Fire & Ice

New Beginnings

Author: Forgotten Code <forgottencode[at]>

Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They are owned by Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and UPN. The original characters and the story herein are mine however.

Pairings: Sliph/Faust (both OCs)

Spoilers: None really, it's mostly AU.

Summary: Sequel to Crossroads, read that or this will make no sense.

Feedback: Let me know what you think, I'm enjoying writing this.

Notes: I'll continue A Halloween to Remember when my muse lets me in on how to do so. This story has its roots in a dream I had a few years ago. Also, this isn't a crossover, so don't try to figure out which one it might be =).

Notes2: Thanks to WhiteWerewolf and phxndr for their input.

Chapter 1

As the sun rose outside, and the city started to awaken, Xander was in his room, ready for sleep. He had had a very hectic day, and he was pretty sure he'd have no problem sleeping now. Besides, when he woke up, it was going to be a long day, and he hoped his body would give him the rest he needed.

As he slipped out of his armor, he winced at the cuts the vampire's claws had made. The wounds were bandaged, but they still hurt whenever he moved. Instead of placing his swords in their normal place, in an X above the fireplace, he opened his safe and placed them in there. He wasn't at his best tonight, and he wanted to be able to sleep without any interruptions.

He promised himself he'd call the Inner Circle together when he woke up, and send a clean up crew to the warehouse to see if there was anything recoverable there, as per the norm. The organization ran mostly on money they had acquired from those who would harm innocents, no reason to make it stop just because he had found out vampires were in the mix.

His eyelids were drooping by the time he got into bed, and when his head hit the pillow, he was out like a light. He did dream, but instead of the regular sleep-disturbing images he had been getting recently, these were just of the past - more specifically his first days in Chicago.


The car ride with his parents had been mostly uneventful. Sure the scenery was beautiful, and he'd had the gameboy to keep him company, but his thoughts were in Sunnydale, so he didn't really have a chance to enjoy anything. His parents, as usual, ignored their son and kept to themselves. They had a few small conversations, but nothing interesting, and certainly nothing two people who enjoyed spending time together would ever have.

Xander spent a lot of time sleeping as well. A thirty-one hour car ride gets incredibly monotonous with no one to talk to. His parents were alternating in the driving duties, so most often the one not driving was sleeping anyway. By the time they could see the Windy City on the horizon, Xander felt as if he'd been crammed into a small box. His joints ached, and he could feel the indentations in his back from the upholstry he'd been napping on.

Their new house looked a lot like their old one. Xander wasn't sure if his parents had done that on purpose or not, but since it wasn't something he'd ever find out, he simply took part of the luggage inside and waited for someone to tell him which room was his. It was Sunday afternoon, and he was to start school tomorrow.

In Sunnydale, Xander hadn't been a very good student - or, it was more like he hadn't started off being one, and after that he'd had a string on terrible teachers. Besides, he'd had Jesse and Willow to spend time with during the boring days, so it wasn't so bad.

But here, things were different. He didn't know anyone, but no one knew him either. He could start off with a clean slate. And since Willow wasn't here to tutor him with the subjects he didn't like, he decided to try and be a decent student this time around. In Sunnydale he'd been able to keep his marks away from his folks, because he knew how. Here he didn't have the slightest idea, and he didn't relish being punished by his father for grades.

He spent the rest of the day planning where everything would go in his room, and then when night finally fell he went to sleep in his sleeping bag. His bed and the other furniture hadn't yet arrived.


The next morning, Xander found himself outside of Everglades Elementary, his new home away from home for the next few months, at which point he would begin Junior High, a new face among hundreds. Here, however, he felt he was almost intruding. Everyone would have already met and formed friendships long before this, and now were just looking forward to the end of the year and the summer that followed.

He doubted fitting in or making friends and all that would be easy this time of the year. Thinking back to Sunnydale, he knew that neither Jesse nor Willow nor himself would spend much time getting to know any newcomers at this time of the year - there just wasn't time. It was the time to have the last month of fun before it was crunch time, and studying took up most people's time, Willow's more than others.

He sighed. Maybe it was time for him to see what he could really do about his education? He didn't have Willow to fall back on anymore, and the desire burned within him to show his father he wasn't as worthless as the man seemed the think. Grabbing his skateboard in one hand, he slowly walked up the steps, as a new chapter in his life opened.

He brushed past a few students who were playing on the steps, they all turned to look at him, but their attention wasn't kept for long before they were back to their activities. His gaze passed over them and onto the rest of the people in the schoolyard itself. Everything looked a lot like Sunnydale, except all the people were unknown. But he imagined there'd be the same groups. The popular kids, the jocks, the nerds, and the ones in the middle divided into their own groups, much like it had been before. There would be the strange kids like Amy or Michael that no one really associated with for whatever reason. It almost felt like home, only it wasn't. Everything was the same, and yet he didn't know anything about it, and so it was all so very different.

He was about to walk through everyone and enter the school proper when something - no someone - caught his eye. She wasn't beautiful, not like the actresses he'd seen on television, or in the papers, she was more what he'd call handsome. The other students parted like the Red Sea to Moses as she marched through their number. She wore a black leather jacket and jeans. Both were frayed, but it was pretty obvious she didn't care.

One boy was slow to get out of the way, sitting down playing with marbles. Xander stared, curious to see what this female like version of Larry was going to do to the hapless kid. If this had been Sunnydale and the girl was indeed the king jock, she would call upon her lackeys to move the intruder. But something about the way she walked labeled her a loner to Xander, and he knew she would handle it herself.

He approach wasn't what he expected. She stopped her march a foot at most from the little boy's back, and the crowd stood motionless, watching. She bent down until she was at his ear level and cupping her hand so no one could here, she whispered something into the kid's ear. Whatever it was she said woke him up quickly. He spluttered around, collecting his marbles, and shuffled out of her way. Satisfied, she stood back up and continued on her path.

Xander shrugged and turned away. Although this girl had her differences, she seemed to be much like Larry to him, getting off on causing pain to others. He was almost at the front door of the school, when he heard a voice break the silence. He knew it was her voice. He wasn't sure how, but he was sure. She didn't yell, or even speak loudly, in fact her whisper seemed to almost ride the wind until it pierced his personal space and found it's way to his ears.

"Hey, new guy. Where you going?" The voice was soft and soothing, and nothing like the terror it came from.

Xander turned around. He would have cowered from Larry, but this was different. Larry never showed him any attention unless it was to hurt his feelings. Maybe this girl was different after all. He looked at her for a moment, but didn't say anything. He was about to continue into the school, when she spoke again.

"The name's Sandra. What's yours? I don't know you new guy, but I can already tell you're interesting." She smiled showing almost perfect white teeth that didn't match her appearance at all.

He wondered if he should go by 'Alex' here since he was away from Willow, but he quickly buried that thought. "Mine's Xander." He noticed the crowd seemed to be staring at both of them now, and he was getting a heck of a lot more attention that he thought he would.

Her grin stayed where it was. "Short for Alexander right?" At his nod she continued. "See, I knew you were interesting. There are other Alexander's here. But all of them go by their full name or Alex. But you, you've decided to do something different. That's cool, I like that. Well Xander, welcome to Everglades. I'm feeling generous today, and I've decided I'm going to give you a tour of our little school."

The crowd's visage at one turned to a shocked expression and Xander knew Sandra didn't do this often if ever. He nodded towards, her, not knowing what to think of her anymore, but glad she wasn't fitting into the same molds he had seen in Sunnydale. She stepped in line with him and draped an arm around his shoulders, and pushing the door open with her foot, stepped inside the school, bringing Xander with her.


