Leaves of Grass

Author: Banquo <jasonbautista[at]hotmail.com>

Rating: R

This is my first attempt at fanfiction, please be gentle. I have more of this story ready and waiting, depending on the reviews I'll post more or never try to write again =] Thanks to Shawn for his input and encouragement.

Standard disclaimers apply. All things Buffy related, concepts, characters and monsters are belong to Joss and Mutant Enemy. Methos, Cassandra and the concept of Immortality all belong to Panzer-Davis as well as all things Highlander related. The only thing that is mine is the story and the characters I have created in between. For those who wish to archive feel free to but please send me an email so I know where my story is going =]


The two old, simple problems ever intertwined,
Close home, elusive, present, baffled, grappled.
By each successive age insoluble, pass'd on,
To our to-day-and we pass on the same.
- 1888-9 W.W

The clouds are overcast, threatening to spill their contents onto the world. The wind is cold, biting at cheeks and noses, and the trees are bare. It is a day that not a living thing would be out if they had a choice in the matter. But the group standing in one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries had no choice but to be there. Fall, would turn into winter, and winter would turn into spring and with it new life. However that will not be the case here. Fall will be a constant reminder that one of them is gone. Winter will be devoid of jokes and laughter, and spring will only amplify their loss amidst a world teeming with life. The group, consisting of a Watcher, a Slayer, a Witch, and a Werewolf surrounding a single grave.

Alexander L. Harris

Friend, Protector,


There are no tears shed at this gathering. Those had been cried out long ago. All that was left was an empty longing. A need to ignore the great void so prevalent in their lives.

"No date?" Willow asks

"No, I thought it would be most appropriate," Giles replied, "I didn't think he would want anyone to feel sorry him."

A round of affirmatives was all that could be heard.

"I can't believe he's gone…I mean for the longest time we been…" Willow couldn't bring herself to finish her sentence. Only Oz's reassuring hand on her.

"He's gone, there is nothing we could have done to save him." Oz said sorrowfully, uncharacteristically showing emotion.

Buffy, was quietly reading the inscription on the tombstone. Friend, Protector, Hero. Friend. Protector. Hero. Three words that had been placed on her mantle, three words that now describe her lost friend. She was the hero, SHE was the protector, and what good did that do for her friend Xander? She knew she couldn't be everywhere all the time, but she at least thought she would be killed first before any one of them.

"It's not fair." Buffy said quietly.

"I know Buffy, he was so young…" Giles began.

"That not what I meant," she interrupted, "He had survived so much here in Sunnydale. The Master, demons, vampires, the ascension, all of it!" Her voice steadily rising, "He had left Sunnydale for a vacation! To get away from all of this, for at least a little while! For what? To die in a car crash? ITS NOT FAIR!" She screams. It isn't directed at anyone, nevertheless all of them flinch. "It's just not fair." She says quietly again.

Willow walks over to her and hugs Buffy. Both are trembling because of the sorrow, the loss, and the pain of loosing a good friend. The two men stay back, allowing the women to have their moment. The wind picks up a little, causing Giles to pull his coat a little closer to himself. The sound of the wind blowing through the trees was a low wailing. Appropriate for the setting Giles thinks to himself, it was as if Sunnydale itself had recognized the great loss of Xander Harris.

Giles, looking around the cemetery sees all the tombstones. Some of the dates show old and young, but in this particular section the young far outnumber the old. Sighing, he continues his survey of the cemetery, when something catches his eye. Confused, he takes his glasses off to see if anything is wrong with them. Finding no irregularities, he quickly puts them back. Nothing. Off in the distance he had thought he had seen a figure of a young man. Dark hair, slight slouch…maybe it was just his imagination. His mind's way of saying that Xander wouldn't want them to mourn his death, but celebrate his life. His hopeful thought that Xander was in fact alive, and that the empty grave that was placed here to commemorate their friend was not necessary. He was killed in a violent car crash, apparently he fell asleep at the wheel. They had found the car on the bottom of a river. They weren't able to find the body.

The police said that he had probably struggled to get the car door open, but the pressure difference made that all but impossible. The struggling causing his air supply to dwindle faster and faster, by the time the water had filled the car enough water to open the door, he was probably already dizzy due to the lack of oxygen. Giles shudders every time he thinks of how Xander might have died, no chance to fight, just a futile struggle to the surface that would never come. Every time he thought of that, he would think exactly as his young charge had said, it just wasn't fair.

"Giles you ok?" Oz asked him.

Turning back to the young man he says, "Yes, I'm fine. I just thought I saw…" He didn't finish his sentence looking back to the spot he thought he had seen the figure.

"I know what you mean, Willow has been seeing him everywhere. I just try to console her when she realizes it couldn't possibly be him."

"I've done it as well. I was about to call Xander's house to ask him help do some research. Right before I dialed the number, I remembered…" The sentence just trailed off. "Then the next thing I knew the phone was beeping at me."

Looking up he saw that the two women had heard his story. Looking at him with understanding they walked up to the two men.

"Its time to go home." Buffy said, "Xander wouldn't want us moping around here. It'll take awhile, but we'll move on." Looking back at the gravesite he added, "But we will never forget."

With that the group slowly plied into Oz's van and pulled away from the cemetery. Two figures stood watching the van pull away. Both tall, and lanky with dark hair. But that is where the similarities end. The taller of the two has short hair. Jeans and a sweater covered his frame, and concealing his frame even more was a black duster.

The other had longer hair, a slight slouch and was dressed much like his companion. Turing to him he asked, "They can never know can they?"


"Will I be able to see them ever again?"

"No, you are dead to them. That is what that gravestone means. I know what this place is, I can feel it, so can you now I suspect." The taller of the two said.

"Yes, its like when you come near, but less intense, like a dull hum."

"You won't be able to come back."

"Why not? Lots of weird things happen here."

"And what usually happens here if someone comes back from the dead?"

He had made his point, "Let's go, we have a long trip ahead of us."


Adam Pierson turns around and says, "Yes?"

"Why us?"

Adam looked slowly around him. Above him the gray clouds moved slowly, menacingly threatening to spill over. The trees swayed with the wind, the branches clacking together, the cold giving him the shivers. Then looking straight at him, "Because we are blessed, because we are cursed. Let's go Alexander, you have much to learn."

Chapter 1

Xander is sitting at a table books surround him. Some of the books are very old, the pages yellowed, and the spines showing the well worn cracks of usage. Some of them however were newer. Books by Thomas Harris, sit next to Socrates, John Mills next to Stephen King. When Adam said he had much to learn he had no idea that he literally meant it, it was almost like doing research for Giles.

"Except this time the world isn't in dire need of saving." Xander says to himself with a wistful smile. He actually didn't mind all the stuff Adam was giving to him. Xander didn't make it to college, his grades weren't up to par, but mostly his resolve wasn't up to par. He had all but convinced himself that his life was already dangerously short living on top of the hellmouth. He had never even thought of making it past graduation. College wasn't even an afterthought for him, it was a waste of time, time which he had so little of already.

But all of that changed after the night of the accident. Xander shudders at the thought of that night.

It was late. Really late. He cursed himself for being on the road at this hour. But he had no choice, he needed some extra cash to get some food and gas for the rest of the week so he went around the small town to find some quick odd jobs for money. It wasn't hard to find work, the only down side was the fact that it was really cold, and most of his jobs were outdoors.

His last job was cleaning up at a restaurant. They were a really nice elderly couple who had owned the place for over thirty years. The problem was they closed at ten thirty. It had taken him about an hour to clean the tables and mop the floors. Another hour to finish the dishes, the couple had paid him in advance and had left after eleven o'clock. On his way out he made sure that the door were locked, and left the keys underneath the register as instructed. Looking back he had to smile, proud of the job he had done. He could have left early, but he wasn't about to do that to the nice couple.

He had made about two hundred dollars today, not bad he thought. The people here in Washington were much nicer to him than some of the other places he had tried to find work. At least here, they didn't call him "boy" or "hey you" or "stupid." He thought that most of what they had called him was true to some degree. He is young, and would probably die young. Not cool like James Dean, but nevertheless young. He didn't get into college, hell he had barely been able to graduate.

He had gotten his gas, some chips and a soda to wash it down. Right now though, he silently cursed himself for not getting some coffee instead of soda. His sugar high was starting to come down, and he could barely keep his eyes open. At least the light from the moon was out; its natural light amplified by the nearby river. A river he was told that emptied out in one of the larger lakes of the area. During these long trips he had begun to reflect on his life and all that it really meant.

Xander looks back on his life. Things had been so much easier before he had met Buffy. It was Jesse, Willow, and himself. No vampires, no demons, nothing. In this case ignorance really was bliss. Then everything he knew, or had known, came crashing down all around him. Looking back at all the trouble, all the heartache, and all of horrible things he was forced to live through, he wouldn't change anything. Throughout the entire ordeal, he had gained something special. Buffy. By meeting her he was able to look at himself in a new light. He knew something about the town that very few would ever find out or even know. That made him special. That gave him the ability to be the hero that he had always wanted to be, the hero that he always was in his fantasies.

The only problem was that in his fantasies, he would save all the good guys and kill all of the bad guys. Real life didn't always match up. He wasn't the hero, Buffy was, but he didn't let that stop him. He wasn't a magic wielder that was Willow. He wasn't the mysterious savior in the night that was Angel. He wasn't even the guy with all the answers Giles was the one who provided the answers. So what purpose did he serve? Research boy? Delivery boy? He was the one who would lend moral support for those in the group. He didn't have any special powers, he wasn't a capable fighter, and he was the one that everyone worried about when the time came for some action. He thought that would change after graduation.

His parents had told them that they had a secret to tell him after he graduated from high school. Xander remembered that promise and after the ascension he had pressed his parents to tell him the secret. Maybe this was it, he would finally know what he would be, something more than just the Zeppo. Was he heir to some monster fortune? Or maybe he was descended from a great line of noblemen and knights! Finally something that would bring him some kind of justification to his life!

"Xander sit down," His father had said.

Sitting he braced himself for the secret that they would tell him.

"Xander, your mother and I had waited to tell you this until you graduated because we thought if we told you earlier you wouldn't be able to handle it very well."

Xander was very curious about this meeting. His father usually said less than a sentence to him a day, but now he was trying to have a whole conversation with him.

"…since you have now graduated and that you are your own man now." Now Xander was really concerned, his father was rambling. He never rambled, he was always clear and concise with his words.

"Dad, what are you trying to say?" His father looked at his mother and took a deep breath.

"Xander, you're adopted."

The hellmouth itself could have opened up beneath him and eaten him whole at that moment, and he would be able to move out of its way. As the words sank in to him, his shoulders sag considerably more, and his head drops ever so slightly. Adopted. It made all the sense in the world. He didn't really look like his parents, aside form the hair, he was taller, and his facial features were different. He never really questioned it before, but then again he barely saw much of his parents before.

Adopted. Now he truly is a nobody. His past once defined and clear, is now just as uncertain and blurry as his future.

He had to get out. Not just out of the house, but out of Sunnydale. Running his hand through his hair and staring at the floor, he takes a deep breath. He looks at his parents and just stands up. They can see the questions on his face, the hurt, and the tears that would not come.

Xander looks at his parents; "Do you know my birth parents?"

Xander's gut wrenches when he see them shaking their heads no, "The orphanage didn't have any records of your parents. We adopted you and moved here to Sunnydale, no one knew we had adopted you. Jesse's parents didn't know, Willow's parents don't know. No one outside this family knows you are adopted." His mother says, trying to sooth her son.

He stared at them a while longer and just walked to his room, not seeing the tears on his mother's face. He spent a long time in his room, lying down on his bed staring at his ceiling. Well it really couldn't be his could it? He didn't even know who he really was. Who is Xander Harris? Is Xander my real name? Scenario after scenario played in his mind, discovering his true roots, his true past. He would never know unless he tried to find out for himself. So he got up, wiped the stray tears from his face and began to pack a bag.

When he finished he stepped out of his room into the living room with his bag, and saw that his parents were still there. His father looked at his bag and nodded. Getting up his father walked into the kitchen for a second and came back out with something in his hand. He tossed that something to Xander. "Those are the keys to your Uncle's old car. I've fixed it up so it should drive pretty well now."

Nodding he walk to his mother and hugged her. "I'll come back, I just need some time…"

"I understand," She said between the sobs.

Shaking his father's hand Xander said his thanks

"It's ok, take your time. If you need anything, just call."

With that he just left and drove off. He stopped by Willow's and Gile's to say goodbye to Willow, Buffy and Giles, but he told them it was a road trip. It wasn't a lie, it was a road trip, but on this particular road trip he hoped to find himself.

He never did call his parents for help. Days stretched into weeks, weeks into months, but he still couldn't find what he was searching for. As his funds started to wane he was forced to find local odd jobs to pay his way. It had been that way for the last couple of weeks. Which brought him to where he is now, driving late at night on a road, alone. He was tired of being a nobody. He was tired of not knowing what his purpose in life, so tired.

These are the thoughts that flit about his mind as his eyelids droop closed one last time.

Xander's car starts to drift closer and closer to the restraining wall, flimsy aluminum held up by rotted wooden blocks. When his car hits the wall, there is little resistance as he drives off the road and into the river below. As the car impacts on the water Xander's head hits his steering wheel, knocking him out. He wasn't able to see his windshield dip below the water line.

The first thing that Xander knew was that it was cold. His legs were numb and the feeling was beginning to climb. Looking around he saw that something was not right. There was no road ahead of him, only a murky cloud. He could feel something warm just above his eye, the eye that wouldn't open for some reason. He reaches up and feels something slick, holding his hand up to his other eye he sees that it is blood, his blood. The blood had covered his eye and congealed, sealing it shut.

Shaking the cobwebs from his head he begins to realize that the car wasn't on the road. His car is starting to flood, the water was already up to his thighs. Looking back through the rear windshield he saw the sky. The front of his car was sinking into the river that was next to the road. WAS next to, he was now actually in the river. He unlatches his seat belt and reaches over to try to open the door. It wouldn't budge, he could hear the lock tumbler turn as he pulls the lever but he couldn't open the door. He tries to shove his way out, but still the door won't budge. After a few more tries he sees the stars begin to disappear from the rear windshield. He tries even more frantically to open the door, but it still won't budge. His head begins to pound and the car seems to spin ever so slightly. The air beings to burn his lungs as continues to weakly open the door.

The water is now to his neck he can no longer feel his hands but he continues to try to pry the door open. He was about to give up but the door finally opens. Taking one last breath Xander opens the door as far as it would go and begins the slow ascent to the surface. The air in his lungs burns as he looks at the moon shining on the surface. His numb appendages flail in a vain attempt to reach the surface. Each movement increases the heat in his lungs. He thinks of his friends, the only real family he has known. He thinks of Willow his best friend, Buffy the one person who brought out the best in all those around her, Giles who was more of a father than his own, Oz a man of few words but a stabilizing rock for all. He thought of all his friends and threw out a silent plea of forgiveness. I'm sorry! He had failed them once again, he had fought with all of his might, but once again it wasn't enough. With that final thought he released his final breath with a muffled scream of frustration and sadness. The water that replaced the air in his lungs froze him to the core. His final thought before the blackness overtakes him is I'm so sorry.

His body washed up on the shore of a small island. He was still floating face down in the water when the two sole inhabitants found him. His presence alerted them to his location. A man and a woman looked at each other and then at the body. The man nodded and they went to the water and lifted the body out. They carried the body to the small cabin located up the trail.

Once inside they pulled off the young man's clothing and replaced them with dry, albeit oversized clothing, and placed him on a cot in the corner of the room.

"What do you propose we do?"

"We wait for him to wake up of course."

"What about our plans? I had asked MacLeod to use his cabin because it was on holy ground, and it was very isolated. We have made some serious headway here this year, I don't know about you but I have been able to heal some very old wounds"

"I have as well, but you know as well as I that he will need our help Methos."

"I know that, I'm just afraid that I will loose all that I have found this year if we stop." He reaches over and grasps her hand. She gently squeezes back.

"Don't worry, you won't. I promise." They gaze at each other for a long time until they hear a gasp from the corner. They find the young man jolt upright in the cot. His eyes are wide and wild. He looks from side to side and focuses on the pair sitting across the room.

The man spoke first, "Hello there young man, I'm Adam, and this is my," he pauses and looks at the woman sitting next to him, she nods and he continues, "my wife Elizabeth. You are probably wondering what you are doing here, in a strange room with strange people. Most importantly you are probably saying to yourself why am I still alive?"

With those two statements Xander Harris's life would begin anew.

Chapter 2

Beginning my studies the first step pleas'd me so much,
The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion,
The leas insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love,
The first step I say awed me and pleas'd me so much,
I have hardly gone and hardly wish'd to go any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.
- W.W 1871

Coming out of his reverie Xander puts the book he is holding down. It felt as if it was so long ago, but it wasn't so long in the whole scheme of things. Looking at his watch he sees that it is almost time to meet Adam and Cassandra for his next session.

Driving to Adam and Cassandra's home he thought of his past and the events that led him to where he is now. The events that shaped the man he is today. He remembered the weeks that had followed his first training session with the ancient pair.

Breathing hard, Xander could barely catch his breath. He wasn't able to keep up with them. They were still on the gym floor going through the movements. What did they call them, Xander asked himself, katas? They looked graceful, balanced, and confident in what they were doing. In a way it reminded him of the times he had seen Buffy and Faith train. He was pretty sure that these two could give them a run for their money.

The problem was, he wasn't Adam or Elizabeth, or Buffy or Faith. He was Xander, the zeppo, research boy, the one in constant need of saving. How could he possibly be more than that? How could he learn to use a sword if he could barely walk down the street without bumping into things? It would be impossible for him to survive.

"Xander!" Adam calls across the gym. "You've had enough rest, lets continue with your training."

Begrudgingly he got to his feet and made his way over to the couple. Adam tosses a practice sword at Xander, which he promptly drops. At least I can't kill myself with this he ruefully thought. Picking up the sword he walks over to the training mats waiting for his next instructions.

"Ok Xander, lets start from the top. Ready position." Xander mirrors Adam's postures. "Good, good, now high guard, good low guard, now parry, parry, lunge, parry. Ok again. Ready position." Xander followed through with every move, copying them as closely as possible. "Good Xander, now face me."

Xander is confused, "Why? Aren't you going to show me the next movements?"

"No, there are one hundred and eight of them in this particular exercise. I want to focus on the first few that you learned this week. Now face me. Ready position. Try to anticipate my moves. Go."

Xander comes to position, but this time his body language is completely different. His confidence is visibly missing and his posture is unsteady. Xander had always feared failing. He was always afraid of being a failure. He would always, always no matter what he did, or tried to do, screw up somewhere. He had just decided to accept that was the way things are, and he couldn't do anything about it. When the pressure is on, Xander would screw up. He was a screw up in school, in life, and now he was a screw up with a sword. He is barely seeing the sword movements in his mind. Gone is the structure that was there only moments ago and all that is left is Xander waving the sword back and forth in front of himself to fend of his teacher's attack.

The attack suddenly stops and Adam asks, "Xander what happened? You were doing fine a minute ago."

Xander, his head hanging low mumbles something.

"What was that?"

The wooden practice sword clatters on the floor. "I can't do it."

"Yes you can you were doing fine when I was walking you through the movements."

"Don't you get it? I'm a screw up! I couldn't even save my own life! How can you expect me to defend it with that!" He angrily points to the wooden sword on the floor.

Adam looks at Cassandra and sighs. Cassandra nods and walks over to Xander.

" Xander, Adam is impressed by the progress you are making. Your form is a little crude, but with practice he could be quite formidable with a blade. He told me himself." Xander looks at Adam who nods the affirmative. "I have agreed that the majority of the swordplay and strength training would come from Adam. You two are about the same height and have the same build. The endurance training and your sense of spirituality would come from me. Since I have had training in various forms of yoga, meditation, as well as aerobics. But we have both agreed to train you mentally." After a slight pause she continues, "However we have found early on that you have a very self-depreciating and self-destructive demeanor, something that cannot be present in a new immortal, at least one that wants to live. Do you understand what I'm getting at?"

"But this is who I am, or at least who I was." He says quietly. "Everything in my life has made me who I am, I can't go back and change it now can I? I'll be like this forever."

"A friend of mine once said 'Where does the difference between past and present come from? The laws of science do not distinguish between the past and the future. Yet there is a big difference in ordinary life. You may see a cup of tea fall off a table and break into pieces on the floor. But you will never see the cup gather together and jump back onto the table."

A look of confusion appears on Xander's face. "I'm not sure that I follow."

Adam replies, "Xander the past is different from the present only because of the amount of chaos that emerges from the structure that was the past. The cup of tea may break and shatter into a million little pieces, but that doesn't mean you have to as well."

Cassandra picks up on this line of thought, "You have time on your side now Xander. It is up to you to make the most of it now. Are you willing to pick up the pieces of you life and make something out of it? You can be anything you want to be. The chaos of the present can easily become the structure that your new life is built upon. You just have to be able to overcome your own limitations, it takes time, but then again you have a lot of it now don't you?"

Xander just stands there and nods. Adam seeing that the young man needs a little time says, "We'll take another break, just say when you are ready." Cassandra and Adam begin to walk towards the water cooler for some water, when a sound stops them. The sound is that of wood against wood, scraping against each other.

Looking back they see Xander standing there, sword in hand. A slight grin is on his face. "I'm ready."

Cassandra looks at Adam, who has a grin on his face as well, and then back to Xander, "Are you sure?"

"Yes, like you said I have a lot of time on my hands now."

Adam walks back to the mat and says, "Good then lets begin again. Ready position."

Xander plants his feet and brings his sword in the ready position. He is ready, ready to let go of the zeppo, ready to grow out of the awkward stage that lasted his entire life. He was ready to show all those around him what he was really worth. He was ready to be come Alexander Harris, the man he had always wanted to be.

Xander often wonders what his life would have been like if he had not died that night. Most likely he would have been living in his parents' basement alone, looking for jobs and not being able to hold any single one for long. He wondered what it would have been like to be around his friends after they started going to school. Would they still be around? Would he have been able to see them as often as before in high school now that they no longer had classes together? Most likely not. Xander had a lot of "what ifs" in his life and he had begun to focus more and more on those pivotal points in his life where an inch in either direction would have changed his life dramatically. It had reminded him of the movie Mr. Destiny. Where one moment in time dictated the direction of his entire life.

Adam had warned him about dwelling over the past, so had Cassandra, but he wasn't dwelling so much any longer. It was more of a wistful memory. Although most people had wistful memories of prom, sports, things like that. He on the other hand had wistful memories of defeating the Master, his run-in with O'Toole and his undead gang, and nearly being eaten by a giant praying mantis. Not so bad now that his only means of survival was dependant on his killing his opponent by beheading.

He thought of his old friends back in Sunnydale everyday. How they were, what they were doing, school, love life, all of it. He had toyed with the thought of hiring a private eye to find out how they were doing, but he had quickly dismissed that. He remembers how they all wanted a private life away from prying eyes. Away from all those who would find their actions questionable.

Surprisingly though he found that the one person he thought about the most was Faith. The dark eyed, dark haired slayer had left quite an imprint on him. In retrospect he saw that Faith had never treated him as the zeppo. As if she thought more of him than the others did. She had never tried to exclude him from any plan or action she had planned to take. Maybe it was her brash attitude, maybe it was because she didn't see him as a threat, or maybe it was because she saw in him something the other didn't see. They had both been outcasts and they both shared the same knowledge of all the things the go bump in the night. Maybe that was why he thought of her so much. Or maybe it was the one night of passion they had shared. A night where they had shared each other for one intimate moment of time, maybe that was the reason why he thought of her so often. Even though right after that moment she had kicked him out of her motel room, he still thought about it. The days following he would barely catch a glimpse of her staring at him before looking away, and he could swear that when she caught him staring at her as she walked away she would look over her shoulder and give him a coy smile. Coy might have been a bad word to use, sly maybe. However he had never moved on any of the signs, he had dismissed them as the heat of the moment, hormone driven madness. But the moment would never leave his mind. He would think back and remember her showing him around the curves with a smile. Yet another what if in his Mr. Destiny life, what if indeed. Maybe he could have helped her stay on their side, he would have been a good influence on her. She would have never gotten into a coma, and he would have never left Sunnydale and all would have been well and good.

Xander sighs and says to himself, "What if?"


Inside of the hospital there is a bed in the ICU. At the foot of the bed there is a chart that reads Wilkins, Faith. It has her vitals for the week, the medications and treatments that are being used to keep her condition steady while she is in a coma. However that is all for naught because the bed is empty.

A bus heading northbound passes a sign saying "Thank You for Visiting Sunnydale!" The bus is full of nondescript passengers, but towards the back there is a young woman sitting by herself staring outside of her window. On the seat next to her is a bag that says Sunnydale Memorial Hospital. Faith looks out of the bus, at the town she had called home. The town would never be home for her again, all because of her bad decisions. All she could do now was get a way and start over somewhere else, she was a big girl, she could take care of herself, but friends were hard to come by.

