Knight's Chosen

Author: Bastard Snow <mamille5[at]>

Rating: PG-13-ish

Disclaimer: None of the characters herein are mine. They belong to Joss, Mutant Enemy and whoever else they belong to. Not me. Also, I'm not makin' any money here, cuz that'd be dumb, and would open me up for all kinds of lawsuits.

Summary: Xander comes back from his summer trip exactly the same as he always was. Only not.

A/N: AU from S4. Anya and Riley will show up eventually, although Riley only because some basta —erm, a friend convinced me to. I've stolen from lines from lots of episodes all over, both before and after season 4. And sometimes even given them to characters who didn't say them. Please don't kill me for it.

Pairings: B/X, W/O, others

Feedback: Yes, Please!!!

Latest addition

Chapter 1

She sat alone on a couch in the back of the Bronze, sipping her drink and moping at what she felt was a complete lack of a social life. She was so wrapped up in staring at her drink that she didn't notice as a male figure stealthily moved out of the shadows, slowly approaching her from behind. As she brought her drink back to her lips again, a pair of hands quickly slipped over her eyes, and a raspy voice said, "Guess who, Slayer."

Acting on instinct, Buffy Summers whipped around and backhanded her unknown assailant in the face, causing him to fall quickly to the floor with no small amount of force.

"Geez, Buff. Way to welcome a guy home," he said.

"Ohmygosh, Xander!" she said, rushing over to where he lay on the floor. "Don't do that!" she yelled, hitting lightly on the arm.

"Okay, okay, I get it," he said, standing up. "No sneaking up on the Chosen One."

Buffy pulled him into a quick hug, and they walked back to the couch she'd been sitting on.

"When did you get back into town? How was your trip? Tell me everything!" she said.

"Pretty much now, fun and eventful, and 'no, that would take way too much time.' Besides, I'm still recovering from that savage beating I just received," he said, putting on his best wounded puppy face.

"Well, that's what you get for sneaking up on poor defenseless women like that," she stated simply.

Xander merely raised his eyebrows at her.

"Okay, so maybe not so defenseless. But you should know better than to sneak up on me like that! And what was with the voice, you sounded like… some… really old, smoker guy."

"Some really old smoker guy? Way to be one with the adjectives, Buff," he joked.

"Well, it's late, and I'm tired, and… and since when do you use the word 'adjectives' like an English major?" she asked.

Slipping back into the raspy voice, and giving his best evil grin, Xander replied, "You'll find I'm just full of surprises."

"And there you go with the voice again."

"Well, I had to do something to while away the hours on the road. Once I got past Oxnard, Uncle Rory's radio cut out, and I was lacking in the funds department, so I played around with scary voices that I could use to make nightly patrols just that much more fun. You like?"

"Whatever makes you happy," she said, smiling.

"Well, good," he said, relaxing into the couch a little more. "So, where's the rest of the gang?"

"Umm… Willow and Oz are doing… Willow and Oz things, and Giles is probably asleep by now, and I am here being Miss Single Sunnydale."

"Miss Single Sunnydale, huh? No guys have checked in at the Summers motel?"

"That better not be implying something about my dating habits."

"Ah… no. Not at all. I was merely enquiring as to the nature of your social life while attempting to fit as much of my foot in my mouth as is humanly possible."

"Oh. Well that's okay then. And to answer your question, no. No guys have checked in. They just drive right on past, ignoring the 'Vacancy' sign, and head towards a nicer place to stay," she said.

"Well they must not know what they're missing," he said, flashing one of his trademark goofy grins. "So, what's the what for the night?"

"Actually, I was about to pack it in and go back to the dorms. There's not much happening here. Still the remnants of the annual summer lull in vamp activity."

"And a big 'woohoo' was heard. The last thing I need right now is evil undead. I have enough to deal with, going back to the oh-so-fun place that I call home," he said sarcastically.

"You ok, Xand?" Buffy asked, a note of worry in her voice.

"Yeah, just not looking forward to going back there. Dad's gone all summer without yelling at me, so I'll get to listen to his rants for a while before he passes out. Hey, maybe he's already passed out! Ooh, happy thought!" He glanced down, and noticed the concerned look on his friend's face. "Ahh, don't worry about me, Buffster. Nothing I haven't dealt with before."

Though his last comment didn't seem to make her any happier, she accepted it for what it was.

"Well… wanna give me a ride back to campus? I could use the company," she said. "And who knows? Maybe Willow will be there, and you can say hi to her."

"I would love nothing more than escorting you to your humble abode, Miss Summers," Xander said, standing and extending his hand to help Buffy off the couch.

Taking his hand, Buffy smiled and said, "Thank you, kind gentleman."

She looped her arm into his and together they walked out of the Bronze.


Buffy unlocked the door to the room she shared with Willow and poked her head in.

"Hello?" she called out. There was no answer. "Darn. No Wills. Oh well. You wanna come in for a few, check out the new Summers/Rosenberg pad?"

"Sure thing, Buff," Xander said. "How could I pass up on spending time in the room of my two favorite women in all the world?"

"I don't know," she said. "How could you?"

"…I think that's kinda the point. I can't."

"Right," she said, opening the door fully, and stepping inside. "Well come on in."

Xander followed Buffy into the room and looked around.

"Damn Buff. This is a nice place. Huge, for freshman housing, or so I assume from the movies I've seen." he said. "How'd you guys get this room?"

"I don't know," she said, sitting down on her bed. "Cosmic karma payin' us back for saving the world so many times? We have kinda cornered the market on averted apocalypses."

"That must be it…" Xander said, skeptically.

"Well, either that, or Willow hacked into the housing department and got us one of the best rooms on campus?"

"Cosmic karma?"

"It's what we tell those not in the know. Although, we tell them it's because our high school blew up, not because we save the world a lot. So, really, what'd you do on your trip?"

"Ohhh, man. I don't wanna get into that tonight. I need sleep. What time is it?"

"Umm… It's 1:30."

"What's Will doin' out at 1:30 in the morning on a… what day is this?" Xander asked, sitting on Willow's bed.


"What's Will doing out at 1:30 in the morning on a Friday?"

"Well, technically Saturday, I suppose."

"So, what's she doing out at 1:30 in the morning on a Saturday?

"Her boyfriend?"

"Oh man," said Xander, rubbing his hands on his face, and stretching out on Willow's bed. "I so didn't need to hear that."

"Do I detect a twinge of jealousy, Mr. Harris?"

"No," he said, matter-of-factly. "You don't. I just really don't need to think about my best friend since pre-school like that. Okay, yeah, so there was the Fluke, so obviously, I already have. But, it's different."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, I mean, yeah. Oz is a great guy. But, she's my Willow, you know? And I feel a sort of… older brother need to glare menacingly at any guy who looks at her wrong, and threaten them with grievous bodily harm."

"Grievous bodily harm?" she asked.

Xander nodded. "But I really can't do that with Oz, so I feel…"

"Impotent?" Buffy suggested, jokingly.

"I was going for useless," Xander said, leaning up and glaring at his friend.

"Oh. Well, you're not useless, but when it comes to Will and Oz, you're pretty much gonna have to deal."

"Thanks, Buff," Xander said, yawning. "That's the sympathy I know and love."

Getting up, Xander said, "I guess I better get going, if I wanna sleep in my own fold-out couch in a wet basement tonight."

"Pity quest much?" she joked.

"Not really," Xander said. "But after three months on the road staying in motels, which, okay, some of them were fairly sketchy, but still, that rat-hole isn't something I'm looking forward to."

"If you hate it that much, why not just sleep here tonight? I'm sure Will won't care if you take her bed, and you can wait to face your room with a good night of sleep behind you."

"Wow. That's some choice, huh? Stay here in this palatial room with a gorgeous woman and a soft bed, or go home to my creaky, thin mattress and see what new smells I can find."

"Palatial?" she asked, choosing to ignore the other key word in that sentence.

"Like I said, full of surprises. I learned a lot of stuff on my trip, all of which I promise to share with you tomorrow. As for your offer… while I would love to sleep here, I think it would be best if I didn't give dear ol' Dad another day to work up his yelling scheme."

"You sure?"

Xander nodded. "Yeah. It's really not that bad. I'm just worn out."

"Okay," Buffy said, getting up to give her friend a hug.

Pulling Buffy in close to him, Xander said, "I missed you guys."

'Mmm, Buffy hugs. Good stuff,' Xander thought.

"Awww," said Buffy, smiling. "We missed you too. Now scooch. I need to sleep, too."

"Night Buff."

"Night Xan," she said, closing the door behind him after he left.


The car died about two blocks away from his house, so, making sure he had a cross and a stake in his pocket, Xander grabbed his bags and walked the last bit to his house.

Xander went around to the back of his house, not wanting to wake his parents. He found the back door unlocked, and took the stairs down to his room in the basement, pulling the door shut behind him and turning the lock.

Throwing his bags down as he turned on a light, Xander pulled off his shirt and pants, and began to rummage through one of his bags for the gym shorts and ratty t-shirt he slept in. He heard some creaking from the floor above.

"Guess Dad didn't pass out yet," he muttered, as he continued to look for his sleepwear.


"Harold? Harold! Harold Mitchell, wake up this instant!"

"What is it, Jean?" asked a sleepy Harold.

"I think I heard somebody downstairs!" she whispered urgently.

"Jean, there's nobody downstairs," he said wearily, knowing his efforts were futile.

"Well, go check anyway!" she said.

Harold sighed. "Yeah, okay."

Getting up from his bed, Harold pulled on his robe and slippers, and walked down the stairs, yawning. Upon reaching the kitchen, he noticed a light on in the basement.

'I didn't leave that light on,' he thought, quickly waking up. Harold looked around for a weapon. His eyes latched onto a carving knife lying on top of the kitchen counter. Picking it up, he approached the basement door.

Harold slowly opened the door, and looked down into the basement. The door creaked a little, and a male voice said, "It's just me, go back to sleep."

Harold slowly crept down the stairs, holding the knife close. The stairs creaked as he moved down, and he saw the well-muscled form of a young man pulling on a white t-shirt.

"I said it's just me," the man said, walking towards the couch.

"And just who the hell are you?" Harold asked.

The young man whirled around, a look of shock on his face.


Xander spun quickly, to see the source of this unknown intruder in his house wielding a very large, scary knife.

"Whoa," he said. "There's no need to go knifing anybody."

"Who the hell are you?" the man asked again. "And why are you in my house?"

"Your house?" Xander asked. "I'm Alexander Harris. I've lived here my whole life."

The man looked at him suspiciously. "Harris?"

"Yuh huh. The guy whose parents house you're currently holding a big knife in?" he said, flashing his best 'don't kill me' grin.

The man looked at Xander again, apparently trying to figure out if he was telling the truth.

Xander's surprise was apparently enough to convince him.

Lowering the knife, he said "Well. Um, I don't quite know how to tell you this. My name is Harold Mitchell, and I live here with my wife, Jean."

"You… live here?" Xander asked, confused. "With my parents?"

"Um… no. They sort of… moved," Harold said, quickly becoming uncomfortable. "Maybe you want some coffee?" he asked, motioning upstairs.

Xander stood there in stunned silence for a minute, eyes wide and disbelieving. "Christ!" he yelled.

Then he looked at Harold. "Yeah. Coffee. Thanks."

Harold and Xander went upstairs, both shaking their heads the entire time.


Once Harold had put on a pot of coffee and woken Jean, the three of them sat around the kitchen table.

"So…" Xander started, "When did you move in here?"

"Um. About two months ago," said Harold. "Jean and I had just gotten married, and my company transferred me here."

"Uh huh. And you ended up in this house how, exactly?"

"Well, before we moved, we lived in Seattle, in a furnished apartment with a couple of roommates. So, we were looking for sort of the same deal here, only without the other people. So I checked with a realtor in town, and he said that he had exactly what I was looking for, and it had just gone on the market a day before. The sign hadn't even been put up yet."

"Apparently, um, your parents decided to move, and for the right price were willing to leave the house pretty much as it was. Furniture and everything. So Jean and I came down, took a look, and decided that, with a little work, the house would be fine. They packed up their clothes, a few pictures, and left. The Har… um, your parents, said that they wanted to leave everything about this town behind," Harold said, quietly.

"I guess that included me," Xander said, angrily. "Look, I'm sorry about this. They didn't tell me anything. I've been on the road for the past three months. My parents… well, they weren't exactly the Cleavers." He shook his head.

"Well, if you need a place to stay for a few days…" Harold offered.

"No, I wouldn't want to inconvenience you," Xander said. "I'm sure I can stay with one of my friends. Can I use your phone?"

"Of course you can, feel free to call whomever you want." Jean said.

As Xander walked to the phone in the living room, Jean found her hand shaking with anger.

"That poor boy," she said quietly, when Xander was out of hearing distance. "I can't believe his parents would just abandon him like that."

"I know," Harold replied. "Although, he didn't seem too surprised. Maybe he's just in shock."

Xander returned to the room. "Okay. One of my friends is going to come pick me up. I'm really sorry about this," he said. "I just…"

"Oh, don't worry about it, honey," Jean said. "If there's anything we can do…"

Xander smiled a melancholy smile. "Thanks. Um… look, I know they sold you this place as it is, but I was wondering… there are a few things, not many, but a few, that are really important to me."

Xander looked at them, questioningly.

"Of course," Harold said. "Feel free to take whatever of your stuff you want."

Xander nodded. "I'll just go downstairs and gather up my stuff. My friend should be here in a few minutes."

The Mitchell's nodded at him, and watched him go downstairs.

"What an astounding young man," Jean said. "His parents just left him without telling him a thing, and he was more concerned about hassling us than about his own problems."

"Kind of incredible, isn't it?" Harold said, more a statement than a question.

Harold and Jean looked at each other lovingly. "I only hope that we can do as well, when it's our time," Jean said.

"Did you guys happen to keep any of the pictures that were downstairs?" Xander asked, coming up from the basement.

"I think so," Jean said. "We haven't really thrown anything out yet. There's a couple of boxes in the closet, let me get them."

Jean got up and moved to the closet in the hall. When she returned, she set two boxes down on the table, and Xander started to look through them. When he was half way through the first box, his eyes lit up, and he grabbed a photograph that was still in its frame.

"Oh, thank God," he said, showing them the picture. "I don't know what I'd have done without this."

They looked at the picture. It showed Xander with his two best friends, Buffy and Willow, during a peaceful day at the park. They all looked happy.

Jean and Harold smiled when they saw it, and Xander continued to look through the box. Finding nothing, he started in on the second box, when somebody knocked at the door. Xander looked up.

"I'll get that," Harold said, "You keep looking. Find what you need."

Xander smiled at him, as Harold moved towards the front of the house. Xander kept looking through the box, and found two more pictures, one of himself, Willow, and their old friend Jesse who had died more than two years ago. The other showed the whole Scooby Gang, including even Angel and Cordelia.

Harold opened the front door, surprised to see an older man wearing tweed and glasses.

"Oh, um, I'm sorry, I seem to have the wrong house," the man said, in a British accent. "I was looking for Alexander Harris's house?"

"No, this is the right house," Harold said.

"Um… right," he said, extending his hand. "I'm Rupert Giles."

"Harold Mitchell," Harold said, taking Giles' hand. "I think you'd better come inside."

Confused, Giles walked into the house as Xander put the pictures in his bag.

"Xander?" he asked. "What's going on?"

Xander saw Giles and smiled. "Hey G-man. Surprise! My folks moved out over the summer."

Giles looked shocked, as Harold sat at the kitchen table with his wife.

"They did what?"

"They moved. Hasta la vista. So long, bye bye," Xander said, bitterly. "Um… do you think I could crash at your place for the night?"

Giles looked at the young man, with sadness in his eyes. "Of course, Xander," Giles said. "My spare room is yours as long as you need it."

"Thanks, Giles. These folks were nice enough to let me grab some of my old stuff," he said, smiling sadly. "I'm sorry again about this," Xander said, turning to Harold and Jean. "I'll be out of your hair in just a minute."

"Don't be silly," Jean said. "This wasn't your fault, and really, it's no inconvenience. I'm just sorry this had to happen."

"And don't be a stranger," Harold added. "We want to hear from you. Besides, you've still got some stuff left here. You'll have to come back to get that, won't you?"

Xander looked at the couple and nodded. "Thanks. I will, yeah." He picked up his bags and looked at Giles. "You ready?"

Giles nodded.

"Thanks again," Xander said to the Mitchell's, and he walked out the front door.

Giles stood in the living room for a moment.

"He'll be alright, won't he?" Jean asked him.

Giles smiled at her. "Xander is one of the strongest, most capable people it has ever been my pleasure to know," Giles said, smirking. "Although I'll deny I ever said that, if asked."

Jean smiled at him. "If there's anything we can do to help…"

"Of course," Giles said. "I'm sure he'll be back soon to collect his belongings." He looked towards the door. "Well, I'd best be on my way."

"Oh, one last thing," Giles said, as he left the house. "This town isn't the safest place on Earth. Just a friendly warning, I wouldn't make a habit of inviting anybody you don't know inside after dark."


Giles unlocked the door to his apartment and led Xander inside.

"The guest room is right down that hall," Giles said. "Help yourself to anything in the kitchen, although there's not much. I've yet to go shopping this week."

"Ahh, acting like a true gentleman of leisure, eh G-man?" Xander said.

Giles smiled. "Yes, well… this has been a rather relaxing summer. I must admit, not having to deal with that troll Snyder has seriously brightened my outlook on life."

Xander laughed at this. "Well… anyway. I'm pretty tired. Do you mind if I hit the hay?"

"Not at all. Make yourself at home."

"'Kay. And Giles?"


"Thanks. For…"

"Of course," Giles said, understanding the unspoken words. Xander was thanking him for more than just the room. "Goodnight, Xander."

"Night, Giles."


The next day, Xander woke up to the sunlight shining into Giles' guest room. Walking out to the living room, he saw Giles sitting at the table with a cup of tea, and reading a newspaper.

"Mornin' G-man," he said.

"Xander, how many times must I ask you not to call me that name?" Giles asked, repeating his old protest with a smile.

Xander smiled back at him.

"Did you sleep well?"

"Like a baby," Xander said. "No, better than that. Like a baby on tranquilizers. That's one comfy bed you got in there. Yourself?"

"I slept quite well, thank you. I have some bagels. Help yourself, if you wish."

"Thanks," Xander said, moving into the kitchen. "I'll start looking for my own place soon. Although, I suppose I should also look for a job," he said.

"Don't worry about it, Xander," Giles said. "You have a place here as long as you wish, there is no hurry."

"Thanks," Xander said, cutting a bagel and dropping it in the toaster. "So, what's the plan for today? Any big evil on the horizon that needs researching?"

"No, nothing like that," Giles said. "Although Buffy and all are coming over around noon, just to check in."

"Cool beans," Xander said, glancing at the clock on the oven. '11:34. Just enough time to eat and grab a quick shower,' he thought. When his bagel was ready, he sat down across from Giles, stole the sports section, and ate in silence. Quickly finishing the food, Xander cleared his plate.

"So… uh, is there a shower?"

"Oh, yes. You can use the bathroom right across the hall from you. The water pressure's a little low, but it should be adequate."

"Thanks," Xander said, moving towards the back of the apartment.


Buffy, Willow and Oz walked into Giles's home five minutes before noon.

"Hi Giles," Buffy said as she entered the apartment. "What's happening?"

Willow and Oz followed her in, holding hands, each waving with their free hand.

"I don't suppose you've ever heard of knocking?" Giles asked.

"Sure, I've heard of it," Buffy replied. "I just don't believe in it. Besides, if you had to invite me in, how would you have known I'm not a vampire?"

"You mean besides the fact that it's the middle of the day?" he asked

Buffy tilted her head to the side for a second, as if listening to something.

"Giles, who's in your shower?" she asked, heading to the back end of the apartment.

"Um, yes, well…"

The door to the bathroom opened, and Buffy watched as a nearly dry, half-naked and surprisingly fit Xander ran quickly from the bathroom and into Giles's spare room.

"Giles," Buffy said, "why is there a half-naked Xander in your home?"

Willow and Oz looked up at her, surprised, when she said this.

"Xander's back?" Willow asked.

"And half-naked?" Oz asked.

"Well, I do think that's better left for him to explain," Giles said. "Although, as to the last part, I imagine he just finished showering."

Oz nodded, as if this explained everything.

A minute later, Xander came out of the back room, dry and fully dressed in a dark blue t-shirt and a pair of cargo khaki's.

"Hey guys!" he said.

Willow jumped up off the couch and gave him a big hug.

"Do we hug?" Xander asked Oz.

Oz shook his head. "I think we're too manly."

"Xan, when did you get home? And why did you come see Giles before me?" Willow asked, sounding a little hurt.

"I came back last night," he said, "Didn't Buffy tell you?"

Willow rounded on Buffy. "You knew he was back?"

"Well… it was late, and besides, I only saw you five minutes before we got here, and there hasn't been much in the way of conversation. He snuck up on me at the Bronze, and I brought him by the room, cuz I knew you'd wanna see him, but you weren't there."

"Will, calm down. It's no big, really. Besides," he said, flashing a big grin, "I'm here now."

Willow smiled at him, and gave him another hug. "I missed you," she said.

"Missed you, too."

Then she slapped him on the chest, before rejoining Oz on the couch. "And what's with not telling me when you were coming home, you big goon?"

"Umm… I wanted to surprise everybody? Or, uh, I was running out of money, and couldn't spare the $0.25 for a phone call, cuz I needed it for gas?"

"Oh," Willow said. "Well fine. But see that it doesn't happen again, you hear me?"

"Yes, ma'am," Xander said, saluting her with a smile.

"So, why are you showering at Giles's, Xand?" Buffy asked.

"Ah, well, you see—" he coughed. "I'm kind of, well… homeless."

"What do you mean?" Willow asked.

Xander recounted the previous night's events, as everybody listened in horror.

"Oh, Xander, I'm so sorry," Willow said, getting up to give him another hug, which was quickly followed by a hug from Buffy as well.

Oz got up from his seat and jogged out to his van, leaving everybody wondering what he was doing. He came back into the apartment and tossed Xander a pack of Twinkies.

Xander smiled at him. "Thanks," he said.

"Well, it's not a hug, but it's the best I can do," said Oz.

"Yeah. So I called the G-man here, and he picked me up, and here I am. That's the long and short of it. It's probably for the best, anyway. I needed to get out of there."

Willow nodded. She was the only one who really knew how bad Xander's family life had been, though Buffy had an idea from what he had said the previous night.

"Come Monday morning, I'm going job hunting, and after that, well, we'll see about maybe gettin' me my own place," Xander said. "So, anything else interesting happen around here while I was gone?"

"No," said Buffy, "It was pretty much the same old Sunnyhell you know and hate. Oh, but about a month ago, I killed something in that new apartment complex that's going up, over by Chestnut? Man, those places are nice! Expensive, though… so probably not what you're looking for."

"And in any other room," Oz said, "the interesting part of that statement would not deal with real estate."

"So, Giles, any new evil we should know about?" Buffy asked. "Any new insanely powerful super-beings that need their butt kicked?"

"Ah, no, not as such. Everything seems fairly quiet on the mystical front, I'm happy to say. Just the normal vampire activity, which should start picking up again soon, if the past few years are any indication."

"So no research?" Buffy asked. Giles shook his head. "Darn, and here I was hoping for another apocalypse."

Taking a deep breath and steeling himself for what he had to say, Xander raised his hand. "Um, actually, I think I've got something we should look into. But it's not evil, though."

"Oh?" said Giles, intrigued.

"Yeah, well, it'd probably just be better if I showed you," Xander said. "And that means we need to go somewhere things don't break quite so easy."

They all looked at him curiously.

"Well," he said, "it's a kind of a thing."

Chapter 2

After driving to a fairly deserted field on the outskirts of Sunnydale, Xander had everybody except Buffy back up from him a few feet.

"Okay. Buffy, punch me."


"Hit me. In the chest. Hard."

"Xander, I am not going to punch you. You could get hurt!"

"I know, Buffy, but it's okay. Trust me. Punch me."

Buffy looked to Giles, who shrugged. Buffy shook her head.

"Okay," she said reluctantly.

She released a powerful jab at Xander's chest, fully expecting to have to take him to the hospital afterwards.

Her fist never touched him. Instead, it hit a barrier that flashed white, about 6 inches from him. Xander never even flinched.

Buffy looked at Xander, surprised.

"Did you guys just see that?" She asked the others.

"Xander, what was that?" Willow asked.

"Like I said," he replied, "it's a kind of a thing."

"Fascinating," said Giles. "Does it work on anything?"

"What do you mean?" Xander asked.

"Well, can anything hit you? Arrows? Magic? Or is it just physical combat?"

"Oh. Well, I don't know about magic, I haven't tried that yet, but nothing else can hit me," he said. Xander then bent down, picked up a rock and tossed it to Oz.

"Here, throw that at me," he said.

Oz shrugged, and chucked the rock in Xander's direction. It hit the barrier with another white flash, and the rock dropped straight to the ground.

"See, it absorbs the force too. So whatever it is that hits me doesn't bounce off. It hits the… well, the thing, and stops. Arrows, bullets, fists, feet, whatever. Can't hit me."

"But," said Buffy, "then how was I able to hit you last night?"

"You hit him?" Willow asked, accusingly.

"Well, he snuck up on me, and he used this other voice, and I didn't know it was him!" she protested.

"It's all right," Xander said. "You hit me because I kinda have to turn it on in my head."

"So why don't you have a bruise? I hit you pretty hard."

"Huh," he said. "I don't know. I guess that's just another stage."

"Can you fight?" Buffy asked.

Xander grinned. "Like you wouldn't believe. When I fight, the barrier moves closer into my body, and doesn't absorb as much damage, although still a lot, but it hits whatever I'm fighting against, too. And with a lot more force than I ever could."

"Oh, this I have to see," said Giles.

Everyone looked at him.

"What? It's exciting!"

Shaking their heads, everyone looked back to Xander, who shrugged and dropped into a Karate stance across from Buffy. Buffy looked a little surprised. "Where'd you learn that?"

"I woke up one morning, a couple days after I found out about the shield, and I knew how to fight," he said, shifting to a Wu Shu stance. "This work better for you?"

"Whatever makes you happy," she said, getting into her normal fighting position.

"That's the second time you've said that. Buffy Summers, are you coming on to me?" he asked.

She gave him a sultry smile. "Are you gonna talk all day, or are we gonna fight?"

Xander grinned, extended one arm in front of him and gave her the universal 'bring it' hand motion. "I've always wanted to do that."

Buffy rushed Xander, attacking low, trying to take out his legs, but Xander jumped, landing behind her. Buffy spun to backhand him, but her arm was blocked by Xander's, while his leg shot out to kick her.

Buffy deflected his kick with her free hand, and tried one of her own. This kick was in turn blocked, while Xander aimed a punch at her head, which barely missed as she whipped her head back out of the way.

They both backed up a few steps, to regain their balance. This time, Xander took the initiative and attacked Buffy. They continued to fight for about five minutes, neither landing a blow the entire time.

"Yes, well, I think that's enough," Giles said, motioning for the two to stop fighting. "This is truly remarkable, Xander. When did you first notice the change?"

"About 3 weeks into my trip. I was in San Francisco, and got jumped by a couple of vamps. When I found out they couldn't hit me, I pulled a stake and chased after them. Didn't manage to dust 'em, though."

"And the fighting?"

"Like I said, a couple of days after the shield thingy. I just woke up and was pretty much all Bruce Lee like. A few days after that, I got some more speed and stuff, and I'm real agile now. It seems to come in stages."

"I see," Giles said. "Well, we shall certainly have to look into this more."

Buffy glared at Xander.

"What?" he asked.

"You put him in research mode. Xander, you put Giles in research mode."

"It's nothing we haven't done a hundred times before."

"I know, but he gets all British, and starts correcting grammar. Plus, we always have donuts in research mode, and I so do not need the extra calories right now."

"Buffy, you have a metabolism that can process an entire cow in a day, and you're worried about a couple of donuts?"

"Well, sometimes a girl likes to feel unpig-like."

"I never think you're pig-like."

"Don't think compliments are getting you out if this one, Harris. If Giles starts talking about ending a sentence with a preposition two days before school starts, that shield of yours won't be enough protection."


"Are there any other effects?" Giles asked, once they had returned to his apartment, complete with a box of donuts.

"Well… if I turn the shield on, then sit on a hard chair, my butt gets all glowy, but I don't think that's what you mean."

"No. Um, have you found you have heightened senses, o- or increased stamina, or something like that?"

"Well," Xander said, "Not that there was anything wrong with my stamina before, but yeah, I've got more. But that's a negatory on the increased awareness. I still pretty much bumble around like I always did, only now it doesn't hurt quite so much."

"Yes well, um, any other sort of… knowledge? Your hand-to-hand seems fairly well rounded, any other skills?"

"I dunno. I wield a mean stake, but that might just be from hanging around Buffy for so long. I haven't really tried any other weapons. I didn't know about the fighting until I ran into a few vamps in Portland. I started to fight, and the stuff just came to me. So maybe if I try fighting with some swords or something. I just haven't."

"Well, we shall have to test that out at some point. For now, I suggest we all hit the books, see what we can come up with, yes?"

Xander nodded and grabbed a book, excited about finding what was happening to him. Willow had already started reading through one of Giles's prophecy books, and was sitting on Giles's couch next to Oz, who seemed to be content watching her read. Buffy, on the other hand, was walking around, tidying up Giles's apartment, seemingly trying to find any way possible to get out of research.

"Buffy, we really do need to find out what's going on with Xander."

"But, Giles…" she whined, "don't wanna study."

"Buffy, if you don't grab a book this instant, I shall be forced to revoke your donut privileges."

"You wouldn't!"

"Don't test me, young woman. I may not officially be your Watcher any more, but I paid for those donuts, and they're not going to anybody who decides not to help."

Buffy looked to Willow for help, but Willow raised her hands as if to say 'not my fight.'

"Xan? Help?" she asked.

"Sorry Buff," he said, "you know I'd do anything for ya, but Giles here's my roof until I find a place to stay. My hands are tied."

Buffy gave one last pleading look to Giles, but he merely reached into the box, pulled out a jelly donut and took a big bite.

"Fine," Buffy said, grabbing a book and sitting down in a chair next to Xander, who was having trouble not laughing, "but I'm only doing this because you're my friend!"

Xander leaned over and gave her a quick hug. "Thank you, Buffy," he said, patronizingly.

Buffy grunted, grabbed a crème-filled and set to work looking through the book.


Three hours later

"Huh," said Oz.

Everybody looked up from their books.

"Didja find something sweetie?" Willow asked, leaning over Oz's book to see what he was reading.

"Maybe," Oz said, continuing to read.

"What does it say?" Giles asked.

Oz continued to read for a few seconds, then cleared his throat.

"It says 'He who is noble shall know his power once abandoned. He shall know his name by the wayward Souled, and once returned, shall fight along side the Chosen One, and through peril see her, as none other can.' And then it goes on about his powers… increased strength, the shield thing, some martial arts and weapons knowledge, and apparently some powers of healing, which sound pretty nifty."

"Healing? Like, I don't get bruises and stuff?" Xander asked.

"That, yeah," Oz said, handing the book to Giles. "But also like poison curing, 'share my aura' healing."

"Wow," Xander said.

"Yeah," said Oz. "Nifty."

"'The wayward Souled,'" Giles read. "Do you suppose that means Angel?"

"Or, more likely Angelus," Willow said. "Cuz of the 'wayward.'"

"Yes, of course," Giles said. "Xander, do you remember anything Angelus ever called you?"

"You mean other than worthless? No, I've pretty much blocked out that whole timeframe in my head."

"Yes, right. Well, I suppose we shall have to call him," Giles said.

"You have his phone number?" Buffy asked. "How come you have his phone number?"

"Well, he… called me a day or two ago. He and Cordelia have apparently set up some sort of… for hire detective agency, in Los Angeles. He gave me his phone number… you know, for emergencies and the like."

"He's working with Cordy?" Xander asked. "Well that's gotta be fun."

Buffy looked upset. "Yeah. Well, I have a… um. Thing. I'll… be back… later," she said, getting up and walking out, quickly.

"Good going, Giles," Willow said, following Buffy outside.

"What did I do?" he asked.

"I think the Buffster's still got Deadboy issues," Xander said.

"Oh," Giles said. "But it's been more than three months since he left. Surely she can handle talking about him by now."

"Talking's one thing G-man," Xander said. "But he called you, and not her. Not the easiest thing to hear. Plus, you know how love makes you do the wacky. Things like this take time."

"Yes, I do suppose you're right," Giles said. "So, um… do you wish to call him, or shall I?"

"Yeah, me and Overbite never got a long too well. I think maybe you'd better do the calling."


"Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless," Cordelia said, answering the phone.

[Cordelia, hello] Giles said. [Um, is Angel around?]

"Giles! Oh my gosh, how are you?!?" she asked. "How's the gang?"

[Yes, uh, we're all doing quite well. And yourself?]

"Oh, well, you know, I'm helping Angel out with his whole 'paying for my sins' thing, but it's totally just temporary until I can get an acting job. Actually, I met this really important director guy the other day, and he was so about to help me out and get me a job, but it turned out he was a vampire, and he had lured me into this GORGEOUS mansion that he lived in, but Angel came and totally kicked his ass, and then the next day, Angel walked into this big law firm type place, where the guy was at because they're his lawyers, and he just threw him out a window, right into the sunlight! Can you believe, the one offer I get is from a vampire? It's like I bring Sunnydale with me!"

[Um, yes, quite. Er, is Angel around, by any chance?] Giles asked, hoping the question would register this time. [It's quite important, really.]

"Oh sure, hold on a second," she said. "ANGEL! GILES IS ON THE PHONE!!"

Putting the phone back to her ear, she heard Giles, […some warning next time. Xander, did you know she had lungs like that?] She heard laughter in the background.

"Oh, you so do not want him to answer that, Giles," Cordelia said.

"Giles, how are you?" Angel asked as he picked up the phone.

"He's impressed with my lung power," Cordelia said.

[Um, yes. Right. Angel, I have a question, although I'm not quite sure, um, whether you'll remember the answer or not. It's about your time in Sunnydale.]

"I remember everything from when I was in Sunnydale. I have had 240 years to hone my memory skills," Angel said.

[Yes, but it's about when you were… not quite yourself.]

"Oh," said Angel, becoming a little more uncomfortable. "Well, I suppose I can try to remember what… he did."

[Well, it's not so much something Angelus did, more what he said.] Giles explained. [Something he said to Xander.]

"To Xander?" Cordelia said. "What would Angelus have said to Xander?"

[That's what we're trying to figure out. He… as silly as it sounds, he called Xander a name, and we need to know what it was. We don't know when, and Xander can't remember. Angel, if you can remember anything…]

"I'll try. But why do you need to know this?" Angel asked.

[Well, we've come across a prophecy--] Giles started.

"That deals with Xander?!?" Cordelia asked, incredulously. "What did he ever do to deserve a prophecy?"

[Hanging around with a Slayer and a souled vampire, it's a wonder we don't all have prophecies about us] Giles said. [But Xander has recently… acquired some new abilities. And there seems to be a prophecy about it, but we can't find what to call him. It's just, the prophecy Oz found says Angelus named him.]

"What exactly does the prophecy say?" Angel asked. "It might be helpful if I knew what I'm supposed to be remembering."

[Yes. Of course. Oz, hand me that book, would you? The prophecy reads 'He who is noble shall know his power once abandoned. He shall know his mantle by the wayward Souled, and once returned, shall fight along side the Chosen One, and through peril see her, as none other can.' We thought that you were the wayward Souled, or, well, Angelus was.]



Xander is standing in a white hall, looking Angelus in the face.

"Visiting hours are over," Xander said.

"Well, I'm pretty much family," Angelus said.

"Yeah? Why don't you come back during the day? Oh, gee, no, I guess you can't."

Angelus leaned in, threateningly. "If I decide to walk into Buffy's room, do you think for one microsecond that you could stop me?"

"Maybe not. Maybe those security guards couldn't either. Or those cops… or the orderlies…. But I'm kinda curious to find out. You game?"

Angelus paused. "Buffy's White Knight. You still love her." Angelus leaned in close. "It must just eat you up that I got there first."

"You're gonna die," Xander said. "And I'm gonna be there."

Angelus slapped a bouquet of flowers into Xander's chest. "Tell her I stopped by," he said, and then walked back through the waiting room towards the elevator.

{End Flashback}


"White Knight," Angel said into the phone. "I called him Buffy's White Knight. When she was in the hospital with that flu… from Der Kinderstod or whatever it was."

[Oh. Oh, yes, I see. Thank you. I do seem to recall a few entries about that in some of my books. Thank you.] Giles said. [Do you mind my asking why?]

"I don't mind you asking," Angel said, "but I'm willing to bet he can tell you better than I can, once you jog his memory."

[Of course, I shall have to ask him] Giles said.

"Giles, what did you mean abandoned?" Cordelia asked.

[Oh. Well, it appears that about two months ago, while Xander was out traveling, his parents sold their house and left town. I haven't done the math yet, but that appears to be about the time his powers began to manifest themselves, so it would seem to fit] Giles said.

"Oh my gosh, is he okay?" Cordelia asked.

[Yes, he seems to be doing quite well. He's staying with me for the time being.]

"Okay. Well tell him to call me if he needs anything," Cordelia said. "I still owe him after that last little stunt he pulled at prom, no matter what he says."

[Yes, of course. I'm sure he'll be grateful. Um, I really must be going, I'm afraid. We still have quite a bit of research to do.]

"Of course," Angel said. "Um, Cor, could you…"

"Yeah, yeah," she said. "Bye Giles."


"So, Giles… how is she?" Angel asked.

[Well, she seemed to be doing fine, until I mentioned today that I had been in contact with you. She… kind of stormed out, and then Willow yelled at me and followed her.]

"But, normally…"

[Normally, she seems to be doing quite well.]

"Okay. Well, if you need anything…" Angel said.

[Of course, you'll be the first we call. Thank you, Angel.]


"Go away," Buffy said, sitting on a bench near Giles's apartment. "I'm fine."

"Buffy, you're not fine," Willow said. "You're obviously upset. Come on, talk to me."

"I'm fine, it's just… how come he talked to Giles, and not to me? Didn't he know I'd want to talk?"

"Maybe he did," Willow said. "And maybe that's why he didn't call you."

"But that doesn't make sense," Buffy said, tears forming in her eyes. "If he knew I would want to talk…"

"But, Buffy, listen. Angel loves, you, okay? But he knows that you need to get over him, and that's more important than him talking to you. Buffy, we all know you miss him, I'm sure he does too. But even you have to agree that you're better off without him. I know it hurts, but you two had no future. We talked about this. It's hard, but you need to let him go."

"I know. I mean, I can usually go all day without thinking of him. In fact, I didn't even notice that I didn't think of him until today. Sometimes I just miss him so much."

"I know, Buffy. But we're here for you, all of us. We may not know the right thing to say all the time, or… or at all, but we love you. And you can talk to all of us, about anything. Well, okay, maybe not Giles so much, cuz you know, that'd give him major wiggins, but in a less graphic way, him too."

"Thanks," Buffy said, smiling and wiping her tears away. "I think I just need to maybe get back out there, see if somebody can take my mind off him."

"You mean like a rebound guy?" Willow asked, a little worried.

"No," Buffy said. "Not a rebound… but, maybe a nice guy, with a pulse who doesn't know about all my… stuff, and just wants me for me. And who's hot."

Willow smiled. "Well, that never hurts. You wanna go back inside?"

Buffy smiled and shook her head. "In a few minutes. I need to clean me up."

"Okay," Willow said. "Well, we'll all be here."

Willow got up and walked back inside.

"How is she?" asked Xander, who was waiting at the door for the girls to come back.

"Gettin' better, but still not all the way there," Willow replied. "You should go talk to her. She might like to hear what must be your unique perspective on the situation."

"Ya think? Cuz I never have been a fan of Deadboy, and I'm not sure she needs to hear that."

"I know, but just be tactful. I'm sure she'll appreciate whatever it is you have to say."


"Good," said Willow. "Now I'm gonna go apologize to Giles, cuz of being snappy."

Xander smiled. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

Xander walked up to where Buffy was sitting.

"You know, it's not safe out here," he said as he approached her.

"Xan, it's 4:30 in the afternoon. The sun is still up," Buffy said.

"I know. That's what I mean. A pretty young thing like you, all alone... might get skin cancer."

Buffy laughed while wiping her eyes.

"Are you ok?" he asked.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "It's just sometimes I don't know if I'm gonna be able to deal, you know?"

"Of course you can deal," he said. "You're Buffy!"

She looked up at him skeptically.

"Buffy listen," he said, crouching down in front of her. "I've gone through some pretty dark times in my life, and faced some scary things, among them dating a bug lady, an Incan Mummy Princess and going to prom with a thousand-year-old former vengeance demon, who likes nothing more than to talk about her many, many male eviscerations. But let me tell you something. When it's dark, and I'm alone, and I'm scared or freaked out or whatever, I always think 'What would Buffy do?' You're the strongest person I've ever met. You've done and faced things that would make most men give up and run away, and you came through it stronger. You're my hero, Buff."

Buffy looked up at him, her eyes still wet. "You mean that?"

"Of course I do. Okay, so sometimes, when it's dark, and I'm alone, I think 'What is Buffy wearing?'"

"Can that be one of those things you never, ever tell me about?"

"Deal," he said, standing up and grinning. "Come on, let's go tackle some books, and see what they say about me. And later, we'll get ice cream."


"You know, I'd really like reading about myself more if there was actually something to read," Xander said. "Aren't there supposed to be prophecies about this stuff? More than just 'There will be hard times' and 'Mr. Room Temperature will name you'?"

"Hey, what did he name you? I wasn't here when you guys found out," Buffy said.

"He called Xander a White Knight," Oz said.

"When did he say that, Xan?" Willow asked. "I don't remember it either."

"Oh… yeah. Right. That was when Buffy was in the hospital, with that whole Der Kinderstod thing. Angelus showed up, and I kinda… got him to leave."

"Got him to leave?" Buffy asked. "How'd ya pull that one off?"

"I kind of, umm… well, I told him to leave," Xander said, a little embarrassed and not wanting to sound like a braggart. Xander shrugged. "He called me a White Knight and left. Oh, but he gave me flowers for you, Buffy. Sorry, I threw them out."

"So," Willow said, "what you're saying is that you faced Angelus down with no back up, and he ran away?"

"Um… I guess," he said.

"Wow," Oz said.

"Yes, wow is right. Xander, that was terribly foolish of you," said Giles.

"Well, what was I supposed to do? Let him get to Buffy and kill her? Or worse, turn her?"

"Well, no, but –"

"But nothing. I did what had to be done, and that's all," Xander said. "Besides, that's like a year and a half ago now."

"Yes. Well. I suppose we should get back to work."

"I agree with Giles," Xander said, wanting the attention off of him. "Hand me that book, would ya Buff?"

Diving back into research mode, the Scooby Gang searched for any prophecies they could find about the White Knight. Buffy neglected patrolling for the night, and they all stayed up until about 1:30 am looking for prophecies.

"Well, that one's a bust, too," said Willow, throwing a book back into the pile. "Not finding things isn't as fun as… well, finding them. And I'm tired."

"Yes, well, I think we've all done enough for one day," Giles said. "Why don't you three head home, and we'll pick up again in the morning."

After the three college-bound Scoobies left, Giles got ready to go to bed.

"Hey, I'm just gonna stay up for a little while and watch TV, ok Giles?"

"Certainly, Xander. Just keep the volume down?"

"No prob, G-man. G'night."



Giles looked through one of the books he had near his bed before he went to sleep, paging through it for any reference to the White Knight. His finger scrolled down the page, and paused as a phrase caught his eye. Adjusting his glasses, Giles re-read the passage twice before sighing.

"Well," he said to himself, "I certainly can't tell them that."

Chapter 3

Buffy and Willow woke the next morning and went to the cafeteria for breakfast.

"I can't believe Giles made us research," Buffy said.

"Well, but it was of the good. I mean, Xander has these powers now. That's in the 'yay' column, right?" Willow asked.

"Well, yeah, I mean it's always good to have help, and Xander definitely will want to help. Ugh. Don't pay attention to me, I just wanted to put off research mode until it was absolutely necessary for some evil, or whatever."

Buffy and Willow reached the line, grabbed a tray each and started putting food on them.

Buffy grabbed a box each of milk and cereal, put them on her tray and moved down the line.

"That's not effective use of meal points," said the tall, dark haired, young man in front of her.

"Effective use of meal points?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said. "See, you gotta stash things. Like a banana," he said, grabbing the fruit in front of him. "It fits in a pocket, easy. Apples and oranges will usually fit under those Styrofoam bowls they have for cereal, and milk… milk's tricky."

"Is it?" Buffy asked, intrigued.

He smiled. "Yeah. See, you could stick it in a backpack, but there's a high visibility factor. You could go for another pocket, but if the pocket's too small, you risk busting the milk, and then you got wet pants. And that's not fun for anybody."

"I see," she said, amused. "I'll be sure to use my meal points more effectively next time."

"Good. My name's Parker, by the way," he said, holding out his hand.

"Buffy," she said, shaking his hand.

"So, freshman, huh?" he asked.

"Is it that obvious?"

"Only to the trained eye, like mine. Plus, the lack of dining hall experience is a dead giveaway," he said as he gave his meal ticket to the man at the register. Smiling, Parker picked up his food and waved. "See you around."

Buffy and Willow headed to a table and sat down, after paying for their meals.

"So, who was that?" Willow asked accusingly.

"That was, apparently, Parker," Buffy said.

"Mm hmm. And Parker would be?"

"Some… cute boy who showed me how to steal food from the dining hall."

"A cute boy, you say?" Willow said. "And will you be seeing this cute boy again?"

"Will," Buffy said, "he's just a guy in a line getting food. It was just a… random cute-boy encounter. Not like we made plans to have kids or anything."

"I see," said Willow 'He looks kinda like Xander' "And this would be the same cute boy who's sitting over there staring at the back of your head?"

Buffy whipped her head around, and saw that, indeed, Parker was looking at her. He waved. Blushing, Buffy waved back and turned towards Willow.

"Yes," Buffy said. "That would indeed be the same boy."

"A potential."


"A potential date."

"I'm sure he's just being friendly. Besides, he didn't even ask me out or anything. He's probably not even interested."

Willow grabbed Buffy's hand. "And, if he were to ask you out, what would you say?"

"Will, I hardly know him. I mean… he seems nice enough. And definitely in the hot region. So.. yeah. I guess. But nothing serious, like a date. A 'get to know you' thing. If he asked me out on a 'get to know you,' then I would say yes."

"I see," said Willow, releasing Buffy's hand.

"Hey Buffy," Parker said, appearing at her side and crouching down as Buffy's eyes went wide. "Umm, I was wondering. A few of my friends are throwing this party tonight, nothing big, just kind of a 'getting to know you' thing for some freshmen. Do you… maybe wanna go with me? Um, your friend…"

"Willow," Willow supplied.

"Is invited, too, and if you wanna bring other people. I just figured, you know, since you're new and all, it might help you get acquainted. Meet some people on campus," Parker said. "Nothing too serious."

Buffy glared at Willow for a couple of seconds, then turned to face Parker. "Sure," she said, as non-chalantly as possible. "I'd love to."

"Great," said Parker. "It starts at ten, but nobody's gonna show until eleven, at least. It's at the Phi Sig house, just off campus. You know where that is?"

Buffy nodded.

"Great. Well, then I guess I'll see you tonight. Nice to meet you, Willow," he said, moving off.

Buffy turned back to Willow, who had a huge grin on her face.

"I cannot believe you just did that. He was standing behind me the whole time I said that, wasn't he?"

"Not the whole time. I think he came in about the time you called him hot," Willow said, proud of herself.

Buffy glared at her some more. "Fine. But you're coming with me tonight. There is no way I can possibly go alone, especially not after that performance."

"Oh, but, I can't!" Willow said. "The Dingoes are playing at the Bronze, and I have to be there to support Oz!"

"Will! You got me into this!"

"Why don't you take Xander?" Willow suggested. "I'm sure he'll be happy to get out of Giles's place, and he could probably use something to take his mind off his stupid parents leaving. Who knows? Maybe he'll meet a girl there!"

"I suppose…" Buffy said, reluctantly. "Okay. I'll ask Xander when we get to Giles's."

"Good," Willow said. "Now let's eat, I'm starving."


"You want me to what?"

"Come to this party with me. Well, not with me, with me, cuz there's this boy that I'm meeting there, but I don't wanna go alone, and… and maybe you can meet some girl there!"

Xander looked at Willow, who smiled at him.

'Just my luck' Xander thought. 'She finally asks me out, but it's so she's more comfortable around another guy.'

"Please, Xan…" Buffy said, pouting out her lower lip. "For me?"

"That's not fair, and you know it," he said, pointing an accusing finger at her.

Buffy hit him with her puppy dog eyes.

"Fine! Fine. I give up. I'll go to this stupid party with you. I can't stay out too late, though. I'm sure Giles needs to get some sleep without me coming in at all hours of the night, and I have to get up early tomorrow and start looking for a job."

"Great!" Buffy said. "Pick me up at 10:30?"

Xander nodded sullenly.

"Now that everybody's social life is in order, can we return to the task at hand?" Giles asked, impatiently.

"Yup!" Buffy said, grabbing a book and sitting down.

"Good. Now, I have come across a few entries dealing with… well, with Xander. It appears that some evil or other shall rise on the night of the blue moon, and destroy life as we know it, unless the Chosen One and the White Knight can stop it."

"Giles!" Buffy said. "I told you, no apocalypses until October. That's still a whole month away."

"Well, I'm sorry, Buffy, but prophecies wait for no Slayer. We still have a few weeks left until the blue moon, though, which should be ample time to prepare."

"What is a blue moon, anyway?" asked Xander. "Other than a song, I mean."

"A blue moon is the second full moon occurring within one month," Giles explained.

"Guess that means I'm out of the fight," Oz said.

"Um, yes, I expect so. But the prophecy only refers to the Chosen One and the White Knight fighting, so perhaps your particular skills will not be necessary to avert this particular apocalypse."

"So what's the big bad this time?" Buffy asked.

"I'm not sure yet," Giles said. "Some demon or other, probably. I still have a few texts to look through."

"Does anybody else find it odd that we're sitting here talking about an apocalypse like it was a book report?" Xander asked. "Should we maybe be a little more worried?"

Everybody looked at each other, then shook their heads.

"Just wondering," Xander said.

Everybody went back to their reading.


At 7 pm, Oz left to go set up at the Bronze where his band, Dingoes Ate My Baby, were performing that night. Buffy and Willow left soon after to get Buffy ready for the party that night, leaving Giles and Xander to continue research.

"So, what type of job do you think you'll look for?" Giles asked later, sipping his tea and turning a dusty page.

"Well, I was thinking about that earlier," Xander said, looking up from his book. "You remember how in high school I loved to work with papers and books and all that?"

Giles looked up. "Um. No, actually, I don't."

"Me either. I figured I'm more of a hands-on type of guy. And now I've got this strength thing going for me, so I think either I'll become a professional wrestler, or like some kind of construction type deal."

"A professional wrestler?"

"Yeah. But then I'd have to come up with a name, and a costume, and really, it's just not worth it. And I thought 'Well, whenever we've got an apocalypse on the horizon, we tend to destroy things.' Right? I mean, we blowed up the high school pretty good."

"Yes, I suppose that's right. And you know, you do speak the language natively, it wouldn't do you too much harm to speak it correctly."

Xander grinned. "Yes it would. Anyway, if stuff keeps getting destroyed, it must need to get rebuilt. And I'm willing to bet that anybody who's willing to stay on a crew in this town for more than a few months will have a quick shot at promotion. What do you think, not too crazy?"

"Actually, that seems like a very solid plan. I would imagine there is a high turnover rate in any job like that here in Sunnydale. Well thought out, Xander."

"Thanks G-man. Well, I guess I'd better get ready to escort Buffy to her date," Xander said, a little bitterly.

"Do I detect a note of jealousy?" Giles asked.

"Gee, why would I be jealous?" Xander asked, sarcastically.

Giles looked at him over the rim of his glasses.

"Giles, close your eyes and imagine this for a second."

Giles looked at him skeptically.

"I'm serious, this is a serious exercise."

"Oh, all right."

Giles closed his eyes.

"Ok, you're 16, it's early on in your sophomore year of high school. Your hormones are raging, like they do for every boy of that age. You're riding your skateboard to school, avoiding people, weaving in and out of pedestrian traffic. You're looking for your best friend because you're having problems with the math, and seem well on your way to solidifying yourself as the class loser yet again. You get to school, and it seems to you like the crowd parts. You see a flash of blonde hair. Remember, you're sixteen years old. Somebody walks in front of you, obstructing your view for a second. Sixteen years old, yes?"

"I get it Xander, I'm sixteen."

"Right. So the person in front of you moves. And you see a girl you've never seen before. She tosses her hair over her shoulder, and you see… Buffy."


"You're a sixteen-year-old, red-blooded American boy, hormones raging, and the first thing you see at school is Buffy."

"I see what you mean, she is a lovely young woman," Giles said.

"Right. So 'lovely' that you skateboard right into a stair railing. Then you talk to her later that day, and find out what an amazing person she is."

"I think I see your point."

"Now multiply that by 3 years."

"Oh. Oh dear."

"And now you get the picture."

"But, um, well, I don't wish to pry…"

"Ask away, G-man, I can take it."


"Ah. Yeah, Cordy. She was great. And I did love her, but the truth is, she was never first in my eyes."

"Oh," said Giles.

"Or second, for that matter."

"Right. But you…"

"I did love her. But I knew, and I think she did too, that it just wasn't right. My little thing with Willow proved that."

"Yes. I suppose it's for the best, really."

"Yeah. But hey, maybe this guy actually has a pulse. That's gotta be better, right? I mean… that means he's a lot less likely to try to kill us all."

"I would think so, yes."

"Right. Well, like I said, I better get ready. Wouldn't wanna keep Buffy waiting."

"Of course," Giles said as Xander walked towards his room. 'Poor man. If only you knew' Giles thought.


"Just a second!" Buffy yelled, having heard a quick couple of knocks on her door. She grabbed her hairbrush and opened the door.

"Whaahhaaah," was the greeting she received.

"Should I take that as a compliment?" she asked, letting Xander into the room. He nodded, jaw open and not making any sounds. Buffy was wearing a low-cut, red top that hugged her in all the right places, and black pants that accentuated the curve of her hips without being so tight that they looked uncomfortable. Her hair was let down, sweeping gently across her back a few inches below her shoulders.

Buffy rushed over to the mirror on her closet door and brushed her hair a few more times.

"You really think I look okay?" she asked.

"No," he said. "You look fabulous."

Buffy turned around and smiled at him.

"You don't look half bad yourself," she said, giving him a quick look up and down. Xander was wearing a relatively tight black shirt that showed off his newly acquired muscles, a loose fitting black jacket that seemed to hang off his shoulders. "In fact, I bet you get lucky."

"Yeah," Xander said sarcastically, "I'm definitely in the mood for some meaningless sex. It worked out so well the last time. Me, half-naked outside of Faith's room, her trying to kill us. What could be funner?"

"Hey, I'm sure that there aren't gonna be any rogue Slayers at this party. Last time I heard, which was about a week ago, Faith was still in a coma. No new Slayers have been called. Besides, I didn't really mean you should go sleep with some random girl. I just want my Xander-shaped friend to be happy, that's all."

"I know," Xander said. "I want that too. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find somebody more in favor of Xander-shaped happiness than me. Just gets a little lonely in here some times, that's all."

"Well, let's go fix that, shall we?" Buffy said, as she led Xander out the door.

'Let's' Xander thought. 'If only.'


"Buffy!" Parker said, opening the door to the frat house. "You look amazing! I'm glad you could make it."

"Hi, Parker," Buffy said. "This is Xander, one of my best friends from high school."