The day seemed to fly by, with Sandra at his side, showing him everything. He noticed even the teachers were intimidated by her, and because he was with her, by him. It was a different feeling than he was used to back home, and he found it somewhat enjoyable, though he was pretty sure it wouldn't last. She would soon realize how uninteresting he was, and he would be alone once more.

It surprised him that at lunch she was still with him. They sat at the center table of the cafeteria, with no one at any of the tables close to them - instead everyone else crowded at the remaining tables. Larry was feared in Sunnydale, but this was different - probably because the jock had a group of friends to himself and associated with the popular crowd. But Sandra obviously tended to herself and had no one around her, except him.

It was funny in a way. Xander had always been animated around his small group of friends in Sunnydale, but quiet when he was around others. But for whatever reason, he felt really comfortable in Sandra's presence, and knew with absolute certainty that his stay in Chicago would be nothing like he imagined when he left Sunnydale. He couldn't wait to call Jesse and tell him about all of this. He smiled, and settled into lunch, with a friend, for the moment at least.

Chapter 2

Xander rolled over in bed, as his dream shifted to later the same day, after he had gotten home.


All he was thinking as he rode home was about calling Jesse. He knew Willow and Jonathan would also be expecting calls, but he couldn't afford to call all of them, so Jesse would have to tell the others what he had to say. He hopped off his skateboard halfway up the driveway and sprinted into his new home and up the stairs to where the telephone was. No one else was home at the moment, so no one was yelling at him not to run.

He sat down at picked up the phone to dial, with the special calling card he had managed to buy with a good chunk of his savings. The phone rang twice before Jesse's mom picked up. "McNally residence, can I ask who's calling?"

Xander had always had a special relationship with Jesse's mother. Willow's parents weren't around much and his own didn't really care, so he spent a lot of time with the McNallys. Hearing her voice reminded him there was another person in Sunnydale he'd miss. "Hello, Mrs. McNally, its Xander. Is Jesse in?"

"Xander? It's so nice to hear from you. But no, Jesse's not around yet, he still has another hour of school."

Xander smacked himself on the forehead. He had totally forgotten about the time change. She continued. "Is this the new number you're at? I'll give it to Jesse and tell him to call you, if you want."

Xander found himself nodding before he spoke. "Yes please, if you don't mind. I totally forgot about the time difference. Just wanted to talk to my best bro."

"Alright, Xander, I'll let him know you called. And how is everything with you? You're fitting in alright?"

Again the automatic nodding before translating out the words. "Yeah, Mrs. McNally. I miss Sunnydale a lot, but I had an ok first day of school. I've already got a new friend, sorta."

She smiled into the phone. Good to hear Xander was doing well. "Xander, that's great to hear! I'll let Jesse know you called. Have a good day, ok?"

"Same to you, Mrs. McNally, same to you."

As he hung up the phone he felt pretty good. Jesse was going to call him in an hour, and he had a lot to tell his best bud. The day had started out on a shaky note, but already now things were looking to be on the up and up and he couldn't wait for the phone to ring.


Xander groaned as he woke up, ending his dreams for the moment. He felt like he'd been hit by a bus, he was so stiff all over. And then the memory of the fight last night came back. He winced. Today was going to be a really long day. He tried to get up and found he could hardly move. Lovely. This was getting better and better.

His thoughts returned to the dreams the night before, and despite the overwhelming pain his body was wracked with, he smiled. He wondered if he should tell Sliph he was dreaming about his girlfriend? Sure the two of them had been twelve at the time, but there was no reason to say that.

He tried stretching his sore muscles, but nothing seemed to help. Perhaps he could use a few extra hours of sleep. He'd need to be at his best, or as close to it as possible for the day ahead, and frankly right now he wasn't even close. Closing his eyes, he tried to get another hour or so of shut-eye, before pumping his body full of aspirin just so he could stand.

As his eyes closed, he could hear the phone ringing in the past, his first full day in Chicago.


Xander had been sitting in the same position, twiddling his thumbs for the last hour. He didn't have anything else to do in the new town, and wasn't really up for playing more Gameboy or reading his comics, so instead he just sat and waited. The hour crept by, but finally, he heard the phone ring.

He quickly picked up the phone, and without hearing who it was, exclaimed. "Jesse! Thanks for calling me back, bro!"

His friend chuckled. "You too, Xander, you too. How's my best buddy doing? Mom tells me you've already scored yourself a friend. Glad to hear it man. What's he like?"

Xander smiled. Jesse wouldn't be ready for what he was about to say. "Nah man, she's not a guy. She's like the female version of Larry in a way, but instead of being a big jerk, she's actually pretty cool." "Lemme see if I got this straight, bro. You're hanging around with a girl jock? How'd that happen?" His voice mirrored the shock on his face.

Xander smiled. "Well, you know, man, I just used the old Harris Charm, and she had no chance."

Jesse burst out laughing. "No, really, man, what happened?"

So Xander told his best friend his adventures that day. Jesse asked some questions, and soon they were laughing like old times.

"Xan, Willow took your leaving really hard, buddy. She actually skipped school today. Since she's never done that before, always being worried about lateness and all, the teachers were sure she was really sick. But maybe you should call her. But you probably shouldn't tell her about Sandra. She might get jealous or something."

Xander nodded. "Yeah, ok, Jess, I'll give her a call. And Jonathan? How's he doing?"

"Jon's doing fine. Actually I'm going over to his place to play Nintendo tonight. Sorry you gotta be so far away. Would've been fun."

Xander felt a stab of dull pain echo throughout his body, but shrugged it off. He knew the conversation with Willow would be hard enough, no use feeling sad because Jesse and Jonathan were having fun. "Ok Jesse, good to hear from you. I'll call you another time man."

"Sure, bud, sure. You'll be fine, Xan. Just be yourself buddy. We'll talk soon."

The two friends hung up the phone and Xander thought about just exactly what he was going to tell Willow. Willow had always been the only girl in his life. When he was much smaller, Cordelia had been there as well, but he didn't count her because as she grew older, she became more and more snobbish. But Willow had always been there for him, ever since they were five with the crayon incident.

She was a lot like Xander, which was why they were such good friends. Willow didn't have a lot of friends either, and so she, Xander and Jesse had been a natural fit together. But Willow had always seemed slightly closer to him than to his best bed, so he could see how his departure had hit her hard.

He picked up the phone and with a last minute sigh, called Willow's number. The phone rang once, twice, three times. He was about to hang up, when she answered the phone.

"H-hello?" He could hear the tears in her voice and his heart leapt out for her.

"Wills, it's me, Xander."

"X-xander? B-but you're gone. Have you come home?"

Xander sighed heavily. "No, Willow, I haven't come home. I'm in Chicago, Jesse told me you skipped school today, so I'm calling to see how you're doing."

Her voice turned slightly confused. "You're only calling me because I'm sad?" And then slightly angry, "Xander Harris, have you forgotten about us already?"

"No, no, of course not, Wills. It's just its long distance, so I figured I'd call Jesse today and you tomorrow, you know?"

She relaxed. "Oh, ok, well, thanks for calling me all the same. I miss you Xander. It's like there's a big hole in my heart." She sniffed back a tear. "I'm sorry, I'm not taking this very well."

He shrugged, "Its ok, Wills. Honestly, I'm not taking it well either. But I had a decent first day. Some of the people here are kinda cool. Though not as cool as you and Jess of course, no one could be that good."

He could hear her expression brightening up. "Xander, no really, do you have friends already?" She sounded surprised.

Xander nodded. "Yeah, Wills, just the one, I'll tell you everything tomorrow when I call ok? I just wanted to see how you're doing, you know, but I can't stay on the line, if I do I won't be able to call tomorrow. But you've gotta go back to school. Learning's just not the same without you around, and just because I can't be there to bask in your Willowness, doesn't mean the rest of Sunnydale should suffer."