When she had woken up she stopped by the mayor's office only to find that he was dead. Anger had flashed through her mind, but without the mayor fueling her anger it quickly dissipated. She knew now that the mayor had been using her own anger to control her. Cursing herself she quietly leaves the office.

Who would she go to now? She couldn't go to Buffy or Giles, they wouldn't trust her. Willow would probably be scared to death of her. Who else? Oz? No, she barely knew him at all. Then it hit her. Xander! Of all of them he wouldn't judge her, he would hear her out at least wouldn't he? She frantically searched her mind trying to remember how to get to Xander's house, if her memory wasn't totally off his parent's house wasn't that far from where she was now. When she patrolled she would frequently pass by his house, hoping that he would be awake. She saw Xander as the only real friend she had in the group. He never judged her, or tried to compare her to Buffy. In the heat of the moment they had slept together but they had both avoided that subject afterwards. Not that she didn't like it, or even thought of a possible relationship. But she didn't act on the opportunity and neither did he. But through it all Xander was a friend.

Reaching her destination what she found dismayed her. The house looked empty and unkempt. Weeds were growing in the yard and had a "For Sale" sign hanging on a single hinge on its post. What had happened? Did they move? There was only one way to find out. She went in search of a phone book, the place she thought there would be one was a phone booth. Remembering that there was a park close by she thought she would try there first.

She decided to cut through one of the cemeteries in order to get there faster. She running as fast as she could, she needed to find him. She needed someone to forgive her for what she did, and the only one that could was Xander. As she came over a hill she saw Willow standing with her back to her.

"Shit!" She said quietly to herself. She could let Willow see her, not yet. She needed Xander to be with her, to vouch for her. So she quietly moved around and stood behind a mausoleum waiting for her to leave. She could just make out what she was saying.

"…and I passed my last midterm, got an A on it. Aren't you proud? Buffy, Tara and me went to the Bronze to celebrate, actually we all got hammered," She said with a slight giggle, "we're are twenty-one now you know."

Things must have really changed around here Faith thought to herself. Willow drinking? Well now that was a surprise in itself. Listening closer she saw that her conversation was coming to an end. Who was she talking to?

"…well that's about it. I got to get going Giles needs me to help him with a spell and some research so I'm meeting him at his shop. I'll talk to you later." With that Willow kisses her hand and touches the headstone. Faith ducks around the corner to make sure that Willow doesn't see her. Willow gets into her car and drives off. Faith slowly backs towards to the grave making sure that Willow wasn't going to turn around unexpectantly. Assured that she wouldn't be returning she quickly turns around to look at the gravestone. What she sees makes her fall to her knees.

Alexander L. Harris

Friend, Protector


In a single moment all her hopes of redemption and acceptance are gone. Tears flow down her cheeks as she realizes her only option now is to leave. Which brings her to where she is now, on a bus, leaving the only place she had ever called home. Thinking about her life and saying to herself, "What if?"

Chapter 3

Are you sure that you want to buy one of these, these, death traps?" Adam asks Xander.

They are walking around the Harley Davidson show room. Adam had said that he would get Xander anything he wanted for his birthday and Xander was going to hold him to that promise.

"Of course I'm sure, I wouldn't have had you pay for my test fees and classes to learn how to drive one of these bad boys if I didn't want one would I?" He hears Adam mumble something along the lines of 'ungrateful pup' and 'respect his elders' and just chuckles. He was really eyeing one particular bike. A FXSTD Soft Tail Deuce. It had a balanced 1450cc Twin Cam 88 engine. It was a beauty, navy blue and ivory paint job with chrome inlays. It just looked nice. When he was about seven he saw the movie "The Great Escape" when he saw Steve McQueen jump that fence on a motorcycle he knew that one day he would have a motorcycle. It was somewhat of a secret passion of his since then. He read up on engine sizes, balanced engines, makes and models, all in his spare time, and now he would own one.

Two months ago he had mentioned to Cassandra and Adam that his birthday was coming up and jokingly asked them what they were getting him. Cassandra said Adam could probably get him whatever he wanted. He chuckled every time he remembered that conversation.

"Excuse me?" Adam said, "Are you just offering my hard earned cash to buy just anything?"

"Well, its not like you can't afford it is it?" Cassandra shoots back winking at Xander. Xander know that something was going to happen and that he was going to stay as far back as possible so he wouldn't get hit by the fallout.

"Well no, but I would to at least have a say as to where my money goes. Not just to some whim or desire that he can think up of. That sounds fair doesn't it?"

"Of course, but I know you wouldn't want to have any of your desires denied to you now would you? I know that it would be really hard if your desires go unrequited for a while now wouldn't it?"

Looking at Cassandra with wide eyes and mulling over exactly what she had said he replies, "No, of course I wouldn't want that."

"I thought so. Now I'll leave you and Alexander here to discuss what exactly he was thinking about. I'm sure it won't be too extravagant now will it Alexander?"

"Of course not." And with that Cassandra walks out of the room. Xander looks at Adam who was watching her leave. "Adam, I was just kidding, you don't have to get me anything. Really you don't."

"No that's alright, I was going to get you something anyway. You just learned a valuable less today Xander."

Xander looks at him curiously, "What lesson is that?"

"Never underestimate the guile of women Xander. They can manipulate you in more ways than you can ever imagine."

Xander couldn't help it he just started laughing. He was laughing so hard he could feel tears falling down his cheeks. Adam, the most manipulative individual he had ever met was just outdone by the person he loved the one person who knew exactly what buttons to push to make him cave in, it was classic. He only wished he had a camera to capture the look on Adam's face.

"Go ahead laugh it up!" Adam says and looks back at the door to see Cassandra waving back at him sweetly. That only makes Xander laugh harder.

This is the one thought to himself, looking at the Soft Tail. Looking up he sees the salesman walking over. Well buddy, looks like you're going to make some commission today.

"Hey there guys find anything you like? I see you're looking at the Soft Tail Deuce, nice piece of equipment there. You have a good eye."

"Thanks." Is all that Xander can say before the salesman starts up again.

"Yup, this baby has a 1450cc engine that will get you off and running in no time flat. You see that there?" he says pointing to engine, "Balanced Twin Cam 88B, not going to find quality like that on just any bike I'll tell you."

Adam decides to cut in, "That is just all well and good but what about the price?"

"The price? Well I'm sure we can work it out."

Adam had a gleam in his eye, "Oh really?"

As they were leaving the dealership, Xander couldn't believe the price they had gotten for the bike. One hundred dollars above invoice, including the highest maintenance package, and all the bells and whistles. He was actually able to walk off with the show room bike!

"I can't believe what you said to them!" He said shaking his head.

"Well he told me I was buying a piece of art rather than a piece of machinery."

"Yes, and then you told him a piece of art doesn't depreciate once you leave the gallery." He paused and chuckled for a bit, "I have never, ever seen a person flounder around for an answer like that. I could barely stop myself from laughing."

"Well I figured that if I was going to buy the thing I could at least have some fun at it right? Anyway have some fun with your new bike, but make your way back to the house, Cassandra and I have one more present for you."

"Sure, I'll be back in an hour." With that Xander kick started his bike and pulled away from the dealership.

His new bike was awesome. It took him a little less than twenty minutes to get out to the city's limits where he would be able to open her up a little more on the less congested roads. He loved the feel of the wind against his face, the freedom of riding, the raw power he had with the bike. It was amazing, but short-lived. By the time he really started to get the feel of his bike he saw that it was about time to head back to meet with Adam and Cassandra.

When he got to the house he saw that the first few lights on the first story were on. Walking up to the door he pulled out his key ring and found the key they had given him and let himself into the house. When he walks into the house he can feel their presence wash over him. He had been around them for so long that at times he felt as if he could feel the differences between the two immortals. Cassandra's was softer initially, but the strength grew as he came closer to her proving that she was indeed a formidable opponent. Adam on the other hand was like a tidal wave of cold power. It didn't surprise him much considering what they had told him about their pasts. But Adam didn't look or act like an avatar trumpeting the coming apocalypse; but then again Adam also said not to believe anything you read.

"Alexander is that you?" Cassandra hollered from the exercise room.

"No! Its the other devilishly handsome student that has a key to your house!" He yells back with a grin. He may be immortal but he didn't let that get in the way of his sense of humor.

"Then this present that we have back here isn't for you then!" Came Adam's sarcastic reply.

Walking back through the finely furnished home he reaches the door to the exercise room. Walking in he sees that Cassandra is standing next to Adam and Adam has something behind his back.

"Well? Are you going to give me your present or what?" He asks with a smile.

Cassandra answers, "Yes, but for many cultures birthdays are more of a right of passage rather than a celebration of life. What we have here is something to congratulate you on your right of passage."

Adam takes a walnut box out from behind his back. It's about four and a half feet long and weighs about six to seven pounds. Looking up he sees that they are encouraging him to open the box. Not needing any more prodding he does so. What he sees leaves him speechless. There lying on top of the navy blue velvet inlay is a sword. It is about four feet long the blade catches the light and reflects it almost like a mirror. The guard has beautiful detail as they spiral out and form the cross that would protect his hand. The pommel is covered with a braided chain mail, comfortable enough to allow for easy wielding but firm and rough enough for a secure grip. At the end of the pommel there is a dark blue crystal that almost matches the color of the velvet.

Standing up he moves to the center of the room and goes through some basic movements to feel the balance of the blade. The balance is good enough for him to use one or two hands with the weapon. The grip is perfect for him. It's a little heavier than the sword he has now but with practice that will go away.

"What kind of sword is it?"

"Its German, more specifically it's a Schloss Erbach Arming Sword. Around the 15th century armor reached peak efficiency a lot of the swords that were being used weren't very successful so new sword designs were made to compensate. What you have in your hands is a great example of that ingenuity. It can cut, slice and thrust with relative ease. The only catch is that it is heavier than the black prince you use, but that shouldn't bother you for a while."

"The blue jewel is a sapphire it is supposed to bring good luck as well as fend off evil spirits, as well as provide a beautiful accent to the sword." Cassandra adds. "You like it?"

"Like it? This is the most amazing gift anyone has given me!"

"Well then, lets go have some dinner."

Xander didn't hear Adam's statement. He was still going through a sword kata familiarizing himself with his new blade. One movement flowed into the next all conscious thought was pushed away as he continued with the exercise. Almost nothing could have broken his concentration.

"Xander." Cassandra's voice echoed in his head immediately causing him to stop mid-movement. "Sorry to have interrupted you but you can practice all you want tomorrow. I have dinner waiting and I'm not about to let it go cold."

Embarrassed, Xander apologizes, "Sorry, sure lets go get some dinner."


Dinner was waiting for them on the table, it looked as if they had spent a few hours in the kitchen and by the smell of it seemed as if they had spent days on the meal. However he had seen the pair in action in the kitchen before and knew better. They make the Iron Chefs of Japan look like amateurs, between the two of them they could make a seven course meal in just under an hour. It was an amazing side of them that he was sure that not many had the opportunity to see. Conversation bounced back and forth as it usually did with the topics ranging from current international politics to the latest episode of the couple's favorite show "ED."

After dinner Xander announced that he was going to head back to his apartment.

"You have a safe drive home ok?" Cassandra says.

"Yes mom" It was a running joke between the three that they were a family. Xander on the other hand thought that it wasn't a joke, they were his family. He looked to them for wisdom advice and help, and without question or hesitation they would provide all three. There was no question about it, these people were his family in the truest sense. Adam got up as well and said that he would walk Xander to the door.

At the door Adam asked him a question, "How do you like your sword?"

"It's amazing he said holding up the case. Thanks again."

"Don't worry about it. I have one more accessory for your new bike though."

"Really? I thought I already all of them due to your amazing skills of arbitration."

"Well this is actually a special order, not many people will have use for it but I suspect that you will."

"Enough with the suspense already, what is it?"

Walking behind the sofa Adam picks something up and tosses it to Xander.

"Ok, I give. What is it?"

"It's the horse mount sheath for your sword. You can put it under your saddlebags and stow your sword while you ride. It's a lot better than having the damn thing poke your back."

"Thanks." Xander says with a grin. "I'll put it on before I go."

Adam was about to say something when there was a crash and scream from the kitchen. They both hurried to the kitchen to find Cassandra on the floor writhing and clutching at her head. Adam moves quickly to her side and cradles her head in his lap. He is saying something to her, Xander can't make it out but it sounds like Latin. He picks up half of the words. Focus, listen, stay are all he hears Adam say. Cassandra opens her eyes and whispers something that he can't hear and Adam nods.

Carefully Adam picks Cassandra up off the floor and walks to the sofa in the living room.

"Xander get an ice pack from freezer and get a piece of paper and a pen."

Xander nods and brings the said items to Adam, "Thanks Xander. Hold the ice pack on her head, it's more for comfort than it is for healing." Adam says answering the question Xander has on his mind before he has a chance to ask it. Cassandra is mumbling something still but Xander can't understand a word of it.

"What is she saying?" He asks.

"Its Celtic, a very old dialect. Quiet, I need to hear what she is saying." Adam starts to write down what Cassandra is saying. "Xander get a blanket from the closet and another piece of paper please."

Xander hurries off to get the items. Adam takes the blanket and wraps it around Cassandra carefully. "She's asleep now, lets go the kitchen."

Xander nods and follows Adam, throwing a look over his should to prone figure on the couch. Once inside of the kitchen Xander asks, "What happened to her?"

"Cassandra is a priestess, she has been trained to be in touch with, how to put it, otherworldly elements. She was a healer for her tribe before her first death so she has had these abilities for as long as she can remember." Adam pauses, "What just happened back there was a vision. I've been through this before with her, she had one of you before you washed up on our island."

"What did she say while in her vision?"

"I can't say for sure and I know that the details will be hazy for a couple of days afterwards so I'll need to do some research."

"Can I help?" Xander falls into research mode easily now, intent on helping his surrogate mother.

"Yes", taking a piece of paper from Xander he writes down an address and a list of what Xander can only think are books. "Follow me, and pick up your sword sheath."

Xander follows him out to the garage with the sheath in hand. Adam hands him the sheet of paper and takes the sheath from Xander. He proceeds to tie the sheath down to the bike while explaining what is on the paper, "On that list is an address. It's a bookstore that I own. In the back there is a large safe the combination is below the address. The key to the store is behind you hanging from the pegboard. It's the third one from the right. Once you open the safe there are four shelves of books, take the ones that are on that list and bring them back here. You'll find some boxes and string to tie them up together, that should make it easier for you to stow away in your saddlebags."

Adam places the saddlebags over the sheath and looks at his work. You can barely see the sheath beneath the saddlebags. Adam walks back into the house and walks back out with Xander's sword and sheaths it under the saddlebags. You can't even tell that it is there.

"I'll be waiting for you here, hopefully Cassandra will be awake by the time you get back. Now go."

Xander puts the list in his breast pocket and straddles his bike, kick starting it. "I'll be back as soon as I can!" He yells over the roar of the bike. Adam just nods and Xander speeds off to the store. In his mirrors Xander can see Adam hurry back into the house.

Xander walks out of a store carrying packages. Checking over his stack he walks over to his new motorcycle and puts the packages into his saddlebags. He checks to see how secure they are and checks his sword. Xander can't believe how much this reminds him of his old life. He is research boy once again, but this time he doesn't dread it, he thinks of Cassandra and knows that if there was anything he could do to help, he would do it in a heart beat.

He is about to kick-start his bike when he hears a scuffle echo from a nearby alley. Knowing that can't possibly be good he quickly moves to the mouth of the alley and sees a young woman and five men surrounding her. Now that isn't right he thinks to himself and makes his way over to his bike and brings it to life. With the tires squealing as he turns around the corner, he speeds down the alley. Turning on his lights to distract the assailants he see something that worries him much more than before. The men all have yellow eyes and ridged foreheads. Upon seeing his adversaries in a new light his entire game plan changes quickly. Reaching under his saddlebags he pulls out his Schloss Erbach sword bringing it to bear like a Calvaryman. As he nears one of the vampires he brings his sword down and lops the demon's head off of its shoulders. That's one he thinks to himself. Seeing that the element of surprise was now gone Xander suddenly clamps down on his brakes. Using his momentum he launches himself on the closest vampire. He collides violently with the vampire connecting his sword guard with the demon's face. The he smiles when he hears the sound of bone and cartilage crunching. Rolling with the fall he quickly returns to his feet and saw a very surprising sight. The young woman is holding a stake with a pile of dust at her feet. Looking at her more closely and sees that she seems familiar.

He asks her, "Are you ok?"

Then he realizes who she is just before she answers, "Everything is five by five."

Faith was worried that the man who had jumped into the fight would get in her way, but now he was a mysterious benefactor. She looks him up and down and thinks to herself not bad, not bad at all. Even though she was the slayer she still had problems going up against more than two or three vampires at once. Looking to her right she saw a pile of what was the first vampire to be killed, the man's motorcycle, an unconscious vampire and the young man himself smiling easily at her. "You know shouldn't be running with pointy objects like that, let alone riding around on a motorcycle, you could poke your eye out." She says to him.

She doesn't recognize me yet he thinks to himself, "I seriously doubt that, by the way DUCK!" She did so and the sound of metal on metal clanged in her ears. Looking up she saw that one of the Vampires had gotten a pipe and tried to club her with it.

Looking down to see if she is hurt he sees her looking at him, more intently this time. "If you would be so kind as to move out of the way so I don't trip on you I would really appreciate it." He says, concentrating on his positioning and using his leverage to make up the strength difference between him and the vampire. She didn't need to be told twice, and she deftly rolled out of the way.

She wanted to see how the young man was doing against the now armed vampire, there was something about him she couldn't place, but her attention was brought to her left towards the growling of the last vampire. "Okay, so you want to play?" She slipped into a modified horse stance and waited for what she new what the vampire would do and that was charge. The vampire didn't disappoint and rushed at the young woman at full speed. A side step and a knife edge chop later the vampire was on the ground with a stake slammed through its heart. As the dust began to fall she looked up to see how the man was faring against the other vampire. He was doing fairly well considering what had to be a huge strength difference. She looked on as the man battled against the stronger adversary.

I can't keep this up he thinks to himself. Opting to change his strategy, he decides to dodge a majority of the attacks rather than parrying them, parry or not there was still some considerable force behind the blows. Just when he thought the vampire wouldn't give him an opening, one appeared. The vampire came at him trying to club him with his pipe like it was an axe. This is my chance he thinks to himself and steps back and performs an upward swing, turning with the swing to add power and momentum. The vampire sees the blow and tries to bring his pipe down to block but was too late. The man felt some resistance, nothing then resistance again as his blade passed through the vampire's wrists holding the pipe and then again as the blade went cleanly through its neck. It was only seconds later when the pipe and the vampire's ashes hit the pavement. Breathing heavily and looking around he sees that there is one vampire left, albeit this one was probably crippled right now so he wouldn't have to worry about that one.

Xander appraises the situation once more. Only moments ago he was thinking about what it was like to become research boy again. Now here he is standing knee deep in Vampire dust with Faith staring at him.

Again he asks, "Are you ok?"

"Yeah, I'm cool. What about you? I thought your arms would break with amount of force behind those swings."

"I'll be fine." He says walking over to his bike. He looks to see if his cargo is undamaged by the fall. See that it isn't he sheaths his sword and turns back to see how Faith is doing.

Turning he sees that Faith is right behind him only inches away.

Faith is busily looking at the young man very closely. He reminds her so much of Xander. His hair is shorter, his frame is leaner more muscular but was it Xander? Or was she still holding out for one chance of redemption? Leaning closer to him he takes his face into her hands and pulls it closer to hers. His warm breath on her skin gives her shivers. She looks into his eyes and peers at the dark pools and sees warmth that only Xander had.

Pulling away, her eyes full of tears she whispers, "Xander? Is that you?" She begs to God or any god that would hear her plea, please let it be him! If he is my guardian angel please let him stay long enough to forgive me! PLEASE!

What surprises her is that his arms reach around and hold her close to his body in a warm inviting hug. She can feel his heart beating, and his skin is warm to the touch. He says quietly into her ear "Yes Faith, its me." With those four words she leans into the embrace crying into his shoulder, repeating the words, " I'm sorry, I'm so, so sorry!" The tears don't stop as he quietly rocks her and coos, "It's alright. Don't cry. I forgive you."

They are like that for a few moments and Xander pulls her away from him. Faith shivers with the sudden loss of warmth. Xander takes off his jacket and puts it around her shoulders. "Do you have a place to stay?" He asks her.

She shakes her, "No, I just got into town. I was looking for a place to stay when these guys surrounded me."

Propping up his bike he gestures with his head, "Hop on, you can crash with me tonight. I have to stop by my friends' house first though."

"Really? You don't hate me?" Her tone is cautious.

"Of course not. I have never hated you." Faith's heart soars at those words. Xander's friendship means more to her than anything to her right now. With his friendship comes acceptance and a chance to truly start over. With that she climbs on the bike and wraps her arms around Xander's waist and leans into his body. She feels safer now than she has felt in a long time.

Xander kick starts his bike and feels Faith's arms around him. He feels apart of him that he had forgotten about come to life. A piece of him that he shut down when he left his old life behind. Taking a deep breath he thinks once more "what if?" only this time he thinks of the possible futures ahead of him, each and everyone of them revolves around the woman holding on tightly to his body.

Chapter 4

O you whom I often and silently come where you are that I may be
      With you,
As I walk by your side or sit near, or remain in the same room with
Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake is playing
      within me.
- W.W. 1867

Methos is still sitting next to Cassandra as she sleeps when he feels Xander's approach. He is about a mile away. He had been actively searching for the young man to return ever since he left. He was a little late, but he had faith that Xander would bring back what he needed. Methos like many of the truly ancient immortals has a large amount of control over his quickening. Cassandra, like himself, was able to manifest the quickening as a tool. For Cassandra it was the voice and her visions. Methos on the other hand was able to control his quickening to such a degree that he could mask his presence to almost nothing. If he knew in which direction to look he could sense an immortal almost five miles away. But right now he was using his considerable control to monitor Cassandra's condition.

The quickening is so very tightly entwined with the conscious mind that it shapes itself to frame the thoughts and emotions of the owner. Kalas' quickening was like a conflagration of hatred, looking to burn everything and anything that came into contact with it. MacLeod's is a deep amber, golden, reaching out to protect all those around him. Kronos' was like a black sphere, greasy and slippery, trying to dominate all around.

Methos had been writing about quickenings for over a thousand years. Of all the immortals he had ever met there were only two others that could do what he can with his quickening. One was Darius, although he suspected that the quickening he took at the gates of Paris had a lot to do with what Darius was able to do. The other is Cassandra and as of this moment her quickening is as still as a pond. On the surface there was no movement. If Cassandra was indeed there she had withdrawn into the depths of her unconsciousness. By scanning a little deeper he could feel the turbulence beneath the surface. Memories rearranging themselves, settling themselves into the caverns and crevices of her mind, sorting themselves out to make sense. In the middle of it all was Cassandra trying to decode all the images thrust into her consciousness.

Out of all the immortals he has ever met none have had presence of young Alexander Harris. His quickening radiated off of him like the way a flame flickers and burns on a candle. The sheer amount of power he had within him was incomprehensible for one so young. It was no where near the strength of his own but it was still quite formidable, to him Xander's raw essence far outmatched MacLeod's.

He had brought it up with Cassandra when they had pulled him onto the island and into their cabin but they wouldn't understand the source until much later. They had been on the island for a year trying to heal wounds. It had been hard at first but as with all things time had prevailed. Days with only each other for companionship brought out the best they had in each other. However the one thing that had solidified that relationship was Xander. Together they were able to raise the young man from uncertainty to confidence. They were able to teach him that there was more to him if he only stopped limiting himself. To Xander, they were his parents and they could do nothing wrong. Even after telling him about their shared past, and after telling him what he had once been, he stood up and told them that he understood. They had asked him if it mattered to him and he had said no. 'I can't change the past, and all I know is what you have shown me' is what he said to them.

It was only when he had taken Xander back home to witness his funeral from afar did he realize where his power had come from. Xander was raised on top of the Hellmouth. The natural ley lines that intersected over the mystical hotspot strengthened his latent quickening. Much like a piece of metal becomes magnetized if it is in contact with a magnetic field, Xander's quickening absorbed a lot of power during his time there. He thought that Xander's ability to survive so long on top of the Hellmouth was because his quickening was giving him just enough to survive without dying.

Xander was something special and he was destined for something great, and after focusing a little harder on his young ward's presence he found that he wasn't alone. It wasn't another immortal, he would have felt such an intrusion against the familiar. It was a mortal, but this one's essence was stronger, brighter, but unsteady. Methos had also seen that some mortals were able to register in his mind's eye. They were usually the brilliant and the special. They had enough essence to register if actively searched for them, but they wouldn't register on his normal immortal senses. It would be interesting to see who it was exactly Xander would be bringing to his home. Methos sat back and continued to study Cassandra as she slept, waiting for a sign of her return to consciousness.

