Author: Alan Podjursky <alan.p[at]>

Summary: Giles gets a clue at the start, and trains Xander and Willow somewhat.

Crossover: At the moment, none.

Disclaimer: I own naught but debt.

Feedback: Why not?

Pre-fic Comments:

First off: I know the title is lamer than a dog with no legs. However, I honestly can't think of a good one.

You can blame Hatten for this one. Plot bunnies are annoying as hell. To be fair, though, the abstract concept has been at the back of my mind for awhile, now. I can't write fight scenes worth peanuts, though, so any help would be appreciated.

Is it me, or does slangy British language sound like Australian when written down?

Today's album recommendation: 'Enthrone Darkness Triumphant', by Dimmu Borgir. Somehow, they do this really kewl heavy metal and symphony thing that's heavier than hell, complete with dodgy-as lyrics. While you're at it, have a listen to 'Psalm 69' by Ministry.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Giles absently stopped the world globe by the stacks from spinning while he thought. He'd just explained some of the realities of life to Xander Harris and Willow Rosenberg. He had hoped to minimize their involvement, but the least they were owed was an explanation as to vampires after their long term best friend was abducted by one.

The British ex-rebel had come to Sunnydale to Watch over Slayer Summers, but had found she was amazingly stubborn in her assertion that she deserved a social life, and Giles had just about given up on trying to convince her of the merit in focussing on Slaying, and Slaying only. It looked like her two new friends had the same stubborn streak. If he read the boy correctly, Xander was even more stubborn than the Slayer. Understandable, really, considering that his friend had just been abducted by demons.

Giles couldn't just let them help Slaying, however. They would have to be happy with settling with research. If they still wanted to help physically... he'd found that physical exertion did wonders in dissuading modern youth.

"I, I can't just let you help the Slayer with her Slaying," Giles said. "You'd be in, in a lot of danger."

Xander waved a hand in dismissal. "I laugh in the face of danger. Then I hide until it goes away."

"Vampires are stronger than half a dozen men put together, and move like a greased pig," Buffy said. "You're not helping."

"I'm gonna hurt those suckers worse than hygiene!," Xander protested, getting up and glaring at Buffy. While he was mildly crushing on Buffy Summers, his friendship with Jesse took priority.

Giles cleared his throat. "I refuse to permit you to help the Slayer until I'm satisfied that you are able to defend yourself. This will, of course, involve training in martial arts."

"Uh, I'm really no good at fighting," Willow said. "I can help with books! Research Gal, that's me!"

Xander wasn't as sanguine. "I don't have to listen to you! Those assholes took Jesse!"

Giles sighed. "I was hoping not to have to say this, but if you do not listen to me I will have no choice but to inform Principal Flutie that you have been getting into fights."

"You fight dirty," Xander complained. "Okay, but I don't have any money for any dojo's."

Giles grinned. It was a vicious little grin that had nothing to do with librarians, and a lot to do with his younger self. "I fight dirty indeed. You'll turn up here at six in the morning, or don't turn up at all."

"I take it this isn't for early morning cartoons?," Xander asked.



"Billy's Bar, how can I help you?"

"Get Billy Kane. This is Ripper."

"Hold on..."

"Ripper? Mate, it's been too bloody long!"

"Yeah, been doing stuff. Still got those training manuals of mine?"

"'Course I bloody got 'em! Want 'em back?"

"Yeah. Can you come over here at all?"

"Why? What's up?"


A long pause ensued.

"Demons? Bloody hell, mate, what're you got yerself wound up in?"

"Working for the Council. Gone daft in my old age, I guess. There's a local boy who won't bloody stay away, and I need to teach him how not to get himself killed."

"I'm busy for the next few weeks, but I'll send you those manuals tomorra. When I can, I'll come see ya, bring some of my mates."

"Still working for Mr Big?"

"Nah, mate, Geese Howard. He's in charge these days."

Small talk continued.


"When my bones knit," Xander panted, "you are a dead man."

Giles paused, surprised. It was about six thirty, and the grey halflight preceding dawn had begun to appear. The first order of business had been getting Xander into some semblance of fitness, so they had been doing callisthenics and jogging.

"Er, Xander, your bones are perfectly fine, if a little jarred."

"Don't you read the funnies in the newspaper?"


Chapter 2

That day, the small group met again in the Library during a free period.

Right after Xander and Giles had another little training session. When Giles did something, he didn't do it by halves.

"Wow, Xander, love the look," Buffy commented.

Xander had been introduced to the rudiments of knife fighting, and as a result had numerous bruises from the blunter-than-2x4-lumber knives Giles used to train. The most nasty bruise was in a straight line travelling over his left eye across his forehead above his right eye.

"Xander!," Willow cried, grabbing Xander's head to take a closer look to reassure herself. The redheaded hacker gave Giles a very dirty look. "You hurt him!"

"I'm fine," Xander protested. "I feel better than a Goth at a Type O Negative concert."

The Slayer looked at her Watcher curiously. "Wow, you come across as timid, but... wow."

Giles rubbed the back of his head nervously. "Ah, the legacy of a misspent youth."

(A/N: all embarassed fighters/martial-artists rub the back of their head when nervous. Anime series would never lie to me.)

"I'm pretty sure they don't teach you to knife people in the groin at those formal schools," Xander joked weakly.

The librarian coughed, then picked up an open book.

"Well, after some research with Willow's help last night, we've established that it's some sort of preordained massacre. Rivers of blood, Hell on Earth, quite charmless. However, we haven't established where this will take place."

The American teenagers gave the Watcher a combined Look.

"That was rather British, wasn't it?"

"Welcome to the New World," Buffy grinned.

"I want you to go on the 'Net," Giles told Willow, manfully restraining the urge to tell her to remove that machine from his Library. If she didn't figure out for herself that those dread machines were of no use... then she wasn't as smart as he thought.

"Oh, sure, I can do that," Willow chirped, happy to be of use. She was certain that the vast Internet would have some materials on this Harvest thingy. At the least, some university somewhere would have something. Perhaps that address she'd come across last week...

"I'm off to try and get Jesse back," Buffy said resolutely.

"Er, right," Giles said. "I'll search for more information on the Harvest as well."

"I'm with the Buffmeister," Xander announced.

"Xander, this is deeply dangerous," Buffy complained.

"I'm inadequate," the maligned teen moaned. "That's fine. I'm less than a man."

Giles looked up from the book he was skimming. "Xander, ten laps of the soccer field then come see me for more training. Buffy, go."


Once free period for Xander and Willow had finished, they had had to return to class. Willow had her elective Computer Studies class, while Xander (never one to take class work too seriously) normally read a book or something.

He was seriously beginning to regret agreeing to Giles' proposal.

"I don't get it," Xander bi--, um, said. "Why are you teaching me knives? Why not swords?"

Giles fixed his glasses in place. They'd slipped slightly, during the last ten minutes. "Er, swords are hard to hide in an urban setting and rather hard to replace, while knives are a simple matter of stealing from the kitchen and putting them in your jacket. That's one of the major reasons."

"Why no guns?"

"Bullets that can kill vampires are either silver, which is hard to explain, or hollowpoints, which are hard to explain to law enforcement."

Chapter 3

Giles closed his eyes. He didn't like this, but there was no way around it. The Council Of Watchers had decreed that it would be so, and he had no way of squirelling out of it. He'd prefer to do this on his own terms, but he'd been forced to do battle with this new paradigm.

He clicked on 'New Message' on the computer that Willow Rosenberg had forced him to accept from Principal Flutie. She'd mentioned something about information on an interweb, but Giles hadn't really understood. There was no way in Hell Giles would let that Calendar woman attach one of those Skimmers to the machine after that unpleasant business with Moloch, however.

He began to tap out a message to the Council, outlining his initial contact with Slayer Summers her recalcitrant attitude, and her flippant attitude towards her duties. This took a long time to type, using his 'hunt and peck' keyboard style. Giles added a note at the end about Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris, making sure to state that he'd done his best to convince them not to help and was only letting Harris assist Slayer Summers after a great deal of physical training.

Xander Harris had gotten surprisingly good at assisting Slayer Summers, Giles added. Billy Kane had come with Giles' old fighting manuals a week ago, and had been very complimentary about Xander's abilities. Giles was not going to tell the Council Kane's exact terms, as he was sure that they would think he was backsliding into his old ways if they knew who Kane was. After thinking about it, the Watcher decided to simply put 'an old acquaintance' instead of 'Billy Kane', or 'Kane'. He was sure he'd draw enough fire from Travers and his ilk about training non-Slayers.

Clicking 'send', he got up from the computer, and went to the stacks to find some books he was after.


Xander wandered along the hallway, ducking into a closet when he saw the PE coach moving towards him. Six months ago, the man hadn't looked at him except to yell at him to 'stop slacking and get moving, dammit!' Now, after Giles had been training him, he kept getting cornered by the guy to try and get him into the interschool fighting team or, failing that, the football team.

The Xanman had about as much intention of joining any sports teams as he had of going to Disneyworld and working as one of those guys in the walking costumes. Being anywhere near the same social circles as the likes of Larry had all the appeal of sweaty gym socks.

He breathed a sigh of relief. The PE coach seemed to have lost him. The sigh rapidly grew up into a fullblown yawn. Xander had been assisting the Slayer all night, and had gotten right back up at six. Xander was caught between his innate sense of slackness, and his innate sense of justice and his conscience.

One real perk of training with the G-man was meeting all his old friends, however. Billy Kane was cool -- he had given Xander a bandanna with the Union Jack on it.

School didn't get any better than it had gotten that day. In class, Queen C dressed down a fellow student for daring to block her light with a school paper while she attempted, despite all those who would obstruct her, to check her makeup.

"Hello?," Cordelia snapped at Wendell. "Doofus! You're in my light!"

"Wendell, what is wrong with you?," Xander sarcasmed. "Don't you know that she is the centre of the universe, and that all we mere mortals revolve around her?"

"Why don't you revolve yourself out of my light?," the Queen of Sunnydale High retorted, showing either a very subtle sense directed towards herself or a blunt sense of annoyance. Xander couldn't decide which.

And the day didn't get much better from there on in. After a couple of minutes, Xander settled in for a good few periods of actively listening to himself snoring. Gently, so as not to disturb the teacher.

Not that this was to be. Half an hour into class, he was woken up by Wendell shrieking when a few spiders began trekking over the unfortunate boy.


The next day found Willow in a less than charitable mood towards spiders as well.

"Xander! Xander!," Willow yelled.

"Willow! Willow!," Xander joked. "How are you?"

"A huge, horrible spider crawled over my face last night," the redhead complained. "Do you think there's some spider monster telling them all to crawl over people? Where's Buffy?"

The two soon found the blonde Slayer.

"Oh, Buffy," Willow yelled out. "We've been looking for you!"

"We have?," Xander asked. "Oh yeah, Willow got some spider crawlage in last night. Not a pub crawl either, as we are unfortunately underage."

"I don't like spiders, okay?," Willow complained, continueing the complaint from earlier. "Their furry bodies, and their sticky webs, and what do they need all those extra legs for, anyway? I'll tell you -- for crawling over your face in the middle of the night. Ewww! How can they not ruffle you?"

"I'm sorry!," Xander said. "I'm unruffled by spiders. Spiders eat flies and bugs, and are therefore good. Now, if a bunch of Nazi's crawled over my face..."

"Mmm," Buffy agreed diplomatically. It was hard to tell which person she was agreeing with. "It was pretty intense."

"Thank you," Willow said, thinking that Buffy was agreeing with her.

"Well, the Hellmouth, the center of mystical convergence, supernatural monsters," the Xanman said, trying to keep their spirits buoyant. "Been there."

"Little blase' there, aren't you?," Buffy pointed out.

"I'm not worried," Xander said. "If there's something bad out there, we find, we slay, we party!"

"Thanks for the confidence vote," Buffy said dryly.

They universally decided to head for the Library to see if their resident Watcher had anything for them.

Chapter 4

The threesome composed of the Slayer, Xander, and Willow made their way to the Library in search of the ancient master who could answer their Great Question.

Okay, maybe Giles wasn't an 'ancient master', and maybe the question wasn't so great, but the phrase sounded good, as Xander pointed out.

"You've watched too many Kung Fu movies," Buffy muttered.

"Don't knock the skillz!," Xander grinned. "The hand is quicker than the eye... or was that the mind?"

The two girls exchanged a look.

"Almost definitely the hand," Willow said.

"You sure?"


"I need to work on my movie watching," Xander mused. "My quotage quota is startin' to slip."

"Okay, but we're still caring about the spiders here," Willow pointed out as they entered the Library, repository of the knowledge of the ancients. "Let's not forget the spiders."

"Well, Giles said he was gonna look it up," Buffy pointed out. A brief look yielded no Watcher. "Giles!"

"Maybe he's in the faculty room," Willow said.

Yeah right, Xander thought, he can't stand Principal Snyder any better than I can.

The watcher they all knew and loved (to differing extents) appeared from the stacks, looking bemused, with a side order of dazed as well.

"Hey, Giles!," the irreverent Slayer said. "Wakey, wakey!"

"I was, uh, in the stacks," Giles said, looking mildly embarassed now. "I got lost."

Weird. Giles knew the stacks better than he knew his bedroom.

"Did you find any books on spiders coming out of books?," Xander asked. He reached around Willow's shoulder, wiggling his fingers in an imitation of a large spider crawling on her shoulder. "Big, hairy, crawly..."

The redhead turned around and hit her friend in retribution for attempting to scare her.

"It's funny if you're me!," Xander protested.

"I couldn't find anything, uh... particularly illuminating," the Watcher admitted. "I think perhaps you'd best have a chat with Mr Wendell himself."

"Okay," Buffy said. After a bit of thought, recalling yesterday, she added, "If he can still talk."

As Xander began to leave with the others, Giles called out.

"Xander! I've recently received some scrolls on fighting with a shipment of other reference material from the Council. You'll find them on my workbench, marked 'Anything Goes.'"

The Xanman grinned. This fighting thing was beginning to be real fun. Heck, in a battle of pure skill restrained to human strength, he could beat Buffy these days.


A talk with Mr Wendell was spectacularly uninformative. They learnt only that the boy loved the creatures ("Arachnids! Why does everybody make that mistake?") and felt some guilt that his collection had died under the care of his brother.

