Chosen By Death

By Terry & Wayne.

Author: eckles71 <eckles71[at]>

DISCLAIMER - Everything belongs to Joss and Fox.

DEDICATED TO - Furious George; txrclark; Geywizard1235; Chorlton; Bill Hadden; Kenneth Carter; Vampyr64; Megan & Maggie C.

SUMMERY - AU, takes place moments after Xander attacks Spike for sleeping with Anya, and finds out about the Chipped-One and the Slayer. Spike makes a wish, Anya grants it.

X-OVER - BtVS & Highlander.

I've made some slight alterations to Terry's work to make the following chapter flow better. Let me know what you think.

Latest addition


"Xander I..."

"I don't want to know this." The sentence was broken by the lone sound of a hardwood stake as it struck the pavement, and echoed down the quite evening street. "I don't want to know ANY of this." The face of the one who had let the weapon slip from their grasp displayed a mixture of shock, hurt, betrayal and disgust.

Elizabeth Anne Summers, Buffy to her friends, looked upon his expression and felt a dull and bitter pain. Regretting, and not for the first time, ever initiating her short lived affair with the chipped blood-sucker. All she wanted to do was to feel again, whether it was physical or emotional, she didn't care. Spike was just a convenient source. A source she thought she could control, and discard when she was done, without the threat of developing any emotional attachment too. But the bleached vampire refused to take the hint, and at every opportunity he tried to renew the twisted 'relationship'. But now her dirty secret had been revealed. And all she now wished was to experience that precious numbness once more. To be immune to the revoltion she was feeling towards her deeds with her undead lover as Xander's words which were spoken in anger towards his former fiancée now resonated in her mind.

She searched his face for understanding, forgiveness - anything, but hope of finding any was lost. The contempt he had shown for the former Demon now fell upon her. The Slayer stood motionless as she accepted his gaze. Buffy had only seen her best-man-friend this angry a few times in her life, and they frightened her each time. The first instance was after she returned from her Summer Break with her father and she had decided to give Cordelia a run for her money as resident Queen Bitch. She had walked into the Library after an unsuccessful stakeout to find Xander semi-unconscious. When he came to he told her what the Anointed-One had done, and the reasons why he had taken the others. He then concluded with a very real threat.

'If they hurt Willow, I'll kill you.' That memory still terrified her. Slayer strength or not, she knew at that moment, Xander would have kept that promise if their Red-headed friend had indeed been harmed.

Her mind was racing. Racing with words that made up excuses and apologies, but not a single syllable found voice. She wasn't as an apt an orator as her Xander-shaped-friend, if she did speak it would have probably only made things worse. Friend?, could she call him that? Yes... yes, she could. Whether he would now use that word to describe her was another story.

As one of her dearest friends - one of her family, began to walk away from the odd and now silent group, her eyes noticed a distressing change in the construction worker. The anger was still present, but it was impotent now. The change was Surrender.

The young man that always inspired hope to others, and had always given hope to her, was now void of any. She had just witnessed her Xander giving up. She thought she would see the Sun die out before she would ever see such a thing happen. And she, Buffy Summers the Vampire Slayer, had played a major part in destroying it - not just Spike, not just Anya - HER.

She went to... what was it Riley called Spike? An amoral opportunist. Well that was certainly proven tonight. She didn't know whether it was Spike or Anya who had initiated the Sex-fest. In her mind it didn't much matter. Spike, if he had any conscience at all should have realized that Anya was vulnerable, and should not have allowed it to progress... but he did.

For most men in love to witness such a thing with someone they still had hopes for rebuilding a relationship with would be crushing. But Spike had to take what little was left of her Xander's pride and implicate her as one of his conquests. She wasn't blind or deaf; she knew that Xander had always put her up on a pedestal to be admired; to him she represented the ideal woman. Unfortunately, the only trouble with being on a pedestal was that once the platform was knocked, the object it supported had a distance to fall. And Xander had placed her far to high up.

The revelation of her and the Chipped One was too much, too soon to a man already laid low from observing a former fiancée in the arms of another. She did this to him. She destroyed Hope. And she may have damaged their friendship beyond any repair. A treasured friendship that had weathered so much since she first met him, yet had still remained strong. Strong that is, until this very moment. The thought of this loss consumed her as she watched him walk away, humiliated and humbled in what had been revealed to him this night. The hate she now had for the bleached vamp before her was now on par with the hate she now had for herself.

Before following her defeated friend, she turned to face the undead thing that had once touched her body in places only three others had before. With a look she tried to make it clear to her love-sick stalker that it was now, and forever impossible for them to ever be together again. Any 'fondness' she had for him was now no more. They were OVER!

Anya watched both figures as they made their journey down the quiet Main Street. Beside her Spike was working himself into a seething rage, he was speaking, but she wasn't paying it any mind. Her thoughts were on the Knightly man 50metres in front of her walking away.

She did it, she got her precious revenge. Alexander Harris was destroyed. She should have felt elated, but she wasn't. She felt empty and dirty, and that damned vomit sensation was back again. A sad smile crossed her face, only Xander could make her get, what did he call it? Barfy Feelings.

It was funny. She was a Vengeance Demon again, she was wronged, and she had just taken her pound of flesh from her former fiancée's pride. Yet he still walked away with more Dignity, more intact honor then anyone else present. She should hate him, but she couldn't. There was too much to admire about the man. In Xander's mind he did the right thing, he called off the Wedding before it was too late. The timing bit, but it was better now... rather then two-years from now. He was right, maybe they did rush it, and maybe they were making a mistake.

"...that's what I wish."

Upon the final two words of Spike, the Demon Anyanka came forth. And responded automatically in a serpentine hiss "DONE." Upon ushering that word, Anyanka's eyes widened, she had just granted a wish, Spike's wish, and she didn't know what it was.

In the distance, she heard Buffy scream out Xander's name, and before she knew what she was doing she was running as quickly as her feet would let her in the direction it had come. Only briefly slowing down, so that she could turn her head and spy Spike as he ran - in the other direction.

(20-seconds earlier)

"Bloody Xander. Buggered up everything. Y'know what I wish, I wish the pounce was far away from here. Away from Me, You, The Slayer, Bit, Red - everybody. With absol-bloody no-one to help him... not a single Human Being. We'll then see how tough he is when he goes up against a BigBad who can actually fight back... that'll teach the wanker some respect."

Spike then straightened himself up from the wall he was leaning upon and winced at the pain of his ribs. He hated this. He hated that a Guy who he wouldn't have considered worthwhile turning three-years ago could do this to him. This was not the first time he had these dark thoughts, and it wasn't the first time the glorified bricklayer had pushed him over, or put him down. The old Spike would have skinned him alive, the new 'Chipped' Spike, could only take it... and he hated that. A sinister emotion over took him as he continued with his ramble before the distracted Anya. Unaware of her return to her former Career as a Vengeance Demon.

"I want him to experience pain; pain unlike any Mortal Man has before him. I want him in unending torment... That's it, yeah!"

Spike then, on his right hand, went through points he had made indicating each one with a finger.

"Far away from here. No help from friends and other Human Beings. Pain yadda, yadda - Mortal Man. Unending torment." William the Bloody paused, he needed one more thing to make five points so that he could close his fist an shake it at the back of the walking male-scooby. Then in a poetic flash of inspiration he concluded "With no Peace until Death claims him. That's what I wish!"

To his left he heard the word "DONE." Curiously he turned to face the owner of the voice. What he saw was Anya with a veiny shriveled face. When he saw this, the cigarette he had just placed in mouth toppled out.

"Bloody Hell, when did you become vengeancy aga..." If it was at all possible, the bleached haired Vampire suddenly became paler, as the repercussions of what he had just said dawned on him.

In the distance both heard the frantic scream of the Slayer as she spoke the name of the one who had just been cursed "XANDER!"


She kept her distance from the brooding figure in front of her. Her presence may not have been appreciated, but she would be damned if after everything he had been put through this night. She would not watch over him, or make sure he didn't make it back to his apartment safe and sound.

Buffy watched him as he expelled his energy, throwing punches at invisible enemies and kicking cans down the street. She had to force herself not to approach him. Not to span the 20 meter gap that now separated the two Scooby's. This was her punishment... her penance. She had to give him space, as of right now she had to be his bestest best friend, and respect his wants. Even if it meant that he no longer wanted to be near her, or apart of her life again.

When she said this to herself, the numbness she longed for one minute earlier consumed her.

Life without Xander, it was too frightening for her too contemplate. He was her rock. When things looked bad, he was always there to make them look better. His devotion to her was unquestionable, the only man she had known who had said he'd be there with her always, and that she believed. If her 'fling' destroyed this, she would never forgive herself.

She loved Xander to much to let him walk away from her. The Slayer stopped mid tread. There it was, the L word. The word she could never offer Spike, she silently offered Xander. She fought hard as tears began to well up, to realize this truth now was too cruel a fate.

Drying her eyes she observed Xander's defeated posture as he continued in his journey home. Taking a ragged and deep breath she once more began to 'shadow' her friend. Then it happened, the thing that would forever etch itself in her memory. She observed 25meters ahead Alexander Harris fade away into thin air.

The Slayer quickly broke the distance that separated them, and stood upon the spot Xander was when he disappeared - Nothing. No evidence that anything had even happened. Futility she called out his name "XANDER!" and waited for some response.

Chapter 1

Anya came racing down the street as quickly as her bare feet would let her; she had abandoned her heels a hundred meters earlier in the wish of making better time to the origin of the Slayer's voice. As she came into sight of the Killer-of-all-thing's-Undead she recognized a pained and frantic expression upon one of the few people she call friend's face.

Buffy Summers was frantic as she began to relay what had happened to former fiancée of her best friend. Desperately pointing to an area of the paved street on which she stood to indicated to the newly arrived Vengeance Demon where Xander had been just moments before.

"He was here, and ---and then he was gone. He just evaporated away into nothing." Buffy fought hard to hold back the bank of tears that was threatening to overwhelm her. "I should have been closer; if I was I might have been---" The Slayer let her sentence drift into nothing as she called out her heart broken friend's name once more in absent hope "XANDER!"

Hesitantly, and with more bravery then she ever thought she would ever possess, the Vengeance Demon in the red dress carefully approached the blonde haired 21-year-old. She had to admit the truth; she had to confess to her friend that there was nothing the Slayer could have done under the circumstances. She had to admit to the sorrowed reality that Xander had been cursed, and that there was no power on Earth that could have prevented it from taking place. Curses bent reality, making the impossible, probable. And no matter how much the Slayer would have fought to protect Xander from harm, the inevitable would have happened anyway.

But to reveal this truth, as well as identify that Xander was the recipient of a curse, would also reveal to the Slayer her and Spikes involvement's in the twisted wish. Still, she had to take responsibility, as did the Vampire, to this deed. To remain silent would only condemn Xander, to whatever torturous punishment the Chipped One had devised in his moment of anger. Sadly before she could make her confession, something truly unexpected happened - Buffy embraced her in a powerful hug.

As the Slayer rested her chin upon Anya's right shoulder pad she began to weep silently. With this action, Anya too began to fight a losing battle to contain her own tears from mounting. The demon silently cursing herself for playing an unknowing role in the event that had made this moment possible.

In the distance the two females suddenly heard the sound of a two pairs of sneakered feet smacking against the road, both women then looked up, straining their eye's, hoping against hope, that one set belonged to the absent man. But instead of the Xanderish form, the sight that met them belonged to the Sister and Best-friend of the Slayer, who had only now caught up with Buffy's Slayer-Dash from their home to 'The Magic Box'.

As the running pair came closer too the double blondes Dawn noticed distress in both women's face. Her immediate thought was for the person that had been intimate with both women, concerned that Xander and the missing Axe from the Weapons chest had already been used upon her defenceless Protector. As she slowed her pace she darted a look between her sister and the woman in the bright red dress. "He. he did it didn't he? He killed Spike."

Buffy aggressively shock her head to her sisters question. "N--- no Dawn, Spike---spike's safe. Xander he's---he's--- gone, he's--- " Buffy could not complete the sentence, so Anya screwed up her courage and interrupted, finishing the Slayer's hesitant words "Xander's been cursed Dawn."

At this comment Buffy then pulled away from the disguised demon with shock upon her face.

"How could you possibly know that?" was Willow's gasped question as she began to recover from the run. Immanently three set's of eyes burned into the 1,100 year old woman.

Feeling exposed and naked to their glares, Anya answered the Red head's question "Because---" as she willed her face to morph into the features of Anyanka to reveal to all what she had once more become. "---Heaven help me, I was the one who granted it."

It is doubtful that the fires of Hell ever showed a tenth of the fury that now resided in the eyes of the Slayer. Gone was all the training passed down to her by her beloved Watcher, rage now took over reason as Buffy Anne Summers leapt upon her best friend's former fiancée.

It took the combined efforts of Willow and Dawn to draw her off the Demon Scooby. "WHY! Why did you do it? Didn't you do enough to him tonight, or was that just an appetizer?" These questions assaulted her as effectively as the Chosen One's random kicks and hits.

With fresh tears collecting in her eyes Anya replied to her audience as she wiped the blood from her nose and upper lip courtesy of right-hook. "I didn't know - I swear. Spike was saying stuff. Things about Xander, but--- but I wasn't paying attention. Then he said 'I wish', and--- and I responded - it was automatic, I swear. I SWEAR."

Dawn's voice was deceptively calm and cold, but any who could see her face knew that this was a facade as her welling eyes reflected a torrent of emotions. "Then UN-wish him. You're the Caster, stop the wish now and put everything right."

"I can't, if I could - I would. But I don't know what it was. It was Spikes wish, and he ran off as soon as we heard Buffy call out Xander's name. I can't un-wish him until I know what it is I'm to un-wish. I need to know what Spike wanted to happen to him before I can undo what was don*"

Buffy could not hold her tongue any longer, with tears still burning her eyes she cut Anya off. "*Don't you dare finish that. Nothings happened to him. We're going to get him back safe and sound - Understand." She then turned to her best friend Willow, "Take Dawn and Anyanka here, back to 'The Box', and set things up, I'm going to get Spike*"

"*When I last saw him he was doing an impression of that fast Mexican Rat on TV, heading back to his crypt."

"You mean 'Speedy Gonzalez*"

Nodding at Dawn's identification of the cartoon rodent, Anya replied "Yes, the Rat."

"Fine, I'll head to Spikes Home. You three - Magic Box - Now." The Vampire Slayer then began the one mile sprint to the Cemetery that Spikes Crypt was located. Forcing back thoughts of the various evils which could, and maybe, being perpetrated on her Xander-shaped- friend.

As she rounded a bend of her impromptu short cut, a fresh thought arose in the chaos of her mind - SPIKE'S MOTOR BIKE. Suddenly the Slayer absorbed a fresh fear as she re-doubled her effort (if it were possible) to make it to her former lover's abode, before the Vampire decided to skip town. Which would have been a very 'Spike' thing to do.



On the other side of the World, a young man materialized in the rear yard of a very expensive villa estate. This stranger in a strange land rapidly bought his hands up to shield his eyes from the sunlight that assaulted one of his sensors, as the sound of metal striking metal victimized another.

Slowly the 21-year-old lowered his hands to witness the source of the high pitched clanging. What stood before AleXander Harris were two men, two strangers engaged in an ancient battle with one another. Xander knew he should flee, but to where? Where was he? One second he was in Sunnydale experiencing the worst night in the history of his life, which considering his life - was no small feat. And now, he was a spectator to a private medieval tournament.

He knew enough of sword play to realize that both men were serious in the intention of harming the other, he had watched Giles and Buff*. The Carpenter winced back the memory of the blonde, and the mental image it drew of her and the Vampire, as well as Anya with the same undead thing.

He couldn't afford to think of that at the moment, he had to get out of here first. But he couldn't, for some reason his feet stayed planted to where he was standing. He was literally a captive audience. A witness to this Ballet of violence and blades.

Each opponent displayed their own style of combat; one was a Giant African, the other a lean, intense ferret-like Caucasian. The African was all brute force, the weasel-like man could not block the strength of the Giant's blows, all he could do was deflect them. Yet where the 'Weasel' lost in might, he more then made up for it in speed, he countered three to every single of the obsidian man. Unfortunately for him, none were a killing strike.

After several moments of back and forth, the African successfully gained the advantage. The 'Weasel' was unable to deflect the Machete's as it was rapidly lowered upon his shoulder; his Sabre blocked its last defence as it now broke in two. This sight drew the young American from his trance. Fearful of what this represented he finally found voice and raised it to both men hear and to stop.

That proved to be a mistake, for up until that moment both duellers were both to focused on their opponent, and had been unaware of his presence a dozen metres away. Both men looked at Xander curiously. The Black man eyes narrowed to his next victim, while the White man's eyes displayed an apologetic pity for the young stranger. Xander knew what was being conveyed to him - regardless of what happened, one of them would have to kill him. If he didn't want to escape before, he certainly wanted to do so now, but both his legs were still motionless to his will.

Both Beings knew that this Mortal could not be allowed to survive the witnessing of the Quickening. The 'Weasel' spoke in English, which was obviously not his native tongue, to the victorious ebony figure. "Burtan, this one is not of my Household Staff. I do not know him, he is not here by invitation, only accident. Please, you sense, as I do that he is not one of our Kind. If you must take his life, make it a quick death, spar him the indignity of not being buried 'whole'. Let him keep his head."

"Cyrus, you have fought well. As such, I will honor your final wish, from one Eternal Brother to another. It will be quick, and merciful. On this you have my word." The 6'4" African turned too face the Spaniard. "There can be only one, Brother."

Knelling before his better, the being who called himself Cyrus lowered his head forward, dropped what was left of the Classical, yet all too fragile Sabre from his right hand as Burtan began the ascent of his still intact weapon over his head. The knelled form then softly repeated the words "There can be only one." as the Machete speedily descended upon his neck.

The surviving warrior then bought and raised his weapon before him, clasping the handle with both hands and stood motionless, as thou paying a tribute to his fallen foe. All before the wide eyes and silent voice of the lone witness.

As the head struck to earth, the world fell into silence. Then suddenly the body of the man who was known as Cyrus began to defy gravity, escaping the touch of mother Earth for several feet, encaptured in a florescent blue as tendrils of electricity spanned the short distance between his now headless corpse and the ground. Electricity then crept over the body and was released into the atmosphere, but not in the direction of the African who was the closest and awaiting his prize. But towards the distant 21-year- old.

The streams of electricity approached Xander as thou it was drawn to him, as if it were searching him out. And when it met his flesh the Construction Worker learnt a new definition in pain. Infact to call what he was experiencing pain, seemed to do it an injustice. It was beyond pain. If felt as thou his body had been bathed in Napalm, as it received volleys of 1,000,000 current's of electricity. All awhile his brain was being clawed apart with images, languages, words, deeds, and other accomplishment's that he could not rationalize. Yet in this agony, Xander also felt as if he was on the cusp of learning the very secret of the Universe itself, all awhile as he screamed until there was no longer any air left in his lungs.

And as quickly as it seemed to have begun, it was over. The young man then collapsed to his knees, sweat providing a glistening film over his face and body as he drew in shallow hasty breaths. Hair that was once darker then midnight was now bone white from shock and pain caused by the experience.

There he remained kneeling - weakened, as he watched an enraged and very surprised African approach him with a bloody blade in his hand.


THE MAGIC BOX (8-minutes after we left the Scooby's)

The Slayer entered the Magic Shop with a bruised and bleeding bleached haired Vampire being forcibly dragged by his right arm. The angered blonde then pushed the Killer of two of her predosserors to the ground, and at the feet of Willow and Dawn. The 15-year-old had to fight her instinct to assist her 'undead protector' off the floor of the store. This impulse was immanently curbed; as she recalled what he had just done to a person she loved like a brother, as well as to her sister. She then quickly turned away and put as much distance as possible between herself and the Vampire. Not being able to stomach being this close to him now.

"Spike was about to say goodbye to good old Sunnydale, but I managed to change his mind, didn't I Spike."

With a half smile that resembled more a sneer he replied. "Yeah, I thought I had outstayed my welcome just a bit."

Buffy held her tongue and continued speaking in a cold voice. "All right Spikey, what did you wish for - and don't you dare say World Peace, cause as you've probably guessed by now, I'm not in the mood. What did you ask Anyanka to do to Xander."

Picking himself off the floor, and combing his hands through his platinum colored hair and padding it down, the vampire responded. "Ain't saying a word Slayer, not until we have a Deal. An' ya better make up your mind fast too, cause clock's tickin on your boy."

Willow drew her hatred full eyes from the Vampire, and turned to face her friend. "What deal?"

"I said that I*"

"WE - Slayer" the Vampire corrected as he pointed to the rest of the Scoobies in the room.

Bowing her head in the first sign of defeat since she entered the Magic Box, the Slayer's reply was spat out. "We--- we would let him go if he told us what he wished for."

"Just like that - He walks. He curses Xander - And He Walks!"

"Willow, I want Xander back too, more then you can possibly imagine. And if I have to make a deal with the Devil himself to do it, I will - and so will you. Because it's Xander, and we love him. We *both* love him." Buffy removed herself from standing over the Vampire sitting on the floor and approached her best Wicca friend. "*I* need him, I hope you can understand that. I don't think I could have lasted as long as I did as the Slayer without him. I owe him - the World owes him. Because in saving me, being there, keeping me motivated, keeping me sane, and moving forward with this burden my accomplishments are his. I would have given up long ago if not for him, and that goes for all of you as well. The list of how important you all are to me --- it will never end, but this List starts with Xander. And I stupidly only realized this 15- minutes ago.

"Since I've came back I pushed you all away from me. And I shouldn't have, I should have drawn you all closer. I made choices that I'm not proud of, choices I would never admit to in the harsh light of day, especially to people that I loved, out of fear of how you would react to my mistake. But the revealing of these choices was decided for me tonight, and I saw for the first time the repercussions of what my silent secret has cost. I *have* to have him back Willow. If for no other reason for him to hate me forever. I can live with that hate, and I will gladly. But I don't think I can live without him, and knowing he's somewhere hurt and unhappy. So yes, were going to parley with the Devil and be damn our sensibilities and righteousness. I owe him that - WE owe him that. We can't surrender to our wants when Xander's fate is in our hands. I'm prepared to do this because I love him, and your all going to agree because I know you all love him too."

Twin tears drained from the redheaded Wicca, and with a shaky voice she spoke. "All right Spike, you've got a deal. For Xander - now spill, and then get the Hell out of here, and pray I never lay eyes on you again, cause if I do you'll be begging me to 'end' you."

Straightening the collar of his leather full length jacket, the vampire scanned the room, his eyes eventually falling upon the dry hostile eyes of the Sister to the Slayer. <Damn> "Dawn--- Bit, I didn't know she was a Vengeance Demon again. I was just blowing off stream, is all. Droopy pushed my buttons, I was annoyed. I was just letting off some steam Pet, I didn't know."

The former Dimensional Key met his eyes, she wasn't crying - she'd do that later. Now she had to be strong. "I don't care Spike; neither does anyone else here - we all saw you and Anya. Xander was upset, understandably upset. You crossed the line, you may not have been friends but you fought besides each other. There should have been some kind of honour there, a bond." She then turned her glare on the Vengeance Demon who had placed herself behind the counter out of everyone's line of sight, in an effort to hide her presence. "He still loved you, he wanted to work things out and make it up to you. But you wouldn't let him, so instead you did this. If we didn't discover the Camera would you have told him? Would you have rubbed it in his face? You both hurt him today, and I will never forgive either of you. But Buffy's right, my feelings towards you both don't matter; only Xander matters at this moment. You both did what you did, so help us fix it. Wherever Xander is - I don't care; I just know he isn't here. And I want him back more then I want you to stay Spike. So tell us what you did to him, and then do us all a favor, and go."

