and this should confirm our friendship and knowledge to them. We tell them that we know that Xander also went by the name of Alex or 'Butch' and that this John Mason guy was 'Sundance'. If that doesn't open doors for us to find the truth out about Xander's attackers then I don't know what will."

Dawn shrugged her shoulders as Tara joined them. "I still think we should just ask him flat, and lay what we already know or suspect at his feet. But if you think this will get the answers for us, then I'm in."

"No Dawn, I don't think this will get us the answer's. But I do think that this will tell us at the very least whether Xander was involved or not. And if he isn't that's good, and it means my gut says I'm all wrong, and believe it or not - I want to be wrong. Because I don't want to believe that Xander was involved in something this Mega and have not told us, or about the attempted killing."

Willow had by this stage pulled up the FBI Directory, already suspecting what the overall decision of the Slayer was going to be a moment earlier. "Who do you want to contact? That Bureau guy who visited him before he left?"

Buffy leant over the Witch's shoulder and scanned down the name list until she came to 'Goodspeed, Stanley', pausing only for a moment and then proceeding forward to another name. "There, him. He's the guy we should call about this. He was the one directly involved with everything, if anyone would know about Xander it's him. Let's call this Lomac guy and tell him what we know."



An annoyed finger pressed down upon the lite up button of his many buttoned desk bound telephone. "Yes, Janice?"

<There is a call for you, Sir. Line 8.>

"I'm alittle busy at the moment, take a message and a number and I'll get back to them later."

<I think you'll want to take this call, Sir.>

"Well, who is it then?"

<She call's herself Buffy.>

The only reaction was three rapid blinks. More due to shock and surprise then actual recognition. "Seriously, Janice. Who is it?"

<I'm not joking, Sir. Her name is actually Buffy.>

The tired right hand lifted to rub his right eye in annoyance before it started to involuntarily twitch, as he tried to stress out his annoyance at the interruption in a calm and precise manner. "I'm a little bit swamped at present, Janice. I'm not to sure if you know this, but I'm in the midst of preparing a Report for the Security Advisor to the President. *Our* President. But 'Yes', by all means let me attend to a phone call from 'Buffy'. In all honesty, Janice, did you really expect me to stop what I'm doing and have an actual conversation with anyone who would go by that name? Relay her to John Molls Office. Let him deal with her."

<I really think *you* should be the one to take this call, Sir.>

Walter Lomac leaned forward slightly in his high back chair and stared at the speaker, placing the folder he was reviewing on his Desktop with a slap that echoed through the receiver to the P.A.'s awaiting ears outside his door.

Did he just hear her, correctly? Did his Personal Assistant just instruct *him* to take a call? HIM?!? He had dismissed many other Government Employee's for a lot less then this impertinence, but he never thought he would hear it come so forcibly from Janice Maguire.

Assistant Director Walter Lomac stared stonily at the phone speaker infront of him and then upon the door that was also infront of him and with equal amount of contempt. He was not a hard man, though he knew he had a bit of a reputation as such. He was direct, uncompromising, and focused to the job. He would not allow for laziness or incompetence from himself and he most *definitely* did not allow for it in those who worked directly below him. So when two years back Janice Maguire came to replace one of the many who had worn out their welcome in meshing their 'ways' with his 'ways' he knew he had made a 'Find' that complemented him and his approach to all things.

She worked as hard and was a perfectionist in every duty she attended. She also understood the necessity of the old motto 'Lose lips sink Ships'. She was also the only P.A. in the Washington Office that had a clearance above a Delta-2, a security grading she acquired through his endorsement and trust.

The Assistant Directors finger poised over the speaker light. He was, he admitted, very quick to temper. It was this temper that encouraged him to attend various Stress-Anger-Release Workshops. This was not a personal initiative, it was at the insistence of Medical Advice; otherwise he was on a very short journey of either an Ulcer, a Heart Attack or a Stroke and the FBI bean-counters said it was the 'Workshops' or 'Early Retirement'.