"Xander, nice to meet you," Parker said, extending his hand.

"Hey," Xander said, making sure to give Parker's hand an extra-firm squeeze. 'He looks like me. Dammit, she's going after Xander-clones, but not Xander!'

"Well, come on in, make yourselves at home. Drinks are in the kitchen, help yourselves to whatever you want. Buffy, come here, let me show you some stuff," Parker said, grabbing Buffy's hand and dragging her towards the back of the house.

"Um, okay," Buffy said, allowing herself to be led. "Xander, go mingle!" she shouted over her shoulder as she followed Parker.

"Mingle," Xander muttered. "Yay. Fun."

Heading towards the kitchen, Xander got himself a drink and walked around the house.

"Hey there, tiger," a female voice said. "You come around here often?"

Xander groaned inwardly at the horrible pick-up line, put on a charming smile and turned around to see who was addressing him.

"Hi," he said, turning to see an attractive brunette girl with a vacant look on her face. "Xander Harris, and no, I don't."

"Candy," she said, giggling. "Xander's an odd name."

"Well, my best friend in pre-school couldn't pronounce my whole name, which is Alexander, by the way. She shortened it to Xander and it kind of stuck."

"Aww," Candy said, moving closer to Xander. "That's cute!"

Xander nodded patronizingly. "Candy's an interesting name, too. Is it short for something?"

"Nope!" Candy giggled out. Xander could smell the alcohol on her breath. "Daddy said I was the sweetest little thing he ever saw, like candy, and so that's what my parents named me."

"So, are you a freshman here?" Xander asked, not really caring.

"Uh huh. Me and my best friend are roommates, it's so fun! We both have totally the same taste in clothes and everything, and we're basically the same size, so we can mix and match outfits!"

"Wow, that's great," said Xander, actually hoping he sounded as bored as he felt.

"I know!" Candy said. "Hey, you're pretty cute. What dorm are you in?"

"Oh, I'm not in a dorm," Xander said. "I live off campus."

"Oh, wow, that's got to be so fun! I thought they didn't let freshmen live off campus."

"They don't."

"Oh wow, so you're like older or something."

"Or something."

"Do you have like huge parties and stuff?"

"No, my roommate's not much of a partier. Neither am I, to tell the truth. I'm actually just here as a favor to a friend."

"I get that. I suppose it could get old after a while, but I'm new to this whole thing, so I'm gonna party like it's 1999!" Candy giggled.

Xander cringed. He hated that line.

"That's great."

"I know! It's all so great."

Xander quickly checked his watch. '11:15. I've been here fifteen minutes and I'm bored out of my skull. Where's Buffy?'

"So, do you wanna go somewhere a little more private, and talk?" Candy asked him, stroking his chest with her index finger.

"Ah, no," Xander said. "Actually, I have to go to work soon."

"Oh," Candy said, disappointed. "Wait, what kind of job starts this late on a Sunday? What do you do?"

"I kill vampires and demons, along with my friends," he said. "We save the world pretty much on a weekly basis. The pay sucks, but there's a high job satisfaction."

"Fine," she said. "Don't tell me."

"Yeah, look, I actually do have to be going. I'm gonna find my friend, just to check in. See you around, yeah?"

"Okay," Candy said, slipping a piece of paper in his jacket pocket. "Call me!"

Xander walked off, putting his drink down on a table, and went in search of Buffy.


"So what was it you wanted to show me?" Buffy asked as she followed Parker towards the back of the house.

"Hold on, we're almost there," he said, opening the door to the yard behind the house.

He led Buffy on to the back patio, and sat down on a bench facing away from the house, guiding her to the seat next to him.

The bench was near the edge of a large hill, which looked out over Sunnydale.

"Wow," said Buffy. "This is gorgeous."

"I know," Parker said. "I sometimes come out here just to think."

"So, are you a brother here?"

"Yeah. Frats aren't really my thing, but I knew a lot of the brothers here before they pledged. They convinced me to pledge, and so now I'm here. Most of the guys are cool."

"Do you party a lot?"

"Nah," Parker said. "I find most of the people you meet at parties are either too drunk to remember you, or too stupid to be worth any time. That's why I invited you, I didn't want to be bored."

"That's sweet," Buffy said, smiling and blushing. "But you don't even know me. How do you know I'm not stupid, or a lush?"

"Just a feeling. I saw you in line this morning, and you just seemed different, you know?"

"I guess," she said, looking at him. 'Wow, he's got eyes… of course he has eyes, stupid. But they're good eyes.'

Parker turned to look at her, and smiled.

Buffy blushed again, and turned away. 'Ooh. Good smile, too.'

"So," Parker said. "Tell me about Buffy… um… I don't know your last name."

"Summers," Buffy said.

"Tell me about Buffy Summers."

"There's not much to tell. Moved to Sunnydale from LA before my sophomore year of high school, went through all the normal teen angst stuff there, and maybe a little more than my fair share. Now I'm at UC Sunnydale. That's pretty much it."

"How come so much drama?"

"Oh. Well, I was dating this older guy," she said. 'Way older. And why am I telling him this? Oooh, eyes again….' "And, well, let's just say it ended badly."

Softly taking Buffy's hand, Parker smiled sympathetically. "I know what that's like. My last girlfriend… well, I thought she was the one, you know? Like this eternal love. We were inseparable. It actually annoyed a lot of our friends," he said, chuckling "But then I went to her apartment one day and found her with this other guy. Kinda shattered my world for a while. I haven't really dated anybody since."

Buffy looked back at him, and leaned in a little closer to him. "I'm sorry," she said.

Parker leaned in a little closer to Buffy. "I wasn't really ready for anything," he said, gazing into her eyes and leaning closer still. "I think I am now, though."

Buffy leaned forward and grazed his lips with hers. The quickly moved closer, and brought more force to the kiss. After a minute or two, Parker leaned back, and put his arm around Buffy, pulling her close to him. She nestled into his chest, and they sat there for a minute.

"That was nice," Buffy breathed.

"Yeah," said Parker. "Really nice."


"Hey, have you seen that guy Parker?" Xander asked somebody in the kitchen.

"Uh yeah, I think he's out back," the guy said, pointing towards the rear of the house.


Xander walked towards the back of the house and saw the door leading to the outside. Taking a quick peek through the window, he saw Parker's arm around Buffy, and his heart fell a little.

'That's okay, Xan-man. She's known him a whole day. She's only known you for, what, 3 years? Can't expect her to rush things, now, can you?' he thought bitterly.

Sighing, he pulled the door open and went into the backyard. He cleared his throat, and Buffy turned to look at him.

"Hey Buff," he said, his voice sounding more upbeat than he felt.

"Hey Xan," she said. "Everything ok?"

"Peachy," he said. "But I need to take off. Early morning, and all that. You'll be ok here?"

"Yeah, Xan," she said, leaning into Parker a little more and smiling. "I think I'll be just fine."

"It was nice to meet you, Xander," Parker said from the bench, holding out his hand for another handshake.

"Yeah," Xander said coldly, not moving from his spot. "Goodnight Buffy

"Night Xan," she said, as Xander went back inside the house.

"He didn't seem to like me very much," Parker said when Xander had shut the door.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "That's no surprise. He's kind of protective of me and Willow. Like a big brother thing. He worries. It's sweet."

Buffy turned back to Parker and kissed him again.

"But I like you just fine."

They sat there talking and kissing late into the night, and early morning.

"Well," Buffy said at about 3 am. "I should probably go. Walk me back to my dorm?"

Parker smiled warmly. "It would be my pleasure."


Buffy unlocked her door and poked her head in, looking for signs of Willow. Seeing none, she steeled her nerve.

"So, um, my roommate's with her boyfriend for the night. Do you wanna, maybe, come in?"

"Buffy," Parker said, looking at her seriously, "I don't want you to rush into anything."

"Me either," said Buffy, grabbing his hand and pulling him inside and kissing him passionately. "But this doesn't feel like rushing."

The door slammed shut.

Chapter 4

Xander woke up at 8:30, showered and shaved, and was ready to go job hunting by 9:15.

"How was the party?" Giles asked as he sat at the table in a robe.

Xander grunted, as he poured himself a glass of orange juice.

"That good?"

"Let's just say that Buffy seemed to have a much better time than I did."

"I'm sorry, Xander."

"You know, half the time, I feel like if I just keep being there for her, keep doing my best to make her laugh, and make her feel better, that one day she'll notice me as more than just her 'Xander-shaped friend.' The other half… I feel like I should just get over it. Like I should just be realistic, and understand that being her friend is the best I'm ever gonna get."

Xander drained his glass and slammed it hard on the counter. "Sometimes I wonder if it's even worth the trouble. If any one person is worth so much… aggravation. That's not the right word, but I don't know what is. Sometimes I just question it all, you know? And then I look at her, when she laughs at one of my stupid jokes, or when she just smiles… and I get all melty inside."

"A friend once told me that the beauty of any dream is in never letting it go," Giles said. "I can't tell you that everything will work out as you wish it to, nor, in fact, that anything will. But you must follow your heart, Xander. For what else do we have to guide us?"

"Yeah," Xander said. "I guess you're right."

"So, do you have a plan of attack for the day?"

"Pretty much go to some construction sites and beg for a job."

"That seems reasonable. Oh, I almost forgot," he said, picking an envelope up from the table. "This is for you."

Xander walked into the living room and took the envelope from Giles. He emptied it into his hand and held up the key that fell out and raised an inquiring eyebrow.

"For the front door," Giles explained. "I got Oz to have it made yesterday. Willow dropped it off this morning before her classes."

Xander smiled. "Thanks, Giles. I hope I can give it back to you soon."

"Nonsense," Giles said. "Keep it, even when you do get your own apartment. Xander, I want you to know, you always have a place here. I… know that we are not actually related, but over the past years, I have come to view you all, and love you all, as if you were my own children. And I want you to know that I will never abandon you."

"I… Thank you, Giles. I don't really…Thanks," Xander said, his eyes watering up a little.

"Yes, well," Giles said, cleaning his glasses, "I also have to run out of town tomorrow for a few days to get a few books that may help us from a friend in D.C., and I thought you might appreciate being able to actually get inside."


Willow opened the door to her dorm room and, seeing Buffy still asleep, tiptoed in quietly, but forgot about the door, which slammed shut.

Buffy sat bolt upright, then, confused for a moment, and looked around.

"Heya, sleepyhead," Willow said. "Sorry about the door, I didn't realize it would shut so loudly."

"That's okay," Buffy said, still looking around.

"Didja lose something?" Willow asked, sitting down on her bed.

"Um. No…" Buffy said, frowning. "You didn't… um… happen to see Parker, did you?"

"No, why would I… ohmygosh!" Willow said, her eyes widening. "Really?"

Buffy nodded, smiling sheepishly. "But, he doesn't seem to be here now."

"I'm sure he just had to go to a class or something," Willow said, jumping on to Buffy's bed. "Now I want details."

Buffy grinned, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "He was so sweet," she started, and then went on to tell the events of the party the previous night.

"And then he walked me home, and… I invited him in."

"And," Willow asked, "how was… it?"

"It was… nice," said Buffy. "I mean, it was pretty good, I think, for my first time since… well… you know."

"Uh huh," said Willow. "Um, Buffy? Don't you think this was a little fast? I mean, just the other day you were pining over Angel, still, and now…"

"I know… but… it just seemed right… I mean, he was so sweet, and understanding, and… and he made me feel good."

Willow looked at her questioningly, a little, but then seemed to accept her answer. "So, when are you gonna see him again?"

"I don't know," Buffy said. "We didn't really talk about that."

"Well, I'm sure he'll be back by later. After all, who could resist the feminine wiles of Miss Buffy Summers?"


Xander knocked on the door to Buffy and Willow's room. He heard a quick thump, and the door opened violently.

"Parker?" Buffy asked, brightly. "Oh. Hi Xand."

"Wow, can we try that once more with even less feeling?"

"Sorry," she said. "I was just hoping it was Parker. Come on in."

"Thanks," he said. "Will around?"

"Bathroom," said Buffy. "What's up?"

"I wanna wait till Will gets here before I tell you."

"Tell her what?" Willow asked as she walked through the door. "Hi Xander."

"Heya, Wills. How's my favorite wicca?"

"Doin' good," she said. "My History of the Early American Colonies class seems like it's gonna be real fun. Oh, and the psychology class me and Buffy have at three o'clock should be really good. I ran into one of the TA's in the bookstore this morning, and he said Professor Walsh is great."

"That's great Will. Glad you're enjoying yourself. How bout you, Buff? What've you been up to today?"

"Sitting. And sleeping. I should really get ready for class, though," she said, getting up to gather her shower supplies.

"Hold on a sec," Xander said. "I got news."

"What's up Xan?" Willow asked.

Grinning, Xander held up an ID badge. "I got a job!"

"That's great!" Willow said, giving her best friend a hug. "Where?"

"Jameson Construction," he said. "They just lost a couple of guys to Sunnydale's insane turnover rate, and were excited at the prospect of somebody who's a lifetime resident. I guess they figured if I grew up here, I can handle the craziness."

"Congratulations, Xander," Buffy said, smiling at him. "That's really great. I'm proud of you."

"Thanks Buffster,"

"I'm gonna go shower now," she said. "You gonna be here a while?"

"Nah, I need to go tell Giles. You guys were on the way back, so I decided to stop in."

"Okay. You up for a patrol tonight? I need to get back in the habit."

"I'm your guy," Xander said.

"Great," Buffy said. "Bye Xan."

"Later, Buff," he said, watching her as she walked out the door.

"So," Willow said. "Did you meet anybody at the party last night?"

"Yeah, actually," Xander said. "A drunk girl named Candy."


"Yep. And she did nothing to make me rethink my completely irrational name-based stereotypes," Xander said, lying down on Willow's bed. "Buffy seemed to be having a good time with that guy, though. She say anything to you about him?"



"I got back from class a couple hours ago, and accidentally woke her up, and she was…"

"Wills, you're killin' me here."

"She was surprised that he wasn't here."

"WHAT?" he yelled, sitting up. "You mean she…"

Willow nodded.

"With him?"

Willow nodded again.

"GAHHH!!!" he yelled, slamming himself back down on Willow's bed and holding her pillow over his face.

"Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry. You still kinda like her, huh?"

"Kinda a bit, yeah," he said sarcastically through the pillow. "AHHHHH!!!"

With this last yell, Xander accidentally ripped the pillow in half.

"Oh, geez, Will, I'm sorry."

"Oh," Willow said, surprised by the emotion in Xander's voice. "No, no, that's okay. I umm… didn't need it."

"I'll get you a new one by tonight, Will. I'm sorry, I just…"

"It's okay, Xander. Don't worry about it."

"But I…"

"Hey," Willow said, putting on her resolve face. "I said don't worry about it. See the face?"

Xander laughed. "I love you, Willow Rosenberg."

"I know," Willow said, smiling. "It's cuz I'm the bestest best friend in the whole world."

"Ain't none better," Xander said, standing up. "Okay, I'm gonna go see Giles."

"Kay," Willow said, going to give Xander another hug. "She'll see it eventually, Xan. You'll see."

"I hope so," Xander said, kissing his best friend on the top of her head. "Bye Wills."

"Bye Xander."


"You ok, Xan?" Buffy asked, as she and Xander strolled through one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries that night.

"Huh? Yeah, why?"

"I dunno," she said. "You seem quieter than usual."

"Oh," he said, stopping and turning to face her. 'God, she's gorgeous' "I guess I'm just worried about this job. Just hoping I won't screw it up, you know?"

"Hey, none of that," Buffy said. "You're gonna do so good at your job that we'll have to work extra hard to destroy stuff, just so you can rebuild it."

"I don't think this town will ever lack things to rebuild. I've just never had a real job before, you know? It's kind of scary."

"You mean to tell me that you can be involved in blowing up a huge mayor-turned-snake, facing down a vampire who was known as the Scourge of Europe for over a hundred years, and, lest we forget, dating Cordelia, and you're scared over a job?"

"Yeah, well, most of that stuff was about helping other people. This is a one-hundred percent Xander-centered thing. I've never been too good at that stuff, and are you ever going to stop making fun of my ex-girlfriend?"

"It's not tops on my to-do list, no."

Xander threw his hands up as if surrendering.

"I give up," he said.

"Look, Xan, it's not that Cordy didn't have her good points… few, though they may have been, but… it's like I said that other time. I just think you can find somebody more… better… and there's a vampire behind you."

"You, too," he said.

Both turned to face their opponents. A couple of blocked punches and quick stake thrusts later, in an almost identical fashion, both vampires were dust, and the two friends continued to walk.

"See, that's just the thing," Xander said, as if nothing had happened. "I'm not sure I can find somebody better. Cordy brought out some good stuff in me… and I did in her. We were good for each other. I mean, she's not nearly as shallow as she used to be. Plus, she was human, which is more than I can say for some of my other flings."

"Same here," Buffy said.

"Buff, I wouldn't exactly call that a fling. I mean, you guys were together for a long time."

"Angel still wasn't human, though. And I think that's what I need, now. A nice, normal mortal who won't turn all evil if he gets a happy. Like Parker." Xander winced, but Buffy didn't notice. "And you need that too, just one who isn't quite so… Cordy-esque. Okay, pre-you Cordy-esque. A nice girl."

"Yeah, but we live on a Hellmouth. From what I hear, it's hard enough to find a 'nice girl' like that, even when you don't have to constantly battle the forces of evil."

"Speaking of which, there's another one. You want?" she asked, pointing to another vampire who was coming out of the ground about twenty feet away.

"Yeah," Xander said, pulling the broad sword he had borrowed from Giles's arsenal out of the bag he was carrying. "I wanna test the new toy."

"I'm not gonna fight you with a sword," the vampire said, wiping the dirt off his suit. "That's just crazy! You'll cut right through me!"

"That's kinda the point," Xander said, approaching the vampire.

"Hey, I may have just risen tonight, but I'm not stupid. Either I get a weapon, or I leave."

"I'm not gonna negotiate with you!" Xander said. "You're evil!"

"But you're not," said the vamp. "Come on, fight fair."

Shaking his head in disbelief, Xander said, "Fine, fine. Buffy, toss this guy the other sword would you?"

"I dunno, Xander. I don't want you to get hurt."

"Hey, he won't even touch me," Xander said. "I swear."

"Yeah," said the vampire, grinning. "I won't even touch him."

"Oh, fine," Buffy said, grabbing the other sword from the bag Xander had dropped. "Here," she said, tossing it hilt first to the vamp.

"Are you ready now?" Xander asked.

"Yeah!" the vamp said.

"I'm so happy. Shall we?"


Xander and the vampire both brought their weapons up. Xander attacked first, bringing his sword in high. The strike was blocked by the vamp, who deflected Xander's sword off to the left with more force than Xander had expected. Attempting to take advantage of his opponent's momentary unbalance, the vamp brought his sword around to slash at Xander's side. But, taking advantage of the length of his sword, Xander stuck the blade in the ground and pushed off it to land a roundhouse kick on the vamp's face before it could finish it's attack. Continuing his turn, Xander pulled the sword back out of the ground, swung it around and took of the vamp's head in one smooth motion.

"Nice moves, Xan," Buffy said from her spot a few feet away.

"Thanks," he said. "Call it a night?"

"Yep," she said, walking over and picking up the sword. "What's with these guys anyway? It's almost too easy these days."

"The demon community is really just taking anyone they can get now."

"I know," she said. "It's kinda sad."


"Hey guys," Xander said, following Buffy into Giles's apartment.

"Hey, man. Congrats on the job," Oz said.

"Thanks," Xander said, grinning. "I guess I get to become a 'useful member of society' now."

"Shouldn't you get, like, a tax exemption for every demon you kill?" Buffy asked. "You're saving the taxpayers a lot of money by not letting them die. Funerals are expensive."

Laughing, Xander said, "I'll be sure to write my representative. We found anything new on me?"

Everyone looked up at him. "You know, or the big evil world-endy thing, whichever."

"No," Giles said. "No luck on either front, I'm afraid. Perhaps my trip will be of some assistance in that area."

"We can but hope," Xander said. "Ok, I'm gonna turn in early, guys. I got job training in the morning."

Willow smiled at him. "Night Xander," she said.

"Good luck," Buffy said as Xander wandered towards the back of the apartment. "I'm pretty tired, too. Wanna head back to campus, Will?"

"Sure," she said. "I think we've pretty much exhausted what's here, anyway."

"I'll drive you guys," Oz said. "I think Devon wanted us to practice tonight, so I might as well head off, too."

"Night, Giles," Buffy said. "Have fun on your trip."


Two days later, evening.

"I'm a slut! I'm a dirty, dirty slut, and this is exactly what I deserve," Buffy said, crying.

"Honey, you're not a slut," Willow said.

"I am!" Buffy yelled. "Why else wouldn't he have called, or, or come over? It's cuz he decided he doesn't like stupid, slutty, easy girls, and that's exactly what I am!"

The two girls were sitting on Buffy's bed, Willow trying to comfort her friend.

"Buffy, you're not stupid, and you're not a slut! You've had sex a whole two times! That's not even the most in this room."

"But then why?" Buffy whined.

There was a knock at the door.

"Go away!" yelled Buffy, throwing her pillow at the door.

The door opened slowly and Xander poked his head in. Seeing Buffy crying, he immediately entered the room and rushed over.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Grabbing another pillow, and hugging it to herself, Buffy yelled, "I'm a whore! Get out your money, boys, Buffy's pants are open for business!"

Xander's brow furrowed.

"Parker hasn't called, or come by, or… well, or pretty much anything," Willow said.

Xander's eyes widened. "You mean he just…"

"Yeah," Willow said, holding Buffy as she continued to sob.

Xander stood up, looked at Buffy, nodded, and stormed out of the room.

"See?" Buffy said. "Even Xander thinks I'm dirty! He can't stand to be in the same room as me!"

"Sweetie, that's not why he left," Willow said, smiling.

"Why then?"

"Best guess? Sunnydale PD's gonna have a non-mystical murder to investigate pretty soon."


"Well, I don't think he'll actually kill him, no. He'll just scare an apology out of him, and make sure Parker thinks twice before ever doing something like this. Sweetie, he used you. Figured out you were vulnerable and used that to… well, do what he did."

"Why is Xander doing that, though?" Buffy asked, still confused.

Willow laughed. "Buffy, come on, it's Xander."

"What do you mean?"

Willow looked at Buffy, kind of shocked. "You mean you don't know?" Buffy shook her head.

"Xander would throw himself into the pits of Hell to stop you from getting hurt, if he could. And Parker's gonna get the… physical manifestation of that."

"Oh," Buffy said, still a little confused.

Willow chuckled. "Yeah 'oh.'"


The door on the Phi Sig house exploded off its hinges and into the house, followed quickly by a very angry Xander.

"Where is he?" Xander yelled, looking around for somebody to threaten. A couple of shocked frat brothers looked at him. Xander approached the closest one, picked him up by the neck and slammed him against a wall.

"Where is he?" Xander repeated, quietly.

"Where's who?" the guy choked out.

"Parker. The asshole. Where is he?"

"I don't know any Parker, I swear!"

Xander threw the guy to the floor and put his fist through a wall.

"Somebody tell me where Parker is right now!"

"He's upstairs," somebody said. "Third door on the left."

"Thank you," Xander said, running up the stairs.

Finding the third door, Xander took a deep breath, and knocked on it.

"Go away!" a voice said. Xander could hear Marvin Gaye being played on the other side of the door.

He knocked again.

A half naked Parker ripped the door open, saying, "I said go aw… oh crap."

Xander peeked around him at the fully naked young woman on the bed. "Candy," he said, shifting his glare back to Parker, "I think you better leave."

Candy looked at the expression on Xander's face, then quickly gathered up her clothes and squeezed past the two young men.

"Look, man," Parker said. "I don't want any trouble."

Xander advanced on him slowly, balling his hands into fists and flaring one nostril.

"I mean… look, you've been there. It's just sex, right?"

Xander swung.


"How long do you think that can go on?" asked one of the frat brothers gathered at the bottom of the stairs, listening to the crashes and thuds coming from the room Parker was in.

"It's been ten minutes," said another. "How much more can there be to break?"

As if on cue, the door opened, and Xander strode out, virtually dragging a badly beaten Parker behind him and down the stairs and out the door.

"I guess that's that," said the first one, as they all watched Parker.

"Yeah," said the second.

"Hey, didn't he come here with that Buffy chick Parker worked the other night?"


"Remind me not to touch her."



Willow opened the door.

"Hey Xan… oh," she said, moving out of the way as Xander thrust a fully beaten and bruised Parker through the door, holding him up by his neck. Parker had two black eyes, a bleeding nose and lip, a few cuts on his arms and legs, and some bruises on his still-bare chest.

"Say it!" Xander yelled, shaking Parker violently.

"Uh…" Parker moaned. "Buffy, I'm sorry for what I did to you, and I will never do it again."

"And?" Xander asked.

"And I should feel honored that you decided to choose me, because I know I am not worthy of you, or in fact of any female that Xander has ever come in contact with. I am worthless scum, and plan to spend the rest of my life atoning for what I have done."

"Good. Buffy, anything else you want him to say?"

Buffy shook her head, shocked at what she saw.

"Okay then," Xander said, turning Parker around to face him. "Now listen to me, you little shit. If I ever hear that you even look at either of these girls, or that you walked by their dorm, if I even get a HINT that you thought about walking by here, I'm going to get REALLY angry. Do you understand me?"

Parker nodded very quickly… or what would be considered very quickly for a man in his state..

"Good," Xander said, throwing Parker through the still-open door. "Now leave."

And with that, Willow slammed the door shut.

Xander walked over to Buffy and knelt down in front of her. "You're not gonna be bothered by that little snot anymore," Xander said. "I know you liked him… and I'm sorry I couldn't protect you from him. But he doesn't deserve you."

Buffy, who had still been looking at the door, turned towards Xander with wide eyes, then launched herself at him, throwing her arms around his neck and giving him a hug.

Xander stood up, holding Buffy close to him.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"Nobody does that to one of my girls," he said.

'That looks right' Willow thought, watching her two friends and smiling.

There was another knock on the door. Willow looked at Xander, who smiled sheepishly.

Willow opened the door, confused to find Oz holding out a large brown bag.

"I was told we had an ice cream emergency," he said, holding up four plastic spoons with his other hand.


Xander walked up to a payphone and searched his pockets with one hand.

"Hey Parker, you got any quarters?" he asked.

"Fuck you!" Parker spat.

Xander slammed Parker face first into the phone booth.

"Sorry, what was that?" he asked.

Parker mumbled something, reached into his jeans and handed Xander a quarter.

"Good," said Xander, patting him on the head. "See how nice it is when you cooperate?"

(End flashback)

Buffy looked at Xander. "When did you call Oz?"

"Umm… on the way over here?"

"You mean," asked Willow, "you were marching Parker over here, battered, bruised and bloodied, and stopped at a payphone to call Oz to bring ice cream? Didn't Parker try to… oh, I don't know, escape?"

"He didn't have much choice in the matter," Xander said, breaking out a goofy grin. "Besides, it was his quarter, anyway."

Buffy laughed, and motioned for Oz to come inside, removing herself from Xander and sitting down on her bed.

"You know, Xan," Buffy said, quietly, "I appreciate what you did, but I don't think that's the best application of your new… powers."

"My what?" he asked, confused.

"The um… you know, shield, and speed, and stuff."

"Oh yeah," Xander said sheepishly. "That. Uh… I kinda… didn't. Use them, that is. I uh… forgot?"

"You mean, you beat up that ass all on your own?" Willow asked, surprised.

"Well… yeah," Xander said. "I mean, I have spent the last three years as Sunnydale's most human demon hunter, I think I can take one guy. Besides, I was really pissed."

Oz walked over to Willow, and whispered in her ear, "Who's Parker?"


"So when does Giles get back?" Buffy asked, quietly as she and Xander sat on her bed.

"Around three tomorrow afternoon," he replied. "His flight gets into LAX at like one, I think."

"What's it like, staying in his place all alone?"

"It's kinda creepy. I keep walking out expecting to see Giles, even in his robe, lookin' all Hugh Hefner. Not to mention the books. I've never slept in a place with so many books, except for the few times I got knocked out in the library."

Buffy laughed, and looked over at Willow's bed.

"They look so peaceful, don't they?"

"Yeah, they do," Xander said, looking at Oz and Willow sleeping quietly in each other's arms. "I think it's time for me to give up on big brotherness for her. Well, the menacing 'I kill boys' part of it, anyway."


"Yeah. She's happy. That's enough. Now if I could just get that for my favorite Slayer."

"Awww, that's sweet."

"Yeah. I just don't know when Faith's gonna get out of her coma."

Buffy smacked Xander in the face with her pillow, knocking him onto his back.

"Oh, I see how it is. I'll get you, Summers," he said, turning towards her and raising his hands menacingly.

"Oh, no, you wouldn't dare," she said, backing up towards her headboard.

"Oh, I would most certainly dare," he said, slowly advancing on her.

"Xan, I'm not kidding."

"Neither am I," he said, moving closer.

"I'll beat you up!" she said

"If you can get at me," he said, pouncing on her and tickling her with all his might.

"That's not fair!" she said, through her laughter.

"Who ever said I fight fair?"

"Ow! Stop! Stop! I give, I give!" she said, curling over in painful laughter.

"The master and still the champion!" Xander said, raising his arms in victory.

"Yeah, yeah," Buffy said, recovering. "You only win because your arms are so much longer."

"Shhh!" said Willow from her bed

"Sorry Will," they said at the same time.

"So I win because you're short?" Xander whispered.

"I am not short. I'm cute."

"Well, there's no denying that one."

Buffy smiled at him.

'That's the Buffy I love' thought Xander.

"Xan?" she asked, softly.


"Am I a slut?"

"Buffy… no. Never," he said.

"But, I mean, I slept with him on the first… pseudo-date. I am. I'm a big, nasty, dirty slut."

"Buffy, listen to me," Xander said, looking her straight in the eyes. "You are not a slut. Okay, maybe you made a bad decision, but you know what? Who hasn't? I slept with Faith… well, ok, she used me and dumped me on the street half-naked, but still. Nobody can know exactly how to act all the time. But that doesn't make you a slut, or anything even close to that. You made a mistake, but you're still the same Buffy that we all know and love. Plus, you've saved the world a few times, I think that cuts you a little slack in the moral ambiguity department."

"How do you do that?" she asked, with a smile on her lips.

"Do what?" he asked, confused.

"Make me smile, even when I don't want to."

"Oh. I dunno. I guess it's… a kind of a thing."

"A kind of a thing? Isn't that what you said about your new super powers?"

"And what would you call the ability to make a beautiful woman smile?"

Buffy blushed and looked away.

"I should probably get going," Xander said, looking at the clock. "I have to be at the site in 4 hours. I get to do actual work today, instead of just training."

Buffy grabbed his arm.


"Don't what?" 'Did she just say that? Did I just say that?'

"Don't go. Stay."

"Buffy, I…"

"I'll set my alarm," she said. "You won't miss work. I just… need you to be here."

Xander sighed and nodded.

As Buffy set her alarm clock for 7:30, Xander lay face up on her bed. She lay down next to him, and rested her head on his chest.

'I'm holding Buffy' he thought. 'I'm in Buffy's bed and I'm holding her.'

"Thank you," she whispered. "For being you."

"It's all I know," he said, holding her a little closer.

"G'night Xan," she said.

"Goodnight, Buffy." 'I love you.'

Chapter 5

For the second time in a week, Buffy Summers woke up to find her bed disturbingly empty. Glancing at her clock, she saw it was 9:30 am.

'He must have gone to work' she thought, frowning.

Looking at the table between her bed and Willow's, she saw a folded piece of paper with her name on it. She picked it up, opened it, and read it.


I had to go to work this morning. I'm going to stop by after work, around 6 o'clock, to check on you. Have fun in class. Say hi to Wills for me.


Buffy smiled, thinking of her friend. 'He always knows just what to say' she thought.

"Morning, Buffy. How are you feeling today?" Willow asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

"Much better, thank you," Buffy said, peppily. "Xander says 'Hi.'"

Willow looked around for a second, confused. "Xander?"

Buffy nodded, handing the piece of paper to her roommate.

Willow read the note then looked up at her roommate. "He stayed here?"

Buffy nodded again. Willow smiled. "I see," she said, shaking Oz awake.

Oz woke up, and gave Willow a quick peck on the nose. Willow showed him the note. After reading it, he turned to look at Buffy, then turned back to Willow, smiled and nodded, then lay back down.

"What was that all about?" Buffy asked, gathering her things for a shower.

"Oh… nothing." Willow said, still smiling.


"Nothing! Go. Shower. Clean yourself."

"Hey, what time is it?" asked Oz.

"9:32," said Buffy.

Oz groaned, and got up, putting on his shoes.

"Class," he said, giving Willow another kiss and heading out the door.

"Bye sweetie," she said.

Buffy smiled and headed for the showers,



Xander looked up from the wood he was cutting. "Yeah, boss?" he asked, wiping sweat from his forehead.

"You got a visitor! Some guy in a suit."

"Right. Be there in a minute," Xander said, preparing to finish his cut. Satisfied with the job he had done, Xander took of his safety glasses and walked towards the entrance to the construction site. Taking off his hardhat as he left the work area, Xander made his way past the trailer/office, and towards the gate.

"Giles, how was your trip?" Xander asked.

"Xander, hello," the Brit said. "The trip was very… informative."

"Informative good, or informative bad?" Xander asked.

"Well, good, in that we now know what's coming," Giles said. "But bad, in that, well, now we know what's coming."


"Very. When do you get off work? We must start preparing immediately."

"Right," said Xander. "I'll be done here about 5:30. I told Buffy I'd drop by her place after that, but I can be back right after that."

"Actually, I was about to call her, to see if she, Willow and Oz might be able to come over earlier."

"Oh," Xander said, a little disappointed that he wouldn't get to keep his promise to Buffy. "That makes sense, I guess."

"Is something the matter?"

"Huh? No. It's just…"

"Just what?"

"Harris! Work, yeah?"

"Right on it, boss," Xander yelled. "Look, Giles, don't worry about it. I'll… tell you later tonight."

"Yes, of course. 5:30, then?"

"Or as close to it as I can get."

"Right. So long, then."

"Bye, Giles," Xander said, walking back towards his project.


"Harris! Your ride's here!"

Xander looked at his watch. It read 5:30.

"Ride?" he asked.

"Yeah," his boss said. "Some redhead."

'When did Willow get a car?' Xander thought.

"Right. Let me just finish this one thing…"

"Ah, go on, kid. You did good today."

"But it'll just…"

"Hey, I said go."

"Right. Thanks, boss," Xander said, moving to the exit and hanging up his hardhat on the way.

"Hey, Will, since when do you—you're not Willow," he said, upon seeing who was waiting for him.

"You noticed that too?" Oz asked, sporting hair much brighter and redder than it had been the day before.

"Giles send you?"

"Yup. Got a present for you in the back," Oz said, motioning towards the rear of his van as he went around to the driver's side door.

Xander opened the sliding door, and saw a fresh pile of clothes.

"Thanks," he said, climbing in the van. "But I could have just changed when we got back."

"I know," Oz said. "But Willow read your note this morning, and thought you might want to not smell like sweat."

Xander grinned at this. "She did, did she?"


"You know, if I had any sense at all, I'd be head over heels for her."


"Good thing I'm dumb as a rock, huh?"

Oz smiled. "You're not, but I don't mind," he said, reaching in his glove compartment and tossing some deodorant to Xander.

"Thanks," Xander said. "Now avert your eyes, you peeping tom."

"Right," Oz said, starting up the engine and driving off.

Quickly changing and freshening up, Xander hopped into the passenger seat next to Oz. Five minutes later, they pulled up outside Giles's apartment.

"Oz, hold up a minute," Xander said, as they got out of the van.

"What's up?" Oz asked.

"Listen, about what I said back there. I know we haven't always gotten along too well, not that, for the most part, there's been open hostility. I also know that a lot… ok, that's pretty much all my fault."


"She's happy now. More than I've ever seen her."

"Me too."

"Will's happiness is more important to me than breathing."

"Me too."

"So thank you. For giving her that."

Oz looked at him for a couple seconds. "She's yours, you know. Always will be."

"Yeah. I know. But she's yours, now, too."

Oz thought about this for a second, then nodded. "Thanks."

"Right," Xander said. "Let's go."


"Uh oh," said Willow, standing in the open doorway of Giles's apartment.

"Uh oh what?" Buffy asked, not looking up from the book she was reading.

"Boys. Talking."

"That's an uh oh?"

"They have this 'serious talk' look."

"Oz has a 'look'?"

"Okay, Xander has a 'serious talk' look, and Oz is there with him. Oh, they're coming."

"Hey guys," Xander said, entering the apartment.

"Xander, good, you've returned," said Giles. "We have some things to go over."

"Hey sweetie," Willow said, greeting Oz with a kiss.

Oz smiled at her.

"What was all that about out there?" she said, as he wrapped his arm around her waist and led her over to the couch.

"Nothing," Oz said. "Guy stuff."

"Is everything ok?" she asked, a little worried.

Smiling, Oz said "It's great."

"So, what's the what, G-man?" Xander asked, sitting down at the table with Buffy.

"Well, I have found what is coming, and what must happen to stop it."

"Right. And this is good, yes?"

"Well, yes, we do know how to stop it. The problem is not so much the knowledge, but the application." 'How much can I tell them? And what if things do not proceed as they must?'

"Okay… so give us the knowledge, we'll figure out how to apply it," said Buffy.

"What do we need to know?" asked Xander.

"Well, the demon in question is a Fargath demon, probably with some vampire lackeys, and it shall be performing the Rite of Zarkom on the night in question."

"Hey," said Xander. "Is it just me or does everybody have vampire lackeys. How come we don't have vampire lackeys?"

"Probably because they're evil," Willow said.

"Oh right, that. Ok, so what's a Zarkom?"

"A very difficult and powerful ritual, designed to bring hell to earth. Or vice versa, I'm not quite positive of the translation. Suffice to say, not good things will happen if it is completed."

"Okay, so how do we stop it?"

"That's where the difficult part comes in. Once the ritual is begun, there are only two places where it can be safely interrupted. The first time is when the demon must… well," Giles sighed, removed his glasses and cleaned them. "I shudder at the thought, but it must defecate into the center of a fiery pentagram."

The rest of the room burst into laughter.

"It's quite serious, I assure you," said Giles.

The laughter died down a little.

"It's not that it's not serious Giles… but come on, who comes up with this stuff?" asked Buffy.

"Talk about needing to catch someone with their pants down," Xander said.

Buffy swatted his arm playfully. "Xan, eww."

"Yes, well, laugh now, but when we're all suffering eternal torment, just remember who tried to warn you."

"Sorry Giles," Xander and Buffy said together.

"Right. Yes. Well, the second instance the ritual can be interrupted is when the demon drains the blood of a virgin. This takes place approximately five minutes after… the other instance."

"Does the virgin have to be alive, or can it be like refrigerated virgin blood?" asked Oz.

"It must be fresh, which means the demon must have a sacrifice with him."

"Hey, I don't get it," said Xander. "Why are there only two times we can kill this guy?"

"Or girl, as the case may be. The nature of the ritual involves the very fabric of the dimensions. If the ritual is interrupted at the wrong time, while it is certainly true that Hell may not come to earth, it is entirely possible that Earth and this entire dimension may cease to exist."

"Okay," said Xander. "I vote we rule out untimely killing. Who's with me?"

All the Scoobies raised their hands.

"Yes, good plan. Don't inadvertently destroy the world," Giles said, bitterly.

Everyone looked a little shocked.

"Giles," Buffy said, quietly, "We're taking this seriously. We are. But we've faced apocalypses before, and always come through with a smile… well, almost always. The point is, we can deal. And joking about it helps with that, some."

Giles sighed.

"I know, of course," he said, cleaning his glasses. "I think I'm just still a little worn out from the flight. The seats are so small and cramped, and the stewardesses can be so rude some times. They always smack my elbow with those damned drink carts. And they don't even give you those peanuts anymore, it's pretzels now. Pretzels! Bloody worthless, if you ask me."

"Tell ya what, G-man. After we wrap up here, I'll go out and get you a whole jar of peanuts."

Giles chuckled. "Yes, thank you Xander. I would enjoy that."

"I did good," Xander said, giving Buffy a big thumbs up.

Buffy smiled at him appreciatively.

'There's that smile again' he thought. 'I think I would actually kill someone to see that smile. Well, a demon, anyway, but a really big, human looking demon'

"So," Xander said. "Best case scenario, we kill this guy before the ritual starts. If not, what, we get a rifle, line up a few hundred yards away, and when he goes to squat, it's bang to the face, yeah?"

"If only it were that simple. I have come across a few references to the ritual which describe the only way to interrupt it. It's the same in every one. The White Knight and his – a-and the Chosen, acting as One, must pierce the heart of the caster."

Willow was the only one of the group to notice Giles misspoke. 'What does he mean 'his Chosen'? And why did he correct himself?'

"What's it mean 'as One'?" asked Buffy.

"Yes, well, um… that remains to be seen."

"You mean you don't know."

"Well… yes."

"Okay," said Buffy. "So. We research here for a little bit, then me and Xan go patrol—"

"Oh, hey, I meant to ask, is it okay if I patrol too, tonight?" asked Oz.

Everybody looked surprised.

"Um… yeah, sure Oz. You guys are always welcome," said Buffy.

"Why do you want to patrol, sweetie?" asked Willow.

"Devon busted an amp today. Got shocked fixing it," he said, holding up a bandaged finger.

"Okay, so, the three of us will patrol—"

"Wait, I want to come too, now," said Willow, pouting her lips. "I feel left out."

"Oh, Will, don't feel left out!" Buffy said. "Of course, you can come too. Ooh, idea! Why don't you and Xander start off at Restfield Cemetery on the west side of town, and Oz and I will start at Covington, on the other side, and we can meet in the middle. It'll take half the amount of time that way, and I can get back to the dorm and get my beauty sleep."

"How on earth did you come up with those pairings?" Giles asked.

"Well," said Buffy. "Willow and Xander haven't had much time to catch up since he got back, and I need to ask Oz's expert opinion on some nail polish issues. Plus, one powerhouse per team. Makes sense."

"Nail polish?" asked Giles.

Oz held up his hands, with every other fingernail painted black, and one on each hand a dark green.

"Yes, I see. Alright then, to work, shall we?"


11:30 pm.

"This is such a slow night! I can't believe we haven't seen one vampire," said Buffy. "Sorry I can't produce when you need to work off your frustration, Oz."

"Oh, that's okay," he said. "The fresh air seems to have done it. Plus, I stepped on a spider."

"A spider?"

"It was a big spider," said Oz.

"Hey guys!" Willow yelled, skipping up to Buffy and Oz.

"Hey Wills," Buffy said, "Where's Xander?"

"Oh, he'll be here in a minute, he thought he heard something in a tomb up there, wanted to check it out."

"You think he needs back up?" asked Oz.

"Nah, I think he can handle—"

At that moment, an airborne Xander crashed into a headstone 300 feet in front of them, causing him to glow white for a moment, and breaking the headstone.

"You know, or he does," said Willow, as they rushed up to help their friend.

Jumping up from his sitting position, Xander grabbed the sword he had dropped and ran back towards what had hit him. Closing on the fight, the group saw a 9 foot demon and a couple of vampires with their game faces on.

"Oz, Will, the vampires," Buffy ordered as she rushed in.

Oz pulled up short, raised the crossbow he'd been carrying and fired. Seeing the vamp he aimed for dust, Willow gave him a kiss on the cheek.

"We should really get that last one," Oz said, reloading the crossbow.

"Oh, yeah, one sec," Willow said, turning towards the fight. Concentrating and raising her hand, Willow said, "Incendiere," and the vampire caught fire and quickly dusted.

"We win!" she said.

"Still that demon," Oz pointed out.

"Bah," said Willow, hooking her arm into Oz's. "Those two crazy kids'll get it."


"Come on," Xander said, dropping into a fighting stance as the first of the two vampires aiding the demon turned to dust from a crossbow bolt. "Is that the best you got?"

Holding his sword out in front of him, Xander taunted the demon some more, slowly circling it to the right. "I mean really," he said. "You hit like I used to."

"Tell ya what," he continued, as the second vamp burst in to flames. "I'll even it up a bit. No sword, right? That way, you'll have at least a bit of a chance against me." So saying, Xander threw his sword away and leaned against a headstone. "Are you planning on attacking anytime soon?"

The demon, oozing pus from its eyes, roared in anger and got ready to charge Xander. It never made it, though, as a sword was shoved through its chest, slaying it.

"Tell me you weren't going to fight that thing hand to hand," Buffy said, coming into view as the demon's body fell to the ground.

"Come on, Buff, I saw you guys when I hit that headstone back there. I knew it wouldn't take you long, so I threw the sword in your path. Figured I'd be distraction-guy."

"Threw the sword in my path?" she asked, grinning. "That was like the worst throw I've seen in years."

"Ah, you wound me, Summers," he said, putting a hand over his heart. "First you kill my demon, then you insult my manliness by implying my aim is somehow less than perfect."

"First, you just said you wanted me to kill it. And second, YOUR demon?" she asked.

"Well, I saw him first. Standard 'finders-keepers' rules apply."

"I'm sorry, did you want it to die, or take it as a pet?"

"Well, as cute as the big guy is, I think Giles might object to having to house train him."

"You might be right," she said, leaning against the headstone next to Xander. "So, want to bet this isn't our guy?"

"I don't take a sucker's bet. Can I have my sword back?"

"No," she said. "I've grown fond of it, I think."

"But that's my sword, Giles said so!"

"If you can take it from me, you can have it back," Buffy said, teasingly.

"Hey guys! Quick kill, huh?" Willow asked as she and Oz approached.

"Willow, tell Buffy to give me my sword back!" Xander whined.

"Aww, is the widdle Slayer being mean?" asked Willow, patronizingly.

"Nobody likes a tattler, Xan," said Buffy.

"And nobody likes a snobby Slayer, either," he replied.

"I am not snobby," she said, indignantly. "And now you're never getting this back."

"Oh, I'm getting it back," he said, making a quick grab for it which was easily deflected.

"Not on your life, Harris. This sword is now mine," she said, holding it behind her back.

"Oh come on!" he said, making another grab.

"No! Not until you apologize!"

"Apologize for what, you stealing my sword?"

"You threw it at me!"

"I thought you'd give it back!"

"You thought wrong!"

"They don't even realize they're flirting, do they?" Willow asked Oz while Buffy and Xander continued to argue.

"Nope," said Oz.

"How long do you figure?"

"Knowing those two? No telling. I think we have the king and queen of Denial-land."

"Yeah, I suppose you're right," she sighed.

"Hey, guys, quit fooling around," Willow called out, seeing Buffy had Xander in a headlock and was giving his shield a noogie.

"I can't feel that, you know," he was mocking. "Ahh, finally immune to the strength of the—oof!" he said, as Buffy pushed him on his back and slammed him with an elbow drop.

Xander grabbed her, flipped her over him so she was face down on the ground, and rolled over so he was sitting on her legs, holding her arm solidly behind her back. Her other arm was pinned under her, still holding the sword.

"Give it up Buff," he said. "You've been beaten."

"Fine," she said.

"Say it," Xander said, "say uncle!"

"Uncle," Buffy mumbled.

"Yes!" Xander exclaimed, standing up. "I have defeated the Slayer!"

Buffy stood up, and gave Xander the sword. "But you get to carry the demon head back to Giles so he can make sure it's not the… thingy."

"Fargath demon?" asked Willow

"Yeah, that."

"Come on, guys, let's go," Willow sighed. "Giles will want to look at that thing."

"Okay, let me just get it," Xander said . He walked over to the demon, chopped its head off and skewered it on the sword

"Xan, eww!" Buffy squealed.

"Wimp," he said, sticking his tongue out at her.

Willow rolled her eyes and headed off towards Giles's house.


3:45 am.

"Buffy!" Willow said wearily. "Go to sleep!"

"I can't," she said. "I can't seem to get comfortable."

"Well, if you don't stop shifting around, I'm gonna have to knock you out."

"Sorry," said Buffy. "I'll try to stay quiet."

'Geez,' Willow thought. 'Just one night and she's hooked. She's a goner.'

Chapter 6

"Harris! You got a visitor!" yelled the foreman.

Xander put down his hammer and walked up to the front of the site.

"It's a blonde this time."

Xander grinned. "Thanks, boss," he said.

"Heya, Buff!" Xander said, walking up behind his friend.

Buffy turned around and saw him wearing only a wife-beater and jeans. 'Whoa, when did he get those arms? Those are… good arms. No! Bad Buffy!'

"Buff? You awake in there?" 'What's she looking at?'

"Yeah, sorry. I was… drifting."

"I noticed. What's up? News on the big bad front?"

"Nope," she said, smiling. "Didn't have classes right now, thought you might want to get lunch?"

"Lunch with the Buffster? How could I pass it up?"

"Great!" she said. "You ready to go?"

"Yeah, let me just tell my boss. HEY, BOSS! LUNCH?"

"Yeah!" said his boss. "An hour!"

"Thanks Boss!"

"Xander, do you actually know his name?"

"Nope. And nobody will tell me. So I just call him boss."

"Sounds like a good system."

"Hasn't failed me yet," he said, pulling a t-shirt on, and revealing his abs for a second.

'Ooh,' thought Buffy. 'That was nice too… Stop! We are not having these thoughts about Xander. He is our Xander-shaped friend… although it's a very nice shape…'

"So, where do you wanna go?" he asked her.

"Somewhere close," she said, suddenly needing a drink.

"You ok, Buff?" he asked. "You look flushed."

"Uh, yeah, I'm fine. Must be the heat," she said. 'And I don't mean the weather…'

"Yeah. Come on, there's a little Mexican place right down the street. Good?"

"Good," she said.


"So, I suppose it wasn't our guy last night?" Buffy asked, after they had ordered.

"Nope," said Xander. "Although, when I got back last night Giles was asleep. You should have seen his expression this morning when he came downstairs and found a skewered demon head sitting in his sink." Xander grinned.

"You left it in his sink?!?" Buffy laughed.

"Well, I had to put it somewhere. And it was leaking. Seemed natural."

"Eww, leaking?"

"Yep. Green," he said, taking a sip of his drink. "Although, come to think of it, it was pretty much drained by the morning. Just a little drip when he picked it up."

"Oh, that's gross. So what was it?"

"Blood, duh. I'd think even you would pick that up, Slayer."

"I meant the demon, jerk. And hey, what do you mean 'even you'?"

"Nothing," Xander said, grinning, "but come on, even you have to admit that you occasionally need the obvious pointed out."

"I so do not!" she protested.

"Uh huh. Okay," Xander said, patronizingly.

"You're walking on thin ice here, Harris," she said, pointing at him.

"Right," he said, giving her a friendly glare. "Anyway, it was a Seltr'mac demon or something like that. Oh, and they're sexually active hermaphrodites. They can actually procreate with themselves, which, really? Kinda nasty. They're not usually much for the intelligence, but pretty strong, until they get a sword put through them."

"Well, I guess you're lucky I was there to save you then," she said, haughtily.

"Save me? Please, I could have taken it on my own."

"Right. So why was it, then, that you passed me the sword?"

"Like I said, distraction guy. Just because I didn't kill it doesn't mean I couldn't have."

"Whatever," she said. "You're just bitter because a girl had to save your ass."

"Yes, I'm sure that's it," he said, grinning. "Because in the past three years, I haven't gotten used to you pulling me out of sticky situations. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have just realized I don't smell very good, and I'm going to the bathroom to clean up a little."

Buffy watched him walk away, her eyes following his backside the whole way.

'That's nice… ugh, stop it! Stop having thoughts about Xander like that!' she thought.

'Why?' she asked.

'Because, it's wrong! He's our Xander-shaped friend!'


'So it's wrong! We are friends, and we – I don't see him as anything more than that.'

'Why not?'

'Because!' she thought, becoming a little disturbed at the dual nature of her inner dialogue. 'I explained already. He's a friend. It's not okay to have more-than-friendly feelings for friends… is it?'

'He used to.'

Buffy frowned. 'Used to? That's not happy… er, I mean, I know. Good. And see where that led?'

'Yes. To you rejecting him, and then him bringing you back from the dead and becoming one of your most trusted friends…'

'But, it's still wrong!' she thought, getting frustrated with herself.

'Why? What are you afraid of?'

'I… don't know.'

Xander sat down across from Buffy again.

"You ok, Buff?" He asked, noting the pensive look on her face.

"Huh? Yeah, I'm of the good. Thinking is all."

"'Bout what?"

"Oh…" she said, looking at him, then quickly shifting her gaze down to the table. "The food. It's not here yet."

"It's been like three minutes."

"I know," she pouted, "but I'm hungry now."

"Awww, poor Slayer. Has to wait for her food like the normal mortals."

"It's not fair," she said. "Every restaurant should have a special chef devoted to cooking meals for the protector of the Earth and her best buds."

"And her best buds? You mean like we'd get it even if you weren't there?"

Buffy nodded.

"Well, then, put me solidly down in the 'support' camp for this one. Now how to convince the restaurants?"

"Oh! I know! We could do a protection racket. Don't want your shop destroyed by the forces of evil? Make sure you have the Slayer's food ready extra-quick."

"It's so devious, it just might work."

"You think?"

"Not a chance."

"Yeah. Oh well. So, Xan, whatcha got planned for tonight?"

"Well, I thought I'd possibly patrol the graveyards of Sunnydale in search of evil to be killed, then go back to Giles's place and sleep until the morning, because, let me tell you, they call it work for a reason."

"Sounds like a plan."

"Why, what are you doing?"

"Well, I thought I might start off the night by joining my Xander-shaped friend on a patrol… and then I was considering going back to the dorm and studying, but really I was hoping you were doing something fun so I wouldn't have to."

"Sorry to disappoint, it's a boring night at the Casa de Giles for me. Why don't you and Will do something?"

"She's going to a movie with Oz. Oh well, study it is."

"Well, you could always come back to Giles's with me, we could watch some movies."

"Does Giles even have a VCR?"

"Yep. He tapes Passions."


"I know, scary, huh? But he does."

"Does he have anything else on tape?"

"I don't know, but I'd guess that a trip to the video store might not be a bad idea."

"That sounds good to me."

"Cool," said Xander. "So how about you grab a movie, I'll pick up some popcorn, and after making the world safe from evil, we can relax on Giles's couch and let the wonders of Hollywood take away our cares."

"Wait a second, you're actually giving me full movie-picking privileges?"

"Oh, I hadn't thought about that… do you think you're up to it? It's a big responsibility."

"I think I can handle it," she said, smiling.

Xander eyed her cautiously, then nodded. "All right. But fail this test, and you shall be forever stripped of movie-picking privileges."

"I'll do my best," she said solemnly.

"Oh my God, I just realized something!" Xander said.


"Tomorrow's Saturday! I don't have to get up and work tomorrow! I can sleep in!" Xander was grinning from ear to ear.

Buffy smiled back at him. "I know. That's why I didn't want to study tonight."

Xander shook his head. "Buff, you should have told me it was Friday. There's no WAY I would have let you study on a Friday!"

"I thought you knew," she said.

"Oooh, food's here!"


"G-man, what's the what?" Xander said, sliding a jar of honey roasted peanuts across the table to Giles.

"Oh, thank you, very much. I'm just continuing the research is all… um."


"Yesterday… you seemed… upset, I guess was the word, when I saw you at your work site. You… said you would tell me?"

"Oh right… okay, how to say this delicately… I slept with Buffy."

"You WHAT?"

"No, no, only in the sleeping sense. Just sleep. Didn't quite make that delicate enough, I guess."

"Good lord, I do believe you are actively attempting to kill me."

Xander grinned. "Well, this is a pretty nice apartment… rent controlled, is it?"

Giles glared at him.