She giggled. "Thanks, Xander. I feel a little better already. Call me tomorrow, and I'll tell you all about what we're learning in Math."

Good old Willow, he thought. "You can just stick to how you are, Wills. Hey, Jesse's going to Jonathan's tonight for Nintendo. You should go, would cheer you up."

"Ok, will do, Xan. You have a good night, ok? And we'll speak tomorrow."

He hung up the phone feeling better. Willow was happy, Jesse was happy, and with his Nintendo, Jonathan was always happy. And Xander was happy as well. Things were going better than he thought they'd go, and that rarely happened for him. Things usually went worse, so any kind of good news was great.

His parents would be getting home soon and he really didn't feel like dealing with them. They would only ruin the day, which had been so good so far. He hopped down the stairs to get some food from the fridge. Making himself a sandwich, he retired to his room, for some Gameboy, some food, and a good restful sleep.

Chapter 3

Xander's eyes snapped open after barely sleeping an extra hour. His hand roamed from his bed to the nighttable to find some aspirin. He swallowed the white pills dry and lay still waiting for them to affect his aching muscles. If Toth were here, he would be preaching about using power to cheat, but Xander had never agreed with Toth on any of that. In fact, there was very little Xander and the gold- ranked man agreed about in general.

His dreams had been of the past again. It seemed odd that all of that would be coming back now. He wasn't sure if he was ready to view it all again, but there was little one could do once dreams began but to let them run their course. Maybe his mind was trying to teach him something? It was possible as he had heard of and experienced stranger things, especially last night's events.

In either case, he was not going to be able to function perfectly for a while, at least not until the pills aleviated his pain, at least for the moment. If his mind wanted him to live through the past again, he would do it. If he couldn't trust his own mind, he was asking for trouble.

So he would close his eyes, and let his mind drift to thoughts of Sandra… He tried to sit up, from the shock of thinking that name before his muscles complained and he found himself lying down once more. It wasn't that thinking of Sandra Durham was a problem, she was one of his closest friends and a member of the Inner Circle, but lately, he'd thought of her as Faust. It was who she'd become. Why were his thoughts straying to her past persona? He shook his head to clear it. As much as he didn't want to, perhaps he would have to speak to Toth about all of this.

His eyes drooped closed, and his thoughts brought the past to the present and he remembered when he was twelve and experiencing what would become his new life, from the beginning.


Although Xander thought Sandra would eventually find him uninteresting, she never did. He also found out quickly that he'd get no other friends at the school, now that he and her hung around together - no real friends anyway. That wasn't to say people didn't try, it was just so obvious to Xander that they were only speaking to him because of her. He quickly turned them away after that and the rest of the student body took notice.

His grades were the best they'd ever been. In Sunnydale he'd been the class clown, and none of his teachers had really taken him seriously. Here, everything was different. He knew it was because Sandra was his friend, but he didn't care about that all that much. He was just happy they treated him well and with respect. It wasn't a feeling he was used to, but something he found he enjoyed.

He'd been working a lot harder as well. He found it made him feel better about himself, and since Sandra wasn't the greatest student in the world, he found it funny that he was helping her out, when back in Sunnydale, he had looked to his only female friend for aid.

He still spoke to Jesse, Willow and occasionally Jonathan, but their talks weren't daily anymore. Sure, they had started out that way, but gradually over the months, they petered out until he only spoke to them a few times a week. It wasn't as if he didn't love them as friends anymore or anything; it was just he had his place, in Chicago, and they had theirs.

Also, he began to see Chicago as home, more and more. It was natural, it seemed, and the place wasn't really so bad when you got right down to it. It was colder than Sunnydale, but he hadn't experienced the winter yet, so the weather really wasn't that much of a problem. And the city was big - even in their small sector, there were more stores and arcades than in his hometown.

As for Sandra, he learnt a lot about her, but she kept certain secrets from him, that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't pry free. Eventually, he just stopped asking her. She would tell him when she was ready if she wanted to. If not, it wasn't really his business to know anyway.

Sandra Durham's parents were divorced, and she had a sister named Katherine. She lived with her father, near the school. Her mother and sister lived out of state, but she didn't talk about them much, and Xander didn't press her. He did know her sister was a year older than she was, and that she was a redhead. Otherwise, he knew nothing else.

But Xander could understand her not wanting to talk about her family. He didn't care to talk about his either. Neither of them ever visited the other's house, it just wasn't something they'd want to do. Back in Sunnydale, he'd hung around Jesse's house, but that was because his bed bud's parents were great people, and none of them minded being around them. Parents whose own kids didn't like them usually meant other kids wouldn't like them either.

It was her other secrets that were more on the lines of the things he wanted to know. He remembered a particular conversation they had had in the hallway during the school. It was amusing - the students would always clear a path for her, but they had started doing so for him as well. It was funny in a way, but also kind of eerie. He wasn't sure he liked it.

"So, Sandra, here we are, walking through our nice little paths. We've been friends for a few months now and since the others have found me worthy enough to warrant their actions, can you tell me why everyone's so scared of you?"

He had never seen her embarrassed before about anything, but his cheeks reddened slightly for a moment and then her regular smirk came back. She shook her head. "Sorry Xan. You're an interesting guy, and we're friends, but we're not good enough friends for that piece of information. I'd say you could ask one of them." She pointed to a random student, "but I doubt they'd tell you. Maybe someday, I'll tell you - but not today!"

She broke away from him and hopped down the hall. He frowned at her unwillingness to tell him, but everyone needed their secrets, and besides, seeing her hop like that was funny and a grin naturally came to the fore. He shrugged and followed after her, knowing he'd get nothing else out of her that day.

The rest of the school year seemed to fly by. Final exams were all right and Xander did better than he could have expected when he left Sunnydale, and he was looking at his first summer in Chicago on the horizon. Since he wasn't speaking as much to Jesse and the others, they had taken to writing letters. It was cheaper, and saving some money for other things besides the phone conversations was nice.


There was a knock on Xander's suite at the organization. He glanced at the viewscreen on the wall. There was someone out there - good, it wasn't Toth. He really didn't want to speak to him right now. He squinted at the screen. Faust was outside his door. That wouldn't have been weird normally, but considering his recent dreams it was a little odd. He shrugged. He tried to get up and found the aspirin had started to work their magic.

"I'll be right there, Faust. Just getting something on."

He grabbed a black shirt and some slacks. A moment later he was at the door, opening it and letting her inside. She was wearing black, and her hair was the usual black, with green tips - organization wear to a T. But that had always been one of Xander's rules. This wasn't a place to lounge around. Everyone here had to be in uniform at all times.

"Hey Ice. Sorry if I woke you, but it is afternoon, and about time you joined the rest of us and woke up." He snarled in her direction, but she just smirked back at him. "Hey, hey, don't get like that. Look, I noticed you took a little sortie last night. What's up?"

He smiled. "What were you doing looking at the viewscreen last night? Trouble in paradise?"

Her smirk turned into a small frown. "No, of course not. Just happened to notice. So, where were you?"

He shook his head. "I'm going to call an Inner Circle meeting today. I was out with Toth last night and we found some disturbing details about the whole mission. I'd rather not have to mention everything over and over again, so you'll have to wait until everyone hears it."

She arched an eyebrow at him. "Come on, Ice. I'm your older friend here."

He shook his head. "You made me wait for years before you told me your secret from elementary school. Now you're going to wait before you hear this one."

She scowled at him, causing his smile to grow larger.

