Destiny's Choice

Author: Bastard Snow <mamille5[at]>

Rating: PG-13

Summary: The sequel to Knight's Chosen. A new threat and new faces enter Sunnydale. How will the Scoobies deal?

Disclaimer: None of this belongs to me. It belongs to those who own it. Who are not me. They are more… Joss-ish, UPN/WB-ish and Fox-ish. I am not-ish.

Spoilers: Season 4, generally, and some earlier stuff, too.

Pairing: B/X, F/R, others…

A/N: Okay, gotta give much thanks out here to Drake, my ever-present, ever-helpful, and often-demanding beta. Sometimes his suggestions are ludicrous, but he makes my work better. Also to my B/X inspirers, Lori Bush, Brooke, Ozmandayus and many, many others without whose work I would… uh. Well, I pretty much wouldn't be writing.

Feedback: I LOVE feedback. It's not going too far to say feedback is my reason for living. Okay, maybe a little too far, but I really, really like it. Please?

Latest addition

Chapter 1

It has been five months since the last time the world didn't end. And though much has happened, life in Sunnydale has been, for the most part, livable. Xander has been promoted twice: once for good work, once because he stuck around when someone above him left. His new responsibilities as head of carpentry require longer hours, and thus he takes fewer patrols than he used to. However, two slayers and a group of soldiers, a witch and a watcher have been more than enough to keep the Hellmouth in check.

Buffy and Willow continued college, Willow excelling, Buffy doing pretty well herself. Xander and Buffy are as much in love as they have ever been. Because of his promotions, Xander has moved out of the Summers household and into his own apartment. Buffy has a bunch of clothes there, as well as toothpaste, a toothbrush, hair brush, her shampoo, a razor, and certain feminine products that Xander still refuses to buy when he goes shopping. She helped him pick out new furniture, new wallpaper, dishes, and general wall art. There have been exactly three nights since he moved that Buffy has not slept in his arms, in his bed. But she doesn't live there. Really.

Giles, after the (somewhat) untimely death of the magic shop owner rented the building, purchased the stock and now owns the Magic Box. Faith, who, with the help of Willow and Giles got her GED in December, works there and is, not surprisingly, very adept at getting male customers to buy things they really don't need.

Faith and Riley are still together. Faith, more often than the others, patrols with the Initiative soldiers. Though Faith and Riley's relationship has been quite physical, they have yet to reach the stage where they exchange a certain four-letter word.

Willow became very good friends with Tara, the girl who they saved from being sacrificed at the hands of the Fargath demon. After checking on her, Willow found that Tara also had an interest in witchcraft, and was, in fact, much more experienced than she was, though she had less raw power. Tara is aware of the Scooby activities, but as yet has not participated.

Joyce's gallery is doing very well. Her keen eye for art-not-in-the-shape-of-masks and a little help from Giles in locating particularly rare items has given her a reputation as an excellent consultant. Consequently, though she is often on the road, money is not as tight as it once was for the Summers family.

Life in Sunnydale, generally, is good. It does, however, sit on top of a Hellmouth.


"Another quiet night in Shady Hills," Faith said. "Have we killed anything here in the last month?"

"I'm sure we have. What about that accountant-vamp?" Buffy asked.

"No, he was over in Restfield."

"The Moghra?"

Faith shook her head. "Covington. Remember, he threw Xander into the Anderson crypt, knocked off a gargoyle and impaled itself?"

"Oh yeah. I'm sure there's been something."

"I don't think so, B. Face it, this place is washed out. No vamps, no demons, no nothing. For a month. How boring is that?"

Buffy looked at her watch. "Okay, it's almost 3 a.m. and we've pretty much done the circuit twice. Let's pack it in for the night."

"Sure thing, Boss," Faith said.

"Faith, I told you…"

"Yeah, yeah, don't call you boss. Whatever."

Buffy smiled at her. "Going to Riley's tonight?" she asked.

"Nope, Walsh has him out at some conference. He'll be back in a couple days."

"Okay. Then, would you tell my mom that I'll be stopping by tomorrow?"

"Sure thing, B. Later," Faith said.

Buffy walked to Xander's apartment and let herself in. She smiled, hearing him snoring in the bedroom. Buffy quickly undressed herself and clambered into bed with him. Xander, somehow, managed to wrap his arms around her without really waking up.

He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'lub oo,' or quite possibly 'tub goo' before passing out again.

Buffy nuzzled closer to him and fell asleep, content.


Faith awoke from a solid slumber. After a quick shower, she made her way down the stairs, to where Joyce was brewing coffee and cooking some eggs.

"Breakfast, Faith?"

Faith grinned. "Love some," she said. The immense amount of fantastic food Joyce was able to fix up at a moment's notice was one of the best things about living there.

Faith poured herself a cup of coffee and sat at the counter.

"How was patrol last night?"

"Boring, as always," she said. "There were no demons or vampires or anything."

"Isn't that a good thing?"

"Well, yeah, I guess. Thanks," she said as Joyce shoveled some eggs onto a plate and then added some buttered toast and some jelly.

"So why wouldn't a lack of evil be a good thing?" Joyce asked.

"It's a balance thing. If we're not fighting evil, it's either because it's planning something big and holding back, or because it's moved somewhere else and we're out of position. What with us bein' on Hellmouth, I'm thinkin' it's planning something big."

Faith inhaled her breakfast. "Damn, Joyce, you have got to be the best cook this side of anywhere."

Joyce smiled. "Thank you, Faith."

Faith looked at the clock. "Oh, crap, I gotta run. Jeeves has a buyer he's talking to so I have to run the shop for a while."

"Have a nice day, Faith," Joyce said.

"Thanks! Oh yeah, B said she'd be droppin' by later," Faith called as she ran out the door.

Joyce smiled, shook her head and started to fix her own breakfast.


"I know, I know, I'm late," Xander said, running into the trailer-cum-office that sat on the construction site that was just being set up. "I had some trouble with my door."

"Your door?" Steve asked.

Xander nodded, grinning. "My girlfriend kept shoving me up against it."

The men sitting around the table laughed.

"Okay," Steve said. "Now that we're all here, let's get down to business."

Xander sat in his chair as they started going over the plans, equipment and supplies necessary for the job, and deciding on the number of workers they'd need. Xander was still surprised at the fact that he was able to make intelligent and knowledgeable contributions to the discussion.


Willow woke at about 10 am, alone in her dorm room. It had basically become just hers since Xander moved into his own apartment. Buffy still came by regularly during the day. Her computer was there and she did her homework there. She just didn't sleep there, like, ever.

Willow smiled at that thought. She missed Buffy's company, yes, but she was so happy that her two best friends were so completely in love. And she still got to see Buffy, and she and Xander had regular lunches together.

'It's not like I'm lonely. Tara's always over here practicing spells and stuff,' she thought, a smile coming to her face. 'And there's the Scooby meetings every other day.' All in all, she was content.

After a quick shower, she gathered her books and headed off to her first class of the day.


Giles stood behind the counter, watching somewhat in awe as Faith convinced a young man, who had come in for the workings of a love spell (approximate cost $16), that he needed to purchase an entire set of (fake) runic tablets (retail price $83.99) and a set of tarot cards ($12.99) in addition to the love spell components.

Faith smiled coyly at the man, he melted like putty in her hands and picked up a book on the various uses of salamander eyes ($12.95 on sale).

The man approached the counter and Giles happily rung up the sale, and threw in a free pamphlet on the safe and practical use of magic. The man left, his arms much heavier and his wallet much lighter.

"That was quite an impressive display, Faith," he said when the door closed.

"What can I say, Jeeves? I got a way with the customers."

"Yes, you certainly do have that." He glanced at the clock. "Well, I must be off to my meeting. Watch the shop?"

"'Course," she said, turning to see the next vict—customer who had just walked into the store.

Giles walked into the store room in back, located the address, then went out into the alley and got in his car. It wouldn't start.

He kept turning the ignition. The engine wouldn't turn over.

"Blast!" he yelled at the car. This was the fifth time in two weeks it had failed him.

He walked back into the store, caught the cordless phone that Faith, who had just racked up another sale, tossed at him and called a cab.

"Not one bloody word," he said.

"I didn't say nothin', bossman," Faith said, raising her hands in a show of surrender.

Giles nodded shortly and went outside to wait.

"Doesn't mean Xander won't when he hears about it, though," she said to herself.


"Hey, Mom!" Buffy said as she walked into her house.

"Hi, sweetie," Joyce said, looking up from her crossword puzzle. "How are you?"

"It's a beautiful day, I finished with my one class I have today, and now I'm home visiting my wonderful mother. So, peachy, with a side of keen."

"Oh, no," Joyce said. "You're giving me compliments. What do you want?"

"Can't a daughter just love her mother?" Buffy asked, innocently.

Joyce leveled a glare at her daughter.

"Okay, so, there is a reason that I wanted to talk to you."

"I'm waiting," Joyce said.

"Well, you know, school's over in a couple months."

"Uh huh."

"And, well, Faith is living here."

"Mmm hmm."

"And so… I was thinking about… maybemovinginwithXanderafterschoolends."

Joyce stared at her daughter, eyes wide.

Buffy hit her with puppy dog eyes and a small pout.

Joyce continued staring, her face expressionless. Then she cracked a little. A grin was trying to force its way onto her face. Buffy wrinkled her brow in confusion. That broke her mother completely.

Joyce leaned back in her chair, laughing a full laugh, and almost falling out of the chair.

"Buffy," she said once she had recovered, "I had assumed you already lived there."

"What?" Buffy asked incredulously. "Mom, I live with Willow at the dorm."

Joyce laughed even harder.

"Why are you laughing at me?" Buffy asked seriously.

"Buffy, you haven't lived with Willow since Xander got his own apartment. Some of your stuff may be there, but it's pretty much storage."


Joyce shook her head. "How often do you sleep at the dorm?" she asked.

"A lot!" Buffy said. "Why, I slept there just…" she paused. "Well it couldn't have been more than…"

Buffy sat down. "Huh."

"Buffy?" Joyce said, standing.


"You have my permission to move in with Xander," she said, tossing the crossword to her daughter. "See what you can do with that. I'm going to take a shower." Joyce chuckled her way up the stairs.

Buffy sat there, pondering the implications of her mother's statements.


Buffy walked into the Magic Box to find Faith behind the counter and Willow sitting at a table reading.

"Hey, B," Faith said, closing the register for the night. "What's up? You look like someone just dropped a bomb on you."

Willow looked up from her reading and frowned at her friend's expression. "You okay, Buffy?" she asked.

Buffy looked up at her two friends and shook her head to clear it.

"How…" she started.

Faith and Willow waited.

"How…" she tried again.

Willow shot a concerned, questioning look at Faith, who shrugged her ignorance.

"How long have I been living with Xander?"

Faith laughed, and a small smile broke out on Willow's face.

"Just found out today, did you?" Willow asked.

Buffy nodded as she sat down across from the redhead.

"Are you okay with it?" Willow asked.

Buffy took a deep breath and nodded. "I was asking my mom if it was okay if I moved in with Xander this summer, and she couldn't stop laughing."

Willow nodded. "I get that. Buffy, you've been living with Xander for almost two months."

"I have?"

Willow nodded and patted Buffy's hand. "I'm afraid so," she said. "Pretty much since he moved there."

"Oh," Buffy said.

"Hey, there's my three favorite girls!" Xander called as he walked into the store. He walked over and gave Buffy a quick kiss before sitting down next to her and picking up a magazine.

"Xander?" Buffy asked.


"How long have I been living with you?"

Xander froze, a look on his face like a deer caught in headlights. Faith and Willow waited to see how he would react.

His face clouded up in mock anger. "Okay, who told?!" he demanded.

Faith rolled her eyes as Willow grinned.

"It was you, wasn't it, Willow? I've always known you had it in for me."

Willow rolled her eyes, and Xander was quickly distracted by an irate, petite blonde shoving her chair out from the table.

"You knew?!" she yelled.

"Well, I live there, Buff. I'm bound to notice when someone else does too."

She hit him.

"Why didn't you tell me I was living with you?" she asked.

"Well," he said, shying away from her, "you seemed so happy deluding yourself. Who was I to take that away?"

"You jerk!" she yelled, renewing her assault on Xander.

"And see? I was right! You find out and now I'm getting hit! Ow!"

Buffy sat down in a huff. "Did everybody know except for me?" she asked.

She looked around at the nodding heads and sighed.

"Hey, are you okay with this?" Xander asked, seriously.

Buffy looked him in the eyes and nodded. "Yeah," she said. "It just came as kind of a shock. Mom told me when I asked her if it would be okay for me to move in with you this summer."

Xander grinned and kissed her.

"Good," he said. "So, what's the Scooby-plan for tonight?"

"Same as always," Faith said. "Jeeves said we need to do a quick sweep of the cemeteries, but with the recent quietness of, well, everything, we can make it a light night."

"Excellent," Xander said. "Easy livin' on the Hellmouth. This is what it's all about."

"Xander, shh!" Willow said. "You'll jinx it!"

Xander smiled at his best friend, then blew a raspberry at her.


"And it's another uneventful night on the Hellmouth," Faith said as she and Xander strolled through a cemetery.

"Yep, just what the doctor ordered," Xander said.

"I don't know," Faith said. "I could go for some violence about now."

"Oh, that's right," Xander said. "Riley's out of town."

Faith gave him a look that said 'watch it.' "And that means what?"

"Just that you miss him," Xander said. "The bumpier parts, at least."

Faith rolled her eyes. "Is sex all guys think about?"

"Pretty much, yeah," Xander said. "I mean, come on, am I wrong?"

"Not exactly. But there's more than just the sex," Faith said.

"I know," Xander said. "But uh… how much more?"

"When did this become 'Twenty Questions on Faith's Relationship?'" she asked defensively.

"Hey, not tryin' to pry," Xander said. "Just taking an interest in my friend's life is all."

"Yeah, well," she said. "I guess… just say… it's a good time. And… more than that, I can't say."

Xander nodded. "Okay. So you have fun, and there's a possibility of more-ness. Well… that's good, I guess."

"How do ya figure?" she asked.

"Seems to me, that means that you're good now, and there's the prospect of more, seriouser goodness. Not that you need to settle down or anything, but… I think it helps if you know the relationship can progress."

Faith nodded. "That makes sense, I guess."

A man in a leather jacket walked across the cemetery a few hundred feet in front of them. They paused.

"Vamp?" Xander asked.

Faith paused, reading her slayer senses. "Nope," she said, finally. "Human, just a dumb one to be out this time of night."

"Well, we're pretty much done here, and he's heading my way. I'll trail him and make sure he gets home okay. See you tomorrow?"

"Sure thing, X. Later."

Xander walked off in the direction the man had gone and Faith turned off to head back to Joyce's house.

Xander tailed the man until he saw him walk into an apartment complex, then headed home.

After Xander passed, the man stepped out of the doorway he had ducked into and smirked.

"Amateur," he said. He walked out onto the street, lit a cigarette and walked back towards the cemetery.


Faith walked into the Summers household.

She hung up her jacket and grabbed a glass of water, then headed upstairs.

She had just about entered her room when a voice stopped her.

"You're home early."

Faith paused, confused for a moment. Then a light went off in her head as she recognized the voice.

"Hey, Dawnie," she said. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"

Chapter 2

"It's early," Dawn said. "I don't have to be in bed for half an hour yet."

"What time is it?" Faith asked.

"Just after 11."

"Wow, this really is an early night."

Dawn nodded. "So, didja kill anything?"

"Nah," said Faith. "Boring night."

"Do you think you could take me some boring night?" Dawn asked hopefully.

"Not on your life, Brat," said Faith. "Or maybe that's not on mine. Xander and Buffy'd kill me, and you know it. Not to mention what your mom would do to me."

"But you guys were fighting when you were my age!" Dawn protested.

"No… big sis was fighting when she was 15, the rest of at 16 about. Hell, I didn't get called till I was almost done with 16, and that was like 2 years ago almost. You still got 2 years minimum, girlie, and that's if you get slayer powers."

Dawn pouted. "Being powerless sucks."

Faith rustled her hair. "You'll get used to it," she said. "I'm wiped. G'nite, kiddo."

Dawn turned and retreated back into her room.


"Because the best the French could come up with was the Maginot line. What, they think people can't march north?" Willow asked, incredulously.

"I'm n-not saying it wasn't a bad idea, but they didn't just give up every time," said the young woman sitting next to her.

"Maybe so, but with their tactics? They were better off just throwing the towel in. It would save everyone some time and they can just go back to drinking wine and acting… well, French."

Tara smiled shyly at the redhead who had fast become her best friend in Sunnydale. "I guess you're right."

Willow checked her watch. "Do you want to grab some lunch?"

"Sure," Tara said. They gathered their things and headed off to the dining hall.

"Excuse you," Willow said as a man wearing a leather jacket brushed past her, bumping her out of the way. The man walked on, ignoring those he had just offended.

"That w-wasn't very nice of him," said Tara.

"Some people are just jerks," Willow said. "He looked a little familiar though, I think I've seen his picture somewhere."

"Where, do you think?" Tara asked.

Willow shook her head. "I don't know. I don't know where my head goes these days."

Tara smiled. "Would you like me to help you find it?" she asked, shyly.

Willow grinned, took Tara's arm in hers and marched off to get food, the incident forgotten.


"I just don't get why we have to help you move all your crap now," Faith said to Buffy later that day. "You been livin' with X-man for two months, and now you want your stuff."

"You just don't want to do the work," Buffy said, dropping a box on the floor.

"Well, yeah, duh," Faith said.

Willow looked up from the box she was unpacking. "I think it's because Buffy's just accepted the fact she lives here, and thus is going to domesticate Xander even more than she already has."

Buffy grinned.

"I just don't see why you need me here," Faith said. "You got two super strong beings here already, and a Wicca to levitate crap. What gives?"

"Just consider 'moving day' part of your family duties, Faith," said Buffy.

"Man, crappy family," she said.

"Now, ladies," said Xander, putting down Buffy's weapons chest and a bunch more of her clothes. "Let's not go saying anything that could start a catfight. Or if we do go saying something like that, let's wait for bikinis and mud."

All three women turned and glared at him. "Pig," they said, simultaneously.

"Where do you want this stuff?" Dawn asked as she walked into the room, her arms piled high with clothes.

"Oh, just put it on the couch, I think," Buffy said.

"How can any one person own so many outfits?" Xander asked.

"You should see what she has in the attic," said Dawn. "She's like a packrat. Or a mule. Some kind of ugly, load-bearing animal."

"Dawnie," Xander said, "what did I tell you about making fun of your sister?"

"That I should do it a lot when you're around so you can play off my jokes?" she asked innocently.

Buffy glared at him. He grinned sheepishly. "No, the other thing," he said.

"Oh, that I should make you look good when you ask me th… oh. Oops."

Xander patted her on the head. "That's okay," he said.

"You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?" Buffy said.

"The reality in my head is often different than the one others know," Xander said. "Not that I'm the only one who has a skewed world view, Ms. Been-Living-Here-For-Two-Months."

Buffy opened her mouth to comment, paused, reconsidered and shrugged. Everyone got back to unpacking.


"Who's that?" Xander asked, as he, Buffy and Willow sat going through one of her photo albums. Dawn had gone home and Faith was meeting Riley at the airport.

"That's Ford, remember? He visited Buffy a couple years ago. You said 'Doesn't she know any fat guys?'" Willow said, in a mockery of Xander's voice.

"Oh yeah," Xander said. "That was around the first time I called Angel 'Deadboy.' Ahh, the good ol' days."

"Ford tried to set us up for Spike," Buffy said, a sad note in her voice. "He had cancer, and didn't want to die… forever die, that is, while he was young. But Spike turned him and I killed him."

Xander stroked her hand, comforting her. She smiled warmly at him.

"It wasn't him, Buff," he said.

"I know. Looked like him, though."

Xander kissed Buffy softly on her forehead.

"You guys want a soda?" Willow asked, standing up.

"Coke," said Buffy.

"Nothing, thanks," Xander said.

Willow walked to the kitchen.

"So, Wills," Xander called after her. "You and that Tara girl have become pretty good friends, huh?"

"Yeah!" Willow replied, happily. "It's fun! She's into all the same stuff, like witchcraft and stuff. She's been practicing since she was really young and so she's way more advanced than I am. I'm really learning a lot from her. And she's so nice too!"

Xander grinned at his best friend's giddiness. "Well, I'm glad one of my girls was able to expand her horizons," he said.

"What do you mean?" Willow asked, handing Buffy a soda.

"Well, you made a friend. I mean sure, you met her through her being a virginal sacrifice for an apocalyptic ritual, which, come to think of it, mucho props on the 'not before marriage' part, but come on. Buffy managed to go to a college with a few thousand people she'd never met and managed not to make a single new friend."

"Actually," Willow said, "Tara's never even had a boyfriend."

"No way, sweet girl like that?"

Willow nodded.

"You're a liar, anyway!" Buffy protested, drawing the conversation back to her lack of new friends. "I happen to have—"

"Riley doesn't count."

"He's not the only—"

"Neither does Faith."

Buffy slumped back into the sofa. "Meanie," she said.


"Heya, tiger," Faith whispered to Riley as they stood in the airport terminal. People were looking at her. "Miss me?" She asked

"Of course I did," he said, smirking. "But not as much as you missed me."

"In your dreams, guy." People were still watching.

"I think you're causing a scene," Riley said, noticing the looks they were getting.

"Ah, screw 'em if they can't deal."

"I'd rather do that to someone else," he whispered. "By the way, and I'm not in anyway implying that you're heavy or anything, but I don't have super strength, and I can't help but notice that my legs are currently the only ones supporting our weight."

Faith bounced a little, using as leverage her legs that she had wrapped around Riley's waist when she had jumped on him as he walked out of the gate. "But I'm just getting comfortable," she pouted.

Riley groaned with the bounce. "Baby…"

"Yeah?" she asked in a sultry voice.

"I've been on a plane for 4 hours, with two members of overeaters anonymous blocking my way to the aisle. I really have to pee."

Faith chuckled and removed her legs from his waist. "Spoilsport."

Riley gave Faith a quick peck on the cheek and ran to the men's room. He exited a couple minutes later looking much more relaxed.

"Better?" she asked.


Riley swooped in and gave Faith a long, hard kiss, which she returned in kind.

"I missed that," he said.

"Damn straight, you did."

They made their way to the baggage carousel, then out to Joyce's Jeep that Faith had borrowed in order to pick Riley up. He tossed his bags in the back and hopped in the passenger seat.

"How was the conference?" Faith asked as she drove into Sunnydale.

"It was pretty interesting," he said. "Some really good seminars dealing with really advanced theory."


"Yeah. But there were things I'd rather have been doing."

Faith smiled genuinely at him.

"Been quiet here?" Riley asked.

"As a graveyard. One that isn't on the Hellmouth anyway."

Riley nodded. "Patrol with the guys any?"

"Nah," Faith said. "Baldie asked me, but I went with B and X instead."

"You know, Forrest is only bald because he shaves his head."


"Just saying."

Faith smiled. "Actually, Dawnie wanted to go patrolling with me, but I told her the Gruesome Twosome that includes big sis and X would kill me for it."

"Who wanted to go?" Riley asked, confused.

"Dawnie. You know, B's sister. Kind of a whiner?"

Riley paused, then shook his head. "Right, of course," he said. "I must be more tired than I thought."

Faith grinned at him evilly. "Too tired for a little exercise?" she asked.

"What did you have in mind?"

Faith leaned over and whispered in his ear. Riley paled and coughed.

"No," he said eventually. "No, I think I can manage that."

Faith smirked all the way back to Lowell House.


"And then Jason was all, 'But I play basketball!' And I said 'First, basketball isn't even a real sport, it's just ten guys running up and down a hardwood floor. Second, you're not even any good. You think that because you're lousy at a non-sport, I should just, what, beg you to out with me?' And he was all, 'Um… yeah?'"

Xander nodded over his Cheerio's. "Uh huh, uh huh, I see. So, who is this boy, where does he live, and how much can I kill him?"

"Xanderrrr!" Dawn whined.

"Hey, any boy that looks at you before you turn 30, I'm legally allowed to kill. Your mom told me so."

"MOM! Xander's telling lies!"

"What kind of tripe are you filling my youngest daughter's head with now, Mr. Harris?" Joyce asked, entering the kitchen in her bathrobe.

"No lies at all, Mrs. S. I just told Dawn I'm allowed to kill any and all boys who look at her before she turns 30."

"Oh," Joyce said. "She didn't know that already?"

Dawn glared. "I hate you both," she muttered.

Joyce smiled at them. "Xander, thank you so much for driving Dawn to school today. I just have so much to get ready for before my presentation...."

"No thanks necessary, Mrs. S. I'm happy to help, anytime."

"You just do it for the Cheerios," Dawn said.

"Well, the cereal is a plus, but what could be better than getting in some quality time with the Dawnmeister?"

Dawn grinned despite herself.

Xander checked his watch, then dumped his bowl in the sink.

"You ready to go?" he asked.

Dawn jumped off her stool and ran to the hallway to get her backpack. Xander shook his head.

"I never had that much energy when I was thirteen," he said. "Not this early in the morning, anyway."

"Buffy always did. She was always a morning person. Although, that changed once she started spending her nights in graveyards."

"Killing the dead will do that to a person," he said.

"Xander! I'm going to be late!" Dawn called from the front door.

Xander grinned and headed for the door. "Bye, Mrs. S!"


Xander pulled up outside the middle school.

"Okay, Dawnie," he said. "Go in there and make us Scoobies proud."

Dawn rolled her eyes at him.

"Okay, okay," he said. "Just try not to burn it down or get kicked out or… no, wait, wrong sister. Have fun, all right?"

"Xander, you're not my father," Dawn said.

"Ah, no, and thank God for that. That would make dating your sister really weird and icky."

"Dating Buffy is weird and icky anyway."

"Well, hey," Xander said with a wink. "A few more years and I can trade up, right?"

Dawn giggled and blushed.

"Go on, get to class," he said.

Dawn leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek before bolting out of the car.

"Bye!" she yelled.


"Who's the stud?"

"What?" Dawn asked. She had caught the question, she just wasn't sure why Alison was talking to her. Alison was, like, the second most popular girl in school.

"The hottie, the guy, you know with the car? He dropped you off like twelve seconds ago."

"Oh, that's just Xander."

"Xander, huh? Cool name."

"I guess," Dawn said, playing it cool.

"Been with him long?" Alison asked.

"Xander?" Dawn asked, eyes bugging. "He and I are—" she paused. "No. I haven't."

Alison smiled at her. "Don't I have first period with you?"

Dawn nodded.

"Why don't you come sit with me, today."

Dawn grinned. "I'd love to."


"I think that your time would be better spent training. Less hanging around with these… civilians, who are quite obviously having an influence on your performance!"

"With all due respect, ma'am, I think you're wrong," Riley said. "Faith, and to a lesser extent Buffy and Xander and the rest, are having a positive influence on both my performance and that of the teams. We can fight better, we know more effective ways of killing the demons, and how to identify those that are actually hostiles."

"Riley," Walsh said. She was quickly becoming irate. "I say this without bragging. I am one of the best professors of psychology in this hemisphere. Your physical performance may have improved, but your mental performance is slipping. The more time you spend with these people, the more you drift away from your duties!"

"Ma'am, are you ordering me not to see them?" Riley asked.

"No, Riley, of course not." she said, calming down. She took him gently by the arm. "I just want you to be careful. We really don't know their true motives. We don't know anything about them. This girl you've been seeing, Faith. Did you know she has killed human beings?"

"Yes, I did. Faith has been nothing but upfront about her past. She's dealing with it as best she can."

"Look, Riley, just promise me you'll be on the look out for anything out of the ordinary, okay? I worry about you."

Riley nodded. "I'll be careful, but I think you're overreacting."

Walsh looked at him. "I hope I am."

"Is that all, ma'am?" he asked.

Walsh nodded. "Yes, you are free to go."

"Thank you."

Riley turned and walked out of Walsh's office and out through the corridors of the Initiative.

Maggie Walsh watched him the whole way on camera's within the installation. When Riley had gotten into the elevator, she pressed a button on her console.

"Yes?" said a deep, tinny voice through an unseen speaker.

"Make it happen," Walsh said. "Make it happen soon."

"Done," said the voice.

Walsh nodded and looked to her last camera. It was looking in on Riley's room.

Chapter 3

Riley lay on his bed, fully clothed, hands tucked behind his head, thinking. Faith, despite not being scheduled to patrol that night, was staying at Joyce's house. Sometimes, she just did.

'Walsh is wrong,' he thought. 'My performance has only improved. I'm more focused on the job, and I'm better prepared to do it. Why would she want me not to see them?'

This line of thinking led him other places.

'What if she did order me not to hang out with them… not to see Faith? What then?' he asked himself. 'Would she make me choose between serving and her?'

Riley lay there, unmoving, for a while. He then got up, slipped his shoes on and left Lowell House.



Faith was instantly awake.


She turned in time to see another pebble ricochet off her window.


Faith went to the window and flung it open.

"What?" she whispered out to Riley, who was standing there with a hand full of pebbles.

"I need to talk to you," he said, dropping the rest of the pebbles.

"Jesus, Ri, it couldn't wait until morning?"

He shook his head.

"All right," she said. "I'll be right down."

Riley started to go for the front door when Faith, in a tank top and sweatpants, crawled out the window and jumped to the ground.

"What was so important that you had to wake me up?"

"Walsh talked to me earlier today," he said. "Said some disturbing things."

"You got me out of bed to talk about your boss?" she asked. "Oh, your ass is so gonna get it when I'm not so tired."

"No, Faith, just listen for a minute," he said. He walked them over to the bench in the Summers' back yard.

"Walsh was telling me that she thinks my performance has been slipping, that I'm not as focused on the job as I used to be. She was saying that she thinks it's because I'm hanging out with you and the other Scoobies."

Faith frowned. She wondered if this was how soldiers broke up with their girlfriends.

"I disagreed with her," he said. "My physical performance, and that of my teams, has improved since we started training with you guys. We know more about demons, how to identify and kill them, and how they think, how they react… we can do our job better now than ever before. But she hinted that she didn't want me to spend time with you guys anymore."

Riley shook his head. "Faith, I have to tell you… I don't care what she says. I know what my job is, and being with you guys doesn't interfere with it."

She raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

"And more than that… if it did, I wouldn't care. Faith, I love you."

She started a little at that.

"No," he said. "You don't have to say anything. I know… that you're not good with intimacy. I know that you're not ready for that, or whatever, and that's okay. I'm okay with that. But I had to tell you. I love you, Faith. And I'm not going to leave you, no matter what, unless you tell me to, and even then I'm going to fight like hell. I don't know if I'm your soul mate, or what. Nothing Xander has said to me would indicate one way or the other. But I do know that when I wake up, you're the first thing I think about. And when I go to sleep, you're the last thing to cross my mind."

He stopped for a second, then stood up. "I love you," he said, smiling. "I just had to tell you, that's all."

Riley walked off into the night, happy with himself.

Faith sat on the bench, wondering what in the hell had just happened. He loved her? 'Is that even possible?' she thought. 'I mean, we've only been together for…'

She shook her head and climbed back into her room.

Three pairs of eyes had watched the exchange, all of them grinning. Two belonged to the other women in the Summers' household. One definitely did not.


"So let me get this straight," Xander said as he bit into a meatball sub the next day at lunch. "You have absolutely no idea what you want to do?"

"Other than turning Amy back into a human? Yeah," Willow said after taking a sip of her drink. "None whatsoever."

"Okay, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this. You, Willow Rosenberg, plan-aheader and future-thinker extraordinaire, have no idea what you want to do when you finish college."

"We've been over this, Xander."

"Have you considered a career in porn?"

"Pay's not good enough, plus the guys are skeezy."

Xander froze, meatball sub halfway to his mouth.

"I'm joking, Xander. I have never considered a career in porn."

Xander shook his head to clear it. "Don't do that to me, Wills."

"Hey, you brought it up, don't blame me."

"On to less scary topics. What are you doing tonight?"

"The Sun is playing The Third Man. Tara and I are going to have dinner then see that."

Xander grinned. "You really like her, don't you?"

"She's great!" Willow said, her face lighting up. "We have so much fun together, and she's so nice."

"That's really great, Willow. I'm really happy you found a great friend."

Willow smiled and bit into her steak sub. "I'm really happy for me too."


"So he just… said it?" Buffy asked, leaning over the counter at the Magic Box.

"That's what I'm sayin, B. No prompting, no hints, no nothing. He just said it."

"Okay, and this was, what, when you saw him last night?"

"Uh, well, yeah, but it was… not quite like that."


"He threw pebbles at the window at like 3 am. I hopped down to talk to him."

"Awwww!" Buffy said.

Faith glared. "Would you quit that?"

"I'm sorry," Buffy said, "but that's so sweet. And he didn't want you to say it back?"

"Well… I mean, I'm pretty sure he did, but that wasn't why he came by. He just… wanted to tell me. Wanted me to know."

"Well, do you?"

Faith sighed. "I don't know. I mean, he's great, yeah. Lots of fun. But I don't know. I mean, I've never, you know been… before."

"In love," Buffy said.

"Yeah. That."

"You can say it, Faith," Buffy said. "Talking about it doesn't mean it's true."

"Okay. Well, anyway, I just don't know. What's it like with you and Xander?"

Buffy smiled. "I don't know how to describe it," she said. "Xander… he's like my other half. I just feel so at peace when he's near, or when I think about him. But also, it's like he sparks a fire inside me… I don't know. I just… I feel right when he's around."

"And he's a monster in the sack," Faith said.

"Well, yeah, there is th?" Buffy stopped herself and glared at her sister slayer. Faith just smirked at her.

"Well, anyway," Faith said. "I still don't know."

"Well, you shouldn't go by me," Buffy said. "Love is different for everyone. You could feel about Riley the same way I do about Xander… and it not be love. It's just something you have to decide for yourself."

The bell over the door rang and Faith went to work.


"Are you sure it's been quiet?" Riley asked as he and Xander strolled towards the Magic Box. Xander had stopped by Lowell House after work.

"I'm tellin' ya, man. We haven't seen more than a vamp or two in the past week."

"That's so weird," Riley said. "I haven't been out much, but we're getting flooded. Captures all over the place. I saw the holding cells… we're packing them in like sardines."

"That is weird," Xander said. "Maybe they all just want to avoid the slayers. Figure they have a better chance against the army. Not to disparage you guys or anything."

"No, of course," Riley said. "I don't know."

"So, you love her, huh?"

Riley smiled. "Word travels fast," he said.

"Well, we have an established gossip chain in the Scooby Gang. Faith to Buffy, Buffy to me and Giles, me to Willow. There are, of course, occasional missteps in there. It also depends on where it all starts. For instance, it could go me to Buffy, Buffy to Willow and Giles, Giles to Faith. Or it could go Willow to me or Buffy, me or Buffy to Buffy or me and Giles, Buffy andor me andor Giles to Faith. There are a million permutations of this chain, but… what was I talking about?"

"News travelling fast?"

"Right," Xander said, shaking his head. "It does."

"I get that."

"So what now?" Xander asked.

"I don't really know," he said. "I haven't talked to her since last night, so I don't know anything… how she reacted, how she feels… nothing. I'm a little scared."

"That's to be expected. Mind a little advice? With the warning, of course, that free advice is worth what you pay for it?"

"Be my guest," Riley said.

"Don't let this stew. Talk to her, even if it's just to hear her say 'I don't know.'"

Riley nodded. "I was hoping to talk to her tonight."

Xander nodded, then something caught his eye.

"Did you see that?" he asked.

"See what?"

Riley looked around, looking for something to see. He didn't.

"No idea, Xander."

Xander shook his head. "I'm going crazy in your old age," he said.

"Hey," Riley said.

"Sorry," Xander said. "Cradle robber."

"Hey!" Riley shouted.

"Sorry, sorry. I'm done. For real this time."

"There's not that much of a difference," Riley said. "She's 18."

"And you're 23."


"It's only five years."


"It means nothing that you were a sophomore in high school when she was in grade school."


"Or that she's as much younger than you as Dawn is younger than me."

"Are you saying you have something for more than one of the Summers women?"

"We're not talking about Joyce refusing to rob my cradle. We ARE talking about how you enjoy robbing Faith's on a semi-regular basis, you lecherous old fart."

"Are you going to shut up, or am I going to have to make you shut up?"

Xander grinned.


Xander and Riley showed up at the Magic Box. They were covered in dirt.

"Oh, god, not again," Buffy said as they tracked said dirt into the shop.

Giles looked at them disapprovingly over his glasses.

"He called me old," Riley explained.

Buffy rolled her eyes at them.

"Oh, now what the hell am I supposed to do with you looking like that?" Faith asked, coming out of the back room.

"No, Xander, get away, you're dirty!" Buffy was yelling as Xander tried to capture her in a bear hug.

"Don't you want a kiss from your Xandy-bear?"

Faith and Riley laughed as Buffy succeeded in pushing Xander away from her.

"Go change!" she ordered.

Xander grinned, reached behind the counter to grab a spare key and headed for Giles' office, where he kept a duffel bag full of training clothes.

"Hey," Riley said softly to Faith.

She turned and smiled at him. "Hi," she said.

"Got a minute?"

"Sure," she said. "Jeeves, back in a few."

Giles nodded distractedly, then Faith and Riley walked outside.

"Okay, so," Riley said.

"So here's what I figure," Faith said. "I've been thinking about this all day, and this is what I came up with."

Riley nodded, waiting for her to continue.

"You love me… and that's great," she said. "it… it makes me feel… special. I never really got that much, ever."

"Faith, you are so very…"

"Just hold that thought, soldier," she said. "Let me get this out."

"Sorry," he said.

"I don't know if I love you," she said. "I don't really know what love is like. I've never been in love. But… I do care about you. A lot. You make my life better. I'm sorry I can't tell you I love you back… but I don't want to lie to you."

Riley nodded. "Okay," he said. "Well, that's… not quite what I was hoping for, but I'll take it. Promise me one thing, though?"


"When you do know… when you do figure it out, one way or the other… tell me? If you have to wake me up or drag me out of class, please, tell me?"

Faith nodded. "I promise."

Riley nodded, then leaned in and kissed her.


Faith was on the way back to the Summers house from patrolling. She was fairly happy with how the day had gone. Riley wasn't angry, she'd pulled off some wicked sales and had gotten to dust a few vamps on patrol.

"Slayer…" came a deep voice from the darkness in front of her. Faith was immediately on guard.

"Who's there," she called out.

Three pairs of eyes looked out on her from the darkness, all glowing red.

"Your time is up, Slayer," said a voice from her right.

"You're all alone, Slayer," came one from the left.

"Why don't you come face me, instead of hiding in the darkness like a bunch of pussies?"

Slowly, the eyes moved towards her. Three giant demons walked towards her, their heads significantly lower than their shoulders, betraying their actual height. They were covered in scales both black and red, and had razor sharp claws on each hand.

Faith took a half step back. She wasn't prepared to face them. One of the things Giles had been teaching her was to know her limits. If these guys were half as tough as they looked, they were beyond her limit.

An extremely long arm shot out and slashed her across the bicep, causing her to yelp in pain. The wound looked nasty. Faith did the only sensible thing she could think of.

She ran.

The demons followed her closely, faster than they looked, but not quite as fast as Faith. Faith led them through the streets of Sunnydale. At one intersection, she paused and picked up a pebble, then continued on. All three demons were managing to keep her in sight, and she had to time her plan extremely well.

As she passed by a building, she wound up her arm and snapped a throw off at a window. She heard glass shatter and hoped it would be enough. She ran about 50 feet farther, then turned to face them. They quickly caught up to her.

"Okay," she said, panting slightly but maintaining her fighting stance. "So you guys are after me. Any reason why?"

"You must die," said one, his voice rumbling.

"It has been ordered," said another.

"We will not disappoint," said the third.

"Ordered, huh?" she muttered. "I knew some big evil would be brewing."

As one, the three demons lunged. Faith barely managed to get out of the way of two of the blows, but a third scraped across her chest causing her to wince and grunt, but she was determined not to let the demons know how much they hurt her.

Faith lunged back at one of them, catching it off guard. She landed a few solid blows, but only managed to bruise her knuckles.

"Damn!" she yelled, waving her fist to shake off the stun she'd gotten.

"Try something else," she said to herself. She launched a kick at the head of the left most demon. It stumbled this time, but did not seem overly injured.

Faith looked at them. They seemed in no hurry to kill her.

"You guys seem wicked confident," she said.

"Your skills are no match for ours," said the middle one.

"We have defeated slayers before," said the one on the left.

"You will pose no more difficulty than the last," said the rightmost.

Faith could tell they weren't lying. They knew what they were doing.

As one, they attacked again, each going for a certain area of her body. Again, she was able to block two blows, but this time received a slice to the leg for her trouble.

"You guys are strong," she said, hobbling backwards a little. "I'll give you that."

"You run," said the left one.

"It is pointless," said the right most.

"You will be defeated," said the one in the middle.

"Guys are way synchronized too," Faith muttered. She looked up and grinned.

The demons looked at each other, confused.

A sword sliced its way through the neck of one of the creatures, decapitating it. The other two screeched in pain. Neon green blood flowed from each of their noses and they fell to the ground.

"Good timing, X," Faith said, catching an axe he threw to her. "No B?"

"Not home yet," he said groggily, dropping into a fighting stance. "What's the word on these guys?"

"They attacked, I ran, you killed one."

Xander nodded as the demons stood up.

"I think they got telepathy or something, they're in sync in a scary way."

Xander nodded again and set himself to receive a charge.

"You're talkative tonight," she said.

"Got woken up by glass in my bed," he said. "By the way, that pebble is embedded in my wall."

"Sorry," she said.

He waved off her apology as the demons rushed them. Xander deflected a blow with his sword, then whipped a quick kick to the demons head. Faith simultaneously blocked one with the edge of the axe, cutting into its arm. The demon screeched and attacked with the other arm, which Faith dodged.

Xander deflected blow after blow from the demon, but some were getting through. He was still, obviously, very tired. His movements were slower than normal, and his parries had less strength behind them.

Faith, on the other hand, was tearing into her demon. It bled green from gashes all over its body. Faith quickly gained the upper hand and had the demon on the defensive. She mixed kicks and huge, arcing blows from the axe. She took its legs out from beneath it with a well timed sweep, then rolled forward and buried her axe in its head. She grinned at it, then turned in time to see Xander knocked to the ground, his personal shield flickering.

Faith ripped the axe out of the very dead demon and started off to Xander's aid, intent on putting the last one down, when a gunshot rang out from the darkness. A small hole appeared in the demon's head and it slumped to the ground. Xander managed to roll out of the way and not get covered in incandescent demon blood. He stood up and looked toward the darkness, holding his sword defensively. Faith sidled up next to him, holding her axe at the ready as well.

A man, about Xander's height but a slimmer frame than him, walked out of the darkness, his gun at his side.

"Thanks for the save," Xander said.

"No problem," the man said. "It's what I do." He stepped farther into the light. He was wearing a black leather jacket and a black shirt.

"You do this often?" Faith asked, indicating the demon.

"For about five years now," he said. He held the pistol up sideways. "Not all of us have slayer fighting ability, though."

Faith and Xander were both a little surprised.

"So you know what I am," she said.

The man nodded. "Used to be friends with a slayer. I heard there was one here, so I came to see if it was her. Guess not though."

"We're gonna go in for some healing," Xander said, pointing to his apartment. "You want a drink or anything?"

"Sure," the man said.

Xander, now more awake than during the fight, helped Faith walk to the apartment, the stranger following behind.

"By the way, do you have a name?" Xander asked.

"Yeah," he said. "But I only tell my friends."

"Understood," Xander said, entering his apartment with Faith. He turned around to look at the man who had stopped at the threshold. "Don't expect an invitation, though."

The man smiled and walked into the apartment.

"Just making sure," Xander said.

"No offense taken," he said.

Faith sat on the couch.

"Cokes in the fridge," said Xander. "Or water."

"No beer?" the guy asked.

"I'm nineteen," Xander said. "And alcohol is not something I'm interested in."

"X, you gonna do something about my blood, here?" Faith asked.

"Sorry," he said. He got a washcloth from and let Faith wipe clean her arms, legs and chest. The blood gone, Xander pressed a hand to her wounds then flashed briefly white.

"I see what's going on," said a voice from the door. "I come home late and you're feeling up another woman. Am I that easy to replace?"

Xander grinned and turned to face Buffy.

"Hey," he said, giving her a kiss.

"I expected you to be asleep," she said. "What happened?'

"Faith got attacked and decided the way to win was to shatter our bedroom window and embed a pebble in the wall."

"Hey," Faith said. "Those guys would have seriously toasted my ass."

"Hey, can I take this lemonade?" the guy asked, coming out of the kitchen. He saw who was in Xander's arms and froze.

Buffy looked at the man standing in her apartment and her eyes bugged out.


Xander sighed and shook his head. "I'm not getting any sleep tonight."

Chapter 4

"Well, you moved after we burned the gym down," Pike said, sitting on Xander and Buffy's couch with a mug of coffee. "And you know your mom didn't approve of me, so pretty much I wandered around, killing demons for a few years."

"I can't believe you're in Sunnydale. What are you doing here?" Buffy asked.

She had spent a little while explaining to Xander and Faith who Pike was. Then Faith summed it up before heading back home. "Old friend, killed demons with you. Wicked."

Xander had already left a message on Steve's machine saying he came down with food poisoning or something, and was in absolutely no condition to come in tomorrow.

"I heard about the Slayer here," Pike said. "Other rumors, too, but I figured, 'Hey, go see Buffy.' Be cool to hit up the old high school chick again, you know?"

"So when you said you *thought* the slayer was your old friend, but you guessed wrong, that was a lie?" Xander asked.

"Not exactly," said Pike. "I knew about the 'one slayer dies, another is called' so when I saw your other friend showin' off the slayer skills, I figured my info was shit. Now, I'm just happy Buffy's still alive."

"Alive again, actually," she said, throwing a thumb at Xander. "I died sophomore year, but this guy knows some very effective revival techniques."

"Magic?" Pike asked.

"CPR," Xander said.

"The old standby," Pike said, nodding. "So. Buffy Summers. All moved in with a guy, and your mom's okay with it, and you just a young thing of nineteen years. How the hell does that happen?"

Xander grinned and took Pike's cup to refill it. Pike nodded his thanks.

"Okay, Pike," she said. "You've been a big bad demon hunter just as long as I have. How much slayer lore do you know?"

"Oh, tons," he said. "I carry a shitload of books around on the back of my Harley, just reading up on slayers. Buffy, I know jack. Do I look like Merrick to you?"

"If your hair was a little longer, maybe…" Buffy teased.

"She always that sassy?" Pike called out to Xander.

"No," he said. "Only at 4 am."

"I bet she's lots of things at 4 am," Pike muttered.

Buffy glared at him.

"Okay, so explain already."

Buffy smiled warmly as Xander re-entered the room and sat down next to her.

"Xander's my soul mate," she said. "Prophesied, triple-checked and given the Watcher's council seal of approval."

"Not that those asses have a lot to do with us these days," Xander said.

"Buff-a-rooney, gone Watcherless?" Pike asked.

"Officially, yes," she said. "Not in actual fact, though."

"How does that work?" Pike asked.

"Giles, he's my watcher, he got fired by the council for… what was the phrase Travers used, Xan?"

Xander smiled. "Having a father's love."

"Right," Buffy said. "That. So they fired him. A couple months later, I quit the council. The only contact we've had from them since was when Giles called them about Xander."

"Yeah, what was that glowy thing you did earlier?" Pike asked.

"That's one of my powers," Xander said. "I can heal people."

"That's gotta come in useful in fights," Pike said. "So, you met in high school. What were you, captain of the football team?"

"Watch it, mister," Buffy said.

"Buffy Summers used to be the queen of the school, even as a freshman," Pike said. "Hemery never knew what hit it. She was the fashion queen. All the girls wanted to be her, and they all wanted to have her boyfriend."

"You?" Xander asked.

"Oh no," Pike said. "By the time we got together, she was in a free fall towards outcast level. I just helped her crash into it head first."

Xander nodded. "That's the Buff I know."

"It was short-lived between us though. She moved, and I… well."

"Pike isn't exactly one for long-term relationships," Buffy said.

"It's the vagrant lifestyle," he said. "Gives you a lot of stories to tell, if not a lot in the way of meaningful relationships of any kind, especially when I show up covered in goop."

Buffy yawned her way through Pike's last sentence.

"Whoa, somebody's a sleepy slayer," Xander said. "I think it's time we head to bed. Do you need a place to stay?"

"You offer me your couch?" Pike asked.

"Buffy trusts you. That's good enough for me," he said.

Buffy smiled.

"Well, thanks," Pike said. "But no thanks. I got a place, actually. Hooked up with a guy who did some work here a while back. He's got a place. No cable, but I plan to steal it soon."

"Okay," Xander said. "Well, it was nice to meet you."

Pike rose and set his cup down on the table. "Nice to meet you too, man," he said.

Buffy rose up and gave Pike a hug. "I meant what I said," she told him. "Stop by the Magic Box, meet the gang. It'll be fun."

Pike smirked. "We'll see. Later Buff."

Buffy latched the door after he left, then latched herself onto Xander.

"I am soooo tired," she said.

"I know the feeling," he said. "Hey, how come you were so late tonight?"

"I stopped by Giles' after patrol, and we were talking," she said. "It got late."

Xander smiled and led her into their bedroom.

"Oh, shit," he said. "I forgot about the glass."


"Xander, I didn't expect to see you here at this hour," Giles said.

"Long night," he said. "An old friend of Buffy's showed up and saved my ass from getting demoned to death. I got very little sleep, so I called in sick."

"Demoned… really, Xander."

"Ah, come on, G-man. You gotta flow with the make up of verbage!"

Giles sputtered into his tea, causing Xander to grin.

"You do that on purpose don't you?"

"I lie awake at night scheming ways to fluster you."

"I imagine you do. You were attacked?"

"No, Faith were attacked," he said, eliciting another eye roll from Giles. "Three huge guys. Red and black scales. Claws like nobody's business. Ripped her up pretty good, but she managed to call me out by shattering my window."

"Is she all right?"

"Yeah, I healed her. What kind of demons do you think these were?"

"I don't know. I suppose we'll have to research."

"I was afraid you'd say that."

"And yet you came anyway."

"Buffy has class."


"Do you remember any other characteristics?"

"Faith said something about all of them being synchronized, and talking in turns."

"Really? Talking in turns? Fascinating."

"And they said they'd killed slayers before."

"Yes… I do recall something…"

Giles rushed over to a bookcase and pulled out a few volumes. "Yes… I think it will be in one of these."

Xander looked at the books. "Just five? Giles, you're slipping in your old age."

Giles glared at him.

"I know, I know," he said. "Research."

Xander sat at the table and started poring over the tomes.

"Hey, where is Faith, anyway?" Xander asked as a customer came in.

"Day off," Giles said.

"Oh," Xander said, and went back to reading.

The door jingled again as the customer left.


The bell jingled.

"Hi Giles, hi Xander, Mom's at a meeting today so she told me I could come here after school, is that okay?"

Xander smiled.

"Ah, yes, Dawn," Giles said. "But… do try not to drop anything today."

"All over it," Dawn assured him. She dropped her backpack down next to the table and sat across from Xander.

"Whatcha doin', Xander?" she asked.

"Planning a nuclear attack on Russia. You?"

"Sitting. What are you researching?"

"A demon. Big, nasty demon."

"Oh," Dawn said. "Is that why Faith was so late coming home last night?"

"Ayup," Xander said. "They were nasty. Good thing that guy Pike showed up when he did or I might be less Xander, more… puddle."

Dawn's eyes bulged out. "PIKE?"

Xander looked up. "Uh. Yeah. You probably haven't talked to your sister yet."

Giles rushed into the room, axe at the ready.

"Where is he?" Giles yelled. "We'll get him this time, for sure!"

Xander and Dawn looked at him like he was insane.

"You're not panicking," Giles said.

"I generally don't when nothing happens," Xander said.

"But… Dawn just yelled about Spike."

Xander smiled. "Hearing check, G-man. Dawnie yelled 'Pike', Buffy's old friend, not Spike, vampire and general pain in the… uh, butt."

Giles lowered his axe. "I'll just be in the back."

"You there, Dawnie?" Xander asked, looking at Dawn who seemed to be staring off into space.


"Uh huh?"

"You okay?"

Dawn blushed. "Oh. Yeah. I'm fine."

"You sure, now?"

"Yep! I'm good to go."

"Okay then."

The door jingled again.

"Heya, Buff," Xander said, grinning as the blonde slayer came into the shop.

"Hey, baby," she said, giving Xander a kiss and sitting down in his lap. "Hi, Dawn. What are you doing here?"

"Mom's got a meeting," she said.

Buffy nodded. "How's school going for you?"

Dawn rolled her eyes. "Mr. Jenkins is such a troll," she said.

Buffy looked at Xander for confirmation.

"Oh yeah, definitely," Xander said. "Actually, I can't believe he's still alive. Isn't he like a thousand?"

Dawn giggled at that.

"So, what have you guys been up to?"

"Well," Xander said. "I told Dawnie about our surprise visitor last night, and she got all doe-eyed over him."

"I did not!" Dawn yelled. "What's doe-eyed?"

"He means you're crushing, big time," Buffy said.

Xander grinned as Dawn turned red with anger and embarrassment. "I was just excited, because I haven't seen Pike in forever, and he was cool."

"He still is," Buffy said. "And he's all badaaa… er, big bad demon hunter-y now, so that's good, too."

"And he saved my life, which makes him A-OK in my book," Xander said.

Buffy smiled. "Would for me too, if he wasn't already."

Buffy and Xander proceeded to gross out Dawn by rubbing noses together and making cooing noises.

"You two are so way beyond losers," she said.

"Just wait till you're in love, Dawnie," Xander said. "It'll be the best time of your life."

The door jingled again and Willow entered the shop slowly, being very careful about her steps. She looked to be deep in thought.

"Hey, Wills," Xander said. "You okay?"

Willow looked up, then looked around, seemingly noticing for the first time that she was in the Magic Box.

"Oh," she said. "Hi. Yeah."

All three regarded her curiously.

"Um… Buffy? Can I talk to you outside? I… have a… a thing I…"

"Of course, Willow," she said, throwing a questioning look at Xander, who shrugged his ignorance.

Buffy followed Willow outside and Xander turned back to his reading.

"So what did the demon guys look like?" Dawn asked, opening a book of her own.

"You know your sister will kill you if she catches you looking at that," Xander said.

"Good thing for me that there's a bell on the door, then," Dawn said.

"I really shouldn't let you look at it either," he said.

Dawn, sensing danger, brought out the big guns all at once. She threw her best puppy dog eyes and pouted at the same time. Xander never stood a chance.

"Eight feet tall, red and black scales, big claws, telepathy," he said, sighing and flipping a page.

"You mean like this one?" Dawn asked, pointing at the book.

Xander looked up and grabbed the book. He scanned the page for a second.

"Giles!" he called out.

Giles came out of the back room, and Xander held the book up, pointing to the entry. Giles took the book from him and started reading.

"Oh, I see," he said. "Excellent work, Xander."

Xander winked at Dawn, who blushed.


"What's up, Willow?" Buffy asked, sitting on the curb next to Willow.

"I um… well, there… I have a question."

"Okay," Buffy said. "Shoot."

"So last night, Tara and I went to see The Third Man and have dinner."


"And it was a lot of fun and all, and we watched the movie and then went to dinner and then we were walking home from dinner and we stopped outside my room and I didn't know anything was happening but then Tara kissed me and I kissed her back and I think I like her or maybe more than like her but I'm not sure and what do I do now and oh god Buffy what do I do?"

Buffy took a moment to run the entire ramble through in her head again. There was, she felt, only one appropriate reaction.


"Oh, thanks, Keanu, that was helpful."

"Sorry," Buffy said. "That just kinda surprised me."

"Surprised me too," Willow said.

"Well…" Buffy said. "I think the first thing you need to do is actually figure out how you feel."

"Okay," Willow said.

"And then, I guess, confront your feelings. Will, the important thing is that you're happy."

Willow smiled at her friend, then quickly frowned again. "If… if I do… you know, Tara? Does… does this mean I'm gay?"

Buffy thought about it for a second. "I don't think so," Buffy said. "Although I don't really think it matters, whether you are or not. But I don't see you as the type to take a big label."

"What do you mean?" Willow asked.

"Okay, so define yourself," Buffy said. "Think of a few words that describe you perfectly."

Willow's face scrunched up as she thought intensely.

"I don't know," she said, after a minute.

"See?" Buffy said. "All these people have an obsession with putting people in boxes, making them fit in easily definable categories. Do you wanna know what category you fit in?"

"What?" she asked.

"You're Willow," she said, throwing one arm around the redhead. "Best friend to Buffy and Xander, compatriot to Faith, role model to Dawn and possible liker or maybe more of Tara. If you like a girl, you like a girl. But you're still Willow. We love you whoever you're involved with."

Willow smiled and pulled Buffy into a hug.

"So what are you gonna do?" Buffy asked her.

Willow sighed. "I don't know. I guess I should go talk to Tara."

"Sounds the thing to do," Buffy said.

Willow stood up. "Okay," she said. "I'm going to talk to Tara."

Buffy stood up next to her and grabbed her hand. "You call me if you need anything," she said.

Willow nodded and headed back towards campus.

Chapter 5

"Willow leave?" Xander asked when Buffy came back into the store.

"Yup," Buffy said. "She had some things to take care of."

Xander nodded. "So, Giles," he said. "What's the word on the demons? Big, continual threat thingy, or random Hellmouthy-ness?"

"Um, neither, actually. They seem to be hunters. These demons grow up in a culture where hunting brings honor."

"Sort of like the Predator," Xander said.

"The what?"

"Movie," Xander said. "Never mind. Oh, did I tell you that Faith said they claimed they were ordered to kill her?"

"No," Giles said, "but it makes little difference. They travel in groups of three, and do have some basic forms of telepathy. Each group is given a target, or target type, by the leader of the clan, clans usually consisting of about thirty of these demons, and hunts only them. I don't think that they'll be a further problem."

"Good," said Buffy.

"Still," Giles said. "I do think you should be particularly careful on patrols in the next few days. Perhaps take more than just stakes?"

"Swords and axes then, sounds like fun."

"Yes, good," Giles said.

The door jingled again as Faith and Riley walked in, hand in hand.

"Damn," Faith said. "Red is wicked excited."

"You talked to her?" Xander asked.

"Oh yeah, ran into her on the way here. She serious about that?"

"She seemed like it, when she was here," Buffy said.

"Wicked," Faith said, smiling.

"Okay, somebody gonna fill me in?" Xander asked.

"Oh," Buffy said. "That's, uh, really the kind of thing Willow should tell you on her own."

"Oh," Xander said, a little disappointed.

"I'm sure she'll tell you," said Riley. "She said she talked to Buffy, and was just really excited when she bumped into us."

"And that was literally," said Faith. "Ran around the corner and right into us. Girl was way psyched."

That did little to comfort Xander. Buffy gave him a kiss. "She'll tell you," she said. "She probably just has to work a thing or two out first."

Xander nodded. "Okay."

"All right," Giles said. "Buffy, Faith, if the two of you would patrol tonight, I would…"

The door jingled.

"Can I help you?" Giles asked.

"Sure, I'm looking for Buffy and company," said the voice.