"Right. Anyway… Buffy was having…uh, boy troubles, I guess, that I kind of sorted out for her, but she needed to be comforted and stuff. So I slept with her, again, I cannot stress how much it was only sleeping. Anyway, I had to get up and go to work before she woke up, so I left her a note that said I'd be back later to check up on her, but, well, I didn't get to. You know, still saw her, and all, but…"

"I understand, of course, but the information…"

"No, I know, Giles. I just… she's had a lot of guys disappoint her recently, and I don't ever want to be one of those guys. She doesn't need any more of that in her life."

Giles smiled at him. "You are a good friend. Now pick up a book."


"So… Xander…" Buffy started as they were patrolling.

"Yeah Buff?"

"Well, it's been like… a week now, since you came back… and I was just, you know, wondering how you're dealing… you know, with everything?"

Xander paused for a moment. "You mean the powers, or the parents?"

"Well… you've had the powers for a few months now…"

"Right. Parents then."

"I mean, if you don't want to talk about it, I understand…"

"No, it's okay," Xander said, smiling at her. "I'm pretty much okay with it. I was a little shocked at first, you know… and angry, of course. But, really, it is for the best. That was never the healthiest environment for me to be in. How much do you know about what… I mean, did Willow tell you anything?"

Buffy shook her head. "I… never thought it was my place to ask. I mean, I got hints, from Willow, and from what Cordy used to say to you, but no details or anything like that."

Xander nodded. "Okay. Well, my dad… he was pretty much a drunk. And by pretty much, I mean there were a few nights a month when he didn't come home drunk. There were also a few nights when he didn't come home."

The pair sat down on a bench near a park, Buffy looking at Xander, Xander looking either at the ground or off to the distance.

"My mom wasn't much better, as far as the drinking goes. She stayed in a lot more, mostly because she couldn't hold a job, and she didn't get angry as often. Also, unlike my dad, she actually tried to be a good parent… it just wasn't in her though. She was on the receiving side of an abusive relationship, both mentally and physically."

"Your dad beat her?" Buffy asked.

Xander nodded. "Not just her, either. When I was 10, I dropped a glass of milk, and it shattered, waking my dad up from the couch, where he'd passed out. I told the school I'd fallen down the stairs, and I don't know if they believed me or just didn't want to know the truth, but they let it go. Everybody did, except Willow. That was the first time he'd ever hit me."

Buffy moved closer, gave him a quick hug, and stayed close.

Xander smiled at her. "Anyway, I think doing that kind of broke something… like a barrier, inside him, because he came after me more often after that. Either I was being too loud, or my room wasn't clean, or I breathed his oxygen or whatever. He pretty much found some reason to hit me or my mom just about every week.

"When I was thirteen, I grew up… had a growth spurt, and I started to provoke him, so he wouldn't go after my mom so much. That didn't really work, and I ended up sneaking out 2 or 3 times a week, and sleeping on the floor of Willow's room. If her parents knew, they never said anything, but I get the feeling they did. Willow would leave the French doors that lead to her balcony unlocked, and I'd come in and there would be a couple pillows and a blanket laid out for me.

"Most nights, that was enough, just getting out of the house. Sometimes, though, it wasn't, and I'd get to her house, and she'd be awake, waiting for me. I don't know how, but she always seemed to know. So she'd wait up for me, and she'd just hold me until I fell asleep."

Xander took a deep breath and sighed, pausing.

"You… don't have to keep going," Buffy said, touching his arm lightly.

"No, it's okay," he said. "I probably need to get this out anyway, I haven't talked about it in a while.

"Anyway, that went on until high school. I pretty much lived at Willow's house the summer before freshman year. And then my dad got into this program, like AA, but not the same thing exactly. He started doing better… he was still angry a lot, but he didn't drink so much. He was okay for a long time, actually. He'd still get drunk now and then, but instead of taking it out on me or my mom, he'd get in fights at bars, and my mom would have to go bail him out.

"Then, during the summer you were with your dad… after the Master and all that, he lost his job. That sent him off the deep end, again, and I pretty much stayed with Willow, again, and my mom went to live with her sister for a while. We were out of the house, so he couldn't get to us. He got a new job, about two weeks before school started, and I moved back in. I still don't know why, maybe because my mom did, too. I didn't want her alone there.

"He didn't keep that job long. That night, at the Bronze… um… where you danced with me, after you got back?"

"Oh, Xan, I'm so sorry for that… I was…"

"It's okay, Buff. We worked past that a long time ago. Still the damn sexiest dance I ever got," he said, grinning at her.

"You sure?" she asked.

Xander pulled her into a hug and kissed her forehead. "I'm sure. We're good. No worries."


"Okay. So, anyway, that night, when I got home, my dad was drunk again. He'd gotten fired for showing up drunk to work, and he stayed drunk the rest of the day. He decided that it was my fault he had gotten fired, and came after me. Needless to say, after the Bronze, I wasn't in the best mood. So when he came after me, for the first time ever, I fought back, and I broke his nose and his arm. He walked with a limp for a week or two. I felt bad at first. I mean, what kind of kid beats up his own dad?" Xander shook his head.

"But then I realized it was no more than the bastard deserved. I crashed at Willow's that night, but it was the last time I had to. My dad didn't come after me anymore, or my mom. He still got drunk, of course, but he didn't want to be shown up anymore by the kid he'd called worthless his whole life."

Buffy hugged Xander again, her eyes a little misty. "I'm so sorry Xan… I didn't know."

"I know," he said. "Anyway, now you know why I'm not too upset about them leaving. I don't know what my mom's gonna do now, but I can't protect her anymore. They didn't leave a forwarding address or anything. I just hope she has enough sense to get out… although I don't know why anything would change now."


"Yeah, Buff?"

"You know I love you, right?"

Xander smiled at her. "I know. I love you too."

"Okay. I just had to make sure. I mean, I know I don't tell you guys enough. You, or Willow, or Giles. But I couldn't do… this… without you guys."

"Well, you won't have to. We're not going anywhere."

Chapter 7

"So, what movie did the Buffinator pick?" Xander asked as they got to Giles's.

"I'm surprised it took you this long to ask," she said.

"Well, you gotta understand that I trust you with important decisions like these, so I decided to wait until it seemed like my asking would be mere idle curiosity, and not an inherent disbelief in your film-picking skills."

"You are truly a gentleman."

"I know. Weird, huh? So, what'd ya get?"

"Well, it was a very hard choice. You see, I wanted to make sure I got a good movie, one that is both funny, and serious. And I'm a little in the mood for some romance."

"Romance?" Xander whined. "Buffy, and I trusted you!"

"I know," she said. "And I knew that you are also involved, so I wanted something with adventure, action."


"Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles..." Buffy said, in her best 'old man' voice, which really wasn't very good.

"That sounds really familiar. Why does that sound really familiar?"

"It's from the Princess Bride."

"Okay, that sounds like a chick flick."

"That sounds like… Alexander Harris, do you mean to tell me that you have never seen The Princess Bride?" Buffy asked, almost yelling.

Xander shied away from her. "Umm… should I not be telling you that?"

"How would you feel if I said I hadn't seen Star Wars?"

"Whoa… okay, it may be serious, but it's not that serious."

"Just wait until you see it! Was Willow really that deficient in your education?"

"Well… no, not exactly."

"What do you mean 'not exactly'?"

"Well, she tried to get me to watch it that one time, but…"

"But…" Buffy prompted.

"But I fell asleep?"

Buffy smacked his arm. "Well that's it. We are going inside and sitting on that couch and you are going to watch this movie, because your education is not complete until you have seen it."

"But, it sounds so… girly!"

Buffy just glared at him.

"Okay, okay, I'll watch your movie."


Approximately 98 minutes later

Xander was pacing around in Giles's living room as the tape rewound, while Buffy sat back, watching him amusedly.

"Buffy, this is like one of the greatest movies ever!"

"I know."

"It is in no way a chick flick!"

"I know."

"Oh man! What have I been missing? My life has been incomplete!"

"I know."

Xander sat down and hugged Buffy to him tightly.

"Thank you. I shall never doubt your movie-picking abilities ever again."

"Good," she said, hugging him back.

"Hey Buff? Do you think…" he trailed off.

"Do I think what?"

"Well… could we watch it again?"

Buffy laughed. "Sure," she said. "But I'm getting kind of tired, so you might be called into pillow duty."

"It would be my pleasure to be your pillow," he said, smiling and grabbing the remote.

"Scoot over," Buffy said. Xander moved towards the far end of the couch. Buffy followed him, stretching out her legs and nuzzling up against his shoulder as he put his arm around her. "Mmm," she said. "Comfy."

Xander gazed down at her for a moment, a content smile appearing on his face. 'She is so beautiful…'

"You ready to start the movie, Buff?"

"Mmm… you start," she said, slowly drifting away. "Me sleep… you stay…." She started to quietly snore. Xander sat and listened to her for a minute. 'My God. She even has a cute snore. I'm doomed.'

Xander pressed play on the remote control and let Buffy slip away from him a little bit.

"Mmm…" she muttered, still sleeping. "Closer…"

Xander pulled her back towards him. "As you wish," he whispered, and settled back to watch the movie again.


Buffy woke up to voices speaking behind her, and Xander's arm wrapped around her. She was so comfortable that she quickly drifted back to sleep, entirely missing the conversation behind her.

"Because I don't think it is something that can be forced!" Giles whispered urgently.

"Giles, I know that things like this can't be forced, but don't you think that knowing… something… might help?" asked Willow.

"No, Willow, I don't. The pure stubbornness that could result might throw off everything!"

"I think he's right," said Oz.

"But –"

"Willow, I know you only wish for them to be happy. God knows it's what I want, too. But we must remember a few things. First, and most importantly, love, however completely obvious it may be to the rest of us, cannot be rushed. Especially where those two are concerned. Second, we must consider their reaction to hearing such a thing. Neither Buffy nor Xander have ever enjoyed being told what to do. Finally, the last time those two got together on a prophecy, the only book of prophecy that had been deemed completely accurate was, for all intents and purposes, discredited! While the consequences of thwarting that particular prophecy were without a doubt for the best, the consequences of this one not coming true could be disastrous!"

"But, Giles, Buffy did die, just like the Codex foretold," said Willow.

"Oh, that's rubbish, and you know it as well as I do. Buffy was supposed to stay dead that night, and only Xander's intervention changed things. The Slayer spirit moved on to Kendra, and then to Faith. Buffy's being here is a miracle."

The conversation stopped for a minute while they let all of that seep in.

"So, what do we do?" asked Oz.

Willow got a gleam in her eye, and gave her best approximation of an evil smile. "We meddle."


Xander woke with a start, not knowing quite where he was. Feeling a stirring next to him, he looked and saw a very groggy Slayer just starting to wake up. Shaking his head to clear his mind of the inevitable cobwebs, Xander stretched his arms out, yawning fairly loudly, then softly placed his arm back on Buffy.

"Good morning," Giles said from the table behind him.

Xander turned his head around. "Hey, Giles."

"Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah, slept great," Xander said, as Buffy woke up some more and looked around.

"Xan?" she asked. 'Mmm… this feels right…'

"Yeah, Buff?"

"Where am I?"

"Giles's couch. Remember? Last night? Movie? You fell asleep?"

"Oh. Okay." She looked up at him and smiled. "Sorry, didn't mean to keep you from going to bed."

"Don't worry about it," he said, smiling back at her. "It's not every day you get to say you slept with a hottie."

Buffy blushed and turned away from him. 'I love his smile…. And… him?' she sighed inwardly. 'I can't deal with this right now.'

"There are some donuts here, if you two wish. Willow and Oz stopped by for a few minutes earlier."

"Oooh," said Xander. "Jelly?"

"There are a few left, yes."

"What do ya say, Buff? Up for some jelly-filled goodness?"

"Actually," said Buffy, standing up and stretching, "I think I'm gonna go home. Home home, I mean, not dorm home. I haven't seen Mom in like a week."

"Okay," said Xander. "You know, I just realized something?"

"What's that?" asked Buffy.

Xander grinned. "I haven't seen Willy since I've been back."

Buffy smacked her forehead. "I can't believe we haven't talked to Willy yet. Giles, why haven't we talked to Willy yet?"

"Um… I'm not quite certain," said Giles. "Didn't think of it I suppose. Why don't the two of you talk to him later on today?"

"Sure thing, G-man. We'll get right on that."

"Bye guys," said Buffy. "Call ya later for patrol?"

"Sure," said Xander standing up and stretching again.

'I love the way he…' Buffy thought. 'Crap. I do. And he doesn't think of me like that. Not anymore…'

Shaking her head, Buffy shut the door to Giles's apartment as she left.

"So," said Giles, smiling. "Did you have a nice night?"

Xander grinned. "Oh man, you don't even know. That was like the best night I've had in… well, kinda forever."

"What movie did the two of you watch?"

"The Princess Bride," Xander said, sitting down across from Giles and grabbing a donut. "I hadn't seen it."

"You what? How is that possible?"

Xander sighed. "I fell asleep last time Willow tried to get me to watch it. I thought it was going to be a girly movie!"

"Xander…" Giles sighed, shaking his head. "Well. At least your education has been improved somewhat now. For heaven's sake, that movie's a classic."

"Well, I've seen it now! And shouldn't we be more worried about this

end of the world guy, than about my movie viewing habits?"

"I'm not sure. Does Willow know you slept through it last time? She might kill you just for that."

Xander glared at the older man.

"Right. Well, nothing obvious from recent research, nothing specific anyway. We have found that the ritual must take place in a place of worship, so Oz and Willow are currently looking at some possible sites near the Hellmouth. I suppose Willy really is our best chance of finding this demon before it's too late, though."

"Yeah… hey, Giles, I've been thinking."

"You still do that?"

"Ha. Ha. Ha."

"Sorry," Giles said, smiling. "What about?"


"Ah. And?"

"Well… the prophecy Oz found, the one that described my… powers, or whatever. I was thinking, well… They might be able to help. The healing powers? With Faith, I mean."

"I see. You may well be right, that they could help her… but the question is, should we?"

"I know. And I've been thinking about that, especially about what Buffy said, about Faith telling her stuff… well, while she was in the coma. And that Faith seemed willing to help, and I thought, if that's true, then maybe we could… I don't know, reach out to her, or something. She's had a rough life, and made some bad choices… horrible choices. But I can't help but feel that… with the nature of my powers, I shouldn't just be about killing demons, but also helping people."

"I see. Well, the idea is not without merit, certainly. We shall have to talk to the others, first, of course."

"I know," said Xander. "I just thought it was worth thinking about. I'm gonna go shower, then maybe read up on myself a little more."


"Mom? You here?"

"Upstairs honey!"

Buffy climbed the stairs to find her mother in her bedroom.

"Hi, Mom," she said, giving her mother a hug.

"Hi sweetie. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Just missed you is all. Whatcha doin'?"

"I'm going over some inventory for the gallery," Joyce said, indicating the papers strewn over her bed.

"Sounds like fun," Buffy said, sarcastically.

"You have no idea. So, what's going on in the world of the Slayer?"

"Same old same old," Buffy said. "Actually, it's been really quiet here ever since graduation. Nary a vampire or demon in sight."

"Well, that's good," said Joyce. "You deserve some time off."

"Yeah. And also, we can handle more than we used to, now that Xander's back."

"Xander? He makes that big a difference?"

"Yeah, he does now. I mean, he's always helped… I wouldn't even be alive if not for him, actually. Come to think of it, I don't think any of us would. He's always been there at just the right time, you know?" Buffy said. 'He's always been there for me…' she thought, frowning.

"This is a bad thing?" Joyce asked, misinterpreting her daughter's expression.

"What? Oh! No, I was just thinking about something. Um, so, yeah, so Xan came back from his road trip all… I don't know… power-y."


Buffy nodded. "He got like… fighting skills. Real fighting. And this cool shield thing that makes him stronger. Apparently, he's some sort of 'White Knight' or something."

"White Knight, huh?" Joyce said, thinking for a second. "That doesn't sound too far off."

"It's cool, and he's been working out, too, so he's in really good shape."

"That's great. So why don't you look happy?"

"Well… he kind of got kicked out of his house."

"Oh, that's horrible. What happened?"

"Well, it's not so much got kicked out, as he got back and his parents didn't live there anymore. They just left. I can't believe they just left him! They didn't tell him or anything," she said, starting to tear up a little. "They just left."

"Oh, honey," Joyce said, moving to embrace her daughter. "How is he holding up?"

"He seems to be doing fine," she said. "And I think that's the worst thing. His parents abandoned him, and he's fine with it, he's actually happy about it! And he's so sweet, and caring, and I just… if they were that bad to him, that he doesn't even care, how did he turn out so great?"

Joyce smiled at her daughter. "I don't know, honey. But he is a fine young man."

"The best. Mom?"

"Yes, dear?"

"If you ever decide to move, you'll tell me, right?"

"Oh, honey, I would never leave without talking to you about it!"

"Kay," Buffy said, giving her mom another hug.

"You like him, huh?" Joyce asked her daughter.

"Who, Xander? Of course I like him, Mom. He's one of my best friends."

Joyce smiled at her daughter. "Honey, that's not what I meant."

"Oh," said Buffy, confused. "Then what did you – OH! Mom! I… well, that's not… he's my Xander-shaped friend. I can't like him like that."

"Why not? I mean… it's a nice shape…" Joyce said.

"Mother! You can't like him like that, either! Ewww!"

Joyce laughed. "Buffy, calm down. I don't like him like that, but I'm not so old that I can't find the… male form pleasing to the eye."


"Well, I'm sorry, honey, but Xander is an attractive young man."

"I cannot believe I'm having this discussion with you."

"Well then, we can stop talking about how Xander looks."


"And start talking about why you like him."


"What? Why is it that you think you can't like Xander like that?"

"Because… he's… Xander. He's my friend. Besides, even if I did like him, he doesn't like me back."

"Buffy, I sincerely hope I didn't raise a daughter this stupid."


"That is the worst reasoning I've ever heard! 'Oh, I can't like him because he's my friend, and he might not like me.' You're the Slayer, and you're afraid of liking a boy because he might not like you back?"

"I… no! I never said I liked him!"

Joyce glanced at her daughter, disbelievingly.

"Okay, fine. So maybe there's a possibility that there's a chance I might think about having some sort of feeling for Xander that's more than just friendship. But that doesn't mean that anything's going to come of it."



"Honey, Willow told me a story once, about a fine young man who liked this girl. Now, these two young people were friends, but the young man wanted more than that. He wanted to dance with her."

Buffy's eyes went wide when she realized the story her mother was telling her.

"Now, the young man realized that there was a ball coming up soon, and decided it would be a perfect time to tell the girl how he felt. So he told her that he wanted to dance with her.

"The girl wasn't quite sure what to say, because she was comfortable with their friendship, and didn't want to hurt the young man's feelings. She tried to stammer out a response, and the young man said 'Either you feel a certain way, or you don't.' And the girl said, 'I'm sorry, but I don't.'

"Now, the young man was quite hurt by this, so he went home and listened to some country music. But soon after this, he found out that the girl was in trouble. Despite everybody else telling him he couldn't help her, he was determined to try. So he went to another young… well, not so young man, who was competing with him for the girl's affections. He forced the man to assist him, and together they followed the girl to help her out.

"They came upon the girl, and she had drowned. So this young man performed CPR on her. He saved her, brought her back from the dead. So soon after having his heart broken, he risked life and limb to save the girl who had broken it. And the two young people became best friends, and remain so to this day."

"Mom?" Buffy asked.

"Yes, dear?"

"I know this story."

"I know you do, honey."

"What was the point of this story? Just because he liked me then doesn't mean anything now." 'There's something else there, too… that doesn't quite sound right.'

"I know honey, but that's not the point."

"So what is the point then?"

"You hurt him, Buffy. Pretty bad, but you're still best friends, right?"


"Xander loves you, even if as nothing more than a friend. He would never let anything get in the way of that. You shouldn't be afraid to tell him how you feel, because he would never do anything to hurt you."



"I think…" Buffy paused, then started again, more quietly. "I think I'm falling in love with him."

"You're WHAT?"

"Mom! I thought you were okay with it!"

"Well… I…. Honey, I… this is a lot to… you mean you've been denying you like him, when the whole time you were falling in love with him?"

Buffy nodded, a look of fear on her face.

Joyce sighed. "It's not that I don't approve, or am not okay with it. You just shifted gears so quickly there. It's a lot for a mother to take in, is all."

"What did you mean, forced?" Buffy asked, suddenly realizing what bugged her about the story.

"What?" Joyce asked confused.

"When you were telling the story. You said Xander forced Angel to help him. What did you mean?"

"Oh. Well, I don't know, really. That's what Willow told me, she really didn't go into detail."

"And you didn't ASK?"

"I was more concerned with you dying!"

"I guess I'll just have to ask Willow, then," Buffy sighed. "No, I can't do that, then she'll know I like Xander, and she'll tell him!"


"Maybe Giles will know. Oh, but Xander probably wouldn't have told him."


"Maybe Willow told Oz… Wait, what if Willow doesn't know any more than you do?"



"Well, if you really want to know… then there are only two people who know exactly what happened."

"I can't ask them!"

"Buffy, you're being immature, here, I think."

"I know! Giles!"

"I thought you ruled him out?"

"I did. But *he* can call Angel and find out what happened."

"And you don't think that will tip Giles off? Or Angel?"


"Buffy, just ask Xander!"

"No! Because I know him. He won't tell me, he doesn't like to be in the spotlight."

"So then ask Angel yourself."


"Buffy, if you want to know…"

"Fine. I'll just… go get his number from Giles."

"You don't have to. I have it."

"He called YOU? You and Giles? What is this, ignore Buffy month?"

"No, sweetie, Rupert gave me Angel's phone number. He thought you might eventually want it, and that it might be easier for you to ask me, instead of him. And why do you care? I thought you love Xander now."

"I do!" Buffy said. "But… that doesn't mean I don't care…"

Joyce smiled at her daughter. "Okay. Here, let me find his number."

Chapter 8

"Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless."

[Cordelia, hi] said Buffy.

"Oh my gosh, Buffy, how are you?"

[Oh, you know… Sunnydale.]

"Yeah, I know Sunnydale, all right. How is everybody? How's Xander, is he ok?"

[Everybody's good. Xander's um… good. We're all fine, here, thank you. How are you?]

"Well, it's been a little slow, Doyle hasn't had a vision in a few days, so I've been redecorating the office."


"Yeah, he gets these visions that tell Angel what to do… like, who he has to save, or whatever. It's a whole 'Powers That Be' thing."


"You want to talk to him, right?"

[Um, I…]


[That's a good set of lungs you got there, Cordelia.]

"Giles said the exact same thing."

"Hello?" Angel asked, picking up the phone.



"Cordelia," said Cordelia. The line was silent. "Oh, what, Harris is the only one who can make that joke?"


"I know, I know. Hanging up now. Bye Buffy!"

[Bye Cordelia.]




"How are you?"

[Good. I'm good. You?]

"Doing pretty good… work and all."


"Was there… something specific you needed to ask me?"

[Oh… no] said Buffy. [Except, in the sense that… yes.]

"What's up? Do you need help? Is something wrong?"

[No, no… nothing like that. Um… I need to ask you a question, but it might sound a little strange.]

"Okay. Questions I can handle."

[Um… when you… when… the day that I, you know… died? Why… how did you find me?]

"Oh. Um, I knew where the master's cave was, so it wasn't that hard. I knew you were going to face off against him."

[Yeah… that's not quite what I meant.]

"What did you mean?"

[Umm… why did you… follow me down there?]

"Oh. I…" Angel paused.


Xander and Angel are in Angel's apartment.

"Look, I know you can find this Master guy. He's underground, right? Take me to him."

"You're way outta your league, kid. The Master'll kill you before you can even breathe. If you're lucky."

"How can I say this clearly?"

Xander holds up a cross. Angel growls. Xander advances toward him, and Angel backs off until he falls onto the couch.

"I don't like you. At the end of the day, I pretty much think you're a vampire. But Buffy's got this big old yen for you. She thinks you're a real person. And right now I need you to prove her right."

"You're in love with her."

"Aren't you?"

(End Flashback)

"Xander… convinced me to ignore the prophecy, and I took him to the Master's lair."

[Um… convinced you how? I mean, at the time, he was just a normal, mortal, 16 year old boy. How did he convince you?]

"With a cross, and a few not-so-kind words," Angel said, quickly becoming uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was heading.

[So, what you're telling me is that Xander forced you to take him into the Master's lair, knowing fully well he could die, and then saved my life? He threatened you until you helped him.]

"Well, it wasn't quite that simple--"

[But basically?]

"Basically… yes. He threatened me until I helped him."

[One more thing.]

"Yes?" Angel asked, feeling somewhat less confident.

[When Angelus came to my hospital room, and Xander told him to leave. Why didn't you just go through? I mean, Angelus could take him, right?]

"Well first off, he didn't tell me to leave."


"No, he damn near dared me to try to get past him."

[Why would he do that?]

"Because he didn't care."

[About me?]

"About himself. He knew why I was there, and he was ready to give himself up to save you. And I'm pretty sure that, had I tried, I could have killed him, but he would have taken me with him, too. There was no way I was getting to your room."

[So, that's why Angelus didn't try? He was afraid to die? Afraid of Xander?]

"Well… yes."

[So then Angelus called him a White Knight?]

"No," said Angel.

[Wait, but you told Giles…]

"Angelus didn't call him a White Knight, Buffy. He called Xander your White Knight."


"Yes. Yours."

[Oh. Um. Thank you. I uh… have to… yeah.]



"He used a cross," Buffy said, bewildered.

"What's that, honey?" Joyce asked.

"Xander. After I rejected him, he went to Angel's apartment, and threatened Angel until Angel agreed to help him."

Joyce smiled. "And this is the boy you're worried about hurting you?"

Buffy looked up at her mom. "That's not the only time, either."

"The only time what?"

"That he stood up to Angel."

Buffy then proceeded to tell her mother about what happened at the hospital.

"Wow. And the others know this?"

"Yeah. Well, not about the him scaring Angelus part, but, yeah, the rest of it. Or, well, I think they know that… Mom? Does it matter that Angel called him my White Knight instead of just a White Knight?

"I think it probably does, sweetie."

"I need to talk to Willow," Buffy said, standing up quickly.

"I thought you didn't want her to know," Joyce said.

"It's okay now!" she yelled as she ran out the door. "Bye Mom!"


Willow waved as Buffy walked in the room.

"Willow, good, you're here. I need to talk –" Buffy stopped, seeing Willow on the phone.

"Uh huh," said Willow, grinning into the phone. "No, it's a great idea…. Yeah. Okay, I'll see you around seven then?... Great! Bye!"

"Oz?" Buffy asked as Willow hung up the phone.

"Xander," said Willow, still smiling. "We're going out tonight."

"You are?" Buffy asked.

"Yup. We… haven't been as close as we used to before… well, you know."

"The Fluke."

"Yeah, that. Anyway, so we were talking today, and, well, we thought it would be nice to, you know, get back to that, with the closeness? So we're going out to dinner and to talk and stuff before you guys patrol."

"Oh," said Buffy, frowning.

"What's up?" Willow asked. "Why with the gloominess all of a sudden?"

"Willow, I…"

"What's wrong, Buffy?"

"I need to ask you a question," she said, "and I need you to be completely truthful with me."

"Okay… kinda scarin' me here."

"I know… but um… do you love him? Xander, I mean."

Willow looked at Buffy, a little incredulously. "Buffy, what? Of course I love him, he's my Xander."

"Oh," Buffy said, sadly. "But, what about Oz?"

"Oz? What does that… oh! No! Buffy, no, not like that!" Willow said realizing what Buffy was really asking. "I mean, yeah, I did, for, like, ever, but no. Buffy, I'll love Xander as long as I live, he's my best friend, and has been since preschool, and he always will be. But romantically? I'm all Oz, all the time. Scout's honor."

"Oh," said Buffy, relaxed a little more. "You sure?"

"Positive. OHMYGOSH!" she yelled, realizing why Buffy was asking. "YOU LOVE HIM!"

Buffy gave her friend a weak smile.

"Oh! This is so great! You love him!" Willow got up and danced around a little. "You love him! You love him! La la la la la!"

"Calm down, Will," Buffy said.

"Calm down?" Willow asked. "But this is so great! You guys are gonna be so good together, I can see it now, all the little kiddies running around and everything!"

Buffy laughed at her friend's enthusiasm. "Willow, stop! It's not like we're even going out yet!"

"But when you do," Willow said, "it's gonna be sooo good! Oh! Yay!"

"Willow…" Buffy said. "I don't even know if he likes me. Oh, but, idea!"


"Well, you're going out with him tonight, right?"


"Well, you could pump him for info, see if there's any interest!"

"Buffy," Willow said, "You know I'll help you as much as I can, but even if I do find anything out, I won't be able to tell you. I can't betray his trust like that!"

"I know…" Buffy said, dejectedly. "But, then, how do I know?"

"Well, duh," Willow said. "You ask him."

"But… but… what if… what if no?"

Willow rolled her eyes. "Buffy, whatever his answer is, he's not gonna hurt you. Or, well, it might hurt, but you know he loves you, right? I mean, he'll always be your friend, no matter what. I'm sure you don't have anything to worry about."

"I know, but… but… scary," Buffy said, pouting.

"Aww," Willow said, moving to hug the Slayer. "Is the poor widdle Slayer scared?"

"Willow!" Buffy said, smacking her friend on the arm. "I'm serious!"

"I know that, Buffy, but… look Xander had the nerve to ask you out, right? I mean, after he got over the whole gut-wrenching fear thing, he asked. And, you know, once you do, I'm gonna have to tell him how long I've known. Do you want him to be able to say he was braver than you?"

Buffy glared at her.

"I'm just saying…"

Buffy flopped down on her bed. "Will… what am I gonna do?"

"Okay, well, I'll see what I can find out tonight, and I'll tell you what I can, okay? And you'll go patrolling, and be all flirty… ooh! And you dress up all sexy like! For patrolling!"

"I think I can do that," said Buffy, smiling.

"And then tomorrow, we can compare notes, and see what we can come up with."

"Okay. You'll help me, right?"

"Yes. I will help you."

"Okay. Good."


Xander was humming a little tune to himself as he approached the girls' dorm room. Knocking on the door, he was thinking about where he and Willow would go for dinner, to try to recapture some of the closeness they had lost after the 'illicit smoochies' of the previous year.

The door opened and his mind quickly stopped all conscious thought, as he uttered the syllables, "Whaabuuhhuh."

"Xan? You ok?" Buffy asked, secretly pleased at the response. She was wearing a low cut, silky red top that emphasized her curves very well, and a long black skirt that had a slit up past mid-thigh.

"Daaaahaahhh. Er. That is to say… Hi. Yes. I'm fine. Thank you for asking. You? How? I, er… I mean, how are you?"

Buffy smiled at him. "Great. Will's just about ready. Come in?"

Xander nodded dumbly.

"Xan, you… actually have to move your feet to come inside."

"Huh? Oh… yeah. Right, sorry," he said, shaking his head to clear it. "I umm… actually, is there a men's room around here?"

Buffy shook her head. "One floor either way," she said. "No boys on this floor."

"'Kay," he said. "I'll… be back… in a minute."

Buffy smiled as he walked off, then shut the door most of the way, leaving a little crack so he would know to come in when he came back.

"I think you broke him," Willow said, grinning at her roommate.


"That girl is gonna be the end of me," Xander said to himself as he splashed cold water on his face.

Wiping off his face and heading back downstairs, Xander steadied himself for the sight of Buffy again. 'And I was so smooth, too' he thought. 'Yes. Vowel sounds are very appealing. Jeez, I'm such a moron!'

Xander entered the room, quietly knocking on the door, and saw Buffy reading Cosmo while sitting on her bed and smiling to herself. "Hey again," he said.

"Hey Xan," Buffy said, smiling at him.

"Hi Xander," Willow said from her desk.

"Wills, hi! Ready to go?"

"Just another minute," she said. "Gotta finish this problem here."

"Okay," he said, sitting on Willow's bed and turning towards Buffy.

"So, Buff," he asked as casually as he could. "Got a hot date tonight?"

"No," she said, not looking up from her magazine. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, no reason. You… just seem a little dressed up, is all."

Buffy shrugged and turned the page. "I just felt like looking good, is all," she said.

"Ah, Buff, you always look good."

She smiled at him. "Thanks, Xander. You're lookin' pretty hot there yourself."

Xander grinned, looking down at his worn jeans, sneakers and old t-shirt. "What, this old stuff?"

"You ready to go, Xander?" Willow asked.

"Yep," he said. "Let's get a move on. Patrol later, Buff?"

"You betcha," she said. "I'll be waiting for you."

Xander raised his eyebrows at her word choice, but said nothing.

"Bye Buffy," Willow said as she grabbed Xander's arm and headed out the door.

"Bye guys, have fun," said Buffy.


"So, Xan, what'd ya do this summer?" Willow asked, as the pair walked down the street. "Where did you go? What did you see? Who did you meet? What did you kill?"

"That's my Willow," he said, grinning. "Always with the questions."

"So?" she said. "Answer!"

Xander chuckled. "Well, I drove. And… I killed some things, mostly demons, but I think I also got a possum or two. I pretty much drove up the coast to Seattle, then headed East. Got as far as Minnesota, where I actually took out a whole nest of vamps that were preying on the locals. After that, I realized I wasn't gonna get away from these things, no matter where I went. So, I came home by the scenic route. Saw Mount Rushmore, killed a Fyarl demon. Saw the Grand Canyon, dusted a few vamps. Hit Death Valley and, oddly enough, nothing happened."

"Wow," she said. "Eventful. Didja meet anybody neat?"

"Nah," he said. "I didn't really stay anywhere long enough to meet people. Although, I saved this one old guy from a couple of vamps, and he let me stay at his place that night. It was cool, until he started hitting on me. I pretty much slept in my car that night." He shuddered at the memory.

"What about you, Wills? You have an exciting summer?"

"No," she said. "Stayed in boring ol' Sunnydale. Didn't even get to kill much of anything. It was a quiet summer." Willow shrugged.

"So I gather. Still hasn't picked up yet. It's like they've gone, and they're not coming back."

"Yeah, it's weird."

"So… uh, how are you and Oz? How's that whole thing… working out?"

Willow gave him a big grin. "It's great. Oz is so sweet, and we're so in love. It's like the most wonderful thing."

"That's great, Wills," Xander said, "I'm glad you guys could work things out, and that you're all happy now."

"Me too," Willow said. "And how're you… you know… with the Buffy thing? I mean, I know you said, like a few days ago, but, still?"

"Yeah," he said. "God, she looked gorgeous today, don't you think?"

"Well, not really into the women here, but yeah, she had something going on."

"Hey Wills?" he said, stopping.


"I uh… I know that it's all over and done with and everything… but, well, I wanted to say… I'm sorry. About Faith."

"Oh, sweetie, that's okay," she said, smiling at him.

"No. It's not. It… it should never have happened. Especially that night. I mean… you told me you loved me, and I went off and…"

Willow embraced him. "I know. And it hurt, when I found out... and how."

"God, I never wanted to hurt you Willow," he said, his eyes tearing up a little. "I'm so sorry."

"Oh, Xander," she said, crying a little bit. "It's okay now. Really, it is. Yeah, I… I hurt then. But, I'm all better now, see?" she asked, smiling. "No more hurt."

"I tried to tell you, so many times. I would pick up the phone, and start dialing your phone number, and then lose my nerve. I couldn't do it, because I already knew how much I'd hurt you, and I didn't want to do it anymore. I don't ever want to hurt you, Will."

"Shh," she said, holding him. "It's okay, sweetie. For what it's worth, I'm sorry, too."

"Willow, you don't have anything to be sorry for," he said.

"Yes, I do," she said. "I'm sorry that we tried to cut you out last year. It was wrong of us, and I should have said something. I'm sorry I was jealous of Cordelia, when I should have been supportive of your happiness. But mostly, I'm sorry I cut you off, after we were caught at the factory."

"Will, you had to do that," Xander said. "Even I understood that."

"No, I didn't," she said. "Not to the extent that I did it. I wasn't there for you, Xand, and I feel horrible about it. I mean, we barely talked until graduation, except about Hellmouth stuff. I'm never going to do that again, ever. Not even for Oz."

"Will, don't say that, I mean, I don't want—"

"No, Xander. Never. I can't, you're too important to me. You're my best friend, and if we were ever not talking, and something happened to you… I couldn't deal."

"That night, where the other you came, from wherever it was she was from… God, Willow, when I thought you had been turned, it was the worst feeling ever. It was like a piece of me had died. I didn't know how I was gonna keep going. When I saw you come in the library, and realized it was you, and you were alive… it was like I learned how to breathe again. I love you, Willow."

"I love you too, Xander."

They stood there holding each other for a minute, letting their tears flow.

"God, look at us," Willow said. "Couple o' cryin' fools."

"Well, one crying fool, one crying braniac," said Xander, chuckling. "Come on," he said, throwing his arm over her shoulder. "Let's go get some food."


"Anything?" Willow asked, munching on a french fry.

"Anything I don't know," Xander said. "No more secrets."

"Okay… I got asked out the other day by this guy in one of my classes."

"Wow. Did you tell Oz?"

"Yeah. He laughed, and kissed me."


"Okay, you now."

"Umm… I thought you looked hot in that leather Vamp get up. I'm sick, I know."

Willow laughed. "Well, I did. I was a ragin' hot mama."

"Oh yeah, you sexy thang. What else?"

"Um… well, I don't know if you… you know, know… but me and Oz are… well, we're…"

Xander laughed. "Yeah. I knew. I mean, I didn't know, know, but I knew."

"Okay, good. Whew, that's the big one."

"The big one, huh?"

"Yup. You got a big one?"

Xander sighed. "Yeah. I do."

"Well spill, buddy. Don't make me interrogate you!"

"Okay. I saved the world once, and nobody knew."

"You WHAT?"

Xander nodded. "It was that night… with the apocalypse demons. Where… I… with Faith…"

"Okay. I remember the apocalypse demons, and I remember the Faith… but, how?"

"Well, you remember Jack O'Toole? Turns out he was a zombie. He'd died three weeks earlier in a drive-by shooting. His grandfather raised him. That night, I was driving around with him, because of Katie."

"Katie?" Willow asked.

"His knife that he liked to hold to my neck," Xander said. "Anyway, so we're driving around, and we make a few stops at some cemeteries and he decides, 'Hey, it'd be fun if we raised some of my friends as zombies, too!' So he gathers a few guys, and they decide it's a good idea to build a bomb. Well, while they were breaking and entering to get ingredients, that's when I ran into you outside the magic shop."

"I was wondering what you were doing there," Willow said. "Didn't know it was a bomb."

"Yeah. Well, they put the stuff in the car, you remember, Uncle Rory's '57 Chevy? Anyway, I drive off with it, leaving them behind. I saw Faith fighting with one of those apocalypse demons, and I hit it with the car. She jumps in, and we go to her motel, cuz we figured it would be safe there."

"That's when you…"

"Yeah. That's when. So, then she kicked me out, half-naked, and I ran into O'Toole and his cronies again. I grabbed one of them, and made him tell me where the bomb was by dragging him alongside my car. He told me the bomb was in the boiler room of the high school. I was about to ask him how to defuse it when his head kinda had a run in with a mailbox, and just like that, no more zombie."

"Wow. Bad timing."

"That's what I thought."

"Wait, the boiler room? That's right under the library!"

Xander nodded. "I know. And I knew something was going down. So I go to the school, chased the whole way by the zombies. Chased them around the school a bit, saw the demon thing you guys were fighting."

"You were THERE?"

Xander nodded again. "Yep. In fact, those apocalypse demons ate one of the guys. 'Nother one, I crushed by dropping a vending machine on it. So, anyway, I got down to the boiler room, and there was this huge bomb. I had no clue how to stop it. So of course, I'm looking at it, and O'Toole tackles me. We kinda have a stand off, a little. The timer got down to two seconds and Jack pulls the plug on it."

"Wow," said Willow. "Xander, if that bomb had gone off, you'd be dead!"

"Yeah," he said, "but so would all of you. And pretty much everybody else we've ever met. If that bomb had gone off, it would have killed you all, and nobody would have been there to stop the Hellmouth from opening. But it didn't so it's okay. I never did figure out what happened to Jack, though. I left him in the boiler room, and never saw him again."

Willow thought for a second. "Oh my god, Oz!"


"Um, that night, it was a full moon. Oz was restless, and we put him in the closet in the boiler room! And he didn't eat anything the next day, because he kept saying he was oddly full." Her eyes were wide with horror.

"Oh," said Xander. "OH! Wow… oh jeez, I'm sorry. I had no idea."

"No, it's okay. I mean, he was dead, after all… oh, and eww. Man, now I have to get him to brush his teeth."

"Will, it's been like half a year."

"I know, but I just found out, and eww."

"Yeah… yeah, I get that. Hey Will, I know you and Oz are doing the whole complete honesty thing…"

"No way. Not telling him this. Whoo, that would not be good."

"Yeah," said Xander.

Willow looked down at her plate. "I don't think I'm hungry anymore," she said.

"Yeah. Yeah me either. Oh, man, that's gross. Ice cream?"

"Oh yeah."


"So, did you have good times with Willow?" Buffy asked, as she and Xander walked towards Willy's bar.

"Yeah, it was good. We talked, got some stuff out that needed to be said, ended up sobbing together on the street, and then leaving about half our food at the restaurant when we went to get ice cream."

"Wait. You, Xander Harris, left food somewhere?" She looked away, faking tears in her eyes. "I don't think I even know who you are anymore."

Xander laughed as they entered Willy's. "Yeah, well… let's just say we realized something that made us lose our appetite for meat for a day or two."

Buffy looked at him oddly, and shook her head. "Willy!" she said to the bartender. "How are you tonight?"

"Uh… hey there, Slayer. Kid. Something I can help you with?" Willy asked, beginning to sweat a little as the occupants of his bar watched with interest.

"Oh, maybe a thing or two, Willy," Buffy said, putting a little emphasis on his name.

"Yeah. Well, I don't really know too much, anymore. Kinda gave up that lifestyle, you know?"

"Aww," said Xander. "And here we went and got our hopes up. Now I'm all disappointed." He slammed his fist on the bar, hard, denting it. "I don't like being disappointed, do you Buff?"

"No," she said, walking up to the bar and sitting down on a stool. "I really don't like being disappointed."

"I can see that you don't like disappointment," Willy said. "But don't go doing anything rash, now. Maybe you tell me what you're looking for, and I'll see if I know anything?"

"Fargath demon," said Xander. "Location, plans, everything."

"I don't know nothin' about no Fargath demon," Willy said.

"Dammit!" Xander said, punching the bar again.

"Willy, we've done this enough. You know how it works. I punch you, you tell me what I want to know, everybody goes away happy, except you, and that doesn't matter," Buffy said, smiling. "Only it's not going to work that way today. I'm not going to touch you."

"You… you're not?"

"Nope. Not one single hair on your head will I touch."

"Oh," said Willy, relaxing a little. "So I guess we're done here?"

"Not quite," said Xander, hopping the bar and grabbing Willy's head. "I still get to touch you."

Xander applied a large amount of force to Willy's temples, until Willy's eyes looked like they were going to pop out.

"Okay, okay!" said Willy, as Xander released his head. "Jeez, I was just joking before. You know I love helping you guys."

"That's right, Willy. You're a regular saint," said Buffy. "So. Fargath demon?"

"Right," said Willy, picking up a glass and cleaning it. "Fargath demon. Old warehouse, the one where Spike had set up. He's been recruiting vamps left and right, that's why you guys have been bored these nights."

"Plans?" Xander asked, leaning in towards Willy.

"Normal stuff. End of the world. But you guys already know that, otherwise you wouldn't be here."

"How many vamps?" Buffy asked.

"I don't know, exactly. 30, maybe more. They turn people, then keep the bodies. That way, no funerals, no vamps for the Slayer, yeah?"

"Right," said Buffy. "That all?"

"Yeah, that's all I know, I swear."

"Thanks Willy," said Xander.

"Sure thing, kid. Just stay away from me, you scare me."

"Wait, he scares you?" Buffy asked, incredulously.

"Sure," Willy said. "You, I know. I can deal. Don't know what he's gonna do. He's vicious."

"Vicious?" Xander asked, intrigued, and kind of glad he had a reputation. "What makes you say I'm vicious?"

"Uh…" Willy started.

"C'mon, Willy," Xander said, smiling. "What is it?"

"You know damn well how you dealt with O'Toole's crew, kid, I don't need to tell you."

"Wait, how did you know about that?" Xander asked, suddenly frowning.

"Xan? What's he talking about?" Buffy asked, confused.

"The Mayor's goons, the guys who cleaned up the 'cake.' They were in here talking the next day about how merciless you were. Feedin' that guy to a werewolf, man that's foul."

"Xander?" Buffy asked.

"I didn't feed him! I didn't know he was there!" said Xander.

"It's still nasty, kid," said Willy.

"XANDER!" Buffy yelled.


"What's he talking about? Who's O'Toole?"

"You mean he never told you guys about it?"

"Willy, shut up," said Xander.

"Told us what?" Buffy asked.

"I can't believe you never told them, kid! I'd have been telling everybody!" Willy said.

"I said shut up, Willy."

"No, don't shut up!"

"Hey, the kid scares me, you don't," Willy said.

"Ok," Buffy said, grabbing Willy by his hair. "I'm breaking my promise."

"Kid?" Willy said.

Xander sighed. "Fine. I already told it once tonight, you go ahead. There's never a vampire around to kill when you need one."

A couple of patrons in the bar quickly shuffled out the back.

"Ok," Willy said. "Let go my head, and I'll tell you."

Buffy released Willy's hair and Willy told almost the same tale that Xander had told Willow earlier in the day. By the time he was finished, Xander was banging his head on the bar, and Buffy's mouth was agape.

"You're totally exaggerating," Xander said.

"I just tell 'em like I hear 'em, kid," Willy said.

"You mean that's true??" Buffy asked.

"Not entirely!" Xander said. "There were only 4 zombies, not 10. And one of them, I didn't even kill, those Sisters of Jhe did. And I had no clue Oz was in the boiler room, I swear!"

"Xander, you could have gotten killed!" she said. "Why didn't you come to one of us for help?"

"I tried!" he said. "But you guys were all busy with the Hellmouth opening, so I had to take care of it by myself!"

Buffy looked at him for a second, and then stormed out of the bar.

"Great," Xander muttered.

"Sorry I got you in deep with your girlfriend, kid."

"She's not my girlfriend," Xander said, getting up to leave.

"You sure?"

"As I've ever been."

Chapter 9

"Buffy, wait up!" Xander said, running to catch the Slayer.

Buffy kept walking, but Xander caught up to her and paced her.

"Why'd you storm out like that?"

Buffy kept walking, silently.

"Buffy, talk to me!" he said, grabbing her arm. At his touch, she turned suddenly and pulled him into a hug, crying into his shirt.

"You could have died!" she said.

"What, back there? Nah, I can handle Willy."

"Xander, I meant last year."

"Yeah, I know. But I didn't," he said. "See? Still here."

Buffy continued to hold him as he wrapped his arms around her.

"Hey, what's wrong?" he asked.

"Why didn't you tell us?" she asked.

"Tell you what, exactly? I don't know if you remember, but you guys were kind of pushing me away at that point. What would I have said? 'Guys, I know you think I'm worthless, but hey, I saved the world from Hell, so ha?' You guys would have just kept me out more than you were. You would have seen it as further proof that I just get into trouble."

"I'm sorry," she whispered into his chest. "We just didn't want you to get hurt."

"I know," he said. "And I love you for worrying about me, but that wasn't your choice. I knew the risks, I chose to help. I couldn't know what was out there and not do anything. If you guys hadn't let me back in, I would have done something stupid, like patrolling on my own, or something. I was safer with you guys than without."

"I know," she said. "But if something happened to you… I couldn't take it. Especially now, that I…"

"That you what?" he asked, gently, stroking her hair.

Buffy looked up, gazed into his eyes for a second, then wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him into a kiss.

Startled, Xander pulled back suddenly. Buffy clasped her hands over her mouth. "I'm sorry," she said, and ran off.

Xander stood there stunned for a minute, one thought going through his mind. 'She kissed me. She kissed me. She KISSED me. SHE kissed me. She kissed ME.' Too surprised to do anything but act on instinct, Xander started walking, and ended up at Giles's apartment. He walked in, slammed the door behind him and plopped down on the couch.

Giles, having been woken by the door, quickly hurried downstairs. Seeing Xander in a stupor, he rushed over.

"Xander, are you all right? Xander? Xander!" he yelled.

Xander stared straight ahead. "Buffy…" he said.

"Xander, what about Buffy? Is she okay? Is she hurt?"

"Buffy… she…"

"She what? Is she all right?"

Xander looked up at Giles, eyes still wide in shock. "She… she kissed me."

Giles was taken aback. "She what?"

"Kissed… me," he said, a grin spreading across his face. "She kissed me!" he yelled, jumping up off the couch, a fist in the air.

"Well, congratulations," Giles said smiling. "Um… where is she now?"

"She… kissed…"

"Yes, I understand, she kissed you, very good. And now she is…"

"Um… I don't… she… ran away," he said, frowning. "Why did she run away? Oh no, did she think it was a mistake?" Xander grabbed Giles by the shoulders, fear in his eyes. "Giles, did Buffy think kissing me was a mistake?"

"If you could… just… release me… perhaps Willow will know her whereabouts…"

"Willow… yes… good, call Willow…" he said, letting Giles go.

Giles moved over to the phone and quickly dialed the girls' dorm room.

"Hello, Willow? Is Buffy there?" Giles asked.

[Giles, thank the Goddess you called. Buffy's here, crying, and I can't get anything from her. What happened? Is Xander there?]

"Yes, he is, and he's fine. Rather… euphoric, I think would be the correct term."

[Does he know why Buffy's crying?]

"I don't know, let me ask him. Xander? Do you know why Buffy would be crying?"

"She's CRYING?" he yelled. "Oh god, she does think it was a mistake!" Xander threw himself on to the couch.

Giles rolled his eyes.


"Um, yes. Well, it appears that, for whatever reason, Buffy kissed Xander tonight. Um… from the state I found him in when he returned here, I would hazard a guess that he was too shocked to respond in kind."

[That sounds about right] Willow said. [So then, him not responding scared her, she thought he hated her or something like that, and ran all the way here, crying, and is now incoherent.]

"Yes, that does sound likely, knowing how well these two judge people's reactions. Xander is currently thinking that Buffy believes kissing him was a mistake, and is taking it out on my couch."

[I think Buffy's pillow is soaked through.]

They both sighed, shaking their heads.

[Giles, Buffy's in no position to be moved. Do you think you could get Xander over here? I kinda think they need to talk.]

"Yes, I do believe that would be best. I'll do what I can. Try to calm her down."

[Right] said Willow. [See you guys in a bit.]

"Xander?" Giles said, hanging up. "Xander, can you compose yourself for a moment?"

"She hates me!" Xander said. "I know it. She's disgusted with herself for kissing me."

Giles cleaned his glasses.

"Xander, I can assure you that Buffy does not hate you."

"Then why is she crying?"

"I… look, we have to go over there. You and she need to talk this out."

"I can't face her if she thinks it was a mistake, Giles."

"Xander, please believe me when I say that if you do not accompany me to their room, I shall beat the living shit out of you."

Xander looked up at Giles, confused.

"Now come, before I have to flog you."

Xander got up, unenthusiastically and followed Giles to the car.


"She hasn't stopped yet," Willow said as she let Giles into the room. "Where's Xander?"

"In the hallway, like a big baby," Giles said, cleaning his glasses again. "I swear, the two of them could take this show on the road. Title it 'Lessons in Emotional Immaturity.'"

"Make the big bucks," Willow said, agreeing. "I'll go get Xander in here, you try to get Buffy… I don't know… not sobbing?"

"I shall do my best."

Willow nodded and went out into the hall.

"Buffy?" Giles said, kneeling next to the young woman. "Buffy, would you please talk to me?" Giles asked.

"No!" Buffy said. "He hates me, what is there to talk about?"

Giles rolled his eyes yet again. "Buffy, I feel quite safe in assuring you that Xander Harris does not now, nor will he ever hate you. He doesn't have it in him."

"He does!" Buffy yelled into her pillow. "When I… he was disgusted! He pulled away from me, he hates me!"

Giles sighed. "If he hated you, which I assure you, he does not, would he be here to see you?"

Buffy peeked at Giles from her pillow. "He's here?" she whispered.

Giles nodded. "He's in the hallway, afraid to come in. He heard you were crying, and assumed you believed kissing him was a mistake."

"No!" Buffy yelled. "How could it ever be? I love him… Giles, make him know it wasn't a mistake!"

"I'm afraid that's something you'll have to do yourself," Giles said. "Knowing him, he won't believe it from either Willow or me."

Buffy sniffed. "How could it ever be a mistake?" she asked.

"I don't know. Just assure him of your feelings, and I'm sure everything will be fine," Giles said, taking a tissue and wiping Buffy's tears away. "Come now, let's get you a little cleaned up, shall we?"

"Oh my God! He can't see me like this!" Buffy said. "He'll think I'm hideous."

"Buffy Anne Summers, you stop that thought right there," Giles said, glaring at her. "You are a beautiful young woman, in any state, and Xander knows as much."

"Even if I was covered in demon goo?" she asked.

"Yes, child," Giles chuckled. "Even if you were covered in demon goo."

There was a knock at the door.


"Xander?" Willow said, seeing her long-time best friend crouching in the hallway.

"Hey, Will," he whispered.

"So… I guess a thing happened, huh?"

"Yeah," he said, laughing bitterly. "I got my dream, and then it was ripped away."

"Oh, sweetie, that's not what happened."

"Will, she thinks it was a mistake, how is that not having it ripped away?"

"She doesn't think it was a mistake, you big doof."

"Then why is she crying? She's disgusted with herself, because she kissed me, and she regrets it."

"Xander, stop doing this to yourself. Let me ask you a question, how did you react when she kissed you? I bet you… you got all shocked, and stiffened up, right?"

"I… yeah," he said.

"See? I know you too well," she said, happy with herself. "So, here's a funny question. If you kissed someone, and they stiffened up and pulled away, what, do you guess, you'd assume their reaction was?"

Xander looked at Willow, eyes wide. "She… oh, man, she thinks I hated it!"



"She thinks you hate her, Xander."

"No!" Xander said forcefully, standing up. "I can't let her think that!"

"I know," Willow said, standing up with him. "Go on, get in there, ya big lug. And tell Giles to come out."

Xander stood in front of the door, steeled himself, and then knocked.


Giles moved to open the door.

"No wait!" Buffy said. "What if you're wrong?"

Giles took Buffy's hand in his and looked her in the eyes.

"Buffy… trust me," he said.

Buffy looked at him for a moment, then nodded.

Giles opened the door and allowed Xander to pass before removing himself to the corridor beyond, where he saw Willow sitting against the far wall. Sitting next to her, he leaned his head against the wall.

"How those two ever survived high school is quite beyond me," said Giles.

"I know what you mean," Willow said. "No idea whatsoever."

"Hey," said Oz walking up to the pair on the floor. "Locked out?"

Giles shook his head as Willow patted the floor beside her.

Oz sat down.

"Buffy and Xander kissed," said Giles.

"But Xander, being a big dummy, was startled, and pulled away," said Willow.

"So Buffy ran away, thinking Xander hated her."

"And Xander, being shocked, walked himself to Giles's instead of following her."

"Buffy showed up here, crying her eyes out."

"Xander started to spaz when he heard she was crying, cuz he thought it meant she thought it was a mistake."

"And now they are, hopefully, talking."

"Huh," said Oz. "How'd they make it through high school?"

Willow and Giles shook their heads.

"No idea," they said.

"You know," said Willow, "when they get together, and I know they will, it's gonna be real good. I approve of Buffy as Xander's first."

"First?" Giles asked. "Um… I realize it might be a tender subject but…"

"No, it's okay," said Willow. "But Faith doesn't count."