"Fine." The vampire returned his gaze to the figure behind the counter. "I wished ANYA." The undead chain-smoker spoke her name bitterly in the hopes of deflecting a measure of the responsibility of this mess to the demon's shoulders, yet his audience was unfazed. ".that Harris was far away from Sunnydale, away from you guy's, without any hope of help from a solitary human being - y'know, I'd do the pounce good, teach him to stand on his own two feet, you could even say I was helping him out - character building an' all that.*"

"What else Spike? You wouldn't have put up that much of a fight getting here, if you just wished him somewhere else."

Looking at his former lover the vampire bowed his head, he might be part demon, but he was an honorable part-demon, and a Deal was a Deal. "Okay, I also wished that he would experience pain that no Mortal has ever experienced before him, and that he would be in unending torment."

Shakily the Slayer urged him to continue "And--- anything else?"

"Yeah, that he would know no peace until Death claimed him. That's it. All of it. I promise." The Vampire then raised his head to face the four women before him. If looks could kill, then the glares he was receiving would have destroyed cities. Silently he made his way to the front door, not looking back; he had nothing left to say, and if he did he doubted any of them would listen.

As the door closed, it was Dawn who found her voice first, in a mousy whisper with a treble in her words she drew the other three women from their independent thoughts "oh my god.Xander. Anya, do something - Now!"

At the order, Anya waved her arms desperately - nothing happened. She repeated the gesture, again nothing. Upon her third attempt, she realized the cause for her lack of success. "I. I can't do it."

Willow who was eagerly watching the Demon's motions, desperately responded to the claim. "Why not, what's stopping you?"

"The Curse - I was included in it, we all were. I can't, you can't, Buffy and Dawn - we all can't help him remember, and canceling the curse is helping him. The Wish is resisting my efforts to end it."

Buffy who had heard enough of the discussion began to grow both concern, and more fear for her Xander-shaped-friend then she had ever felt for anyone else in her life aside from her Mother and her Sister. Carefully she approached the counter where Willow and Anya were besides "B. But you're the castor; you're the only one who can stop it. If you can't end the curse, who can?"

Anya bit down on her bottom lip, and lightly flinched from the pain. Recalling that Buffy had split it little under 15-minutes ago. "D'Hoffran. D'Hoffran could--- might, I mean. He is a Demon Lord after all; he's certainly powerful enough too."

"Fine, get him to break the spell."

"It could take sometime Buffy, I need to creat*"

At this point Dawn, joined the concerned discussion "You might have time Anya, Xander doesn't--- He's suffering - right now. And your just as much to blame as Spike. So do what you have to do, contact your Boss and bring Xander home." The tears that the teenager was unprepared to shed until later gave way. Her voice became haggard, as she attempted to compose herself before her elder sister - but she was fighting a losing battle.

As Buffy embraced her younger sibling. Willow's eyes brightened "Ooooo, I know. The medallion. D'Hoffran gave me a magical token, y'know when he tried to recruit me that time. He said if I ever changed my mind, and needed to contact him--- it should be here, with the rest of my stuff from home."

With this knowledge Anya lead everybody down the stairs, to the stack of boxes in the basement with Willows name written on them. It wasn't until the forth Box that the Demon Lords gift revealed itself. Clasping the prize in her hands, Willow ascended to the Main floor of the Magic Box--- and there she stood.

"I--- Somebody else do it, I can't, I'm not ready yet. Anya?"

"I'm sorry Willow, but YOU have to be the one to use it - No one else can."

Stepping forward, Dawn looked upon her other 'sister'. "Please Willow; Xander needs you to do this, just this once--- please. We'll all be here for you when it's done - I, we, promise. Please Willow, Xander needs you, and only you can do this."

Offering the oldest 15-year-old in the world a sad, soft smile, the best-friend of the Slayer and the Zeppo closed her eyes and focused her will upon the golden circular object in the palm of her left hand. After several seconds the token evaporated into nothing.

A moment later, the Demon Lord - D'Hoffran appeared in a swirl of charcoal mist, with a pleasant smile creeping across his lips. "Ahhhhh, my Dear Anyanka. My Hearts daughter, what do I owe this visitation request?"

"Xander--- Alexander Levalle Harris he's *"

"I Know. Truly inspiring. I was unsure whether you could re- adapt back to your former life after your period as a human. But you have come back, and forgive the pun, with a vengeance. I am proud of you my Dear."

"I want to un-do it. It was a mistake, it was all a mistake."

Looking the young Vengeance Demon in eyes, the Demon Lord lowered his tone of voice from lite to menacing, as he replied to her request "No."

Buffy approached the two, and demanded "Why?"

"Because he insulted my child on her most Special, of Special Day's - A daughter of my Heart. Such a slight needs to be addressed."

The Slayer could not believe what she was hearing, this 'creature' was prepared to damn her best friend, someone she had only realized less then an hour earlier that she might have more then 'friendly' feelings for, out of some misplaced father/daughter dynamic. "If you do not free Xander from the Curse I will*"

"*Do nothing, I have survived on this plain for nigh to 8,000 years *Slayer*." D'Hoffran spoke Buffy's title with undisguised disgust. As he continued with his words, D'Hoffran's face hardened, and he straightened himself up and squared off his shoulders. Gone was the almost wizened appearance, the figure that now stood before the Slayer seemed to beacon pure Power. "I have seen your ilk come and go Slayer, I have faced 30 of your predecessors, and *I* still live whilst they are a memory - barely an offering in the archives of the Watchers. You are no different from them. Challenge me, and you will know why I am a Vengeance LORD and not a humble Vengeance DEMON."

Buffy Anne Summers, looked around the room. If it were just her, she might have dared taking D'Hoffran on, even though it would have been ill advised. But she was not prepared to risk losing another of her 'family' this night. At the corner of her eye the Slayer noticed some movement approach the now intimidating figure. It was Dawn.

"Ahhhh The Key. Do you also dare to insult me as well?"

"No. I respect---" Dawn knew she had to chose her words wisely, Anya's pleading didn't work, and Buffy's threatening fared just as well, if she was to gain any assistance from Anya's Master she had to take an alternative approach. "---your wish to see Xander punished for leaving Anya at the altar, what he did was wrong. But being here with Anya, knowing she will never love him again is punishment enough for him, and she agrees. Anya is satisfied with this, can't you be? She was the wronged party, afterall."

Smiling at the hazelnut haired young girl, the foreboding figure disappeared from view, and the more popular vision of D'Hoffran once more appeared. "You are wise beyond your years --- Dawn. I will not cease the Curse's influence upon Harris, but I will offer you all two of three boons.

"One - That Mr. Harris is made aware of the Curse, it's circumstances and conditions.

"Two - That you receive notification of when the curse is concluded.

"And Three - To bring the Curse to an End NOW! Please decide."

Searching out the furthest point of the room from the Demon Lord, the four young women discussed their options. It was Buffy who assumed the role of mediator of the frantic group. "One's a must - Xander has to know what's going on, agreed." All three women nodded their heads. "That leaves Two or Three."

"Three, I like three. End the Curse now!" All three elder woman of the group looked down upon Dawn with sorrowful eyes.

Willow, looking the young beauty in the eyes answered her request "Dawn, ---sweetheart. D'Hoffran means to introduce Xander to Death; he means to have him killed. If we go with three, we will be wishing Xan to die."

"Maybe that's not a bad idea."

Three sets of eyes now fell upon the Vengeance Demon in the huddle.

"I can't believe you just said that. How dare you!"

In a whispered voice Anya responded the Slayer "Look Buffy, whatever we do, it's not going to end the curse, Xa--- Xander is going to die, and he's going to experience pain like no Mortal has before him until he does remember. We need to be humane about this, would you like to live your day's enduring that kind of agony with no appeasement?"

"I don't care, I'm not voting for that."

"Me either."

"Or me."

Anya's face became flushed as she once more spoke, no longer concealing her opinion by whispering. "Fine, let Xander suffer, but remember you wanted this, all of you. Not Me!"

The Slayer stood up from her hunch and looked at the Retailer. "No Anya, YOU let Xander suffer, Dawn is right. You are as much to blame for this as Spike - you did this to him, ---as did I." Buffy continued with her reasoning to the stunned looks of those about her. "If I had let him steak Spike there and then, instead of pulling him off, none of this would have happened. He would be here, and he would be safe. There is no comparison in my mind towards who I want to live more out of Spike or Xander; I can live without Spike no matter what ever high opinion he had of himself. I can't without Xander." Willow looked more carefully to her friend, and suddenly it was as if a flood light shone in her face. She now realized the depths of her friend's guilt - she loved him. Not like a brother, or a friend, or as one of the 'girls'. She loved him - she had finally found someone who met all her 'criteria'. A Normal, know all her deepest darkest secrets, supportive, loving, witty, successful, wonderful man. And he was in front of her the entire time. Willow's brow crunched in empathy as Buffy continued. "You, Spike and Me did this to him - leave Dawn and Willow out of the equation. It's decided, One and Two are our choices. The longer he lives, the better our chances of finding a damn loop-hole in the curse in the mean time."

With a decision made, all four women once more approached the Demon Lord D'Hoffran. The Chosen One stepped forward and addressed the eight millennium old Being "One and Two."

The Demon Lord nodded and then closed his eyes as well as his left hand, when both re-opened Buffy was met with the sight of what now lay within his left palm. It was a Blood Red Ruby. Before offering the gem to the Slayer, the male figure offered an explanation. "Notice its lustre Slayer, this Stone is linked to your friend's curse, when the internal shine - its glow, is no more, then the curse has run its course."

Buffy accepted the stone with reverence, and studied it intently for a brief moment before passing it back to Willow for the others to gaze upon it. "When are you going to tell Xander about the curse."

"I've already told him. I implanted the information into his mind a moment ago."

The Chosen One couldn't help but ask the question "Is he--- is he alright?"

Flatly he answered. "No."

Buffy didn't know what other answer she was to expect; of course he wasn't all right. What kind of stupid question was that?

"Would you like to see him?"

This surprised all the remaining members of the Scoobies.

"If you wish to see him, I can grant that as a side request, after all you will be unable to help him, but only this once. I repeat my question - Do you wish to see him?"

All three women frantically nodded, only Willow offering a "Yes, Please!" to her action.

D'Hoffran, made a gesture similar to shooing away an annoying fly, as the air before him shimmered, to reveal the form and figure of Alexander Harris. As the image cleared, volume arrived, and it was a most unwelcome visitor. It carried the sound of a man, a Xander-shaped-friend, screaming in agony.

The Magic Shop audiences watched helplessly as they viewed their friend convulse as mini-lightening bolts struck him, as his flesh seemed to radiate and burn before the assault. None present, who were familiar with the carpenter, had ever heard him scream out in pain before, not once. Not before the fists, or the weaponry of all the creatures the Hellmouth had offered them over the years - not ever. To hear his deep holler, broke all their hearts as they tried to reason the level of agony the young man was going through at the moment.

Suddenly the screaming stopped; Xander fell to his knees, his hair now ghostly white. They watched him, as sweat glistened over his body, exhausted and wasted from what he had just endured. The three women, and a Vengeance Demon spied him as he turned his head to his left, it was as though he was looking directly at the small, worried group. Suddenly another figure came into view, tall African- American figure with a very big and bloody machete in his right hand.

With this, the Vision that was before the group collapsed upon itself. When Buffy, Willow, Dawn and Anya drew themselves from the place where the image once was, they noticed that D'Hoffran was nolonger present.

Willow wept.

Anya began to clean up the Magic Box, trying to do something to take her mind off thoughts of her former fiancée. And of the latest vision of him, which now played havoc with her mind and guilt.

Dawn joined Buffy, and offered her the Red Ruby she had received. The sisters then began to stand a vigil over its lumination, each crying silently to themselves over their loss.

Chapter 2

15 day's after the last chapter.
Paris, FRANCE.

Adam Pearson sat in the corner of the Parisian Coffee House and contently sipped his Espresso and smiled warmly with a jester's twinkle in his steel blue/gray eyes. Pretending to listen with enthusiasm, as an exaggerated story was spoken by the aged man behind the counter.

The Café owner spoke with unparallel pride as he regaled to his only customer, so far that morning, in a story 60-years past when he had been a proud member of the French Resistance during World War II with Adam's 'Grand Father'. The dark haired '30' year old restrained his dry chuckles and mentally forced himself not to correct the Frenchman in several area's of his tale. Of course, the Grand Father in these 'epics' of heroism was him, hence the inner mirth he felt.

One of the curses of living an Immortals life was the risk of running into people you had met decades earlier. However the convenience of a resemblance could always be successfully explained away by confessing that you were immediate family. Unfortunately, it also forced you to play 'dumb' about everything your 'relative' did with that person when they were both younger. Typically Adam would go out of his way and avoid such continued encounters; however Jacque Roebear was a pleasant discovery for the oldest living Immortal. And when he came across the aged patriot by accident 5-years earlier he made an effort to visit his old War-time comrade's quaint business at least once a week whenever he was in Paris. The only downside - The Old War Stories. The exaggerated tales of rendezvous with escaping POW's, the time they - and others; broke into SS Headquarters, stole and then smuggled several Top Secret Document's to the British on 'Coastline Defenses'. Documents that played a significant role in the success of D-Days' execution, as well as other nearly forgotten adventures.

A pleasant moment of peace was afforded to the oldest living man as Jacque's anecdote was halted by a passing five-second customer who had wished a pastry to supplement their breakfast. Adam took this opportunity to glance once more at his watch, as his eye's raised they met a familiar figure hobbling across the still pre-morning trafficked street in front of the out of the way Coffee Shop.

There were few men alive that he would count amongst his friends, and fewer still who knew the truth of his Immortal Identity. Adam Pearson was an Immortal, but not just any Immortal - he was the Legendary Methos, and was considered to be the oldest Immortal Being on record. In the Watcher community 'Legend' rarely applies to those of his Kind, but Methos was one. He had earnt this title not only due to his age, but because he was once the final, and most significant member of the Maundering quartet - the 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse' 3,000 years ago. If word ever leaked out to others in his 'community' that Methos still lived then he would know no peace. His head and the Quickening it would offer the Victor would be a prize worth the gamble of any other Immortal attempting to claim it. And Adam Pearson enjoyed too much the quiet life.

Joe had kept his tongue silent on this fact from others in his Watcher Order, and his discretion was appreciated and respected by the ancient Warrior. So when the lame and likable Watcher contacted him barely an hour earlier and begged for and immediate meeting - it got his attention. *Joe* never begged, he would swear a blue streak and shame you into a 'sit-down'. But he would never beg for it.

The gimp-legged Watcher navigated the tables and chairs with an ease that came from years of avoiding such obstacles and sat down besides the only seated customer. Jacque paused in his trip down memory lane with the 'Grand Son', accepting his new role of Proprietor and not Historian. Without urging a beverage, the 80-year old bought over another Espresso to the table, knowing that it would be accepted and valued. A tight smile was returned from the newcomer towards the veteran.

Joe Dawson purposely remained silent, and waited until the aged Frenchman had moved farther away from the pair before he removed a Camcorder from his inner Trench Coat pocket. "We got ourselves a problem Adam, and I'm in need of your experience and take on this." Without saying another word the Blues Playing Watcher unfolded the screen, angling it for Adam to see without the disservice of the shops inner light glare, and pressed the green arrow on the side of the hand held machine.

No sound accompanied the vision that played on the technological marvel, only running pictures. What the Immortal - whose name was once feared throughout the Ancient World saw, was in his humble opinion, a clumsy battle between two of his Kind. Adam Pearson rolled his eyes and drew his attention away form the screen to the man who was responsible in getting him out of bed at 5:30 in the morning.

Without words being passed, the Watcher replied in a harsh ordered whisper. "Keep watching."

Surprised and with fresh questioning intensity on his face to the Watcher's demand, he returned his eyes to the miniature screen. Moments later a new figure materialized into view, a figure that was not there seconds earlier. Methos continued to watch, his face's angular profile inflicting an intensity that would not be uncommon upon a Grand Master Chess Player. Gone was the amused wisdom his features always presented, what existed now in that Coffee House on a cold August morning was a Strategist without equal in the history of the world.

The Immortal took everything on the screen in. His eyes scanning the 10x8cm screen for everything he considered out of the normal, at present that 'something' was the young man who had appeared. Something significant was about to happen, and he knew it would involve the unknown visitor. The conflict concluded with the shattering of one of the participant's swords, only then when the battle was decided between the two did these Player's of 'The Game' notice their singular audience. Words were then spoken silently between the pair of Eternal Beings. Words that were not received via the audio of the contraption in Methos palm.

As if on an unsaid request, Joe Dawson passed over from his coat pocket the accompanying Transcript of the Tape being viewed to his eternal friend. The Immortal pressed pause and quickly read over the printed words on the reported dialogue. It read like a script, and the words fell heavy on his mind (Mortal?). The Eternal then pressed Play once more and returned to an event dated two weeks earlier.

Cyrus's head dropped and then kissed the earth, what followed was the expected static that accompanied an Immortal's beheading as it slithered over the body. Yet what happened next went against everything the Viewer knew as truth. The Spaniards Quickening recoiled from Burtan and instead sought out the 'Arrival'. Being the closest Immortal, the African should have received the honor of Cyrus's essence, but instead it seeked out the other.

Adam Pearson's brow creased, this was unprecedented. And if what Burtan and Cyrus had said was true in the Transcript, then this man was a mortal. If so - How could *he* attract the life essence and energies of an IMMORTAL? Or better yet - how could a normal Human absorb a Quickening and survive the experience? An Immortal could barely encounter a Quickening without blacking out from the intense pain it issued. A human was not blessed with their rejuvenated tolerance, and natural mental defenses against the onslaught of memories which accompanied the experience - if the mortal survived the encounter, then they would have tasted a form of agony no other human had ever experienced in history. Mental, Physical, and depending upon the past deeds of the Immortal's core that he would claim - the Emotional sins the essence would provide. The 5,000 plus year old Immortal face grew grimmer as he pondered all questions, as images presented of the 21-year old experiencing his first Quickening played.

Before Methos ancient eyes the young man's face contort into agony, his coal dark hair turning ghostly white to the shock and pain of the encounter. Never had he witnessed in all his year's a Quickening having this kind of effect on another. And never in all his years did he think he would ever see a mortal absorb one. During his many hours' of meditation he would pose impossible scenarios, and contemplate the outcome. What he was observing now before him was one of his most popular 'What ifs?' And in viewing this travesty, all his conclusions were discovered to be wrong. Such a torturous violation should have killed the mortal, but it was as if the young man was being denied that sweet release.

The camera then refocused upon an ebony figure with a bloody blade held firmly in his hand. As Burtan began to approach the 'Thief', the young man who was the subject of his anger then began to back away slowly, never removing his eyes from the executioner before him. With each step backwards, the 'Arrival' guided his retreat.

A sly smile then sneaked across Methos's face. A smile noticed by the Watcher at his side.

"What's so funny?"

The Immortal pressed the pause button once more and turned to his companion. "His hand gestures, and facial expression. They don't coincide with his deliberate withdraw. Interesting, weakened and confused by the Quickening he should be vulnerable. But despite all this he yet maintains his faculties under pressure of probable death." The Immortal once known as Methos returned his eyes to the stilled screen. "This *One* is used to keeping his cool when his life is threatened."

"How could you possibly know that?"

"Intuition. He's putting on an act to catch the Dark One unawares. It's all an act, this young man is playing the 'Mother- Duck-and-the-injured-Wing-Routine', and I suspect that this isn't the first time he's done so either."

"What are you talking about? 'Mother Duck'?"

The slyness in the Immortals smile softened, Methos knew that Joe was far too wiley not to understand the reference, but decide to play the bait. "A mother duck will, if they think their offspring is threatened by a predator, will exaggerate an injury. The Predator will focus on the flapping and carrying on of the larger potential victim and become drawn away from the more vulnerable ones. The disregarded ducklings then take this opportunity and make their way to freedom. When this is accomplished the Mother makes a miraculous recovery and escapes. Look how calm his footed retreat is, this man is use to sacrificing his safety for others. There is a confidence in his tread." The only eternal being in that Coffee House looked up from them camera and spied Jacque sweeping the front of his shop. A glazed look crossed his face as he became a victim to his memories. After a brief moment of contemplation he returned his attention to the screen and verbalized his inner discovery to his friend. "He's doing exactly what I would do if I was in his position, and did once along time ago. If I'm not mistaken he'll be now backing up to Cyrus---" The eternal 30-year old once more pressed the green arrow.

The screen momentarily flickered back to life, displaying the twenty-one year old as he continued to step back. Joe Dawson, who had the benefit of viewing the recording a hundred times over humph his thoughts as he watched his companion's sly smile grow further as the man on the screen's legs met the headless corpse.

The young person then staggered over the body and fell back in an exaggerated fashion. The slap-stick amused the hulking Burtan who lowered his guard an instant to bark out a laugh at the expense of his prey. Unfortunately, it was an instant the ebony Immortal could not afford. The white male then quickly picked up the longest piece of the shattered weapon that still lay beside the body he had 'tripped' over, and dove it deep into the Africans chest with his last remaining strength. Penetrating the Swordsman's heart in the process.

The last expression the visitor saw on the 'dying' obsidian Swordsman, before he surrendered to unconsciousness, was a stunned rage.

Methos once more turned to the Watcher with a look of triumph in his eyes. "Exactly as I would have done it, not bad, not bad at all. I see a lot of potential in this One."

Joe Dawson then turned off the Camcorder and folded the screen inwards. "That happened two weeks ago, and the entire Order is shitting its shorts."

"What do you mean, what happened to him?"

"Nothing. He woke up an hour later, and got out of there quick- smart. This Kid doesn't know anything about what he's up against; if he did he would have taken Burtan's head before he 'lambed-it'. Now he's known to the Immortal community, and he's probably in more danger then he has been in his entire life."

The Immortal stood up, feeling that this discussion was about to get more intense and confidential. And that was something he did not want Jacque to accidentally over hear, Adam Pearson placed down a couple of notes on the table, addressing the Bill for the two Espressos' and a sizable tip for his old 'Resistance-brother' and then directed the Watcher to accompany him outside.

When they both got to the street the two walked a short distance before continuing. It was Methos who spoke first, asking the question he wanted to present in the Coffee House. "What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that as soon as the Coroner remover the sword's fragment from 'Goliaths' chest, the Big Guy came back. He then started 'Posting', and E-mailing friends and others in 'The Game' about a human he met who 'stole' what was rightfully his."

Methos paused his walk for a moment. "And you know this how?"

"It's my business to know what you guy's do remember. We had his computer and phone line tapped before he got back to his Loft- Apartment."

Turning his collar upwards to ward off the chill on his neck, the Immortal Methos commented to the gray bearded Watcher. "Do you really think anyone will believe him? Besides we only have his word this man is not one of my Kind. Maybe he's just apt at disguising his Quickening from others, like me."

The fifty-five year old stared into the eyes of the Man once called 'Death' by his ancestors and shook his head solemnly. "Were you watching the same footage I was, cause the way I saw it, it was that this guy hasn't a clue what he's stumbled into. And I doubt he's been around long enough to be able to conceal his quickening as effectively as you can. Cyrus was 231 years old, and Burtan 187, both these guy's have been in the Game long enough to be able to detect a Pre or another Immortal. This guy is 100% Human, Adam." The Watcher took a deep breath, sighed and then continued. "When he was out of it and Burtan was 'dead', our Operative - the guy who recorded the fight, approached them to remove Cyrus's body and head, as well as did his best to make the scene look like a murder attempt. There was a cut on the kid's hand when he grasped the Cyrus's broken blade before delivering the 'Killing' blow to the African - it wasn't healing, well not healing as fast as Immortals do anyway. Our Agent took a small sample of that blood and had it tested in one of our labs, it was human, and did not contain a single inconsistency your Kind presents. As far as the Council is concerned, and knows - This Guy's a norm." The Watcher then averted his eyes before continuing, digging his hands into his coat pockets as he did so. "And there's more 'good' news. In the last fourteen day's, there have been nine Immortal standoffs that the Council knows of - all around the Globe. Not a single Quickening has been absorbed by the winner; they've all been shooting off into the atmosphere. The Order thinks that this person is attracting these essences to him somehow, and with Burtan's rumor floating about--- "The aged Watcher did not feel he had to complete the thought. "Well, it has a lot of longstayers both worried and pissed. Can you imagine living for hundreds, or thousands of years waiting and fighting until the Gathering - to have it on your doorstep, and then this guy shows up out of nowhere to claim Quickenings without even trying?"