This Workshop attendance wasn't known in the Office he worked, except by Janice. Whenever he was 'at-a-Meeting' she made believable excuses to the Rank-and-File on his absences. After a full two years people were still in the dark on his regular disappearances of every second-Wednesday afternoon. Janice knew all his dark secrets and all of the things that pressed his buttons; and she saw it as part of her job to ensure those buttons did not get pushed.

So why would she bait such a reaction from him?

She was there too screen and too redirect calls from the type of people who called themselves 'Buffy' to other areas. He only dealt with *important* ones. One's that mattered! But still, he could not remember a time when Janice had laxed in her expected duties. So maybe this was a call he should take, but then how could he do that? How can you take any call from some who goes by the name of 'Buffy' seriously?

On a whole Walter Lomac considered himself a good man, he certainly wasn't prejudiced. People can't help being called what they are named by their parents. His mother wanted to call him Willard, so who was he to complain. But for a man who has sat opposite the Leader of the Free-World at least once a month. Had the Joint Chief of Staff's Red-Line phone number programmed into his speed-dial, and had just that morning spoke to his composite in Mossad. He felt dealing with a person whose name was an insult to his ears below his acquired station. And he worked hard to get where he was, he actually worked harder then most and he had stayed there for over 10-years.

He had been recruited in a time when Hoover expected more from his Agent's. He was recruited in a time when it was all about the 'Red Menace' and getting results by any means necessary. 'Necessary' meaning that it was not uncommon for Agent's to walk out from an interrogation of a suspect with blood on their knuckles.

During those days his quick temper always came in handy. There was not a single man he could not break a confession out of. It was a time before people exercised their 'Civil Rights', and that 'Judicial Tolerance' to the mean's of acquiring 'Statement's from the people who threatened the Country and it's Citizenry existed in the Court System.

His reputation, his 'successes', were quickly noticed, and he was considered an Up-and-Comer, being given the Big-Line Cases. His convictions were nearly the stuff of Bureau Legend, and no matter how 'Hard' the 'Suspects' thought they were - they all eventually crumbled to his tactics and gave up what they knew to a Federal Prosecutor to help establish a reliable case in the Federal Court.

But the young-myth that surrounded his name was false.

The truth was that there was *one* man that would not break too him.

Beating after beating he took, day's without food, drink or sleep. Constant harassment and questioning, but nothing would break this man's spirit. After two-weeks it was decided that more creative applications were to be applied. Professionalism gave way to a personal vendetta. The Foreigner in question had stolen something valuable from the Big Man's Office Safe, and Hoover wanted it back. He was assured that if he got the information that was needed to resecure the possession that there would be no Appointment denied to him. He was now on the fast-lane and all he had to do was deliver the whereabouts of a small piece of Micro Film.

The kind of 'Interrogation' he implemented was something straight out of stories he had been told by his Uncle about the SS. It turned his stomach to cross that line, but he was young and ambitious.

Before that day he had established boundaries, even the silent Foreigner who had endured what he delivered previously had accepted it as the way things were. There was no bitterness; infact the Scot was always annoyingly polite and whimsical to the 'Questioning'. But once he was pushed over that line by the Senior Director, once he had made things personal, a grudge grew for the other in them both. One that endured thirty years.

But still the Scotsman remained silent, and this silence was destroying his reputation. The longer the sessions lasted the more desperate he became. He allowed his darker side to come out, he did what he did until the Prisoner would pass out, then he was revived and more harm employed until he passed out again. But the more pressure that was applied the more it fuelled the British Operative to resist him.

John Mason hurt him the only way he could - he kept silent, and the Big Man was not happy about this. After a full month with no results to show, John Mason, was sent to the most secure facility in the US at that time - Alcatraz Prison.

If it ended there it would have been an invisible blotch on an impeccable Record. After all, John Mason, did not exist. And if a person did not exist then there was not a failure to break him. But Director Hoover thought differently, and he was not finished expressing his disappointment. Taking out this frustration on his *very* promising career.