Xander and Faith pull up to the driveway of Methos and Cassandra's home. Faith seeing that they have slowed down considerably looks at her surroundings. Even through the darkness the two-story home is very impressive. The grass is green and the rose bushes in the planters that surround the home are neatly pruned and well cared for.

Slowly she gets off the bike so Xander can prop it up using the kickstand. She stands back as Xander goes through his saddlebags and retrieves a handful of packages. He takes her hand gently into his and gestures towards the house.

"Let's go, I have to drop these off."

"Whose house is this?" She asks, wary of the unknown.

"It belongs to a couple of friends of mine. I want you to meet them."

Taking a deep breath and nodding she says, "Ok, let's go."

"These people have been my family for the last couple of years, they won't hurt you." He says hoping to ease her fears.

With that they begin to walk up the walkway towards the front door. The walkway is lined with small lights and miniature roses in full bloom. The fragrance from the flowers surrounds her almost making her heady. As they get closer and closer to the house Faith's sense of warning starts to tingle at the base of her skull sending shivers down her spine. The porch light turns on and the front door opens. There framed by the doorway stands a man, a little taller than Xander. He is skinny, no, his clothes make him appear skinny and he is looking at them both with a sly grin.

"I was wondering what took you so long," he said and then looked at Faith, "but now I see you've brought company."

Xander steps directly in front of Faith as if to protect her. Why would this man threaten her? Then she realizes that her senses are being triggered by the man standing in front of them, although the sense was now receding it was definitely coming from him.

"She's a friend Adam, I trust her." Is all that Xander says.

He trusts me? Faith thinks, her heart flying. She has never been affected like this before, by anyone. It is something that she is not used to. It scares her and exhilarates at the same time.

"I thought I met most of your friends and I don't recall you mentioning a beautiful young lady named…" Adam says.

"Faith, my name is Faith." Faith introduces herself.

"Faith, a beautiful name. Very well then, welcome to my home Faith." He says directly to her. "Has Xander here told you of the situation?"

"No he hasn't."

"That's ok, I'll leave it up to him to explain things to you."

"Here are your books Adam." Xander says handing the books over to Adam. "Is there anything we can do to help?"

"Not right now, I'll need to do some translations and then I'll give you a call. Faith is welcome to help as well. Xander can't speak with you privately for a minute?"

"Yeah sure." He leans over to Faith. "I'll be right back, you just wait here and afterwards we'll head over to my place."

"Sure, no problem." She replies.

"Please make yourself at home, have a seat." Adam says before both he and Xander move into the house.

Making sure that she is out of earshot Adam asks, "Do you know she is a slayer?"

Xander was surprised at the statement, "Yes, how did you know?"

"I could sense it and I think she was able to sense me too."

"Sense you?"

"Yes slayers have an innate sense of danger, it is a sense that is attuned to the amount of power or energy a person gives off. That's how they can find Vampires and other demons, they sense the power within them."

"So are you saying that our quickenings give off that kind of power as well?"

"Yes, but mine is a unique signature as you can imagine."

"How is Cassandra?" Xander asks

Adam takes a deep breath, "She is still unconscious. I'm not sure what is taking so long but I'll wait it out by doing research. I'll call you when I have something more concrete. Will your 'friend' help as well?"

"Yes I think she will if I ask. What is it?" Xander asks seeing a look of apprehension on Adam's face.

"You'll have to tell her what you are, you do realize that don't you?"


"She's a slayer, you're immortal, something is going to happen that will force you to show her. It would be easier to tell her rather than die in front of her."

Xander nods as he mulls over the words Adam said and with that they walk to the front of the house.

Faith is sitting on one of the chairs in the living room that is adjacent to the entryway. The furnishings and the assortment of things that are in the room impress her. She isn't an expert on antiques or anything but when she was growing up in Boston she had seen a lot of the old colonial monuments, the homes restored to the original state when such and such founding father was alive.

The stuff in this room was just as old or even older. Xander had moved up in the world it seemed. She had a lot of questions to ask Xander. Some things weren't adding up in her mind and she was determined to find out why. Now isn't the time though. She'll have to wait until they are in a more private setting where it was just the two of them. No bullshit, just straight answers. With that Xander and Adam both walked back into the room.

"Sorry to keep you waiting here." Adam apologized, "But I had to go over some things with Xander."

"Oh no trouble at all, I was alright in here." Faith replies.

"Thanks Adam but we have to get going. If you need anything just give me a call."

"Sure, it was nice meeting you Faith."

"Likewise." Faith says with a smile.

Xander and Faith exit the building and make their way to the motorcycle.

"Xander we have to talk, not now but when we get to your place, ok? There is something else going on here and I don't like being kept in the dark."

Xander sighs, he didn't think that he would have to cross this bridge so soon. "Fine, let's make our way to my place and we'll talk over some dinner. You are hungry aren't you?"

"Don't try to change the topic, and yes I'm starving."

They mount the bike and Xander kick-starts the bike to life. They pull away from the house and make they're way towards Xander's apartment and the imminent revelations that will be made there. In the distance lightning and thunder can be heard. It is going to be a rainy night.

Faith had thought that Xander lived in an apartment. Well she was wrong. Xander actually lived in a house about fifteen minutes away from Adam's. It was a modest single story home. The yard was well cared for, as was the overall appearance of the house.

Xander pulls out a garage door opener and pushes the button to open the garage and they pull inside. As they disembark off the motorcycle she sees a car to her right. A red '57 Cadillac a classic car if she ever saw one. Outside lightning strikes and the sound of the thunder quickly follows.

Xander turns back and says with a grin, "Welcome to my humble abode. It's not much right now but I'm still working on the furniture but I have all the essentials."

They walk into the house and she immediately sees what he means. His house is sparsely furnished. It still smells of paint and dry wall. The kitchen and the living room are the only rooms that have furniture and most likely the bedroom as well. The décor is much more modern than Adam's house is but still elegant nonetheless. He leads her into the kitchen, which is all oaks and ivory colored tile. The stove, microwave and the refrigerator are all stainless steel.

"You want to take a shower while I get dinner going?" He asks her.

Faith is still looking over the interior of the house and doesn't hear his question. Xander asks again, "Faith?"

He finally gets her attention and she looks at him, "What?"

"You want to take a shower while I start dinner?"

Distracted she replies, "Yeah, sure." She walks into the living room where the entertainment center is and sees the setup there. Eight speaker surround sound system with two floor sub woofers. A huge amp for the speaker leads and the DVD and VCR leads. Above that is the satellite receiver all of the hardware is centered around a flat fifty-one inch big screen TV.

Faith calls over her shoulder, "Uh, Xander?"

Xander's voice is heard from the kitchen. "Yes?"

"Is this stuff all yours?"

"Last time I checked it was." came the reply.

"Not to sound nosy or anything but how can you afford all of this?"

"You want the real answer?" He says walking in from the kitchen.

"Yeah." She says curious to hear the explanation.

"I'm a, and this isn't a joke, I'm a day trader."

"Excuse me?" She can hardly believe her ears.

"Yeah, follow me." She follows him in to the room adjacent to the living room. In it is a small office complete with three PCs a TV, and a fax machine. "I had Adam help me with getting the hardware." He says sheepishly.

"Where did you get the cash to start off with?" She says.

"Well Adam and his wife Cassandra gave me a lump of cash for one of my birthdays and I took it and invested it. What you see today is the fruit of my investments. Now no offense but you really need to take a shower."

Faith upon hearing the last statement blushes with embarrassment, something that surprises Xander. He had never, ever seen Faith blush at anything. More surprising is that he finds her incredibly beautiful. He needs to get out of the room right now, before his hormones get the better of him.

Faith was thinking about how she must smell. She hasn't had a showered in a week, and all that she had was left in the alley when Xander found her. She didn't even have any clean clothes to change into. With that she blushed even more, "Uh, Xander I don't have any clothes."

Xander just stares at her for a moment and then shakes himself and says, "Say again?"

"I left my stuff in the alley. I don't have anything to change into."

"Oh, yeah sure. I mean you can use some of my stuff. Here follow me I'll get you some sweats."

Walking into the bedroom Faith can see that this is the room that has the most thought behind it, all dark woods and black contrast against the white walls. The bed, a king most likely, had a comforter with a navy blue and black pattern on it. Next to the bed was a small table. On it is a lamp, a small pile of books and two remote controls. The controls are for the VCR and the TV that sit opposite of the bed. Xander walks to a dresser that is on the other side of the bed and opens a drawer. Turning around he hands her a sweater and some warm-ups.

He shows her the bathroom, how to turn on the water, the heater, where all the amenities are and says pointing to a rack next to the shower stall, "and here is where I keep all the towels. Ok you should be set so I'm, uh, going to get started on dinner."

He is about to leave when he hears Faith's voice, "Can I have your boxers?"

Xander freezes where he is and slowly turns around and looks at Faith. "Say again?"

"Can I have you boxers?"

"That's what I thought you said." Xander takes a deep breath willing away thoughts from his head as he asks, "Why would you want my boxers?"

"Xander I don't have any clothes. That includes my underwear. Unless you have an ample supply of women's underwear available, I think it would be best if you gave me a pair of your boxers."

Xander for the second time tonight just stares at Faith. Suffice it to say that he is thinking some very ungentlemanly thoughts. "They're in the top drawer." He mumbles out, but Faith didn't understand a word he said.


"They are in the top drawer to the right. I'm going to get dinner ready right now, ok?"

"That's fine, but you owe me some information."

"I know, I know and I promise to tell you. You like Italian?"


"How does chicken alfredo sound?" He asks.

"Sounds great."

They stand there looking at each other uncomfortably for a few seconds more until they say at the same time:

"I better get dinner ready."

"I better get in the shower."

With that they turn, Xander towards the kitchen, Faith towards the bathroom.

Good going Xander! The zeppo strikes again! A beautiful woman is in your bedroom and asks you for your underwear and you freak out. Xander berates himself. I better get back in there and show her that I am not the complete idiot I seem to be. He turns back to his room and is about to say something but stops as he sees Faith's form retreat into the bathroom. She pulls off her shirt and tosses it to the ground. He gets a good look at Faith's toned, smooth back the slight beginning of the curve of her hips. Xander for the third time that night can only stare. Turning around quickly back towards the kitchen he thinks to himself that maybe it was time for him to take a shower as well, a nice long cold one.

He needed to get his mind off of the situation so he decided to focus entirely on his cooking. He pulled out a pot to boil water for the pasta and a pan to fry up the chicken quickly before adding it to the meal. In another pot he threw together the ingredients he needed for the alfredo sauce. By the time Faith came out of his room dressed in his clothes Xander was nearly done with the dish.

Faith walks up to the counter and sits at one of the barstools. "Should I be afraid or impressed that you are cooking dinner?"

"Definitely impressed. I'm a pretty good cook if I do say so myself."

"Right, I guess I'll have to see for myself wont I?"

"Let me get the chicken off the burner and I'll serve up the best chicken fettuccine alfredo you have ever had."

As Xander reaches back behind him Faith sees the chicken is already off the burner and says, "Isn't that the chicken there?"

Distracted for a moment Xander looks at what Faith sees and puts his hand on the burner where the chicken had once been simmering on. Faith can hear the sound of Xander's flesh sizzle as it is burned by the hot metal. The smell of it fills the kitchen. Xander yells out in pain and quickly cradles his hand close to his body. Faith is around the counter in a flash, she grabs a dishtowel and quickly soaks it with cold water.

"Xander give me you hand! We need to put this on it!"

"No! I'll be fine, I have a first aid kit in the bathroom let me go get it."

"Sure and how are you going to wrap your hand? Let me do it!" Faith says not understanding why Xander didn't want her help. She grabs his wrist and pulls it out. What she sees frightens her. Xander's hand begins to knit itself back together, the burns fade away under the tiny little sparks the float on the wounds. Dropping the dishtowel she backs away quickly. Looking to her right she picks up the knife Xander had intended to use to cut the chicken with.

"What the fuck are you!" She screams at him.

"Faith listen, I can explain…" Xander tries to calm her down, he doesn't understand why she is reacting the way she is.

"Yeah right, you're just like the mayor aren't you?"

"The mayor?"

"Yes! He could heal fast too, get the fuck away from me!" She swipes the blade at him trying to get him to back off.

"No! Faith its not like that at all!"

"I am NOT going to be used like that again! Back the fuck off or I swear I'll kill you!"

The mayor had used her, the mayor was invulnerable, and now she thought he was the mayor. He needed to get the knife away from her before she hurt herself. Inching closer to her he tries to coax her into swinging the blade at him again. She does and Xander catches her arm just inside of her wrist and pulls the knife away at the same time pinning her to the counter.

"Faith! Look at me! I am not the mayor! I wouldn't ever do that to you!"

"Why should I believe that?" She says through clenched teeth.

"This is why." Suddenly he backs off of her and they stare at each other for a few seconds. "I'm going to show you something that I have never shown anyone." Xander flicks his wrist and the inverts the blade. He raises his hand and brings it down. Faith thinking that he is going to kill her braces herself but realizes to late what he is going to do.

Faith screams, "Xander! NO!" but she is too late as the blade punctures him between his ribs, through is lung and then his heart. The last word that he whispers to Faith as she catches his in horror is "Stay."

There is so much blood as Faith pulls the knife out of Xander. She holds her hand over the wound and use the other hand to try to frantically push the blood back into his body hoping that it would somehow heal itself. But she feels no pulse and he has stopped breathing. She thinks to herself what have I done? Why did he kill himself? The last word he said was 'stay.' Even if Faith wanted to move she couldn't. her body would not react to commands it just sat there cradling the dead body of the man who only hours ago showed her nothing but kindness. She realized that she was crying and tried to wipe the tears from her face but only succeeded in smearing more of Xander's blood on her face. She sits there like that for a long time just rocking the body back and forth as one would do to comfort a child, only she was doing it to comfort herself. She was like that until something caught her attention.

Small lightning bolts appeared over his chest wound as they had when he had burned his hand. To her amazement the wound began to close itself until there was nothing there. What startled her even more was when touching the place where the wound had been she felt his heart begin to beat. She was pretty much terrified when he sat up gasping for air.

Turning around to face Faith he says, "You stayed."

With those two words Faith punches him with a hard right hook that hits Xander square in the jaw. The last thing that Xander thinks of is 'She broke my jaw' and for the second time that night he falls to his kitchen floor unconscious.

Chapter 5

Faith is sitting on the floor next to Xander's unconscious form. She is quietly mumbling to herself, "I can't believe I hit him like that!" she says, "I could have broken his neck!" She thinks a few moments and then adds, "It's not like it would kill him though."

Once again Faith is forced to wait because of her actions. "At least I'm not in a coma." She says. Faith hates waiting she isn't a very patient person opting rather to react to the situation around her. A lot of good it did her she thinks. She looks over Xander's prone form and decides to keep herself busy until Xander wakes up. She carefully picks up the knife and puts it into the sink. She then proceeds to clean up the mess of blood using the dishtowel she had dropped earlier. When the towel was saturated she would go back the to sink wring it out rinse it and wring it out again. She did this for a few minutes until most of the mess was cleaned up.

As she was rinsing the towel she heard movement from behind her. Not bothering to look back she says out loud, "Welcome back."

Xander sits up and groans, "You broke my jaw!"

"Serves you right, how did you think I'd take it? Oh look my dead friend just came back to life! Well goody!" She says sarcastically. "You're lucky I didn't pick up the knife and stab you with it."

"Well I guess I lucked then, but you didn't need to break my jaw." He says ruefully.

"It's not like it would have killed you." She shoots back finally turning around to face him.

"No it wouldn't have but it still hurt like hell." He grumbles.

"Look, I'm sorry I hit you. But it's your own fault! Dying in front of someone and then coming back to life is something I don't see everyday and I'm a fucking Slayer! You could have at least warned me."

"I did! I asked you to stay." He says trying to defend himself.

"Stay? How in the hell am I supposed to know that stay meant 'Don't worry I'm gonna die but I'll be back?"

She could see Xander was searching for a rebuke but was failing miserably. She sighed she didn't need or want to argue with him. "Why don't you go and get cleaned up? I'm almost finished here."

Xander nods he stands there as if he wants to say something but thinks better of it and walks off. Faith wipes up the remaining blood and throws the towel into the sink. She takes a deep breath and leans against the counter. She looks herself over and sees that she'll need to clean up as well blood is all over her shirt and warm-ups.

Hearing the shower turn on she walks to Xander's room to get new clothes. She is about to walk into the room when she hears the bathroom door open. Looking around the corner she sees Xander is standing in from of his dresser with only a towel around his waist. She eyes him appreciatively as she notes just how much he has filled out. His shoulders were broader more muscular. His upper body had much more definition than she remembers from their night together. Xander grabs a pair of sweats and turns to walk back into the bathroom. Faith quickly pulls back around the corner not wanting Xander to know that she was looking at him. She stays there until she can hear the shower door open and close.

"What are you doing girl?" She says to herself. "You don't need this right now." She walks into the room opens the appropriate drawers and retrieves a pair of sweats and another shirt.

Quietly she opens the bathroom door intending to get a towel and get out quietly however as she grabs the towel the rack falls off the wall and lands with a loud clatter. The shower door opens a little and his head pops out. Xander says with a grin, "Faith if you really wanted to get my attention you could have just joined me in the shower."

Not to be out done Faith walks right up to the shower door and brings her face right next to his. "Well Xander," She says in a low throaty voice, "you better be careful," the whole time her lips move closer and closer to his, "or you'll get just what you want." Just when he thinks she would lean in to kiss him she backs away.

Xander with his eyes closed leans forward looking for her. Unfortunately he is holding onto the shower door for support with his wet hand. His hand slips and he falls to the ground ungracefully. He can hear Faith's voice as she exits the room chuckling, "You still owe me some answers Xander! And you still owe me a meal!"

Xander proceeds to finish his shower with a smile on his face. He had scared Faith earlier but true to form she had regrouped and was not about to show that she had been rattled. It would make for a very interesting diner.

After coming out of his room changed into sweats and a shirt he found that Faith had changed out of her bloodied clothes. She was setting the table with dishes and utensils.

"Hey" He says to her.

"Hey" She says back.

There is a short silence between them as Faith continues to set the table. Xander walks to the kitchen and pulls out a bottle of wine and two wineglasses. It was going to be a long night and the wine would be able to loosen him up enough to get through in one piece. He sets the bottle down and picks up his cooking and puts it into the oven to heat it up a bit before they eat. Picking up the bottle the glasses and a corkscrew he walks to the dinning room table he finds that she had set the place settings next to each other. That has to be a good sign he thinks to himself.

He holds up the glasses and the wine bottle and says, "I thought I'd bring a peace offering."

Faith raises his eyebrow and says, "Sure but I hope you're not think of taking advantage of me. I could probably drink you under the table."

"You could probably drink the old Xander under the table but then again you're not the old Faith either."

Faith looked uncomfortable at that last comment. It was true on so many levels. She had been in a coma for so long and hadn't touched a drop of alcohol since coming out. However ever since coming out she had made an effort to change her ways. The way she acted, the way she thought, the way she talked, everything that reminded her of her past and the decisions that had made her life come crashing down on her. For the time she was on the road she was able to do this with relative ease because no one knew whom she was or what she had done. But now Xander was someone from her past, someone who knew who she was and someone who had seen her at her worst. Yet here he was standing next to her offering her some wine. Looking at him she knew that much about him had changed as well. He was the same person but he was sure of himself, the hesitation she remembered from him was all but gone and what replaced it was an assertive confidence that hung on him nicely.

"You're right, I'm not the same Faith I was then." She replied and reached out and takes the wineglasses from him, "I guess we'll start off slow tonight then."

Xander smiles and takes the corkscrew and opens the bottle of wine. He pours the wine into the wineglasses in Faith's hands deftly twisting the bottle so that it doesn't drip down the side as he finishes pouring. Putting the bottle down he tells her, "I'm going to get the food and we'll eat ok? Then I'll sit here and answer all of your questions."

Faith watches Xander as he leaves. She would finally get her answers. She realized she was mistaken in thinking that Xander was like the mayor. They were both able to heal incredibly fast but the mayor didn't light up when a wound would heal. There was more to Xander now that much was obvious but the change was for the better, it gave him confidence and strength.

Xander returns with the food and scoops up a hearty portion and give it to Faith. The food smells wonderful to her. The aroma is intoxicating, the taste is perfect, and the company she was eating with was good. It was the best dinner she had since leaving Sunnydale. Xander was looking at her with a slight smirk.

"What's so funny?" She asks between bites.

"I had forgotten how much a Slayer eats, you just caught me off guard."

Faith just shrugs and continues to eat. "This is really good stuff you made Xander." She tells him as he serves her another helping.

"Thanks, next time I'll put a little more effort into it and then you'll really be impressed."

She stops eating momentarily and looks at him, "Next time?" She says playfully. "A little confidant of yourself there aren't you?"

"Not a little, a lot. You are free to stay with me as long as you like. I can get my office turned into another room and I'll move my stuff out here. No questions asked."

"Why would you do that for me?"

Xander sat back into his chair and said to her, "Honestly? I'm not sure. You are something from my past and seeing you stirs something in me. I want you to stay. I need someone that I can talk to about who I am and what I have seen. Not many people can relate to killing demons and vampires."

"So you'd use me to ease your conscience?" She says warily.

Sighing Xander replies, "No you'd be a friend who I wouldn't hide anything from. A friend who knows all of my past, no secrets, no lies, everything."

The answer eases some of Faith's worries. "Everything?"

"Everything." He says with absolute certainty.

"Tell me what you are." She challenges. Xander sits there she can see the apprehension on his face as he tries to articulate his next words.

"I have never told anyone about this before and I don't know how to say it so I'll just come out and say it."

"Xander you're rambling"

"Sorry." He takes a deep breath and says, "I'm immortal."

"Immortal as in demon possessed corpse?" Wary again

"No, I'm actually the exact opposite."

"So you are an immortal as in one who lives forever?"

"That would about sum it up, yes. But there is a catch."

"That would be?"

"I'll live forever as long as I have my head attached to my neck."

Confused she asks, "You lost me there. What do you mean you need to keep your head attached?"

" Immortal is not an entirely true name. I'll survive almost anything and come back to life except for one thing."

"That being?"

"Beheading. The total and complete removal of my head from my body."

"Ouch. But why would you cut your own head off? If that is all it takes you could live to see the end of time right?" She asks him.

"Well its not that simple." He starts thinking on how to approach to the subject. Faith is staring at him, waiting for him to continue. "The source of our power comes from what we call the quickening, for lack of a better word, our souls."

"Wait a minute, 'our' and 'we'? You're telling me that there are more of your kind?" She asks.

"Yes, lots more an entire race of people who have been living among mortals since the beginning of civilization. We're just like regular people Faith, we just live longer." He adds quickly to ease her fears. She was taking it very well he thinks.

"How long?" she asks amazed at the thought of living through the times seeing histories unfold.

"The oldest is rumored to be at least five thousand years old."

"Five thousand years." She says just louder than a whisper. The number is incomprehensible to her. As a Slayer her life expectancy is less than twenty-five years.

"Hopefully I'll survive a tenth of that time. Like I said before our power comes from our quickening. If one of us looses their head their quickening is released. If there is another immortal nearby the quickening is transferred into that immortal's body. All that person ever was becomes a part of you, adding to your strengths and memories. The older you are the more powerful the quickening becomes, the more quickenings you take the more powerful you become. Some actively hunt other immortals just for quickenings, others try to avoid fights whenever possible."

"So that's why you carry a sword," Faith says remembering the fight in the alley, "But why hunt at all? I figure after a few thousand years you guys would just back off and stop. I mean if no one hunts, everybody lives forever right?"

"Not exactly." Xander says thinking of the best way to say it. "Let me put it this way. Slayers have a destiny to fight evil and otherworldly threats to the world correct?" Faith nods. "Well immortals are the same, we all share the same destiny; to be a part of the game." Seeing that Faith was waiting for him to go on he continues, "The game states that we will fight each other until there comes a point where there will be only one immortal left. That immortal wins the prize."

"So you live your life being hunted watching your back? After a few hundred years of that you think someone would go crazy or something." She says to him.

"Unfortunately it has. If a quickening is so strong it can overwhelm its recipient, push his consciousness below the surface tainting their actions."

"What happens then?"

"If that person is strong enough their mind will regain control and the quickening will be absorbed."

"If they're not?"

"Then they are like that until someone takes their head. Hopefully that person will be strong enough to take the quickening and control it."

"How can you live like that? Always looking behind you wondering if the next person looking to get his jollies off of you quickening?"