"PIKE!" yelled Dawn, shooting from her seat and jumping on the man.

"Hey, munchkin," Pike said, messing with Dawn's hair. "How ya been, kid?"

"I'm not a kid anymore," she said.

"That's right, the big one-three. How's that working out for you?"

"I've had better years," Dawn said, seriously.

Pike chuckled. "You always were a little precocious."

"No, I wasn't," she protested.

"Giles, Riley, this is Pike," Buffy said. "He's the one who shot the demon last night."

"Nice to meet you," Giles said, giving him a once over.

"Hi," Riley said, extending a hand, which Pike shook. "Faith told me about the demon. What kind of ammo do you use?"

"Just regular armor piercing rounds," Pike said. "That'll get through most of your tough demon hides."

Dawn edged her way over to Xander. "Am I precocious?" she whispered.

"I'll be sure to tell you once I find out what that means," he answered back.

"Where do you get your munitions?" Riley asked.

"I know a guy in Los Angeles who does special orders for me. He's knows what goes bump in the night, gives me a real good deal."

Riley nodded. "Well, Faith said you saved Xander's life. So thanks for that."

"It's in the job description, although I have a feeling that girl of yours could have done just as good a job."

"All the same, thanks."

"Hey, shouldn't I be saying that?" Xander asked.

"Yes," Giles said. "If you had manners."

Giles moved out from behind the counter. "I understand you've been hunting demons for some time?"

"Yeah, about as long as Buffy here," Pike said.

Faith went and checked the register tapes for the day, then snickered.

"I've been wandering all over," he said, "picking things up here and there, doing occasional jobs for money."

"That where you learned to shoot?" Buffy asked.

Pike smirked. "No. I saved a priestess's daughter from some vamps. As repayment, she gave me this amulet," he said, holding up a jeweled necklace, "and upgraded my eye as well. Also, her daughter had a mouth like a Hoover."

"Pike!" yelled Buffy, eyes wide and nodding at Dawn.

Dawn rolled her eyes.

"What do you mean, upgraded your eye?" Xander asked.

"Oh, she did a spell on me. I have perfect aim."

"How perfect?" Giles asked.

"Perfect. I can hit flea at 150 yards in gale force winds. I know, too, I was in South Carolina last hurricane season. I can even hit somebody behind me if it's an LOD sitch."

"LOD?" Xander asked.

"Life or death," Pike explained.

"What's the jewelry for?" asked Faith.

"Oh, it kind of heals me faster. Nothing extreme, like your boy over there," he said, indicating Xander. "Broken bones take like four weeks instead of six." Pike shrugged. "It's cool."

"So what exactly was it that brought you here, Pike?" Buffy asked. "Not that I'm not happy to see you."

"Well, there's a couple reasons I'm here. One was to see my Summers girls. Another reason was, as I said, I hooked up with a guy who used to do business in these parts. We heard a rumor about something big going down here, so we came."

"Rumor? What rumor?" Riley asked.

"I don't know," Pike said. "Nothing specific. But a bunch of demons are gettin' the hell outta Dodge. Scared of something called 314. Any of you know what that means?"

Everybody indicated their ignorance.

"Damn," he said. "I was hoping you guys would know."

"Who are you working with?" Xander asked.

Pike smiled. "You don't want to know. Trust me."


The door opened.

"Oh," said Tara. "H-hi. Come in."

Willow walked into the room. "Hi," she said. "Okay, so, I've been thinking about last night, about what happened."

"I-I'm sorry," Tara said, turning away from Willow. "I d-didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"No!" Willow said. "Don't say that. I mean, okay, yeah, I was a little surprised and I don't think I was quite ready for it, but I was a lot less surprised than I would have thought I would be. And, I think, maybe, that it might be something I might… enjoy trying again. Some time soon."

Tara turned back to her. "You mean. . .?" she asked.

Willow smiled warmly at her, and they hugged.

"W-would it be too soon to tell you that I think I'm f-falling in love with you?" Tara asked.

Willow pulled back from the hug and looked Tara straight in the eyes.

"Only if it would be too early for me to say the same thing."

Tara smiled, then leaned in and gave Willow a soft but intense kiss. She flicked her eyes up to the door and it swung closed.


They stood gathered around an oak tree the next day. Xander was nervous.

"Just go, you pansy," Faith said.

"Give him time," said Riley. "After all, it's not everyday your best friend since you were five calls you, says she has huge news, won't elaborate, and then nervously asks you to meet her at her dorm room, outside of which your closest friends, who already know the news, have all gathered to give said best friend moral support."

Xander glared at the soldier. "Thank you," he said sarcastically. "That was just the confidence booster I needed."

"Always glad to help," Riley said, smugly.

"Hey," Buffy said, gently taking his hand. "It'll be okay."

Xander nodded, took a deep breath and walked towards the dorm.

"I give him two minutes," Faith said once Xander was out of hearing distance.

"Four," said Riley.

"Guys!" Buffy said, scoldingly. "No way is it less than five."

"Five bucks?" Faith asked.

Buffy scoffed. "I'm in college and have no job," she said. "Try two."

"Two it is."


Xander walked up the stairs to the third floor of Stephenson Hall.

"Oh, hey Tara," he said as he saw the girl walking down the corridor.

"Oh, h-hi Xander," Tara said. "Are you going to see Willow?"

"That's where I'm headed now. You just come from there?"

Tara nodded.

"Any chance I can get a hint on this big news?"

Tara smiled and shook her head.

"Ahh, all right," he said. "You going to wait under the oak tree too?"


"Okay, well, I guess I'll see you later, then."

Tara waved shyly and walked off.

'Cute girl,' Xander thought. 'She's gonna make some guy real happy someday.'

Xander walked up to Willow's dorm and knocked.

"Come in!" Willow called from the other side.

Xander walked into the room and was immediately embraced by a seemingly giddy Willow.

"Hi," she said from somewhere in his chest.

"Hi yourself," he replied, returning the hug.

Willow finally released him and took a step back, then looked out the open window.

"What was that all about?" Xander asked as Willow waved to the rest of the gang.

"Oh," she said, turning back around. "It's just been a while since I had a Xander-hug, and I missed them, that's all."

"Well, I'm always happy to oblige," Xander said. "So, what's up? What's this big important news you needed to tell me?"

Willow smiled and motioned for him to sit down. He sat on what had been Buffy's bed. Willow started to pace for a bit.

"Okay," she said, sitting down after a minute. "What do you think about Tara?"

Xander was a little surprised by the question, but he played along.

"Um, well, I don't really know her that well," he said. "Just really from the few times you've brought her to hang out, but she seems really nice. Cute as a button, too. Actually, I ran into her in the hall and was just thinking she'd make some guy real happy someday."

Willow smiled, then inspected her feet.

"Willow?" Xander asked.

Getting no response, he dropped to his knees in front of her and lifted her head to look into her eyes. "Hey," he said. "You can tell me anything. You know that."

Willow looked at him, then smiled and took a deep breath.

"What if," she started. "What if that guy… the one that Tara made happy? What if he was… me?"

"Will, what? Unless you've had some major surgery you're not?" he stopped, the implication of what she said hitting him. "Oh," he said. "Oh… ohhhhhh! Really?"

Willow nodded nervously.

"So?" she asked.

"Well," he said, "it's certainly not what I expected, but if it's what you want, then great!"

"So, you're not freaked or anything?" she asked.

"Willow, no," he said, sitting next to her. "Of course not. I just want you to be happy, and if Tara can do that, then great. And I would love to get to know her better."

"You should," Willow gushed. "She's so nice and sweet and cute and great and she's just wonderful, Xander."

Xander grinned. "I'm sure I'll love her."

"Good," Willow said. "Because I do."

"Yeah?" he asked.

She nodded emphatically.

"Cool," he said. "But there are a few, uh, administrative details we have to take care of before this relationship can have the Best-Friend Seal of Approval ?."

"Well," Willow said, "I wouldn't want to go ahead without that."

"Okay," Xander said, standing and pacing. "I just need to check her credentials first. Let me see… okay, so she's not a werewolf, right?"

"No," Willow said. "But you know I don't hold anything against Oz. You shouldn't either."

"I don't," he said. "I just wish that had… well, ended differently."

"Me too," Willow said.

"Okay! On with the certification. She's not a demon robot?"

"Xander! No, she's not a demon robot."

"Okay. And the final credential to make sure she's good enough for my Wills. Is she or is she not your supposed best friend who was dumb as a post for YEARS before noticing you at the most inopportune moment?"

"Xander, a post would have noticed me way before you ever did," she said smiling. "But there's nothing supposed about it. You are my best friend, and you always have been."

She stood up and gave him a big hug, which he returned in kind.

"Okay," he said after she had sat back down. "Well, then, there's just the one technical matter we have to clear up before you can move on with this."

'Technical matter?" she asked. "What do you mean?"

"Well," Xander said, looking around the room thoughtfully. "Where exactly are you going to set up the cameras?"


Across the campus, heads turned towards the sound of a shriek of outrage that echoed out from the third floor of Stephenson Hall. Precisely three people knew what was going on.

"I win," Buffy said. "Seven minutes, pay up."

Riley laughed as Faith grudgingly handed over two dollars to the blonde slayer. Tara was confused. Before they could explain, Xander rocketed out of the third floor window as though propelled by the base instinct of self-preservation. Which he was. He hit the ground and rolled, hopping to his feet to run as fast as he could.

Willow's head followed him out the window, her face bright red with anger and her arms waving. "ALEXANDER LAVELLE HARRIS, YOU COME BACK HERE AND DIE LIKE A MAN!"

Though her voice was likely heard across the campus, Xander ignored her and sprinted his way over to the group. Everyone was on their feet by the time he reached them, and all but Tara were laughing. Tara was a little frightened. Xander ran up to her, and whirled her around so he could see the dorm entrance.

"It's okay, Tara," he said, panting. "That one was a me and Will thing. I'm completely fine with this. Better than fine. If half what she says about you is right, and it probably is, she's a pretty good judge of character, then you guys are going to be great."

Tara smiled timidly, and he leaned up to whisper in her ear. "And it'll be good to finally have somebody to tell embarrassing stories about her with. Me and Oz never really did that kind of thing."

He pulled away, and the smile got even larger. Faith, Buffy and Riley watched as Willow all but exploded from the front door of the building with a plastic sword in hand. She wasn't yelling, obviously conserving energy for more speed. Xander's eyes flicked up to see her, but ignored her for the moment.

"There's a bunch of stuff I can't wait to tell you, that will just embarrass the hell out of her," he said. "But some things you should know going in." Willow was over half way to the group at that point, so he pressed on, but timed his words with extreme care. "For instance, were you aware of her psychotic rages?"

With that, he let go of Tara, turned tail and ran for his life, the plastic sword swishing its way through the spot where he had been standing mere moments before. Xander was whooping, laughing maniacally, leading her all around the quad area, keeping her close but never quite letting her catch up.

Everyone in the area was watching, cheering one or the other on. The sides were split pretty much along gender lines. Faith was rolling on the ground, laughing, and Riley was leaning against the tree.

"He is a complete and utter lunatic, God love him," Buffy said.

"D-does this happen often?" Tara asked.

"It's not that uncommon," Buffy said. "Though this is the first time she's gone after him with a weapon. Except for the time she chased him with an axe, but that was totally not her fault."

"First time I've seen him jump out a window," Riley said.

"You get used to that, after a while," said Buffy. "Willow must be extra mad to have stopped for the sword, though." She went over next to Tara. "I'm going to tell you the same thing Oz told me," she said. "Think of it as cute. It helps."

"Cute," Tara said, as if trying it on for size. "Okay."

Buffy smiled, then looked mischievously at Riley.

"What?" he asked.

She shot her eyes up to right above his head. He looked up and smiled. Reaching up, Riley pulled a dead branch from the tree, kneeled and presented it to Buffy like a sword.

"Thank you," she said.

As Xander and Willow came back around the quad, Buffy took aim, then tossed it into Xander's path. He was busy looking over his shoulder, taunting Willow, so didn't notice. The branch tangled in his legs and drove him face first into the ground.

Willow grinned and leapt on top of him, smacking him over the head with the sword, all the while yelling about his male pigheadedness.

By this time, Faith was having trouble breathing, and Riley too was starting to turn red.

"You help her out?" Tara asked Buffy.

"Not usually," said Buffy. "But he probably deserved it."

Tara smiled and turned back to watch Xander getting pummeled.


"You failed," Maggie Walsh said as she walked around her office.

"No," said the voice from the speaker. "Failed indicates a cessation of attempts. I have merely yet to succeed."

"Well, get it done soon!" Walsh yelled. She sat at her desk. "She's taking him away from me."

She looked down at her monitor. It showed Riley, in bed, with Faith curled up next to him.

"You can't have him," she whispered to the picture.

"She won't."

Chapter 6

"So, why don't you want us to know who it is?" Buffy asked Pike. "Are you embarrassed?"

"Nah, it's not like that," he said. "Actually, he's a lot like me, except he's reluctant to show himself. Don't worry, though, he still fights the good fight, even if it is for his own… odd reasons."

"Well, I don't care why he fights," Buffy said. "We can always use more help."

"Can I get that in writing?" Pike asked.

Buffy looked at him oddly. "Is it me or have you gotten weirder since Hemery?"

"No, it's not you."

"Didn't think so," Buffy said.

"So," he started. "That girl, Faith. She's hot."

"No," Buffy said.

"No what? No she's not hot? Because I think she is."

"Pike, don't do anything. Don't try to… be with Faith. Riley is a good man, and he's been really great for her. He loves her, and she's been through… stuff. She needs stability right now, and Riley gives her that."

"What stuff?"

"Heavy," said Buffy. "And bad. I'm not supposed to know this, but she still has nightmares about… her stuff. She's afraid she'll go back to it. When she's with Riley, the nightmares come less often, and are forgotten more easily."

"How do you know?" Pike asked.

"She tells my mom. Everyone talks to my mom, but Faith especially. Dawn overheard a conversation they had a couple days ago, and she can't keep a secret for anything."

"Wow. That is pretty intense."

"Very," Buffy said. "So please, don't try anything?"

"Consider me try-free."

"Thank you."

Pike looked down at the grave they'd been watching for almost an hour. "Man, is this guy ever gonna rise?"


"Have a nice patrol?" Xander asked when Buffy came in that night.

"Pretty dull," Buffy said. "Warned Pike off of Faith, though."

"Pike likes Faith?" Xander asked.

"Thinks she's hot, anyway," Buffy said as she got ready for bed.

Xander knew better than to comment on that, and so changed the subject.

"So," he said, a little awkwardly. "Willow. Gay. Whodathunk, huh?"

"Yeah," Buffy said, climbing into bed with her lover. "They're cute, though."

"Cute," Xander said with a sigh. "Yeah."

"What's up?" Buffy asked.

"Nothing," he said, a little too assertively. "Why does something have to be up? I can't just make random comments with… melodramatic sighs without something being up?"

Buffy kissed him on the forehead. "No," she said. "You can't. So spill."

Xander sighed again. "It's just… how come I didn't know?"

"Baby, she told you as soon as she really figured it out," Buffy said.

"No, not that," Xander said. "I'm pretty much fine, thinking-wise, with when she told me. Nothing bad about that. But… it's Willow."

"Yeah… and?" Buffy asked.

"Well, I should have known," he said.

"Without her telling you?"

"Yes!" he near-shouted. "Because it's Willow. I should have… I should have at least had some inkling that she was leaning towards that way. I mean, looking back, it's kind of obvious. They were spending all that time together, Willow was always going on about how great Tara was… and she is, I'm sure she is, but damn it, I didn't have a clue what was going on with her, and I'm supposed to be her best friend!"

"I thought you were okay with this," Buffy said, a little worried. "You… seemed fine yesterday."

"I know," he said, deflated a little. "But… I was just really shocked. And when that happened, I just kind of went into Support-o guy mode. In overdrive, I think."

"Sweetie, no matter how well you know someone, you're always gonna miss something," Buffy said.

"But something this big?" Xander said. "I don't know. Maybe it's a sexuality thing."

"I think that's a little obvious," Buffy said.

"No, I mean. It's Willow, you know? Willow and sex just don't go together. They're… opposites. Willow's Willow. She doesn't have sex. Not with men, certainly not with women. I mean, the thought of Willow and Tara having sex…" Xander trailed off.

"Xan?" Buffy asked after a few seconds. "You in there?"

"Hold on," Xander said. "I'm enjoying this part for a minute."

Buffy smacked Xander on the arm. "Quit it," she said, pouting slightly. "I thought you were being serious."

Xander shook his head. "Yeah. Sorry. I was. I don't know. I just think this whole thing is gonna take a little getting used to, that's all."

"Change always does," Buffy said, snuggling up to him. "But a lot of times, change is for the better. Like us. We changed, and this is better."

Xander smiled softly at her. "Very much better," he said.

"Just give it some time," Buffy said. "It'll be okay."

"It's already okay, really," Xander said. "I mean, I don't care if Willow's gay or not. I just… I feel like I should have known earlier. I mean, I'm supposed to know her better than anyone." He sighed. "I'm being irrational, aren't I?"

"Not really," Buffy said, yawning. "Things take time, you just gotta deal when you deal."

"Mmmm," Xander said, running his hands through Buffy's hair. "Girlfriend make man feel better. Goooood girlfriend."

Buffy leaned into his touch, snuggled up closer to him, and went to sleep.


"Giles, I'm going to kill your computer!" Willow yelled, pushing frustratedly away from his desk at the Magic Box.

"What did it do now?" he asked from his seat across the office where he had been reading.

"It didn't *do* anything," she said. "That's the problem, this thing is too slow."

"Too slow?"

"Yes!" Willow said. "Not enough RAM, your processor is ridiculously out of date, and you're using a 14.4 modem!"

"Ah," he said. "Is that bad?"

Willow just glared. "I'm going to bring my laptop over tomorrow," she said, "and I will do the search then."

"You can't just… do it from school?" he asked.

"Sure," she said. "If I want everybody to know exactly what I'm doing. I'm doing it from here, Giles, because I can tap into the switch box on the phone pole behind the store. It's a little bit of extra security."

"I see," Giles said.

Willow and Giles left the office and walked into the shop, to find Xander standing there grinning.

"What?" she asked. He just grinned. "Xander? Are you okay?"

He nodded.

"He's been standing there for about five minutes," Faith said. "Didn't say one damn word past 'Where's Willow?'"

Willow looked at him more closely. He was holding a piece of paper in his hand. Her eyes lit up and she looked him straight in the eye.

Xander grinned even wider, the she squealed in delight, wrapped her arms around his neck in a big hug, then they ran out of the store together.

"What was all that?" Giles asked.

"Damned if I know," said Faith. "I wish B were here. She could interpret."

"Interpret what?"

"Their eye convo. I picked up a little, where Red asked 'Really?' right at the beginning, but I don't have enough to read the whole thing yet."

"Um… eye conversation? Willow and Xander can speak to each other with their eyes?"

"Well," Faith said. "Yeah."



"You think she'll want to see me?" Pike asked as he, Buffy and Xander walked towards her house that night.

"I'm sure she will. Mom's cool with all the slaying stuff now. I mean, she doesn't LIKE it, but she's cool with it. Mostly. But trust me, she'll be freaked," Buffy said.

Pike looked to Xander for confirmation. He nodded, smiling.

"What's up with you, anyway, man?" Pike asked. "Smilin' all the time. Giving me the willies."

Xander laughed. "I just feel like smiling, that's all."

Buffy opened the door to her house and all three walked in. Buffy led them into the kitchen, where her mother was sitting at the counter, with a cup.

"Hey, mom," Buffy said.

Joyce jumped, and almost spilled her drink.

"Buffy don't do that to?" she froze. "Oliver! How nice to see you," she said, eyes wide.

"Hey, Mrs. Summers. Long time no see," he said.

"Oliver?" Xander asked.

"It's my first name," he said

"Pike it is, then," said Xander. Buffy was frowning.

"What is it, Buff?" he asked.

"It's weird. I'm feeling… something."

"Something?" Xander asked. "Way to be specific."

Faith walked in the back door.

"Hey, look at all the kiddies. It's a reg?" She stopped abruptly, then ticked her head to one side. "Vamp," she said. "Close."

Xander and Buffy were immediately on guard, whipping stakes out as Faith did.

"Oh, I'm sure it's nothing," Joyce said, too casually.

Xander looked around. "Uh, Mrs. S? Who's the second mug for?"

"Oh," Joyce said. "Um, that was for… me. Earlier."

"Mom, you never leave dishes out, and why is it still steaming?"

"No reason. I… heat things?"

"Where is he, Joyce?" Pike asked calmly.

"I'm sure I don't know ?"

"This will go a lot easier for everybody if you just tell me where he is, and maybe I can defuse the situation."

"He's downstairs," Joyce said, defeated.

"Okay," Pike said. "I'm gonna stay here and explain everything. You go down and tell him to hold on."

Joyce nodded.

"No!" shouted Buffy. "If there's a vampire downstairs, I don't want mom anywhere near it."

Joyce sighed. "It's not like he hasn't been here before."

Something clicked in Buffy's head. "Oh, he is so completely dust," she said, charging for the basement door.

"Buffy, wait!" Pike yelled, grabbing her shoulder.

"Why? So he can kill some more people?"

"He's changed," Pike said. "He doesn't harm humans."

Buffy snorted. "Right," she said. "I'll believe that when *never*."

"B, who are we talking about here?" Faith asked.

The basement door swung open and a platinum blonde vampire in a leather duster, wearing a smirk on his face, stood in the doorframe.


Chapter 7

"These ropes are a little tight," Spike said from his spot on the Summers' rocking chair. "They're cuttin' off my circulation."

"You're dead," said Xander. "You don't have circulation."

"Well, they pinch," Spike said, shifting. Xander rolled his eyes.

"I could dust you," Buffy said. "Then they wouldn't pinch."

"Buffy," Joyce said. "Please don't threaten him."

Spike glared at Buffy. "Look, I don't see what the big deal is," he said. "You've heard the story, you've got the word of your boy over there, and I've been talkin' to your mum for three days now, and she's okay, right?"

Buffy smiled with false sweetness. "You know, you're right," she said. "My mom isn't dead, I've got the word of a guy I haven't seen in four years, no offense Pike, and some wild tale about a chip in your head. I should just trust all that, and set you free. I should really just ignore the thousands of people you've killed and eaten over the years."

"Yeah, right!" Spike said. "Well, okay, I guess it doesn't sound too convincing when you put it like that."

Buffy just rolled her eyes. "Faith?" she asked as the younger Slayer walked back into the room.

"Riley'll be here in a few minutes," she said. "He'll know if the story pans out."

Buffy nodded. "Pike can I talk to you for a minute? Outside?"

Pike nodded and followed Buffy to the porch, lighting a cigarette once they were outside.

"What the hell were you thinking, bringing him here? And trusting him?" she yelled.

"I brought him here because he's the one who heard the rumor about 314, and all the demons being afraid. I thought that was worth checking out," Pike said, not backing down in the slightest. "And I trust him because he's earned it."

"Earned it how?" Buffy asked. "By turning and killing thousands of people in the last hundred plus years? By being so notorious as to gain the nickname 'Scourge of Europe'? Is that how? "

"No!" Pike said. "By getting my back. Buffy, me and Spike have been fighting together for a couple months now. He's saved my life more than you have, and I trust him because of *that*. He has never once betrayed me, or harmed innocents. And trust me, he's had the opportunity to do both."

"How do you know this chip works?" Buffy asked.

Pike smirked, and took a drag off his cigarette. "He tried to pick a flower once. The chip shocked him and he let off a string of curses like you wouldn't believe."

"A flower?" Buffy asked, incredulous.

Pike nodded. "Can't harm any living thing."

"We'll see when Riley gets here," said Buffy.


"Hey," Riley said. "Sorry, it took so long, I had to find the test unit. Also, I found these two ladies on the way."

Tara and Willow walked in behind him. Tara paused.

"W-why is that man tied up?" she asked.

"The question you'll soon be asking is why isn't he gagged?" Xander said, forcing a smile at the young woman.

"Hello," Joyce said, holding her hand out to Tara. "I'm Joyce Summers. You must be Tara."

"N-nice to meet you," Tara said.

"I've heard so much about you, it's nice to finally put a face with the name," Joyce said, smiling at the young woman."

"Thank you," Tara said, bowing her head slightly. "Nice to meet you to."

Willow walked up to Spike and smacked him.

"Hey!" Spike yelled. "What was that for?"

Willow glared at him.

"Oh," he said. "Right, I guess I deserved that."

Riley walked over to Spike's chair. "Oh yeah," Riley said. "I remember this guy. Tore up a lot of expensive equipment. Cost a lot of money."

"There, see?" Spike asked. "Now would you let me out of this bloody chair?"

"Man, quit whining," said Pike.

"Fine," said Spike. "Run your little test, then let me out of this chair."

"This'll just take a minute," said Riley.

He pulled out a small device, plugged in a wand and started waving it over Spike's head.

"That thing's not gonna make me sterile, is it?"

"You're a vampire, Spike," said Buffy. "You're sterile anyway."

"Yeah," said Spike. "But I'm not gonna need that Viagra, am I?"

"Anybody else eww?" asked Buffy. The entire room raised their hands.

"Well?" Spike asked.

"No," Riley said. "It won't, as much as I regret that right now."

Dawn came down the stairs.

"Mom, I finished my?why is Spike tied up?"

"Hey, bit," Spike said. "Big sis is worried I'll get out and eat somebody."

Buffy's eyes bugged out and she looked disbelievingly at her mom.

"You let Spike around Dawn?" she asked.

"Buffy, I assure you, aside from a little swearing, Spike has been a perfect gentleman."

"I still can't believe you took that risk! When did everyone in this house become insane?" Buffy asked.

"Buffy, that's enough," said Joyce. "If you will recall, you don't live here anymore. I am still the adult, and these are my decisions to make. Do you really think I would have let him near Dawn if I thought he was even a little bit of a threat? He was here last year, and didn't try anything."

"On you, Mom. Didn't try anything on you. Or did you forget that he kidnapped Willow and Xander, gave Xander a concussion and had Angel and me fighting for our lives in the magic shop?"

"Buffy, he was going through a very rough time, you have to understand that."

"I cannot believe you're rationalizing for a vampire!"

"You of all people should know ?"

"Joyce," Spike interrupted calmly. "Let her have this one. She's right. I am, after all, evil. It so happens that right now I couldn't harm a fly, and that's literally, so I'm not really a danger to you. But without knowing that for sure, it's her job to distrust me. She's only trying to protect you."

The room was silent.

"When did he become a mediator?" Xander asked.

"When having a level head became important for my survival, you git," Spike said.

"Okay," said Riley, turning off his machine. "The chip is working. He shouldn't be able to harm anybody."

Everyone turned to Buffy.

"Okay," she said. "We're going to untie you. Then we're going to test whether or not this chip actually works."

"And just how do you propose that?" Spike asked.

"You're going to hit me."

"Buffy, no," Xander said. "Let him hit me. Shield and all. Won't hurt me."

"Actually, now that you've said that, it won't hurt him either," said Riley. "The chip is designed to deliver a stunning charge whenever he threatens something that's alive. If he knows an action won't hurt a person, it won't hurt him either."

"Oh," Xander said. "You couldn't have said that before?"

"I didn't think she'd volunteer to be hit."

"Right. Buffy, I don't want him to touch you," Xander said.

"I can hold my own," Buffy said. "Besides, Spike won't try anything. There are a bunch of people in this room who can kill him, and he likes himself way too much for that to happen."

"Well, yeah," said Spike. "But I'm still not interested in hitting you. It'll hurt like the bloody dickens."

"It's either that, or we dust you," said Buffy.

Spike thought for a second. "Yeah, all right," he said. "But it'll only be a tap."

Buffy nodded, and Faith cut Spike's bonds.

Spike stood up, and stretched his arms.

"You ready?" he asked Buffy, who stood in front of him.

She nodded.

Spike took a step back, and let a punch fly. Hard.

His fist impacted the air just in front of Buffy, bouncing off something, causing no damage to her, but making Spike reel in pain, holding his forehead like it was about to explode.

Buffy was confused, and looked around for what could have caused her shield. She looked over and saw Tara stop whispering, and gave her a small smile, which was timidly returned.

"Bloody hell!" Spike yelled. "Oh, that hurt! Christ!"

"Spike! Watch your language," said Joyce.

"Sorry," he said, sitting back down in the chair. "Do you think I could get an aspirin?"

"I'll get it!" Dawn said, running back up the stairs.

"Well, I guess the chip works. Nice work with the barrier, Tara," Xander said, a little strain in his voice.

"Th-thank you," she said. Willow shot an odd look at her long-time friend, who merely shook his head.

"Now what was the point of that?" Pike asked.

"Well, I figured, free hit on the Slayer. How often will that happen?" Spike said, holding his forehead.

Riley shook his head. "I'm going to have to report this, you know," he said.

"Uh… wait, but I fight with the good now," Spike said, worry creasing his face.

"Don't worry," Riley said. "I'll just tell them that you guys captured a demon we had released. We have released a few with chips in them. I'll just say I got to test one, and you can keep doing whatever it is you've been doing. Assuming Pike's not lying."

"I'm on the level, man," Pike said. Buffy nodded in affirmation.

"All right, then," Spike said.

"We're not really trusting him, are we?" Faith asked.

"Only as far Dawn can throw him," said Buffy.

As she said that, Dawn came back down and gave Spike a glass of water and an aspirin.

"Thanks, Niblet," he said.

"What does that mean?" Xander asked. "Niblet?"

Spike shrugged. "That's what she is," he said. "Not even a nibble, a Niblet."

"I like it," Dawn said, smiling. "It's cute."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "My entire family is nuts."

"Okay, Spike," Xander said, placing his hand comfortingly on Buffy's shoulder. "We've established you're not here to hurt anybody, because you can't. Why are you here?"

"Well, there was the matter of the fleeing demons," he said. "They caught my interest a little. I figure, anything that makes evil run in fear's got to be up for a good spot of violence, yeah?"

"So… you came here to kill things?" Buffy asked.

"Sort of, yeah," said Spike. "Oh, but only evil things. Can't touch humans, now, can I?"

"See?" Joyce said. "He's reforming."

Spike tugged on the lapels of his duster with false pride.

"Also," said Pike. "He thinks there's a chance whatever's scaring off the demons might be in for an apocalypse, which apparently you people attract like moths to a flame. He doesn't want that. Neither do I."

"He's evil," said Faith. "Why wouldn't he want an apocalypse?"

"Happy meals," said Buffy.

"What?" Willow asked, confused.

"When I teamed up with him against Angelus, he said he liked this world because of… oh, crap, what was it?"

"Dog racing, Manchester United and people, walking around like happy meals on legs."

"You're serious," Faith said.

"Well, not so much the people anymore, though if any of you feel like donating I'd be more than happy to accept. I still get blood. That means I can live, and I like living."

"Even though you're dead," said Xander.

"Just because my heart doesn't happen to be beating doesn't mean I can't have a full and meaningful life," Spike said.

"At night," said Xander.

"In cemeteries," added Faith.

"Hoping not to get an inopportune splinter," said Buffy.

"Look, if you're just going to make fun, there's no reason for me to ? " "Spike," Pike said. "Shut up, man."

Spike considered this. "Well," he said. "With cable, there's no reason anybody can't have a life."

"We're stealing that shit tomorrow, right?" Pike asked.

"Oliver!" Joyce said, glancing at Dawn.

"Sorry, Joyce," Pike said.

"Where exactly are you staying that you have to steal cable?" Riley asked.

"A crypt in Restfield," Pike said. "It's spartan, but not uncomfortable."

"And you're okay sleeping in the same… crypt… as a vampire?" Xander asked.

"It's called loyalty, mate," Spike said. "A little thing called honor."

"That why you betrayed Angel?" Buffy asked.

"Oh, Angel's a poofter, he deserved what he got. You're just pissed because your soul mate got sent to hell."

Buffy smiled.

"Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you," Pike said. "Xander here is Buffy's soul mate. In the literal sense. Angel was just a guy… vampire, anyway, who she loved."

"What!" Spike yelled.

"Looks like you were wrong about what you said when you were here. Me and Angel? Just friends."

Spike stood there, jaw open. "You mean you…" he said, pointing at Buffy. She nodded, grinning. "And you…" he said, pointing at Xander. He nodded as well.

"Well, I'll be buggered," Spike said.

"Spike!" yelled Joyce.

"Sorry, Joyce," Spike said.

"Just watch your language."

"I don't mind, Mom," Dawn said.

"Well, I do," Joyce said.

Spike grinned. "Joyce, I don't suppose I could borrow your phone? You do have Angel's phone number right? I really want to make fun of him. I haven't done that in a ages."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "You're over a hundred years old, and still act like a teenager."

"Well, yeah. Eternal youth has its advantages."

Dawn yawned loudly.

"Honey, I think you should go to bed," Joyce said.

"Do I have to?" Dawn asked.

"You do have school tomorrow."

She sighed heavily. "Fine," she said.

She walked over and gave her mom a hug, then waved at Buffy. Xander rustled her hair as she passed him.

"Night, kiddo," Faith said.

Dawn nodded at Faith as she yawned going up the stairs. Everybody stayed quiet until they heard her door shut.

An instant later, Xander was holding Spike against the wall by his throat and holding a stake to his heart.

"I want you to listen to me very carefully," Buffy said with quiet forcefulness as Spike struggled unsuccessfully against Xander's grip. "If you betray us. If you work against us. If you give us anything but your full-fledged support, you will be dust. There will be no banter, and no second chances. You're dealing with two Slayers, a White Knight, a Watcher, two witches and a well-trained soldier who has access to the type of technology that's in your head."

"We do not trust you," Xander said, picking up where Buffy stopped. "We will never trust you. We will never forget what you are. We may get to a point where we can tolerate your presence, but if you step out of line once, you are dust. If you don't like it, leave town. Get it?"

Spike nodded with what little neck motion he had left.

Xander released Spike and backed away towards the coffee table, a glint of mischief in his eye. "Sleep in fear," Faith said, with a little smirk. "You never know when we might wake up cranky."

Spike flexed his neck a little. "Well, that was… bracing," he said. "Look, I get the idea. You don't trust me, but like I said, I'm not in favor of apocalypses. As long as our goals are the same, you'll not have any trouble from me. When they're not… I'll just leave town. Fair enough?"

"Sure," Faith said. "Unless that chip stops working. Then you're dust."

"Right, we all get it," Spike said. "You all hate me, I hate all you, 'cept Joyce and the bit. And Pike's not so bad. But the rest of you can all sod off. Got it? Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go have a smoke."

"One more thing," Xander said, grabbing Spike by the lapel. "You corrupt Dawn in anyway, and you won't just die, you'll die painfully."

"I get it," Spike said, almost spitting in Xander's face. He then walked outside.

Standing on the porch, Spike lit up a cigarette, then noticed something fall to the ground. He picked up a small piece of paper, ripped from a magazine. The note said 'Angel' and was followed by ten digits. Spike grinned. The paper had fallen from his jacket, and only one person had been close enough to put it there.

Spike took a drag from the cigarette. "Oh, I could get to like him," he said.


"Giles isn't going to be happy about this," Xander said as he lay in bed with Buffy that night.

"I'm not happy about this," Buffy said. "But I can see ways in which Spike could be useful."

"Yeah," Xander said. "If we're fighting someone during the day, we push Spike out, he bursts into fire… distraction extraordinaire."

"That sounds like fun," Buffy said. "But he could also have demon contacts we don't. I mean, we hadn't heard about 314."

"True," said Xander. "I don't know. We just have to make sure to keep our eye on him."

"We'll remember," Buffy said. "I'll… have it tattooed on his head. 'Do not trust.'"

Xander smiled and leaned in to kiss his girlfriend. "You're so cute when you're being ridiculous."

"You think I was joking?"

Xander grinned. "Come here," he said, tugging her closer.

"What?" she asked.

Xander whispered in her ear.

Buffy grinned, reached over and turned out the light. Then she squealed.


"Giles is gonna fucking hate this," Faith said.

"I just love it when you talk about old British guys in bed," Riley said, sarcastically.

"Sorry," Faith said. "But he's gonna go ballistic."

"Well, you guys did make a truce with a vampire without his knowing about it. He's got a right."

"Yeah," Faith said. "Guess we probably shoulda called him, huh?"

"Probably," Riley said, yawning.

"Aww, is baby tired?" Faith cooed.

"Baby didn't get enough sleep," Riley said. "Baby's boss has been increasing his workload so he has less and less time for other, funner things."

Faith smiled, then leaned up and kissed him. "Go to sleep," she said. "I'll still be here when you wake up."

Riley grinned, wrapped his arms around Faith and went to sleep.


"I think Giles might get mad at us," Willow said as she and Tara sat on her bed.

"Because you made a deal with Spike?" Tara asked.

"No, because we left him out of the loop," Willow said. "We're all growing up, and I think a lot of the time we're going to inadvertently do that."

"Well," Tara said, "a-at least you have the decency to feel bad about it? And if you're aware of it, y-you can change it."

Willow smiled and kissed her girlfriend. Then she yawned.

"I-I should probably go," Tara said, standing up.

"Or," Willow started.

"Or?" asked Tara.

Willow smiled. "Or you could stay."

Tara looked questioningly at Willow, who nodded at her. Tara smiled shyly and climbed back onto the bed.

Chapter 8

"So, if I am to understand correctly," Giles said when Faith, Buffy and Willow explained the situation to him the next day, "you found Spike at the Summers home, tied him up, made sure he was impotent, then made a truce and released him?"

They nodded.

"And you did all of this without consulting me?" he asked.

They nodded again.

"Well, I think that's fantastic," he said. "Finally, the youth of this group is showing some initiative. Well done."

They were surprised.

"You mean you're not mad?" Buffy asked.

"Why would I be?" he asked, confused.

"We made a truce with Spike," said Buffy.

"And we did it without telling you!" Willow added.

"I'm still not seeing the problem," said Giles. "Look, while I may not believe… I certainly don't believe Spike is the most trustworthy of allies, and I do like to be kept in the loop, it is not actually necessary to run every decision by me. The lot of you made a decision together, for what you thought were good reasons, and then told me about it at the earliest possible convenience. I merely find it a sign that you're growing up."

"Wicked," said Faith, who then got up and flipped the store sign to 'Open.' "That means it's open season on customers."

"You're really not mad?" Willow asked.

Giles smiled warmly. "I really am not, child," he said, before taking a sip of his tea. "Now, what do we know about this 314 thing?"

"A depressingly small amount," Willow said. "It's scary, whatever it is, and it's local."

"Willy?" Giles asked.

"Not much," said Buffy. "Xander dropped by yesterday and came back stinking of blood."

Giles looked up in concern.

"Oh, he's fine," she said. "Willy spilled a glass and it got on Xander's feet."

"He drove home with bloody shoes?" Willow asked.

"Bloody boots. And yes. But he has another pair."

"Did he stain the car?"

"Willy 'gave' him a towel," Buffy said, using air quotes when necessary.

"Xander threatened him until it was his?"

"Exactly," Buffy said.

"So, what 'not much' did Xander get, exactly?" Giles asked, steering the conversation back towards something useful.

"It's not a demon," Buffy said. "Or, it's not just a demon. It's scaring out a lot of night life, but it's also attracting some. Willy said there are demons, ambitious demons, looking for power, and they're coming here."

"Interesting. Anything else?" Giles asked.

"Nope," Buffy said. "Nothing."

"Well, we'll just have to continue searching, then," Giles said. "We're bound to find something sometime."


"I don't get why you're here," Xander said that night at the Magic Box.

"I told you, mate," Spike said. "I don't like apocalypses."

"No, that I get," said Xander. "But your chip. Why were you here to get chipped? Did you hatch some evil plot that would have inevitably ended with Buffy kicking your ass yet again?"

"Well, when you put it that way, no. Wanker."

"So why were you here?" Giles asked.

"Yeah, Spike," Buffy said. "Did Dru kick you to the curb again?"

"No, bitch," he said. "I happened to be here on an archeological dig."

"Archeology? You, Spike?" Giles asked. "What precisely where you after?"

Spike mumbled something.

"What was that?" Giles asked.

"He said the Gem of Amara," Pike said, coming out from the back room with Faith. "He heard from a reputable source that it was here." Pike was holding his shoulder.

"How'd he do?" Xander asked.

"I kicked his ass," Faith said.

"Ah, the teaching style of a Slayer. We say test someone's skills and they beat them up," Xander said, chuckling.

Buffy punched him in the arm, earning a nod of thanks from Faith.

"Heh heh… ow," Xander said.

"He did fine," Faith said. "Boy's got a wicked right hook. He'll do."

Giles nodded.

"I'm so glad I met with your approval," Pike said. "Wouldn't want to be left off the team."

"It's not like that," Xander said. "We know you're fine, we just like to have a good idea of everyone's capabilities. You should have seen Riley after Buffy put him through the ringer," Xander said.

"Little Goldilocks beat up the Teutonic Wonder?" Spike asked.

"Hey!" Faith yelled.

"Oh, don't get your panties in a bunch," said Spike.

Faith snorted. "Don't delude yourself to think you have any affect whatsoever on my panties."

"Did you find it?" Giles said, suddenly.

"Faith's panties?" Xander asked, confused.

"The Gem. Did you find it, Spike?" Giles asked. The door jingled.

"No," Spike said. "Tall, blonde and cornfed, along with about six or seven of his boys, interrupted me, captured and implanted this chip in me head."

"It was four," Riley said from the door. "And he went down with two pulse rifle blasts. It was actually one of our easier captures." Riley walked into the store and dropped a file down on the table, then kissed Faith hello.

"Yeah, well, you caught me unawares," Spike muttered.

"What's this?" Buffy asked, indicating the folder.

"The file on Spike's chip," Riley said. "Willow wanted to take a look at it."

Xander picked it up and opened to the first page.

"Negative electrical reinforcement as behavioral modification for sub-human terrestrial species," he read. "Man, can you guys title a paper or what?"

"Actually, that's what I majored in. Lengthy and confusing titles for academic papers on technological suppression in relation to demonology."

"In itself, a lengthy and confusing title," Xander said.

"And thus, an example for all of us," Riley said.

"That whole thing talks about my chip?" Spike asked.

"Yeah," said Riley.

"What it does, how it's powered, how to deactivate it, like that right?"

"Well, yeah," Riley said. "Except for the deactivation and power thing. That would just be dumb. But you can find out which circuits are plugged directly into your temporal lobe."

"Oh, right lot of good that does me, mate," Spike said.

"It's not meant to do you good, Spike," Buffy said. "It's meant to keep you from killing."

"Almost kept me from eating is what that did. Do you know what happens to a vampire who doesn't feed?"

"I've always wondered about that, actually," Giles said.

"Walking skeletons," Spike said. "And not the kind that get up and strut about on runways. It's not pretty."

"Neither are those girls on runways," Pike said. "Not enough meat on the bones."

"I'll second that," Spike said. "Although, you probably don't mean in the literal sense."

"No, I probably don't," Pike said.

"Well, thank you for that… fairly disturbing image, Spike," Giles said.

Spike nodded. "No problem, mate."

"Where's Red?" Faith asked.

"We're meeting her and Tara at the Bronze in about a half hour," Buffy said.

"Guess I'll give this to her there," Riley said, moving to pick up the file.

"Oh, leave it here," Giles said. "She'll not want to be carrying it around while she dances and whatnot. She can pick it up later."

"Thanks, Giles," Riley said. "I really didn't want to be carrying government secrets around a night club."


"Hey, Wills, Tara," Xander said. "How's things?"

"Great!" Willow said, sipping her drink.

Xander smiled, and turned deliberately to the blonde Wicca. "Tara? How are you?"

"I'm g-good, thank you," she said, shyly.

"Hey guys," Buffy said, coming up to the table and handing Xander a drink. "Where are Faith and Riley?"

"They hit the dance floor," Xander said, inclining his head toward the couple.

"Has she figured it out yet?" Willow asked.

"I don't think so," Buffy said. "Or, if she has, she hasn't told him or anyone else yet."

"Hey, hey, the gang's all here," Pike said as he approached the table.

"I thought you were going back to your crypt with Spike," Xander said, almost spitting the vampire's name.

"Man, what do you have against him?" Pike asked. "He's not a bad guy."

"He's evil," Xander said. "That's like the definition of a bad guy. He's killed people I knew, people I called friends, or at least acquaintances. He's tried to kill all of us numerous times. He's a monster."

Pike looked around to see the others nodding.

"Look, you don't have to agree with me," Xander said. "Go ahead and be friends with him. Just don't expect me to trust him."

"That's cool," Pike said. "But you also gotta understand that Spike's got my back, and I've got his. Spike's knocked himself out with that chip while keeping a guy from killing me. He knew what it'd do, but he took the hit anyway. That's the kind of thing that counts in my book."

"You make a good point," Xander said, "But until I see some proof of it with my own eyes, I'm gonna keep Spike as far away from the people I care about as possible. But, if you're comfortable with a soulless monster at your back, I've got no problem with it."

"That's a little harsh, Xan," Buffy said. "It's not that we don't care what happens to you, or that we wouldn't help out if Spike's chip stopped working. It's just… well, we don't like him."

Xander conceded the point with a nod.

Riley and Faith approached the group.

"What's with the grim?" Faith asked. "We should all be out there, partying!"

"We were just discussing the intelligence of keeping soulless vampires as allies, and how to deal with them if they go badder," Willow said.

"And um, if he does cause trouble, you can learn his source, a-and we'll show him his insect reflection," Tara said.

Blank stares followed.

"Th-that was funny if you've studied Taglarin mythic rites… and are a complete dork," Tara said, bowing her head a little, and moving off towards the bar. Willow frowned and quickly followed her.

"How come Xander didn't laugh, then?" Riley asked.

"I don't know that Taglarin stuff," Xander replied.

"Oh," Riley said. "Anyway, you all should stay here for a few minutes, while Xander and I settle our bet."

"What, NOW?" Xander asked, suddenly sweating.

"Yes, now," Riley said. "It's the best time, and I know you know the manager. You can set it up."

"I don't know how fast, though," Xander said worriedly.

"What bet?" Buffy asked.

"About which team would do better this season, the Kings or the Black Hawks," Riley said.

"What sport is this?" Faith asked.

"Hockey," Xander, Riley and Pike said at the same time.

"Oh," Buffy said. "Well, who won?"

"Neither of us," Xander said. "They ended the season with exactly the same record, so we decided we both lost."

"And Riley wants to settle now?" Faith asked.

"Yeah, because he's a lot braver than I am," Xander said.

"Why do you like Chicago?" Pike asked.

"My dad traveled a good amount when I was a kid, but he always tried to take me to Black Hawk games. He grew up in Chicago," Riley said.

Pike nodded as Willow and Tara rejoined the group, drinks in hand and Willow's arm around Tara's waist. Xander sent a sincere smile Willow's way, along with a questioning look, asking if Tara was okay. Willow nodded slightly.

"So what's the bet?" Buffy asked.

"We're not allowed to say, until it happens," Xander said, turning his attention back to glaring at Riley. "You really want to do this now?"

"I surely do," Riley said. "Better to get it over with, I say."

Xander sighed. "Okay, I'll go talk to Mike."

Xander walked off, muttering, and the group re-engaged in small talk.

Five minutes later, Xander came back shaking his head. "It's set up," he said. "They had all the equipment out and ready for tomorrow, it's just a minute's work to plug it in."

The next song ended, and the manager of the club came up onto the stage with two microphones.

"Excuse me, everybody," Mike said. "We've got a special occasion here tonight. Two young men have lost a bet and are settling up. I know karaoke night's tomorrow, but we here at the Bronze feel that a little tonight won't hurt anybody but the participants. So please indulge us as we present the vocal stylings of Xander Harris and Riley Finn."

"Oh God," Buffy and Faith said at the same time. Willow was grinning, and Pike turned his stool around to watch the two men approach the stage, Riley lightheartedly, Xander more trudging than actually walking.

The two men took their positions on stage, each with a microphone, Riley smiling, Xander shaking his head, but unable to keep a wry grin from his face.

Slow, soft music started up from the speakers and the crowd applauded and laughed as Faith and Buffy buried their faces in their hands. Xander whispered something to Mike, who nodded and went backstage. The music continued, and Riley took the first verse, with a somewhat melodic yet obviously untrained voice.

"Close your eyes, make a wish
And blow out the candlelight
For tonight is just your night
We're gonna celebrate, all thru the night
Pour the wine, light the fire
Girl your wish is my command
I submit to your demands
I will do anything, girl you need only ask,"

At this point Xander joined Riley and the crowd cheered even more. A spotlight shot out from back stage and pasted itself onto both Buffy and Faith. The two men sang their hearts out.

"I'll make love to you
Like you want me to
And I'll hold you tight
Baby all through the night
I'll make love to you
When you want me to
And I will not let go
Till you tell me to"

Xander then, with his slightly more practice voice, took over the melody with a surprising amount of gusto.

"Girl relax, let's go slow
I ain't got nowhere to go
I'm just gonna concentrate on you
Girl are you ready, it's gonna be a long night
Throw your clothes on the floor
I'm gonna take my clothes off too
I made plans to be with you
Girl whatever you ask me you know I can do"

Riley then re-joined on the chorus, both Faith and Buffy shaking their heads, embarrassed out of their minds. Willow and Pike were laughing raucously, and Tara could be seen chuckling lightly, just outside of the spotlight.

"I'll make love to you
Like you want me to
And I'll hold you tight
Baby all through the night
I'll make love to you
When you want me to
And I will not let go
Till you tell me to"

Despite the solo nature of the next verse, Xander and Riley, lacking a third partner, both sang.

"Baby tonight is your night
And I will do you right
Just make a wish on your night
Anything that you ask
I will give you the love of your life
Your life
Your life,

I'll make love to you
Like you want me to
And I'll hold you tight
Baby all through the night
I'll make love to you
When you want me to
And I will not let go
Till you tell me to."

The two men ended with a flourish and bow and jumped off the stage. They jogged over to their respective girlfriends, who were both ashamed of and pleased with their men. They allowed them both quick kisses, before forcing them to sit down. Much congratulations in the form of back slaps were given to the men throughout the night.

Both men made good on the song that night.

Chapter 9

Xander arrived at work the next morning to find the Sunnydale Police out in full force. He got there just in time to see them loading a bodybag into the coroner's van.

"What happened?" he asked Steve, who was standing around.

"Some kid," Steve said. "They found her this morning. Must have been playing around here last night or something. She was stabbed through the chest. Blood was every where, and they found some rebar next to her. Jimmy, that's who found her, he had to go to the hospital. Jesus Xander, who would kill a little kid?"

Xander shook his head. "It's sick," he said.

"Anyway, we're closin' down the site for a few days while the police investigate. Somebody will call you when we're back up."

"Okay, Steve. Thanks." Xander clapped the man on the back and then went home. Buffy had gone to class, so he changed into normal clothes and headed for the Magic Box.

Giles was surprised to see him.

"Still skipping work, Xander?" he said. "Won't your employer get angry?"

"They found a body at the site," Xander said. "A little girl. She was stabbed through the chest."

Xander sat down roughly at the table.

"Hey, X, how they hangin?" Faith said as she walked out of the back room.

Xander just shook his head.

"A young girl was found murdered at his construction site," Giles said. "Stabbed through the chest."

Faith frowned. "Through the chest? What with?"

"There was some rebar right next to her," Xander said.

"But they didn't say for sure?" she asked.

"I didn't make with the questions."

"Faith, I hardly think it's that important," Giles said.

"Yeah, it is, Jeeves."


"Just… something that sounds familiar, okay?"

Giles looked at her for a moment. "All right. We can have Willow look for the coroner's report as soon as she arrives after school."

Faith nodded her assent.

"What are you thinking?" Xander asked her.

Faith shook her head. "I don't know. Something sounds familiar, I think from patrolling with the Initiative boys. More than that…"

"That's not really a lot to go on," Xander said.

"Yeah well," Faith said, "Slayer intuition or somethin' all right?"

"Yeah. Okay. So, Giles," he said. "Got some shelving you need fixed?"

"No," said the former watcher. "But I do have some inventory that needs checking in."

Xander groaned.

"Well, you asked," Giles said. "Don't blame me if there's an answer you don't like."

"Okay," Xander said. "Maybe it'll take my mind off… things."

"Yes," Giles said. "That would be best, I suppose." He handed Xander a list. "The crates are in back."

Xander sighed, took the list and went to work.


The door jingled.

"Hey, Wills," Xander said, glancing at the redhead who had just entered, then turning back to the inventory checklist he was working on. "How's school?"

"It's okay," Willow said.

"Just okay? You're usually a lot more enthusiastic about it."

"Am I a freak?"



Xander looked at his friend seriously. "What's wrong, Willow?"

Willow sat down on the steps of the Magic Box. Xander went over and sat next to her, and she leaned into his shoulder.

"Well, Tara and I were walking to class, and we were, you know, holding hands and talking and stuff. A-and a couple of guys who were walking by… they, um, they kind of yelled at us. One guy spit at us, and the other called us a couple of 'sick dyke freaks.'"

Xander stroked her hair gently. "Willow, you shouldn't listen to idiots like that," he said. "They have no idea about the wonderful, beautiful girl you are. I mean come on, of the two relationships, serious relationships, that you've had, I'd say this one is more normal."

"But, Oz was a guy, that kind of fits society's standard more, doesn't it?"

"Sure, if you care about that," he said. "But Oz was also a werewolf. What do you think is more common, girls being in love with girls, or girls being in love with werewolves?"

"I guess you're right," she said. "But still…"

"I know," he said. "Oz looked like a guy most of the time, so people didn't know. But would you have cared if they did?"

Willow thought for a moment. "No," she said.

"Then why care now? Tara's a sweet, wonderful girl, and you love her. Don't listen to some jackasses just because they're stupid enough to judge people on who they love."

"I guess," she said.

"Listen, Willow, I gotta tell you the truth. When you first told me you were in love with Tara, I was freaked a little. I mean, you're my best friend, and I thought I should have known, or at least had an inkling." Xander shook his head. "But I was being stupid. I mean, you didn't even really know, how could I? The truth is, a lot of people are stupid, and a lot of them they're gonna judge you whether they know you or not. But you can't let it get to you, *because* they don't know you. They don't know the beautiful, loving young woman you are, and if they did, they couldn't help but see that Tara makes you happy. And anybody who really knows you, can't help but want you to be happy."

Willow sighed, her eyes a little wet. "I love you, Xander."

"I love you too, Willow."

The pair sat there for a minute, taking comfort in one another.

"You know, I kinda knew," Willow said. "That you weren't really comfortable with it. With, with me, and Tara."

"Willow, I will always be comfortable with you," he said. "And I mean it, I don't care if you date guys, or girls, or whatever — well, Spike or something, I might have you committed, but… I really don't. It's… it's just that I don't really know her, at all. A-and I was just really shocked by, you know, when you told me."

"I know," Willow said. "And it's okay. I know it's a change. It's a big one. So I want you to take as much time as you need to get okay with this. It's important to me that you are."

"I know, Will," he said. "And I am. For real now. It just… it took me some time, is all."

Willow rested her head back against her friend's shoulder.

"Oh, Willow, hello," Giles said, coming out of his office. "Are you all right?"

She nodded, her head still on Xander's shoulder, and thus rolling oddly. "Yeah," she said, smiling. "Xander the comfortador strikes again."

Giles chuckled. "Yes, he does have that um… quality, I suppose. Are you up for some illegal internet activities?"

"Sure," she said, standing up and smoothing out her skirt. "What do we need?"

"Coroner's report. A young girl was found stabbed through the chest at Xander's work site this morning, and on Faith's hunch we would like to know what with."

"They found a girl at your site?" Willow asked.

Xander nodded. "I only saw the body bag, but…. Well, we've been shut down for a few days."

Willow then leaned down and gave him a hug.

"Okay," she said, turning back to Giles. "It shouldn't take too long."

Willow went back into Giles's office while he manned the register. Not that there were any customers.

"What was it?" Giles asked, as Xander leaned his back against the counter and started on the inventory checklists again.

"Couple of guys didn't like seeing two girls together."

Giles just sighed.

"Yeah," Xander said, responding to the unspoken frustration. "After all, if you just get to know people there are so many good, non superficial reasons to hate them. Take Spike for example. He's not just a vampire, he's a royal pain in the ass."

Giles chuckled. "Yes, quite right," he said.

Xander smiled. And went back to work.

"You sure you have enough mandrake root here?" he asked after a few minutes. "It's been flying, hasn't it?"

"It was for a while," Giles said. "But it seems to have slowed down recently."

"Huh. Okay," Xander said.

"I got it," Willow said. "The report shows nothing conclusive, but there are some unidentifiable organic substances in there."

"No metal shavings?" Xander asked

"No metal shavings."

"So, we're thinking demon?" Xander asked.

"We're thinking demon," Giles said. "But how did Faith know to look?"

The door jingled.

"Hey, guys," Riley said, entering the shop. "Faith around?"

"No," Giles said. "She's gone to the bank just now, making a deposit for me. Should be back any time, though."

"All right," Riley said, sitting in a chair and propping his feet on the table. "What's up then?"

"A girl was killed last night," Giles said. "Stabbed through the chest, and whatever it was left some unidentifiable organic substances in the wound."

Riley sat up. "Unidentifiable organic substances. That sounds demonic."

"Yes," Giles said. "And Faith suspected it would be, despite the notable presence of rebar next to the body. Do you have any ideas as to why she might?"

"Yeah, actually," Riley said. "We captured a Polgara demon a little while ago. They have a long spike that shoots out of their arm, and they tend to kill for no good reason."

"A Polgara?" Giles asked, moving to get a book. "Interesting. They usually don't travel in groups, though, if I recall correctly."

"No, they don't," Riley said.

"Could the one you captured have escaped?" Xander asked.

"No," he said.

"How do you know?" Willow asked.

"It's dead. Dissected."

"Oh," Willow said. "Yeah, that would do it."

"Well, maybe they weren't in a group, they just happened to show up at the same time," Xander said.

"No," said Giles, reading from his book. "It says here that Polgara's are extremely rare, but also territorial. They tend not to come within about fifty miles of each other."

"Except for mating," Riley said, remembering his own research on the topic. "And only the males have the spike."

"Weird," Xander said.

"Hey," Faith said, coming in from the back of the store, where she had entered. She smiled at Riley. "Hey, baby."

Riley smiled and gave her a quick kiss. "You remembered about the Polgara demon," he said.

"That's the one," Faith said. "I wasn't sure about it, though, so I didn't want to say anything."

"It's good you did," Giles said. "We seem to have turned up something of a mystery. Riley, would you and Xander check out the site of the girl's death? You likely have the most… forensic experience among us."

"Sure," Riley said. Xander nodded his assent as well.

"Excellent," Giles said.

"That puts me and B on patrol, right?"

"Yes," Giles said. "I believe that would be best."


"What's that?" Riley asked, pointing his flashlight to something on the construction site.

"Elevator shaft," Xander said. "Or it will be, once we're finished."

"Okay," Riley said. "Um, so where was the body?"

"Over here," Xander said, leading Riley to a spot on the site. Riley walked over and kneeled down.

"These tracks from the gurney?" he asked.

"I assume so," Xander said. "We don't have anything here that would make tracks like that."

Riley looked around the area the police had cordoned off, where the body was found and frowned. "I don't see any demon footprints," he said. "Polgara's have huge, webbed feet, and they don't wear boots. But there aren't any prints here like that."

"So, what?" Xander asked. "Somebody just took the arm off a Polgara and killed a kid with it?"