Xander was beginning to seriously dislike this day. In History, after the test from hell, he'd been dressed down for handing in a grossly inaccurate essay. The teacher had taken great joy in telling him that the Hundred Year War had not begun due to jealous Frenchmen and Germans trying to burn down the Scottish distilleries.

He kicked himself. That'd teach him to ask his parents for help, rather than Giles.

In an attempt to get the G-man to do--er, help-- with more of his homework, he was currently helping him outside Slayage stuff. So, when Buffy came with her report of a girl being hospitalised in mysterious circumstances, she found the Xanman helping the G-man file bookcards.

Kinda. In an architectural way.

After the Fall of the Tower of Sunnydale, and the resultant yelling at by both sides, they left for the hospital to question the unfortunate girl


"I think they said Room 3016," Buffy said, as the threesome wandered along the astringent smelling hospital corridor.

"Do you know the girl?," Giles asked. He was carrying a potted plant with purple flowers on it.

"To say hi to," Buffy said, social butterfly. "Laura's nice enough. Nobody saw who attacked her?"

"Well, I was rather hoping Laura did," Giles said, dry British humour showing.

"My money's on Mr Nobody," Xander said. "Ninety percent of all crimes are committed by him, after all."

"Mr Nobody?," Giles questioned.

"Sure," Xander said. "If no person admits to something, then it's obvious Nobody did it. Mr Nobody."

Giles' lips twitched, holding back a smile.

They quickly found Room 3016, and entered it. The girl on the bed was covered in bruises, and her left arm and leg were in plaster.

"Hey, Laura," Buffy greeted.

"Hi," Laura weakly greeted.

"I hope we're not intruding, um...," Giles said uneasily.

He handed the plant to Buffy, who put it on the bedside cabinet by Laura. The girl smiled at the flowers, running a finger along the petals.

"That's okay. I don't wanna be left alone," Laura said.

"You understand we're anxious to make sure this, this doesn't happen again," Giles said.

"Because that would be of the bad," Xander said redundantly.

Buffy took a seat at the end of the bed. "Can you tell us what happened?"

"I was in the basement," Laura began. "I went down for a smoke. There was... someone there."

"Someone you know?," Xander asked.

"I've never... seen anything like it," Laura continued.

"It?," Buffy asked.

"Was it all demony looking?," Xander asked. "Because I'm fully up on the monster slayage, and the damsel rescueage."

The victim of the aforementioned entity started to panic at the memory of the beating, and found it hard to talk. "It-it, oh god, it..."

"Hey, that's okay," the Slayer comforted. "Don't worry about it."

Xander dug through his pockets, producing two twinkies which he put next to the flowerpot. "Here -- you need them more than I do at the moment. Just don't tell the nurses it was me?"

"Yes, you, you, you just rest now," Giles said, unused to comforting people.

"You know, but...," Buffy started, interrupted by an entering nurse.

"Hi, Laura," the nurse said.

"...i-if you remember anything?," Buffy continued. "You can tell us. Even if it may seem weird."

"She needs her rest now," the nurse said. The three fighters of darkness began to leave.

"'Lucky nineteen'," Laura spoke up.

"I'm sorry?," Giles asked as the three turned around.

"It's what he said, right before... He said 'lucky nineteen'. That's weird, right?"

"Yes. Yes, it is," Giles said, obviously thinking over the phrase.

"Feel better," Buffy commanded with a smile.

"Take care," Giles added.

As they left Laura's hospital room, Giles saw her doctor.

"Doctor, is she gonna be alright?," the British man enquired.

"You family?," the rushed doctor asked.

"Friends," Buffy explained.

"She'll recover," the doctor answered. "She's got a couple of shattered bones, a little internal bleeding... she got off pretty easy."

Buffy couldn't believe this guy. "Easy?!"

"Have you looked up the word lately?," Giles asked rhetorically.

"Well, the first one's still in a coma," the doctor said, willing to take a breather.

"First what? The guy's a serial beater?," Xander asked.

"First victim," the doctor elaborated, looking into another room. "They found him a week ago. Exact same M.O. as the girl, only he's in worse shape. If he doesn't wake up soon... Somebody's gotta stop this guy."

"Somebody will," the Slayer said.

"And it's gonna be us," Xander said, unconsciously tightening his fists.

Chapter 5

Back at school, Xander and Willow were going to their next class. School delays for no man, and teachers skip detentions for no student.

"I'm just saying, Wendell had a dream and then that exact thing happened," Willow pointed out. She had an idea cooking in her mind.

"Which is a fair wiggins," Xander admitted, "but how do you think that ties in with Laura?"

The two of them thought that over for a moment while Willow got her books from her locker.

"It could be a coincidence," Xander said hopefully. "Y'know, Wendell finds a spider's nest, and we all wig because he dreamt of spiders. So it may not be connected."

Knowing his luck, though, it was probably a ten foot tall and bulletproof spider sending forth it's arachnid hordes to enslave mankind.

"I dunno," Willow mused as they entered class. "Can we take that chance? I mean, we are on a Hellmouth."

"If there is a connection," Xander complained, "it doesn't sound like anything... what?"

He realised all of the students in the classroom were staring at him, along with Willow.

A slight breeze made itself known.

He looked down. His privates were covered, but nothing else was.

"Xander!," Willow gasped. A slight tinge of red was starting to spread across her cheeks. "When did you be--uh, what happened to..."

"I-I-I dunno!," he stuttered, in a panic. "I was, uh, dressed a moment ago! It's a dream, it's gotta be a dream! Ow! Wake up! Ow! Gotta wake up!"

The brunette ran screaming from the room, the redhead chasing him close behind.

Cordelia and the Cordettes stared at where the boy had been standing in shocked amazement.

"Wow...," Harmony Kendall said. "Harris is built."

"When did that happen?," Fleur asked.

"I heard that Coach Swansen had been chasing him to join the Martial Arts clubs," Cordelia said. She paused a moment. "It's a shame that he didn't get a dress sense with those new muscles."



Xander ran to his locker, ripping it open in a panic. He grabbed his gym clothes, thanking God that he didn't have PE that day. He made a break for the nearest toilets, holding the clothes over his ass and his underwear.

Willow arrived at the lockers soon after. She stopped a moment to catch her breath.

"Ge--geez, Xander... wai... wait up nex' time..."

The future witch noticed something. She touched the locker's door frame, which had been twisted and distorted in Xander's panic. The 'Shacklock' padlock was still intact, but the tabs it was attached to to hold the door shut had been mutilated beyond repair.

"Wow, Xander, who'da thunk you could do that?"

She opened the now unsecured locker, noticing that the plastic grocery bag that Xander used for his gym clothes was missing. Putting two and two together, she moseyed on down to the nearest guy's loo block. Willow knocked on the closed door.

"Who's there?," Xander asked.

"Me," Willow shouted back. "Come out here, mister!"

She wasn't proud -- she'd admit that she was kinda hoping he'd forgotten his gym shirt or something. Those months spent training with Giles had paid off, and he'd hidden those payoffs behind those Hawaiian shirts. Willow foresaw some nights of discussions with Buffy.

"Okay," Xander said. "I just changed."

He opened the door. He had on his tracksuit -- all of it, to Willow's disappointment.

"Time to go see Giles," Xander said.

The two of them ran to the library.

"Whoop! Red alert!," Xander yelled as he entered the tomb of knowledge.

Out of pure reflex, Giles hissed at them, putting a finger over his lips to indicate 'Quiet!'

"Uh...," Giles said, "where are your other clothes?"

The Man In Tweed and The Xanman didn't bother changing when they practiced things like knife fighting or the Art during free periods, and he'd never seen Xander in his PE clothes before.

"Oh, don't I wish I had the answer to that question," Xander groused.

"Xander kinda found himself in front of our class not wearing much of anything," Willow explained.

"Except my underwear."

Willow laughed.

"Yeah! It was really...," she began, before looking at Xander's expression. "... bad. It was a bad thing. Not all bad, just bad for Xander."

"Bad thing?," Xander asked rhetorically. "I was naked. Bad thing doesn't cover it."

Didn't cover him either, Giles noted in his mind with a mental smirk.

"Everybody staring?," Willow said. "I would hate to have everybody paying attention to me like that."

"With nudity!," Xander complained. If he found out who magicked away his clothes, they were a dead witch. "It was a total nightmare!"

A light went on in Willow's mind. Her idea finished cooking. "Well, yeah, Xander! It's your nightmare!"

"Except the part with me waking up going 'it's all a dream'," Xander ranted. "It happened."

"Like it happened to Wendell," Willow continued. Giles expression became thoughtful as he saw what Willow was driving at. "That thing with the spiders? Wendell had a recurring dream about that."

"I-I dreamt that I got lost in the stacks and I... I couldn't read," Giles said. "Of course!"

"Uh, our dreams are coming true?," Xander asked, realising what was happening as well.

"Dreams?," Giles asked cynically. "That would be a musical comedy version of this. Nightmares, our worst nightmares, are coming true."

"So, why is this happening?," Willow asked.

"Billy," Giles said cryptically.

"The kid in the coma?," Xander asked. "From that hospital visit?"

"Somehow I think he's crossed over from the nightmare world he's trapped in," Giles thought out loud.

"And he brought the nightmare world with him," Xander said. "Thanks a bunch, Billy."

"How could he do that?," Willow asked, sounding hurt.

"Things like that are easy when you live on a Hellmouth," Giles explained.

"Well, um, we have to stop it," Xander said. He had no intentions of the others seeing his nightmares. They were personal.

"And soon. Or else everybody in Sunnydale is going to be facing their own worst nightmares," Giles said.

The three paused for a moment.

"Buffy!," the Watcher realised. "Buffy doesn't know this is happening. And given the sort of things she dreams about, it's imperative we find her."

The trio left the Library in search of their errant Slayer.

"Probably faster if we split up to look for her," Xander pointed out.

"Good idea," the Watcher approved.

Chapter 6

Cordelia ran screaming down the corridors, Chess Club members in hot pursuit.

"Nooooooooo!," the Queen of Sunnydale High screamed. "I'm not even on the chess team!"

Xander paused to watch in stunned amazement.

"You promised!," Billy Reed yelled at her. "We've got your signature on an application form!"

There was no way Xander was gonna forget this. If the Apocalypse rolled into town that hour, he'd be teasing Cordelia throughout the afterlife about her stint in the Chess Club.

"You don't understand!," the socialite screamed, on the brink of a mindless panic attack. "I don't wanna go!"

"Man," Xander said. "Now that was a Kodak, if not a Handycam moment."

He paused. "Except you can't frame and mount video tapes on the wall."

Continuing on his way, he stopped dead at the next set of firestop doors. The hall beyond the doors had been vandalized, and black swastikas adorned the walls. The remaining fluorescent light flickered over the glass shards of it's deceased companions and the only remaining goodness in the corridor.

A Cadbury Crunchy bar. Wonderful hokey pokey smothered in sweet, sugary, chocolatey goodness.

The Xanman wasted no time in rescueing the unfortunate survivor from the wreckage of the battlefield, opening it and testing it to make sure that it was still okay. He took a few more bites, to make sure the rest of the bar was alright as well. No sense in leaving defective confectionary around to disappoint people.

"This is my lucky day!"

He kept moving, picking up chocolate bars as he went. Perhaps the G-man had been wrong, and it wasn't all nightmares?

Plastic sheeting fell from the ceiling of the corridor like flypaper as he walked further along the dimly lit hall. He saw something special lying on the floor. Putting down the armload of chocolate bars he had found on the way, he picked it up and had a look.

"A Scrumdidillyumptious Bar! These are the best! I haven't had one of these since..."

The penny dropped. He knew what had happened on his sixth birthday. He still woke up sweating heavily at times, remembering it.

The G-man had been right. This was a nightmare. A brightly painted clown cut through the plastic sheeting, sharp knife in hand.

Xander was well capable of defending himself from anything short of a strong demon these days, but fear wasn't reasonable. He ran.


A couple doors down the corridor, Xander found Willow. Strangely, she had a few tomatoes staining her clothes.

"Did you find Buffy?," Xander asked.

"I had to sing!," Willow gasped. "Very bad to sing!"

"Willow, c'mon," Xander cajoled. "Let's find the others."

"What happened to you?"

"Remember my sixth birthday party?," Xander asked.

Willow laughed, recalling it. "Oh yeah! When the clown chased you, and you had to..."

She trailed off as the penny dropped and she realised what Xander's nightmare probably was. "Oh."

The clown slashed through a sheet of plastic, grinning insanely. The two teenagers turned around to find Giles standing behind them. The Watcher looked at Xander with disappointment. He'd been training the boy and he couldn't stand up to clowns?!

"Oh, yeah," Xander said. He felt really stupid -- he could have beaten that clown two years ago, let alone today!

He decked it with one smooth uppercut, a reddish orange tinge tainting the air around his fist. As the figure hit the floor, he absently took the knife from it.

"No sign of Buffy?," Giles asked, relieved to see that Xander had faced his fear. He didn't notice that the discolouration on the clown's jaw was as much burn mark as bruise.

"I feel good!," Xander proclaimed. "I feel liberated!"

"You seem to be the only one," the Watcher said dryly as Xander picked up the pile of chocolate bars he'd found. "Things are getting worse. In a few hours reality will fold completely into the realm of nightmares."

"Well, what do we do?," Willow asked, Research Gal.

"The only thing I can think of is to wake Billy," Giles said. He couldn't read his books to find out any more; the only other solution he could think of was to kill the little boy, which was unacceptable.

"Uh, what about Buffy?," Xander asked.

"Who knows where she might have gone?," Giles asked.

Willow conveniently spotted a graveyard over the road. "Excuse me, when did they put a cemetary across the street?"

"And when did they make it night over there?," Xander continued. Something was very screwy about that graveyard.

The trio walked into the graveyard.

"Whose nightmare is this?," Xander asked.

Giles noticed a marker, and crouched by it to get a better view. On it was the inscription 'Buffy Summers 1981 - 1997'.

"It's mine."

The two teenagers moved over to the British man.

"I've failed...," Giles said, "in my duty to protect you. I should have been more c-cautious. Trained you better. But you were so gifted, and the evil was so great. I'm sorry..."

As the three regarded the grave, Giles laid a hand on the soil. As the man began to get up, a hand broke through the surface to grab his hand.

Xander couldn't help but be reminded of all the bad zombie movies he'd seen. Willow screamed.

Giles teared his arm free as Buffy dug herself out of the grave, brushing the dust off her clothes. The distinctive facial ridges of a vampire marred her face.