"Actually Joe, I can imagine, seeing as I too have lived for long, long --- long time. I can just imagine how frustrating that could be to them." Methos looked to his feet in deep thought. "Does the Order know for a fact that this man is absorbing the stray Quickening's?"

"For fact? No. But given the footage, and timing. It's the only working theory they have, and they don't like it." The two men stood in silence for a moment on the curb of a lone Paris side street. A full minute had past before the silence was shattered by an odd question ushered from the Watcher. "Adam, what do you know of the 'Endgame' - the time of the Gathering?"

Adam looked upon his friend with a questioning expression on his face. "I know what every Immortal knows *and* every Watcher."

"Humor me."

The Immortal closed his eyes and spoke the prophesy. "That there will come a time when the few remaining Immortals left will feel an irresistible pull to a far away land. There the last two surviving Immortals will battle to the death for the right to claim the Prize. In the end, there can be only one."

They were ancient words, spoken and believed by all Immortals. Joseph Dawson nodded as he heard the familiar mantra. "Adam, what is the 'Prize', exactly?"

The questioning look upon the Immortal gained a harder expression. "We don't know exactly, we *think* its mortality. Why?"

The Watcher stepped forward, and lowered his voice a fraction. "There are whispers in the Order that this Guy might be it." Before Methos could comment on that theory, he was stayed by urgent words from his companion. "Think about it Adam, everything! Out of every century, someone like him could have shown up - he does it now? The Gathering is upon us Adam. It's here! Days, weeks, months, years, who knows? A blink of an eye to guy's like you. But it's getting closer with each passing day. You guys don't even have a clue what the Prize really is. It's a golden carrot at the end of a rope. You 'Wish' its mortality, you wish it's an opportunity to grow old and have kids. But it might not be! The theory in the Order by our 'Brain Trust' is that this guy is not as much as stealing Quickening's, but acting as some sort of storage bank for them. By the time the last two of your Kind face off together, and the last head drops, all you would have to do is face down a lone Mortal and take their head. Ironic, wouldn't you say. After facing all Immortals, your last adversary would be a humble human - and then *Kapow*, a concentrated dose of Quickening. If one essence can blowout a neighborhood's power supply, imagine what over a hundred could do in single moment?"

The '30' year old began to rub his jaw line in thought. "Do you believe this?"

"It doesn't matter what I believe, it's what *they* believe. And their the ones calling the shots. Their running confused and scared Adam. This guy's arrival has shaken up the status quo of the Game. It's all new rules now." The Watcher's eyes then penetrated the gray ones of his long-time friend. "Adam, they're making preparations to give him 'Sanctuary' whether he wants it or not."

The Immortal's body stiffened at the words, and his face clouded with darkness. "They would do this against his Will? Against their fellow Man?"

"Like I said, their confused and scared. I would have thought that they would have learnt something after taking Duncan against his wishes. Several good Watchers died in his rescue that night." Joe watched Methos turn his head. He knew the Immortal would not apologize, and he knew that when they separated in that passage way, one to find Duncan and the other to liberate his Weapon from stores, that there may be killing involved. But they all made their decisions that night. After a moment of reflection of that evening a year ago, the Watcher returned to the subject. "I called you Adam, for some insight into this matter. Hoping that I could Report that this guy is not a freak of nature. And that there had been other mortals before him who could and did this very same thing. If I can't give my Superiors doubts, then the retrieval order will be forwarded. I *need* to be able to tell them that this Kid is not part of the Game in any form."

"I wish I could tell you that this has happened before Joe, I really do. But I have never heard of a Mortal successfully absorbing a Quickening or attracting other essences to them. Maybe he is part of the 'Game', I don't know." The Forth Horseman looked up and down the street. "His own people hunting him, as well as Immortals. This guy is in desperate need of some friends in his corner isn't he?" Adam Pearson once more looked at his friend and smirked, realizing the point of the meeting and Joe's begging and insistence earlier. He then released a deep sigh. "Do you know where he is?"

The Watcher's teeth revealed themselves through his trimmed gray beard as he smiled. "Exactly - nope, and neither do the Council at the moment. You're all on the same playing field. One needle and a Mutha luvin' Haystack to look in."

"If you hear that they found him, let me know imminently. If this guy is absorbing Quickening's, he'll be confused, scared, disorientated and in great deal of pain. Sanctuary will not help him; it will only make it worse. He needs to learn how to control and filter the Quickenings. Being force-fed sedatives, restrained - imprisoned, experiencing random bouts within a conscious sleep would drive him mad. We have to find him before the Council of Watchers do."

The Watcher nodded in agreement. "Want me to contact MacLeod? I'm sure he'll hop the Concorde ASAP to be part of this. Couldn't hurt to have extra set of eyes and ears either. He might even talk that estranged wife of his to come along for the ride and lend a hand. Besides, if worse comes to worse and the Council's 'Headhunters' find him before you do. He'll definitely want to be part of any Liberation attempt, given his history with the Sanctuary and all."

"Tell him everything you told me, and what we discussed. But also tell him to keep a low profile. His face is to well known in the Order." The two men then held a moment of silence as they both contemplated their responsibilities and duties. After which they then shook hands in preparation of parting. "Do you have a place for me to start?"

"Spain, he was last spotted in Spain."

With a destination, the oldest living Immortal turned without saying another word to make preparations for finding himself a needle before others could.


16-Months and two day's after Xander was cursed.

The Raven haired Chosen-One effortlessly pushed the freshly arisen Vamp into her blonde haired Sister Slayer's 'Mr. Pointy'. The impregnation of the hand held wooden weapon eliciting the standard *poof* of ash as it made contact with the unbeating heart.

"Oh Girl, I never get tired of seeing that."

In a hollow tone the longest surviving Slayer replied. "Yeah, real pretty."

"Come on 'B'. Shake it & stake it! This is fun. You, Me, Midnight, Graveyard, Vamp's and other crawlies of the evening. It can't possibly get any better then this!"

Buffy Summers offered a small smile at Faith's transparent attempts to make Patrolling fun. But without knowing it, her 'Sister' was only making it worse. Every time she would say something halfway amusing, it would only remind her of 'him' and his own lame attempts to make her laugh in years past. Even Faith's mere presence was a painful reminder. As every time her fellow Slayer would talk about sex, she would get mental images of Xander and her together. His name was never mentioned in the stories, but it was the one her mind automatically strayed to when the Dark haired Chosen spoke of her various conquests. And Faith talked about *Sex* a lot, that would probably happen when you spend time in a Woman's Prison.

Faith had returned to town after her early release from LA County's Women Correctional Facility. And after helping everybody in dispatching the 'First Evil' from this Earthly Plain she had been offered an Official Pardon by the Council, and invited to go to England and assist the newly reformed Watchers Council in the Training and Preparation of those who where destined to be 'Called'. It was an important Assignment, one Buffy felt slightly insulted for being overlooked for.

Giles had explained the decision by the Council as diplomatically as possible. It had not gone unnoticed by the ruling Tribunal that she had a tendency of 'Sleeping with the Enemy', and the Council did not want her personal history and 'preferences' to tarnish the minds of future Slayer's.

She was given the opportunity to argue her case, but she couldn't deny the stone cold facts as they were presented. Angel was a forgivable discretion by them, even thou it did turn him into Angelus. The Watcher Tribunal recognized that she was, then, a young woman, overwhelmed by her duty and fate as a Slayer and needed the 'company' he offered her. Spike however, was not as well received, and she could now no longer claim to being a young naive little girl. In fact it had been almost forcibly pointed out to her that after the whole Angelus incident, that if she had any common sense, she would not have gotten involved in another sexual affair with a Vampire at all. Angel had a soul; Spike did not - only a microchip. Even thou the bleached haired Vampire returned three months after his hasty departure from Sunnydale, with his tortured core returned, it did nothing to sway the opinion of the Council.

At best during that time prior to him leaving, Spike fell into a 'Grey Area' where his good deeds were concerned, and the Watcher Tribunal felt they were all more one-sided and self serving then humanitarian.

Spike had returned back to the place he was banished. For punishment and execution over the things he had done when he was infected with a demon. And felt it deserving that considering his role in Xander's fate that the Scooby's measure his end out. Even thou a bulk of the Slayettes were incline to grant this wish, it was decided by Buffy that the sin's of Spike could not be transferred to 'William'. The freshly souled Vampire was granted life by the same Slayer who had threatened to take it away if she ever saw him again.

This caused an instant rift in friendships and relationships, but the argument stood that if they were not prepared to kill Anya for her participation in Xander's Curse, it would be hypocritical not to do so for William.

'The Curse' was repeatedly mentioned by the Council as an illustration of what her poor judgment and lack of duty was responsible for. The man the Council referred to as only a mere Carpenter (even thou he was so much more in the hearts of those who knew him), was damned because she did not fulfill her obligations as a VAMPIRE Slayer. But also for the fact that she had stayed his hand when he himself was in the process of performing the duty she was suppose to execute. If she had not done so, the Vampire called Spike would be no more and the Carpenter known as Xander Harris would still be safe (reasonably safe) in Sunnydale.

Other points were made, but it was the Xander's Curse she could not free her thoughts from. As the longest living Slayer reflected upon her dark time with the Vampire she could not deny that this was all true.

There had been too many instances where she had seen Spike do questionable things and then diverted her attention away from them. If it was another Vampire or Demon doing the same acts she had seen Spike do, then they would be dust on the ground. Her own memories and words condemned her before the Tribunal as they denied her request.

Faith had been present throughout the Hearing and had witnessed how it had affected her 'Sister', so in the end she decided to decline the offer, stayed in SunnyHELL, and fought the darkness with everybody else she hoped to call friends again.

That moment transformed Faith. She was now the 'Good-One' in the Council's eyes. The stigma she had always carried as being thought second-best to Buffy was now removed. This motivated her to begin a fresh chapter in her life. She enrolled in Night School and with a lot of help from Willow got her High School Diploma, with this accomplishment she then applied to SDU. With a little encouragement by the Council to the Dean of Admissions, she was accepted to pursue a College life.

Buffy looked at her friend's now almost permanent smiling face and felt a little bit of shame for wishing bad things to happen to her. Faith's life was perfect, and she wanted it desperately to be hers. Buffy did not hate the School Councilors position, she liked it - liked it a lot. But even after a full year she was still feeling her way through. And some of the teenage problems she was confronted with did not sit well with her. Being a Slayer, she was more naturally inclined to action. She did not have the stamina to sit and to listen to other peoples problems with sensitivity and empathy. To guide them through options and solutions to their concerns. There was only one Scooby who possessed those qualities, and she wasn't him. In her private, and work life, he seemed to always be at the front of her thoughts.

Nobody who was there that 'night' ever recovered from his loss. It weighed on everyone's heart, with Xander gone there was no Hope or Joy left anymore in the group. Though Faith's permanence did help lift the morale of everyone - it was not a replacement. The Scooby's still dwelled in the aftermath of Xander.

of course relentless efforts were made to find a release for the Zeppo from Anya's and Spike's Curse - tireless attempts by Giles in the Watcher's Library in England, Angel and the gang in LA, and Willow, Tara and Anya's labors in Sunnydale. But no counter to the curse had yet been found. Their only hope - D'Hoffran's Ruby, its light still shined. It would flicker, and dim from time to time, but it would not extinguish. And as long as there was illumination there was Hope, even if that hope did accompany their last visualization of Xander screaming in unearthly agony.

"Buffy? Buffy? Are you still with us?"


"It's the Dawnster." Faith presented the Blonde Slayer with her mobile phone; she had been so lost in her inner thoughts that she hadn't heard it go off. Before Buffy had lifted it to her ear Faith spoke once more. "She sounds very upset, she wouldn't tell me why thou."

Placing her hand over the bottom part of the palm sized phone she replied. "Probably practicing magic with Will and Tara, and set something alight again." She then removed her hand and cupped it to her ear. "Yes Dawn?"

A shaky and timid reply was returned, and Buffy could almost see her sister in tears in her minds eye. "Buffy --- It's gone."

The Blonde took a deep breath, preparing herself for a round of 21- questions. "What's gone Dawn, I don't understand."

"The light, Xander's light, it's out, it's gone. The Ruby is dead."

The phone slipped from her grasp as she began to run home as fast as her Slayer speed would allow her leaving a surprised Faith in her wake. Ever since 'That Night', the Ruby was always in the possession of one of 'Xander's Girls' each and all assuming the role of its guardian and watcher. Each making an effort of sending loving and supportive thoughts through the stone to its linked subject.

Buffy couldn't take Dawn's word for it, she had to see it with her own eyes, and there had been too many false alarms in the past when the light within the Jewel had dimmed so low that it was almost non- existent. As her legs pumped along the paved street towards her home tears silently flowed from her eyes. They were not tears of sorrow as she was sure Dawn would be shedding at that very moment, but of Joy. Anya was right, only her own stubbornness and refusal to say 'die' prevented her from selecting D'Hoffran's third choice. She had believed that they would have freed him from the curse within the first week at the latest. That did not happen, Spikes angry words had cancelled that possibility. And for close to one and a half years Xander had been victim to their arrogance, and thou she hated herself for wishing it, she did hope Xander was now dead and therefore released from his torment. A torment that she contributed to. She wished that Xander had finally found peace.


26 minutes after the Call from Dawn ENGLAND.

Rupert Giles angrily picked up the screeching phone from his mahogany desk; the bench top a scattering of loose paper. "Yes! What is it?"

"It's me Giles."

The Watcher to both Slayers's in Sunnydale, drew in a deep calming breath and answered his oldest charge. "I'm sorry Buffy, how are you?"

"Xander's --- he's dead Giles. D'Hoffran's gift, the Gem, the light's gone --- the Curse has ended."

Rupert Giles took another deep breath, as he reminisced in his mind a child-like man he loved and appreciated like a son. "I'm sorry Buffy. I truly ---" Giles did not complete the sentence; there were no longer any words in his extensive vocabulary to express the depths of his own loss and of his chosen children.

Without pause or shaky tone, the Slayer responded. "Thank you Giles."

The aged Watcher was taken aback by the 'all business' approach, some would consider it heartless, be he knew her better. Buffy behaved the same way when her mother passed on, even though the grief was eating her up inside. "Buffy, don't do this. Not again, you don't have to be strong for me."

"But I have to be strong for Dawn, Willow, Tara and Anya. They need me to be strong."

"No they don't, they need you to be honest with them and grieve as a whole."

The Watcher could almost hear his charges tears begin to shed, and he wondered how many had flowed before she found the strength to make this call.

"Giles, --- I'm happy he's dead. God forgive me, but I'm glad it's finally over for him."

The third highest Official in the reconstructed Watcher's Council remained silent, allowing his 'daughter' to vent her misery.

"Am I a bad person for wishing that Giles? Is there something wrong with me that I wanted this --- my best friend dead? Anya said when we were making our 'choices' for D'Hoffran, that the humanitarian thing to do was to let him die. I told her 'No' and voted against that option."

"Dawn and Willow also*"

"*They took my lead Giles. They looked to me as though I knew what I was doing, but I didn't. Anya was the one with experience where curses were concerned and I purposely discounted her input. I cared too much for Xander to let his life go that easily, and because of my selfishness he's known only suffering. The Tribunal was right, I let my personal feelings influence my responsibilities. I should have killed Spike straight off, I should have let Xander kill him - I didn't. Spike cursed him and there was nothing I did to prevent it."

"Buffy, Xander was a man of great character, he would not hold you responsible for what happened to him, he loved you very much."

"You didn't see his eyes that night when he walked away from me Giles. I disgusted him, he was disappointed, angry, and humiliated - and I did that to him. He was always there for me, and I did this to him. I broke him Giles. I know that he loved me, and when he discovered the truth about Spike and me, I could see it in his eye's Giles he stopped loving me then. At that very second, his heart turned to ice for me.

"D'Hoffran shared the truth of the curse with him Giles. He would have been told that Spike requested it, and Anya approved it. And he would know *I* stopped him from killing Spike before it was cast. "

Rupert Giles remained silent as he heard sobs being passed over the line. Offering his Slayer the opportunity to compose herself.

Once she did so, she spoke with fresh authority, wishing to get back on track to the purpose of the call. "We're holding a Memorial in a week's time. We're inviting everyone who knew and loved him. It would really mean a lot if you came, and said a few words."

"Oh Buffy, I wish, I truly wish I could. But I have some pressing concerns at the moment."

"More Important then this?"

"NO! --- no, just as important."

"Several hours ago there was an escape. A branch of our Organization had someone in 'Custody', someone very, very dangerous."

"How dangerous, should we be worried?"

"I don't know too much Buffy; if I did I swear I would tell you. What I do know is that his identity was kept a secret from everybody - I don't even think *they* knew for certain. According to his file he was apprehended in Prague 14-months ago, living in a Dumpster, and by this Report, surviving from what he was able to scrounge in Trash Bins."

"He doesn't sound that dangerous to me."

"Well regardless to how they discovered him, they did treat him with a good amount of paranoia. I swear, I doubt the Crown Jewels of England had this much security. They moved him around a good deal, going from Holy Ground to Holy Ground all over Europe. Never in the same place for more then a Month. Apparently a couple of years back they had a couple of instances involving others in similar care that they preferred not to make again.

"He was actually held here for four weeks in our Chapel. The Blighters even removed half of the 310 year old roof for some reason, just to accommodate his presence. There were times when I almost felt sorry for the sod - the Scream's he would make was enough to wake the dead. I even saw him briefly; I participated in guarding him a few times. A goodwill and courtesy gesture between Fellow- Watcher's and the like, and I must say he didn't look to intimidating. They had him sedated and latched into some kind of metal frame, with a face plate over his head. Most peculiar, despite the whiteness of his beard and hair he held a bearing of a young man."

"So did this guy ever have a name, or did you just call him 'Guy in the Chapel'?"

"His File called him what I had heard others refer to him as. They called him 'The Prize'. Whatever the Hell all that means. I was talking to one of these Watcher Chap's when they were here at the Catskills. And he said that this gentleman was the most dangerous man alive, and that he could destroy the World as we know it."

"Giles, if he was so dangerous then why did they let him live. From my own bitter experience with your 'Wet Works' Team. I know the Watcher's aren't above killing people if the feel it's for the betterment of everybody."

"True. That is a question I've been asking myself several times a minute since this morning. I can only imagine that they were afraid of what his death would usher forth."

"Err, how did he escape? If he was as sedated as you said, how did he get free?"

"He was rescued in his latest 'Safe Place' an abandoned Church in Ireland. It was performed by three people. They killed four Watchers', and injured 9 others. So please understand Buffy that though I wish I could be there for you and everybody, especially Xander. It is important that we recapture this 'Prize'.


3-minutes before Dawn's phone call to Buffy
Somewhere in Ireland

Adam Pearson stood at the gate of a lone access to an unknown Farmers Machinery Shed 18-mile distant from a little known Church that would possibly be by day's end notorious throughout Ireland and England. Lifting the bottle in his right hand in another repeated action he studied the horizon and the quiet road before him for any signs that would be recognized as out of the ordinary.

It had been 6 hours since the raid on the Watchers latest Sanctuary Post, and unlike the others - this one bared fruit. The 100 year old beverage in hand was supposed to be part of a shared celebration for their success, but he now felt very selfish. There was nothing to celebrate as he closed his eyes and reflected upon their 'success'.

The rich muddy terrain made it impossible for a person to sneak up on another, but he couldn't help but admire his compatriot's effort as he heard the quiet *squelching* coming from his back.


The ancient Immortal turned to the Scotsman and smiled broadly. "Duncan MacLeod, of the Clan MacLeod."

"You're drunk."

It wasn't a question, but an obvious fact. Raising his finger upwards to correct the Highlander he responded. "Ah ah, I'm *Very* Drunk, thank you."

"This is neither the time nor place for this Methos; we have to get him out of Ireland and somewhere safe."

"Oh Yes, MacLeod. Let's send him somewhere else to die, what an excellent idea!"

"Where there's life there's Hope. And he still lives."

"Barely Duncan, barely. God damn those Bastards." The Immortal once called Methos then threw his now empty bottle into an opposite field in anger. "He wasn't an Immortal MacLeod, what were they thinking. His muscles don't rejuvenate like ours; his musculature is in complete apathy from lack of use. He's little more then a skeleton with flesh. Thanks to them pumping in the minimum requirement of nutrients for him to survive. His breathing is labored. Stuck in that frame for over a year with no exercise, completely dependent on their O2 equipment, living by artificial means, how can he hope to survive outside of those conditions after a year? He's a dead man. I should just kill him and put him out of his misery."

"You don't believe that, and neither do I. He's survived 14- months in the Watcher's 'care'. He'll survive this."

"I wish I had your confidence in him Duncan. I truly do." The Immortal then became somber. "This is all my fault."

"No it isn't, and no-one is saying it is. The Council has over 10,000 members Worldwide. You maybe Immortal Methos, but your still only one man. They quite simply had the numbers on their side."

"One day, they beat me to him by one measly day." The 5,000 year old looked to the still open door of the Shed.

As if reading his friends mind, Duncan MacLeod clapped his hand on his shoulder as a supportive gesture. "He'll make it Methos. Of this I am certain. When we were unfastening him from the frame and Kate was removing his visor, I looked into his eyes. There was fear, but there was also defiance. He's not going to surrender to death as easily as you think he will."

The Immortal staggered back and laughed in a fashion only someone truly intoxicated would and announced to the heavens. "Death? Death? I am Methos. I-AM-DEATH!" As he continued to laugh drunkenly out loud. After a moment he then returned back to a semi- balance of sober behavior. "I'm sorry MacLeod, but there was a time when a mere whisper that I was seeking someone would have illicit assistance that would have razed the corners of the globe to find my quarry. I made Kings tremble. I once would have had legions attend to my Will out of fear of what I or my 'Brother' Horsemen would do if they did not. And now? Nothing."

"We found him Methos, that's the important thing. And he's still alive. We may not be able to approach Hospitals, or Doctors Surgeries, the Council will have those undoubtedly staked out. But Veterinary Clinics are a possibility. We *won't* let him die, not after looking for him all this time. He's in our custody now, the three of us, and I'm sure we'll find other Immortal supporters as well. The Council will not steal him away again, and if they do - it will be over my headless corpse"

The alcoholic fuzz that was clouding the Ancient Warrior- Philosophers mind began to fade as his rejuvenating qualities of being an Immortal kicked in. "No, you and Kate have already done too much, risked too much. He's my responsibility; I'll take care of him."

With this declaration a thunderclap then sounded in the air.

The two men looked around; the skies were too clear for it to be associated to a storm. The only other possible culprit was the echo of a Hunting Rifle being shot. The two Immortals however both bought their swords forth ready for battle if one did decide to erupt.

"DUNCAN!!!! ADAM!!! Come in here!"

"Kate." Escaped the Highlander's mouth as he and his Senior Immortal both ran towards the Shed that held Katherine MacLeod, and the man dubbed 'The Prize'. When they entered they witnessed a truly unusual sight. A large head with a long beard and pointy ears was floating above 'The Prize'. Kate had stepped back form the man whose cares she was attending.