"YES," a voice said.

Xander and Riley's heads both snapped up in time to see a huge form drop four stories to the ground, land solidly with half a thud, half a clang. The impact of the drop forced the being to one knee, and also cracked the cement it landed on. It quickly stood back up to its full height. It was simply huge. Standing almost seven feet tall, with muscles all across its body, it spoke with an almost mechanical precision.


"How do you know?" Xander asked, almost not wanting to hear the answer.

"BECAUSE," the thing said, holding up its right arm as a long spike shot out of it. "IT WAS ME."

When Riley shone his flashlight on the creature, they saw the mottled green flesh on the basically human frame. The being seemed an abomination, with mechanical parts, human parts, and others the two men could not identify.

"What are you?" Riley asked.


"Yeah, well, you killed a kid," Xander said, turning his shield on. "That doesn't fly in my town. That means you're going down."

Xander rushed Adam, ready to lay a beating on him fueled by rage over the death of the young girl. When he reached Adam, the being's whipped his arm out almost faster than Xander could see. Xander flew through the air and smashed spine first into one of the I-beams that were the frame of the building.

"NO," Adam said. "I AM NOT."

While lying on his back, stunned from the force of the blow, Xander grabbed a length of rebar. He dragged himself to his feet and rushed forward again. As he approached, he swung the rebar at Adam's head. Adam ducked the rebar, then punched out at Xander's arm, breaking his wrist and causing Xander to drop the rebar. He reached out with his other arm and grabbed Xander by the shoulder, causing Xander's shield to glow bright white.


Adam picked Xander up over his head and threw him full force into the chain link fence that surrounded the construction site.

"Hey, freak," Riley said, pulling his rifle to bear. "Eat this."

Riley fired his pulse rifle at Adam, hitting him dead center in his chest. Electricity crawled over Adam's body as Adam roared loudly, then flexed his muscles.


Adam leaned down and picked up the rebar Xander had dropped. He flung the rebar at Riley, who, acting as quickly as he could, tried to jump out of the way. The rebar, which would have pierced his stomach, instead imbedded itself in Riley's thigh. He screamed in pain.


Adam turned and left the construction site.

Chapter 10

"Oh, lord," Giles said when Riley and Xander hobbled into the Magic Box. He rushed over and helped Xander lift Riley onto the table.

"Tell me what to do," Xander said.

"Wait for me to get supplies," Giles said. "The bar will have to come out."

"Okay," Xander said. "I should probably mention I got my ass handed to as well, I'm not sure my powers are up to spec right now. And I've really only got one workable hand."

"All right," Giles said, going to his office. He returned a moment later with a bottle of alcohol, a relatively thin stake, a few towels and a knife. He took the knife and sliced open Riley's pant leg, then tied one of the towels tight around Riley's thigh above the wound and handed him the stake.

"Bite on that," Giles said.

"Why?" Riley asked.

Giles looked him in the eye. "Because this is going to hurt. Xander, take the bar beneath his leg.

Xander lightly wrapped his good hand around the rebar. Riley winced at the slight movement of the metal in his leg. He then slipped the stake into his mouth and bit down.

"Now, Xander," Giles said as he soaked one of the towels in alcohol and prepared to hold it over the wound. "Pull it out as quickly as you can, straight down."

Xander took a deep breath, then yanked downwards on the rebar as hard as he could. Riley's eyes bugged out, and when the stake fell out of his mouth and he howled in pain.

Giles quickly held the towel to Riley's wound, to help stop the bleeding. That just hurt more, and Riley yelped again. The door slammed open as two Slayers, ready to fight, ran in.

"Oh, God!" Faith said as she rushed to Riley. Buffy went over and took Xander's hand, causing him to yelp as well.

"Oh, sorry, sorry," she said. Xander ran his other hand through Buffy's hair and kissed her on the forehead.

"It's okay," he said. "Just uh… a little light on the contact for a bit." Buffy nodded.

"I'm okay," Riley panted. "Except for, you know, the incredibly large amounts of pain. And the hole in my leg."

"Hold still for a minute," Xander said. "Actually, Faith, hold his leg still."

"Why?" she asked.

"I don't want him to accidentally move while I do the glowy thing… otherwise my wrist could get… I don't know, brokener."

Faith nodded and held Riley down. Xander gently placed his injured hand on top of Riley's wound, and firmly placed his good hand on the bottom of the wound as Buffy held him steady. He concentrated for a moment until his hands glowed white. He moved away from Riley's leg, which was no longer bleeding, but had a very large and nasty looking bruise.

"What happened?" Buffy asked as she led Xander over to a comfortable chair.

"We were attacked," Xander said. "And we really, really got beat."

Xander sat down.

"I'm going to have to set this," Giles said, inspecting Xander's wrist. Xander nodded and braced himself for the pain, which he got in spades.

"What hit you guys, and how many?" Faith asked from where she was comforting Riley.

"Just the one," Xander said as Giles wrapped his wrist with an ace bandage. "And I don't know what it was. He called himself Adam, and he looked like a scary, mutant version of Frankenstein, only way stronger."

"Lots stronger," Riley said. "He threw Xander around like a rag doll and getting shot with my pulse rifle? Only seemed to make him stronger."

Xander laid his good hand over his broken wrist gently. "Damn," he said. "Nothing."

"I suppose you'll just have to wait until you're more rested," Giles said, as he began to put splints around Xander's wrist.

"So why did it attack you?" Buffy asked from her spot in Xander's lap.

"Well, I kind of attacked him," Xander said. "He said he killed that little girl."

"And his arm was Polgaran," Riley said. "So that fit, too. He was basically like an amalgamation of man, machine and demon."

"His voice was very mechanical," Xander said. "He called me inconsequential, and I gotta say, I didn't do anything to prove him wrong."

"I've never heard of such a thing," Giles said. "But, you say it had the arm of a Polgara?"

"That's right," Riley said.

Giles stayed quiet, obviously in thought.

"What's on your mind, Jeeves?" Faith asked.

"I am hesitant… but I'm afraid it's all I can think of. You also said, did you not, that your scientists have dissected a Polgara recently, and we know the Initiative has access to certain… technology that is somewhat more advanced than is readily available."

"What are you trying to say?" Riley asked, a scowl crossing his face.

"We must consider the distinct possibility that the Initiative is behind this," Giles said.

"Now wait a minute," Riley said. "There's no evidence at all that we've been doing anything even remotely like this. I haven't seen any proof of it."

"But your people have been researching demonic biology and, as Spike has shown us, how technology can be integrated with it, even used to control it," Giles said.

"Yeah," said Riley, raising his voice a little, "but that doesn't mean that we're responsible."

"No," Giles said, a little agitated. "But it all does seem a little convenient, I mean?"

"You just want to think —"

"Yes, of course, because I always tend to jump?"

"Guys!" Faith yelled. "Calm down!"

Buffy stood and took Giles by the shoulder as Riley looked away.

"Now look," Faith said. "We need to keep our heads here. Riley, baby, we do have to consider that it might be the Initiative. No," she said, stopping him from protesting. "We know it's not you. And that you don't know about it. But come on, think about it rationally. A military installation with all this technology and scientists and stuff. We wouldn't be doing our jobs if we didn't at least look into it."

Riley sighed, then nodded.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "And Giles, we know you don't just jump to conclusions, but while we do have to check out the Initiative, we also have to consider that it could be something completely different. Something from outside of Sunnydale, even."

Giles nodded his head as well. "Yes. Of course," he said. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have assumed."

"And I shouldn't have snapped at you," Riley said. "Sorry."

"Okay," Buffy said. "Well, now that we've had our share of bickering fun, let's —"

"No," Giles said. "I think we've done enough for tonight. Just… take Riley and Xander home, so they can rest, and we'll get a fresh start tomorrow."

Riley and Faith made their way out of the store, but Buffy and Xander stuck around for a minute.

"Are you okay, Giles?" Buffy asked as the older man tidied up a shelf, not looking at either of them.

"I'm fine," he said.

"That wasn't like you, Giles," Xander said. "You're not usually jump- to-conclusions guy."

"Yes," he said softly. "I'm sorry."

"Giles?" Buffy said, coming up behind him and resting her hand on his back. "Giles what's wrong?"

Giles sighed. "Willow, after she left, I went back into my office. She had left the coroner's report open. The girl, she… she looked like Jenny."

Buffy wrapped the older man in a hug.

"We all miss her, Giles," Xander said, walking over to them. "It's okay to show it."

Giles nodded, a couple of tears dampening his cheeks. "I just… it was a shock, that's all."

"We love you Giles," Buffy said. "And anytime you have, you know… thoughts or feelings or whatever, we're here for you. You know that, right?"

"Yes," Giles said. "Of course. Thank you. Both."

"Giles?" Xander said.


"I know you like to be strong for us, to not… be affected by things. But the upper lip can be a little lax at times. Okay?"

Giles smiled at him, Xander gave him a final pat on the back, then left with Buffy.


Xander winced and inhaled sharply. Buffy shifted away from him.

"Sorry," Buffy said quietly. "I've just gotten used being close at night."

"I know," he said. "Me too. My wrist doesn't want to cooperate, though. Bad wrist! Bad!"

Buffy smiled softly at her boyfriend. "So how dangerous do you think this thing is?"

"Adam?" he asked. At Buffy's nod, he sighed. "I don't know. Dangerous. Very dangerous. I couldn't touch him. I didn't even come close to it. He was just incredibly strong and fast, like nothing I've seen before."

"Well," Buffy said, "we'll just have to all take him on together." She shifted very gently and carefully, so as not to disturb his wrist, until she was facing him. Xander stroked her hair with his good hand, and kissed her.

"I love you," he said.

Buffy smiled and snuggled closer to him. "I love you, too, baby," she said. "It was a bad day, huh?"

"I've had better, I'll have to admit."

"Well, then, here's what we're going to do," Buffy said. "Tomorrow, we're going to sleep in."

"You have class," Xander said.

"Hush," said Buffy. "Tomorrow, we're going to sleep in. When we wake up, whenever that is, we are going to have whatever meal is appropriate, fixed by your beautiful, loving girlfriend?"

"Don't forget sexy," Xander interrupted.

"Fixed by your beautiful, loving and sexy girlfriend," Buffy conceded. "Then we are going to take a trip, from which we are not going to return until tomorrow night."

"I'll bite," Xander said. "Where are we going to go?"

"That, Mr. Harris, is a secret."

Xander frowned. "A secret?" he asked. "Does that mean you're driving? Because I thought we were trying to reduce stress."

Buffy glared at him. "I'm going to let that go because you're injured and I'm a wonderful human being."

Xander smiled and kissed his girlfriend. "It'll be great, I'm sure."

"You'll love it," she said.

"If you're there, I'm sure I will."

Buffy curled up as close to him as she could get. "I always will be," she said.


"Hi guys!" Willow said as she walked into the Magic Box. "What's going on?"

"Not much, Red," Faith said as she stocked a shelf. "Oh, watch your step around the table, we may not have gotten all the blood up."

Willow frowned as she sat on the table. "How is Riley?" she asked.

"He's okay," Faith said. "Gettin' his leg checked out by the Initiative docs today."

"Xander said it looked really bad when he called this morning," Willow said. "Oh, and he was able to heal up his wrist some."

"That's good," Faith said. "If this thing's as tough as they say, we're probably gonna need everybody at full strength."

Willow nodded, swinging her legs back and forth. "Is Giles around?" she asked.

Faith shot a thumb at his office door.

"Thanks!" Willow said, hopping off the table and making her way back to Giles' office. She knocked on the door.

"Come in," Giles said.

Willow opened the door.

"Willow, how are you?" Giles asked as he pored over some spreadsheets.

"I'm just peachy," she said. "And how's our watcher-guy doing?"

"Hmm? Oh, I'm um… a tad concerned, at this point, about what it appears might be going on here," he said.

"You mean the big demonmanmachine guy who ripped up Xander and Riley last night?"

"Um… yes. Also, I appear to be taking an loss on salamander eyes, and I can't seem to find out where it's coming from."

"Well… what do you buy them at?"

"Seven dollars a gallon."

"And you sell them for…"

"$4.99 per quart," Giles said. "It's a rather substantial profit margin, but for some reason I seem barely to be making any money off of them."

Willow grabbed the catalogue Giles was looking at, scanned the page, then leveled a disapproving glare at the older man.

"Giles," she said. "This is seven dollars a liter."

"Is it?" he asked, grabbing the catalogue back. "Oh. Oh my. Well, I shall have to readjust my pricing scales."

"Mmhmm," Willow said, satisfied.

"Was there something else?" Giles asked.

"Yup," Willow said. "Buffy and Xander aren't patrolling tonight. They're taking a day off and going to do something. You know, as a couple. Together. Alone."

"Hmm?" Giles said, still concentrating on crunching his numbers. "Yes, that sounds rather a good idea. Xander had a bit of a day yesterday."

"I heard," Willow said. "Didn't sound like Riley's was too great either."

"No… no I don't believe it was."

"Anyway, Buffy told me to tell you that you should get the Ikes to patrol tonight, just to see what they do."

Giles looked up confused. "The Ikes?"

"Yeah," Willow said, "Pike and Spike. She thought it might be nice if you talked them into taking a sweep tonight."

"Why must I be the one to ask them?"

"Well you're the big watcher guy, you make up the schedules and everything," Willow pointed out. "Mr. Responsibility, and all."

"Fine, fine," Giles said. "I'll see to it later. Where is it they went?"

"I don't know. Xander didn't know and Buffy wouldn't say. Somewhere romantic, probably."

"Yes," Giles said. "Yes, I would imagine so."

"Okay, well, I have class to go to in a little while, so I'm… gonna go do that. Bye Giles."

"Goodbye," Giles said. "Oh, Willow!"

"Yeah?" she asked, popping her head back in his office.


"I started to look earlier, but got distracted. I found a spell I thought would help Amy, but it wasn't right. I'll get to Adam tonight."

Giles nodded and waved to the redhead.

Chapter 11

"I don't see why we have to be here," Spike said as he kicked his feet up onto the table in the Magic Box.

"Something about working for the White Hats, man," Pike said. "Don't always just get to go off half-cocked."

"We used to," Spike said. "Before bloody Sunnydale, we did what we wanted for three months. A short time here and you're the Slayer's bloody lapdog. Makes me sick."

Pike rolled his eyes. "Not lapdog," he said. "Friend. Besides, before we were pretty much grey hats. Or maybe off white. Anyway, we got called up to the show, so we adapt. And anyway, it was your idea to come back."

"Friend," Spike snorted. "What is it with you people and friends. You haven't seen the bint in almost four years. You're not a friend, you're a bloody memory."

"I do wish the both of you would stop this pointless bickering," Giles said from behind the counter. "The others will be here in a few minutes."

"Sorry, man," Pike said. "It's just the way we do things."

"Oh, don't apologize to him," Spike said. "Watcher man just needs to get a little sack action. That would loosen him right up. Let loose a little, Mr. Tweed. Stop being so damned stuffy."

"Giving me advice on life, Spike?" Giles said. "I didn't know you cared."

"I don't," Spike said. "But the less stuffy you are, the easier my life is. I'm motivated by purely selfish emotions and my… baser desires."

"Yes," Giles said. "I can see with the way you get a migraine anytime you try to injure somebody that you're quite the scary evil man."

"Just wait until I get this chip out," Spike said.

"What, so Buffy can defeat you yet again?"

"Spike, shut up," Pike said. "No need to egg him on. Besides, Giles here seems cooler than Merrick was."

Giles looked up from his book. "You knew Merrick?" he asked.

Pike nodded. "Yeah. He was Buffy's first watcher. Cool guy, but stuffier than you are. How'd you know him?"

"I didn't," Giles said. "Not by more than reputation, anyway. I, along with many other Watchers, was saddened to hear of his passing, not the least reason being that it was said he was the only one who could keep Travers in line."

"Who's Travers?" Spike asked as the bell rang.

"He's a shit head," Faith said from the front of the store. "Man, I'd like to get my hands on that guy."

"I think we all would," Willow said, entering behind Faith.

"No Riley or um…?" Giles trailed off.

"Tara," Willow supplied.

"Yes, right, Tara. Sorry."

"Walsh has Riley on rest tonight, not letting him go out. He's under orders," Faith said.

"A-and Tara wasn't really… well, she thought she would be in the way."

Faith snorted. "If she can do that cool shield thing like she did for B when the Fangless Wonder here attacked, she's welcome on my team anytime."

Pike was chuckling softly.

"Just what are you laughing at, mate?" Spike asked.

"Dude. Fangless Wonder. I'll have to remember that," Pike said, smirking.

"Why are we talking about Travers?" Faith asked. "That bastard isn't back in town is he?"

"No," Giles said. "Thankfully. I was just telling Pike here how Merrick, Buffy's first watcher, was supposedly able to keep Travers in line."

"Someone could do that?" Willow asked. "Where is he now?"

"Dead," Pike said. "Died trying to save Buffy from Lothos."

"Lothos?" Spike asked. "She fought that wanker?"

"He was the head honcho in LA until Buff took him down," Pike said. "Rough fight. That's when she burned down the gym."

Spike snorted. "Lothos was nothing but a two-bit rip-off of Dracula, who was a masterful ponce in his own right. Has to have his special dirt, doesn't he? All gypsy magic and parlor tricks. Wanker owes me eleven quid."

"Guess you're not getting that back," Pike said.

"What? Why not?" Spike asked.

"Did you not just hear him say Lothos was dead, Spike?" Giles asked.

"Not Lothos, you idiots. Dracula," Spike said.

"Dracula?" Willow asked.

"Yeah. You know, fangy guy, has some movies and a book or two? Dracula."

"You mean Dracula's real?" Giles asked.

"Well, yeah," Spike said, matter-of-factly. "Bram Stoker didn't have a creative bone in his body. That Van Helsing sod was a right tough bugger, I'll tell you."

Everyone was silent.

"What's the big deal?" Spike asked.

"I had always just assumed Dracula was fictional," Giles said, as the others nodded.

"Yeah, well, he's not. The only fiction is that he's more powerful than the rest of us. Just knows a few tricks that's all."

"Is that jealousy, Spike?" Faith asked.

"No," Spike said, too insistently.

"I think it is. You're jealous of him!" Willow said.

"Well, why should he get all the press?" Spike asked. "He didn't do anything so special."

"No," Pike said. "He just had the smarts to tell someone his story."


"And you didn't," Faith said.

"Ye?oh, sod off, the lot of you."


"There's not a bloody thing out here," Spike said. "Nothing to fight, nothing to kill, and most importantly, nothing to eat."

"You couldn't eat it anyway," Pike said.

"I could if it was already dead. You could kill it for me."

"We've been over this," Pike said. "I don't kill people who aren't evil. Or who don't really piss me off."

"What about that guy in San Francisco? He pissed you right the hell off. He called your parentage into question."

"Spike, I call my parentage into question, why shouldn't he? I mean, have you seen my mom?"

"No," Spike said. "Of course I haven't. I mean, it's not like you introduce me to your friends, now, is it?"

Pike stopped walking and sighed. "Man, why do you always have to go all woman on me? I keep you around, I find you fights, I buy you blood. And besides, I introduced you to Buffy."

Spike snorted. "I've already met the Slayer, and her band of merry poofs."

"Well, I don't really know anybody else. Demon hunters aren't a notoriously social group. Unless you want to meet Benny, who's an even more pathetic vampire than you are."

"I'm not pathetic," Spike said.

"You can't feed, you can't hurt anybody, you have no minions, and you rely on a human for your blood, which is pig's blood. How is that not pathetic?" Pike asked.

"Sounds pretty pathetic to me," a voice said from the shadows.

Six men in army fatigues, all carrying pulse rifles, stepped out from the trees.

"Hey, uh, Riley, right?" Pike said. "Yeah, hey. We were just talking. How's the leg?"

"It's good. Recovering well from the vampire attack," Riley said, looking at Pike pointedly. Pike got the message.

"Captain, I've got no heat signature from the blonde one," one of the soldiers said.

"I know," Riley said. "He's harmless. Chipped."

"I thought you were on bed rest," Pike said.

"I got better," said Riley. "Why are you two out?"

"Blond bitch and her whelp fancied the night off, so Watcher-With-A- Stick-Up-His-Bum called on our services," Spike said.

Riley nodded, then slammed the butt of his rifle into Spike's stomach. "Don't insult my friends," he said.

"That's really not needed," Pike said. "We're on the same side here."

"You, maybe," Riley said. "He's just waiting for a better deal to come along."

"Just because you don't like him doesn't mean he can't help out," Pike said.

Riley opened his mouth to reply, when a scream was heard from across the cemetery, and all seven men and one vampire took off towards the scream. Spike outpaced all the men, with Pike and Riley next, but falling quickly behind.

"You're fast," Pike said to Riley as they ran.

"I train with Slayers," Riley said.

They came around a tree and saw seven vampires circling two young women.

"Guess your boy bugged out," Riley said, not seeing Spike.

"Not a chance," Pike said. He pulled out his pistol and fired two shots, kneecapping the one who looked like the leader as Riley shot the same vampire with his pulse rifle. As soon as the attention was turned to Pike and Riley, Spike jumped down from the tree and landed on top of the one closest to the girls, pounding him into the ground. He whipped two small tree branches out and dusted the two vampires closest to him, then flung one into the back of the vampire beneath his feet.

Spike then rolled out, took the legs out from under the next vampire and held the branch below him as he fell, dusting. By this time, the soldiers showed up and shot the last two vampires with their pulse rifles. A couple of soldiers walked over and staked the vampires on the ground.

Riley looked incredulously at Spike, who was walking back to them and smoking a cigarette. "That was just what I needed," he said, throwing his arm around Pike. "Come on, mate. Let's go toss back a few."

As Spike and Pike walked off, Spike turned and yelled, "Have fun cleaning up, ladies." He then turned to Pike and muttered, "Pathetic my arse."


The bell over the door to the Magic Box jingled.

"Oh, bloody hell," Giles said, pulling out his first aid kit. "Not you, too."

"Not us too what?" Pike asked as Spike helped him limp over to a chair.

"Did you encounter Adam?" Giles asked.

"Don't think so," Spike said. "None of these blokes looked like an Adam."

"What were they?" Giles asked.

"Demons," Spike said. "Big. Claws and fangs, all 'grrr' like. Yellow, too."

"Interesting," Giles said, as he applied some anti-septic to one of Pike's cuts. "I'll have to check my books."

The door jingled again and Faith walked in.

"Man, I heard you two got the shit kicked out of you at Willy's," she said. Giles leveled a glare at Spike, who shrugged.

"Hey, my description was completely accurate," he said.

Faith sauntered over to the table and hopped up on it. "Vampire and badass demon hunter gettin' smashed up over a couple rounds. That's just pathetic, man."

Spike shook his head and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. "Why does everyone keep saying that?"

The door jingled again and Buffy and Xander walked in. Everybody gaped at Xander.

"Hey guys," he said. "Wow, you two look like hell. Rough night?"

Pike nodded slowly, his brain not yet having caught up with his eyes. Spike sat there with an unlit cigarette hanging limply out of his mouth.

"You think it's bad for you," Buffy said. "I had to deal with this all day."

"Oh come on," Xander said. "It's not that bad."

"Xander," Faith said, "that shirt should be outlawed."

"Yes," said Giles. "It's giving me a headache."

"Well, I like it," Xander said.

Xander stood there dressed in khaki pants and a shirt that could only be described as unholy. It was a mix of yellow, green, red and blue stripes, some vertical, some horizontal, all ugly, combined with white animal shapes. The shirt, much to everybody's dismay and confusion, managed to clash with itself.

"Take it off," Faith said seriously, not able to rip her eyes away from the grisly scene before her. "Take it off, I have to slay it."

"No," Xander said, inching away from Faith. "It's comfortable."

Buffy rolled her eyes, took Xander's hand and led him to a chair. "Comfort is no reason to violate the Geneva Convention, sweetie," she said. "It's like a Leroy Neiman painting exploded on you."

Pike shook his head to clear it. "So where did you guys go?" he asked.

"Santa Monica," Xander said, grinning. "Buffy took me out to the beach, then to the pier, where she won me a biiiiig teddy bear that's currently taking up the back seat of my car." Xander grinned and kissed his girlfriend on the forehead.

"Yeah, and after I won it, I got to carry it around all day, too," Buffy pouted.

Xander grinned. "It was funny," he said. "The bear is almost as big as she is."

Buffy swatted his arm. "It is not! It's only like four feet tall."

"Only, she says. I could barely see her behind it. It was so cute."

"Didn't people look at you weird, you bein' about a foot taller than her, and her carryin' it about instead of you?" Spike asked.

"Yup!" Xander said. "But I'm used to weird looks. Ahh, the life of a Scooby."

"So you had a restful day, then?" Giles asked.

"Oh yeah," Xander said. "I'm all rested and healed up and everything."

"I had a nice one, too," Buffy said, smiling.

"You just got your ego stroked when those punk kids hit on you," Xander said, almost snarling.

"Aww, did my Xandy-bear get jealous?" Buffy asked.

People started rolling their eyes.

"Nah," Xander said confidently, flexing his muscles. "They got nothin' on the Xand-man."

"I don't know," Buffy said, teasingly. "That middle one was kinda cute…"

"Oh, no you don't," Xander said. He immediately started tickling her Buffy, causing her to wiggle and squeal.

"Well!" Giles said forcefully, stopping what seemed to be foreplay before it ran amok. "If there are no actual emergencies, I should like to close up shop and forget everything that I have just seen and heard."


"You know, Xander, you really don't have to do this," Joyce said.

"I enjoy it," Xander said. "It's my line of work, it's something I'm good at."

"Other than killing demons," Joyce said.

"Well, yeah, but I can't exactly put that on my resume. Carpentry, that's a marketable skill. Stand back for a second."

Joyce backed up as Xander lowered his goggles and cut some wood with his power saw.

"This is good wood," Xander said when he shut the saw off. "It'll make a sturdy bookcase."

"Well, I've needed one. You wouldn't believe how much Faith reads."

Xander raised an eyebrow. "Really?" he asked. "I'd never have guessed."

"She goes through books very quickly," Joyce said.

"Well, this guy here should do the trick," Xander said, patting the wood. "In a few hours, you'll have a bookshelf, ready to be stained."

"Primed and painted, actually," Joyce said. Xander winced. "You don't like painted wood?"

"It's not that I don't like it," Xander said. "In fact, in some cases, I would consider myself a fan. But sometimes I just like the natural look to come through, and this has a beautiful natural grain. Your decision though."

"Well, I think I tend to agree with you," Joyce said. "But we already moved a bookshelf out of Dawn's room for Faith, so this one is going back in there."

Xander nodded. "Say no more. I understand the supreme messiness of a fourteen year old."

"Xander, you understand the supreme messiness of anybody," Joyce said. "Would you like some water?"

"That'd be great," he said. Joyce went inside then returned a moment later with a glass of ice water.

"I'm just going to go do some bookkeeping," Joyce said. "I'll be inside if you need something."

Xander nodded, and went back to work. The sun beat down on him, and he eventually dropped down to just his undershirt. Going back to make some more cuts on the wood, Xander failed to hear the approaching middle school girls.

"Hey Xander," Dawn said, startling him as he made some measurements and causing him to turn around.

"Oh, hey, Dawnie," he said, smiling at her. And her friends. "Who's this?" he asked.

"Oh, Alison, Lisa, Jen, this is Xander. Xander, Alison, Lisa and Jen," Dawn said. In an astound burst of courage, she bounced up to Xander and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Xander was a little surprised, but quickly recovered.

"Hey girls," Xander said, wiping the sweat off his brow. "Nice to meet you."

The girls just giggled, as Dawn blushed. Dawn waved a quick goodbye to them, and they giggled again as they walked away.

"What was that all about?" Xander asked as Dawn passed him to go inside.

"Oh," Dawn said, holding her books to her chest. "Um… they're just… really giggly."

Xander chuckled. "They reminded me of the Cordettes. How scary is that?"

"Umm… yeah," Dawn said. "Scary. Is that my new bookcase?"

"Yup," Xander said.

"Cool," Dawn said. "See ya, Xander."

Xander mussed her hair and went back to work.

Chapter 12

Faith dropped to the ground, rolled onto her back and searched the skyline. She then crawled over to Xander, who had ducked into an alcove.

"Damn it!" Xander yelled as he pulled a crossbow bolt out of his shoulder. "That hurts!" Xander placed his hand over his wound and concentrated for a moment.

"You okay?" Faith asked, leaning against the wall next to him.

"Yeah," he said, touching the wound and wincing. "That's gonna hurt for a while, though. Did you see where it came from?"

Faith shook her head. "Nope. Not a clue. Behind us, though."

Xander rolled his eyes. "I got that much. I think it was aiming for you, too," he said.

"Why's that?" Faith asked.

"I stepped behind you for a half second," he said. "If I'm feeling my wound right, and I think I am, then it would have gotten you right in the heart."

Faith frowned. "But I'm not a vampire," she said.

Xander chuckled. "You'd be surprised how many things a stake to the heart kills."

Faith winced.

"Oh, shit, Faith, I'm sorry, I didn't mean —"

"No, it's okay," she said, shaking it off. "What are we gonna do about this crossbow guy out there?"

"Hope he's a crappy shot when we're not moving in a straight line?" Xander asked.

Faith rolled her eyes. "You seriously got nothing?"

Xander shrugged. "We could break into this store and hope he goes away, or we could make a run for it, try to figure out where this guy is, and take him out."

"I vote for that one, the taking him out one," Faith said.

"Okay," Xander said. "Lemme go first."

Xander stood up and rolled his neck. "I'm going to head for that dumpster over there," he said. "Poke your head out and see if anybody pops up. If you don't see anyone, then pick a place and run to it and I'll watch for crossbow guy."

"What if I do see something?"

"Point it out, and we'll go from there."

Faith nodded and stood as well. Xander backed up and then ran as fast as he could towards the dumpster up the road about a hundred feet from the alcove. He hit the ground hard as soon as he got behind the dumpster and looked back to Faith. She pointed to her eyes, then the sky, and made a circle with her hands.

"The Sun," Xander said to himself. "Pike should be here, but no, mister perfect aim guy has to be out doing things with his pet vampire."

Xander poked his head up, and saw a form moving around behind the lights of The Sun theater. Faith chose that moment to head for another shop alcove. Xander watched as two more figures popped up on shop roofs and took shots at her, one of which barely missed her foot.

"Okay, think, Xander," he said to himself. "Three guys on roofs, no way out without getting shot. What to do, what to do…" Xander saw their salvation through the window of one of the shops.

"Don't go anywhere, Faith!" he yelled. Xander then set himself and sprinted across the street. He dove head first through the window, shattering it. He landed, rolled, and came up right by the counter. He snagged the phone and dialed.

"This is the Magic Box, Ru?"

"Giles, it's me," Xander said.

"Oh, Xander good, I wanted to ask you?"

"Not now," Xander said. "Faith and I are pinned down on Main Street. There's at least three crossbowmen on the roofs. I broke into a store to get to a phone. Get here, quick, with backup."

Xander slammed the phone down and looked around for something he could use as a weapon. It was then that he realized he was in a lingerie store. Xander paused a second. 'Wow, Buffy would look… Focus!' he thought. He looked behind the counter and found bags. He went to the back, forced the supply room door open, and found a coffee machine, some clothes hangers, and more lingerie than he had ever seen.

"No," he said to himself. "Nothing for me back here. Mental note: bring Buffy shopping here."

Finding nothing, Xander sprinted back outside, hiding behind the dumpster again. A crossbow bolt ricocheted off the dumpster just as he got his head down.

"You find anything?" Faith asked from inside the dumpster.

"Ah!" Xander yelled, startled. "I thought I told you to stay put!"

"Got bored," Faith said. "Thought I'd take a trash dive. You find anything in your size?"

"Nope," he said. "But I was just browsing anyway. There wouldn't happen to be any weapons in there, would there?"

"Nope," Faith said. "Just me, some nasty ass hamburgers and a box of… green stuff. I don't want to know what that is."

Xander shook his head. "Guess we're waiting for the cavalry."

"Keep your eyes peeled," Faith said. "See if they move."

Xander nodded and trained his eyes on the rooftops visible to him. After about three minutes, four quick gunshots rang out, followed by two screams of pain, which were quickly silenced.

"Clear!" yelled a familiar voice. Xander and Faith both poked their heads up and saw Pike checking his pistol.

"Clear?" Xander asked. "There were three."

"Yeah," Pike said. "We've got the other one."

"You were at the Magic Box?" Faith asked.

"I was there, too," Spike said, coming around the corner dragging a struggling vampire. "Picked up this bloke creepin' around on the roofs. Figured we might torture him."

"You mean interrogate," Xander said.

"I said what I said."

Buffy ran up, stake in hand. "You really shot those guys good," she said. "How'd you know they were vampires from so far away?"

"I didn't," Pike said. "That's why I shot them in the legs."

Buffy raised an eyebrow.

"Hey," Pike said. "It wouldn't have killed them, anyway."

"Looks like the Ikes save the day," Xander said.

"Ikes?" Pike asked.

Xander nodded. "Pike and Spike. Ikes."

Buffy chuckled.

"Wow. Guess you're beating up Tina and I'm president," Pike said.

"No can do, mate. I got a chip," he said. Spike tugged on his lapels. "President Spike. I like the sound of that."

"Can't happen," Xander said. "You're not a natural born citizen, thank God."

"Does that mean I get to beat up Tina and be President?" Pike asked.

"Nah," said Faith, hopping out of the dumpster. "I don't think she's human, anyway."

"I get to beat up Tina?" Spike asked hopefully, as he punched the still-struggling vampire.

"Don't sound too excited," Buffy said.

"Oh, I've been looking forward to this ever since what she did to 'Proud Mary.' Bloody sacrilege, that was."


"You know, I have to admit," Xander said as he bit into an apple while sitting on the couch in the back room of the Magic Box, "I really don't like the guy, but he knows how to get answers."

Buffy took a sip of her Diet Coke and nodded thoughtfully. "I think interrogation is a lost art form. But he's like over a hundred years old, so maybe he picked it up somewhere along the way."

"Actually," Spike said, turning away from the vampire they had tied down, "this type of interrogation is just an extremely mild form of torture where you ask questions. Angelus taught me how to do it."

"So, okay, so far we have that somebody told him to come after Faith. Just Faith, right, not both of us?" Xander asked.

"Right," Spike said. "Whoever this bloke is, he instills some loyalty. Most vampires would give up the goods right off."

"Why do you assume it's a he?" Buffy asked.

Spike looked confused. "'Scuse me?"

"I am offended by your sexist sensibilities, Spike. You fail to grasp the concept that the big bad here could very easily be a girl."

Spike looked to Xander for confirmation that he was hearing correctly. Xander just shrugged.

"Look, bitch," he said. "I'm evil. Evil means I can be sexist. I don't have to be… whatsit… politically correct. Do you know why?" he asked.

"Is it… cuz you're evil?" Buffy asked sarcastically.

"Too bloody right," Spike said. "Now if you'll give me a minute, I'll get the name of the big bad MAN out of this here minion."

Buffy rolled her eyes.

"Now Spike," Xander said, "you're not actually torturing this guy, right? I mean, beating him up a little is okay, vampire and all, but you're not like… really, really hurting him, right?"

"Do you want to coddle him, or do you want the information?" Spike asked indignantly.

"Well, I don't think coddle is the right term," Xander said. "But torture is definitely out of the picture. We don't sink to their level."

"I'm on their level, mate," Spike said. "No where to sink to."

"Okay," Xander said. "Then we don't want to sink to your level. Get the information, but don't torture him."

Spike rolled his eyes, then turned back to the vampire and punched him in the head. "Talk!" he yelled.

The vampire rolled his head backwards to look at Spike. "He'll kill you," it said. "It doesn't matter what you do, he'll kill all of you, and his army will rule the world."

"Yeah?" Spike asked, hitting the vampire in the face again. "Mind telling me who 'he' is, or would you like me to start with the sharp instruments?"

"No," the vampire said. "You are irrelevant. You don't matter. None of you do. Adam… will be victorious."

"Oh, great, that guy. Hey, find out why he was after Faith," Xander said.

Spike looked at the vampire, eyebrow raised. "You gonna answer the whelp's question, or shall I start with the beating again?"

"No," the vampire said. "I will answer. Even he answers. There is another. Higher."

"Well WHO?" Spike asked, punching him again, this time in the chest. Xander and Buffy both winced when they heard bones crack.

"She is… Mother. She is… the creator."

Spike looked at the vampire, the shook his head. "That's all we're gonna get out of him. Can I stake him now?"

Xander and Buffy exchanged glances, then shrugged. "You're sure?" Buffy asked.

Spike nodded. "That's all he knows. Mother. I'd guess, based on your description of this Adam bloke, that Mother is whoever put him together."

"Mother, huh?" Buffy said. "Sounds like the big bad could be female after all."

Xander sighed, then flipped a stake to Spike, who caught it midair and slammed it into the chest of the vampire, dusting it.

"Well, that was fun," Spike said, lighting up a cigarette.

"Don't smoke," Buffy said.

"Why? Can't 'urt me."

"You I don't care about. My sister comes in here, do you think I want her to smell that crap?"

Spike shrugged and put the cigarette out on the floor.

"And pick up your trash," Xander said as he and Buffy got up.

"No respect," Spike muttered. "I save their arses, I get the info, still get no bloody respect."

Buffy and Xander ignored his mumblings as they re-entered the main part of the shop.

"I'll just let myself out the back, then," Spike called out. "Wankers."

"What'd we find?" Faith asked as she helped Giles count out the register receipts for the day.

"Adam sent the vamps, after you specifically," Xander said.

"Fun," Faith said, her eyebrows creased.

"Anything else?" Giles asked.

"Yup," Buffy said. "Adam's got an army, or at least something he calls an army. And he's got somebody he answers to. The vamp said something about 'Mother,' who is apparently Adam's boss, and ordered him to get Faith. Spike thinks that's going to be whoever put Adam together."

Giles' brow furrowed. "Mother?" he asked. "That rings a dim bell."

Giles walked over to a bookshelf, searched for a minute, then pulled out a volume, and flipped through the pages.

"Yes, here we go," he said. "Mother, or The Mother, was a witch of enormous power. She was a blood mage, and thus sacrificed many humans for her rituals, often children."

"Sounds like a boatload of fun," Xander said.

"Yes," said Giles. "It says here that she disappeared sometime around 1800, and hasn't been heard from since. She is presumed dead."

"Well, somebody killed a kid, and that vamp referenced Mother," Buffy said. "Votes on who thinks she's actually dead?"

Nobody raised their hands.

"Okay, Jeeves, so how do we find her?"

"I don't know," he said. "And of course, the girl at Xander's site was not sacrificed, so we may be barking up the wrong tree. I suppose we'll just have to do some research."

"Maybe in the morning," Xander said. "Too tired tonight."

Giles checked his watch. "It's only 11 pm, Xander. You're usually up much later than this."

"Yeah, and you usually go to work, too," Faith said.

Xander whined. "But I don't wanna research! How come Willow doesn't hafta research?"

Giles rolled his eyes. "You're perfectly welcome to call her," he said.

Xander pouted until Buffy leaned back into his chest and whispered in his ear. Xander's eyes slowly opened as wide as he could make them go. He looked at her incredulously, and when she nodded, he sprinted out of the chair, knocking her to the floor, and grabbed the phone.

Faith shook her head as Buffy got herself back in the chair. "Guys are all the same," Faith said, grabbing a book and a chair, and propping her feet on the table.

Giles looked at Buffy for a second, then shook his head. "Never, ever tell me."

Buffy smiled at him and picked up a book for herself.

"Hi, Willow?" Xander said into the phone. "We've got a research party going on. Wanna join? Great! I'll come pick you up. Yeah, ten minutes. Okay, see you!"

Xander grinned, ran back over to Buffy, kissed her and ran out of the store.

Faith glanced at the table. "He's gonna need those," she said.

Buffy leaned over and picked up the keys just as Xander came sliding back in through the door.

"Forget something, babe?" Buffy asked.

"Uh… car-make-goers," he said.

Buffy tossed him his keys. "Drive careful. You may be super-powerful, but a multi-thousand pound vehicle can still damage you."

Xander flashed a reassuring grin. "If you think I'm taking any chances after what you promised, you're nuts!"

Xander whirled on his heel and ran back out the door.

Faith shook her head again. "All exactly the same. What the hell did you promise him?"

Giles chose that moment to make an emergency inspection of the back room, slamming the door on the way back.

Buffy laughed. "I promised him I would get up in the morning and make waffles if he was too tired."

"That's it?" Faith asked.

Buffy smiled coyly. "Well, I might have made some mention how I would make him tired."

Faith raised an eyebrow.

"A lady never tells," Buffy said, cracking a book.

"So what's stopping you?" Faith asked.

Buffy stuck her tongue out at her friend and started to reading.


Xander walked into the Magic Box ahead of both Willow and Tara, doing his best impression of a train.

"Chug-a-chug-a-chug-a-chug-a woo wooo! Sunnydale Express, last stop! All Wicca's must disembark," he said as he walked over to the table and placed a pink box on its top. "Donut boy rides again."

Faith all but attacked the box, grabbing a powdered sugar donut leaking jelly filling. Giles came up to get one as well.

"Oh, God," she said. "That's heaven."

"Yes," Xander said, striking a ridiculous super-hero pose. "I am indeed a God among men."

A book thudded into his stomach, and he turned to look at Willow, who was, suspiciously, looking innocently around the shop.

"I know it was you, missy," he said, pointing an accusing finger at his long-time best friend. "Just because you can move things with the power of your mind doesn't mean…" Xander paused. "Uh. I don't know what it doesn't mean, but when I think of it, you're gonna be insulted."

"Xander, you haven't significantly insulted me in years, I don't think you're going to start now," Willow said. "Besides, if you do, I'll just tell Buffy about that time at the pond."

"You wouldn't!" Xander said.

"Try me, buster, I dare ya!"

"Oh, I wanna hear this!" Faith said, leaning forward.

"Yeah, Will, spill," Buffy said.

"Okay, well, we were?"

"AH!" Xander said, interrupting. "You were sworn to secrecy on that. That was, if I recall, a pinky swear. Do not lightly violate the pinky swear!"

Willow's shoulders sagged. "Foiled!" she said, balling her hand into a fist. "Sorry, guys, I can't. Not unless he does something really bad."

"Damn," Faith said. "I don't have anywhere near enough dirt on him to have blackmail power."

"Why would you wanna blackmail me?" Xander asked.

"Well, why wouldn't I?"

"She raises a good point," Buffy said.

"You wanna blackmail me too?" Xander asked. "What for?"

"Well, how else am I going to get you to do things at my whim?" she asked.

"You couldn't just count on my love for and devotion to you?"

"I *could*," she said. "But that wouldn't be nearly as entertaining."

"They're out to get me," Xander said, conspiratorially. "I see how it is now. Tara, you're the only one I can trust. What do you say, you and me, we run away together, they'll never find us."

"I- I, um…" Tara looked a little bewildered.

"Ah, you're probably right," Xander said, winking at the shy young woman. "They'd track us down wherever we went. Will's stubborn like that."

"You better believe it, mister," she said, with an emphatic nod. "I'm not about to let this one out of my sight."

"Besides," Buffy said. "If you left with Tara, you'd never get to taste my waffles."

"Oh, God, I hope that's not something sexual," Willow said. "Cuz that's just ick."

"She's making me waffles tomorrow, Will. Mind *out* of the gutter," Xander said, following up with a muted, "You're blocking my view."

"Can you really make good waffles?" Faith asked.

"It's about the only thing I *can* make. Except for microwave popcorn."

"Which you managed to burn last week," Xander said.

"Hey!" Buffy protested. "I wasn't paying attention and accidentally hit six minutes instead of three. My popcorn is usually light and fluffy like a cloud, instead of dark and imposing like a… darker cloud."

"While I'm sure all of this conversation about foodstuffs is enlightening and necessary for the survival of the world, would it be possible for us to focus on the current task at hand?" Giles asked.

Amidst various rumblings and grumblings, the Scoobies did indeed get to work.

Chapter 13

"Oh, I think I have something," Buffy said, causing everyone to look up from their books. "Yeah, yeah, I definitely have something. Okay, the Mother was a blood mage, knew that one… yada yada yada… okay. It says in November, 1791 she was in Spain, and was linked to the deaths of four young girls. A week later about 9 people were massacred by flying demons, thought from descriptions to be harpies.

"Two years later, she popped up again, in London this time, and is thought to have made sacrifice of at least three kids, although possibly more, since London had such a large population of runaways. No direct events in London were linked to this, but a couple months later a pack of, and I'm quoting here, 'wild dogs with fire in their eyes, claws like a lion and a howl like something out of Hades' ran through, in the killing and eating people sense, a small village not far from there. The two events are thought to be linked. Giles, I don't like this woman."

"No," Giles said, "nor should you. She was very dangerous. Does it say anything else?"

Buffy scanned the text. "No, nothing in here."

Giles removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose before checking his watch. "Okay, I think we've done enough for the night. Why don't we all… pack it in, back here tomorrow?"

Giles got consenting groans from around the table, and the Scoobies made their way out to Xander's car.

"Goodnight ladies," Xander said when he dropped Willow and Tara off at the dorm. They walked back towards Willow's room holding hands.

"S-so, is that what Scooby meetings are like?" Tara asked.

Willow nodded while yawning. "When there's a big bad around, yeah, although Xander really must have been tired cuz he only cracked, like, three jokes the whole time. Missed a perfect opportunity, too, when Faith snored, while she was 'reading'."

Tara smiled. "It… didn't seem very exciting. I mean, not that I wasn't glad to help, I was, but the way you always talk about it, it usually sounds m-more, um… violent."

Willow nodded again as they entered their dorm. "Well, we tend not to talk about the endless hours of research. That way we sound more exciting. Although, we can't really talk about the other stuff, anyway, except with the special people," Willow said, leaning into Tara.

"So, you did that all throughout high school?" Tara asked.

"Yup," said Willow. "We were the weird kids who always hung out in the library, cuz, of Giles? But it was fun, it was like our own little sanctuary when we had to get away from things."


"That, and chemistry tests, or broken hearts, or, like, 2 years ago, when it snowed at Christmas? We had been spending Winter break researching why Angel was back. Buffy because she loved him, and Giles cuz, well, that's what Giles does. And me and Xander had nothing better to do because, well, neither of our families are particularly, um, attentive, and we were still dealing with… um, with the after effects of me and Xander." Willow pulled her keys from her pocket and unlocked her door.

"But, the library, it got to be just a place we would all go, whenever we had free time. We were kind of possessive of it too. I remember this one time, when Jonathan came in to check out a book, and Xander snapped at him like he was intruding on our private space."

"S-so, when the school blew up?"

"When we blew it up," Willow corrected, proudly.

Tara smiled. "Right, so, but you were okay with destroying the library?"

"Yeah," Willow said, lying down on her bed. "We graduated, it was time. To move on, I mean, not blow it up. And besides, now we have the Magic Box."

Tara sat down next to Willow. "That must have been nice, blowing up your school," she said.

Willow turned and looked at her oddly.

"N-not that I want to blow things up," Tara said. "But high school, it was always so... I mean, it was… I didn't like it."

Willow smiled and kissed Tara gently. "Well, I think Xander got a big kick out of it, but I was sad to see the place go. Not that I miss it, really, but there were memories. Did you have anywhere like that? Kind of a place to get away?"

"Yes. I… there was, in my attic, this place where my mom used to mix potions, kind of away from the rest of the family. When she… after, it was… I was the only one who ever went up there," Tara said.

"You miss her?" Willow asked.

Tara nodded. "She was… the rest of my family, they didn't understand."

"Understand what?"

"Anything… me. I just… after my mom died, it never felt like home. It was just the place that I lived."

Willow snuggled a little closer to her lover. "Well, where was home?" Willow asked through a yawn.

"I never really had one, then," Tara said softly.

Silence permeated the room for a couple of minutes. Tara watched the soft, yet steady rise and fall of Willow's chest. She kissed Willow lightly on the forehead before settling into the bed. Just before falling asleep, she whispered, "I think… I might now, though."


"Hey B," Faith said the next day when Buffy walked into the Magic Box.

Buffy tiredly waved at the younger Slayer, before sitting at the table and staring blankly at her coffee.

"You all right?" Faith asked.

Buffy nodded, yawning. "Tired," she said. "And I think I slept a little weird, my shoulder's all… wonky."

Faith smirked. "You and the X-man rockin' the casbah all night long, huh?"

Buffy laughed with a snort. "Hardly," she said.

"Thought you guys had some romantic, coupley shit planned last night," Faith said.

"Message on the machine last night waiting for us. They reopened Xander's site today, so he had to go in and help get caught up since they're behind schedule."

"But it's Saturday," Faith said.

Buffy shrugged. "They're behind, and he's in a position of responsibility. Besides, you're working on a Saturday."

"Yeah, but I usually work Saturdays," she said.

Buffy conceded the point with a nod. "How's Riley?"

"Busy, as always," Faith said, harshly. "Walsh used to keep him on a short leash, now the bitch has him on a fucking choke collar. It's worse since him and Xan got hurt fighting Robo-Baddie."

"That was like two days ago," Buffy said. "It can't be that much worse after two days."

Faith rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, she's got someone screening his fucking phone calls now. I dialed his room and someone answered, like 'Captain Finn's room.' She's out of control."

"Harsh," Buffy said.

"I swear, I'm just gonna go over there, break in, and if they don't let me see him, I'm gonna bust some heads."

Buffy smiled. "Miss him, huh?"

Faith stared down at the counter. "Well, you know. You get used to… to people being around, and then they're not, and?"

"Faith, it's okay to miss him," Buffy said. "Hell, I miss Xander, and I saw him this morning."

"Yeah, but you're lame like that."

"Oh, thanks."

"No, I mean… shit. Look, I just, I'm not used to…" Faith sighed.

"Faith?" Buffy said, walking over to the counter. "It's okay. You're allowed to miss him, and you're allowed to not talk about it."

"I know… but last time, I didn't talk about things, and look what happened there."

"Faith the things that we, and I do mean we, didn't talk about last time are the exact opposite of 'I miss my loving and faithful boyfriend.' I mean, I was having major issues with Angel, and with me thinking you were trying to steal my life, and…"

"And I killed a guy, and didn't talk about it, or deal with it."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "So, I'm thinking that if relationship thoughts are the worst we don't talk about, we're okay."

"Thanks," Faith said.

"Which doesn't mean I won't listen," Buffy said. "All about the listening… ears in listening mode…"

"I get it, B. Thanks."

Buffy smiled at her. "Giles around?"

"Nah, he ran out to uh… somewhere. Pickin' up some books."

The bell over the door rang as a customer entered the shop.

"Guess I should get to reading," Buffy mumbled.

Faith nodded, put on her best smile, and went to work.


"Hey Jeeves," Faith said upon returning to the Magic Box after lunch.

"Hello, Faith," Giles said distractedly, while reading some musty old text.

"Buffy leave?"

"Hmm? No, I believe she's in the back, with Riley."

A smile forced its way onto Faith's face. "I'm just gonna… say hi," Faith said.

Giles nodded, not taking his eyes off the page. Faith made her way across the floor to the door of the back room, then was brought to a stop by what she heard.

"Ohhh, God. Oh, God, that's incredible."

She was pretty sure that was Buffy's voice. She turned back to Giles.

"You sure it wasn't Xander in on his lunch break?" she asked.

"Hmm?" Giles said, turning to her. "No, she and Riley just went back there a few minutes ago. He said he had been hoping to find you here, and when I told him you were just off at lunch he said he'd wait. They talked quietly for a few minutes, then went in back." Giles looked back down at his book.

Faith frowned. 'No way,' she thought. 'Riley'd never… and B would never… cuz Xander… right?"

"Oh yeah! Right there, Riley, just a little harder!"

"Did you say something Faith?" Giles asked.

"Uh… no," she said. She stood outside the door contemplating. She was sure that the two of them would never… but then again, she hadn't yet figured things out about how she felt about Riley. But Buffy would never…. Faith stopped thinking. There was no way to be sure except just to walk in the back room and see what was going on.

Faith steeled herself for pain and disappointment, then opened the door and walked in, ready for the worst. She burst out laughing.

"Oh my God," she said, causing the two people to turn and look at her. "You should hear yourselves."

Buffy cocked an eyebrow. "Huh?"

Faith looked over the two of them. Buffy was sitting on the floor, her legs stretched out in front of her. Riley was sitting behind her on the couch, Buffy's back up against his legs. Riley was in the middle of massaging her shoulder.

"God, it sounded like the two of you were doin' the nasty from out there," she said. "Oh God, Riley, right there, harder!"

Both pairs of eyes widened in shock as Buffy and Riley realized who Faith was imitating. Riley's hands froze as Buffy scrambled to her feet.

"Well," Riley said, standing up and wiping his hands off on his jeans, "I hope your shoulder feels better."

Faith was barely containing her laughter at their discomfort.

"Yeah, um, it's a lot better now… I think I'm going to go grab Xander for lunch… I'll see you guys later."

Buffy ran out of the back room, flashing a quick, embarrassed grin at Faith.

"Hey," Riley said, walking over to Faith.

"Hey yourself," she said. "Mr. Magic Hands."

Riley chuckled nervously. "Yeah… she said her shoulder was bugging her…"

"Mmhmm," Faith said, leaning into him teasingly. "I just bet it was."

"Faith you didn't think that we were…"

Faith's smile broke for a split second, but it was long enough to send Riley the message.

"You did," he said, his hands dropping to his sides, and a frown covering his face.

"I knew in my head… I said 'no way,' you know. I mean, B's got Xan, and you… well, you're, you know…"

"In love with you," he said.

"Yeah, that. And I knew… but…"

"But you didn't believe."

Faith looked at the ground. "No," she said. "I was ready to come in here and find you and B gettin' it on, and havin' my heart broke."

Riley pulled Faith into a hug.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I want to trust you, I swear I do. You've never done anything that would make me not trust you but…"

"It's okay, Faith," he said.

"No, it's not," she said.

Riley said nothing for a moment. "No, you're right. It isn't okay. And it does hurt that you didn't trust me," he said.

She looked up at him. "I never meant?oh, God, I suck."

Riley smiled down at her and kissed her on the forehead. "I know," he said, leading her over to the couch where he sat her in his lap. "Listen, it does hurt that you don't trust me, but I know it's not me that you don't trust."

"Uh… it's not?" she asked.

"No. Well, it is, but not me specifically," he said.

"I'm confused."

"I'm confusing, so that works well."

Faith laughed a little, leaning into his chest. "You spend way too much time with Xander," she said.

Riley laughed a little as well. "Listen, it's not that you don't trust me, it's that you don't trust people. You've been hurt, Faith. People who should have cared for you… that guy Wesley who I need to hit, even the other Scoobies, including Giles. And before them, the last person you trusted was brutally killed in front of your eyes. I get you have trust issues."

Faith laughed a little. "My boy is wicked smart," she said.

"Hey, I'm a psych TA. Some of that crap has to rub off."

"You're too good to me," she said.

"No, I'm really not. Faith, I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going to abandon you, I'm not going to break your trust. Ever. That is my solemn promise to you."

"I believe you," she said. "I just… I don't know how to get past all this shit that's in my head. Stuff that keeps telling me I don't deserve… to have you love me."

"Bullshit," Riley said. "You do, or nobody does."

"I killed people," she said. "When I was outside the door, I thought… maybe this is my punishment. It's not just gonna ruin my life, but also Buffy's, and Xander's, and with them split, probably Red and Jeeves as well. I break everything I care about, Ri, how am I not supposed to think the worst?"

"What's gone bad for you recently?" he asked. "You've got your GED, a good paying job, friends who love you, a mentor who knows what the hell he's talking about and isn't an overbearing, slave driving, irrational monster?my issue, not yours?and, not to put too fine a point on it, you've got me."

"That's just it," she said. "Don't you get it? Things have been going good way too long, it's about time for fate to come bite me in the ass. I can't ever make up for what I did, not if I live for a thousand years. I killed people, Ri. I don't deserve… any of this."

"Faith, baby, you may not be able to make up for what you did, that's true. But all you can do is live life as best you can. You help people, Faith. You save them. You're a superhero. Let yourself enjoy it."

"I did that," she said. "And that lead to the killing."

"It's different this time."


"Because this time, you know. You know what it's like, you've been through the darkness, and you pulled yourself back from it. And this time, if you fall, there will always be somebody there to catch you."

Faith looked deep into his eyes, gauging his words and the force behind them.

"Christ," she said softly, almost reverently, mesmerized by what she saw. "You really do love me, don't you?"

"I do," was his very simple yet honest reply.

Faith dropped her head, for a moment, then looked back up at him, her eyes full of fire. "I'm going to figure this out," she said. "I'm going to figure out how to trust you, and how to trust other people, and what the hell it is I'm feeling for you, and I'm gonna do it soon."

"There's no rush," he said.

"There is," said Faith. "It… it's not fair to you, me not sayin' anything. I'm gonna do this. It's the least I can do."

Riley smiled and very gently kissed his girlfriend.


"Yeah, baby?"

"You don't have to be anywhere for now, right? Can you just hold me for a while?"

"For as long as you want," he said.

A soft scuffing noise caught Riley's attention, and he saw a bit of tweed through the crack in the doorway as the door quietly closed. Riley smiled to himself, then turned his attention back to the girl curled in his arms. He did the only thing he was capable of at that moment.

"I love you, Faith."


"Okay, let me get this straight," Pike said, "there's a big guy out there who, for whatever reason, is gunning for Faith, answers to someone named Mother, and can instill loyalty in vampires? And he's big and bad enough to beat the hell out of both Riley and Xander?"

"That's about the gist of it," Buffy said, flipping through the book in front of her. "Although, you also seem to be able to instill loyalty in vampires."

"Vampire singular. And he's not exactly normal as far as vamps go. Anyway, you have no idea who this Mother person is, or where she is, or what she wants, right?"

"Yup," Buffy said.

"Just so we're clear here, you understand that despite being a demon hunter, I think all of you are crazy?"

"Completely understood," Buffy said.

"Okay," Pike said. "Happens, I might know a guy who can help you figure this out."

Buffy looked up. "Huh?"

"Well," Pike said, "about five months ago, I ran into this guy, dressed real bad-ass, you know? But really, pretty tame, except he was a crack shot with ranged weapons. Not as good as me, but then, he doesn't have a nifty magic eye."

Buffy raised an eyebrow.

"Anyway, he told me that not all demons can be killed by decapitation, or the normal means, whatever. Gave me a card with his cell phone number, and said if I needed help knowing how to kill something, to give him a call. Now, how I was supposed call him in the middle of a fight is beyond me, but. He seemed to know what he was talking about."

Buffy shrugged. "Well, no harm in trying."

Pike stood and went over to the Magic Box's phone and dialed.

"Hey," he said into the phone. "Yeah, it's Pike. Right, Seattle. Yeah. No, I got a favor. No, I think I've got all the back up I can handle, thanks though. Yeah. Information if you got it. Uh huh. Oh you are? Oh, that's great. He pay well? Oh. Yeah, I suppose that would. Uh huh. Right. Yes. The Mother. No, that's right. Witch lady. Yeah, we know, but there's some evidence she might not be dead. Uh huh. Right. Oh, you can call this number, pretty much anybody who answers the phone will be interested. Okay."

Pike read off the phone number, said goodbye and hung up. "He'll get back to us," Pike said.