"Buffy?," Giles asked weakly.

"I thought I was dead!," the blonde protested.

"Buffy, your face!," Willow gasped.

The girl touched her face, feeling the ugly new additions. She moaned lowly, before covering her face with her hands.

"Buffy...," Xander trailed off, stepping towards the teenager.

"Don't look at me!," she protested.

"You never told me you dreamt of becoming a vampire," Giles said blankly.

"This isn't a dream!," Buffy said firmly, with an undertone of panic.

"No," Giles agreed. "No, it's not. But there's a chance we can make it go away. This all comes from Billy. Now, if we can wake him up, I believe that the nightmares will stop and reality will shift back into place, but we must do it now! I need you to hold together long enough to help us. Can you do that?"

Buffy nodded at the thought of reversing her new condition. "Yeah, I think I can."

"Thank you," Giles said, relieved that his speech had worked. He was trying not to think of what a Slayer's strength would be when augmented by vampirism.

"Well, we better hurry," the Slayer said, "because I'm getting hungry."

"That is... a joke, right?," Xander asked. He'd already had to stake one vampiric ex-friend. He didn't want to have to stake another.

"Are you sure that everything will go back once he's awake?," Willow asked Giles.

"Oh, uh, positive," Giles said with much more assurance than he felt.

"Well, how do we wake Billy up?," Willow asked. "What if we can't?"

"Willow, do shut up."

Xander held up his cargo of chocolate bars. "Plan B, we entice him back with this."

Chapter 7

"I can't be a vampire!"

"Er, it'll be okay Buff, at least you've still got a soul!"

"But now I'm all grr and gross!"

Pause. "You'll be a matched set for Deadboy!"

Runrunrun. Keep ahead of homicidal Slayer. She's got her mind off depression, that's the main thing, deal with the cause later.

The four ran down the Hospital hallways. Xander and Buffy led the way, with Giles close behind in third place, and Willow a panting, gasping fourth. The teenage fighters stopped outside Billy Fordham's room. Giles grabbed the doctor that they had asked earlier.

"Doctor! Is the boy Billy still here?," the British man asked.

The physician didn't hear Giles' query, raising his hands to the Watcher. They were twisted and misshapen, clearly incapable of so much as holding a pen. With a cry of 'My hands!', the doctor ran down the hallway. Xander and Buffy ignored him as they moved into the small room with the smaller boy.

"What now?," Xander asked. "Wake him up?"

"Um...," Giles trailed off, bending down to the boy. "Billy! Billy!"

A voice came from a corner of the room. A spectral image of the boy on the bed was standing there.

"That won't work," the image said.

"Billy!," Giles exclaimed. "Uh, Billy, you have to wake up."

"No!," the child protested. "I told her. I have to hide."

"Who from?," Xander asked, a frown starting to emerge on his face.

"From him!," Buffy yelled, pointing at a man with a badly scarred face and a grossly deformed club arm.

"He's the one who's been beating people up?," Xander asked, moving out the door to face the thing. Buffy was right behind him.

"Xander, get back!"

"No. No one is gonna get away with beating little kids up. No one," Xander said grimly.

Willow looked out the window at a black horde of approaching wasps. "You'd better hurry!"

"Lucky Nineteen!," the Ugly Man yelled

Xander punched the Ugly Man in the head, dazing the thing, before grabbing it's neck and holding it stationary with one arm while punching it further in the gut, unable to collapse or retreat. Smoke began to rise from where Xander was hitting it repeatedly, and Xander's fist had the same reddish tinge.

Eventually, the Ugly Man roared "Lucky Nineteen!" again, throwing off Xander and clubbing him in the head. Both paused to catch their breath before continueing. Blood flowed from Xander's cheek, where the fingernails on the club arm had scratched him deeply.

Buffy wasn't willing to let the thing recover. She side kicked it in the back, able to do what the longer limbed Xander could not in the narrow hallway. The thing didn't really feel it, and slammed her through the door into Billy's room. She collapsed against the bed, and started to get up as the Ugly Man advanced on her.

Xander strode into the room from the hallway, grabbing the thing's blackened head by the forehead. It roared in pain, as he pulled backwards abruptly, forcing it to fall backwards, away from Giles, Willow, and Billy. The fall, and the resultant sharp knock to the head knocked the thing out.

"Is... is he dead?," Billy's spectre asked uncertainly.

"Come here, Billy," Buffy said, getting up from the floor by his bed.

"I-I don't..."

"You have to do the rest," the Slayer said. Billy came around the bed to beside Buffy, and the thing.

Xander reached into his gym shirt for something he had grabbed from Giles' office, just in case.

"What are they doing?," Willow asked. Giles motioned for her to be silent.

"I get it," Xander said, having an epiphany.

"No more hiding," Buffy said.

Billy's figure let go of Buffy's hand. He reached down to the Ugly Man's neck, and peeled the scarred face back like a rubber mask. Light poured out of the resulting surface, and the Ugly Man vanished. Xander's cuts on his cheek had vanished, along with the blood that had flowed from them. He and Willow were now dressed in the clothes they had come to school in, and Buffy was now human.

"Hey, he's waking up!," Xander said, pointing at Billy's body lying in the bed.

"I had the strangest dream," Billy said. "And you were in it... and you. Who are you people?"

They all smiled. Giles moved to the door.

"Let's go get a doctor," the Brit said.

As he and Xander were about to leave, a man in a sports jacket and a cap entered.

"Oh! Huh, Billy's got company," the man said, taking off his cap. "I-I-I'm his kiddy league coach. I come by here every day, just hoping against hope he's gonna wake up soon. He's my lucky nineteen."

Everyone's eyebrows rose at the familiar phrase of "Lucky Nineteen!"

"So, how is he?," the man continued.

"He's awake," the Slayer said flatly.


"You blamed him for losing the game. So you caught up with him afterwards, didn't you?"

The same grim expression as when he had faced the Ugly Man appeared on Xander's face.

"What are you talking about?," the coach asked, trying to worm his way out of trouble.

"You said it was my fault we lost!," Billy cryed, sitting up on the bed.

The coach realised that he'd been found out, and tried to make a break for the door. Xander grabbed him by the jacket as the man passed him, and held his arms behind his back in a painful hold.

"It wasn't my fault!," Billy continued. "There's eight other players on the team. You know that."

"Nice going!," Buffy said to Billy. The little boy grinned at her.


Later, leaving school, the three teenagers discussed the happenings.

"I just can't believe a kiddy league coach would do something like that," Buffy commented.

"Well, you obviously haven't played kiddy league," Xander said. "I'm surprised it wasn't one of the parents."

A dark look crossed his face, then left just as quickly.

"I'm just glad he's behind bars where he belongs," Willow decided.

"But that was kinda heroic, Xander, helping beat up the Ugly Man and holding the coach back and all," Buffy said, praising Xander. "Your training with Giles is paying off!"

"Well, if you wanna call it heroic...," Xander trailed off modestly.

Buffy's father, Hank, walked up to the trio, then hugged his daughter.

"Hi, sweetheart! Oh, it's so good to see you!," the man said, releasing the hug. "How are you?"

"Fine, you know. The usual," Buffy said as she left with him.

"Personal question?," Willow asked Xander as Buffy left them.

"Yeah, shoot!"

"When Buffy was a vampire," Willow began, "you weren't still, like, attracted to her, were you?"

"Willow, how can you...," Xander protested. "I mean, that's really bent! She was... grotesque!"

"Still dug her, huh?," Willow asked, seeing through him in an instant.

"I'm sick, I need help."

"Don't I know it," Willow said, giving him a hug. "I could help."

Chapter 8

Giles downed another shot of Black Label, then turned the page of the book he was reading.

Normally busy researching the new threat to life and happiness on the Hellmouth, or studying unfamiliar material, the Watcher had developed a habit of a night of rest and relaxation after his charges had dispatched a major evil. Thus the open bottle of Johnny Walker, the illustrated copy of The Silmarillion, and the Def Leppard record playing on the hi-fi.

So it came as quite a surprise when someone knocked on the door. Giles carefully got up, and turned down Def Leppard (who were currently imploring him to pour some sugar on them.) Using that peculiarly precise gait that partially drunk people tend to use, he walked over to the door and opened it.


Billy Kane was back. With some weird bloke that Giles'd never clapped eyes on before.

"Billy," Giles greeted him, trying to maintain a certain level of civility. Ripper tended to come out more when he was drunk.

"Ripper, mate, good ta see you again," Billy said. He was still dressed in his blue pants and jacket, with the red and white bandanna. "I''ve come with Yagami, here. He's convinced that your boy's a Kusanagi, won't listen to me."

Billy's companion was tall, very tall. He had red hair and pants, with a belt linking his knees loosely. A long, untucked white dress shirt was barely covered by a black jacket, and the whole ensemble was finished with a black leather choker. Giles took a moment to visibly look him up and down.

"So," Giles sneered, drink getting to him, "this is the last of the Yagami Clan, eh? Their last chance to settle their little argument."

Yagami grabbed Giles' shirt, lifting him by it. "I'm here to see flameboy. If he is a Kusanagi, he's dead."

Giles expertly hit a few points on Yagami's wrist and arm, numbing it. Once he was back on the ground, he turned back into his apartment, and turned off the recplayer.

"I'll explain this in better surroundings, if you don't mind."


Iori, turning over his empty glass, looked pensive after Giles' account of his time in America. "So, he's definitely not of the Kusanagi?"

The Watcher nodded. "I've traced his family line back to Merry Old England. The only possible source of the flames is an ancestor of his named... Raymond LaVelle."

Iori visibly recognised the name, but Billy didn't.

"Who's this LaVelle poof?," Kane asked. "Demon?"

"No, witch," Giles explained tiredly. It was getting very late. "An account in a diary from that time states that the man was involved in binding and subsuming a minor lava hellgod of the region. I can only conjecture that the hellgod was subsumed into LaVelle's line, and energies from the Hellmouth have made them more active in Alexander than they would be otherwise."

"Oh, that's damn lovely," the British staff-fighter groaned. "Is he going to go Rugal Bernstein on us, then?"

"The millionaire gone megalomaniac after being infused with Orochi energies?," Giles asked. "No, from the account LaVelle was an accomplished magician and destroyed the minor Hellgod's mind using a massive ritual circle. However, energy can be neither created nor destroyed, so..."

"Hmmm. I'll train this Alexander enough so he can restrain these energies, then I have to hunt again," Iori said. He grinned sheepishly before continueing. "Can I crash here?"


The next day, Xander wandered on to school completely oblivious of the new arrivals. He went to Willow's house first, getting a piece of toast and Willow.

"So, how about that coach?," Willow asked. She mentally hit herself for such a lame line.

"I can't stand people who beat up kids," Xander said, frowning.

"It showed," Willow commented. "Believe me."

Xander blushed. "Did I go overboard?"

"Nah," the hacker said. "It's just that, well, demons are evil and don't do good, right? But people are good or evil, or they can be both, and they have a choice so they can pick whether they want to be good or evil, and that guy chose to be evil, so he deserved everything he got."

Xander grinned. "It's good to know that I can count on you to remain good old Willow."

"Hey!," the redhead protested as they entered the school doors. "I'm not old! I'm sixteen!"

"I noticed," Xander joked. "Sixteen year old girls tend to have a certain curvaceousness."

"Thank you," Willow smiled, convinced that Xander had intended that as a compliment. "Hey, there's Buffy!"

Indeed, the Slayer was standing before them, glaring at the departing Cordelia Chase, queen of the cheerleaders.

"So, what's Cordelia up to?," Xander asked.

"Bribery," Buffy replied. "She's desperate to be May Queen."

"Cordelia, man, does she love titles!," Xander grinned.

Willow began to laugh, remembering a past occassion. "Oh, God! Remember in sixth grade with the field trip?"

"Right! Right!," Xander continued. "The guy with the antlers on his belt?"

Buffy looked at her two friends, half-convinced they were mad, or having a religious experience.

"Be My Deputy!," Willow commanded.

"And remember, the hat?"

"Oh God! The hat!"

"Gee," Buffy interrupted, "it's fun that we're speaking in tongues."

"I'm sorry," Willow apologised, starting to calm down.

"It's just that we had this, uh... you just had to be there," Xander also apologised.

"It's not even funny," Willow said, backpedalling.

"Really!," Xander confirmed.

"Uh, Cordelia just has a past of trying too hard," Willow explained.

"Yeah, what kinda moron would want to be May Queen anyway?," Xander, historically the outcast, asked.

The Slayer turned to her locker, slowly opening it. "I was."

"You what?"

"At my old school," Buffy explained.

"Oh!," Xander exclaimed. "Well, there's an exception to every rule!"

Buffy looked at Xander. "You've been spending too much time with Giles, if that's the best you can come up with. We didn't call it May Queen, but we may as well have."

"Well, you know, you don't need that anymore," Xander said, encouraging her. "You've got us!"

Willow smiled as well, before cracking up laughing. "Be My Deputy! Oh, God!"

One of the jock students came running down the hallway. Xander vaguely recalled his name as Bud, or Buddy.

"Guys, c'mon! Mitch got whaled on! I think he's..."

Chapter 9

The threesome immediately went to find out what had happened to the student 'Mitch'. The Ugly Man had started with beating up random people -- they weren't about to let another one get started. Buffy grabbed the gurney that Mitch was lying on, bleeding, to question him.

"Mitch, what happened?"

"I don't know. I, I heard something. I tried to grab a, a bat...," the jock trailed off. He laughed slightly, as he continued. "That hit me."

"Bat bat, or baseball bat?," Xander joked.

"The baseball bat! By itself, the thing was floating, it knocked me out, wiseass."

The paramedics, not terribly happy with people who randomly stopped them to question their patients out of a morbid curiousity, moved on.

"I'd better check out the scene," Buffy said aloud.

"Want a hand?," Xander asked.


The would-be detective was stopped in her tracks by the five foot nothing Principal. "Where do you think you're going?"

"Um, Mitch wanted me to get his comb," Buffy improvised, realising just how pathetic the excuse was the minute she said it. "He, he likes his comb."

"I don't think Mitch needs his comb right now," Snyder drawled nastily. "I think Mitch needs medical attention. And you need to stay away from the crime scene. Always sticking your nose in."

"Sue? What did you say? Mitch was gonna sue the school?," Willow asked loudly, spinning lies for all she was worth.

"Sue? Who?," Snyder asked, panicking as dollar signs in his wallet grew wings and flew away.