"Well its not that bad. We have an early detection system built into ourselves. When one quickening gets within range of another it creates a 'buzz' I guess you would call it a 'spidey sense' at that point you eith run away or you find the person you see what they want."

"So what is it?" She asks. "What do you win if you survive till the end?"

"No one knows. Only one thing is for sure though, at the end that immortal will have the quickenings of all the immortals that ever lived. Some say that is enough power to rule the world."

"But that isn't true though." Faith says.

"Of course not, no one knows for sure what the prize is…"

Faith cuts him off, "That's not what I meant, the winner at the end couldn't possibly have the quickenings of all the immortals that ever lived. You said that if someone is near by then the quickening is transferred. What happens if no one is near by? Who does the quickening go to?"

"I'm not sure, I guess that the quickening is dissipated and that person's life would be wasted."

"What about you Xander? Have you taken many quickenings?"

"I have taken a few. I have never hunted anyone though and I gave each immortal the chance to turn away and leave me be. But sometimes…" Lightning strikes and thunder is heard a short time later.

Faith finishes his sentence for him. "Sometimes they just don't give you a choice." Faith remembers her fight with Buffy. She hadn't given her a choice back then either.

They sit there in companionable silence as they finish their meals. As Xander is clearing the table he sees Faith stifle a yawn. "Faith you can take my bed tonight. Tomorrow we'll get you some clothes and get a bed and some furniture for your room."

"Are you sure?"

Xander chuckles, "Yeah I'm sure. Don't worry about it I'll grab some blankets out of the closet and I'll sleep on the couch. It's not like it going to kill me." He says.

"I guess not." Faith replies with a smile. "I haven't had a good nights sleep since I left Sunnydale. Good night Xander."

"Good night Faith."

Xander put his dishes in the dishwasher and puts the leftovers into a container, which he puts into the refrigerator. He walks to the hallway closet and grabs a couple of blankets. Walking back to the couch he spreads the blankets out and gets ready to sleep. After he tosses and turns he finds that he can't get into a comfortable position.

Sitting up he says, "I need a pillow." Quietly he makes his way to his room to get one of the spare pillows. As enters into his dark room he can see Faith's form on the bed, he can make her face out every time the lightning flashes outside. She is asleep, her face is peaceful the worry and wariness that is always present on her face is gone. Asleep she is delicate and beautiful. He stands there a moment longer and decides that maybe he could live with a stiff neck in the morning. When he reaches the couch he lies on the blankets and just closes his eyes. Regardless of the uncomfortable position sleep comes to him quickly. He looks forward to the morning.

Xander is awakened by the sounds of a struggle coming from his bedroom. His first thoughts are of Faith and her safety. Had another Immortal gotten to his room without him sensing it? No he was no more than twenty feet away from the room. A burglar? He lived in a safe neighborhood and he had an alarm system installed. Then what could it be? He rushes to his room to find Faith thrashing in bed fighting with an imaginary opponent in her dreams. She argues with her adversary words coming out every so often as screams.

"NO!!!" she screams then mumbles more words he can't decipher, "You can't! I won't let you! NO!"

Xander goes to the bed trying to catch her arms so she wouldn't hit him with her considerable strength. He had to wake her up without startling her.

"Faith!" He raises his voice after he pins her arms above her head. He tries to shake her out of her sleep. "Faith!" he yells again. This time her eyes fly open her head turns from side to side trying to get her bearings. As she realizes her hands are trapped above her head her knee comes up reflexively into Xander's side. His ribs break with the contact. Groaning in pain he releases her and she springs off of the bed and backs herself into a corner.

Xander is able to hiss out, "Faith!"

The third time her name is said she remembers where she is and who she is with. Her face over come with worry she returns to the bed to look over Xander's injuries. "Oh my God! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! Are you ok?" Her hand goes down to where she had kneed him and hisses in pain.

"Remind me never to surprise or startle you ok?" He says through clenched teeth. "You were having a nightmare and I had come in here to wake you up."

"Are you ok?" She asks again.

Xander sits up in the bed and stretches feeling his bones knit back together. "I'll be a little sore for a while but I'll be ok." Looking over he sees her against the headboard of the bed arms around her knees hugging them close rocking slowly.

"I'm sorry." She says quietly. As she continues to rock herself.

Xander knows the actions very well. It is the act of self-consoling. He had sat in that very same position the night after killing Jesse. He had asked for forgiveness from a picture of Jesse. He had rocked himself to sleep that night. He did the act several times in his life, when Ms Calendar died, when Kendra died, after he had died the first time. He had nightmares about drowning for weeks after dying after the first few nights it had almost become habit, if not for Methos and Cassandra he would not have made past those first few weeks. Looking at Faith he could tell that the dreams had plagued her often, most likely every night. So Xander did the only thing he could think of to help her, "You want to talk about it?"

Looking up from her position she weakly nods no. Xander knows better however and continues to push the issue. "How long?"

Faith looks up again with tear brimmed eyes, "Excuse me?"

"How long had it been since you had a complete nights sleep?"

Her head is still held up so that he can see her face but she is no longer looking at him. She continues to rock. "I haven't been able to sleep through a whole night since I left Sunnydale." She says barely a whisper.

"Why?" He asks softly, gently coaxing her to relax more.

She still isn't facing him, "The dreams come every night." She says quietly.

"What do you dream of? The last fight with Buffy?" Xander says hoping to hit the nail on the head. The more she could share the better.

"NO!" She yells loudly startling Xander. The rain outside is pouring down hard now.

"Then of what? What do you dream of?" He says gently.

"I dream of me."

"I don't understand."

"When I had first come to Sunnydale I was so angry. My life was hard and I had seen my watcher murdered. After killing the monster responsible for that I felt some of the anger fade away. But things happened no matter how hard I tried I couldn't fit into group you know?"

Xander nods and signals her to continue.

"By that time the mayor had approached me. I had refused at first. But things just kept getting worse and worse and there was the mayor telling me things. Telling me how you all hated me, how I would never fit in and they would never understand. I didn't realize it at the time but he was using my anger against me. Towards the end my anger had consumed me. I wasn't the person I knew I was. I was a cold-blooded, uncaring killer willing to carry out any orders the mayor had wanted. Faith was gone, I was just a tool." Faith was crying by this time. She had held all this to herself for so long and now that she was able to let it all go she would stop until she was finished.

"It was like there were two of me. I could see what the other was doing but I could do anything about it, revenge and hate was all there was. Nothing more." Pausing to take a breath and to wipe her face. "Buffy wouldn't have won that last fight." She stated facing him now.

Xander was surprised at the revelation. Buffy had told them that she had no other choice that night.

Seeing his confusion she explained. "I was always the better fighter Xander. She didn't have the heart to kill me Xander, she never did. The person I was would have killed her in a heartbeat. I could have easily dodged the last blow and pushed Buffy over that edge but something happened. The hatred inside of me was gone suddenly. I don't know what had happened to the mayor, you guys must have distracted him enough that I was able to regain control. Suddenly I was myself again and instead of dodging the last blow I forced myself to stand my ground and take what I deserved. While falling I hoped that I would die so I wouldn't have to explain what happened. It would have been easier that way."

"But you woke up with no one to turn to or anyone to listen to your story. So you ran." He finished for her.

"I've been trying to prove that I'm not that person anymore. I try to help everyone that I can. But no matter who I had helped or how much good I had done the dreams come every night. I would dream of the evil things I did. I would fight with my alter-self you know? But she would win every time. I tried to stop her Xander, really I did." She says.

"But you did stop her Faith. You are living proof of that now. In time the dreams will pass. Mine still come once in a while but they get easier to deal with over time."

"Easy for you to say, you have forever to deal with them."

"That doesn't make it any easier to deal with though. I'll be here if you need someone to talk to. I know what it's like."

"Thanks." She says, she is no longer crying she has stopped rocking and for the second time that night she feels safe. Thanks to Xander.

Xander smiles warmly at Faith and says, "You're welcome. I'm going back to my couch, if you need me just holler ok?" Faith nods.

Xander gets up and starts to walk out of his room. He is almost to the door when he hears Faith call his name. "Xander?" She says quietly.

Turning around he says, "Yeah?"

"Do you mind if you slept here tonight? With me?"

Xander couldn't resist, "I hope you intentions are honorable." He says with a grin. The rain outside continues to fall but now it is gently taping against the window.

"Of course they are." She grins back. Slowly the grin fades and she says her next words quietly. "I just don't want to be alone tonight."

"You'll won't be alone anymore, I promise." He walks over to the stand holding up his television and opens the cabinet built into the stand. Inside is a stereo, she realizes the stands holding up the potted plants in his room are actually speakers.

"I hope you don't mind. I like to have music play while I sleep."

"I don't mind, what do you have?"

"You like jazz?"

"Mmmmm, I love it," She says sleepily.

"Then you'll like this." He presses play on the CD player and music fills the room. The dulcet tones of a piano fill the room quietly. The chords are slow, relaxing and beautiful. Then quietly after the first bar a muted trumpet is heard over the piano and the quiet rhythms of a drum. Xander makes his way to the bed and lies next to Faith. She is already half asleep but his warmth in the bed draws her closer to him and she repositions herself with her head on his chest using him as a pillow. He watches the rise and fall of her chest and knows that she is asleep. He watches her beautiful face one last time before he turns off the light. Turning back he can make out her silhouette. Then the gravely voice of Louis Armstrong replaces the muted trumpet he was obviously playing.

You go to my head
And you linger like a haunting refrain
And I find you spinning 'round in my brain
Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne.
You go to my head
Like a sip of sparkling burgundy brew
And I find the very mention of you
Like he kicker in a julep or two.
The thrill of the thought
That you might give a thought to my plea
Casts a spell over me
Till I say to myself
Get a hold of yourself!
Can't you see that it never can be?
You go to my head
With a smile that makes my temperature rise
Like a summer with a thousand Julys.
You intoxicate my soul with your eyes.
Though I'm certain that this heart of mine
Hasn't a ghost of a chance
In this crazy romance,
You go to my head.
You go to my head
You go

Xander hears the last chords of the song diminish and thinks that maybe he does stand a chance and the good ol' Louis just gave up to easily. With those thoughts in his head he looks one last time at the face sleeping on his chest until he too drifts off to sleep.

Chapter 6

Dearset now O soul,
Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
Where neither  ground is for the feet nor any path to follow?
- W.W 1881


"Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!" An attractive blonde young woman says to herself as walks towards her dorm room as fast as she can. She had seen a bunch of guys follow her out of the local club they looked as if they were drunk. She had some self-defense training but she doubted that she could take on three of them at once so she opted for a quick retreat. She reaches into her pocket and feels her keys. Remembering her training she grips them is such a way so that the keys were poking out between her fingers.

Looking behind her while turning the corner she runs right into one of the men following her. She lets out a startled scream as she falls back.

"Well look at what we have here!" The he sneers.

"Please don't hurt me." She whimpered.

"Please don't hurt me!" He mimicked "Don't worry I would hurt you little girl. I'm just going to kill you!"

He was close enough for the woman to kick him in the groin. With her would be attacker bending over and grunting she takes her hand out of her pocket and swipes at his face. What happens next isn't what she expects. The man grunts and looks down, when he looks back up his face changes. His eyes are yellow and his forehead has ridges and he is growling.

Taking his hand and tracing the cuts on his cheeks he says, "Now that wasn't nice." Taking the blood and licking it off of his fingers he says, "I'm really going to enjoy killing you."

"I wouldn't count on that." Another voice said behind him. Looking back he sees a young girl looking at him holding a stake. "Slayer!" he hisses.

"The one and only" She says with a flourish. Standing waiting for the vampire to make the first move she becomes impatient and says to him, "Are you just going to stand there or do I have to walk over there and kick you undead ass!"

The Vampire chuckles, "Mark! Devon!" He yells out into the shadows, "Kill her!"

When he doesn't hear them answer he says again only with less confidence, "Didn't you hear me! Kill her! Mark? Devon?"

Another voice answers him. "If you are talking about your two friends back there they wont be coming anytime soon. Actually they won't be coming at all." A man says walking out of the shadows. He is wearing all black and also carries a stake.

The Vampire screams in rage running full speed at the girl taking a wide swing hoping to take her out with one punch. She leans back and the punch misses by the narrowest of margins. As she leans back she inverts the stake and brings her hand up to her right shoulder. Leaning forward and twisting her body she brings the stake out like a dagger piercing through clothes and skin penetrating the Vampire's heart. Within seconds the Vampire is dust like his brethren. The man and woman walk back to the girl who is still on the ground.

"Are you ok?" She asks looking her over for any injuries.

"Yeah, I think so."

"You should get going before anything else happens." The man says. "You want us to walk with you?"

Shaking her head she says, "No, I'll be fine. I'm only a few blocks from here anyway. Thanks for the save." The woman walks off leaving her to rescuers alone.

"Well Buffy, another night of saving the innocent is over. Do you want to head over to the Denny's to get a bite to eat?"

"Yeah I'm starved! I think I left my books in your car so I can study a little while we're there." She says to Riley

"And afterwards?" He asks

"We'll just have to wait and see." She says with a smile leaning into him for a kiss.

The young woman they had saved was making good time she was almost home. However she would never make it as a man stepped into her path. It was almost like he had appeared out of nowhere.

"Jesus! Not a gain! Look three other guys just tried the same thing and they're in pretty bad shape so just leave me alone!" She tries to bluff him.

"Then you won't have any problem dealing with me." He says with evil smile. "Why don't you try me?"

The woman again tries to use her keys as a weapon lashes out against the man in front of her. She thinks she is going to hit him when his hand comes up and grabs hold of her wrist. She screams in pain as he slightly twists her arm and squeezes harder.

Almost casually he throws her down onto the sidewalk. As she gets up he can hear him chuckling. "You have spirit!" He adds with low voice, "Good!" He walks toward her.

Turning around to run she sees two other men cutting off her retreat.

Turing back to the first man she starts to say, "If you want…" but she never finishes her sentence. The words are caught in her mouth as she feels a cold intrusion in her stomach. Looking down she sees a long piece of sharp steel protruding out of her stomach. The man is grinning maniacally as he pulls the sword out. Only when the sword is removed does she feel the burning pain. Her hands go to her stomach trying to keep her blood from spilling out onto the pavement. The man coolly flicks the blood off of his sword as she drops to the ground.

The last words she hears before she dies are "Prepare her." Her eyes gloss over as her life bleeds out onto the pavement. The two other men grab hold of the body and drag her off into the darkness.

For many the morning represents a new day of life. The morning is a time of rebirth when God's creatures can once again roam the Earth bathed in light. Morning is the start of a new day that marks the continuous movement of time. As the sun rises over the town of Sunnydale light falls upon a grisly scene. In the middle of one the parks lays a body that has been mutilated in a horrific manner. The hair that crowns the head once blonde is now matted a deep red, the color of blood. The body is naked and pink flesh can been seen through her stab wound on her stomach prominent against the pale skin.

Tear streaks can be seen on the sides of her face, only there aren't any tears, just blood. Where her eyes had once been are now dark holes unseeing. Her mouth is open in a silent scream to the heavens. Inside her mouth her tongue is also missing leaving only a stub of flesh in the back of her throat.

However that is not the worst of it. She is lying face up and to her sides are gruesome imitations of wings. They are made from her lungs pulled from her body flattened and spread out. Her rear ribs are used to accentuate the look of the wings looking like talons protruding from the tips of her wings. That is exactly how the early morning joggers had found the body.

When Giles shows them the pictures Buffy falls silent as she recognizes the girl from the night before. She had saved her only to have her fall victim to something infinitely worse.

Things were not boding well in the Sunnydale. Something big was going to happen and it would happen very soon.

Morning comes all to quickly for Xander. He feels a warmth against his body looking down he sees Faith's head lying down on his chest. Looking over to his dresser he sees that it is only six-thirty. Carefully reaching over he turns of his alarm that is set to go off at a quarter till seven. After doing so he just lies there reveling in the feel of Faith on his chest. Slowly he moves to get off of the bed without waking her.

Xander needed to start his morning workout. He thought against running this morning because if Faith wakes up to an open house she might freak out. Walking to his kitchen and opening the door that leads to his basement turned workout room he walks down the stairs leaving the door open. If Faith wakes up she would be able to hear him downstairs.

He goes through his entire warm up exercise and removes his shirt before starting his kata. It was one of the first forms that Adam had taught him. He had claimed that the form was passed to him from a Tibetan monk he had met a long time ago, the form promoted clarity and balance. Or at least that is what he had claimed it did. With Adam you could never tell how much of the truth you were getting. When he had seen both Adam and Cassandra do the kata the fluidity and preciseness of the movements mesmerized him. After learning the kata he believed what Adam had told him, every time he does this kata he feels centered and calm.

Closing his eyes he moves from movement to movement, his muscles had memorized the steps long ago and were now second nature. Each movement is slow and deliberate. His balance transferring from one foot to another with only a moment where his weight is equally distributed between the steps. He had found that he would be able to cycle through the kata a couple times before finishing his work out. Xander closes his eyes and lets the kata take its natural course.

Light filters in between the blinds and shines on Faith's face. The warmth and the light slowly wake Faith. Grumbling she pulls the blanket over her head to block out the sun, but the damage was already done she wouldn't be able to get back to sleep. Stretching under the sheets she finds that she is alone in the bed. She pulls the blankets off of her and steps out of bed. Stretching she realizes that she feels rested, more rested than she has felt in quite awhile. She remembers Xander staying with her throughout the night and his body warm against hers. Looking back on her life she cannot remember where she had just slept with another person, no sex, just sleep and it is something that comforts her for some reason. Leaning over she touches the indentation his head had left on his pillow. Her fingers linger on the spot for a short while feeling that the spot is still warm.

"He couldn't have left too long ago she says to herself." Getting up she decides to look for him in the house. She walks past the 'computer room' as she had dubbed it mentally and sees that he is not there. She walks over to the dinning room and sees that he isn't there as well. Walking into the kitchen she sees that one of the doors is open.

Peering through the door she sees a set of stairs going down to what she could only guess is a basement. Faith goes to the drawers and opens them one at a time until she finds a drawer with some rubber bands. Finding what she wants she ties her hair back and quietly makes her way down the stairs. What she sees takes her breath away and surprises her at the same time. Xander is by himself, muscles taut from the controlled movements he is making. There is a slight sheen on his skin showing that he had already cycled through the movements multiple times already. The amount of balance, grace and control he shows is violently at odds with her memories of the old Xander, many things have indeed changed.

Looking around the room she is able to see weapons on the walls. Swords, staffs, punching pads are found on various shelves and pegs. In the corner she sees a punching bag hanging from a stand. In another corner is a speed bag. The floor is polished hardwood like what would be found on a dance floor or a dance studio.

Her visual exploration is interrupted by the sound of Xander's voice. "Hey, good to see you're awake. Sleep well?"

Turning back to look at Xander she replies smiling, "Very. Thank you for last night."

Taking a sip of water he nods, "Don't mention it, I know how you feel. If you need to talk some more about it I'd be more than happy to oblige." He says to her with a smile. "You hungry? I make a mean omelet."

"If that's a Denver omelet then you're on!" She says back thinking that she would like to share a lot with Xander.

"Good! You can help me then. I'll have you use your deft Slayer reflexes to make quick work of some veggies and ham and after breakfast we'll go get you some clothes." He says while walking towards her.

"Xander...I…" She stammers out wanting to thank him for his kindness and generosity but her tongue is not listing to her head.

Turning to face her he tells her, "Faith, I meant what I said last night, no questions asked." Smiling again he adds, "Besides you can't be wearing my clothes all the time now can you? Think of all the laundry I'll have to do by the end of the week!" Chuckling he grabs her hand and leads her back up the stairs.

Faith considers her hand in Xander's. It feels right to her, it feels good as she squeezes his hand gently. When she feels him squeeze back her heart beat quickens. Xander on the other hand was asking himself if he did the right thing by taking her hand but the quick, soft squeeze puts his mind at ease.

Across town Methos is helping Cassandra sit up, she had woken up a few minutes ago and was understandably incredibly stiff. Massaging her shoulders Methos asks her, "Do you remember anything?"

"Bits, nothing very substantial. I remember seeing Darius though and a few others though, I'm sure as to their meaning in the vision. I saw swords I think we were fighting…something. People were dying Methos, painful horrible deaths." She says closing her eyes trying to focus on the vision. "There were more of us fighting, young like Alexander. There was someone else though, someone with Alexander. A girl, her hair is like mine and there is something special about her. That's it right now I'm afraid."

Methos nods slowly, "Well the girl you saw is named Faith."

"Faith? How do you know?"

"I had sent Xander to get some books to research a few things that you had said while you were having you vision. When he returned he returned with her with him. A very beautiful young lady who happens to be a slayer."

"So that would explain her presence in my vision." She adds quickly, "What did I say while I had my vision."

"Well you had spoken the words in an old Celtic dialect so I had a hell of a trying to find all possible combinations. But simply put you said 'Hellmouth' and 'destruction'. I couldn't find much but it is at least a start. But it looks like we'll have to pay a visit to Xander's old neighborhood to see this thing through."

"The Hellmouth?"

"Yes or as modern man has dubbed it: Sunnydale. I'm not completely sure yet, you cannot believe how many prophecies regarding the Hellmouth refer to destruction."

"But how many prophecies mention immortals? Death? A witch? Or a combination of all of the above?"

Methos sits still for a second looking for the words to say next. "I'll give you three guesses." Is all he says.

Closing her eyes and praying that her instincts are wrong she says her next word with trepidation. "One."

Opening her eyes she looks at Adam and he just nods slowly. One. A number so specific that there was no leeway as to the possibility of being wrong though she hoped she was. "And the portents? How many have come to pass already?"

"A few." He says walking over to the dining room table. He picks up a note pad, some papers and walks back to the couch. "I'll just point out the particular points of interest. I can't believe that if someone could foresee the potential end of the world that they would write bloody limericks about it, couldn't just one prophecy be written in prose?" He says bringing a smile to Cassandra's face.

"Here you can see "Ancient enemies turned lovers."

"That could mean anybody." Cassandra says.

"True, I had thought so as well but if look at this passage here I had originally thought that the reference was to Hades and Persephone but after going over it one more time it translates to Death and Priestess." He pauses for the briefest of seconds, "Now you tell me if that could be anybody?"

"Fine," She concedes, "What else has passed?"

"One of the signs points out to a 'sanguine raptor' I took that at face value but after seeing this online this morning a quickly reassessed my opinion." Handing her a print out which read on top Grisly Murder. "I had hacked into the local police database and was able to come up with a copy of the report. It looks like the girl was killed first by a stab wound to her abdomen, but look at the pictures of how they found the body." He says handing her the pictures.

Cassandra paled when she sees the pictures. "A blood eagle? Who could do such a thing?"

"I'm not sure but it is going to happen again in about a week."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes later in the passage there is mention of a ceremony that will take place, it is called the 'awakening."

"I think I remember reading about it. I think that it is supposed to allow the person who casts the spell siphon off power from a source and add it to their own, awakening vast stores of power from within."

"Exactly, but here that power source is the Hellmouth itself. All the energies of hell focused onto one being would make that person all but invincible. By stealing energy from the Hellmouth you in turn open up the portal and allow whatever is on the other side cross over. Unleashing hell on earth."

"How does that tell you that someone will do this again a week?"

"This version of the ceremony is very precise. It calls for the eyes and tongue of three pure women. In order for the sacrifice to be valid the parts need to be harvested exactly one week apart, no more, no less. After the parts are harvested and prepared the ceremony must take place exactly three days after that. So that gives a total of three weeks and three days."

"So the blood eagle is just a ruse to throw off whoever is profiling the perpetrator."

"Exactly. Now at the end where you are given the possible outcomes of the prophecy we are given two. Option one the bad guys win and the world as we know it comes to an end."

"And option two?"

"We stop Armageddon."

"Meaning we're going to take a trip to Sunnydale." She says flatly.

"Right, I'm going to give Xander a call and explain the situation to him. I'll need a few hours to setup some identities for all of us and to secure some housing."

"I'll get our things together and contact some friends of mine who could help provide us with more mystical information once we get to Sunnydale."

The two ancients talk a little while more before going about their tasks. They are now part of a great struggle that will tax them physically and emotionally. They now can only do what they can, prepare for the worst. Hopefully they have helped their young ward enough to be ready for the battles ahead.

Xander and Faith pull up to his house in his '57 Cadillac. They had just gotten back from the mall. Xander true to his word took Faith out and bought her a new wardrobe. After breakfast he had cleared out his office and set it up again outside in the living room. He had called a furniture place ordered a queen-size bed some dressers and some lamps for Faith's room. It had taken them less than an hour to deliver and setup the things he had ordered. Although money can't buy happiness it can get you results if you want them quickly. Faith, being the practical down to earth girl she is, was finished shopping fairly quickly. A few pairs of jeans, many tops, a leather jacket and a pair of leather pants. They had also bought sheets and a comforter for her new bed. Xander thought that Faith would buy something red or black but she had surprised her again by buying sheets that were a ivory color and a comforter with a forest green and ivory pattern.