The Head's mouth opened and a voice covered to now silent room. "The Prime Conditions of your Curse have been met Xander Harris. 'Death' has claimed you, but there was an annex to that curse - that you will always be hunted - you will know no peace. Within you lay the Quickening of 152 Ancients. You will not escape the 'Game' as easily as you hoped, not whilst you still hold those essences in your soul. Hunted, tormented. I can think of nothing more fitting then imagining you trying to outlast those who are your superior in everyway conceivable. As you flee for your misbegotten life. Yet I am known as a Sporting 'Man' and I recognize that you can do very little running as you are now. So I return you to your original physical shape and condition prior to the curses announcement." Xander Harris's body then began to glow a pinkish hue as his body began to inflate. "You will still gain the Quickening, but only from those you defeat in battle. You are a Human, caught in a game for Demi-Gods Harris. It will amuse me to see how long you will last." The head then shimmered and vanished as if it was never there.

Xander edged himself onto his elbow, and looked bleary eyed to those in the room. He still had the beard and long snow white hair, but he felt better then he had in a long, long time. "Tha---thank you. Whatever you did for me, thank you." His voice was hoarse and dry, but there was not one in the room who did not hear his whispered gratitude.

Adam Pearson approached the Scooby and smiled - beamed actually. "Think nothing of it Mr. Harris, it's not like we had anything else better to do."

Xander tried to laugh but all his body offered was a sickening cough. He then tried to stand, it was a shaky attempt, but he received support from the woman he barely was able to recognize as the person who had been nursing him for the past few hours.

Duncan MacLeod spoke to the other male Immortal. "This should make sneaking him past the Council much easier. I doubt they would be looking for someone as fit as our friend here."

Methos nodded in agreement, the new body and look of the 'Prize' did uncomplicated matters. He then announced his thoughts to the man identified as Xander Harris by the floating head. "We'll smuggle you out tonight. And when we're back in Paris, we'll start on your training."

"Excuse me? Training? What are you taking about, and what do you mean by 'Council'?"

The Highlander looked at the white haired youth. "Do you remember anything while you were --- err ---'indisposed'?"

An icy reply was granted by Xander. "I remember *everything* since the Curse. Every pain, every nightmarish experience. I just don't know who it was who grabbed me, and put me through that Hell is all."

Duncan decided to take the edge off his tone, as it was obvious that Mr. Xander Harris had misunderstood his curiosity. "That was the Council of Watchers who took you, and what Methos meant is that it is obvious from what that 'person'*"


"Excuse me?"

"D'Hoffran, that's his name. I met him once. He's a Vengeance Lord or something." Xander then began to make an effort to take a step forward to the door, to take in some fresh air as opposed to the musty smell of the shed.

Duncan continued as he watched with concern as Xander took tentative step's forward. "What this D'Hoffran has intended is for you to join, what 'we' call the Game. Your still Human so you need to learn skills that can save your life, and believe me, your life is in desperate need of saving."

Xander had just made it to the door frame, and took in several breaths before he replied. "It was the 'Watchers Council' who kidnapped?"

Xander didn't hear any affirmatives, just witnessed lone nods coming from the man who was addressing him and the woman. The other man stood silent, but despite his lack of involvement it was obvious he was giving things some deep thought.

The silent man then stepped forward. "What did D'Hoffran mean when he said you were cursed? What did you do to deserve such a punishment?" There was silence again in the Machinery Shed as the Prize turned to face Methos.

"I didn't do anything. Aside from follow my heart, I left a woman at the alter because I still had feelings for someone else. It was a crappy thing to do, but I thought it was more important that I did it then, then to make plan's for divorce later. Later on I discovered her having 'bouncy' relations with a guy she knew I didn't like. The same guy who was secretly sharing bodily fluids with that 'someone' I told you about. I could have ended it there, but I was stopped by 'someone' who obviously cared more for that 'animal' then me. I don't know what happened after I walked away, but later I had an epiphany of sorts - just after I had done a runner in Spain, which explained every thing - they cursed me. The way I see it, if you're going to be punished for something, you might as well do something to have made it worth while." Xander then turned his head and faced the crisp morning. "Yes sir, I've done the time but not a crime worthy of what they put me through. It's 'Double Jeopardy' time."

Chapter 3

One year shy a day from the last chapter.
At an unknown modest Mansion in Paris.

Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod sat patiently and silently in the front parlour of the decadent, but humble home of Adam Pearson. His eyes transfixed upon the chequered field of battle that made up the two Immortals weekly Chess game. His warrior's attention centred to the array of figurines before him as he allowed his mind to carefully ponder strategies of conquest.

In close to a hundred such matches he had yet to beat his host in this near ancient challenge of the mind, but he had come close, very close, on several occasions. And with each loss he was taught a valuable lesson into how Adam's mind worked, and his day of victory he felt was quickly coming. And who knows, it might be in this very game that he would topple Adam's White King.

But try as he might to distract himself, he could not escape the voice resonating in the hallway of the oldest Immortal on record. It was calm and soothing, but held in its tone intensity. People who had met Adam Pearson would often comment on his good manners and likable nature, yet if they were to know the truth to his origins then they would all cringe in fear and terror at his presence. You did not acquire the name of 'Death' by walking little old ladies across the road, and it was this knowledge which always stayed foremost in the Highlander's thoughts. Adam Pearson, aka Methos - the Fourth Horseman, was a dangerous person to know. Both as a friend and even more so as an enemy.

The dark haired Scotsman silently mused in his grim thoughts. Reflecting on his personal history with a man who had laid waste to countless cultures, cities and people, thousands of years before his birth. An ancient butcher who had inspired one of the most notable characters in 'Revelations'.

Yes, such a person was indeed dangerous.

MacLeod had only witnessed Methos fight several times in their association. But in each combat, the Highlander had to admit the battle had been truly won and the victor determined before the swords had been unsheathed. Methos carried within him the fighting experience of over five millennia, as well as numerous Immortal challenges and their Quickenings. He had also the benefit of learning under some of the greatest fighters and instructors the world had ever produced. Such a man, regardless of his present claim to pacifism, was still worth being weary of. The Highlander trusted his life with the Senior Immortal; yet he also knew that Methos was a very self-oriented warrior. He never picked up his blade, or threw himself into battle unless that battle was, or would, inflict itself upon him and his chosen way of life.

As always the Highlander sat behind the darker ensemble and waited for the Eternal to join him. In the near distance he could hear Adam discussing a subject that had become a common one during their weekly 'War' - Xander Harris. The unknown man more popularly referred to as 'The Prize' in the communities that would hunt for him.

The phone call was not unexpected; in fact the Scotsman was surprised that it had taken Joe Dawson as long as to make contact with either of them. He could only contribute this to the fact that Xander's cosmetic surgery was more effective then any of them had hoped. of course it would have been ideal that Xander not be discovered at all. But these were foolish prayers to hold; as it was only a matter of time before the youth would be challenged. And given the unique circumstances associated to Xander as being the only human to participate in the 'Game', a controversial decision was made by Methos. Xander did not have benefit of a hundred years of education with the blade so it was decided that he become the aggressor. As the challenger, Xander had the opportunity to choose his opponents with care. It also ensured that the fighting was done under a controlled situation.

Preparation was the key to Xander's current success. In these two man Wars 'The Prize' learnt that his life was dependent only upon himself. Himself and the strength of his sword arm and the blade it carried.

'The Prize' had to abandon any thought that he could trust others, even his designated Protectors. He learnt true and bloody independence. He stood alone, fought alone, and he often mourned his victories alone.

It had been decided to start him off small in these challenges of life and death. Introducing him to those who they all knew were invested in the Game, yet had not yet reached a stage of skill that would rival the education the small group had instilled into their Charge.

The Highlander recalled debating upon the wisdom of this decision. The gamble to Xander's life and the Quickenings held within him was too great to risk on a chance victory. But Methos was entrenched, and the ancient felt that this was the only way Harris would ever truly learn to be a Warrior. In practice the youth's potential was obvious; yet the young man was still casual and sloppy towards his teachings. Methos was confident that if Xander was placed in a life and death situation that those rehearsed skills would come to the fore.

The first of many confrontations was in Prague 9-months ago. And was foolishly thought to be no threat, it was only a confidence exercise. As the Highlander now sat behind the Chess board he began to rub his eyes in tired memory of that day. As always the Scotsman objected prior to the risks being placed on 'The Prize', he expected 'survivor support' from the man he was trying to protect. But surprisingly Xander was eager to accept the challenge before him.

The first was a 70-year old Immortal whose original death came with a failed campaign upon the renowned Russian Front during World War II. If that Immortal shied away from the armed combat, then none would have been had - this had already been agreed by Xander, Methos, Kate, Paula and himself. Unfortunately the Aryan felt false confidence that day.

It was Xander's virgin battle in the 'Game', and his skills were obviously raw, yet they were still superior to that of the German. The fight lasted for three minutes, and when it was over the former Soldier's head fell to the ground. But not before its owner had marked the Californian well.

The wound had since healed, and to this day presents an impressive scar across his throat. Efforts made by Catherine to talk the youth into once again undergoing further Surgery with the aim to conceal the damage done were dismissed by Xander. Citing that the injury would remain as an important reminder to him of what he almost lost that day. The young American continued to maintain this philosophy throughout his other challenges, and with each scar that marked his flesh he would refer to it being another lesson learnt. There had been over a dozen such confrontations since that day and each battle bought an elevation to his skill, as well as a Quickening.

Duncan MacLeod sighed deeply; he did not want this life for Xander. He wanted him protected from the harsh realities of his 'World'. But the youth stubbornly refused his velvet fisted care. Denying the very thought of being hidden from the Human Race. That was what D'Hoffran wanted. The Demon had expressed a pleasure in knowing that Xander would be forever running, hiding and living in fear. But 'The Prize' would not give the Demon Lord the satisfaction of laying out his path. He would make his own.

The Highlander picked up and twirled one of the chess pieces in his hand. And not for the first time in over three hundred and fifty days did he not cast his mind back to the early ones. The days after 'The Prizes' recovery from the Sanctuary.

It was obvious to them all that the young man not only had to be trained to participate in the 'Game', but that he also had to be visually altered. The Council would be now on the hunt for a 24-year old male with white hair. Such a specimen would typically stand out in any crowd. A simple dye job would have been too obvious a solution and would have been prepared for, and expected by the Council's 'Head-Hunters'. So a drastic decision had to be made as the four began their journey by Ferry across from Ireland to England twenty hours after the success of Xander's escape. And it was not one easily made - Plastic Surgery.

As soon as the three Immortals, and the Fugitive of the 'Sanctuary' stepped foot in Paris, Katharine started to use her old Fashion Contacts. The eternal beauty began utilizing the time in her life when she had been a renowned clothing designer called Faith, and made discreet inquiries to obtain emergency appointments with several of the leading Cosmetic Surgeons in Europe. Under normal circumstances - an impossible feat, but when you flash enough money, even the best in the World found time to see you. And Adam Pearson, aka Methos, had the accrued savings of over five thousand years and a wealth that would require him to go bankrupt a hundred times over before he even came close to being considered a poor man.

During those initial days there wasn't an aspect of Xander Harris's face that was not unaltered. His nose, chin, cheekbones were all changed, his ears were pinned back and his ear lobes shorten. After several days of intensive care and revolutionary treatment, the bandages were removed to reveal a completely different Xander Harris.

It was a strange sight to behold the young man's expression as he gazed into the mirror for that first time. It was heartbreaking. Another piece of his life was now permeantly lost to him. The Watcher's had restrained him to the point of madness, only his hate kept him going. A hate that revealed itself when he took note of the snowy whiteness of his mane. His facial features shifted to represent pure hatred.

The 'Prize' demanded that his head be shaved, so that he would not have any additional reminders of another he knew who had white hair. A creature he referred to as 'Spike'. Up until then that name held no significance to any of them. It had only been a week and a half since his liberation from the Order and Xander found it difficult to open up and look upon his rescuers as his friends. They were to him just more likable kidnappers. The tale of 'Spike and Anyanka' took two months to be told. The addition of the Slayer to this already 'Greekesk-like-Tragedy' was added two weeks after the initial telling.

Duncan MacLeod was no stranger to betrayal, he had been on the receiving end of that word more often then he cared to remember. But the sad story of Xander Harris dwarfed them all.

As the tale went, Xander was in love with a former Demon. And in a twisted piece of revenge by an old victim of hers he was revealed a false future on their Wedding Day. The 'Future Vision' was of a loveless marriage. Apart from making him withdraw from the ceremony it also opened his eyes to the dormant feelings he still carried for his first crush. As such he could not continue with the Wedding whilst supporting his doubts, regardless of their falsehood.

The former Demon became so again, and after a torrid encounter with his worst enemy, she and the Vampire cursed him to the 'Game'. Another who had had his fate seal such would probably have been broken, but not this man. This man now harboured too much hate for the pair to be so easily broken.

He did not break, but he did crack. And it wasn't at their hands. He became fractured at hearing that the woman he had secretly loved also shared in the touch of the Vampire. He walked away from the confrontation with the resolve of never speaking to any of them again. It had barely measured a minute after he departed the three when he fell victim to the recent lovers.


Later through a boon of D'Hoffran he was revealed the facts of his curse. He also saw in his minds-eye the image of the Slayer, the woman he cared so deeply for utter her choices. She had the opportunity of ending his curse. It was the third option, and it was laid out so simply in front of her. But instead she chose 1 and 2. She had damned him to pain and torment, and he could only rationalize that it was because he dared to try and kill her undead boyfriend. It was these memories that vividly recycled themselves as he was restrained and kept in a waking sleep by the Watchers.

This tragic story was worthy of Shakespeare and Stephen King. It had everything that bought life to the Bard's darker Play's and the Nightmare Maker's lighter ones. Adultery, Mortal Enemies, Confused Love, Betrayal, and a Noble Figure victim to an unkind fate.

The Highlander's mind cast himself forward in his memories. He remembered Xander trying several times that first month to escape their 'Protection' and make desperate telephone calls to his hometown of Sunnydale, California. Fortunately each call was unsuccessful given the time difference. Daylight in Europe often meant night time in America. The Californian would call either an empty or sleeping house.

MacLeod had to respect the young man's determination in trying to contact those that he still loved, but sadly the realities were that he was now to serve a different purpose. He now a hunted man. It was this realization that kept him bound to his 'new and likable' kidnappers. The realization that his safety would have to come at the expense of his freedom and personal history.

When he finally accepted the truth as spelt out to him by Adam, he began to reinvent himself. With the promise by the Ancient Immortal that he could only be free of their guardianship when he could prove to his eyes that he could take care of himself.

With vigour he approached the task. The first step was to him and everybody else was the aesthetic changes. Xander did indeed shave his head and had maintained this discipline to date. He then began a regiment of tanning to take away the white pallor of spending over a year hidden from sunlight.

Once the physical had been addressed, he began to focus on other necessary areas. He learnt of the 'Game' which he was now forced to play at the feet of its greatest Master. Adam relished every lesson and wisdom he passed on to his mind-hungry pupil. Katherine immersed him in the social graces and Society. And the Highlander taught him to fight like he never knew how to fight before. To fight with his head first, fists second, and blade last. Drilling into the young American that you never drew your Sword unless you were prepared to take a life. *This* was his Teachings.

Upon the fourth week he was discharged from the Clinic, and he was completely unidentifiable from the man he was when he had entered. In mind, body, and soul.

When 'The Prize' was deemed medically fit to travel, travel they did. There was not a province of Europe that they did not cross in that following month. Doing their best to provide false leads and clues for the Watcher's to follow. But despite the chaos of those days, Xander trained, and trained hard. Not just sword play, but self defence, tracking and evasion, learning how to pick locks and boost cars for emergency escapes if the need arose. Skills that he would need to survive if he was ever forced to play the 'Game' without the protection of his Immortal Bodyguards.

There were of course certain aspects of MacLeod's instructions that that the fugitive from the 'Sanctuary' was more comfortable in. Aikido for example was a discipline he took to naturally, as was the employment of the Katana. It's swinging motion and arch attacks making full benefit of Xander's natural upper body strength.

It was during this time that it was discovered that unlike other Eternals, Xander could not sense a Quickening. Logically this made sense, he wasn't an Immortal after all, and of the Quickening he had collected over the past year of his captivity, they had not been absorbed into him, but lay within him untouched.

These last facts presented a problem, in that during moments of great emotional stress and anger the combined essences of those Immortals whose energies he had claimed would flare. And they could then be felt like a beacon to others of their kind. To insure that this did not happen on a regular basis, Xander had to be instructed on techniques that kept him totally passive and subdued. During his more extreme moments he would take medication to sedate his mind.

He trained, meditated and he fought hard, making staggering advances in his developments as a Warrior. But despite the achievements Xander Harris made, there was also that underlying threat he always carried within him. His quiet rage was like a sleeping wolf surrounded by noisy sheep.

of course Xander always carried himself well in company, but when he thought he was alone or became lost in his meditations; he presented that dangerous, saddened anger for all to see in his eyes. The eyes of a man who had been left for dead by those he loved. The eye's of a man whose passion for life had dried up with his very first Quickening.

Duncan remembered that stoic look of misery and contempt. That empty dead stare, accompanied by an attitude that supported the ideal that despite the number of people at his side, that he was all alone in the World.

It was during these rare moments that Xander most resembled his lost Clan-Brother Connor MacLeod. And it was these times that bought the Highlander nothing but inner misery.

His memories of Connor were precious ones to him; they were of the man who had found him on the green plains of a Scottish Clan War surrounded by the bodies of his Brothers-in-Arms and enemies alike. Of a man who had introduced him to his eternal destiny.

Connor MacLeod was a legend and a warning from the time he was but a wee Bairn in his mother's arms. He was the man who had apparently made a pact with the Devil and sold his soul for eternal life, it wasn't until his own 'death' that Duncan learnt the truth. Connor MacLeod, the Bane of his Clan's History, became his teacher, and his only link to a family he could never have.

The dark haired Scotsman held over two centuries worth of happy memories with this man. Of laughter and adventure, yet never once did that look ever escape his 'Brothers' eyes. It remained fixed and set, right up until the end. Right up until the point when he had no choice but to take his own 'Brothers' head and Quickening.

Sometimes, if he closed his thoughts, and the place he was in was quiet enough, he would hear Connor's whisper in his ear. Dispensing the same treasured advice and guidance he always valued. Maybe it was his imagination, but 'Connor' would tell him how much he liked the youth that he had sworn to protect with his life. How much he liked his attitude, and of the fire that burned within him.

That's what the Highlander called it - the Fire. After all isn't that what hatred and a desire for vengeance are? A Fire that would consume all if given an opportunity. Duncan understood the origins of Xander's melee, and the contempt the young man would forever hold for being a prisoner to his fate.

The Californian could be treated like a King in their care but he would still and forever be but a prisoner. A man always under guard until he could prove his worth to a 5,000 year old Warrior. They may call themselves his Protectors, or Bodyguards, but in Xander's eyes they were still his Jailers. Determining where he would go, what he would do, where he would eat and who he could speak to. And thou the Scotsman knew that at times Xander did indeed resent them all for and their attentions, he also knew that Xander was also aware that he had no where else to turn.

The Watcher's wanted him recaptured, and re-exposed to the torturous existence that still haunted the youth's nightmares. And the other Immortals wanted to claim his head and take his reservoir of Quickenings. Imprisonment or Death? Given such a choice, and of everything he had been forced to endure, how could he not stay in their company and despise those who had spoke and granted his suffering?

A Vampire and a Vengeance Demon.

Their names were like a dark centre to his soul. 'William the Bloody' and Anyanka. The only satisfaction Xander had was knowing that his friends - his true friends, would have dispatched them for him once their complicity was known. This was the only thing that kept him sane.

That and Celeste.

Celeste was an addition to their ranks three months ago, and half a year after the inclusion of Paula Harker. Both females had also sworn to protect Xander Harris's life with their own.

After Adam Pearson, Celeste was the most senior of Immortals in their group. A 2,100 year old Assassin and Thief, whose first death came at the hands of a Roman Legionnaire. There were very few in the world that were as competent in their craft as Celeste Killdare. And it was thought by Methos to be a wise addition to the team. After all who else but a skilled Assassin could predict a threat to a target posed by another assassin? MacLeod and everybody else trusted Killdare, if she had truly wanted Xander dead he would have been so long before now.

What he didn't trust were the two's growing closeness.

The Highlander was not arrogant or self righteous enough to deny Xander any happiness he had a chance to claim, what he resented was that an Assassin's way was not a Warriors way. There was no Honour in her instructions. And it was plainly obvious that the two were also getting personally involved with the other, and he had long held true to the belief that business and pleasure never worked out. At least never in the long-term. True, she bought him joy. But she could not bring the youth the semi-balance of life and love that was missing in his life. If Xander could look past the short- term and obvious dilemma posed by their relationship he would realize that there was no future for either of them.

As the Highlander finished these thoughts his attention was redirected by the arrival of the Mini-Mansion's Owner. Adam Pearson sat comfortably opposite to his friend and gave an enigmatic smile. A bait Duncan couldn't resist. "So what did Joe want?"

The chess game began as the older of the two pondered his words. "Joe was fretting." A twinkle in his eyes betrayed his amusement at the Watcher's expense. "He wanted to advise me that Xander is to be assigned his own Watcher."

This immediately got the Highlander's attention. "We can't allow that to happen. If they realize that Xander is 'The Prize' that they have been hunting then*"

Methos raised his hands up to settle the Scottish Warriors concerns. "Relax MacLeod, this was not unexpected. Well, not unexpected by me at least. You remember when I told you that the best place to hide would be in plain sight; well this is what I was referring to. Xander has been progressively taking the heads of those who would probably never make it near the end. Immortals of a disreputable nature. It was only a matter of time before his new face was recorded in one of these little skirmishes." As these words were said both hands danced above the pieces before him halting over his White Bishop and moving it across the board to claim MacLeod's Rook. "The latest head of his - O'Connell, was forwarded to their dispatchment section for assignment."

"Where Joe was assigned."

"That's right. He recognized a move that he called distinctly 'MacLeod' on a Report Tape and made the connection to who this 'Mystery-Immortal' is. Xander has had to be assigned his own Watcher."

Duncan moved his Queen to take Adam's offending Bishop. "You don't seem too concerned over this news. Shouldn't we be getting him out of Paris before it's too late?"

With a smile, the 5,000 year old answered. "It's already too late MacLeod. His Watcher will be arriving at the end of the day."

"You know who it is."

"Of course. It's Joe." Methos smile grew wider at the stunned expression on the Highlander's face. "C'mon MacLeod, you don't think I was putting the Boy through those combats for nothing? There was a method there. I was expecting his image to be forwarded sooner or later and that a member of the Order be assigned to him. I knew that Dawson worked in Assignments now, and I knew that it was a yearly rotation. He would have been sent back into the field shortly with a new Target to observe. All this had to be perfectly timed with Joe unaware of Xander's identity." The Philosopher-Warrior continued moving his pieces as the Highlander retaliated to his 'attack'. "Joe was already under suspicion for providing outsiders with information to where 'The Prize' could be obtained a year ago. Which of coarse lead to his recent allotment and removal from the role of an official Observer. His Assignment-designation had to be decided by those higher up in the Order, if Joe selected it for himself, then it would have been suspicious."

"Were you going to share this information with any of us?"

"I'm sharing it with you now MacLeod."

"That's not the point Methos. We're all in this together. You, Me, Kate, Paula, Celeste, and most importantly Xander."

"I think Xander has enough on his mind don't you?"

"You think this is amusing?"

The playful smile on the man once known as 'Death' dipped a fraction. "Xander is best served not knowing certain things MacLeod. And when I spoke of his mind, I wasn't referring to my strategy, but to the fact of dates.