"Doesn't count?" Oz asked. "How do you come up with that."

"Well, I could go into detail, but I'd need charts and graphs and stuff."

"Is there a short version?" asked Giles.



"Basically… Xander's a dumbass, and Faith's a big ho."


Chapter 10

"Hey," said Xander after Giles had shut the door.

"Hi," Buffy whispered.

Xander sat down next to her. "Buffy, I…" He sighed, then steeled his nerve.

"Buffy, I know that you think you made a mistake in kissing me. And I can live with that, I suppose. But Wills said you think I hate you. Buffy, I could never hate you!" he said. "I love you too much. I couldn't live with myself if you thought I hated you."

Buffy looked at him, eyes puffy and wide. "You… you think it was a mistake?"

"Wasn't it?"

"I… no! Xander, how could you think that?"

"You ran away!"

"You were disgusted!"

"I wasn't disgusted, I was shocked!"

"Shocked?" she asked. "Why would you be shocked?"

"Why would I be shocked? Gee, I don't know. The girl of my dreams, the most incredibly beautiful woman I've ever met runs out of a bar, cries on me, then kisses me and runs away. Where would the potential for shock come in there?"

"Xander, you have to believe it wasn't a mistake. When I heard what Willy said… about how you could have died… I couldn't handle it. And then you were so wonderful, holding me, it felt so… so right, and I had to kiss you."

"So, you don't regret it?"

"NO! Don't ever think that, Xander! I… I love you. And I know you don't feel like that towards me anymore, and I hope that we ca-- mmf!" She was abruptly cut off as Xander kissed her full on the lips.

"What was that?" she whispered, after the kiss broke.

"You said you love me," he whispered back, holding her close to him.

"I do," she said. "But that doesn't explain…"

"You know, for someone with great hearing, you don't listen very well," he said, grinning at her. "So you just, what, skipped over that 'girl of my dreams' part?"

"I… I must have missed it," she said, leaning her head into his chest, and chuckling a little.

He tilted her chin up towards him and looked her straight in the eyes. "You said you love me."

She nodded.

He leaned in and kissed her again, a long, passionate kiss, the kind they only talk about in books or movies, or bad fan fiction posted on the internet.

"I love you, too," he said. "I've loved you since I first set eyes on you and rammed straight into a metal railing."

He pulled her tight to him, a grin forming on his face again. She leaned into his chest, a contented smile playing out across her lips. Together, they leaned back in her bed and just lay there, holding each other, taking comfort in the other's closeness and warmth.

"I suppose we should let the others in," Xander said after a few minutes.

"Just hold me a little longer," said Buffy. "There's plenty of time for them… I want some time for us, right now."

Xander leaned down and kissed the top of her head. "As you wish."


"They seem to have quieted down," said Giles.

Willow nodded, her head leaning against Oz's shoulder. "Double suicide or making out?"

"Neither," said Oz. "Asleep, holding each other."

"Aww, that's sweet," said Willow, giving Oz a kiss. "But they're totally making out."

"Willow, I love you, but you're wrong."

"Am not. Wanna bet?"

Oz raised an eyebrow.

"C'mon, buster. 10 bucks says we charge in there right now, we find smoochies."

Oz nodded his head.

"Good lord, I must find some people my age," said Giles.

"Awww, we love you too, Giles," Willow said, leaning over and giving Giles a big hug.

"Thank you, Willow. I'm quite fond of all of you as well," said Giles. "Though lord knows I've tried not to be."

Willow grinned. "I think we should barge in on their quiet time don't you?"

"It's a moral imperative," said Oz.

Willow got up, and quietly moved to the door, putting her ear against it. "I don't hear anything," she whispered as Oz and Giles stood up.

Turning the knob slowly, Willow peeked her head into the room, then looked back frowning.

"Fine," she said, reaching into a pocket and pulling out some money with a pout on her face. "Go ahead and know my best friends better than I do."

Oz smiled, taking the money. "Just a lucky guess," he said. "Besides, now I can take my girlfriend to the movies."

Oz, Willow and Giles moved quietly into the room, all taking in the sight of Buffy sleeping in Xander's arms with a content smile on her face, a look mirrored on Xander's face.

"Ohh, that's so cute!" said Willow, moving to her desk.

"Yes. Well, I don't imagine Xander will be returning to my flat tonight… and it's rather late."

"Okay," said Willow. "G'nite Giles!"

"Good night," Giles said, exiting the room.

Willow took out a disposable camera and took a quick photo of the sleeping couple.

"Oz, look," said Willow, grinning from ear to ear. "They're so cute. And asleep. And it's only 11 o'clock. On a Saturday. They're pathetic! Aww!"

"Thanks for the love, Wills," Xander said without opening his eyes.

"Hey, you're not supposed to be awake," Willow said, forcing a frown.

"And we didn't tell you to come inside yet," said Buffy.

"But, I... we… with the quiet… and… suicide?"

"Suicide?" Xander asked, his eyes opening for the first time. "Will, what?"

"It was one of the options," said Oz.

"Yeah!" said Willow. "We were worried about your health. There was no sound, so we figured—"

"We?" asked Oz.

"Okay, *I* figured that you were either making out or had done the whole double suicide thing."

"I took asleep together," said Oz.

"So… so you guys are together, right?" Willow asked.

"Yep," said Buffy. "What can I say? I love the big lug."

"Yeah," said Xander. "And I figured that, well, since Cordy moved to LA, I should probably give up on her…"

"Hey!" yelled Buffy, smacking him on the chest.

Xander grinned at her. "Mmm… you're so cute when you're angry."

Buffy rolled her eyes at him and looked up, without moving from his arms.

"It's really only 11 o'clock?"

"Yup," said Willow.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Buffy asked, looking at Xander.

He looked at her. "I love the way you think… yeah," he said.

Looking at Willow and Oz, Buffy said. "You guys wanna patrol?"

Willow bugged her eyes out at them and threw her arms in the air, exasperated. "You mean to tell me that it took you guys this long to get together and to initiate a new relationship, your first date is going to be all 'Hey, let's go kill stuff?'"

They nodded.

Willow plopped down on her bed. "Romance really is dead," she said.

"Hey, I think it's romantic," said Xander. "Two young people in love, getting together to ward off the forces of evil to make the world safer for humankind, going home at the end of the night and falling asleep in each other's arms. How is that not romantic?"

"But… you're… and… Okay, fine, it's romantic, but I expect you two to have a real date at some point."

"Of course," said Buffy. "Many of them. But for now? We kill things. Yay."

"I swear," said Willow. "If you two weren't destined to be together, I'd beat you senseless."

"I don't think destiny had much to do with it, Will," said Xander, smiling at Buffy. "Just love."

"Psh," said Willow. "That's just cuz we didn't show you the books. And I was looking forward to meddling. I didn't get to meddle! I wanted to meddle!"

"Books?" Xander and Buffy asked together.

"Yeah," said Willow. "There are some prophecies talking about the White Knight and his Chosen One. Reference the word 'his' and a couple other things, and it's pretty much obvious you guys are supposed to be together. Although I could have told you that without some dumb books."

"Really?" Buffy asked.

"Yup. Oh, and that 'acting as One' thing that you have to do? You know, to kill the… demon thingy, during that ritual? That means the two to kill him have to be in love to do it, other wise it doesn't die, and the world kinda does."

"Wow," said Xander. "Good thing for the world we got it right, huh?"

"Sucks for the Fargath, though," said Buffy.

"Yeah, I was worried about its feelings while we kill it."


"Xan?" asked Buffy as they patrolled one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries holding hands.

"Yeah, Buff?"

"I'm gonna ask you a question."

Xander chuckled. "Okay."

"Do you love Willow?"


"Okay. Knew that one. More than me?"

"Nope. Not less, either. Different."

"How different?"

"Well… I love Willow. And, I love you… in fact, I'm *in* love with you. Have been pretty much since I saw you. But there's a bit more to it than that."

"Like what?"

"Well… it's like. I suppose that… I guess the best way to say it is that Willow's a part of me."

"And I'm not?"

"No. You're not a part of me, but you certainly own a part of me."


"Not that part, Buffy," he said, tapping his chest. "This one."

"Awww," she said, giving him a kiss.

"See, Willow and I… we grew up together, and we've been best friends since like forever, seen each other through… well, everything that two friends can possibly go through. And Willow is responsible for getting me through a lot of it, and pretty much for shaping who I am. If I hadn't ever met Willow, I wouldn't be me. It's like… it's like she's a big part of everything inside me that's good… that makes me different from… well, from my father."

"Xander, you could never be your father. You're not like that."

"I know that, but I also know that if it hadn't been for Willow, I could very easily have ended up like that. Like I said… she's the good in me."

"Oh. So… then what am I?"

"You? You're my reason why."

"What do you mean?"

"It's like… here, sit down," he said, indicating a headstone that she quickly hopped up on. Facing her and taking both her hands in his, he continued. "You're the reason I do stuff. Not all this, fighting and whatever. I'd do that anyway. Knowing what I know, I couldn't not do it," he sighed. "It's like… did you ever see As Good As It Gets?"

Buffy looked at him skeptically. "No… never saw that one. Why?"

"Okay, the… main character, Jack Nicholson, he's got Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, okay? But he has these pills that make it not so bad, but he hates taking pills. So in this scene in a restaurant with Helen Hunt, he's being an ass, and she's gonna leave unless he gives her a compliment. So he tells her that… okay, there was this night where she came to his apartment and told him she will never sleep with him for various reasons that aren't important right now. So he tells her that the next morning, he started taking his pills, even though he hated them."

"She makes him want to take medicine? That's a compliment?"

"And that's basically what she said. But it is, and what she didn't see until he explained it, and I guess pretty much what I'm saying to you, is that the pills make him better. She makes him want to be a better man. And that's what you are to me. You're the reason I get up and go to work, and try to better myself. I look at you… and I see the dream my parents never got. I see the house, with a white picket fence, a big backyard, a 2-car garage, 2.3 kids and a dog. The kitchen table's messy and the kids are running around, screaming as I read the newspaper and you get ready to go to work. I see it all, Buffy, and you're the reason I want it. Because none of that means anything if I can't have it with you."

Buffy sat on the headstone, eyes wide and a couple of tears sliding down her cheeks. "I… Xan, I…"

"Shh," he said, moving in to embrace her, and gently wiping her tears away. "I love you, Buffy. You mean the world to me. Don't ever doubt that."

They stayed there for another minute, just holding each other, not saying anything.

"It's my turn now," Xander said.

"Turn for what?"

"You got your insecurities, it's only fair I've got mine," he said with a half smile.

"Okay. Shoot."

"Well," Xander said, "It's kind of… um…" he sighed.

"You ignored me for so long," he said. "Romantically anyway. I mean the only time you thought of me like that at all was when I put the whammy on all of Sunnydale, except Cordelia. And then… I mean, then I come back from my trip, and I've got these powers… and suddenly you're in love with me. It's like… I don't know. The timing seems a little convenient, you know? I guess…I mean, I don't really think… I just…"

"I know. It's okay, Xan. And for the record, your powers have absolutely nothing to do with why I love you. Let me ask you something. Who am I?"

"Uh. What?"

"Who am I? To you, who do you see me as?"

"You're Buffy. The girl who stole my heart."

Buffy grinned at that. "Okay. So I'm Buffy. Then who is the Slayer?"

"Um… you are?"

"Right. I am the Slayer. Would you still love me if I wasn't the Slayer?"

"Of course I would. You'd still be the girl I love, just without the extra-special nightlife which, believe me, I wouldn't miss."

"Me either. But the point is, you love me for me. And I love you for you. Xander, I don't care about your powers. Sure, they're fun for fighting demons, but that's not who I am, it's just what I do. The reason I love you is because of who you are, and not what can you do. You've always been there to support me when I needed it, and even when you didn't agree with me, you were still there to back me up. You make me laugh, Xander. I don't think you know how precious that is. You're so tender with me… you treat me like a girl, instead of like the Slayer. And you don't try to compete with me, you just accept me for who I am. Since you've come back, I've seen a side of you that's always been there, I've just never looked at it before. And I saw it, and I fell so hard in love with you, it scares me."

Xander pulled Buffy into a tight embrace. "I love you so much," he said.

"I am *so* going to kill you," Buffy said, suddenly.

Xander pulled away. "Um… what?"

"Not you," she said, pointing a thumb over her shoulder. "Him."

Xander looked behind Buffy to see a couple of vampires approaching.

"Them, actually."

Buffy hopped off the headstone and turned to face them.

"Okay, I'm in a really good mood right now," she said. "So, I'm going to give you a choice. Leave now, and don't come back. Or die."

The vampires laughed at her. "What makes you think you are a threat to us, little girl?"

"Oh, see, you shouldn't have said that," said Xander. "She doesn't like being called little."

Buffy's eyes narrowed.

"One girl, it matters not."

"Yeah," said Xander. "Okay. Stop me if you've heard this one before. 'In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the demons, vampires and forces of darkness... She is the Slayer. One girl in all the world with the strength and skill to defeat the forces of darkness, and stop the swell of their numbers.'"

"You've got that down good."

"What do you expect? I live with Giles."

The vampires froze, and looked at each other. "We can run?" asked the first.

"Not anymore," said Buffy, running up and kicking it in the head. "You called me little."

She punched the vampire in the chest, following up with kick to the knee that forced it to the ground. Grabbing her stake from the waistband of her jeans, she quickly plunged it into his chest, dusting him. Turning to face the other vampire, she and Xander were both confused as it turned to dust. Xander walked over next to Buffy.

"Well… that was just odd," he said.

They heard a rustling from the darkness, and Angel walked toward them, lowering a crossbow.

"And the fun begins," Xander said.

"Buffy," said Angel.


"Xander," said Xander.

Angel glared at him. Xander glared right back.

After about fifteen seconds of this, Buffy intervened. "Enough with the testosterone show."

Angel shook his head. "I need to talk to you."

"O- okay…"

"Not you," said Angel, pointing at Xander. "Him."

"How ominous," said Xander, sarcastically. "You gonna brood at me?"

"Can you be serious for one minute?"

"Fine. Drop the tortured hero act, and pretend you're human. Then I'll be serious."

"Look, I just need to talk to you. It's important."

"Fine," Xander said.


Xander rolled his eyes. "Okay."

"Well are you coming?" Angel said, seeing that Xander wasn't moving.

"Look, gimme a second. Do that disappearing thing you're so good at, I'll catch up with you."

Angel looked at him for a second. "Fine. I'll be over here." With that, Angel turned and walked away, his duster sweeping across the ground.

Xander turned to Buffy, who looked confused.

"I guess I need to talk to him," said Xander.

Buffy looked up at him and nodded.

"You okay?" he asked.

Buffy swallowed, then nodded. "Yeah. It was just… a… surprise. Seeing him, I mean. I… wasn't ready for it."

Xander sighed. "You still love him." It was a statement, more than a question.

Buffy furrowed her brow, then nodded once. "Yes."

Xander shook his head and started to walk away. "Great. One encounter and I'm off to the back burner."

Buffy grabbed his hand and pulled him back to her. "No," she said. "Why would you think that?"

"It's Xander-luck. It's how my life goes."

Buffy took him by his head and forcing him to look in her eyes. "It's not how your life goes anymore. I… I do love him. I think a part of me always will… but I'm with you now. I love you. That's not going to change because he showed up again for one night."

"And if he decided to stay?"

Buffy pulled him into a kiss, then said, "Then he'd have to deal. I love you, Xander Harris. When I'm with you, I feel more complete than I ever did with him. There's no pain with you, just happy." She smiled at him, and he melted inside. "Go talk to him. I'm going to go back to my room. I'll be waiting for you."

He leaned down and kissed her. "I love you."

"I know."

"Can I dust him?"

She glared at him.

"Aww," he said, smiling. "No fun."

"Play nice," she said.

"'Kay," he said. "Go home. I'll go talk to Deadboy."

She kissed him again. "Bye."

Xander watched her walk off into the night. "Yeah, I got it bad," he said to himself, then turned to follow Angel.

Xander walked through the cemetery for a few minutes, wondering where Angel went.

"What kind of game do you think you're playing?" Angel said, appearing next to him from nowhere. To Xander's credit, he didn't react, just continued walking.

"I said stop the tortured hero act. Play human or I walk."

"Fine," Angel said, stopping next to a crypt. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"I'm finally getting my life on track, is what I'm doing. Why do you care? You left, remember?" Xander said.

"I left because that's what she needed. And she doesn't need some idiot chasing her around because he can use her pain to get in her pants."

Angel never saw the punch coming, but his head flew backwards and into the wall of the crypt, causing it to crack. He looked up to see Xander standing over him, rage in his eyes.

"Don't you fucking talk like you know what's happening," Xander said. "You lost that right the second you walked away. You don't get a say in her life anymore."

"And I bet you're just jumping for joy at that."

"You're goddamn right I am."

"You're happy that I hurt her, so you could get a shot, because you never would have otherwise."

Xander kicked out at Angel's ribs, but Angel rolled away and hopped up to his feet.

"You complete ass," Xander said. "Do you really think that low of me? Do you really think I wanted her to get hurt? I've loved Buffy since the moment I laid eyes on her. Everything I've done since I met her was to keep her from pain, a large portion of which was your fault, Angelus."

"Don't you dare call me that, boy."

"Speaking of Angelus… it's an interesting thing, your curse. One moment of true happiness. Odd, don't you think, that your happiness didn't come when you kissed her, or when she told you she loved you. It was sex. You weren't truly happy until you got her in bed, and you talk to me about wanting to get in her pants?"

"Been rehashing old victories?" Angel growled. "Because I gotta say, bragging, making the old ex look bad… it's a great way to guilt someone into being with you, or don't you think I know what you told her?"

"She asked me what happened in the hospital, dipshit."

"I'm not talking about the hospital," Angel said. "I mean the Master's cave. You figured if you bragged to Buffy about how you forced the vampire to lead you to her, you'd finally have a shot."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"You know exactly what I'm talking about. You had her call me to try to prove you were better than me. To show her it was you who saved her life. Well, bravo, good job. You got what you wanted."

"Buffy called you?"

"Earlier today. You know that."

"First I've heard of it," Xander said, smiling. "You taking me to the Master's cave? I only ever told Willow about that. Buffy must have realized your cowardice all on her own."

"I don't believe you."

"And oddly enough, I don't care. Ask her yourself if you want."

"Don't think I won't."

"I really don't care. Do what you want. I just think it's funny."

"You think this is a joke?"

"No, I think YOU are a joke. You come here, acting all big and bad, pretending you care what happens to her. You're just afraid of being replaced."

"You could never replace me."

"And I wouldn't want to. I've got my own place in her heart, and let me tell you, it's a lot... sunnier. And please notice how you didn't deny not caring."

"This isn't over," Angel said.

"Anytime you wanna rumble, I'm here. I'll even let you live through it."

"Big words. But can you back them up?"

Xander stomped one foot on the ground, causing his shield to glow white. "I can take you anytime."

"Watch your back, punk. If you hurt her, I'll kill you."

Angel turned away and stalked off, leaving behind very angry Xander.

Chapter 11

"Xander?" Buffy asked as she opened her door. "Oh. Hi."

"Can I come in?" Angel asked.

"I guess…"

"I… kind of need more than that," he said.

"Oh. Right. Come in."

"Thanks," he said, moving in to give Buffy a kiss.

"Whoa, whoa," said Buffy, pulling away from him. "Back off there. You don't get to do that anymore."

"But I—"

"You what, Angel? You left. Or don't you remember that?"

"I told you, it was for the best."

"And I didn't agree, although I've changed my mind since then."

"What, because of Xander?"

"No, because of me. I realized this summer that you were right. You and me? We don't work. We can't work. You can't give me what I need."

"Oh, and I suppose he can?"

"Yes! He can. He can give me a normal, healthy relationship with love, and real feeling. He can take me into the sunlight and not constantly hurt me."

"He will hurt you."

"You don't believe that anymore than I do. God, what is it with you? You left, you don't get a say in my life anymore!"

"I don't want you to get hurt!"

"Well neither do I! But that's all that happens when you're around. That's why you left, so that this wouldn't happen anymore."

"I don't think he's right for you."

Buffy glared at him. "Xander is more right for me than anybody has ever been. Even you."

Angel looked hurt at that. "What we have…"

"Had, Angel. Not have. You can't do this. I'm with Xander now, and I'm going to stay that way. I feel whole when I'm with him. I need him. And he needs me."

"And neither of them needs you."

Buffy and Angel turned to see Giles standing at the door.

"I received a telephone call from a man named Doyle. He says he had a vision, and you are needed in Los Angeles, but he couldn't find you. He thought I might be able to help. It appears he was right."

"Giles, I—"

"You needn't explain yourself to me, Angel. I don't care. But your time here has passed, and you should leave."


"He's right," said Buffy. "This isn't your place anymore. You know that as well as the rest of us. I love you, Angel. But you have to leave."

"How?" asked Angel, his eyes watering. "If you love me, how can I…"

"Because it's right," said Xander, stepping into the room. "Because it's necessary."

"This is your fault!" Angel said, rushing at him. Xander easily sidestepped, grabbed Angel's wrist and flipped him onto his back and placed his foot on Angel's neck.

"It's nobody's fault, Angel," Xander said without a hint of malice in his voice. "Sometimes, things just are." Xander moved away from Angel and stood next to Buffy.

"Buffy loves you, Angel. And you love her. Nothing will ever change that," he said. "Not even me. And I wouldn't want to, either. It's a part of what makes her Buffy, the woman I love."

Giles helped Angel sit up.

"You said some pretty harsh and very untrue things in the cemetery," Xander continued. "And I think you know it, too. You weren't the only one, either, and for what it's worth, I'm sorry. You're not him, and what I said was unfair."

"I suppose you expect me to apologize?"

"I don't expect you to do anything," Xander said, "although an apology wouldn't be out of line. It doesn't matter to me, though, because I forgive you what you said. I know you're trying to protect Buffy, but that's not your job anymore. Nor is it mine or Giles's, or anybody else's. Buffy can take care of herself. She makes her own decisions, and we support her. It's what we do. I may have powers now, and I don't really understand why. But at the end of the day, I'm still a Slayerette. I still follow Buffy's lead, and back her up. I'm just a little better equipped to do it, is all."

Buffy walked over and crouched down in front of her ex-lover. "It's time to move on," she said. "It will take time, but you'll be okay. The only reason I'm as good as I am is because I have these amazing friends who help me through everything."

"It's time to leave, Angel," said Giles. "You are needed elsewhere."

Angel looked down at his lap, then nodded and got to his feet and turned to leave.

"Angel," Xander said calmly. Angel paused at the door, but didn't turn around. "I forgave you tonight, because Buffy loves you, and you're important to her. But don't ever say anything like you did again. Insult me, mock me, call me worthless, whatever, I don't care. Question my love for Buffy again, and you'll be filling out the inside of a dustbuster."

Angel stood at the door another moment, then walked sullenly into the hallway. Giles nodded a quick goodbye to the pair and followed Angel. Buffy wrapped her arm around Xander's waist, and they stood, holding each other for a minute. Eventually, they just started to dance.

"You're not, you know," she said.

"Not what?" he asked.

"Just a Slayerette. You've got these powers now. You're a front-line guy. More than just back-up."

Xander looked down at Buffy and smiled. "No I'm not," he said. "You're the champion here, I'm the guy who makes your load a little easier. Supporto-guy, just like always."

"That's not true, you make it sound so inferior, so much… less."

"It is true, Buffy. But it's not less, it's just what I do."

"But, I don't want you to feel like that, Xander. I love you, and you do so much more than just help me in fights. You're my rock, the guy I count on. You're always there for me, even if it's just stupid girl stuff, and not the end of the world. You're always on the front line in my life."

Xander laughed. "Oh, that. Yeah, I do that. All that stuff I said about not being your protector? That was just about the fighting. Vampires and stuff. I'm not your protector on the battlefield, Buffy, we all know that. But I plan to protect you in every other way possible, for as long as I live. If you'll let me."

"So you were lying to Angel?"

"Not at all," he said. "Just not letting him in on the whole truth. I really don't like that guy."

"What did he say to you?"

"You don't want to know. Let's just say it was bad, and leave it there."

"What did you say to him?"

"Not good things."

"Hmph. You know, you're seriouser than you used to be."

"I resent that. And 'seriouser'? Is that even a word?"

"It is if I say it is."

"I can accept that."

"Besides, it's true. Ever since you got back from your trip, you don't make as much with the funny."

"I don't know. I guess I'm just… growing up, or something. Hey, maybe we should find some more of that band candy and…"

"No! The last time we had that there was… ickyness with Giles and my Mom."

"Ickyness? Like what kind of -- oh my god they had sex."

"Yeah. It's not a happy thing."

"How did you find out?"

"When I was telepathic that one time."

Xander stopped dancing. "Our lives are so far from normal it scares me sometimes."

"Yeah," said Buffy, as they started moving again. "Makes things interesting though. I mean, how many guys can say they can field strip an M-16 in under a minute because of a Halloween costume?"

"And how many girls can say they blew up the mayor and got away with it?"

"Or that their best friend is a hacker and a witch?"

"Who is dating a werewolf."

"And how many girls can say that their boyfriend once brought them back to life after she had been killed at the hands of a vampire?"

"Mmm… not that many, I'm thinking."

"I'm thinking any girl who can… well, she'd be really lucky."

"She would, would she?"

"Yup. And she would have to make sure her boyfriend knows how much she loves him."

"Well, she should also keep in mind that she's saved her boyfriend's life numerous times. But her boyfriend is glad to hear about how much she loves him, and would like her to know that he loves her as well."

"I'm sure she already knows."

Xander leaned down and kissed Buffy full on the lips. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Xander. But I'm tired now, and I have to study tomorrow."

"Okay," Xander said. "Should I…"

"No," she said. "You're staying here tonight. Now turn around, I have to change."

Xander grinned as he turned around.

"And don't stand in front of Willow's mirror."

The grin disappeared as he moved. "You know me too well," he said.

"And this is a bad thing?"

"No, but it on occasion takes away my fun."

"Hey, Xan, what do you usually sleep in?"

"My boxers, why?"

"So, you don't think it will be fun to sleep with me in *just* your boxers?"

"You know, you really do raise an excellent point."

"Try not to sound so surprised."

"Just surprised I didn't think of it."

"Ah. You can turn around now."

Xander turned and saw Buffy in a tank top and sweatpants, her hair up in a ponytail.

"Wow," he said. "You look beautiful."

"In this?"

"In anything, but yes, in that."

Buffy smiled. "Thank you. Now come on, I'm tired."

"Yes, ma'am," Xander said, quickly shedding most of his layers and lying down on Buffy's bed. She quickly snuggled up next to him.

"Mmm… comfy," she said.

"I kind of like it myself."

"Love you, Xan."

"I love you, too, Buffy."


"I have something for you," said Giles, after signing for a delivery.

"Oooh, prezzies!" said Buffy, as she looked around at the rest of the group who had gathered at Giles's apartment the next morning. They all shrugged their ignorance.

"Yes. Well, this is actually for both you and Xander."

Xander looked up from the book he was reading. "For me? Giles, you shouldn't have."

"I assure you, I really should," said Giles as he pulled out a large sword from the box he had just received.

"Oooh," Buffy and Xander said simultaneously, both of them grinning.

"New toy," said Buffy.

"Yes, well, this sword is magically charmed. Specifically, it was created… well, a long time ago… we're not quite sure of the time frame, actually. Its magical properties keep us from properly dating it. It was forged by a master blacksmith for the lover of girl who was the Slayer at the time. Her watcher, who was also an adept in magic, imbued so that it does erm… things."

"Does things? You wanna vague that up a bit, Giles?"

"Right. Well, I've come across some more references to the White Knight. Apparently, every Slayer has a soul mate, one who will bring her comfort and help her with her burden. You, Xander, are almost unique, in that your powers allow you to aid her not only with the mental burden, but the physical as well."

"Almost unique?" asked Willow.

"Wait wait," said Xander. "Soul mates?"

Giles nodded. "Um. Yes. Did I fail to mention that before?"

"Yeah," said Buffy.

"Sorry. Must have slipped my mind."

"Kinda a big thing there, G-man."

"Right. Well… sorry."

"That's okay," said Buffy, who was watching Xander… who looked odd.

"Xan? You okay babe? You look kinda wigged."

"Huh?" he asked. "No. No, not wigged. No wiggage here… just… soul mates. It's big, you know?"

"Yeah," said Buffy. "Are you… okay? I mean…"

"I'm great," he said, smiling at her. "I mean, I'm still a little overwhelmed at this whole thing. The girl—"

"Woman," said Buffy.

"—who I've been in love with for years," Xander continued, not missing a beat, "falls in love with me, kinda… forcefully rejects her ex who was like this big… forever love type deal, and then I find out that we're not just prophesied, we're soul mates. So… okay, yeah. I guess a little wigged. But good wigged. Definitely good wiggage. A little time and I'll merely be whelmed."

"Okay," said Buffy, leaning over and giving Xander a kiss. "Good."

"Aww," said Willow. "You guys are so cute! Now stop, before I get to taste my breakfast again."

Buffy stuck her tongue out at the redhead, then turned to Giles. "You said something about 'almost unique'?"

"Yes. There was another, a few, actually, who had powers similar, although not the same, as Xander's. It appears the… mantle of the White Knight is passed down, much like the Slayer essence, but only, er, activated when in the presence of Slayers who will face a certain level of challenge."

"You mean, Xander got his powers because I slaying is gonna be extra hard?" Buffy asked.

"Um… yes, that would appear to be the case."

"Damn," Buffy said. "So what's the deal with the sword thingy?"

"As I said, it belonged to another Slayer who met with her White Knight… not the most recent one, she was about 250 years ago, and stationed in Spain, actually. It's quite fascinating, really. She was called early, at the age of –"

"Giles? The sword?"

"Oh. Yes, of course. Anyway, it appears that the Slayer for whom the sword was created was the first, and only so far, to ever be retired."

"Retired? I can be retired?"

"Yes. Believe me, it's as much a shock to me as it is to you. At the age of 25, apparently."

"How come you didn't know about this earlier?"

"Well, you know how notoriously short-lived Slayers are. Apparently the Inner Council saw fit to keep this information… all of it… from the actual Watchers for what are apparently some well thought out and, dare I say, considerate reasons."

"Considerate? The Council?" Xander asked, disbelievingly.

"Yes. You see, I contacted the Council in hopes that they might be willing to shed some light on the subject. When I told them I was researching the White Knight, well, I was put on hold for an hour. Then I was put in a conference call with the Inner Council, who was very forthcoming with information, and the reasons for keeping it a secret."

"Which are?"

"It is normal procedure that a Slayer works alone. She requires isolation to do her job well. You, at least, have proved this false. The Inner Council knew about the White Knights, have known for a long time. But they never know when one will show up. So, they made the decision not to make the knowledge public to the rest of the council. Not even about the soul mates. You see, they felt it unfair to tell the Slayers of their chance of happiness, only for most of them to never know it. The sad fact is, most Slayers die before they ever meet their soul mates. Often, he is never known."

"That's so sad," said Willow.

"Yes, quite," Giles said. "So instead of dangling this in front of them, they decided to keep it secret, and only release the information once the soul mate, or White Knight in the very rare case, is identified. Once the information is given, the Watcher is instructed not to mention it in his or her diaries. To protect the hearts of the young girls to follow."

"Wow," said Xander. "Council with a heart. Who'd have guessed?"

"Why do I get the feeling you're not telling us everything?"

"The Slayer, whose lover owned the sword. It was Guinevere."

Willow gasped. Xander's eyes bulged out. Buffy's jaw dropped. Oz raised one eyebrow. Giles smiled wickedly.

"You mean… this is…" started Buffy

"Is it really…" asked Xander.

"It can't be…" said Willow.

"Are any of you planning on finishing your sentences?" Giles asked, amused at their shock.

"Excalibur?" asked Oz.

Giles smiled. "No. It is not Excalibur. Arthur was the only one able to wield it, and it would therefore be of no use to us. You will recall, I said Guinevere's lover… not her husband."

"You did that on purpose!" Buffy yelled.

"I did, and it was fun," said Giles, proud of himself. "You should have seen the looks on your faces. Bloody priceless, if you ask me."

"So whose sword is it then? I never got that much into the Arthurian legend," said Xander.

"Lancelot. It was he who wielded this sword. And he was no slouch, let me tell you. You see, Guinevere had the unfortunate happenstance to meet her White Knight late in life. After she retired, she was married to Arthur. And she did love him. But she could not resist the connection she felt with Lancelot, and they did have an affair."

"Hey, so how come Buffy could resist me for three years?" Xander asked.

"Had you met yourself then?" Giles asked.

"Giles!" Buffy screeched.

"Sorry," he said. "I couldn't resist. Slayers who do find their soul mates automatically feel an attraction with them. White Knights are a different case. Of the 5 recorded cases of White Knights, 3 had known the Slayer before their powers manifested, and of those only one was involved with her romantically. The council is not certain, but they feel that the… innate fighting spirit within the White Knight is, at first, more apt to create a feeling of friendship and companionship than one of romance. Possibly, this is because of the… inevitability of it all. The two essences, Slayer and White Knight, know they will find love in time, so there is no need to rush it."

Xander nodded. "I guess that makes sense. Would have been nice, though, if I had known."

"But didn't you?" asked Willow. "I mean, you never gave up. Through Angel, and Cordelia, and… well, Ampata and Scott Hope and Owen Thurman and Faith… you never gave up."

"I guess, yeah," said Xander. "That makes sense."

"So what does the sword do?" asked Buffy.

"Well, it causes more damage than a normal sword, I'm not really sure how. It is also sharper, it can cut through diamond with ease, so you must be very careful with it. It can pierce many magical defenses as well, so I thought it might be prudent to use it against the Fargath demon, who will undoubtedly have some magical protections."

"Well that's just all kinds of fun," Xander said. "Hey, we could use this to stab demon boy in the heart!"

"Yes, that was my intention with having it shipped here," said Giles.

"Oh. Right."

"Well that's a barrel of fun. Any more surprises for us Giles?"

"Well, not so much a surprise, I suppose, as a discussion we need to have," Giles said, glancing at Xander.

"Uh oh," said Buffy. "Lecture time."

"No, no, not a lecture, as such. Really. A conversation that we need to have because of certain… possibilities that have been brought to my attention."

"What's it about, Giles?" Willow asked.

"Well… it's about, um… Faith," he said.

"Faith?" asked Buffy.

"Faith!" Willow yelled. "She's still in a coma isn't she? Oh God, she's awake, and she's going to try to kill us all. Giles, we need to find her! I know, I can try to do a locator spell, and we can find her, and then Buffy and Xander can go fight her, because they can TOTALLY kick her ass and then we can put her in jail for like all eternity or better yet we can find a spell and move her to a demon dimension, because, really, that's where she could have lots of fun with all the killing and stuff and…" she paused, and saw everybody staring at her. "Sorry. I babble."

Giles smiled. "That's quite all right. And no, Faith has not woken up."

"Good," said Willow. "That's like the funnest coma, EVER."

Xander winced, knowing his suggestion would not go over well.

"Um… yes. Well, be that as it may, it has been brought to my attention that we may be able to… um… help her, as it were."

"Help her how?" Buffy asked. "She's in a coma, there's not really a lot we can do."

"That might not be entirely, you know, um, true," Xander said.

The whole group looked at him. Oz caught on first.

"Oh," he said. "Yeah."

Buffy was next. She furrowed her brow in thought.

Willow was the last to catch on. "What? Xander how… oh. Oh! NO! No, no, no, bad Xander!"

"Will, I'm not saying we have to do it," he said. "But… I have these healing powers now, and from what I read, I might be able to help her. I think it's at least worth talking about, don't you?"

"But she's like this big, cleavagey, slut bomb who, don't forget, killed people. Tried to kill us!"

"I know, Will, but, she has had a rough life. And I'm not saying that's an excuse, it's not, but… I think she deserves a second chance. We have a chance to do some real good here, that doesn't have to do with fighting, or with killing or anything like that, and I think at the very least, it needs to be talked about."

"But, what if she stays all evil?"

"I think that, if we can show her… that she can choose to not be evil, then she won't. She has the spirit of the Slayer, which is inherently good, and I don't think it would have chosen her if she didn't have some of that in her."

"But what if, Xan?"

"Well, Buffy took her down on her own last time. I think the two of us together can do just as well."

"Plus, we can use those chains I have to restrain her, if we have to," said Oz.

Buffy, Xander and Giles looked at Oz and Willow, unsure of how to react.

Willow rolled her eyes. "For when he wolfs out, you perverts."

"The point is, it's not too big a risk, and we could potentially gain a powerful ally," said Giles.

"Buffy? What do you think?" Xander asked.

"I don't know… it would be nice to have another Slayer, although we really haven't even needed me much recently, as far as vamps go. But the extra power would be nice. Still… I can't help but feel we shouldn't trust her. How would we know? How would we ever know that it's not just an act?"

"Well, I suppose it would just take some time, and some very delicate action on our parts, and a lot of trust. We must have…"

"Faith," said Xander, with a soft smile. "We have to trust in our ability to get through to her, and in our ability to sense if something's wrong. Look, I know she's not a favorite around here… I mean, she tried to strangle me. Despite that, I feel this is something we have to try. But I'm not gonna go for it unless you guys are behind me."

Xander looked around at the group's expressions. They all – with the exception of Oz – looked deep in thought.

"Are you sure you guys can take her?" Willow asked. Xander nodded. Willow sighed and nodded back.

"Well, I say we go for it," said Oz.

"Buffy?" Xander asked, taking her hand in his own. "What are you thinking?"

Buffy looked into his eyes. "I'm thinking I'm worried. That we have no idea what we might be getting into. I'm thinking that if we do this, we might be putting ourselves, and the people we love, in danger. But, I'm also thinking that you're probably right. If something happens, we can handle her. And if not, well, we're just that much stronger."

Xander brought her hand up and kissed it. "Good," he said. "But we still have to figure some things out before we try it."

"Like what?" Willow asked.

"Well, for starters, like where she'd stay. We can't really wake her up, convince her we're trying to help, and then say 'but go get your own place, because we can't put you up.'"

"She could stay here," Giles said. "But I only have the one room. And I doubt very much Buffy would be willing to share Xander as well as her slaying duties."

"Very much no," Buffy said.

"Also to mention, I'm not willing to be shared," said Xander. "I suppose I could try to find somewhere else to stay. I do have a steady job now."

"I am hesitant to let you go, though," said Giles. "I realize you are grown up, but nineteen is still quite young to be out on your own."

"OH! Xander, you could stay at my place!" said Buffy.

"Um… Buffy?" said Willow. "You know I love you guys, but I don't think I could take it if you guys were being the cute couple all the time. Might have to hurl a lot."

"Oh, I didn't mean my place like the dorm," Buffy said. "I meant, with my mom."

Xander looked surprised. "Your mom? I'm… not sure I'd be comfortable with that. I mean, I love your mom. She's great, and a great cook, and a nice lady…."

"But you'd feel kind of awkward living with your girlfriend's mom?"

"Yuh huh."

"Well, I'd have to run it by her, anyway. Plus, she hasn't done the obligatory boyfriend inspection yet."

"B-boyfriend inspection?" he stammered out, turning pale.

"Don't worry," Buffy said. "She already likes you. You eat her food. And I promise, if you live there, she will not be all weird, like she's your girlfriend's mother."

"But she is my girlfriend's mother."

"I know, silly, but she'll be cool. I swear! Besides, how else are we going to give Faith living space?"

"Using my own plan against me, are you Summers?"

Buffy grinned at him.

"Fine. Fine, fine. If your mom's okay with it, I'll stay there. But I'm paying rent. Your mom is putting you through college, she doesn't need to be suddenly feeding another mouth."

Buffy kissed him. "Mmm… you're so thoughtful. Is it any wonder I love you?"

"Oh, dear lord," said Giles, cleaning his glasses. "I do believe I'm getting a toothache."

Buffy glared at him.

"Buffy," said Xander. "Don't get angry at the nice man who will soon be living with a known murderer."

Buffy thought about this a second, then said "'Kay."

"Okay, so that's settled, for now at least. What else do we need to figure out?"

"How to convince a psycho killer not to kill?" asked Willow.

"I think, with Faith, that'll be more of a thing where we're flying by the seat of our pants," said Xander.

"Well, I guess we'll just deal with other stuff as it comes up, then," Buffy said.

"So, when should we…"

"I'll talk to Mom today," Buffy said. "We'll go from there, I guess."

Chapter 12

"Back so soon?" Joyce asked as she greeted her daughter.

"Yup," Buffy said cheerily, hugging her mom.

"Well, you're certainly in a good mood. I take it things are going well?"

"Better than well, they're going great!"

"Xander, huh?"

Buffy grinned and flopped down on the couch in the den. "Yeah."

"Well, good. I told you there was nothing to worry about. So, when do I get to do the inspection?"

"Oh, anytime now. He's a little worried, but I told him he'll do fine."

"I don't know, sweetie. I can be pretty tough."

"He mentioned how much loves your cooking."

"Well maybe not *that* tough."

"Well, anyway, there is actually a reason I'm here today," Buffy said.

"Oh? Not just here because you love your mother then?"

"No, that was yesterday."

"Okay. What's up?"

"Well, you see… we're kind of planning to try to wake up Faith and try to rehabilitate her. And, well, we think she'd need a place to stay. And so, there's like these rooms here, at the house and we were thinking –"

"No," Joyce said.

"You haven't even heard the whole plan!"

"Buffy, I am not having that… psycho… in my house!"

"Well, duh, Mom! Jeez, give us a little credit, we're not that stupid. There's no way we'd put her here, with you. You'd have no way to defend yourself against anything."

"So what then?"



"Yeah. See, he's living with Giles right now, but we thought we could put Faith with Giles and have Xander move in here. That way, we can keep an eye on her, Xander doesn't have to be an 'out-on-his-own' nineteen-year-old, you've got some heavy muscle around the house again, and you get some more positive cash flow."

"I get what?"

"Positive cash flow. Xander has a job, and he refuses to live here unless he pays rent. He said, 'Your mom is putting you through college, she doesn't need to be suddenly feeding another mouth.'"

"Xander said that?"


"How very thoughtful of him."

"I know."

"I think the inspection is going to be very cursory."

"I thought it might be. So does that mean you're okay with it?"

"Yes, I'm okay with it."

"Great! So, we'll just figure out the logistics, then, and we can move him in," Buffy said, grinning.

"Which room were you planning on putting him in?" Joyce asked, suspiciously.

"Oh," Buffy said, nonchalantly, "I hadn't really given it much thought. But you know, the guest room does have all those boxes in it, and you wouldn't want to have to lose your storage room, would you?"

"Uh huh," Joyce said, smiling inwardly but presenting a stern front to her daughter.

Buffy looked up at her mother innocently. "I love you, Mommy," she said.

Joyce rolled her eyes at her daughter. "Fine," she said. "He can take your room. But nothing goes on in this house that I don't know about, understand?"

Buffy nodded solemnly.

"How is it that you're so comfortable with this already, that you're willing to share your room like that?"

"We're soul mates," Buffy said, simply.

"Buffy, I understand that you love him, but isn't that –"

"No. Not when it's prophesied and in lots of books, and the Watcher's Council has said so."

"Oh. Really?"

"Yup. Feels right, too."

"Oh my."


Buffy was sitting at her desk, reading for her psychology class. The group had met up again, and Xander and Oz would start moving Xander's stuff to Buffy's house the next day. The day after that, Xander would attempt to re-awaken Faith. They had decided to put off raiding the old factory until after she was awake. Buffy and Xander were an impressive team, but two against thirty were still tough odds. Three against thirty… those were much better.

Oz and Willow's search for likely holy spots near the Hellmouth had been a bust. Despite the fact that Sunnydale had 43 places of worship within the town limits, none of them were in easy walking distance of the old high school. They had no clue where the Fargath demon would set up for the ritual.

Somebody knocked on the door.

"Come in," Buffy yelled.

"You shouldn't ever say that in Sunnydale, Buffy," Oz said as he walked in the room.

Buffy was a little surprised to see him. "Oz, hi. I think I can protect myself from anything that needs an invitation."

Oz nodded.

"I thought you guys were staying at Giles's for research?"

"I have practice in a little while, so I left."


They both stayed silent for a moment. Oz seemed to be considering something.

"So," Buffy started, "what can I – "

"They love each other," Oz interrupted.

"Huh? Who?"

"Xander and Willow."

"Oh, yeah, I know that."

"Yeah, but… they love each other."

"I'm… not seeing the distinction here, Oz."

Oz sighed. "You've known them longer than I have, so you may not need to hear this. But I didn't have anybody to tell me, and I don't want you to have to go through what I did."

"And that was…"


"Oz, I'm not jealous of Willow. I know Xander loves her. But I know he loves me, too."

"Okay. But you need to understand. Do you mind if I sit?"

Buffy shook her head.

"Okay. If anything were to happen to Willow… I don't know how I'd go on. I mean, I know I would, eventually. In time. It would be really hard, but I would eventually be able to move on.

"Willow, if something happened to me, would move on a lot easier. I know she loves me, and I thank God for that every day. More. But if I died, she would, over all, be okay. Because she has Xander to help her through… everything. If something happened to either of them, though, the other would simply stop being themselves."

"What do you mean, stop being themselves?"

Oz sighed. "Xander and Willow are a part of each other. They've been together for so long… they don't know how to be anything else. They're so much a part of each other that if one went away… it's like the other would cease to exist."

"Xander and I talked about… something like this the other day. He said that I own a part of him… but Willow *is* a part of him."

"And that made you feel…"

"I'm not sure," said Buffy. "It wasn't jealousy, though."

Oz raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, not much."

Oz nodded. "They've got their own world, and none of us will ever be a part of it. They have inside jokes that nobody else will ever get. They can have whole conversations using just their eyes."

"I've noticed," Buffy said, a little sadly.

Oz shook his head. "And that's what I've learned. We can't be jealous of that. Not much, anyway. Because as much as I want to be that close to her… as much as I'm sure you want to be that close to him… that's a part of what makes them special. It took me a while to realize it, and it caused some problems with me and Willow. But then, a little before graduation, it kind of came to me. If it weren't for Xander… she wouldn't be the Willow I love. And if it weren't for Willow, he wouldn't be the same Xander that you love. So… yeah. Be a little jealous, it's only natural. But mostly, be grateful. Each of them is a part of what makes the other special. And I find it's a whole lot easier if you just think of it as cute."

Buffy smiled. "Thank you. I was a little…"

"Insecure," Oz finished. "It's to be expected, and it's why I came. But don't doubt Xander's devotion to you. He'd lay down his life for you. For any of us, actually, but you in particular. Xander's greatest asset isn't his fighting skills, or his shield, or his healing powers. It's his heart. And that belongs to you."

Buffy nodded. "He told me that last night."

Oz smiled. "You're the only one who's ever had it," he paused. "Well, I've got practice."

Buffy smiled at him, and nodded. "Thank you, Oz. I… I think I needed to hear that."

Oz nodded and walked out the door. Buffy paused for a moment, smiled, and went back to reading.


"This really isn't a lot of stuff," Oz said, unloading a suitcase from his van.

"Well," said Xander, grabbing a few boxes, "it's my clothes, which fit in a few suitcases, and a few things I picked up from the Mitchell's. Pictures, some music, and my comics. I really didn't own that much."

"Your comics alone take up like five and a half boxes, but yeah, this isn't much."

"What do you bet Faith has even less?"

"That's no bet, man. Hey, you mind if take a look through these comics some time? I used to read some, and it'd be kinda cool to look at again."

"Um… yeah, sure, I guess."

"Hi boys," Joyce said from the porch. "Do you need any help with that stuff?"

"Hey Mrs. S," Xander said, smiling. "No, we can get it all, thanks. Um, but which room do I put it in?"

"I'll take you up," Joyce said, leading them inside and up the stairs.

"Thanks again for letting me stay here," Xander said.

"Think nothing of it," Joyce said. "I'll be glad for the company."

Joyce stopped outside Buffy's room and opened the door. "Here you go."

Xander raised his eyebrows in surprise. "But this is…"

"Buffy's room, I know. She lobbied me hard to let you stay in here."

"I mean… you mean… she's okay with… cuz, a room is pretty personal…"

"She suggested it."

"Yeah, but…"

"Hey man, getting kinda heavy," Oz said.

"Oh, sorry," said Xander, moving into Buffy's room and putting his boxes down. "She really wanted me in here?"

Joyce nodded, smiling.

Xander looked around the room, taking it all in.

"It's trust and love," Oz said, dropping Xander's suitcases. "You've got both."

Xander grinned. "Well in that case… I guess I'll stop questioning, and accept with grace… and just a little fear."

"Fear?" Joyce asked. "Why are you afraid?"

"Mrs. Summers, I've been in love with your daughter since the first day I met her, and in the past two days, I've found out that not only has she fallen in love with me, but we're soul mates and destined to be together. That's not something to take lightly, and I'm a little afraid that I'm going to wake up tomorrow in some dingy motel, and find out this has all been a dream and I've still got to go back home tomorrow and live in my parents basement."

Joyce smiled, and patted Xander on the shoulder. "It's real, Xander. Just accept it."

Xander nodded, then waited as Joyce and Oz walked out. Then he frowned. 'Trust. Shit.'

Chapter 13

"Trust," Xander said, as he sat on Willow's bed. "I don't deserve yours. Not yet."

"Of course you do," Buffy replied. "You've never done anything to betray it."

"Yes," he said. "I have. And every little bit of me wants me to have you promise that things will be okay before I tell you, but I can't do that, because I don't want to make you promise something I don't know if you can keep."

"That's the point of a promise, Xan."

"I know. But don't."

"You do realize you're scaring me?"

"I know. I'm pretty scared myself, but this is something I have to do."

"Okay. I'm ready."

Xander took a deep breath, closed his eyes and steeled himself.

"I knew that Willow was going to do the spell."

"What spell?"

"To give Angel back his soul. I knew, and I didn't tell you."

Buffy looked horrified. "You what?" she whispered.

"I knew, and I lied. I was worried that if you knew, you wouldn't fight your hardest, that you'd try to stall until he was himself again. So I chose. The man you loved… for the world."

Buffy was silent, in shock. Xander sat there, across from her, unable to say anything. Buffy took a deep breath, and stood up. She walked over to him, and cupped his face in her hand. He looked up at her, a tear running down his cheek. Buffy tenderly wiped it away with her thumb, leaned down and kissed Xander on the forehead. She took her hand away from his face. He looked her in the eyes. She smiled at him.

Then she smacked him.

"Leave," she said.

Xander's eyes filled with pain, regret and resignation. His shoulders sagged, and he slowly stood up, walked to the door and opened it.

"I don't want to lose you," he said.

"I don't want that either. But I can't deal with you being here right now."

"I love you."

"I know."

Xander's head dropped and he walked away, letting the door shut behind him.


"Buffy? What is it, what's wrong?" Willow asked, rushing over to her friend.

"Willow?" Buffy asked through her tears. "I thought you were staying with Oz tonight."

"I was, but Xander called and said you needed me. He wouldn't say why, though."

Buffy laughed bitterly. "No. I don't suppose he would."

"What happened? Did you guys have a fight?"

Buffy shook her head. "When… when you were doing the spell… the one to give Angel back his soul… Xander came to find me."

"Okay…" Willow said, unsure of where Buffy was going.

"He found me on the way to the mansion… and…"

"And what?"

Buffy was almost sobbing at this point. "He told me that… that you said… that you said to kick Angel's ass."

Willow's brow furrowed for a moment, then her eyebrows shot up as she gasped in shock, her hands rushing to her mouth, the full weight of what Buffy said hitting her.

"He lied," she said simply.

Buffy nodded and broke down again. Willow rushed over to her and held her as she cried. After a few minutes, Buffy calmed down again.

"So what does this mean?" Willow asked.

Buffy shook her head. "I don't know. I mean… I love him so much, Will. But how can I… I mean, after that…"

"I don't know, sweetie."

Neither of them said anything else, and they sat there until Buffy fell asleep.


"It is eight-thirty in the morning. This had better be good," Willow said into the phone.

[How is she?] the voice asked.


[God, no. I don't sound like him, do I?]

Willow waited for the voice to register. "Angel?"

[Yeah. How is she?]

"Um… not so good. But she's asleep. Angel, how did you—"

[Look, I don't want to be pushy, but can you wake her up? It's really important.]

"Um… yeah. Hold on."

Willow shook Buffy until she woke up, then held out the phone to her. Buffy looked at her questioningly, and Willow mouthed "Angel."

Confused, Buffy took the phone as Willow got up and headed for the showers. "Hello?"

[Buffy. How are you?]


[Yeah. Listen, I thought you might want to know that I have something of yours.]

"You what?"

[Have something of yours. Kind of important, too.]

"What is it?"


Buffy sat bolt upright. "What!?"

[I have Xander.]

"Angel, I swear if you've hurt him… why are you laughing?"

[I didn't kidnap him, Buffy. He showed up last night in a Zebra-striped van demanding to talk to me.]

"He what?"

[Yeah. Then he told me some stuff about what happened right before my visit to Hell.]

"Oh. Wait, he told you so you'd, what, tell me to forgive him?"

[No, nothing like that. And if he had, I wouldn't. In fact, I'm not. I don't like him very much, you know.]

"Okay. So why did he tell you?"

[Same reason he told you. To apologize, and because he thought I deserved to know.]

"Oh. Then what?"

[What do you think? I punched him. A lot. He didn't even fight back.]

"Is he—"

[And then, with impeccable timing, Cordelia walks in, sees me pummeling Xander and tries to stake me because she assumed I'd gone evil again somehow.]

Buffy actually laughed at that. "Cordelia tried to stake you?"

[Yeah. So I calmed down and explained to her what happened.]

"And then?"

[She walked over and punched him in the face.]


[And then she punched me, too.]


[And then she gave me a speech. It was very well done, her acting lessons have really paid off. Anyway, she told me about the spell, and the attacks, and about you.]


[Yeah. Specifically, how you were. Your… um… mental state when you found out about the spell. And she said even though at the time she helped Willow do the spell, looking back she'd have done the same thing Xander did.]

"I can't believe—"

[And she was right.]


[She was right. And so was Xander.]

"How can you –"

[It's simple. It's about choices. And it's about knowing the people you love. And Xander knows you, he always has. I may not like the outcome, but Xander did the right thing. He knew you, and how you had been acting, and he thought that if you knew… you might not fight hard enough. And so he chose saving the lives of six billion people over the possibility of hurting someone he loved. And he made the right choice.]

"What are you trying to tell me?"

[After that talk with Cordy last night, while she tended to Xander's wounds, I forgave Xander. Because he made the same choice I would have. The world is more important than one person, even if it is me.]

"Are you telling me to forgive him?"

[No. I can't make that decision for you. But think about what happened. Think about how much he loves you, because as much as me and him will never get along, the one thing we agree on, the one thing we always have agreed on, is helping you. And that boy would do anything for you. So think. About him. About you. About everything he's done for you, and ask yourself what you should do.]

"Where is he?"

[He's over at Cordy's, sleeping.]

A burst of jealousy shot through her, which she quickly suppressed.

"Cordy's?" she asked.

[Yeah. Her place is nicer than mine, and she didn't feel comfortable leaving him here after… well, after I beat him up.]

"How bad is he?"

[Just some bruises, maybe a cut lip. He'll be fine in no time. Cordy already called his job, told them he was attacked and that he'd be in tomorrow. She's going to drive him back up when he wakes up.]




[Don't get jealous. He wouldn't do that… well, not again… and neither would she. She's… different than when she lived in Sunnydale. More mature.]

Buffy raised her eyebrow even though he couldn't see it. "Is that attraction I hear in your voice?"

[What!? No! No. Um… just a healthy respect for a co-worker and friend.]


[I mean it. No… uh, no attraction. At all.]

"You're a horrible liar, Angel."

[I'm serious!]

"Uh huh. Okay."