"Oh and Faust? I'll need you to send Chen and his group to this address for a clean up. But tell him to be extra cautious."

She looked at him with questions behind her eyes. "Chen? But he's my number one captain. You know he won't be happy going on a clean up mission. What are you hiding from me, Ice?"

He shook his head. "I can't Faust. I had to use the swords last night. I need some time to deal with them before I call this meeting. Please. Just send Chen to clean up, but make sure he knows to be alert."

Her gaze bore into his skull. "Why are you telling me to make sure he's cautious? Chen's always alert. He's one of the best men we've got? What the heck did you see that's spooked you so much? I haven't seen you like this since…" She drifted off as he glared at her.

"I'm sorry Ice. I didn't mean to bring that up again. I know how painful it is. It's just as painful for me, remember?"

He nodded. "It's forgotten. Look Faust, I really can't tell you, but I will say this. Everything you've ever known to be just a story? Nothing's just a story anymore. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to deal with last night's problem. Tell the others. Meeting in two hours." He slipped into his room and shut the door behind her, leaving a very confused Faust standing outside.

Without a word, she turned and left, contemplating what he possibly could have meant in her mind.

Chapter 4

The summer began on a low point. Sandra's father worked for American Airlines. He had been situated in Chicago for many years, but his company wanted him to move to Detroit. Sandra didn't want to leave - she enjoyed Chicago, and she'd have to start all over in Detroit if they did move. Xander didn't want her to leave, since she was his only friend since his relocation to the Windy City.

In the end though, money won out. Her father was being given a raise to facilitate the move. He'd never had a lot of money, and so it was very tempting to take the offer. Besides, Sandra had to change schools anyways. Everglades was only an Elementary school and so this offer seemed to be coming at a good time.

And so, for the second time in a year, Xander had to say goodbye to a friend. First it had been he who was moving, leaving Jesse, Willow and Jonathan in Sunnydale, and now Sandra was moving away from him.

The farewells were different this time around though. Jesse and Willow had wanted to see Xander off in person, and he'd had absolutely no problem with that. He'd wanted to waive to his friends as they grew smaller and finally disappeared. Sandra was different. She had her reputation, and she wasn't willing to spoil it all on a few tears. So, she'd said her goodbyes the day before she left, with Xander, alone.

"Well, my interesting friend, it seems my father has decided to move, and being that I'm twelve, I unfortunately have to go with him." There was emotion in her voice, but she wouldn't let herself cry.

"I've enjoyed my time with you, Sandra. You made the move here much easier, and I'm sure it won't be too long before the citizens of Detroit know to be afraid of you, and everything will be as normal." Xander replied, smiling slightly.

"Thanks, Xan. You're a real friend. Besides, I like this place. If not for high school, I'll see you around sometime later."

And that had been it. No crying, no hugging, no nothing. Just sitting down, talking a little, and then dismissing each other forever - well, ok, not forever, but high school seemed that way to a twelve year old that hadn't yet begun it.

The week after Sandra left was a slow one for Xander. He didn't really have anything to do, being the summer, and his only friend was now in Detroit. He spoke to his Sunnydale friends more, but it didn't really help much. He couldn't go visit them any more than they could come to Chicago, and there's only so much one can do in a phone conversation.

It took a week of sulking, seven days of doing absolutely nothing before he decided he'd mourned enough, and went to find himself something to do. He'd been spending quite a bit of money on the long distance calls, so he needed a job. He quickly found one as a paper boy. He was given a fairly small section of the neighborhood, and there weren't any steep hills, so he was able to skateboard around, throwing the news door to door to door.

It was a rather boring job, but it allowed him to see the parts of the neighborhood he didn't know to well, and meet some new people. Plus being outside all the time, he didn't have to deal with his parents. So even if the exciting factor wasn't there, there were enough pros to make it worth it.

The summer drifted by. His parents told him the new school he was to go to, and he checked it out. It was called Cedar Junior High. It seemed like a decent place, but he'd have to see what it was really like when it didn't look like a ghost town. He shrugged - everyone would be new at the school. Sure some of the people would be from Everglades, but he hadn't really known anyone, so it would be interesting to start from scratch and see how things went.

Before he knew it, it was August. He had met some new people on the rout, either fellow employees or the people getting the papers, but no one really stood out to him as a possible friend. It was a bit troubling. But he didn't worry about it too much - there were people from many parts of Chicago going to Cedar in September, so maybe it was just he was living in the wrong area.

August rolled by and he found himself the morning before school was to start, packing his bag, and ready for a new beginning again.


After Faust left, Xander retreated back into his room and shut the door. He really wasn't looking forward to what he had to do, but it was necessary. His swords weren't only weapons like they had first appeared to be when he had found them. It was like they were almost alive, but not exactly. He'd read science fiction books where a living being was sacrificed and their essence captured in a sword. If that had been the case here he wouldn't be using them - he would have found some way to destroy them instead.

These were different. It was very hard to explain really. It way like their minds per say had been born into the steel - well ok, not steel exactly, but something else. The metal was alien, even Toth didn't know what it was, and he was something of an expert on these things. Though he didn't believe the swords had been created by an act of Evil, Xander knew they were dangerous and should be treated with caution.

They had the potential of a lot of power, those blades did. If he would only listen to Toth and lower his mental barriers, he would find himself awash with it. But to do that would be unthinkable. If the swords had been people, they wouldn't be good ones. They'd probably be in jail somewhere, or dead. Xander used them because they were often needed, and because he had mastered them more or less.

But when he wasn't at his best, like last night, sometimes the power could seep through his shields and mold his actions slightly in the wrong direction. This was why he had placed them in his lead safe last night. Mental waves as Toth called them couldn't pass through lead, and so last night, when his body was sleeping, and his mind was more or less open, he had been safe from the blades.

Now, however, it was time to reassert his dominance over the weapons. They had names, since they were technically alive. The Katana was called Takamoto, and the Wakizashi, Matasumi. He would deal with Takamoto first. The Katana was the stronger of both weapons, and the other often went along with it. So subdue the Katana, subdue both.

He sighed and opened the safe, sliding the Katana out and into his hands. He closed the safe and locked it, cutting the two weapons off from each other. He unsheathed the blade, and dropped the scabbard quickly to the ground. He brought the sharp metal across his hands, drawing blood. As his blood contacted the Katana, he closed his eyes and found himself drift away to another place.


He arrived in a small room. The walls seemed to move with a rainbow of colors. Oranges and greens were the most prevalent. Seated in the center of the room was a Japanese man. Had he been standing, he would have been about five foot nine. His features were perfect, not a hint of scar or blemish. He was dressed in long flowing black robes. His eyes and hair matched the color of his clothes. He didn't stand when Xander appeared, merely nodded.

Xander's consciousness was inside the sword, where things appeared as the Katana wished. The Japanese man was Takamoto's version of himself for this purpose. That he didn't stand was meant to mock Xander, and he took it that way.

The Japanese man spoke first. "Ah, welcome to my humble abode, master." His tone was sarcastic, joking.

"Why are you doing this, Takamoto? Why now? What do you want?"

"So many questions, master, so much you don't know. But since you have come to my realm, to my place to do this, I will humor you. I am doing this because we have found another. A more suitable master than you, and we wish to be fought over. If you are truly worth us, you must show it. Accept our challenge and prove your worth."

Xander grinned slightly. "And why shouldn't I destroy you? If you will not fight for me any longer, what point it there that you should exist? I will not allow another to use your powers for Evil, Takamoto."

The Japanese man started off flush and began to whiten as Xander spoke. When he finished, the man was standing, his skin very pale. Respect flowed back into his voice. "You need us, Master. Without us the vampire would have slain you."