The Slayer mouthed a thank you to Willow and Xander, moving quickly to the scene of the crime to case it out.

"Well, his dad is the most powerful lawyer in Sunnydale," Xander glibly lied. Mitch's dad worked as a sanitation engineer.

"Hold on," Snyder said. "What have you two heard?"

"His dad, the lawyer. You haven't heard of him?"

"Other lawyers call him 'The Beast'," Willow added.

They managed to make Snyder very, very pale before he sent them off to class.


Later, at the cafeteria, Buffy reported that the word 'Look' had been painted onto one of the locker doors.

"'Look'?," Willow asked. "That's all it said?"

"Look at what?," Xander asked. "Look at Mitch?"

"Maybe," the Slayer muttered. "All I know is it's a message."

"And...," Xander trailed off.

"Ah, here you are," Giles said. "Xander, Billy Kane and a friend are back if you are interested."

"And monsters don't usually send messages," Buffy continued, ignoring Giles' segue. "It's pretty much crush, kill, destroy. This was different."

"I'd have to say you're right," Giles said, mentally moving on to the mystery of Mitch. He'd caught the tail end of their conversation as he'd approached.

"I love it when he says that!," Buffy smiled. "Any theories?"

"Uh, I'm, uh, it's a bit of a puzzle, really," Giles said as he took a seat. "Um, I've never actually heard of anyone attacked by a lone baseball bat before."

"Maybe it's a vampire bat," Xander punned, badly. "I'm alone with that one, huh?"

"Well, assuming the bat itself is not possessed, uh, there are a few possibilities that bear investigating," Giles thought out loud. "Uh, someone with telekinesis, uh, the power to move objects at will, uh, uh, an invisible creature, um, or possibly a poltergeist."

"Or someone hit Mitch really hard," Xander interrupted.


"A ghost?," Willow asked, latching onto the most unsettling possibility.

"Yes, and a very angry one," Giles said.

"Yeah, I'd say," Buffy confirmed. "The locker room was a real scene."

"If it's a ghost, then we're talking about a dead kid," Willow reasoned.

"I guess so," Buffy shrugged. "You know, why don't you compile a list of dead or missing kids? It's probably a good place to start."

"And, uh, I'll research all the possibilities, ghosts included," Giles said. "Uh, Xander, Kane and his friend Iori Yagami are waiting to see you in the Library."

Somehow, Buffy managed to avoid doing any work.

"Billy?," Xander grinned. "Coolness. I wonder if he got me one of those segmented staffs?"

"He did bring something," Giles confirmed.


Chapter 10

Xander moseyed on through to the Library, grinning widely as he walked through the double doors.

"Billy! Nice to see you!," Xander yelled out.

"Nice ta see you too, mate," Billy grinned back. "This's Iori Yagami, you probably know him already from telly, eh?"

"Something like that," Xander shrugged. "Hi, I'm Xander Harris."

The redheaded man looked him up and down carefully, hands in his pockets. "Ripper told me that you can make your own flame."

Xander shrugged, lifting a hand as a tongue of flame appeared. It wound around his arm and up from his hand like a python, dancing in the air. "Something like that. This comes in way useful for barbeques around Christmas time."

"Ripper also tells us that you're having problems controlling it," Billy smirked. "Gonna tell your old mate Billy about it?"

Xander blushed, remembering the most memorable incident where he had had a wet dream and had almost burnt the house down.

Iori chuckled at this. "In your dreams, eh?"

"Something like that," Xander laughed nervously. "Did it happen to you, or am I just the only loser-freak?"

"It happens to everyone with the inner flame," Iori said calmly, before his eyes locked onto Xander's. An intense gaze stopped Xander from dropping eye contact. "And you are not a freak. Or are you calling me a freak?"

"Do I look suicidal?," Xander joked, dodging the question.

"If you say anything else you probably are," Billy called out. "Look, part of the reason that we're here is so Iori here can train you up a bit in using this flame without setting your pants on fire."

"I'm only staying here because I don't know where that filthy Kusanagi has hidden," Iori muttered.

"Right," Billy nodded. He pulled out a peculiar looking metal glove, carefully handing it to Xander. "Got you something. Geese told me to give it to you, since he was kinda interested in the Hellmouth and all."

"Thanks," Xander said, carefully pulling the glove on. "This is so cool!"

The part covering his palm was mostly missing, while the wrist part had a leather strap just after the hinge to tighten once the glove had been put on. Long, thin blades stretched from the tips of the fingers and the thumb. It vaguely resembled Freddy Krueger's glove, in the way that a Scottish Claymore resembled (with great imagination) a staff with nails sticking out.

"Wh-what are you doing, Xander?," Giles asked, entering the library and seeing him play with a lethal looking device.

"I was just giving him his present, Ripper," Billy said defensively.

Giles sighed. "Xander, if you come within ten feet of my books wearing that, I'll have your guts for garters."

Everyone's eyes immediately travelled to rest on the belt linking Iori's knees.

"Hey!," Iori said, beginning to get annoyed.

"Uh, how about we find an empty field somewhere," Billy said quickly. He did not want to be around if Iori blew up, which was likely if people kept needling him.

"Okay," Xander shrugged. He flexed his right hand, watching the five knives move hypnotically. "This is so cool."

"Unless you wish to donate it to myself or Principal Snyder, I suggest you take it off while in school," Giles suggested.

"Bugger," Xander muttered, undoing the wrist strap.

"Billy! He is spending too much time around you if he's picking up English swear words...," Giles trailed off threateningly.

"Hey, look at the time, better get going before Geese rings me!," Billy grinned, walking out the door.

Iori paused halfway down the hall. "Something's wrong."

"What?," Xander asked. "A kid got beaten up by a baseball bat floating in mid-air today... we think it might be a ghost."

The redhead looked around thoughtfully. "No, whoever it is is still alive..."


"Xander, are you sure you should be here?," Buffy asked, worried.

Xander smiled at her, weaving slightly as he followed her through the graveyard. "I'm fine, Buff! And I want to try out my new toy."

"New toy?," Buffy asked, instantly intrigued.

Xander pulled the bladed glove from his backpack and put it on. "See? I have a much cooler Santa Claus than you."

Buffy looked at it, open mouthed. "Why doesn't Santa leave me that kinda thing? Terminator-Krueger, much?"

A vampire burst out of the earth of a freshly laid grave. Xander slapped it, hard.

Now, when most people slap someone, their cheek hurts like heck for awhile, they might get a bit scratched, but they aren't hurt that bad, all told.

Xander didn't take off the glove before he slapped it.

He curled his finger slightly, so that the blades ripped into the vampire's head. The incredibly sharp knives slid through the decaying flesh and bone, leaving it's cranium in about six pieces.

Needless to say, it dusted.

The Slayer's mouth dropped open again as she stared at the bloody weapon. Abruptly, it snapped shut as she grabbed hold of Xander's arm.

"Hey, leggo!," Xander protested, swinging his arm around to try and make Buffy let go.

"NO!," the Slayer roared, clutching onto his arm like a bedsheet on a washing line in a high wind. "MINE!"

"This is mine, goddammit, and I'm keeping it!," Xander yelled back.


Chapter 11

Xander stormed through the double doors of the Library, an unconscious Buffy slung over his shoulder. His right hand still had the lethal bladed glove on. Giles stood up from the table, eyes widening. Blood was splashed across all five slim knives on the glove.

It was obvious that they were all in a lot of trouble, if the two had encountered something that was able to knock a Slayer unconscious. It was perhaps just as well that Xander had been there to conduct a timely retreat.

"X-Xander!," Giles said, shocked. "What happened? Which demon attacked you?"

"No demon," Xander sighed deeply, roughly dumping Buffy on the table on top of Giles' books. He sat down, beginning to undo the leather buckle holding the glove on.

"W-what attacked you? Who knocked Buffy out?," Giles asked. He was getting more worried by the second.

"Buffy attacked me," Xander said simply.

Giles' knees abruptly failed him, and he sat at his seat again. The Slayer lay in front of him like a buffet at a restaurant. "Buffy? Good grief. What happened?"

"It's kinda a long story," Xander hedged.


"Alright, alright, geez," Xander frowned. "Y'know, I'm beginning to think that the reason Monty Python is so funny is because they have a monopoly on the British funny gene."

"Buffy. Now."

"Okay, so I dusted a vampire with Billy's new present," Xander said, stealing a bit of rag to clean the five blades. "I bitch slapped it with the glove on, that shredded the thing's head, and poof, no more vamp. Half a second later I've got Buffy on my arm like an overgrown wristwatch trying to steal it."

"Why didn't you simply ask her to cease?," Giles sighed.

"She wouldn't listen!," Xander protested.



"Be that as it may," Giles decided, "Iori said he wished to see you for training. I believe that the appointed time and place is the park, at six in the morning.."


Xander lifted his head muzzily, staring at Giles from where he was leaning on the checkout counter. "When my bones knit, you are a dead man."

He was extensively bruised, and four bloody slashes were drawn across his torso.

"Xander!," Willow gasped, going for the first aid kit. "What attacked you?"

"Buffy, perchance?," Giles asked nastily. While Xander was like a son, Buffy was like a daughter to him.

"Iori happened to me," Xander explained. He moved over to the research table, and sat down at it. "He thinks throwing himself off cliffs is great training."

Willow frowned. "Xander, if you want to do research, all you have to do is ask, you know."

"No way!," Xander retorted immediately. "I'm learning heaps from him."

"I still think that you should rethink this fighting thing," Willow said, getting out a bandage.

"That which does not kill us, only makes us stronger," Xander said pompously, striking a pose. "Oooow! Anyway, I should be Zeus by now."

Willow poked his arm, and Xander failed to restrain a groan. "Well, Mr Greek God, you need to start using your head and stop getting hurt."

"Oooo, nasty," Buffy said as she entered the library. "Hey Willow, Giles. What happened to you, Xander?"

"Someone dropped a grand piano on me," Xander joked.

Willow rolled her eyes. "If he's making bad jokes already, he's going to be fine."

Giles looked on with amusement. Really, this was fun. "Come, Buffy, I believe it is time for your training. Xander has completed his for the day with Iori, as far as I know."

"Wills, I'm fine," Xander said, trying to politely push Willow away.

"Mister, you're not leaving without those slashes getting bandaged," Willow said, Resolve Face firmly in place. "I'm not having them get infected! Stay still!"

Xander sighed, obediently holding still.

"I believe that what Willow said earlier may have some merit," Giles said, while holding a pad for Buffy to hit. "Ooof."

"The using my head thing?," Xander asked. "You mean I should throw knives at him, or that fire stuff?"

"So you're not a complete loss," a bass voice called from the doors. "It only took you one day to figure it out."

Willow tucked in the tail end of the bandage, then her head whipped around to face the newcomer. Her eyes immediately went to the four bloody fingers on his right hand. "YOU! You're the one who hurt him!"

"It's an important lesson," Iori said, eyebrow raised. "Don't get hurt."

"You're not the one who has to explain to the school nurse if she sees you," Xander groaned. "Aw, man, and I have to go to the tryouts for the martial arts club at free period too."

"Why?," Buffy asked. "Coach finally nail you down where you couldn't escape?"

"Nope," Xander grimaced. "My dark past of wagging class and low grades came back to haunt me, and he got Mrs Kerbopple to blackmail me.

All the teenagers winced.


After school, the group reassembled.

"Giles, have you ever touched a ghost?," Buffy asked as an opener.

"Uh, no. From what I've heard having a ghost pass through you is a singular experience," Giles said, recalling from memory. "It's a, it's a rather cold amorphous feeling. It makes your hair stand on end."

"You see, that's my problem," Buffy complained. "I touched the thing, but it didn't go through me. It bumped into me. And it wasn't cold. I think she pushed Harmony."

"So, we're talking about what, an invisible person?," Xander asked.

"A girl. She laughed," Buffy expanded, queen of flowery verbiage.

"A girl on campus with the ability to become invisible," Giles mused out loud.

"That is so cool!," Xander grinned, immediately recalling half a dozen comic books.

"Cool?," Willow asked disbelievingly.

"Well, yeah, I would give anything to be able to turn invisible," Xander grinned. A smirk grew on his face. "Well, I wouldn't use my powers to beat people up, but I'd use my powers to protect the girls' locker room."

"It must be a fairly heady experience... having that ability," Giles theorised.

"How'd she get it? Is she a witch?," Willow asked worriedly. "'Cause we can fight a witch."

"Hmm. Greek myths speak of cloaks of invisibility, but they're usually for the gods," Xander shrugged. "Research Boy comes through with the knowledge!"

"Riiight, Mr Zeus," Willow teased.

"You know it," Xander grinned.

"This girl's sorta petty for a god," Buffy observed.

"She's got a grudge. But why Harmony?," Willow thought out loud, dragging her mental train of conversation back on track.

Xander continued Willow's thoughts. "Harmony and Mitch. The common denominator is..."

"Cordelia!," the Slayer realised.

"So what now?," Willow asked.

"First thing tomorrow, why don't you pull up that missing kids list?," Buffy asked.

"Got it," Willow nodded.

"I've got a bit of good news to brighten everyone's day," Xander interjected.


"The sensei dude who runs the martial arts club thinks I'm too brutal to spar with anyone," Xander said proudly.

"I guess when you're used to fighting vampires that heal almost instantly, everyone else seems...," Buffy trailed off.

"Weak," Willow said, upset that Xander had been called brutal. That wasn't her Xander, surely?

"I'll see you later, then," Willow decided.

"Bye," Buffy returned.

"Er, tonight at nine," Giles interrupted.

"See ya," Xander easily replyed. He left with Willow. "Oh, hey, do you wanna come to our place tonight for dinner? Mom's making her famous phone call to the Chinese place."

"Xander, do you guys even have a stove?," Willow asked disapprovingly. People needed to eat vegetables and other things as well as pasta, starch and meat.

"So, I'll look into ways that you can de-cloak an invisible someone. What about you?," Giles asked Buffy.

"I think Cordelia's gonna be workin' on her May Queen dress tonight," the Slayer shrugged. "Maybe there'll be some action. Guess I'm gonna start the hunt."

"How exactly do you propose to hunt someone you can't see?," Giles asked logically.

Chapter 12

Xander yawned as he and Willow watched Principal Snyder announce Cordelia's crowning as May Queen.

"So, Giles said you'd be here," Xander observed. "Why are you being here?"