[I mean it.]


Angel sighed. [Anyway, that's not the only reason I called. Listen, I'm sorry about how I acted the other night. It was inappropriate, and not really me. I just… figured out why you were asking those questions, and suddenly it felt like I was losing you all over again. I… didn't deal well, and I kind of went crazy. I'm sorry.]

"It's okay, Angel. Just… don't do it again."

Angel chuckled. [I won't. I promise. You won't have any trouble from me about Xander, unless we're in the same room together.]

"Well, I guess that's the best I can hope for."

[Yeah. Well, anyway… look, just think about what I said, okay?]

"I will. And… thanks."

[For calling, or kicking his ass? Because, that part was really fun…]

"A little of both, I think. Could you have Cordy drop him off at the campus? I need to talk to him."

[Of course.]

"Okay. Thank you Angel."

[Anytime. Bye.]




"Okay. So explain to me again how this is going to work," Xander said.

"God, are you deficient? What part don't you understand?" Cordelia asked him.

"The part where she takes me baaAAACk! Could you keep your eyes on the road!?"

"Look, Harris," she said while cutting across two lanes of traffic without signaling, "you grovel. Get on your knees, flowers in one hand, chocolate in the other, balloons tied to your belt behind you. Knock on the door with your head, not feet, because it sounds realer."

"How do you know that?"

"I just do, okay? Now, when she opens the door, you beg, and don't stop until she takes you back."

"But what if she doesn't."

"You really are very stupid. Xander, she chose you over Angel. And him she forgave for trying to send the world to Hell!"

"But he wasn't himself at the time. I was. I don't even know if I deserve to be taken back. I mean, I made her kill the cradle-robbing undead guy she loved… by lying to her."

"No, idiot. Well, okay, yes. But also, no. You needed her to save the world. You did what you thought you had to for that to happen. She'll understand."

"I believe she'll understand. I just don't believe she'll take me back."

"She loves you!" she said, cutting off a car and honking at it. "God, learn to drive!"

Xander paled visibly and gripped the armrest tighter.

"Where was I?"

"Um… she loves me?"

"Right. She loves you. It may take some time, but she will forgive you and take you back."

"I don't know…"

"Are you being this insecure to aggravate me, or were you dropped on your head as a child?"

"Both. And that last one's your fault."

"What? When?"

"First grade. You pushed me off the jungle gym."

"Oh. Yeah. Well, I only did that because you called me a big, mean, stupid-head."

"I know. And I only did that because you pulled Willow's hair."

"Yeah, but… oh. Well fine! You and your precious Willow."

The van was silent for a minute.



"I'm sorry I hurt you. I never meant for that to happen."

Cordelia rolled her eyes.

"Get over yourself, Harris," she said, smiling.

"Yes, ma'am."


"Okay, flowers?"




"Balloons secured tightly above your ass?"

"Again, check."

"Now, go over the plan again."

"I walk into the dorm, embarrassing myself in front of my intellectual superiors. I kneel outside of Buffy's door and knock on it with my head. When she opens it, I beg and grovel until she takes me back."

"Good. Now, where do I take this striped monstrosity?"

"Giles's. Everyone will show up there later."


"Thank you, Cordelia," Xander said, giving her a hug. "For helping me here, and last night. And for…"

"Yeah, yeah. You're getting all mushy and people are staring."

Xander chuckled. "Don't ever change, Cor."

She snorted. "As if!"

Xander smiled and turned to face the building.



"Good luck."

He nodded. "Thanks."

Chapter 14

"It's open!" Buffy yelled from her desk.

There was a pause, followed by a thud, another pause, then two more quick thuds.

Buffy sighed, then got up and opened the door.

"What do –" she said, before she burst out laughing.

Xander grinned. 'I love that laugh,' he thought.

"Come in," Buffy said once she had calmed down.

Xander waddled into the room on his knees.

"You can stand up," Buffy said.

"No, I can't. I am under strict orders to stay on my knees until you have accepted my gifts," he said, holding out the flowers and chocolate.

Buffy laughed again and took the box and bouquet. "There. Now stand."

"Not yet," he said, as he reached behind himself and untied the balloons from his belt. These, too, he held out to Buffy.

She set the chocolate down on her bed and took the balloons from him. "Thank you," she said.

Xander nodded and slowly stood up, groaning as he did so.

"It can't be that bad," Buffy said. "You weren't outside the door for that long."

"No," he said. "But I was afraid you'd leave the room and see me, so I walked on my knees from the end of the corridor."

This brought more laughter. "I guess that would do it," Buffy said.

Xander nodded and sat on Willow's bed.

"So," he said.


"Listen, Buffy, I swear to God I never wanted to hurt you."

"I know."

"I am so in love with you it scares me sometimes, and I'd do anything I could to stop you from hurting. But you deserved to know the truth, even if it did hurt you. And I'm sorry."

"You don't have bruises," she said.

"I healed over night. I looked like crap last night, but Cordy's got a very comfortable bed. And how did you know about that?"

"Angel called me this morning."


"You slept in her bed?"

"Yeah. She forced me to. So did Dennis. Cordy slept on her couch."


"Her roommate and resident ghost."

"So, you didn't sleep with her?"

"What? Buffy, no! Cordy and I are just friends, and just recently back to that. I mean, we talked last night, and on the drive over here, and I think we're okay now, but Buffy, I would never do that."

Buffy sighed. "I know. I'm sorry, I just… I mean, you were wigged, and then you said… and you were upset, and I thought… I mean, Angel said not to worry…"

"Why did he call?"

"To talk. About you."

"Oh," he said, sadly.

"He took your side. Said you did the right thing."

"Oh," he said, surprised.

"And he's right. You did."

"That doesn't make up for the fact that I lied to you."

"No. But I understand."

"I wouldn't do it again."

"Even if it meant the world?"

"That's not what I meant. I meant that now… I… you would do what needed to be done."

"You think I could kill you?"

Xander sighed. "Yeah. I do. If it got to the point where I was killing people, and threatening the existence of the world, I believe you could kill me."

"I don't know, Xan… killing Angel… sending him to hell… was the hardest thing I ever had to do. And he wasn't my soul mate."

Upon hearing that, Xander suddenly felt better about his chances of her taking him back.

"You could do it, Buffy. You're strong enough to do anything you want and why am I trying to convince you to kill me?"

Buffy gave him a weak smile.

"Okay," he said. "Well."


Xander inhaled. "Buffy, I love you. I know I hurt you, and I feel like shit about it. I know I don't deserve a second chance, but I'm here asking… begging you to take me back, because I feel wrong when I'm not with you."

Buffy shook her head, and Xander's heart fell.

"I thought about the things that Angel said, when he called. About what we've done over the years. And you're wrong, Xander. You do deserve another chance. After all you've done, you're more deserving of chances than I am."

"Buffy, no –"

"Shut up for a minute. Xander, I've treated you horribly over the years. I called you 'one of the girls.' I turned you down for Spring Fling, which you repaid by bringing me back to life. I sexy-danced you to make Angel jealous, and I constantly made fun of you for dating Cordy, who truthfully doesn't deserve that, because she is a good person, even if you sometimes have to dig a little deeper to see it. And then there was that whole 'pushing you away' thing we did last year. Xander, with only one exception, you have been nothing but good to me, and I've treated you like crap. If anybody should be asking for forgiveness here, it's me."

"But, you were just –"

"No. Don't rationalize for me. I was horrible to you. Can you forgive me?"

Xander sat there, stunned. "I… yeah…" he said. "Of course."

Buffy took his hands and leaned down in front of him. "Do you have any idea how much I love you? How much I need you? And what the hell made you think we broke up!?"

"I… I, what?"

"Xander! We had a… I don't know. We had a bad night. So what? We work through it, that's what couples do!"

"I… but, you told me to leave."

"Yeah, but I didn't mean leave town! And I seem to remember saying something about not wanting you to lose me?"

"Yeah, well… but…"

"But nothing. If I ever really break up with you, trust me, you'll know it. So stop being so insecure, damn it, or I'm going to have to hurt you!"

Xander smiled. "As you wish."

"Good. Now kiss me."

And he did.


"So what else happened last night?" Buffy asked, as she and Xander lay in her bed after a heavy make out session.

"Before or after Angel beat my face?"

"After. And after Cordy gave him a talking to."

"Oh. Nothing. Me and Cordy went back to her place and crashed."

"Oh. And today?"

"We woke up, had breakfast served by a ghost, and went back to Angel's to pick up Oz's van."

"He apologized, by the way."

"For what? I deserved the beating he put on me."

"Not for that. For the other night, when he was… well, kinda psycho. He said he just got wigged, and went kinda 'jealous ex-boyfriendy' and was out of his head. And that it won't happen again, and you two won't have any problems from his side as long as you're not in the same room and constantly annoying each other."

Xander chuckled. "Yeah. I guess that'll work. I'm glad he apologized to you."

"Me too."

"You know, we really should head over to Giles's. Cordy's alone there, and she's the one who forced me to come up here. I was going to wuss out and wait a few days."

"Mmm… I guess, yeah. And I can thank her for tending your wounds, and then glare at her for keeping you in her bed."


"I'm only kidding, Xander."

"Good. So, shall we?"



"So, I don't get why you're doing this," Cordelia said.

"Well, we are of the opinion that one can never have too much back up," Giles said. "Also, it's the right thing to do. Everyone deserves a second chance."

"But Faith's a psycho."

"Yes, we understand that line of thinking, but we also believe that we can help her overcome her past."

"Her past? You mean you guys think you can get help her not murder people in cold blood anymore?"

"Um… yes. And if we can't help her change, then Buffy and Xander together can certainly take her down."

"Hmm. Well, I suppose you're right. So when are you gonna try to wake her up?"

"Tonight, after Xander… well, we were going to do it after he got off of work, but I suppose it will be after he and Buffy work things out. Thank you for helping him, with that, by the way."

"Well, he would have done the same for any of us," she explained.

"Yes, that is true. But with your history…"

"So over it," Cordelia said. "We had our time, and it occasionally hurts, if I think about it. Xander kind of grows on you, you know? But we've both moved on."

"That is good to hear."

"Hey, Giles!" Willow said, walking into the apartment in front of Oz. "Cordy! Hi! What are you doing here?"

"I drove Xander back today, after Angel beat up on him."


Cordelia explained to the pair the events of the previous night and that day.

"Balloons?" Willow asked.

"Yeah. So I guess that's where they are now. Working things out," Cordelia said.

"Well, you did a good thing. They need to be together," Willow said.

"I know. They love each other."

"Well, yeah, that. But also, if they're not, world go bye-bye."


Willow explained to her about the prophecy.

"Wow, they really do need to be together," Cordelia said. She chuckled. "'Tis a far better thing I do…'"

Giles looked at her, surprised.

"What?" she asked. "I read."

"No, I know. This group just doesn't usually throw out literary references. It's nice to hear someone with culture."

Willow glared at him as Oz chuckled. Willow stuck her tongue out.

The door opened again and Xander and Buffy walked in laughing and holding hands.

"Well," Giles said. "I would say your mission was in fact accomplished, Cordelia. Well done."

"Of course it was," she said. "Was there ever any doubt?"

"Hey guys," Xander said, sitting down at the table.

Buffy walked up to Cordelia. "Thank you," she said. "For taking care of him."

"All in a day's work," she said, smiling.

Buffy sat next to Xander, entwining her fingers in his as Cordelia grabbed a chair and sat offset from the couch.

"Weird," Oz said.

"What's weird?" Xander asked.

Oz held waved his hands in front of him from his spot on the couch. "It's like there's a whole new energy to the room. Usually, it's the five of us. Me and Will on the couch, you guys over there and Giles sort of wandering. Cordy here is acting as a sort of… metaphysical counterweight that's really throwing off my perceptions of spatial relations in the area."

There was a long pause, where everybody tried to figure out what the hell Oz had just said.

"Does… that actually mean anything, Oz? In English, I mean?" Buffy asked.

Oz nodded, looking thoughtful. "I'm not used to having six people here."

Everybody's eyes lit up in understanding.

"Well," said Xander, "it'll be good practice for when we wake Faith up. She'll be here, too, you know."

Oz nodded. "Good thought."

"So, what's our plan of attack?"

"Well," Giles said, "I imagine we just… go visit Faith, Xander does his… aura of healing thing, and we wait to see what happens."

"Sounds like a plan," Buffy said.

"Wait a second, do you guys actually know if this works or not?" Cordelia asked.

"What do you mean?" asked Giles.

"Well, Xander's healing works for himself. I've seen that firsthand. But do you know if it actually does work on other people? Have you tried? Because if it doesn't, you're just wasting your time. I mean, does he even know what to do?"

"That's a good point," Xander said. "My body just repairs itself on its own. I should probably know what the hell I'm doing before I try to bring somebody out of a coma."

"So how do we test it?" Willow asked.

"Who here has an injury?" Giles asked.

"I have a paper cut," Willow said, looking at her finger. "Oh, but, it's pretty much healed now."

"Giles, get me a knife," Buffy said.

"What are you doing?" Xander asked.

"Nobody here's injured, so I'm going to give myself a small cut for you to heal."

"Buffy, I don't want you to hurt yourself. Let Giles do it."

"Oh, thank you very much, Xander."

Xander looked at him apologetically.

"I know you don't want me hurt, baby. But it will be a very small cut, and I have the highest resistance to pain, here. Besides, you're just going to make it better."

Xander reluctantly agreed.

Buffy took hold of a dagger Giles found, and quickly cut the tip of her finger, then held the finger out to Xander. Xander took hold of her hand and covered the finger with his palm. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the wound in his mind.

A small white glow emanated from his palm, and when he removed his hand, Buffy's cut was healed. Xander wiped the blood off on a towel Giles provided him and smiled.

"I fixed Buffy," he said, proudly, as he kissed the tip of her finger.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Oh, God. Are they like that all the time?"

"Pretty much," Willow said.

"Maybe I shouldn't have done what I did."

"True. Living with this day after day might be a fate worse than death."

"I weep for the future," said Cordelia.

Xander and Buffy stuck their tongues out at their friends.

Giles cleaned his glasses. "Yes, well. Back to the matter at hand, I'd say this proves Xander's powers do work on others. Shall we to the hospital, then?"

The others nodded and got up. The kids all hopped in Oz's van, not willing to risk Giles's Citroen.

"It's not that bad," Giles protested.

"Giles, it would be faster to walk to the hospital than to take your car. We'll see you there in a half hour," Buffy said.

"It only takes ten minutes!"

"Sure, if your car has more than a horsepower," said Xander.

Giles glared at him, and Xander grinned.

"Fine. You all take the van, and when I arrive ahead of you, I will have a jolly laugh at the lot of you."

Oz smiled. "A race."

Giles looked intrigued. "Wager?"

"Research donuts for a week."


The groups raced to their respective rides and headed off to the hospital.


"All I'm saying is, it wasn't a fair competition," Giles said as the group walked towards Faith's room.

"Giles, man, you lost to a van with five people in it, while you were the lone occupant of your car. How is that not fair?" Xander asked.

"I missed the turn!"

"And whose fault is that? Besides, we beat you by four minutes. That's more than just one U-turn."

"Yes, well. I purchase the donuts anyway, so I suppose I'm not out any money I wouldn't have been anyway."

"That's the spirit. See that silver lining."

"Yes, thank you."

"Here we are," Buffy said.

"You guys are sure about this?" Willow asked.

"It's the right thing to do, Will," Buffy said.

"I don't know…"

"It'll be okay, Will," said Xander, who stepped up and looked her dead in the eyes. "Trust me."

Willow took a deep breath and nodded. "Okay."

Oz glanced at them, then at Buffy, who merely smiled at him.

"So, who's going in?" Cordelia asked

"What?" Xander asked.

"Well, it's a pretty small room, and we can't all fit. Plus, if you woke up from a coma, would you want to see the faces of all the people you recently tried to kill."

"Angel's not here," Willow pointed out.

Cordelia rolled her eyes again. "Okay, so most of them. You get my point, it's not the most friendly environment."

"She does have a point," Buffy said. "I should probably stay out, since I'm kind of the one who put her in the coma."

"I never liked her," Willow said. "Still don't. Probably won't do much good to have me in there."

"And I could definitely live with out her, too," said Cordelia.

The rest of the group looked at her, surprised she felt so strongly.

"What? I'm supposed to have fluffy bunny feelings for her after she screwed my ex-boyfriend?"

Buffy, Willow and Xander winced at that reminder.

Giles coughed. "Yes. Well, as it was Wesley who tried to bring her in, and she associates me with the Watchers, it is probably best that I stay out as well."

The others nodded. Xander looked at Oz. "Looks like it's you and me, man."

Oz nodded. "Seems to be. After you," he said, motioning to the door.

Xander nodded and walked in. Oz held back a second to give Willow a kiss, then followed.

Cordelia smiled and pulled Buffy aside.

"I saw that little thing with Xander and Willow," she said. "You handled it well."

"Oz and I had a talk," Buffy said. "We're both good with it, except for the momentary… reaction."

"Good. They learned their lesson?"

"Yeah, totally," Buffy said. "And we both definitely trust them. But, they still have this incredible bond…"

"Tell me about it. Okay, well, so long as they're not getting into old habits."

"Nope. Willow's all Oz, all the time. And Xander…"

"Is all you. Got it, don't need the visual."

Buffy smiled.

"All right," Cordelia said. "We should probably go back and wait."

"Yeah. Thanks for asking, though."

Cordelia smiled. "Yeah, well don't get used to it. I just have an odd sensitivity where those two are concerned." She started walking away.

Buffy smiled at her. "So what's the deal with you and Angel?"

Cordelia stumbled.

Chapter 15

"So, where do you think I place my hands?" Xander asked.

"Well, I'd say head's a solid bet for one."

Xander nodded. "And the other?"

Oz glanced at Faith's chest.

"Not a chance," Xander said, following Oz's eyes.


Xander shook his head. "I don't want those three girls in here beating me to death with their shoes."

"About that," Oz said.

"Nothing's going on, man."


"I saw the look you gave Buffy when I reassured Willow, and it doesn't take a genius to figure it out."

"I know you guys aren't doing anything. I wasn't worried about that."

"What is it, then?"

"Why is Willow bugged about you sleeping with Faith?"

"Oh, that. Remember the Sisters of Jhe thing?"


"That night, and don't take this the wrong way, Willow told me she loved me. She only meant it in a 'you're my best friend' way, but with all the… stuff that had gone on, it took a lot for her to say that."

"Okay. I get that."

"That's the night Faith and I…."

Oz raised his eyebrow. "Wow."


"Got it. Two hands on the head?"

"I'm thinking yeah."

Oz nodded.

Xander placed one hand on each side of Faith's head and concentrated. A white glow emanated from his hands, and covered her body completely. Xander leaned against the bed as the white glow intensified. Oz moved over to Xander and steadied him. After another few seconds, there was a bright white flash, and Xander collapsed.

"Buffy!" Oz yelled.

Buffy and Willow rushed in and saw Oz doing his best to hold the taller man up. Buffy grabbed Xander and took him into the hall, where she lowered him gently into a chair.

Xander groaned, and Buffy gave him a quick kiss. Xander opened his eyes and smiled at her. Buffy tousled his hair then turned to Cordelia. "Watch him," she said. "I need to see about Faith now."

Oz and Willow were standing in the room, watching Faith's monitors.

"There's more brain activity," Oz said, pointing at one of the screens.

"Which means what?" Buffy asked, looking over at Faith's still form.

"Don't know," he said. "I'm guessing we shouldn't leave her alone, though."

Buffy nodded. "What happened?"

"He put his hands on her head, and she got covered in this white glow. It got brighter, and he stumbled, so I grabbed him to hold him up. Then there was a flash… and he fell."

"Probably wore him out," Willow said.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "He's awake, though."

"And I'll be fine," Xander said from the doorway, where he was being held up by Cordelia.

"He threatened to walk over here by himself," Cordelia explained.

"It's okay, Cordy," Buffy said, smiling at her boyfriend. "Where's Giles?"

"Went to get water and a nurse to have Xander checked out," Cordelia said.

Buffy nodded. "Okay, well then I say we clear out again, except for Oz and Xander… Xan, sweetie, I'll bring you a chair."

Xander nodded and leaned up against the wall until Buffy brought a chair in for him. He sat down and kissed her. "Thank you," he said.

Buffy grinned at him and left the room.

"You know, Oz, you could get a chair, too," Xander said.

"It's certainly an idea."

"And not without merit, either."

Willow walked in at that point with another chair. "Thought you might wanna sit too," she told Oz.

Xander grinned at her as Oz gave her a hug and she left.

"Wonder how long we'll have to wait before she wakes up," Xander said.

Oz shrugged.

They sat there, waiting. A few minutes later, a nurse came in and inspected Xander. She ordered him to get some rest, but declared him otherwise healthy. Xander thanked her and she left. Giles soon came in with some water for Xander, coffee for Oz and some snacks for the two of them to share.

They sat.

And they waited.

Xander fell asleep in his chair, and Oz sat, thinking.

Xander woke up after about half an hour after inadvertently smacking his head on the wall behind him.

They sat more.

They waited more.

Then Faith groaned.

Xander and Oz got up and slowly walked to Faith's bedside. Faith was slowly moving her head, and her eyes were fluttering. They stood there and watched as, ever so slowly, Faith awoke from her coma.

"You ever watch Willow wake up?" Oz asked, as Faith was still not quite out of it.

"A couple times, when we were younger," Xander said, smiling at the memory.

"It sure is something."

Xander nodded. "She still smack her lips right before her eyes pop open?"


"I always thought that was the cutest thing."

Oz nodded. "What does Buffy do?"

Xander shook his head. "I don't know yet. Can't wait to find out, though."

"Oh, what the fuck?" asked a very raspy voice.

Xander looked down and smiled. "Welcome back to the world of the living, Faith."

Oz looked at Faith. "Hey," he said.

Faith looked around. "What the hell? Where am I?"

"Sunnydale General," Xander said. "In a bed."

She glanced up at Xander. "What the hell are you two doing here?"

"We went through the list, and decided that you'd probably have the least animosity towards the two of us when you woke up. Plus, I kind of had to be here."

"So, what, you guys have just been hanging around for a few days?"

Oz and Xander looked at each other, then back at Faith.

"Um… well, no. We just came here today," Xander said. "We thought you might like some familiar faces when you woke up… even if we have had… bad times."

Oz nodded at that.

"What day is it?" Faith asked.

"Tuesday," said Oz.

"So, I've been out, what, like a week? How did you guys know I'd wake up? And why did you care?"

"Well, we woke you up. On purpose. We figured… I don't know. You were worth saving."

Faith snorted. "You don't know what the fuck you're talking about, Boytoy."

"Faith, we're here to help," Xander said, sincerely. "Look, you've messed up. You killed some people, and you worked with the Mayor to try to kill us all. But we're willing to look past that to try to help you, if you're willing to work with us. We've got an apocalypse coming, and we could use some back up."

"Fang and B not cuttin' it anymore, you need a murderer backin' you up? You must be in bad."

"Angel's not in the picture anymore. Moved to LA. And Buffy's doing fine. But we could use your help, if you're willing."

Faith closed her eyes and said nothing for a few seconds. Then she lashed out with her leg and kicked Oz in the stomach, while she brought her fist up to punch Xander in the face. He caught her punch with his hand, and held it there, an unimpressed look on his face, his fist and forearm glowing white the whole time.

"You okay, Oz?"

Oz groaned from the floor. "Will be."

Xander looked at Faith, who was staring at him, shocked. "You're weak, Faith. You've been lying in this bed for over three months. And as you might have guessed, from me holding your fist instead of having it in my face, I'm not the same as I used to be."

Xander dropped Faith's hand and let her lean back in the bed. "Let me make something clear to you, Faith. We're willing to give you a second chance, but that doesn't mean we trust you outright. I woke you up, using these new powers I've gained, because we hoped you might want to change. But if you don't… if you're intent on killing people and wreaking havoc… we can take you down without a problem. I took Angel, I can take you. Buffy did once already, and she's waiting in the hall. It's your play, Faith. What'll it be?"

"Three months?" Faith asked. She looked in Xander's eyes. "You're serious."

"As a heart attack."

"So, what? I get back to health, so little miss perfect can go off and have her own life, is that it? Or are you just going to be throwing me to the dogs on suicide missions and shit like that? Doing the dirty work B don't wanna do? Fuck that, I got enough with Wilkins."

"No, Faith. Buffy's dedicated to the life of the Slayer. And any mission you went on that was hard enough to be considered a 'suicide mission'… we'd be right there beside you. And if there was any dirty work Buffy didn't want to do… it would fall to me."

Oz groaned as he stood up. "Gonna get a doctor," he said.

Xander nodded. "One for Faith, too."

"What I meant," said Oz.

"Nobody else in here, yet, Oz. Make it clear."

Oz nodded and left the room.

"So, Faith. You have a choice. What do you say?"

"You're nuts, no way will they accept me. Shit, I tried to kill you. Should have just left me to veg where I couldn't have hurt anyone, and you know it."

"Maybe," said Xander. "But we're willing to risk it. And I wouldn't have woken you up if I didn't have their support."

Faith thought about it for a minute. "So how the hell are you getting me out of here?"

Xander grinned. "Did you ever see Star Trek IV?"


"I thought you said we were gonna do some Star Trek shit to get me outta here," Faith said from her hospital bed a few hours later.

"Well, I wanted to," said Xander. "But Giles insisted that since the Mayor's estate had paid all possible hospital bills for a year, we simply check you out and do everything legally."

"You sound disappointed. I thought you were Joe Lawful."

"Well, me and Willow have been trying to find a chance to run around the hospital with somebody on a gurney since we saw the movie. I thought this would be our best shot."

"Maybe," Faith said. "I think you just wanted another shot to ride my bod."

Xander snorted.

"What, a few months in a hospital and I'm not good enough all of a sudden?"

"Faith, I'm sure you'll make some guy very happy some day. I can guarantee you it will not be me."

"Who said I wanted to make you happy? I'm just lookin' for a little action. You up for it?"

"If he was, he'd have a lot more chances to ride around on a gurney," said Buffy from the doorway.

Xander turned as Buffy walked in the room, inserted herself next to Xander, and wrapped his arm around her waist.

"Hey, sweetie," she said.

Xander smiled down at her. "Hey, Buff. They about ready out there?"

"The nurse said five or ten minutes until the paperwork goes through. Oh, and Faith, they're going to want you to come back in about a week for some tests. It's not everyday that three-month-coma patients wake up."

Faith eyed the couple. "So, what, you two shackin' up? Finally got the perfect princess to dig ya, huh Boytoy?"

"Well, that's part of it," Xander said with a slight smile.

"Also, we're soul mates," Buffy said. "That helped it along a little bit."

"Soul mates?" Faith asked. "You mean you were boinking the undead when X here was your one true?" Faith broke down into a fit of laughter. "Damn, B. And I thought I had my life messed up!"

Buffy's face dropped a little, but Xander gave her a reassuring squeeze, a kiss, and his most comforting smile.

Faith rolled her eyes. "Look, whatever. I can dig soul mates. That's serious shit, you know? But, B, you gotta know some hotties who like to get their groove on."

"Well, there is this guy Parker…"

"No!" shouted Xander.

Buffy smiled, and Faith looked confused.

"Boytoy, if you're off the market, why don't you want me with this Parker guy?"

"Because he's an ass, and I don't think he's the type of guy you should be looking for."

"It's my body, X. I'll let it have who it wants."

Xander thought for a minute. "Okay. That's your choice. But if you ever meet Parker, drop my name. I think I made kind of an impression on him the last time we met."

Buffy's face turned red as she tried to hold in her laughter.

"What?" Faith asked.

"Nothing," said Xander.

Faith shook her head. "Whatever. So where am I sleeping tonight?"

"Giles's spare room," Xander said. "We also have all the Scooby meetings at his place now, so you won't have far to go for that."

"Wow. Looks like you guys really thought this out. How long were you arguing while I lay here in a coma?"

"We didn't argue for very long, Faith. Two days ago, we talked about it and decided it was worth it, and yesterday I moved out of Giles's to make room for you. This is pretty much as early as we could make it."

"You said you had your powers for a couple months now. Took you that long to think about me? I'm flattered."

"I've had my powers for a few months now, yeah. I've been back in Sunnydale for just over a week, and I had the thought pretty much as soon as I found out I could heal people, which was a day after I got back. I didn't say anything for a few days because I wasn't sure how people would take it. And I was a little preoccupied with this infatuation I had."

"Had?" Buffy asked.

"More than that, now," Xander said, smiling at Buffy. "Was then, too."

Buffy grinned up at him.

"Oh, God," said Faith. "If I'm going to have to put up with this shit, just put me back in the coma."

A young male nurse walked in with a small box, which he placed at the foot of the bed. "Well, it looks like all the paperwork has gone through, miss. Here's all your belongings. You're free to go, but the doctor would like you to come back in soon for some more tests. Her phone number is in there as well."

"Thanks," Xander said. "So we can go as soon as she's ready?"

The nurse nodded. "She's all done on our end."

"Great," Xander said. "Thanks for your help."

The nurse nodded again and walked out of the room.

"Okay, Faith. You get dressed, we'll be right outside."

"Sure thing, Boytoy."

"Could you not call him that?" Buffy asked.

"No prob, B. Now get out of here. You too, lover."

Xander's eyebrow shot up.

"Faith?" Buffy said.


"Boytoy's fine."

Faith smirked. "Thought so."

Chapter 16

"So, Faith, this will be your room for as long as you wish it," said Giles.

"You mean I'm not under lock and key?"

"You're not a prisoner, Faith. I am merely providing the use of my spare room because we realized you were likely unable to pay for lodging of your own, and we didn't want you to feel as if you had to make it on your own from the start."

"Thanks, Jeeves. That's real decent of you."

"Yes, well. While it is your room as long as you want, I do imagine you will eventually seek your own apartment. I would believe that living with an old, stuffy, British former librarian is, in fact, not the housing choice most independent young women would make."

"That mean you won't be insulted when I move out?"


"Got it."

"Now, as to your, um, apparel…"

"Please tell me there ain't a dress code."

"No, no, not as such. I was merely inquiring as to the state, or rather the extent, of your wardrobe."

Faith shot him a questioning look.

Giles cleaned his glasses. "Are you in need of any more clothing?"

"Oh. Yeah, I could use some new duds, but it ain't urgent."

"Ah. Well, Xander has laid aside a portion of his recent earnings for your use, and I suggest that might be a responsible use for some of it."

"Right, money for clothes. Got it."

"Excellent. Well… it is rather late. If you need anything, I'll be upstairs. Feel free to take from the kitchen as you will."

"Sure thing."

"Well… good night."

Faith nodded and Giles walked out of the room.

"Hey, Giles!" she called after a moment, jogging out of the room.

"Yes, Faith?"

"Um… look, you didn't have to take me in or nothin'… so… I kinda… well…"

Giles smiled at her and nodded. "Of course. You are quite welcome."

"Great. Hey, why was X livin' here anyway? Don't he got a place of his own?"

"That is… not my story to tell."

"Right. Okay. Well… so long."

"Goodnight," said Giles.


11:45 the next morning.


"Yeah, Steve?"

"Brunette here to see you. Sexy broad. Don't worry, I won't tell your girlfriend."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Nothing to tell."

Xander put down his saw and walked to the front of the site.

"Faith. Hi. How'd you sleep?"

"Pretty good. That's a comfy bed Jeeves has."

"Yeah, I know. What's up?"

"I'm heading out to go shopping, Giles wanted me to ask if you'd stop by after work. Something about training, I wasn't really paying attention."

Xander laughed. "Yeah. I'll be sure to do that. How are you feeling?"

"A little sore, still. I guess three months of bed rest will do that. I'll be okay."

"Good. You know, Faith, if you want to talk about what happened…"

"Yeah. Got it. Hey, when do I get to patrol?"

"Soon. Tomorrow at the latest, probably. I'm warning you though, there's been a serious lack of vamp activity recently."

"Right. Okay, well, I'm out. Thanks for the cash, by the way."

"Just don't blow it. There isn't any more where that came from."

"Right. Catch ya later, Boytoy," Faith said, as she walked away, putting a definite sway in her hips for the men on the site. Numerous whistles and catcalls made their way down from the heights of the building that was being put up.

"Damn, Harris," said Steve as Xander walked back to his work. "You do know how to pick 'em."

Xander shook his head. "Picking has nothing to do with it."

Steve raised an eyebrow at the comment, but said nothing and walked off.


Thirty minutes later

"Harris! Your blonde is here!"

Xander cringed. "Steve, do me a favor. Don't call her my blonde."

"Right. Taking lunch, I assume?"


"Gotcha. One hour."


Xander walked to the front of the site, dropping his hardhat off on the way and grabbing a shirt to cover his tank top.

"Heya, Buff."

She looked at him with an expression halfway between amusement and annoyance.

"Your blonde?" she asked.

"Heard that, huh? Yeah. I asked him not to call you that. Don't know if it'll work or not."

"I see."

Xander grinned. "Want to get lunch?"

"Yup," she said, smiling at him and grabbing his hand. "Come on, there's a cute little Italian place that just opened up not far from here."

Xander rested his arm across her shoulders. "Where you lead, I shall follow."

Buffy leaned up and kissed him. "Damn right you will."


Two and a half hours later

"Harris. Man. Another brunette for you."

Xander nodded. "The ex," he said.

Steve glared at him. "She is your ex?" he asked incredulously.

Xander nodded.

"And the blonde is your current?"

Xander nodded.

"So what's the other brunette? Another ex?"

"No," Xander sighed. "She was my… first."

"Oh. Damn, man."

Xander shrugged and walked up to the front of the site again.

"Hi, Cordy," he said. Noticing the zebra-striped van behind her, he waved at Oz in the driver's seat. "What's up?"

"Oz has a gig in LA tonight, so he's giving me a ride home. I came around to say bye."

She leaned in for a hug, which he returned.

"It was good seeing you again, Cor," Xander said.

"You too, Xander. You keep in touch. And treat Buffy right, or else you'll have to deal with me."

Xander smiled. "Have a safe trip. Oz is driving, right?"

Cordelia smacked his arm. "Jerk!"

"All right, all right. Bye, Cordy."


Xander watched Cordelia get in the van, and waved as she and Oz drove off.

Xander shook his head and went back to work.


Fifteen minutes later

"What now, Steve?"

"Another blonde. For you. I swear man, how do you do it? Did you not have a redhead, so you made up for it with two of each other color?"

Xander looked at Steve. "I'm real lucky the Boss isn't here today."

"Say that again. This one's older than the rest, but still good lookin'."

Xander's eyes lit up in recognition. "My girlfriend's mother, Steve."

"Your girlfriend comes from good stock, Harris."

Xander shook his head. "Don't I know it."

He walked up to the front of the site, dropping off his hardhat and picking up his shirt again, which he donned before he met Joyce.

"Hey, Mrs. S. How's it going?"

"Hi Xander. I just wanted to drop by to tell you that I've just gotten a phone call at the gallery, and I have to go out of town for a few days to solidify a deal for a new exhibit I hope to be showing soon."

Xander nodded. "Okay. Well, I've still got the key Buffy gave me last year."

"Great," Joyce said. "There's some pasta in the fridge, and we're fully stocked up on sodas."

Xander grinned. "You're the best, Mrs. S."

Joyce smiled at him. "Thank you, Xander."

"Have a safe trip, Mrs. S."

"Of course. I'll see you in a few days."


Xander shook his head again and walked back to his work.


One hour later


Men around the worksite looked towards the sound, then at Xander, who started banging his head on an I-beam.


"Yeah, Steve?"

"Your redhead is here."



"She's my best friend, Steve."

"So you've never…"

"No. Well, not much. But continue that line of thinking and I will get very unhappy."

Xander walked up to see Willow, and heard from behind him, "What the hell did he mean 'not much'?"

"Hey, Wills. What's up?"

"Xander, why did that man yell when I asked for you?"

"You're not the only person to come see me today, Will."

"Oh. You mean Buffy for lunch and Cordy to say bye?"

"Them. Also Faith to tell me Giles wants to see me after work, and Mrs. Summers to tell me she's leaving town for a few days. The guys got a little jealous."


"What guy wouldn't be? I'm hanging around with five beautiful women. And they're construction workers. Women hanging around the site for one guy…"

"Okay. Well, anyway, I'm picking up dinner from Gino's Pizza later for all of us, to bring to Giles's. So give me money."

"Wills, you didn't even ask what I want."

She rolled her eyes. "Xander, you've ordered the same thing every time we go there for the last eight years. A 12" meatball sub, waffle fries, mozzarella sticks and a large Coke, which I won't be getting this time because Giles has drinks."

Xander grinned and pulled a twenty dollar bill from his pocket. "Here you go. That's for Buffy, too."

Willow smiled at him. "Good. I'm keeping the change, for delivery costs and ice cream."

Xander nodded. "See you later, Will."

She waved. "Bye, Xan."

Xander walked back to the where he was working and saw a group of six men standing by, waiting for him.

"Uh… hi, guys."

"Harris," Steve said.

"What's up?"

"We've taken a vote."

"Oh. About?"


"Ah. And?"

"We've decided that we're going to lobby the Boss to make you employee of the week. Not everyday we get women like that visiting."

Xander grinned. "It won't happen often, you know."

"Not often is better than never."

Xander laughed and picked up his nailgun. "I guess so."

"Also, you're taking the rest of the day off. We can't take any more distractions, we're getting behind. So leave. Come back tomorrow, and tell your women to stay away."

"They're not the type to take orders."

Steve grinned. "That's what we're hoping."

Xander smiled, put the nailgun down and ran for the exit. "Later guys!"


"Giles? You here?" Xander yelled as he entered the older man's apartment.

"Just a moment!" Giles yelled back from upstairs.

Xander went into the kitchen and grabbed a Coke from the fridge then sat down at the table.

Giles came down the stairs a minute later muttering about a prophecy and carrying a few books.

"Hey, Giles." Xander said. "Faith said something about training?"

"Xander. Hello." Giles took a deep breath. "I have something I need to tell you."


"The training was just something to tell Faith. What we must discuss is much more important that."

"Okay. Hit me with it."

Giles sighed. "There is no easy way to tell you this, so I'll just come out and say it. Buffy… may not be your soul mate."

"WHAT!?" Xander yelled, shooting up from his chair.

"Xander, please, calm down."

"No, I will not calm down! What the hell do you mean she may not be my soul mate? Me White Knight, she Chosen One. It's pretty simple!"

"It is not that simple, Xander. If you would stop and think a moment, you will realize that Buffy is not the only Chosen One."

"I…" Xander stopped and frowned. Then he sat down roughly. "What have you read?" he asked softly.

"Nothing certain. It's just, a friend in the Council has sent me a few texts dealing with White Knight lore, and you, it appears, are a special case among the many White Knights. There are quite a few references to the White Knight who deals with two Slayers. Obviously, that is you. Now, it says nothing specifically identifying which Slayer is your soul mate, but there is a passage that references how the truth will come out."

Xander shook his head in disbelief. "Giles, shouldn't the fact that we're in love be enough? I'd die for Buffy."

Giles looked at him. "And would you do less for Faith? Or perhaps Willow? Cordelia? Xander, you care for them all, and by your very nature, you would give yourself to protect them all."

"Shouldn't love be enough?"

"It is my most desperate hope that it is, Xander, I tell you this truthfully. Buffy… is like a daughter to me, and you have made her happier than Angel ever did. You have taken away her pain. I hope that it does turn out you are her soul mate. But with the possibility that you are not, I thought it best to tell you about it. To make you aware."

Xander sighed and nodded. "Okay. What does the passage say?"

Giles opened the book he was holding and read.

"'Valued of the Order of White shall be a Companion to the Chosen Two. His title bestowed by the Wayward Soul, it shall be One who grants him his Mantle. Seekers of Redemption aide the White Knight, as he shall be Witness and Mentor to one like himself but lacking. In his Witnessing and Companionship shall his Chosen Two meet their happiness. Only when his Mantle is bestowed, shall he know who is but Companion and who is Completion, for his Other-Half is powerless to name.'"

Xander was quiet for a moment, then spoke. "So, one of them will… what, give me a new name, and whoever does… isn't my soul mate?"

"It appears that is correct, yes. Have either of them called you something similar to a White Knight?"

Xander shook his head. "No. Buffy pretty much calls me Xan, or Xander, or sweetie, or baby…" he trailed off and smiled softly. Then he shook his head. "Yeah. Anyway, Faith calls me either X or Boytoy."

Giles raised his eyebrow at that.

"Pretty much to piss off Buffy, I think."

"Ah. Well… I thought you should be aware of the situation. I… deemed it best not to tell either of the girls. For Faith, it might get her hopes up. She doesn't even know that all Slayers have a soul mate. For Buffy… well, she's so happy right now. I haven't the heart."

Xander nodded. "Okay. I agree, I guess. Thank you, Giles."

"I'm sorry."

"Nothing to be sorry about. Not yet, anyway. The way I figure, we let things play out pretty much as they are. And if the time comes that… things have to change, well, we'll just deal with it. For now, I'm going to continue assuming that Buffy is the one, because I'm so in love with her it's not even funny."

Giles nodded his assent. "I truly do hope you are right, Xander."

"Me too, Giles." Xander sighed. "Okay. I'm going to go back to the house, take a shower, change, and then I'll meet you guys back here for dinner."

"Right. See you in a little while then."

Xander waved at Giles as he walked out of the apartment and into the street.

Chapter 17

"Hey, sweetie," Buffy said, grinning as Xander re-entered Giles's apartment.

Xander walked over to Buffy, pulled her up from her chair and kissed her passionately.

"Mmm…" she said. "Not complaining, but was there any reason for that?"

Xander smiled at her. "Just missed you is all," he said.

Gagging noises could be heard from the kitchen. They turned to see Faith watching them and pretending to stick her finger down her throat. Buffy stuck her tongue out at the Dark Slayer and sat back down. Xander smiled at her, and sat down as well, lifting his feet up onto the table.

"Did you have a productive day shopping?" he asked.

"Yeah, buddy!" Faith said. "Oh man, there was this wicked sale at the mall. All the best stuff for like half price."

"Great," Xander said. "Where's the G-man?"

"He went with Willow to get the food," Buffy said, taking Xander's hand in her own and smiling at the contact.

"Excellent. I am definitely in the mood for munchies."

"I know what you mean, X. Shopping takes it out of a girl, I feel like I could eat a horse."

Xander nodded. "By the way, I'd like to thank both of you for helping me get named employee of the week."

"You were named employee of the week?" Buffy asked.

Xander shook his head. "No. But if the guys have anything to say about it, I will be."

"Well, what the hell did we have to do with that?" Faith asked.

Xander chuckled. "There was a long parade of women visiting me at the site today, and the guys felt a show like that should merit me an award."

"Just how long a parade are we talking?" Buffy asked, squeezing Xander's hand.

Xander squeezed her hand right back and smiled at her. "You, Faith, Cordy, your mom and Willow. After that, they kicked me off the site early for causing too many distractions, vowed to lobby the Boss to make me employee of the week, and told me to order you guys not to come around anymore."

"Order?" Buffy asked.

"That's what they said."

Buffy grinned wickedly at Faith. "I don't much like orders."

"I'm right there with ya, B."

Xander shook his head, smiling to himself.

"Hey, guys!" Willow said, entering the apartment ahead of Giles.

"Hey, Will," Buffy said. "Did you know that us females were ordered to stay away from Xander's work site?"

Willow raised an eyebrow. "Ordered?"

Willow set the bag she was holding on the table, then she, Buffy and Faith put their heads together to come up with a plan.

"Oh dear," said Giles. "Xander, you didn't."

"Not me. Steve, one of the guys I work with."

"Has he any idea?"

"I'm pretty sure he knew exactly what he was doing," Xander said, smirking.

Giles cleaned his glasses. "Do be careful."

Xander nodded, then went rummaging through the food. "Oooh… mozzarella sticks!"


"Do you see any guards or sentries or anything?" asked Buffy.

"Nope," Xander said, pulling the binoculars down from his eyes. They were lying on top of a roof a couple blocks away from the building in question. "Are we sure this is the right factory?"

"Well, Willy said the one Spike used to use. This is the only one he ever used, so far as I know, anyway."

"Yeah. I don't get it. With the number of vamps Willy's talking about, surely one of them would have thought to post guards."

Xander shook his head. "I don't like it."

"I don't like it either. I also think I'm really glad we woke Faith up, because this is starting to creep me out."

"You two seem to be getting along pretty well."

Buffy considered this for a moment. "Yeah. Well, I mean, Chosen Two, you know? Plus, after I stabbed her, she did give me the key to defeating the mayor. I think she kind of forgave me, and that certainly made it a lot easier for me to forgive her. Hey, what's that over there?"

Xander raised the binoculars again. "Huh. Looks like.. about 5 guys, with weird looking guns. They're dressed in Army camo… odd clothes for an urban area, don't you think?"

"Yeah. Won't fit in very well. Think we should report it to Giles?"

"I guess we better. See if he knows anything. That's great about you and Faith, by the way.

"Well, it's not like we're best buds or anything. But… yeah. We're cool. I even think Willow was opening up to her during dinner, don't you?"

"A little. Not much."

"Not much? They were gabbing like they were old friends."

Xander nodded. "Yeah. But Will was mostly acting. She's still not comfortable around Faith, which is understandable. She did try to kill us and all. Some people take that kind of thing harder than others."

"She was acting? How could you tell?"

Xander shrugged. "It's Willow."

Buffy thought for a second. "You know… I'm glad you have a friend like her."

Xander raised an eyebrow. "She's your friend too, you know."

Buffy smiled and shifted onto her side so she was looking at him. "Of course I know that, doofus. But you guys have something special. And at times, it makes me a little jealous… not of her connection with you, but… well, I never had anybody that close when I was growing up."

Xander nodded. "It's… nice. Having somebody who knows me that well."

"I guess it would be."

Xander rolled onto his back and pulled Buffy to him.

"You know, she doesn't know everything about me. There are things that you know that she doesn't."

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

"Well, for starters, she's never seen me on my knees with flowers, candy and balloons."

Buffy laughed.

"I can also say with a fair amount of certainty that I have never slept with her while in just my boxers. Footy pajamas are a different story."

"Mmm… that's a nice one to know," she said, snuggling into his arms.

"And I never told her about my parents."

Buffy sat up. "What? But you said…"

"I said she knew. She did. Does. Whatever. But I never actually out and told her the whole story. She probably guessed, but as far as actually talking about it? You're the only person I've ever told. She was always there when I needed her, but I never wanted to talk about it, and she understood that. I knew I could talk to her about it if I wanted to."

Buffy leaned forward and kissed Xander. "I think she should know, though. Don't you?"

"Yeah, she should. And I'll tell her, because that was her time."

"Her time?"

Xander nodded. "Will's been my best friend since forever, and she always will be. We have a shared history that nobody can touch."

Buffy smiled, a little sadly, knowing that that was a part of the man she loved that she could never share. "We don't have a past like that."

Xander placed a finger gently under her chin lifted it, so he could look into her eyes. "No," he said. "But we have a future."

The couple lay there for a few minutes, just taking pleasure in each other's company.

"I should walk you back to the dorm."

"No. Willow and Oz are there."

Xander raised his eyebrow. "That's a little rude, what with Oz having his own place."

"I told them to."

"I must be missing something here."

"Mom's out of town."

"I really was missing something there."

Buffy kissed him, stood up and walked to the ladder at the edge of the building. She turned and looked over her shoulder. "Coming? Or am I sleeping alone tonight in my big, cold bed?"

"I couldn't let that happen," Xander said, hopping up and following Buffy to the ladder.

"That's what I thought," she said, smiling.


Buffy leaned against the door to her room wearing nothing but one of Xander's sweatshirts.

"Hey, baby," she said.

Xander looked up from the comic he had been reading while she was in the shower, saw her and started to drool a little.

"Ah… hey, Buff… nearly buff Buff, heh. Whatcha doin'?"

She smiled seductively. "Now? Nothing."


"But I hope that changes."


She pouted. "You don't seem too excited."

"Excited? Oh, I'm um… excited."

"Don't you think I'm sexy?"

"More than anything."

She grinned. "Wanna find out how much?"

Xander closed his eyes and shuddered. "Buffy, please believe me when I say that I have dreamt about this for years. How this would happen. What you would say. What I would say. And do. To you. And I'm lying here, and none of what I dreamed even comes close to how gorgeous you look right now."

Buffy's grin got bigger.

"But we can't."

She frowned.

"Why not?"

Xander sighed.

"It's very complicated right now, but suffice to say… when we do, and God knows that I want to, I want it to be perfect. And if we were to right now… it wouldn't be."

"You and me alone together isn't perfect?" she asked, her frown deepening.

"Buffy, it is. God, you can't believe how perfect it is. But… you know the old line 'it's not you, it's me'? Well, it really, really, really isn't you. And it really, really, really is me."

"Xan, I don't understand…" she said softly, unsure of herself.

"Buffy, come here," he said.

She approached him slowly, and he pulled her up into his lap and wrapped her tightly in his arms.

"I love you, Buffy. I love you so much. I miss you when I'm at work. I miss you when you're at school. Hell, I missed you when you went to shower, and you were 20 feet away in the same building. You make me feel like I've never felt before in my life. Like a man. When you're in my arms, like you are now, I just feel this overwhelming sense of peace. My mind is calm, and it's like nothing else in the world matters. At the same time, I get excited… at the thoughts of what could be, how beautiful you look every single time I see you. It's like I'm two different people. And right now, both of them want nothing more than to be with you, in the most intimate of ways."

"So why…"

"Because it wouldn't be right. Right now, tonight, it's not the right thing to do. And I know that you don't like that answer, and that you don't understand, and I wish to God I could make you understand. But for now, I'm going to have to ask you to trust me. I love you, Buffy. But tonight, we can't."

Buffy sighed and rested her head against his chest.

"Do you know when?"

"No," he said. "But soon."

Buffy nodded, and they lay there in each others arms until they fell asleep.



"Yeah, Xander?"

"Boss in today?"

"Nope. Checked in a half hour ago, but he's got a new site to get up and running."

"Okay. Promise me one thing."

"What's that?"

"Don't kill me."


Xander shook his head. "Just… please understand that I had nothing to do with it."

"With what?"

"I don't know."


Xander shook his head again. "Nothing. I'll just get to work."

"You do understand I have no clue what you're talking about?"

"I know."

"Just so long as we're clear. Oh, yeah, Harris, one more thing."

"Yeah Steve?"

"Another girl showed up about ten minutes after you left yesterday."


"Yeah. Said she went to the prom with you."

"You're joking."

"Nope. Swear to God."

"You told her that I moved, right?"

Steve grinned. "Actually, if she follows my advice, she'll be here in about five minutes."

"You didn't."

"I did."

Xander sighed. "Okay. I'll just wait here for her, then."

"Right. Keep it short."

"Trust me, I will."

Xander waited around at the entrance to the construction site for a few minutes when he saw who he was looking for.

"Anya. Hi," he said.

"Hello, Xander. How are you?'

"I'm pretty good. A little surprised to see you, but pretty good. I thought you left?"

"I did. I'm back now."

"Yeah, but I thought you left for good."

"Well, I did too. But I couldn't keep you out of my head for some reason, and I read somewhere that the way to get over somebody is to copulate."


"Copulate. You know, an exchange of bodily fluids."

"Yes, Anya, I know what copulation is."

"Good. So, then, I will see you tonight, and we will make our bodies interlock, yes?"


Anya looked surprised. "Why not? Is this not a preferred activity for you?"

"It's not that, it's just I can't."

"No? Do you not function properly? Because there are pills that you can take…"

"No! I function just fine, but I can't… copulate… with you. I'm seeing somebody. How did you know I worked here, anyway?"

"I went to your house, but they said you didn't live there anymore, but that I could find you here or with a man called Giles. I didn't know where Giles was, so I came here."

"Okay, fine. The point is that I can't do that with you, because I'm with Buffy now."

"Buffy? I thought she was with Angel."

"She was. Now she's with me."

"Hmm. Promiscuous little girl, isn't she?"

"Hey! That's my girlfriend you're talking about!"

"I'm sorry, did that upset you? Can I make it up to you with sexual pleasure?"

"No! Look, just…" Xander rolled his eyes. "You'll have to find some other way of getting over me, okay? Sex is not an option."

"Fine! I didn't like you anyway!" Anya yelled, before smacking him and walking away.

Xander shook his head, said, "She is the strangest girl," then went back to work.

Chapter 18

12:30 pm

"Holy shit."


"I have died and gone to heaven."


"I gotta get me some of that!"


"I'm dead."

Xander walked slowly towards the entrance to the construction site, hanging his head as the men around him continued to stare and mutter surprised, and not infrequently obscene, comments. Somebody on one of the higher levels kicked a bucket of bolts which fell clattering to the ground. Nobody noticed.

Xander got to the front of the site and took a good look.

Buffy was there, dressed in very tight, very shiny black leather pants that rode low on her hips and exposed the top of her thong. She was wearing a backless white shirt that was held together by two knots, one around her neck, and one at the small of her back. It left her midriff bare for all to see. Her shoes were black, and of the strappy variety, with 4-inch heels. She was, obviously, braless.

Faith was also there. She was wearing a black leather mini-skirt that could barely be considered more than a belt. This, combined with her tall black boots with 3-inch heels and a tube top so small that it left almost nothing to the imagination, completed a look that had the construction workers drooling.

And then there was Willow. Willow stood there in a blue and gray plaid skirt that came almost down to her knees, regular style ladies dress shoes, and a button-up white shirt that was tied off about three inches above her belly button, and unbuttoned from the top to just below her bra-line, exposing the black satin bra underneath. Her hair was up in pigtails, and she had a lollipop in her mouth which she was sucking suggestively.

Oz stood behind the girls with a camera and a smile.

As soon as they saw him, all three girls rushed up to Xander and draped themselves over him, playing with his hair and rubbing his chest.


"Mr. Harris. Is this what you said you had nothing to do with?"

"Yeah. This is exactly what I was talking about."

"I see. You didn't know this was going to happen?"

"This specifically? No. I thought something would."

"I see."

"Am I dead?"



"Hmm… No."

"Do I get a raise?"

"Definitely not."

"Damn. So… what do you want me to do?"

Steve sighed and looked at his watch. "Lunch. Come back alone. I'll try to have them calmed down by then."

"Right. Sorry."

Steve grinned at him and shook his head. "Tell me what brand of cologne you wear."

"Just Old Spice deodorant."

Steve nodded. "I'm switching."

Xander walked off with one arm around Buffy, one around Faith, and Willow skipping happily ahead of him.

Raucous applause broke out as all four climbed in the back of Oz's van and drove off.


Inside the van, Xander was banging his head against the paneling.

"I cannot believe you guys did that."

Willow, Buffy and Faith were all grinning.

"And you!" Xander yelled, turning and pointing at Oz. "You're a guy! You're supposed to be on my side! We gotta stick together, man."

Oz stuck his thumb at Willow and shrugged.

Xander's shoulders slumped. "They will never let me live this down."

Buffy jumped in his lap and threw her arms around his neck, putting on her best pouting face.

"I'm sorry, sweetie," she said as she looked at him with big, round puppy dog eyes. "Forgive me?"

Xander rolled his eyes, wrapped his arms around her and gave her a peck on the nose.

"Of course," he said. "But please, for the love of God, don't do that again."

Buffy grinned at him.

"That goes for you two, as well!" Xander said, glaring at Willow and Faith. "Not that I didn't appreciate the attention."

Buffy leveled a disapproving look at him.

"No, see, that didn't come out like how I meant it. What I meant to say was that, well all guys would like the affections of three attractive young women."

Buffy tilted her head to one side, but maintained her scornful look.

"Right, um, see, what I mean is…"

"He loves you," Oz said.

"Yes! Yes, that is exactly what I mean."

Buffy grinned. "I love you too, sweetie," she said, giving Xander a quick peck on the cheek before she hopped out of his lap. "So, where to for lunch?"