"What's great?" Buffy asked.

"Oh, he got a solid job doing this type of work. Doesn't pay a lot, but it keeps him off the road and in the books, which is what he really likes."

"Cool," Buffy said.

"No," Faith said to Giles as they came up from the storeroom in the basement. "The newt eyes sell better, even if salamander are cheaper. People just think there's something more special about 'em."

"Not that I mind, as it does mean we have better profits, but some people are just snobs these days," Giles said. "Salamander eyes are a perfectly good substitute, they have exactly the same effect."

Faith shrugged. "What can I say, G. People got a thing about tradition."

"Odd," Buffy said. "He's usually the one talking about tradition."

"Any progress?" Giles asked.

"None," said Buffy, indicating the pile of books. "None of these have anything about the Mother, but Pike called some guy he knows, who's gonna call us back if he finds anything."

"Excellent," Giles said. "Well, you can all go home now, if you wish. There's not much more to be done."

Buffy and Faith exchanged a look.

"You're sending us home?" Buffy asked. "When there's research to be done? Who are you, and what have you done with Giles?"

"What?" Giles said. "I merely thought you might want the night off."

"I don't buy it," Faith said. "What've you really got going on?"

"What?" Giles asked. "I don't have anything going on."

He convinced nobody.

"Fine, fine. If you must know, I have am meeting a friend for drinks tonight."

"You have a date?" Buffy asked, incredulously.

"Way to go, Jeeves," said Faith.

"Brit-guy gettin' it on," Pike said.

"I can't believe you have a date!" Buffy said.

"Why? Am I not supposed to have a social life?" Giles asked.

"No!" said Buffy. "Because you're very, very old, and it's gross."

"Ah, come on, B. Let the old man have some fun," said Faith.

"I am not that old, thank you," Giles said. "However, I do like the fun aspect of that."

"Yeah, you sound like a partier," said Pike.

"Now, now," Faith said. "Let's not pick on him. Let's take the night off gratefully and run."

"I like your plan," Buffy said, quickly gathering her things. "Bye Giles, have fun on your date!"

Chapter 14

"Thanks," Faith said as she accepted a sandwich from Xander the next day at the apartment. "I'm gonna enjoy this. I got so much sleep last night, it's a crime."

"Well, they make the best subs in town," Xander said as he sat down at the table with Buffy and Faith. "And sleep can indeed induce hunger."

Faith looked around the apartment as Buffy put some groceries away. "This place is homier."

"It's the layer of dust," Xander said. "It says 'somebody lives here, and they don't care.'"

"Oh, did I tell you what Mom said?" Buffy asked.

"What's that?" Xander said.

"Well, I talked to her this morning, and apparently some lady called last night demanding to know, and I quote 'what the hell her daughter was doing with that Harris boy.'"

"I'm 'That Harris boy.' I'm so glad to be related to my parents. What'd your mom say?"

"Told the lady it was none of her business and to stay out of family dealings."

"Your mom's cool, B."

"Oh, and Xander," Buffy said. "You got 2% milk."

Xander paused, unwrapping his sub. "Yeah… and?"

"I said skim," said Buffy, as she, too, unwrapped her sub.

"So? 2% isn't a very large difference."

"It's a difference, though."

Xander shrugged and started picking tomatoes off Buffy's sub. "It's low fat."

"But it's not non-fat," Buffy said, taking onions from Xander's sub. "Does low fat sound like non-fat to you?"

"I have to say, it sounds pretty similar. Besides, you're completely ignoring the 98% of the milk I got right."

Faith watched in amusement. "What the hell are you two doing?"

Xander looked at her. "Um… arguing about the requisite fat content of our milk?"

"No," said Faith. "The switching ingredients thing. How long has that been going on?"

"I dunno… couple months? Buffy likes extra onions on hers, and I like extra tomatoes, so we just get normal subs and switch, that way we don't have to pay extra." Xander shrugged.

Faith wiped off her mouth from a particularly large bite and smiled. "Wow," she said. "Y'all are weird. Riley, too. I have 'em take off most of the crap, but Riley, he likes extra everything, just piles it on there."

"Ah, yes," Xander said smiling. "The mega-pile. I've seen it. It's impressive, and a little intimidating. Anyway, Buffy and I manage to love each other despite our tomato, onion and milk differences."

Buffy smiled up at him, and leaned in to gave him a kiss, which Xander happily returned.

"Ahh, true love," he said. "The ability to kiss ones lover when they have onion breath."

Faith took another bite of her sandwich, then looked up at Xander.

"What?" she asked.

Xander looked confused for a second. "What what?"

"The onion breath thing. What was that?"

"Oh, that's just something my Uncle Rory used to say, whenever I would profess my love for some girl I saw on TV or at the water park. He'd say 'Alex' because he would never call me Xander, 'Alex, you say you love her, but could you kiss her with the stench of onions on her breath? It's not true love until you can.'" Xander shrugged. "He's a character."

Faith looked at Buffy, then back at Xander, then back at Buffy. "You'd kiss him with onion breath?" she asked.

Buffy shrugged. "Yeah, sure. It's not my favorite of the Xander- breaths, but he's worth it."

Xander grinned at her.

Faith smiled, took a bite of her sandwich and downed her soda, then stood. "I gotta go," she said, slipping her shoes on and grabbing her jacket.

"I thought we were going shopping," Buffy said, pouting.

"Some other time, B!" Faith yelled as she ran out the door. "I got a thing to do!"


The door flew open, and almost off its hinges, drawing the attention of all fifty-seven people in the room. Riley, currently lecturing the class in the absence of Professor Walsh, turned his head. "Faith?" he asked.

Faith sprinted into the class and all but tackled Riley, jumping on him and kissing him passionately. The class started cheering. Faith pulled away from Riley and turned to the students. "Class, you're dismissed," she said. A couple of people started packing up their books, but stopped when they realized nobody else was moving.

Riley placed his hand on the small of Faith's back and led her a few feet farther away from the students. "Faith, what's going on?" he asked.

She cocked her head to one side. "You told me to tell you as soon as I figured it out," Faith said.

"As soon as you fig—oh." Riley turned back to the class. "Leave," he said. "Anybody still in the classroom in 2 minutes fails the course."

They waited while the students rushed out of the room.

Riley sat on the desk. "Okay," he said when the last student had left. "What's up?"

Faith paced in front of him. "I was having lunch with the lovebirds, and they were doing this weird thing with their subs, switching ingredients, and then Xan had this story… and I don't know. It just kinda up and smacked me in the face. I'm in love with you, Ri."

Riley, in his infinite wisdom, felt there was only one appropriate response, and started giggling. Faith shut him up by capturing his lips with hers.

"Wow," Riley said, still chuckling a little.

"Come on," she said, taking him by the hand. "Joyce and Baby D won't be home for another few hours."

"Hold on," Riley said. He pulled her hand, and turned her back to him, and kissed her hard. "I love you, too."


"Jesus," Xander said that night at the Bronze. "It's like they're making out while they dance."

"They're not even kissing," Buffy said, looking at Faith and Riley on the dance floor.

"Yeah, but look. It's just… it's just obscene."

"I guess they are dancing a little close," Willow said.

"A little?" Xander asked. "I can't really tell where he ends and she begins!"

"But that's just cuz they're wearing the same color," said Buffy.

"I-I think it's nice," Tara said.

"Well, yeah," Xander said. "I mean, I do too, they're in love, it's great, but I just know she's gonna out do me in grossing out Giles."

The three women around him shook their heads. The song ended, and Faith and Riley returned to the table.

"Get a room!" Xander teased as they walked up, then quickly started alternating which arm he rubbed after Buffy and Willow smacked him.

"You're just jealous of my girl," Riley said.

"Well, no offense to Faith, but I'm really not," Xander said.

"Bullshit," Riley said with a smile, looking deep into Faith's eyes. "How could anybody not be?"

Willow started to fake gagging herself.

"Yes!" Xander said. "I have a convert to the cause! Who wants a drink?" Tara and Buffy raised their hands and Xander made his way to the bar. The group continued to chit chat for a few minutes until Xander came back with the girls' drinks.

"Well," Faith said, looking at Riley's watch. "I think we're going to, you know, take Xander's advice."

"I gave advice?" Xander asked.

"You told them to get a room," Willow said.

"Later kids," Faith said with a wave.

Buffy watched as Faith and Riley made their exit from the Bronze, smiling as they went. She felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her waist.

"I think your onion breath story had an effect," Buffy said.

"The wisdom of Uncle Rory strikes again," Xander said as he and Buffy began swaying in time with the music. "And at this point, I'm glad I didn't say anything about the fact that Rory always used to kiss women who smelled of cigarettes, Schnapps, and Doublemeat burgers."

Buffy laughed, her head rocking back and staying pressed against Xander's chest. Xander leaned his head down and whispered in her ear. "Hey baby?" he said.


"I got a craving for pancakes."

Buffy laughed at his very typically Xander-ish statement. "Pancake House is still open," she said. "Will, Tara, you guys up for it?"

Willow looked at Tara, who nodded. "We're in," Willow said.

Xander grinned at his girlfriend. "I love it when you indulge my odd cravings."


"Actually, that Christmas was the second time we had seen snow," Xander said after shoveling a good-sized bite of pancakes into his mouth. Tara had been asking about some of the weird things she'd heard about.

"That's right," Willow said. "I forgot. My parents took the three of us, me, Xander and Jesse, to Aspen for a weekend. That was so much fun!"

Xander grinned, and poured some more maple syrup on his pancakes, before taking a big gulp from his glass of milk.

"Xander," Buffy said, scoldingly, "they're practically floating in syrup as it is!"

Xander just grinned, and Willow rolled her eyes. "You haven't got to the best part yet," he said.

"I'm almost afraid to find out," said Buffy.

"S-so what happened in Aspen?" Tara asked.

"Well, we weren't much for the skiing," Willow said. "But sledding provided a good amount of entertainment."

"Oh, no," Xander said. "Dammit, I didn't get this one covered by a pinky swear."

Willow was grinning.

"I sense an embarrassing story," Buffy said. "Tell it, tell it!"

"What are you, four years old?" Xander asked, shaking his head.

"If I was four years old, many of the things we do together would cause you to be charged with felonies."

"Ah, touché," said Xander.

"Are you gonna shut up so I can talk?" Willow asked him impatiently.

"Now what would be the point of that?"

Willow rolled her eyes. "Anyway, so we're in Aspen, and not with the skiing, because we're young, and scared, and we've never been around snow. Instead, we've got the sleds. So we're all having fun, and ?"

"Hold on," Xander said. "It's time."

Willow laughed and handed Xander three packs of strawberry jam that were on the table, and slid her plate over to him so he could access her bacon.

"I was wondering why you ordered that," Buffy said.

"Well, I'm not exactly kosher," Willow said, "but I never acquired the taste for bacon. Xander on the other hand…"

"Is putting the bacon between his pancakes and squirting jam on top of it. That's disgusting," Buffy said.

Xander grinned, then cut off a bit of his pancake, syrup, jam, butter and bacon sandwich and chomped down happily.

"Oh, I think I'm going to be sick," Buffy said.

"It's great," Xander said, his mouth still full, and leaking a little. "You should try it."

"Not if you paid me," said Buffy

"Will, Tara?"

Willow shook her head, but Tara regarded the plate with interest.

"Come on," Xander said. "You know you want to…"

Willow and Buffy watched in awe as Tara took her fork and cut off a small portion of Xander's monstrous creation and took a bite. They were amazed when she swallowed it.

"Well?" Buffy asked.

"It's p-pretty good," Tara said.

Xander grinned triumphantly. "I KNEW I liked you for a reason," he said, pushing the plate to the middle of the table so Tara could share, which she did.

"You don't like her cuz she makes me happy?" Willow asked innocently.

"Please!" Xander said, pointing to the plate with his fork. "Even Jesse never ate this crap."

Willow shook her head. "Anyway. We were all having a great time, but then Jesse and Xander decided they had to be manly and race down the biggest hill they could find. So we find what they think is the perfect hill, and I'm waiting at the bottom to see who wins. So they get ready, and they set off from the top of the hill. They're coming down neck and neck, trading the lead back and forth. They're both hunching over to go faster, and faster, and faster." Buffy and Tara were both leaning in, listening intently to Willow's narrative.

"About fifty feet from the bottom, they both hit a patch of ice and lose control of the sleds. Following their instincts, they pull to the left, away from the road. At about the same time, they manage to right themselves again, regaining control of the sleds, but off course now. They both are headed for an even larger hill that neither of them wants to go down, because they were afraid -- legitimately, I feel -- that they might die. So there they are rocketing towards the next hill and I'm running my little heart out so that if they do go over to the next hill, I'll be able to find them.

"They hit the edge and both go flying. Worried that my two best friends in the whole world might be dead, I force myself to watch. I followed their path, running down the hill as fast as I could, watching them the whole way, until, right as they're about to drop down the *really* big hill, Jesse flies head first into a tree, and then cushions Xander as he then smacks in right behind. I run over, worried that they might be dead. I come upon their bodies, lying limp in the snow, bleeding and bruised, and I'm shaking Xander, and then Jesse, trying to get them to say something, anything. Then somehow, they both start to wake up, and the first thing I hear from both of them, at almost exactly the same time, is 'So did I win?'"

Buffy and Tara started laughing, and Xander was grinning like a fool. "She got so mad," he said. "She started smacking us and yelling at us. It was great."

"All because they wanted to be a couple of macho jerks," Willow said, shaking her head in mock disgust.

"Actually," Xander said, "at that point Jesse had a huge crush on you and wanted my help impressing you. I of course wanted to humiliate him and protect your virtue."

All three girls looked at him. "Okay, mostly I wanted humiliate him," Xander conceded.

"I never knew Jesse had a crush on me," she said.

"Oh, big time," he said, still munching. "For like a year."

"How come he never told me about that?" she asked.

"How come you never told me you liked me?" Xander asked. "He was afraid you'd reject him."

"Oh," Willow said, frowning. "Well, when did he stop?"

Xander laughed. "The next year was seventh grade. Do you remember what happened then?"

Willow furrowed her brows in thought. "No, nothing that would affect anything like that," she said.

Xander laughed some more. "In seventh grade, Cordy got boobs."

"Oh, jeez," Willow said, rolling her eyes.

"Typical males," Buffy said.

"Hey!" Xander said, defensively. "It was a very big thing. *They* were very big things."

That earned him a slap from both Buffy and Willow. Xander munched happily on the remnants of his creation. "I deserved that," he said.

Chapter 15

"Have a good day at school, Dawnie," Xander said the next morning when he dropped her off.

She leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek, then hopped out of the car and made her way to the school. Xander watched to make sure she got there okay, worrying despite the explicitly sunny nature of the Southern California morning. He failed to see the uniformed police officer approaching his car.

"Excuse me, sir," the officer said.

Xander rolled down his window. "Good morning. Can I help you?"

"Are you…" the man checked his notepad, "Xander Harris?"

"Yes. Is something wrong?"

"Would you step out of the car, sir?"


"Step out of the car, sir. Now."

Xander turned off the car, unbuckled his seatbelt and opened his door.

"Can I ask what the problem is, officer?"

"Please turn around and face the car, Mr. Harris."

"Am I being arrested?"

"Please turn around and face the car, Mr. Harris, I don't want to ask you again."

Xander turned around, and the officer cuffed him. "You're not being arrested," he said. "We just want you to come in for some questioning."

"Are the cuffs really necessary then?" Xander asked.

"Just a precaution," said the officer. "I've read your file."

"I have a file?" Xander asked.

The officer led Xander over to the his squad car, placed him in the back, and sped off.


Xander had been sitting in a featureless room for almost an hour now. There was a mirror, which Xander assumed led to an observation room, a table, and a tape recorder.

"Alexander Harris?" asked a middle aged woman, stepping into the room.

"Yeah," he said. "What's this all about?"

The woman sat across from him. "I'm Detective Wooderson. Do you mind if I tape this?"

"Feel free," Xander said. "Wooderson, huh? Like in Dazed and Confused?"

"Excuse me? I'm not familiar with the reference."

"Oh, it's from a movie. Wooderson, was played by uh… Matthew McConaughey. He was one of those guys, you know? Always hanging around the high school, hitting on high school girls. Sleazebag, but kinda funny, in a sick way."

Wooderson grew very quiet at this. "You think older men who hit on little girls are sick?" she asked.

"Um. Yeah. Doesn't everyone?"

"Mr. Harris, I'm going to ask you a few questions. If at anytime you feel uncomfortable, just ask me to stop. You're not under arrest, but you're entitled to have a lawyer here. Would you like a lawyer?"

"I'd like to know what this is about," Xander said, a little agitatedly.

"Is that a no to the lawyer, then?"

"Yeah, for now," Xander said.

"Would you like some water?"

"I'm fine, I just want to know what's going on."

"All right, Mr. Harris. Where do you currently work?"

"Jameson Construction," he said.

"And your job there?"

"I was recently promoted to Head of Carpentry," he said, with a little pride.

"Congratulations," said the woman.

"I get the feeling that was less than sincere."

"What is your relationship with Dawn Summers?"

Xander was a little thrown by the change in topic. "Uh… she's a cool little girl," he said. "I'm dating her older sister Buffy. I look out for her, take her to school pretty often on my way to work."

"Mr. Harris, do you know the age of consent in the state of California?"

"Excuse me?"

"The age of consent in the state of California, Mr. Harris."

"Uhh… eighteen?"

"Eighteen. That's right. And how old is Ms. Summers?"

"Thirteen. Detective, I don't like what this line of questioning is implying."

"Well maybe you should have thought of that before you—"

Wooderson cut off as glass shattered against the door, which opened moments later. "Uhh, detective? We… have a situation."

Wooderson turned off the tape recorder and stepped outside.

Xander sat in the room, angry at the implications that had been laid before him, and getting angrier by the minute. The door opened, and Xander was surprised to see the entrant.

"Joyce, thank God," he said.

"Dawn saw you being taken away and called me. What's this all about?" she asked.

"They haven't exactly told me anything yet. But, I get the feeling they're about to charge me with doing something to Dawnie. Joyce, I swear, I would never—"

"I know, Xander," Joyce said. "I would never believe that of you. We're going to get this all sorted out somehow. I'm going to call the school, and have Rupert pick Dawn up. We'll get this all sorted out."

"I don't know how this happened, Mrs. S," he said. "I've never even thought about ?"

"I know. It's okay. We're going to work this out."


"Once again, I would just like to apologize on behalf of the entire department," Detective Wooderson said.

"Well maybe next time you'll actually investigate something before jumping to a ludicrous conclusion," Joyce said. "This type of gross incompetence is so typical of this department. You people disgust me."

Joyce grabbed a teary-eyed Dawn by the arm and dragged her to the Jeep. Dawn wrenched her arm away from her mother and ran back to Xander, flinging her arms around his neck.

"I am so, so, so sorry, Xander, please please please don't hate me, please, I swear I won't do it again, please don't hate me."

Xander hugged the girl reassuringly. "I don't hate you, Dawn, but you need to go with your mom now."

Dawn walked sullenly back to her mother, who was not amused. Giles and Xander stood there.

"Can I get a ride to my car?" he asked.

"Of course," Giles said, leading the way to his Citroen. They rode in silence for a few minutes, until Giles broke the awkward silence.

"Xander," he said, "while I in no way wish to undermine the seriousness of such a charge, while at the same time emphasizing that in no way would any of us ever have believed such a ridiculous thing, I should make you aware of one thing."

"Yeah, Giles?"

A slightly evil grin broke its way onto Giles' face. "When I tell Faith, she is never going to let you live this down."


"Wow," Buffy said upon entering the Magic Box later that day. "Mom is *pissed*."

"Well, I'd say she has every right to be," Giles said. "It is a huge hassle, and extremely irresponsible. I mean, she, she, she spread rumors in school about certain… activities with Xander, was overheard by administration, and Xander was arrested!"

"Oh, I'm totally with you on this," Buffy said. "Besides, I'm the only one who gets to do those things."

"Oh, come on. It's not like she meant to get me arrested," Xander said.

Giles shot Xander a look.

"Yeah, okay, the law of unintended consequences, I know, she should be more careful. But it's kinda…" Xander said.

"If you even think about being flattered, you are so not getting any for the whole week," Buffy said.

Xander snapped his jaw shut.

"So what has your mother decided to do?" Giles asked.

"Well, for starters, Dawn is grounded until she's forty, and I think she's going to be doing some big time public groveling for Xander," Buffy said.

"Oh, that's really not necessary," Xander said. "I mean, no harm, no foul, right?"

"Xander," Buffy said, "you had to call your job and say 'I was in police custody for supposedly sleeping with my girlfriend's thirteen year old sister, so I won't be coming in today.' I don't know about you, but I consider that harm, and foul."

"Yeah, well, that was a little embarrassing, though I didn't word it quite like that," he said.

"You're not freaked out by this?" Buffy asked. "How are you so calm? You were taken into custody because of my *sister,*" she said.

"Uh… I dunno, Buff," he said. "I guess I haven't really given it much thought. Teenagers do dumb things."

"Xander!" she almost-yelled. "You were almost arrested because my sister is an irresponsible little brat, and you're telling me you haven't thought about it? You're not even a little mad?"

"I don't know," he said. "I was, I guess. But, what am I gonna do about it? She's not my responsibility, and being mad about it isn't gonna get me anywhere. Besides, when have I ever *really* been able to stay mad at a Summers?"

"Umm… junior year, when I wanted Willow to put Angel's soul back?"

"Okay, so that's a good point," he said. "But, in defense of my current position, that was something I had an opportunity to influence."

Buffy conceded his point with a nod. "Okay," she said. "But I still don't get how you're not a little irked."

"Well, I am, a little, but it's Dawnie. I can't stay mad at her."

"You're the only one," Buffy muttered.

"Now, that's not true," Xander said. "You know full well that Giles has absolutely no staying power against your sister. Less than I do."

"Yes, but he's a big softie, you're supposed to be a manly man."

"I'm standing right here!" Giles said.

"I'm sorry, Giles," Buffy said, turning to her watcher and pouting a little. "You know I love you."

"Yes well… just see that it doesn't happen again," he said, before going back to stocking his shelves.

Buffy turned back to Xander, her expression just radiating 'I told you so.'

"X-man!" came a shout as the bell over the door jingled. "Way to go cradle robber!"

Xander smacked his forehead down on the table. "Hi, Faith," he said, his voice completely devoid of emotion.

"Ahh, come on, champ!" she said, making her way over to the table. "Come on, where's your little trick?"

"Hey," Buffy said, protesting weakly. "That's my sister you're talking about."

"Yeah, but I'm not the one who's interested in her goods," Faith said as Riley walked into the store.

"I'm not interested in Dawnie's goods," Xander said.

"Actually," Riley said, "just the other day, weren't you using her as an example of somebody who's as much younger than you as Faith is than me?"

Xander groaned.

Buffy patted him on the back and kissed his shoulder. "Don't worry, sweetie," she said. "This should only continue for another couple months."

Xander groaned again and started repeatedly smacking his forehead into the table.

"Well," Giles said. "At least, if he breaks it, he can build me a new one."


"You work too slowly," Maggie Walsh said as she paced her office in the Initiative.

"I test their abilities. Ranged fighting. Hand-to-hand. They are… skilled."

"They are too close. Soon, it will hurt him too much."

"Soon? He already has… feelings for her."

"Yes. And they grow."

"He loves her."

"He does *not*!"

"You are too close to the boy. He clouds your vision."

"He is my most apt pupil. He will be the greatest of our soldiers."

"Your soldiers, Mother. I am but a humble servant."

"You shall sit at my right hand. My greatest creation."

"And the boy?"

"I love him, too, like a son. He will join us," she said, sitting in her chair and resting her head in her hands. She sighed a heavy sigh. "Or, he will die."

"It will not come to that."

"See that it doesn't."



Frustration was the word that would best describe Cordelia Chase's feelings at this point. She had no idea how to face the monumental task in front of her.

"Just pick a pile and start sorting," Angel said.

Cordelia looked up at him, he who was responsible for the complete mess that was their office, he, who was leaning so casually against the door frame, and she glared at him so hard he was entirely surprised he didn't burst into flames, despite the distinct lack of sunlight or fire.

"Sorry," Angel said, raising his hands in surrender and beginning his retreat back into his own office. "I'll just… let you get to this in your own way."

Cordelia grunted at him. "Stupid demon fighting boss fighting stupid demons in the office. Someone should just blow this place up." She had just decided to start on a pile, when a post-it note caught her eye, so she picked that up.

"Wesley!" she yelled, recognizing the handwriting. The British man soon entered from the hall, where he had been reading a newspaper.

"Yes?" he asked.

"Why are you calling the Magic Box about your mom and um… fish?"

"What?" Wesley asked, taking the note from her as she rested one hand on her hip. "Oh," he said, recognizing the note. "I didn't know this was the number from the Magic Box, although I did recognize the area code. I suppose I should have assumed that any mystical requests coming from that locale would naturally involve the 'Scooby Gang.'"

"Your mom and fish are mystical requests?"

"Fish? Oh, Pike. No, he's someone I met on the road during my time as a rogue demon hunter. He called requesting information on The Mother, a witch from around the turn of the 19th century, if I'm not mistaken. Why he, well, they I suppose, need information on her is a mystery to me. It was my understanding she died hundreds of years ago."

"She did," Angel said from the door, causing both Wesley and Cordelia to jump.

"God, don't *do* that!" Cordelia said.

"Sorry," he said. "Why did they want to know about The Mother?"

"I didn't ask," Wesley said. "You're certain she's dead?"

"I should be," Angel said. "I was with Darla when we killed her."

"Whoa," Cordelia said. "You killed someone else who was evil, *while* you were Angelus?"

"Well, we did that from time to time," he said. "You know, for the challenge."

"You understand I will commit my life to making sure you never ever get laid?"

Angel rolled his eyes. "It's not like I'm planning it anytime soon. When did Sunnydale call?"

"Earlier this week," Wesley said. "But it was an acquaintance of mine from my time—"

"As a rogue demon hunter, we know," Cordelia said.

"Yes, well. He called me on my cellular phone and requested any information I had. It seemed he might have been having some problems with her, but of course, we now know that is impossible."

Angel nodded. "Well, whatever they're on is probably important, so you should get back to them soon."

"Yes, of course, I shall get right on that," Wesley said. He looked around the office. "Um… where is the phone?"

Cordelia looked around. "I think it's under one of the piles over by the desk."

Wesley made his way over to the desktop, found the phone and dialed.

[Magic Box, this is Faith.]

Wesley's voice broke.

[Hey, it's your dime, pal. If you're just gonna be breathin' at me, I'm hangin' up.]

Wesley held the phone away from his ear, looked at it and hung up. "The timing wasn't quite right," he said.

"What kind of timing do you need?" Cordelia asked. "Just pick up the damn phone, dial, and say 'Hi, this is Wesley calling about your witch. She's dead, Angel killed her, look somewhere else.'"

"You don't think they'll be wanting any explanation about why it is I who is returning Pike's phone call?"

"What, it's that hard to explain the council canned you because you lost both your slayers and now you work for Angel, but you met Pike on the road?"

"No… I suppose not. Did you know Faith works for Rupert?"

"Uh huh," Cordelia said, flipping through a few papers. "Xander said she really works the male customers well. I guess that's her inner slut coming out."

"Cordelia!" Wesley said, aghast.

"Oh please," she said. "You haven't been shocked by anything I've said in over a month. Hey, is talking to her what you meant by bad timing?"

"Well, we've not really spoken since I…"

"Attacked her ruthlessly behind the backs of the people who were trying to help her, in order to send her to a bunch of stuffy pricks in England who probably would have ended up killing her?"

"Yes, quite," Wesley said. "I'd say I'm a tad uncomfortable confronting her."

"Afraid she'll bite your head off?"

"A bit, yes."

"Well, look at it this way," Cordelia said. "You can either call now, and apologize to her, and face whatever she has to say, or you can find Giles' home number, call him later tonight, and then spend the next few months being ridiculed by me for being a little girly man."

Wesley looked at her for a few seconds, judged her to be completely serious, and picked up the phone again.

[Magic Box, this is Faith.]

Wesley cleared his throat. "Hello, Faith. This is Wesley Wyndham- Pryce. How are you?"

There was a pause.

[Wes, hey. I'm good.]

"Excellent. The reason I am calling is a young man whom I met on the road contacted me recently about some information regarding someone named 'The Mother'."

[Right, witch bitch. Got anything?]

"I do, actually. She's dead."

[We heard that version too] Faith said, [but we're not buying.]

"Oh, it's most accurate, I assure you."

[Yeah? How do ya know?]

"I am working for Angel now, and it was he, or rather Angelus, along with Darla, his sire, who killed the Mother."

[Oh. That's pretty solid. All right, I'll let the kids know. Anything else?]

Wesley paused. "Yes, there is. Faith, I feel I must apologize for—"

[Forget it, Wes. You were doin' your job.]

"That is no excuse for not doing the right thing, and as a human being, I am ashamed of my behavior, both as a Watcher… and a man."

Faith sighed. [Yeah. All right. Then I guess I should apologize for tryin' to kill ya, along with the rest of the Scoobs.]

"Of course," Wesley said. "You are forgiven."

An awkward silence ensued.

"Well, I have some work I must get back to."

[Yeah, and I got some customers. Thanks for the info, it's a help.]

"Of course, Faith. Anytime."

Wesley hung up the phone.

"See? Now that wasn't too hard, was it?" Cordelia said.

Wesley just glared.


Chapter 16

"Well, I'd say that eliminates the need for research along that line," Giles said later that day when Faith informed the group of Wesley's call.

"Can we just get a list of everybody Angel's ever killed? Things would go much faster," Xander said. Then he turned to Pike. "And how was it you managed to hook up with Wesley, anyway?"

"I was fighting… something, I don't remember, and I wasn't making any headway against it. I was getting quite the beating, however," Pike said. "So I'm standing there, my gun's empty, I've got a big axe I've found and have been hacking at it the whole time, and this thing is just not going down. So up rides this guy on a monster hog-"

"Wait a second," Buffy said. "Wesley? On a motorcycle?"

"Do you wanna tell the story, Buff?"

"Sorry, sorry," she said. "Please. Continue."

"Right. So up rides a guy on this monster hog, all tricked out, got the leather jacket, pants, hair slicked back, wicked shades. He gets off his bike, pulls a crossbow and shoots the thing once, in the back of the knee, and it goes down screaming like he's just shot it right in the family jewels. He walks over, pulls out a small knife and stabs it behind the ear, and it just up and dies. It was pretty bad ass."

The Scoobies were shocked into silence.

"Wesley did that?" Xander asked.


"Wesley Wyndham-Pryce. British guy. Glasses. Same guy?"

"Same guy," Pike said. "He's really a pretty good guy."

"How is it that you manage to find people we don't like and claim them as good? If you tell me you know Ampata, I'm gonna smack you," Xander said.

"Xander," injected Willow, "Ampata's dead."

"Yeah, but so is Spike."

"But Ampata's dead dead. Fully dead. Remember?"

"I'm just covering my bases here, Will."

"What about Cain?" Buffy asked. "He's fairly scummish, and still alive, and we don't like him."

"Cain," Pike said, pondering. "Oh, you mean that werewolf hunter jackass? God, I *hate* that guy."

"Who haven't you met?" Xander asked.

"Dude, I've been doing this longer than you, and on the move, I'm bound to run into people."

"So you met Cain, then," Giles said.

"Yeah, a couple years ago, up north of San Francisco. He was a real condescending bastard, talking about how kids like me shouldn't be out doing this, leave it to the professionals, crap like that. So I knocked him out, left him in Golden Gate Park, pantsless, stole his van, put my bike in back of it, and drove to Louisiana, where I gave it to a homeless guy in exchange for a pack of smokes and a map. Sold all the werewolf and ammo stuff first. Well, all of it that I didn't keep."

"Well," Giles said. "While normally I would not approve of… assault, felony grand theft and the exchange of stolen property… I must say, well done. That man was really quite intolerable. However, I should point out we are now entirely without leads on the subject of Adam."

"Yup," Xander said. "Right back at square one."

"Well, I don't think there's anything to be done tonight. Buffy, Faith, if you could patrol, Pike, if you and Spike would check out Willy's. I know we've done that before, but you never know what someone might tell him. Willow, perhaps some sort of demon location spell? With Tara's help? Perhaps if there's a large gathering, we might find his nest?"

Everybody got up to go.

"What do you want me to do?" Xander said.

Giles smiled at him. "I have a special assignment for you."


"I can tell you're serious about this, by the way you just handed over all that money," Xander said as he and Giles stood in a mostly-darkened lot about half-way between LA and Sunnydale, where Xander had driven the two men.

"Yes, I am."

Xander raised his hand to his chin and stroked it. "You've done your research? Checked out fully… everything that's going on?"

"I have."

Xander nodded thoughtfully and crossed his arms. "Well, I can't say I disagree with your choice. It's a big change though."

"Yes, the difference is rather… dramatic, but I feel it's about right for this time in my life. Successful business, single man, occasionally… dating, even."

Xander ran his hand across the smooth, shining metal of the red, 1965 Ford Mustang convertible that had recently been refurbished and refinished.

"Who are you dating, anyway?"

"Excuse me?" Giles asked.

"Well, it's just that you don't get out much, besides being at the shop. We're all involved and everything, and so far as I know the only person near your age who you have contact with is Joyce."

"Hmm." Giles said. "Any thoughts on the car?"

Xander considered the man for a moment, before turning back to the automobile in front of him. "It's a straight shift?"

"What kind of question is that? You can't drive a car like this with an automatic. That borders on sacrilege. Give me some credit, Xander."

"I'm just making sure you bought the right car," Xander said. "You've had her checked out and everything? I mean, I'm no car expert, but this she's almost 35 years old."

"Yes, she's been completely checked out from top to bottom by an independent mechanic. He said it's in top condition."

Xander nodded. "Good."

"Yes," Giles said. "It's just… you don't think that people…"

"No," Xander said. "It's not too mid-life crisis. You'll be fine. It's a pretty car, Giles."

"Yes," the older man replied.

"Definitely better than the Citroen."


"We've been standing here for half an hour since the guy left, can we go now?"

"Yes. Yes, I do believe we can. I'll see you tomorrow," Giles said, pulling the keys out of his pocket.

"Just don't get a speeding ticket," Xander cautioned as he headed back towards his own car with a wave. He sat in the car for a moment, just watching the older man drive away. Xander shook his head and drove off.


"Hey Jeeves," Faith said, holding out the phone.

"Yes?" Giles asked.

"It's for you."

Giles pointed to his office, and Faith nodded. "Just a sec," she said into the phone. Faith waited until Giles picked up the phone, then slid out from behind the counter to help the customer who was browsing the store.

"Is there anything I can help you with, sir?" Faith asked.

"Actually, yes," he said. "I'm looking for an African monkey paw."

"Ornamental or ceremonial?" Faith asked.

"Oh, ceremonial," the man said.

Faith nodded. "We don't keep those in stock," she said, "because they're pretty volatile. We can special order for you, though."

"And how long would that take?" the man asked.

"Depending on what you want to pay for shipping, anywhere from three days to a week and a half."

"Oh, a week and a half should be just fine," the man said.

Faith nodded again, knowingly. "Yeah," she said. "Equinox isn't for like a couple months, still."

"You seem very knowledgeable," the man said.

"Hey, it's the job," said Faith with a sweet smile. "So, you'll probably be needing some other supplies as well. Burba root, some toad's wart, maybe a little hair of weasel. Most of that stuff's by the shelves over there," she said, pointing. "Why don't you check that out while I get the order on the monkey paw started?"

The man nodded gratefully.

"Faith!" Giles yelled, running from his office. "Faith, do we have Xander's work number?"

"No… why? Something bad?"

"Hmm? No, quite the opposite, actually. Where is Xander's work site, currently?"

"Um… four blocks west, three up? I think?" she said.

"Excellent," Giles said, rushing back to his office.

"Do you need me to go get him?" Faith asked.

"No!" Giles yelled, rushing out of his office, and the store, with his jacket and a slip of paper. "Mind the store! And see that we don't run out of newt eyes!"


"So you have no idea where he went?" Buffy asked that night.

"Well," Faith said. "We got a call from Queen C, and then, I assume he went to see Xan, then somewhere else, unless you peg G as the type to hang around a construction site?"

"Hey guys!" Willow said as she and Tara entered the Magic Box. "What's up?"

"Missing boyfriend and watcher," Buffy pouted.

"Actually, that's one reason we came by," Willow said. "Xander called, 'cause he couldn't find you, and said he'd be late tonight, but he wouldn't go into detail, but he said it was really important and that you shouldn't worry because it was important but not dangerous and he'd be back later tonight and that everything was fine and he loves you although he didn't say that last part but we all know that he meant it and…" Willow trailed off. "He'll be late, but he's fine."

"Bet the ability to go without breathing comes in handy late at night, huh Red?" Faith said.

Willow and Tara's eyes bugged, and they blushed almost in unison, eliciting a laugh from Faith.

"So he wouldn't say what it was?" Buffy asked.

"No," Willow said. "Just that it was important."

A car pulled up hard outside the Magic Box. The group turned and saw Giles and Spike get out of what appeared to be Xander's car, and lift something very large out of the trunk. Buffy ran to open the door for them, and they came in the shop and set it down in back.

"That's a big box thingy you got there, Giles," Buffy said. "Pretty pictures of animals, too."

"It is not a 'box thingy', Buffy," he said. "It is an altar to Diana, goddess of the hunt, which we shall need for the ritual we will be performing tonight."

"We're performing a ritual?" Willow asked.

"Well, more to the point," Giles said. "You are. You and Tara. If you're willing, that is."

"Why did you have Xander's car?" Buffy asked.

"His has more trunk space than mine, so I took it. My car is more suited to long distance speed than his, so he took mine."

Everybody but Spike laughed. "Giles, your car isn't suited for long distance anything," Buffy said. "Least of all speed."

"Oh, his new one is, Slayer. That's a beauty, I tell you. Watcher picked out a sweet ride," Spike said. "Fast as a mother, too. Not your mother. Your mother's very nice." He pointed to Giles. "Fast as his mother."

"That's enough, Spike," Giles said.

"I'm just sayin'," Spike said. "It's fast."

"When did you get a new car?" Faith asked. "And why haven't I seen it?"

"Last night, and because I did not drive today."

"Well… what is it?" Willow asked.

"A Mustang."

"Oh, not just any Mustang," Spike said. "A sweet, cherry red '65, with a canvas convertible top, shining chrome like you wouldn't believe, and, as a bonus, came equipped with the police's Interceptor engine, so it's -"

"Fast, we know," Buffy said. "You gave an exceedingly fast car to my boyfriend?"

"Well, I did need him to run an errand."

"Hey," Faith asked Spike, "where's your partner in crime?"

"Funny you should mention that," Spike said. "He's off committing a crime as we speak."

"It is not a crime, Spike," Giles said. "Or, well, technically it is, I suppose, but I can assure you no charges will be pressed. Faith, do you have those newt eyes?"

"Yeah, we still got a ton. What's this all about, boss?"

Giles grinned. "You shall all find out when the time comes. Suffice to say, it is the summation of a very lengthy project."

Nobody understood. "Oh, just… do whatever it is you do until Xander and Pike arrive."


"Hey, guys," Xander said as he entered the offices of Angel Investigations. "I hear you've got something for me."

Cordelia looked at her watch. "You must have driven really fast," she said.

"Yeah, well, Giles loaned me his new car, and I felt the need to really open it up on the highway," he said.

"Giles got a new car?" Angel asked.

Xander pointed out the window to the Mustang. Angel let out a low whistle.

"Yeah," Xander said. "Pretty much. I don't know what I topped out at, but the speedometer goes to 180, and I was smackin' up against that pretty good."

"Nice," Angel said.


There was an awkward pause. "Spike says hi," Xander said.

"What the hell is his deal?" Angel asked. "Is he good now?"

"Not by choice. It's a… technology thing. He hasn't done much but be an annoyance, but nothing you'd really call evil."

"He keeps calling me, do you know that?" Angel asked.

"No idea, Deadboy," Xander said as convincingly as he could.

"And he said he lives in a crypt. How does he have a phone in a crypt?"

"Cable, too," Xander said. "Um… is there a… spell here, for me?"

"Yes," Cordelia said, handing him a book. "The page is marked, Giles said he has all the ingredients. I didn't want to fax it, because it's kind of really fragile, but we're going to need that book back."

"Yeah, I know, Cor. And we'll have the book back as soon as we can," Xander said.

"And you do have a second caster, right?" Angel asked. "It doesn't work without two."

"I know. And yes, we have Tara, Will's girlfriend."

Angel and Cordelia were silent. "Girlfriend?" Cordelia asked after a second.

"Oh. Yeah, we haven't talked since then. Willow's got a girlfriend. She's cute."

"Since when is Willow gay?" Cordelia asked.

"Actually, that kinda explains that vampire-her from last year," Angel said.

"Oh man, I hadn't thought about that. You're right!" Xander said. "Anyway, not important. I'll have this back to you soon, but I gotta jet, they're expecting me."

Suddenly, Cordelia screamed and started falling. In an instant, Angel was behind her, stopping her descent and leading her to a chair.

"Are you okay?" Angel asked. "What did you see?"

"It... was weird," said Cordelia. "It wasn't urgent. Or violent or anything. It was that... that soldier guy you work with."

"I... don't work with any soldiers, Cor," Angel said.

"Not you," she said, pointing to Xander. "Him."

"Me? You mean Riley? Something's going to happen to him?"

"I don't know," Cordelia said. "I didn't see anything bad. I just saw him... and I got the impression... it was like words were shot into my head."

"Words?" Angel and Xander asked.

"Yeah. They said 'follow the vampire.'"

Xander stood, silent for a moment. "That's it? Just 'follow the vampire'? What the hell kind of message from the powers is that?"

"Yeah, and aren't you *my* conduit to the powers?" Angel asked, a little affronted at the message. "Since when does GI Joe get special attention?"

"Hey, I just work here!" Cordelia said. "I never even signed a contract or anything."

"Which vampire?" Xander asked.

"Again, I just work here. That's all it said. Picture of soldier guy, 'follow the vampire'. That's all."

Xander shook his head. "Okay, I'll tell him. Maybe it'll make more sense to him. Thanks for the spell."

"And make sure the book stays in good condition!" Cordelia yelled as Xander left the building.

"Who are you, Giles? I'll take care of it already," Xander said. "Thanks guys!"

Xander ran out of the office and hopped into Giles' Mustang, gunned the engine and peeled out.


"Okay," Willow said. "We've got an altar to Diana, a bunch of spell workings here, Xander off running an errand that needs speed, and Pike doing something illegal. Why do I not have a good feeling about this ritual?"

"I-I'm sure Mr. Giles wouldn't have us do anything dangerous," Tara said.

"Tara is correct," Giles said. "Have a little faith, Willow, I merely wish to surprise you, is all."

"Giles, your surprises sometimes involve death, and vampires, and arms in boxes that later try to destroy life as we know it."

"Now, that was not my surprise, it was… Well, it was Drusilla's. And in no way my fault. Besides, we didn't even get to the surprise part of that party," Giles said.

"All I'm saying is, we have a seriously bad record about these things."

"Well, this shall be different, I assure you."

There was a crash from the back room.

"Dammit!" Pike yelled as he made his way into the main body of the shop. "Do you always have to move the damn practice dummy, Buff?"

"Sorry," she said. "He just kind of gets thrown around a lot, and we leave him where he ends up."

"Okay," Faith said as she came back into the shop. "We've got one veggie sub for Glinda the good witch, a meatball with extra provolone for Red, ham, Swiss, extra onions and lettuce for B, Watcher man don't want nothin', leaves a big-ass steak and cheese for me."

The others nodded thanks as Faith passed food around.

"Where's mine?" Spike asked.

"I'm not transporting blood for you, bleach boy," Faith said. "You can get that crap on your own time."

"No bloody respect," Spike muttered.

From outside, they heard a roar coming down the street, followed by a quick screech, and an immediate cessation of the roar.

"If he's hurt it, I'll kill him," Giles said.

"Now, Giles," said Pike, "I'm sure he treated it fine. Just testing her out a little, that's all."

Xander strutted in the doorway, a book under his arm. He took note of Giles' glare, and tossed the older man his keys. "She drives like a dream about warm, sticky things," Xander said.

Giles paled. "Please do not ever say something like that again," he said.

"Sure thing," Xander said. "I filled 'er up. She's a sweet ride, man, you've gotta get out and open her up on the road sometime."

"Yes, of course," Giles said. "Is that the volume?"

Xander nodded and handed the book to Giles, opening it to the book-marked page for him.

Giles read over the spell quickly. "Excellent, this is precisely what we needed. Pike, if you could get the, um, package out from the back room?"

Pike nodded at him.

"And watch out for the bleedin' dummy, mate," Spike said, smirking. "Never know where he'll show up next."

Pike shot Spike a glare before heading into the back. As the Scoobies watched Giles read over the text, they heard a crash from the back room.

"DAMMIT!" Pike yelled, to the amusement of those assembled.

Giles handed the book to Willow, so she and Tara could look over it.

"Animal transformation… Giles, what?" Willow asked.

"Can you cast the spell?" Giles asked.

"Sure," Willow said, "but I don't-"

"Here you go," Pike said as he came back into the main shop. He set down a large box-like object with a blanket over it.


The lights were flickering. Willow and Tara were surrounded by candles, sitting in front of the altar to Diana, a mixture of ingredients in between them, chanting Latin. Amy the rat was sitting happily upon the altar, sans cage, munching on a cracker.

The two Wicca's were surrounded, farther out, by the rest of the assembled group.

"Are the lights supposed to be doing this?" Pike asked quietly, leaning slightly towards Xander.

"It's not uncommon," Xander whispered. "All the energy, invoking the name of a god. It's powerful stuff. Hence drawing the shade on the window."

Pike nodded, then leaned back and watched.

A slight breeze picked up in the shop, and the lights completely went out for a few seconds, the candles extinguishing at the same time as the overhead lamps.

The overhead lights came back on after a few seconds, revealing a panting and obviously worn out couple of Wicca's, and a fully human Amy standing on the altar. A fully human, fully naked Amy.

"Um… hi guys," Amy said, not yet having noticed her unclothed state.

Both Pike's and Spike's jaws were hanging out lower than they normally did. Xander quickly slipped out of his jacket, and held it out to Amy, who then noticed her nudity, and gratefully accepted the garment.

"Oh. Thanks. Um… what's going on?" she asked.

"Well," Willow said, having recovered her breath, "you've been a rat for the last year."

"Oh," Amy said, realizing, as Giles handed her a pair of Buffy's sweatpants from a duffel bag behind the counter, that Xander's jacket did precious little to cover her lower half. She looked around the room to see Xander's arm around Buffy, and Willow giving a quick kiss to the other young blonde woman in the room. "Things have changed in a year, haven't they?"

"Um, yeah," Buffy said. "A lot of things, actually."

"Oh," Amy said. She didn't really have much else to say.

"Perhaps," Giles suggested, "you would like to rest some before we fill you in on what's gone on."

Amy nodded distractedly, as she stared blankly at the wall.

The group looked around at each other, Xander, Buffy and Willow finally settling their gazes on Giles.

"Oh," he said. "Yes. Um, well, I have a spare room at my flat. If… you would care to accompany me?"

"Actually, I'd kind of like to look up my dad," Amy said.

"He, um… moved away, earlier this year," Willow said. "He stayed for a long time, hoping that you'd come back… he thought you had run away, after the whole… trying to burn us at the stake thing."

"Oh," Amy said.

"I'm… sorry I couldn't change you back earlier," Willow said.

"I… I guess I can find him, somehow," Amy said.

"We'll give you all the help we can," Giles said.

"Okay," Amy said. "I guess I should sleep, then."

"Of course," Giles said, leading the somewhat distraught young woman out of the store, taking, at Buffy's nod, the entire bag of workout clothes.

The rest of the group stood there, all worn out despite, except for Willow and Tara, not having done much. Pike turned to Xander. "Man, don't you know any ugly girls?"


"This is getting real old, real fast," Faith said as she dusted her fourth vampire of the last five minutes.

"Well," Buffy said with a slight grunt, as she kicked the legs out from under another vamp and slammed her stake home into its heart, "maybe they keep not expecting us to show up in pairs."

"That's pretty fucking stupid of them," Faith said as she ducked a high kick and followed through with a quick jab to the next vampire's stomach. "We don't patrol in anything *but* pairs."

"Maybe they thought this would be enough to over come us tonight?" Buffy asked, as she kicked back up to her feet and staked Faith's vampire from the back.

"That's pretty stupid of them," Faith repeated, dusting herself off. "That makes, what, nine total?"

"I think so," Buffy said. "They've been in hiding and are getting antsy. For some reason, I sense the percolation of the Hellmouth starting up."

Faith shook her head and pulled a bottle of water out of the bag she had dropped. A weapon-filled gym bag had become standard patrol equipment. After a quick drink, she tossed the bottle to Buffy.

"I don't get it. Riley's guys have had this level of action for the past couple weeks. And they haven't lost anybody, which is great, but don't' you think that's a little odd?" Faith asked. "I mean, yeah, they train with us now, they're better, but the amount of demons they're seeing… it's like the demons are trying to be captured."

"Why would they do that?" Buffy asked, tossing the bottle back to Faith who put it back in the bag, which she then picked up.

"Truth?" Faith said. "The only reason for that I can think of is what Jeeves said, but for whatever reason, the demons would have to be in on it."

Buffy furrowed her brow as they started walking again. "What Giles said about what?" she asked.

"About Adam," Faith said. "He's obviously a hybrid, Xan and Ri agreed on that. I've seen a lot more of the Initiative's technology than you guys have, and I think G's right. They could pull it off. What I don't get is why the demons would want to be sacrificed for it."

"Do you think Riley-"

"No," Faith said. "If it's going on there, he doesn't know about it. And I'd know if he was lying to me."

"How?" Buffy asked.

"Whenever he tries to trick me, usually like for a surprise or if something's bugging him and he doesn't wanna talk, he gets a little tic in his left eye, like it won't let him fake me out. He doesn't know."

"Okay," Buffy said. "And by the way, it's really sweet that you know little quirks about the guy you love."

"Ah, shut up," Faith said, hefting the bag.

Buffy was about to respond when the two young women heard a pair of screams from their left. As one, they took off towards the sound, sprinting at full speed. They ran through a grove of trees and came out to see two teenagers, boy and girl, being chased by a large, scaly demon. Quickly 'holstering' their stakes, Buffy and Faith grabbed bladed weapons from the bag. Faith also grabbed a small axe, which she hurled at the demon to distract it from the teens. The axe clinked off the demon's hide, but took a good sized chunk of meat with it.

With a loud roar, the demon turned towards the Slayers and charged. Buffy and Faith brought their swords up and hacked at the demon's torso, sidestepping it as it charged. The demon roared in pain, but didn't slow down. Whipping out with its claws, the demon swiped at both Slayers, who barely dodged out of the way. Quickly spinning to face them, the demon roared and charged Faith.

Faith nimbly blocked its blows with her sword as Buffy kept taking chunks out of its hide with hers with only moderate success. It didn't seem to slow the demon any. Faith landed a kick to the demon's midsection, propelling it backwards. She and Buffy both went on the offensive, hacking at the demon's torso and head, neither able to do much damage.

Buffy stepped back for a second, and inspiration hit her. She brought her sword back and rammed it straight into, and through, the back of the demon's knee, and the demon fell down, howling. Buffy ripped her sword from the demon's leg and stabbed it behind the ear, slaying it.

"Jesus," Faith said, panting. "That guy wouldn't quit."

Buffy nodded towards the two quivering teens. "Chaperone time," she said.

"You get back to your boy," Faith said. "I'll drop these two off."

"You sure?" Buffy asked, checking her watch.

"Yeah, go on," Faith said. "I'll get 'em home, then head over to Ri's. I'll be all right."

"Okay," Buffy said. "I'll see you tomorrow."

As Buffy ran off, Faith walked over to the petrified couple and leaned down. "Hey guys," she said. "You two all right?"

"W… what was that?" the girl asked, gripping the boy's arm tightly.

"That?" Faith said. "That was a nightmare."

"And what are you?" the boy asked.

Faith smirked. "I'm the one who wakes you up in the morning. Come on, I'm gonna take you guys back to your houses, okay?"

The two youths nodded timidly, and started to get up. Faith thought she heard something behind her, and turned around to look. Deciding it was nothing, Faith turned back to the couple, only to be met in the face with a large branch. Before she could recover, Faith was set upon by the two kids. The boy grabbed her arms and twisted them behind her, and Faith felt a slight prick in her neck, and saw the girl's face, now fully vamped out. As Faith started to pass out, she wondered how the vampires had masked their presence from her. Then everything went black.

Chapter 17

Xander groaned, and swatted at the phone, before picking it up. The room was still dark. "If this isn't the end of the world, I'm going to be very annoyed."


"Riley?" Xander said. "Man, it's like 4:30 a.m."

[Is Buffy home yet?] Riley asked.

"What? Yeah, for about two and a half hours. Why?"

[Faith hasn't shown up, and I got worried] Riley said.

"Who is it?" Buffy mumbled from somewhere in her pillow.

"It's Riley," Xander said. "Faith never showed up tonight."

Buffy stirred and turned over. "What do you mean never showed up?" she asked. "She was just taking those two kids home, then going over there."

"She never showed up," Xander said.

Buffy sat up and rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. "Shady Hills," she said.

"Riley," Xander said into the phone. "Shady Hills. We'll meet you at the west entrance."

Xander hung up, then flopped back on the bed. Five minutes later, he and Buffy were out the front door in matching sweats.


"So it was here," Riley said, kneeling down to the ground.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "We were about two hundred yards east of here, killed some vamps, ran over here and saved some kids from a big demon. Faith told me to go home, said she'd take escort the kids then go to your place."

Riley shook his head. "I don't get it. There's no sign of the demon you killed, or of anything else."

"Maybe the demon was one of those convenient ones that just kind of disappears. We get those occasionally," Xander said.

"But how can we know?" Riley asked.


"No," Pike said, once the Scoobies had found him and Spike at Willy's bar. They had stepped outside for a little privacy. "We had to bury it. It was a big fucker, too, took a few hours. Why?"

"Faith and I killed one tonight, but it's gone," Buffy said. "And so is Faith."

"You mind?" Pike asked, holding up a cigarette. At various shakes of heads, he lit up. "What do you mean so is Faith?"

"Faith's gone. We can't find her," Riley said. "Can you track this demon?"

Pike nodded. "Sure, tracked the last one across half of Oregon. Buffy said she killed it though."

"Yeah, well something got Faith, she wouldn't just disappear like that," Riley said, hotly. "Are you gonna help or not?"

"Yeah, calm down, man," Pike said. "I'll help you track it, don't worry. Let me just get Spike, and we'll go."

"We don't need that goddamn-"

"Riley," Xander said, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder and indicating Pike to go inside. "As much as I hate to admit it, and I do, Spike's a hundred and something year old vampire, who used to hunt people for sport. Combine that experience, with his enhanced vampire sense of smell, and he might be our best asset here. Oh, and Cordelia!"

"What?" Buffy asked.

"Uhh… earlier. The spell. Cordelia had a vision of Riley, and it said uh… follow the vampire. So… uh. Spike. Vampire."

Riley sighed. "Okay."

Pike soon returned with Spike in tow.

"What the bollocks is this now?" Spike asked.

"Doing a little hunting," Xander said.

"Do I get to hit anything?"

"If we're lucky, yes," Buffy said.

"Oh. All right then, let's get on with it. Sun's up in a couple hours."


Spike dropped himself into the sewer, and was quickly followed by Buffy, Pike, Xander and Riley.

"Scent mixes up around here," Spike said. "Either she stopped bleeding, which would make sense for a Slayer, or there's just too many other smells."

"So which way?" Xander asked.

Spike, Pike and Riley all searched around the entrance to the sewer.

"This way," Riley said, pointing to his left and staring at the wall.

"Uh… okay," Xander said. "How do you know?"

"Scratches, on the wall," Riley said, pointing to what he saw. "They're fresh, like something was scraped along here. Faith was unconscious when they came this way. They were carrying her."

"What do you think it is?" Pike asked.

"Vampires," Spike said. "I can smell 'em. Or I could, before we came down here."

"You're just full of all sorts of useful tricks," Riley muttered.

"He's like a bloodhound, only much more annoying," Xander said. "Come on, let's get moving."

The group set off in the appropriate direction, stopping at every intersection to search for any clues.

"Hold on," Buffy said after about half an hour. "I hear something."

The group stopped, and Buffy moved up to the corner. She peeked around and saw two vampires talking animatedly with each other.

"I think we found 'em," Buffy said after pulling back to the others. "There's a couple vamps down there, outside a closed off passage, but there have to be more than that. No way do two vamps take down Faith."

"Okay," Riley said. "So what's the plan?"

"You're mister army guy, you come up with tactics," Buffy said.

"Any way to get to the other side?" Riley asked, looking around at the group.

"I'm not the vamp who spent time in sewers," Spike said. "That poof of a grandsire of mine could get you there, not me."

"We don't have time for it anyway, probably," Xander said. "Two visible, I say we just rush 'em."

They all looked to Riley, who shrugged. "What the hell. I haven't had a good fight in a while. Not one I could win, anyway."

There was a general shrug throughout the group, and as one they lifted stakes from their pockets and rushed down the corridor, Xander and his gym bag keeping towards the back. The two vampires were startled, and quickly dusted. Taking the initiative, Riley bashed down the makeshift door that was blocking off the passage way, and came face to torso with a massive, greenish chest of mottled flesh and metal. He quickly flew out the entrance and hit the far wall, falling unconscious.

Buffy, Xander, Spike and Pike watched Adam's massive frame exit the small room.

"Oh," Xander said. "Shit."

Adam seemed for a moment to sniff the air. "YES," he said. "ASTUTE OBSERVATION."

Xander and Buffy pulled swords from the bag as Pike pulled out his guns. Spike stepped up and punched Adam in the gut, to no effect, then was swatted away like a fly. Pike pulled his guns up and shot Adam right in the chest. Adam recoiled from the impacts a few of the slugs sticking in his chest, but was barely affected.

Buffy and Xander rushed Adam, attacking simultaneously. Adam shot one arm out at each of them, grabbing them by their necks. Adam picked both Slayer and White Knight off the ground and flung them into the wall Riley was lying against.

As Pike reloaded his pistols, Spike, Xander and Buffy stood up.

Buffy, Xander and Spike rushed Adam again. All three managed to duck his arms. Xander and Buffy drove their swords into Adam's chest, neither managing to penetrate very far. Spike dove at Adam's legs. Despite Adam's increased weight and size, Spike was able to get enough force behind himself to bring Adam to the ground. Buffy and Xander's swords both slipped from Adam's chest, and they moved as one to hack at him again. Adam reached up from the ground, grabbed both swords, wrenched them away from their owners and smashed them against the ground, breaking them.

Adam kicked his legs out and knocked both Buffy and Xander to the ground again.

"YOU ARE STRONG," Adam said, as he got to his feet. "NOT STRONG ENOUGH."

Xander jumped to his feet and attacked Adam hand-to-hand. Adam blocked every blow. Buffy quickly got to her feet and joined the fray. Fists and feet flying every direction, with Buffy and Xander taking more damage on the whole than Adam.

Suddenly, Adam broke through both of their defenses and landed solid punches on first Buffy, then Xander, sending them both flying. Pike emptied two more clips into Adam, moving up his body and hitting him in each eye multiple times.