Xander was a little uncomfortable when she had taken him into a Victoria Secrets to get some underwear. She had taken every possible opportunity to embarrass him asking how he thought she would look in some of the racier lingerie. Most of the time he would mumble 'fine' or 'great.' The saleswomen all knew what she was doing and they all had chuckled and grinned at his expense.

What had really surprised Xander was when Faith had taken him into one of the more formal boutiques. He had asked her what she wanted at that store and her reply came, "I hope you don't expect me to go out in jeans and leather all of the time do you? A girl has got to have something when she wants to dress up. Besides you said you would buy whatever I wanted."

She and the boutique owner went into the back and left Xander waiting in the store for about an hour. When they came back she had several packages and told Xander that she would be getting them. He asked her what were they she only said with a grin "It's a surprise."

Upon entering the house Faith went to her room put her stuff away. As she was putting her clothes into her closet and dresser she sits back and looks at her room. Her own room she thinks to herself. She thinks back to the places she had to stay in her life. All of them run down, dirty and cheap. The one place she had stayed in that was nice was with her old watcher before she was killed. After that it was a string of run down motels. For once she had her own room, new clothes and someone to share her good fortune with. Lying down in her bed she closes her eyes finally contented with her life. Opening her eyes she decides that she can put her clothes away later and goes to see what Xander is doing.

Xander meanwhile is in his kitchen looking through his pantry for something to make for lunch. Picking out some ingredients he walks out of his pantry to put the food down on the counter. Walking back to his refrigerator he decides to call is messaging service to see if he missed any calls.

"Please dial your password and press pound." The recorded voice said to him. He dials his password. "Thank you. You have one unheard voice message. To listen to your message press one." He presses one and his message is played.

"Xander, its Adam. Cassandra is awake and she is fine. Something has come up and it involves you and your friend Faith as well. Get packed and come over, we'll be gone for a few weeks. We'll explain when you get here."

He hangs up the phone and goes to his cell phone that he had forgotten on the counter that morning before going out with Faith. It had seven missed calls and a voice mail. He didn't need to check the times or the message to know that it was Adam. "Damn." He says under his breath. "Damn!" He had wanted to spend some time with Faith but it looks like they would have to do that on the way to Adam's.

"What's wrong?" Faith's voice comes from the kitchen door worry on her face.

Turning around he says to her, "Something's come up." He says holding up the phone.


"I don't know but Adam says that we both need to be there. We need to pack our bags."

"I don't have any bags though."

"Then we'll just have to share," he says over his shoulder as he makes his way to his room.

Faith makes her way back to her room. "I guess I won't be putting everything away after all." She says as she gathers parts of her new wardrobe together.

Xander and Faith pull up to the house thirty minutes later. Faith had asked him what was going on and he answered truthfully that he didn't know what was going on only that Adam had told him to pack a bag and to bring her with him.

Walking to the house he able to feel both Adam and Cassandra inside. When Cassandra opens the door he feels relieved that she is all right.

"How do you feel?" He asks her.

"Much better now. Thank you."

"Are you sure?" his concern is evident.

"I'm sure." She says, "Although Adam and myself have taught Alexander many things my lessons of social graces seem to have not stuck with him." She says facing Faith.

Xander embarrassed for not introducing them earlier, "Cassandra this is Faith. Faith, Cassandra."

"A pleasure to meet you." Cassandra says, "Please come in."

Walking into the house Faith says with a smile, "It nice to meet you too." There was something about the woman that radiated off of her, a sense of dignity that hung in the air. "I'm sorry, I didn't get to meet you last night."

"No I was indisposed at the time, I had a spell." Cassandra replied.

Faith nods not quite understanding the meaning of her words. She and Xander follow Cassandra into the house. They find Adam sitting in the living room looking at papers and books strewn across the table. Looking up he sees that both Xander and Faith are here.

"Good, you made it." Adam says.

"Adam what's up?" Xander asks.

Before he continues Adam asks glancing at Faith, "Does she know?"

"Yes, she knows what I am."

"Excuse me, but I am in the room here. If you have a question you could at least direct it at me." Faith says with annoyance.

They both mumble sorry slightly embarrassed of their actions. Cassandra picks up and says, "You'll have to excuse them. They are sweet most of the time but once in a while they tend to get hardheaded. If Alexander has trusted you with his secret then we can trust you with ours."

"You both are like Xander aren't you?" Faith asks.

"Yes. We were the one that found him after his first death." She looks at her and then says, "Since you know of our secret would you like to tell us yours?"

Faith looks from at the couple in front of her, then to Xander. Seeing the look of betrayal on her face Xander interjects, "I didn't tell them, I swear."

Cassandra quickly adds, "Faith we trust you enough to tell you our secret, a secret that could possibly endanger our lives as well as Xander's. You sharing your secret with us shows that you trust us as well."

Faith looks at Xander who nods slightly. "I am a slayer. A girl who has be given special abilities to fight vampires and demons." She says evenly. Looking directly at Cassandra she asks, "How did you know?"

"Adam told me this morning." She replies

"Okay." She says now turning to Adam, "How did you know?"

"I could sense your presence. I have met a few slayers in my time, you tend to give off a very distinct presence." Adam explains.

"When I was walking up to the house yesterday I could feel a strange sensation coming from you too. You're not a vampire you're like Xander but I can't sense Xander but I could sense you yesterday." Faith stops and closes her eyes in concentration, "But right now I can't sense you at all."

Cassandra asks her, "You can focus your gifts on a single person or area?"

"Oh yeah, Buffy and me would be able to do that kind of stuff all the time."

"Buffy?" Adam asks curiously.

"The other slayer," Xander says and quickly adds, "I'll explain later."

"Very well then," Adam says accepting the answer, "The reason why you can't sense me now is because I'm muting my quickening."

"Muting?" Xander asks curiously.

"Yes I'll demonstrate, this may be a bit uncomfortable so I'll do it quickly." Adam sits back slightly and takes a deep breath. What hits Faith is like nothing she had ever felt from a demon or a vampire. It was as if someone had taken her spine and turned it to a block of ice. She doubles over slightly clutching her stomach and forcing her breakfast to stay where it was supposed to stay. She is able to see Xander momentarily clutch his head and Cassandra sits where she is unfazed. As soon as it had hit her it was gone. Sitting up she gasps for air as if the wind had been knocked out of her. She feels Xander's reassuring hands on her shoulders as she slowly regains control of her breathing.

"Damn." She says when she has half a breath looking at Adam wide-eyed.

"Jesus Adam!" Xander exclaims, "What the hell was that?"

"That my young friend is but a fraction of my true power. I am able to mask my quickening allowing me to hide quickly and avoid fights. Cassandra is able to do the same thing," Adam pauses slightly and looks at Xander, "and so can Xander."

Xander looks at him startled. "I can?"

"Yes, albeit for you it looks like it is an involuntary action where I have to consciously mask myself."

"How do you know?" Xander asks.

"I can feel it." Adam replies. "I think it has something to do with where you came from."


"Yes, which is actually why I had asked you to meet us here." Adam takes out his research and begins to tell them everything he had found out. He tells them about the sacrifices and the portents that have come to pass and the time they have left in order to stop the coming destruction.

Faith is the first to ask a question, "One of the signs mentioned Death and a Priestess. I understand that you are the Priestess,"directing the statement to Cassandra then she asks Adam, "But I don't see how you could be Death."

Adam mulls over his words quickly, "I have been alive a long time. With that long life comes opportunity to make many decisions, many of them which I regret in retrospect." Adam pauses for a second, "One such decision led me to become a monster. Have you ever read the bible?" He asks her.

"Not really." Faith answers truthfully.

"In the bible the book of Revelations describes the end of time. In that book the coming of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse heralds the end of time." Another slight pause, "Those horsemen are modeled after myself and three other men. We were the scourge of three continents cities cowered at our feet and I," he pauses closes his eye for a brief second before opening them to continue, "I was Death." Adam sits back and lets his words sink in to her mind. "Since then I have made a great effort to change, I am no longer that person and have spent a good majority of my life to payback all that I have taken. I don't expect you to understand, just to know that I am not that person any more."

Faith nods and says, "I understand more than you think." She then goes on to tell the story of her life. Growing up in Boston, her calling as a slayer and the events that led up to her coma. At the end of her story her eyes were watering and her breath was becoming ragged. She half expected them to throw her out of their home rejecting her. What happened next surprised and comforted her. Cassandra go up from the chair she was sitting on and sits next to Faith. Cassandra reaches her arms around Faith and brings her into a warm embrace. Faith stiffens at first but then softens and buries her face into her shoulder silent tears running down her face.

"Shhhh child," Cassandra coos, "It'll be alright, you'll see. Remind me to tell you how easily forgiveness comes, even between the deadliest of enemies."

Nodding and wiping the tears from her face she says, "I'm curious, why did you think I needed to be there as well?"

"I'll answer that question." Cassandra says. "Even though I'm Immortal I also have other attributes that are unique to the human race."

"Such as?"

"Second sight among other abilities. Last night I had a vision. That vision is what led Adam to find all this." She gestures to Adam's research. "In that vision I saw many things. I saw Adam, Alexander, myself and you." She let the words hang for a moment. "I believe that Alexander has come to us for a reason just as you have come to him. I do not pretend to know or understand what those reasons are but I do know that we are all going to play a part in this and if we don't then horrible things will happen."

Silence follows as they all contemplate her words. Again it is Faith who breaks the silence. "When do we leave?"

Adam smiles at Xander then at Faith. "If you two packed your bags like I had asked we will leave immediately. But first we'll have to make some changes.

Xander looks a little uncomfortable and says, "Changes?"

Adam just smiles and nods.

Sunnydale had certainly changed dramatically. A university had brought forth a large boom in the small suburban city. Industry and business had sprouted up throughout the city attracted by the University hoping to glean new graduates with new ideas looking for the next innovator to revolutionize the world. To cater to this crowd a new center of activity had evolved a center full of chic restaurants and social clubs. All of them designed to draw in the younger crowd and the neo-jet setters that had begun to flock to the city.

Inside one such hot spot a couple sits at a table. They are eating the Californian-style meal, which is colorful, sweet and sour, and prepared with the greatest care. Such a meal is very costly, something that you would see on television. However that doesn't matter to this couple as they enjoy their meal.

The man is wearing expensive clothes. A ribbed brown shirt contrasts with the ivory colored slacks. His brown leather jacket sits neatly folded across the back of his chair. His hair is short with streaks of blond as if his hair had once been colored yellow but now his natural color was gaining dominance once again. His lean muscular body is framed perfectly by his clothing. His hazel eyes focus intently on his dining partner across the table.

His partner is a beautiful young lady. Her olive green dress is cut perfectly for her figure. The neckline drapes casually below her collarbone leaving her neck exposed, her hair only accentuates her neck even more. It is worn up tonight, nothing elaborate, but still elegant. Her hair also shows the light streaks which is the trend with her generation. Her entire ensemble shows her beauty but does not undermine her confidence. Her green eyes focus on her dinning partner as they discuss their day and the events that have led up to that point.

To those watching them out of the corners of their eyes note an air of royalty around them. The few in the restaurant who had met them earlier in the week know little of Harrison and Amanda Pierce. Harrison is Vice-President and heir to a large company that was looking to relocate to Sunnydale. He and his father Ben were both in the area looking at potential sites to house their business. Father and Son collectively were reported to be some of the wealthiest people alive. In terms of familiar wealth only the Rockefellers and the Waltons could top the Pierces. Each had bought a house in the area in anticipation of the move. Sunnydale had exactly what they needed, low property values in a very nice area.

Harrison or Harry as those he had introduced himself to lived with his wife Amanda. They had met in college. They shared a political science course together and met in their discussion group. After a late night study session they knew that they wanted to be together.

After an hour of dinning and a bottle of wine both decide it is time to retire.

"Harry I'm tired, let's go home." Amanda said.

"Sure thing." Waving to the waiter he signals for the check. Upon receiving the check he pulls out his Visa and pays for the bill plus twenty-five percent for tip. Mr. Pierce tips very well. Leaving the check on the table he pulls on his jacket and helps Amanda with her coat, a white cotton long sleeve pullover.

They had parked a few blocks away from their destination and had walked to the restaurant after seeing a move at a nearby theatre. However the sun was still out at that time, the sun had set long ago while they were eating their dinner. Like any center of activity Sunnydale's center has fallen victim to the problems that plague any city centers. There was one major difference between Sunnydale and the rest of the world the major problem was already dead.

"Well looks like we have us some really rich blood on our hands, don't it boys?" a voice from the shadows in front of them says. A figure walks out of the alley in front of them as well as a few others.

"Look we don't want any trouble." Harrison said stepping in front of his wife. They were almost to their car.

"Good because we hate it when we have to fight for our dinner." The leader said his face transforming. As if that was the queue to start attacking, they were out numbered two to one plus the leader who was hanging back content to let his lackeys do most of the work.

The vampires thought they had it easy as the first reached the woman. They thought they had easy as they heard the singing sound of metal against metal as the man pulls his sword out of its hidden sheath. They thought they had it easy right up until they woman pulls a stake from the hem of her dress and stabs the closest vampire in the heart. They thought they had it easy until the man takes his sword and slices off the head of the closest vampire and chops off the arm of the next. The vampires learn far too late that appearances can be deceiving. Harrison takes quickly takes the head of the vampire he had disarmed. Looking back at his wife he sees that she has just staked that last vampire leaving one very startled looking leader standing in fear.

"Dear," He says to his wife, "If you would be so kind." Gesturing to the last vampire who has now begun to run away from them.

"With pleasure." She says as she launches the stake in her hand catching the vampire in his back. The stake is thrown with such force that it punctures easily through the vampires clothing and it heart. Turning it to dust.

Sheathing his sword and reaching over to his wife he caresses her cheek. "You ok?"

Smiling and touching the hand on her face she says, "Yeah, nice workout huh?"

"You got that right." He says to her. They linger a while like that until he feels her pull away and look over his shoulder. There is someone at the other end of the alley. A girl about their age maybe a little younger watching them with wide eyes. They realize that the blond girl had seen them kill the vampires. Pulling away from each other they look at each other and smile. Turning to face the girl they smile a bow slightly and hurry to their car a few yards away. Jumping in they quickly pull away leaving the girl to stare at the retreating car.

Inside of the car Harrison turns to Amanda and says, "Interesting homecoming huh Faith?"

"You can say that again. Let's go home."

The car pulls way on the road and makes it way towards its destination. Meanwhile close by the alley at a pay phone the young woman they had left behind was frantically trying to make a call. "Operator I'd like to place a collect call. Yes Rupert Giles. Thank you. Yes my name is Tara. Giles? Giles yes it's me Tara, I know its late but we need to get everybody together. No I'm fine. You wont believe what I just saw. No it looks like there are new players in the game. I'll explain more later. Yeah, just get everyone there. I'll see you soon."

Hanging up the phone Tara quickly makes her way to her car and pulls away in the direction of Giles' shop. At his home Giles begins to dial the appropriate numbers to summon his young wards as he wonders who the new players are. Only time will tell.

Chapter 7

Xander and Faith pull up to their house a few minutes after leaving the alley. The garage door opens and the car pulls inside. As the garage door closes the couple climbs out of the car and makes their way to the door. They enter the lavishly decorated house a house that Adam had explained would help be perfect for their cover identities. Climbing up the spiral staircase they make their way to the room they shared.

Upon entering the room Faith gathers up some clothes to sleep in and makes her way into the bathroom and Xander stays in the room, as is their custom. Once the bathroom door closes Xander proceeds to shed the last remnants of his assumed identity. Leaning closer to the mirror hanging above his dresser he carefully picks out the hazel colored contact lenses. He remembers the conversation when Adam explained the makings of the perfect disguise.

"Changes?" Xander asks, a little uncomfortable. Adam just smiles a nods.

"Xander you come with me, and Faith?"

"Yes?" She answers.

"If you would go with Cassandra upstairs we'll get this part done quickly."

"Sure." With that Cassandra and Faith go upstairs.

Adam gestures to Xander to follow him down to the basement. They make their way down the stairs and Adam gestures for Xander to sit in a chair in the middle of the basement floor.

"Adam what did you mean by changes?"

"You'll have to disguise yourself if you are going to go back to Sunnydale. You died and coming back so soon after your death would put you at risk at being recognized. So I'm going to change your look."

"What you going to do? Bleach my hair blond and make me wear glasses? Wouldn't that make it too obvious? I'm pretty sure the Clark Kent routine won't work."

"I'm sure it wouldn't. I have actually found that the subtlest disguises are the most efficient. You are dead, so to hide Xander Harris I will have to change you into something that looks vaguely like Xander Harris."

"Adam you lost me." He says warily as he eyes the cans and bottles that Adam is pulling out of the closet.

"The human brain is a very stubborn thing. To everybody you knew in Sunnydale you are dead right?" Xander nods as Adam puts a shower cap of some sort on his head. "Well if people you knew saw you I want you to look just different enough to the point where they would dismiss you as someone who resembles Xander Harris. You follow?"

"I think so. Adam what are you doing?" Adam is now pulling a few strands of hair through the shower cap.

"I'm going to color your hair."

"What!?!" Xander tries to stand but Adam pushes him back into the chair.

"From a distance the first things people note are your body type and your hair color. If I change your hair color slightly it will throw most everyone off. Now relax, I'm not going to color it all, only the tips."

"Do you have a cosmetology license?" He asks Adam trying to save his hair from the butchering Adam would give it.

"Of course I have a cosmetology license. I've had one since the sixties. I had lost a bet one day and I had to learn to be a hair dresser. After getting one I figured no one would go out looking for Methos the hairdresser so it is a skill I keep up to date."

He hears Xander stifle a laugh. "Laugh it up all you want Xander, just remember who is coloring your hair right now. I could be turning your hair bright pink." The last comment quickly shuts Xander up.

An hour later Xander inspects the job Adam had done on his hair. It wasn't so bad he thought to himself. It had looked as if his hair really was growing out, loosing the color. Turing around Adam tosses him a package.

"Have you ever used a pair of those?" He says pointing at the package.

"No, what are they?"

"They are contact lenses, these ones are colored so your eyes will look they are a different color. Try them on."

"I've never put contacts on before!"

"You'd better learn then, otherwise you'll be picking at your eyeballs all night." He said. "I'll also have to do something about your clothes."

"What's wrong with my clothes?"

"Absolutely nothing if you are Xander Harris."

"That's who I am."

Sighing Adam turns to look at him, "Xander part of being Immortal is the ability to change, to be a chameleon of sorts. The best way to hide is in plain sight. Things like your height you can't change. But you can change your mannerisms, your voice, your clothes and you hair and eye color. Just enough to convince people you are something you are not."

"How can you be so sure that someone won't recognize me?"

"Experience, a lot of trial and error went into this Xander, just trust me. Besides you'll have to look the part that I've setup for you anyway."

"What part is that?"

"You will be my son, Harrison Pierce. Of Pierce Industries Inc."

"You own that company?"

"Yup, started it up back in the fifties and use it to hide money and some of my assets."

"I'll have clothes delivered to your house along with some clothes for Faith."

"We're staying in separate houses?"

"Of course my son and his wife can't very well stay with me can they? You two will be living together in a house not far from Cassandra and myself."

Xander's mind catches up to what was just said, "WIFE? You mean we're married?"

"Yes I have some info both of you will have to learn. But as far as the Man and Wife thing I don't think you'll have a problem pretending will you?"

"I guess not," He says then stammers, "I mean I wouldn't mind, we haven't done anything Adam."

"I believe you, but I do think that you have feelings for Faith, don't you?"

Xander just stands there and Adam says, "Hmm, just what I thought. Now about your clothes."

Xander had changed into his clothes and was ready for bed. The door to the bathroom opens and Faith steps out also ready for bed. Faith climbs into bed and Xander goes into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Upon returning his finds that Faith is asleep already, climbing into bed next to her she automatically moves to curl up to him. They had shared a bed twice in their lives first when they had sex together and then once again when he had stayed with her to comfort her.

He remembers the night they slept together. She had told him what a fight does to her and the needs that arise from those fights. She hasn't mentioned it, but he remembers it nonetheless. With them playing the roles of husband and wife Xander found that they would have to share the same bed every night. At first he was a bit frightened by the idea but as he puts his arm around her and moves closer to her he finds that maybe it isn't such a bad thing after all. He can feel the warmth of her body against his. Looking down at her now blonde streaked hair and takes a deep breath.

Faith looks up at Xander and says, "Come on, let's go to sleep."

"Sure." He says and reaches over to the lamp and turns off the light. "Let's go to sleep."

The Magic Box

Tara arrives at the shop shortly after making the call to Giles' house. Seeing that she is the first one there is forced to wait for Giles to make it to the shop. She reaches over to her passenger seat and grabs the stake that is sitting there. By the looks of it is a normal piece of wood with a sharp end, but inspecting it closer one can see that the edges have been smoothed down and slight almost imperceptible grooves can be felt toward the base of the stake. It was as if it was designed to be a weapon, designed with comfort and ease of use in mind. She didn't know what to make of it. What she needed was Giles and the others to help her make sense of what she saw. So she waits until Giles' car pulls up to the shop. Putting the stake in her pocket she gets out of her car to meet Giles.

"Tara are you ok?" He asks her again.

"Yes Giles I'm fine. Let's go inside and wait for the others so I'll only have to go through it once."

Unlocking the door they walk into the shop and make their way to the counter. Reaching into her pocket he hands Giles the stake. "You're the weapons expert, tell me what you think."

Giles catches the stake and examines it closely. He goes through several movements that she recognizes from watching Buffy. He runs his thumb runs over the base of the stake more than likely feeling the slight grooves there. He tosses the stake up in the air and catches it as it falls point down.

"It's a stake."

"I can see that Giles."

He gives her an annoyed look and then continues. "As I was saying it is a stake, but one of excellent quality. It is made from some very sturdy wood, cedar from the looks of it." He says banging the stake lightly on the counter. "And here…" He begins to point out the base of the stake but is cut off by the entrance of Buffy, Willow and Riley.

Willow is the first to speak, "Tara are you ok?"

"Why is it every time we all meet up together everyone assumes someone is hurt or something horrible happened?" Tara asks exasperated. Seeing their questioning looks she quickly adds, "Never mind. I'm fine." Seeing that they aren't completely convinced she adds, "Really, I'm fine."

"Then what's the emergency about?" Buffy asks.

"This." Giles says tossing the stake to Buffy. She catches the stakes deftly.

"All this over a stake? I mean it is a great stake and all but was it really necessary calling all of us to meet here?"

Giles picks up on her line of reasoning and cuts her off before she can finish. "Yes, I'm sorry if I had interrupted your…sleep," he says raising his eyebrow at Buffy and Riley, "but this meeting isn't about the stake. It's about how it came into Tara's possession."

Buffy tosses the stake back to Giles and turns to Tara. "Ok, so what happened?"

"Well I was walking to my car from my new job at Tableux when I hear something from the alley. I heard someone say 'I hate fighting for our dinner.' Thinking that someone would need some help I made my way to the mouth of the alley. There was a man and a woman, about our age. The man had stepped in front of the woman as if to protect her but from my vantage point I saw something that the vampires didn't see."

"What was that?" Giles asks

"The man wasn't actually protecting the woman."

"But you just said that he stepped in front of her. That would have cutoff the vampires from the woman." Riley says.

"Yes but I think it was to distract them for the woman to reach down to the hem of her dress and pull that," she says pointing to the stake. "out. I thought that was surprising but what happened next was surprising."

"What was that?" Giles asks now curious at the fact that the woman had pulled a stake out.

"The vampires had begun to circle around the couple, you know? Then they attacked like a pack of jackals. I was about to cast a spell of protection to help them out but the woman staked one vampire turning it to dust while kicking another one stunning him."

"Giles do you think that another slayer has been called?" Willow asks Giles. "That would mean…" Her sentence trails off the words implying all that needed to be said.

"I'm not sure, I can try to check with my contacts within the Council to be find out though. Tara please continue did the woman stake the last three vampires as well?"

"No that is what was strange. I heard a sound, you the sound you have when you rub your fork and knife together?" Seeing that they all are following her she continues. "Well this was the same, only a lot louder and a lot longer. The man had actually pulled out a sword and chopped off the head on one vampire. Then he sliced the arm off of one vampire and proceeded to chop off the head of that vampire."

"A sword?" Buffy asks incredulously. She had used one once and it had taken considerable strength and stamina to wield it for more than ten minutes.

"Yes a sword and a big one too. I couldn't even tell he had it on him. I think he might have been using magic to hide it."

"Well many watchers are trained in different arms. Swords are one of those types. I was actually academy fencing champion." Giles says with a bit of pride. "Tara will you follow me please?"