"Last night was a bust," Buffy moped, referring to a patrol attempting to discover who was attacking students. "But I still think Cordy's the key."

"This is the dead and missing list," Willow said proudly, holding up a sheaf of print outs. "I pulled up their classes, activities, medical records..."

"Good work," Buffy said approvingly.

Willow gave Xander a look. "Why do you look tired?"

"Between training, school, and Scooby stuff I don't have enough time to think," he explained. "How do you do it, Buff?"

"Must be a Slayer thing, to look this good," Buffy shrugged.

"I want you to get more sleep, mister," Willow commanded Xander.

Xander looked around desperately for a distraction.

"Has Queen C hired a bodyguard or anything?," he asked, pointing at two men in black suits.

"Hey, you guys, check out this one," Buffy said, poking through Willow's print outs. "It's the most recent one, Marcie Ross, disappeared, like, six months ago."

"I don't know her," Xander shrugged.

"Me neither," Willow admitted.

"Her only activity was band. She played the flute," Buffy said, reading the girl's school record.

"So?," Willow asked.

"Well, last night when I was hunting, I heard this flute, but I couldn't figure out where it was coming from," Buffy said, frustrated. "And it was in the band room that I lost Miss Invisible yesterday. You know what, this all tracks. I'm gonna check it out. See you guys later?"

"Iori felt something the other day," Xander said. "You want I should ask him to have a look around?"

"I did some checking on him, too," Willow said disapprovingly. "He's publicly said he wants to kill someone, as in dead! Xander, I don't think you should be spending time around him."

Willow didn't have an ulterior motive of not wanting Xander to get hurt or bruised. Nope. Honest.

"Giles hasn't chased him off," Xander protested.

Buffy slipped off as the two continued to bicker amiably on the way to Geometry.


Xander sat on the edge of the table, ignoring Giles' subtle attempts to motion him off it. The martial arts instructor had tried to talk to him on the way to the Library. Xander did not think this boded well for his free time quotient. Yes, the bodingness of this bode was definitely bad, in his opinion.

"A nest?," Giles asked in reply to Buffy's report of finding a small collection of personal belongings above the band rooms.

"It looked like she'd been there for months. It's where I found this," Buffy said, holding up a Sunnydale High yearbook. She opened it on the table.

"Oh, my God!," Willow gasped, reading the notes from people. "'Have a nice summer. Have a nice summer.' This girl had no friends at all."

"Uh, once again I teeter at the precipice of the generation gap," Giles sighed.

"'Have a nice summer' is what you write when you have nothing to say," Buffy explained. The implications were clear -- no one had anything to say whatsoever about this girl.

"It's the kiss of death," Xander expanded.

"You guys didn't know Marcie Ross?," Buffy asked.

"Never met her," Xander admitted freely. "Why?"

"'Cause you both wrote it, too," Buffy said, pointing out Xander's scrawl.

"'Have a nice...' Yeesh!," Xander groaned.

"Where am I?," Willow asked. "Oh. 'Have a *great* summer.' See, I cared!"

"You guys don't remember her?," Buffy asked.

"No, I probably didn't see her except to sign the book," Xander said thoughtfully. "I mean, this is a big school."

"Xander, we each had four classes with her last year," Willow sighed, looking over Marcie Ross's school record again.

"So, no one noticed her, and now she's invisible," Buffy summed up.

"What, she turned invisible because no one noticed her?," Xander asked. "Man, that's bloody weird."

"Xander!," Giles growled automatically. That boy had spent far too much time with Kane. The librarian then realised what had been said. "Of course! I've been investigating the mystical causes of invisibility when I, I should have looked at the quantum mechanical! Uh, physics."

"I think I speak for everyone here when I say, huh?," the Slayer said quizically.

"It's a rudimentary concept that, that reality is shaped, even, even... created by our perception," Giles explained.

"Is this like that Schroedinger's Cat thing?," Xander asked, trying to wrap his mind around it.

"And with the Hellmouth below us sending out mystical energy...," Buffy continued.

"People perceived Marcie as, as, as invisible, and, and, and, and she became so," Giles said triumphantly.

"This isn't this great power that she can control," Buffy frowned. "It's something that was done to her. That *we* did to her."

"No wonder she's miffed," Willow blinked.

"Hey, I didn't do anything to her," Xander protested. "If I hit her in the face and made her lose some teeth, then she can try and kill me. Not before."

"Xander!," Willow said. She then groaned. "What does she want?"

"Just what we thought," Buffy said cryptically. She then took pity on her audience. "Cordelia."

The Slayer turned Marcie's yearbook to Xander and Willow. Cordelia's picture had been drawn over, several times. The touched up photo was not kind to the cheerleader. Of course, said girl then chose to enter the library.

"What? I knew you'd be here," Cordelia said. She then got nervous. "Buffy, I, uh, I, I know we've had our differences, with you being so weird and all, and hanging out with these total losers..."

Xander and Willow blinked in disbelief. After a moment of reflection, so did Giles.

"Ooo!," Cordelia exhaled. "Well, anyway, despite all of that, I know that you share this feeling that we have for each other, deep down..."

"Nausea?," Willow interjected nastily.

"Somebody is after me!," Cordelia said, voice rising in panic. "They just tried to kill Ms. Miller? Uh, she was helping me with my homework. And Mitch! And Harmony?! This is all about me! Me, me, me!"

"Wow! For once she's right!," Xander praised. "Willow, tell her what she's won!"

"So you've come to *me* for help," Buffy asked, wanting clarification.

The cheerleader nodded. "Because you're always around when all this weird stuff is happening. And I know you're very strong, and you've got all those weapons... I was kind of hoping you were in a gang."

An expression of sheer disbelief sprouted on the short blonde's face. A matching expression of desperation grew on Queen C's face.

"Please! I don't have anyone else to turn to!," Cordelia said.

"Please. Sit down," Giles said, pulling her a chair. Presumably she would be calmer if she was not standing in the doorway like a supplicant.

"Okay. Thanks," Cordelia said, starting to take back her self control.

"You know, I... I don't recall ever seeing you here before," Giles said thoughtfully. He'd remember someone as snotty as this girl had proven herself to be.

"Oh, no, I have a life," Cordelia said primly.

"Okay," Buffy exhaled. "Cordelia, your attacker is an invisible girl."

"Who is really, really angry at you, which I... can't imagine personally, but it... takes all kinds, y'know?," Xander said sarcastically.

"Well, I don't care what it is, just get rid of it!," Cordy demanded.

"Well, it's not that simple, it's a person, it's...," Buffy gave up, and handed the yearbook to Cordelia. "It's this person. Now, do you have any idea why she'd be so..."

"Oh, God! Is she really wearing Laura Ashley?," Cordelia demanded, immediately zeroeing in on the important details.

"So homicidal?," Xander finished Buffy's question.

"I have no idea! I've never seen this girl before in my life!," Cordelia exclaimed.

"According to what you told us about the attack on Ms. Miller, we now have two messages from Marcie: 'look' and 'listen'," Giles said, trying to reason things out.

"Messages we don't understand," Willow added.

"I don't think we're supposed to... yet. Marcie's not quite ready," Buffy said. "But from what she did to Cordelia's picture, I would say that she's wigged on the whole May Queen thing. Maybe she's gonna do something about it."

Xander was prepared to go with this diagnosis. Buffy knew a lot more about girls than he did, and had the benefit of being a girl.

"Stop the coronation tonight, maybe. Keep you guys away from the Bronze?," Willow tried.

"Nothing is keeping me from the Bronze tonight!," Cordelia said, nostrils dilating.

"Uh, can we just revel in your fabulous lack of priorities?," Xander frowned.

"If I'm not crowned tonight then, then Marcie's won! And that would be bad. She's evil, okay? Way eviler than me," Cordelia nodded, trying to push what buttons she knew Summers had.

"Cordelia has a point," Buffy said reluctantly. Anyone who tried to choke people with shopping bags were evil in her book.

"Buffy's with me on this," Cordelia said, trying to score points.

"Anyway, continuing the normal May Queen activities may be the best way to draw Marcie out. We can use Cordelia as bait," the Slayer planned out loud. "Xander, you're with me."

"Great!," Cordelia said, before realising just what Buffy had said. "Bait?"

Willow, you'll help me begin our research anew," Giles said. "Unless we find a way to cure Marcie's invisibility, then Buffy will be..."

"A sitting duck," the Slayer moped.

They all got up to do their tasks.

Chapter 13

Willow ssshh'd Giles and Xander once Buffy and Cordelia had left. "Shhh! Listen!"

The delicate sound of a flute wound through the halls, and past the open doors. The thought that Marcie had been in the band shot through their minds.

"Come on," Giles said grimly. This was a perfect chance to corner the girl and perhaps talk to her. "We could... talk to her. Perhaps reason with her. Or possibly grab her."

"There are three of us," Willow agreed. "And we've got Xander on our side!"

"Thanks for that, Willow," Xander grinned. "Let's go!"

The three quickly managed to track the sound to the school basement. They turned their heads inquisitively, trying to find the precise source. Xander inhaled sharply as he spotted a stout door.

"Over here," Xander said quietly, opening the door. The other two followed him into what looked like the boiler room. Half the space in there was taken up by the steam generator.

"Marcie?," Giles said uncertainly. "We know what happened to you. Please, can we talk to you?"

"We're sorry we ignored you," Willow added earnestly.

The young fighter paled as he spotted a cheap school tape recorder playing. He picked it up, and the sound of the flute followed his hand.

"Can you say 'gulp'?," he asked.

Invisible footsteps ran past them, out the door which promptly slammed shut seemingly of it's own accord. A snake-like sound became audible once Xander pushed the stop button on the tape recorder.

"What's that sound?," Giles asked.

"I don't know," Willow said nervously. "But it doesn't sound like a good sound, if you know what I mean."

"I want outta here," Xander said grimly. "We've got a crazy girl running around planning murder, and we're trapped down here!"

"We mustn't panic," the Watcher said firmly. "We must think clearly, and find a way out of here."

"Find this," Xander said, then punched the steel door.

Flames licked his knuckles, which had a reddish appearance as they impacted the door. A whompf noise like a dog clearing it's throat rolled around the room. The door had the imprint of Xander's fist in it.

"It's gas," Giles realised.

"Oh, good," Willow said. "Is that why I can smell burnt hair now?"

"She's snuffed out the pilot light! The gas is on full!," Giles began to panic. "I can't find the shutoff valve."

"Can't we relight it?," Willow asked.

"I don't have any matches on me," Giles said, patting his pockets.

Xander closed his eyes, held out his hand and concentrated. "What... about... this..."

Fire rose from his palm. Liquid fire dropped from his hand, hissing furiously as it struck the floor, leaving fierce red dots.

"Very good," Giles praised, picking up a splinter of wood and lighting his makeshift taper. "You may disperse with it."

"Whew," Xander said. "It's hard to do that without wanting to hurt something. Dunno why."

Giles carefully lit the pilot light, and wiped a sheen of sweat from his brow as the boiler automatically re-lit the rest of the elements.

"Okay," Willow said. "Now, to get out of here."

"That is where you come in, Xander," Giles said dryly.

"Right," Xander nodded. "Fists of flaming fury, coming right up."

For some reason, one of the first things Xander noticed as he approached the door was the steady draft of fresh air entering underneath it. He paused a moment.

"Er, are you sure I can do this?," he asked.

"Absolutely," Giles said, pointing at the fist imprint on the door. "If not through brute strength, then through more supernatural abilities."

Xander curled his hands into claws, this time, feeling fire wind itself around his fingers as his right hand rose towards the door. His fingernails, protected by the supernatural energy, dug into the door. As his right hand left the door's surface, his left hand began shredding it as well. He stepped back to see how he was going once he had finished that.

"Okay," Willow said faintly. "I'm seriously beginning to understand what Mr Tanaka meant, Xander."

Giles reached through the hole made in the door, sliding the bolt holding it loose. "There. We really should get going to the Bronze, now."

Xander collapsed as they got to the Library. Willow and Giles ran past it for a few paces before realising that the young man had fallen.

"Xander!," Willow moaned.

Xander clutched his head. A vision of a lake of liquid steel and fluid rock flowed before his eyes, along with a man eerily resembling him backstroking through it. "Go... save Buffy..."

"Xander, are you alright?," Giles asked.

"No, he is not!," Willow said, frowning. "Xander?"

"GO!," the fighter managed to yell. "I'll be fine."

"Hey," a soft Irish voice interrupted. "I'll look after him."

"Angel?," Giles asked, looking up in surprise.

"I brought you the Codex," the vampire said, holding up an old book.

"Xander, Angel is going to look after you," Giles said.

Xander managed to nod. They had to get going!

As the two ran, he blacked out. But the vision continued in his dreams, of a man swimming in lava.

Chapter 14
Instinct: Pre

"I hope you have a pleasant journey," Giles said. "Have you checked your car?"

"It runs okay," Xander replied.

"Here, you'd better open the bonnet," Giles fussed. He opened the driver's side door, pulling the hood release lever. "Like this... oh dear."

"I don't like that," Xander said. "That sounded ominous to me."

"Your engine mounts here and here are about rusted through."

"Ouch. Any idea on how much it'd cost to fix?"

"I'm afraid not," Giles admitted. "It's been a number of years since I fiddled with any cars."

"Ripper, gotcha," Xander nodded. "Well, I'll see how far I get with it how it is."

"Here is my phone number," Giles worried. "You're to ring me, collect if necessary, if you encounter any difficulty."

"Okay," Xander shrugged.

"And here are some notes I've accumulated on your ancestor," Giles continued. "You may wish to visit these locations on your roadtrip."

Xander flicked through the notebook. "Louisiana... Tennessee... G-man, where the heck are the Ural Mountains?"

Giles took his glasses off, and pulled out a clean handerchief. "In Europe, Xander. And don't call me that."

"Hey, are we late?," Willow panted, half a second behind Buffy. "X-Xander, see you!"

"You'd better come back in one piece so I can kick your ass!," Buffy snarled, then smiled.

"Isn't that the wrong way around?," Xander teased. "Wills, see you in a few months."

Willow shoved a biscuit tin in his chest. "Here are some cookies I've made, and you're not to have them all at once!"

The young fighter threw the notebook in the glove compartment, then slammed the hood shut. The biscuit tin went on the passenger seat. "Well, I'm off. I'll send you and the guys a postcard."