"If it has escaped your attention, tomorrow is his anniversary. One year ago tomorrow we rescued him from the Watcher's Council. This is a day that undoubtly must play heavily in his thoughts." The Immortal paused allowing his words to sting the air. "So to relieve him of his melancholy I wish to throw a party and make him a gift of something of mine. I think it will make him feel that he is amongst family, and people who care for him. Besides I think he has earnt it." These words caught Duncan by surprise; Methos was not someone who showed sentimentality often, living as long as he had it would have been more of an uncomfortable burden and reminder of his numerous years.

Grimly Duncan responded. "I haven't forgotten tomorrow, in fact I have decided to pass on a family heirloom of sorts to him. I have recognized for sometime his detachment to us, I thought it my imagination, I have to admit I'm relieved to discover it was not." The Highlander moved another piece across the board, when it had been placed upon the black and white squared surface, he continued. "It's time he had his own sword, a blade with a history, and --- and Connor's serves no-one sitting in a vault. A weapon as fine as his does not deserve to be locked away."

"That's a grand gesture MacLeod."

"I think Conner would have approved. And you?"

"My Name."


"No, Methos."

The Highlander's hands remained poised over the board as he heard the claim. "Are you insane? That's a death warrant."

"I disagree MacLeod, besides he already has a Death Warrant, or rather, a Live Warrant. Joe told me that the Watcher's have even increased the Bounty on his head last week to 125 million pounds, I'm almost tempted to claim it myself." The Immortal offered a chuckle to the jest, but was met with stunned silence of his guest.

"*I* want to give him my name for his own safety MacLeod. Harris's control of his Quickening Signature is too much for him to oppress at times. And sooner or later he's going to come across an Immortal of worth. And the only way he will be able to evade death will be by bluff. My Legend still holds count to a great many Long-stayers MacLeod. If Xander introduces himself as me during these Challenges, they will assume that the intense and potent Quickening he is giving off is justified, and will assume that he is indeed 'Methos - the Fourth Horseman'. This will either make them run away in fear, or frighten them so much that he will have a distinct psychological advantage in the following battle. Thereby making them prone to errors of judgement." As the Immortal finished his reasoning he slid the white horsed pieced in an 'L' like motion into a prime piece of real estate and announced to his Playmate. "Check."

Duncan looked down upon the board and cursed his stupidity as his fingers pushed over the Black King. "Damn, I thought I would have you this time."

Laughing, the Victor of the game looked upon the humbled Scotsman. "You thought wrong MacLeod. You, like everybody else, focus too much attention to your stronger piece - The Queen. That is a poor assumption. Just because she has claim of the Board does not necessarily make her the more important piece. That role belongs to the King." As he said these words, the winner stood up and picked up the assaulting figurine from the game. "Power MacLeod can be a very deceptive Mistress. So keep your Queens my friend, Black and White alike." The 5,000 year old Immortal then tossed the pale horse-headed piece into the waiting hands of the Scotsman. "Give me a courageous and cunning White Knight any day."


The following day.

The Sun had yet to ascend on the horizon, but the whisps of light that flowed over the nearby hill tops were enough to dimly illuminate the frantic struggles of the bleached Vampire.

Even though Spike did not require breath, he was breathing heavily in panic. His arms and legs spread outwards and pinned to the concrete ground by Railroad spikes.

Desperation making him plead to a God he knew would never answer his prayers.

The only protection to the spreading rays of his death was a shadow cast by a lone figure.

"For Christ sake. Help me!"

A gravelled voice responded to the request. "Why should I help you Vampire? No-one helped me."

"Is that my fault, I don't even know you."

"Your not the only one, cause *I* don't even know me anymore. And that's just one more reason why I should let you burn." The standing figure shifted slightly allowing the welcoming tendrils of sunlight to touch the English Vampires right leg. The scream that issued forth from the Deadman's mouth was sweeter then any choir to the shadowy stranger. And after several seconds the mystery man returned back to his original position, offering the staked creature before him his 'protection' again.

"Who the *FUCK* are you!"

"I'm old business Spike. And today is the day I close the Ledger on old business."

Even through his pain, the Vampire was able to read something in the stranger's eyes. An anger that was reminiscent to the one he saw in the eye's of a glorified bricklayer years ago and seconds before the Slayer stopped him from ending his eternal life. "Droopy? Harris, is that you?"

Silence was met by his words, and 'William the Bloody' knew that he was correct in his identification. A new terror rose in his chest that dwarfed the fear he held for the coming day. "We, I, thought you were dead."

"Wishful thinking Spike. Only the good die young. And I ain't that good anymore." The figure removed an ancient Broadsword from under his Trench Coat and plunged it deep into the Vampires chest, pinning him further in place. "I've roasted in the Pain you and Anyanka dealt me Vampire. Now its payback."

As his dead blood rose in his throat Spike spoke the few words he had left to speak with, knowing that his eternal demise was imminent. "What about --- what {cough, cough} about Anya?"

"Like I said Vampire, old business." The figure that represented himself as Xander Harris yet did not in anyway resemble the man the Vampire had remembered kicked over a Soccer sized ball. It lobbed itself into his left armpit, and when he looked down he was not too surprised at the vision. It was the Magic Box Owners head, with a look of absolute terror on her face.

"I have to say Spikey-Boy; I was surprised at her reaction. Most people find 'Petting Zoos' relaxing and enjoyable. She liked the ducky's, she liked the little lambs, and she liked the chicks as well. But when it came time for the Bunny Rabbits, she just lost it. And lost it big time. I guess I shouldn't have locked her in one of their hatches, huh? She screamed for hours. I could have left her there for a lot longer, but because I'm such a nice guy, I gave her an option. I could either kill her and end her torment or I could let her remain with Bug's and crew until she gave herself a heart attack. She chose the quick death." Xander then withdrew the sword from the Vampires chest. "What about you Tan-less, I can let you burn, and burn good. Or I could take your head now. Your call. Reasonably Slow and Painful verses Very Quick and Clean."

Though the Vampire could not look in the direction of the Sun, he could smell it coming. And he knew his death was going to be had this day. "Quick and Clean."

Xander smiled. "Sorry Bleach-Boy, I'm opting for slow and painful." With this said the twenty-five year old then took a side step to his right and allowed the sunlight to bathe over the Chipped Vampire. Permitting the one who had introduced him to a cursed existence scream in pain.

The lead bane of his existence was no more in a matter of seconds, all that was left was a small pile of ash and a microchip imbedded within its greyish mound. Xander then took two steps forward, unzipped the front of his pants, removed his 'manhood' from its home and proceeded to relieve himself upon the remains of one of the 'Scourges of Europe'.

{Yes, this is how it should have been.}.

As these thoughts welcomed themselves Xander began to feel his lips tingle with wetness, this was then followed with the same sensation on his chin. He could then feel his chest being assaulted with the same courteous easy as the trail continued down his abdomen with what felt like gentle and light kisses. As the sensation reached his pelvis it paused briefly and then continued on its welcomed journey. When it reached its intended destination it maintained it's VERY attentive presence for several minutes, right up until the man once cruelly dubbed 'the Zeppo' could not bare it any longer and he had to force himself awake.

(Duncan MacLeod's Barge - Paris)

An air of physical contentment escaped the laying form of the once sleeping male. "Oh GOD! I love the way you do that thing with your tongue."

"I've had thousands of years of practice my Lord."

"And I have to say for the umpteenth time that it shows. I much prefer your method of early morning 'arousal' to MacLeod's any day."

The tiny frame of Celeste Killdare rested herself across the Prize's chest and offered him her most wicked of wicked smiles to his still closed eyes. "And how does the Scotsman awake you my Lord?"

Opening his eyes a crack to take in his partner's eternal and youthful beauty he chuckled. "Usually with an ice cold bucket of water. Just as effective, but not as much fun."

Celeste looked up at the man she was dangerously close to falling in love with and absorbed his presence with her own. When she and Xander had decided to engage in the pleasures of each others flesh an understanding had been met between the two. It was just sex, the pure act of physical enjoyment - no emotional attachment. But unfortunately for her with every day she spent in his company that promise was becoming harder and harder to be kept. "You were restless my Lord. Was your dream disturbing?"

Xander raised himself up upon his elbows. "No, in fact it was just the opposite. I can't remember the last time I had a dream as great as that one."

"The 'Baywatch' Marathon last month?"

"Oh yeah, with the slow running and the bouncing and stuff. Good times. But no, this was ten times better." Xander rolled himself out of the bed they shared and began with his morning stretchers. "I think it was an Omen Cel. I haven't had a dream of Sunnydale for months, and now I have one, and I had it in Spades to. On today of all days."

"Was she in it?"

"Anyanka? She was there briefly, but she kinda went out of control and err, lost her head." The former Zeppo couldn't easily hide the smirk that formed on his face as he said the old Immortal pun.

"No, her. The Slayer."

Xander then commenced on his push-ups not losing his rhythm. "Nope, just the Vampire and the Vengeance Demon."

Celeste Killdare then rolled over the mattress to the closest point of her human lover. "So you didn't merit out any punishment to her in your fantasies."

The Prize paused and pushed himself off the floor. "Nope, not in this one."

The eternal looked up at the well formed and numerously scared body of the man she honoured. A man she would have been happily sold too 21 centuries earlier for his personal pleasure if he had wanted her. She then licked her lips like the predator she had become over the thousands of years of hunting and killing other Immortals. "She doesn't deserve your Pardon, my Lord. She was the one who allowed that creature to speak those evil words; she was the one who stayed your hand. You told us yourself, through those visions the Demon Lord D'Hoffran gave you that she selected the options presented. She could have ended your curse and your torment, yet she did nothing."

Xander's face quickly grew crimson with rage as he grabbed the forever fifteen year old by the shoulders and shook her harshly. "YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW THAT!?! If I thought for one second, no - not even a second, a micro-second that she didn't honour whatever memory of me she had by killing those who did this to me. If I wasn't certain that 'her' Vampire and the Demon-Bitch were already dead, I would throw myself down upon her like the wrath of God itself." Xander then released his youthful lover, and allowed her to fall back upon the bed. "Regardless of our differences, I know Buffy would never do that. She would *never* intentionally hurt me, I mattered to her, I know I did. And I know she would have avenged me. Regardless what my head and eyes told me, my heart tells me different. It's false. She couldn't have wanted me to suffer. She would have staked him and killed her on the spot. They're dead. They have to be."

The 'Prize' once known as Xander Harris began to collect himself and pawed his fingers over his scalp. Feeling the fuzz of new hair growth. He then looked apologetically looked down at the teen before him. A girl who never had the chance to age beyond her fifteenth birthday, a female who presented herself barely younger then Dawn was when he last saw her. Raped and then killed by an over zealous drunken Roman Legionnaire two millennia before. "Sorry about that Cel. I didn't mean too hurt you."

"I heal quickly my Lord, besides I like it when you become passionate like that. Your fire excites me."

"My 'Fire' will get MacLeod's Barge swarming with other Immortals if I'm not careful. You shouldn't provoke me like that. You know what pushes my buttons, so *don't*. I hate getting lectures from Adam about 'control' and my loss of it."

Celeste Killborne smiled and then laughed as Xander turned and stood profiled. Removing an electric razor from a toiletry bag he began his daily regiment of grooming, rolling the hand held apparatus over his tanned skinned skull. The eternal youth could not help but tease him in his efforts. "Well my Vincent Diesel wannabe*"

"*Hey, if anything he's a Xander Harris wannabe. Or have you forgotten that name he used in 'xXx', I should really sue y'know. I could make a bundle. Not that I would ever be allowed to spend it. I don't even see the resemblance myself."

"Oh there is a resemblance my Lord. Very 'Fast and Furious', or haven't you noticed how many woman have to look at you twice to make sure that you are not really him."

"Hey, it's not my job to pay attention to those kinda things. It's yours. And all I'm saying is that some of his moves in that movie could have been easily mistaken for some of the things I've done."

"Like snowboarding down the Alps with an avalanche at your heels?"

"I swear I had no idea how that thing got started."

Celeste mockingly bowed her compliance. "What ever you say my Lord. Now why does my Xander Harris 'original' think his dream was an Omen?"

"I don't know. I just have a gut feeling about it. I can't explain it, I just know. Usually I don't speak in these dream-things, but in this one I spoke, and I said that it was time I 'closed the ledger on old business'."

"What do you think that means?"

"I guess it mean's I'm going to Sunnydale. You guys can tag along if you want. But make no mistake, I will be going. And there is nothing you, Adam, Duncan, Kate, or Paula can do or say that will stop me."

"Adam won't like that Xander. He hates the unexpected, and the unpredictable. And the way you have made Sunnydale sound in the past, that's exactly what that Town has in abundance."

"I was born and raised in Sunnyhell, Celeste. Europe is your guys turf, SunnyD is mine. And I doubt there is any place safer for me then the Hellhole I called home. I can see trouble coming there. I know the backstreets, and the people. The safe areas and the dangerous ones." Xander put down his electric razor and approached the young woman offering her his patient half smile. A smile that spoke of only one thing. He then grabbed the back of the 2,100 year old Immortals neck and passionately pulled her head up to claim her lips. After several lingering seconds he drew himself away from her and spoke in a lovers whisper. "Now, as I measure time we still have a few more hours before we are to be at Adam's place for that oh so secret party that they're all throwing in my honour. What say you and I work off some of my earlier 'anger' in some very constructive ways?" He then laid her down upon MacLeod's bed, knowing that she would never refuse his attentions. He began to unfasten her top three buttons from her silk pyjamas and stopped. "But before we do anything, do I have your support in this decision of mine?"

With another devilish smile the fifteen year old eternal answered. "What ever my Lord wants, my Lord gets."


In the Bedroom of Buffy Summers
1630 Revello Drive.

Buffy Anne Summers shot straight up out of her bed and began to breathe heavily. A light film of perspiration shining off her body.

"Buffy! Buffy! Are you alright? We heard you screaming. What is it, what did you see?"

"It was a nightmare. It was a nightmare, that's all it was. A nightmare, nothing was real." The Slayer rocked back and forth, clutching herself as she did so. Oblivious to the presence of a recently awakened red-headed Wicca at her side.

Tara stood at the entrance of the Slayer's bedroom uncertain whether she should enter. The door of the neighbouring room opened and a new arrival to the midnight wakeup-fest presented herself. A bleary eyed Sister-Key.

"What's going on? I have exam's tomorrow morning and I heard this god awful screaming. Who was it, was it Buffy?"

Tara looked at the eighteen year old with a panicked look in her eye. "Yes, she wouldn't stop until Willow woke her. Will thinks that she may have had a prophetic dream."

Dawn looked at the face of her sister and became un-nerved by the sight she saw. "But she hasn't had one of those in years." The young sister of the Slayer by-passed Tara and entered the room. Taking the opposite side of the bed Willow was on. "What happened Willow?"

"I don't know Dawnie, she's major freaked thou."

"You think it has anything to do with what today is?"

"What do you mean?"

Dawn looked at the red-head as if she had just landed from another Planet. "Today. You DO know what today is don't you?"

"No, I ---." The Wicca bought hands up to cover her mouth as she suddenly made sense of the date. "Oh my God. Today is the day Xander ---."

"Yeah, it's *that* day. The day 'he' passed away."

"Then that might explain it. I thought she might have had one of her, y'know, 'Dreams'."

"If she did don't you think Faith would be calling right about now?"

As if on cue the downstairs telephone rang out. The three women turned and looked at each other, all afraid of making the simple journey down the stairs to confirm the identity of a person who saw the need to call at 2am in the morning. Dawn spoke aloud what everyone else in the room was thinking. "Oh, this can't be good."

Buffy broke herself out of her state to the ringing sound coming from the floor below. "That'll be Faith, she had one. Just like me, I know she did. She had one. She had one."

"Tara could you ---" The honey haired witch didn't need Dawn to finish her request as she left to attend to the near distant ringing.

Willow stirred some of the Slayers damp salted curls from out of her eyes and spoke as gently as she could. "Buffy what did you see?"

The Slayer looked at her longest living female friend and spoke in a voice like a child. "I --- I didn't see much, in as I felt more. Raw pain and raw hatred. An anger for me - us, that didn't seem to end. I saw bodies, bodies without heads. Our bodies I think. Me, you, Tara, Faith, Spike, Anya. All of us, even Giles. There was a figure there, hidden in shadows accompanied by others. Others also in shadow, wearing costumes from History. There was one who was attired like a Highland Warrior, another as Noble Lady from two centuries back. A young girl in a Toga of sorts, and, and others. The Lead one. He frightened me. He's the origin of the Hate. His face was a blur, changing, always changing. Like the face I was seeing was not his real one. It was a false face. Anger was seeping from every pore. There seemed to be a power in him as well, unclaimed power. Power that was also not his own and threatened to destroy him. I couldn't see much else of who he was. But his sword. His Katana, it was beautiful. It had a white Dragon headed Ivory handle. I'll never forget that sword; it was too breathtaking to forget. Beautiful. Dangerous, Deadly and Beautiful. Like it's owner. Just like its Owne.."

Dawn looked at Willow shocked "Why'd you do that for. This is not the time to use that 'Voodoo that you do so well' to make her sleep. We need to know what's coming."

Willow carefully laid Buffy back down upon her bed and addressed the eighteen year old. "Dawn she was rambling. She's terrified. She needs to rest; we'll question her tomorrow when she's not in the same state she is now and can probably make a bit more sense at what she 'saw'."

The former inter-dimensional key chewed down on her bottom lip, a trait of concern she picked up from Buffy and her late mother. "Yeah, she WAS major wiggin' wasn't she?"

"Yeah. Yeah, she was. But don't worry Dawnie, whatever is coming we'll face it together just like we always have. And we'll make damn sure that whoever this Mystery Man is that he lives to regret the day he ever stepped foot in Sunnydale."


A Place best not spoken about at Parties.

In a dimension a whisper away, an 8,000 year old creature of misery and vengeance sat upon his boned throne and smiled at the twin visions before him. "Omens and Dreams. Omens and Dreams. I swore I would have my revenge upon you Harris, and you too were also foolish to believe I would forget your rudeness to me Slayer."

The Vengeance Lord D'Hoffran waved his hand and the twin vision portals evaporated from view. "As I've always said - 'Never go for the kill when you can go with the pain.' And I foresee a lot of pain coming."

The Demon Lord then raised his goblet of Virgin Blood in salute of the absent images and offered a laugh to the empty room that could turn the most evil of creature's blood to ice.

Chapter 4

Four Days after the last Chapter
Sunnydale, California
Main Street

Katherine MacLeod looked affectionately at the man seated in front of her. She couldn't help, nor would she replace these desperate feelings stirring within. She loved that she cared so much for the brooding figure placed across from her, even if these same feelings did make her want to throw up most of the time. This anxiety meant that she worried deeply for the man. They were her feelings, and she would not exchange them with any other.


She sadly watched him stir the sugar into his coffee. His 'new' face casting over itself the lost intensity of memory. Katherine MacLeod was an Immortal; she knew that look well. It would not take much, sometimes a familiar sound, a name, a voice or a place could bring forward nearly forgotten moments for her. The man called Xander Harris was experiencing them all at this second.

He was home.

He was back in Sunnydale, and never before did he look so lost to her ageless eyes. And her heart broke into a hundred pieces with every passing second in his morbid company.

Yes, she both hated and loved these feelings within her.

She was Eternal; as such she had been denied the precious opportunity to ever become a mother. *No*, actually it was Duncan MacLeod who had denied her that chance. She was a normal healthy Human Being up until her first death; she could have had children prior to then. She could have found a normal man, lived a normal life, had a normal child, died a normal death for her time and then become a participant of 'The Game'.

But instead she fell in love with the heroic and worldly Scotsman. He knew what she was when they first met. He had sensed it. She was what was popularly known in their community as a 'Pre'. With this knowledge he could have let her go on in her aristocratic life uncomprimised with the truth he kept from her. She could have wed another and have had a brood of offspring before her demise. But instead he pursed her and through his character made her fall madly in love with him.

With his Immortal sterility there was never that potential for a child she desperately wanted. Duncan concealed this truth from her also as he proceeded too court and woo for her hand in matrimony. A child was what any woman of her 'Age' desired and needed; it was what was most expected of the role of females back then. She longed for a piece of herself to live on through history. Duncan had known this and still he continued to try and capture her heart. It was this dark secret of Duncan MacLeod that gave birth to a most selfish and most criminal of acts. A Crime against morality and person that he had never before done, nor repeated. On their wedding night he did the unthinkable.

After that she became as barren and as 'unproductive' as any other Immortal

Post to the throws of passion they shared in their Marriage Bed the Highlander calmly and coolly stabbed her to death. After her 'Return' the Scotsman explained everything, but it was all too much to take in. She then fled their made home and his hopeful, eternal and sorrowed embrace. Mentally, physically and emotionally overcome with the new world the dashing Clansman had forced her into.

In the centuries that followed she had assumed many guises for her survival. She had been a Nun, a Whore, a Teacher, and in her latest - a successful Fashion Designer. She had stride to be the best in what ever field she attempted. But there was one role she longed for the most - Motherhood.

In this unassuming Coffee Shop she entwined her fingers with that of Xander Harris's across the table, and looked upon him with a mother's pride and fear. It was the same mixed sensation she had experienced when she observed the young 'Prize' stand up to Adam and Duncan a few days earlier and had stated his intention to return home to America and the 'Family' he had been forced to leave behind.

Before her eyes that night she had witnessed her child (?) become a man.


The Anniversary celebration four days earlier caused a lot of upsets. But Xander was unprepared to give up his desire. He accepted the risks presented to him by Adam but was intransient in his decision.

Celeste, of course, supported him. Paula was impartial and didn't care one way or another. Duncan was his same stubborn self and refused to allow 'The Prize' to take any chances that would threaten him. Adam just stood back and allowed everything to play itself out like a silent Judge.

That made one supporting Xander, one against and two undecided. The closing vote was down to her. But at the end of the day it wasn't her choice, it was never her choice - it was Xander's. And he had made it. He wanted to go home, and it was that simple to her.

How could she deny this humble and understandable wish to One who she had nursed those dangerous hours after his escape from the Watcher's.

Who she had seen go from strength to strength with every challenge placed in front of him and come out stronger.

Who she had sometimes held at night in the early days to offer him protection from his nightmares.

He may not have been of her blood and body, but he was of her heart and soul. And she loved him as if he was her own son.

She gently squeezed his hand at this repeated thought. "I'm very proud of you Alexander."

The bald man smiled uncertainly at his minder. Katherine wasn't a fool, she knew Xander looked at her with the same scepticism he did with everybody else, even Celeste. He didn't trust her. It hurt, that was true. But she understood his suspicion. He saw himself as a fatted cow being protected by a squad of Butcher's.

If there was the threat to the stored Quickenings within him being claimed by another Immortal of evil intent, if push came to shove and a decision had to be made, he knew what would happen. If such a time ever presented itself would anyone of his 'Protectors' be above taking his head to ensure that what he had to offer would not be lost to someone evil? Adam would, so too would Paula. Celeste would probably have to think it over for a few seconds longer but she would be just as prepared if she had no choice. Duncan, would reluctantly be a 'Yes' as well, afterall he did kill his own Clan Brother - Connor, under the same circumstances. But herself - Never. Not while there was air in her lungs and blood still flowing in her veins. She would never betray her precious 'child' like that. She would protect him with her life, wasn't that what mothers were meant to do?

It was the early afternoon and midway into her 'watch rotation' when 'Team Immortal', as Xander called them, arrived into Sunnydale. After the decision was made four days earlier all efforts were focused upon bringing the young man home. Adam and Duncan worked tirelessly and co-ordinated all their efforts, making sure they had all their bases loaded before they relocated from the safety of Europe to the unpredictableness of a Hellmouth. Joe Dawson, Xander's very own Watcher, was secretly contacted imminently and preparations undertaken for his geological shift.