Xander peeked his head around the fence. Seeing nobody, he moved quickly and quietly to the hardhat rack, grabbed the one marked "Harris" and moved back to where he was working. He picked up his measuring tape and started marking off distances, but his hardhat kept slipping over his eyes. Xander took off his hard hat and set it down next to him, figuring that it was pretty safe to measure lengths without protective head gear.

It was then that he noticed the quiet. Xander looked around and saw nobody. At all. This was odd, because it was 1:45 in the afternoon, and the crew wasn't set to get off before 5:00. Xander heard a sound from above him and looked up… just in time to see construction workers on crossbeams four stories high pour bucket after bucket of water on him.

As the guys on the crew broke up laughing, Xander stood there, drenched, with a grim look on his face. He waved up at the crew, saying "Thanks guys. Thank you. Thanks."

Steve poked his head out from above, his face red from laughter, and yelled, "All right guys! Fun's over. Back to work."

Xander stood there with a grimace, nodding as he wiped off his face, and then shook himself and splashed water everywhere, thanking his co-workers as they returned to ground level, all of them grinning.

Steve came up to him. "Back to work, Harris."

Xander nodded. "Yes, sir," he said, flicking one of his sleeves at the older man, spraying him with water. "Thank you very much, sir."

Steve let out a hearty laugh, slapped Xander on the back and walked off to his own work.


"So, what did you two find out last night?" Giles asked.

"Well," said Xander, "we found the factory just fine, but it was pretty dead looking. No guards, no patrols, nobody looking out or anything like that. We couldn't really tell if anybody was there."

"And, how many vampires did Willy say were involved?"

"Thirty, give or take," answered Buffy.

"Right. Well, what say you three take another look at the factory, do a quick sweep, and if nothing shows up, turn in for the night."

Xander and Buffy nodded. Faith looked up from where she was whittling a stake.

"Three?" she asked.

Giles looked at her. "Yes. Why, do you not feel up to going?"

"Nah, I'm ready, Jeeves."

"Oh, Giles, one more thing," said Buffy.


"We saw some guys last night, dressed in Army camouflage and carrying some odd guns. About five people. Know anything about it?"

"No, I've not heard of anything like that. Perhaps another visit to Willy, soon?

"Sounds like fun."

"Good. Then be careful. I shall see you later."

"Told you it would be today at the latest, Faith," Xander said.

"And the latest it is," she replied. "Well, stop sitting around, let's go kick some undead ass!"

Buffy and Xander laughed at the Dark Slayer's enthusiasm and followed her out the door.


"Where's all the undead ass?" Faith asked on their second time through the graveyards.

"It's not around so much, anymore," said Buffy. "Went away for the summer and never came back."

Xander had gone home after the first sweep, since he was the only person in the group who had to get up early the next day. Buffy assured him she would be joining him later.

"So, you and X shackin' up, or what?"

Buffy laughed at the bluntness of the question. "Define 'shackin' up'," Buffy said.

"You know, are you two gettin' horizontal?"

"Well, we sleep together, and technically that is horizontal, but to answer your question, no. Why?"

"Just wondering how long till you get to his goods."

"And you have something to say about his goods?"

"B, I ain't tryin' to say I want him or nothing, cuz you two got somethin' special. But X-man… well, he'll take care of your needs."

Buffy smiled at her, then frowned.

"Uh… why with the sad all of a sudden?"

"Well, last night…"

"Last night what, B?"

"I wanted to… you know, with him."

"Something go wrong?"

"I don't know. I don't think so. I mean, he said he wanted to, and… you know, with me. But he said it wouldn't be right."

"Well, I'm sure he had a good reason. Xander's not the type to make shit up."

Buffy looked at her.

"What? I can use people's names when I want to. Buffy."

"Whatever you say… F."


"So what should I do, Will?" Xander asked his best friend at lunch the next day. Buffy had a test to study for, so couldn't join them.

"I don't know, Xan," Willow said. "I mean, you love Buffy. Everybody knows that. Once the thing about soul mates came out, it just seemed to fit you guys. I can't imagine you and Faith ever being as happy as you and Buffy. And I'm not just saying that because I don't like Faith, I really mean it."

"You see? Me too. But I can't help but think 'what if,' you know?"

"I do know. I mean she's a… well, she's nice enough, I suppose, once you get past that whole 'she tried to kill us lots' thing, which I really am trying to do because I see that she's trying to be better and I know she can be good and I know she's a good fighter and I realize that we need her for back up even if it has been really quiet these past few weeks even though that really isn't the point because the forces of darkness always need to be pushed back but I really don't think that she can make you happy, Xander."

Xander checked his watch. "Impressive length on that one."

"I've been practicing."

"It shows. Anyway, I agree with you. So I've just been going by the notion of, 'Xander love Buffy. Xander and Buffy together. Xander happy.' But…"

"But there's a part of you that says you need to know.

Xander nodded. "And it keeps getting louder and more insistent. I don't know how long I can take it, Will. I just need to be sure."

"Well, I guess you've gotta have… er, you have to trust that it will all work out for the best."

"I guess. Kinda sucks, though."

"It really does."


"Hey, Faith."

"Boytoy. How's building stuff?"

"It's good work, not horrible pay, and can keep me interested, so not bad."


"Buffy not around?"

"Nope. She and Red had some stuff to do at the dorm, said they'd show around six."

"Cool. Hey, I need to tell you something."

"Go for it."

"Well… I wanted to apologize to you… for the way we all used to treat you."

"Whoa, whoa. You're apologizing to me? Somehow that doesn't mesh with my worldview of this whole 'repenting for my sins' deal."

"Yeah, I know, but look. We treated you like crap. I mean, you showed up, and instead of treating you like a person, we kind of… tried to make you into a new Buffy, which you are definitely not."

Faith's eyes dropped.

"That's not a bad thing, Faith. I love Buffy, but if everybody in the world were like her it would be a pretty boring place. Or maybe I'd have a lot of girlfriends…hmm…."

Faith rolled her eyes.

"Anyway," Xander continued, "the point is, you're your own person, and we treated you like you were a stand-in for her, which you aren't. You're a Slayer, which means you're a champion, and not a stand-in for anybody. You've got your own destiny and stuff. It was unfair to you, and I'm sorry."

Faith smiled. "Well thanks, X. And I'm sorry I tried to choke the life out of you when you came to reach out to me. It was shitty of me."

Xander laughed. "Yeah, it was, but I forgive you."

He held out his hand to her. "Friends?"

Faith rolled her eyes and smacked his hand away. "Yeah, whatever."

"Great," Xander said. "All that being said, I have a favor to ask that might sound contradictory to everything I just said, but it really isn't intended as such."

"What is it?"

"Can you take over patrolling tomorrow night? It's my one week anniversary with Buffy and I want to take her out somewhere special."

"A week!? A fucking week? You're shitting me on many different levels here, aren't you?"

"Um… what?"

"Oh come on, X! There's no way even you are cheesy enough to do the one-week anniversary."

"You'd be surprised at the levels of cheesiness I can attain."

"Not only that, but no chance in Hell do I believe you guys just got together a week ago. You guys are way too lovey-dovey for that. Makes me sick."

"Well, believe it Faith. We're that much in love," Xander said, grinning.

"Christ, X. You already follow her around like she's a Goddess or something, and you know you're her White Knight. Why don't you just dedicate a religion to your perfect little princess and name yourself her fucking Paladin!?"

Xander froze. "What did you just say?"

Faith looked at his face and frowned. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean…"

"No, Faith, I don't care about that. What did you just say?"

"Um… you should dedicate a religion to her and name yourself her Paladin?"

Xander grinned, leapt out of his seat, grabbed Faith by the shoulders and kissed her full on the mouth. "HA!" he yelled. "I knew it! Faith, you're fantastic! You're great, I love you!"

"Jesus, X, you don't have to go psycho. I'll take the fucking patrols. Have your little night off."

Xander wasn't listening. "Giles!" he yelled. "Giles, where are you?"

Giles poked his head out from the top of the stairs. "Xander?" he asked. "Is something wrong?"

"No!" he yelled "Everything is great! Faith called me a Paladin! I have to find Buffy!"

Xander ran to the door and tried to open it. It wouldn't move. Then he turned the knob and pulled, instead of pushing. "Ha ha!" he yelled, turning to look at Faith. "It opens inward!" Xander ran off, slamming the door behind him. Giles walked down the stairs with an amused look on his face.

"Jeeves, what the hell was that all about?"

Giles looked over at Faith, smiled at her and said, "You just reassured him of something that, really, he already knew. Here, let me show you this book…"

Chapter 19

Xander was running up the stairs to Buffy's dorm, when he realized he had kissed Faith. Then he realized why he had done it, and hoped very strongly that Buffy would understand.

He knocked on her door, and entered when she yelled that it was open.

"Hey baby," she said when he came in, standing up to give him a kiss.

Xander grinned at her and kissed her passionately.

"Mmm… nice," she said.

"Blech," said Willow, from her desk.

Xander turned to Willow and grinned.

"What?" Willow asked.

"Faith called me a Paladin!" Xander said.

Willow squealed, then jumped up to give Xander a hug.

"Well that was fast," Willow said, grabbing the book she was studying and throwing it in her bag. "I'll give you some time to explain to Buffy."

"Thanks, Will. You're the best."

"I bet you said the same thing to Faith."

"I was pretty happy," Xander said, still grinning.

Willow nodded. "And with good reason," she said. "Okay, I'm out of here. Bye, guys."

Buffy raised an eyebrow when Xander turned around to face her again.

Xander smiled at her meekly, sat down on her bed and patted the spot next to him, where Buffy sat down.

"Okay," Xander said. "I'm going to tell you a kind of a funny story, which isn't really funny 'ha ha', but rather funny 'I'm not going to kill my boyfriend, and instead will be understanding and supportive of his elation and temporary insanity.'"

Buffy looked confused.

"Okay, let me put this another way. I'm going to tell you a story that ends with me kissing Faith about 10 minutes ago, and hope very much that you will understand my reaction."

Buffy slid away from him a little and frowned. "You kissed Faith?"

"Yes, but there was a good reason, I swear. And if Giles had been sitting there, I would have kissed him, too."

Buffy chuckled. "Well, there still better be a good reason for kissing the only woman you've had sex with when you currently have a girlfriend who is not her, and with whom you are decidedly not."

Xander winced. "There is. So I'm going to tell you."

"Okay," Buffy said. "I'm listening."

"Okay. So a couple days ago, when all you ladies came down to my site individually, Faith came by to tell me that Giles needed to see me. She said it was something about training."

"All right."

"I got off work a little early and headed over. When I got there, Giles told me that you and I might not be soul mates."

"He WHAT?"

"That's what I said. I yelled at him. I said 'Me White Knight, she Chosen One. Duh.'"


"And his response was basically, 'And Faith is what, chopped liver?'"

"But I don't get wha—oh. She's also Chosen."

"Right. But I didn't give up. I yelled. I said 'Hey, man, but I love Buffy! That should be enough, damn it!'"

Buffy smiled.

"And Giles said 'Yeah, but what if it isn't.'" Xander paused. "So I sat down and listened to what he had to say."

Buffy frowned.

"He read me a prophecy from a book the Council had sent that had a prophecy dealing specifically with this. It said something about the valued one from the order of white or whatever, but the main part was, it referred to Angelus naming me, but one of the Chosen giving me a new name."

"She calls you Boytoy."

"Yeah, but it would be something White Knight-ish. Anyway, it said whoever does name me will be my Companion… but not my Chosen. Which means, I guess, that Faith and I are destined to be friends, which is kind of, 'Hey, duh.' But whatever."

"I still don't see how this leads to you kissing her."

"I'm getting there."

"Okay. Sorry."

"Right. So, here's li'l ol' me with this big thing… I have a soul mate, I know that, but right now destiny's kind of being all 'column A or column B' on me, so I had to make a decision. I decided that, destiny be damned, I'm gonna be with the woman I love."

Buffy smiled again.

"And then, the other night, you wanted to… well, you were there, you know what you wanted to do."

Buffy nodded. "When I wanted to jump your bones."

Xander chuckled. "Right, that. And I said that I wanted it to be perfect, and when I saw you there, in my sweatshirt, looking as gorgeous as ever, the… sixth or seventh thing that went through my mind was 'But what if?'"

"What if?"

Xander sighed. "Buffy, when we do… get together… I want that to be it. You and no other woman for the rest of my life. And selfish as it may seem, I want it to be me, and no other man for the rest of yours. And I thought, 'But what if? What if it really is Faith?' I didn't believe it was, not for a second but I couldn't keep the 'what if?' out of my head. And I didn't want to take that step with you until I was positive that the 'what if?' was gone. And I wasn't, until today. I was never unsure of my love for you, Buffy. But you heard what Giles said about Arthur and Guinevere. Despite her love for him, she couldn't keep away from Lancelot, because they were soul mates. And I didn't ever want to be put in a position where that might happen. And Buffy, if we had… well, when we do, it'll be over for me. That's it. I'll have you, and I'll be happy."

"So, you kissed Faith because you want to be with me?"


"I'm still confused."

"I'm not explaining very well. I went over to Giles's again today, having spent the past few days basically saying to myself 'I love Buffy, but what if? Am I powerful enough to deny my soul mate if it's Faith?' So I saw her at Giles's today, and apologized for… the way things went last year, because I felt that we treated her unfairly… as a stand in for you, which she isn't. She forgave me… us, for it, and then said 'Sorry for trying to choke you to death.' At which point I asked for a favor."

"A favor?"

"Yeah. I asked her to take over patrols tomorrow night, because it's our one-week anniversary and I want to take you out and have a wonderful, special night that's just us and monster free. So I asked her, and she was a little disbelieving that: A) I'm cheesy enough to want to celebrate our one-week anniversary and that B) we've only been together for one week. So I told her that we were in love, and she got a little angry and told me to, and I quote, 'dedicate a religion to you and name myself your fucking Paladin.'"


"So, I heard her call me a Paladin, and it clicked… Paladin, White Knight, same basic deal. She named me. Which means she's my friend, and nothing more. It means that you are, as I have always believed you to be, my soul mate. My one and only, Buffy. I was so happy that I grabbed her, kissed her on the mouth, yelled at Giles that she called me a Paladin and ran out to find you. The kiss meant nothing but that I was happy, and she was there. I would have kissed Willow and Oz, and Giles and Anya if they had been there."


Xander laughed. "She showed up at the site yesterday wanting to 'copulate' to get over me. Her words, not mine. I told her I was with you, she smacked me and walked off."


"Yeah. So… do you forgive me?"

"Xander, of course I do. I mean, you could have told me though."

"I know," he said. "But I was scared. Scared of your reaction, scared that it would make things weird between us, and with Faith, and..." he shook his head. "I was just scared."

"Well. I can't very well fault you for being happy that we're soul mates, can I?" she asked, as she moved closer to him and kissed him.

"Mmm… I suppose not. And, you know, if you feel that happy, and feel the need to kiss Faith too, while I'm around with a camera, I won't object."

Buffy glared at him.

"Or, you know, not."

Buffy looked at him, and then stood up.

"Where you going?" Xander asked.

"Nowhere," Buffy said. She then pulled out a scrunchy, opened the door and slipped it over the doorknob, then shut the door and locked it.


She turned to him and grinned. "I want it to be over for you," she said, and pounced on him.

Had they had the ability to hear anything outside the room twenty minutes later, they might have heard their mutual friend Willow walk down the hall, stop outside the door and say "Oh, eww," then walk away.


Three hours later

"She actually had a scrunchy on the door?" Faith asked as she and Willow sat at a table at the Bronze.

"I swear! It was like a bad college movie, except I actually noticed it and didn't walk in on them, thank the Goddess."

"Small favors, eh Red?"

"You're telling me!"

Faith nodded to the stage. "So, what are these guys called again?"

"Dingoes Ate My Baby."

"Uh huh. And why?"

"You know, I never thought to ask."

"Might be better that way."

"Yeah. So. Uh, Faith. What do you do with your day, anyway?"

"Not too much. I sleep a lot. Can't stand that daytime TV shit Jeeves watches though, so I pretty much stay out of the way until you guys show up in the evening."

"Any thoughts about, um, what ya might wanna do with your future?"

"Well, Giles told me today about this wicked soul mate deal, so that sounds like fun. This old book he had made it seem like I'm gonna get one, so maybe I'll get some action soon, you know?"

"Um… yeah. But I kinda meant, well… you never finished high school, and a lot of people… employer types? They tend to like it when you do."

"Oh. Yeah, I guess. Although, y'all blew up the high school, so that ain't really an issue."

"Yeah. Oh! But you could get your GED! It's just a test, and then they send you the diploma and it's good."

"Never was much for tests, Red."

"Oh! But, I could, you know, help you study and stuff. We all could. And Oz! Oz is smart, with the learning and stuff? I mean, not that you have to, but if you wanted to, we could, you know?"

"I gotcha. I don't know, I'll think about it."

"Okay, well, it's just an idea. Hey, you want something to drink?"

"Sure thing, Red."

"Okay, I'll be back in a few minutes."

Faith sat drumming on the table alone as Willow walked to the bar to get them drinks.

"All alone?"

Faith turned to see a tall young man with dark hair standing behind her.

"For now," she said, smiling seductively. "My friend's over there getting some drinks."

"Guy friend?"


"Lucky me."

"Only if I say so."

"Oh? And just how does that happen?"

"Take a seat, give it a try. Never know what you'll find out."

The young man grinned, and Faith thought, 'Damn, he looks kinda like X.'


Willow stood at the bar drumming her fingers to the tune the Dingoes were playing, when her eye was caught by the two people entering the Bronze.

"Buffy! Xander! Over here!" she called.

They turned and saw her, waved and moved towards her, Xander with his arm draped over Buffy's shoulder, Buffy with her arm around his waist, and both of them had shit-eating grins plastered on their faces.

"Hey, Wills," Xander said. "What's going on?"

"Hey guys!" Willow said with a knowing smile. "Did you two have a good time?"

Buffy blushed and Xander just smiled.

"None of your business, little Miss Nosy. Giles said you and Faith were here, watching the band."

"Yup. I decided to really try to get to know her, because, well, I don't, and we were talking and it was actually pretty cool. I'm just getting us a couple of drinks."

"Great," Buffy said. "We had kind of a weird thing happen on the way over here."

"What's that?" Willow asked.

"Well, we were cutting through one of the cemeteries, and there was this demon, so we chased after him, and it was all normal and stuff. Then, he got away from us a little, but we heard what sounded like gunshots, or tazers or something, and we got to a clearing and saw burn marks on the ground, and what looked like somebody had dragged a body off."

"That is weird," said Willow.

"Yup," Xander said. "But I guess we'll check it out some other time. So where's Faith?"

Willow turned to point. "Oh she's over… heh. Hey, Xander, do you want to have some fun?"

Xander followed her line of sight and saw who Faith was talking to. He grinned.

"Got those drinks yet, Will?"

"Right here," she said, handing the two cups to him.

Buffy rolled her eyes, but did not object. Xander leaned over and kissed her before walking off towards the table Faith was at. Willow and Buffy followed at a safe distance.

Xander walked up behind Parker, reached his hand around him and slid the drink across to Faith.

"Hey, Boytoy," she said. "Didn't think you and B would be done yet."

Xander shrugged and stayed silent. Faith looked at him oddly.

"Well, take a seat. Red'll be back soon, I expect. Oh yeah, this is… sorry, I didn't get your name."

Xander grinned as the young man turned around, and said "Hi, I'm Par…."

"Your name is Par?" Faith asked. "What, are your parents golf fiends?"

"No, Faith. His name is Parker."

"Look, man, I didn't know she was a friend of yours."

Xander stayed quiet, just looking at him and smiling.

"I swear, I didn't."

Xander continued to look at him. He raised an eyebrow, and looked quickly at the exit of the club.

"Right. Umm… well, I'm… just gonna go then. So long."

Parker ran as fast as he could through the crowd, knocking over a waitress and bolting out the door.

Xander stood there a second, watching him go, then burst out laughing. Willow and Buffy joined in and stepped up to the table. A quick glance towards the stage showed Oz with a slight smirk on his face.

"What the fuck was that, X?" Faith near yelled.

Xander shook his head and sat down, along with Willow and Buffy.

"I'm sorry Faith. I won't do that again, but please trust me when I say that he is *not* the guy for you."

"What the hell did you do to scare him so much?"

"Um… I kind of punched him."

"A lot," added Buffy.

"And you put your fist through his wall," said Willow.

"Broke his stereo."

"And his bed."

"Oh, gave him that welt on his cheek."

"Put his head through a window."

"Kicked down the door of the frat house he was at."

"Oh, you slammed him face first into a phone booth."

"Then you made him pay for your phone call."

"Hey, he gave me that quarter of his own free will!" Xander said, grinning.

Faith sat there slack-jawed at the tale of what Xander had done.

"What the fuck did he do to deserve that?" she asked

They all looked down. Then Buffy slowly raised her hand, ashamed.

"What, B, is it question time?"

"Uh… Faith?" Willow said. "She's answering your question."

"What? How… oh shit, really?"

Xander wrapped his arm around Buffy as she gazed at the floor.

"Hey, baby, it's okay," he said softly, kissing the top of her head. "You're past that, right? All better? That piece of shit doesn't matter."

Buffy looked at him and smiled. "I love you."

Xander pulled her into a hug. "I love you, too." He stood up. "Come on, let's go dance."

Buffy nodded and let Xander lead her to the dance floor.

"So, what, Parker and B got it on, and Xander got jealous and beat the shit out of him?" Faith asked when the couple had gone.

"No, not exactly. I mean, yeah, Xander was jealous, but that's not why he beat up Parker. See, Buffy was having a little trouble getting over Angel, and Xander helped her with that… by accompanying her to a party so she could feel more comfortable with Parker, who she had just met. It kinda sucked for him, because he was still, obviously, in love with her. So that night Parker and Buffy… you know."

"For real? Way to go, B."

"Not exactly. The next morning, when Buffy woke up, Parker was nowhere to be seen. And he didn't come around at all, or call or anything. So a few days later, I'm sitting there consoling a crying Buffy, when Xander comes in just to say 'Hi.'"

"Sees his precious B crying."

"Right. And he has the Xanderific reaction of 'Buffy hurt. Make better.' So he stalks out of the room, and comes back like a half hour later, basically dragging Parker with one hand, forces him to apologize, then says that if he ever sees Parker near us or our dorm or anybody he knows ever again, he's going to get really angry, then he tossed him out the door, which I promptly shut."

"Wow. That's some kind of devotion."

"I know. It's kind of sweet… if it wasn't for the reason behind it, I mean. Oh, I forgot. On the way back to the dorm, carrying Parker, Xander stopped at a payphone and called Oz to get him to bring ice cream to the dorm."

Faith laughed. "Damn. Boytoy knows how to treat a woman, don't he?"

Willow smiled. "What can I say? He loves her. Actually, I think that night is really the first time Buffy saw Xander as a man, and not just a friend."

Faith nodded. "Now she knows what she's been missing. I may not have treated him well, but I always saw him."

"Me too, although, I was in love with him, so, that would make sense. I'm just glad they got it right."

"So, X told you about the prophecy thing?"


"Jeeves showed it to me, too. Apparently, I'm supposed to get a soul mate?"

"That's what Xander said, although he didn't really focus on it at the time. But yeah, according to the Council, all Slayers have one. It's just a matter of finding him."

Faith chuckled, bitterly. "Not much chance of that, huh? Not like I deserve it, anyway."

"Oh, don't say that," Willow said. "I mean, sure you made mistakes… some pretty bad ones… but you're trying to make up for it, right? Doing the good guy thing. Who's to say you won't find happiness, too?"

"I don't know, Red."

"Well… I guess we'll just have to see."

Chapter 20

"So, taking precious time out from studying to have a picnic, are we girls?" asked a tall, light-haired man the next day. Buffy and Willow had the idea the previous night, and invited the whole group, including Giles, and Joyce, who had returned late the previous night, to eat lunch on the lawn at the campus, bringing sandwiches, drinks and chips for a nice early afternoon meal.

They all looked up at the intruder, recognition flashing over the faces of Buffy and Willow.

"Oh, hey, Riley!" Willow said. "Guys, this is Riley Finn, one of the TA's for the psych class Buffy and I have. Riley, these are our friends. This is Oz, my boyfriend, that's Xander, Buffy's boyfriend and my best friend, Faith, with whom we are also friends, Mrs. Summers and Giles, who is our… older friend. Oh, but not in a gross way."

Giles cleaned his glasses. "Thank you, Willow."

She grinned at him.

"Nice to meet you all," Riley said, glancing over at Faith for a second. "I…just wanted to come over and say 'Hi'."

Faith looked up at him and smiled. "Why don't you join us?" she asked. "Plenty of room on the blanket over here."

"Hmm, that's a tempting offer," he said. "Unfortunately, I have a boatload of papers to grade, so I can't. Some other time, maybe."

"Sounds like fun," Faith said, not taking her eyes from his.

Riley stood there, looking at her. "Yeah it does."

The rest of the gang sat, watching the two with increasing interest and amusement.

Buffy grinned at Xander, and gave him a questioning look. Xander shrugged.

"Did you say something about papers, Riley?" Willow asked.

"Huh?" he asked, shaking his head to clear it. "Oh. Papers. Right. I'll um… see you two in class…"

"Bye, Riley," Buffy said, trying not to laugh.

Riley looked at her, nodded, and walked off, Faith's eyes following him the whole way. After he'd gone about ten steps, he stopped, turned around and looked at her. He smiled, then turned and ran off.

The group was silent for a moment.

"He was tall," said Oz.

"He was gorgeous!" said Faith, turning back to the group and grinning. "B, Red, you have got to get me his number."

"Maybe we should invite him out to the Bronze sometime," Buffy suggested casually.

"Yes!" Faith said. Then she realized her enthusiasm was betraying her loner image. "I mean… sure. If you want. Could be cool, I guess."

Joyce and Giles shared a knowing glance, while Buffy laughed, Oz raised an eyebrow, and Willow shot a grin at Xander, which he returned in kind.

"What?" Faith asked.

Everybody shook their heads and went back to eating.

"What?" She asked again.

"It's nothing, Faith. Really," Xander said, still grinning. "Just that somebody's in looooove," he teased, quietly.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Faith said, unconvincingly.

"Uh huh."

"I don't," she insisted.

Xander looked at her patronizingly. "The important thing is, you believe that, Faith."

An egg salad sandwich, still in its plastic wrapping, hit Xander in the face.

"Yup," he said, nodding. "I had that coming."

"So what are you two doing tonight?" Joyce asked.

"Yeah, Xan. What are we doing tonight?" asked Buffy.

Xander grinned. "That's a secret."

"From all of us?" she asked.

"Nope. There is a certain redhead who knows part of what I've got planned."

Buffy looked at Willow, who shrugged her ignorance.

Everybody looked at Oz.

"Oh, right. Yeah, that'd be me."

"What did he tell you, sweetie?" Willow asked.

Oz shook his head. "Can't say. Got bribed."

"What'd he give you?" asked Buffy.

"A look through his comics collection, with the guarantee of any two books of my choice becoming mine."

Willow's mouth dropped. "Any two books?"

"That's what he said."

"Xander, you didn't!" she said, disbelieving.

"I really did."

Willow shook her head, turned to Buffy and took her hand. "Buffy. In all the years I have known Xander, he has given me exactly three comic books from his collection. Once was when we were eleven, and I won the science fair for the first time. It was a Fantastic Four issue I had really enjoyed. Next was after he was Hyena boy, and we told him what he'd said. That time it was issue number 129 of Spiderman, which was the first appearance ever of The Punisher. Xander had personally gotten it signed by Stan Lee, after standing in line for about five and a half hours. He felt really bad that time. And then it was after I was in that coma, and he gave me his mint condition copy of Strangers in Paradise issue #1."

"You remember every time? And every comic?" Buffy asked.

"It's a very big deal," Willow said.

"That Spiderman was the second most expensive book I bought," Xander said.

"How much was it worth?" asked Giles.

"Going rate is around $220, I believe," Xander said.

"And you're letting Oz have whatever he wants?" Buffy asked, incredulous.

"That's the idea."

"What's your most expensive comic, Xander?" Joyce asked, intrigued.

Xander grinned. "Spiderman issue 121, the death of Gwen Stacy. It's around $275, I think. Also signed at the same convention I got the Punisher book signed, by one Mr. Stan Lee. That's the most expensive one I ever bought. But when Uncle Rory moved a few years ago, he told me to go through a few boxes of his old stuff, and I found a box, which I asked him about. He said 'Take whatever you want, kid.' So I opened it, damn near passed out, and locked it. I only opened it one other time since then."

"What did it have?" Giles asked.

"Well, the box had a lot of comics, but the real gem was the first five issues of Uncanny X-Men. In mint condition, bagged and boarded. Their combined worth is about $15,000, although that's inflated a little because the X-Men movie coming out soon is generating a lot of interest."

Everybody's jaw but Willow's dropped.

"What… um… why did you open the box again?" Faith asked.

"To show Willow and Jesse. Haven't even thought about opening it since."

"And you're willing to let Oz have one or more of those?" his girlfriend asked.

Xander shrugged. "If that's what he wants. They're just comics, Buffy."

Willow gasped. "Xander!"

"Okay, so they're not 'just comics,' but Buffy's more important than them."

"You certainly have a very high opinion of my daughter," Joyce said.

"I'm in love with her. That's about as high as an opinion gets."

"Well, I'm sorry, I can't just let this happen," Willow said.

"Will, what?"

"Oz, I'm putting some restrictions on your selection," she said.

"Willow, no, that's the whole point."

"Looked through the books already," Oz said. "Made my decision."

"And I have your decision in my pocket," Xander said. "Once we're done with our business, I'll open it and find out what Oz is the lucky winner of."

"But, Xander!" Willow whined, "I mean, those books…"

"I know, Will."

"Xander, I don't know about this…" Buffy said. "I mean, it's just one date. Special, yeah, but that's a lot of money."

"And you're worth every penny," Xander said, leaning in to kiss his girlfriend.

Faith tapped Willow on the shoulder. "Did he say he has five books worth $15,000?"

Willow nodded.

"Damn," said Faith. "I wish I was still a criminal."


"You do know that, with my Slayer senses, I know exactly where we are, right Xan? I mean, this blindfold doesn't do that much."

"I know, Buffy. Now shush."


Xander led Buffy down the alley and knocked on the door, smiling at the sign that said "Closed for Private Party." He pulled the steel door open and led Buffy inside, removing the blindfold and allowing her to see the Bronze.

Buffy looked around saw the dance club as it had been redone. The lights were turned way down, the floor had been swept clean, mopped and shined. The curtains on the stage were pulled shut and one chair had been set up, with an acoustic guitar leaning against it, and a microphone in front of it.

Xander led Buffy to a table that had been set up in the middle of the dance floor, with bouquet of flowers and a drip candle in an empty Chianti bottle in the middle. Xander sat her down on one side of the table and lit the candle.

"You play guitar?"

Xander laughed. "Not a chord. The guitar's not for me. But that's for later. Now, madam, if you will remain seated, I shall head off to hunt and kill our dinner."

Buffy smiled. "I'll be waiting for you."

Xander sprinted off to the kitchen behind the bar and returned with two plates, which he set down on each side of the table.

Buffy looked at the dishes. "Salad, Xan?"

He smiled. "This is but the first course, my dear."

"Oh, I see."

Xander was sat down, then jumped back up. "Oh! I forgot. Hold on, one more second."

Buffy watched his retreating form with amusement and happiness. Xander returned a few moments later with a bottle of wine and two wine glasses.

"Wine, Xander? Where'd you get that?"

"Giles got it for me," he said as he set the glasses down and opened the bottle. "Made me sit through a lecture on drinking responsibly, too. Which, considering my family, both makes sense and is a little redundant."

Buffy got a thoughtful look on her face. "Xander, I don't want you to start… what I mean to say is that… well…"

Xander smiled at her as he poured the wine into both glasses. "It's okay, Buffy. I've had alcohol before, but I never get drunk, I never drive and I know what it can do, so I'm careful."

Xander sat down. "Well, dig in," he said.

Buffy and Xander sat, eating and talking, with Xander occasionally refilling the wine glasses (or, after a little while, water) and also getting the other courses of the meal. The evening lacked completely the normal awkwardness of a young couple, as it had the support of a few years of friendship behind it. The meal ended and Xander cleared the table.

"So, do I get my song now?" Buffy asked.

"You've been waiting for this all night, haven't you?"

She grinned. "Well, I've never heard you sing before. I'm excited."

Xander laughed. "Okay. One song coming up."

Xander hopped up onto the stage and Oz walked out from behind the curtain wearing a suit. He sat down on the chair and picked up the guitar. Xander stood at the microphone.

"Okay, I would at this time like to take requests. Yes, you there, at the table."

"I can request a song?" Buffy asked.

"Ah, great, a wonderful song, and it just happens to be one I know," Xander said, smiling.

Oz strummed the guitar, making sure it was in tune, then nodded at Xander and started playing. Xander soon started to sing in a low, soothing voice that made Buffy's heart race just a little faster. As the chorus began, Buffy stood and approached the stage, watching Xander sing, with a smile on her face and love in her eyes.

Wise men say only fools rush in
but I can't help falling in love with you
Shall I stay
would it be a sin
If I can't help falling in love with you
Like a river flows surely to the sea
Darling so it goes
some things are meant to be
take my hand, take my whole life too
for I can't help falling in love with you
Like a river flows surely to the sea
Darling so it goes
some things are meant to be
take my hand, take my whole life too
for I can't help falling in love with you
for I can't help falling in love with you

The music stopped and Buffy applauded. Xander bowed to Buffy, then to Oz, who nodded and walked backstage. Xander hopped off the edge of the stage. Buffy grabbed him and gave him a kiss.

"That was wonderful, Xander. Thank you. This whole night has been fantastic."

Xander grinned at her. "Well, we're not quite done yet," he said.

"More?" she asked.

"Well, what use is a good date if you can't dance with the girl what brung ya?" he asked.

Slow, soft music swelled from the speakers again as Oz worked the Bronze's stereo system. Xander took Buffy in his embrace and they slowly started moving together to the music, her head resting on his chest, and his head resting on top of hers. He gave a quick nod to Oz, who headed out the back. Buffy and Xander remained dancing for the next half hour, taking comfort and love in each others arms, until the music stopped.

Buffy looked up and pulled Xander into a long, slow kiss that they both enjoyed fully. When it was over, they were both out of breath.

"I should get you home," Xander said. "It's late."

Buffy smiled. "You think after tonight, I'm sleeping without you?"

"I hadn't planned on it," Xander said. "I bought Willow off with a quart of Rocky Road, and she not-so-grudgingly agreed to stay at Oz's place tonight."

"You mean I get Xander snuggles tonight?"

"As many Xander snuggles as you want. They are yours for the taking."

"Mmm… I like this deal," Buffy said. "Um, do we have to clean up, or anything?"

"Nope. Management's gonna come in tomorrow and clear everything. It's a house guitar, so we don't even have to worry about that."

"You thought of everything."

"I've been in love with you for years, Buffy. I've had plenty of time to plan this. Although, some of the details were kind of rushed. I had only been planning the music since Oz and Will got back together."

Buffy grinned. "You procrastinator."

"I know," he said. "It's shameful."

"Yup," Buffy said. They stood there for a second. "Well, come on," she said. "I want as many snuggles as possible."


"So what did you find on patrol last night, Faith?" Xander asked as people gathered at the Summers residence the next day.

"No vamps, still. No demons, either, though I did run across some of those commando boys you and B saw, but they high-tailed it before I could get a good look. Jeeves wants somebody to shake down Willy again, see what he knows."

"Sounds like a plan. You up for it?"

"Um… yeah, I guess."

"You guess? You're usually pretty enthusiastic about gettin' your beat on."

"Gettin' my beat on? X… no."

"Okay, fine, I'll stop talking like that. But the point remains…"

"Yeah. Well… see, patrols, that's one thing. But Willy, he's, well…"

"He's what?"

"He's human. I don't know if I'm ready for that, yet."

Xander's eyes shone with understanding. "It's okay, Faith. I get it."

"Do you? Cuz from where I'm sitting, you don't look like you have innocent lives under your belt."

"No, you're right, I don't, but that's not what I meant. Look, you're gonna have to get around to dealing with humans at some point. And Willy is barely human as it is."

"Yeah, but what if I lose control? I don't wanna go down that path again. It's lonely, I mean here, I've got…"

"Us. You've got us, Faith. We're not going anywhere. We're your friends. And if you don't want to go to Willy's later today, nobody's going to force you. But if you do, know that I'll be right there with you, and Buffy too, if you want her to be. We're here to help, Faith. Don't be afraid to ask for it."

Faith sighed, and nodded. "I'll think about it."

"Okay," Xander said. "No pressure."


Xander nodded at her, then led her into the living room, where the group was assembled.

"Okay, folks. We ready to do this?"

Everybody nodded. Xander sighed, reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. Buffy took one of his hands as he flipped the envelope open and pulled out a piece of paper, letting the envelope fall to the floor. Xander slowly read the paper, then looked at Oz, who was sitting with Willow on the couch.

"These are your final choices?"

Oz nodded. Xander nodded back.

"All right," he said, releasing Buffy's hand and moving to one of the many boxes on the table. Xander flipped through a couple of comics, then pulled one out with a bag and board, and handed it to Oz.

"Marvel Spotlight number 2, the first appearance of Werewolf by Night. An appropriate choice," Xander said, as the rest of the group smiled. "This was also in the books I got from Uncle Rory."

"How much is that one worth?" Giles asked.

"I'm not really sure," Xander said. "I haven't checked the price in a while, but probably about $80."

Willow nodded her approval.

Xander looked at the paper again, then creased his eyebrows. "You're sure?" he asked.

"That's what I want," Oz said.

Willow held her breath as Xander moved to another box, and started ruffling through the comics pretty quickly. After about two minutes, he stopped and pulled a comic out and gave it to Oz.

"Ghost Rider Volume 2, issue 18. Nothing really special about that one, it's worth maybe two bucks. Why'd you choose it?" Xander asked.

"Cool cover," Oz said, holding it out to show people. It showed a beautifully painted flaming skull with a leather jacketed shoulder below it. Willow smiled at him and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

"Okay. Well, that was pretty painless," Xander said. "Thanks again for your help last night, Oz."

"Thanks for the books," Oz replied.

"Oz, man, I gotta ask you," Faith started.

Oz raised an eyebrow.

"How did you resist taking one of those X-Men comics? They're worth so much money."

Oz looked Faith right in the eye. "He already gave me something worth more than all his comics combined."

Xander let out a short laugh.

"Is that true, Xander?" Buffy asked.

"He's not wrong," Xander replied.

"Was this for my daughter as well?" Joyce asked.

"No, Mrs. S. That was most definitely not for Buffy."

"What was it?" Faith asked. Oz said nothing. She looked at Xander. "What? Was it kinky or something, and you two just don't wanna share?"

"What two consenting adults do in their free time is none of your business, Faith," Xander deadpanned.

Oz actually grinned at that, shocking everybody but Xander. Everybody else was as confused as Faith. Xander and Oz gave each other a knowing glance and laughed at the confusion in the room.

"What the hell did you give him, X?" Faith asked.

Xander shook his head. "Something that is very precious to me. And something I had for a long time."

Willow's eyes lit with understanding and she smiled at him, leaving everybody else still confused.

"All right," Xander said, sitting down next to Buffy. "Well, now that we've got the excitement out of the way, we have a raid on a factory to plan."

Chapter 21

"Okay, so one more time," Xander said. "Giles and Willow will bar the door on the right side, and hole up there with crosses, holy water and crossbows until the fight's over. Before we start, Oz and I will toss our very own home made Molotov Cocktails into the factory via the windows, thank you very much Willow for finding the recipe online, much help there. After that, Oz goes for his van, and Buffy, Faith and I rush with weapons and take out everything we can. Your basic hack and slash, only without the dice," he said with a smirk.

Willow shook her head. "And there's no DM, Xander. Plus, actual death is a factor."

Oz smiled at them, and the rest of the group looked confused.

"Oh, we're talking Dungeons and Dragons here. It's a… you know, never mind," Xander said.

"Well. As plans go, it's fairly simple," Giles said.

"Yup. Straight forward assault. How much time do you guys need to make up those bombs?" Xander asked.

"A couple of hours should do it, I think," Willow said.

"Great. In the meantime, I'll go rough up Willy again, to see what he knows about these commando boys."

"I'm comin' with ya, X," Faith said.

Xander nodded at her. "All right. We'll be back in a while. "


"Willy!" Xander yelled as he and Faith walked into the bar. "How are you doing, my friend?"

"Oh, uh, hey kid. Slayer," Willy said, wiping down the bar. "You're a little earlier than my normal patronage, today. What can I do for you?"

"Well, Willy, we find ourselves in need of some more information," Xander said, sitting down at the bar.

"And we don't want any trouble about it," Faith said, looking him straight in the eyes.

"Hey, uh, since when did you guys start working together?" Willy asked. "Thought you were in a coma, Slayer."

"I was," she said. "Got better."

"I see that. I'm real glad, too. Good to see the Slayers healthy."

"Well, thanks, Willy. That's real sweet of you."

"I'm a sweet guy," he said.

"Can you two flirt some other time?" Xander asked. "We're kind of in a rush."

"Uh, sure, kid. What do you need?"

"Commandos. Running around town with weird guns. What do you know?"

"Commandos, huh? Yeah, I heard about them. They started showing up about the last time you and blondie were in here."

"Don't call her that."

"Sure thing, kid. Anyway, word is they've been demon-hunting. Demons just disappearing left and right, even the peaceful ones. It ain't you guys, cuz you folks know your stuff, you don't pick on the demons who just want to live, you know?"

"Right. So what are they, then?"

"I don't know, kid. What I do know is that they tend to do more of a capture than a kill. Or they're really effective at gettin' rid of the bodies. They hunt in squads, but like I said, I don't know what their goal is, or who they work for."

"Okay. Hey, how come you're so much freer with the info today than last time? I mean, I didn't even get to slam your head into the bar."

"They're robbin' me of my clients, man. I'm just lookin' out for Willy."

"Right. Well, if you hear anything, you let us know, then."

"Right, right. Willy's your guy."

"Good," Xander said as he and Faith turned to walk out. "Oh and Willy? Last time… you were righter than you thought."

"About what?"

Xander grinned. "Me and blondie."


"So, he basically said they capture demons, hunt in groups, and aren't us," Buffy said, as the group drove towards the factory in question. "We already knew that."

"Yeah. But he said he'd contact us if anything came through," Xander said. "They're hurting his business, so I'd be willing to bet that's not a lie."

"Well, they don't seem to be an immediate threat, anyway," Giles said. "For now, we should concentrate on the task at hand."

The van pulled to a stop and the group piled out, with Xander and Buffy hauling some wooden barricades for the door Giles and Willow would be stationed at.

Faith and Oz handled the weapons, with multiple stakes for the three who would be going into melee, as well as any larger weapons they might want. Xander took Lancelot's magical sword, Buffy took the sword Xander usually used, and Faith hefted a battle-axe.

Xander sheathed the sword, and he and Oz split up the Molotov Cocktails between them. With everybody in position, Buffy gave the signal for Oz and Xander to start throwing. Fiery bottles flew through the air and into the factory, shattering and setting portions of the building ablaze. When the bottles ran out, Xander, Buffy and Faith charged into the factory, as Oz started up his van and Giles and Willow steadied themselves for any vampires who tried to come their way.

Inside the building, Xander, Buffy and Faith were all dusting vampires left and right, making their way towards the center of the room. The vamps seemed intent on keeping them away, but a number of them had been incapacitated, or outright killed, by the aerial assault of Molotov cocktails.

As Xander met up with Faith on the left side of the building, they saw Buffy fighting her way through a group of vampires. Glass shattered as a number of men in black fatigues crashed through the windows in the factory and started firing pulse rifles at vampires left and right. Stunned, many of the vamps fell to the floor. Buffy, Faith and Xander made quick work of these as they rushed towards the center of the building, where a large, purple demon stood, surrounded by a group of ten vampires and 4 Fyarl demons.

Faith, Xander and Buffy set their weapons at the ready, waiting for the action that all knew was coming. On the opposite side of the circle, eight commandos stood with their rifles bearing down on the group. The vampires made the first move, most of them rushing the commandos. Only two vampires and the Fyarl demons attacked the Scoobies.

The faster, yet weaker vampires reached them first, but were quickly dusted. The Fyarl demons, noted for their viciousness and strength, but not intelligence, rushed head first at the Scoobies. Xander's magical sword made quick work of two of the demons, as Buffy and Faith took one each.

Faith quickly found her axe embedded in the shoulder of one of the Fyarl's, stuck. With a quick roundhouse and a couple punches, Faith managed to put the demon down and break its neck. Buffy was having less luck. Her sword wouldn't pierce the tough hide of the demon and she quickly abandoned it for hand-to-hand combat. A quick kick to the nether regions of the much-larger Fyarl left it incapacitated. Buffy quickly snapped its neck and moved on.

The three warriors of light stood opposite the demon, which sat cross legged in the center of a pentagram. On the other side of the demon, the commandos were still fighting off vamps. They had taken out a few of them, but had losses themselves and didn't look good. Seeing their sorry state, the Scoobies wordlessly agreed to jump in and save them. Circling the still-resting demon, Buffy, Faith and Xander attacked the vampires from behind, quickly dusting them all and leaving the commando's to tend their wounded.

Xander, Faith and Buffy turned back to the Fargath demon.

"Guess this is him," Xander said, pointing his sword at the back of the demon.

"Looks like," Faith said. "Also doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Guess he's in a trance or something. Still, though, we should approach carefully."

"Triangle?" Buffy asked. "Or full frontal?"

Xander grinned. "Well, with you two girls, I'd definitely want a full-frontal."

Faith and Buffy both smacked him, but his head glowed white and they didn't touch him.

"No, fair, Xan," Buffy said. "We should get to smack you for that."

Somebody behind them coughed. They turned to see a tall man in a ski-mask holding a pulse rifle.

"Yeah?" Xander asked in an annoyed tone.

"Who are you people? What are you doing here with the HSTs?" the commando asked.

"What the fuck's an HST?" Faith retorted.

"Hostile Sub-Terrestrial," the man replied. "And you are…"

"The local cavalry," Xander said. "And you guys are those commandos we've been seeing around and hearing about. Demon hunters, huh? And not just hunting, capturing, too."

"Who told you that?" the man asked.

"One of our contacts," Xander said, glancing at Buffy, who was frowning. "Said you guys are even taking the peaceful ones. What, do you lock 'em up and do experiments on them?"

"Our actions are classified," the man said.

"Classified?" Faith asked. "So you're government, then. Well that's fun."

Xander looked at Buffy again. "What is it, Buff?" he asked.

The commando looked at Buffy for the first time and took a step back. "Ah… um, we have to leave, we've been compromised."

"No," Buffy said. "Take off your mask."

"I'm not allowed to do that. I really have to—"

"Riley, take off your mask," Buffy said.

Xander and Faith both looked surprised.

"Riley?" Faith asked.

Buffy nodded. "Can't you tell? His voice, how he holds himself. It's Riley. Faith, could you get Giles and Will?"

"No, I don't know who you're talking about. We have to leave." The man turned and started motioning to the other commandos as Faith jogged outside. Xander glanced at Buffy, who nodded at the man. Xander strode up and grabbed his shoulder, pulling him back towards Buffy. A brief struggle ended up with the man's mask off and him on the floor, with the remaining commandos pointing their rifles at Buffy and Xander.

"See?" Buffy said, pointing. "Riley. You're a horrible liar, you know. He's Riley Finn. Psych TA. You met him at the picnic. And, apparently, he's the leader of a group of government commandos in Sunnydale to research the activities of demons and the like. That pretty close to it, Riley?"

The young man sighed and waved off his troops.

"Look, I can't talk about it," he said. "It's all… classified. But you folks seem pretty… adept at what's going on here, just don't let—"

"RILEY?" came a disbelieving yell from the door of the factory.

Riley's head dropped. "Walsh is going to have my hide over this," he said.

"Professor Walsh?" Buffy asked. "She's in on this too? What, is the whole psych department just a front?"

"I—No! Not Professor um… I… CRAP!"

"Face it, Ry," one of the commandos said, coming up to him. "You're busted."

Riley turned his head to the man. "Lead a sweep. The whole area. Make sure the perimeter is free of HST's."

"Oh, but ignore the guy in the striped van," Xander said. "He's with us."

Giles, Faith and Willow walked up to the group, with Giles heading off to inspect the demon.

"Buffy, why is Riley here?" Willow asked.

"He's one of the commandos. Apparently in some sort of leadership position. He reports to Professor Walsh, or something."

"Oh," Willow said. Then she went over to look at the demon with Giles.

"Oh?" Riley asked. "That's it, just 'oh'? You people don't seem shocked."

Buffy shrugged. "There's not a lot that surprises us these days," she said.

"You haven't been surprised by a whole lot… discounting Angel… since you died," Xander said.

Buffy nodded. "That's true. I had you to bring me back, though, so it all worked out."

Riley brought his rifle to bear, quickly shifting back and forth from Buffy to Xander.

"Not like that, with CPR," Xander said. "Christ, give a guy some credit."

Riley kept his weapon trained until Xander pulled out a cross and held it in his hand without getting burnt. "See? Human."

"So, what are you guys doing here?" Buffy asked.

"Look, I'm the… guy with the gun here, I'll ask the questions," Riley said. "Who are you?"

"I'm Buffy. College student. But you knew that."

"Xander. Her boyfriend. I work construction."

"I'm Faith. I don't do anything but fight."

"And sleep."

"Shut up, X."

"And eat."

"I said shut up."

"And spend my money."

"Do you want me to break you?"

"Please?" Xander grinned as Faith glared at him.

"Guys!" Buffy scolded.

Faith and Xander looked falsely apologetic. "Sorry Buffy," they said simultaneously.

Buffy rolled her eyes at them.

"So, what?" Riley asked. "You just all have superpowers or something?"

They shrugged. "Basically," Buffy said. "So we fight the demons."

"Which we really should be getting to, by the way," Xander said, pointing behind him.

"Uh uh, no way," Riley said. "We're under orders to bring this guy in for testing."

"Not a chance, buddy," Xander said. "This guy wants to end the world, they don't get research grants."

"Actually," Giles said, approaching the group, "this particular individual does not want to do anything. It is not the demon we're looking for. Nor in fact a demon at all."

"Not a demon?" Xander asked. "So what, it's papier-mâché?"

"Well, I say it is not a demon, but that is not entirely accurate. It is not a demon anymore. It's dead. And not the Fargath we seek, either. So as of now, the apocalypse is still on."

Riley stood there, stunned. "Did you just say apocalypse?"


"The Slayer," Professor Walsh said, as the Scoobies sat at desks in front of her. "I was led to believe that you're a myth."

"Well you were myth-taken," Buffy said.

The Scoobies looked at her, disbelieving. She shrank into her seat a little.

"Yeah, so," Faith said. "Slayers, we're real. So are commandos, apparently."

"Did you say Slayers plural? All that we've heard say that there's only one."

"Yeah, sorry about that," Xander said.

"Excuse me?" Walsh asked.

"That's my fault," Xander said. "See, this one time, a few years ago, Buffy died. For a few minutes. I CPR'd her back to life, but not before another Slayer was called."

"And that's Faith," Walsh assumed.

"No," Buffy said. "That was Kendra. She was more… institutionalized, in the 'following rules' way, not the insane way, than either Faith or me. She died about a year after I did. For real died, though. Then Faith was called"

"I see," Walsh said. "Well that takes care of two of you. The rest?"

"I'm Buffy's soulmate, and the protector of mankind," Xander said.

Willow snorted. "Taking your name a little too seriously there, Xand."

"Hey, it's what I do. The only right thing my dad ever did was name me Alexander. Anyway, I'm what's called a White Knight. You probably won't have heard of me."

"No, I can't say we have."

"The rest are friends who help because they want to," Buffy said.

"Yes, we have no special destiny laid out by prophecy," Giles said. "But we manage."

"And I'm a witch!" Willow added "Or, well, I'm training to be. I'm improving."

"That fire thing is real nifty, Will," Xander said, encouragingly. Willow grinned.

"I am a former Watcher," Giles said. "I am basically on the research aspect of our battle."

"Hey, Ripper can hold his own," Buffy said.

"Yes," Giles said. "And be thankful that he so rarely sees the light of day."

Buffy shrugged.

Walsh turned to the silent one. "So you must be the 'normal' one?"

The others snickered as Oz shrugged.

"Werewolf," he said.

"Really?" Walsh asked. "Fascinating. The full moon is in a few days, if I recall. Would you mind if we –"

"Yes, we would," Xander said. "No offense, but all we know about you is that you work for the government and capture demons. Even the peaceful ones. That doesn't say good things about this little institution of yours."

"Hey, what are you guys called, anyway?" Faith asked.

Walsh looked at Riley. He was gazing at Faith. Walsh shook her head and decided on her own to give the Scoobies a bit of trust.

"We are the Initiative. And I take offense at the implication that we do something immoral with so-called 'peaceful demons'. I don't believe there is any such creature."

"Well, maybe we could educate you," Giles said. "Demons have in the past been useful to us. In fact, last year one was most helpful in deceiving a… er."

Giles glanced at Faith, who gave him a slight nod.

"Who was most helpful in deceiving an enemy at the time," Giles continued. "I had known him for quite some time. Introduced him to his wife, actually."

"Right," Buffy said. "And then there was Whistler, who was… well, helpful, I suppose."

"I see," Walsh said. "Well, perhaps you could give us a list of the peaceful ones?"

"Or you could give us a list of what you have, and we can tell you what's peaceful," Willow said. "It would be faster for them. A lot of them just want to live like the rest of us, they shouldn't be kept locked up."

"I see. Well, we have, in fact, finished what tests we run with most of the HST's we've captured up to this point. Riley?" Walsh said.

Riley continued gazing at Faith, who was pointedly looking at the floor.

The Scoobies grinned.

"Agent Finn!"

"Hmm? Oh, sorry, yes ma'am?"

"Compile a list of all the types of demon we've captured, and give it to them. See that the peaceful ones are released with our apologies."

"Yes, ma'am."

"So… who is the leader of your group?" Walsh asked.

"We're… kind of a team. No real leader," Xander said.

"That's no way to run a unit," Walsh said. "But, I suppose you've all survived here longer than we, and you know what works."

"Is there anything else you can tell us about your operation?" Giles asked. "For instance, your demon library, um… experience in the field, what it is you actually do, things of that nature?"

"Ah. Of course. Riley?"

Riley stepped forward, his hands clasped behind his back. "Our charter states that we are to study and examine demons to find the most effective way of exterminating them. So far, we have catalogued eleven separate species of demon here in Sunnydale, bringing the total count up to twenty-three unique types of demon."

"We're quite proud," Walsh said. "I'm told we have the second largest demon listing of anybody in the world."

The Scoobies stayed silent. Riley looked at them, oddly, as their faces turned red. They were all biting their lips, but eventually, Buffy started to snicker. She was followed quickly by Willow and soon all of them burst out laughing.

Professor Walsh raised an eyebrow at Riley who merely shrugged. When the group had calmed down she continued. "I take it there is something funny about our database?" she asked.

"Um… well, not funny, really," Xander said. "You say, you have the second largest demon listing in the world? What are you comparing to?"

She shrugged. "Many of our allies have similar operations for fighting demons. We have shared some of our information, as have they. By this, we have come to the conclusion that our listing is among the most complete. Why, how many do you know of?"

"Counting vampires?" Xander asked. Walsh nodded. Xander turned to Giles.

"Well, um, as far as our… electronic database goes… well, I couldn't really estimate. Willow?"

Willow thought for a second. "Well," she said, "I haven't been updating it in a while, but I think before the ascension I had it up around 140? Does that sound right?"

Giles nodded. "Yes, I believe so."