Xander shook his head. "Perhaps it would have, perhaps not. In either case, I use you because I choose to, and for no other reason. But tell me, who is this being you wish me to challenge? If I deem it necessary, I just might."

The man was shivering now. He had attempted to force his Master to do what he wished, but now that was impossible. Ice had been kind to him in the past - kinder than any other who had ruled the blades in the past, but he had always considered it a weak emotion, not worthy of thought. Now however, he was beginning to change his mind.

The name came out in a gasp. "Rudolph Jiminez." Xander nodded and closed his eyes, and his consciousness was dragged out of the room and back to his body.

His eyes snapped open and he sheathed the Katana, placing it back on the wall where it usually went. He pressed the button to turn on the intercom. "Toth, call the Circle. We have a lot to talk about. And see if we have any records on a Rudolph Jiminez. We may need the detector sooner than I thought."

"Sure Ice, whatever you want. See you in the council room in twenty minutes."

Chapter 5

Xander walked slowly to his safe and removed the Wakishazi, placing it on the wall with the Katana in an X shape - the position they usually were in when not in use. He stripped and changed into his official uniform, for meetings and the like. He wore a suit and tie. His suit and shirt were both black, but the tie was red, as per his rank. The others in the circle would have a green or gold tie depending on theirs.

The meeting wasn't for a little while yet, but he wanted to get there early. He had a lot to discuss today, and he had a feeling Toth's news about this Rudolph Jiminez wouldn't be pleasant. Faust had said it was afternoon, so people would be up and about. He had been out of sight for a few days now, with everything that had happened, and he wanted to give his men a show of support - just seeing him walk the halls tended to do that.

He closed the door behind him and locked it, before entering the hallways. No one really walked around here, it was the sleeping places of the higher ups, mostly - that is the Inner Circle and their first captains only. Each other member of the Circle had one such person except Sliph who had two, because they were twins and worked better together.

The other captains, lieutenants, sergeants and down the line to basic soldiers lived in on a different floor of the complex, the one below this one. Xander's floor included the parking area, Toth's research rooms, the Council room, and other meeting places when needed. The complex's cafeteria lay below the parking spaces - since most of the organization slept near it.

Rooms were single for the higher ups, except for Sliph's twin captains who shared a room. Below the rooms were smaller and held two soldiers in each. People were generally allowed to choose their roommates, and if they had no preference, they were assigned one. The only exceptions to the two per room rule were the lieutenants. There was one such rank in each block of rooms below. They were the leaders of the block and so got their own private room.

Xander had never been one for serious military type uniforms. However, it became obvious after the beginning that there needed to be a way for each member to know who out ranked who and who didn't. This led to the color system. Faust thought about it in the beginning. She loved to draw in her free time, and so the thought of using them came quickly to her. Every member of the organization was already dying his or her hair black and wearing black contact lenses that covered the entire eye. This way, if anyone was seen outside, those distinguishing marks would be covered, and they wouldn't be as easily identified.

Faust added more to it. If the tips of everyone's hair were dyed a certain color, equal to their rank, it would simplify everything. She left it to Xander to create the color scheme, which he did. Red for him, the overleader, Gold for Toth, his Telepath, and Green for his Generals, Sliph, Faust, Imp and Solstice. Then there was Blue for the First Captains, Hunter and Wolf (for Sliph), Chen (for Faust), Emmarask (for Imp), and Robilar (for Solstice). Toth had yet to pick his own Captain as was his right, but perhaps that position would soon be filled. As for Ice, he didn't need one. Unlike his Generals who had their own squads, he tended to either work alone, or join another group for a raid. The First Captains' Blue was almost a turquoise, to show their proximity to the Generals.

The rest of the Captains had a darker Blue, the Lieutenants used Purple, the Sergeants a White and lastly the unranked soldiers had only black hair.

Xander strode down the hallways of the upper-ranked dormitory, passing Emmarask as he stepped forth from his room. Xander nodded to the First Captain, who saluted formally back. Each member of the Inner Circle usually brought their First Captains to the meetings, while their superiors sat they would stand being each chair.

Xander turned the corner and left the living areas. Now the hallways were more occupied. Everyone Xander passed saluted him. He nodded or smiled to each of them in turn. He soon found himself at the entrance to Toth's research facility, hoping the Telepath hadn't left yet. Toth was the only one who knew what was coming in the meeting, and Xander wanted to see if he'd found anything out about the one the blades wanted Ice to challenge.


Toth hung up the phone and turned back to his work. He'd slept well last night, considering everything that had happened. Dreams didn't bother him - in fact he hadn't had a single dream since his powers had manifested all the years ago. Sleep was all about quiet. When he was awake, he could sometimes hear stray thoughts from those around him. But when he was asleep, alone in his room, he finally found silence.

His fingers were moving across the keyboard of his computer like a pianist with his instrument. Ice's query about this Rudolph Jiminez had given him a break from the device the boss had liquidated from the mental hospital. The mark certainly had an interesting name. His first name obviously German and his last Spanish. It intrigued him why Ice would need the information, but from the intonation of the voice on the intercom, asking just then was probably not the best idea.

Toth couldn't wait until he mastered the device, but a distraction like this was a nice break all the same. He wasn't really sure what to call it, but he knew what it did. Using the object, he could tell if any one was a Telepath, or at least had some power. He could also trace such individuals, by their energy signatures. It had been used as a paperweight in the mental institution, and he could see why. It was built in a spiral structure, and constantly turning. He found it very amusing that many of the problems in the hospital where it had been and others like it could have been solved with this device had the doctor who had it only have known what it did.

The organization had had problems with rogue Telepaths in the past. The power they and Toth shared could be a dangerous one if used in such a way. Being able to prepare themselves for such confrontations could be priceless in the future. There had been one such Telepath who had had world domination aspirations. He had caused many a great deal of pain before of course Ice drove Takamoto through the man's heart.

But Toth wanted it for his own needs as well. All of the other members of the Inner Circle had their own squads, those they could lead. Toth had a few assistants, but no one else. This device would allow him to find those in the ranks who would be better to work under him and form his own power structure. He already had an eye on a woman who could be his First Captain, but with a silver rank instead of the turquoise. She went by the name of Rayne, and while he wasn't 100 percent sure she was a Telepath, something inside his mind told him she was.

The computer beeped, drawing Toth's attention. Finally, something had been found about the Jiminez guy. Toth stared at the information on the screen, scrolling through it and saving the information to memory.

"That's odd…" he spoke outloud, almost under his breath. He wasn't expecting an answer, but he got one anyway.

"What's odd, Toth?"

Toth turned around in surprise, to find Ice standing there behind him. Toth didn't salute; he merely smiled, secretly wondering how the man had managed to walk in here without Toth hearing him.

"I found your Mr. Jiminez. Do you want me to tell you about him now, or wait for the meeting?"

Ice cocked his head to the side thinking. "Tell me now, Toth. I have an idea how he might fit into all of this, but I'm not fully sure."

The Telepath nodded. "Before you ask, Ice, I'm sure it's the right Jiminez. First of all, the name you gave me isn't a very common one, with Germanic and Spanish roots, but secondly having reviewed his record I know he's the right one, because he's dead."

Ice stared at Toth. "Come again?"

"He's dead, Ice. He died twenty years ago. He was a man of some importance, head of some drug cartel or something. People said he was a Master of Blades, and while others used guns, he found he was better off using swords. Reminds me of someone."

Ice nodded. "Makes sense. So what's this about him being dead?"

"He was killed in a rather brutal fight between his and a rival cartel. But here's the interesting tidbit. His body disappeared, and has never been found."