Sparks and smoke poured from Adam's head as his eyes all but exploded, and his head twitched to one side.

"A MINOR SETBACK," Adam said as Spike stood up and took another shot at him. Adam took the blow, then backhanded Spike into the wall.

"WE SHALL FINISH THIS ANOTHER TIME," Adam said, then walked off.

Pike and Spike were about to follow, when a pair of strong hands stopped them.

"Let him go," Xander said. "We still have to find Faith. And I have a feeling that, even without eyes, we're not really a match for him."

"Oh come bloody on," Spike said. "You're just gonna let him get away?"

"Spike," Buffy said as she dragged herself off the ground, "we're not letting him get away." She shook her head. "If anything, it's the other way around."

"Check on Riley," Xander said to Pike, then indicated the room Adam had come from. "We'll see what was going on in here."

Buffy headed into the room in front of Xander, and was immediately set upon by a short vampire. She pulled her stake out and slammed the vampire against the wall, ready to stake him, but stopped just before her stake pierced the skin. Xander rushed into the room and tackled another vampire that was about to attack Buffy from behind.

"Wait!" Buffy yelled, stopping Xander just before he dusted her.

"Why?" Xander asked.

"These are the two kids who Faith and I rescued," she said.

Xander turned to look at her as he held the struggling vampire on the ground. "That's impossible, no way do they rise this quickly."

"I know," Buffy said. "But they are. And I'm not getting a vampire feel off of them."

"This close, and you can't sense them?"

"No," she said. "Only one in the area is Spike."

"I hear my name?" Spike asked, entering the room. He laughed as he lit a cigarette. "Well, well, well. If it isn't the Bobsey Twins."

"Hello, William," said the girl Xander was sitting on. "You turncoat."

"You know these guys?" Xander asked. "Why am I not at all surprised?"

"These two wankers used to follow Angelus around like little dogs," Spike said. "And he didn't even turn 'em. Penn did. This chicky here is uh… Elizabeth-"

"I go by Liz now," she interrupted.

"Be sure to tell me that again when I care," said Spike. "That poofter over there is James. What the sodding hell are you two idiots doing in Sunnydale."

"There is power here," James said. "We desire it."

"Yeah, well, in case you didn't notice? Power just walked out the door and left you to be staked," Buffy said. "Where's Faith? And how come I can't sense them?"

"She's over behind that pipe," Spike said, pointing across the room with his cigarette as Pike helped a still-woozy Riley into the room. "I can smell her. And this little bitch here has some magical training. She can mask their presence from Slayers."

"Okay," Xander said. "So why are you working for Adam?"

"He told you," Liz said. "Power."

"Where's his hideout?" Xander asked. "Where does he stay?"

"We don't know," she said.

"You know, normally, I'm against excess use of force," Xander said. "But you kidnapped a very good friend of mine."

Liz screamed as Xander broke her left arm.

"WE DON'T KNOW!" she yelled. "We were met by a vampire soon after we arrived in town. He told us how we could… get a piece of the action. This was our first assignment."

Pike lead Riley over to the corner, where Riley leaned down to next to Faith.

"What did you do to her?" he asked quietly.

"We injected her," James said as Buffy applied a great amount of force to his arms. "A serum, delivered by our contact."

"How do we fix it?" Buffy asked.

"I don't knoOOW! I swear!" James yelled, as Buffy all but took his arm out of his socket. "The.. the serum. The syringe is in my pocket."

"Little help, Spike?" Buffy said.

"Oh do it your sodding self, Slayer," Spike said. "I've done enough already. Tracked 'em, fought, got my ass handed to me with the rest of you wankers. I think I'm done here."

Pike helped Riley kneel next to Faith, then brushed roughly past Spike to reach in the vampire's pocket.

"Got it," he said, glaring at Spike.

"Hey, don't think you can guilt me," Spike said. "I'm evil, remember?

"Whatever," Pike said. "I think we've got everything?"

"Looks like," Xander said. He and Buffy barely moved as they thrust their stakes into the vampires they were holding. Xander stood and walked to Buffy, laying a hand quickly on her arm and healing some cuts. Xander then moved over to Faith and laid his hands on her.

"Nothing," he said after a few seconds. "But we need to go."

"You need a hand to carry her?" Pike asked of Riley.

"I got it," Riley said softly, cradling Faith in his arms and slowly rising to his feet. He swayed a little bit, and Pike placed his hand on Riley's back to steady him.

"You sure?" Pike asked. "Because I can-"

"I said I've got it," Riley all but snarled.

"Just trying to help, man," Pike said, raising his hands in surrender.

"Sorry," Riley said. "I just-"

"Don't worry," Pike said. "I get it. Let's go."

Pike led the group out of the room, followed quickly by Spike, then Buffy and Xander, and finally Riley, carrying a still-unconscious Faith in his arms.


"GILES!" Xander yelled as he, Buffy and Riley, carrying Faith, all but broke into Giles' apartment.

"Put her down on the couch," Buffy said to Riley, who quickly moved to do so as Xander ran up the stairs.

"Giles," he said, bursting into the older man's room.

"Xander?" Giles asked, pulling his glasses from his bedside table and putting them on.

"It's Faith," Xander said. "She was injected with some sort of serum. She's unconscious, and I can't wake her up."

Giles nodded. "I'll be down in a moment."

Back downstairs, Xander put some water on for tea.

"Where's the syringe?" Buffy asked. Xander pulled out of his pocket the small instrument Pike had given him before he and Spike retired to their crypt.

"I think there's a little bit left in there," Xander said. "Not much, though."

"What's happened?" Giles said, coming down the stairs wearing a robe.

Buffy relayed the events of the night as Giles checked over Faith.

"There's nothing wrong with her, as far as I can tell," he said. "I am not, however, a doctor. You have the syringe, you said?"

Buffy handed Giles the syringe. He eyed it closely. "Amber in color, viscous… oh dear. Xander, I need you to get Willow, and take this to a lab. Have her verify its components, do it as quickly as possible. It is vital. And use as little of it as possible."

"Got it," Xander said. "Buff? Call her, tell her I'm on the way?"

"On it," Buffy said as Xander sprinted out the door. "What do you think it is, Giles?"

Giles took a deep breath and shook his head. "I can't be certain, but it looks like a concentrated form of the serum I injected you with last year, on your birthday."

"Oh," Buffy said, the phone in her hand. "It can have this effect? Because Xander tried to heal her, and it didn't work."

"I don't know," Giles said as Buffy dialed. "But you saw what effect it had on you. You were weak, weaker than normal. Too much of it… I don't know."

"Wait, what serum?" Riley asked from his spot at Faith's side.

"Typically, on their eighteenth birthday, the council strips the Slayer of her powers using a serum they have devised. She is then put in a situation where she has to face off against a vampire. It is, ostensibly, used to see if the Slayer has enough ingenuity to survive on her own." Giles shook his head and sat across from the young man, who was on the floor next to Faith and holding her hand.

"That is not the true nature of the test, however," Giles said. "You see, it is nigh on impossible for the Slayer to survive if the council does not want her to. Buffy, in particular, the council wanted to fail. They see it as a chance to rid themselves of Slayers they find too independent, too insubordinate. Buffy is, without a doubt, both of those things. They placed her against a particularly vicious and psychotic vampire, but she overcame it still. Travers had no choice but to certify her as passing."

"So… you drugged Buffy?" Riley asked.

"I did," Giles said, solemnly. "It is an action I shall regret until the day I die. And did no good, as I was fired from my post that same day."

"I don't get it," Riley said. "If you did what they wanted, why did the council fire you?"

"The vampire Buffy was to face escaped and killed both of its handlers. I found out and told Buffy about the test, thereby rendering it null. Travers fired me on the spot."

"For being loyal to your Slayer?" Riley asked.

"For not being loyal to the Council," Giles said. He sighed and cleaned his glasses. "It is this serum that I fear has been injected into Faith."

"Will she be okay?" Riley asked.

"If it is the same thing, yes. It will wear off, although it will take some time. If not… I cannot be certain, but I assure you that we will do everything in our power-"

"I know," Riley said.

Buffy came over to where the two men were talking and handed Giles a cup of tea.

"Thank you," Giles said, sipping the tea.

"Mr. Giles?" asked a voice from the hallway. A very groggy Amy Madison walked out of the back room wearing Buffy's sweats. "Oh. I did hear voices."

"Amy, good morning," Giles said. "I apologize. We did not mean to wake you."

"That's okay," she said. "Is everything okay?"

"One of our friends has been attacked," Buffy said, indicating Faith.

"Is there anything I can do?" Amy asked. "I mean, I feel kind of… indebted to you guys, for me not being a rat anymore."

Giles smiled at the young woman. "No, not at the moment, I'm afraid," he said.

"Okay," Amy yawned. "Well, be sure to tell me if there is."

"I will be certain to," Giles said. "Why don't you go back and get some more sleep?"

"Okay," Amy said, tiredly, as she wandered back down the hallway.

"Hasn't she been asleep since about nine last night?" Buffy asked when the door had shut.

"Yes," Giles said. "However, a rat gets much more sleep in captivity than a normal human does. I imagine her body is still recovering from the switch. What did Willow say?"

"Um… Tara said that she'd wake Willow up, and they'd be ready for Xander when he got there," Buffy said.

Giles placed his now-empty teacup on the table, took off his glasses, cleaned, and replaced them. He nodded and got up to fix himself some more tea.

"It's a good thing Xander wasn't here," Riley said. "He'd be wondering just *how* Tara was going to wake up Willow."

Riley ducked the pillow that was thrown at his head, smiled at Buffy lightly, then turned his attention back to Faith.

"Wake up, babe," Riley whispered. Getting no response, Riley leaned up against the couch and settled in for a good deal of sitting.

Chapter 18

Xander pulled up at the parking lot closest to Stephenson Hall. Willow and Tara were waiting for him, and he handed Willow a cup of coffee.

"Nothing for Tara?" Willow asked.

"Sorry," he said, embarrassed. "It uh… didn't occur to me."

"Th-that's okay," Tara said. "I'm… not much for coffee, anyway."

Xander nodded, but his face was still red. "Where's the nearest chem. lab?"

"Left out of here, then right at the stop sign," Willow said, groggily, sipping her coffee. "What is this we're doing, now? I didn't really get all of what Buffy said."

Xander explained to the two young women the situation, finishing just as they pulled up outside the chem lab.

"Okay," Willow said. "Well, I'll take a look at it. Giles didn't happen to note the cell structure of the real serum, did he?"

"Not to me he didn't," Xander said.

"Great," said Willow as she led Xander and Tara into the building. "Well, I don't know how much I can do with the equipment we have here. We might want to consider having Riley's people take a look."

"Just do what you can, Will," Xander said, smiling supportively at his friend.

"Okay," Willow said, setting up a work station. "This could take a little while, though."

"I don't think Faith's going anywhere," Xander said, taking a sip of his own coffee.

"We sh-should probably check to see if there are any magical effects on the serum," Tara said.

Xander smiled genuinely at the young Wicca. "Good thought," he said. "You guys can do that, right?"

"Yes," Tara said. "It shouldn't be too hard."

"I don't know," Willow said. "That demon location spell did a whole big nothing."

"I'm sure you guys will do better this time," Xander said.


"Do you have it?" Giles asked when Willow and Tara entered his apartment a couple of hours later.

"Well, our lab… and, well, me… aren't advanced enough to break this down to its components," Willow said. "But I've got the basic cellular structure, so if you have notes on the serum you used on Buffy, we might be able to compare."

"A-also," Tara said, "there were traces of magic. We're not sure, but we think it was a protection spell of some sort… it was a little odd."

"Of course," Giles said. "A modified protection, or non-interference spell might be what kept Xander's healing abilities at bay. And I have an entire volume on what I was forced to administer to Buffy, let me just get that."

"Where's Xander?" Buffy asked the two Wiccas.

"He was late for work," Willow said. She walked over to the couch, and smiled lightly when she saw Riley asleep on the floor, holding Faith's hand. "She doesn't look… sick, or anything."

"No," Buffy said. "Seems perfectly peaceful. But, she just won't wake up."

"We'll fix it," Willow said.

"Here we go," Giles said, handing a book to Willow. "This is everything I have on the serum."

Willow did a quick scan through the index of the book, made note of a few entries, and sat down to start reading. "This could be a little while," she said.

Buffy leaned back into the couch, intent on sleeping.

"Mr. Giles?" came Amy's voice from the hallway.

"Yes? Is there something you need, Amy?"

"Um… is there anywhere I could find a computer? I was kind of hoping to find my dad," Amy said.

"I've got my laptop here, if you want," Willow offered.

"Oh, thanks," Amy said. "And, um… thanks for making me not a rat anymore. That… really wasn't too well thought out by me."

"That's okay," Willow said. "I was happy to."

Amy smiled as Willow quickly set up her laptop and got back to reading, as Tara sat, uncomfortable with nothing to do.

"Tara?" Giles asked, having collected a few volumes. "Would you mind looking through these for anything that might resemble the serum? It will cut down on our research time if it turns out not to be similar to the council's serum."

"Of course," Tara said, happily accepting the books. Giles smiled softly at the young woman, who quickly delved into the books, then headed back upstairs and went back to sleep.


"Oh!" Amy exclaimed an hour and a half later. "This is it!"

"You found him?" Willow asked.

"I did," Amy said. "Unless you think there are any other doctors in L.A. with my father's name who have a previous address the same as mine listed with the DMV."

"No, probably not," Willow said. "Write down the address, I'm sure someone can take you there tonight, if you want."

"Oh, I don't want to be a bother…" Amy started.

"Don't be silly," Willow said.

"But it's a long drive and-"

"And we have friends in Los Angeles who can put any of us up for the night if it's that late," Willow said.

"Are you sure?"

"Amy, write the address down. Call him if you want, you will see your father tonight, okay?"

"Okay," Amy said, suddenly excited. "I'm gonna go… no, I don't have anything to pack. Um… do you guys need any help?"

"I don't think so," Willow said. "I'm almost done here. Tara?"

"I've j-just got this one book left," Tara said. "I don't think-"

"No more lemons!"

The three young witches slowly turned their heads to the seating area, where Riley sat up suddenly, sweating profusely and panting. He wiped his face, unaware he was being watched, and looked to the still unconscious Faith, brushed some hair out her face and stood.

"Riley?" Willow asked, startling the young soldier.

"Willow. Tara. Amy, right? Hi," Riley said, wiping his clothes down.

"No more lemons?" Willow asked.

"Oh. Um… I uh. When I was younger there was… a lemonade stand and… a clown. It was… it was bad."

"Uh huh," Willow said. She pointed to Giles' kitchen. "There's hot water if you want some tea or coffee."

"Thanks," Riley said. "Any luck yet?"

"Well, I haven't found an exact description, but I've been able to make some inferences from various notes and passages and statements on how this stuff works, and I think that it seems similar but I'm still not really what we're looking for. Tara?"

"I've found s-some serums that do similar things, a couple of which are th-the right color and consistency… b-but nothing solid. Sorry."

"Should I have my guys take a look at it?" Riley asked. "Maybe they can come up with an antidote or something."

"We must be cautious about that," Giles said, coming down the stairs. "For the moment, at least."

"But it could help Faith to get better," Riley said.

"Yes, it very well could," replied Giles. "However, there is more to it than just that. If the serum is that which the council uses, and the Initiative were to acquire the formula, they would then have the ability to render any Slayer all but useless, for whatever purposes.

"I know," Giles continued, cutting off Riley's protest, "I know that you yourself would never do such a thing, but Riley I do not trust your superiors. I am well aware of how worried you are for Faith, and if it does come to that, we will enlist their services, I assure you. But I would prefer to exhaust all other options before we explore that avenue."

Riley nodded at the older man, and sat down to drink his coffee.

Giles looked over the notes Tara had made. "Mmm. Yes, excellent work, Tara," he said, eliciting a smile from the young Wicca. "Although, it is unlikely to be the saliva of a Morash demon, as they are now extinct. I don't even know why they were mentioned, which volume was that in?"

Tara handed Giles a book, which he looked at, rolled his eyes and set down again. "I really need to get up-to-date editions of these," he said. "Willow? Anything?"

"Well," Willow said, "sort of. Not really. I don't think this is what we're dealing with, Giles. The effects are just too dissimilar. If this were in a concentrated form, I think it would just kind of shut her body down, not her mind. Faith's fine, physically, she just won't wake up. Even in a concentrated form, this stuff wouldn't do that, I don't think."

"All right," Giles said, picking up the list Tara had made again, and copying it down onto another piece of paper. "Riley, want to do something useful?"

"You know it," Riley said, out of his chair in an instant.

"Take this list to Willy, and if that doesn't work, Spike. See if they're aware of any of these types of demons in town, or have heard of anybody making inquiries about these substances." Giles grabbed his coat and started putting it on.

"What are you doing?" Willow asked.

Giles sighed and put the list in his pocket. "I'm going to make sure nobody ordered any of this through my shop."


The door slammed open.

"Watch the sunlight, you wanker!" Spike yelled, rolling off his mattress and behind a stone coffin.

"Yeah," Riley said sarcastically. "It's my fault you're not intelligent enough to sleep where that won't happen."

"Go to hell," Spike said.

"I'll save you a seat. Need some help."

"Of course you do. All you bloody Scoobies always need help."

"Spike…" Riley warned.

"Yeah, yeah, I know, I don't help you, I turn to dust and float away. What is it?"

Riley handed him the list. "Seen or heard about any of that in town?"

Spike took the list and read it over. "Nope, don't know a thing," he said. "Ask Willy."

"I tried," Riley said. "Couldn't find him. He actually wasn't at his bar for once."

"You really can't do anything, can you? First you lose your girl, then you can't wake her up, now you can't even find someone to help. You really are a sad excuse for a Prince Charming."

In lieu of responding, Riley looked around. "Where's your better half?"

"Out getting me a few pints. I'm runnin' low."

"Doesn't the blood go bad?"

"Yeah, if you leave it lyin' around like a jackass," Spike snarked.

"You have a fridge in here?"

"All the amenities of home, and no rent. TV with cable is downstairs," Spike said, pointing to a ladder leading down a hole in the floor, "as well as a stereo, and a couple Lay-z-boys."

"You guys moved all that in?"


"And you carried it all on the back of Pike's Harley? Which, come to think of it, where does he store that?"

"Over there," Spike said, pointing to a corner. "We've got the plywood by the stairs for a ramp, and this is also why we chose a crypt close as we could to the li'l road running through here."

"And the chairs?"

"Borrowed a truck for a night."

"Stole," Riley said.

"Hey, we returned it."

"How'd you pay for the chairs?"

"Didn't," Spike said, grinning. "They were in the truck."

Riley rolled his eyes. "All right," he said. "You hear about any of this, let someone know."

"Yes, sir, Captain, sir," Spike said with a mock salute as Riley left the crypt. "Wanker."


"Nothing," Giles said. "We have nothing."

"I couldn't find Willy," Riley said. "And I don't know where he lives."

"Nobody knows where he lives," said a now awake Buffy.

"So?" Willow asked, worry creasing her face.

"So… Riley, I think it's time for you to take this to your scientists. Willow believes it's not the council's serum, and we have, at this point, no other alternatives."

Riley nodded once. "Okay," he said. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

Riley grabbed the vial, slipped it in his pocket and left.

"Do you think letting the Initiative have that is the right thing?" Willow asked.

Giles sighed. "I don't know. But, it's what we must do… for Faith."


"Riley, man, long time no see," said Forrest, Riley's tall, African-American second-in-command, as Riley walked into the Initiative.

"Hey," Riley said. "Can't talk right now, gotta hit up some smart guys."

"Hold on, there, chief," Forrest said. "You've missed a few staff meetings. Walsh is lookin' for ya, and she's pissed."

"I really don't give a shit how Walsh is feeling right now."

Forrest shook his head. "Man, that girl is seriously messin' with your head."

"And what exactly is that supposed to mean?"

"It means you've changed, Ri. You used to be all about this stuff. Working for the cause. Now it's all about Faith."

"It's not all about Faith. It so happens I fight every night. I do more work with them than we ever do," Riley said. "However right now, it does happen to be about Faith, so if you'll excuse me…"

"Actually, I can't," Forrest said. "Walsh told us we're not to let you out of our sight until you talked to her."

"Well, then, you're welcome to follow me," Riley said. And with that, he headed off towards the labs.

Riley took the sample to the labs and ordered them to make it a priority, then sought out Walsh.

"You wanted to see me, ma'am?"

"Riley," she said, quickly tapping a few buttons on her console. "Forrest, that'll be all, thank you."

"Ma'am?" Riley asked.

Walsh stood up, walked around her desk and sat on its edge. "I have a feeling that you don't really want to be here, so I'll get straight to the point. I'm very disappointed in you, and your behavior, Captain Finn. You have been shirking your duties. You've been spending far too much time with these… civilians."

"With all due respect, ma'am, we've had this conversation," Riley said.

"Then we'll have it again!" Walsh snapped. "It obviously didn't sink in the first time. This is your job, Riley. Something you signed on for. You have responsibilities, you have duties, and anything and everything else come after that. Your actions recently have been intolerable. Is this understood?"

"Yes ma'am," Riley said.

"As of now, I'm relieving you of your command duties. Forrest will take over general command of the troops, you will be second in command under him. If your performance and attitude improve, we'll see about putting you back in a position of responsibility. Is that clear?"

"Yes, ma'am," Riley said.

"Now. I understand you've submitted something for analysis, is this correct?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Walsh waited patiently for him to explain.

"Is that all?"

"I answered your question ma'am," Riley said, his face emotionless.

"I see. If that's how you want it to be, then that's how it'll be. What, exactly, did you submit for analysis?"

"I don't know, ma'am. A serum of some sort."

"Where did you acquire this serum?"

"It was taken off of a vampire, ma'am," Riley said.

"And what do you know about this… serum?"

Riley paused, thinking of the best response. "It is not a serum that the Watcher's Council uses to remove powers from their Slayers, ma'am. And it is not the saliva of a Morash demon. I can't tell you much more than that," he said.

Walsh stared at him intensely. "All right. Why are you so interested in this serum?"

"It was injected into Faith," he said. "We're trying to ascertain what effects it might have, so we know best how to deal with them." It was close enough to the truth.

"I see," Walsh said. It did not escape her notice that he now identified himself as part of 'them'. "Riley, I understand you care for the girl, but it really might be better if you didn't-"

"I won't abandon her," Riley said, subtly shifting his stance, with fire in his voice as well as his eyes. "Ever."

Walsh took a moment to take in his posture, his intonation the look he was giving her.

"You love her," Walsh said. It was not a question.

"With everything I have."

Walsh paused and nodded. "I'll not keep you from her anymore, then. You're dismissed."

"Yes ma'am. Thank you ma'am." Riley turned on his heel and walked out of her office.

Walsh went back behind her desk, tapped a button, and all but collapsed in her chair.

"I've lost him," she said.


"Move up the time table," she said. "I want to be ready by the end of the week."

"It will be done."


"Riley, good, you've returned," Giles said later that afternoon. "Have you any news?"

"Yeah," Riley said. "It's definitely some sort of goo. More than that… no idea. Initiative scientists are just as in the dark as we are. It matches no synthetic compounds currently known, and no demonic residue in the databases."

"Damn," Giles said. "Were you able to keep any of the sample?"

"Nope. Used up the whole damn thing. Where is everyone?"

"Oh, um, Willow, Tara and Buffy all had class, and Amy, I believe, went… back to sleep. Buffy moved Faith upstairs to my room. Thought she might be more comfortable."

"Do you mind if I…"

"No, no, go ahead. I'll just be here… not being of any use."

"Giles," Riley said, "don't. This isn't your fault. We've done everything we know to do, and most of that we wouldn't have known to do without you."

"Bloody lot of good it did," Giles muttered.

"Hey," Riley said. "You did your best. That's the best anyone can do. For now, I guess we just… have to hope." Riley clasped Giles' shoulder for a moment, before heading upstairs. He sat on the bed next to Faith, who, by all appearances, was sleeping peacefully.

"Hey, babe," he said, taking her hand in his. "I don't know if you can hear me or anything. I just um… I need you to wake up, okay? We're not having any luck out here, and I don't know… I miss you. I'm scared, Faith. This Adam guy has taken all of us down, and he really doesn't seem to be having any problems doing it. I just… I need you here, to tell me it'll be okay. So, if you could wake up, that'd be great. I need…" Riley shook his head. "I love you, Faith."

Riley shook his head. 'Some Prince Charming,' he thought sarcastically. 'Ah, what the hell.' Riley leaned down and gently kissed Faith on the lips then waited for some sort of reaction. Nothing happened. Riley brushed some hair back off her forehead, before standing, squeezing her hand one more time, leaving the room and heading back downstairs.

"No change, I assume?" Giles asked.

"None," Riley said, plopping down on the chair across the table from Giles.

"Hey," Xander said as he opened the door and entered the apartment.

"Xander," Giles said with some surprise. "You're earlier than I expected."

"Yeah, well, I was highest up on the chain at the site today, so I told John I was feeling crappy and left him in charge."

Giles nodded at him and indicated he should take a seat.

"How you holding up?" Xander asked of Riley.

Riley shook his head. "I feel useless," he said.

"We've all been there," Xander said. "You just gotta keep chugging."

"I know," Riley said. "I just -"

"What's a girl gotta do to get a glass of water around here?" asked a rough, gravelly voice from the direction of the stairs.

Three heads immediately whipped in the direction of the query.

"Faith," Riley whispered.

Faith smirked a little, before Riley rocketed out of his chair and swept the young woman into his arms and kissed her forcefully on the lips.

"What's going on?" Faith asked, when Riley finally put her down. "Why was I in Giles' bed?"

"You've been, well, basically asleep, as far as we can tell, since at least 5 a.m.," Giles said.

"You're shittin' me," Faith said.

"I assure you, I am not," Giles said.

"We couldn't wake you," Riley said, his arms wrapped around Faith's waist from behind. "I was so worried."

Faith turned in his arms, looked into his eyes, then reached up and cupped his face with her hand. "Hey," she said, smirking. "It's okay, I woke up. It'll all be all right."

"Yes, abo-" Giles' voice was cut off by Xander's hand placing itself over his mouth. Xander stood, dragging Giles with him towards the door.

"What he meant to say was we'll be… somewhere. Close. But not too close. Outside close," Xander said, a little awkwardly. He then dragged Giles forcefully out the door and across the small square outside of Giles' apartment.

"That was a little rude," Giles said when Xander had shut the door and removed his hand from Giles' mouth.

"Yeah, sorry," Xander said. "I just thought, you know, moment of privacy."

"Yes, but in my flat?" Giles asked. "I mean, what… you don't think… there's only one free bed and that's mine, and I certainly don't think-" The door to his apartment opened, and Faith and Riley walked out together.

"We're just going to um…" Riley started, pointing towards where his car was parked.

"Screw each others brains out," Faith finished with a smile, causing Giles to remove his glasses and pinch the bridge of his nose.

"Well, I was more going for 'make love'," Riley said, as he and Faith walked away from the apartment.

"You better believe it," said Faith. "But that wouldn't have made Jeeves uncomfortable, would it?"

Riley smiled at her. "Have I told you I love you recently?"

"Once or twice," she said, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. "But I can always do with hearin' it again. And I love you, too, babe."

Riley nodded. At that point, the legions of Hell itself couldn't have wiped the grin from his face.

Chapter 19

"Hey," Xander said when he popped into the crypt Spike and Pike shared.

"Oh, hey man," Pike slurred, putting out his cigarette and taking a swig from the Jack Daniel's bottle next to him. "What's up?"

"I'm taking Amy to her dad's place in LA, and dropping the spell book off at Angel's. Thought you might wanna catch up with Wesley?"

"Yeah, sure," Pike said. He hopped off the coffin he was using as a seat and fell flat on his face.

"You're not goin' anywhere," Spike said, climbing the ladder from the lower floor and walking over to Pike. "I swear, this little amulet of his spends more time working his liver and lungs than broken bones and lacerations."

Spike rolled Pike over with his foot, then picked him up and put him back on the coffin lid. "You're goin' to see the poof?"

"I'll stop by, yeah," Xander said, as he made his way out of the crypt. He paused and turned back. "Wait. Why?"

"Well," Spike said, "a chance to see the sire again. If it were to be offered, might not be passed up. So to speak."

Xander looked at him incredulously. "You actually want me to take you in my car for two hours there and two hours back? What are you, nuts? No way are you coming alone with me in my car."

Xander shook his head, then turned back to the door and started walking away. He paused again and turned back to Spike, pointed to Pike and grinned. "How quick can you sober him up?"


[No, Jim, I don't think that you're being unethical. And I mean come on, the samples do help out the families who can't really afford any meds.]

"Yeah, you're probably right." There was a knock at the door. "Look, Tom, I gotta go. Somebody's here. I'll talk to you later, okay?"

[Sure thing, Jim. Don't worry, it'll all work out.]

"Thanks," Jim said. He stood and went and opened the door. "Hello?" he asked the young man standing there. "Can I help you?"

"Um, yeah. My name is Xander Harris, I went to high school with your daughter."

"Amy?" Jim asked, suddenly interested. "Do you have any news? Have you heard anything from her?"

"Oh," Xander said, a little uncomfortably. "Yeah. Well, I don't really know how to say this, so I guess I'll just show you." Xander stepped to one side, revealing the young woman standing behind him. Mr. Madison's eyes shot wide open in shock.

"Surprise," Xander said.


"How did her father take it?" Cordelia asked when Xander showed up to return the spell book.

"Well, after we woke him back up," Xander said, "he was really happy. Ecstatic even. We told him Amy had been a rat for the last year, and we'd just recently been able to turn her back. I think he's planning on taking her on a shopping spree tomorrow."

"And he jus-wait, 'we' woke him up?" Cordelia asked.

"Oh, well, Pike came along," Xander said. "Ran into Wesley outside, so they're talking."

"Pike?" Cordelia asked.

"Oh, yeah, you know, the guy, uh… called here recently, ran into Wes on the road, demon hunter, old friend of Buffy's."

"Oh, fish guy. Okay. So, Amy's dad. The rat thing, he just accepted that?"

Xander shrugged. "He knew that Catherine - that's Amy's mom, his ex-wife - was a witch, and that Amy had picked up some of her tendencies. Plus, I mean, he lived in Sunnydale for how long?"

"Yeah," Cordelia said. "That place just -"


Cordelia jumped up at Angel's yell, ready to fight.

"Hold on," Xander said, placing a calming hand on her shoulder and throwing out a goofy grin. "I'm pretty sure this could be amusing, and possibly painful. For me."

The elevator from Angel's apartment below the office arrived at the main level, and an irate souled vampire flung the gate open.

"You," he said, growling at Xander. "This is all your fault."

"Hey," Xander said, holding up his index finger to make a point, "now, it wasn't even my idea. Don't go getting mad at me over this."

"Oh, I'm getting mad at you," Angel said.

"Wait, what's this all about?" Cordelia asked, stepping between the two of them.

"Him!" Angel yelled. "Him and his little games, is what this is."

"Oh come on! I was just having a little fun. Besides, I had to ride with him for two hours, and I've got another two on the way back."

"Who?" Cordelia demanded.

"Tell her," Angel snarled. "Tell her and see if she doesn't smack you."

Cordelia turned to Xander expectantly. Xander smirked. "Spike," he said.


"Are you sure you're okay to drive?" Xander asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Pike said. "This amulet thing? Does wonders. Takes more to make me drunk and less to get me sober. Don't worry about it."

"Well, that was a rollicking good time," Spike said. "When can we do it again?"

"Not anytime soon, that's for sure," said Xander.

The car hit a bump in the road, and Xander winced and inhaled sharply.

"Just keep the ice on your eye, man," Pike said. "The swelling will go down."

"Hey, how come you don't do that nifty healy-whatsit on yourself?" Spike asked.

"Well, I already heal faster anyway," Xander said. "And I don't wanna become reliant on that for every situation. I figure, the better I can deal with pain, pain that doesn't take me out of a fight, well… the better off I'll be. Plus, I kinda deserved this one. God, but who knew Cordy could hit that hard?"

"But it was *fun*," Spike said.

Xander chuckled. "Yeah," he said with a smile. "It was fun."

Pike started laughing in the driver's seat.

"What?" Xander asked.

"Oh man," Pike said. "Oh this is gonna get even better."

"What do you mean, mate?"

"Spike, you totally saw how mad Angel was, right?"

"Bit hard to miss, that."

"Right. Well, if you were Angel, and pissed like that, what would be the best revenge you could get on Xander?"

Spike thought for a moment, then started laughing as well. Xander took his time thinking of all the things Angel might do for revenge. It then occurred to him what the worst thing Angel could do would be, and the blood drained from his face. And Angel wasn't above it, Xander knew. Oh, no. That was right up his alley.


"What the hell is wrong with you?" Buffy yelled. "Just exactly how immature can you be?"

Xander's mouth was open, but no explanation was forthcoming. The Magic Box was mostly quiet. The only sounds were Buffy pacing back and forth, and the stifled laughter of every other person in the shop.

"I cannot believe you," Buffy said. "I thought you were a bigger man than this."

"I am," Xander said. "No, I mean, it's not that big a deal. It was just some harmless fun. Besides, Cordy got me back. I mean she gave me this shiner…"

"Which has so conveniently disappeared from your face," Buffy said, glaring at her boyfriend. "And anyway, I thought you hated Spike."

"I do!" Xander said.

"Too bloody right."

"Shut up!" yelled both Slayer and White Knight.

"I do hate Spike," Xander said. "But, I'm not exactly a fan of Angel, either. And, well, while Spike may not be the *lesser* of two evils… you gotta admit, the guy's a lot funnier."

"I don't have to admit anything. I thought you were over this. I thought you were beyond this petty jealousy."

"I am!" Xander insisted. "This had nothing to do with that! I was just… I…" Xander withered under Buffy's glare.

"That's what I thought," she said. "Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"

Xander wracked his brain for something, anything that would get him out of this jam. Something that would take Buffy's anger away from him. He looked around the room for any assistance, and saw none was forthcoming. Pike had been drunk at the time, and Spike… well, that just wasn't going to happen. Willow would have helped him if she could, but she just didn't have anything she could do. And Riley and Faith were enjoying seeing him squirm. In a desperate attempt for salvation, he looked to Giles. And it clicked. The one thing that would turn Buffy's attention away from him.

"I think Giles is dating your mom!" he blurted. Heads around the Magic Box whipped towards the shopkeeper, who was suddenly quite the deer in the headlights. Buffy stopped pacing mid-stride and looked in shock at the elder man.

Yeah. That had done it.


Giles pinched the bridge of his nose before replacing his glasses and leaning back on the couch in the living room of the Summers home with a sigh.

"Sorry," Xander whispered. "I panicked."

"No, no, it's quite all right," Giles whispered back. "It was time that Joyce and I discussed the matter with Buffy. Although, I had wished to reveal it in somewhat of a less… disruptive fashion."

"Yeah," Xander said. "Sorry about that. Guess I screwed up today."

"Oh, yes, I should say so," Giles said. "But she'll forgive you."

"Oh, I know," Xander said. "I just… well. Stupid things for stupid reasons."

"Yes," Giles said. "Although, for what it's worth, I probably would have made the same decision."

Xander smirked and leaned back on the couch. "It's gotten quiet upstairs," he said. "What do you suppose that means?"

"A few possibilities," Giles said. "As they are both Summers women, it is entirely possible they have killed each other. Alternately, they could have come to some sort of understanding, and are now discussing various aspects of what Buffy should do to punish you."

Xander blinked.

"Or maybe they're just talking," Giles said, with a slight smirk.

A creak on the stairs caused them both to turn their heads, and they saw Dawn creeping down the stairs in her pajamas.

"Shouldn't you be in bed?" Xander asked, quietly.

"Well," said the girl, "I kind of still owe you for getting you arrested, and I thought you could use a status report on what's going on upstairs."

"That's very thoughtful of you, Dawn," Giles said, smiling at the girl.

Dawn grinned. "Okay, here's what I've got. They talked about Mom's new boyfriend," she said, smiling at Giles, "and Buffy yelled a lot."

"We heard that part," Xander said.

"What you didn't hear was the part where she kept whispering between her yells that she was really happy for Mom, and for you, Giles. That she hopes you guys are great together, and she wants you two to be happy, and she couldn't think of anybody she'd trust Mom with more than you."

Giles' eyes were wide with shock at the revelation of Buffy's level of trust in him, and Xander clapped him on the back with a smile.

"And Xander, what you didn't hear between Mom's yells at Buffy were her advising Buffy not to hold this whole thing with Spike and Angel against you. Mom said that yeah, it was immature, but you're nineteen going on thirty-seven, and probably just needed to blow off some steam once in a while. And Buffy admitted that it was actually pretty funny."

Xander had the look of a man who'd just been granted a stay of execution.

"But, you guys have to act like you don't know any of this, otherwise Buffy's going to have to really be mad. Okay?" Dawn said.

"All over it," Xander said with a smile.

"Okay, I'm going back up to bed then," Dawn said. She turned and headed for the stairs.

"Hey, Dawn," Xander whispered. The girl turned to see Xander toss her a goofy grin. "Thanks."

Dawn blushed and headed back up to her room.

Xander turned to Giles. "Well?"

"Still not safe," Giles said. "We sit and wait for whatever we get."

Five minutes of muted whispering later, Buffy trudged down the stairs and fixed both men with glares. "Okay," she said, turning to Giles. "You. My mom seems… she seems happy. So, ground rules. No talking to me about anything, except possibly ideas for restaurants and gifts. Anything else and I give you a concussion. And you've already had a lot of those."

"I am aware," Giles said.

"Then you can go," Buffy said.

Giles stood and walked to the door.

"Giles?" Buffy said. Giles stopped and looked at her. "Go upstairs and say goodnight. Mom isn't the only one I want to be happy in this. And there is no man I would trust more to do right by her, or by anybody I love. Okay?"

Giles opened his mouth, then closed it again and smiled. "Thank you, Buffy," he said, before slowly making up the stairs.

Buffy then turned to Xander. "You," she said.

"Moi?" he asked innocently.

Buffy couldn't stop herself from smiling, and sat down next to Xander, folded her feet up underneath her and leaned into his shoulder. "Seriously, Xan, you can't just-"

"I know, baby," he said, wrapping his arm around her. "I just… I mean, it was funny. That's all. I really wasn't trying to be mean. Much."

"What *were* you thinking?" she asked as she snuggled into his chest.

"Well," Xander said. "I was just in a really good mood. Faith woke up, Amy found her dad, we fought Adam and didn't die horribly or get mutilated or anything, and I'm pretty well in love with this great girl, who I just happen to be lucky enough to go to sleep next to every night."

"Yeah, but… four hours with Spike?"

"That's why I forced him to sober Pike up before we left."

"Pike was drunk?"

"Pike was completely sloshed. That little amulet of his does some good work, he was pretty gone. And trust me, I know from drunks." Xander waved to Giles as the older man took his leave of the house.

Buffy sighed contentedly.

"How did Faith wake up, anyway?" Xander asked.

"I don't know," Buffy said. "You guys showed up like three minutes after they did. We never got into it."

"It was so weird," Xander said. "Giles said Riley came back from the Initiative with no news, went up to see Faith, came back down and like three minutes later she's awake. And I saw his face, he had no idea what happened."

"Guess we'll find out tomorrow," Buffy said.

"Buffy?" Joyce called from the top of the stairs.

"Yeah, Mom?" she asked.

"I'm going to sleep now. Lock the door on your way out?"

"Okay. Goodnight, Mom."

"Night, Buffy. Goodnight Xander."

"Goodnight Joyce," Xander said.

Buffy looked up at Xander oddly. "Since when did my mom become Joyce?"

"I think around the same time I got booked for driving your sister to school."

Buffy sighed. "She does have a crush on you."

Xander laughed. "I think I figured that much out," he said. "It'll pass. She'll find some guy her own age to swoon over. Or, hey, maybe Pike-"

"Don't even think about finishing that sentence," Buffy warned. "Besides, he's probably got enough on his record."

Xander kissed the top of Buffy's head. "You wanna head home?" he asked.

Buffy grunted a little. "Already there," she said.

"I meant our apartment," said Xander.

Buffy looked up at Xander, kissed him tenderly on his lips, and whispered into his ear, "I meant with you."

Xander grinned, then slid his arms underneath his girlfriend and lifted her into the air.

"Come on," he said, as Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck.

Xander carried her out to the car before letting her down. Xander held the door of his car open for her until she slid into the passenger seat. "Hey Buff?" he said.

She turned and looked at him. He smiled. "I love you, too."


"So, how *did* you wake me up?" Faith asked Riley later that night in bed.

Riley chuckled. "Oddly enough, by listening to Spike. I think."

"What do you mean?" Faith asked.

"He called me 'Prince Charming,'" Riley said. "Granted, he was mocking me at the time, but he still did. Combine that with the fact that Xander's ex had a vision telling me to 'follow the vampire' and that you woke up about a minute and a half after I kissed you…" Riley shrugged. "I'm guessing that's pretty much what it is. Either that or the effects just wore off on some cool timing."

"Spike, huh?" Faith said.

"Trust me, I'm not exactly ecstatic about needing his help," Riley said. "But, I got you back, so it's okay."

"I wasn't worried," Faith said.

"You were asleep," Riley pointed out.

"Yeah, okay, good point. But if I had been awake, I hadn't been, I wouldn't have been worried."

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Hey," she said, "you've never let me down."

"I plan to continue that streak," he said with a smile.

Faith looked at him seriously. "It means a lot to me, babe. There haven't been many people who I can say that about. I haven't been… well, even before the slayer stuff, my life wasn't exactly easy. But you've been there for me. You make me feel better about me, and about my life. I love you, Ri. And more than that, I trust you. Completely."

Riley was all but speechless. "Faith… I…"

Faith silenced him with a passion-filled kiss. When she finally pulled away, she squeezed herself as close to him as was humanly possible. "Just promise me you're not going to leave."

"I promise," Riley said, taking her in his arms. "I will never leave you."


"All right," Giles said the next day. "Adam is quite obviously out to get Faith. I want reasons."

"He thinks I'm hot?" Faith asked.

"Ah yes, of course. Frankenstein monsters are quite often known for their fondness of attractive women."

"And by fondness," Buffy said, "Giles means they want to kill them."

"That sounds about right," Xander said. "Some guy put together from parts wants to kill a hot girl so he can be with her forev… does this remind anybody of Junior year? With the guy who raised his brother, where they tried to take Cordy's head?"

"Little different, sweetie," Buffy said. "Adam just wants to kill Faith, not mate with her for life. Um. So far as I know."

"Is anybody else right now really disturbed by the fact that he captured her but didn't kill her?" Willow asked. Everybody took a moment to think of Adam trying to mate with Faith. A shudder worked its way across the room.

"Okay," Riley said, newly energized by the really disturbing picture in his head, "so how do we find this bastard?"

"I suppose," said Giles, "that the best thing to do would be re-inspect the area where you found Faith for any clues. We know which way he went, perhaps you might be able to find something there."

"I'll take that," Riley said.

"We'll help him," said Pike, volunteering himself and Spike.

"What?" Spike asked. "What the bloody hell do we wanna do that for?"

"Because you're the best hunters we have," Riley said. "We're used to patrolling. You guys track prey. It's a whole different mindset, and it should be useful for finding Adam."

"He'll just kick our asses again," Spike said.

"And that is why you're just tracking, not engaging," said Giles.

"And why we'll be looking for spells that might be of some use," Willow said. "There has to be something that can take him down."

"Yes, there does," Giles said. "Xander, Faith, talk to Willy again. I know he didn't know anything last time, but you never know what he might come up with. After that, a quick sweep?"

"Got it," Faith said.

"What about me?" Buffy asked. "You're not babying me because you're dating my mom, are you?"

"No, Buffy, nothing of the sort," Giles said. "I merely wish for you to -"

The door jingled, and Giles turned to see the entrant.

"Oh," he said, surprised. "Hello."


Pike, Spike and Tara owned the only heads that did not immediately turn at the voice. Willow slid her chair back from the table, then slowly stood and walked over to where she could see the front of the store.


Chapter 20

"So she dated a werewolf?"

"That's the story," Riley said.

"I remember him," said Spike. "Scrappy kid, fierce when he had to be. I think."

"He was a pretty good guy," Riley said. "Until he, you know, cheated on Willow."

"Ahhh," both Pike and Spike said, simultaneously.

"This is it," Riley said. He leaned down and slid the manhole cover to one side. "What do you mean 'ahhh'?"

"It just makes sense now, that's all," Spike said.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Riley asked as he climbed down the ladder.

"Well," said Spike, dropping down into the sewer, "we just figure… girl like that, gotta be some reason she's a rug-muncher."

"Excuse me?" Riley said, offended.

"Look, there's nothin' wrong with it," Spike said. "Don't give toss who she shags, but her history? Gotta be somethin' started the switch."

"You don't think she just kinda fell in love with Tara?" Riley asked.

"Not a chance," said Pike as he hopped off the ladder.

"Why's that?"

"Well, take a look at it man," Pike said. "She's got a major jones for Xander for God knows how long, but he's too wrapped up in other girls to see her, then she jumps at the first guy who looks at her, and he ends up cheating on her. I'm not sayin' there wasn't some interest before, but it's a suckers bet that she wouldn't be lost to mankind before that. Kind of a 'giving up on the men' thing."

"'s too bad, too," Spike said. "I bet she's got some kinks to her. She's a fiery bint."

"I fear you," Riley said. "And not in the 'I'm afraid you're going to kill me' way."

"So what do you think of our theory?" Pike asked.

"I don't know," Riley said. "I mean, I really do think Willow just fell in love with Tara."

"But, all the blokes," Spike said. "I mean, she got hurt every time. Maybe opened up a door she wouldn't have thought about."

"I suppose it's possible," Riley said. "And I guess Moloch would fit in that category, too."

"Who?" Pike asked.

"Oh, this demon robot that she accidentally scanned into her computer, which later infected the internet, brainwashed some kids into helping it, built a body and tried to basically make Willow its bitch."

Riley failed to notice as Pike and Spike stopped dead in their tracks.

"I tol' ya," Spike said. "Every single one of these wankers is nuts."

Pike shook his head before they started walking again. "Fuckin' Hellmouth, man."


"Gang's gotten bigger since I left," Oz said, taking a seat on the curb. "Spike's an… interesting choice."

"He's got this thing in his head," Xander said. He and Buffy had wordlessly switched roles. She went to Willy's, he remained unassigned to anything. "Can't hurt humans, so he works with us cuz there's a big bad around who's, well, he took us all out."

"All?" Oz asked.

"Well, Will, Giles and Tara weren't there, and Faith was unconscious, but the rest of us, yeah."

"Weird," Oz said.

"Yeah," Xander said.

There was a pause.

"You and Buffy?"

"Still good," Xander said. "She's moved in with me, uh… got my own place now, promoted a couple times."

"Congrats," Oz said.

"Thanks," Xander said, leaning back so he was lying on the side walk. He gazed up at the sky. "And Faith and Riley are still together, and madly in love."

"I kinda gathered from her being on his lap and all," Oz said.

"Yeah," Xander said. "The whole 'in love' thing is all still really new to them. I mean, they had passion before, but the love adds a different aspect. It's really…" he trailed off.

"It's really what?" Oz asked.

Xander sat up and looked at Oz intently. "It's a full moon tonight."

"Yeah," Oz said.

"You're not wolfed."


Xander sighed and lay back down.

"I'm not gonna hurt her," Oz said. "I just… I had to come see. If there could be anything."

"Yeah," Xander said. "I get it. If not?"

"I'm gone," Oz said. "Devon's setting up a new band, out of LA. Thought I might hook up with them."

"Is the name as interesting as your last band?" Xander asked.

"Thrashing Death Chinchillas," Oz said.

Xander nodded. "That'll do it."

"So, Tara. How'd you guys meet her?"

"Remember the apocalypse right before you left?"

"Hard to forget."

"Yeah. Well, the thing needed a virginal sacrifice. That was Tara. Turns out she's also into the Wicca stuff, and she's real sweet. She and Will are uh… close."

Oz nodded. "It's good Willow's expanding her horizons." Xander somehow managed to stop from letting a snort of laughter out. "Although it's a little weird, her talking to someone other than you about this stuff."

"Yeah, well, you know, they have a lot of things in common. There are some things that Tara just gets better than me, and sometimes, Will just needs to talk to a girl."

Oz turned and looked at the front door of the Magic Box. "So how long will they-"

"As long as it takes," Xander said.


"I don't know anything," Willy said in an attempt to get his head released.

"You know, I really wanna believe you," Faith said as she sat at a table, her feet kicked up on top of it. "But somethin' about your eyes just screams out 'liar.' What's with that, Willy?"

"Look, I don't know nothin'!" he yelled. "All I know is this: this guy, Adam? He's one seriously scary guy. He's havin' the demons flood the cells where your boy works."

"Why would he do that?" Buffy asked, allowing Willy a little freedom of movement. "And why would they agree to it?"

"I don't know what he's doing," Willy said. "That's God's honest truth. As for why, these demons, they think this Adam guy is like their messiah. They'll do anything for him, including getting captured."

"Where's he headquartered out of?" Faith asked.

"You know, I don't even know why you guys are still so interested," Willy said. "Word has it he wiped the floor with all of you. I was you? I might just get out of Dodge, if you know what I mean. Why stick around?"

"Why stick around?" Faith asked, suddenly angry. She swung her feet off the table, stood and stalked over to where Buffy was holding him. "Why stick around? That robotic son of a bitch fucking drugged me, you little rat! Now tell us what you know, and I'll think about not giving your spleen to my boyfriend as a birthday present!"

"Okay, okay," Willy said, smoothing his clothes out a little. "Let's not go doing any spleen removals. Okay, here's what it is. I don't know where Adam's HQ is, but I can tell you this. There's a lot of demons come in here complaining about the walk from here to the caverns. Got it?"

"Yeah," Faith said. She shoved Willy and he flew backwards into the bar, knocking over some bottles of liquor and smashing them. "We got it. Come on, B, let's roll."

The two slayers exited the Alibi Room and hopped into the car, Faith behind the wheel. "You know," Buffy said. "The phrase 'let's roll' would be a lot cooler if we weren't getting into a used Ford Taurus."

"Don't blame me," Faith said as she started the car up. "Your honey picked this one out, not mine."

Buffy turned and looked at her. "Do you find it at all ironic that we two, Slayers, who would be embraced by the feminist movement as great examples of the independence of women, are completely dependent on our boyfriends for transportation."

"Hey, I've got my own means," Faith said. "I may not have a car, but I got a job and money on my own. You're the only one betrayin' the cause."

"But I'm educating myself for higher positions," Buffy said.

"While at the same time recognizing the patriarchal authority of a figure trained by an antiquated system which was designed completely for the control and subjugation of girls around the world."

"Giles doesn't work for them anymore," Buffy said, pouting.

"Face it, B. You're on track to set the women's movement back 40 years. You rely on your man for money, for transportation, for shelter, food when you're not takin' from your mom… you're a regular June Cleaver, except without the cooking skills."

Buffy sat there, continuing her pouting.

"Ah, don't worry about it," Faith said. "You're still a hot chick with superpowers. Anyone gets in your face about it, just beat the shit out of 'em. That'll shut 'em up."


"So w-what do you think… I-I mean what are you… h-how…"

"I don't know," Willow said, sitting across the table from Tara. Giles had gone to do some inventory in his office. "I mean, I don't know what I'm going to say to him."

"What about t-the… I mean, he's probably… I don't think he'd come back if he didn't want to get back together."

Willow frowned. "You're probably right. He probably does. Oh, man, I don't want to have to… you know…"

"I-it's okay," Tara said. "I-I mean, whatever you choose. It's okay."

Willow looked up sharply. "Choose?" she asked. She slid her chair over as close to Tara as she could. "Sweetie, no. No there is no choice here."

"B-but you said… we needed to talk," said Tara, bowing her head and swiping some hair out of her eyes. "Th-that's usually n-not good."

Willow took Tara's hand in hers and forced her lovers chin up so she could look in her eyes. "There is no choice," Willow said. "I am with you. I love you. Tara, I am so sorry if I made you think I was choosing between the two of you. I-I needed to talk to you to clear my head. I mean, I do love Oz, but that part of my life is over."

Willow stroked Tara's face with her palm, wiping away a tear with her thumb. "You're the one I need, baby," Willow said, leaning in and kissing her girlfriend softly. "Don't ever doubt that."

Willow stood up. "And there we have it. I figured out what to say to Oz. Okay, I'm going to-because, this is important."

"I know," Tara said. "I'll be here."

Willow checked the clock. "It's getting a little late, and I don't know how long this will take," she said. "Maybe, have Xander take you back to the dorm, and I'll see you later tonight?"

Tara nodded, and Willow leaned down and embraced her. "I love you," Willow whispered.

Tara smiled brightly. "I love you, too."

Willow smiled back at her and headed outside.

"Hey," Oz said, standing as Willow left the store. Xander jumped up as well.

"Hi," Willow said, then turned to Xander. "Could you take Tara back to the dorms?" Willow asked, also silently requesting that Xander make sure Tara was all right, at which point Xander smiled.

"Sure," he said, shooting a quick look towards the heavens.

"Thanks," Willow said, nodding that she'd look up when she could do so surreptitiously. Xander went back inside the shop and left Willow and Oz to walk and talk, then quickly shot back out of the store.

"Oh, do you guys have protection?" he asked. While some people might have taken offense at the implication of such a question, Willow and Oz merely produced sharpened pieces of wood to allay Xander's fears and went about their business.


"Hey," Xander said as he went back into the shop.

"H-hi," Tara said.

"You alright?" Xander asked, sitting across the table from the young woman. "Old lovers coming back… it can be rough."

"I'm o-okay," Tara said.

Xander smiled comfortingly at her. "The night Buffy and I got together, Angel came back from LA. That sucked a whole lot. She had routinely picked him, not just over me, but over the rest of the group. Angel probably caused more problems among the Scoobies than any other person, and not just when he lost his soul. Anyway, that night me and him got into a fight, and he left me in the graveyard and went to win back Buffy. That sucked."

"I-it doesn't sound fun."

"No," Xander said. "It wasn't. And remember, that was the very first night we got into a relationship. I had no idea, at first, whether Buffy would choose me or him. Today? I don't even come close to worrying about that."

"O-okay," Tara said.

"Sorry, I just blab on sometimes. Listen, here's the thing. You don't have to be afraid that Willow's gonna up and leave you, or suddenly not be in love with you. I know Will, probably better than anybody. Trust me when I tell you that she is devoted to you, and to your relationship."

Tara nodded.

"Come on," Xander said, smiling. "Let me walk you back to the dorms. Okay?" Tara smiled at Xander and nodded again. "Giles!"

A moment later, the older man appeared from his office.

"I'm taking Tara home," Xander said. "You'll be all right?"

"No," Giles said sarcastically. "At my age I have been rendered incapable of taking care of myself."

"Hey," Xander protested, "Joyce and Buffy would both kill me if I let anything happen to you. Faith too, probably. I'm just watching my own ass."

"Ah, yes. I am overwhelmed by your caring. Go home, you ponce," Giles said with a grin.

"See ya, Giles."


Willow took a quick look at the sky as Oz played with a string of beads wrapped around his right hand. Willow noticed the moon and turned and slapped Oz on the arm.

"You did it!" she yelled, a grin breaking out on her face. "You - you got control!"

"Yeah," he said with a smile. "About a month ago."

"Well, where have you been? What'd you do?"

"Traveled," Oz said as they walked vaguely in the direction of the Espresso Pump. "Lots of places. Tibet was cool. They taught me a lot about taming my inner beast."

"Which is an even more appropriate metaphor for you," Willow said, smiling.

"Yeah, that was kinda the point. Anyway, I guess I just kind of wandered, learned from whoever could teach me. Guy in England taught me a lot about controlling myself in wolf form."

"You can do that?" Willow asked, an almost innocent hope in her voice.

"Not quite," Oz said, smiling softly at her. "But I'm working on it."

The pair stopped at the Espresso Pump, ordered and sat at a table.

"Okay, so," Oz said. "I guess you probably know why I'm back."

"I… I think I've kinda guessed, yeah," Willow said.

"Well, listen, there's no pressure," Oz said. "I mean, obviously, I couldn't pressure you into… anything. And I don't really think I have a right but… I was hoping for a second chance."

Willow took a deep breath. "I can't," she said, firmly.

Oz's head dropped. "I get it. You can't trust me."

"No!" Willow said. "No, no, not at all, that's not it."

"Then what?" Oz asked.

"It's… well, it's me. I've… I'm not the same person I was when you left. I've grown. I've changed. I mean, I'm sure you have, too."

Oz took her hand in his. "Well, I was kind of hoping we could get to know each other again."

Willow smiled at him and covered his hand with hers. "I'd like that, Oz. I really would. But, I can't be with you. I've… I've found someone."

Oz sat back in his chair. "Oh."

"I'm sorry," she said.

"No," he said, staring at his drink. "No, don't be. Do you… are you…"

"Yes," Willow said. "I'm in love."

Oz nodded and reached for his coffee. Willow held her hand over the cup to stop him from drinking.

"With Tara," Willow said. Oz's head shot up, and he looked and saw the sincerity in her eyes.

Oz leaned back again without drinking. "Oh," he said.

"Yeah," said Willow.

He chuckled ironically. "When you change, you don't mess around."

"Guess not," she said.

"Xander approve?"

"It took a little time, but yes," Willow said.

"Okay," Oz said, standing up. "I think I have to bail."

"You're going?" she asked, standing as well. "But, you just got here!"

"Well, it's kind of a lot to take in, you know? I mean, I came back hoping for another chance, and instead I find out not only can't I get one, but last time I drove you away from my whole gender."

"It wasn't… I mean, I just… I fell in love. It wasn't like that."

"I get it," Oz said. "But… this is gonna take some time."

"Well, will you stay in touch? I mean, I know I said… but, that doesn't mean I don't want you in my life."

"Yeah," Oz said. "No, me either. But… I don't think I can do both right now. I don't think… with this, I can be both in your life, and not with you." Oz shook his head. "But… I'll be in touch. Eventually."

"Promise?" Willow asked.

"Yeah," he said. "I'll be in LA, with Devon. I'll even call with a number, in case, you know, apocalypse. But… I'm gonna…"

"Need time," Willow said, a little sadly. "Lotta that going around."

"Hey," Oz said, putting his hand on her shoulder. "It's gonna be okay. I may not be able to have what I want, but something's better than nothing."

They walked back to the Magic Box, and Oz's van, in a somewhat uncomfortable silence.

"So," Willow said when they reached their destination.

"So," Oz said, tucking his hands into his pockets. "I'll be in touch. Soon, with a phone number. Later, with… more."

Willow nodded, then leaned in and gave Oz a hug. "I did miss you, Oz. And I may… well. You'll always have a place. In my heart."

Oz returned the hug sincerely. "There's nowhere better to be." Pulling away from her, he climbed into his van. "I'll call," he said. "Soon."

Willow nodded, and waved as Oz drove away. When he turned a corner and disappeared from sight, Willow headed back into the shop.

"Are you alright?" Giles asked as Willow came back into the shop, hugging her arms to herself.

"Yeah," she said, smiling a little sadly at Giles. "He took it pretty well, considering. I just wish it were easier."

"Telling people?" Giles asked.

Willow shook her head. "Life."