Walter Lomac was now a pariah of every Office he went to after that and he was always sent to the shittiest ones and received the worst Assignments.

Hoover's disappointment was quietly known throughout the Bureau hierarchy, and he was considered a Jonah because of it. It was not until after J. Edgar had passed-on was he ever able to reaffirm the inside track to Promotion again.

He advanced, and with every advancement he excelled. Only a few long termers in the Bureau knew of the circumstances of his earlier downfall from Grace, and they kept this secret. Just like they did the man who caused it.

But those were old thoughts; his finger now remained over the 'answer' button, his body caught in indecision on how he should deal with this affront by his Personal Assistant.

No, if he was going to chew her out it would be in person and not like that.

Pushing himself out of the chair he stormed across the carpeted floor to his office door. But before he could grasp the handle it was opened inwards by the woman he was about to yell at.

Janice Maguire closed the door behind her with several crisp sheets of paper in her hands. Looking down at the A4's and then up to meet the features of the 45-year woman the Assistant Director growled out through clenched teeth. "Please tell me you've saved me the trouble and that's your Resignation?"

Janice walked by and sat calmly down at the seat she always took when they were going through the morning itinerary. She was indeed calm, very calm, un-naturally calm. Looking towards him with the expectation of him joining her in this 'calmness'.

Reluctantly the senior obliged, caught again between outrage and curiosity. Curiosity won out this time over outrage.

Returning to his seat he took a few clensing breaths and removed a well used, but unseen 'Stress-Ball' from the lower draw before he spoke. "Line 8, and Buffy. You said I should take the call, it would probably be prudent to tell me why I should do that before I decide on whether or not to Fire you or just to have you relocated to Alaska."

Janice wasn't fazed by the threat, she'd had them before and always the following morning there would be 12-white Roses waiting for her when she got to work. "Her name is Buffy Summer's and she's from Sunnydale, California. I utilized the 'Tracer' and accessed the National Data Stores while I was speaking to her. Her address is 1630 Revello Drive, Employed as a Part-Time Counter-Attendant at a 'Double Meat Franchise'. Mother: Deceased, Guardian of a younger sister, and recent attendee at the Sunnydale College until it seemed she missed re-application of this Academic Year."

Lomac waved his free hand at hearing the pointless details, whist the other was engaged in repeated squeezing. "And again I want to take this call, *WHY*?"

Janice continued with her presentation, not allowing herself to be distracted by the interruption. "I've pulled up a recent photo id from the DMV. I currently have her on 'Hold' and presently she's seems quite content with that. But I really *do* think you should take this call, Sir." As she repeated the request the P.A. handed over a colorized picture of the blinking Californian female.

Accepting the print and perusing it briefly, Walter Lomac looked up unimpressed by what he was looking at. "Blonde, Californian and she's called Buffy. Colour me stunned. But you still haven't answered my question."

"She's enquiring into San Francisco."

The Ball squeezing stopped. "This Office has no comment with respects to on-going Investigations."

"That's what I told her. But she said that she had a personal stake in the event and wished me to confirm if someone she knew was involved. She didn't want details, just confirmation. A 'Yes' or a 'No'."

"Personnel of the incident is Classified - You know better then to encourage these kinds of people, Janice. Tell her that if she has a problem then to direct it to the Department of Justice. Let it be their headache."

"Again, that's what I told her, practically line for line. But then she tells me about a man called Xander, and that she wouldn't stop calling your Office until her query was taken seriously and addressed. She seemed quite distressed and I wouldn't have put such a thing past her, so I let her ramble on about this 'Xander' whilst I did the standard security checks and measures for all 'crank/nuisance' callers."

"Xander --- Buffy? Don't people in California have normal names anymore? If you've got to tell her something to shut her up and to leave us alone, then you have my authority to inform her that there was no-one involved in that Operation called a 'Xander'; I think that name would have stuck out. And if she still has issues, then do what I said and forward her to John Molls or the Department of Justice and let them deal with her."