Toth and Ice exchanged glances before both of them nodded and simultaneously said, "Vampire."


The doors to the Council room opened and Toth stepped inside, followed by Ice. The rest of the Inner Circle was already there. The room contained a viewscreen on one wall, and a touch screen on the other, where the one who called the meeting could show information to the others.

There was a table in the center of the room with seven sides. It was perfectly symmetrical and constructed of a fine black marble. Each side of the table had a chair associated with it. The room mirrored the table, and was seven sided as well. As Xander stepped into the room, everyone stood. He nodded to each of them and they all took their seats once more.

Only the seat in front of the door remained empty. Xander sat to its right, followed by Toth, Solstice, Imp, Sliph, and Faust, in that order, so Faust also sat next to the empty seat. The respective First Captains stood behind their General's chair. Only Faust's First Captain was missing. She had sent Chen to check on the warehouse, as Ice had commanded. Sliph's twins normally stood flanking his chair, but now Hunter filled the void Chen had left behind Faust's seat.

Xander stood and spoke. "I have called this meeting because as of last night, I have learned something that may change everything we've been doing. Toth and I fought vampires last night."

Shocked gasps filled the room for a moment, and then silence settled, each person looking at the others, almost afraid to speak first.

Chapter 6

Xander wanted someone else to speak first. He had dropped quite a bombshell, and now wasn't the time to bring up further details. There would be questions, and he would answer them as much as possible. Neither he nor Toth were experts, as they had only slain two of the creatures, but they were the best the organization had.

He looked around the room, taking in everybody. Solstice, when standing, was about five foot eight. She had naturally curly brown hair, which like everyone else had been dyed black. The tips of her hair were the green that signified her rank. Her eyes usually matched her hair color, brown with brown. Now the contacts were in, so it was just a color change. Her suit was as fashionable as possible given the constraints. The wall behind her was painted with her symbol, a Great Horned Owl holding a machine gun with its wings. At the moment she had an expression of contemplation on her face.

Behind her, standing stock still was her First Captain, Robilar. He and his General stood exactly the same height, and his hair was also naturally curly. While Solstice liked shoulder length hair, he cut his short, but not shaved. A single silver stud marked his left ear. He didn't wear it on missions, as an earring or a visible tattoo weren't tolerated, but while inside the complex it was always there. His suit was expensive, but not overly so. He was frowning slightly, but otherwise, it wasn't apparent he was thinking of anything.

Imp was slightly shorter than Solstice, standing at about five foot six. His background was Arabic, and his features easily confirmed that. He was wearing a very light weight suit despite the temperatures outside not being warm. Imp was very rarely cold, and so he dressed lightly almost always. His symbol, on the wall behind him, was a small flying demon, red-skinned, with horns. The creature had wings, and it was off the ground, with an Uzi in one hand and a stink bomb in the other. The creature's face had an almost angelic smile on it, if that were possible. Imp was lost in thought, and didn't bother to hide it.

His First Captain, Emmarask stood taller than his General, but not by much. His hair was long, slightly more than chin length, and askew, but not messy. It looked like he had purposely placed it in such a fashion, and not like he just woke up. He had a peaceful look on his face, as if he had just found out God existed, not the opposite.

Sliph was a heavy set man, about six feet and two-hundred or more pounds. His hair was short, almost shaved, but not quite. There was just enough hair to dye it black and have the green showing and nothing more. His suit was ruffled, like he had slept in it or something. Ice knew better - Sliph just didn't like ironing. Everyone had their faults. His symbol was a tall, thin man, wearing dark green robes with his face hidden. The man was sitting on an executive's chair and had his hands locked in front of him in a prayer position. Only the nails on the man's hands were black and they were about five inches long. If Xander had to bet, it would be Sliph who broke the silence first, from the man's expression.

Wolf was standing behind him, and his brother Hunter behind Faust. He and his twin brother were both originally from the Philippines. Both their hair and eye colors had been naturally dark, so like Imp, they didn't use much dye, only for the tips. Both men were scarred, some joked it was the only way to tell them apart. Wolf's left ear had been mutilated by a chain saw. He could still hear on that side, miraculously, but barely. Hunter on the other hand, had taking a sword just below his right eye, and had a scar to show for it. Both were quite skilled in martial arts, and it was easy for the untrained observer to see they were soldiers of some kind. They never looked comfortable, they were always on alert.

Faust sat in the last occupied chair. Distraught flashed on her face as Xander looked at her. He knew she was worried about Chen, her First Captain. Her naturally black hair was slightly longer than shoulder length, but it was tied up, so the end of her pony tail was a mesh of green and black. Her symbol was a mesh of two animals. A crocodile was on the ground, snarling with its jaws open and saliva slipping down the teeth. On its back sat a turtle, sitting up with silver throwing knives in its front limbs. One of her hands was reaching for Sliph's, and the big man accepted it, holding on to her. Xander knew Chen wasn't in danger, but his heart wrenched towards his old friend anyway.

Lastly there were the symbols for both himself and Toth. The Telepath had a purple sunburst on the wall, with golden tendrils growing from it. The all reached around to contact a human skull, devoid of flesh. Where the eyes would be were glowing orbs of energy. Xander's own symbol was a ghostly spirit dragon, the same that was airbrushed onto his favorite car. The dragon was solid despite its ghostliness, and an ice cube trailed down its cheek.

Having finished the rounds, Xander merely waited for someone to speak. He didn't have to wait long. As he thought, Sliph spoke first.

The big man laughed, shattering the silence. "I know you're serious Ice. You wouldn't call us all here for a joke. That sounds like something Imp would do." The small Arab blushed at the compliment. "So, you're obviously serious. I almost wish this were a joke." Smiles filled some of the faces around the room. "But it's not. I don't like being in the dark, my friend. Tell us what you saw."

Xander nodded and explained the battle the night before to them, not leaving anything out.

Faust stood up, angry. "You let me send Chen out there when you had killed the impossible last night? What the hell were you thinking?!"

Xander waited for her to finish, his face not betraying the emotions that were raging in his mind. "I did what I had to do, Faust, you know that. Just because the undead are real and not just fantasy out of Sliph's games doesn't mean things don't go on as usual. They wouldn't have placed vampires in that warehouse unless they were guarding something worth while. We need that to function! You know that Faust. And besides, you've been coddling Chen too much lately." He could see the fury behind her eyes, but she had to hear this. "Hacksaw was your responsibility, Faust. You should have sent Chen out on that mission with him. He was your man. But you chose not to, and as your friend I didn't disagree. But I am more than your friend. I am your commanding officer, and sometimes you won't agree with what I have to do, and that makes my decisions hard, but damn it, not everything's easy."

Tears were pouring down her cheeks. Sliph held her hand like a vise, but he didn't stand up to yell at Xander. He was simply there for her. She finally nodded and the tears stopped. Her face was still stained, but she didn't move to change it. Her voice was quiet, but not meek. He could still hear her rage behind it all. "I'm sorry, Ice. I forgot myself. You're the boss."

He wanted to comfort her, and even among friends, he knew he couldn't. He nodded and turned to the others. "There's more. This morning I spoke to the swords and they had some interesting information to tell me." Solstice's eyes darkened. She had made it clear she didn't like the weapons, but Ice's word was law. She followed him, but didn't have to agree with all his decisions. "It seems they don't think I'm a suitable bearer anymore, and have found someone they'd rather fight for."

Imp's voice entered the fray. "You know, Ice, you can ignore them. But they're not always honorable spirits. They will try and use trickery if you don't give them what they wish, and fight this challenger. Perhaps it would be better just to do what they want in this case. Who is the mystery man?"

"His name is Rudolph Jiminez, and he died twenty years ago."