Walsh looked shocked. "A… hundred and forty types of demon?" she asked. "Is that even possible?"

Xander nodded. "Sure," he said. "But that's not the complete listing, just what we've managed to put on computer. It's kind of time consuming."

"Like you'd know," Willow said, sarcastically. "You never once helped me catalogue demons, it was all 'let's go kill stuff' or… or making out with Cordelia in a broom closet or drooling over Buffy."

Xander looked at her. "Sorry," she said.

He smiled. "That's okay, Will."

"I'm sorry," Walsh said. "I'm just not quite sure how a group of civilians can have such a vast database."

"I don't know. How long have you been doing this?" Xander asked.

"Well, The Initiative has only been around for about 9 months, having moved here to Sunnydale just before the beginning of the fall semester of college. However, the government has been collecting the list for approximately eight years now."

"Oh," Xander said. "Well… this is the beginning of our fourth year."

"What sort of resources do you use?" Walsh asked.

Giles shot him a look.

"Ah… the kind that don't get talked about with big government agencies that might not like the idea," Xander said.

"Understandable," Walsh said, nodding her head. "There is, after all, no strict reason for you to fully trust us yet, although I hope in time we'll be able to come to some sort of understanding."

"Of course," Xander said. "So, what type of experience do you guys have?"

"Agent Finn, here, is our best and brightest soldier. He has excelled in combat and carries with him 17 vampire killings, four of them solo. He has participated in the successful capture of six of the eleven demons currently residing in our holding cells. And all this in just 9 months."

Riley stood proud, a smile cracking across his lips.

"Oh," Xander said, a little embarrassed. "That's… good."

"Good? That is excellent. Agent Finn is the best we have."

"Ah," Xander said.

"And yourself?" she asked. "This is, after all, an exchange of information."

"Well, we don't really keep… statistics…."

Giles leaned over and whispered in Xander's ear.

"Between all of us though, probably, about 65 or 70 vampires, and maybe 15 demons?"

"Ah," said Professor Walsh, happily. "We're ahead of the curve, then."

Xander winced. "Um. That… was in the last nine months."

Willow leaned over and whispered to him.

Xander's shoulders slumped a little. "I… forgot about my road trip. Can we make that 80 vampires and 18 or 19 demons?"

"Eighty?" Buffy asked.

Xander shrugged. "I burnt down a nest."

"So, I'm not the only arsonist here?"

Xander grinned. "Not anymore."

"How is it that you've slain so many?" Walsh asked.

"Cuz you're sittin' on a Hellmouth, lady," Faith said.

"A… Hellmouth?" Walsh asked.

"Yes," Giles said. "This town is a center of mystical convergence, a sort of beacon for demonic forces. You've seen, of course, the old high school?"

Walsh nodded.

"Yes, well, that was built directly on top of the Hellmouth, which opened twice while we were there guarding it."

"We haven't really seen any evidence of increased demon activity here," Riley said.

"Well, they have been pretty quiet since we blew up the Mayor," Buffy said.

"Blew up the Mayor?" Walsh asked.

They nodded.

"See, he was like this really old evil guy who had sold his soul over a hundred years ago and he was our graduation speaker but he was trying to ascend as this big snake of a demon, which was going to be a pure demon, so bigger than other demons and like way more powerful, and so he was going to eat us all, because that's what demons do, plus he needed the food to increase his strength and also he was evil, but we got the whole graduating class to fight and then we blew up the school with him in it and he died," said Willow.

They all looked at her impressed.

"Sorry. I babble."

"That all right," Walsh said. "Okay, so what do you need our help for? It appears you've had this town under control for years."

"Oh, we have an apocalypse coming and the demon that's the key to it has up and disappeared on us," Xander said.

"Excuse me, did you say an apocalypse?"

"Yeah," Buffy said, shrugging. "It happens. You guys have a lot more man power than we do, and we need to keep an eye on holy sites near the old high school. There are none within a half-mile radius… half mile, right Will?"

Willow nodded.

"Yeah," said Buffy. "So, the demon will need to do his end-of-the-world ritual from a holy site. Church or temple or something like that. If you find him, call us, cuz we know how to take him out. And if you try it, the world will end. It has to be me and Xander who take him out."

"Are you—"

"Yes," Xander said. "We're sure."

Walsh nodded. "All right. I'll trust you. For now. How can we reach you?"

"Willow, Oz and I are on campus, Xander you can reach at my home number. Giles and Faith at his… which he can give you."

"Of course," Walsh said. "I suppose we should wrap up for the night. We'll… talk later. Oh, and ladies?"

Buffy and Willow looked at her as they were rising to leave.

"I think the two of you can count on well earned A's this semester."

They grinned as the Scoobies left. Riley made a quick check in with Walsh, then followed suit.

"Bronze?" Xander asked.

Giles rolled his eyes as the rest of the Scoobies nodded. "Don't you people ever do anything else?"

"What," Buffy asked, "like take out a nest of vampires and expose a government financed black-ops demon research project?"

"I… well, that's a valid point, I suppose," Giles said, cleaning his glasses. "I shall see you lot some other time."

The Scoobies moved off towards the Bronze, when Xander leaned over and whispered to Willow. She grinned and turned around.

"Hey Riley!" she said, causing the man to turn around. "Do you wanna join us?"

Faith froze mid-stride, causing Oz to walk full force into her, and they both fell down. Riley looked for a second, shook his head then jogged to catch up. "I'd love to," he said, leaning down to help Faith up.

Faith smiled. "Fun."

Chapter 22


Xander looked over Faith's head. "He's being distracted by some girl in a leather micro-mini and 4-inch heels. She's dropped something and is leaning waaaaay over to pick it up."

Faith whipped around to see Riley watching at her. Riley gave her a sheepish smile and waved. Faith paused, paled, waved back, and turned around to see Xander with a huge grin on his face.

"Asshole," she muttered as they started dancing again, Xander's arms flailing all around, Faith working her curves seductively to the heavy beat the band was thumping out. A slower song started to flow from the speakers, and Riley walked up and tapped Xander on the shoulder.

"Do you mind if I cut in?" he asked, nervously. Xander smiled and made room for Riley to step in as Buffy came up for her own dance.

"What was that look about?" she asked him.

Xander grinned. "I told Faith that Riley was being distracted by some girl in a micro-mini leaning down in front of him."

"You jerk," Buffy said, laughing.

"Gotta get my kicks somehow," he said.

"I thought you got your kicks with me," Buffy said, leaning into his chest.

Xander held her close. "Different kicks, baby. Different entirely."

Xander glanced over at Faith and Riley, who were dancing close together, Faith with a content look on her face. Satisfied, he let the world around him slip away as he concentrated on the feeling of dancing with the woman he loved.

Willow watched the two couples with a smile on her face. "They look cute don't you think?"

Her question was met with silence.


"Hmm?" he answered. "Oh. Yeah. Cute."

"You okay, sweetie?" she asked.

He smiled at her and patted her hands on the table. "Fine," he said, before turning back to watch the band. Willow watched as Oz seemed entranced by the lead singer.

"Do you know her?" she asked.

"Hmm?" he said, distractedly. "No. I know the drummer. He's cool."

"Oh," Willow said, as she watched Oz watch the band. "What's her name again?"

"Veruca," said Oz.

Willow looked from Oz to the stage, then back at Oz. She sighed and leaned back in her chair. Then she smiled and leaned over to Oz.

"You know, I could stay at your place tonight."

Oz slowly tore his gaze away from Veruca. "I'm pretty tired, baby," he said, raising the back of her hand to his lips and giving it a kiss. "Long day."

Willow slumped back in her chair, frowning, as Oz turned back to the stage.


"What's up?" Xander asked.

"Huh? Oh, nothing," Willow said. She had decided to stay at her parents place and Xander was walking her there.

"C'mon, Will, I know you. Something's bugging you. Now fess up."

"It's nothing, Xander. Or… well, I think it's nothing, but… no, I'm sure it's nothing."

Xander looked at her, unconvinced.

"It's just… I was going to stay at Oz's tonight, because, full moon soon, you know? And so I wanted to… you know…"

"You should be able to say it if you're doing it, Will," he said.

"Make love," Willow said. "Because of the full moon soon, you know?"

Xander nodded.

"But… he was… reluctant. And he seemed to be paying a lot of attention to that lead singer tonight."

"Veruca?" Xander asked.

Willow nodded. "You know her?"

"No," said Xander, shaking his head. "Some of the guys on the crew were talking about her though. All, you know… 'Hey, that lead singer from Shy… wink wink, nudge nudge.' Personally, I don't see it."

"Yeah, but you're in love with Buffy, so you wouldn't. Xander, is there something wrong with me? Did I grow horns or sprout some incredible ugliness?"

"No, Willow. There is nothing wrong with you at all."

"You have to say that. You're my best friend."

"Yes, but I am also male," Xander said. "And despite being what I'm sure must be disgustingly and sickeningly in love with Buffy, I am still able to appreciate the finer… aesthetic aspects of a woman, and trust me, Will, there is nothing wrong with you."

"But then, why?"

"I don't know," he said. "Maybe you just caught him in one of the seven times annually when a guy is legitimately too preoccupied or tired to do it." Xander considered bringing up his recent unwillingness with Buffy. 'No,' he thought. 'That was because I was unsure if I was supposed to be with her. She doesn't need to make that connection right now.'

"I guess," Willow said. She pointed to her house. "This is me."

"I know, Will. I have been here once or twice."

"Right. Okay. Well, then, I'll see you tomorrow?"

"You sure you don't want me to…" he started, trailing off.

"No," she said. "I think I just…"

"Got it," he said, giving her a hug. "Goodnight, Willow."

"Night, Xander."


Buffy and Xander walked into Giles's apartment the next morning to find the rest of the group already assembled.

"Hey guys," Xander said. He then slammed into the floor as an airborne Faith tackled him and Buffy quickly shifted out of the way.

"What the hell am I going to do!?" Faith yelled.

Buffy stood there trying to hold her laughter in.

"Um… okay, first?" Xander said. "Oooow!! And second, do about what? And third, can you get off of me?"

Faith hopped up and started pacing as Xander leaned up on his elbows and shot Buffy an amused look. Faith was biting her nails as she walked.

"What's he going to expect? What do guys expect? I've never done the date thing, the dinner and everything. Oh my god, Xander, what do I wear!?"

Xander fell back to the floor laughing. "You're asking my advice on what to wear? What are you, nuts?" He threw a hand out at Buffy. "Hello… she's completely up on the female wearing… er, clothes… thing. Why don't you ask her?"

Buffy glared at him, and Faith turned towards her. "B? Can you help?"

Buffy nodded. "I can help. Yes. When are you going out with him, anyway? We are talking about Riley, yes?"

"Yes!" Faith said. "And we're going out tonight."

Buffy nodded. "What time?"


"Okay. Be at my house at five o'clock. We'll figure something out. Do you know where you're going?"

Faith shook her head. "He said to dress kinda nice. What the hell is kinda nice? I own jeans and tanks!" She started to hyperventilate.

"Okay, calm down, Faith," Willow said, moving over to the two slayers. "Breathe, that's an important step to going on a date. Staying conscious? Kinda critical."

Willow and Buffy lead Faith back towards her room to survey her clothes and calm her down.

Xander and Oz looked on with amusement. "Giles?" Xander asked.

Oz pointed upstairs. Xander nodded and climbed the stairs. He knocked on Giles's bedroom door.

"Yes?" came the answer.

Xander opened the door to see Giles lying flat on his back, glasses off, and rubbing his temples.

"How long has she been like that?" Xander asked.

"I was awoken at 7:45 by Faith pacing around downstairs."

"Damn," Xander said. "I didn't think she ever got up that early."

"She doesn't, I assure you. This is a one-time only phenomenon. I hope."

Xander chuckled. "How's she doing, anyway?"

"Oh, I believe she's adjusting quite well. Her studies for the GED are coming splendidly. She's really a very bright young woman."

"Never doubted it," Xander said. "Anyway, Buffy and Will took her back into her room, so it's probably safe to come downstairs."

"Thank you. I do believe I shall remain here, though, until my headache recedes."

Xander laughed and shut Giles's door.


"Something doesn't feel right about this," Faith said.

"Faith, I'm telling you, it's going to be fine," said Willow.

"She's right," added Buffy. "Don't worry."

"I don't know. Are you guys sure? I mean what if something happens? What if –"

"Faith!" Xander yelled from the hallway. "Nothing will happen, stop worrying, accept your fate and move on."

Faith opened the door. "What do you think?"

"You look fantastic, Faith," Xander said. "Riley's gonna be out of his head."

"I don't know, X. Dresses aren't really my thing."

"And standing outside of a room that is holding three beautiful women getting ready for a date with somebody who is not me isn't really my thing. And yet, here I am."

"Also, it's your room," Buffy said.

"Well, yeah," Xander said. "And your mom is fixing us dinner. But the point remains that I'm here. Besides, I may be sleeping in it, but your clothes still occupy four-fifths of the closet space."

"Oh, cuz it's my fault you don't own anything."

"No. I own plenty, you just own way more."

"Guys!" Willow said. "You sound like an old married couple. Either get married or stop arguing, because you're driving me nuts."

"Not like I could fit any of my stuff if you weren't moved in on campus," Xander muttered.

"That's it!" yelled Willow, grabbing Xander by the ear. "You don't get to be up here any more."

Willow led Xander down the stairs and sat him in front of the TV. "Now you stay here until we're done. And when Riley gets here, open the door and make him wait with you. This is a girl thing, dammit."

"Buffy said I was one of the girls," Xander said as Willow walked back upstairs.

"Yes," said Willow. "But just because she lets you watch her change doesn't mean the rest of us will."

"Willow!" Buffy yelled.

The redhead grinned at Xander and ran back up the stairs. Xander shook his head and walked into the kitchen.

"Need help with anything, Mrs. S?" he asked, dipping his finger in one of the sauce pans. "Mmm, this tastes good."

"Hands off Xander," Joyce said. "And no, thank you, I don't need any help. Why don't you go watch my daughter change clothes?"

Xander flushed red. "I… uh-um, n-n-no, see, Willow… er." He stood there with his mouth open.

There was a knock at the front door. Xander stood there, frozen to the spot as Joyce raised an eyebrow at him. "Are you going to answer the door, Xander?"

"Door," he said, turning to exit the kitchen. "Yes, door. Good."

Joyce smiled evilly as he walked away, proud of herself.

Xander opened the door and allowed Riley into the house.

"Soldier," Xander said, saluting.

Riley snapped off a salute of his own. "Is um… is Faith ready?" he asked, pulling flowers from behind his back.

"Riley, Riley, Riley," Xander said, shaking his head and leading the man over to the couch. "The flowers are a nice touch, but you have to learn. A girl will never be ready for a date when you arrive until at least… a month, maybe two, into a relationship. Making you wait for her is just one way that they put you in your place."

"And… where is my place?" Riley asked.

"Well, with most girls, it's negotiable. With Slayers, it's wherever they want it to be."

"I see," he said. "So, will she be down soon?"

"I don't know," Xander said. "Tell you what, since you were so nice about showing up and saving me from a fate worse than death, I'll go see what I can do about speeding the process up a little."

"Thanks," Riley said. "What fate did I save you from?"

Xander shuddered and leaned in close, whispering. "Discussing my sex life with Buffy's mom."

Riley's eyes shot open wide. "How?"

Xander shook his head. "Badness. Pure Willow-y badness. I'll be back in a minute."

Riley nodded as Xander made his way upstairs. Xander creeped through the hallway and knocked on the door to the room he now called his. After a moment, Buffy opened the door.

"You know your mom heard what Willow said, right?"

The blood drained from Buffy's face. "Oh. Well. Okay. This… can be dealt with. How attached to your best friend are you?" she asked.

Xander smiled. "Also, Riley's here."

"Tell him I can't go!" Faith said from inside the room.

"Faith, you look fine," Willow said, soothingly. "Better than fine. You're a hottie. Riley's gonna die. Metaphorically, I mean."

"Good," Faith said, breathing deeply. "I don't think I could take boyfriend death. Oh god, boyfriend! I just said that, didn't I? What am I doing? I can't have a boyfriend, I'm Faith!"

Xander rolled his eyes. "Faith, shut up," he said. "Look, it's a date. Doesn't mean you're married to the guy."

"Besides," Buffy said, wrapping her arm around Xander's waist. "Sometimes you get lucky and find your soul mate."

Xander smiled warmly and leaned down to kiss her. Willow coughed. Xander ignored his best friend and kissed the woman he loved. Willow coughed again.

Xander pulled back from Buffy and glared at the redhead.

"Hey, PDA, I can cough all I want," Willow said.

Xander rolled his eyes.

"Anyway," Buffy said. "We'll go downstairs and entertain Riley until you're ready, Faith."

"We will?" Xander asked.

"Yes. We will. Faith needs a little make-up still. And Willow, prepare to die later."

"Mascara and funeral arrangements," said Willow. "Check."

Xander and Buffy walked downstairs to find a nervous Riley sitting on the couch, chatting with Mrs. Summers.

"She's almost ready," Buffy said.

Riley nodded.

"So… are your soldiers maintaining watch on the closest churches to the old high school?" Xander asked, trying to start a conversation.

"Oh, well, on the absolute closest ones, we have a team watching. On some of the ones further out, we set up video surveillance. We've got all the angles covered. We'll know if anything tries to get in anywhere."

"And they know not to engage, right? To report back and get us on the scene?" Xander asked.

"They've all been fully briefed, yes."

"Did I miss something?" Joyce asked. "I thought he was here to take Faith on a date."

"He is, Mom," Buffy said. "But he's also a member of a super-secret government organization that is capturing demons and doing experiments on them. Oh, and he's my psych TA."

"Ah. Well, I suppose I it's good that you're a trained soldier," said Joyce. "You'll need to be able to handle yourself around her."

"I assure you, ma'am. I can take care of myself."

"Good," Xander said. "So, where are you taking Faith?"

"Um, a little Italian restaurant near campus called Pines of Florence."

"If you don't get the carbonara, you'll regret it," Xander said.

"Oh, you've been?" Riley asked.

"I've lived here my whole life, I've been everywhere. Pines has a nice ambiance," Xander said, surprising Buffy again with his vocabulary. "Plus, it's not so expensive that it'll seem like you're trying to impress her by spending money, while at the same time being expensive enough to show you're not cheap. An excellent choice."

"Wow. Okay, great, thanks," Riley said. "Um… if a second date happens, and I want it to be nicer?"

"There's an Alsatian restaurant about two miles west of town, in the back roads. It's expensive, but worth it. The service is fantastic, and the food is better. Plus, it's got a very romantic atmosphere… sort of a 'chateau in the alps' feel."

Riley nodded, smiling. "Great," he said.

Xander nodded at him. "But concentrate on tonight first. Faith… doesn't have a good history with men."

"Is this the 'you hurt her and I'll kill you' speech?" Riley asked, chuckling.

Xander smiled. "No, you don't have to worry about that. Hurt her, and she'll kill you herself. I'll just stand by and watch," he said.

Buffy coughed.

"Right," Riley said. "Well. I don't intend anything like that. I just want to get to know her better for now. She's… amazing. Just, the instant I saw her it was like…"

"Like if you were riding a skateboard, you'd smack into a stair railing?" Buffy asked.

Xander looked at her, surprised.

"Yeah," Riley said. "Except I've never ridden a skateboard. But something like that."

Willow came down the stairs and held out her arms like a game show presentation girl. "Presenting, for the first time in the recorded history of the Scooby Gang… Faith. In a… dress."

All eyes looked up at the stairs as Faith came into view. Eyebrows rose. Jaws dropped.

"Damn," Joyce said.


Once Xander and Buffy had left, Faith frowned and sat down on the bed

"You okay, Faith?" Willow asked.

"Sure, Red," she said. "Five by five."

"Okay," Willow said. "But, you know, you can, um, talk… to me… if you're not."

"I'm fine. Seriously," she said, shaking her head to clear it.

"Okay," Willow said, turning back to the dresser to find the right shade of mascara

"It's just…"

Willow turned back to Faith. "Just what?"

"Nah, it's nothing."

"It's just what, Faith?"

Faith sighed. "Those two. They're so freaking happy all the time, you know? It gets on my nerves. Plus, you know, I mean, she found her soul mate. And it's not that I'm jealous it's just that…"

"You kind of are?" Willow asked.

Faith nodded. "Not of her having Xander. I mean, sure he was a great romp," she said. Willow looked uncomfortable for a split second, but it passed quickly. Faith noticed anyway.

"Oh, crap. I'm sorry, Red, I didn't…. I should just shut my mouth."

"No," Willow said, regaining her composure. "No, it's okay. Go on."

"You sure?"

"Yes. Continue."

"Right. It's like… I don't know. I just… I've never been one who wants to settle down, you know? Use 'em and lose 'em, that was my thing. Seein' the way those two look at each other, though. With complete trust and adoration and all that other sappy shit… it makes me wonder. Like maybe it would be… nice, to have something like that. And yeah, so some book says that I will. But so what? It's written. It can just be crossed out again."

"Well… the book, the one that says that you'll find your soul mate… it hasn't um… I mean, the specific prophecy, it's been right so far. I mean, you named Xander, and gave him the certainty of being with Buffy. And you two are friends, like it says. So, I mean, don't be pessimistic. You've been out of your coma like a week, you can't expect things to go too fast, even if it is Sunnydale. Besides, hey, date tonight. Never know what'll happen."

"I guess, yeah. Say, Red, I'm sorry for, you know, tryin' to kill ya and whatnot."

"Oh, that's… well, no, that's… not okay, but well, I mean, um. I forgive you."

"Thanks. And I know you hated me, but I really am trying to be better, you know? And I wanna… be friends and stuff. Not do the whole loner thing so much."

"Faith I didn't hate you… well, okay, not all of you… just… kind of the guts part, but um. Well. Yeah. No, I would also like to be friends. And stuff."

Faith smiled, warmly. "Sweet," she said, then looked down at the floral pattern of the dress she was wearing. "Okay. This just isn't me, and it's also kinda squeezin' the girls. Does B have anything else that'll fit me?"

Faith got up and went to Buffy's closet. She looked through Buffy's clothes, and pulled out a dark blue dress that looked vaguely familiar to Willow. "This looks like it hasn't been worn in a while," Faith said.

Willow's eyes went wide. "Oh. That. No, she retired that one."

"How come?" Faith asked. "It's hot. I'm gonna wear this instead."

"Oh. Um, okay. Do you want nail polish?" Willow asked, turning back to Buffy's dresser.

"Nah, I'll be fine," Faith said. "What do you think?"

Willow turned around, and her eyes went up. "Well," she said. "Buffy's shorter than you, so the… it's very short. And your… girls… are bigger, so it's showing more cleavage."

"Right," Faith said. "So it's hot. Got it. So why'd B stop wearing it?"

"Okay," Willow said. "Did Xander ever tell you about the time Buffy danced with him?"

"She only danced with him once?" Faith asked.

"Well… okay, this was at the end of the summer after Buffy died. Did… he ever mention that?"


"Okay, well, here's what happened…"

Chapter 23

Faith walked down the stairs with Buffy's dress riding up her legs with every step.

"Xander?" Willow said, eyeing her best friend.


She pointed to his mouth. "Little drool."

Xander wiped off his mouth as Buffy forcibly closed his jaw and glared.

Riley smiled and approached Faith with the flowers.

"For me?" she asked.

Riley nodded as Faith grinned and took the flowers from him.

"I uh… don't really…"

"I'll make sure they're taken care of," Joyce said, taking the flowers. "I'm sure a certain daughter of mine, who enjoys avoiding stern lectures from her mother about appropriate behavior, would be happy to deliver them to Rupert's."

"This would be the same Rupert that you behaved so appropriately with on top of a police car, yes?" Buffy asked, pointedly.

"That's not the point, Buffy," Joyce said, as the rest of the occupants of the room quickly became uncomfortable. "I was under the influence of some powerful magic at the time. We both were."

"And Xander's my soul mate. I refuse to be embarrassed, or shameful, or lectured about anything that happens between us."

Faith and Willow shifted off of the stairs, as Riley quietly slipped out of the room to let the two women argue around Xander, who was obligated to stay. Willow shot Xander a sympathetic, apologetic look as she, Faith and Riley snuck outside.

"I think I may have done a bad thing," Willow said when the door was shut.

"Nah, don't sweat it, Red," said Faith. "They'll be fine. Joyce is a great lady who just worries about her daughter. Also, Boytoy and B can hold their own."

"Um… Boytoy?" Riley asked.

Willow grinned. "Riley, one of the first things you need to learn if you plan to spend time with this group… there's a lot of history. Anybody who was here for the Buffy-Angel, Buffy-Xander, Xander-Cordelia, Willow-Xander, Willow-Oz, Xander-Faith merry-go-round o' love would tell you that."

"You're serious," said Riley.

"And leaving out a praying mantis and robotic demon," said Willow.

"And Wesley. You forgot the Wesley-Cordelia part of that," said Faith.

"And the mummy girl," said Willow. "Oh, and Buffy's old friend who wanted to be turned. And Parker, but he's an ass."

"And I tried for Angel once last year, when I was evil," said Faith.

"You were evil?" Riley asked, incredulously.

"Oh, and we can't forget Giles and Jenny, Giles and Joyce, and Joyce and the robot!" said Willow.


"Oh, and Scott Hope!" said Faith.

"And Owen Thurman!" said Willow.

"Oh, and B told me about that Frankenstein guy who wanted Queen C," said Faith.

"Oh yeah! I forgot about that!" said Willow. "OHMIGOD I FORGOT! There was the time every single girl in Sunnydale EXCEPT Cordelia fell madly in love with Xander!"

"The whole town?" Riley asked.

"Yeah," said Willow. "Cuz of a spell. I tried to kill him so he wouldn't be with anybody else. And Buffy got turned into a rat."

"Hey, what were those rumors about Xander and Larry?" Faith asked.

Willow's eyes widened, as she grinned and took a deep breath. The three walked off into the evening sunset, with Willow and Faith regaling Riley with stories of the Scooby gang. They walked very slowly.


Xander wasn't quite sure what happened. One moment they were all staring at Faith and everybody was happy. The next, Buffy and Joyce were in a full blown argument. They were running on eighteen minutes now.

"Because you're too young, that's why!" Joyce yelled.

"Mom! It's not like I've never had sex before!" said Buffy.

"Yes, and that worked out so well, didn't it?"

"Excuse me, has Xander turned evil? Is he going around killing people? No! He's completely different than Angel. For instance, he's alive!"

"It's not a question of who, Buffy. It's a matter of maturity and responsibility. As far as choices go, even you have to admit that your decision making skills have never been quite up to par."

"I know, Mom, but this is different."

"Different how?" asked Joyce. "I understand that the two of you are in love, but you're still kids. Are you really prepared to deal with the consequences of your actions?"

"Mom, what consequences? We're safe. Doubly so. We use protection, and I'm on the pill. There's nothing to worry about."

"Buffy, those methods aren't entirely safe, and you know it. What if something were to happen?"

"Okay, going way overboard here. I'm an eighteen-year-old college student. Xander's a nineteen-year-old construction worker. We're safer than almost all people our age, and most people older than us. In fact the only people who are safer than us are people who don't have sex. I don't get where your wigginess comes from."

"I just don't want anything to happen that you can't deal with!"

"We don't want that either," said Xander, stepping into the argument. "Mrs. Summers, we know we're not ready for children. We're not even twenty years old. We don't have a house, or a car, or anything. We're not married. But we love each other, and are devoted to each other, and that's more than I can say for a lot of people our age who are intimate."

"Mom, nothing's going to happen."

"And if it does?" Joyce asked.

"Then we'll face it together," Xander said. "Like we do everything."

"I just… want you two to be careful."

"We are, Mom," Buffy said, looking at Xander and taking his hand. "But we're also in love…"

Joyce sighed. "I don't suppose I can bribe you?"

Buffy gave her mother an apologetic smile.

Joyce shook her head. "All right. I don't have to like it, though." She stood up. "I have dinner to fix."

"Mom?" Buffy said.


"I love you."

Joyce smiled and moved to embrace her daughter. "I love you, too, dear. I just worry."

Xander watched on, smiling, as mother and daughter hugged.

"Oh, you might as well get in on the fun," Joyce said, motioning Xander to join the hug. Xander grinned and wrapped both women in his arms.

"Just so you know, Xander," Joyce said, "it wasn't you that I was objecting to."

"I know," Xander said.

"Good. Now, Buffy, put the flowers in some water. You can take them to Rupert's after dinner."


"So," said Riley. "Uh…"

"Yeah?" Faith asked, as she and Riley waited for their food.

"I'm trying to ask you something tactfully, and I can't quite figure out how to word it," he said.

Faith smiled at him. "Just out and say it. I'm a big girl."

"When were you evil?"

Faith chuckled. "Last year. I… made some bad decisions… got in with the wrong crowd… who was oddly enough the mayor of the town. I was in a bad place and wouldn't let anybody help me. Xander and all tried, but I was this big loner, you know? Figured I didn't need anybody."

Riley nodded.

"Anyway, B put me in a coma for a while and now I'm better."

"A coma?"

"Yeah, but I don't blame her. I mean, I'd killed a couple people… innocents. And I'd poisoned B's beau, and he was dying. The only cure was a Slayer's blood. B thought it was fitting that he get mine, so she stabbed me. Didn't work. I jumped off a roof and he had to drink her blood."

"Wow. So, Xander drank Buffy's blood."

"Xander? Hell no! He'd never hurt Buffy to save himself. This was Angel. Shit, X and B only been together like a couple weeks. Nah, this was a different guy entirely."

"A couple weeks?"


"And they're… as close as they are?"

"Well, X has had his eye on her for like… years. Only she never really noticed he was, you know…"

"Good for her?"

"I was going to say 'male', but okay. Anyway, they got together a little while ago. Turns out they're soul mates… like all prophesied and stuff. It's this whole big thing."

"Wow… soul mates."

"Yeah," Faith said. "Apparently all Slayers have one."

"Oh. Um, wow. Okay," Riley said.

"Oh, no pressure though," Faith said, smiling at him. "There's totally a way to tell."

"Oh?" Riley asked. "What's that?"

"I don't know," said Faith. "But Boytoy's gonna have something to do with it, so you gotta bet I'm stickin' around him for a while."

"Why's he so special?"

"Well, he's a White Knight. They're like, male companions to the Slayer. But they're wicked rare… Jeeves said the last one was like over two centuries ago."



"Oh. So, uh… that evil thing. What happened there? I mean, I assume you didn't just wake up one day and decide to kill people."

"No, nothing like that," Faith said. "Me and B were on patrol this one night, and a guy… the deputy mayor, jumped into the alley in front of me, right after we'd dispatched some vamps. I mistook him for another one, and… well, stake to the heart kills more than just vamps, you know? So he died, and I kinda decided not to care. Then I hooked up with the mayor and his boys, and just killed more people." She shrugged. "I'm mostly over it now, though. Scoobies… kinda brought me back from the edge."

Riley nodded, but frowned. "I don't want to pry, or anything… although that seems to be all I've been doing… but, well… you seem kind of callous about the whole thing."

Faith frowned and shook her head. "I'm not, really. But I figure there's no point in trying to talk around this shit when I have to deal with it. Who knows, maybe if I tell the right person, they'll be able to…" She shrugged.

"Forgive you?" Riley asked.

Faith's shoulders sagged, and she nodded. "Yeah. Won't work though. Not like I deserve it anyway. B and X… they're the heroes. I just work here."

"Doesn't seem that way to me," Riley said. "Heroes are flawed. Most heroes have some darkness in them. Something to overcome that makes them heroic. You've got that. I'm not saying you're a hero… but you've definitely got what it takes."

Faith gave him a weak smile. "Thanks," she said.

"Also, you don't get to decide if you deserve forgiveness. If you do, then one day… it'll happen. What you need is to forgive yourself. Accept that you've moved past that time in your life."

"I don't know," Faith said. "I mean, how do I know? What if I haven't, and I'm just… waiting for something to set me off again?"

"I don't know either," said Riley. "But you don't seem evil to me."

Faith smiled, and Riley covered her hand with his. They sat, looking in each others eyes for a minute. The food chose that time to arrive.


"Where was Oz tonight?" Buffy asked as she leaned back in Xander's arms. They sat in the Summers house living room with the TV on, but ignored.

"I think Willow said he had practice with the Dingoes," said Xander.

"Are they okay?" Buffy asked. "I mentioned him earlier, and she kinda got evasive."

Xander sighed. "I don't know. I hope so. But Will said that Oz was… distant. And his eyes wandered."

"Do I sense the return of big brother mode?"

"No," Xander said. "This is their thing. Willow has to deal with it… I mean, of course I'll be there for her, whatever happens, but until then… this is her. It's not something I can fix. I mean, it's not like I can go to Oz and say, 'Hey, don't do that, or else.'" Xander paused. "Can I?"

"No," said Buffy. "You can't. Or, well, you could, but you shouldn't."

"Yeah. This is something Wills has to do. I just hope he doesn't hurt her."

"She'll be okay," Buffy said, stroking the arm he had wrapped around her. "She has you."

"I love you," Xander said, so quietly it was almost a whisper. "So much."

Buffy smiled and nuzzled a little farther back into him. "Who did his eyes wander to?" she asked.

"Veruca, the lead singer of Shy," said Xander. "I don't know why. She's not so hot."

"Well, at least, starting in two days, Willow will have a few nights to figure everything out."

"Oh yeah. Night before the full moon. Although, there is that apocalypse thing that might distract her. Of course if the world ends, she won't have to figure it out."

"Oh, now there's a good idea, why didn't I think of that?"

"I don't know, baby. Were you ever dropped on your head as a child?"

"Not so far as I know."

"Well, there you go. I was."


"Pushed, really. Cordy."

"Should've guessed."


"Explains a lot, really."


Chapter 24

"I don't know, Giles," Xander said the next evening as the Scoobies plus Riley convened at Giles' apartment. "We've got to be missing something."

"There's been no movement at any of the sites," said Riley. "We've got teams stationed around the clock. Nothing. Anywhere."

"Something about this just feels off, man," Faith said.

Giles nodded thoughtfully. "By the pricking of my thumbs…"

"Something wicked this way comes," finished Willow and Xander.

Giles looked at them, shocked. "Shakespeare?" he asked

Willow and Xander shook their heads. "Bradbury," said Willow.


Willow and Xander grinned.

"Oh, hey, I gotta jet," Oz said, checking his watch. "Devon had some stuff he wanted to work on, and we're supposed to jam with Shy tonight."

Willow frowned.

"Later, man," said Riley as Oz left.

"So where else could this guy be?" Faith asked. "I mean, we've got all the sites covered."

Xander and Willow exchanged a few looks that ended with a weak smile from each of them.

"We've got to be missing something," Xander said again. "Maybe a holy site that nobody knows is holy anymore? Like a Native American burial ground or something?"

"No, Willow checked for those as well," said Giles. "Though the Chumash people did live around here, they tended to avoid the Hellmouth. They were much closer to the current location of the college, actually. And there's a satanic temple under the ground on Kingman's Bluff, but that's much too far away."

"What the hell was that?" Faith whispered to Buffy as the others carried on a conversation about the history of the town.

"What?" asked Buffy.

"X and Red. That little eyeball thing they did."

"Oh, that." Buffy shrugged. "Xander asked her if she was okay with Oz going like that. She said she really didn't have a choice and was kind of worried. He then told her that that was probably true, and he hoped everything would work out, and that he loves her. She said thanks, me too and that she loves him too."

"They said all that with their eyes?"

"Yeah," Buffy said. "I've gotten pretty good at interpreting."

"Can you talk to them like that?" she asked.

Buffy laughed. "Nobody can talk to them like that. Reading it is totally different from speaking it. Or from not speaking it. Or something. Anyway, no."

"And you're okay with Xander eye-telling another girl that he loves her?"

"With Willow, yes. Any other girl, no. Besides, he tells me he loves me all the time with his eyes. I don't think he knows I can tell what he's saying when he does that, but I know. I can just… feel it."

"How do they do that, though?"

"They've been a part of each other for… I guess fourteen or fifteen years now. They know each other better than anybody. Like… do you remember that first night Xander and I saw the commandos? The night before we attempted to seduce his whole construction crew?"


"Do you remember dinner that night? How Willow was?"

"Yeah, I was surprised. She was really friendly, I didn't expect her to… I guess accept me so quickly."

"Me either. And apparently, she didn't."


"Xander told me later that she was just acting that night. She hadn't forgiven you yet, and was just pretending to be all buddy-buddy. I had no clue, and this is the girl who's been my best friend for more than three years. But Xander just knew. They're like that."

Faith frowned.

"She's forgiven you now, Faith. We all have, and nobody holds it against you. We trust you."

"You Scoobs have been pretty good to me. And for me."

Buffy looked at Faith. "Why do you say that?"

"It's true, I mean, if not for--"

"No, not that part. You said 'you Scoobs.' Faith, you're as much a part of the group as anybody."

"No, I mean… I'm not. I just - "

"Has Xander shown you how to eat a Twinkie?"

"What?" she asked. "What the hell does that –"

"Answer the question. Has he shown you how to eat a Twinkie?"

"Sure," she said. "Showed me right before the picnic. Stuffed the whole damn thing in his mouth."

"There you go then," said Buffy.

"What?" Faith asked.

"That's like his initiation of new Scoobies. Has been since Cordy joined the gang. He did it for her, even though he'd known her since forever, too. Did it for Oz. Even Angel, when he came back. As much as Xander hated him, he realized he was part of the group. And he wouldn't have done it if Willow, Giles and I weren't okay with it."

"You mean he went around and asked you if he could eat a Twinkie in front of me?"

Buffy laughed. "No. He just knows."

"Oh," she said.

"Face it, Faith," said Buffy. "You're a Scooby."


"I just can't figure it out," Xander said that night on patrol. "There has to be something we're missing."

"You… keep saying that," said Riley.

"I know. Sorry, it just bugs me."

"That's all right," Riley said. "So… you seem to know where we're going."

Xander looked around. "Yeah. We're in a cemetery, going to another cemetery."

"I mean, you just kind of walk around like you own the place. You know, like you've done this a million times before."

"Not quite that many, but yeah, I've done this a lot. We all have. We shift patrol routes every few weeks to so the vamps don't catch on, but we know our way around pretty good."

"Bet you know a lot of good short cuts," Riley said.

"Oh sure," said Xander. "Cutting through cemeteries can shave minutes off your time going anywhere in town. I routinely came through… uh… over there… when I was late for school. Which was pretty routinely."

"That why you aren't in college?" Riley asked.

Xander raised his eyebrows at that. "I didn't do too well in school, no."

"I'm not judging," said Riley. "It's perfectly legit, the work your doing. Especially with all the saving the world stuff in your spare time. I'm just curious about the group, you know? A brain, a slayer, a librarian, a loner/slayer, a bass guitarist and a joker/white knight."

"Don't forget a prom queen."


"Cordy, my ex. She moved to LA."

"Well, that's my point. How did a group like this ever get together?"

"Buffy and Giles were together from the start. Sort of. He's a Watcher, she's a Slayer. Slayers slay, Watchers train the slayers, teach them, that sort of thing. Me and Will… well, we've been best friends since pre-school. She grew up smart, I grew up… taller, but we stayed together always. A lot of times, each other was all we had. Anyway, I overheard Buffy and Giles talking about vampires, and then later Willow and our other best friend at the time Jesse got taken by vamps. Willow got away… Jesse didn't."

"They killed him?"

"They turned him. The next night, vamps attacked the Bronze. Buffy beat them back. I had to stake Jesse. From then on, we were together. Willow and I became the first Slayerettes in history. So then blah blah blah, Cordy got involved, blah blah we started making out in janitor closets, blah blah Willow and Oz start dating and he gets involved, blah blah, Faith shows up from Boston sans watcher, joins up for a while, goes a little evil, Buffy coma's her, Cordy moves to LA, I go on a road trip blah blah I get powers, come back, get together with Buffy, wake up Faith, make sure she's not evil anymore and now apocalypse take… six or seven."

"Wow… that… answered a few questions. And raised a few, when did you break up with… Cordy? Which, consequently, is an odd name."

"Short for Cordelia. Not the most normal name either, but come on, I'm Xander, my best friend is Willow and my girlfriend is Buffy. Not the normalest names on the planet either. Anyway, Cordy broke up with me when she and Oz found me and Willow making out on a slab in a burned-out warehouse that we had been locked up in by a love sick vampire. Oz and Willow worked it out, me and Cor didn't."

"Okay, love sick vampire?"

"Yeah. His name's Spike. I think he holds the record for number of attempts to kill Buffy. The rest of us too, I suppose, but we were just in the way. Anyway, he was in love with this psycho vamp named Drusilla, but she left him for a chaos demon."

"Psycho vamp? Chaos demon?"

Xander sighed. "Okay. Dru was psycho. As in not just evil, also insane. She called me kitten… it was weird. That was when the whole female population of Sunnydale was in love with me."

"Got that story last night, from Willow," said Riley. "Sans the insane vampire, but still…"

"Right. Anyway, Spike and Dru were together for like a hundred years or whatever, and she left him for a chaos demon, which aren't as evil as their name sounds, but are real ugly. All mucus and antlers and stuff. Anyway, he came back, tried to force Willow to do a love spell. Kidnapped the two of us, locked us in a warehouse, and so on. We haven't heard from him since."

"Sounds like a fun guy," Riley said.

"Oh yeah, tons. Funny story: Joyce… that's Buffy's mom… once hit Spike over the head with an axe, and she didn't have a *clue* that he was a vamp. Didn't know about 'em at the time."

"That had to be weird."

"It was. Anyway, what's your story?" Xander asked.

"Oh, you know. Average everyday corn-fed farm boy. Grew up in Iowa with my parents, two brothers and my dog."

"Golden Retriever?"


"How rural American of you."

"Anyway, I was recruited out of high school… Army put me through college, and I had training a few times a month. My third year, they contacted me about some… training options that were only offered to a few, and, being curious, I went for it. Got into some heavy, specialized training. They had me taking a bunch of summer courses the whole time, so I graduated in three years. So I graduate, and they approach me with this hush-hush thing. Real… clandestine. Anyway, I sign up and got put with the Initiative. Now I'm here."

"Being all that you can be," Xander said.

"Something like that."

Xander looked around the cemetery. "You bored?"

"I won't lie, I could go for something a little more action-filled."

"Right. Follow me."

Xander led Riley out of the cemetery and back into town. After a few minutes, he pointed at a sign.

"The Alibi Room," Riley read. "Let me guess, this is where guys tell their significant others they were if they show up late?"

Xander grinned. "Not hardly. Come on, let's go in."

They walked inside and Riley immediately tensed up.

"Calm down, man," Xander said, noticing there was nobody behind the bar at the moment. "This is a fight-free zone. You want some yak urine?"

"Demons have a place where they don't fight? How come you guys don't just raid—yak urine?"

Xander waved his arm around the room. "Check it out. Vamps, demons, everything. Sitting, drinking. Willy has a deal with the local butcher shops, and various other… establishments. Any vamp in here drinking blood is one vamp that's not out killing people. It's a kind of a trade off. They don't go hunting, we don't kill them."

"O…kay. I guess."

"Look, I brought you here because you seem a trustworthy guy, but don't go blabbing this to your superiors. They'd want to destroy it, and that would be bad."

"Why?" Riley asked. "I mean, other than the fact that this keeps demons off the streets, but you guys could take care of them anyway, right?"

"We could, but we prefer not to. Anyway, the calm atmosphere isn't the best thing about this place."

"What is?" Riley asked.

"Ah, no, kid, not again!"

Xander grinned. "He is."

Xander sauntered over to the bar, followed by Riley. "Willy, old pal. How are you?"

"I was fine until about a second ago."

"Do you mean you're not happy to see me?"

"Am I ever? Who's the stiff?"

"Riley. He's good people."

"You say so, kid. Now look, you're scarin' away my customers, just tell me what you need."


"Of course info, what else do you ever need, you kids can't figure anything out on your own. You know in my day, we had to work for our knowledge. We didn't go around beating up innocent bartenders just because the world was about to end."


"Look, kid, I told you what I know. Anything more than that you'll have to find someplace else."

"You didn't tell me anything yet, Willy. Not tonight."

"Oh. Yeah, I guess I didn't. Got a bit ahead of myself. Whatcha need?"

"Fargath demon. And don't say Spike's old warehouse, because it isn't there."

"Yeah, I heard about your little raid the other day. Nice work."




"I know, I know. Okay, listen, I'm not in favor of the world ending so I'll tell ya what I know. I heard some guys talking last night, right? Real hush hush, but they was sayin' that this guy had holed himself up where he's gonna be doin the ritual. He's already there. And it was someplace they thought your little blonde friend would be afraid to go."

"Why would Buffy be afraid to go anywhere?" Riley asked.

"Ah, Captain Cardboard speaks!" Willy said.

Xander chuckled. "It's a valid question. Where would she be afraid to go?"

"Hey, kid, you know her better than me. I just tell you what I hear."

"Yeah, all right. You hear anything, though, you make sure to contact us."

"Sure thing, kid. Apocalypses are bad for business."

"Not too good for living, either."

Xander and Riley walked out of the bar.

"Is he always like that?" Riley asked.

"Nah," Xander said. "Sometimes he's really annoying."


"Some place Buffy would be afraid of going? Where on earth would that be?" Giles asked later that night.

"That's what I can't figure out," Xander said. "I went by the dorm, but the light was off, so I figured she and Willow were asleep."

"And you didn't think this was of great enough importance to wake them up?"

"It's 2 in the morning, Giles."

"And yet, you found it perfectly acceptable to wake me."

"Well, yeah, but what do you have to do tomorrow?"

Giles glared at him.

"That's not what I meant," Xander said. "Buffy and Will both have tests tomorrow. We're gonna be in research mode, but we can get a late start on that if we figure out what's up tonight."

"We?" Giles asked.

"Crew's shut down for a few days, conveniently enough. Finished work on our site and have about a week until the next one's ready."

"So, I can expect you bright and early, then, with an assortment of donuts?" Giles asked.

"Well, maybe not bright and early… I'm thinking eleven-ish. Guy needs his sleep, you know."

Giles looked at Xander over his glasses.


Giles nodded.

"And I'll leave a message for Buffy and Will to come on over when they're done testing."

"Goodnight, Xander."

Xander waved, and headed out the door, only to meet Faith coming in with a black eye and a torn shirt.

"You all right?" he asked.

"Fine," she said. "Ran into some vamps over in Shady Hills Cemetery. Got lucky a couple times. Claws sting like a bitch."

"How many were there?" Xander asked, as Giles retrieved some medical supplies.

"Five," Faith said. "I took care of 'em though."

Xander shook his head. "I knew you shouldn't have gone out by yourself," he said.

"Hey, screw you, I can take care of myself."

"I know, Faith," he said. "I just don't want you hurt, that's all."

Faith shot him a soft smile and sat down, waiting for Giles.

Xander walked over and looked at her eye and the cuts on her stomach.

"I think we can take care of this," he said. Xander placed one hand on her stomach and one over her eye and concentrated. The now-familiar white glow emanated from his hands and closed her cuts and lessened the swelling on her eye.

"Better?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said as Giles came back with some bandages. "My ribs are still a little sore, though."

"You can wrap those," Xander said. "Slayer healing and you'll be fine in a few hours."

Faith chuckled.

"Take care of her, Giles," Xander said as he headed out the door. "We need her."

Faith rolled her eyes at his back and turned to the Brit.

"So, got some tape for me?" she asked.

"Yes," he said, handing her a roll. "Um… shall I… or, or would you rather…"

"I'll do it Jeeves," she said. "I'm a big girl."

"Yes, of course," Giles said, turning his back as she lifted her shirt to wrap her ribs. "He's right, you know. We do need you."

Faith rolled her eyes. "Look, I may be an… extended part of the group," she said, "but with Boytoy and Blondie makin' like Conan and Xena, my particular skills are pretty redundant."

"Be that as it may, you are still a vital part of the group," Giles said. "Not everything is about fighting, Faith. You may recall that Xander was never much of a fighter until recently."

"Yeah, and he damn near got kicked out by you guys."

"A mistake on our parts of the highest order, I assure you."


"No, Faith not 'whatever.' It is important that you understand this. This group has always had certain aspects designated to certain members. In the beginning, it was Willow and I as the brains, Buffy the muscle and Xander as the heart, and the stress relief."

"Stress relief?"

"Yes. I don't know if you've noticed, but he has a tendency to make light of many situations and often at what seem inappropriate times."

"Sounds right. You can turn around, by the way."

Giles turned. "His jokes, as bad as they may be, come from an inherent understanding of human nature that Xander has. He has the uncanny ability to relieve tension and allow us all to think better. While Xander has never been what you might call a scholar, nor, until recently, anything more than an adequate fighter, he has been vital to the group. When we shut him out last year, we hurt ourselves more than we knew. Buffy did not perform as well in the field, our research was less effective than normal and we were in all together worse moods. Even Angel was affected."

"Okay, Xander's important, I get it. What does this have to do with me?"

"I'm sorry, I'm not explaining this well. Faith, we each have our role to play. Not just in the fighting, but in the group itself. As much as you may not see it, we are better fighters, better researchers, and better as people with you around. You keep us on our toes, and you aren't afraid to step up and speak your mind. Not just that, you affect us, personally. Buffy, though she may not always show it, feels a… sort of a connection with you. Only once before have there ever been two slayers, and Kendra and Buffy were far too different to get along well. With you, it is almost as if Buffy has found a sister. She may not open up to you, but this is still new for her as well. She is happier with you here."

"I don't make her happy like Xander…"

"Faith, Angel never made her as happy Xander does. Not before he lost his soul, and not when he came back from Hell."

"Okay, but I still don't think th—"

"And I know for a fact that Willow admires you greatly."

"Now I know you're making stuff up."

Giles sighed. "Willow has always been very shy, and often resented those who were more outspoken than she, merely for the fact that they were not shy."

"Xander's not shy."

"Xander has been Willow's best friend so long, she couldn't resent him if she tried. But she did resent Buffy somewhat. For being able to speak out like she couldn't, and also for attracting Xander's attentions. The same was true with Cordelia, though she did actually hate her for a long time. She once told me she was the president of the We Hate Cordelia Club."

"You're kidding."

"Xander was the treasurer… this was long before he started seeing Cordelia. Anyway, Willow also resented you when you first arrived to Sunnydale. You, too, were outspoken and far from shy."

"Still am."

"Yes. And she had even more reason to hate you."

"I tried to kill all of you."

"Well, yes, that, but you are hardly alone in that category. You did, however, take Xander's virginity."


"Willow was in love with Xander for the longest time, and what exists between them now is much more than friendship could ever claim to be. And while she was with Oz at the time that you and Xander… got together, it made her resent you even more. You had managed to come in, and in a few short months, take Xander away from her more than anybody else ever had. Even with Cordelia, they had known her for a long time, and she had been helping us for over a year."

"I'm not seeing the admiration part, Jeeves."

"Willow has, by now, gotten over most of her insecurities. She is nowhere near as shy as she used to be, and while she will always have a place in her heart for Xander, she is devoted to Oz, and sees you as no threat at all. Once you had Xander's trust, it was inevitable that you would gain hers. And in trusting you, she has rediscovered your spirit, your freedom, that which sets you apart from everyone else. And as much as she is no longer shy… she still admires those qualities in you that offset the way she used to be… and the way she often still sees herself."

"But you said she's overcome most of her insecurities."

"Yes, and she has. But Willow has always been her own harshest critic, and she doesn't see what the rest of us do. That she's come as far as she has. And because she sees in you the free spirit she often wishes she had… she admires you."

Faith sat there for a minute, pondering what Giles had told her.

"I never knew… that I had that much affect on anybody."

"Well you do, Faith. If we lost any individual member of the group... Buffy, Xander, myself, we could continue our duties. Not as well, for certain, and we would all be worse off for it, but it would go on. The same is true of you. We could go on. But Faith, please believe me when I say it would be much harder. You make everything more interesting, more fun. As much fun as demon hunting can be, of course, but still. You are both needed and wanted by the entire group. Myself included." Giles stood up and moved to the stairs. "I do hope you can accept that."

Chapter 25

"Well I'm sorry!"

"I'm afraid sorry isn't good enough, Buffy. You're just going to have to try harder."

"Giles! It's not like I can just suddenly fear some place. I mean, Snyder's office got blown up. Angel's mansion isn't scary in the least. I still refuse to go to that skeezy bowling alley Xander keeps trying to take me to, but I don't think anybody can rightfully call that a holy place."

"You only say that because you keep not going," Xander said.

"I don't know why you won't go, Buffy," said Willow. "We went there all the time as kids. It's lots of fun. Oz and I go sometimes, it's great."

"Hey, where is Oz?" Riley asked. "Shouldn't he… you know, be here?"

"Locked up," Xander said. "Werewolves are actually active on the full moon, tomorrow, and the two nights immediately surrounding it. He's out of action for a while, but we knew that when we found out about this guy. We'll be all right."

"If we could get back to the matter at hand…"

"Right," Buffy said. "Okay, where am I afraid of?"

Riley's radio crackled to life. "I'll take this outside," he said, getting up.

Faith noticeably watched his retreating form, and turned back to a look from Xander.

"What?" she asked.

"Nothing," Xander said smiling. "It's just you—"

"We got trouble!" Riley said, bursting through the door. "Some kind of hostile took out a couple of my men."

"What kind of 'hostile'?" Xander asked.

Riley glanced over at Willow, then lowered his voice. "The reports say a wild dog… about six feet tall, long claws, sharp teeth… walks upright."

Willow gasped. "Oz!"

"Okay," said Buffy. "Willow, Xander, you go check out the crypt where Oz is normally locked up. Faith, you and I hunt."

"Remember, Kane said werewolves are attracted to places with a lot of body heat, and er… sexual energy," Giles said.

"Right. Bronze and Lover's Lane," Buffy said. "Xander, we'll hit the Bronze."

"We'll scope out Lover's Lane after we check the crypt," Xander said, putting the sword away.

"I'll have my guys check the campus. Frat parties and stuff like that," said Riley.

"Buffy don't…" Willow started.

"I know, Will," Buffy said, as she caught the tranquilizer gun Giles threw to her. "Human, 28 days of the month. We'll be careful."

"What?" Riley asked.

"Werewolves are people, just like you and me, for most of the month," Xander said. "And for most of them, it's not their fault they're werewolves, and they have no control while they're changed. Tell your boys to set phasers for stun."

"Okay. Capture, not kill. Got it."

"Giles, I need some way to put it down without killing it," Xander said.

"Oh, yes, of course," Giles said. "It's just… I only have the one gun…"

"Do you have spare darts?" Willow asked.

"A few, yes."

"We'll take those," she said. "I've been practicing telekinesis."

"Let's go, people," Buffy said.

They moved.


"I've just got a really bad feeling about it," Willow said as she and Xander. "I mean, you heard Riley's description."

"I did, and I admit that it sounded very werewolfy, but that doesn't mean it's Oz. There are other werewolves out there, and this is the Hellmouth. It attracts supernatural stuff like moths to a flame. Also, that cage is really strong."

"Right up here," Willow said, pointing to a crypt.

Xander moved in front of her and opened the door.

"Shit," he said as Willow shoved past him to see the inside of the crypt.

"Oh, God, Oz!" she cried, surveying the damage. "But, we tested it before. He couldn't get out. It was solid, he couldn't…"

"He didn't," Xander said, pointing. "Look, the door is knocked inwards, there are scratches, claw marks on the floor outside of it. Will, Oz didn't break out. Something let him out."


"What are our chances of finding it?" Riley asked, following Buffy and Faith around the town.

"Pretty good, I think," Buffy said. "We've had success in the past. They usually show at the Bronze. Dancing teens, smoke, heat… it'll show."

"Okay," Riley said. "So what's the plan?"

"We go, we fight, we subdue," Faith said. "Kinda obvious there, tiger."

"How are you going to fight with that gun?" Riley asked.