Giles smiled at the young woman. "Life is often unfairly difficult for people like us," Giles said.

"Us?" Willow asked.

"Those who stand against the darkness," Giles said. "The Watcher Diaries are filled with examples of life being unreasonably unfair. However, you have an advantage."

"What's that?" Willow asked.

"The people around you," Giles said. "All of us love and support you, myself included. It is the love of family and good friends that helps us get through the toughest times. With Tara, Xander, Buffy, Faith and Riley, you have something most people could not dream of, and that is a group of friends with bonds so strong, death itself could not cut them. Life is hard sometimes, but with these people around, there is nothing you cannot overcome."

Willow smiled. "You should be on that list, too," she said.

"And for that, I am most thankful," Giles said, smiling. "Would you like to drive back to the dorms?"

"Drive?" Willow asked, perking up immediately. "Your car?"

Giles nodded. "Just don't tell Buffy. She might demand a chance to drive it, and I don't think any of us want that."


"Thrashing Death Chinchillas," Xander said, climbing into bed next to Buffy.

"Um… something you killed tonight?" she asked.

"No," he said. "Something Will made possible. It's the name of Devon's new band, in LA. Oz is gonna hook up with them."

"How did Tara deal?"

"Okay, I think," Xander said. "When we were walking to the dorms, Tara said Will had reassured her about them. I told her about Oz being non-wolfy on the full moon, and she was all happy for him, and hoped that he didn't get hurt too bad."

"She's nice. If Cordy came back right now and tried to get with you, I'd beat her into the ground."

Xander nodded and smiled, but decided against mentioning what he would do to Angel. 'The Plan' he called it. He had worked it out a while earlier, when he was still having Angel issues. The Plan involved some chains, a mirror for directing sunlight, some knives he'd had blessed (although he really didn't know if that did anything, and had endured some odd looks from the priest for it), and the liberal use of certain power tools which were readily available in the workshop of any amateur carpenter. In truth, he hadn't thought about The Plan in months.

"Tara *is* nice," Xander said. "And I still feel bad. I don't really know her all that well, but I want to. I really do. It's important to me, and it's important to Willow. There's just that thing."

"That thing," Buffy agreed. "Of, you know…"

"Not understanding half of what she says."

"For instance. And that's when she talks at all."

"I think," Xander said, "that we just need to find a way to make her more comfortable in the group. And not force it."

"Yeah, like getting Mom to invite us all for dinner, so we're all in a situation where we kind of have to talk. We do that anytime we need to get to know somebody. Willow would totally know what was going on. We need a different idea."

The couple lay in bed, silent, thinking for a few minutes.

"So then, you'll talk to your mom about that dinner party?" Xander asked

"First thing tomorrow."

Chapter 21

"Caves?" Giles asked.

"That's what the…" Faith paused and frowned. "Well, I guess technically he's a man. That's what Willy said. Caves."

"Interesting." Giles paused. "Do you know -"

"I don't know squat, bossman," Faith said. "I know the cemeteries, and the streets and the alleys. That's it. Red or X-man's your best shot for the caves."

"Actually, I was going to ask if you knew when the package from Wesley was supposed to arrive," Giles said.

"Oh," said Faith. "No. Haven't heard about it. What are you expecting?"

"Oh, just a book or two that have more… in depth descriptions of some fairly archaic spells. Not that, I suppose, there are very many modern spells. Or even any recent ones. In fact, I'm not sure I've really run across any written after the early sixteenth century."

Faith looked at Giles with a raised eyebrow. "That's great, G," she said. "Really."

"Right," he said, picking up some papers off the counter. "I'll be in my office. If Xander or Willow come by?"

"Caves, right."

Giles nodded and left the room and Faith pulled out a catalogue.

"What are you reading?"

Faith jumped, startled.

"Jesus, Ollie, you fucking scared me."

"Ollie?" Pike asked from his spot leaning against the door to the training room. "The last person who called me Ollie is dead."

"That a fact?" Faith asked.

"Well, yeah," Pike said. "But that's cuz he's a vampire."

Faith shook her head. "Thanks for tellin' me," she said. "Don't wanna be copyin' the bleached wonder."

"No, not Spike," Pike said. "Benny. He's an old friend. He didn't really change much when he became a vamp, either. Still sits around, smokes pot, drinks, lives in his mom's basement. It's really funny."

"His mom still alive?"

"Oh, yeah," Pike said. "She gets him the blood, and she stopped yelling at him to get a job."

Faith laughed. "So what'd you show up for? My sparkling conversation, or some real reason."

"Well, not that talking to you isn't reason enough," Pike said, flashing a charming smile at Faith, "But I did need to talk to Watcher-man."

Faith nodded at Giles' office door.


Pike walked into Giles' office, shut the door, sat down and propped his feet up on Giles' desk.

"You know, you could knock," Giles said.

"Could. Didn't."

"Is there something you need?"

"Just a question," Pike said. "This thing, Adam. He's tough. But we know he's got a master, right? Someone the vamps call Mother."

"That's correct."

"Here's the thing. You think the Initiative's behind this."

"I do," Giles said. "Although, I have no evidence of it. Why?"

"Well, I think you're probably right. Spike does too."

"And we all know how reliable he is," Giles said sarcastically.

Pike looked at Giles pointedly.

"Sorry, he's your friend, I know. Continue."

"Right," Pike said. "Okay. You know Soldier Boy's commanding officer?"

"Maggie Walsh, yes. We've met, spoken a few times over the phone. Why?"

"I guess you haven't made the connection yet, but if the Initiative *is* behind this, and Walsh is the head of the Initiative…"

Giles sat there, looking at Pike. "I am the stupidest man on the face of the planet," he said.

"I'm sure there's someone out there who's got you beat," Pike said, smiling. He pulled his feet off of Giles' desk. "Look this is really what I came in about. If Walsh is behind this, and it comes down to it, do we do what I think might have to happen?"

Giles glanced at the door to make sure it was indeed closed.

"I see," Giles said. "Our first priority is to see that it does *not* come to that."

"Right, I agree," said Pike, "but it needs to be talked about it. And Buffy, Xander, even Faith… they're not the people to talk about it with. I assume you know why."

"Yes," Giles said. "They would not entertain such thoughts. What made you think I would?"

"Buffy mentioned Ethan Rayne once."

"Ah. And I assume you have some… experience?" Giles asked.

"Yeah," he said. "Not proud of it, but I've had to take a few people out."

"Buffy, Faith, Xander… they are heroes. They do not kill. Especially not Faith, after her… do you know-"

"I got the gist," Pike said. "So, if it comes to it, it's you or me?"

"Yes," Giles said. "Unless you can get Spike to do it."

"Killing a human would probably put him in the vamp version of a coma," Pike said.

"Yes," Giles said. "And that would be such a shame. Sorry, right, out of the question."

Pike nodded. "You or me, then," he said.

"Yes," Giles said, rocking back in his chair. "And this discussion never leaves this room."

"Got it," Pike said.

"Did your reconnaissance last night prove useful?" Giles asked.

"Nope, not a damn thing," said Pike.

"Well, Willy indicated that we might look at the caves. If you and Spike could show up later?"

"Sure, we'll be here," Pike said, standing up.

"Oh, and Pike?" Giles said as the younger man opened the door.

"Yeah?" he asked.

"I've been speaking to Joyce."

"Speaking?" Pike asked with a grin.

Giles ignored the comment. "If you could see your way to… softening your language around Dawn?"

Pike smirked. "Do what I can. Later, Tweed."


"All right," Riley said into the phone. "No, I'll be there, I just have some things to take care of. Yeah. See ya."

"Who was that?"

Riley looked up to see Forrest standing in his doorway.

"Xander," Riley said, sitting back in his chair. "Some things to discuss tonight."

"Faith related?" Forrest asked.

Riley shook his head. "Job related."

Forrest looked affronted. "You do know that *this* is your job, right?"

"I know that, man, I haven't forgotten. There's just some stuff going down that -"

"That you think we can't handle," Forrest said.

"It's not that," Riley said. "There's just a-"

Forrest cut Riley off with a wave and sat down on his bed. "Listen," Forrest said. "I know you and the Snoopy gang -"

"Scooby," Riley corrected.

"Whatever. I know you and them are pals, and that's cool, but you can't be keeping information from us. And I know you are."

"I haven't been keeping -"

"Look, Ri. It's cool. I get it. You're in love with Faith. Xander's a good guy, anybody can see that. Old British guy knows his shit, and ain't anywhere near as unstable as Walsh is. I get that you like hangin' with 'em. But your place is here. Your duty is here. You signed up for this, and you can't back out."

"I don't *want* to back out," Riley insisted.

"Look man. They're your friends, I get that. They'll stick by you, they'll make you feel better. Whatever. We'll stick by you too. It's what we do, bro. You know that. This isn't just a job. It's about the guy standing next to you, fighting next to you, tryin' to save your ass. And for us, it also happens to be about the rest of the world. "

"I know," Riley said. "But, they're doing good work."

"Well, so are we," Forrest said. "You'd know that, if you stuck around for a while."

"There's just things," Riley said.

"Well, what kind of things?"

Riley looked up, uncertain.

"Hey, I'm your commanding officer now," Forrest said with a smile. "Don't make me pull rank on you soldier."

Riley laughed and shook his head. "Okay," he said. "There's… this thing."

Forrest leaned in and listened while Riley explained everything. About Adam, about the attempts on Faith's life, the serum, the fights, how his leg got injured, everything. And when Riley was done, Forrest nodded, asked a few questions, and reassured Riley that everything was all right. Riley left to have dinner with Faith. And Forrest went to the Initiative compound below Lowell House, to report his findings to Walsh.

"I see," she said, leaning back in her chair as Forrest stood at attention in front of her desk. The door was closed to keep the meeting just between them. "And that's everything he told you?"

"Yes, ma'am," Forrest said. "And he's currently out at dinner with Faith. Professor, I would just like to say once again how uncomfortable I am using my personal relationship with Commander Finn to extract information about people who are ostensibly our allies."

"Understood, Commander Gates," Walsh said, standing up. "So, you're positive that you have told me everything Finn said? And that you told nobody else of this conversation?"

"Yes, ma'am," Forrest said.

Walsh pulled a pistol from under her lab coat and shot Forrest in the heart, killing him instantly. "Good," she said. Slipping the pistol back into her pocket, Walsh picked up the phone on her desk and dialed.

"Yes, Dr. Angleman. We have another subject for the study. In my office. It doesn't matter how he got here, just come get him!" Walsh slammed the phone back into the receiver and pressed another button on her console.


"You will have a brother, soon," Walsh said.

"Yes, Mother."

"Your eyes?"

"Completely replaced, and improved."

"Excellent," Walsh said. "And the schedule?"

"We will be ready."

Walsh cut off the audio interface as Dr. Angleman entered her office.

"What the hell?" he asked.

"This is your subject," Walsh said.

Angleman, a small man with dark hair, looked at Walsh, incredulity in his eyes. "You've got to be kidding me," he said, pointing to the body. "This is Commander Gates!"

"I'm perfectly aware of who it *was*" Walsh said. "Now, he's your newest subject."

"Dr. Walsh, I cannot in good conscience -"

"I don't care about your conscience, I care about results!" Walsh yelled. "Now, are you going to remove the body, or will Adam have *two* brothers to play with?"

Angleman blanched as his nostrils flared in anger. "No," he said, stiffly. "I'll get him out of here."

Walsh nodded and glared at the man as he removed Forrest's body with a sheet draped over it. Angleman wheeled the body past a set of security doors, and into a small sterile corridor. He passed the containment cells, filled almost past capacity with demons, and through another set of security doors, which required a keyed entry code.

Angleman, one of three beings who knew the code, punched it in, rolled Forrest's body into the corridor beyond and into a room with the numbers 314 stenciled down one side of the door. Angleman removed the sheet, and looked up.

"This will be your brother," he said.

Adam looked down at him and nodded. "GOOD," said Adam. "HE WILL DO."

Chapter 22

"You heard me correctly," Walsh said.

"But, Professor, I don't understand," said the young man she was addressing.

"You don't need to understand, Lieutenant Davis. You merely need to accept, and follow orders. I know you have questions, and that is understandable. But these people are anarchists. Some information has come into new light just today that shows they are actively working towards the downfall of our greatest projects," Walsh said. "You understand this is classified, even beyond your level."

"Yes, ma'am. I don't doubt your intel, I just have a hard time believing that."

"Believe it, Lieutenant. As much as it pains me to say so, this 'Scooby Gang' is a threat to national security, and the world."

"Yes, ma'am. Your orders?"

"They must be dealt with in the quickest and most stringent of ways. I want a raid of their headquarters, this 'Magic Box'. If they're not there check residences. Surveillance teams show these addresses as the most likely places for them to be," Walsh said, handing him a piece of paper. "Ten men, live rounds."

Davis nodded slowly. "Just one more question, ma'am?"


"I understand why Commander Finn isn't in on this… he's hardly objective. But why isn't Commander Gates leading us?"

Walsh eyed the young man. "Commander Gates is on a special assignment for me," she said.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Lieutenant Davis, I want this to go as smoothly as possible. Riley still has influence in this group. I want you to take the soldiers you think are likely to have the least amount of sympathy for him, and by implication this group of… mystical terrorists."

"Terrorists, ma'am?"

"Davis, if you'd seen what I saw…"

"Yes, ma'am. How soon do you -"

"I want you on the move within the half hour," Walsh said.

Davis snapped off a quick salute and left to find his soldiers. Walsh checked her watch, and re-ran the scenario in her head. She had to be sure of her timing.


The door opened.

"Hi Riley," Dawn said, smiling at the much taller man.

"Hey, Dawn," Riley said, stepping into the Summers home. "How's school going?"

"It sucks," Dawn said, frowning. "Everybody hates me, they're, like, shunning me. I'm almost as much of an outcast as my sister was."

"Yeah?" Riley asked.

"Yeah," said Dawn. "I guess I shouldn't have told everyone I was sleeping with Xander."

Riley couldn't stop himself from chuckling. "No," he said. "Probably not. But you'll recover."

"Maybe," she said glumly. "Well, Faith should be ready in a few minutes. Buffy's helping her with her makeup. It's too bad you guys couldn't stick around tonight, everybody's going to be eating here."

"I would have loved to," Riley said, "but it took me, literally, a month to get these reservations."

"That's a long time," said Dawn.

"Yeah." Riley's beeper went off. "Dang," he said. "Can I use your phone?"

"Sure," Dawn said, "it's in the kitchen."

Riley walked into the kitchen and greeted Mrs. Summers before picking up the phone.

"Yeah, this is Finn," he said. "Yes, I'll hold."

Riley waited patiently for a minute while he was routed through the system. Joyce watched as he perked up when he was put through.

"Yes, I just got the page," he said. "No, not yet. I was just picking her up. How did - right. No, that's - What? No, that's impossible I was just talking to him. No, he can't have… but, I was just…" Dawn came into the kitchen and looked from Riley to her mother, who shrugged.

"I understand," Riley said. "Of course. I'll be there as soon as I can."

Riley hung up the phone and his shoulders slumped.

"Riley?" Joyce asked. "What's happened?"

Riley looked up at her. "It's Forrest," he said, eyes wide and unblinking. "He's dead."

Joyce's hand rushed to her mouth in shock as Riley walked, zombie-like, from the kitchen. Dawn rushed ahead of him and up the stairs. Seconds later, Faith was hurtling down the stairs half-dressed, with Buffy and Dawn not far behind. The Summers women stood to the side and watched.

"Baby," Faith said softly, latching onto Riley and embracing him. Riley's arms made their way around her, and he held on as tightly as he could.

Riley slowly raised his eyes to her. He swallowed before speaking. "I'm going to have to cancel tonight," he said. "Sorry."

"Riley, no, don't worry about it, baby," she said. "You do what you have to do. Do you need… anything? Can we…"

"No," he said. "I mean… I don't know. I have to go."

Faith embraced the man one more time. "I love you," she said.

"Love you," Riley replied. Faith watched as her lover made his way out to the driveway, got in his car, and drove off. Buffy stepped up to her sister Slayer and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Faith turned and looked sadly at the elder Slayer, then sat on the stairs, and caught her breath.

"I wonder how… well, what… you know," said Dawn.

Joyce quickly shushed her youngest daughter.

"I don't know," Faith said, shaking her head, her expression going quickly from pensive to cold. "But… if Riley finds out, something's gonna die."


"That's horrible," Willow said later that night as she and Buffy set the table.

"Yeah," Buffy replied. "He was just zombie-like. I mean… I mean, I think he'll be okay. Faith does, too. It sucks."

"So, where did they go?" Willow asked.

"Faith didn't know what crypt Pike and Spike were in, so she just kind of dragged Xander to show her. She was gonna see if they knew anything, do a little recon for Riley, just in case."

Willow nodded, set down her last plate, and went into the kitchen, where Tara was helping Mrs. Summers season the food.

"Hey, sweetie," Willow said, giving Tara a peck on the cheek and eliciting a blush from the young woman. "Mrs. Summers, how many serving spoons do we need?"

Joyce took a quick inventory of the dishes she was preparing. "Three," she said with a firm nod.

"Mom, oven," Dawn said from the stool where she sat.

"Right. Four," Joyce corrected.

Willow nodded with a smile and grabbed some utensils as someone knocked on the door.

"I'll get it," Buffy said. She opened the door and ushered Giles inside with a wave.

"Hello, everyone," Giles said, pulling a bottle of red wine from under his arm. "How are we today?"

Giles leaned over the stovetop and gave Joyce a quick kiss.

"Oh, my eyes!" Buffy said. "Oh, I didn't need to see that. Somebody, quick, I'm blind."

"Buffy," Joyce scolded.

"She's got a point," Dawn said. Joyce sent a withering stare her way.

"Oh, come on!" Buffy said. "If I can't mock you two, my life will be all but joyless."

"Even with Xander around?" Willow asked.

Buffy opened her mouth to speak, paused, reconsidered, and said "I choose not to answer that on the basis that it might tend to incriminate me."

"Where is Xander?" Giles asked.

"With Faith, looking for the Ikes," Willow said.

Giles' brow furrowed. "I thought she and Riley were -"

"They were," Buffy said. "But instead, one of Riley's friends in the Initiative was killed. We don't know how. Faith and Xander went to see if Spike and Pike know anything."

"Oh, dear," Giles said. "Will Riley be all right?"

"Faith thinks so," Buffy said. "I guess we just gotta -"

Buffy cut off as windows around the house shattered. The group quickly dropped to the floor. Buffy grabbed a couple of knives from the counter top and slid one to Giles.

A man dressed in combat fatigues kicked open the back door and quickly fell backwards out of it as Giles hurled his knife into the man's stomach. Another soldier came in from the dining room, and Buffy swept his legs out from under him, dropping him to the ground. The soldier tensed as he hit the ground and sprayed gunfire across the room, eliciting screams from Joyce, Dawn and Tara, none of whom were used to this level of 'excitement.' Everyone in the room ducked again as a distinct gunshot rang out from the backyard, followed quickly by a scream. Which was quickly silenced.

Buffy punched the man in the head, knocking him unconscious, then looked to Giles who was sitting against the wall, holding his hand to his shoulder, blood darkening his shirt.

"Buffy," Giles said, nodding at the rifle the soldier carried and wincing from the pain the movement caused. "These are carrying live ammunition."

Buffy stared for a moment, then picked up the gun and bent the barrel. "This one's not," she said, before twirling her knife around, getting to her feet in a crouch, and moving towards the front of the house.

"Buffy!" Joyce cried from the kitchen. Buffy turned back to see her mother holding her crying younger sister, who was bleeding from her stomach. "We have to get to a hospital."

Chapter 23

"Haven't heard anything," Pike said, shaking his head. "Damn, that sucks."

"Yeah," Xander said. "Well, if you guys do hear anything, let us know?"

"First thing," Pike said.

"You ready, Faith?" Xander asked.

"Yeah," she said.

"Where are you gits off to now?" Spike asked.

"Back home," Faith said. "Joyce is cookin' up a storm."

Pike and Spike perked up.

"Cooking?" Pike asked.

Xander looked at Faith. "You had to mention food. Now they're gonna follow us home."

"Well, we wouldn't want to intrude," Pike said.

"Yeah, we would," Spike said. "Is she makin' that thing with the little bits of meat in it?"

Xander looked at Spike, trying to divine what he meant. "Um… maybe?"

"That's it, we're comin'," Spike said.

"Fine," said Faith. "But you guys get to eat the kiddy table."

"No problem," Spike said. "'Bit's better company than you lot anyway."

"Whatever," Xander said. "If you're comin' get a move on."

Pike and Spike both swept on their jackets and followed Xander and Faith to Xander's car. Xander pulled out of his parking spot in the cemetery lot and up to the main road. Then paused as two HUMMV's sped past. He looked to Faith and the others in his car.

"Yeah," Faith said. "Riley might be with them."

Xander nodded once and hit the gas, pulling out behind the military vehicles. Pike leaned forward in his seat. "Hey, wait a second," he said.

"What?" Xander asked.

"Just slow down, don't get too close."

"What? Why not?"

"Look at the barrel sticking out of the window," Pike said. "Those pulse rifles are distinctive, and that's not it."

"So?" Xander said, having slowed down despite not being convinced anything was off. Life on the Hellmouth had honed an almost subconscious sense of paranoia and a tendency of listening to words of caution. "Maybe they figured out what killed Forrest and are going after it."

"That doesn't seem like their normal style," Pike said.

"Yeah, but they also don't normally lose one of their commanding officers. Faith, you've spent more time with them. What do you think?"

Faith looked at the vehicle in front of her and shook her head. "Keep back," she said. "Few hundred feet won't matter if they're going for whatever killed Forrest. Something else, might keep us outta trouble."

Xander nodded and slowed down some more as the car lapsed into silence. After a couple of minutes, he spoke up again. "Is it just me, or does this route seem familiar?"

Faith looked up, noticing her surroundings for seemingly the first time. "What?" she asked. "Why are they -"

"Stop at the corner," Pike said. "Faith and I will go around the back.

"Why me?" Faith asked.

"Can't fight humans, luv," Spike said. "Pike'll need some back up. Whelp up there can handle himself in a fight, and me… well, at the very least I can hold some of them, if I do it so I'm not hurting them. Buy him some time."

"Right," Pike agreed. "And if we're wrong about what this is, hey, food. If not…"

Nobody felt the need to finish the sentence. Faith simply nodded. When Xander rolled to a stop at the corner, Pike and Faith jumped out of his car and ran quickly behind some trees and hopped a fence into someone's backyard.

Xander drove on, and stopped the car again almost immediately. "Why are they stopped there?" he asked nobody in particular. Xander and Spike watched as the soldiers piled out of the two vehicles, did a quick weapons check, and hiked it down the street. When they reached their target, the stopped. One pulled out what looked like binoculars. Then some of them started moving to the back of the house.

"Heat signatures," Spike said. "They're tryin' to figure out who's in there."

Without another word, Xander and Spike got out of the car and started running. They got to the house just as soldiers started busting the windows in. Xander barreled into the first soldier he came to, driving him into the ground. Xander sat up, pulled the man up by his shirt and punched him square in the face, feeling the soldier's nose crack beneath his fist. He dropped the unconscious soldier unceremoniously on the ground and stood as he saw one of the soldiers jump through a window.

Spike ran past Xander and grabbed one of the soldiers by his neck, dragging him along for the run. He pulled up in front of another soldier, grabbed him by the lapel, and jumped on to the roof, dangling both soldiers in the air. Spike smiled when they started yelling.

The soldiers were forced to watch as Xander squared off against their friend. The soldier was quick and strong, and trained well. Xander was quicker, stronger and trained better. The fight was over in less than five seconds.

Xander whirled around to find another enemy.

"Here," Spike yelled, dropping one of the soldiers to the ground. He received a slight shock from his chip.

"Oh, bloody hell," Spike muttered, the shock having forced his demonic features to the surface. "I'm tryin' to do the right thing here."

As Xander dismantled the third soldier, Spike, still restraining the last, jumped to the ground in an effort to forgo any further shocks.

Xander's latest opponent ended up face flat on the ground, his arm twisted in an angle that doesn't happen naturally, and unconscious. Spike was about to release the last soldier when Buffy yelled.

"Xander! They shot Dawn!"

As Xander turned quickly to the last soldier, he heard a very distinctive growl. He watched as Spike vamped out and picked the soldier up over his head.

"Nobody touches the 'bit!" Spike yelled. He held the man directly in front of him, vamped out and punched him in the face with a satisfying *thwack*. Both Spike and the soldier fell to the ground, the soldier unconscious and Spike clutching his forehead and cursing a blue streak. Xander jumped inside through a window.


Pike was in awe. He knew Slayers were good. He knew Slayers were fast. But *damn.* In the previous twelve seconds, three fully trained, heavily armed soldiers had been taken completely out of the fight. He had watched perched upon the fence in the back yard, eyes wide and jaw fully slacked, as Faith dropped into the Summers' backyard and sprinted. She leveled the first soldier with a stiff-armed clothesline that caused him to, once airborne, perform a two hundred seventy degree flip and land solidly on his back, his head slamming into the ground with no small amount of force.

And wow, was she hot when she got going.

Pike watched, further amazed, as Faith, without slowing down, ran to the next soldier. She ripped the gun from his hands and swung it around, impacting it with the backside of his head and knocking him out, probably with a concussion. Pike realized it was considered bad for somebody with a concussion to be unconscious, but he found it hard to care.

He also found himself on the verge of drooling.

Faith slowed, then, for a moment, and cracked the rifle over her knee, breaking it into two distinct pieces. The two remaining soldiers - one had smashed in the kitchen door and then fallen down with a knife in his stomach - quickly reacted to Faith's presence by swinging their guns around to her. The first Faith dealt with by hurling the barrel of the now disassembled gun into his leg, causing him to drop to the ground, screaming in pain.

Pike smiled. The fourth and final soldier was lined up on Faith. He knew, and she knew, that she wasn't fast enough to dodge bullets. But Pike knew that neither was the soldier. Pulling his pistol, Pike lined up on the soldier and shot him once - in the elbow. The soldier screamed. Faith took pity on both conscious soldiers and knocked them out. With a little more force than was, strictly speaking, necessary.

It was then they heard Buffy yell. "Xander! They shot Dawn!"

Pike and Faith exchanged a look and ran inside.


"Set her down," Pike said as Buffy quickly cleared the dining room table. "And somebody call an ambulance!"

Willow was almost instantly on the phone.

Pike lifted Dawn's shirt above her stomach to get a good look at the wound.

"Should I - " Xander started.

"No," said Pike, grabbing one of the cloth napkins from the table. "Closing the wound could make it worse, make it harder to work on. We can't deal with this, we need a doctor."

"Come on," Buffy said, taking Xander's arm. "You should check on Giles."

Pike leaned over Dawn, who was crying.

"Shh," Pike said comfortingly. "I need you to listen to me for a second, okay, Dawn?"

Dawn managed to nod through her tears. Spike stumbled into the house still holding onto his head. He swayed his way into the kitchen, where Tara provided him with water and aspirin.

"Oh, you're a godsend," he said, still clutching at his head. "I get this chip out, I'll be sure to make it quick for you."

Tara smiled… a little confused, but took the statement as the closest the vampire would get to gratitude.

Back in the dining room, wounds were being attended to.

"I'm going to have to put some pressure on this wound, okay?" Pike said. "And it's going to hurt some, but I need you to be brave. Can you do that for me?"

Dawn nodded, and Pike pressed the napkin down on her wound. Dawn winced in pain, but did not scream. Slowly she adjusted to the pressure.

"Joyce," Pike said, still smiling at Dawn, "I need you to keep pressure on the wound, okay?"

Joyce nodded mutely and took Pike's spot at her daughter's side.

Pike nodded at her, and grabbed everyone not currently bleeding, tending the wounded, or on the phone.

"Okay, we need to gather up the soldiers up front, before the ambulance gets here," he said. "Buff, you got any rope? I figure we toss them in the basement, tie 'em up and ignore them for a while."

The group quickly got to work hauling soldiers into the basement, and by the time they heard sirens approaching Spike was hauling the last of the unconscious bodies into the basement. Pike and Faith had found keys and were currently hiding the two HUMMV's the soldiers had been driving.

An ambulance screeched to a halt in the street in front of 1630 Revello Drive and two paramedics hopped out and made their way inside. Giles had by this time made his way into the dining room and was comforting Joyce. Xander had taken over holding pressure to Dawn's wound, actively reminding himself not to use his healing powers.

The paramedics rushed in, and one of them went towards Giles.

"No," Giles said, nodding at Dawn, "see to her. I'm fine."

"What happened?" asked the lead paramedic as he took over from Xander

"Some gang shot the place up," Xander said. "Then they ran off. Didn't really get a look at them."

The paramedics worked on Dawn for a minute before one of them went back outside to get the mobile gurney, and the remaining one took a cursory look over Giles.

"You'll be okay," he said. "Probably give you some blood, maybe keep you overnight for observation. We only have room for one more in the ambulance, so either you can ride with us…"

"No," Giles said. "Joyce will go with you. Somebody else can take me."

The paramedic nodded, and when the other man returned with the gurney, they got Dawn onto it and, with Joyce, drove away to the hospital as two police cruisers pulled up followed very quickly by Riley.

"What happened?" Riley asked as he came up to the house.

"I think we'll ask the questions, son," the officer said. Everyone turned to glare at him.

"A gang came by and shot up the place," Xander said to both Riley and the cop. "None of us got a good look at them. They drove dark colored sedans with tinted windows. They drove off towards Main Street, and we thought it was a better idea to tend the people who had been shot than to chase them."

"Did you -" the officer started.

"No," Xander said. "We didn't get their license plate numbers."

"You keep saying we…" the officer said.

"Girls in the kitchen, cleaning up," he said.

"Oh," said the officer, ignoring the fact that they were disrupting a crime scene. He heard the word 'gangs' and basically tuned out the rest. He'd been in Sunnydale for a while. "Okay, well, I think we have everything we need. We'll call you."

Xander nodded his head and the officer collected his partners and left.

"So what really happened?" Riley asked.

Xander shook his head. "Come with me," he said. Xander led Riley through the kitchen, where Willow and Tara actually were cleaning up the blood, and into the basement where Spike and Buffy stood watch over the soldiers, Buffy shooting angry glares their way the whole time. Riley was quickly convinced that she only refrained from hitting them because they were already unconscious.

"What the hell?" Riley said.

"That's pretty much what we're wondering," Buffy said angrily. "What the hell are these bastards thinking?"

"I don't know what to say," Riley said sitting down hard on the stairs.

"Well, none of us thinks you knew about this," Xander said, his calm voice denying his actual state of mind. "But, can you think of anything that might have set it off? Something that happened today, or recently, that would cause the Initiative to want to kill us? Because, as often as our deaths are wanted, we… well, we have *some* experience with our allies turning on us, but not *that* much."

Riley sat in thought for a minute. "No," he said. "I can't think of anything."

"You didn't do anything, or talk to anyone or know of anything that happened…" Buffy supplied.

Riley shook his head. "No, I haven't really spent much time with them recently. I mean, really the only person I talked to-" Riley cut off.

"Who?" Xander growled, his voice dropping a whole octave.

Riley took a deep breath and an angry, determined expression sprouted on his face. "Forrest," Riley said. "I told Forrest about all the stuff going on with Adam."

Xander rubbed his face with one hand then sat down. "Giles has been convinced from the beginning that the Initiative was behind Adam. If they were, and Forrest told Walsh -"

"Then she'd do what she had to in order to protect the secret. Including killing all of you, and Forrest. Especially if she's crazy enough to build Adam in the first place," Riley said.

"You think she killed Forrest?" Buffy asked.

Riley blew out a breath. "I don't know. But he was dead less than half an hour after I left there, and they wouldn't let me see his body."

"Your boss is crazy, mate," Spike said, pulling a cigarette out of his pack. Buffy grabbed the cigarette and snapped it in half. "Hey!"

"Not in my house," Buffy said.

"Okay," said Xander shaking his head. "We can't do anything about these sons of bitches right now. Giles needs to get to the hospital. Riley, can you -"

"Yeah," he said. "Of course."

"I'm going, too," Buffy said. "Mom and Dawn…"

"Yeah," Riley said again. "Of course."

"I'll take the Ikes out and we'll do a quick sweep," Xander said.

"We will?" Spike asked.

"Yes, unless you like floating on the wind."

"Right. Quick sweep it is."

The group went upstairs, but Xander held Buffy back a little.

"You okay?" he asked, pulling her close to him.

Buffy took a deep breath and released it, then leaned into his chest. "I don't know," she said. "It's not really… real, yet. Ask me again in a few hours."

Xander smiled down at her, and she reached up and pulled him into a kiss. "Love you, baby," she said.

"Love you too, Buffy. Always."

The two shared an intimate smile for a moment, then headed back upstairs to join the others, running into Faith and Pike as they were coming back from hiding the soldier's vehicles.

"Hey, you're okay," Riley said, pulling Faith into a hug. Spike rolled his eyes and Pike, recently enamored of Faith, enjoyed the sight of Faith stretching up to hug her boyfriend..

"Yeah," Faith said. "Where you headed?"

"Hospital," Riley said. "Taking Giles and Buffy."

Faith looked over to where Buffy was helping Giles into Riley's car. "Want company?" she asked.

"Love some," Riley said. He turned back to Xander. "What are you gonna do with the guys?"

Xander shook his head. "Keep them unconscious until we can deal with 'em."

Riley nodded. "If you need help…"

"We'll call," Xander said.

Riley and Faith took off, leaving Xander, Pike and Spike standing in front of the house.

"So, take that sweep, now?" Spike asked, lighting up a cigarette and offering one to Pike.

"In a minute," Xander said. "Got something I need to do first."

Pike and Spike stood in the yard as Xander walked back towards the house. The two of them were discussing the events of the night. And Faith's ass.

"Hey," Xander said.

"Hey, Xander," Willow said, cheerily, without looking up.

"Hey," he said again. "Are you guys okay?"

"Yeah," Willow said as Tara nodded, smiling wanly at him.

"Hey," Xander said, taking Willow's elbow in his hand. "Are you okay?"

Willow sniffled, and turned to Xander, teary-eyed. "No," she said, smiling despite her tears. "I'm not okay. People, people who-who we worked with, who we considered allies, came here to kill us. They shot Dawn, and they shot Giles, so no, Xander, I am not okay, okay? This is not okay."

Xander pulled Willow into a hug, holding the young woman tightly as she cried. Tara looked on sympathetically, until Xander waved her over, and she joined the embrace.

"Shhh," Xander said. "It's gonna be all right. Dawnie and Giles are going to be fine."

"Xander, they tried to kill us," she said again, quieter this time.

"I know, sweetie," he said. "I know. But they're not going to get the chance again. I promise. Okay?" Xander kissed Willow gently on the forehead, and released her from the embrace.

Willow pulled back and wiped her eyes, leaning into Tara.

"Me and the Ikes are going to take a quick sweep," Xander said. "Do you guys wanna join?"

Willow shook her head. "I just… I'm going to finish cleaning up here and then go back."

Xander nodded. "Tara?" he asked.

Tara looked up, somewhat surprised at being offered the choice separately from Willow. "O-oh, um… no," she said. "I'll… I'll go with Willow."

Xander nodded, and smiled at the young Wicca. "Take care of her," he said. "And yourself, too."

Tara smiled and nodded back at him.

"Okay," Xander said, reaching into his pocket. "Take my car. I don't want you guys out on the street alone tonight." Willow opened her mouth to protest.

"I know," Xander said, "you guys can take care of yourselves. Please? For my peace of mind?"

Willow sighed and took the keys he held out. "But you call me when you get in, okay? I want to know you're all right, as well."

"Sure," Xander said, smiling at her. "Love you, Wills."

"Love you too, Xan."

Xander looked around the room, shook his head and left.


The chase was on. Xander saw a demon about to attack a group of teenagers. When Pike shot it, the demon turned and ran. Xander wasn't about to let this one go.

Xander, Pike and Spike chased it through the cemetery, out to the street where it jumped down a manhole. The group quickly followed.

"Ahh, back to the sewers. You White Hats really know all the great spots, you know?" Spike said.

"Yeah," said Pike. "I mean, I'm all for killing demons, but these sewers aren't exactly fun."

"They're not supposed to be fun," Xander said. "They're sewers. They smell. It's like their job."

Spike snorted.

"What?" Xander asked.

"Jobs. I figure its people doing their jobs that put the Niblet and Rupert in the hospital," Spike said.

"Walsh must have told them we were working against them, or… or something. They had to have been following orders," Xander said.

"Not them," said Pike. "Faith's guy, Riley."

Xander stopped walking and looked at Pike. "Excuse me?" he asked.

"Riley, man," Pike said. "I figure it's his fault."

"And just how do you come to that genius-level conclusion?" Xander asked.

"Simple," said Pike. "He hadn't mouthed off, we wouldn't be in this situation. He knows we think his group's behind it, and tells a guy who's his direct superior what's going on. He hadn't done that, Walsh wouldn't know what was going on, and Giles and Dawn wouldn't be where they are. It's pretty clear."

Xander fixed an intense stare on Pike.

"Riley is in the military," he said. "You don't just withhold information like that from your superiors. Riley felt that what he did was the right thing."

"Yeah, well," Pike said, "all I'm saying is that if he wasn't such a fucking boy scout, your friends wouldn't be in the hospital right now."

"Let's get something clear right now," Xander said, shoving Pike against the wall of the sewer and holding him there. "The reason Dawn and Giles are in the hospital is because some crazy bitch with too much power wanted more of it, and thought killing us was the way to get it. Riley is not the bad guy here. He is a good man who made a bad decision. If you can't tell the difference, then I really have to wonder what the *fuck* you're doing here."

Xander released Pike and stalked off down the sewer. Pike stood there for a minute with Spike. Spike opened his mouth to talk.

"Not one god damn word," said Pike, who then stalked off down the sewer himself.

Spike watched his friend walk away, then lit a cigarette. "Now that's entertainment," he chuckled to himself before heading off after the others. When they found the demon, there was going to be a fight, and he didn't want to miss seeing the action. Because he was pretty sure there would be none left for him.

Chapter 24

"Hey," Xander caught up with Buffy at the hospital after picking his car up from Willow's dorm. "How is everyone?"

"Well, Mom's in with Giles right now," Buffy said taking Xander's hand. "He's going to be fine, no real damage. Missed the bone, missed the everything. They gave him some blood, and some painkillers and told him to take it easy. They're drawing up his discharge papers now. Dawn's been out of surgery for a bit, the doctor said she got pretty lucky, nothing major was hit. She's going to be in here for a little while, but she'll be okay. She's in recovery right now, should be able to have visitors in the morning."

Xander nodded as he sat next to Buffy. He pulled her hand up and kissed the back of it gently, before wrapping his arm around her.

"You seem a little less tense," Buffy observed.

Xander nodded again. "Took it out on a demon," he said, rolling his neck to get the creaks out.

"That's good," Buffy said.

"Yeah. And I sent the Ikes back to your house to watch over the 'guys,'" said Xander, making air-quotes with his hands.

Buffy nodded. "Good," she said. "I think I'm going to tell Mom to stay with Giles tonight."

"Good idea," Xander said. "Plus, it'd be weird to sleep in a house with no windows on the first floor."

Xander scanned the area.

"Where's Faith and Riley?"

"Coffee," Buffy said.

Xander turned to Buffy. "Are you okay?"

Buffy turned to him, a pensive look on her face. "I don't know. I mean, everybody's going to be fine, I know that. That's great. But we've fought this guy a few times now, and he's taken us apart every time. And if the Initiative's going to be on their side too…"

"The Initiative's a… different kind of group," Xander said. "The guys tonight attacked us because Walsh was able to convince them we were against them, or a threat, or something. I can't imagine they would have done it without some serious cajoling on her part. But if they see a big demon-cyborg-man that's killing people, and answers to Walsh? I don't think they'll be that easy to convince. At least I hope not. If Riley's any indicator, they won't."

Faith and Riley re-entered the waiting room and sat on a couch across from Buffy and Xander.

"Hey, Riley," Xander said. "Your guys have been pretty busy, right?"

"What do you mean?" the older man asked.

"I mean on patrols. You've been getting lots of hits, captures, stuff like that. Right?"

"Yeah," Riley said. "It's weird, what with you guys being pretty bored. Except for the obvious. You know, Adam. And… tonight."

"Why?" Faith asked of her friend, pulling her legs up beneath her.

"Well, take a look at Adam for a second. He's a big freak of nature. Half man, half machine, half demon -"

"Uh, Xan…" Buffy said.

"I know what I said," Xander replied, smiling. "Anyway. That vamp Spike beat up for us. He talked about Adam's army, right?"

"Yeah," Buffy said. "And?"

"Well, what if Adam doesn't have an army yet? What if he's planning to make one… like him."

"What do you -" Buffy started.

"Oh, Christ," Riley said. "Then all the demons would -"

"And your soldiers, too," Xander said.

"Wait, what?" Faith asked.

"Okay," Xander said. "Adam is man, demon, and technology, put together, we think, by the Initiative. Well, technology parts they have. The others…" Xander trailed off.

"Demons in the cells and soldiers to kill them and be killed by them," Buffy said.

"Wait, but the soldiers would get slaughtered," Faith said. "No way do they match up. No offense, baby."

"No, not at all," Riley said. "I completely agree. But, so what, then?"

They sat in silence for a moment.

"We need a brain on this," Xander said.

"We have four," Riley said.

"I meant one that works," Xander replied.

"We need Giles," Faith said.

"Then Giles you shall have," Giles said, standing off to one side of the waiting area. The sight of Joyce's hand in his brought a smile to Buffy's face. "What seems to be the problem?" Giles asked.

The group described what they had thought of so far as Giles and Joyce sat and listened intently, Giles nodding at certain parts. "All right," he said, when they were finished talking. "Riley, allow me to ask you a question. If you were to want to kill all of us… two witches, two Slayers, a White Knight, a watcher… perhaps even the Ikes… how many soldiers would you send? Ten?"

Riley laughed. "No, way more," he said, then nodded, understanding. "You don't think they were really sent to kill you."

"No, I do," Giles said. "Just not all of us. Your Professor Walsh, while very likely insane, is also an extremely intelligent woman. She would know that ten soldiers, even professionally trained, would not stand a legitimate chance of defeating us all in open combat. As Faith and Xander so readily demonstrated."

"So what was the point, then?" Xander asked.

"To get us angry," said Giles. "To get us involved. If she wanted us dead, she could post snipers around the town and pick us off individually. I'm certain the Initiative soldiers are more accurate shooters than those vampires who pinned you down on Main Street. If, however, she is trying to build an army, and the soldiers she has available would not provide the appropriate… ratio of human to demon parts, I can think of nothing more than our group royally ticked off that would add to the stockpile of demon parts."

Everyone sat in silence.

"Well," Buffy said after a moment. "They came after my family. I guess we'll still just have to oblige them."


Xander and Buffy returned home to find their phone ringing.

"Jeez," Buffy said, looking at the clock above the oven, equaling the most use the oven had seen since they moved in. "Who's calling at 2 a.m.?"

Xander shook his head and picked up the phone.


[Where the hell have you guys been? I've been calling all night!]

Xander took a moment. "Uh… Cordelia?"

[Duh! Who else would be calling you at this time?]

"Well, last time it was Riley," he said. "Only we just left him."

[Oh. Well, it's me.]

"I gathered. So, the reason you're calling is…" he lead, as Buffy picked up the answering machine and showed Xander blinking number of 17. Xander rolled his eyes.

[Right. Where's Angel?]

This, again, gave Xander pause. "Uhhh… Los Angeles?" he asked as Buffy padded into their bedroom to change.

[Damn! You mean you haven't seen him?]

"Why, is he missing? You know, I hear that guy can take care of himself pretty well. 240 something year old vampire with a soul, there, Cor. He probably just got in a fight or something."

[No, doofus. He was coming to Sunnydale. I had a vision thing and it was this big ol' fight and Angel was there, and so were all of you, even that fish guy and Spike. So I told Angel and of course he has to go rushing off to Sunnydale like a big loser. Like a fight couldn't happen in LA. Hello! Big city here!]

Xander closed his eyes and pinched his nose, then realized he was acting too much like Giles and shook it off. "Okay. So Angel's supposed to be here. Maybe he just stopped off at the mansion instead of one of our houses."

[But he was supposed to be there last night,] Cordelia said. [And he hasn't called or anything.]

Xander sighed. "Okay," he said. "I'll go check out his mansion, and if he's not there, we'll look for him in the morning."

[Why not tonight?] Cordelia asked, worry clearly evident in her voice. [You guys are always up way late, I know that.]

"Yeah, well," Xander said, a little irritably "we're a little more tired tonight than usual after having been assaulted by some soldiers that shot Giles in the shoulder and put Dawnie in the hospital, so I'm going to look at the mansion and then sleep, okay?"

[Oh my god!] Cordelia said. [Are they okay? What happened?]

"Like I said, soldiers. Anyway, Giles is fine, just has to take it easy. Dawn's gonna be in the hospital for a few days, but she'll be all right. And have a fun story for show and tell."

[Xander, she's in eighth grade. Show and tell stopped like five years ago.]

Xander was slightly distracted as Buffy padded back out of their bedroom and over to the fridge wearing only one of his dress shirts.

"Uh huh," he said, watching his girlfriend move around the apartment. "Well… still a cool story."

[Okay] Cordelia said [Well, give everyone there my best, and if you see Angel, yell at him and tell him to call me.]

"Will do, Cor," Xander said, his eyes following his girlfriend, plus a pint of ice cream and a spoon, across the floor to the couch in front of the television, where she sat, folding her smooth legs up under her. "Bye."

"Something up?" Buffy asked.

Xander looked her up and down. "Yeah," he said, the double meaning not lost on Buffy. "Angel's apparently in town and incommunicado. Cordy had a vision and now she's all worried. I'm gonna go run down to the mansion, see if he's there. If not, then tomorrow it's 'Operation: Find the Dead Guy'."

Buffy pouted. "Want company?"

Xander smiled. "Always. But only if you wanna come."

"Well…" Buffy said. "It is kinda late…"

"Don't worry about it. But do me a favor?"


"Well, two, actually. First, call Will? I promised her I'd call when we got in, so she wouldn't worry."

"Check. Second?"

"Warm up your feet. Always cold feet with you."

Buffy stuck her tongue out at him.

Xander smiled and swooped in to steal a kiss. And a second. And when he was about to pull away, a third and a fourth were taken by Buffy.

"Mmmm," Buffy said, enjoying the moment, her hands starting to wander across his body. "Love you."

"Love you too, Buff," Xander mumbled, still holding her, his lips moving to her neck. "I'll be… back… soon."


Two hours and one 'don't-rub-his-nose-in-it-his-sense-of-smell-is-better-than-Lassie's' shower later, Xander pulled up outside the old mansion on Crawford Street and hopped out of his car. Despite being, generally, a polite person, Xander refrained from knocking and instead waltzed right into the house, after noticing that Angel's car was sitting in front of the mansion.

"Hello!" he called out as he walked in. "If there are any soulful vampires in here, they're going to have a very pissed off seer on their hands when they get back to Los Angeles."

Xander's voice echoed a little throughout the mansion. "Nothing," he muttered. Xander walked around the main room of the mansion looking for evidence of recent activity, and found none.

"Stupid Deadboy," he said to himself. "Probably got lost."

Xander went out into the garden and looked around. He was about to head home when something caught his eye. Xander knelt to get a closer look.

"Yeah," he sighed. "That's a scorch mark."

He looked around, inspecting the floor more closely. "And another by the plants… and three trails of blood leading off up the stairs. Fabulous."

Xander headed back out to his car and headed home. Upon entering the apartment, he tossed his keys down on the coffee table and headed into the bedroom, muttering the whole time.

"Stupid people making stupid decisions and having stupid visions that cause us stupid headaches that we don't stupid need." He was vaguely aware that not all of those words went together quite right.

"Find Angel?" Buffy asked, her head still buried in her pillow.

"Shock of all shocks, I did not," he said, tossing his clothes on the floor.

"We have a hamper for a reason," Buffy said.

"I'll get it in the stupid morning," Xander said as he climbed into bed.

Buffy rolled her head so she was looking at him. "Not finding Angel bugs you this much?"

"It wasn't so much the not finding him as it was the finding clues to give me a good idea where he went. Which means tomorrow is no longer 'Operation: Find the Dead Guy' but now 'Operation: Go with Riley to Check the Holding Cells for the Dead Guy'."

"Huh?" Buffy asked.

"Scorch marks like a pulse rifle, blood trails… I think the Initiative got him."

Buffy looked at her lover for a moment before burying her head back in her pillow. "You go," she said. "I suck at undercover."

Xander opened his mouth to make a comment, then paused and shook his head. 'No,' he thought. 'Too easy.' He turned off the lights, and the two were asleep within minutes.


"Gosh, I'm really starting to love this unit that I work for," Riley said the next morning. The group had gathered at the Summers home and was sitting around drinking coffee as Xander took measurements on the windows. "They're really turning out to be a lot of fun."

Xander chuckled and put on a bad, semi-British accent. "Join the army, they said."

"See the world, they said," Willow continued.

Together, they finished, false disgust permeating their voices. "I'd rather be sailing."

Everyone else looked at them. "What?" Willow asked. "None of you ever played Warcraft 2? And clicked on the little guys?"

"Or the sheep, until they exploded?" Xander asked, bringing the attention back squarely on him. "Right. Joyce, I should be able to have windows for you in a day or two. I know a glass guy, he's real good and real quick."

"Great," Joyce said, sipping her coffee. "It'll be nice not to be able to just jump over my bushes from inside."

"Okay, what's the plan, then?" Faith asked.

"I should think it's fairly simple. Somebody accompanies Riley into the Initiative, they secure Angel's release, and come back," Giles said.

"Uh, Giles, one thing," Willow said, pointing outside. "Sunlight."

"Well, what does Spike do during the day?" Giles asked.

"Sleep," Xander said. "And drink."

"Probably smokes, too," Buffy said.

"Overall, low marks for health. But then, he's dead," Xander said. "But, there's a really easy solution to this."

"And that is?" Giles asked

"Well, there's a parking lot behind Lowell House," Xander said with a grin. "And my car has a trunk."

"Xander," Giles said, "I don't think we can ask Angel to -"

"You think he'd rather sit in a holding cell?" Xander asked. "Do you think he'd rather we wait until they put a chip in his head, so he's as impotent to fight as Spike is?"

"No," Buffy said firmly. "He wouldn't."

"So, how do we do this?" Riley asked.

"Well, we go in, find Angel, and leave," Faith said. "Seems… pretty simple."

"It's not," Riley said. "Military installation. Can't just waltz in and leave with whatever you want."

"Unless you're me," Xander said.

"What?" Riley asked.

"Oh," Willow said. "Just, this one time, Junior year, Xander went to the military base and walked out with a rocket launcher."

Riley looked shocked. "Really?"

Xander shrugged. "Military base here suffers from the same type of ignorance as the rest of the town does. Plus, I still had soldier memories fresh in my head, so that helped."

"Right," Riley said. "I knew about those. They still with you?"

"Only in the most basic form. I can march, I can salute, and I can probably spit shine some boots pretty well. More than that… no guarantees."

"Well," Giles said, "as little as that is, it's still more than the rest of us. I suggest you accompany Riley."

Both men nodded.

"Okay," Buffy said. "Who else?"

"Nobody," Riley said. "Smaller group is better. Plus, I can probably pass off one person as legit. More than that… much higher chance of something going wrong."

Everyone at the table nodded in agreement.

"So how do we get me in?" Xander asked.

Willow shook her head. "Xander, we have a basement full of tied up soldiers wearing fatigues. How would you go about sneaking into a military compound?"

"Oh," he said. "Right. Well how do we get him out?"

Chapter 25

"So, do you think we'll run into any trouble?" Xander asked. The two men had gotten into Lowell House and, with Xander to one side, passed the retinal scan to get them into the elevator.

"Probably not," Riley said. "Nobody much looks at your face once you're in here."

The elevator door opened, and Riley and Xander stepped into a cavernous room, filled with a vast amount of electrical equipment, both military and scientific. Scattered groups discussed various issues of military, scientific, and personal importance. As they walked through, Xander overheard a couple of scientists muttering something about "that new damn chip design" and decided that it was good they weren't waiting any longer to bust out Angel.

"Back through here," Riley said under his breath as he led Xander through three doors and two hallways - not in that order - and into the holding area of the base.

"Jeez," Xander said. "How the hell did you guys clear out all this underground space without anybody knowing?"

"Actually, most of it was already cleared out," Riley said. "There's a huge system of caves in and around Sunnydale. We picked a spot that suited our purposes and built up inside of it."

"My taxes paid for this, didn't they?"

"Every cent," Riley said. "And your taxes specifically. They said 'Take Alexander Harris's money, and give it to the military.' You paid for all sorts of fun stuff, like our meals, the weapons, the holding cells, the three hundred dollar toilet seats. It was a good time."

"Here we go," Xander said, pointing into one of the cells. He walked up to it. "This side of the glass okay?"

Riley nodded.

Xander leaned his back against the glass and rapped on it with one hand. "Hey! You! Vampire! Get up!"

Riley watched as Angel stood from his meditative pose to his full height, and stretched, flexing his muscles. Even through his coat it was an impressive sight.

"You," Angel said, glaring at Riley through the glass. "I help you guys out last year and this is how you repay me?"

Xander smirked at Riley, who did his best impression of an innocent. "Hey, I just follow orders," Riley said, holding his hands up in symbolic surrender. "What you may or may not have done is not my concern."

"That's just great," Angel said. "So while you get to hide behind your little shield of 'orders,' I'm stuck here in this cell, waiting to be experimented on."

Angel then noticed Xander's shoulders raising up and down in laughter, his head bowed.

"What?" Angel asked, not yet having recognized who was out there.

"Always on your high horse, Deadboy," Xander said, turning around, and bringing a smirk to Riley's face as well. "Never can just shut up."

Angel looked confused. "When did you start working-"

Xander smacked his forehead with his palm. "You're really not that dense, are you? Check out my name tag."

Angel looked down at Xander's chest and read the name O'Bannon.

Xander moved aside as Riley punched in the access code for the cell and opened the door. Xander held up a pair of cuffs. "Gotta put these on ya," he said. "Loose, so you can break 'em if trouble brews, but tight enough to pass a cursory inspection."

Angel nodded. "How did you know -"

"Cordelia," Xander said. "Got pissed when you didn't call."

Angel smiled. "All right," he said as Xander put the cuffs on him. "Let's go."

"I feel like I should be making a Star Wars joke about now," Xander said.

"Yeah?" Riley asked. "Like what?"

"Well, it's like, I'm Luke, cause of my powers, you're Han, you've got the military background -"

"Han had a military background?" Riley asked

"If you read the books he did. Those red stripes on his pants? They're Corellian blood stripes. They're for, like, honor, or something. Anyway, that's you. And being in cuffs, and with all the hair stuff, that would make Angel Chewbacca."

"I have seen Star Wars," Angel said. "And that's not funny."

Xander and Riley shared a smile. "Anyway, shouldn't I be Luke?" Riley asked. "I've got the farmboy thing."

"If you were Luke, that would mean Buffy is Leia, and Faith would be Mara Jade. But really, Willow should be Mara Jade because she's got the red hair. Which would mean Tara is Luke…"

"Mara who?" Riley asked.

"You guys are getting way too into this," Angel said.

Both men shrugged.

"Just so you know," Xander said as he and Riley continued to 'escort' Angel down the hall, "it's daytime outside. We have about a twenty foot run to my car."

"You know, even through a window, sunlight can still kill me," Angel said, turning his head to Xander.

"Keep your head down," Riley said to Angel. "Look like a defeated prisoner, not like someone who has a chance of leaving here in the next few minutes."

Angel heeded the soldier's advice and slouched, dropping his head a little.

"Anyway, that's why the trunk is popped," Xander said. "It won't be the most comfortable ride, but it might save your life."

The three men opened the next door, and saw Walsh and five soldiers standing at the end of the hallway.

"Hey, Riley?" Xander asked, their pace slowing but still moving forward.

"Yeah?" Riley asked.

"These pulse rifles kill a human?"

"Not in one shot."


The three men kept moving until they were a few feet away from the group assembled in front of them.

"Gentlemen," Walsh said. "Going somewhere?"

"Yes, ma'am," Riley said. "We're escorting this prisoner to another facility."

"You do know that uniform isn't fooling anyone, right?" she asked of Xander. "I had you pegged as one of those… Scoobies… as soon as you stepped in the elevator."

"Then why didn't you stop us then?" Xander asked.

"I wanted to see where your loyalties lay. Obviously, not with us, as you are 'escorting' this… thing… out of here."

"Hey," Angel said, indignantly.

"He's not a 'thing'," Xander said. "He's a good guy. He helped save our asses against that Fargath demon, and he's saved my life a few times over."

"A good vampire?" Walsh asked, intrigued. "My, how poetic. I don't care. He's a vampire. And he does not leave this facility. Gentlemen?"

The five soldiers surrounding her stepped forward.

"Hey, Maggie," Xander said, as the soldiers raised their weapons - pulse rifles, not live ammo. "Wanna guess where I *got* this uniform?"

"Hold," Walsh said. "Why would that be of any interest to me?"

"Well, I just thought you might want to know what happened to the ten soldiers you sent to kill us. You know, since they never came back," Xander said snidely.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said.

"Sure you do," said Riley. "The same guys who shot up Mrs. Summers' house. The same guys who shot Giles in the shoulder. And the same guys who put Buffy Summers' thirteen-year-old sister in the hospital with a gunshot wound to the stomach."

"They hurt Dawn?" Angel asked, snarling.

"Not the best time, Angel," Xander said.

"I can list off their names, if you want," Riley said. "Or have you guys not noticed some people missing? Other than Forrest, who mysteriously died?"

The five soldiers standing next to Walsh hesitated, their weapons dipping.

"You ordered a hit on civilians," Riley continued, growing angrier by the moment. "With live ammunition. You sent ten of our men against people who have been fighting these demons, protecting the world from the Hellmouth, for over three years. Maybe you'd like to explain to us why."

"I don't have to explain anything to you!" Walsh yelled. "My reasons are my own, and this unit is mine to do with as I see fit! You are not to question my orders, do you understand me? Now stand down, Commander Finn!"

"No, ma'am," Riley replied fiercely. "I can't do that."

"So, you've chosen. These… anarchists, who have no sense of duty, or honor, people who have killed those you served with, you would rather go with them than with the people who put you through college? Who fed you, and took care of you, and trained you? Is that what you've done?"

"First," Xander said. "We didn't kill anybody. A few broken bones, and one elbow that might need some reconstructing, and that's it. Unlike certain psychotic *bitches*, some of us actually have morals."

"And second," Riley said. "I'd rather be an anarchist than a traitor. Now are you going to step aside, or are we going to have to move you?"

"You're going to have to move us," Walsh said. She then noticed movement beside her, as first one, then after a few seconds all five soldiers lowered their weapons and stepped to either side of the corridor. Riley nodded his thanks to all of them. As they passed the group, Xander was visibly twitching as he kept his eyes firmly on Walsh. Angel, still not having dealt with the news of Dawn's injury, vamped out and snarled at Walsh, causing her to jump back and the soldiers to raise their weapons slightly. Xander grabbed Angel by the collar and shoved the vampire in front of him.

"Not now," Xander muttered, his voice making it perfectly clear he was unhappy with that decision.