"So if he's dead, there's no problem, right? The blades must be mistaken." Solstice spoke with obvious distain in her voice.

Ice merely shook his head. "Toth and I both believe this man is now a vampire, like we fought last night. But we're not fully sure. If vampires exist, why shouldn't anything else? Werewolves, trolls, even dragons. We don't have the information we need. Toth, I need you to find someone who does, and would be willing to talk to one of us about it." There was a kind of wicked gleam in Toth's eyes. Xander sighed. "Make sure whoever you find isn't a monster himself, ok, Toth? And you know what I mean by that." The Telepath nodded, but his smile was gone.

"Now for the rest of you, business goes on as usual. Toth's managed to work out the device, and I think he finally has someone to fill his First Captain void, don't you?"

Toth nodded and stood as Xander sat down. "Sliph, there's a lieutenant in your troop known as Rayne."

Sliph nodded, "I know her. She's a good soldier, but she's quiet, and she hasn't shown much promise in weapon training."

"I know. But I feel power when I'm around her all the same, and I'd like to try the device on her. I think she would be a good candidate for my missing First Captain if I'm not totally mistaken." He smiled, and Xander knew Toth was sure of this. It would be very odd if he was wrong.

"Well then, you have my permission, Toth. I know you're not going to hurt her, so if you want her for a promotion like this, I won't stop you."

Toth nodded. "I won't hurt her." He sat down, clearly happy that he was going to get his choice.

Xander stood once more. "Once we have our information, we'll start training the men and women on how to fight the monsters. I don't know exactly how we're going to do that yet, because Toth and I were very evenly matched last night, but we'll do what we can. Toth, I want you to see if the device can detect anything else, besides Telepaths. If you get another tip about creatures like last night, bring it along. If I'm right, the device could be of more worth to us than anything we've ever found."

The Telepath nodded, but it was obvious he was lost in thought.

"Solstice, I want you to go to campus and check out your contacts there. Imp, speak to your network, they might have something on this. If they don't, get them working on it. Sliph, get online. You're the most skilled of us all, see what you can find. And lastly, Faust, I won't give you anything until Chen gets back. Come and see me when he does. Alright everyone dismissed. Let's get to work."

The Inner Circle nodded, and they and their First Captains left the room leaving Xander and Toth alone. "Well, boss, one thing's for sure. Being around you is never boring." Toth smiled, and stood, leaving the room and Xander alone.

Chapter 7

Xander sat still at the council table, his face in his hands. Everyone had already left, doing the tasks he had given them, and yet he felt lost. He looked around the room, this room where so much had happened and he sighed. He knew the memories would return when he closed his eyes, and at one time he wouldn't have for that reason. It wasn't that he was worried about reliving seventh grade, not at all. But his trip to Chicago had really changed him. It had started him down the path that now saw him leading this organization. Sure, meeting Faust had been important, but it was only in Junior High that all the threads were laid.

He knew at one point, only a year ago perhaps, he wouldn't close his eyes to see it all again. He would do whatever it took not to fall asleep, and perhaps that was why the memories were coming back now. Perhaps time conquered all. He shook his head, and leaned back into his seat, until he was in a comfortable position. His eyes fluttered closed, and the past returned.


Xander had gotten better on the skateboard during the summer. In Sunnydale he used it, sure, but it was always a convenient piece of transportation and that was it. When you didn't know the city at all, and it was yours only way to get from point A to B, it was easier to take the time to get better.

He was riding down a street to Cedar, when he got an idea in his head. He had noticed there were two sloped structures of some kind next to the stairs at the school. Like pieces of art or something. Wouldn't it be cool to do some stunt off one of those? The thought that he could fall and look like an idiot never occurred to him. He'd been practising all summer. Why not try it out?

He headed down the road, using his right foot to pick up speed. He expertly avoided the other students and the cars. He jumped perfectly onto the sidewalk, and hit the base of the sculpture. He was concentrating, but had he been noticing, he would have seen a lot of people pointing and watching him. He reached the top and pulled his trick. He was about to land the most awesome move ever when something pierced his concentration.

In every boy's life, there's a time when you first notice a girl as something more than a friend. Willow would always be a good friend, but that was all. Same with Sandra, though obviously since he only knew her for a few months, not to the same extent as good ol'Wills.

He didn't see the girl's face, only her hair. She was across the grounds somewhere, far enough away so he couldn't make out the details. But her hair, it was such a brilliant red, that it caught he eye and spoiled his perfect concentration. Xander yelped and tried to land, but he'd been distracted for the split second he needed. The board skitted away from him, and he landed on his back with an 'umph'.

He could still hear the laugher when his ears stopped ringing. Great way to start out Xander, real smooth, he thought. Some people past him, muttering insults he could hear, like 'idiot', 'moron', or 'loser'. He tried to get up, but his vision swayed. So he'd landed on his head - great.

He finally managed to sit up when he noticed someone had retrieved his skateboard. The boy was obviously shy. But that wasn't what Xander noticed. Xander had seen black people and Spanish people before, sure. But he'd never seen an Arab, and that was obviously what race this boy was.

He shuffled towards Xander holding the board. He was quite short, and had shortish black hair. But it was his facial expression that surprised Xander the most - he was smiling. While everyone else seemed to be scowling his way, this kid was genuinely happy.

"Hey, thanks for the board." Xander smiled back at the boy, not really sure what to say.

"Sure, no problem. That was an amazing trick you pulled. And your landing was perfect."

Xander wasn't sure if the kid was kidding or not, but he seemed sincere. What the heck, he went along with it. "Of course I did. The rest of people here don't seem to get it. They all think I screwed up. What do they know about real art?"

The kid started giggling, and soon, although he had a splitting headache, Xander was laughing as well.

"Well, now you're someone who knows the finer things in life, what's your name? I'm Xander."

"I'm Hamza." Xander rolled the name off his tongue. It wasn't a name he'd ever heard of before, but then again, he'd never met another Willow.

"Well, Hamza, as much fun as it is sitting down here, I think I've got an ant colony in my pocket."

The kid laughed again, and Xander joined him. "My parents won't let me have a skateboard. They think it's evil and anyone who rides one is the devil. You're awfully funny for a devil."

Xander looked at him oddly and grinned. So this kid had odd parents as well. Seemed he attracted them like flies. "So, I guess that means you want to learn?" He stood up and brushed himself off. "Come on, my friend. Let the Xandman show you how it's done."

They started laughing again, not noticing the weird looks they were getting, or perhaps it was really that they didn't care. Although the jump hadn't worked out how Xander had wanted it to, perhaps this was for the better. It had been odd being feared at Everglades. It would be a nice change to be ignored again.


Xander had started smiling somewhere throughout the memories, but by this point he was almost laughing outloud. He had totally forgotten about the devil comment. That was hilarious. He wouldn't have latched onto that memory a year ago. He closed his eyes again, his smile not leaving his lips.


Xander and Hamza entered the school together. They were both new here, though one was new to only Chicago and the other to America in general. Xander found out Hamza was from the United Arab Emirates. He didn't know where that was, but it sounded small. There was an assembly where all the new seventh graders were supposed to go. The two of them slipped into the back of the line and waited with everyone else.

After about half an hour of slow shuffling, they finally made it into the gym. Xander looked around for the girl who had screwed up his trick, but he couldn't see her. He found himself being ushered to one of the rows and he sat down with the rest of the students. Some teacher or something was speaking at a podium. Her voice was very nasal. Xander hoped she wasn't one of his teachers.