"Bugger," Xander muttered, as a clunk announced that the car wasn't going any further. "Welcome to Oxnard, I guess. Bloody car."

He got out, and popped the hood. The engine mounts that Giles had worried over had snapped.

"Having trouble?," a voice asked.

He looked up to see a man with long blonde hair, tied in a ponytail. A red vest covered a white t-shirt with the arms ripped off both, the man had blue jeans on, and completed the appearance with black fingerless gloves and a baseball cap with 'Fatal Fury!' on it.

"Say, aren't you," Xander began.

"--Terry Bogard?," the man completed. "Yeah. Are you the kid that Geese and Billy Kane've been interested in?"

Xander shrugged. "I guess. I've just been living on the mouth of Hell, decided to get away and boom, my engine fell out."

Terry winced. "That's gotta hurt your pocketbook."

A thoughtful expression bloomed on Xander's face. "I think I might be able to do something. Hey, can you hold the engine steady on a jack while I work on it underneath?"

"Sure," Terry smiled.

Xander got the jack out of the trunk, and wheeled it under the front of the car. Terry lifted the engine, Xander put the jack underneath and then extended it.

"A bit more... that's it," Terry nodded. "Okay, do your stuff."

"Thanks," Xander grinned, sliding underneath the car. True, his denim jacket that Mature'd given him would be scuffed, but better that than the shirt Vice'd given him.

He momentarily shivered at the thought of a pissed off Vice coming at him, then looked up. He put his hands around one of the broken mounts, then concentrated. His palms glowed a liquid red as the steel melted, then he took his hands away to let the metal cool. He repeated that for the other mounts, then slid out from under the car.

"Whew," Xander sighed, wiping some sweat off his face. "That's hard work. Almost as bad as math class."

"Say, are you related to Kyo Kusanagi at all?," Terry asked, an inquisitive expression on his face.

"No, the G-man checked it out," Xander said, checking his wallet. "Something about some lava Hellgod or something. Hey, you wanna coke? My shout as thanks..."

"Throw in a burger and it's a deal," Terry smiled.

They wandered into the nearest McDonalds, quickly ordering their food.

"So, where're you going?," Xander asked around his mouthful of cheese burger.

"Back to South Town," Terry mumbled around his coke. "Andy's in trouble. Again."

"Ouch," Xander shrugged. "I'm heading that way, want a lift?"


Xander waved out the window as he drove away, leaving Terry at the 'Welcome to Southtown!' sign. He sure was glad he'd come across Terry -- that man knew an impressive amount of combo's and other techniques, both in video games and real life.


Xander started swearing, hitting the steering wheel. Stupid goddamn engine mounts!

He popped the hood. Again. The mounts had truly given up the ghost this time, and he doubted they'd last through another patchjob.

Why'd this have to happen in Tennessee? Why couldn't it happen back near Sunny D? The crowning touch, Xander decided, was how it decided to die right in the middle of nowhere.

"Better start walking," he sighed. Xander got his old backpack and started stuffing stuff into it after pushing the car off the road.

He looked around, and spotted an old, dilapidated signpost in the distance. Running to it, he found an intersection of sorts, with a small road running away from the main road.

"Copperhead Road... hey, maybe someone can give me a lift to Knoxville or something."

Chapter 15
Instinct: Pre

The smell of alcohol and whiskey stung his nose. He hoped that he wouldn't have to fight his way back out. Xander spotted a small farmhouse, a barn, and another building in the distance. He picked up his pace from a walk to a jog, before a voice stopped him.

"Who're you, boy?," a white haired man asked, rifle in hand.

Xander raised his hands in mock surrender. "Xander Harris, sir. My car literally broke, and I'm just looking for a ride to the next town."

"You're not with the Government?," the man asked.

Xander shook his head. "Nope. Definitely not after Geese and Mature decided to hang around me so much?"

The man's mouth dropped open. "Geese? Geese Howard? Shoot, he's one of ma biggest customers! You must be the boy that his wife was talking about! I'm John Lee Pettimore. C'mon in, y'all."

Xander grinned as he jogged to catch up with the man. "Thanks."

"Say, I'm running a load to Knoxville in the morning, want to get a ride then?," the old man asked as they approached the farmhouse. "Moira! We've got a visitor!"

"Sure," Xander agreed. "Hi, ma'am. I'm Xander Harris."

The woman who appeared at the door to the house smiled. Her face was lined with laughter wrinkles, and she appeared the age of the old man. "Nice to meet you. I'm Moira Pettimore."

"Well, I've got to finish the current batch," John announced. Another face appeared around the corner of the house. "Oh, yeah. Xander, this here is my son John. John, this is Xander. He's a gonna stay with us 'till he gets a ride."

"If you want to have my car, you can have it," Xander said easily. "I don't know whether it'd be worth anything -- the engine literally dropped out of it, and I can't afford to get it fixed. It's just out on the main road a bit."

"Well, thank you," the old man said, tickled. "You ever done any 'shining before?"

"Nope," Xander said. A cloud crossed his face briefly. "Mum and Dad sure like the result, though."

John winced as he opened the door to the third building. A boiler was in operation, with a copper worm travelling from the boiler to an oak barrel full of cool water. "Some people can't hold their likker, and that's the truth."

"Do you age the shine at all?," Xander asked, changing the subject.

"Some of it," the old man allowed. "I've got several ten year old barrel in the cellar somewhere that I'm going to sell off soon -- my retirement fund, y'see. Say, what kinda car didya have?"


The next morning found Xander helping the two male Pettimores load bottles of strong liquor into the boot of a jet black Dodge with 'Johnson County Sheriff' painted on the side. The backseat had been torn out for more storage.

"Right, that's about the last of it," John Senior said. "Well, let's go see what Moira's got fer breakfast."

"I never realised how much work there was in making 'shine," Xander said.

The old man laughed as his son held the door to the farmhouse open. "Hahaha! And you ain't even seen the bits before the still!"

"Is there much of a market for it?," Xander continued. "I mean, now that shops legally sell whiskey."

"There's always them that want their liquor what's been made the old way," the younger Pettimore said. "And there's always the price."


"We don't have to pay taxes."

"You're not talking shop at my table," the old woman said sternly, carrying a cast iron pan with her. She began shovelling the fried eggs on it to some plates. "Son, have you been talking to that nice girl at the Finns again?"


"Now, son, all we want is to see some grandkids while we're still around."


Xander got into the passenger side of the Dodge, shutting the door. The old man got into the driver's seat, then twisted the key stuck in the ignition. A loud rumble announced that the car was more than ready to go.

"You hear that?," the old man said proudly. "That's four hundred and fifty four cubic inches of big block power, boy."

"Sounds impressive," Xander grinned. "Fast, is it?"

"Fast? Fast?," the old man sputtered. "Boy, I can outrun any sheriff this side of anywhere!"

Pettimore put the car into gear, then floored the acceleration pedal. With a lurch as the load tried to shift past what the cables would allow, the car roared out onto Copperhead Road. Both men wound the windows down, and the smell of burning whiskey was sweet in the air.


Half an hour later, the old man pulled in at a petrol station, at the garage part.

"Out of gas?," Xander asked.

"Nope," Pettimore said. "I was just drivin' along, and I got this brainwave of an idea. See, my brother Willy has a few cars, some of which he's been meaning to sell. So you hold steady there while I go sort some things out."

"You don't have to--," Xander began.

"I don't never," the old man sniffed. "I know Geese, and I know he has a soft spot fer ya. So you just hold there while I go sort things out."



"Hi, is this Geese Howard I'm jawin' to? This here is John Lee Pettimore, I sell whiskey to you, met you a couple months ago at the Grand Hotel?"

"Ah, good to hear from you. Is there a problem with this week's delivery?"

"Nope, you could even say I got a present with it, goes by the name of Xander."

"Oh? You've met him?"

"Yep, 'smatter o' fact he's sitting in my Dodge right now. See, his car got a problem that'll take awhile to fix, and my brother's got a car he's been meaning to sell fer awhile now, but he'll want the cash, if you're gettin' my meaning..."

"I see. Purchase the car, and you'll receive a bonus on this week's delivery."

"Great! You're a great man, Geese Howard."


A jingling flash of grey flew towards Xander, and he reflexively grabbed the shiny thing. He lifted it, finding it to be a key with 'DODGE' stamped into it.

"What the?," he began to ask.

Pettimore stood there grinning at him. Another man stood next to him, clad in a blue pair of dirty overalls. Due to the family resemblence, Xander assumed he was his brother Willy.

"You've got yourself a car," Willy announced proudly. "Purs like a kitten."

"But you'll not never find yerself a kitten that size!," John chortled.

"What about the price?," Xander worried.

"Don't you worry about that," John scolded. "I've sorted things out with Geese, and Moira'd make me sleep on the couch for a month if I just let you go."

"It's a hard thing on a man's back, doing that at our age, so I'd advise you take it," Willy said. "C'mon, I'll show you what's what."

Xander followed the two around back, to find them standing proudly before a dusty old Charger. It was blue, under the dust, and had a white-grey roof.

"This here is a 1970 Dodge Charger," Willy announced. "383 engine, 600CFM carb, no waiting. It don't look like much, but it got it where it counts. I... kinda lost the mufflers, but no great loss."

"Sweet, very sweet," Xander grinned widely. "I bet it can make the Kessel Run in ten parsecs."

"Sure thing, Captain Solo. Now, you're to come back and visit sometime, y'hear?"

Xander's grin seemed glued to his face as he opened the door and sat on the driver's seat, inserting the key with a sense of anticipation. Checking that it was in neutral, he twisted the key, listening to the big V8 roar as he pushed the pedal.

Chapter 16
Instinct: Pre

Xander's grin seemed permanently stuck to his face, as he sped through the countryside in his new car. Classic car (if somewhat dusty and not-hot-looking), no worries, what could be better?

A shot of pain ran through his head. He shook it irritably, hoping it'd go away. It came back, so he pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car. Opening the boot, he pulled out a box of panadol tablets he'd packed. As he was about to pop a pill, the headache returned with a vengeance.

"Oh God, what did I do to piss you off?," Xander muttered. "Or devil, knowing the Hellmouth."

The cardboard box fell from his hands to the boot as he clutched the car's bumper for support, collapsing onto the road as a vision hit him.


A man made of moving metal stood on a cliff, watching. He was not made of liquid metal as the Terminator T-1000 was, but rather intensely hot, molten metal. Fire rose here and there on his body, from where the wind brought dust and grass.

The field he looked down upon was covered in rivulets of lava, lahars, and darkly cooling rock. Without stirring, he felt another appear next to him.

"Truly, brother, a marvel of what you can do."

"Thank you, sister," the man said, turning. The woman who had appeared seemed made of water, with a solid core of earth and metal.

"May I make a slight change?," the woman asked politely.

The man gestured to go ahead.

The woman's watery flesh began to shimmer as it started to superheat, temperature rising beyond a hundred degrees and yet not boiling. The pools of lava and the lahars transmuted themselves into hot mud pools, geysers, and other examples of geothermal resources.

"Shall we?," the man asked, amused. He stepped into a mud pool, which boiled ferociously even before he neared it. The woman smiled, demurely sitting on a rock by it.


Xander panted as he let his body relax. His fingers eased themselves out of the narrow holes they had burnt into the tarseal, and he got up. Despite lying on the road, he found that he had remained somewhat unsoiled. He looked at his hands, which had the same appearance of molten metal as the man in his vision. Xander swallowed, then forced himself to relax again.

His hands regained their fleshly nature.

He felt something, not far from where he was. Turning his head, he spotted a pool of water in a small grove of trees. Feeling unable to do anything else, he scrambled over to the pool, and looked into it.

To his eyes, the water sparkled with something beyond mere reflection and refraction. He dipped a finger in the pool, and it began to churn with life, thousands of tiny whirlpools growing in an instant.

"Oh, shit!"

Xander got up, and scrambled back a few paces. "Oh, I did not mean to do that!"

The woman from his vision rose from the pool, smiling. "Oh? Did you mean for me to stay there like that, brother?"

Xander held his head in his hands. This could only be that LaVelle dude's fault. "I don't know who you are... ah..."

The woman tilted her head slightly. "Really? I must go find our parents, then, for help."

"Ah... sure, you do that," Xander nodded. "What's your name? I'm Xander, Xander Harris."

The woman looked sad. "Do you truly not remember? We lived without names, creating the world..."

"I was born about eighteen years ago, and that's all, folks," Xander laughed nervously. "Uh, if you want to go anywhere, I could give you a lift..."

"Lift?," the woman asked inquisitively.

"Ah, a ride?," Xander tried.

"Alright," the woman smiled. "Perhaps, with exposure, you will remember me."

"Right," Xander said. "As long as we aren't talking flashing exposure. Uh, can you turn into flesh? I really don't feel like trying to try out the insides of my car."


Xander looked nervously at the woman on his passenger seat. She'd been naked when she assumed human flesh, which had resulted in a lot of blushing on his part and more questions on her part. He'd thrus--given some clothes to her, and turned around.

"Where are you headed?," Xander asked.

"The ocean."

He sighed. This was going to be a long trip.


Xander pulled over to the side of the road again, spotting someone walking. He wound his window down.

"Hey, want a ride?," he asked.

The man, asian, was dressed in a red silk shirt and black silk pants. Strangely, he also had what looked like black slippers on.

"Where are you going?," the man asked, with a strong Japanese accent.

"Nowhere in particular," Xander shrugged. "Just looking for more training, see where the road takes me, you know?"

"Sank you," the man said, bowing slightly. "I am Saotome Ranma."

Xander got out, tilting the driver's seat forwards. "Hop in. I'm Xander Harris."

"Is pleasure to meet you," Ranma said politely. "Training? Are you martial artist?"


Chapter 17
Instinct: Pre

"Is pleasure to meet you," Ranma said politely. "Training? Are you martial artist?"

Xander shrugged, flipping the driver's seat back into position and sliding onto it. "I guess. Saving people, that kind of thing."

"Honourable," Ranma nodded. A shadow crossed his eyes, briefly. "It is good that other people are honourable.

Xander pulled the door shut, then twisted the ignition. The big V8 obediently roared into life, the exhaust rattling their eardrums with no pansy-ass muffling. "You headed anywhere in particular?"

Ranma shook his head. "No... I is just searching for Geese Howard-san."

"Cool," Xander said, looking up at the rear-view mirror. The Japanese man was sitting casually across the backseat. He looked at the woman sitting in his passenger seat. "Hey, what was your name again?"