"That's a good point," Buffy said, shoving it into Riley's hands. "You're more experienced with guns. We'll fight, you'll shoot, it'll drop."

Screams erupted from around the corner, and all three took off running. They rounded the corner to see a small group of people being chased by a couple of vampires.

"God, we do not need this tonight," Buffy muttered as she and Faith moved up to engage the vamps.

"I got your back, B," Faith said.

They rushed up and launched simultaneous jump-kicks at the vampires. Faith's landed, Buffy's didn't. Faith landed and spun, whipping a stake out from her pocket, and slammed it home into the downed vamp's chest. Buffy steadied herself on her feet and turned to face the vamp, just in time to be tackled by it. Buffy rolled with the blow and levered the vamp off her with all her leg strength. The vamp flew through the air and got impaled on a fence, missing the heart but holding it in place. Buffy got up, dusted herself off and stabbed it.

"How come your kick landed and mine didn't?" she asked Faith.

"What can I say, B? The boys say I'm fast."

"But they don't usually mean like the wind."

"I'll take it how I want to."

Buffy grinned at her fellow Slayer.

"Wow," Riley said. "That was… wow. I've never seen them taken out so fast."

"What that?" Faith asked. "That was nothin'. Back in the day, me and Blondie here could tag team like nobody's business. Chosen Two, ain't that right?"

"Yup," Buffy said. "But no time to lollygag, we have a werewolf to hunt. If it's not Oz, this wolf is going to rue the day it came to my town."

Buffy, Riley and Faith started walking, Faith shaking her head.

"Rue the day?" she said. "Who talks like that?"


Xander and Willow split up and searched Lover's Lane for signs of a werewolf. Neither being particularly adept at tracking things in the wilderness, they pretty much had to resort to walking around and hoping to hear a growl. As luck would have it, they heard a scream instead. It worked just as well.

Willow ran towards the sound, and came upon the wolf already fighting with Xander. She watched as Xander's shield absorbed blow after blow from the wolf. Xander wasn't fighting – he didn't want Oz, if it was Oz, to get hurt – but he was blocking. This still took a toll on his shield, and as Willow watched, the wolf actually punctured the shield, having worn it down significantly from the amount of damage he dealt it.

"Xander!" Willow yelled "Drop!"

Xander fell quickly to the ground as a tranquilizer dart shot out from Willow's hand and imbedded itself in the wolf. The wolf whipped around quickly, then whimpered as it fell to the ground, unconscious.

"So is it?" Xander asked as he stood and wiped himself off and watched the cut on his arm close up. "Is it Oz?"

Willow walked up to the wolf and leaned over. "Yeah," she said, petting its fur lovingly. "It's him. I can tell by the coloration in his fur."

"You people spend far too much time roaming around in forests," said a voice from the woods. Anya stepped out of the woods, brushing her arms off. "You should be off somewhere, having sex with your significant others, not fighting in forests, and certainly not bothering me."

"Bothering you, Anya?" Xander asked. "I apologize if I knocked you down in my haste to save your life. Remind me not to be so quick next time."

"It's not that I'm not grateful," Anya said. "I am. Lord knows without you people this world would be gone many times over, but things like this seem to happen around you, and I was very close to having the sex."

"The sex?" Willow asked.

"Yes, you know, fornication. You see, when a man and –"

"I know, Anya. I know what 'the sex' is."

"I probably shouldn't be asking this," Xander said. "But who with? Who would come out to the middle of some monster infested woods… sans car… to have sex?"

"Oh man, what was that thin… oh, you guys," said the young man who walked out of the woods with a cut on his forehead. "Every time you're around, something crazy happens."

"Jonathan," Xander said. "Nice to see you, too."

"What is this thing?" Jonathon asked.

"Wild dog," Xander said. "Nasty type. Here, let me see your forehead."

"Oh," said Jonathan as Xander took a look at his cut. "So how come you guys are taking care of it."

"I work for animal control now. Willow was just along for the ride. You guys run along now, we have to take O… this animal in." Xander placed his hand on Jonathan's forehead for a second and concentrated. His hand flashed white and Jonathan's cut was repaired. "There. All better."

"You're a white knight!" Anya exclaimed.

Xander and Willow looked shocked. "You've heard of them?" Willow asked.

"Of course. The white knights are a very chivalrous bunch. Which powers are yours?"

"Umm… fighting, weapons, healing, some speed, some strength, and the shield."

"You got the shield? Lancelot didn't even get the shield!"

"It's special?"

"Only one other of your kind has had it, so far as I know. Hallie told me about him, he was even before my time."

"Must've been a long time ago," Xander said.

"Is that a joke about my age?"

"You're over a thousand years old!"

"But you don't have to be mean about it!"

"I… never mind. What do you know?"

"The shield is only given to those warriors who will face the harshest of challenges," Anya said.

They waited.

"Is that all?" Willow asked.

"Isn't that enough?" asked Anya.

"Yeah, Ahn. Thanks. Now you kids run along, and we'll do what needs doing."

"Why are you in such a rush?" Anya asked. "I mean, it's not like the world is ending."

Xander shot her a look.

"Oh my God! Why did I even bother to come back?" she yelled.

"I think you said it was to 'copulate,'" Xander said.

"I know! And you wouldn't let me do that, and then you interrupt me and Jonathan when we are about to, and now you tell me the world's going to end."

"I didn't interrupt you, the werewolf did!" Xander said.

"I thought it was a wild dog…" Jonathan said.

"We lied," Willow said.

"And the world…"

"Will end," Xander said. "Unless Buffy and I do something about it."

"Well then go!" Anya yelled. "What are you doing here, go save the world!"

"This is very disturbing," said Jonathan.

"Xander, you have to save the world. I haven't had the pleasure moment!"

"There's a good reason, isn't it Will?" Xander said. "Save the world so Anya and Jonathan can make like bunnies."

Anya gasped and smacked him.

"How dare you! Bunnies! Of all things! Come on, Jonathan, we're leaving!"

Willow and Xander stood there, shocked. Willow shook her head as they started walking Oz back to Giles's apartment.

Willow looked at Xander. "She is the strangest girl."


Buffy, Faith and Riley approached the Bronze at a good pace, which quickened as they got closer and took note of the people running quickly away from it. Buffy and Faith rushed in through the door and took in the damage. Chairs and tables were strewn about, some broken, others merely scratched up.

"Looks like we've got the right place," Riley said.

"Seems that way," said Faith. "What do you think, B?"

"We search."

"Right. I'll take backstage, you check upstairs?"

"Sounds good," said Buffy. "Riley, go with her."

"I can handle myself," Faith said.

"Wolf's more likely to be there," said Buffy. "That's where Oz was last time… when I didn't catch him…"

"Oh," said Faith. "Well… okay."

"Don't I get to…" Riley started.

"No," Buffy and Faith said simultaneously.

Buffy made her way slowly up the stairs as Riley and Faith headed backstage. Buffy looked around the upstairs portion of the Bronze and saw more ruined tables and a window that was broken, spilling the glass inwards onto the floor.

Faith and Riley slowly worked their way behind the stage, moving cautiously. As they moved through the hanging beads that lead to the backmost area of the building, Riley raised the tranquilizer gun to his shoulder. They moved into farther and saw light streaming onto the floor. Riley lowered the gun.

"Looks like it left here," he said, walking over to the busted door at the back of the building. He looked both ways out in the alley but saw no evidence of anything supernatural.

"Gone?" Faith asked as they walked toward the main room of the Bronze.

"With the wind," he replied.

"Came in upstairs," Buffy said, returning downstairs. "And I take by your lack of wolf-prisoner it wasn't back there either."

"Looks like we've come up empty for the night," Riley said, checking his watch. "It's almost 5 a.m. and if memory serves, sunrise is in about a half hour. They do change back when the sun comes up, right?"

"Yes," Buffy said. "Which means we have a full day ahead of us. Apocalypse demon and werewolf hunting. Oh, the fun of it all."

"Back home?" Faith asked.

"Home, is it?" asked Buffy.

"Yeah, well," said Faith. "For now, anyway. Not like I got a way to support myself right now anyway. Jeeves is cool like that."

"Yeah," Buffy said. "But I wouldn't wanna live with him. Blech, not after he and my mom…." She shuddered. "Let's go"

Chapter 26

The Scoobies plus Riley met up at Giles's apartment. Willow and Xander had stopped off at Oz's room and gotten him some clothes for the morning. Xander carried Oz the whole way. Police in Sunnydale being what they were, they encountered no problems. With Oz-wolf safely drugged up in Giles' bedroom, the others met and talked.

"Okay, so there's definitely something else, right?" Xander asked.

"If your timing is right, then yes," said Riley. "You already had Oz by the time we got to the Bronze, so that wasn't him. It was something else. Or at least someone else."

"Do you think we have another werewolf?" Willow asked.

"Hard to say," Buffy said. "We didn't really have time to take statements from the people fleeing in terror."

"Lounging around on the job again, huh?" Xander joked.

Buffy stuck her tongue out at him.

"So what do we do?" Faith asked. "I mean, we got a wolf out and about, and a big apocalypse to deal with, I haven't showered and B's hair looks like it could sprout wings at any moment."


"I suggest we all get some sleep," Giles said. "We'll do nobody any good if we fall asleep on our feet. After that, we'll figure out what needs to happen. Obviously of the two, the apocalypse is more important to stop. I hate to say it, but if we must leave the werewolf on the street for another night to save the world, then that's just what we're going to have to do."

The sun peeked in through the window as they all sat there. "Meet back here no later than noon, and we shall plan our course of action. And if any of you has any thoughts as to the whereabouts of this demon, don't hesitate to call."

As the Xander, Buffy and Riley left and Faith went back to her room, Willow got up and went to check on Oz, who was just waking up.

"Hey," he said as he pulled on the shirt that Willow had left for him. "How'd I get here?"

"Xander carried you," she said.

"Okay. Why?"

"Well, you kind of got out last night," she said, sitting next to him on the bed. "So we found you and brought you back."

"Did I get to anyone?" he asked, worried.

"We don't think so," she said. "The… um… well, a couple of Riley's soldiers were injured by a large dog type creature. But it probably wasn't you. You didn't so much escape as you were… broken out."

"By what?"

"We think it was another werewolf. The… claw marks outside the cage… they're… kind of the right size. And something… not you… raided the Bronze last night."

"Well where was I?"

"Lover's Lane," she said. "Xander… um… distracted you while I got you with a tranquilizer dart."

"But I didn't get anyone?"

"No. And, even if you did, which you didn't, but even if it was… wolf-you who attacked Riley's soldiers, they're gonna be okay. Nothing major. No deaths last night."

"Good," he said, relaxing a little bit. "So, somebody opened my cage?"

"Well… destroyed is more like," she said. "It was… well, something wanted you out of there."

"Huh," he said. "So, what about tonight?"

"I don't know," said Willow. "But for now, Giles ordered us all to sleep, because tonight… world save-age."

"I'm not so tired," he said. "I think I'm gonna go for a walk."

Willow frowned. "Do you want me to—"

"No," he said. "No, you should get some sleep, like Giles said. I won't be up for the fight tonight anyway."

Oz leaned over and kissed Willow on the cheek before getting up and leaving a very worried Willow sitting on Giles' bed. After sitting for a few minutes, she went downstairs to find Giles reading some book or other.

"Bye Giles," she said, softly, gathering her jacket and purse.

The older man looked up at her. "Is everything all right?" he asked, noticing the worried expression on her face.

"I…" she started, pausing at the door. "No." Willow walked away without looking back.


"What do you think?" Buffy asked as she lay in Xander's arms.

"I think sleep is a good thing," he replied wearily.

"I just… I don't know. Where could it be? And what broke Oz out last night? And –"

"Buff, I love you. This you know. But if you don't stop talking I'm gonna kick you out of this bed."

"I don't believe you."

Xander turned to face her and glared.

"Okay fine," she said quietly, snuggling a little closer into him and laying her hand over his. "I believe you."

Xander kissed the top of her head.

"Do you think the world's going to end tonight?" she asked.

Xander sighed and said nothing for a few moments.

"No," he replied, finally. "I don't. In fact, I'm sure it won't."


"Well… a couple reasons. First, there's the prophecies."

"What prophecies? The ones that say this guy's gonna end the world?"

"No, not those. Buff, there's a million prophecies out there talking about Armageddon. A lot of those concern events already past, but hey—still here. I mean the prophecies about us."

"Which ones?"

"Well, there's that one that says you will face dark times."

"Yeah, and?"

"Well, it says I'll help you through them. That really hasn't happened yet. As much as I don't want you to face dark times… I do want us to be around to be able to face them. And I believe we will be."

"Anything else?"

"Well, there's that prophecy about me helping Faith find her soul mate. Haven't done that yet."

"Okay, double prophecies. What else?"

"That's not enough?"

"You want me to use prophecies as proof against other prophecies?"

Xander laughed. "I guess that I can see the fallacy in that logic."

"Big words again."

"Sorry. Anyway, there is another reason."

"Yeah? What is it?"



"Buffy, you've stopped everything. The Master, the Mayor, the Sisters of Jhe… Angelus…. You've done it all, and one lousy demon is supposed to scare me? Especially now, with me all powered up and Faith on the good side of the Force again? I can't say I'm too worried."

"But what if we don't find him in time?"

"We will," he said. "We always do."


"We have to talk about what happened."

"Really?" asked Oz. "I don't see it that way."

"Oz you can't just—"

"Actually, I can just."

"They lock you up in a cage!"

"No, I lock myself up in a cage," he said. "For safety."

"Whose safety, Oz? Because I don't think it's yours."

"No, it's not mine," he said. "I can take care of myself when I'm wolfed out, I just can't control myself. It's for the protection of the people who can't take care of themselves."

"You can't fight it," she said. "The wolf… it can't be locked up. It's a part of you. Inside you. It's what you are. It's in you all the time."

"I don't even—"

"You're starting to remember, aren't you?"


"Your memory. It's getting better. You're starting to know what you did. You remember me breaking you out, that's why you came and found me."

"That doesn't mean anything."

"It does, Oz. You're becoming the wolf more and more every time you change. I know what it's like. I know what you're going through. The power. The incredible rush from a good hunt. I know what it's like."

"Look… just stay away from me Veruca."

"Oh, I can stay away," she said. "The question is: can you?"


"So where are we putting me up tonight?" Oz asked when they had all reassembled at Giles's apartment.

"I'm not sure," Giles said. "We… don't exactly have time to put up another cage today."

"Got it covered," Xander said. "If you're willing to go in for manacles, we can put you in Angel's old mansion. There's uh… some places to hook in restraints that are pretty solid, we checked it out on the way over here."

"Sounds okay by me," he said. "If you're sure it's solid."

"Tried 'em out ourselves," Buffy said.

The room grew very quiet.

"In the looping chains through and pulling AND NOTHING ELSE kind of way," Xander said. "Perverts."

"Yes, well, that all sounds fine," Giles said. "Has anybody had any thoughts as to where Buffy might be afraid of?"

He looked around the room at the silent people. "Right. Me either. So I got some help."

"What kind of help?" Faith asked.

"This," Giles said, pulling out a phonebook. "This has a listing of every business, every park, every museum, church and governmental building in town. Let's go through the list."

The entire group groaned.

"Well, it's a last resort, people!" he said. Giles started reading from the phone book.


Four hours later

"Well, that was fun," said Faith. "Not to mention utterly useless."

"That's not true, Faith," said Riley. "It was very useful. Now we know where not to look."

"Which is, um, everywhere," Willow pointed out.

"Yes," Giles said. "Well, that about does it. We're all going to die."

"Giles!" yelled Willow


"I need to get going," Oz said, looking at his watch. "Getting close to sundown."

"I'll go with," Xander said, after catching a quick glance from Willow. "Make sure everything's done up right."

Oz nodded and the two young men left the others to keep searching for a potential site. Xander returned to the apartment about twenty-five minutes later.

"All locked up and no place to go," Xander said as he sat back down next to Buffy. "Any success in my absence?" His question was met with a lot of shaking head.

"I hate to say it again," Xander said, "but we've got to be missing something."

"What time is it?" Buffy asked.

"5:40," said Riley.

"You're certain of what Willy said?" Giles asked.

"Yeah," said Xander. "Willy said that he's already set up wherever he's going to be, and he's in someplace they think Buffy will be afraid of. That sound right, Riley?"

"Basically, yeah."

"Wait a second, we've been going about this all wrong!" Faith said.

They looked at her.

"Xander, you said he's in someplace they think Buffy's afraid of, right?"


"And we've established Buffy's not afraid of any holy place or… well, anything else, in Sunnydale, right?"

"Yes," said Giles. "And so, we have reached an impasse."

"No, we haven't," Riley said. "We've been looking for places Buffy IS afraid of, not places that demons would THINK she is afraid of."

"And I think I know exactly where that is," said Faith.

"Well don't keep us waiting," Buffy said.

"I know if I were going to be afraid of somewhere, it would be the place that I died."

"The Master's cave," Giles said, immediately.

"Of course," Willow said. "It… it makes perfect sense. It's an old church, and it's close to the Hellmouth."

"And it's underground," Xander said. "Which explains why we never found them."

"Good work, Faith. Riley, how soon can your men be ready?"

"Half-hour, tops. Where should we meet them?"

"Xander?" Buffy asked.

"Restfield Cemetery," he said. "There's a large sewer access there. It's where Angel led me down from."

"Done," said Riley, walking out of the apartment to call his troops.

"So are you?" Willow asked Buffy.

"Am I what?"

"Afraid of the Master's cave?"

"Well, last time I was there, I died. But, Xander brought me back, and this time he's gonna be with me the whole time," she said, smiling at her lover. "I'm not afraid at all."

"I happen to be terrified," said Xander.

"Why?" asked Giles.

"About half of my nightmares since that day have been about Buffy going back to the Master's cave and dying, or of me not getting there in time. That's scary, to me."

"What were the other half of your nightmares about?" Faith asked.

"Clowns, vamp Willow, and Drusilla being in love with me."

"Clowns?" she asked.

"It's a long story."

"He got scared by a clown on his sixth birthday," said Willow.

"Not long enough, I guess."

"Okay, weapon time," said Buffy.

"I call the magic sword!" Xander yelled.

"You can't just call it like that, you got it last time!"

"So what? I get it this time, too."

"Giles," Buffy whined, "Xander's hogging the magical weapon."

"Oh dear lord, please strike these two down that I may live the rest of my… day… in peace. Really, please do sort it out amongst yourselves before we resort to name calling?"

Buffy and Xander looked at each other, then dove as one for the weapon's chest. Xander, with his extra inches of reach, got it first and emerged with the sword.

"Meaniehead," Buffy pouted. Xander stuck his tongue out at her, and proudly showed the sword off to Willow, who rolled her eyes.

"Okay," Riley said, re-entering the apartment. "They'll meet us at the entrance of Restfield Cemetery in half an hour. Since I've had the most contact with you, Professor Walsh has put me in charge of the troops. Just tell me what you need us to do."

"Okay, great," said Buffy, grabbing another sword from the chest. "I guess we all mount up now."

"Mount up?" Giles asked. "What, are we cowboys now?"

"Yeah, are you looking to go, um, slaughter some indigenous people and give them diseases?" asked Willow.

"Also, the last time I looked, we ain't got any horses," said Faith, grinning.

"Oh, just get some weapons, people."


"They don't run like an ordinary military unit," Riley said as they walked to the cemetery. "We picked the best minds, the best fighters, the best marksmen, the best everything, and put them together. As such, they get a little leeway when it comes to regulations."

"What does that mean?" Xander asked.

"It means they might not accept you guys right off, just because I tell them to."

The Scooby Gang soon met up with the soldiers from the Initiative. Riley quickly addressed his troops and informed them of the impending apocalypse situation. A couple of the younger ones shifted nervously, but most just kept staring at the Scoobies.

"Questions?" Riley asked when he was done. One soldier, a no-neck, raised his hand. "Lieutenant Horn?"

"Sir, just wondering who the civilians are, sir."

"Good question. Men, this group of dedicated individuals has been defending this town for over three years. Each one of them has taken down more vampires than any single person in the Initiative, myself included. Their knowledge of the occult far outweighs the information we have been able to gather. If one of them tells you to do something, do it. Act as though it were a direct order from me. Is that understood?"

"Begging the Captain's pardon, sir," said another soldier. "But we're supposed to take orders from, let's face it, some little girls who look like they should be on television, an old guy who could pass for a librarian, and some kid who looks fresh out of high school?"

The 'civilians' looked on in amusement.

"Soldier, step out."

"Sir?" he asked.

"I said step out of the line, soldier."

"Yes, sir," he said, stepping forward.

"How many fights have you lost in your life, soldier?" Finn asked the younger man.

"One, sir," he answered.

"And who was that to?"

"Sir, you defeated me, sir."

"That's right, I did. How long did we fight?"

"Um, I don't exactly remember, sir. I gave you a good run, though, if you don't mind my saying."

"Not at all. Buffy?"

Some of the soldiers chuckled at her name. Buffy pointed to herself questioningly. Seeing Riley's nod, she walked over to where the soldiers were standing.

"I want you to fight her," Riley said.


"Fight her," Riley said. "If you can beat her—scratch that. If you land one punch or kick or anything, I'll put you in for a promotion."

The young man smiled cockily. "Yes, sir," he said.

Buffy dropped into her fighting stance opposite the soldier.

"Easiest promotion I'll ever get," he muttered to himself.

"What was that?" Riley asked.

"He said it would be an easy promotion," Faith yelled from her spot, 10 feet away.

The soldier was surprised she had heard, but kept his eyes on his target. Buffy just smiled. In a flash, the fight was on. The soldier rushed Buffy. She kept her place. He thought that with his greater reach, obviously greater strength and, at the very least, equivalent speed, he should be able to get hold of her and down her before she could counter any of his attacks. This line of thinking was swiftly interrupted as his ass met the ground and he rolled end over end back to his fellow soldiers, who were quickly silenced.

Buffy lowered her leg and grimaced, and shot an apologetic look over to Riley as she went back over to her friends. Riley nodded at her and went back and stood in front of his men. "So," he started. "That was one of the 'little girls who looks like she should be on television.' Anyone want to try the 'kid who looks fresh out of high school?'"

His question was met with silence. "Good," he said. "Let's go."

"Sir!" said a soldier, the field medic, kneeling next to the one on the ground.

"Yes?" Riley asked impatiently.

"Um, I think he cracked a couple of ribs, sir."

Riley looked back at Buffy, who shrugged apologetically again. Xander shook his head and he jogged over.

"Lay down flat on your back," Xander said.

The young man lay down with the help of the medic. Xander knelt next to him.

"Take off some of this gear," he said. The medic looked to Riley for confirmation. Riley nodded. The medic and Xander then removed all his extraneous equipment, leaving him in a shirt and camo pants.

"Are his ribs uh… set, or whatever?" Xander asked. The medic nodded.

"Okay." Xander placed his hands gently on the soldier's chest and concentrated. A white glow emanated from his hands for a couple seconds.

"All right," he said. "You'll be sore for a couple days, but other than that, you should be fine."

The soldier looked at him incredulously.

"Come on, sit up," Xander said.

With a little prompting from Riley, the young man sat up.

"How do you feel?" Riley asked.

The young man squirmed a little, testing for pain.

"I feel… fine, sir. A little sore, like he said, but nothing I can't deal with. Sir."

"Good," Riley said. "Let's go then." The soldiers moved into the sewer access in pairs.

Xander grinned as he waited for the rest of the gang to catch up with him. "Always cleanin' up your messes, Buff."

"You just like showing off," she replied, wrapping her arm around his waist.

"Well, yeah," he said. "But I'm still right."

The Scoobies followed the soldiers in and closed the gate behind them.

"Xander," Riley called out. "We need directions."

Xander and Buffy moved to the head of the group.

"It's kind of… this way-ish," Xander said, pointing to the left. They followed his lead.


Chapter 27

"Xander, we've been at this interchange before," Riley said.

"How do you know?" Xander asked.

"I put a mark on the wall when we came through. So we'd know how to get out."

"Wow, you just think of everything don't you? Okay, so. This is fun. I'm completely lost. Buffy?"

"Colin lead me down to the cave last time. I didn't really pay attention to where we were going. What time is it?"

"7:45. You mean to tell me you have no idea how to get where we're going?" Riley asked, with little hope in his voice.

"That's a little too… um… accurate for my tastes.," Xander said. "I have no idea what to do."

"Guess it's a good thing I showed up then," said a voice from in front of them.

Doing his best impression of a southern lady, Xander yelled "Oh, my savior!" then ran up and tackled the speaker in a huge, showy, and utterly fake hug.

To the surprise of everyone who recognized the voice, it started laughing along with the rest of the group.

"Laughing?" Xander said, incredulously. "Laughing! You're supposed to glare at me and say something like 'That's not funny, Harris.'"

"It *was* funny," Angel said. "So sue me."

"Okay, who is this guy, and where's the broody, soul-filled bastard I know and generally dislike?"

This caused Faith to laugh even harder.

"What are you doing here, Angel?" Giles asked. "Not that, at the moment, I'm inclined to complain."

"Doyle sent me. Got a big vision. Said if I didn't come here and lead you somewhere, the world as we know it would end. I'm not generally in favor of that, so here I am."

"Well it's a good thing you are. This silly bastard can't get us anywhere," Buffy said, indicating Xander. Faith kept laughing. Oxygen was quickly becoming an issue.

"Hey!" he yelled. "I resemble that remark."

Angel smiled and looked at the soldiers. "You guys have picked up quite an entourage since I was last here."

"They just followed me home one day," Willow said. "Giles told me I could keep them."

Faith hit the floor laughing

"I see she hasn't had any ill effects of a coma," Angel observed.

"Nope," Xander said. "She's care-free and redemption filled."

"Good," Angel said. "So, where are we going?"

"Excuse me… um, who is this?" Riley asked.

"Riley, this is Angel," Buffy said, handling the introductions. "Angel, Riley. Riley's the leader of these soldiers. They work for a government agency that's all about researching and eliminating demons."

"That's supposed to be a secret," one of the soldiers muttered.

"He's one of the good guys," Xander said. "An old… old, old, old, old friend. Except I don't like him. But I trust him."

Angel raised an eyebrow. "Okay. So where are we going?"

"The Master's cave," Buffy said.

"And you were coming this way?" Angel asked.

"Well, we really had no idea where we were going."

"You do know that you've been going in exactly the wrong direction?" he asked.

"Well, you can take us now," Buffy said. "How long do you think it'll take?"

"This whole place is riddled with side passages and re-routes, and we're about a mile and a half north, and another two east of the cave," he said, shaking his head. "Any particular rush?"

"We've got to overcome the vampires and then Xander and Buffy must kill the demon by midnight, assuming that is when he will finish the ritual, or every living creature on this plane will suffer eternal torment," Giles said.

"Couldn't you have just said 'hurry'?" Faith asked.

"Dump non-essential gear," Angel said. "We're moving as fast as possible."

"You guys take point," Xander said. "I'll hang back here with the troops."

Angel nodded, then he and Buffy walked ahead.


"Yeah, Riley?"

"What's with his hair?"

Raucous laughter filled the sewers.


The large-ish group crept along the sewers, moving extremely quietly for a group its size. Angel held up a hand, and everyone stopped. He sniffed the air for a second, then waved Xander and Riley up.

"Down here," he said, pointing down a tunnel that sloped vaguely downwards.

"Great," Xander said. "Okay, so now we need to form a plan of attack. Anybody have ideas other than a full out assault?"

"Well," Angel started, "there aren't a lot of optio—"

"Everybody shut up," Faith whispered.

"What is it?" Giles asked.

"I said shut up."

The Scoobies spread out, and the soldiers hunkered down, keeping all the exits of the room covered with their rifles.

Faith walked slowly towards one of the entrances. As she did so, Angel and Buffy perked up as well, something sparking their enhanced senses. Giles and Willow pointed their crossbows at the entrance Faith was moving to.

"Nah, it must have been nothing," she said, while motioning Buffy closer and signaling Xander and Riley to continue talking. Faith and Buffy pulled stakes from their waistbands and moved to the wall.

"So, is there anything else we can do other than just rush in?" Xander asked.

"Not if there aren't any other entrances, no."

"Okay," Xander said. "Here's the plan. Angel, Buffy, Faith and I will rush in first to clear some room. You guys follow us and shoot anything that moves that isn't us."

"Sounds good," Riley said. "Okay men, gear up."

They looked at Faith for confirmation, and she nodded.

As the commandos let their guard down and prepared their weapons, an attack came from the side where Faith and Buffy were waiting. Three vampires rushed through the opening. Two of them were turned very quickly to dust from stakes thrust through the back of their chests. The remaining vampire froze at the site of Giles' and Willows' crossbows aimed at it. Giles allowed a small smirk to cross his lips as he let his bolt fly. The vampire looked shocked as it turned to dust.

"Good sensing, Faith," Buffy said.

Faith smiled at her. "All in a day's work."

Buffy and Faith joined the boys at the front of the group.

"Same plan as you said?" Buffy asked.

"It should be about as effective as anything else we've got," said Riley. "Although, I don't quite understand why Angel's going in front."

"Oh, I'm—"

"A really good fighter," Xander said. "Trust us, he should be up here."

Riley looked at Xander oddly for a second, then nodded. "Okay. Whenever you're ready."

The four champions readied their individual weapons. Xander handed his sword to Buffy, who looked up at him.

"Like you pointed out," he said, grinning, "I got it last time."

Buffy gave him a quick kiss and switched weapons with him. Faith and Angel just rolled their eyes at each other.

"If we're all settled now?" Angel asked, impatiently.

Receiving nods all around, the four Champions moved slowly and silently into the tunnel and downwards.

"How come you didn't tell them what I was?" Angel asked Xander as they moved ahead.

"I know your motives and objectives. I trust Riley, but the rest I'm not sure about."

"Is that concern for me, Harris?"

"Concern for the 'good fight,' Deadboy."


"And for Cordelia."

Angel stumbled, but Faith caught him and glared at Xander, who was grinning ear to ear.


The scene was complete chaos.

Xander, Faith, Angel and Buffy had been set upon as soon as they entered the chamber where the Master had been. Between them, they had taken out almost a dozen vampires. Angel even recognized a few. These were no fledglings, some of them were over a century old. That made them tougher.

"You know," Xander said as he parried a blow from one of the vampires he was fighting, "When Willy said thirty, I thought he was just trying to scare us."

"Well," Buffy said as she cut one's head off and kicked another in the chest, "Willy does have a tendency to exaggerate."

Angel grunted as he caught a blow to the solar plexus. A crossbow bolt from Willow dusted the vamp who had downed him, and he jumped back up and into the fray.

"I think your snitch boy underestimated a little!" Faith yelled.

A quick survey of the chamber would have borne out that conclusion. No fewer than 40 vampires remained, and they were all protecting the Fargath demon. The soldiers from the Initiative were laying down covering fire, but they were only able to hold the vampires off, not actually kill any of them.

"This could get pointless, really quick," Angel yelled as he ducked a pulse rifle shot that sent a vampire flying to the other side of the room. As front-lines went, this was a good one, but even champions get tired.

"Riley, any ideas you've got would be appreciated!" Xander yelled.

"One minute, I'm working on something!" came the reply from behind him.

Three vampires had gotten through the front line, and about nine soldiers were currently engaged in holding

"One minute and we could be toast!" said Buffy.

"I'm just waiting for something interesting to happen!" Faith yelled above the fighting as she staked two vamps in a row with the dull handle of her battle axe.

"Fifty vampires guarding a demon about to end the world and she's waiting for something interesting," Xander muttered to Buffy. "This job allows us no perspective whatsoever."

"Everybody down!" came a yell from among the soldiers. Two pulse rifles were flung over the heads of the fighting foursome, who kept up their battles.

"I really wanna know why that guy's throwing away weapons," Angel said.

"You should hear what he said about your hair," said Xander.

Angel released a powerful, wood-filled haymaker at a vampire's chest at the same moment that Xander decapitated another.

He and Xander paused and faced each other.

"What's wrong with my hair?" Angel asked.

"Guys, get down!" Willow yelled.

At that point, a large explosion came from farther down the chamber, followed by a rain of body parts that quickly turned into a shower of dust and ash. Angel and Xander shielded themselves from it with their arms as Faith and Buffy fought through the 'debris'. From the back, Giles could tell the explosion had killed or incapacitated about a dozen more vampires. Which left them with, approximately, Willy's original estimate of thirty.

"Willow," Giles said to the young girl who was reloading her crossbow. "If you had any spells you might be able to cast…"

"Right," she said, putting the weapon down. She turned to face the battle in front of her and focused her concentration on a vampire about halfway into the crowd. Her eyes darkened a little and Giles could feel raw power emanating from her as he reloaded his own crossbow.

"Incendiere majoris!" Willow yelled.

A huge gout of flames burst forth from where the vampire had been standing, and caught onto all the others immediately surrounding it. Loud anguished cries echoed throughout the chamber as another half-dozen vampires turned to dust.

Willow sat down roughly on the floor, a little blood trickling from her nose, which she quickly wiped away. There was no need to be making herself a more obvious target.

"Whew," she said, breathily as she leaned back against a wall for a moment. "Let's not do that again anytime soon, how bout?"

Giles smiled at her and handed her his crossbow. "Reload for me?" he asked.

Willow nodded and took the crossbow from him. Giles re-aimed with the one that had originally been hers and shot a vampire right next to Faith. It went through the demon's eye.

"Convenient!" Faith yelled as she grabbed the bolt from its head and stabbed it into the chest, not giving it time to recover. She brought her sword to bear on another attacker cut him down with ease.

"I haven't even broken a sweat!" she yelled. As she whipped around and beheaded yet another vampire, she felt claws rake down her back, and screamed out in pain.

Suddenly, Riley was there punching and smashing and occasionally shooting with an inner fire that had been unseen as yet. He tore into the first couple vampires, staking them quickly as adrenaline surged through his veins. A point blank pulse rifle shot at full power took the head off of another vampire quickly turning it to dust. This gave Faith time to recover, catch her breath and re-enter the fight right next to him.

"What do you think now, Deadboy? Glad he's on our side?" Xander asked as he ducked or blocked three consecutive blows from surrounding vampires.

"I could get used to it," Angel said as he broke one vampire's arm and threw it into the backside of one of Buffy's sword swings, which took its head off.

"I hate to rush you," Giles yelled from the back of the cavern, "but we are on somewhat of a deadline here!" As he said this, Xander flung a vampire over the soldiers. Giles picked it off in mid-air and rained dust down on the army boys.

"We're trying here!" Buffy yelled. "They just keep coming though!"

"By the way," Xander said to Angel as a vampire jumped onto him and started pummeling his shield, "It was light before you got here. Who drove you?"

"Cordelia and Doyle," Angel said. "They were going to go drop in on Joyce and have dinner."

"Uh huh," Xander said as he dusted the vamp on top of him and kicked an approaching one in the groin, flooring it. "And they didn't think we might want some help?"

"Well," Angel said while stabbing the floored vampire and turning to face another. "Cordy just got her hair done, and Doyle's recovering from his vision."

"How bad does a vision hurt?" Buffy asked as she wiped sweat from her brow and then decapitated another vampire.

"Well," Angel said as he picked up a vampire and threw him into some of his comrades behind him. "Have you ever had Faith smack you in the forehead with a sledgehammer?"

"Not recently, no," Buffy said. "I don't imagine it would be any fun, though."

"Damn straight!" Faith yelled while kicking the legs out from under two vampires, staking them and flipping up to kick another in the head.

"According to Doyle, that's about half as bad it is."

A momentary lull in the action followed.

"Damn," said the Scoobies.

The vampires, reinvigorated, pushed forward. Another set of overloading pulse rifles were tossed into the crowd, to much the same effect as before.

A large, green demon floated into the air and shot a blob of jelly-like substance into the gathered Initiative soldiers, sticking many of them in place and stopping much of the covering fire.

"How's that for interesting, Faith?" Xander asked as he flipped a vampire over his shoulder and staked him as he hit the ground.

"Works for me, Boytoy!" she replied as yet another vampire jumped at her.

Faith nimbly ducked the vampire and Xander swung his sword around, slicing the vamp in half. Another quick slash decapitated it.

Willow had recovered and was standing again, when she saw what was going on.

"Giles?" she asked meekly. "Does that demon look like it's squatting?"

Giles looked up from reloading his crossbow. "Oh my… XANDER! BUFFY!"

"Kinda busy, Giles!" Buffy yelled out as she sliced through two vampires with her sword.

"The demon is squatting! The ritual has begun, you have five minutes until the next chance to kill it!" Giles yelled.

"What's this?" Angel asked while backhanding another vampire and sending it flying.

"We need to get through the vampires to kill the Fargath," Xander said.

"In five minutes?" Angel asked.

"Yeah, in five minutes. Earlier would be good so we have time to get ready."

Angel nodded, kicked a vampire out of the way and paused to look around the chamber.

Xander blocked a couple of vampires from getting to Angel while he was surveying the room.

"Do you think your toy soldiers can hold their own?" Angel asked, re-entering the fight with a devastating haymaker to the face of one of the vampires.

"They can hold some vampires back, if that's what you mean," Xander said, stabbing a vampire in the stomach with his sword then decapitating it. "But they sure as hell can't take them all."

"I think between me and Faith," Angel said, staking a vampire, "We could toss the two of you over most of the action. We'd need a few seconds to set up, when the soldiers would have to keep these bastards back."

"Buffy, what do you think?" Xander asked.

"It sounds like our only shot," she yelled back, sweeping the legs out from under a vampire and rolling to avoid an attack from another. "Up for it, Faith?"

"You know me, B. You got a crazy-ass plan and I'm in."

Angel grinned.

"Gah!' Xander yelled, noting the expression on Angel's face. "What's that?"

"What," he asked. "I'm not allowed to grin?"

"No!" Xander said. "You're freakin' me out!"

"Riley!" Buffy yelled to the leader of the soldiers. "Can your boys take point for about a minute?"

"No problem!" he yelled back.

The soldiers moved forward with surprising speed, shooting vampires left and right, just managing to hold them back.

Faith, Buffy and Xander paused a moment to catch their collective breaths. Angel just waited.

"We ready?" he asked.

Buffy and Xander looked at each other and nodded. A scream distracted them as a soldier went down and a vampire broke through the ranks. Giles quickly shot it with a crossbow bolt, dusting it.

"Let's go," they said

Buffy and Xander backed up a few feet to get a running start, then Angel and Faith got set. A few moments later, Buffy and Xander were flying through the air over the fight. They landed simultaneously, rolling to lessen the impact. Coming up, they noticed a few vampires redirected their attacks to come at them.

Buffy was set on by one vampire. After a fast series of kicks and blows, it was obvious she had the top hand in the battle. The vampire quickly switched to the defensive, dragging the fight out longer.

Two vampires attacked Xander, and while he was able to hold his own for a few seconds, these were more experienced and better fighters than most of those he had faced at the front of the battle. While he dispatched the first fairly quickly, the second was landing blow after blow, weakening his shield. Xander dropped and rolled just as the vampire slashed at him with his claws. Fire raced across his chest as they penetrated his shield, slicing into him. Xander was forced onto the defensive, blocking and parrying with all available speed, just to be able to stay in the fight. He was pinned against a stalagmite, deflecting blow after blow when the vampire turned to dust and revealed a sweaty, tired and bruised Buffy standing there.

"Took a little out of you, did he?" Buffy asked.

"More than I was willing to give," Xander said. "You see a virgin anywhere around here?"

Buffy turned and pointed to where the Fargath was continuing its ritual.

"How do we time this?" Xander asked, leaning against the naturally formed pillar to regain his breath. "We need to kill it as it's sacrificing, but we also need to keep her alive."

"Where do you think he'll cut her?" Buffy asked.

"I think the Evil Villains Handbook ™ indicates the throat as the best place for bloodletting. I'm guessing we shouldn't let that happen."

"But Giles said the blood needs to be flowing."

"I dunno," Xander said. "Maybe we… kick him as he brings the knife around and hope he misses?"

"That's not the best plan ever, Xander."

"No, it's not."

"How much time do we have?"

"Less than a minute."

Xander looked over at the Fargath demon, who was kneeling inside of a pentagram. There was a small brown pile behind him and a young woman with dirty blonde hair tied up a foot or two away.

"And we're sure we can't save her before?" he asked.

"We're sure," Buffy said.

"I hate waiting. Can't he speed this up?"

As Xander was speaking the demon, huge and green with bone fragments sticking out of its spine and claws almost a foot long, stopped chanting and pulled a jewel-encrusted knife from under its leg.

"Here we go," Buffy said. She and Xander gripped the sword together and ran to the demon. As they ran, it grabbed the girl and with one swift slash, laid her throat open from ear to ear. The ground started to shake as the blood fell to mix with the feces in the pentagram.

Buffy and Xander jumped as one and slammed the sword into the back of the demon. It roared in agony, but kept the girl over the pentagram, her blood still spilling from her neck. Xander and Buffy pulled the sword from the demon and, with a little awkwardness come from not normally sharing one sword between two people, sliced the demon's head off.

A huge onrush of energy spewed forth from the demon, knocking Xander and Buffy back about ten feet. The shaking stopped.

Xander and Buffy rushed forward, Buffy removing the remains of the Fargath, Xander tending to the girl. With both of his hands on her throat, Xander concentrated as hard as he could. The now-familiar white glow emanated from his hands and closed the wound on her neck. Xander checked for a pulse and found a very weak one, then fell backwards, exhausted.

Angel, Faith, Riley and Giles were mopping up the last of the vampires… those which had not already fled at seeing so many of their number decimated.

"MEDIC!" Buff yelled.

A young soldier tapped two of his compatriots, who then fired covering shots, driving away a couple more vampires, and raced towards where the girl lay.

After a quick inspection, he looked up.

"Well, she's obviously lost a lot of blood," he said. "But if we get her to a hospital quickly, she should be okay. Where was she cut?"

"Throat," Buffy said. "Ear to ear."

The solider looked back down at her. "There's no scarring," he said. Then an idea occurred to him and he looked at Xander. "Your work?"

Xander nodded. "Yeah. Wiped me out, too. Wouldn't happen to have some water, would you?"

The soldier tossed Xander his canteen and checked the girl again.

"Her pulse is steady, if low."

The rest of the group then approached, having driven off the last of the vampires, Willow being helped by Giles.

"Angel," Xander said as he stood up slowly. "You know the way out of here best. Can you take her to the hospital? She needs blood."

Angel nodded at him and quickly picked her up and swept out of the cavern.

"And get her name!" Xander yelled.

"Why her name?" Giles asked.

"So we can check on her," said Willow. "Duh."

"Yes, of course," Giles said. He surveyed the site of the ritual, nodding at various inscriptions drawn on the floor around the pentagram.

Riley, who had been conferring with what was left of his men off to the side, approached the Scoobies.

"So the apocalypse is over?" he asked tentatively.

"Yup," Faith said. "Evil's been pushed back one more night."

"What's your casualties?" Xander asked.

"Four dead, nine injured, one… missing."

"Missing?" Buffy asked.

"Forrest… that's my second in command, saw Lieutenant Horn being dragged off as the fight ended. He tried to pursue but…"

"Sorry," Xander said. "For everyone."

"Thanks," said Riley. "But they died doing what they were trained to do, what they have lived to do for the past few years."

"They died heroes, even if they didn't set out to be them," said Giles. "Without your men, there is no way we could have held off the vampires, and the world would be at this moment sucked into a hell dimension."

"What will you tell their parents?" Willow asked.

"Command has a line set up. Their parents know nothing about this stuff. Nobody does. It has to stay that way."

The Scoobies nodded.

"Do you want some help carrying your men out?" Xander asked.

Riley looked over at the bodies that were strewn about the floor of the cavern and the injured soldiers limping towards them.

"No," he said. "This is something we need to take care of on our own."

The remnants of Soldier-Xander understood.

"Okay," he said, taking another swig of water from the canteen. "We'll clear the way to the nearest exit, you and your men can follow."


The Scoobies milled around a little until the soldiers were ready to leave, then they headed out, Faith and Xander in front, Giles and Buffy behind. The soldiers marched through the sewers, carrying dead comrades and scars that would never let them forget what they had done.

Chapter 28

"Oh man, I am way too wired to even think about sleep right now," Faith said, pacing around Giles' living room.

"I know what you mean," said Willow from her seat at the table. "Even though that spell totally drained me, I just can't sleep."

"Would it be possible for you to be quieter for those of us who can?" Xander asked from the couch where he and Buffy lay. "I'll have you know, sleep is necessary for those of us in the working world."

"Xander," Buffy said through a yawn. "You have three more days until you have to go back to work."

"Well, yeah," he said. "But I still like sleep."

Buffy smiled, kissed him and nuzzled a little closer.

Willow and Faith both rolled their eyes. The door opened and Angel walked in.

"Hey, Fang," Faith said. "How's the girl?"

"She'll be okay," he said. "They gave her some blood, and they're gonna keep her overnight. She woke up while I was there, but she didn't really know what happened to her."

"And what did you tell the doctors?" Giles asked from his position across from Willow.

"I found her unconscious, and she looked like she needed help. Low pulse so I brought her in."

"Good," said Giles.

"What's her name?" Willow asked. "So I can check her records later."

"Tara Maclay," Angel said. "She goes to UC Sunnydale, so you should be able to check up on her easily."

Willow nodded, satisfied.

Angel looked at a clock on the wall. "Well, it's almost sunrise, and we're not leaving town today. I guess I'll go take up residence back at the mansion."

"Oh, I'll go with you!" Willow said.

Angel looked at her, confused.

"Oh, right, we didn't tell you. Oz's cage got mauled yesterday and we locked him up at the mansion. It was the only place secure enough that we could think of," she said.

"Okay," he said.

Willow quickly gathered her things and followed him outside.


The door shut and Angel and Willow walked into the mansion.

"You want a glass of water?" Angel asked.

Willow shook her head. "No thanks," she said. "I won't be here long, sunrise is in a minute or so."

"I know," Angel said. "I can smell it. But stay as long as you want. I'm going to go sleep."

"Thanks, Angel," Willow said. Angel walked off towards his old bedroom. He paused at the hallway entrance, sniffed the air, shrugged to himself and walked on. Just then, the door to the basement of the mansion opened and a young woman walked out. Angel looked at her in surprise, then noticed Willow's look of horror.

"Can I help you?" Angel asked, frowning at her.

"No, I've been helped enough, thanks," she said, walking towards the door. A moment later Oz came up from the basement, pulling his shirt on.

"Oz?" Willow asked, crying.

Oz looked up. "Willow… Willow, no it's not…"

"How could you?" she cried, then ran out of the mansion.

"That was original," Veruca said, snidely, from near the door.

"Leave. Now," Angel said, a low growl emanating from his throat. Oz turned, noticing him for the first time.

"Angel, that wasn't –"

"Her scent's all over you."

"She's a werewolf. She came in last night right after Xander locked me up. If she hadn't been here, she could have been interfering with the fight. Or killing innocent people."

"Oz… it's not my place to say anything."

Oz looked at the souled vampire and nodded, walking away. He paused at the door and looked around.

"So the world didn't end," he said.

"Not for most of us."


Willow sat on a bench in the park, hugging her knees to her chest, trying to convince herself she was being paranoid and imagining things. Oz wouldn't –

"Are ye a'right, lass?"

Willow looked up to see who was addressing her. There stood a man with dark hair, wearing a suit right out of the seventies. He looked genuinely concerned.

"I'm fine," she sniffled.

"Look, I'm not much for stickin' my nose in… though I find I've got a tendency to barge in where I'm not wanted. The point is, ye're not alright. A blind man could see that, dearie."

"What do you care, anyway?" she asked.

"Just a friendly face tryin' to lend a helping hand where I can. The name's Doyle by the way."

"Oh," she said. "Vision-guy."

"Eh… and how would you be knowin' about that?"

"Angel told us. I'm Willow."

"Ah, the infamous Wicca. It's nice to finally put a face with the name."

Willow gave a cursory nod then went back to staring at the air.

"Now, everything I've heard says Willow's a cheerful lass… what's got ye so down? Whatever it is, it canna possibly be that bad. And if it is… is there someone I can call for ye? P'rhaps that lad Oz that Cordy was –"

Willow sunk her head into her knees, crying more.

"Ah… no, not him then. Well, is there someone?"

"Willow?" came a voice from the street.

"Eh, this lass seems a bit down," Doyle said as Xander approached the pair.

"Who're you?" Xander asked as he walked up.

"I'm Doyle. And you'd be…"

"Xander," he said, kneeling down in front of his friend. "Will, are you ok? What happened?"

Willow looked up at him. "Oz," she said. Xander searched her eyes for a moment.

"Okay," he said. "Come on. Let's go get you inside." Xander helped Willow stand, basically holding her up.

"Doyle. Work for Angel?" Xander asked.

Doyle nodded.

"Tell your boss thanks. I dropped the phone before I could say it."

"I'll be sure ta mention it," he said.

Xander nodded and walked away with Willow.


"How is she?" Joyce asked as Xander came back down the stairs.

Xander shook his head. "I think she's in shock, or something," he said. "Just unresponsive to everything."

Joyce nodded. "What happened?"

"Angel said something about Oz and this other girl… a werewolf. I think it was probably Veruca, the lead singer for this band."

"Did she and Oz…"

"I don't know," Xander said, sitting down on the couch in the living room. "I don't get it, any of it. We saved the world last night, we're not supposed to have to deal with big things today."

"Where's my daughter, by the way?" Joyce asked.

"Oh, she passed out on Giles' couch. She was still asleep when I left to find Willow."

"How bad was it last night? Did everyone come out okay?"

"Well, Faith has a nasty scratch across her back, but she'll be okay. I got pummeled a little, but I'm good to go. The rest of the Scoobs are fine. But, uh… Riley lost four men."

"Oh, dear," Joyce said. "Is he… a-are they…"

"I don't know," Xander said. "We haven't seen or heard from them since we split up afterwards, but Riley said they'll take care of it."

Joyce nodded. "Why don't you get some sleep? I'll wake you if Willow needs anything."

Xander smiled, "Thanks," he said.

Joyce tousled his hair and left the room.


"Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?" Xander asked Willow later that day as she was gathering her things.

"No, I'm sure," she said. "I just… I need to get my mind off of things. I'm gonna go back to campus and work on some chemistry stuff. I just… I need to clear my head."

"Okay," Xander said. "Buffy and I are going to try to track the… her tonight, to make sure she doesn't… well, we're going to try to find her."

Willow nodded. Xander moved in to hug her. She grabbed him tightly and held on as if he'd disappear.

"I love you, Willow," he said. "You know that, right?"

"I know," she said. "Thank you. I love you too."

Xander smiled at her, not letting go until she did.

"I'll be okay," she said after a minute. "I just need to figure things out in my head before I talk to him."

"You know I'm behind you, whatever happens."

Willow smiled at him and gave him a peck on the cheek.

"You'll call later, right?" he asked.

"I will."

"Bye Willow," he said.


The door swung open. Oz looked up.

"We're finding her," Xander said. "You're helping."

Oz nodded and slipped his shoes on. "Xander, you have to know that –"

"Oz, not talking right now would be in your favor," Xander said, harshly.

Oz's head dropped and he nodded.

"Besides," Xander said, softening his tone. "I'm not the one you need to explain to." He paused. "So where would she go?"

"I have an idea," Oz said. "If we get near her, I think I can track her scent."

"Let's go, then," Xander said, hefting the tranq gun.


"This way," Oz said, moving through the woods. "She came this way, I can smell it."

Xander followed as quickly as he could. Another minute and they came upon a pile of clothes.

"It's not her," Xander said.

"I can see that."

"Why would she drop her clothes here? To throw you off the scent?"

Oz nodded, then looked at Xander pointedly. He understood.

"Willow," he said, and they took off.


Willow was alone in the chem lab, reading over her notes when the door clicked. She turned.

"You," she said, growing angry.

"Me," Veruca replied. "You know, you don't do a very good job of keeping your man in line."

"Oz keeps his own line. I can't control where it goes."

"You willing to fight for him?" Veruca asked, coyly.

"I always fight for what I love," Willow said.

Veruca glanced at a clock. "I guess we're about to see how good of a fighter you are."

Willow looked at the clock, then out the window. It was almost sundown.

"Whoa, I said I'd fight, but I thought you… I mean, you're a werewolf, you'll kill me!"

The door burst open and Oz and Xander spilled into the room.

"You will not touch her," Oz said to Veruca.

"You gonna stop me?" she asked.

"I'll do what I have to," he said.

"Guys, we don't have to –" Xander started. He stopped when Veruca and Oz both started to change.

"You'll have to kill me," she said as she morphed.

"I've got a wolf in me," Oz said. "I can deal."

The two wolves leapt at each other and met in mid-air. Oz, the heavier of the two, pushed Veruca down onto the ground. Amidst a fury of claws and fur, growling and drool, the wolves grappled for dominance. The whole time Xander was trying to get a bead on them, but they moved too much and his aim wasn't accurate enough. After a few moments, Oz gained the upper hand and tore Veruca's throat out, leaving the wolf dead on the floor.

"Oz?" Willow said.

Oz-wolf turned and saw her, standing there defenseless and turned to attack. Xander lined up a shot and put Oz to sleep. Willow crumpled to the floor, crying. Xander quickly checked Veruca and felt no pulse. He then went over to Willow and helped her to her feet. They went into the hall. Xander called Riley to have them pick up the body, and he and Willow carried Oz out of the building.


The door opened. Oz looked up from packing.

"Hello," Willow said.

"Hi," said Oz.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm going."


"Mm-hmm," he said, zipping the suitcase.

"That's your solution?" she asked.

"That's my decision."

"Don't I get a say in this?"

"No. Veruca was right about something. The wolf is inside me all the time, and I don't know where that line is anymore between me and it. And until I figure out what that means, I shouldn't be around you... Or anybody."

Tears started flowing down Willow's cheeks. "Well, that could be a problem, 'cause people… kind of a planetary epidemic."

"I'll find someplace."

"Well, how long?"

"I don't know.

"Oz… don't you love me?"

Oz moved to her and pressed his forehead to hers. "My whole life… I've never loved anything else."

"Oz…. oh, God, Oz….."

Willow stood there in his room as he grabbed his bag and headed outside. Oz loaded his bags into his van and got into the drivers seat. He rested his head on the wheel for a few moments. He looked up and saw Xander standing in front of the van.

"Hey," Xander said, walking up to the driver's side window.

Oz nodded. "Is this the part where you beat the crap out of me?"

Xander chuckled. "No, Oz. I'm not going to do anything. Not only do I not want to, but more, if I did, it would just hurt Willow more." He shook his head. "I've done enough of that in my life. Too much. I don't want to hurt her anymore. But… I need to say something here."


"I don't know why… this all happened. But I do know that Willow is one of the most important things in my life. More than the fight, more than the job, more than… just about anything you can think of. If you… when you come back, make sure you do it for the right reasons."

Oz looked at him for a moment, then nodded. Xander nodded back at him and stepped away from the van. Oz turned the ignition and drove off, Xander watching him go.

Xander sighed and went into the building to find Willow.


Xander and Buffy lay on her bed at the dorm room. Xander had taken Willow back to her parents house.

"So what's the score?" she asked.

"The world didn't end," he said. "But Willow's in pain. Riley lost four men. I guess we won, but I don't really feel like celebrating."

Buffy raised her head up to his and kissed him lovingly. "It will get better," she said. "Willow will move on, and Riley's men will be honored. The world will keep on not ending."

Xander nodded and wrapped his arms around the woman he loved.

"Being here, next to you, I can believe that," he said.

Buffy smiled and nuzzled closer to her lover, intent on going to sleep.


In the street outside the dorm, a figure in a black leather coat dropped his cigarette on the ground and stamped it out. He straddled his motorcycle and headed out of town.

"Sunnydale," he said to himself. "I'll be back when I'm ready, and this town won't know what hit it."

He rode off into the darkness, smirking the whole time.