"Alright, everyone. I'm Mrs. Black. I'm the principal here. Welcome to Cedar Junior High. I trust that with some co-operation from all of you, we'll have an excellent year. Now if you'll turn to your right, at the beginning of each row, a teacher will give you a schedule. Classes start in two hours. You'll have a chance to look around the school. Ask questions! Our older students will love to answer you."

Xander doubted that last part, but then she sounded exactly like the principal at Everglades had when he'd met Xander alone. He shrugged, not really caring. School had gotten more interesting then when he'd been in Sunnydale, but it was still school. He was more interested on meeting more people than he was on what exactly the classes were going to be like - though he hoped he didn't get any terrible teachers. They always made things so much more difficult than they really had to be, getting in a power struggle with the students.

He was walking through the halls, Hamza at his side, when he got to the locker section. Some older boys were holding a small kid against his will. Xander could feel anger filling him. No one deserved that, especially not on their first day of school. He was about to go over there and do something about it when someone beat him too it.

The boy stood taller than Xander, but shorter than those terrorizing the kid were. He had short blonde hair and he was heavy, but not fat. He looked American, sort of, but his accent definitely wasn't. Or at least it wasn't one he'd every heard of before.

"Git away from 'em, bloody dills."

That got their attention. They turned around letting the kid go. Seeing that he was free, he sprinted away, without a word of thanks.

"Whadda ya want, punk? You ruined our fun, so you getta replace him." The biggest of the three of them snarled.

But the boy just shook his head. "'M not afraid. Come'n." He brought up his fists into a fighting stance.

The one, who spoke, rushed him, a wild look on his face. The other two held back, confused. Xander figured they had most likely never been stood up to before, and they had no idea how to handle it.

The boy with the odd words sidestepped the rush, showing an incredible agility for such a large body. He yelled, "Olé!" And the growing crowd watched the older boy crash into the lockers, unable to stop his momentum. People starting laughing, and Xander and Hamza joined in. The boy looked down at the fallen bully and then up at the other two. Shrugging, he broke through the crowd and ran away. Xander wasn't really sure why, but he followed him.

Chapter 8

Xander raced down the hall after the new kid, and around a corner. He wasn't really paying all that much attention to where he was going, so when he turned he barely saw the boy had stopped. He tried to slow down and stop, but his feet weren't listening. With a sigh, he careened into the person he was trying to catch.

Hamza rounded the corner when the collision took place. He skidded to a stop in time, as both Xander and the older boy fell into a heap of limbs. He stared dumbfounded at them for a moment and then he began to laugh. At first it was only a quiet chuckle, but soon he was leaning against the wall to stop himself from joining them.

"Ow," Xander lamented, as he tried to untangle himself from the other.

"Watch where ye going, you fruit loop!" The boy commented as he pulled himself up.

Xander stayed on the ground a moment shaking his head to clear it. "I'm sorry I crashed into you man, but I just wanted to say, it was a good thing you did back there."

Hamza was still giggling, but the new kid ignored him. "I canna just stand still fo that."

Xander nodded. "I know. If you haven't done anything, I would have. This school'll be a better place with people like you here." He stood up, dusting off his pants.

The bigger boy looked confused for a second. "Ya mean Aussies?"

Xander shook his head and smiled. "No, no. I mean people who will look out for those who can't look out for themselves. Nice to meet you, my name's Xander."

"I'm Ryan. Who's your mate?"

Xander looked confused for a moment and then realized what he was being asked. "Oh, this laughing fool? He's Hamza."

The Arab's giggle turned into a lazy smile. He shook hands with Ryan, who turned to ask him a question.

"Where you from, Hamza?"

"United Arab Emirates. And you?"

Ryan stared at him. "I said I'm an Aussie."

Something clicked in Xander's mind. "Oh! You're from Australia!"


The bell rang, and each of them pulled out their schedules to find out where they had class. Ryan and Hamza had history together, but Xander was stuck with English, so they promised to meet for lunch and each went their separate ways.

Xander wandered the halls, trying to find his English class. He was also keeping an eye out for that incredible red hair he'd seen before. He was curious what the rest of her would look like. He knew some guys wore their hair long, but he was absolutely sure this person was a girl.

Unfortunately, he found his class before he found her. He looked inside, and seeing an empty desk, slid into it just before the teacher walked in. She was an old woman, and he knew before she said anything that this class was going to be a hard one to stay up in. He sighed, and did his best anyway.


The morning rolled by slowly and it was finally lunch time. He'd had Math after English, and Hamza had been there with him. Geography followed with Ryan, and then lastly History with both his new friends before lunch.

All in all it wasn't too bad. The teachers in Math and History were decent, while the Geography guy was horrible. He spent that whole class joking with Ryan. The teacher seemed absent minded, and though the entire class was talking quietly amongst themselves, he still went on with his lecture - even though no one was listening.

The cafeteria had much better facilities then either school back in Sunnydale or Everglades, but then it was for older kids, so it made sense. Everyone looked around trying to find a table. The place was packed, and her red hair eluded Xander once again.

"Oy, Xander, Hamza, table o'er here." Ryan shouted, trying to be heard over the noise in the room.

The two of them shuffled over to meet him. There were other people at the table, a boy and a girl talking.

"You mind if we sit here?" Xander asked.

The boy just waved yes in response, but it was obvious he was only interested in what the girl had to say. The girl looked like she didn't hear the interruption. Xander shrugged and sat down.

"So, Ryan, why'd your parents move from Australia to here?"

He shrugged. "They didn't. My brother's an ace doctor. He's real good, not just a figjam ya-know?"

Xander shook his head. "Uh, what's a figjam?"

Ryan laughed. "I forget you Seppos dunno how to speak English."


Ryan slapped his palm against his forehead. "Americans. It's the Aussie was to say Americans."

Xander nodded. "And figjam?"

Ryan pondered for a moment. "Ya know when someone thinks they're all that but they're really not?"

Xander nodded in understanding.

"So, me brother moved here to git away from the oldies. I followed 'long. They're still back home."

Xander turned to Hamza. "And you?"

The little boy grinned. "My father's a diplomat. So we move around a lot. I've been all over the world, but never to the United States."

Ryan grinned. "So Xander's the only Seppo here then. That's grouse!"

Xander shook his head. Ryan was a cool guy, but it was going to be an adventure just figuring out what he was talking about. He'd guess 'grouse' meant awesome or something, but he knew he'd find out later.

The three friends continued talking throughout the lunch period. After getting the general information out of the way, they started to tell each other stories about the past. Xander found himself chuckling for a lot of it. He was content. It was only his first day here, but he already had friends, and things could have been bad - especially after that wipe out on the board. Speaking of that…

"Hey guys, you seen any girls here with brilliant red hair?"

They both looked at him in question.

"I mean like a shade of red you're never seen before because it's so sharp and distinct. It just jumps out at you."

They both shook their heads, but the boy sharing the table turned to Xander. "I think I know who you're talking about. That's Kat. She's a second year, one of the popular crowd."

The expression on the girl's face, who was sitting with him, made it obvious she didn't like this Kat. "Why're you talking about Kat, Jimmy? I don't like her, she's mean to me."

The boy named Jimmy shook his head and pointed to Xander. "He asked about her. You know I only like you, don't you Jenny?"

She shrugged and they returned to their conversation.

Xander smiled and thought how well their names fit together - Jimmy and Jenny. Well, thanks to them now he knew the girl's name. Kat. He wondered if it was short for Katie, or Katherine, or something else entirely. He shrugged. He could look into it another day.

For now he was content to just sit down with his new friends, and enjoy the conversation. Hamza was telling a story about a prank he had pulled in Elementary. Xander zoned into the conversation and smiled. Today hadn't started off the way he wanted to, but it was sure turning out to be a good day.