"I don't want to see you here again, Finn," Walsh yelled, causing Riley to turn around. "You come back and I'll have you shot!"

"You mean like you did Forrest?" Riley asked, snarling. Walsh looked surprised, but denied nothing. Riley shook his head. "I guess I'll just have to finish everything while I'm here." They turned and walked off.

"You will all be reprimanded," Walsh seethed, glaring at the soldiers around her. "Every single one of you."

The highest ranking of the five soldiers stepped up very close to her, his gun held at the ready. He dwarfed over her by a good nine or ten inches, and looked straight down at her, defiance in his eyes. "Yes, ma'am," he spat out, snapping off what managed to be a sarcastic, yet technically perfect, salute. Each of the other soldiers followed suit, and left her standing in the hall, fuming.

Walsh stalked away to her office, slammed the door shut and sat behind her desk in a huff. She smacked the button on her console.

"When will it be ready?" she asked.

"My brother is almost finished," Adam said. "Other preparations go well."

"WHEN?!?" Walsh yelled.

"Two days," Adam said. "Three at most."

"Fine," Walsh spat out. "Just make sure it's all done."


"You okay back there?" Xander yelled.

"I'm fine," Angel yelled back, his voice coming through the seats. "Are you taking the scenic route or something?"

"No," Xander yelled. "We're almost there."

Xander continued driving down the road. "How about you?" he asked. "You all right?"

Riley took a deep breath, then let it out and shook his head before answering. "I don't know. Yeah. I mean… I just basically left behind everything I've been doing for the past few years… I'm AWOL. But… I think I'm doing the right thing. No, I know I am," he said. "It's just… whoa."

"Yeah," Xander said. "Whoa. But hey, you're still fighting the good fight, which is why you signed on with them in the first place, right? Only now you're not getting paid, and you're not officially sanctioned, there might be a warrant out for your arrest, you can't order anybody around and expect them just to hop to, and almost all the technology you had access to is now out of your reach."

The car was silent. "That didn't help much," Riley said after a moment.

"Yeah, no, I figured that out after I said it. Man, I was so tempted to just beat the hell out of her back there. I was so ready to just grab her and… and…"

"Yeah," Riley said. "I know."

"Here we are," Xander said, pulling up to the door of the mansion. "You go open the door, I'll let Angel out of the trunk."

Xander and Riley got out of the car. Riley opened the door, and Xander popped the trunk.

"You couldn't have put a blanket back here? Maybe a pillow?" Angel asked as Xander opened the lid.

"Hey, we got your ass out before they chipped you, be grateful. Besides, I didn't think of it. Now go inside, call Cordelia, and somebody will be back around in a little while once we figure stuff out, ok? The door's about three feet to the left."

Angel nodded, then hopped out of the trunk and ran for the now-open door. He made it inside with a minor amount of smoke, then waved to Xander and turned to Riley.

"You know, I didn't really mean -"

"Yeah, you did," Riley said.

"Yeah. I did. Does it help that I was wrong? And I'm sorry?"

"Yeah," Riley said. "And don't worry about it." Riley extended his hand, and Angel took and shook it.

"Welcome to the other side," Angel said.

"I think I've been here longer than I realize," Riley said. "But thanks."

Angel nodded and disappeared into the mansion.

Riley turned and joined Xander back in his car.

"Is that true?" Riley asked. "Did you really not think about the blanket?"

"Yeah, actually," Xander said. "Never once crossed my mind."

"Huh," Riley said, somewhat surprised that Xander hadn't purposely made the vampire less comfortable.

"Well," Xander said. "That's not to say I would have put it in there if I had, but for this time, at least, it was the truth."

Riley nodded. "Xander?"

"Yeah, man?"

"You won."

Xander looked at him for a moment. "I know. It's not about that."

"What's it about?"

Xander shrugged. "Being me. For the last three years, aggravating Angel was a great source of joy in my life."

"But now you've got Buffy," Riley pointed out.

"Point being?"

"Well… it's just, I know what it's like, loving a Slayer, and having one love you back. And I'm thinking… what other source of happiness do you need?"

Xander turned to the man next to him and raised an eyebrow.

"Well," Riley said, "it's also kind of juvenile."

"Well, so am I," Xander said.

"No you're not. Xander, you have a good, steady job, you've got an apartment, and bills to pay, you have a steady girlfriend, and you go out nightly and kill things that most people would run screaming from, and wet their pants while they did it, and you do it like it's an everyday thing. I just… I don't see much kid stuff in there."

"You haven't seen the Snoopy dance."

"Entertaining people and keeping the mood light, which you do, doesn't mean childish. Although I am looking forward to seeing it this Christmas," Riley said. "I've heard good things."

"Well, modesty prevents me from… well, nothing. It's definitely the event of the holiday season."

"I'm sure it's great," Riley said. "But that doesn't mean you're still a kid."

"You think I should give up making fun of Angel?"

"Well, I'm not going to tell you what to do… couldn't if I tried. But he seems a good guy. I don't really get why you didn't like him - other than Buffy, I mean."

Xander shook his head. "At first, that's all it was. He had access to a part of her that I didn't. And then, it was both that and the fact that, hey, vampire. But that was all jealousy and a kind of… non-directional hatred. The lynchpin for me was when Buffy died."

"You blame him?"

Xander sighed. "No. It was written in a prophecy that she was going to die… I don't actually think that anything we could have done would have stopped that. The point is, he didn't even try. He read the prophecy and gave up. Buffy read it and saw it as her destiny to die. Giles did too, but he stayed behind only because Buffy knocked him out. Angel was sitting in his apartment, reading."

"So the problem was…"

"He claimed to love her, but wouldn't go all out. Wouldn't fight. If there was a prophecy, from a book that's never been wrong, and it said Faith is going to die, would you just accept it, or would you do everything you could to fight it?"

Riley was silent. "He accepted it."

"That's why I hated him."


"It's just fun. I don't mind him too much - not that I like him - but he's an okay guy, and he's changed since then. Doesn't hold back anymore. And I know which side he's on, and that counts for a lot."

"So?" Riley asked as they pulled up to the Summers' house.

Xander shrugged. "Whatever. It was kinda gettin' old anyway."

The two men walked into the Summers house and found it empty, except for a note. And, of course, the hostages in the basement.

'X & R,


Mom and Giles went to the hospital. Us girls went to check out Willy's lead. Meet back here later.

P.S. Love you, Baby'

"Willy's lead?" Riley asked. "Where does that mean?"

Chapter 26

"These caves are a barrel of fun, kids," Faith said.

Buffy turned to her. "You know every single one of us is older than you, right?"

"So?" Faith asked.

Buffy shook her head.

"Psst! Guys, I think we found something," Willow called out from one of the side tunnels.

Faith and Buffy walked over to where Willow and Tara were standing.

"What is it?" Buffy asked, shining her flashlight where Willow was pointing.

"Dismembered body," Faith said.

"I meant what kind of demon," Buffy said.


"So, this is pretty fresh," Tara said, surprising Faith and Buffy by speaking up. "The blood… or maybe that's just goo…hasn't dried completely and, the body, it doesn't um… smell."

"Not worse than your normal demon, anyway," Faith said.

"Okay," Buffy said. "Is there a trail?"

All four girls shone their lights on the floor and saw nothing.

"Damn," Faith said.

"Farther in?" Buffy asked. The other three girls shrugged and followed her lead. They walked, taking turns at random, with Willow noting which way they went so they would not get lost. About fifteen minutes later, they really found something.

"Hey Will, I'm no expert, but… that's a computer," Buffy said.

"Great observational skills, Holmes," Faith joked.

"I'll take a look," Willow said, sitting down at the computer. The others mulled around that part of the cave system as Willow 'did her thing.'

"Got anything yet?" Buffy asked.

"No," Willow said. "I'm still trying to break his password."

Buffy nodded and walked away.

"Isn't it weird," Faith said, "that people get electricity to the weirdest places? I mean, the Ikes have cable for their crypt, this guy's got this computer in a cave… it's all just odd."

"Okay," Willow said. "I'm in. Let's see what's going on here."

Willow scanned through the file names, with Buffy and Tara watching over her shoulder, as Faith found a raised rock and sat on it.

"Oh, this looks interesting," Willow said, opening up a certain file.

"What is it?" Faith asked.

"It looks like… a map of the Initiative," Buffy said. "All labeled and everything. Except this one section." She pointed to the screen. "What's that?"

"I dunno," Willow said.

"M-maybe that's where Professor Walsh put Adam together," Tara suggested. "It looks like it's not part of the main c-compound, and if the soldiers didn't know about Adam…"

"Maybe," Buffy said. "Will, can you save this?"

"Uh…" she said looking around for a printer, and not finding one. "No. Oh, but, idea! Does anybody have a pen?"

Faith stood, pulled a pen from her pocket and tossed it to Willow.

"Since when do you carry office supplies?" Buffy asked, as Willow grabbed a sheet of paper from the desk and held it up to the monitor.

"I just kinda got used to it, you know, checkin' in inventory and stuff… always needed something to write with," Faith said.

Willow traced the outline of the map and filled in all the major lines she could see through the paper, then folded it up and pocketed it.

"Okay," she said. "Now we can show it to Riley, and he can tell us, you know…"

"What the hell it is?" Faith asked.

"Yeah," Willow said, sitting back down at the computer. "That. Okay, let's see what else we have here."

The others milled around the area for a little while as Willow went through the files on the computer. Faith and Buffy, ever impatient and competitive, started a contest to see whose aim was better by throwing pebbles at specific targets. They both pretty much hit them all every time. Tara stayed out of the way to one side.

"Um, guys?" Tara said after a time. "I think something's coming."

Faith and Buffy were immediately on their feet and quickly by the entrance Tara was sitting next to.

"She's right," Faith said. "And more than one thing. Half a dozen at least."

"Come on, Willow, we have to go," Buffy said.

"Just a second, this is really important."

"Red, now!" Faith yelled.

"Look, I just have to get this down, now don't rush me!" Willow said.

"Here they come," Buffy said, as approximately eight demons rounded the corner and saw them. Luckily, Buffy thought, the tunnel was only wide enough for two of the demons to fit in at a time. Unluckily, she amended to herself, the corridor was also wide enough to fit Riley in four times across. They were big demons.

"I just need another few seconds!" Willow yelled.

Tara looked from Willow to the demons, back to Willow and again back to the approaching demons. Her mind made up, Tara shouldered her way between Buffy and Faith, dropped her head in concentration, held one hand out in front of her and began chanting. The demons ran as hard as they could, until the first two smacked into a previously invisible barrier. They bounced backwards, knocking all eight demons down.

"You know," Faith said, "Giles would yell at us for this, but right now I really wish we'd brought some weapons."

Buffy and Faith started scanning the area for something they could use as a weapon.

"Got it!" Willow yelled, shoving another piece of paper into her pocket.

"There," Buffy said, pointing. "We can use those."

Faith turned to Tara. "How long will that thing hold?"

"N-not that long if they start pounding on it," she said.

"We'll hold it together," Willow said, walking up and taking gently taking Tara's hand in her own. Faith watched as Tara seemed to perk up with energy, and her eyes flashed white for a second. Willow could feel the power flowing through their connection.

Tara stood, hand out, with Willow behind her, feeding her energy, as Buffy and Faith crossed the room and started kicking. After about thirty seconds, they both had rough, rough stakes made out of stalagmites.

"Kinda big," Faith said, hefting her rock-stake that was about three feet long.

"Yeah," Buffy said, lifting her own. "I guess we'll just have to push really hard then."

"Sounds like fun," Faith said, a glint in her eye.

Buffy and Faith trotted over next to Willow and Tara and looked down the hallway to where the front two demons were pounding on the barrier.

"You guys ready to drop it?" Buffy asked.

Tara nodded.

Faith and Buffy picked up their pointy rocks in both arms, lifted them, and got set to charge.

"Now!" Faith yelled.

As Tara's hand dropped, Buffy and Faith set off at full speed and slammed directly into the first of the demons, aiming their stalagmites slightly upward. The rocks penetrated the chests of the demons, but Buffy and Faith just kept running. They slammed into the next pair of demons, pushing them backwards as well. In a good show of synchronized slaying, Faith and Buffy peeled off and slammed the four demons into the wall, shoving the stalagmites through their chests and killing them, leaving behind four more demons, temporarily stunned at being attacked with bits of the cave.

As the dead demons slumped to the ground, Buffy and Faith turned back to the living ones.

"That'll teach 'em to mess with Slayers," Faith said, as she launched into her next attack.

"Yeah," Buffy said, tossing a dizzying combo of kicks and punches. "I'm pretty sure they 'got the point'."

"Oh, B, that was horrible," Faith said, as she drove the demon to the ground and kicked it in the face. She turned to Buffy for a moment and grinned. "And I don't think they'd laugh even if it wasn't. They've got hearts of stone."

"Oh, jeez," Buffy said, sending her demon flying back into the wall of the cave. "That was worse than mine."

Faith launched a kick at her second opponent, knocking it back a few feet and giving her the requisite few seconds needed to kneel and break the prone demon's neck, just as Buffy's demon recovered enough to charge again. Buffy ducked the blow it sent her way, grabbed its arm and twisted, breaking it at what appeared to be the elbow. The demon roared in pain, then suddenly stopped when Buffy wrapped her arm around its neck and cracked it.

As the demon dropped, Buffy turned to face her last opponent, to find it had fled for the safety of uncharted caves. She turned to help Faith, just in time to watch her sister Slayer fall to the ground, the result of a devastating blow from the demon she was fighting. Buffy was about to rush in to help, when Faith grabbed a fist sized rock from the floor and launched it at the demon, putting a good grunt of effort behind the throw. The demon's head nearly exploded as the rock went first into and then out of its head, slaying it.

Buffy held out her hand to help Faith up off the floor.

"That was fun," Faith said.

"Yeah," Buffy agreed. "I needed a workout." She turned back to the room, which Tara and Willow were just exiting. "You guys ready?"

Tara and Willow both nodded. "I think this stuff may really blow the whole thing open," Willow said.

"Great," Buffy said. "Well, we can see that when we get back. I got demon goo on me and I need a shower."

And with that, they left.


"Okay," Riley said. "You're not going to yell or scream or anything. Understood?"

A nod. Riley leaned in and pulled some duct tape off of a soldier's mouth.

"All right, John," he said. "No titles here. No formalities. You're John, I'm Riley. Why did you attack this house?"

John looked up at Riley. "Water," he croaked.

Riley turned around and Xander handed him a glass of the water they had brought down. Riley slowly held it to John's lips, and the man drank up greedily. When the glass was empty, John relaxed, his head leaning back against the pillar. Xander moved around, giving water to the other soldiers, and checking some wounds.

"Walsh," John said after a moment. "Orders. Said this group was…" he took a deep breath. "Mystical terrorists. Threat to security."

"Well, they're not," Riley said.

"No offense, Riley," John said, "you're not… objective."

"No, you're right," Riley said. "I'm not. I'm not objective because I know these people, I know what they do, I work with them. They are not the bad guys."

"Corrupted," John said.

"I'm not corrupted," Riley said, leaning down closer to John's level. "I want you to ask yourself something. You know what goes on here. You know how dangerous it is, you know what the Hellmouth can do. Before us, they were the only ones protecting the place, and the world, so far as I can tell, never ended. Do you really think they switched sides when we showed up?"

The man was silent for a moment. "Walsh said -"

"Fuck Walsh!" Riley spat. "Make up your own goddamned mind, because military or not, in this place, you can't just follow orders. You can't let people just tell you what to think, because if you make the wrong choice, if you fight for the wrong side, it's not just us that pay, it's not just America. It's the entire world."

"Possibly the dimension," Xander put in.

"So I want you to think long and hard about just exactly what is going on here," Riley continued, "and who has the right of it. Or you can take my word for it."

"Hello!" came a yell from upstairs.

"I'll be back," Xander said, heading up the stairs. Riley nodded and waved him off.

John looked up at Riley. "I can't take your word," he said. "You've got too much invested."

Riley nodded.

"I could take Commander Gates' word."

"Forrest is dead," Riley said.

The conscious soldiers, which included all but the one who had shot Dawn, turned their heads in unison upon hearing that.

"Excuse me?" John asked.

"Dead," Riley said. "Yesterday."

"How?" John asked.

"I don't know. I have my suspicions, but I don't know."


"What did Walsh tell you was her reasoning behind the attack last night?" Riley asked.

"She said they were working towards the downfall of the Initiative's greatest project."

Riley laughed. "Wow. That's actually true. She didn't happen to tell you what the project was?"

"I assumed the chip program…" John said.

"Oh, no. No, no," Riley said. "That's not even close. This is how I think Forrest died."

Riley proceeded to tell all the men about Adam, and the child he'd killed, what the demons had said about him, their encounters with him and his suspicions about how that information had lead directly to Forrest's death.

"That's quite a story," John said. "But where's your proof?"

"Right here," Faith said as she stood at the top of the stairs, holding some papers in her hand. "Well, we hope, anyway."

Faith walked down the stairs, slipped her arm around Riley's waist and showed him the things Willow had written down. Riley took a look at the map.

"That's the Initiative," he said. "But what's this stuff over here?"

"We were hoping you could tell us," she said.

"I've never seen it before in my life," said Riley. He held the paper out in front of John. "Any ideas, Davis?"

John looked over the map. "No," he said. "That looks like it's off the back of that secret hallway that Walsh and Angleman use."

"That what?" Riley asked.

"That hallway," Davis said. "Back past the holding cells and the labs."

"I haven't been back there in months," Riley said. "I… haven't been around a lot."

John did the best he could to shrug. "Some hallway with a number on it… like… 316 or 302… or -"

"314?" Riley asked.

"Yeah. That's the one," Davis said, as Faith and Riley exchanged a meaningful look. "What's the other paper?"

"Schematics of the guy we've been fighting," Faith said, holding the paper out for Davis. She turned to Riley. "Baby, go upstairs for a minute," she said.

"Why?" he asked.

"I just… I need to tell them some stuff that you need to hear differently," she said, softly.

"Tell me with them," Riley said, nodding to the soldiers. "If they need to hear it, I can hear it too."

"Ri, I don't think-"

"Faith," Riley said, looking into her eyes and placing his hand gently on her shoulder. "I'm a big boy. I can take it. Tell us."

Faith nodded, and knelt down in front of Davis to point out some special features. "See, this is the arm of a Polgara demon," she said. "One which your Initiative scientists dissected. You see this half of his face?"

Faith turned partially, and sent an apologetic look Riley's way. "This is from one of the soldiers who died last year, saving the world," she said. "One who you buried. I guess they must have dug up his grave. His name was Adam "

Faith could see the horror on the man's face, as well as the disgust. But she had one more feature to point out.

"And this is his uranium core. He runs off of a nuclear battery. Now who, in this area, might have access to that kind of technology, demons, and a dead soldier?"

Faith stood back up and walked over to Riley.

"I'll let you think about that for a little while," Faith said, as she and Riley made their way up the stairs. "Somebody will be down in a few hours with some more food and water."

After shutting the door, Riley walked a short distance, leaned his head against the wall. Then put his fist through it.

"Goddamn it!" he yelled, drawing Buffy and Xander from the living room where they were talking.

"I'm sorry, baby," Faith said soothingly, placing her hand at the small of his back to reassure him of her presence. "I didn't want you to find out like that."

"I know," he said. "It's not your fault. You tried to warn me."

"I should have -" Faith started.

"No," Riley said. "I insisted."

"Are you -" Xander began.

"I have to go," Riley said, turning from the wall. "I can't… I have to go."

Riley shouldered past the three friends. Faith turned and gave chase, catching him as he reached the front hall.

"Riley," she said, grabbing his elbow. "We need-"

"Look, I know," he said. "I know, we all need to be at our best and all that. But everything I thought I knew… about the people I worked for, and with and… it all just crashed in a flaming wreck, so I need a bit to figure it out, okay? Just a little while."

Faith released his elbow and stepped back, nodding.

Riley took a deep breath, then stepped up to her, and kissed her hard. "I love you," he said.

"You too, babe," Faith said.

Riley looked down sadly at her, then turned and left the house.

"He going to be okay?" Buffy asked, as she and Xander stepped into the foyer.

Faith turned to them, her forehead creased with concern, and her eyes a little damp.

"I don't know," she said. "He's had so much shit dumped on him in the past couple days… I don't know."

An awkward silence ensued, in which nobody knew what to say.

"We're going to head to the hospital to see Dawn," Xander said after a few moments. "You wanna join?"

Faith hugged her arms to herself and shook her head. "I think I'm gonna grab a shower and a nap," she said. "Tell her hey for me, though."

Buffy and Xander both nodded as Faith climbed the stairs, and stood there holding each other until they heard the shower turn on.

"Do you think *she'll* be okay?" Xander asked.

"She fell in love, got drugged, kidnapped, woken up by a kiss, then had her honey get a major crapstorm," Buffy said. She shook her head. "But Faith's tough. If anybody can be okay, she will be, I think."

Chapter 27

"Hey," Xander said that evening upon entering the mansion.

"Xander," Angel replied, coolly. "How's Dawn?"

Xander pulled a container of pig's blood from a shoulder-satchel he was carrying and handed it to Angel, who eyed it suspiciously.

"There's nothing wrong with it," Xander said, putting it on the table in front of the fireplace and sitting on the couch with his feet up. "I took it straight from Spike's fridge. Dawn's fine. Me and Buffy visited her earlier and, well…," Xander grinned mischievously, "I think the doctors are going to be kind of surprised at how fast she's progressing."

Angel nodded then lifted the lid and sniffed the blood. Smelling no 'additives,' he started drinking.

"Has anybody ever told you that is *really* disgusting?" Xander asked.

"Cordy, a couple times," Angel said, wiping off his mouth with the back of his hand. "I try not to drink too much around her, though."

Xander nodded. "Okay," he said. "Here's the deal. We have - did you call Cordelia, by the way?"

"Yeah," Angel said. "My ear is still ringing."

"I know what you mean," Xander said, leaning back on the couch. "Like, earlier this year, me and Riley are patrolling, and we kind of chase this demon through the sewers for an hour and a half. We find the guy, kill the hell out of him, and then climb out of the sewers in the middle of campus, smelling of sewer and demon goo and looking like hell. So we stop in at Lowell House - the frat house we were at today -- and I take a quick shower. I get home, it's like 4 am, and Buffy's up waiting for me, chews me out for not calling, worrying her…"

Xander shook his head. "I mean, I was out fighting evil, and I got dirty. If I had come home smelling bad…"

"I know what you mean," Angel said. "Like, Cordy's on this shoot, right? For a commercial? And the director's treating her like a piece of meat, saying 'You have bags under your eyes,' and 'You think you're so hot, but there's a thousand girls just like you who want this spot,' and 'What the hell is that scar? Get some make up, damn it!' So I ask Cordy if she wants me to rip the guy's head off -"

"Because you can," Xander said.

"Exactly. And she starts yelling at me like it's my fault the director's being a jerk."

They both sighed. "Women," they said in unison.

Angel took another sip of the blood.

"Did we just have a bonding moment?" Xander asked, uncomfortably.

Both men shuddered.

"Best not to think of it," Angel said. "So what's the situation?"

Xander laughed. "You know, I love Willow," he said.

Angel looked at Xander oddly.

"Will felt really bad about you being stuck in my trunk today - and by the way sorry about not having any pillows for you - so she did this." Xander reached into his satchel and pulled out a presentation binder, which he slid across the table to Angel.

Angel picked up the binder - complete with a cover page that read 'This Year's Apocalypse' - and flipped through some pages.

"She wrote up a summary?" Angel asked, looking through the pamphlet. "With pictures?"

Angel flipped to the end. "What's this stuff? Who's this guy?"

"That's Adam," Xander said. "He's the monstrosity we've been - well I wouldn't say we've been fighting him, so much as he's been handing us our asses."

"Uranium power supply? Polgaran spike? What the hell?"

"Yeah, and the date on that thing's over a month old," Xander said. "Who knows what upgrades he's had since then? Other than his eyes."

"Eyes?" Angel asked.

"Pike shot his eyes out, so we're pretty sure he's had them replaced. With what, is the question."

"Jesus," Angel said.

"Shouldn't that hurt your mouth?" Xander asked.

Angel looked up from the papers in confusion. "Shouldn't what hurt my mouth?"

"Saying 'Jesus' or 'God' or 'Holy crap' or something. Why doesn't that hurt?"

"Uh… they're just words? I don't know. Maybe if I said a prayer it would, but as you might guess, I'm not exactly the praying type," Angel said.

"I know what you mean," said Xander. "In this town? Not a lot to inspire faith."

"I thought that was Riley's department," Angel said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"Hey," Xander said, aiming a threatening finger at the vampire. "Bad puns are my job. Don't take my stuff, man."

"You took my girl, why can't I have the puns?"

"Because if we read the books right, she was my girl to begin with," Xander said.

"Well who says the puns aren't mine to begin with? Maybe you were just keeping them warm for me?"

"Christ, I think I liked you better when you were all broody."

Angel flipped a couple more pages of the presentation. "I don't know what any of this means," he said.

"Neither does anybody who's not Willow, or maybe Giles." Xander looked at his watch. "Anyway, planning session time. You in?"

"Yeah," Angel said. "Only this time, I'm driving."


"All right, we've ruled out a frontal assault," Giles said. "Have we been able to confirm the location of this corridor?"

"Yeah," Buffy said. "Sort of. It's at the back of the base, kind of behind a restricted access corridor."

"How restricted?" Angel asked.

"Way," Buffy said. "Like, big steel doors, code… thingy. Maybe other stuff."

"Definitely other stuff," Xander said, entering the newly-rewindowed Summers dining room, with Davis following behind him. "Davis here has agreed to help us, with planning at least."

Angel growled at the man entering the room.

"Down, boy," Faith said in a patronizing tone, bringing a smirk to Xander's face.

"Where's Finn?" Davis asked, skirting to one side of the growling vampire.

Everybody turned to Faith.

"I don't know," she said, her eyebrows creasing with worry. "He hasn't responded to pages or anything."

"Well, we can't afford to wait," Giles said, turning back to Davis. "What do you know about this area of the Initiative?"

"Virtually nothing," Davis said, sitting down at the table. "But this secured corridor you're talking about has lots of safety features. First, yes, it is a big steel door with a secure code entry. But the code changes every twenty five seconds, and only Drs. Angleman and Walsh have the entry keys."

"What about inside the corridor?" Giles asked.

"No idea," Davis said. "I've never been down there."

"What about your guys downstairs?" asked Buffy.

"Nobody's been down there," Davis said. "Like I said, Angleman and Walsh keep it closed off."

"So how are we supposed to get in?" Xander asked.

"Well, getting into the compound itself won't be a problem. As you and Finn showed so easily, we don't have the best security in the world, especially if you've got somebody for the retinal scan."

"Like you," Giles said.

"Right, like me. After that, I don't know how you can get in there. The only thing I could think of would be to shut off power to the whole base, but that would also release the HST's. Maybe there's a way you can open the door from the base computers, but you'd need a hacker to do that, because I sure as hell don't know how."

"Hey guys," Willow said as she and Tara walked into the Summers house. Everybody turned to look at her. Everyone but Davis smiled at her knowingly. "Sorry we're late, I had - why are you guys looking at me like that?"

"How up on your hacking skills are ya, Will?" Xander asked.

"Pretty good," she said, warily. "Why? And what's he doing all not tied up?"

"Lieutenant Davis has agreed to help us out," Giles said. "And we're wondering if you'll be up for hacking into the Initiative computers."

"Oh," Willow said, dropping her bag on the floor and taking a seat at the table with Tara. "Well sure. If I can get to their servers. If they have servers. Do they have servers?"

"It would be easier if you're on site, right?" Davis asked.

"Well, yeah, it should - are we infiltrating the Initiative?" Willow asked.

Various people around the table nodded.

"We don't have to wear fatigues, do we?" she asked.

"I hope not," said Buffy. "Fatigues on me are way Private Benjamin."

"I know what you mean," Faith said. "I tried on Ri's pants this one -"

"Can we please talk about the upcoming assault and *not* the latest in commando fashion?" Giles asked, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"So where -" Xander started.

"Hey kids, we've got some news," Pike said, as he and Spike rushed into the house. Pike was almost out of breath.

"By all means, come in without knocking," Buffy said.

"Oh, don't be like that, Buffy," Joyce said. "Boys you're welcome here anytime."

"Thanks Joyce," Spike said, smirking at Buffy. "Hey, Peaches."

"Spike," Angel grunted.

"Why do you call him that?" Xander asked Spike, before turning to Angel. "Why does he call you that?"

"You don't want to know," the vampires said in unison, causing Spike to grin and Angel to glare.

"Anyway," Pike said, drawing the attention back to himself, "we were doing a little hunting, and we followed this big guy into some caves. Yada yada yada, he's dead, we're not, and there's a cave entrance to the Initiative."

"What?" Xander asked.

"There's a what?" asked Davis.

"Wait, where?" Buffy asked.

Pike and Spike seemed to notice Davis for the first time. Pike walked up to Davis and punched him square in the face.

"That's for shooting Dawn," Spike growled. "I'd do it myself if I didn't have this damn chip in my head."

"Since when did you become so attached to Dawnie?" Willow asked.

Spike shrugged. "Bit's good to me. Doesn't put on airs, treats me like people. Much like her mother in that respect," he said.

Joyce thanked him with a nod and a smile.

"I suppose it doesn't matter much to you," Giles said. "But Lieutenant Davis was not actually the man who shot Dawn. He is downstairs. And still unconscious, I might add."

Pike looked at Giles, then at Davis. "You their commander?"

"For this operation I was, yes," Davis said.

Pike nodded. "Then it's his fault."

"I don't quite see -"

"He's right," Davis said. "I am supposed to be in control of my men at all times. Anything that goes wrong is my responsibility, even if it wasn't me who did it."

Davis turned to Joyce. "Ma'am, I would like to apologize for the careless actions that led to your daughter's injury. I know it in no way makes up for what happened, but you do have my sincere apology."

Joyce frowned and nodded. "You're right," she said. "It doesn't make up for it, and if the man who shot my daughter wasn't currently unconscious, he would be in a lot more pain than he currently is."

"I understand," Davis said. "I would have the same reaction; in fact it might not make much difference to me if he was conscious or not."

Joyce nodded at the young man and Giles put his arm around her waist, comforting her.

"About those caves…" Xander prompted.

"Right," Pike said. "Well, I guess we chased this thing what, half mile?"

"Half mile," Spike agreed, nodding.

"Deep into the caves. Passed that little computer set up you guys found… at least I assume it was the same one. So we kill this guy, I dump like three clips into the guy before Spike shoves him down a chasm… which, how far do those things go down? Because this guy kept yelling…"

"Deep," Davis said. "Real deep. Anything dropped down there is just gone."

"Okay, well, he's down there, and we're kind of all -"

"We forgot to leave a trail of breadcrumbs," Spike said.

"Right," said Pike. "We look around, trying to find somewhere, and there's all of a sudden this door in the wall. We check it -"

"*I* checked it," Spike interrupted. "Credit where credit's due, mate."

"Anyway," Pike continued. "Inside is like this sterile lab, and some bald, black guy lyin' on a table with his guts all over, and he looks like he's just been transplanted with some demon parts. We were about to go in and see what we could do about dismantling the place, when we hear a voice coming towards the room. So we high-tailed it and here we are."

"Bald black guy?" Faith asked, frowning.

"That sounds like Forrest," Davis said.

"And Riley wasn't allowed to see his body, either," Faith said. "Even though he was supposedly killed by a demon."

"Adam is technically part demon," Xander pointed out.

"You couldn't tell how he died, could you?"

Pike shook his head.

"Didn't have time, mate," Spike said. "Just barely got a look. But I'm pretty sure that it was Adam's voice we heard, though. All mechanical and whatnot."

"Good," Giles said, nodding. "That means we have a way to get access without going through the Initiative. I would prefer we not have to fight our way through a full complement of soldiers, then past a complete holding cell full of demons, in order to tire our selves out for the fight against Adam."

"That would be better," Xander said. "Especially since we still don't have any way to defeat Adam. I mean, brute force hasn't really worked so far."

"We'll have to think of something," Willow said.

"You guys didn't find any spells?" Buffy asked.

"No," said Willow. "Big fat nothing."

Buffy sighed and looked outside. "Okay," she said. "Faith, you wanna hit a patrol?"

"Sure," Faith said, distractedly.

"I suppose the rest of us should head over to the Magic Box and try to find… well, anything, I suppose," Giles said.

"Why don't we go do that," Willow said, "and you and Mrs. Summers can go see Dawnie?"

Giles turned to look at Joyce, who had a hopeful look on her face.

"Of course," Giles said. "That sounds fine. We'll see you all in the morning then?"

"What should I do?" Davis asked.

"You're coming with us," Xander said. "Maybe you can think of something we haven't."


"Xander?" Angel said as the research group got out of their cars at the Magic Box.

"I know," Xander replied. "I saw them when we pulled up. You get a count?"

"Nine that I could see."

"Demons?" Tara asked.

"Vampires," Spike said as Willow unlocked the door to the Magic Box.

"And there's ten," said Pike, nodding over his shoulder. Angel glanced behind him and saw one he had missed.

"Right. Ten," Angel said. "That makes what, two and a half each?"

"Only counting you four?" Willow asked, opening the door. "What about the rest of us? We can fight."

"Yeah," Xander said. "Hey, Will, see that shadow over in the alley there?"

"Uh huh," she said.

"Give us five seconds to spread out, then do that cool fire spell, would you?"

"Okay," Willow said.

"And Davis, you get them inside after that and protect them. They get hurt, you get hurt. Got me?" Xander asked as he turned on his shield.

"Yeah," Davis said.

Pike, Spike, Angel and Xander started to spread out into the street, about five feet away from each other. After counting down, Willow targeted the shadow Xander had pointed out and muttered 'incendiere.'

Out from the darkness of the alley, two vampires ran into the street rolling and screaming, on fire, and quickly turning to dust. At that point, all the shadows began to move.

"Oh, uh, wow," Xander said as twelve more vampires emerged from the shadows. "They're really serious about this, aren't they?"

"What, can't handle your three, whelp?" Spike asked.

From his left, a vampire leapt at Xander, who rolled out of the way and grabbed its arm, throwing it to the ground and staking it swiftly.

Another leapt at Angel, who all but mirrored Xander's move exactly.

"If they keep coming at us in ones," Spike said, "this isn't even going to be a challenge."

The remaining ten began to advance.

"Had to open your big mouth, didn't you?" Angel growled.

At once, the battle was entered. Vampires came at the quartet from all directions. The group had their hands full just keeping the vampires away.

Pike was having the most difficulty. Though he had kneecapped two of them before they reached him, without a significant boost in strength he was still equally matched by a single vampire. One vampire plus two hobbling after him was nearly too much.

As the first vampire reached Pike, he punched it across the face with the butt of his pistol. It quickly recovered and struck out at him, scraping across his arm and opening a good sized gash. Pike managed to sidestep the next blow, and raised his gun quickly, attempting to shoot in the face.

Instead, the vampire knocked his gun arm away with considerable force and clawed him across the face, sending him sprawling across the pavement. The vampire ran up and jumped on him, his jaws open. Just as he was about to attach his teeth to Pike's neck, it turned into dust. Pike looked up to see his savior and saw nothing but empty air - and a floating stake. Whipping his head around, he saw Tara and Willow at the doorway, each with hands raised in the direction of floating stakes.

Pike hopped to his feet to look for other opponents, but saw that Willow and Tara had taken everybody by surprise with their flying stakes of death, and only Spike was still fighting.

Angel walked over to where Spike was rolling on the ground with his opponent, waited until Spike had gained the upper hand - meaning he was on top - then picked him up by his collar and allowed one of the flying stakes to impale the vampire on the ground.

"What's the big idea?" Spike asked. "I had 'im right where I wanted him."

"Yeah, and now we've all got him right where we wanted him," Angel said as he shoved Spike towards the Magic Box. "Dead. Let's go."

"You still look tense," Pike said to Xander.

"Yeah," Xander said, his hands still balled into fists. "Got me kinda worked up, you know? Now I got all this energy and nothing to do with it."

"We have research to do," Willow said as she and Tara led the others into the Magic Box.

"That's not gonna wind me down fast enough," Xander said.

"Well, you're telegraphing some of your punches," Angel said. "If you want work on that, I hear you've got a good workout room in the back."

"I am?" Xander asked as he took a quick look at Pike's injuries and healed them as best he could. "There'll be a scar for a couple days, but you'll be fine," he said.

"Thanks," said Pike.

"So?" Angel asked. "Work on it?"

"Sure," Xander said. "But I have one thing to take care of real quick. Hey Wills?"

"Yeah?" Willow asked from behind the main counter where she was retrieving some books.

"Second drawer on the right?"

Willow looked down and opened the indicated drawer, then smiled. She pulled out what was there and tossed it to Xander.

"Thanks," Xander said, catching the object in mid-air. Xander turned and walked over to Tara. "Join me for a minute?"

Tara looked up at him, then to Willow, who nodded. Tara stood and followed Xander into the training room.

"Okay," Xander said as he swung the door shut. "These are Twinkies."

"What's that about?" Pike asked.

"Stick around," Angel said. "You might find out someday."

"What about me?" Spike asked.

"No," Willow and Angel said together, before sharing a knowing smile.

A couple minutes later, Xander and Tara emerged from the back room, Xander smiling and Tara mildly confused.

"You ready Angel?" Xander asked.

"Yeah," Angel said, standing from his chair and following Xander into the back room. "And I'm gonna kick your ass so bad…"

Xander laughed and shut the door behind them as the rest of the group sat down to research.

Chapter 28

"This is boring," Faith said as she kicked at a rock in the cemetery.

"Worried?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah," said Faith, hanging her head. "I just wish I knew where he was, ya know?"

"I do," Buffy said. "I'm sure he's fine, though."

"What makes you so sure?" Faith asked. "Cuz, there's a lot of trouble a guy could get into in this town, without even looking for it. Ri kinda seemed like he was. Looking, I mean."

"I don't know," Buffy said. "He doesn't strike me as the self-destructive type."

"Nah, he's not, normally. But these are extreme circumstances, yo. Who knows?"

"Have a little you," Buffy said.

Faith raised an eyebrow at her.

"It's a pun," Buffy said, pouting.

"Oh, I got it," Faith said. "Very clever."


"How's that working out for you? Being clever?"

"Don't you start that movie quoting crap, too," Buffy said. "I get enough of that at home."

A vampire jumped out of the shadows at them. Buffy dropped to the ground and swept its feet out from under it as Faith plunged a stake into its heart, turning it to dust.

Buffy shook her head. "I don't think we're going to see much more than that tonight."

"Nah," Faith said. "You wanna pack it in?"

"We really should go help with the research."

"You just wanna get back to your guy," Faith said with a smirk.

"Well, I just -"

"I get it," Faith said. "This big thing coming… whatever it is we have to do… I wanna be with Ri, too."

Buffy frowned. "I'm sure he'll show up."

"Yeah," Faith said as they headed off towards the Magic Box. "I just… I feel like something bad's happened, or is gonna happen, or some thing."

"We all get that feeling sometimes. Like back when the Sisterhood of Jhe was here, or the Master."

"Yeah, but you died that time," Faith said.

"But I had Xander to bring me back," said Buffy.

"Hope I get the same treatment from Ri," said Faith.

"Don't doubt it," Buffy said. "He loves you for real. I get the feeling he's a keeper."

"Yeah," Faith said, with a small smile, which turned to a frown after a moment. "I just wish I knew where he was."

Buffy and Faith approached the Magic Box from the back alley, and tested the back door to see if it was unlocked, and found it open. Upon opening the door a crack, Buffy and Faith heard the sounds of fighting from inside and flung the door open, only to see Xander duck under a high kick from Angel. Xander rolled to one side and lashed out at Angel with the side of his fist, hitting the vampire in the face and sending him backwards.

Angel gathered himself and charged at Xander, only to find himself bowled over by a petite blonde girl.

"Stop!" Buffy yelled, causing her boyfriend and ex-boyfriend to come to screeching halts - although it was significantly easier for Angel, who was currently flattened out on the mat.

"I thought you two were over this!" she said. "I thought that you could be in a room and act mature, and I come back and find you fighting! What the hell is wro-why are you laughing?"

"We weren't fighting," Xander said. "We were sparring. Angel said I was telegraphing some of my punches, and we were working on that for a bit. Then we just decided to go all out and test ourselves, although I didn't use my shield, cuz we thought if I train without it, I might be better when I need to use it."

"Yeah," Angel said. "And how come you jumped on me? Since when am *I* the instigator?"

"Well, you were all chargey," Buffy said, pouting as Faith helped Angel off the mats. "And I didn't want him to get hit."

"Aww, thanks sweetie," Xander said as he approached Buffy and wrapped his arms around her waist. "I think we were about done, anyway."

"Yeah," Angel said. "And we should really get into the research anyway."

"Yeah, we'll go do that," Faith said. "You guys take a minute."

Faith grabbed Angel and basically dragged him out of the training room.

"What's that about?" Xander asked.

Buffy leaned back into his arms. "She's having issues with Riley not being around, and she's got a bad feeling about what's going on."

"I know what she means," Xander said as he turned Buffy around. "This guy's really tough, and I got no idea how we're gonna take him. I mean, I'm pretty sure we'll think of something, but… what if it isn't enough?"

"Well, before we wonder about that, we have to figure out what it is we're thinking of," Buffy said, before leaning up and capturing Xander's mouth with her own.

"Mmm," Xander said. "Thinking of what now?"

Buffy smiled, wrapped her arms around him and leaned into his chest. "As much as I'd love to be distracted right now - and believe me, I would - we have work to do."

"I know," Xander said, leaning down to again find Buffy's lips. "But another minute or two won't hurt."


"I got nothing," Angel said a few hours later. "There is nothing here. We haven't heard from Wes and Cordy, so they haven't found anything either."

"Frustrated?" Willow asked.

"Just a bit, yeah," Angel said. "Times like this I wish I smoked, I hear its relaxing."

"Yeah, but then you'd be outside with the Ikes," Buffy said.

"And anyway, smoking's not really my thing," Angel said.

"Well, wait another week or so," Xander said. "Then you'll know what it's been like around here."

"So, is this thing as strong as you guys?" Davis asked. "I mean… how strong is it?"

"Stronger," Xander said. "And faster. Adam took out four of us without a problem. We need some way to fix that."

"And you've got all this magic stuff, and you can't find something?" Davis asked as the front door bell jingled

"That's the idea, chief," Faith said. "That's part of what you're here for, to think of things we haven't thought of."

"Going to the military to think outside the box? That's never a good idea."

Faith turned in her chair at the voice to see Pike holding Riley up just inside the Magic Box door. Riley looked pale and was holding his right side, which was soaked in blood from his stomach down past his thigh.

"Oh my god, Riley," she said as she rocketed towards him and took him from Pike. "Xander, he needs help."

"Yeah," Xander said, standing from his seat and clearing some room on the table so Riley could sit upon it.

"What the hell happened to you?" Faith asked angrily. "Where were you?"

"I was uh… out?" Riley asked, wincing as Xander pulled his shirt away from his wound to reveal a puncture the size of a half-dollar.

"Jesus," Xander said, looking at the wound. "Uh, Will, could you boil some water to clean this off with? And Tara, could you get the gauze from the first aid kit?"

Both Wiccas rushed off to do as Xander asked, and he held his hand to the wound, his hand quickly coating in blood. Pike shook his head and headed back outside for another smoke.

"What the hell did this to you?" Buffy asked.

"I'm not really sure," Riley said, as Xander applied the gauze Tara had brought to his wound to stop some of the bleeding. "Demon of some sort. I kind of lost track of time and… well…"

"That was real fuckin' smart, guy," Faith said, her arms crossed over her chest.

"Hey," Riley said, holding out a hand to the woman he loved. "I didn't mean to worry you. I'm sorry."

Faith looked at his eyes for a moment, then allowed hers to soften before taking his hand. Riley smiled at her, then his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell back on the table, unconscious.

"Riley?" Faith yelled.

"Shit," Xander muttered.

"Xander, fix him," Faith said, tears coming to her eyes.

"I'm doing my best here, Faith, but I need the wound clean before I close it," he said. "Otherwise he could get an infection, and you *really* don't want that."

"Coming!" Willow yelled as she rushed out of Giles' office with a pot of boiling water.

"Angel, your car is faster," Xander said. "Riley's lost a lot of blood, we're going to need to get him to the hospital as soon as I'm done here."

"Got it," Angel said, heading outside to start his car.

"Come on, you're not working fast enough!" Faith yelled. Xander locked eyes with Buffy for a moment, then glanced over to Faith.

"Come on, Faith," Buffy said, taking the younger Slayer by the arm and backing her away from the table.

"No," Faith said, struggling to get her arm from Buffy's grasp, and finding the elder slayer to have a rock solid grip. Faith looked down at her arm and then up to Buffy.

"Why don't you write down Riley's insurance info," Buffy said, a confident, comforting look in her eyes, "so someone else can take care of that when you get to the hospital, and you can stay with Riley."

Faith looked over to where Xander was doing his best to treat Riley, then looked back to Buffy and nodded very slowly.

Xander pulled some more clean gauze from the first aid kit and drenched it in the water, wincing as the heat burned his hand. After fully cleaning the wound, he lay both hands on Riley's wound and concentrated. Xander's hands glowed white for almost ten seconds, before Xander finally released the wound.

"Okay," Xander said, taking a deep breath to steady himself, before leaning over and picking Riley up. "Let's go."

As Faith led Xander towards the door, Spike suddenly crashed through the window of the Magic Box, shattering the glass and knocking Faith over.

"What the hell?" Buffy asked.

"Vampires, about twenty of 'em," Spike said with a grin as he pushed himself to his feet and brushed glass off of his duster. "Followed a trail of blood here." Spike walked over and pulled an axe off the wall and hefted it in his hands. "This'll do." With that, Spike jumped back out the window.

Exchanging a quick look, the rest of the Scoobies moved into action.

"Take him," Xander said to Faith, and holding Riley out towards her.

"But, the vam-" she started, looking outside.

"We'll take care of it," Xander said. "Go."

Faith looked in his eyes, then nodded and took Riley from him.

Xander turned and caught a stake that Buffy tossed to him. "We'll clear you a path to Angel's car."

"Thank you," Faith said.

Xander nodded and slammed the door open, to find Angel, Spike, Pike, the twenty vampires previously referred to, and approximately thirty Initiative soldiers picking off vampires as best they could.

"Uh…" Buffy said.

"Yeah," Xander said as vampires began dropping across the street.

"Faith, there's a clear path," Buffy said.

"I can drive if you want," Xander said as Buffy slipped to his left, pulled a vampire to the ground and staked it, then entered the fracas for some more action.

"No," Faith said as she slid Riley into Angel's back seat. "I can do it."

Xander nodded. "Angel! We need your keys."

"A little busy!" Angel yelled as he slammed his stake into the chest of a vampire, dusting it.

"There's like four of them left," Xander muttered. "What a wuss."

Angel turned around, ripped his keys out of his pocket and pegged them at Xander's head, before turning back and pounding on another vampire.

Xander's hand shot up and snatched the keys out of the air before they hit his head and tossed them to Faith. "We'll join you when we can," Xander said, closing the car door as Faith slid inside.

Faith nodded at Xander, started the car and sped off towards the hospital, forcing Initiative soldiers to scatter from her path. As the fighting died down and Buffy dusted the last of the vampires, Angel turned to see Xander standing there, heading towards the Initiative soldiers.

"Xander!" he yelled.

"What?" Xander asked, turning around.

"You let Faith drive my car?"

"I let Faith drive my car, what's the big deal?" Xander asked.

"Yeah, but your car sucks," Angel said.

Xander made a rude hand gesture and headed back towards the soldiers. "Who's in charge here?"

"I am," one of them said, stepping forward and extending his hand. "Commander Graham Miller."

"Thanks for the help," Xander said, his body still tensed. "I don't suppose you had any uh… other orders."

"Uh, truth is," Graham said, "we're not exactly under strict orders right now."

"Oh?" Xander asked.

"We were looking for Commander Finn and some of our other guys," Graham said.

"So many of you?" Xander asked.

"We uh… have a couple questions."

"Just two?" Buffy asked. "Pike, could you go retrieve our guest?"

"Sure thing, Buff," Pike said before heading into the Magic Box.

"Spike, go with him," Buffy said.

"What? Why?" Spike asked.

"All these soldiers, here, looks like at any minute one of them could just pop one off on you… which, actually? Stick around, now that I think about it," she said.

Spike rolled his eyes at her and followed Pike inside.

"What is it you want with Riley, exactly?" Xander asked.

"Like I said, just to talk," Graham said.

"Well, he's not here. But we do have someone else you can talk to," Buffy said.

"Sir," Davis said, saluting as he exited the shop.

"Lieutenant Davis," Graham said, snapping off a responding salute. "What is your situation?"

"Sir, I and nine other men were ordered by Professor Walsh to find and terminate the civilians known as the 'Scooby Gang'," Davis said.

"Terminate?" Graham asked, his eyes wide with shock.

"Yes, sir," Davis said. "While following through with these orders, we were -"

"No need for formality, John," Graham said. "Just tell me what happened."

"Sir, they kicked our ass. Each and every one of us was incapacitated in less than a minute."

"Where are the rest?"

"Uhh…" Davis looked to Buffy.

"They're in my basement," Buffy said. "One of them shot my sister and my Watcher. He's being kept unconscious for the most part, except to give him some food and water. The rest are awake but tied up."

Graham looked at her for a moment before nodding. "Why did you let him loose?"

"Riley pegged him as the leader," Xander said. "And he agreed to help us, so here we are."

"Okay. Do you know where Commander Finn is?"

"On his way to the hospital," Xander said. "The blood trail these vamps followed was his."

"His blood? Is he okay?"

"He will be," Xander said. "I got the bleeding stopped and all that, he's lost a lot of blood, but he'll be okay."

"Good," Graham said. "Now what's all this about Walsh?"

"Wait," Xander said, holding up a hand. "There's like thirty of you here. I'm no mathematician, but that's a significant percentage of the entire squad."

"Yes," Graham said. "We were all ordered out by Walsh. With all the activity recently, she wanted us to be on full alert. We decided on our own to look for Riley and the others. I'll have most of the rest of my guys patrol. Can I go see your basement?"

"No," Buffy said. "Go see Riley. If he says yes, then you can see my basement."

"Fair enough," Graham said.

"Don't come back unless you have Riley's okay, either," Buffy said. "Thanks for your help out here, but we still don't trust you guys."

Graham nodded, then went to talk to his troops. Buffy, Xander and Angel headed back inside.

"Did you guys have fun lollygagging?" Willow asked impatiently without looking up from her book. "Cuz we have work to do."

Buffy and Xander rolled their eyes and sat down to get to work.


"Heya kiddo," Faith said from the doorway.

"Faith, hi," Dawn said as Giles and Joyce turned to see the new entrant.

"Is everything all right?" Joyce asked, noting the redness around Faith's eyes and the blood on her clothes.

"It's gonna be, yeah. Ri got into a bit of a jam and needs a few pints. Should be five by five, quick as you please."

"What happened?" Dawn asked.

"Demon stuck him, and he dragged himself back to the Box. Xan healed him up pretty good, but he lost a good bit of blood. He's tough, though. Just needs some rest."

"Yes, it sounds as though he'll just be fine," Giles said, making as though to rise from his chair. "Would you like to sit?"

Faith shook her head. "How's things in here?" she asked, hugging her arms to herself.

"I feel fine since Xander worked his mojo," Dawn said. "But the stupid doctors won't let me leave until tomorrow. Do you wanna see my scar?" she asked hopefully.

"Sure," Faith said, kicking away from the door and entering the room further. Dawn pulled her gown aside and showed Faith the small puncture wound where the bullet had entered her. "Wicked," she said. "Just don't get too many of those, or your mom here'll have a fit."

"I already had a fit," Joyce said, squeezing Dawn's hand.

"How are things coming with the research?" Giles asked.

Faith shook her head. "Nothin' so far, boss. There's some spells Red's been looking at, but nothing that jumps out and says 'beat the big bad cyborg demon man.'"

"I'm sure you guys will find a way," Dawn said. "You always do."

"Yeah," Faith said. "We do. Though, this guys a bit tougher than normal."

"I suppose he must be," Joyce said. "I haven't seen anybody this worried since graduation."

"Yeah," Dawn said. "It's too bad you guys can't just, like, multiply your powers. Then you could take this guy no problem."

Giles looked up at Dawn. "Multiply their powers… oh dear lord," he said.

"What?" Faith asked.

Giles handed his keys to Joyce before giving her a peck on the cheek and standing up.

"Come, Faith," he said, grabbing the younger Slayer and dragging her from the room. "This could be the key to everything."

Dawn and Joyce looked at each other and shrugged.

Chapter 29

"Oh man," Xander said, slamming the book in front of him. "I think it's time to wave the white flag. Give up. We're gonna die."

"Xander!" Buffy and Willow scolded.

"Sorry, sorry," he said. "I'm just tired is all. A good night's sleep and I'll be optimism guy again."

The bell over the door jingled.

"Okay," Giles said, taking off his jacket. He was followed quickly by Faith, who popped up onto the counter. "We have a lot of work to do."

"Oh good," Xander said. "I was hoping somebody would say that. I'm making coffee."

"Actually, don't," Giles said. "You need to listen."

"I'll make the coffee," Tara said, standing from her seat.

"No, we need you here too," Giles said.

"I'll do it?" Pike asked.

"Yes, thank you, Pike," Giles said. He climbed the ladder at the back of the shop. A minute later he descended with four books.

"Oh good, books," Xander said, surveying the table top already full of dusty tomes. "Something new for us."

"You can do away with those. We have a specific spell we're looking for, and I believe it to be in one of these books," Giles said, putting the books on the table. "It is called the Joining of the Souls, and it's a spell."

Willow perked up. "What kind of a spell?"

"The kind that is very difficult, and very dangerous, and might possibly allow us to defeat Adam."

"Well," Buffy said. "Tell us what we're dealing with."

Giles nodded. "The spell was originally created a very long time ago. Its original purpose was to aid in healing of someone who had been severely injured. It would take the… the essence of one person, their energy, and transfer it into the other, but it wasn't merely an additive spell. What was found is that it would take the one person's strength, their energy, and multiply it with the other, in effect making the one person much, much stronger."

"How come people don't use it all the time, then?" Willow asked.

"One of the problems of the spell was when the two people were incompatible, they were simply too different, and their energy would fight against each other," Giles said. "This would end up only hurting the injured person more, often resulting in death, for both parties, as the energy would expend itself. More than that, it took an enormous amount of power to cast, and left the person lending their energy as well as those doing the casting of the spell completely vulnerable for the duration of the spell. That happened whether the energies were compatible or not."

"Those are some pretty serious problems," Buffy said. "How exactly is this supposed to help us?"

"As I said, the biggest problem was when the two energies were in opposition to one another. This is a problem we do not have."

"How do you figure?" Xander asked.

Angel rolled his eyes. "You guys aren't very bright, are you?" He pointed to Buffy. "Slayer." He pointed to Xander. "White Knight. Your energies are specifically attuned to each other. The entire point of you is to help her out, there's no way that this spell going from you to her would hurt her."

"Precisely," Giles said.

"But there's still the problem of Xander being completely vulnerable," Willow said.

"Yes," Giles said. "I had thought of that. And this is the reason we need to find the spell, not only to cast it, but to find out the specifics of it."

"Wait, why are we assuming I'm the one doing the lending, and Buffy's the one doing the fighting?" Xander asked.

"Because I'm the Slayer," Buffy said.

"Yeah, and I'm the White Knight. Got some pretty nifty powers here too," he said.

"All of which shall be transferred to Buffy," Giles said. "As Angel said, your entire reason for being is to aid her. The Slayer is built for fighting, the White Knight for aid. It so happens a great deal of that aid comes in the form of fighting as well, but when it comes right down to it, Buffy is better equipped to handle your powers than you are to handle hers. That's just the way it is."

"I don't like it," Xander said.

"You don't have to like it, you just have to do it," said Giles. "It will work better this way. Trust me."

Xander sighed and nodded his consent.

"Y-you said it takes a lot of p-power," Tara said. "Are Willow and I going to be enough?"

"I honestly don't know," Giles said. "All the more reason for us to look into this quickly."

With only four books between them, some of the Scoobies were forced to share books.

"No," Giles said, leveling a glare at Buffy and Xander.

"No, what?" Buffy asked.

"If you two share a book, you'll soon be sharing a chair, and none of the work will get done."

Xander popped up from his chair. "I'm donut guy," he said.

"Ooh, I'm donut girl," Faith said.

"Actually, Xander," Giles said, "it never hurts to have more help on hand, especially that of magical power."

Xander looked at him expectantly. "And?"

"And it occurs to me that we know another witch who might come in handy, should we require her help."

Xander's eyes lit up in understanding. "You want me to go get Amy."

"It very well might be helpful, yes," Giles said.

"Why don't I go?" Angel asked. "It's late, so she probably wouldn't want to be disturbed right now. I can also get my people in LA up here tomorrow."

"Cordelia and Wesley?" Giles asked.

"Them, and someone else, if he's willing. All the help, right?"

"I suppose anybody you can procure would be of use, yes," Giles said.

"All right," Angel said, sliding back from the table. "I'll see you all in the morning, then."

"Which makes me still donut guy," Xander said. "Do I still have a donut girl to back me up?"

"Sure thing," Faith said, hopping of the counter.

Xander and Faith walked out the door, leaving the others to their research.


"Where do you get donuts at this time of night?" Faith asked, when they had been driving for a few minutes.

"There's an all night diner just outside of town," Xander said. "They've got some wards up to keep the nasties out."

"Gotcha," Faith said, before turning to stare out the window. They continued the drive in silence. On arriving at the diner, they got out, picked up two dozen donuts and headed back to the Magic Box, Faith still staring out the window.

"You all right?" Xander asked.


"Are you okay?"

Faith looked at him for a moment. "Thank you."

Xander was startled. "Uh… for what?"

"You saved Riley's life, earlier," she said.

"Well, I mean, we all do what we can," he said, uncomfortable with gratitude.

"Yeah," Faith replied. She took a deep breath. "There was a point, not too long ago, where I pretty much figured the only thing I'd care about in my life was me, you know? Look out for number one. And I kind of stayed that way for a while. Then the whole thing last year with the mayor… and then you guys woke me up, and you accepted me, you know, as me. But I still kinda felt, anytime, if I had to, I could just drop it and take off, you know?"

Xander nodded.

She shook her head. "Then I had to go and fall in love with Riley."

"Not so easy to just pick up and go," Xander said.

"And I don't want to, either," Faith said. "For the first time since Linda -that's my first watcher-for the first time since she died, it's like there's really something anchoring me to a place, you know?"

Xander nodded.

"I mean, you guys are great, and I love you and all, but…"

"But it's different," Xander said. "I know. And for the record, we love ya too."

Faith looked back out the window.


She turned back to him.

"You're welcome."

She looked at him for a moment, nodded, and turned back to the window.

Xander looked at the road sign he was approaching and made a split second decision, followed by a hard left.

"What the-"

"Faith, don't take this as a statement of your importance to the group," Xander said, "but we don't need you."

"Is there some other way to take that?" she asked, genuinely confused.

"What I mean is, we don't need you tonight," Xander said as he swerved into the hospital parking lot and screeched to a halt at the front entrance.

She looked at him. "Visiting hours are over."