She nods and follows him to the back of the store and the others follow. Giles goes to the back of the store and opens up a cabinet. Inside are various weapons; clubs, maces, stakes, short staffs, and in the back are a few swords.

"Which one of these swords is the closest match to the one the man was using?"

Tara looks at the swords and points at one, "That one it's about the same length I think."

"Interesting, a long sword. Very interesting indeed." Giles says a look of concentration on his face.

"Why would that be interesting?" Riley asks.

"The long sword is a very difficult sword to use. It has long reach and is much heavier than the Calvary-style swords that I have trained Buffy to use. To use it in close quarter combat with the accuracy Tara had explained would imply great strength and hours upon hours of practice. Here." Giles tosses the sword to Riley who catches it easily. Grabbing a lighter sword he motions Riley to follow him.

"Now for our mystery man to have done the things Tara had said he would have had to do the following movements. First a lateral swing like this taking the head of the first vampire," Giles demonstrates, "then a downward swing with enough force to severe part of an arm." Giles then takes the sword and shifts his weight to his left and slowly brings the blade up and across his body at head level. "He then would have had to bring the blade up slightly then across his body like so to behead the vampire. The whole process would have taken no more than a few seconds to complete. Riley you try with that sword."

Riley tries to mirror the movements that Giles had demonstrated only moments ago. His movements are jerky and uncontrolled. He is unable to stop the downswing before hitting the ground and he is not able to stop the upswing at his head level. The sword is now raised above his head as he tries to bring the sword across his body but it is a wild swing. He realizes that the swing will put the blade into range of Willow and tries to stop the movement mid-swing but the weight of the blade carries enough momentum that he cannot stop the sword. "Watch out!" He screams at her.

Willow wide eyed is frozen in place. She closes her eyes unwilling to watch as the blade approaches her. She waits for the sword to hit her but instead she hears a loud clang. Opening her eyes she sees the Giles has deflected the incoming blade and diverted its path so Riley's follow through would end naturally away from the others.

"I think I have made my point. Picture this, this man was able to do this with such force and accuracy with someone at his back." Giles pauses before adding, " I will try to see if another slayer has been called. But in the mean time we'll try to keep an eye out for these new residents. Buffy if you see them while out on patrol I want you to be VERY careful. They can fight and we don't know why they are in town so be careful."

"No problem. We'll keep a low profile if we see them." Giles nods and Tara, Willow, Buffy and Riley leave the shop.

Giles walks over to the counter and picks up the phone. He dials a number he memorized a long time ago. He listens to the quick double ring as the call is connected to its international destination.

[Royal Academy, Julian speaking.]

"Julian, its Rupert. How are you doing old boy?"

[Rupert! I haven't heard from you in ages! I'm doing fine! How are you?]

"I'm doing fine Julian. What have you been up to?"

[The same old routine. Research this, catalogue that, lecture on this and so on. To what do I owe the honor of this international call?]

"There has been a sighting here in Sunnydale of a woman fighting vampires with a stake. I was wondering if a new Slayer has been called and if so who has been assigned to her?"

[I am sure one has not been called.]

"Are you sure?"

[Of course I'm sure Rupert! No slayer has been called forth and if one has I am most likely one of the first ones who would be notified of such information. You know that Rupert!]

"Yes, well sorry, it just that Faith had disappeared a few months ago and from the reports I heard I thought that perhaps a new Slayer had been called."

[Sorry old chum, the only active Slayers are yours and the other, Faith.]

"I see, thank you for the information. I'll be sure to keep in touch."

[I shall try to as well. Cheers.]

"Cheers." Giles says as he puts down the phone. He mulls over the information in his head and tries to make sense out of it.

The morning finds Xander and Faith sitting off to the side of a large workout area. They are in the house Adam and Cassandra have used to house their current identities of Benjamin and Elizabeth Pierce. Xander and Faith are sitting back and watching Adam and Cassandra practice against each other. Fluidity and grace all but oozed from the pair as they move across the work out area.

When Faith was invited to train with the trio she was hesitant at first, remembering the training with Giles. She didn't want to hurt anyone especially those who have accepted her and welcomed her into their lives. After some gentle coercing from all three of them she consented to join their training sessions. It was much to her chagrin that she learned that of all those in the room she was the least skilled in armed combat.

In hand to hand she is able to go head to head with Xander and come up with a win half of the time. Against Adam or Cassandra however, their skills far surpassed any that she had learned and they far surpassed any skills that she would have been able to learn from any Watcher. What she had learned was uniquely suited to fight vampires. Great portions of Vampires are not fighters. They rely on brute strength to win battles. True fighters however are like Generals. Generals that command the army that is their body. Using the multitude of weapons made available to them at the time.

Adam and Cassandra are true fighters, warriors. Unlike vampires when they fight these two constantly think when fighting. Even now she sees their eyes shifting, following, searching for openings but with only the barest of glances. A missed step could possibly mean death or in this case a loss. These are not the things that have earned her respect however. Their poise, confident manner and the fact they have accepted who she was and the fact that she wanted to change is what had earned her respect.

As Adam disarms Cassandra she stands up and applauds the pair. Adam breathing hard says, "That's three out of five. You almost had me there for a second."

"Almost doesn't really count though does it?" Cassandra adds after taking a swig of water from a nearby bottle.

"Not this time." He says to her then looks over at the younger couple standing to the side and bows to them. "Thanks to you two for your support. You both would make excellent cheerleaders." He says with a smile.

"Mmmmm, Faith in a cheerleader uniform. Now that is something that I would like to see." Xander says with a grin.

Adam grins and says, "Hey Xander!"

Xander is about to say something when Faith slaps him on the side of his head. Xander exclaims, "Ow!"

Adam smiles and finishes his train of thought, "Watch out."

"Thanks for the warning." He says rubbing his head. Faith smiles sweetly at him.

"That's what you get." Faith says to him and then turns to face the approaching Cassandra.

"I couldn't have said it any better myself." Cassandra says.

"Thank you." Faith says looking defiantly at Xander.

"What is this gang up on Xander day?"

Adam replies cheerfully, "No you dug your own hole that time."

"You both better get ready you have a full day ahead of you two." She says to Adam and Xander.

"We do?" Xander says.

"Oh yes, the new office opens today Harry. We need to be there to make sure it all goes by smoothly." Adam says.

"New office? I thought that was a just a cover. I don't know the first thing about running a business!" Xander protests.

"You don't have to. All you have to do is sign whatever the people under you hand to you. Don't worry, I've hand picked them myself, they won't give you anything that doesn't need to be signed. You will look like you are pouring over numbers, quotas, and pie charts but in reality you, like I will be looking over research. Hopefully we'll be able to find some information on how to stop Armageddon. "

"But…" Xander stutters out.

"Don't worry you'll do fine. Let's go."

"What about them?" He says gestures over to Cassandra and Faith. "What will they do?"

"We'll do what most rich socialites are expected to do Xander." Cassandra says.

"That being?"

"Shop and be seen where all the socialites can be seen." Cassandra answers with a smile. She then proceeds to gently lead Faith out of the room. Faith looks over her shoulder a little apprehensive and then concedes to Cassandra and follows her out of the room.

As the pair walks out of the work out area Xander begins to think that he has gotten the short end of the deal.

Buffy, Tara and Willow are all having breakfast in the dorm commons. The food at the commons isn't the greatest, but if you have to choose a single meal to have in the commons breakfast would be the one to choose. There wasn't too many ways to mess up milk and cereal, at least that was what most freshmen think. However it seems that breakfast is the one meal that is more than likely to go without a hitch.

"I need to find some kind of story I can take into my polisci discussion." Buffy says going through a newspaper she picked up on the way to the commons. "I need to find something about socio-economical resource…stuff. Could you guys help me?" She asks the other two girls.

"Sure." They both say.

"Hand me a part of the paper." Willow says reaching out to grab a section of the newspaper.

"Here take this part." Buffy says handing over half of the paper. They search through the paper while Tara goes and gets more cereal. The paper is strewn about the entire table as Tara makes her way back with a full bowl.

"Buffy! Here this one is perfect! Here it talks about the effects of an embargo in Africa." Willow points out to Buffy.

"That's awesome! I gotta get to class." She grabs the portion of the paper that has the article and puts it into one of her books. "Thanks Wills!" She calls over her shoulder.

Tara sitting in her chair asks Willow, "Don't you have a class this morning too?"

"Yeah, I was about to leave for chem right now. I see you after your eleven o'clock class?" She asks her.

"Yes, I might get out of Art History a little bit early today, we have a quiz. I'll meet up with you here ok?"

"Sounds good." Willow says as she packs her stuff away in her bag. "See ya later!"

Tara waves goodbye as she continues to eat her breakfast. Her first class is at nine that morning so she is able to take her time in the mornings. She begins to look through the paper trying to find something interesting to occupy her while she eats. She is in the middle of her search when she suddenly stops. Tara leans closer to the paper to peer at a particular section. Putting her bowl down she reaches for the page and holds it up for her to examine it more closely. Putting the bowl and the paper down she gathers her stuff together and picks up the paper in question and makes her way back to her dorm room.

When she gets to her room she takes the paper out and places it on her dresser. She calls information and asks, "Pierce Industries please. Thanks." She jots down the number and hangs up the phone. Looking at the number and then back at the paper she thinks of the best way to approach the situation. She decides to read over the portion of interest hoping that an idea will come to her.

The top of the column reads Society. The blurb says, vice-president and heir to the multinational company Pierce Industries Inc. Harrison Pierce and his wife Amanda have been spotted at one of Sunnydale's most exclusive restaurants last night. Harrison and his father, President Benjamin Pierce, have relocated to Sunnydale to open a new office for their billion-dollar company.

The blurb goes on to talk about their clothing and the restaurant but that was not what captured her attention. The picture above the blurb shows the couple sitting at a table dinning together. When she saw that picture she knew she had seen them from somewhere. She had seen them in the alley the night before. They were the mystery couple that dusted five vampires in less than five minutes. She had to be sure though and there was only one way to find out. There was no time to tell Giles or the others, she had to do this now or the opportunity would pass her up.

Picking up the phone she dials the number she had written down. "Yes, human resources please. Thank you." She waits while she is transferred. "Hello, my name is Tara Maclay I was doing research on your company and found that you have a new office in the area. I was wondering if you have any part-time clerical positions open? You do? Can I email a resume to you? Sure let me write that down." She says as she jots down the email address, "Today? Sure, ten o'clock would be fine. Thank you. I'll see you then. Bye."

Putting the phone down Tara resolves herself to the plan of action she has put into motion. She boots up her computer and while waiting she goes to her closet to find some appropriate clothing for an interview. Seeing that her computer is done booting she quickly finds her resume and makes a few adjustments. Opening her word processor program she writes a quick formal letter describing her and the skills that would make her applicable to the clerical position. Attaching that and her resume to the email she sends it out. She sits there for a moment thinking of the possible danger her plan entails. But she has no time for that as her clock on her dresser shows eight-thirty. She needs to prepare for her interview and if she is going to find out what Harrison and Amanda Pierce are really about she needs to get hired first.

A building that has been vacant for years is seen standing surrounded by a chain-linked fence and warning signs can be found all over the premises. The words that had once prominently displayed Sunnydale high School in bronze is now tarnished with letters missing.

Inside the once lively halls of the school stand empty and dirty. Lockers are hanging open, posters pined to the wall are now ripped and hanging from only corners. Listening to the sounds the school one can hear the creaking of boards, sound of wind blowing through the halls and the rustling of papers. Sometimes the mind will play tricks on whoever is listening; hearing sounds of student's voices echoing through the hall. But however if one listens closely they can hear a light tapping noise. Tap, tap, tap, tap. A pause and then tap, tap, tap, tap. The sound echoes through the halls. From the main entrance, in the halls, past the music room, past what was once the library and right inside to what was once the main science lab.

On one of the counters one can see a group of jars filled with a green murky fluid. In one jar a pair of eyes float peering unseeing at the world from behind the glass. In the jar next to it floats a tongue forever tasting the fluid inside of the jar. In the corner of the room stand two men speaking softly not wanting to disturb their leader the man sitting at one of the counters.

His hand is spread out on the counter. Between his fingers are several worn out holes, in his other hand is a knife. Tap, tap, tap, tap. One can hear as he stabs the knife in between his fingers. Tap, tap, tap, tap. As he does it over and over again. Looking down at his hand the blood that has collected around his fingers from the times he misses his target the man smiles. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Soon, very soon he thinks to himself. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Yes he would send his men out to retrieve another sacrifice tonight. Yes soon, tap, tap, tap, tap. Tonight, tap, tap, tap, tap. With that he begins a low chuckle. Yes, very soon. He doesn't even flinch as more blood pools on the counter top.

Tara is dressed ready to go to her interview. She couldn't believe that she was able to get an interview for today. She grabs a purse and a professional-looking notebook to take with her to the interview as well as a hard copy of her resume. Leaving her dorm room she decides to stop by Willow and Buffy's room to leave Willow a message. On the small whiteboard hanging from their door she writes, "Something has come up, can make it for lunch. I'll tell you about it later. Tara."

She walks out of her dorm room and to her car. Sitting behind the wheel she takes a deep breath to calm herself. "There is no turning back now." She says as she starts her car and slowly pulls away towards the commercialized area of Sunnydale. "No turning back now."

"An interview!" Xander exclaims over the phone to Adam.

[Yes, an interview. You'll have to do a few until you fill the open positions. The faster you hire you'll have fewer interviews. Live with it.]

"But what do I ask? I don't even know what the position is for!"

[Look at what was forwarded to you. The subject says part-time clerical position-admin assistant. I had asked HR to try to get a student. Students tend to be quiet and will do the tasks you need them to do. Just hire the first one that has some decent typing skills and would sound like someone who can answer the phone. It'll be a student so they'll be able to learn the system quickly.]

"Adam, I don't know the system."

[And you don't need to. Just interview the applicant and hire one you think is qualified.] After that last statement Adam hangs up on the other side of the line.

Xander rubs his head in frustration. Not even three hours into the first day and he already is feeling the stress of his assumed role. Sighing he opens up the email attachment that was forwarded to him. "Well Tara Maclay. Let's see what you can do."

At five minutes to ten Tara is opens the main doors of a small two story office building. She walks up to the receptionist and introduces herself. "Hi, I'm Tara Maclay. I have an appointment at ten o'clock for an interview."

"Sure thing, let me check what I have here…Okay, here you are ten o'clock. Let me call Mr. Pierce." At that statement Tara paled slightly. She was going to interview with Mr. Pierce? It took all of her own will power to force herself from not hyperventilating. She was going to interview with a potentially dangerous individual that could possibly lead to her death.

"Yes, Mr. Pierce a Ms. Maclay is here to see you. Yes, your ten o'clock appointment. Shall I send her in?" She pauses. "Yes, right away." The receptionist smiles at her and says, "Mr. Pierce is expecting you. His office is through that door and at the end of the hallway to your left."

"Thank you." She says as she walks through the door. The hall is stacked with boxes and passing by each door she sees that many of the offices are still empty, the only ones that show any signs of occupation are stacks of boxes that lie next to the desks.

At the end of the hall there she reaches a door that has a name next to the doorframe. Harrison Pierce. Now or never she thinks and knocks on the door.

"Come in!" Says the voice from behind the door. Tara reaches out to open the door and lets herself into the office. Walking inside she sees a spacious office. To the sides are bookshelves full of books and pictures. He is sitting behind a desk with a credenza to his back on it sits a wedding picture of him and his wife as well as one other couple. From the eye colors of the two men she guesses that they are his mother and father. His monitor sits on top of a docking station where his laptop is plugged in. Around him he has papers and notebooks open. He is talking on the phone when she walks in. He gestures to a chair for her to sit down.

"Yeah, I'll give you a call later, my ten o'clock is here right now. Ok, thanks." He hangs up the phone. He looks young but in his business attire he looks professional and deserving of his position. He stands up and extends his hand, "Hi, Tara. I'm Harrison Pierce, but please call me Harry."

"Hello, Harry." She returns.

"So I see you are looking for a position here in the company. Do you know what position you are interviewing for?"

"Well to tell you the truth, I had asked if there were any clerical jobs open and they had asked me to come in today. I honestly don't know what jobs were available at the time." She replies truthfully not adding the fact that she had seen him kill two vampires from the night before.

"Really? Well you are the first applicant to be my administrative assistant." Seeing her eyes widening he quickly adds, "Don't worry, all you really have to do is some light clerical work and from the looks of your resume you should be more than qualified." He pauses, "and I don't have anyone else to interview for the position and I was looking to fill it today."

"Really?" Tara says a bit confused.

"Yes really. If you could go back to HR down the hall and get all the forms you need to fill out I'll give them a call giving them my ok."

"Sure, when do I start?" Tara says.

"Tomorrow, bring in a schedule for your availability and we'll get you accounted with out system."

"Sure thing. Thank you Mr. Pierce."

"Harry, please call me Harry."

"Thank you Harry, I'll see you tomorrow then." With that Tara walks to HR as directed and tries to go over what had just happened. Either he really wanted to fill the position today or he had remembered her from the alley and wanted to keep an eye on her and what better way to do that than to work under him? She was either extremely lucky or unlucky. She would have to find out tomorrow.

Back in his office Xander was smiling smugly to himself. One position filled and with only two others left he decided to give HR a call to tell them that the last two positions were to be interviewed by the senior Pierce. He also told them of his decision to hire Tara. There really wasn't anything much to running a business. He smiles and gets back to work on his research on The Awakening.

Willow waited for Tara in the commons for about ten minutes but when she didn't show up she decided to make her way to her room and give her a call. When she reached her room she sees that Tara had left her a message. Reading it over she wonders what she should do for lunch.

At that point Buffy walks into the room. "Hey Wills!" She says to her, "I thought you were going to hang with Tara for lunch?"

"Yeah I was but something came up and Tara had to bail on me."

"I'm sorry you want to have lunch with me? We can go downtown and look at the new shops and grab a bite to eat. I'm done for today what about you?"

"I have a CS lab at three but I don't need to go, I finished my project already."

"Cool! Lets go." Buffy says and both women leave the dorm room.

The two make it to downtown with relative ease mainly because downtown is walking distance from campus. Buffy and Willow decide on eating at one of the small café in the area having chicken salads and people watching most of the time. When they finish they decide to spend some time walking around looking at the various stores.

"Buffy look at that store over there!" Willow points out to her companion.

"What about it?" She says.

"It's having a sale, thirty to forty percent off!" Willow responds.

"Oh wow! Let's go and see." Buffy says as they walk into the store. Moments later they walk out.

"That wasn't such a good idea was it?" Buffy says.

"No, forty percent off of four hundred dollars is still way more than I would like to spend."

"Seriously! I mean…" Buffy's sentence is cut short when she stops abruptly causing Willow to almost run into her.

"Buffy? What's wrong?" Willow asks warily looking around them to see if anything out of the ordinary was happening. "Buffy?"

"Will, look at those two across the street, the ones about to walk into that store over there." She gestures at the couple in question without pointing at them hoping not to get their attention.

"What about them?" Willow asks.

"The younger one, I could swear that she looked just like…Willow come on lets go."

"What? Go where?"

"I need to look at her more closely." Buffy says over her shoulder.

"Why?" Willow says catching up with Buffy.

"Because I could have sworn that girl was Faith."

Eyes wide Willow keeps up with Buffy as they enter the store. "Are you sure?" She says whispering to Buffy.

"No, but she looks a lot like her, that's why I need to get a closer look." She whispers back.

The two women that they were following were over by a rack looking at skirts. The young woman in question had a black one in one hand and a gray one in the other. They hear her ask her companion, "Elizabeth, which one do you think is better?"

Elizabeth replies, "I like that black one." She pauses as she looks at an adjacent rack and pulls out a red top. "If you try it with this top I'm sure it'll look wonderful on you."

Buffy quickly runs through a few of her options. Seeing that her options are limited she decides for the direct approach. "Oh my God!" Buffy says loudly, "I haven't seen you in such a long time!" she says as she grabs the girl's arm and turns her to face her. Startled by the sudden contact and movement the girl drops her things.

What Buffy sees is not what she expects. The night she had fought Faith the one thing that she remembered clearly were Faith's eyes. The moment she had fallen off that ledge she saw Faiths eyes look at her not with malice but understanding. It was that look that haunted her every time she went to visit Faith in the hospital. The eyes looking back at her now were an unfamiliar green opposed to Faith's dark brown.

"I'm sorry, but do I know you?" The girl says to her.

Buffy shaken out of her reverie replies, "Ah, you just reminded me of someone…I must have been mistaken." She adds quietly.

"Don't worry about it! I do it all the time too! You think you see someone but then after you see them in a little better light they're not who you think they are." She pauses and extends her hand, "I'm Amanda."

"Buffy, and this," She says gesturing to Willow who also extends her hand. "is Willow."

"Nice to meet you Willow. This is my mother-in-law Elizabeth." She says introducing her companion.

"Amanda you know I hate it when you call me that, it makes me feel so old!" She says and then takes the hands of the two girls, "Pleasure to meet you both."

"Same here," Buffy says.

"I'd love to talk some more but we have to get going." Amanda says gesturing to her watch.

"Sure, no problem, sorry about earlier. You must think that we're psychos."

"Not at all. Maybe we'll bump into each other later. If we do lets get a cup of coffee."

"That would be nice."

"Great! Well we have to go." Amanda says picking up her stuff and making her way towards the door with Elizabeth.

"We do too, it was nice meeting you." Willow says to both Amanda and Elizabeth.

"You too," Amanda says with a smile. She looks over to Elizabeth and they both walk back down the sidewalk in the direction Buffy had seen them approach the store.

Willow turns to Buffy who is still watching them leave, "Ok Buffy , you better stop staring or else they'll have to call the cops on you for stalking."

"I know Will, but I could have sworn that she was Faith." Buffy says.

"Well I guess they kinda looked the same but I wouldn't say that she looked exactly like Faith." Willow argued.

"Yeah, I guess you're right Willow. Lets head back to the dorms, I have some studying to do before I go on patrol."

"Sure let's go." Willow says as they head back to campus.

Inside a car Faith and Cassandra are making their way back to the house. "Would you mind telling me what happened back there?" Cassandra asks her young companion.

"Those were some people from Xander's and my past. They're the ones that think he's dead."

"And you? What do they think of you?"

"If it's any help the blonde, Buffy, was the one who put me into a coma."

They sit in silence the rest of the way to the house.

When Buffy and Willow return they see Tara is leaving another message on their door. Willow speaks up and says, "Hey Tara!"

Turning around Tara sees the couple approaching and says, "Hey."

"What happened? Where were you this morning?" Willow asks her.

"I'd rather explain inside," she gestures to their room. Nodding Buffy unlocks the door and they all walk inside.

"What's up with the clothes Tara? You look like you had an interview or something."

"As a matter of fact I did." Tara answers.

"You did? What kind of job?" Willow ask excitedly

"Admin Assistant at Pierce Industries newest office in Sunnydale." Tara says.

Willow looks at her with arched eyebrows. "Pierce Industries? Wow. That company has been on the S&P 500 for over twenty years!"

"And that is a good thing?" Buffy asks.

"Very." Willow answers

"What I don't get Tara is why the sudden urge to change jobs? I mean I thought you were happy with your job at the restaurant." Buffy asks.

"Well that's what I wanted to explain to you guys in here. After you left this morning I was looking through the paper for something interesting. When I stumbled onto this." She pulls out a part of the paper and shows them the picture.

"Hey that's the girl form the shop!" Buffy exclaims.

"What do you mean?" Tara asks.

"Buffy thought she saw someone she knew from a long time ago. But when we got close enough she saw that she was mistaken." Willow answers.

"Yeah her name is Amanda. That's her husband?" Buffy asks reading over the blurb. "Wow, no wonder I thought I had seen her from some where before. I must have seen this picture this morning."

Willow takes a close look at the picture as well. "He kinda looks like Xander."

"Will now you are seeing things." Buffy says, "Looking at the picture I can see how you can think that, hell looking at the picture you can see how I thought that woman was Faith, but you know as well as I do. Xander died a long time ago."

"Oh the person you visit every month," Tara asks Willow understanding now. "If it's any consolation he doesn't look like any of the pictures you have of him. I even saw his wedding picture, he couldn't be who you think he is."

"You saw his wedding picture?" Willow asks.

"Yeah, that was what I was getting to. When I saw this picture I knew I had seen them before it took me a second but I remembered where I had seen them."

"Where?" Buffy asks listening to her intently.

"Last night in the alley. They were the ones I told you about." Tara answers

"Are you sure?" Buffy asks her.

"Yes, when he interviewed me I was convinced that he was the guy from last night. I don't know what his story is but he seems like a normal guy. But I start as his administrative assistant so I should be able to get some more info this week."

"Way to go Tara!" Buffy says. "We have our very own double agent on our side Will!"

"Yup! Double-O aganet Maclay, Tara Maclay." Willow says.