"No, Sir. I think *you* better be the one to speak to her."

At the repeated instruction, the 65-year old's back stiffened his frail patience wearing thin. "Again, I'm asking you - Why? Christ, why am I even spending time discussing this with you?"

"Because Sir. This is Mr. Xander." The Personal Assistant then smugly pushed a simular sheeted image to the one before that held the eye-closed 'Buffy Summers' across the varnished desk. At the bottom of the page was the printing identifying it's origin as the Sunnydale DMV. "She told me, as she 'rambled', that we might have known him as either Alex, or 'Butch'. The moment she said that name - 'Butch', I remembered something you had once said at the beginning of my employment with you. So I asked her what this 'Xander's name was in full. She told me it was Alexander Harris. I then performed the same identity search I did on her with his full name in place, and viola there he was. The moment I saw his photo I compared it to the composite you provided of the man called 'Alex Cassidy' after the same incident in San Francisco she was discussing. The likeness is --- remarkable, isn't it? I put her straight on Hold and then spoke to you. But if you wish I will re-direct her ---."

The Assistant Director didn't answer; he just stared down upon the colour photo of a man he and several departments had been searching in excess of two years for. Numerous man hours and false leads, and all it took was some brain-dead blonde bimbo from Sunnydale to hand over one of the most dangerous men he had ever had the displeasure of meeting face-to-face.

It never even occurred to anybody that 'Cassidy' was a fake, Smith, Jones, Henderson's - they were typical false names. But Cassidy? That was not so typical, so it was thought to be his true one. And America was full of A. Cassidy's. "Is she High on something?"

"She does speak like my 15-year old niece, certainly not like a 22 year old as her Birth-date suggests. But --- lucid. No, Sir. I don't think she's 'High', just very immature in maintaining an adult dialogue."

"And you say she thinks 'Cassidy' works for us?"

"Harris, Sir. But yes, she seems to be under that misconception."

"*Us*? As in the FBI?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Hang on, this must be a mistake. According to this birth date of his, that means he was ---*"

"Eighteen, sir. He was still a teenager."

Lomac's eyes grew at the concurred discovery. "But our information states that he was Angeleo's Boyfriend."

"Apparently, she likes them young, Sir."

"But --- but we've spent millions looking for a person in their late twenties, and all the time we should have been hunting for someone just out of puberty?"

Walter Lomac looked at the blinking light hungrily. "Janice, will you give me a minute, to collect myself. Then patch her through to me. After which could you please contact Major Harper, Deputy Director John Molls, and the best Profiler currently available to us. We need too do a urgent sit down."

"When Sir?"

"In about 2-hours from now."

"Should I mention Mr Harris to them, Sir?"

"Just tell them that we now have a reliable lead on the 'Apprentice', they'll know who you'll mean just by that. And dig up everything you can that is Public Knowledge on Mr Alexander Harris." The Deputy Directors smile grew more evil then joyous at the thought of finally coming one step closer to the Retirement he had been denying himself. "Too day is a good day to be me, Janice."

"Yes, Sir." With a satisfied and pleasing smile of her own at making her Boss happy, the middle aged Assistant removed herself from her seat and quietly made her way across the floor to her desk. To commence on her fresh duty's. But before she got to the door knob, she heard her named voice. "Janice, tomorrow take the day off. Christ - take the rest of the Week off. You earnt it."

"No flowers?"

The evil smile became sincere at the inner joke. "When you come back next Monday, you'll have an entire florist waiting for you."

The door closed behind her, and then the blinking light became solid for the briefest of times. The predictable address of his now most favourite person in the whole world was then once more heard by his awaiting ears. "Ms Buffy Summer's for you on Line 8, Sir."

With a crisp withdraw of the receiver from the Phone Cradle, and with an amusement growing in his throat the Assistant Director addressed the young woman, whom he now did not have any problems speaking too. "Buffy, I understand you wish to talk to me about 'Butch'."