"Visiting hours were over by the time Giles and Joyce went to see Dawn," Xander said. "This hospital doesn't exactly force us to keep to its time schedule. And if they try to, I've got ten bucks that says you can find a way around it."

Faith looked over at him from the passenger seat.

"Go," Xander said. "He needs you more than we do tonight, and you need him too."

Without a word, Faith unbuckled her seatbelt and popped the door open, then paused. She turned around, gave Xander a kiss on the cheek, and bolted from the car as fast as she could, slamming the door with tooth jarring force.

Xander smiled after her, then put the car in gear and drove off.

Chapter 30

"Ah ha!" Willow shouted, startling the others in the shop. "Sorry," she said when everyone turned too look at her. She pointed at the book. "It's just… ah ha."

"Find something so soon?" Giles asked.

"Well, I went all 'ah ha' didn't I?"

"Yes, of course. You found the spell?"

"Well, I found a reference which points to…" she looked around, then pointed to the book Buffy was holding. "That book."

Buffy looked up. "This book? Half this book is in Latin, and the other half is in… some other language."

"Sumerian," Giles said. "May I?"

Buffy held the book out for him.

"Does it indicate where in this book the spell is located, Willow?"

Willow scanned the entry again. "Uh… towards the back-ish?" she said. "It says it should be in a section on… uh… sacrificial rites? That can't be right, can it?"

"I'm not certain," Giles said as he flipped through the book. "I suppose it's possible." Giles leafed through the pages carefully until he came upon the section in question. "Let me see here… yes, I believe this is correct. Joining of the Souls, yes, here it is."

Giles went silent as he read through the spell.

"You can read that?" Davis asked from his seat along the back wall of the shop.

"Hmm? Oh, yes, luckily this part is in Latin. Otherwise it would take me much longer to decipher," Giles said.

"Donut delivery," Xander said as he sauntered into the room and dropped the donuts on the table. "We've got frosted, glazed, powdered sugar, and jelly of all kinds - why are you guys all looking at Giles? And not the wonderfully fantastic donuts?"

"Found the spell," Willow said.

"That was fast," Xander said, sitting next to Buffy and planting a kiss on her cheek.

"Where's Faith?" Pike asked from behind the counter where he was sipping his coffee.

"Dropped her at the hospital," Xander said. "She wanted to be with him."

"Selfish bint, isn't she?" Spike said from his prone position on the floor near Davis.

Xander looked at Davis meaningfully. Davis looked around, then grabbed a heavy tome from a bookshelf and dropped it on Spike's head.

"What the bloody--!"

"She didn't ask to be dropped off," Xander said. "I made her go. She needed it."

"Ah ha!" Giles said. He looked up excitedly. "Oh. Xander. Hello. No Faith?"

The entire room chuckled. "Hi. And no, she's with Riley."

Giles nodded. "The spell is actually quite simple, though it involves drawing upon a significant amount of power."

"Will Willow and I be enough?" Tara asked.

"No, you won't. The spell specifically calls for the power of three. And Xander will be between you… sitting inside of a circle drawn with a specific mixture of magical ingredients."

Willow and Tara nodded in understanding.

"Well what about this sacrifice part?" Buffy asked.

Giles smiled. "It requires the blood of a vampire," he said. "It's listed under sacrificial rites because normally a vampire, once its blood was taken, would be disposed of. Thus, sacrifice."

"Not much of one," Xander said.

"Be that as it may, I believe we have all the ingredients for the spell right here in the shop."

"Even vampire blood," Willow said.

"Oh, no," said Spike. "You're not getting any of my blood. I drink, I don't give out."

"Spike, think about it for a second," Pike said. "You donate now, you get good will, which translates to not being staked. I'm sure they'd be willing to spring for a free pint for you to replace what you lose, right?"

"Uh, yes, I don't see a problem with that, except perhaps for my stomach," Giles said.

"Yeah, see?" Pike said. "And you'll be in fighting condition by tomorrow."

"Why don't you take the poof's blood?" Spike asked, having stood up now and moved as far into the corner and away from the Scoobies as he could.

"The poof-Angel isn't here," Buffy said, grimacing at her use of Spike's language. "You are. And if we took his blood when he got back, he might not be in a good condition to fight by the time we need him."

"Yeah, that, and we like him and not you," Xander said.

Everybody stopped and looked at him. "I meant the 'as a whole' we, not me in particular," he clarified. "And anyway, Angel's a better fighter."

"Oh, he bloody well is not," Spike said. "I can school that wanker any night of the week."

"Oh please, Angel could so kick your ass," Xander goaded. Willow stood and walked to Giles' office. "I bet he could throw down with you, finish up and be done without breaking a sweat. You're probably more of a poof than he ever was."

Spike growled. "You'll want to watch what you're saying, whelp."

Xander snorted. "Please. The hair, the duster, the whole Billy Idol wannabe thing. Can we say overcompensating much? Tell us the truth, Dru was just a beard, wasn't she?"

"Why you!" Spike charged Xander, who stood stock still. As Spike's fist lashed out, his chip kicked in and knocked him to the floor, clutching his forehead. Xander walked over and stepped on his chest, holding him to the ground.

Willow, who had very quickly figured out what Xander was doing and retrieved the first aid kit, approached Spike with a syringe. "How much blood did we need, Giles?"

"Oh, not too much… enough to fill the bottom of a small bowl."

Willow nodded and, as Xander held Spike on the ground, she stuck the needle in Spike's arm and drew out what she felt was enough.

"Wankers," Spike said as Xander released him. "That much you could have taken from the poof and he wouldn't have felt it."

"Yeah, but stabbing you is just so much fun," Xander said.

"Why the blood of a vampire, anyway?" Pike asked.

"Well," Giles said, "a vampire gains power from others by drinking their blood. I suppose that might have something to do with the transfer of power, taking the life essence of one creature and having it empower another… that is, after all, the point of the spell."

"Or maybe they're just really icky," Buffy said.

"Um, yes, I suppose that is a possibility," Giles said. "At any rate, this should do fine. Now, there is not much more can be done. I suggest we all head home and catch up on as much sleep as we can."

"What about me?" Davis asked.

The Scoobies looked around at each other.

"Pike -" Buffy started.

"Oh no," Pike said. "The crypt is crowded enough as it is."

"I know," Buffy said. "I was going to ask if you could take Davis back to my house. Let all of his men go except for …"

"I know except for who," Pike said.

Buffy nodded and turned to Davis. "You and your men can sleep on the couches and whatever, or go back to Lowell House if you want. We're coming for Adam and Walsh tomorrow. Warn them if you want, it won't make any difference. We don't lose."

"I'm beginning to get that," Davis said. "But my men don't know that you're going after Walsh, and after what I've seen… I'm not about to tell her."

Buffy nodded. "Okay," she said. "Then I guess we meet back at my house in the morning. Say ten o'clock?"

The Scoobies nodded and made their way out of the Magic Box. Xander and Buffy gave Willow and Tara a ride back to the dorms, and Giles walked back to his apartment.

Pike and Spike escorted Davis to Buffy's house, and left him at the threshold. Pike whipped out a switchblade and handed it to Davis. "Cut 'em loose except for the guy who shot Dawnie," Pike said.

Davis nodded and turned around. "Hey Davis," Pike called after him. Davis turned around. "You said you're not going to tell Walsh, and that's good. If you do, a lot of people could get hurt or even killed tomorrow. Hell, that might happen anyway. You tell Walsh, Buffy might beat you within an inch of your life, but she'll let ya go. She won't kill you. She's a hero. Same as Xander."

"I'm not gonna-"

"I heard you the first time," Pike said. "But lyin' alone at night, a man gets to thinking some things, and you never know what he'll decide, so I want to make one thing clear to you."

"What's that?" Davis asked.

Pike cocked his head to one side. "I'm no hero."

Davis met Pike's eyes for a moment and saw no sign of deception. With a nod, Davis went to the basement to release most of his men.


Giles approached his apartment and noticed his front door was very slightly ajar. Cautiously, with stake drawn, he entered the apartment, shutting the door very quietly behind him. Giles quickly made his way over to his weapons chest and retrieved an axe, before searching out the rest of his apartment.

After clearing the ground floor, he went quietly up the stairs. He saw a light on in his bedroom and a shadow moving on the carpet floor. He crept up to the door as quietly as he could and when the shadow stopped moving, he moved. Kicking the door in, Giles ran into his bedroom, axe raised high and letting out a battle cry.

Joyce screamed.

"Joyce?" Giles said, his voice almost a yell. He dropped the axe to the ground "What are you doing here?"

"Why did you try to kill me?" she asked, breathing hard, holding her chest.

"Well, the door was open downstairs," he said, trying to smoothly put the axe down. "I assumed something had broken in and was attempting to- to kill me in my bedroom."

Joyce shook her head and took a deep, calming breath. "I must have left the door open by accident," she said.

"Um, why… why are you here?" Giles asked. "Not - not that I'm objecting, it's just -"

"I saw Faith with Riley just before I left, and I didn't… I couldn't spend the night alone in that house. It's so big and empty and I just… so I came here. That is all right, isn't it?"

"Yes, of course," Giles said. "I'll just, um… get a few things, the guest room is -"



Joyce smiled. "I chose your room for a reason."

Giles' eyebrows shot up.


"Big day tomorrow," Willow said, stroking her lover's hair as they lay in bed, the room lit only by a single candle.

"Biggest," Tara said.

"Oh, that's right," Willow said. "This is your first big battle to the death where you weren't a sacrifice."

"You seem kind of excited."

"That's to cover the scared part, and the tense part, and the worried part, and the other parts that are even less fun."

"Do you think we'll win?" Tara asked.

"Probably," Willow said. "I mean, we kind of always seem to, you know. Although, when Buffy had to send Angel to Hell… that really sucked. I mean, he was all… evil at the time, but it did kind of seem like a pyrrhic victory, what with Buffy leaving and all."

"How are we going to protect Xander?" Tara asked.

"I don't know. I mean, pretty much everybody's going to be off fighting Adam, or the demons. I guess we'll just have to find a secluded place, probably with Giles standing watch."

"And what about-"

"Baby?" Willow said.

"Uh huh?"

"I… I know you have all these questions and everything, but can we not, tonight? I just… I wanna be with you and not have to worry."

Tara snuggled up to Willow, holding the redhead in her arms and kissed her. Willow returned the kiss passionately. Tara smiled mischievously at Willow, then leaned over and blew out the candle.

The room went dark.


"I'm gonna take a ride on the Buffy train," Xander said as he finished brushing his teeth.

"Xander, ew," Buffy said from their bed.

"I was talking about my energy, honey," Xander said. "It's all gonna be… mixing with yours tomorrow."


"But, as long as your mind is headed that way…" Xander grinned.

"Why, Mr. Harris, just what are you implying?"

Xander leaned over his girlfriend and kissed her on the forehead. He then walked over to the dresser and moved something.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

Xander turned back to her and grinned. "I didn't want Mr. Gordo to see what I'm about to do to you."

His eyes flashed with life as he pounced on his girlfriend, and she squealed.

The lamp broke.


Riley sat up suddenly and winced in pain. Then he heard a thud.

"Shit," said Faith as she stood up.

"Oh, man, are you okay?"

"Yeah," Faith said, rubbing her head. "A little more concussed than I was a second ago, but I'll live."

"What's going on? Where -"

"We're at the hospital, babe," she said, climbing back into the hospital bed next to him. "You lost a lot of blood and passed out in the shop."

"Oh," he said, curling his arm around Faith's waist. "What are you doing here?"

Faith smiled at him. "I just missed you is all. The nurse said I could stay as long as I didn't disturb you. Need your rest."

Riley yawned. "The best way to let me get my rest was to hop in bed with me?"

Faith smiled shyly. "That was for my sake… I feel safer next to you."


"Yeah," Faith said as they lay back in the too-small bed.

"Did you guys find anything tonight?"

"Shh.," Faith said. "Talk in the morning. You need your rest now."

"Okay," Riley said, wrapping his other arm around Faith's waist and pulling her close to him. Faith rolled over so that she was facing him.

"Hey, Ri?"

"Yeah, baby?"

"I am so in love with you."

Riley smiled and kissed Faith sweetly, softly. "I'm in love with you too, babe. More everyday."

Faith rolled over again, shifted as close to Riley as she could, and fell asleep to the rhythm of his heartbeat.


The next morning saw the entire group - sans Spike, for sunlight reasons - gather at the Magic Box.

"What time is Angel and the rest supposed to show up?" Xander asked while sipping his coffee.

"Mid-morning, I believe," Giles said.

"So do we have a… what, an infiltration plan?" Xander asked.

"I'm working on it," a pale Riley said from his seat at the table, upon which were laid out a hand-drawn map of the Initiative and some rough maps of the caves nearest to it. "I won't be a whole lot of use fighting today, but I can still plan with the best of 'em. I think I've figured out a place where the spell can be cast from without interference."

"None?" Buffy asked.

"Well, assuming nobody comes looking for them," Riley said. "And I don't see why they would. They don't know about the spell, right? It's out of the way, in the caves. It would be smart to have somebody there to watch over everybody, since they'll be, you know, completely vulnerable while the spell is being cast, but it should be pretty safe."

"Will, what do you think?" Buffy asked.

"Huh?" the redhead replied, looking up from the spellbook. "Oh. Yeah, sure, whatever, I'm sure whatever he picks will be fine."

"Okay," Xander said, sitting down across from the soldier. "So what now?"

The shop door jingled.

"We're closed," said everybody in the shop without looking up.

"I uh… wanted to talk to Riley," came the reply.

Riley looked up. "Graham," he said solemnly as he and Xander stood up. Riley walked around the table to stand next to Xander as Faith cleared up the papers on the table. "What do you want?" Riley asked while scowling.

"Look, I just want to talk. They said you were in the hospital last night, but the nurse said you weren't to be disturbed and if you were as bad as they said, well, I didn't really want to wake you up," said Graham.

"That was kind of you. I think if you had, Faith might have beat you to death with your own arms."

"What's all this 'might' shit?" Faith asked, sliding in next to Riley. "Your ass woulda been toast."

Graham smiled. "Listen, I don't know what's going on, but we need you back, Ri. With Forrest dead, and all those guys disappeared, man. The unit's falling apart."

Riley's brow furrowed. "Uh. Graham, you know I'm AWOL, right? And Walsh basically told me I'd be shot if I came back?"

"You uh. What?"

"Yeah," Xander said. "We broke a prisoner out of your holding cells. He should be here pretty soon, actually. I'm surprised you didn't hear about it."

"Yeah… me too. It seems we're all out of the loop these days," Graham said.

"Or someone's making sure the loop stays small," Xander said.

"You think Walsh ordered the men not to talk about it?" Riley asked.

"It's what I would do," said Giles. "If I were attempting to keep certain secrets."

Graham turned to Riley. "You broke someone out?" he asked, his expression darkening.

"Yeah, but it's not like that," Riley said.

"Well what the hell is it like, Ri? I mean we're fallin' apart in there, and you just abandon us because of some demon?"

"It wasn't just because of *some* demon," Riley said. "He's a good guy, and a friend of the group. He doesn't deserve to be in there. And it's more complicated than just that. There are other issues."

"Like what?"

"Like stuff, Graham. Listen there's… things that you don't know about. Things with Walsh, and Dr. Angleman, and the work they've been doing. Things that… it's just stuff that made me rethink my priorities, and who I was actually working for."

Graham folded his arms across his chest. "Listen, we need you back, man."

"I get that," Riley said. "But I can't come back."

"Look, can we talk, just us, for a minute?" Graham asked. "I need to know what's going on. For me, if not for the guys."

Riley frowned.


Riley sighed. "Giles, can I use the back room?"

"Of course," Giles said.

Riley lead Graham into the back of the shop.

"Okay," Riley said. "What's up?"

"Listen, we all know Walsh is kinda… off."

"More than kind of," Riley muttered.

"Well, that's the thing. Look, we signed on for this thing, but the guys are restless. We know something's going on. Something big. What's going on?"

Riley sighed again. "How are the guys?" he asked. "You said they're restless. What do they think about Walsh? Are they willing to defy her?"

"What do-are you talking about mutiny?"

"It's not mutiny if she's unfit for command," Riley said, sitting on the couch in the workout room. "I believe she is." Riley shook his head. "Listen, something… something's going to happen tonight. Something big. I can't tell you anything beyond that, and I can't come back with you. But make sure the guys are ready."

"Ready for what, Ri? How can we get ready if we don't know what's coming? What's happening?"

Riley looked up at his friend, looked straight into his eyes and told him. "Get them ready for war."

Chapter 31

With the arrival of Angel and his crew, including the witch Amy Madison and newcomer Charles Gunn, a very large young black man who had spent much of his life protecting his sister and friends from vampires in LA - and was complimented up and down for his hubcap axe - the group got down to some serious planning. Tara, Willow and Amy went over the spell in intricate detail, while Riley and Davis - who had arrived sometime before the L.A. group - planned out a tactical assault based on their maps of the Initiative and what they could remember of the cave system.

"We have to assume they'll have some way to open the holding cells," Riley said. "It won't be much of a fight if the demons are all in captivity."

"Which means we're going to need to figure out where they'll head for," Davis said. "We know where they are, and they'll be itching for a fight. I think they'll head for the scientists here," Davis pointed at the labs, "and the soldiers." He pointed to the subterranean barracks.

"No," said Riley. "Not the barracks. They'll want to draw the soldiers toward them, so they'll get where big stuff is, make a lot of noise. Here." Riley pointed at the main room of the Initiative compound that contained a tremendous amount of equipment and twice the space needed to house it.

"That's a big field of engagement, too. You're probably right."

They continued to pore over the diagrams, making slight adjustments to them, as the non-witchy Scoobies and most of Angel's crew were engaged in less vital conversations. Some were less vital than others.

"They were so getting high all the time," Xander said.

"You're delusional, Xander," Cordelia said. "You're just propagating something you read somewhere. You always believe what you read."

"Oh come on, Cor. Open your eyes," Xander said. "The truth is that Shaggy and Scooby were getting high every chance they got. They always had the munchies! Fred and Daphne were always going off and screwing each others brains out, and hey, do you wanna hear my theory on Scrappy Doo?"

"No!" Cordelia said. "God, when did you become such a conspiracy theorist?"

"It's not a conspiracy when it's right there for everyone to see," Xander said. "You just gotta learn to read between the lines a little, that's all."

"There's a difference between reading between the lines and reading things into shows that just aren't there!"

Gunn leaned over towards Angel. "Do they always do this?" he asked.

"Huh?" Angel asked, turning from his conversation with Buffy and Giles to see Gunn watching the sparring pair. "Oh, no, sometimes they argue," he said.

Gunn raised an eyebrow at this, and leaned over towards Wesley, who was engrossed in a book Giles had shown him. "Hey, English."

"Yes?" Wesley asked without looking up from his book.

"Do they get worse than this?"

"One would assume you mean Xander and Cordelia?" Wesley asked.

"Yeah, them."

"Have the words 'dweeb boy' 'Queen C' or any of the various incarnations of the word 'idiot' been exchanged?" Wes asked.

"No, they're just calling each other by their first names," Gunn said.

Wesley chuckled. "Not even on last names, yet? Then yes, they get much, much worse than this."

"How come they don't get along?"

Wesley looked up, a confused look upon his face. "They get along fantastically," he said. "This is just what they do."

"Weird," Gunn said, turning back to watch the argument - which had suddenly and inexplicably shifted gears.

"I cannot believe you said that," Cordelia said. "Sean Connery was totally the best Bond ever!"

"Look," Xander replied, "all I'm saying is Pierce Brosnan's got a certain something that Connery doesn't, that I think makes him a better fake spy."

"You're delusional! Sean Connery was hands down the best Bond ever. Survey the rest of 'em, I bet I'll win."

"It's not about what they think, it's about my personal opinion," Xander said. "And I think it's Brosnan."

The bell over the door jingled as Pike held the door open and a flaming Spike ran into the shop.

"You know, I will never get tired of seeing him on fire," Cordelia said, a dazzling grin gracing her features.

"Ah, something we agree on," said Xander.

Pike took the duffel bag from his shoulder as Spike rolled around on the floor, putting out the flames.

"That," the vampire said once he recovered, "was hot."

"What's in the bag?" Xander asked.

"Guns," Pike said. "The guns Davis and his men brought with them. I figured we can use them against the demons."

"I don't use guns," Buffy said.

"Good, I wasn't going to give you one anyway," Pike said.

"What? Why not?" she asked, pouting.

"Buff, have you ever used a gun?"

"I've used a crossbow," she said.

"Which is nice, but entirely different," said Pike. "While I'm sure you could figure out one of these a lot faster than most people, we don't have time to train you. Stick with hand-to-hand, it's what you're best at."

"So who's getting the guns?" she asked.

"Me, them," he said pointing to Riley and Davis, "Wes and maybe Giles."

"Giles?" Xander asked. "You've got assault rifle experience?"

"Ah, well, council training did include a… modicum of modern weaponry, yes. I'm familiar."

"Huh," Buffy said. "Never knew that."

"What about me?" Riley asked. "I thought I was staying out of the fighting today."

"You are," Faith said, concernedly.

"Yeah, I figured," Pike said. "But unless you're *all* completely stupid, you've figured out somewhere for the spell to be cast by our three witches - Hi, Amy - that's out of the way."

"Well, yeah," Riley said as Amy waved shyly at Pike.

"I figure, it's out of the way, but they'll all be distracted. On the off chance something comes by, somebody should be equipped to deal with it. You and one of these M4 carbines might do the trick."

"That's… a really good idea," Buffy said. "How come we didn't think of that?"

"Perhaps," Giles said, "we are all merely *very* stupid, not completely so."

"The point is, it was thought of," Wesley said, "And thus we are not left with dead comrades."

"However," Giles said. "You have also assumed that Davis will be fighting with us. We do not know that to definitely be the case."

Everybody turned to the soldier. Davis frowned and nodded.

"I'm in," he said. "I can't just blindly follow Walsh, and I can't just sit this one out. I'll fight."

Giles looked to Riley, who nodded shortly.

"Good," said Giles. "Welcome to the team."


That Evening.

"What?" Riley asked.

"I didn't-"

{Hello? Is anybody out there} squawked Davis's long-forgotten radio.

Davis looked to his shoulder, where the radio sat, then to Riley. Riley looked around at the Scoobies, all of whom shrugged. Riley nodded at Davis.

"Yeah," Davis said into his radio.

{Oh, thank God. Listen something - who is this?}

"This is Davis. Who are you?"

{Private Rodriguez. Man, I thought you were -}

"Listen, is there something happening or not?"

{Yeah. I think so. I'm not sure. I'm locked in the comm. room and something… I don't know. The power's gone out, and I can't reach anybody here. Where are you?}

"Out," Davis said into his radio. He looked around and saw the whole group gearing up to move. "If the power's out, how are you operating?"

{I've hooked the radio up to a battery supply} said the young man on the other end. {Something's happening. The cells… they're all opened. Those things got out. I managed to lock myself in here, but… I think I hear gunfire.}

"Okay," Davis said. "Listen, sit where you are. Help is on the way. Don't leave, and if you're armed, make sure you're loaded."

{Okay. And Davis?}

"Yeah, Rodriguez?"

{Hurry. I think it's getting closer.}

"Be there as soon as we can."

Davis clicked off his radio and turned to the rest of the group. He caught the assault rifle Pike tossed him, clicked off the safety and chambered the first round of the clip.

"Let's go."


"Okay," Riley said, hefting his assault rifle onto his shoulder. "I think this is it."

Willow surveyed the area. "Yeah, this should do," she said. Willow and Tara began removing items from their backpacks, and Amy and Cordelia started clearing the area.

Xander took Buffy's hand in his as Faith took Riley's in hers.

"You be careful, you hear me?" Xander said, pulling Buffy into his embrace.

"Hey," she said, leaning up and giving him a light kiss on the lips. "I'll have you with me. I'll be fine."

"I know," Xander said, stroking her cheek with his thumb. "Just make sure you come back to me."

"Always," Buffy said. Smiling, she leaned up and kissed her boyfriend passionately.

"Don't wear yourself out now," Faith said to Riley. "You need your energy."

"I know," Riley said. "Don't worry, I'm just babysitting. I don't plan on any heavy exertions here."

"Good," Faith said, kissing the much taller man's chest through his shirt. Riley ran his fingers through her hair.

"You just be sure nothing gets the drop on you," he said. "I don't think I could get to sleep without you snoring next to me."

"Hey, I don't snore."

"Sure, you don't."

Riley kissed Faith on her forehead. "Now get going," he said, slapping her on the butt. "Save some soldiers for me."

Buffy hefted a bag full of weapons to her shoulder as the assault group moved off towards the Initiative's back entrance. Pike turned and tossed a small bag to Riley.

"Flares," he said. "And some extra clips. Just in case."

Riley nodded. "Good luck."

"Don't need luck, mate," Spike muttered. "We've got higher moral ground."

"A first for you," Angel said.

Xander and Riley stood there, watching the group leave.

"Sending the women off to war," Xander said. "Never thought I'd be doing that."

"It's all this feminism," said Riley. "Warps our manly sensibilities."

Xander sighed and shook his head. His voice dropped almost a full octave. "I'm gonna marry that girl."

Riley turned to the younger man. "Yeah?"

Xander took out his wallet and removed small slip of paper that only Willow had seen. He handed it to Riley.

"This is a receipt from a jeweler's," Riley said.


Cordelia looked up. "You went jewelry shopping? Without me?"

"You mean, you're actually going to…" Tara began.

"Yeah," Xander said.

"I can't believe you went without me. How do you know you didn't pick out an ugly-ass ring?" Cordelia asked.

"Oh, uh…" Willow said. She reached into her backpack, rummaged around for a minute, and pulled out a picture she had printed out. "That's the ring."

Tara, Amy and Cordelia looked at the picture. Cordelia let out a long, low whistle.

"Xander, you are officially permitted to buy me jewelry," Cordelia said.

"Not for a few years I'm not," he said. "I'll be paying for that for a while."

"Well," Riley said. "We haven't known each other *that* long, but you don't really seem to have a lot of guy friends. If you find yourself in need of a best man…"

"Love to offer it to you, but that spot is already filled," Xander said.

"By who?" Cordelia asked.

"By me!" Willow said. "And I'm not about to give it up, either."

"I don't mean to interrupt all the nice future planning, but shouldn't we make sure everybody doesn't die, first?" Amy asked as she continued to lay out ingredients.

"Details, details," Xander muttered. "Okay, what do I need to do?"

"Strip," Willow commanded.

"Whoa, wait, what?" Xander asked.

"Remove your clothing. Get nekkid. Strip," she repeated, with a wave of her hand.

Xander blinked. "Why?"

"I-it's for the spell," Tara said. "You need to be free f-from impurities for it to have its greatest effect."

"Man-made clothes, shoes, things like that, are considered impurities," Amy said. "So you need to be naked."

"Yeah, but… I mean… girls…"

"Xander," Willow said, an air of frustration in her voice. "You're talking to a couple of lesbians and a girl who, unless I miss my guess, has seen all you have to offer."

Cordelia nodded.

"Riley and Amy haven't," Xander said.

"Oh please," Amy said. "I think we're a little old for such juvenilities. Besides, it's the fate of the world here. And your girlfriend."

"And mine," Riley said. "And if you naked makes Faith safer, I'm all in favor of it. Although I have to say, I've never stood watch over a naked man, three witches and a seer before."

"Hey," Cordelia said, pulling a finely crafted axe from her waistband. "I'm watchin' over myself here, buster."

"Still," Riley said, unslinging his gun. "It's a unique group. Now, Xander? Strip." He shook his head. "Never thought I'd ever say that."

"Fine," Xander said. He disrobed quickly and sat in the circle the girls had drawn. "Now what?"

"Get comfortable," Amy said as she knelt in front of him. She dipped her finger into a small mortar and drew a cross on his forehead from the concoction within. "You're in for a while of sitting," she said.

Amy stood, turned around and mouthed a silent, wide-eyed 'Wow!' to Cordelia, who responded with an equally silent 'I know!'

Riley shook his head.

"Okay," said Willow. "Now, we chant. Riley, Cordelia, we're going to kind of go limp after a while. Don't worry, it's part of the spell. We'll come out of it after a few minutes, and there should be a kind of a glowy thing emanating from Xander, which will then bleed off as his power is transferred to Buffy. Everything goes right, the three of us should then be able to act under our own power."

"How do we break the spell once we're done?" Xander asked.

"A simple incantation," Willow said. "We'll perform it once Buffy and the others meet back up here."

"Good," Xander said. "Let's go."

Amy, Tara and Willow nodded at each other and sat down in a triangle around Xander. They began chanting.

Chapter 32

"Yeah," Pike said. "This should be about where it is."

"Didn't he say that the last three times?" Gunn asked.

"Hey, I'm doing this from memory here," Pike said. "Gimme a break, all these caves look alike."

"I smell blood," Angel said.

"That's a good thing, right?" Buffy asked. "Like, this could be the right way?"

"Yeah," Angel said. "Or, somebody's back here dying."

"Or maybe already dead," Spike said. "I think I can drink from them if they're dead."

The entire group stopped and looked at him.

"What!" he said. "It's not like it would hurt anybody! They're already dead."

"You're disgusting," said Buffy.

"Come," Giles said. "We have little time."

"Right," said Pike. He ducked his head under a low ceiling and led the group further into the caves, through a series of short turns and down a small decline. And right to a large steel door.

"Here we are," he said.

"Everybody ready?" Faith asked.

A round of nods, and Pike swung the door open. The door seemed to be set half-way up the wall of a room with two other exits. Inside the room were what looked like eight autopsy tables. None of them were filled.

"Thought you said Forrest was in here," Faith said as the large group dropped into the room.

"He was," Spike said.

"He's not, now," Faith said.

"Noticed that, did you?" Spike asked. "I couldn't tell by all these empty tables. Maybe they moved the chump."

"Maybe the chump moved himself."

Everybody turned to see Forrest - or what used to be Forrest - standing at the other entrance to the room. While still recognizable, the being that now used his body had demon parts grafted onto its arms, and replacing the top of its head. Giles, Wesley, Pike and Davis brought their guns to bear. Faith stepped in front of them.

"This fucker's mine," she growled.

"Bring it on, slut," Forrest growled. "I've wanted to beat you ever since you corrupted Riley."

Faith leapt at the monster and landed a quick series of powerful blows, staggering it, before being knocked back by a returned punch.

"Not as big or bad as your older brother, are you?" Faith asked. She held her hand out and was rewarded as Buffy placed a sword in it. "I'm not about to let you continue desecrating Forrest's body like that," she said.

"And I'm not about to let you past me," Forrest said.

"Take care of the sword," Buffy said. "That's the good one. We'll find a way around." Faith nodded shortly. Once the rest of the group had left, she looked back to Forrest.

"Let's go," she said.

The two leapt at each other.


"Here's the comm. room," Davis said. He tried the door and found it locked.

"Rodriguez, we're just outside," Davis said into his radio. "Open the door."

{One second} came the reply.

A moment later, something clanged behind the door, and it swung inwards to reveal a short young man wearing glasses, and holding his pistol up at the group.

"Put that away," Davis said as he strode into the room, the others following close behind. "Okay, everybody ready?"

Buffy passed weapons out to everybody, then grabbed one for herself.

"I think we're good to go," she said.

"What did you mean, 'take care of the sword?'" Angel asked.

"That was Lancelot's sword," Buffy said. "I want it back when she's done."

"No 'be careful?'" asked Gunn.

"She'll be fine," said Buffy. "Faith's tough."

"Rodriguez, I need you to stay here as rear guard," Davis said as Pike handed the man one of the spare assault rifles he had brought. "If Faith comes by here, point her in the direction of the action."

"You got more of these radios?" Pike asked.

Rodriguez pointed towards a shelf holding a half-dozen hand-held units. Pike moved over and started handing them out.

"Who's Faith?" Rodriguez asked. "How will I know her?"

"Well, there won't be a lot of girls coming this way," Davis said.

"Yeah, but if you get confused," Pike said as he handed Giles a radio unit and clipped one to his own belt, "think of the way you really want a girl to look, in your best dreams. That's Faith."

"You've certainly got a high opinion," Buffy said as they walked off towards the main Initiative compound.

"I know good work when I see it," said Pike.

The group walked down the hall, Buffy and Davis in front, Giles and Wesley bringing up the rear. They passed the holding cells - all empty. A few bodies were lying in the hall, some obviously dead, others not so obvious, but dead nonetheless. As they approached the central room of the compound, they could easily hear the distinctive report of gunfire.

"Guns up front," Davis said when they reached the final door between them and the main room.

Pike, Giles and Wesley moved to join Davis at the front of the group. Davis steeled himself, then flung the door open. He was met with a scene of chaos.

Soldiers were scattered about the huge room, apparently having fortified a few small places. As they watched, demons and men were cut down left and right. An explosion rocked the compound, causing demon parts to fly skyward as a grenade went off in their midst.

Standing in the middle of the room, bullets ricocheting off his torso at random intervals, was Adam, orchestrating concentrated demon attacks at the soldiers' positions.

Graham seemed to have taken Riley's advice to heart, and he was commanding a group of his men who defended a large supply of ammunition. The soldiers were holding out better than they had any right to. They were ready, with guns, ammo, grenades, almost everything in their arsenal that could be used for close combat was in use.

Despite that, it was easy to see that the soldiers were losing.

The four gunmen quickly cleared out an area in front of the door, and the melee group went to work. Angel and Spike worked in tandem, falling easily - too easily, to Angel's mind - into old patterns. Gunn moved around the front of the four-man rifle arc, beheading some demons, hamstringing others, but sticking close and picking off any demons that got too close.

Buffy threw one punch, then had to back away. She felt the process begin. She felt the power begin to leak into her. Stepping back behind Giles and Pike, Buffy fell to the floor breathing hard. Her eyes began to glow white and the air around her crackled with power.

"Rupert," Wesley said after sparing a glance behind him. "Is that what is supposed to happen?"

Giles looked back for a moment and saw white-eyed, air-crackling Buffy rose up on her knees. Her arms flung down to her sides and behind her, her chest surged forward as she gasped for air. She fell to the ground once more, an energy shield clearly visible around her body.

"Yes," Giles said as he shot a demon through the head. "I do believe the spell has worked."

Buffy picked up her sword in her off hand and stood. She walked between Giles and Pike and punched the first demon she saw right in the head. It flew backwards across the room, bounced off a stair railing and rolled to a stop next to a startled soldier.

The rest of the body fell to the ground.

Like a shadow, Buffy moved through the horde of demons, cutting down some, avoiding others completely, but always moving towards Adam. Adam turned to watch her approach, gauging her speed and strength the entire time.

"YOU HAVE IMPROVED," he said when she was finally in front of him. "ALMOST EXPONENTIALLY, IT WOULD SEEM."

"What can I say?" Buffy asked with a smile. "My boyfriend loves me."

Adam smiled and waved her forward. Buffy set her feet, then leapt.


Riley sighed and looked at his watch. Then he looked at his hand and shook his head.

"Go fish," he said.

Cordelia grunted and drew a card from the pile.

"Have any nines?" Riley asked of Willow. The redheaded wicca shook her head.

"Go fish," she said.

"Your turn," Cordelia said.

Willow smiled and looked at Amy as though she were prey.

"Do you have any sixes?" Willow asked.

Amy sighed and handed over the card.

Riley sighed again.

Then Cordelia screamed.


Kick. Slash. Parry. Thrust. Parry. Kick.

These words flew through Faith's mind, and her body reacted almost as quickly. She noted the tables, the walls, the hanging lights, and the medical equipment. She noted the distance between the tables, and which tables' wheels were locked. She knew where the doors were, and how far she was from each of them. She knew how fast her opponent was, how strong he was, and had by now figured out how he liked to fight.

Despite all that, she was losing. Slowly, but surely, the thing that had taken Forrest's body had gained the upper hand.

Parry. Thrust. Kick. Faith sliced open Forrest's arm causing a viscous fluid to leak out.

"What the hell are you?" she asked. Her clothes were bloody from the beating she had been taking. Her shirt was ripped across her upper torso, her left eye black. Her leg was hobbled where Forrest hand landed a solid kick.

"Better than you," it said. Forrest lashed out and smacked Faith hard across the face, opening her lip. She back-flipped to gain some distance, at the same time landing a powerful kick to Forrest's chin. Forrest backed up a couple of steps, reached down and picked up a few tools from the medical tray.

Forrest turned to face Faith, a snarling grin on his face. Faith held the sword in front of her defensively, breathing heavily. Forrest flung the first instrument at her. Too late, Faith dodged out of the way as best she could, but the small, two-pronged fork imbedded itself in her wrist.

She ripped the fork from her arm and flung it ineffectively back at Forrest, who swatted it away. Next came the scalpel, thrown with pinpoint accuracy into her thigh.

Faith screamed in pain as she felt the knife slice into her muscle. Forrest picked up one more instrument: a bone saw.

Faith limped away from him as best she could, pulling the scalpel from her leg as she moved. Forrest reached back to hurl the bone saw towards her, when his attention shifted for a second. Forrest grinned and shifted his aim as well. Without thinking, Faith hurled her sword at Forrest with all the strength she could muster, knowing this might be her last chance to take him down. As she watched, Forrest released the bone saw, then turned his eyes back to Faith. His surprise barely had time to register before the sword flew into his throat severing his head and spewing blood over the room.

Faith looked up to see what had distracted Forrest and saw Riley standing there, a bone saw protruding from his stomach, a shocked Willow standing over him. Her pain forgotten, Faith jumped up to the ledge and leaned over Riley.

"Oh my God, Riley? Riley, can you hear me?" she asked, tears coming to her eyes.

Riley looked at his stomach, then up at Faith. "I l… love…" he croaked before slumping to the floor, still.

"Riley!" Faith yelled. "RILEY!" Faith looked up at Willow.

"Xander," Faith said, through her tears. "We have to get him to Xander."

"He… he's unconscious. Buffy has all his power," Willow said, her voice tender and face concerned.

Faith looked up at Willow, ferocity in her eyes and across her face. Her eyes glinted with rage and a single word left her lips as she sprinted off into the depths of the Initiative: "Walsh."

Chapter 33

Buffy laughed.

Avoiding Adam's blows was almost ridiculously easy. Buffy found she was able to move faster than she had ever moved in her life. Her senses were so highly attuned to her environment that when a random demon strayed too close behind her, she spun under one of Adam's kicks and beheaded the demon with one swing of her sword.

Buffy dodged another swing from Adam, ducked in under his punch and stabbed him in the abdomen. Adam was forced back by the blow.

"I SEE," he said. Adam took another step back and extended the Polgaran spike from his arm. He thrust at Buffy with that arm, but she easily deflected the blow, putting another slice in Adam's torso. Adam stepped back again, smirked - or gave his best attempt at it - and shot the spike at Buffy. So startled was she by first the incredible bang from his arm, and then the spike that she forgot to move out of the way.

The spike shattered against her shield, startling her even more and forcing her to take a step back.

Then she grinned. Adam frowned.

Buffy leapt at him and slashed him again, this time sinking her blade deeper into his body. It came back oily.

Adam's head ticked to one side, and he growled. Swinging with a fast combination of lefts and rights, Adam came after Buffy with renewed vigor, but to no avail. She managed to deflect or avoid every blow.

Adam stepped back again, reconsidering his options. For her part, Buffy seemed content to let him wait. She stepped back and took down two more demons. A quick glance around showed that Gunn had joined up with Spike and Angel, and the three of them were making considerable headway towards one group of soldiers, while Wes, Pike, Giles and Davis were holding the doorway they had come from with ease.

Hearing a metallic whirr, Buffy looked back at Adam and her eyes shot up. Where his right arm had been, he now had a mini-gun.

She looked up at him, shocked.

"I IMPROVED AS WELL," he said.

Adam raised his arm and aimed it at her. Not knowing the extent of the shield's protection, Buffy dove to one side. Bullets shredded demons in her wake. She rolled once she hit the ground and came to a stop behind a row of metal crates.

Buffy paused for a moment to catch her breath, then hopped to her feet. She picked up one of the metal crates - significantly lighter than it should have been, even for her - and launched it at Adam. Grabbing a second crate, she leaped over the pile and rushed at Adam, who was distracted for a moment dodging the first flying box.

Buffy hurled the second crate at Adam from mere feet away, hitting him in the shoulder and upsetting his balance. She then thrust her sword into his gun-arm, then pulled her hand off as electricity coursed across the surface of the blade.Buffy stepped up to Adam, landing blow after powerful blow to his torso and face, staggering the monster more with each hit. His arm began to smoke.

Buffy's attack was unrelenting. Pressing her advantage, she refused to give an inch of ground. So focused on beating Adam into submission, she failed to notice the sparks flying from his gun-arm. The gun sparked, and sparked again. And then it exploded, sending bullets and shrapnel in every direction, including at Buffy.

Fast as she could, Buffy dropped to the ground, covering herself as best she could. Bits of metal and bullets slammed into her shield at supersonic speeds. She looked up again just in time to see an altogether more battered Adam lash out at her with his foot.

Buffy was quickly re-introduced to the metal crates. Violently so. As she landed, Buffy noticed that her shield had started to weaken - not enough that she was taking major damage, but enough to worry her. She decided she needed to end the fight, and soon.

Buffy regained her footing, and as she was about to rush at Adam again, a blur passed her by, leaving a sword, point down in and quivering in the concrete in front of her. Buffy passed it, ripping it from its temporary home. Feeling the sword in her hand, she recognized it as the sword she had given to Faith.

Putting all her speed and strength into her charge, Buffy ducked under a wayward punch from Adam and embedded the sword in his gut, then wrenched it out through his side, releasing the sword as she did so.

The sword flew through the air, removing the head of a demon, and clanging against the wall.

Buffy thrust her fist into Adam's belly, grasping at his innards. Feeling something solid - and hot - Buffy held onto it and yanked, removing a green, glowing battery. Grinning, she looked up at Adam, whose face registered shock. As the last remnants of his energy faded, Adam reached out for his battery, which Buffy held teasingly away from him.

Adam fell to the ground with a clank that sounded throughout the room.

Looking back to check on her friends, Buffy saw that Pike was no longer standing with the rest of the gunners, and Willow was speaking frantically to Giles.

Buffy ran over.


"Are you Faith?" Rodriguez asked as he saw an accurate representation of 'the way he really wanted a girl to look.' He was then slammed against the wall.

"Walsh," she growled.

Rodriguez quickly took note of the blood on her arms, and her clothes, and the sword in her hand, and pointed down the hall towards the central room. "Her office," he said. "Other side of the compound."

Faith released him and sprinted for the battle, faster than he had ever seen somebody move. Faith ran as fast as she could, ignoring the pain in her leg, the tears in her eyes. Running through doors, Faith quickly became aware of the sounds of a battle raging in front of her. She slammed through the last door and saw her friends holding a line against an ever-dwindling number of demons.

And in the middle of the room, she saw Buffy fighting Adam.

And past them was the door she recognized as belonging to Maggie Walsh. Faith growled. She ran through the line formed by Wes, Giles, Pike and Davis as she saw Buffy kicked in the gut and flung into some boxes.

Faith knew on an instinctive level that she had no use for the sword she still carried. Recognizing that Buffy might have use for it, she flung it down into the concrete as she blew past Buffy.

Moments later, Willow arrived at the door she had just come through and ran up to Giles.

"Pike!" Giles yelled after listening for a moment. "She's after Walsh."

"Fuck!" Pike yelled. He flung his assault rifle to the floor, whipped out one of his pistols and ran after Faith as quickly as he could.

Faith charged on, knocking demons and men out of her way, not realizing that Pike followed in her wake. Upon reaching the door, Faith slammed into it, shoulder first. It had no effect. She looked and saw through a small vertical window Maggie Walsh, huddling in the corner of the room, rocking herself back and forth.

Seeing her target, Faith became more enraged. She slammed her fist into the glass, shattering it and slicing her hand. Faith reached in through the window and opened the door from the other side, cutting her arm on the glass still left in the frame. Maggie screamed.

"Too far," Walsh mumbled, as Faith stalked into the room. "Too far," she repeated. Over and over and over, Walsh said these words.

"You're goddamn right, too far," Faith said, snarling. She leaned over, and with one hand picked Walsh up from the floor. "You're responsible for all of this! Every single person who dies today, dies because of you!"

Faith shook her head, and her voice dropped an octave. "And you already took my lover from me."

Faith punched Walsh, opening her lip and leaving small shards of glass embedded in the woman's face. Faith reached back again, and punched Walsh again, feeling the woman's jaw shatter beneath her fist.

"You killed him, you bitch!" she yelled, tears streaming down her face. Faith reached back, ready to end Maggie Walsh's life with her next blow when a leather-clad form barreled into her, causing her to drop Walsh and flinging her into the desk.

"What the fuck are you doing!" Faith yelled.

"Stopping you from something you don't want to do," Pike said, placing himself between Faith and her intended victim.

"What the hell do you know what I want?" Faith raged. "She killed Riley! Riley is dead because of that bitch!"

"I get it," Pike said, trying to soothe Faith with his voice. "But don't."

"It's her fault!" Faith yelled. She tried to move around Pike, but he blocked her way.

"You don't want to do this, Faith," he said. "You don't want this on your head."

"She killed Riley," Faith said, looking straight into his eyes.

Pike stared right back at her and saw the rage, and grief… and he saw guilt, and he understood.

"Fine," Pike said.

He stepped aside, and as Faith moved to walk past him, he brought his left hand up, pointed his pistol at Walsh and pulled the trigger, splattering her head across the wall.

Faith turned to him, shocked, and lashed out with her fist, catching Pike's nose and breaking it.

"You son of a bitch!" she yelled, her voice hoarse. "She was mine! She… she was… she killed…"

Faith broke, falling to the ground and sobbing. "She killed Riley," Faith whispered.

Pike crawled over to Faith and put his hand on her shoulder. Faith wrapped her arms around his neck and sobbed as he wrapped his arms around her, giving her as much comfort as he could.

A few minutes later, the radio on Pike's belt came to life.

{Pike?} squawked Giles' voice.

Pike unclipped the radio from his belt. "Yeah, Giles?" he asked softly.

{The demons seem to be fleeing} Giles said. {Have you - }

"I took care of it," Pike said. "Come across the way to Maggie's office, I'm here with Faith."

{I'll be there momentarily} Giles said.

Pike helped a still-sobbing Faith to her feet, and upon Giles' arrival, released the young woman to his care. Giles picked Faith up and cradled her in his arms. Pike led them out of the room, across the main compound where the remaining Initiative soldiers were clearing out the last of the demons, and back towards the cave where Xander was at that moment regaining his powers.

Giles shook his head, kissed Faith on the forehead and willed the emotionally distraught girl to sleep. Within moments, his will was done.

Chapter 34

Three Days Later.

The Scoobies were dressed solemnly, standing around a hole in the ground that now held their departed comrade. Xander held Buffy and Willow close to him, Willow's hand clasped in Tara's. Pike, and even Spike, came out for the nighttime ceremony. Standing at the foot of the grave, those two were dressed as normal, but their mood was somber as well. Giles stood at the head of the gravesite. Faith stood across the grave from her fellow Scoobies, a frown on her face. Faith's eyes were dry, as she had no more tears to shed.

Giles spoke.

"He died as he lived: protecting those around him and giving the best that he had for everyone else. He helped us, in truth, more than we probably gave him credit for. He saved us more than we knew, and he will be missed. A comrade in arms, as well as… as a friend. There will never be another like him."

Xander leaned over and kissed Buffy on the top of her head. She looked up at him and smiled sadly. Xander released his hold on both her and Willow, picked up a shovel and began refill the hole he had dug.

"I don't get it," Riley said. He sat in his wheelchair on the porch, next to Joyce and Dawn. "I mean, it's a stick."

Buffy and Willow looked up at him harshly.

"Mr. Pointy was more than just a stick," Willow said.

"He was my favorite stake," Buffy explained.

"You don't want to go insulting a favorite stake," Faith said, turning and walking to her boyfriend. "It's a special thing."

"Kendra gave me that stake," Buffy said. "He was the last thing I had to remember her by."

"Taken away by being slammed into a random crypt. It's tragic," Xander said. "You know, I still can't believe you went patrolling last night,"

"And making me say a bloody eulogy," Giles said, moving over and wrapping his arm around Joyce's waist. "That is positively the most ridiculous thing I have ever done."

"I was touched, Rupert," Spike said, following the much younger man over to the porch and heading inside. "Thought it was deeply moving."

Giles rolled his eyes at the vampire.

"Kids, if you're almost done out here, dinner should be ready in about five minutes," Joyce said.

A chorus of acknowledgements answered her, and Giles and Joyce walked back into the house.

"How are you feeling?" Dawn asked Riley.

"Better," he said, his hand going involuntarily to his stomach. "I was just lucky your sister got to me in time, and was still all pumped up with all of Xander's power."

"That was pretty good timing," Buffy said as she, Willow and Tara headed inside. Buffy paused next to Faith for a second. "I wasn't the only one who had good timing, though."

Faith smiled at her sister Slayer and looked over at Pike, still standing at the foot of the hole. She reached down and took Riley's hand in hers. He smiled up at her and nodded.

"Help me inside, Dawn?" Riley asked the young girl.

"Sure!" she said. Dawn had felt closer to the older man since they both had serious stomach wounds. And she liked pushing his chair.

Faith wandered out into the yard, and stopped next to Pike, who was still looking into the grave.

"All right, I think we're done here," Xander said. He looked up and noticed that only Faith and Pike were still outside. Xander shook his head. "Always out of the loop," he muttered before walking into the house, leaving the shovel on the porch.

Pike and Faith stood there, silent.

"Hit you hard, Mr. Pointy's death?" Faith asked after a minute.

Pike looked up and smiled at her. "No," he said. "Just a good time to take stock of everything."

Faith nodded. "Listen," she said. "I gotta -"

"You're welcome," Pike interrupted.

"No. I mean don't just… I need to say this. Okay?"

Pike nodded.

Faith sighed. "I killed this guy before," she said. "It was an accident, but I still killed him. And it haunted me. I kept thinking, maybe if I had been a little faster, or a little better or… well, the point is, I wasn't intending to kill him."

"Didn't, uh… didn't you kill two people?" Pike asked.

"Yeah," Faith said. "The second guy… some kinda scientist, I didn't care about. I was tryin' to keep Wilkins happy, he was the first guy who - the first person who ever seemed to care about me for a long time, you know? So, yeah, I did kill two guys. But neither of those guys… I didn't kill them because of a personal reason."

"You wanted Walsh to die," Pike said.

"Not just die," Faith said. "I wanted to kill her. I wanted her to die by my hand, for what she had done. To Riley. To me." She shook her head. "I don't know what that would have done to me."

Pike stayed silent.

"I don't know how you're dealing with killing her," Faith said. "I know how I am, and it's not good. I haven't slept very good since then. The… the guys have all been great, doing whatever, whenever, you know, and now Riley's out of the hospital… well, I'm gettin' better. Whether or not I actually killed her, I'm responsible for Maggie Walsh's death, but I've got all the Scoobs to back me up, to help me deal."

She turned to him. "You've got a vampire and alcohol."

"Works surprisingly well," Pike said with a chuckle.

"Listen, I appreciate the fact that you stopped me from killing Walsh, even if you did it by killing her yourself. It's kind of stupid, but just that amount of difference… it's big, is what I'm saying."

Pike nodded. "You're -"

"Anyway," Faith said. "I do want to thank you. For what you did… for being there for me. And… I don't know what your plans are, if you and bleachboy are sticking around or whatever, now that Adam's done with… but if you do… even if you don't, actually. If you ever need anything, just ask. I'll help. We all will. I owe you… a lot. Maybe more than I know. So… thank you. For everything."

Pike looked at her. Faith laughed and nodded.

"You're welcome," Pike said.

"Hey!" Xander yelled from the open kitchen door. "Are you guys gonna look at dirt all night, or are you planning to eat some? Buffy made her specialty!"

"Hey!" Buffy yelled.

Faith laughed. Pike frowned

"Buffy didn't actually cook, right?" Pike asked.

"No," said Faith. "Don't worry, this food will all be slay-free."

Thus reassured, Pike accompanied his friend back inside the house.


"So what did Riley say about the army?" Buffy asked after she and Xander had returned to their apartment that night. She had been too busy discussing clothes and make-up to pay attention to Riley's important life news.

"Oh, the higher ups are still deciding what to do," Xander said. "They've retrieved that battery thing you so spiffily ripped out of Adam, and they're still figuring everything else out. Riley's on temporary leave while he heals up. I think he said it has been indicated to him that he will be reprimanded with a slap on the wrist and given a general discharge with honor."

"So he'll be sticking around?" Buffy asked.

"Well, he'll probably have to go somewhere for a hearing or something, but yeah, he's gonna be moving here."

"What about the guy who shot Dawn?" Buffy asked.

"Court martial, for that whole crew, actually," he said. "The Initiative had a looser code than most groups, but taking out civilian targets is still a big no-no. That entire crew is gonna be on trial. They were following orders, but the order was illegal, and they should have known that."

Xander paused.

"I got an idea," Xander said from the kitchen where he was cleaning a few dishes. "Let's take a break from all this. Let's go away. Let's leave."

"What, now?" Buffy asked. "I've still got school. You've still got work, which you've been missing way too much of recently. We can't take a break."

"I know," Xander said. "I didn't mean now. But eventually. You know, just you and me."

"Well, a vacation does sound fun," Buffy said. "I haven't had a break from this for a while."

"I was thinking less of a vacation," said Xander. He walked up behind her and held up a black, velvet coated box with the lid flipped up. "I was thinking… more of a honeymoon."

Buffy's hand rushed up to her mouth as she gasped. Xander hopped over the couch and dropped down on one knee.

"Buffy Anne Summers, you are the most important person in my life. I love you more than I ever thought I could love anybody, and I can't imagine ever spending my life with anybody other than you. Will you marry me?"

Buffy's grin was a mile wide as she nodded her assent. Xander took the ring out of the box and slipped it onto her petite hand. Buffy threw her arms around Xander's neck, and they shared a passionate kiss.

"Oh my god," Buffy said, holding her hand out at a distance and wiping her eyes of joyous tears with her other hand. "Baby… oh, I love you so much."

"I love you, too," Xander said.

There was a knock at the door.

"Who's that?" Buffy asked.

"No idea," Xander said, standing up. He kissed his now-fiancée one more time and went to open the door.

"Giles," he said. "Hi. Now's not really -"

"I'm glad you're here," Giles said, brushing past the young man and entering the apartment.

"Sure, come on in, why not?" Xander said, sarcastically.

Giles walked in into the living room and looked at Buffy, noticing her puffy eyes. "Are you all right?" he asked.

"I'm incredible," she said, grinning ear to ear.

"Ah, good," Giles said.

"So, what can we do for you?" Xander asked, sitting down next to Buffy.

"I have just, um, been speaking with Wesley," Giles said. "He's been doing some research for Angel, and he ran across… something that I think, or rather that I am certain is relevant to our… situation here."

There was another knock at the door.

"Oh, Jesus," Xander said. He stood back up and re-opened the door. "Oh," he said when he saw who was on the other side.

"Hi," said the man. "I uh…"

"How did you find me?" Xander asked.

"I asked around… Sheila told me… after giving me an earful," the man said.

"You deserve it," Xander said.

Buffy and Giles were intrigued. Giles mouthed a silent 'Sheila?' to Buffy, who responded with a silent 'Willow's mom.'

"Listen," the man said. "Can I come in?"

Xander was silent for a minute, staring at the man. Then he sighed and stepped back and allowed the man entry, and followed him back into the living room.

"I uh… didn't know you had company," the man said.

Xander sighed. "This is Rupert Giles," he said. "He's… sort of our mentor and, well, he's a really strong father figure. Best I've had in my life."

The other man winced and nodded solemnly.

"This is Buffy Summers," Xander said, pointing to Buffy. "She lives here with me."

The man looked at Xander. "Still sluttin' it up, huh?"

As Giles and Buffy raised their eyebrows in shock and outrage, Xander reacted physically, thrusting his elbow into the man's stomach, knocking the wind out of him and sending him to the floor.

Xander rounded on the man and looked down on him from above. "You will not speak to anybody like that in my house," he said, with as much conviction as either Giles or Buffy had ever heard in his voice. "You will never speak in that tone about any of my friends ever, do you understand me? Especially not about my fiancée."

Giles looked to Buffy in surprise, and she held up her left hand and showed him the ring.

"In fact," Xander said, "you can just get the hell out right now."

"Listen, Alex," he said as he climbed to his feet.

"My name is Xander. Maybe you'd know that if you were ever sober enough to pay attention."

"Your mother and I -"

"Left town without telling me," Xander said. "And now you're back. And it's an even-odds bet you want something."

Understanding dawned on both Giles and Buffy. Buffy saw Giles' expression darken as soon as he realized who Xander was dealing with.

"We've got this kind of money problem, see," the man said.

"Leave my home," Xander said. "You come here, you insult the woman I love and then you have the gall to ask for money? That's not how it works, Tony."

"But, we're family," he said.

"Family does not abandon each other," Giles said, stepping up. "Family does not run out in the night and leave their youth to fend for themselves."

"Listen, you prissy Brit," Tony Harris said. "I will not be -"

Xander reached out, grabbed his father by the lapels, picked him up and slammed him against the wall, the older man's feet dangling above the floor. "I told you once not to speak like that in my home," Xander said, dropping his father back to the ground. "I will not tell you that again. Leave now, and don't come back here."

Tony Harris looked into his son's eyes, and was scared. He nodded to his son and went to let himself out of the apartment. Xander sighed.

"Dad," he said.

Tony stopped.

"How bad is it?" Xander asked.

"I'm in for a few grand. Six."

"I work on a construction site downtown, across from the China King. Meet me for lunch at noon on Monday, and we'll talk."

Tony sighed, relieved. "Thank you," he said.

"Be there at noon, sober, or don't be there at all," Xander said. "And send Mom my love."

Tony walked out of the room, and shut the door behind him.

Buffy stood and walked up to Xander, taking his hand in hers.

"I'm okay," he said, turning to face both her and Giles. She stood there.

"No, that's a lie," he said. "I'm upset and I'm angry, but I'll get over it."

"Love you," Buffy said, pressing a tender kiss to his chest.

"Love you, too," he said. He shook his head as he and Buffy sat back down on the couch. "Sorry. Giles, you were saying something."

"Yes. I was, wasn't I? Um… right, as I said, I was speaking with Wesley, and he ran across-"

"Giles, I'm a little worn out right now," Xander said. "Not trying to be rude, I just -"

"No, no, I understand," Giles said. "It's… it's just a matter of some delicacy, and I don't -"

"Giles!" Buffy said. "Come on, it can't be that bad, whatever it is."

"Bad? Um, no. Not exactly."

The couple looked at him, waiting.

"The spell we cast, or that Willow and Tara and Amy cast, the one that transferred your power," Giles said. "It has come to our attention that when people in your particular situation employ that spell, there are some added… side effects."

"Our situation?" Xander asked.

"Soulmates, to put it simply," Giles said.

"What side effects?" Buffy asked.

Giles looked to her. Then to Xander. And back to Buffy.

"So, you're engaged?" he asked.

"Just tonight," Buffy said, grinning up at Xander, who grinned back down at her.

"Good, that's good," Giles said.

The newly engaged couple looked up at the man they thought of as their father, waiting expectantly.

"Buffy," Giles said. "You're pregnant."

The End