"I don't have one," she shrugged.

Xander shifted the car into gear, then launched the Charger onto the road. "Well, we have to call you something so we can ignore it and give you a suitable nickname. How about... Renee?"

"Renee?," the woman asked inquisitively.

"Cousin of mine, don't see her very often," Xander explained. "Hey, Ranma, I know Geese, I could give him a call for you if you want at the next town."

"Sank you, very kind," Ranma returned.

The teenager looked at a large sign that whizzed past. "Hmm... Hazzard County. I didn't know we'd gone that far south. Who's up for a little law-breaking at high speed?"

"What?," Ranma asked blankly. "No unnerstand, gomen."

Xander shifted up a gear, and Ranma grinned in understanding as the muscle car's tyres bit down on the tar-seal, accelerating.


Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane looked up as a Dodge Charger shot past him. He couldn't recognise anyone, but there were definitely two people or more in it. And he wouldn't put it past those Duke boys to paint the General to sneak past him...

"Gnk gnk gnk!," Roscoe laughed. "I bet they're running fixings, for moonshine!"

The sheriff put his foot down on the accelerator pedal, continuing to laugh. "Speedin', too, this's gonna be good..."

He started to gain on the Charger. This day was getting better by the minute! Roscoe picked up his CB, and started speaking into it.

"You Duke boys just pull over now, I've got ya this time! Gnkgnkgnk," Roscoe chortled.

"Roscoe, you been out in the sun too long?," Jesse Duke demanded over the CB. "They've been out here at the farm all day, and they're right in front of me right now."

Coltrane frowned. If the Charger in front of him wasn't the Dukes... well, they were still speeding. He put his lights on, and the car in front obediently pulled over.

He got out of his patrol car, ticketbook in hand and strolled over to the blue car. The driver's door opened, and a young man got out. Well, he kinda looked like one of them Duke boys.

"You were speedin', weren't ya?," Roscoe demanded. "You've gotta ticket! Hyukhyukhyuk..."

"Ya got me, pardner," the boy said, hands over his heart dramatically. "How bad's the damage?"

"A hundred dollars," Roscoe said pompously.

"That much?," the teenager said. "I'm in the wrong line of work! Maybe I shoulda gone into corrections after all."

"Ha, ha," Roscoe said. He finished writing the ticket, and handed it over. "Now you go pay that ticket. And no speeding on the way there!"


"Why you stop?," Ranma asked.

"Eh, it was fair," Xander admitted. "I was speeding, after all. I don't think I'll stop again, though, because a hundred dollars is just painful..."

He slowed down further as they got into a small town, pulling over outside the smalltown courthouse. "I shouldn't be too long, you guys wanna stay or come with me?"

Ranma got out, but the woman of water and earth stayed.

"Look, car like yours," Ranma spoke up, pointing at an orange Dodge Charger. This one had a confederate flag on top, and Xander could see a rollcage mounted inside it.

"Cool," Xander said. "Hey, you want lunch after this?"

Ranma nodded eagerly as Xander wandered through the front doors.

"Hey, who's in charge here?," Xander called out.

A short, fat, greying balding man stomped out of an office marked 'J D Hogg', cigar stuck in his mouth and clad in a white suit. "I am, young man! J D Hogg, County Commissioner."

"Hi, I got a speeding ticket to pay off?," Xander said. "And I think your sheriff's sick, kept going grrrnk grrnk grrnk."

"Wow, ole Roscoe nailed you as well?," a young man called out. "I leave the farm to get some milk, and boom! I get a ticket."

"Ain't your fault, Luke," another man sitting next to him said. "Roscoe's got it in for everyone, not just us."

"You Duke boys be quiet!," Hogg said. He turned to Xander, his voice honeying. "Now, I'll take care of the ticket, you just hand over the fine."

Xander sighed deeply, but pulled out five twenties. "Here you go, then. Hey, if you want I'll trade you a nice, shiny, new five dollar bill for a grubby, nasty, horrible fifty?"

"Why thank yo--," the man began, before realising what Xander was saying. "HEY! That'll be another fifty dollars!"

"What for?," Xander asked, frowning.

"Administrative charges!"

"Weren't nothing on the ticket about that, so it ain't legal," Xander countered the man. He sure hoped he was right.

"He's got you there, JD," Luke said. "Well, Boss, we paid your fine so we're off as well."

Boss Hogg tried to stop the four from leaving, but Ranma crossed his arms, looming over the diminuitive Hogg.

"Is leaving, yes?"

"Why, sure you are," Hogg said politely. His voice hardened. "So GET!"

Xander laughed as he headed towards the car. "Man, he reminded me of my old high school principle."

"I dunno," Luke's friend said. "Ain't no one meaner than old Boss."

"With any luck, he'll get eaten by a giant snake as well," Xander groused. "Say, you guys got a telephone I could use?"

"Sure," Luke said. "Say, I'm Luke Duke, and this here is Bo Duke."

"I'm Alexander Harris, but everyone calls me Xander," Xander said, grinning. "This here is Ranma Saotome, and over in the car is Renee."

"That's your car?," Bo asked, curious.

"Yeah," Xander said. "Race you?"

Luke laughed. "Hahaha, you don't know the way!"

Xander paused. "Darn, I knew I was forgetting something."

Chapter 18
Instinct: Pre

Ranma jumped back onto the passenger seat as Xander twisted the ignition. He grinned, as he listened to the hulking engine roar into life. No matter how many times he heard it, he always got a kick out of it.

"We're just going to someone's place to use the phone," Xander explained to Renee. "Okay?"

"That's fine," the woman shrugged. "I'm in no hurry. The ocean isn't going anywhere."

Xander deftly shifted the car into gear, and began following the orange Charger out of the small town. Once they hit the dirt roads...

He was probably having more fun than he should have.


Jesse blinked, as he heard a strangely different, yet familiar sound. He stepped out of the house and tilted his head slightly. Ah. Two cars coming.

"I guess the boys must've invited someone along," Uncle Jesse grinned. "Been awhile since we've had visitors."

He went back into the house to put the kettle on after refilling it. The door opened, followed closely by his nephews entering.

"Hey, Uncle Jesse," Luke called out. "New guy came into town, wants to use the telephone."

"What's his name?," Jesse asked, emerging from the kitchen. He wiped his wet hands on his over-alls.

"Xander Harris," the stranger said, smiling. "I just need to ring Geese Howard for Ranma out there. Hope you don't mind a long distance call -- I'll pay the bill for it."

"As long as you do," Jesse nodded. He opened the door, spotting two people in the blue car that had followed the General Lee. "Why don't y'all come in and rest awhile?"

"Thank you," the Asian man said, bowing slightly. The exotic looking woman followed behind him -- Jesse couldn't put a name to her ethnicity, just 'exotic'.

"I'm Jesse Duke," the old man said, holding his hand out. After a brief moment of confusion, the Asian man shook it.

"I is Ranma Saotome," the Asian man said. "Is pleasure to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too," Jesse said to the woman.

"I'm called... Renee," she smiled.

"That car looks familiar for some reason," Luke frowned.

Xander returned from using the phone. "I picked it up from a relative of a friend -- Willy Pettimore, in Tennessee. Real nice guy, he was. The whole family was."

"Say, he didn't happen to have a brother?," Jesse asked, bringing in a tea tray.

"John Lee Pettimore?," Xander asked. "If one didn't have grease-stains, I'd never be able to tell them apart."

"They're old friends of ours!," Bo Duke grinned. "They live up down the holler on Copperhead Road, right?"

Xander nodded easily.

"Where're you headed?," Jesse said. Something tickled the back of his mind, and he decided to patiently wait for it to emerge.

"Nowhere in particular," Xander admitted. "Just travelling across America after graduating. Renee here wants to get to the ocean, though."

"Well, we ain't far from it here," Luke said. "Just a few hours drive."

"Great!," Xander grinned.

"Oh, now I remember," Jesse realised. "I got a call about you, Xander, to give--"

"Geese Howard a call?," Xander completed. "Yeah, I called him, thanks. He's invited me to enter a team into the King of Fighters tournament."

Ranma perked up at this, looking up from his tea cup. "Is great honour to be invited."

"I dunno who I'm gonna ask, though," Xander said, scratching his head. "Ranma?"

Ranma bowed slightly. "Would be glad, yes."

"You speak pretty good english there," Jesse said.

"Thank you," Ranma said, blushing slightly. "Is not very good, though."

"Better than my Japanese," Xander said. "I know just enough to be dangerous, as in getting into danger."

"Don't that beat all -- just like us!," Bo chipped in.

"Maybe Billy could join the team as well," Xander mused quietly. "Ah, well."

"It's getting kinda dark -- you can stay the night if you want," Jesse offered.

"You just met us," Xander protested.

"I reckon I can trust ya," Jesse nodded seriously.


The next morning found Xander's small band going into town, as well as all the Dukes, including a young woman who had been introduced as Daisy Duke. There had been a small rough patch early in the morning, where Xander and Ranma had woken up Bo and Luke as they went on a run before practising their martial arts, but that had been smoothed over.

"We'll just pick up some supplies then go to the beach," Jesse had decided out loud. "I think some of my old swimming stuff'll fit you two."

Ranma sat on the long bonnet of the blue Dodge as they waited for the Dukes to return from their expedition into the small General Store (Owner JD Hogg), while Xander sat in the driver's seat with the door hanging open. He looked up as a shadow fell across him.

"I'm sorry, mister," the young deputy sheriff said, "but your meter just ran out."

"Oh, sorry about that... Deputy Strate" Xander said, reading the man's nametag. He started patting his pockets. "I think I've got some change somewhere..."

"That's okay," the deputy said, "as long as you ain't here too long. You look like you're new to Hazzard."

"Yeah, we're just staying with the Dukes for awhile," Xander returned amiably. Deputy Strate seemed like a nice guy. "As soon as they get back, we're going to the beach for the day."

"That sounds nice," Strate said wistfully. "I wish--HEY!"

The man broke off his sentence as a long wooden arrow planted itself cleanly in Ranma's chest. The powerful man fell limply off the bonnet to the road, slack. Xander and Strate ran over to him.

"Who'd do a thing like that?," the deputy asked, worrying.

"I dunno," Xander said. He put two fingers against Ranma's carotid artery, waiting half a minute. "No pulse. He's dead."

"Dead? DEAD?," the deputy said, beginning to go into panic.

Xander slapped him, lightly, pulling him to the ground slowly. "Now, whoever did that might still be around, so hush a moment?"

Strate nodded.

A Chinese woman jumped down from the roof of one of the buildings, bow in hand, managing to do it without breaking her legs. She said something in Japanese, then the deputy strode over to her.

Enos Strate pulled out his service revolver, pointing it at the woman. "I'm placing you under arrest as a suspect into the death of this here man. Uh, hold on a moment?"

Enos pulled out a piece of paper, then looked up to find the woman gone. "Hey, she up and vanished!"

"Moved fast, too," Xander observed. He looked down at the corpse of the man he was beginning to like as a friend. "GodDAMMIT!"

He felt rage colouring his vision a brilliant crimson, and heat made itself known as his hair transmuted itself to living fire as an expression of that lack of control. Xander closed his eyes, forcing an icy self control back upon his emotions.

"We need to report this," the deputy sheriff said. "I'm, I'm sorry about your friend here. A real, real shame that... he..."

Chapter 19
Instinct: Pre

"I can't believe that bitch murdered him," Xander whispered, staring at the corpse lying on the ground.

"I-I-I'll go get Doc Appleby," Deputy Strate said. "He'll know what to do with... the body."

Xander was beginning to like Ranma quite a lot. Well, had been, now. The Japanese man had demons in the past of the metaphorical sort, that was obvious, but had been trying to move on. Xander could really respect that, especially as he was only just beginning to face his own demons, in the shape of the Hellgod that his ancestor had sealed away.

"I need to make a phone call," Xander said coldly, rising to his feet. "I'll go to the doctor's practice after I've made it."

Enos shivered as the now-cold man strode off to the sheriff's office. He couldn't believe that someone had just been murdered in Hazzard County... he was beginning to believe, as it sunk in, but he didn't want to. Enos Strate, at heart an innocent, had just had his rose-tinted glasses ground to dust under the pitiless iron heel of Reality.

He looked up at the gathering crowd. "Someone go get the Doc, to give a time of death."


Boss Hogg looked up as the front door banged open, seeing the disreputable young man who had gotten a speeding ticket yesterday and had given him lip.

"Now look here, you can't come in--"

Hogg abruptly shut up as the young brunette lifted the aging Hogg from the floor one-handed.

"A friend of mine just got killed. I need to use your phone."

What could he do? Boss pointed at the nearest telephone.

"My condolences," Boss said. "If you see Sheriff Roscoe, he'll see to it that we cuff whoever did it."

"I'll handle that," Xander said as he picked the handpiece up, dialing a number that he'd dialed just yesterday.


"Hi, Xander here."

"Hi, Xander, how are you and your two new friends going?"

"Saotome Ranma was just murdered."

"Oh... hell. He was a damned good martial artist. Good person, too. Did you see who did it?"

"Yeah, the murderer was a Chinese woman, young, purple hair, largish sized breasts, very athletic figure, obviously active, knows how to speak Japanese."

"I'll check his dossier to see if anyone in there matches that description."

"Thanks. I'll ring back tonight to see if you've got anything new."

"Do you want to handle her yourself, or do you want help?"

"Leave it to me. Oh, and tell Mature I'll bet a vanload of Twinkies on me beating her at the King of Fighters."


Renee gently moved the elderly country doctor to one side.

"He isn't all dead," she said quietly, looking down at the dead man.

"Either someone is, or they aren't," Jesse Duke said. He had taken off his hat. "He's... gone to a better place."

She wrapped both hands around the long arrow shaft, pausing a moment to gather her strength.

"You shouldn't do that here," Appleby warned her. "It's plugging the wound."

Ignoring them, Renee put one foot on Ranma's chest and pulled on the arrow until the tip cleared his skin with a sucking sound. A thin sliver of blue lightning arced across the hole, then another, then another, until the bloody hole couldn't be seen for blue light. It finally faded to reveal clean, unmarked skin as the body of the corpse arched on the ground, sucking in air.

"W-w-w-what the h-hell was that?," Enos Strate yelled, a tone of hysteria beginning to tinge his voice.

"There is more to heaven and earth," Renee said, smiling. She pulled the now-alive Ranma to a sitting position.