It did save time that Duncan still had some of his belongings in the US. It was a simple shifting of those possessions from Seattle to Sunnydale, California. However, finding a locale that would accommodate their collective and shared needs in a small 'One-Starbuck's-Town' like Sunnydale was a little more troublesome. But then Xander remembered an old friend's Mansion. He had claimed that it was practically a Fortress, with many safety exits and solid concrete walls throughout. It also housed a lot of floor room for practice duelling and training. It was thought to be perfect for all their needs by the one time Zeppo.

When they got to the former digs of the Souled Vampire the face on Adam Pearson was enough to prove that the young warrior's decision was indeed a good one. And five minutes after clearing the residence of its undead squatters the Moving Vans arrived with all of Duncan's possessions.

It all went like a well timed military exercise, but then again what would you expect from the man who planned everything down to the last detail. Adam Pearson was a strategist and organizer without parallel. When he had presented Xander his new Passport at the memorable Celebration it was as if the 5,000year-old had been waiting and expecting the Prize's request for sometime and had made himself ready for it.

Xander travelled for the first time under the name of 'Alexi Methos', and no-body in American Immigration and Customs so much as battered an eye. The fraudulence of the documentation was too perfect to be challenged as ingenuine.


Since their exodus from Europe everything ran smoothly and to plan. A true novelty, for in the words of her husband - 'there is no such thing as a full proof plan, there is always one hiccup or another. And it is *that* what you must always plan for.' This statement may have been typically so, but for the sake of this journey it wasn't.

It was as if some powerful force wanted them to get to Sunnydale and was governing them on so that they may reach their destination as soon as possible with absolutely nothing permitted to distract them to their goal.

Now that Xander was back in the Town of his birth and cause of most of his suffering, it was thought by Adam and Duncan that he would be unable to concentrate or contain himself with 'Moving In' to their new residence. So with this understanding Xander received a second present from the Clansman. The gift of a classic Porsche. A vehicle that had been transported with the rest of Duncan's stored possessions from the estate of the late Connor MacLeod. Xander was now provided with the means to re-explore his hometown in style. It was another expensive gesture from the Scotsman, and a goodwill token to the 'Prize' that he had received and earnt a certain amount of Trust from his Highlander teacher. Of course, he had to promise that he would not drive the vehicle unless he was in the presence of one of the others - that was the deal breaker.

Staring at the four-wheeled black beast infront of him, Xander didn't even have to think about it. That was an assurance quickly made as he snatched the keys from the Clansman's hand and jumped into the front driver's seat.

After driving around Town for thirty minutes. Xander parked the black Vintage Porsche outside of the Coffee Shop he and Kate were now seated in and asked Celeste to do re-con on the 'Magic Box' 12 stores away.

"Alex? I said I'm very proud of you."

Looking up from his coffee he answered. "I heard you. Please don't say stuff like that."

She sighed softly and offered him an amused smile. "But I am Alex. I am very proud of you. A year ago your anxiety at this potential moment would have flared all your Quickening's. But your keeping it together now. You've become quite a man this past year. And I just thought it warranted you being told so. "

Xander winced under the unexpected and unwelcomed praise. Trying to mentally unlock the source of her stated pride in him. Suspicion was what kept him alive now afterall. After a long moment he decided to abandoned trying to rationalize the claim and just accept it on face value; he then looked out the window to the slow foot traffic at the front of the Café and attempted to change the uncomfortable subject. "See that Lamp Post? I kicked that. Probably 15-seconds before--- before it all happened. See that corner over there, it was just past there I disappeared. One moment I'm here the next I'm in Spain."

Kate followed his eyes and sadly nodded as Xander continued to speak. "Nothing's changed. I kinda hoped it would, even if it was just by a little bit. But in a Town where human losses happen every night what was one more?"

"Everything Alex. It means everything."

With this said, a silence followed. It was in this wordless gap Katherine MacLeod caste her mind back over the past forty minutes. The three of them had driven about the small town for over half an hour before Xander decided it was time for afternoon tea. It was an interesting excursion into his past. With the man behind the steering wheel playing Tour Guide to his most memorable moments on the Hellmouth. Casually directing them to the new High School that was built upon the foundations of the old. His parent's place, as well as his old Apartment Complex.

They slowly passed a seedy motel in which he dictated with some pride of a night he had experienced one of the major manly 'Acts of Passage', much to the annoyance to the teenage figure in the back seat of the Sports Car.

In this trip down 'Memory Lane' he eventually pulled out front of 1630 Revello Drive. He didn't say anything at this destination. And there they all sat in brooding silence for over 5-minutes before he found the inner strength to pull the classic vehicle away from the curb.

The last stop for him was of course the most significant. It was 'The Magic Box'. It was hard to believe that the chirpish frontal façade of the store could be responsible for so much pain and misery. Despite a car park being available directly out front of the Shop, Xander could not as yet muster the courage that everyone easily knew lay within him.

He could not as yet stand upon the dreaded sidewalk that still haunted his nightmares most nights and played in the origin of his fate. He could not yet face a place where his old life ended, and his new one began. This shop was where he faced betrayal on almost every level imaginable.

But face this damnable store he would, he just needed the intelligence before hand. This is why he sent the more unassuming of the two - the deceitfully accomplished part-time thief and full time Assassin to play his Agent.

Kate removed her hand from his shaking grasp and stroked his clenching jaw. Xander carefully lifted his own and drew hers away form his face. He then turned and faced the window again. "How long do you think Celeste will be?"

Kate with her now free hand bought the black coffee to her mouth and allowed her bee-stung lips to part and smile. "Am I making you nervous Alexander?"

Xander turned from the memory filled view of the street and matched her flirtatious smile with his own. "No, your with Duncan. *I* know you mean nothing by it, but if you say and do such nice stuff infront of Cel then there is a definite chance you'll end up a head shorter."

Catherine's smile spread further at his rare council.

Celeste Killdare may have been over two millennia old, but her life was tragically ended when she was still a fifteen year-old girl. Her body still flooded her with the unpredictable hormones of that age. To be caught in eternal puberty, was there ever such a Hell? Celeste could at times be moody, affectionate, and guarded all within a span of five minutes. She was also very possessive. A dangerous mix, especially in someone with an elite Assassin's skills measuring into two thousand years. Yes, Xander's council was indeed well received by her 'Ladyship', but she still could not help but tease him. And she knew just the bait to do so. "Ahh, your referring to your well known 'Secret' Affair with her."

The Vincent Diesel look-alike that was now Xander Harris outstretched his arms along the back of his booth seat and addressed the eternal beauty opposite to him. "Okay, how long?"

Kate placed her coffee down on the table they shared still smiling broadly. "*I* knew the moment it started, the others took a day or two to catch on. I had the benefit because I'm a little more 'intune' to what a satisfied woman looks like. Celeste would finish her Watches with a face like the proverbial cat. Duncan, Paula and Adam only started putting the pieces together when she began to specifically request to do the midnight to nine AM rotation. If you truly wanted it to remain confidential, you should have been more discreet and careful Alex."

Xander drew his arms back and placed them upon the table top. Taking immediate offence to the word just used. "Careful? Who do you think I am? I'm the ever treasured and hunted 'Prize'. I'm gonna die Kate, and it's going to be at the tip of the sword. Yours, or their's. I'm on a Death-Watch so excuse me for wanting to have some fun before I go. *pfft* Careful? What the Hell is that to me. If I had a chance of living too my seventies, then sure. I'll be careful. But as Duncan always say's 'The time of the Gathering is here!' I got maybe three to four years. Ten if I'm lucky. 'Careful', you got some nerve getting on my case about being careful."

"I'm not angry with your indiscretions Alex, and I don't want to start a fight either. And whilst we're on the subject, I want you to know you will never, *ever*, have to be fearful of my blade." Katherine paused for a moment and settled her eyes onto his. "In my opinion I think that as long as you and Celeste's arrangement does not interfere with her duties then*"

"Cel is a Professional. I didn't want you guy's to know because --- well, you know, 'Fifteen' year old girl, twenty-five year old guy. Kinda perverse don't you think?"

"You're both Adult's Alex, even Celeste despite appearances, whatever makes you both happy. As long as you are both aware of the repercussions of your actions then you don't have to explain yourselves to me." Again she extended her hand out to his jaw and once more lightly stoked her fingers across it. He always clenched it when he was annoyed and drummed his fingers on a surface when he was anxious. It was an old nervous habit of his that he had commenced doing at that second. With the same tenderness she had stoked his jaw line to encourage him to unclench; she then placed her hand over his tapping fingers. "Alexander, I recognize the immense stress you are under. You are right. You are on a 'Death-Watch' and it is too us - your Guardians, too ensure that what you have is not wasted before it's time to meet your eventual fate. You are like the rest of us my Dear, only more important. Because with your passing it will either be Mankind's most Golden or Darkest Hour. But I still don't want that memorable hour to come for a very long time. I *do* want you to reach your seventies Alex."

There was a flicker of something in the young man's eyes as he now looked at her. It was the closest she had ever seen of trust in there. And it was for her. She wasn't going to try and sabotage that moment by digging further and risk losing it for good. She again smiled warmly and proceeded to tease him anew. "It was even amusing to observe the lengths the two of you would go to conceal it. Really Alex, it couldn't have been anymore obvious if you tried. Please give us some credit."

She was welcomed by one of his sneering smiles that she adored. Then the lite amusement in her words left her as her voice deepened with freshly found concern. She became more serious on the 'topic' that had just been discussed. And recalled another conversation she had in earnest with the other four, minus Celeste of course. She leant forward, her voice barely a treble above a whisper. "I don't judge you Alex, but you do realize that that kind of thing just breeds distraction. What if something happens when you weren't expecting it to? She is supposed to be your bodyguard."

With a continued twinkle in his eye and a relief that carried in his voice over the fact he no longer needed to hide his sexual relationship with the 'fifthteen-year-old', Xander spoke. "And she is. No-one guards my body like she does."

"That's not what I meant Alex."

"I know what you meant Kate. Rest assured, and like I said, Celeste is a professional. First, last and always." Xander took his first sip of the coffee and made a recoiled face. No-one brewed Coffee like it was meant to be. Like they did in Paris. And that was one of the things he missed the most about the 'City of Lights'. "Look, you and Duncan go at it like rabbits some nights. I know, I've heard you. And Adam? I seriously doubt the guy's been laid in a thousand years. And as to Paula, well we both know she ain't interested. The only ones missing out are me and Cel. I like sex, she likes sex. So we both decided to like sex together."

"So Alex, this arrangement is just a 'Sex' thing? There isn't any 'attachments' involved."

"Not unless we're feeling particularly horny." The unamused look on his protector's face only encouraged the man who could have easily passed as the 'xXx' star to smile slyly. After a couple of unaffected moments, he corrected himself under her righteous glare. "Seriously, I like Cel, and she, I think likes me as well. Not love, but who has time for that?"

"There is always time for love Alexander. Look what happen with Duncan and myself. After what he did to me I wanted him to hate him forever but now we're--- what was that term you just used - 'go at it like Rabbits'. Love finds you in the most unusual places and the most unfortunate times. But it does find you. Cupid can be very annoying like that."

"Yeah, well that's you and Duncan. Not me and Buffy. So pardon me if I take what I can get."

Kate raised her left eyebrow, curious at his response. "You think I was referring to you and the Slayer?"

"Weren't you? He 'killed' you - took what was most important to you - your 'Human' opportunity and you wanted righteous revenge because of it. Buff did the same to me that Duncan did to you. Took your life away from you without any justification except because she --- *he* could." The air about the young man stilled and there was a sense of electricity in the atmosphere as he spoke the next two sentences. "There is not enough justice in the World for what she's put me through. And I'll never forgive her for that."

Kate once more nodded, she was getting more out of Xander in the past five-minutes with respects to his thoughts and feelings then she had in five months. The proximity of the 'Magic Box' had opened a floodgate. And she was not stupid enough to try and close it. This was proving to be perhaps the most therapeutic discussion they had had in a very long time. "What about Celeste? Is she as 'committed' to you as you are to her? The practicalities of your 'arrangement' with her are not clouded by emotion? You're sure? There's no chance she is reading more into it then what it is in your mind?" The response to her questions was a stare and silence that told the Eternal female that the 'Prize' truly didn't have an answer for her. This was troubling on so many levels for the Eternal, but she knew if she pushed it now she would be welcomed only by more resistive silence. "Alex, it's not the 'Sex' you have with her we're concerned with. It's the potential for misfortune. What if one day the two of you are in the midst of pleasuring the other and an enemy arrives to challenge you. You will be quite literally caught with your pants down. And then you will simply be no more."

"Kate, I understand what your saying. But how is that different from the threat of the rest of my life? I could die tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. I won't live like a Monk cause you all say so."

"I don't want anything to happen to you Alexander. If it is a simple case of being provided with sex I'm sure I could---"

"Not interested in Hooker's Kate."

A polite exhale of air was followed by an even politer chuckle. "No Dear. I was referring to some Model's I know. I still keep track of my many friends in the 'Industry' and I know more then one attractive young woman who are not interested in the 'let's-get-to-know-each-other' phase of relationships, and instead chose the 'let's-just-do-it' side of things. No strings, no names. Just the Physical."

"Not interested. Tempted, I'm not going to insult you by saying I'm not incredibly tempted. But still not interested. Besides Cel would do her nut. We got stuff worked out pretty good. We've a rhythm thing going between us now, she knows what I like, and I know what she likes. It's comfortable and safe. And like my Pop's used to say 'You don't mess with something that's not broke'. We're good."

The two hundred year old again searched out his hand and repeated what she had just heard. "'Cel would do her nut?' So there *are* feelings involved. Alex, if you break her heart---, you know how unpredictable she can be. She will kill you. You know she will, without a single thought. Sex with another would not be an issue for her as long as there were no feelings involved. But if she does feel for you, and she lost your affections. Then she would rather see you and the other person you were with dead then to live with that humiliation a second longer then she had too."

"Look, I know how I feel. For that other stuff you have to quiz Cel. But I'm not afraid." Xander returned the concerned squeeze. "Like I said, how is her threat to me any more different then other's in my life at the moment?"

With this heavy comment a tragic span of time was shared again between the two. For one it exposed the depth of her concern, for the other the true lack of caring of his fate. It was a moment that would have lingered if not for the awkward approach of the 25-year old waitress.

"Excuse me?"

Xander turned to face and addressed the mid-twenty year old. "Yeah?"

"Are you*"

Without letting her finish her question the 25-year old male answered her bluntly. "*No."

"You look just like him*"

"*I get that a lot."

"But your not him?*"

"*Nope, sorry."

With a deflated look upon the young woman's face she place their bill on the table for two coffees and two slices of Carrot Cake. Kate picked up the tab and studied it for a moment. "Miss? Isn't this a bit steep?"

Embarrassed, she approached them again. And picked up the tally from the female's hand and gave it to Xander. "Don't worry, I took care of it. It's free of charge if you call me."

Xander briefly looked at the figure at the base of the page, folded it up, and visibly placed it into his wallet. With absolutely no intention of contacting the 'Price' at the bottom. Xander didn't say thank you, he got this kind of attention a lot from the female of the sex now. He got stopped for autographs on the street all the time, and sometimes he just played with it. It made his life so much easier if he did.

If he said he wasn't 'Vincent Diesel' they wouldn't have believe him anyway, so he would offer a hasty scrawl and move on. But today he wasn't in the mood to play the old Fame-Game. Instead he just nodded and offered the waitress a seductive leer he had perfected over time by watching countless hours of 'The Fast & The Furious'. He had Vinny down pat, and would often imitate him for the die-hard fans.

A sly statement to the obvious followed from Xander's female protector lips as he did his 'Tough Guy' impression. "She's very attractive Xander. With --- excellent endowments. You interested?"

Xander turned from watching the waitress walk away and addressed his Bodyguard shaking his head as he did so. "I recognize her. Her name is Amy Yip, she and I used to go to school together a lifetime ago. Not too bright upstairs, but man, she filled out a Bikini like it was meant too be. She and Cordy were in constant competition for the most popular girl in Sunnydale."

Xander then again turned his head and looked longingly out of the window beside him, refreshed with another pained memory. "Willow, Buff and me used to play this stupid game called 'Anywhere but here'. They loved being creative in their desires. But not me." He then offered a sad chuckle. "Amy Yip, Waterslide Park, Bikini. That was it, which was all I wanted back then. But now? She's just given me her phone number in the hopes that I'll call her, {sigh} but I won't. And we both know why."

"Alex if you're interested, we'll screen her. Make sure she's safe, then*"

"And that's why, Kate. That's why it will never work out between us. It's too much damn fuckin' effort. You suck the joy out of getting to know someone. I realize you're trying to look out for me, but Christ, will you give it a break? You guy's tell me where to go, what to do, who I can speak too, who I can't. I'm not living my life, I just making it through on what little I got via your instructions."

Xander turned his head and faced the buxom blonde standing at the far end of the Coffee Shop talking and laughing with her fellow colleague in the Service industry. "I look at her now and I don't see a fun time and a lot of laughs. I see a person whose life I can never be apart of. I'm calculating in my head how many way's I could hurt her incase she tried to hurt me. I'm thinking escape routes. I'm thinking how I might be able to grab that gun, or the baseball bat that I'm almost 100% certain is hidden behind their counter without them cutting on to what I'm doin'. All the while as I figure out how I might also be able to grab all their 'ready' cash so I can get the Hell away from here in an instant just incase a mob of hostile Immortals stormed in.

"Basically Kate, I'm thinking about every possible and conceivable threat and how I might overcome it in a heartbeat so I can live another day. All I'm thinking about is my survival, and what I might have to do to make that happen.

"Congratulations. Adam and the rest of you guy's have screwed-up what should have been a memorable moment for me. Amy Yip just gave me her phone number and I can't even appreciate the damn thing."

Katherine took the hostility on offer and nodded before admitting to the man two centuries her junior. "Now you *finally* know what it's like to be us."

"But I'm not you. I'll never be you. I'm me, and I can't even be that because of Buffy's stupid curse."

"The Slayer did not curse you Alexander. It was*"

"*Her Boyfriend and the Demon-Bitch. I know. But she could have released me from it. She could have taken the third option of D'Hoffran and bought that damn curse to an end. But she was so obviously pissed off with me at trying to kill her boy-toy she told him 'no' and selected the first two options presented to her by the Demon-Lord outta spite." Xander's emotions began to stir as he thought over that moment for the first time since he entered Sunnydale.

Kate felt a slight pressure build on her brain, as she noted the flux of Quickenings passing over the bald 24 year old. "Alex, please calm down. Please settle your emotions."

Xander closed his eyes and forced himself to become calm again, and the pain in Mrs MacLeods head began to pass. This was definitely a new development to Xander's growth and one she had to make Adam aware of as soon as possible. The Senior Immortal had voiced as they approached Sunnydale that he believed that the negative energies spewed by the Hellmouth might evolve Xander's Quickenings into something they had as yet not witnessed in the young man Yes, this definitely bared further investigation.

"Alex, what did you truly hope to achieve in returning?"

"I---I don't really know. To be honest I don't think I will achieve anything. I mean it's not like *poof* everything will be like it once was. You can't change what's happened. And even if I could, I really don't know if I would, aside from losing all the parts with pain in it of course. The rose coloured glasses I seemed to have worn so often came off for me that night.

"I finally saw everything as they probably always were but I had been too blinded with my own warped perception of things. If I did marry Anyanka she probably would have started cheating on me straight out of the gate. She couldn't even give me a week to explain myself. She just grabbed the first hard-on she could find. And coincidently enough it belonged to a guy she knew I detested. I find it hard to believe that all just happened, what does Adam always say - there's no such thing as a coincidence, only carelessness. The two of them have probably been thinking about it for some time, and they just happened to have gotten caught on their first attempt. *If* that was their first attempt.

"And--- and when Willow pulled the Sex-fest up on the computer. She and Dawnie were more concerned about how Buff was feeling about seeing it then they were over what I was going through at witnessing the same thing. I was going to marry her for Fuck Sake. And they go off to console the Slayer instead of help me deal. Anya was going to be my wife, I jilted her yes, but I still cared for her. Then we see that on the screen and everybody's first thoughts were 'Oh poor Buffy'.

"And as too the Vampire, he loved it. He thought it was great, finally he showed me up as the pathetic excuse of a man I was. In a single sentence he had admitted he claimed my girl and as well as also 'had' someone I cared about. I'm not saying I could deal with knowing that, I couldn't. But what hurt most was she lied to me. Buffy played me for a fool. For weeks, month's maybe, she and Spike were together. Doin' stuff. And she didn't think enough of me to share. Willow and Dawn obviously knew something was going on otherwise they wouldn't have searched her out after we saw Spike and Anyanka together.

"She and everybody must have looked at me each day and found it hysterical that they were all able to keep this big secret from 'the putz'. And there I was defending her honour whenever the Vamp would say something about her. Christ, I was a walking punch-line to them. I must have been the personification of 'Pathetic'. "

"I don't think your pathetic Alex; neither does Duncan, Adam, Celeste or Paula. You are --- you are without doubt one of the most inspiring young men I have ever met and I've met many over the years. Duncan has even said to me how much you remind him of Conner, and to him there is no greater praise or comparison. A man is not judged on how well they can take a fall Alexander, a man is judged on how well they get up from that fall and how well they remain standing thereafter. Pathetic is as Pathetic does."

"Thanks Forrest."

"I mean it Alex. There are indeed pathetic character's in your story, but not one of them is you "

"Look, I just want them to take me to where they buried those --- those--- I just want them to take me where they put them. And I want Buff to explain it to my face - not the why of it, I can guess the why. She loved her pet-vampire more then she did one of her oldest friends.

"I just want to know the 'how could she' part. After everything we've been through together, how could she willingly put me through all of that? Cause the only explanation I can come up with aside from punishing me for trying to 'off' Spikey-poo, is that she must have resented me for helping Willow and Tara bringing her backs the second time.

"I tried to kill Spike, so what - he lived, err, un-lived. Even if it was for an extra few seconds until the others killed him for cursing me. I still didn't do it. I wanted to end him, and I could of. But I didn't. I---" Xander drifted, not allowing himself to finish the sentence.

"Do you really think this Slayer is a person capable of such a heartlessness? Such twisted revenge?"

"She might have come back wrong this time. Broken or somethin'. I don't know. The Buffy I knew and loved wouldn't have touched Spike with a ten-foot poll. But she did. And I bet the two of them must have been laughing their asses off at me as they did it together too. .I hate her, but I still--- man how warped am I? If she could give me one feasible reason, just one. Even if it sucked big time to hear. I'd call it a clean slate."

"What!?!?" This time it was the beauty turn to get angry and upset. "After everything you've been put through? You'd forgive her?"

"No, I won't forgive her. Like I said, there are something's that can't be forgiven. But with the main cause of my grief, Anyanka and Spike, rotting in the ground somewhere - yeah, I can move on. No matter how much I personally despise her, she's saved this Planet several times over. And that gives her a get-out-of-jail-free-card. But only one." Xander watched the shocked look on Catherine's face dissolve away. "Hard to believe I'm saying this huh? I sure don't believe it. Christ, a week ago I would have given you a different answer entirely, but something Paula said to me the other day got me thinking. And Paula, as you know with that whole vow thing she has, when she talks it's important to her that you listen.

"She said to me that the best revenge sometimes is no revenge at all. I thought hard about that, and it's true. What can she do? What could going to Town on her really accomplish? Will it stop the curse? No. So in the end I decided that I just want to see the look on her face when I tell her who I really am. When I look her clear in the eyes and tell her that she took her best shoot at me, and I still survived and bought the friggin' T-shirt to prove it. That I'm the better and bigger person out of the two of us."

That warm proud feeling of motherhood again stirred within the Immortal's heart at hearing her surrogate child's words.

"Buff is a Slayer. She's nothing. When she dies another gets called and the fight goes on. She's anonymous. But me? I'm known the World over by just about every Watcher and Immortal alike. I have a bounty on my head in excess of 300 million dollars. When I die *It-Will-Matter*. Do I want to kick it? - Hell no, but I've come to accept it will happen. Being here won't change that.