"We should tell Giles so he knows that we have a lead on our urban assault couple. Hopefully he wont freak too much when we tell him about what you did though."

"You think he'll take it well?" Tara asks her.

Buffy answers, "Well it is Giles."

Later that night Buffy and Riley are patrolling around the city. With the University coming to Sunnydale she found that more and more vampires had come out of the woodwork to try and prey on unsuspecting students as they walked home or to the dorms from late-night classes. When patrolling by herself it was tough to keep up with al of the action. After finding out about Riley and his skills she was glad to have someone to patrol with. Riley really helped her with the vampires around town as well as provider her with some distraction from her day.

"Tara found her mystery couple today." Buffy tells him as they walk.

"How did she manage to do that?" Riley asks.

"Apparently they are some really important socialites or something like that. She found their pictures in the paper's society column."

"So they are kind of like Batman and Robin aren't they?" Riley says. "Multi-millionaire by day, demon fighting vigilantes by night."

"Yeah I guess so. We aren't sure what their motives are yet though so we have a spy working for us inside the company run by the dynamic duo."

"Really?" Riley says incredulously.

"Yes. What you think you are the only one with covert operations?"

"Yes. At least I've had training for it, who is your person on the inside?"

"Tara." Buffy enjoys the look of shock on Riley's face. "That's right, Tara. After seeing their picture in the paper she called up the office here in Sunnydale and asked for an interview. She got one and was hired."

"How did Giles take it?" Was all Riley could say.

"Not very well, he had called Tara irresponsible and all that good stuff but he finally came around when he realized there was nothing he could do about it now. He just told her to be careful."

"Well what about…" Riley was interrupted by a scream coming from a nearby alley. Looking at each other for a moment they break into a run hoping to reach the source of the scream before it was too late. Reaching the alley they see a single man with a knife holding a girl by the hair. He was bringing the knife closer to the girl's neck and was about to cut when something hit him from behind, forcing him to drop the girl. Turning around he sees two figures and man and a woman at the mouth of the alley.

The girl is holding half a brick when she calls out, "You want to play or do I have to hit you again?"

"This is none of your concern kids, leave now or I'll be forced to hurt you." The man says.

"Could you be a little more original? I've heard that one so many times now that it isn't even funny. What do you guys do? Go to a class and have a bad guy's handbook for stupid sayings?"

The man just shrugs and grins as he pulls out another knife and slowly beings to walk towards Buffy and Riley. "I'm on a tight schedule here so I'll just have to kill you quickly." He says as he breaks into a run. As he closes in on the pair he does something that neither expect. He throws the knives at them.

Riley screams, "Incoming!" and shoves Buffy out of the way of the flying knives both narrowly missing them. They do not even have time to hit the ground as the man hits them with a flying tackle. Buffy, Riley and the man all fall heavily on the ground. The man rolls with his fall and is quickly up on his feet pulling out more knives. Buffy and Riley struggle to their feet and see the man charging once again.

One of the knives that were thrown previously was lodged into a crate next to Buffy. Pulling the knife out she readies the knife to defend herself. Riley had picked up a two by four and was ready for the fight. The man seeing that the playing field was a little more even now slowed his approach and began to slowly circle the two keeping them both in front him so that they wouldn't surround him.

Riley is the first to take a swing at the man. Using his knife to block the swing he uses his other knife to try and lunge at Riley. Riley jumps out of the way of the strike as Buffy comes in with a swipe of her own which the man avoids. Throwing a kick to put Buffy off balance he continues to concentrate on Riley thinking him the bigger of his problems because of his longer reach. But Buffy is up sooner than he expects and the two young fighters surround him.

The man is frantically blocking the attacks from both sides that come at a faster and faster pace. Low, high, low, lunge duck parry. The fight looks as if was finely choreographed, a dance of life and death. Making his decision the man throws another kick out at Riley catching him behind the knees. Groaning in pain Riley falls. Turning to take down the girl the man feels a sharp pain in his stomach. Looking down he sees the handle of one of his knives contrasting against his black clothing. Looking up she sees the horror on the girl's face as she realizes what she had done.

Oh my god. Was all Buffy could think, not again. She had stabbed another human being and even now as she thought about it she could feel his blood flowing onto her hand. Looking the man in his face she sees a look of hatred. His cold hard eyes do not change as he grins and coughs his blood onto her face. Stepping back he pulls the blade out and begins to run away into the darkness of the street.

Going to Riley she sees if he is ok. "I'm fine Buffy." He says through gritted teeth. "Don't let him get away."

Buffy runs off in the direction of the man and she too disappears into the darkness. Riley gets to his feet and hobbles off to follow her. He slows down as he sees Buffy standing on the sidewalk. "Where did he go?" He asks her.

"I don't know." She says walking over to him.

"What do you mean you don't know?" He asks hobbling towards her.

"I was following the trail of blood" she points to his feet. "But then I lost him."

"How?" Looking at his feet there was quite an amount of blood.

She points to her feet and then farther down the street, "The trail stops."

Looking around he finds that she is right. The trail of blood disappears as if the man had never existed or was never hurt. Hobbling farther up he can find no other trace of the man or his blood. Buffy walks up to him and says, "Come on, let's get you looked at." As she helps him to their parked car they both wonder what had happened to the man.

Sunnydale High School

The man has made his back to his lair back to where his master awaits. Yet he is afraid to go back inside. He has failed his master. He has returned to the lair empty handed, without the needed sacrifice. He has served his master as well as he could. He will walk inside to his master and face the punishment that awaits him.

"Keith, you have returned." A cold voice calls from the darkness of the room. Looking to the source of the voice he almost swears that his master's eyes glow a deep red.

"Yes master I have returned."

"Empty handed I see."

Going to his knees Keith says. "Yes master, empty handed. I await your punishment. I am ready for my death if that is your wish."

Chuckling the man in the corner stands and gestures for Keith to stand. "Keith, I was able to foresee your failure tonight so do not fret. I am not frivolous with the lives of those who serve me. That is why I had sent Aaron out as well. One of you, I knew, would fail me tonight. One of you would draw out our adversaries while the other…" The sound of the doors opening causes both men to turn around. "while the other succeeds in finding me the proper sacrifice."

Aaron pulls out two jars and puts them next to the others on the counter.

Their master smiles as he looks at the jars sitting on the table.

"Beautiful." He says, "Beautiful. Soon my friends, soon we'll be ready. Yes very soon! YES!" he screams and the laugh of a madman fills the room, louder and louder as it can be heard in the halls and the empty rooms. The laugh is heard outside of the building and startles birds to take flight from a nearby tree. The laugh goes on into the darkness of the night.

Chapter 8

And whence and why came you?
We know not whence, (was the answer,)
We only know that we drift here with the rest,
That we linger'd and lagg'd-but were wafted at last, and are now
To make the passing shower's concluding drops.
- W.W 1891-2

"Damn!" Adam says as he reads the latest police reports and sees that there was another murder last night. He had Faith and Xander staking out the places where he thought people would be in abundance but they had come up empty handed. Knowing the preciseness off the prophecy he knew that they had missed their opportunity that night. The report only confirmed his suspicions.

"Damn!" They had failed in saving the life of the girl that had died last night but they still had one more chance. So far their search for information on the awakening was turning up unfruitful. Instead of finding new information they kept finding the same information over and over again. The process was starting to get tedious and was starting to weigh heavily on all of them. The more they researched the more they came up with dead ends. Every dead end meant that one person was that much closer to finding death. Now someone was dead. Adam growled with frustration. What was it that they were missing?

Throwing the papers away from him in disgust he leans back into his seat. Cassandra walks into the room and puts a comforting arm around him. He sighs and leans into her. "What am I doing wrong? How could we miss this chance!"

Cassandra leans into Methos. "Don't beat yourself up over this. You've already spent most of your life doing that. This is no different than the other times. There was simply nothing you. Even though you are five thousand years old it still doesn't mean that you can be in two places at once."

"Yes I suppose you're right. I really can't be…" Adam sits up suddenly causing Cassandra to fall into the chair behind him. Standing up he turns around and helps her stand up. "Two places at once! You my dear are a genius!" He says and proceeds to give her a deep kiss. He suddenly pulls away and makes a run towards the den where the computer sits.

Cassandra sits back into the chair and sighs. No matter how much she thought she knew Methos there were always going to be parts of him that she would never understand. Shaking her head she chuckles to herself. Getting up she walks after Methos to see what epiphany hit him this time.

Adam was busily typing away at the keyboard when Cassandra enters the room. Pulling a chair up beside him she asks, "So what did you figure out?"

Adam doesn't even look away from the keyboard as he explains to her, "Well from reading the autopsy reports from both murders I saw that both girls died at about twelve-thirty in the morning give or take a few minutes. Now I had Xander and Faith hang out around the areas with heavy concentrations of people at the at that time, easy to find targets that way you see." He continues to type away at the keyboard until he apparently finds what he is looking for. "Ha! There!" He taps on the screen pointing at a single line in particular. "Look right there! When you said I couldn't be at two places at once I realized that neither could the murderer. But we were assuming that that there was only one murderer."

"But there isn't. If he has accomplices they would be able to…"

"Be in two places at the same time!" Adam finishes her sentence for her. "Have I told you lately how much I love you?"

"Not recently or nearly enough, but to the point what have you found here?"

"When I realized that there might be more than one of them out there I decided to see if there were any reported incidents last night that coincided with the time of the murder. After searching around for a bit I found that there were quite a few reports that spanned between the times of twelve-ten and twelve-forty-five."

"How does that help you though?" Cassandra asks waiting for the wheels in Methos' brain to get to their destination.

"One of them is a mugging reported here by a woman who matches the description of the two dead girls, reported twelve-thirty-five! The interesting part is the woman claims to have lost consciousness but reports that nothing had been taken. "

"So you have a possible connection."

"Right. Let me pull up a map. Here is where the first murder victim was found," he says pointing at the screen. "Here is where the latest victim was found," he says pointing to another portion of the screen. "And here is where the mugging took place, across town from where the murder took place."

"How can you be sure that it wasn't a botched mugging?"

"Call it a hunch. A woman is mugged, she passes out but nothing is taken and aside from a few bruises she is fine. Strange? I think so. Also the police went over the area she claims to have been mugged and found that there was a large amount of blood spilled and a knife was found on the premise."

"So either the man accidentally stabbed himself or…"

"Or he was stopped. But by who?"

"I'm guessing by some of Xander's old friends."

"Think we should give him a call?" Cassandra asks.

"No, let them rest. I had them stay up pretty late last night looking for our murderer. We don't have to start work until ten today anyway so we should be ok."

A few miles away Xander and Faith are not asleep. They are in the basement of their house stretching and going through their warm-ups, much like Xander's house this house had a basement converted into a rec room. Xander and Faith had gotten into the habit of working out and training in the mornings when they were not training with Adam or Cassandra. After properly stretching both Faith and Xander walk to the center of the room. Turning to each other they bow slightly. They stand next to each other both taking a relaxed stance. Feet shoulder length apart and head slightly bowed chest rising and falling in controlled precise breaths. They begin their movements slowly as if they are submerged in water. Hands slowly and gently rising outstretched to shoulder level and then falling back down slowly through the invisible fluid slowing their movements.

When Xander recommended that Faith learn T'ai Chi she was skeptical at first. She had learned many forms of fighting while training as a slayer but they were all combative. T'ai Chi was as non-combative as martial arts could get. But as always Xander was able to convince her otherwise. He had told her, "Life isn't always about fighting Faith. You don't always have to be at war with the world around you. T'ai Chi will help you harmonize with it instead."

He was right. It had taken her a few days of watching and mirroring for her to learn all of the movements but now in the midst of the slow gentle and graceful movements she truly felt at peace with herself. She felt at peace with the world around her. She felt peace at peace with the person beside her. She knew even now without looking that their breathing were matched just as their movements' mirror each other. She was acutely aware of him. It was almost as if she could feel him, feel his presence. Never before had she ever experienced such clarity.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Slow breaths. Slow controlled movements. Weight shifting from foot to foot never completely distributed between the two. Hands, arms and legs moving in unison. Focus. Focus on the self, focus on all that surrounds her. Faith had never really ever felt this kind of peace or clarity before doing anything. She always had a purpose but she never felt at peace. But when she was with Xander she felt at peace. He didn't compare her to Buffy and he never forced any issues about her past. He accepted her for who she was and he didn't set a bar for her but allowed her to set one for herself. He accepted her no questions asked, and that's what she loved about him.

That thought nearly broke her concentration mid-stride. She knew that Xander was as aware of her as she was aware of him. If she stopped or faltered at all he would notice. If he noticed he would stop to ask what was wrong and that was something she didn't need to answer right now.

Love? She thinks as she continues to mirror Xander's movements. Love is a word so alien to her that she can scarcely believe that it exists at all. She has never truly loved anyone before. Was she in love with Xander? She glances at the man standing next to her. His eyes are closed and his face is peaceful. Love? He is the best friend she ever had. She cared for him yes. She would be at his side if he asked her to be there. She would give her life to save his in a heartbeat.

All that she could feel was her breathing and the light thumping of her heart. And it was in that microcosm that she realized something and she realized it with startling clarity. Thump, thump. She. Thump, thump. Loved. Thump, thump. Xander. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. Her heart beat at an even pace as the thought flit across her mind. A slight chill filled her body as she recognized the thought and a feeling of elation and happiness quickly warmed her. She loved Xander. There was no question about it, she was in love with the man.

Opening her eyes she looks at his form once more, wondering. She loved Xander but did Xander return her feelings? Could it be possible that Xander loved her as well? How could she tell? What could she do? The old Faith would have grabbed him by the neck thrown him on the ground and screw him into the ground. The old Faith would have taken him and built their relationship entirely on sex and physical contact. The old Faith doesn't exist anymore she told herself. The Faith that remains wants a relationship that actually means something. She wants a relationship based on feeling and emotion not sex. The person that she is now is willing to wait and let things run their natural course. She and Xander were spending a lot of time together and if there is something there it would grow naturally. She would have to wait.

Those final thoughts brought their exercise to an end. Opening her eyes she sees Xander handing her a water bottle. Taking it and opening it she takes a few long sips of water.

"You want to spar?" Xander asks her.

"You feel up to it?" She replies.

"What an miss getting hot and sweaty with a beautiful woman?" He says with a grin. "And then roll around on the mats here while I place my hands on her anatomy? How could I possibly say no to that?"

"I guess you couldn't could you?" Faith says.

"I could never say no to you." Xander answers looking right at her. He quickly adds, "So are you ready or what?"

"I'm ready Xander." She says walking right up to him and leaning into his face with hers. "And one more thing." She says in a low voice.

Leaning in closer to hear what she has to say he says, "What's that?"

Faith grabs the front of his shirt and puts her leg into his instep. Twisting slightly and pivoting over her hip she takes Xander and slams him forcefully to the ground knocking the air out of his lungs temporarily.

"I think that you need help getting off of the floor."

"No thanks I can manage." He says bringing his arms between hers and between the two of them. Pushing out so that her arms slide off of him her chest presses into his when she falls on him and they are face to face once more. "Besides I think I can really get used to this."

Rolling off of him Faith gets to her feet. Xander does the same. Faith comes up in a horse stance. Xander comes up with a tiger stance. They look at each other and grin. As they begin to spar Faith returns to the thoughts that came to her earlier. She would wait for him and she would wait to see what time would reveal. Blocking a punch and jumping over a sweep she smiles. She had fallen in love. It was so fast and so quiet she didn't even realize it.

After showering Faith and Xander are back in the kitchen eating breakfast. For Faith it is some tea, a bowl of fruit and toast. For Xander it is a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin.

"When do you have to get into the office?" Faith asks him.

"Ten o'clock." He replies. "It's what eight right now?"

"Eight-fifteen." She replies. "I was wondering if we could go somewhere before you go to work."

"Where do you want to go?"

"I want to visit the past." Seeing his questioning look she adds, "You'll see."

The smell of damp grass fills the air. The morning sun casts shadow upon shadow onto their path. Faith is leading him along a path in one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries. Looking around he feels a kind of familiarity. Walking through the cemetery brings back memories of patrol, talking to Willow and Buffy. It reminds him when the group had to function without a slayer for a summer and he would frequent the cemeteries by his house every night.

His house. Looking around he was able to find a few landmarks that remind him which cemetery they are walking through. They weren't that far from his parent's old house. The house he left behind that fateful day. But there was something else, something that clawed at his mind trying to get to the surface but he couldn't place the feeling. He was about to ask Faith why she had brought him here when they stop suddenly.

"Faith? You said you wanted to visit the past, why are we here?" He asks her.

"I wanted to tell you that they haven't forgotten about you." Faith says quietly.


"Them." She says as she points to a particular grave stone. Confused he looks at the stone and realizes that it is his.

Alexander L. Harris

Friend, Protector,


His stone is clean. The letters on the stone are still clear. There is no date. He figures that it was Giles idea. The thing that surprises him the most is that there are flowers at the foot of the stone.

"They all visit at least once a week. Willow even talks to you." She says.

"How do you know?" He asks her.

"I came here two days ago. As I was leaving I saw Buffy her mom and Giles come over the path. They stopped at your grave for a little while and placed those flowers on your grave." She explains.

"And Willow?"

"When I first woke up from my coma I was trying to find someone that I could turn to. I took a shortcut through this cemetery to get to your house when I saw her sitting next to your grave. I hid behind that mausoleum." She says pointing to the building not far from his grave. "I heard her talking to you about her day and stuff like that."

"Why did you want me to see this?"

"You seemed distracted ever since we got here. I figured you were wondering about your friends. I knew you wanted to go out and talk to them but…" Her sentence hangs in the air for a second. "I just thought you would like to know that they still think about you Xander."

Xander stands there for a second and looks at his grave. His friends after all this time and even through his apparent death still thought of him, still loved him. Walking over to Faith he wraps his arms around her and holds her body close to his. With his mouth close to her ear he whispers to her, "Thank you."

Faith answers her head under his chin. "You're welcome."

"I'm glad we found each other in that alley Faith. You know what I mean?"

Looking into his eyes and smiling she says to him, "Yes, I think I do." She leans in closer and kisses him lightly on the cheek. The kiss speaks of tenderness, affection and friendship. The meaning in the kiss is not lost on the recipient.

"Faith, I…" his sentence is cut short by Faith who gestures behind him. Coming over the hill are Giles, Buffy and her mother Joyce. Their car was just around the corner but between them and the car was the trio approaching them. "Damn." He mutters under his breath.

"What should we do?" Faith asks worriedly. "I was able to fool Buffy and Willow yesterday but I'm not sure about Giles or her mom."

"We'll have to wing it." He says casually.

"Wing it!" She whispers sharply to him. "What do you mean wing it!"

"Just wing it! If they don't talk to us we're cool but if they do just make some story up ok?" He whispers back. Offering his arm to her they both start to walk up the path towards the car. As they walk they draw nearer and nearer to Buffy and the two adults. The masks of Harry and Amanda now replace Xander and Faith and they hope that none of the three would recognize them. They were only a few yards apart from each other and still no sign of recognition. As they draw nearer they are able to hear Buffy explain to the other two adults how unreasonable it was for her to take Calculus in college. Had it been another couple walking by they would have assumed that they were a normal family but Xander and Faith know better.

"So you see there is no real reason for me to take Calc. Don't you think it's unfair to ask non-engineering majors to take this kind of math?" Buffy says to the two.

"Well I can see your point but the fact of the matter is that you need the course for a well rounded education."

"I agree with Mr. Giles Buffy. You still need to take the class."

"All I am saying is that Calc is evil. I will never ever have to triangulate the trajectory of a stake as it flies through the air will I?" Seeing a blank look from her watcher she adds, "I thought so."

Turning to face the path she sees two other figures walking in the opposite direction, one of which she recognizes immediately.

After seeing the look on Buffy's face Xander thinks that their cover is blown and that he would have to tell them the truth about his immortality. He is about to say something when he hears the words coming out of Buffy's mouth. "Amanda!"

Looking down at Faith she is smiling widely with acknowledgement at Buffy. Then it hits him, he isn't supposed to know Buffy. Buffy hasn't even met Harrison Pierce.

"Buffy right?" Amanda says walking up to greet the other woman.

"Yes I'm glad you remembered."

"Of course how could I forget? Not many people go around this town accusing me of being someone else." Xander's heart nearly jumps out of his throat when he hears Faith say those words. But Faith is smiling the whole time.

Buffy blushes slightly at the comment. She really didn't recognize them. "I'm sorry about that. How are you?"

"I'm doing fine. Oh where are my manners? Buffy this is Harry my husband." She introduces Xander.

"Hi, nice to meet you." Buffy says.

"Likewise." He replies. "So you are the young woman that accosted my wife the other day?"

The red hue in Buffy's cheeks go up a few notches. Faith cuts in, "Harry!"

"Just kidding Buffy. I hope you're not offended?"

"I'm ok. Just a little embarrassed is all."

Faith quickly changes the subject. "Are these your parents?" she says looking past the young woman.

Xander almost laughs out loud when he sees the slight blush Giles and Mrs. Summers share when Faith mentions them as Buffy's parents. It seems to Xander that Giles and Mrs. Summers have been sharing more than the responsibility of raising a slayer. That was interesting in its self. Looking at Buffy he sees that she either doesn't know or is in some serious denial.

"No this is my mom Joyce and a very close friend of the family Ruppert Giles. But everybody calls him Giles."

"Nice to meet you." Joyce says shaking both of their hands. Xander can see the uncertainty in both of their faces. As he shakes Giles' hand he thinks that he might have recognized them. Deciding quickly to change the subject he asks Giles, "You're British?"

"Yes quite." Giles answers back easily.

"You sound like you attended Eaton. Have you ever been?"

"Actually yes but I continued my studies at Oxford. Why do you ask?"

"My father is Welsh and he attended Eaton and Oxford as well. You both have the same vocal inflections."

"Really in that case I may have met him then."

"You may have, his name is Benjamin Pierce. Does the name ring a bell?"

"Pierce? As in Pierce industries?" Seeing the young man nod he continues, "Yes I think your Father was a year or two ahead of me at Oxford. He had the reputation of being able to imbibe the most liquor out of any upper classmen."

"Really? I'm going to have to ask him about that one." He says with a smile.

"Small world." Buffy says. "What were you guys doing walking around a cemetery anyway?"

"We were driving around town and saw that there were so many cemeteries in this town. We decided to stop by one just to see if we could find out why there were so many."

"Sunnydale has had more than its fair share of disasters. Many people have been laid to rest over the years but the town just continues to move forward." Giles explains hoping that they will accept his explanation.

"I see." Xander says. Looking at his watch he says, "Oh wow, is it nine-thirty already? I need to get to the office. Sweetie could you drop me off?" He says to Faith trying to end their conversation before one of the three recognizes who they are.

"Sure thing." Faith says. Turning to the group she says "It was nice seeing you again Buffy and it was nice meeting you as well Mr. Giles, Joyce. We really should get together sometime Buffy. I really haven't met anyone yet and other than Harry's mother I don't have anyone to hang out with."

"Sure thing. You have a pen?" Xander pulls one out and hands it to Buffy who has pulled out a small piece of paper and quickly jots down her phone number at her dorm. "That's my dorm number call me there first, if I'm not there just leave a message."

"Thanks I'll call you sometime this week and we can have lunch."

"That'll be great. See you later."

"Bye." Faith says waving as Xander nods to each of them in turn and they both walk to their car.

Getting into their car Xander is the first to speak. "What were you thinking back there?"

"What? You told me to wing it!"

"Yes wing it! Not plan to have tea with Buffy! We are trying to keep a low profile here remember?"

"Sorry if that wasn't what you expected but I didn't see you come up with any better ideas AND we were able to leave fairly quickly weren't we?"

Xander opens his mouth to say something but searching his mind for something to say he found that she was right. Where he went into a mental relapse Faith was able to come up with a valid story quickly all while in character. Xander sitting back into his chair just chuckles to himself.

"What's so funny?" Faith asks.

"I can't believe you came up with all that stuff off the top of your head."

"What the driving around and stopping by bit? That was easy. What about you picking up on the Eaton accent?"

"I remember Giles saying something about it before. Adam had told me he actually spent some time as Benjamin Pierce when he attended Oxford. The two matched up perfectly. But that was luck. What you came up with was amazing."

"We'll I've had a lot of practice with deception." She says quietly her mood suddenly somber.

"Hey, none of that. What we are doing now has nothing to do with what has happened in the past. You aren't that person now. You know it and I know it." Changing the subject quickly he says, "Besides you're the amazing one remember?"

A smile tugs on the corners of her lips as she says, "Alright, alright, no more broody Faith. I promise." Looking at him from the corner of her eye she says, "But I'm still going to have lunch with Buffy and Willow."