"*What... what the hell just happened?,*" Ranma demanded.

Xander, coming out of the sheriff's office, was stunned. He broke into a run, falling into a kneeling position once he reached the small gathering around the front right fender of the blue Dodge. He pulled a large wooden cross out of his shirt, and pressed it into Ranma's hands.

"You're not a vampire, or a demon," he said, wonderingly. "You're alive!"

With that, Xander hugged the Asian man, plain-out glad that Ranma wasn't dead.

"*Oi! I'm a GUY!,*" Ranma protested, still not entirely 'with it'.

Chapter 20
Instinct: Pre

Xander sat back on his heels, emotionally exhausted. "God, what a fucked up day."

"What happened?," Ranma asked, still confused. The last thing he remembered was sitting on the car's bonnet, then a real sharp pain.

"You were k-killed," Deputy Strate said, wide eyed. "Then you... rose?"

Jesse Duke crossed himself. "It's a miracle, it is. Ain't no Devil, either, if he can hold the Cross."

"I believe we were going to the beach?," Renee asked, eyebrow arched.

"Hey, can we do that?," Luke Duke asked.

"Why not?," Ranma asked, shrugging. The thought that he had died hadn't really sunk in.


Xander stretched as he got out of the dusty blue Dodge. They were back at the Duke's farm, minus Renee who had vanished into the Atlantic Ocean.

"I still can't believe all the stuff that happened today," Bo Duke said. "Ranma here dying then not dying, then that girl turning into water and mud like that."

"My life's been like that," Xander shrugged, leaning on the car. "I grew up on the Mouth of Hell. Someone rising like that is new, though."

Ranma had his shirt open, and was poking at where he had felt the pain as the arrow shaft had gone through. "Where... where scar go?"

"The G-man could figure it out," Xander offered.

"G... man?," Jesse asked, suddenly wary. "You know the FBI?"

Xander laughed. Geese had reacted the same way, denying it afterwards. "No, just a British librarian. He really gets annoyed when I call him that."

Jesse laughed, too. "Hell, that'd tick me off too. Now, why don't you two stay the night before leavin' for Southtown in the morning?"

"Well, if you're sure we're not imposing," Xander began.

"Don't you even think of sayin' no," Luke said, "because we ain't taking no for an answer."

Xander grinned. "Well, when you put it like that... I think I've got a bit of cash to pay you back for food and stuff."

"No, won't take your money," Jesse smiled back obstinately.

Xander frowned a moment, then popped the trunk, pulling out a couple of brown paper grocery bags. He then handed them to the old man. "Well, I'm not taking these back, so you'll have to keep them."

Jesse looked down into the bags, surprised. "Two bags full of Twinkies?!?!"

Xander nodded, unashamed. "Superman has Kryptonite, I've got Twinkies. Difference is, I *like* Twinkies."

"Say, I heard your engine on the way back, and it sounds off," Bo Duke spoke up. "You want I should check it?"

"Sure," Xander said. "I can drive, but I can't wrench."

"Right, I'll show you some stuff," Bo said. "Pop the bonnet and we'll take a look. Heck, I think we've got a spare CB you could borrow."


Xander shivered as he slept on one of the spare mattresses the Dukes had. When did it get so cold? He opened his eyes, to get one hell of a shock.

As Ranma snored, he was breathing icy fog. A faint covering of hair thin ice lay over him.

Figures, Xander thought to himself. Why can't I get ice? He has a problem, no problem, but me, I get to be a firebug.

He shivered again, and tried to get to sleep.


"Thanks for the stay," Xander said, waving as he started up the engine. The big 383 cubic inch V8 roared through the shattered, non-existant mufflers obediently.

"Y'all come back," Luke said.

Xander settled back into the worn seat as he threaded the car through the dirt roads of Hazzard County, sliding around the corners with a roosters tail of dust behind him. Ranma was grinning like an idiot in the passenger seat.

"Why'd you have to ice the room up last night?," Xander asked the martial artist.

"Ice? What you mean?," Ranma asked, puzzled.

"You were covered in ice while you slept," Xander explained.

"I no know," Ranma said, frowning. "Could be Soul of Ice, but must be awake for that."

"Another question for the G-man," Xander shrugged. "Man, is he gonna love us!"

"I no want hug from man again!," Ranma said loudly. "I am man!"

"I was joking," Xander protested, eyes twinkling.

The whine of sirens could be heard behind them, and Xander looked up into the rear view mirror to see red and blue flashing lights.

"Looks like the sherriff is after us again," Xander observed out loud.

"Yes," Ranma nodded. "Lose?"

"You got it," Xander said, shifting the car up a gear and flooring the loud pedal.

Chapter 21

Xander's roadtrip so far had been... fun.

Not exactly non-stop giggling, but he wasn't exactly weeping, either.

First, he'd travelled with Terry Bogard the Lone Wolf for a while. Terry was beyond cool. Xander just hoped that he got to go up against the Lone Wolf in the King of Fighter's tournament.

Then he'd met the Pettimores in Tennessee. They were good people, even if he doubted that the law would agree with him. His car had come from John Pettimore's brother, although he still had to pay back Geese for it.

Renee and Ranma had then gotten a ride off him. Renee had stopped off at the Atlantic Ocean, while Ranma was still with him, headed towards South Town. They had met the Dukes of Hazzard County, and the Dodge had been fixed up by the two younger Dukes. Xander had left John Pettimore's phone number with Jesse Duke, as he felt that the two would probably get on well.

The most momentous event, Xander felt, had been when Ranma had been murdered. Renee had pulled out the arrow stuck in the Asian martial artist's chest, and miraculously Ranma had come back to life.


"So, any idea why the Chinese chick wanted you dead?," Xander asked. His right arm was hanging out the window while his left held on to the steering wheel of the Charger.

"Ah... accident?," Ranma tried.

"Nope, you have to work at it to have aim that bad, and I speak with the voice of one who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if he was in it," Xander said. "Is she gonna come back for you?"

"No, she saw me die, law satisfied," Ranma explained. "She is... how do you say... Chinese warrior-woman, yes. Her tribe have rule which I break."

Xander was puzzled. "Aren't you Japanese, though?"

Ranma shrugged. "That no matter to them."

"Did they give you any warning?," Xander asked.

"No," Ranma said. "Where you say you from?"

Xander accepted the topic change amiably. "Sunnydale, California. Home of the highest body count in America."

"I see," Ranma nodded, shifting position. He assumed that the body count Xander mentioned was American slang that he didn't know, yet. "Who we get for third team member for tournament?"

Xander brought his right arm back to the steering wheel as he shifted gear, slowing for the mountain roads ahead. "Well, I could ask Billy, but he's pretty busy with his work."

"Billy?," Ranma asked.

"Billy Kane," Xander elaborated. "He works for Geese. He's also got a meaner staff than most high school principals."

Ranma nodded slowly. "Is... there any others we could ask?"

"Weeeell," Xander said thoughtfully, changing gear as the Dodge roared down a hill at breakneck pace, "I could ask Buffy. She'd like that, fighting without death involved."

"Who is Buffy?," Ranma asked.

"She's the Slayer, the one girl chosen to fight the Darkness, like vampires and demons," Xander explained.

"She is fight good, yes?"



Giles blinked as the telephone rang.

"Hello, Rupert Giles speaking."

"Hey, G-man!"

"Please don't call me that."

"Can Buffy join my team for the King of Fighters tournament?"

"I don't know, you'd have to ask Joyce and Buffy."

"Cool. Hey, I've got a mystical mystery if you want to solve it for me."

"I would be delighted to, Xander."

"I've got this new friend, Ranma Saotome. Anyway, he gets an arrow through the heart and dies, right? Then this girl pulls it out, and he sits up asking what happened."

"My word. How extraordinary. Has anything unusual happened since?"

"If he relaxes too much, the room chills and he starts to ice up."

"He sounds remarkably like the reverse of yourself, Xander."

"Except that he can do it and get away with no property damage."

Giles covered the handpiece while he laughed at Xander's aggravated tone.

"Have any supernatural events occured to him prior to his death that could explain this?"

"Hang on while I ask him."

"Still there, G-man?"

"Don't call me that, and yes."

"Okay. Ready to write this down? Jew senk yo, the Cat's Tongue Pressure Point, the Old Man Tokyo Pressure Point, the Phoenix Pill, uh, the Moxibustion Weakness Pressure Point and the counter to that, the Soul of Ice, the..."

Half an hour later, Giles had a few sheets full of notes.

"Dear Lord. He's had a life more eventful than yours."

"Ah, but he got killed."

"Good point. I'll look into it, then get back to you."


"Hi, Mrs Summers, Xander here."

"Xander, good to hear from you! Are you alright? The girls have been worried about you."

"I'm fine, had fun making friends. I'm in Tennessee at the moment, staying with some people I know."

"It's good to hear that you're okay," Joyce said. "Do you need me to send you anything? Baking, blankets, things like that?"

"No thanks, I'm okay. Tell Wills that me and Ranma sure liked her biscuits, though!"

"I will," Joyce promised. "But who is Ranma?"

"He's one of the friends I've made. Say, you know how I entered those martial arts competitions at high school?"

"Yes, you did quite well, too."

"I've gotten an invitation to the King of Fighters tournament."

Joyce paused. The KoF was a big deal. It was far more famous than the WWF could ever aspire to, rivalling only Celebrity Deathmatch in terms of fame and viewer numbers.

"Con... congratulations."

"I'm making up a team at the moment. Ranma's with me, and I was ringing to ask if Buffy wanted to be my third team member?"

"Hold on, and I'll get her for you," Joyce said, voice faint.

A moment later, Buffy's voice came on the telephone line. "Hello?"

"Hi, Buff!"

"Xander! It's so good to hear from you! Having fun?"

"Sure am. Hey, I got invited to the King of Fighters as a competitor, and wanna know if you wanna be on my team."

"Sure thing. Who's the other person?"

"Ranma Saotome. I met him on the road trip, you'd like him."

"Okay. What's the what with the getting there?"

"I'll pick you up in a week or so if not sooner, kay?"


Chapter 22

Joyce yawned slightly as she pulled out a box of Weetbix, putting three into a bowl and then putting the box back in the pantry. It had been a few days since Xander had called her. She put a couple slices of bread in the toaster, and got out the milk jug. A faint roar was audible as Buffy walked down the stairs.

"I didn't know you were that hungry, Buffy," she joked as the rumble got louder.

"It isn't me," Buffy protested, still slightly sleepy. Her Slayer metabolism meant that she was waking up quickly, though.

"I wonder what it is, then," Joyce said. The rumble was getting very loud now, and she could hear changes in pitch.

Mother and daughter went to the front door, looking out to see what it was.

"You think that the air force are buzzing us in their Aermacchi's again?," Buffy asked.

"No, I think that someone with taste has turned up," Joyce said, pointing down the road to where a faded blue car was moving quickly towards them.

"My God, that thing is old," Buffy said disdainfully.

"That's a Dodge Charger," Joyce exclaimed. "And... Xander's driving!"

"You mean that car from the end of The Fast and the Furious?," Buffy asked.

"Yes, that one."

"Cool! Xander must've done some more jobs for Mr Howard."

The car came to a halt surprisingly quickly outside 1630 Revello Drive. Xander got out of the car, an Asian man getting out as well.

"Hi, Xander!," Buffy called out, Joyce half a second behind her.

"Hiya, Mrs Summers, Miss Summers!," Xander returned cheerfully, locking the car.

"Hello," the Asian man said, bowing slightly.

"Nice to see you again," Xander said. "Joyce, Buff, this is Ranma Saotome. Ranma, this is Joyce and Buffy Summers."

"Would you like some breakfast?," Joyce offered.

"Well, I don't want to impose," Xander tried.

"We were just sitting down to it ourselves..."

"Sure, then!"


A quarter hour later found the four sitting around Joyce's kitchen table, empty plates with splashes of milk and crumbs of toast in the middle.

"So, still up for the tournament?," Xander asked.

"Sure," Buffy shrugged. "Say, what kinda prize money is there?"

"Buffy!," Joyce said. "Don't be rude."

"That's okay, Mrs S," Xander said. "Geese is backing the tournament with Rugal Bernstein, and they've put up a thousand gees."

"Rugal Bernstein?," Buffy asked. "Isn't he the pirate?"

"Yeah, but he seems to have recovered from his insanity problem."

"Well, I guess your plans for the day are to go find Willow, then Mr Giles, then go practice," Joyce said. "I'll be at the gallery all day, okay?"

"Thank you for breakfast," Ranma said.

"Oh, it wasn't a problem," Joyce waved him off. "No, you're a guest. Buffy'll take care of the dishes, won't you?"

"Uh... sure! Yeah, dishes girl, that's me," Buffy complained, picking up the plates and moving over to the dishwater.


Giles was rather surprised to find Xander on his doorstep, along with Willow, Buffy, and a stranger.

"Er, hello, good to see you again," Giles said. He stepped to the side, a wordless invitation.

"C'mon," Xander said, slouching into the house. Ranma followed him, the two girls bringing up the lead.

The Watcher shut the door, then looked at Xander's new friend. "Well, you must be Ranma Saotome."

The man scratched the back of his head nervously. "Hai..."

"My word. Well. You've become extremely famous. Is it true that you ingested the Phoenix Pill?," Giles asked, completely forgetting Xander, Buffy, and Willow.

"Hai," Ranma said nervously.

"Good Lord," Giles said, falling slackly into his favourite armchair. "Soul of Ice too? Oh, good Lord."

"Er, hello?," Xander said, waving a hand in front of Giles' face. "What's the what with the death and the not-death?"

"The Phoenix Pill takes five hundred years to make," Giles said. "Once taken, it takes years to complete it's task."

"Koh lon say it reverse Cats Tongue pressure point," Ranma said, now fiddling with his pigtail that extended partway down his pack.

"It's an honour to meet a phoenix," Giles said, taking a confused Ranma's hand and shaking it. "A true pleasure."

"Phoenix?," Buffy asked. "Time out. I thought he was human."

"Oh, he was," Giles said. "The Phoenix Pill, as the name suggests, alters the subject to become a human phoenix, immortal in an infinite number of rebirths."

"But he's all Iceman, and phoenix are fire, right?," Xander asked.

"Is Soul of Ice, yes?," Ranma asked.

"Correct," Giles said.

"Well, we're going to go spar against each other, see what we're like at this stage," Xander shrugged. "Wanna come with?"