"In High School all I wanted was for some fantastic destiny or power. I've got that now. And I've got it in Spades too. I don't like it, but those are the cards I've been dealt. So I have to live with 'my hand' as best as I can. One day at a time. And Buffy will just have to recognize that no matter how hard she tried to beat me down, I'm still standing tall. Ready to face whatever else she wants to throw in my direction.

"Y'know, she used to give me a hard time about not being a good-enough fighter. But Duncan and Adam changed that. Sure, maybe I can't hold my own against those two, or the rest of you guy's. But then again you weren't trying to make me agreat Warrior; you were making me a Survivor. Fighters and Warriors eventually die; it's Survivors who are the ones who walk the battlefield after the war has been fought. And in my book that's infinitely better."

Katherine smiled once more. A smile of warmth and pride and repeated the words she spoke seven minutes earlier. "I'm very proud of you Alexander."



(5-Minutes Earlier)

The fifteen year old walked over the threshold of the store ignoring the ringing bell above her. It had been five-minutes since her beloved Charge had asked her to attend to her duty. She had scouted the street, and inspected the rear of the shop. Everything was quite. The rear lock of the shop's hind door was laughably fragile. A solid kick or blow a third of the way up the frame would have broken its grasp and allowed for an emergency exit.

Foot traffic was low, and street traffic was acceptable. No visible, or foreseeable obstacles to impede a hasty retreat if it was called upon. These were the standard 'checklist' if Xander wanted to go anywhere. She took her duties and responsibilities for Xander's protection seriously, and she did them all well.

Never had there been a time in her presence when Xander would not have been able to have made a hasty escape if the situation called for it. Unlike Paula and the Moscow incident five-months ago.

The fifteen year old figure smirked inwardly at the memory of the ineptitude displayed that night. 'Rector the Russian', as so known as 'The Slaughterman', had not sensed Xander's Quickening that cold evening but had instead detected Paula's. It was one of the closest moments Xander had ever had; 'The Prize' was good and showed potential and promise in sword play, but even he could not have stood up against an 800-year Immortal with over three hundred heads to his credit. If Duncan hadn't miraculously arrived when he had then everything would have been lost that night. Even then the Scotsman barely won the day.

Paula felt humbled; as well she should have, at her negligence. But it taught them all a valuable lesson that many, except her of course, had forgotten the most basic of protection rules - 'Always have away out.'

With her teenage eyes she studied the layout of the store. It was as Xander had always described it to her. Casually she glanced over the items for sale, joining the other browsing patrons. She was good at reconnaissance; no-one ever suspects the teenager of being more then that. Her eyes followed to a glass display case of blunted 'replica' Ceremonial Daggers, and then along an upper shelf of 'Spiritual Self-Help Books'. With each step she was getting closer and closer to her objective.

When they were seated out front of the Summer's residence fifteen minutes earlier Xander had noted no activity from within. He had theorized that if no-one was in then they would most likely be at the Watcher's Store. He was right. In the centre of the main room was a large wooden table; seated around the table were an assortment of individuals oblivious of the shoppers mewing around them. All collectively focused upon the various Texts before them. Out of curiosity Celeste made a sideway's glance at one of the titles, trying not to be obvious. 'Blades from the Past'. She arched her eyebrow, and then she noticed that all of the books were about weaponry, or more specifically - Swords.

It wasn't hard for her to associate the names to the faces beside her. Xander over the months she had known him had been very descriptive with identifying their features. She quickly recognized the one called Willow, and Tara. The younger one at the end of the table was a little older but she had to have been Dawn. The male middle-aged figure pinching his nose as he removed his glasses was the Watcher, Rupert Giles. There was another female present, an unknown with dark brown hair, black jeans and a brown T-shirt chewing gum. She must have been an addition to the Slaying Unit after the Curse.

And then there was Buffy.

Blonde haired, greenish-blue eyed Buffy. Oh how she did so much wish to unsheathe her blade and remove the cold beating heart from the Slayer's chest and present it to her 'Prize' as a gift. But alas, any deserving retribution had to come from him.

Slowly she moved away from the table and approached the rear door. If Xander's description of the 'Box' remained accurate then this would have led her to the rear Workout Studio of the Vampire Slayer. With a casual eye she recognized the same brand of lock that was used on the rear door outside.

Everything was in play.

If Xander was to walk through those doors then there would be no threat to him that she could not overcome, or an escape they could not make together in a blink of an eye. At the completion of this thought the Immortal 15-year old noticed at the corner of her eye the figure of 'Dawn' roughly close one of her books.

"This is pointless. I don't see anything in here that matches the description of the Sword Buffy and Faith saw in their dream." Dawn received a hasty 'shhing' rebuke at her frustrated outburst. And looked around the room embarrassed, forgetting the number of strangers who were present. Fortunately the swarming customer's hadn't noticed her words.

Correction, one did. But the teenage figure standing several meters away was very good at hiding her interest. {So that's Faith? Hate her already.}

More hushed then she was a moment earlier the young woman continued addressing the Scooby's. "We've been at this for days. Looking over the same book's time and time again. If we haven't made a connection by now, we won't. We need more information."

Reluctantly Giles nodded his head. "She's right. Buffy, Faith is there anything you can add. I went to a lot of trouble to get here on the short notice you provided and I feel as if all we are doing is 'Spinning our Wheels'. There must be something you can add; anything new would be useful at this juncture. No matter how obscure, it could be very important."

Buffy rubbed her eyes, tired of the haunting memory she had received four day's earlier. "I don't know what I can add. Five shadowy figures dressed in period clothing, all with swords. The centre one had a shifting face, he gave off a power I can't describe and a hate that truly frightens me. Headless bodies everywhere. Some of the bodies looked like us. His sword was the only thing I could focus on. And you already have that description. Hence the books."

As Buffy proceeded with her version of the nightmare Faith nodded her head in agreement beside her. Then something from what her sister-Slayer said caught her attention. She searched her own memory of the shared Prophetic Dream. With a snapping of her fingers and a quickly drawn smile she drew the group's attention away from Buffy towards herself. "I'm so stupid, it was right in front of me. Yeah, B's right. They were all wearing period costumes. Except the Key-Guy. He was dressed like anybody else would be today. The other's all dressed historic like. But him? He was Mr. G-Q. He---he also knew us, he definitely knows us. Don't ask me how I know that, it's just my gut, but nobody who hates us this much is a stranger. We must have run into this dude at one time or another. This is a personal hate."

"*Finally* something we can work with. Well done Faith."

The former Bad-Girl of the group smiled at the praise she had just received from the Watcher, and basked for a moment in the collective relief of the Scooby's. They had some new info to work with, and this gave them all a fresh boost of energy. Buffy just sunk a little deeper in her seat. Faith was right, it was staring her in the face. Mr 'Dark and Mysterious' was the only one not in 'costume', and she did get the sense that she knew him as well; it was a faint emotion that was titanically overshadowed by the hate the mystery man was giving off. Again, Faith managed to hit one out of the park while she was at bat.

Celeste had heard enough. It was time for her to rejoin Xander and Katherine MacLeod and report to them what she had seen and heard.

As she was moving past the research table towards the front entrance the rear door she was standing at seconds earlier opened and an English guttural voice was heard asking a question. "Where do you want these Luv?"

Celeste Killdare froze still and then slowly turned. In view stood a Strawberry haired woman holding open the rear door as a bleached haired thinned male figure walked by her carrying an unmarked brown cardboard box.

"Over on the third shelf William."

The Immortals first mental instinct was a bloody one. In her mind she could see herself delivering slices and bladed swings. It took more control then she had ever willed herself before not to enact on the dark fantasy. Her hands began to tremble, so she clenched them into a balled fist as she dumbly observed both figures make a dancing shuffle to bypass her and avoid the other customers.

An amused laugh was heard as the white haired man made an unheard comment that the strawberry haired woman found funny. Again part of her wanted to remove her concealed weapon and enact revenge most deserving. But yet again her hand and temper were stilled with the same previous thought. If anyone was to measure out retribution it should be Xander.

In her heart she knew who these people were; Xander was the *most* descriptive with these particular people's appearances. But her mind would not permit any error before forwarding such pertinent information to her human lover. Delicately she approached the smiling pair. "Excuse me?"

With hand gestures the Magic Box Manager directed her grinning Vampire Sales Assistant. When William had placed the sales item in the position she desired she turned and addressed the voice that questioned her. "Yes, little girl?"

Celeste gritted her teeth; she could keep her temper in check. She had too. "Your name is Anya, and his is Spike. Am I correct?"

"Well, umm, yes." The Shop Manager turned and looked at her helper with a quizzical look and back again. William hadn't gone by the name 'Spike' since he had got his soul back.

The Vampire formally known as Spike approached the pair with curiosity and spoke with a concerned softness in his voice to the child in front of him. "I--- I don't call myself that anymore Bit. Do I know you? --- did you know me, the other --- have we ever met?"

Calmly the young appearing Immortal smiled. This was a glorious day for her. She had news to earn her favour with the one whose body she surrendered to each night. A sinister smile spread. "No Spike, we haven't met. But I know you." Celeste bent further forward urging the Vampire to do the same. Like she had a secret to tell and she only wanted him to hear it. William obliged by mirroring the motion. "Tell me, do you pray?"

William blinked a couple of times at the surprised question, but answered just the same. "Yes Pet. I pray. I pray every day."

Celeste nodded and smiled warmly at the man. A face of pure innocence was his reward to his answer. "That is good Spike. Then I recommend you to pray now. Pray now for mercy. Pray for mercy from whatever unholy God you worship. Pray for mercy to be shown in your afterlife, for you will be approaching it shortly. Get on your knees and practice begging Night Spawn. Raise your voice loud and ask to be shown pity from those above. Fore you will have a better chance of receiving it up there then you will in receiving it Earthward when My Lord hears of your continued presence." The whisper halted from the fifteen year old girl's lips as she looked at Anya. The Shop Manager was standing beside her with a shocked look on her face at what she had overheard being said to William. No emotion was used in the words that were then issued by the 'teenager' as she addressed them both. "As of this moment you are both dead, your time is done. How you will die will be made by the one who deserves above all others to judge you."

The normal volumed strange words from the teen towards the two adult figures got those seated at the table to still their refreshed research, and to take in the unusual sight before them with interest.

Celeste didn't mind that she had become a spectacle to these people. She had something to say. But to say it she needed privacy. "EVERYBODY OUT - NOW! OR SUFFER YOUR LAST DAY."

The small crowd of store goers who had been successfully ignorant of everything that was transpiring looked up and at the person who had ordered them to leave. Anya stepped forward. "Don't you dare tell my Customers to *arrgh*"

Celeste moved with a blinding and coordinated speed of a Being with over a thousand years experience in unarmed combat. With her right index and thumb she held the former Demon by the jugular effortlessly. Then looking at both Slayers and the Witches present, the eternally young offender made it clear through an unsaid communication of her eyes. 'That if any of them made a move or a sound she would kill the woman in her grasp without a care.' After a stunted several seconds, she repeated her order to the onlookers. "I said everybody LEAVE."

Nothing needed to be further said as the various patrons made a dash for the front door. When the last of them exited the Immortal released the Shop Manager and announced to those at the table who remained. "I wish to speak to you and I expect silence as I do so." She then approached the research table without fear at the hostile eyes she was receiving because of her actions. When Celeste got to its head she took a deep and cleansing breath. As her mouth opened she fought back a growl rising in her throat.

*NO* she wasn't going to get emotional; she had the upper hand at the moment. If she lost herself to emotion then these people would possibly overwhelm her and then Xander would not learn of the truth about Spike and Anyanka. Besides, now she had their undivided attention - that was good, that was what she had wanted.

Her voice stirred the silence of the store with a statement. "How you must have all hated him. I look at you now and all I feel pity at what you willingly gave up. He is a glorious light, and you chose to extinguish him in favour of these 'creatures'. Why? How can you justify yourself for the abandonment of his memory, the answer - you simply cannot. You sit together and congratulate one another. You continue with your lives unaffected to what he has lost to you all, and ally yourselves with 'things' that should have been placed in the Earth years before. You never cared for him."

Buffy, who had always long been the initiator for the defence of the group stood up from her chair calmly. "What are you talking about? Who's 'Him'. It'll help if we had a name to go along with the accusation?"

A part of Celeste was sinisterly overjoyed that it was Buffy who had challenged her. "Him, is 'he' you surrendered to pain eternal. While you all continued with these friendships, laughed together and loved together. He's suffered and known pain as no Mortal man has done before."

From behind the Immortal, William recalled the hateful words he spoke years earlier as Spike to the former Vengeance Demon outside of this very store. His mouth involuntarily whispered out a word that was heard by anyone in close proximity. This in this case was everyone. "Droopy?"

Again with a speed that surprised everybody present the Immortal Teenager reacted to what was just said by backhanding the Vampire across the face. "You speak his name with respect Creature. And his name is Xander Harris. If you utter it with anything less then pure awe then I will assure you that you shall feel my wrath in your last remaining seconds. And know this Vampire, my wrath is mighty. But not nearly as mighty as My Lord's will be."

Buffy started to tremble, quickly finding her seat again before her legs gave out under her.

The name was said.

Xander's name.

Those seated at the centre wooden table opened and closed their mouths in shock at having heard it being issued by the strange young girl. Giles stood up and attempted to address and question the Eternal youth. But Celeste held up her hand to instruct him to halt his words. The Immortal looked upon the elderly Englishman with distaste for the title he held. "You Watcher should take care most of all. Your role is not a forgotten one. The Watcher's have much to answer for."

"Wh---what do you mean?"

"Your treatment of Xander Harris was unforgivable. You assisted in his torment, and may all who have taken the name of Watcher be damned because of it."

Suddenly all the collective eyes of the table fell upon Rupert Giles. He attempted to keep his voice level and calm, but he was well aware of the accusing looks he was now receiving. "I don't know what you're trying to imply."

"So you deny that you had Xander Harris in your custody for a year? That the Watcher's did not allow his torturous existence to continue without appeasement? That his only relief came with his liberation from the Council's sadistic clutches."

Giles voice stressed out a hissed answer. "I do." The Englishman stepped around the table approaching the child before him asking his own statements as he did so. "How dare you make these claims without proof! If Xander was in the hands of the Council I would have known. I am on one of their twelve seats after all. I don't know how you know of us, or of Xander, but by God I am going to find out."

Celeste Killdare looked at the scarlet face of the middle-aged male unconcerned, and spoke with an icy calm as the Watcher approached her menacingly. "You are either lying or a fool Mr. Giles. I don't know which, but you *did* have Xander in your custody. Your Organization had him trapped and restrained against his will, allowing his body and mind to be assaulted with a pain no human was meant to endure. His Curse may not have ceased in your care but in denying him his freedom you prevented him from coping with the evil delivered upon him.

"I would not lie about something as despicable as that, I have nothing to gain by doing so. Yes, rest assured the Watcher's Council has a lot to answer for." Celeste stopped addressing the table and then looked at the 50-year old man in front of her. "Look at you. You stand there and you say in front of everybody, what? That if you had known then you would have released him? Don't insult me. You just as happily stand beside the ones who condemned him like everybody else in this room. To say you would have freed him is a joke. Xander Harris was too valuable to your Organization. That was why he was stolen away by us in Ireland."

With her final sentence Celeste noticed something in the Englishman's eyes. A type of disbelieving recognition to the place of Ireland and the words 'Stolen Away'. The Immortal cocked her head in curiosity at his reaction. "But--- but then again maybe you really didn't know who he was." Any sudden sympathy was imminently lost as she realized something true regardless. "Maybe you didn't know his name, but then again maybe you didn't try to find out? A mortal was being delivered unearthly pain and you all chose to accept it instead of ease him of it. No matter how you may justify it, no matter how you may explain it away - that's still inhumane. Maybe you didn't know him as Xander Harris, but you definitely would have known him by the name you stamped upon him. After all, you have a seat on the Council itself, don't you? You may have known him Mr Giles as - 'The Prize'."

Two little words. Insignificant too many, but not to him - The Prize! Xander was 'The Prize'? Life suddenly flooded out of the man's face as he became as pale as William. He had remembered all those years ago of guarding 'The Prize'. For a month the Prize was as close to him as this young girl was at that very moment. He remembered hearing the Prizes screams of agony and thinking it somehow deserved. Xander was in his reach, but he had instead followed the standard 'never ask, never tell' doctrine of the Watchers.


Giles energetic motion towards the girl ceased. The man called Rupert Giles stood still before the assembled with alook of abject horror on his face at the memories that surfaced with those two words. This was enough evidence to all present that the fifteen year old girl in their presence had said something of note aside from mentioning Xander's name.

"Nononononononononono. It's not true, he---he---he couldn't have been." The statement came from the Blonde Slayer who remembered the unique title given to the prisoner. She remembered it clearly. It was one of the most significant memories of her life. She remembered everything that had happened, or was said to her on that day. When she was young she recalled people talking about being able to remember what they were doing and where they where when they heard JFK was assassinated, or that man had walked on the Moon. It was the same for her when she discovered Xander's Curse was over.

She hatefully remembered the escapee that Giles had mentioned to her when she phoned him with the news. And that it was because of 'The Prize' that the closest thing to a Father Xander ever had was prevented in coming back to Sunnydale and attending his Memorial. Buffy shook her head madly; trying to deny what she had just heard being said as any form of truth.

Celeste looked at the pathetic behaviour of the Vampire Slayer and shook her own head. Only it was in disgusted at her adversary's fragile behaviour. Given her reputation she expected Buffy to be made of sterner stuff. "It is true, why should I lie? And for that matter Slayer, why do you care?"

With this question Buffy stilled and looked at her with shock. The room was frozen silence again, with the only exception - the actions of a teenage figure as she walked towards the door. "You have your Vampire, and you have your Demon. What was Xander's fate compared to the obvious friendship you had with them?" Celeste turned the knob and opened the door. The bell above rang a lite chorus. "I tell you these things in preparation. Giving you time for you to try and justify yourself before My Lords arrival and rage. He will be here shortly, of that you can guarantee. And when he presents himself you will all treat him with courtesy and respect. For if you do not you will not live a second longer."

The Eternal youth exited the store, leaving in her wake a troubled silent group considering what was to come after. Dawn found her voice in the seconds that transpired and asked a question that would have following it a raging reaction. "Giles? What's the prize, and why did she say Xander was it?"


Chapter 5

Celeste Killdare stepped out of the chaos that was now erupting within the Magic Box with an inner sense of satisfaction towards the seeds she had just sown with the now arguing Scooby's.

She felt joy at instigating the betraying words now said within the four walls, but she was no fool. And she knew that once their combined faculties had claimed them all once again they would collectively make a dash to either apprehend her, or at the very least follow her to wherever her 'Lord' was in wait.

At their threshold and without moving her head to betray a direction, the Immortals eyes shifted in her orbits until she spotted in her periphery her human Lover sitting at the window of the Coffee Shop with Katherine McLeod.

He was safe. And to her that was all that mattered in this world. Atleast for the present. But she still had to make her way to him without being caught or seen by the group of people she had just left.

With a quicken and lite tread the eternal teenager dashed in the direction away from her Heart, the man called by many in her circle as 'The Prize'. Turning quickly into the nearest alleyway.

There with a practiced and speedy hand she began to over-emphasize her youth. Most teenager's always tried to make themselves appear older then they really were, and with time and patience, Celeste Killdare, could at a stretch look 17. But in these times of avoidance it was always best to down play her cursed 'age'.

Her flowing hair became victim to a pair of 'scrunchies' she always carried in her pockets, offering her two poorly groomed pigtails in her applications. In the other pocket was a compact of glitter-blush which she carefully applied to her cheeks. The next step in the charade was wardrobe, she turned and rolled the hem of slacks up and turned her coat inside out, tying it around her waist. Pulling out and presenting to the world's public a very cute 'Hello-Kitty' T-Shirt, its flowing lines hiding any sense of girlish figure. In a span of less then 40-seconds, the '15 year old' she was once was now no more. What stood in her place was someone who could easily have passed as an innocent 10-year old to a panel of casual observers.

Tactfully she peered out around the corner of the alleyway. What she saw was the Watcher and both Slayers' emerge from the shop to begin their scouting mission - A Mission to find her. If she wasn't certain that Xander would want to confront the man called Rupert Giles and the Chosen One's for what the Organization they represented had put him through, she would happily slay them down right this very moment. But alas, vengeance could not be hers; it belonged solely to her beloved Lord and Master.

Yet still she had to make it to both Xander and Catherine with the information she had gathered, she would have to pass the collection of eyes seeking her out. If she intended to take the long route and navigate around the shop she would have been spotted as the only reasoning suspect leaving the area and sprung upon. It made more sense to put her faith in her abilities to deceive and walk right by them all, thereby cancelling out any suspicion on their part. So with this steeled thought, she broadened a sickening and sweet smile, placed on a cheap and tacky pair of bright pink 'kiddie' sunglasses she kept in her back pocket, and slouched slightly to conceal her true height. Then fully prepared the Ageless Assassin and Master Thief began to --- skip.

Skipping like an innocent child she had now painted herself too being.

Without a care and conscience she merrily skipped passed the Magic Shop co-owner, and the two Slayers' of Vampires. Not even deserving a second glance by either as she did so. Passing the shop itself where voices were beginning to raise in heat, passing the parked classic Porsche that she had enjoyed riding around earlier in Xander's sight-seeing tour of the Town.

Skipping right up to the front door of the Coffee Shop.


With the opening of the door Katherine McLeod stiffened. Xander read this look and knew it so well that he didn't even have to follow her gaze. He shifted himself to position, waiting for a subtle signal to act from the female sitting across from him. His heart began racing triple time, as his hands gripped upon the side of the table and the booth too which he was seated. Both arms prepared to at a seconds notice expel him from his seat and flee if Katherine gave him notice that this was an unknown Immortal, and one he had best not meet.

It was in these tense seconds, that he felt his most cowardly.

Thankfully desertion wasn't in the cards at that moment as Celeste walked into view. At siting her he took a relieving breath that he had unknowingly been holding, and did his best not to burst out in laughter at the relief he felt, or of her current elaborate presentation. The only thing that stayed him from making fun of her appearance at that second was the sternness in her eyes. "Cel, what is it?"

Like she was approaching Royalty, and easily ignoring several other customers in the Café, Celeste stepped forward, one foot directly in-line with the other then dropped to her knee when she got to where Xander and Katherine were sitting. Then one of the oldest 'youngsters' on human record closed her eyes and bowed her head addressing the questioner with a steady, yet emotional voice. "They are all there, my Lord."

Xander looked sideways at Katherine; he had been expecting this outcome. His resembling profile of Vincent Diesel nodded as his eyes again mist over with memory of distant experiences with the people he called his dearest friends. Again, and by instinct, his fingers began to drum the table in the same pattern of rhythm it had earlier, awaiting Katherine McLeod's feminine digits to still his own. With a low, deep voice he addressed the 'teenager' with an understanding and tired tone, noting her awkwardness at relating this tiding. "Its okay, Cel. I kinda thought they would be, the Scoob's have survived a lot. My absence probably didn't complicate things for them."

"No, my Lord. You misunderstand me. They are *ALL* there. Your friends and your Betrayers. All laughing and working together. The Demon Whore and Vampire Concubine. They live."

At these two words an intense pain crept over and possessed both Immortal minds as light bulbs which littered and luminated the popular café began to pop and explode in their fittings. The sound causing patrons to flee the room as the cash register began to react as if it was possessed by some hellish poltergeist, reams of receipt paper spewed out of it's top and a noticeable blue static slivered across the counter.

Too all this chaos and mayhem the only reaction earnt from the oblivious Xander Harris was the stilling of his drumming fingers as a fist was tightly formed in its place. Fighting the biting migraine pain assaulting her, Katherine, desperately outstretched her hand and silently prayed that her 'protected' was able to recognize the bedlam about him and was able to draw enough of himself back from whatever dark place he had sent himself in order to recognize that the events unfolding about them were a result of his instability.

As her trembling hand covered his clenched one she repeated his name. She did not call him Alexander as she had done from the moment she had first met him, she announced his 'other' name to his ears. "Xander?!? Please!"

And thankfully, it was enough.

The florescent blue static crackled and dispersed and the machine upon the counter suddenly stilled to the frantic actions of Amy Yip and another attendant who were trying to stop its activity. And even though his jaw remained clenched, his other features soften to the Lady seated across from him. "You called me 'Xander'. You said you would sooner pluck out your own eye then call me by that name."

Before Catherine MacLeod could respond, the little girl in their collected midst stopped rubbing her temples and looked at her charge and colleague, asking the obvious question. "What just happened?"

With the pain in her head now subsiding, the Scotsman's Bride smiled and tried her best not to make the smile appear condescending to her younger, yet ironically, far older companion. "I think, Celeste that we have just bared witness to what the Hellmouth, our Prize's temper and his stored Quickenings can accomplish when control is given way to emotion."

With fresh awe the 'fifteen year-old' looked upon her one and only. Her eyes wide and excited for him, for if this was true then her heart had a weapon in his arsenal to defend himself from a bloody and headless fate "My Lord, how do you fare, are you well?"

Xander's eyes refocused on his 'youngest' protector once more. "How do you think I feel? That Bitch and Bastard still draw breath, Celeste. They should be dead. They should be worm food."

"Say the word my Lord and by the setting of the Sun they shall be. Every last one of them. Anybody who embraced you as a friend yet abandoned your memory in favour of these creatures will meet a fate granted only to my most despised of enemies. I will make them roast and have them curse the day they ever met me and offended you. Whisper that this is your wish and I will have the most cruellest things pity their fate."

With this final claim Xander looked towards his other Immortal Bodyguard. Her look offering him an obvious fear that the words just eagerly spoken by the eternal teen were not exaggerated ones. Celeste Killdare, would indeed follow out this whim if he so ordered. Right there and then the Man known as 'The Prize' realized just how much he felt betrayed by his chosen family's allegiance to his Curser's. Because right then and there he was almost tempted to say 'Do it'. But instead he steeled himself and cast an uncomfortable order. "Kate, call MacLeod. Get everybody and get them here, and tell them to come packing for opposition. Were gonna have ourselves a reunion."

Obediently the Immortal called her husband and pasted on the order and the discovery. As she ended the call she glanced over towards the Magic Box through the café window. Within her a pity grew as she observed a young blonde woman standing at it's doorway, visually scouting up and down the Main Street. To her right she heard a shifting of Xander's body as he turned to share in view. His face was unreadable, his eyes once again distant - caught in both memory and misery. Slowly his lips parted and a sentence was hushed out, directed towards the female who was too far away too hear it. "Did I mean so little to you guys? Why didn't you kill them Buffy?"


Through the dark overcoat he was wearing, Xander Harris, felt the ivory handle of his Katana. Once it belonged to a great man, now it was his. An Anniversary gift he received from his Highland Protector seven day's earlier. But it was more then just a weapon to its giver; it was an Example and a privilege for the receiver to live up too. At the time he accepted it with the promise he would never bring it shame. Now he didn't care.

In the Park directly across the Main Street from the Magic Shop, Xander stood amongst those who could in their own right be considered living legends. In their protected company the man call 'The Prize' was deaf to the third retelling of the eternal teen's tale. Once for him was enough, but Adam insisted, and with each version that was given the oldest Immortal on record posed significant questions towards the second oldest in their collective of the perceived weakness, strengths, exits, entry's, and group dynamic of those in the shop no more then twenty meters away. He should have been listening keenly, but he was beyond all that now.

He was single minded.

He just wanted retribution and punishment.

He wanted his new steel to drink Demon Blood and he wanted to spit in the face of everyone he once cared for --- everyone who he had thought once cared for him.

"This is not the way, Lad."

The words were privately offered to his ears and it offended him at hearing them spoken. Xander turned around to see, unsurprisingly, Duncan McLeod behind him. What did surprise him was that he had over the past fifteen minutes slowly drawn himself away from the huddled group and had moved atleast ten paces towards the place where his old life came crashing down.

Trying to match the casualness of the Scotsman's words he answered the statement with a question. "Then what is my 'Way', Duncan? Cause I honestly don't know. I thought everything would be clearer when I came back here, that I'd have some sort of closure. Now I find this. Anyanka and Spike cursed me and they let them live."

"Aye, they have some explaining no doubt."

"Explaining? There is no explanation, except one. She wanted to have another pet-vampire at her beck and call."

"I think it goes far deeper then just that, Lad."

"Whatever, I don't care. I want him deader then what he is right now. And I don't care who get's in my way. They step in front of me to protect them - they die! End of story."

"So that's it then? No talking, no questions, no trying to understand?"

"He cursed me, Duncan, and Anyanka granted it. What's to understand? They both took their best shot to get rid of me and now it's my turn to do the same to them."

"--- Xander*"

"* I have killed Vampire's and Demon's and I have never wanted any of them as dead and rotting as I want these two. Not even Angelus. I want Spike coughing up blood and begging me to end his misery; I want Anyanka on her knee's praying for my forgiveness with me laughing in her whore-like face. I want justice!"

"Justice? Your not dead, Xander. You're still alive."

"Some life. I'm a walking deadman, MacLeod. Hunted. Imprisoned by the fate they decreed on me. For fuck sake, I can't even go 10-feet without one of you deciding to play my shadow. I have no freedom, I have no damn Life."

"So you wish to deprive them of theirs? You can't just kill everybody in there because of some slight they may have enacted upon you."


"Yes, Xander - Slight. Destiny has delivered to you an unfortunate hand, and thus far you have bared amazingly well under its strain. Don't mar all you have accomplished, by giving into your basic urges. The Demon's yes, I have no quarrel with those deaths. But any who chose to stand in your way? Their human beings, Xander. I accept that they may not be innocent in all this just as you imagine. But I will not let you shed their blood out of fury. I won't." The Highlander paused to help emphasis what he was about to say next. "Look within yourself - your better then that, Xander."

"No. No, I'm not."

"Yes you are. I've help train you, and believe me, Xander, you can learn more from a person's character in battle then in any other way I know of. You've never gone in for the killing blow unless you had to, and Xander with this - you don't have too. Nothing will be achieved. There is a better way then the one you are currently thinking of. A better Path."

Xander shook his head. "You're wrong, there is no other path, I had a dream that they were still alive. In this dream I killed them, and I got closure. But not for one second did I fantasize that it could have been possible and that everybody who I loved didn't care what they did to me."

"You're making assumptions, Lad. Guesses. I find it hard to believe that the people you described to me could give up on their feelings for you so flippantly, there must be an explanation."

"I don't care. Duncan, I'm doing my best to keep control here, but I am so --- angry at the moment. I need to know that I can depend on you, that you have my back."

"To be angry is the easiest of things, Xander. To be angry at the right people, at the right time and for the right reason. This is all I'm asking of you, Xander. Don't be impulsive. Try and curb your rage for the right circumstance to avail."

"I --- I --- I can't. I can feel it growing inside of me, Highlander. The Quickening's of over a hundred warriors are baying for this in me. I don't even know what my feelings are and what are theirs. All I do know is I want them all to pay. I want --- I *need* honour restored to me."

Firmly the Scotsman placed both hands upon his shoulder's and squeezed. "Xander, you have honour. You have nothing to prove or to acquire. I know this. I know *you*."

"Duncan, I don't even know me, so how can you say that you do? I have nightmares of Babylon; I was on the killing fields of Kalarish 1,600-years ago. I close my eyes sometimes and I see Lover's I never had, heads that I've taken but never took. I am haunted by memories and emotions, ones that I sometimes can't distinguish between what are really mine and what are not. But THIS memory is mine. This betrayal is mine. How can you ask me to turn my back on the only thing I have 100% ownership of, Duncan? How?"

Duncan McLeod stood there and slowly nodded. "You are right my friend. This pain is yours. You must bare it. But do not think you can pass it on to others, whatever happens, tomorrow you will still be you. This burden will still be yours, only it will be much heavier for the cost of today. Fore if you follow your instincts this day you will never forgive yourself. This I can tell you from experience."

"So what are you asking of me, McLeod? To forgive them?"

"The man who found me on a battlefield centuries ago, the man I embraced as my only family once told me that in time all things can be forgiven. All things, Xander."

"Well, he was wrong. Some things go too far to be forgiven, or forgotten. With letting them live they have gone too far. And unlike some in the general area, I'm not an Immortal. I don't have centuries, Christ, I might not even have next week. If I have to settle accounts, I gotta do it now while I can. So I'm asking you again - Can I count on you?"

Duncan MacLeod took a sorrowed breath, hoping that he could have gotten through to his charge. "To protect you? I have sworn an oath to do so, so I shall. Even if it is from yourself."

"There is nothing more painful to a loved one then a beloved memory that cannot be lay too rest."

Both teacher and student turned towards the siren voice of Paula Harker. Both equally confused at what her words meant. Paula was much like Drucilla, in that she was blessed with a second sight towards future events and an intuition keener then anyone Xander had ever met. Sometimes the hardest thing was to hear her unclear recommendations and decipher them before time, more often her words would only make sense when the actual time for understanding came upon them. She would not explain her words, she never did, she would just remain silent till the next time.

From behind Paula, Adam Pearson, the once known and feared Methos, revealed himself and approached both his friend and student. "If you ask me, McLeod, those sound like words to live by."

"Do you know what she meant?"

A cheeky smile spread to the obvious question. "Not a clue. But we will, just like we always do. Just when we need too the most. Err, Xander, can I have a private word with you?"

"Sure, it's your dime."

Carefully, Methos, ushered the Prize to the side of the group. "When you released your Quickening's earlier, what happened?"

"I hurt Cel and Kate. Gave them both killer headaches."

"No, no. What happened to *you*? What did YOU feel before, during and after. Think carefully, Xander, this could be very important."

"Wwweeelllll, just before - I felt like the calm in the storm, I was still as angry as ever but I felt peaceful as well. I felt keener, more alert."

"I see. During?"

"During was scary, I felt energized. Like a --- a God. I felt stronger, faster. Physically more powerful then ever. My rage was like a home to me."

"And After?"

"Cleansed --- complete. Why?"

"Interesting, that's pretty much how Kate described you during those 5-seconds as well. She said you were like a thunderstorm on the horizon. That she could feel your power coming, then evidence of the power, then finally a type of tranquillity in the aftermath of chaos." Adam paced in front of the returned Scooby, his expression revealing someone in deep pondering. "Xander, what are the Rules of Engagement?"

The question took the bald 'Prize' by surprise, it was basic, it was one of the first things these protectors ever taught him and had expected him to memorize. "One - once challenged you can never refuse. Two - Combat is strictly one-on-one. And Three - No-one battles upon Holy Ground, that's your safe haven."

"Yes, that's right. Tell me Xander, where are we?"

The young survivor's brow crunched. "Sunnydale, California. Why, where do you think we are?"

"Not the name, Xander. The place. What place is this?"

"The --- umm, Hellmouth?"

"Yes. Exactly. I believe you were always meant to return here, Xander. This is where you are the strongest you have ever been. If you hone yourself, if you hone this power, I doubt there'd be a single Immortal alive who could best you.

"Now look about you. Take in the view. This is the Hellmouth - there is not a single foot of Holy Ground here. The evil that spew's out of that maw prohibits it. The Vatican City itself could be relocated to this cursed place and it would still be uncleansed Real Estate. Here there is no place for you to run and hide. Plenty of Church's, but it's earth is corrupted. There is no Holy Ground to speak of. Here is where the End Game will be played; here you will face your Destiny."

"Are you serious?"

Adam gently closed his eyes and repeated the ancient prophecy regarding 'The Game'. "Then there will come a time when the few remaining Immortal's will feel an irresistible pull to a far away Land. There the last two surviving Immortal's will do battle with one another for the right to claim 'The Prize'. In the end, there can be only one."

"So your saying that the 'Hellmouth' is this --- this Far Away Land?"

"It make's sense, you are at your peak here. You know every nook-and-cranny. The people, the terrain. You are able to draw energies from the Hellmouth and incorporate it into a power you have only skimmed the surface of. You said 'you felt like a God', if we can harness your initial feelings, when your sense's felt alert and keen. I believe you will not have to feel when an other Eternal approaches you, you'll know it. I dare say you'd be able to touch into the omnipotent power that we all briefly do when we absorb a Quickening. You'll be able to 'see' everything, 'feel' everything, 'know' everything."

"Adam, your scaring me."

"To be honest, Xander. I'm scaring myself, as well. No Mortal or Immortal will ever be able stand against you, or will ever be in possession of the same level of power you will have --- until of coarse they take your head."

"It always comes down to that, doesn't it?"

"Sadly, Xander, it always will."

"How --- how long have you known all this? You didn't just wake up this morning with this theory. Hell, those power-things, none of it had even happened yet till half an hour ago."

"When I found out that you were born and raised on a Hellmouth that did indeed factor in to the prophecy, or at least my interpretation of it. There was also the fact that when you got agitated the Quickening's would flare. I thought there must be a connection too the two. I also thought that it would have been the greatest of disadvantages if the last Immortal, and please bear in mind we are talking about an unforseen Warrior that has survived other great Warriors, to face down with a mere mortal? That's not a challenge, that's murder. Pure and simple. I put it all together and concluded that being here must enable you to be more formidable then we all believed possible. With this conclusion, I organized a fake identification of you as 'Alexi Methos' and waited for you to request to come home. I had no way of knowing that three days later after figuring all this out that you would actually ask for that to happen."

"You should have told me your suspicions."

"I *am* telling you."

"After the fact, Adam, after the fact."

"Up until thirty minutes ago it was all just an unworking theory of mine. Now however ---."

"Now I am --- what? What am I now, Adam?"

"Human, Xander. Not a God, not an Immortal. Just a man with a destiny greater then some."

"You keep using the word Destiny like my fate was written in the stars. I was cursed, Adam. I was just an average, normal person *"

"* Exactly. You were normal and average, surrounded by people who were not. Slayers, Witches, Werewolves, Watcher's, Demon's and Vampire's. You embraced your humanity."

"And got kicked in the teeth for my trouble."

Adam Pearson leaned in closer to his protégé's ear to ensure none could hear him. "Only now you have the power to kick back."

Xander recoiled at the words, they were the first words of violence he had heard this Immortal utter in a long time, and he wasn't certain whether he had heard correctly. "Duncan, just got through preaching that I take the Noble Road of Honour. Are you recommending ---?"

"Duncan is from one Age, and I am from another. I respect the Code he lives by, I am actually quite envious of it. But in my day we embraced the simple concept that if a person raises a hand against you - you chop it off. The Vampire and the Demon need to be taught that justice always finds you."

"Justice. Yes, that's all I want, Adam. Justice. To have my turn."

"Then take it."

"But, Duncan said *"

"Duncan say's a lot of things, don't worry, I'll deal with Duncan."

Xander stepped back and eyed his Mentor suspiciously.

"What is it?"

"You. Your not setting me up or anything, are you? Cause you've done that before. You're not playing me like one of your chess pieces."

A wise smile formed on the 5,000 year old. "Xander, I'm supporting you. Don't be paranoid, just think of what is to follow. Let me bother about the Big Picture. You just focus on your reunion."

At the recommendation and reminder, Xander's eyes turned once more to the outer shell of the Magic Box. A lite pain enfolded around the mind's of the Immortals. The eyes of Methos seemed to sparkle with intent as he gestured to his colleagues and fellow guardians of 'The Prize' to come closer to hear his instructions. "We'll divide into three teams. Duncan, you and Kate come through the back. Celeste and Paula through the access way in the basement. Xander and I will enter through the front. We follow Xander's lead, this day is all his. Synchronize our intrusion for 5-minutes. Mark."


"Xander?" The oldest man alive looked at the distant and burning eyes of his protege with concern. Xander was still in that place of memory, and for what was to come the young Prize had to dig his way out of this dark place and claim the moment that was now before him. It wasn't going to be an easy task, the continued existence of the Vengeance Demon and the Vampire was not a thing he or any of them had considered when it was agreed to up-root from the relative safety of Europe and deliver Xander back to Sunnydale. What would transpire over the next hour would be defining, and one that would haunt the man known as 'The Prize' for the rest of his lifespan.

Whispering the same words like a mantra, words he had been doing over the last 60-seconds the Zeppo's eyes refocused on his companion. "They're alive, Adam. She, THEY, let them live. They have to pay for that. All of them. But Duncan said 'No', that there was no honour in what I want to do to them. I want to be the bigger person, Adam. I want to show them I have more honour coming out of my butt-hole then the eight of them all together."

The Immortal cocked his right eyebrow at the declaration as he repeated it back in a soft and sombre tone. "Does his opinion matter so much to you?"

Xander just glanced back towards the Magic Box door with annoyance to the man he owed both his freedom from the Watcher's Council and his life. Mixed in with that look however was one also of a man on the edge. His gaze supporting the fixated look of a killer in the midst of being born and a little boy lost. Adam Pierceson, knew these looks well, he had seen it reflected back upon himself in the Mirror many times whenever he himself was thinking his darkest thoughts. Today he tried to live the life of a pacifist, but that didn't mean his skill and knowledge in the deadly arts were forgotten ones. And yesterday wasn't all that long ago to a man that had trod this Earth 5-millenium and had seen an assortment of Empires crumble.

"No --- yes --- maybe. I don't know. I want to do what he said, but I also want to do what you said. I want to be both, but 'both' are in direct competition with the other. And I got these damn essences inside of me just urging me to cut loose."

Silence was his welcomed substitute for conversation with his student on this matter. There was no point in trying to hold back the tide that quelled beside him. Especially as he himself conceded that these red emotions were justified and needed to be vindicated and expelled. Duncan, to the aged Immortal, could not appreciate these emotions. But he could.

Some justice needed to be gained on the injustice given.

The man hunted the World over by a select community paced the sidewalk back and forth trying to reign in his rage. One minute had now passed since his other 'Protectors' separated themselves from their sworn Duty. He still had another 4-minutes before they were all in position, and he still didn't know how he was going to act when he entered the Magic Box. Should he go in there and follow his instincts, blades slashing, or try to be Joe-Cool and ask for answers? He had to admit that either both satisfied his need to revel and render or his own natural and morbid curiosity at the moment.

For the first time since this sad matter began his eyes soften, offering an imploring look to the man standing quietly beside him. It was not weak, but it was one of indecision and loss. He needed to be prompted into a coarse, but he was too proud to ask for any suggestions to do so.

The man once called the 'Forth Horseman' by the ancient World read the look delivered to him correctly and quickly looked down at his wrist watch to judge the time remaining. <three minutes and forty seconds left. > "Xander, we are here because you asked us to be here. You are a man of excellent judgement, you could have approached this situation earlier with just yourself, Kate and Celeste. Why do you now find it difficult to trust your judgement as much as WE trust it?"

"I want to hurt them, Adam. But Duncan --- damn him. He talks about honour and nobility like these are things I don't try and strive for myself. Like I don't try and live my life by the same code he does. But I can't feel noble about this, I don't feel honourable. What I feel is --- what I feel is hate. And is that so wrong? After what has happened? Must I deny myself this --- this righteous feeling?"

"No, only if you feel shame in them. Xander, how well do you remember the tales I've told you of my younger days?"

"Well enough, I mean the dates are a bit of a blur, but the other stuff, not so bad. Why?"

"Maybe this is an opportunity to use my Anniversary Gift to you? It will easily conceal your identity, and offer you an opportunity to probe for the answers that you want?"

"Answer's? I don't want answers, Adam. I want Anyanka's and Spike's heads on a Pike!"

"Xander, calm down. Think rationally through the problem. Compose yourself. Remember the first rule I ever taught you. 'Take control, never give it.' You walk in as you are now with doubt swimming in your head and you surrender every advantage you'll have to them. You can take their Head's anytime and no one in our group will stop you, not even Duncan, you have my word on this. But you're in doubt, and you should never act when in doubt. Maybe what you need is indeed, 'Intelligence'."

Xander began to enforce a Tibetan calming technique taught to him by Duncan. As the deep rhythmic breaths were taken, the Man once known as Methos felt the energy of the concentrated Quickening within 'The Prize' lessen. It was a proud moment for the 5,000 year old; Xander had indeed come far in his journey. But he still had many more eternal miles to go. "As I was saying. Be me. Be Methos. If they've heard of me, then so much the better for you. But don't reveal your hand until your ready to display it."

"But I don't know how to be you; you're smart as a whip. I can't be like you, I'd screw it up. They won't buy it. I'm not cultured, I'm not regal. I couldn't pretend to be you if my life depended upon it. *"

Adam raised his hands to halt the rant just beginning. "You see me as I am now, Xander. But I wasn't always like this. What they will know of me, if they know of me at all, is reflected upon exaggerated myth. When I rode the Ancient Plane's with my Three-Brother's I lived with nothing but contempt for the Mortal World. I was Immortal and therefore superior, this was my flawed reasoning at the time. The deed's I did were evil ones. So that is who you must try and emulate, not me now. But me then. Tell me, when you close your eyes and think of the most evil of people, fictional or fact, who do you picture? *"

"Angelus. Hand's down. I mean when I was still in the Scooby's we fought tougher, but to me Angelus had a sadistic style that surpassed everyone."

"Then be a facsimile of Angelus and call yourself Methos."

"But *"

"No 'Buts'. You need to be feared, Xander. *They* need to be afraid of you. If for no other reason then because people afraid easily become stupid people, and stupid people make mistakes. From Celestes account, you have two Slayer's, two Witches, and two Demons in that shop with two able-bodied Human Beings. The advantage of raw Power is theirs at present, but we have something they lack greatly. What we have is what has won many War's before a single battle has been waged. We have surprise. You need to unbalance them, and keep them unbalanced."

"Unbalance them, right."

"Xander, do you think you can do this? Can you face your demons?

"Yes." Xander straighten his posture, and that distant and pained look emerged once move in his eyes. "And I'm not Xander, my name is Alexi Methos, remember? I gotta be in character, might as well start here and now. I have killed and I have ravaged for 5,000 years, I am the Fourth Horseman. My legend and fear was so great I was documented in 'Revelations'. I *can* be smooth, I *can* be suave, and I *can* be Death. I *am* Death - Their's!"

With a smirking smile, the eldest man in history retorted with humour. "Personally, I would probably avoid that introduction in favour of something a bit lighter, less confrontational. A knock-knock joke perhaps?"

The younger man looked to the corner of the building that held the 'Magic Box' and his features began to sharpen like a predator that had spied a prey. As he bent over to retrieve a loose brick from the base of the building he spoke out at the light barb made at his expense. "Well that's you, Adam. But right now I'm not in a laughing mood. I'm going to follow the fifth rule you taught me - 'Once you have their full attention, you have them whole.' I'm gonna go get their attention and I'm gonna keep it." Xander then repeatedly tossed the broken brick, up and down, drawing a comfort from the realness of its weight in his hands. He then glanced down at his watch and started the countdown as he walked to the front of the Magic Box. "6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1."

With the deadline now achieved he threw the brick he was holding through the front window as hard as he could, just as his Bodyguards collectively stormed through their assigned entrances/exits to a totally shocked and still bickering group of Scooby's.

As the last errant shard of the front window sliced it's way through the air on it's path to the ground, the Vincent Desiel lookalike walked through the vandalised opening. Glass cracking under his booted foot. When he had fully entered the premises he smirked an turned his head over his shoulder to look at the once 'Watcher' who was his teacher and announced to the room. "Knock, knock."