Xander noticed that Faith didn't use the nicknames she used for Buffy and Willow while she lived in Sunnydale. Probably it was another conscious step away from her old persona. He respected Faith a great deal for the effort she is making to change. It takes both courage and will to change yourself Adam had told him once. He was able to change himself and if there was anyone on the planet that had enough courage and will to change it was Faith.

"Go ahead and do that, see if I come to your rescue if they find out who you are."

"I know you'll come and save me anyway. You're my knight in shining armor and plus you can't say no to me remember? I'm irresistible!" She says with a dazzling smile.

"Yes you are. Yes you are." He says as they pull up to the office building.

As they see the car pull away Giles says to Buffy, "Do you think that was wise?"

"Was what was wise?" Buffy said innocently.

"Ruppert what are you talking about?" Joyce asks.

"Willow's friend Tara says she witnessed those two slay a group of vampires last week. They haven't come out and declared their loyalties nor have we seen them out and about actively fighting and patrolling. So they are some what of a questionable presence here in Sunnydale."

"And Buffy just accepted an invitation from a potentially dangerous person to go and have lunch?"


"I'm standing right here you know! Don't talk like I'm not here." They turn to look at Buffy. "What? I am the chosen one, one who is gifted and all that right? Don't you two think that after a few years of doing this gig that I can't handle myself? How many people here have defeated master vampires, closed the Hellmouth and stopped the mayor from unleashing hell on earth?" Buffy raises her hand. Looking at the other two she says, "Uh huh. I see. I'll be fine mom, Giles I'll be okay. Let's go and visit Xander ok?" Buffy turns around and starts to make her way down the path.

Giles sighs and Joyce asks him, "I keep forgetting that she has done so much already."

"Yes I know especially for one so young. I've found that she is one of the most stubborn, headstrong"

"Don't forget incorrigible."

"Yes thank you. Incorrigible people I know. However she is also the most selfless, caring.."

"And special."

"special young ladies I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I am glad that I was able to help at least a little with her growing up."

"I'm glad that you were there as well Ruppert." She drapes her arm around his shoulders and says to him, "Thank you for being there for my little girl." Her arm stays around him as they walk down the path to Xander's grave.

Sunnydale High School

Aaron and Keith watch as their master escorts a young man into the room. He is about six feet tall and very pale. Without preamble their master speaks, "This is Jonathan." He points to the man. "I have enlisted his help to create some distractions for the…protectors of this city. Jonathan here claims to be a master vampire of sorts. I really don't care what he is as long as he helps further our cause." Seeing the look of disdain on the vampire's face he continues. "Spare me your looks vampire" he spits out. "I have seen and done more evil in two thousand years than you could possibly imagine and remember this vampire, I have a soul."

Jonathan under the intense scrutiny the man who refers to himself as the master flinches. He had never in his life ever met a mortal with such power. His mere glare was unsettling to him.

"Now Jonathan I have a plan." The Master tells the vampire. "It is a plan that I have put into place and have waited for nearly fifteen hundred years." Seeing that the vampire's attention wasn't focused completely on him his hand strikes out faster than possible catching Jonathan by the throat. The strength of the man surprises him. The fact that he is being lifted off of the floor by his throat isn't what is worrying him.

The Master voices the thoughts going through his head. "Yes vampire," He spits the word out as if the mere taste of it is repulsive. "I understand that you do not need to breathe but," His hand begins to squeeze tighter and his nails start to dig into the vampire's cold skin, "if I tear your throat out you will feel pain and if I tear your head off you will die." Looking down into the master's eyes cold evil stares back at him. This man has given himself totally to his cause and has both the strength and the will to carry out his plans. Nodding quickly the Master releases him.

"Jonathan my good friends here," he gestures to Keith and Aaron, "are more than capable to carry out what I need them to carry out. However they have come under the…scrutiny of certain parties in this fair haven. What I need you to do is to provide some noise to cover the tracks my good friends here will undoubtedly leave behind. Do you understand?" Seeing that the vampire understood he continues saying, "Good. As long as you do your job correctly you will paid very handsomely."

"As long as you pay me handsomely the job will done correctly." The vampire replies.

A cold smile plays across the Master's face. "You're answer is what I expected from your kind vampire. You will be paid. Now go, I expect to hear a lot of noise tonight."

"Of course…Master." Jonathan says with a slight bow.

"Come now Jonathan. No need to be facetious." He says turning back to the vampire. "You pride yourself on the power you have over the mortals. The way you feed off of their blood. Makes you feel God-like no?" He says leaning closer towards the vampire. "Well, I have absorbed the souls of men better than you! Generals, leaders, warriors, priests, I have taken them all! So if you wish to be facetious do so around those who find you intimidating, do so around those who find you important but here you will defer to me! I am your master and you will never forget that!"

Jonathan had heard stories of older vampires that have gone mad with bloodlust. Their minds are lost and the only thing that exists for them is the hunger and the need to satisfy it. They are all but unstoppable, willing to preserve great pain in order to fulfill their needs. If it wasn't for the sound of the Master's heart beating in his chest he would have sworn that the Master was a vampire gone mad.

"Now go vampire and do not disappoint me."

Xander makes it into the office a little after ten-fifteen. Upon walking into the office he sees that Tara is already at her desk in the office across from his going through some papers.

"Good morning Tara."

"Good morning Mr. Pierce."

"Please call me Harry."

"Sure thing Mr…"



"There that wasn't so bad was it?" he says.

"No it wasn't."

"Now Tara do I have any messages?"

"You have one but it is from your father. He says that you two have to go over some numbers. He says that he has the papers ready he just wants to get your opinion on a few things."

"Did he say when he wanted to go over the numbers?"

"No he said it was important so I'm thinking probably as soon as possible."

"I'll see to it then. Thanks Tara. How you holding up?"

"You're welcome. I'm doing ok so far nothing too big has come up yet but if something does come up I think I could handle it."

"Good. Keep up the good work." He says as he walks down the hall towards Adam's office.

Xander knocks on the door. "Come in." He hears Adam's voice call out. Closing the door behind him Xander takes a seat in front of Adam's desk.

"What's up?"

"Another girl was found murdered last night." He says handing him the dossier that he created to hold all the information he had found. "Same as the last girl. Eyes and tongue missing and again she had a blood eagle performed on her."

"Damn. How could we miss him?" Xander asks.

"Well Cassandra and I have a theory that there is more than one person at work here. At the end of the file you'll see there was a failed mugging around the same time of the last mugging. Only nothing was taken the woman was found unconscious."

"So you think that there are at least two of them working at the same time trying to get the parts? That way no matter what they do they will have all the parts harvested at the same time."

"Exactly. In the folder there are a few more things I want you to look over. I already have the window of opportunity that is needed for the sacrifice, but we have to find out where they will be next."

"I'll go over these files and see what I can come up with."

"Great. Do you have any other ideas?"

"As far as trying to figure out what is going on in the city?" Adam nods the affirmative. "You can try this bar it's owned by a guy named Willie. He has a lot of information on what is going on in the city, especially with the undead crowds. If anyone in the city knows what is going down it's Willie. The only other resource I can think of is Giles. He has a lot of books on the occult and things like that."

"Your friend Giles?" Xander nods. "No he is out of the question if we approach him he may recognize you." Seeing that Xander has become uneasy he asks, "What is it?"

"Well Faith and I kinda had a run in with him already."


"Yeah there is more too. He was with Buffy and her Mother."

Adam just stares at him for a moment. "Did they recognize you?"

"They might have thought that there was a resemblance but since Buffy didn't recognize us I think that the other two just disregarded the thought altogether."

"You were lucky this time. I'll visit this Willie today with Cassandra."

"You sure you don't want me or Faith to go?"

"Yes, this guy doesn't know me so I should be safe. Besides you're going to be busy tonight."

"Why is that?" Xander asks him.

"You are going to attend the opening of a new club here in town. A club that you have put some considerable investments into."

"So Faith and me will keep up the appearances of the young multimillionaire couple?"

"Exactly. Take the file and look over it. Send me what you find."


Xander exits the room and makes his way back to his office. Stopping by Tara's desk first he asks her, "Tara could you hold all my calls this morning? I'm going to be busy with this stuff," He says holding up the file. "Just tell them I'm in a meeting or something."

"Sure, no problem." Tara says.

"Great. Thanks!"

Tara watches her employer's retreating form as he closes the door to his office. She needed to get some information on Harrison Pierce. The best place for such information is inside his office. If there were information to be found it would be there. But she had to go through his office when he wasn't there. Going back to her work she glances at the door from time to time. She would have to wait for her opportunity.

Giles and Buffy were on their way back to campus after dropping off Buffy's mother. "Buffy there was another murder last night exactly the same as the one last week. Eyes and tongue missing with a blood eagle performed on the body."

"Do you have any info on why this is happening?"

"No I've be searching through my books for rituals that requires the Blood Eagle and the removal of the eyes and tongue. So far I have come up with nothing. I was hoping you could see if you could find out anything from Willie."

"I'll go see him with Riley this afternoon. But first you need to get me to class. I have a quiz today and my GPA cannot afford another missed quiz."

Xander comes out of his office around four o'clock and sees that Tara is eating a salad at her desk. "You worked through your lunch?" he asks her.

"Yeah, I had a few things I want to get finished before I leave today and I thought that this would be best."

"Fair enough but I want you to know that I don't expect you to work through your lunch. Okay?" She nods. "Good. I'll see you tomorrow."

"See you later."

Xander makes his way to Adam's office and lets himself in. Adam looks up from his desk and asks him, "Did you find anything useful?"

"No just more of the same stuff we found last week."

"I was afraid of that. I was about to see this Willie person you told me about. I was going to pick up Cassandra and go to his bar right now. I was going to ask you for some directions."

"Sure." He says taking a pen from his pocket. "You have some paper?" Xander takes the paper and jots down the direction and a small map of the area as well as a few ways of exiting the place if needed. "there you go."

"Thanks. Have you told Faith about the club opening tonight?"

"Yeah, she wished that you would tell us about these things a little earlier though."

"Why is that?"

"Because she said if she knew that they were going out she would have bought something yesterday with Cassandra. But I think she is going to manage."

"I'm sure she will." Adam says with a smile.

The door to Willie's bar opens and two figures walk in, a man and a woman. At first the patrons are worried that the Slayer and her boyfriend have returned asking for some information. As they step out of the shadows they see that the couple are not who they think. The man tall and lanky is wearing a long coat. The woman is beautiful and also wearing a long coat. Both have a feeling of royalty about them. Their eyes show no fear or apprehension. Just wariness. The older patrons of the bar decide quickly that messing with the pair will only lead to trouble. The younger ones however do not have the wisdom to leave them alone.

The woman walks right up to the bar and asks, "Are you Willie?"

"Why do you want to know?" the bartender asks.

"I heard that he could tell me some information about this." She pulls out a few pictures of the girls who were murdered. "I want to know who did this and why."

"I don't know anything about that." He says nervously as he notices some of the younger vampires in the room slowly make their way towards the man standing behind her.

The man turns around quickly and looks at the three vampires that tried to ambush him when his back was turned. The man smiles at them. "Now that wasn't nice." He says and continues to stare at the three. Willie thinks the guy is crazy three vampires are staring at him like he is their next meal and he just smiles at them. But suddenly something changes. The vampires in front of him suddenly grab their heads and scream in pain. The other vampires begin to cry out as well. The demons in the bar have terrified looks on their faces as they try to scramble out of the bar. The man picks up one the vampires and throws him against the wall. He calmly walks to the pool table and picks up one of the pool cues and throws it across the room, spearing the young vampire through the heart. As he crumbles to dust the cue stays suspended embedded in the wall. Looking around the bar the man dares any of those left to try to attack him. Seeing that there are no takers he walks back to the bar. Horrified Willie backs away breaking a glass on the bar behind him. He curses as he feels the broken glass cut his hand.

The man gestures at his hand the woman sees he is bleeding. "You are mortal? Well in that case you will tell me what I want to know."

Her voice echoes in his head. He feels compelled to answer her questions. Willie tries to resist but the woman speaks to him again. "You cannot resist. Tell me what I want to know."

"I don't know who is killing the girls." Willie says slowly. "I've heard rumors that someone has come into town. Someone powerful enough to have one of the most powerful vampires in the area work for them."

"Do you know anything else?" The man asks

Willie shakes his head. "No."

The man asks the woman, "Is he telling the truth?"

"Yes, I'm using the voice, he cannot lie while under its effects."

"Very well then lets go." Turning to Willie he says, "If I find out that you know more I will be back."

The pair leaves the bar. The moment they are outside Willie sags to the ground mentally and physically exhausted. "Jesus." He mutters under his breath. He stands up and uses the bar to support him while he is upright. Looking around he sees that the patrons that were sitting at tables had left hastily and those that remained were gathering their things to leave. Within minutes the bar is empty leaving Willie to shiver at the bar with fear.

Back in the office Tara is inside of Harrison Pierce's office. There are papers on the desk, pie charts, marketing forecasts and a note showing an opening of a club downtown but nothing really helpful. To the left of the desk there is a legal pad but flipping through it there is nothing written down. Looking at it however she sees that a few pages have been torn out already. Tara traces the paper with her fingers and feels the indentations on the pad.

Looking around on the table she finds a pencil. Rubbing its edge on the paper she starts to see words come out from behind the graphite rubbings. From her preliminary work she sees the words 'awakening' and 'blood eagle' on the page. Rubbing on another part of the paper she sees the words 'need more information' come out.

Tearing the paper off of the pad she gently takes it with her to her desk. Picking of the phone she dials the number to Giles' shop. "Come on Giles please be there."

[Magic shop.]

"Giles? This is Tara."

[Yes Tara, what's wrong?]

"Nothing is wrong. I think I just found out why the Pierces are here in town."

[Well come out with it, why are they here?]

"I think they are here because of something called the 'Awakening"

[Awakening? I'll have to research it to be sure anything else?]

"Yes, I think they are trying to stop it. It looks like they are researching it trying to find more information. There is also some mention of a 'Blood Eagle"

[Are you sure?]


[Then this 'Awakening' has something to do with the murders this week and last. Buffy is going to talk to Willie soon. I'll have her ask him about it. Good job Tara. Make sure no one suspects anything your safety is paramount to any information you can get understand?]

"Yes Giles. I'll be leaving here soon."

Buffy and Riley are walking towards Willie's bar. Turning her head to Riley she says, "A lot of the demon and vampire population in the city come here. So expect to see a lot of unfriendly faces here. Keep sharp and let me do the talking. Me and Willie have a nice working relationship going."

"And that would be?"

"I won't beat him up if he tells me what I want to know." She says with a smile.

"Can't argue with that. I'll watch your back while you talk to Willie."

They were at the door to the bar now. "Ok you ready?"

"Yeah let's do this." Riley says.

Pushing the door open they prepare to walk into the bar when they hear Willie's voice call from inside. "I told you I don't know anything else! I swear!"

Buffy says coming out of the shadows with Riley behind her says, "Willie are you saying your lines a little bit out of order? You usually don't say that one until I threaten to beat you up."

Willie now getting a closer look at the newest patrons of his establishment sighs with relief. "Slayer, its only you." He turns away and starts to put stools back on the bar as if he was getting ready to close it. She notes that his hand is bandaged. Looking around the bar she sees that it is uncharacteristically empty. Across the room a pool cue is sticking out of the wall and below it is the telltale pile of dust.

"Willie I have some questions to ask you about these pictures." She says pulling out pictures of the crime scenes from the murders.

"Get in line toots. I don't anything about those pictures and all I can tell you is what I told the other two."

"Other two?" Riley says curiously.

"What are you talking about Willie? What happened here?" Buffy asks him. Willie was acting more nervous and jumpy than usual. The fact that the bar was empty and his hand was bandaged shows that something happened tonight something bad.

"Yeah another couple came in here asking about those pictures. A broad and some guy and by looking at them you wouldn't have guessed that they were any trouble at all."

"But they were?" Riley questions the bartender.

"Yeah, three vamps were about to jump the guy and take him down you know. But just before they were going to do that he turns around and smiles at them."

"Did he pull out a sword?" Buffy asks.

"A sword? No, no, he turns around and looks at them you know and something changes. All the vampires in the room start screaming out in pain. Some of the demons were almost climbing up the walls," He gestures to the walls showing them the scratch marks. "Then the guy picks up one of the vampires and throws him against the wall walks over to the pool table and spears the vampire right there in front of everyone."

"He walked back to the vampire and stabbed him?"

"No he threw it across the room and spears him through the heart."

Buffy reaches into her pocket and pulls out another picture out of her pocket and shows it to Willie. "Did they look like this." She asks showing the picture of Harry and Amanda Pierce from the society column.

"No, they were a little older I think. But definitely not the same couple."

"Well what did you tell them?"

"I told them that someone had come into town, someone powerful enough to have one of the more powerful vampires in the area working for him."

"Which vampire?" Riley asks.

"A guy named Jonathan. A real piece of work, if someone has come into town and was able to get Jonathan to work for him you have to know that whoever this person is has to be a million times worse than Jonathan. But I know something they don't."

"And what would that be?" Buffy asks.

"No matter how bad this new person is someone just as bad is looking for him. When they find each other this town will feel it, trust me."

"Thanks for the head up Willie. You closing up for the night?"

"Yeah, I don't want to be around when the shit hits the fan. I'm getting out of Dodge at least for a little while. Rumor has it that there's going to be some action downtown." He says. Buffy and Riley move to walk out of the bar when Willie says, "Watch yourselves. When this thing goes down, it'll go down hard."

Turning to face him both nod and walk out of the bar. They need to get a hold of Giles and tell him what they had found out. Looks like they were going to patrol downtown tonight and if Willie was right tonight is going to be a busy night.

"You ready yet?" Xander calls up to Faith.

"Almost! Give me a second!" He hears her voice call from upstairs.

He would never be able to figure out why it took women so long to get ready. He was more surprised at the fact that Faith was taking so long. Usually it took Faith a few minutes to get ready and they were out the door. Albeit that they were going to be dressed very nicely but it had only taken him about twenty minutes to get ready. He decided on wearing a charcoal suit. His shirt and tie were a deep burgundy. Smiling at his reflection in a mirror he thought that his Regis look was pretty much complete. True it hadn't taken long for him to get ready for the opening in retrospect he really didn't take that much time to get ready for any function. He was ready for prom in about fifteen minutes.

He fiddling with his tie as he hears Faith's voice call from the stairs. "I'm ready."

Turning around he sees her come down the stairs. The figure that descends the stairs is the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman or any actress past or present in terms of beauty, style and grace could hold a candle to the woman who stood before him. In short she left him breathless. Her hair is worn up piled on top of her head and falling down in soft curls. Her lips are outlined in a shade of red making them seem sweet giving out the gentle urging to taste them. Her now green eyes are now accented by the emerald teardrops hanging from her ears and around her neck as a pendant. The chocolate brown dress she is wearing hugs her is just the right places. The curve of her hips, the swell of her chest and the slow gentle curves of her legs are both accentuated and hidden by the dress. The sheer intensity of her beauty radiated off of her and he could feel wave after wave of the energy hit him, warming him pulling him towards her.

He hears her voice calling to him, "Xander, are you okay?" He is now standing right in front of him.

"You are beautiful." He whispers to her looking into her eyes.

Faith uncomfortable under the scrutiny says, "Thanks, but this isn't all that special."

"Yes it is."

"You better close your mouth because you're going to have to mop up all that drool you're leaving on the floor." She jokes trying to focus his attention elsewhere.

Xander wasn't going to have any of it. Making up his mind he decides to show her what it is he feels. "I'll do better than that." Reaching out with his hand he caresses her cheek softly with his thumb. She closes her eyes at the touch leaning into his hand. Tilting her head up slightly Xander leans down and presses his lips against hers. The simple movement sends electricity through his entire body. The electricity coursing through his body only fuels the intensity of the kiss. The embrace becomes more passionate and more pure as time goes until finally after the last crescendo fades Xander pulls away. The sudden lack of warmth on their lips surprises and dismays them both. Faith's hands reach up behind him and pull him closer urging him to continue and they kiss again. This time only softer, this time all the pent-up emotion is channeled through the kiss. Through the first kiss they acknowledged the connection. Through the second they truly understood their feelings and by the end of the second kiss they accepted it completely. They were now hugging each other her head tucked under his chin as it usually was while they slept. Their hearts beating fast both taking long deep breaths there they stood in the entryway of their home it was there that they silently professed their love for each other.

Faith is the first to speak. "Xander, I…I"

He brings up a finger to her lips to silence her. "Shhh. I know Faith. I know."

Nodding mutely she just stands there in his arms.

Pulling her away from him he looks at her. "Let's go. The sooner we get there the sooner we can leave."

"And after we leave?"

"I think we'll be able to find more than enough to keep us occupied."

Faith smiles as she feels Xander take her hand and leads her out to the car.

Tara and Willow are waiting outside of the newest club in Sunnydale. Outside the line was getting longer as people waited to get inside to see what the newest club in downtown Sunnydale was as hot and exciting as it was advertised.

Willow dressed in what she termed as her 'clubbing' outfit was standing next to Tara close to the front of the line. "Tara why are we here again?"

"Because Harry and Amanda are going to be here. I want to see them together maybe we can see them slip up and we can find out more about them."

"But isn't that why you are working for him?"

"Yes but I know next to nothing about Amanda. I mean you talked to her once? What else do we know?"

"Good point."

A car pulls up to the sidewalk and out of the driver seat Harrison Pierce gets out. Walking over to the passenger side he tosses the valet a key for him to move his car. He talks to the valet and shows him where he wants his car to be parked. Continuing over to the passenger side he opens the door to let out his wife Amanda Pierce. As they make their way up the steps to the club Tara and Willow note that the two make a stunning couple. Holding hands the entire way up towards the doors smiling as they lean into each other to whisper words. As they reach the door Harrison shakes hands with the other owners of the club and introduces them to his wife.

Tara sees this as her opportunity and yells out "Harry! Harry!" Harry looks around and sees who is calling him walking over to the line he and his wife pull up next to Tara and Willow.

"Tara! What are you doing here?"

"I heard about a new club opening up so me and my girlfriend decided to come by and check it out."

"Willow! What a surprise!" Amanda says.

"Tell me about it! We were here to check out the new club and we run into the both of you. What are you doing here?"

"Harry here is a part owner of this club" Amanda explains to the two girls. "He needed to be here when it opened and I love to dance so I forced him to take me along."

"You didn't need to force anything I was going to take you with me if you wanted to or not!" Harry jokes.

"Harry don't make them stand in line take them in with us!" Amanda says.

"No really we don't want to impose." Tara says.

"Yeah, we're already in the front of the line we'll be fine." Willow adds

"Oh no you don't. Frank!" He calls to one of the bouncers at the door to come to him.

"Yes Mr. Pierce?"

"Frank I told you to call me Harry."

"Yes Mr. Pierce."

"Never mind, Frank these two are coming in with me and my wife. Make sure that they have access to the owner's VIP section ok?" Turning to the two girls as Frank removes the velvet rope holding them in line. "Come on inside and I'll show you around before it becomes to full to walk."

Leading them into the club he shows them the multi-storied dance floors. The platforms and cages that litter the main dance floor. TV screens hang from the ceiling now blank but as Harry explains that they will have images and scenes on them to add to the overall flavor of the club. He points out the lights and the DJ booth and the bar. After taking them through the club once he and Amanda led them to the bar where the bar tender was getting everything ready for the potential crowd.

Turning to the other two girls he asks them, "You two are old enough to drink right?" They both nod and he turns to the bar tender. "Jim? These two girls are special guests of my wife and mine. See to it that they do not pay for anything while they are inside here ok?"

"Yes Sir Mr. Pierce."

"Why doesn't anyone want to call me Harry?"

"If it makes you fell any better honey I still call you Harry." Amanda says

"And I'll still call you Harry at work." Tara adds.

"And I'll call you Harry whenever I'm around you." Willow says.

Harry chuckles. "Okay, I guess that is good enough for me." The music starts to play as the club starts up, hard bass bumping. The lights and the TV screens come to life truly bringing the club into an atmosphere made for dancing. "Looks like they're starting to let people in. We'll be in the booth from time to time tonight. You are more than welcome there as well. Have fun you two."

The DJ in the booth says into his microphone as people from outside filter in taking positions all over the dance floor, "Welcome to the hottest new club in Sunnydale! Club Transit! Here we will take you to places you've never been to before and have you dancing to hours that you didn't even know existed!"

Tara and Willow watch as Harry and Amanda move to the dance floor writhing is time with the music. They look at each other, shrug and decide to join the droves of people already dancing.

Outside a large group of people is waiting outside to get in. The largest group sends one person to talk to the bouncer and asks him, "Hey I am welcome to come inside?"

Looking over him the bouncer says, "As long as you are within dress code, you're old enough and if you pay the cover charge you and all of your friends are welcome inside."

"That's just what I wanted to hear." The man says with a smile and gestures for the rest of his group to follow him inside. The bouncer doesn't think much as the twenty people walk into the club. What he doesn't know is that he just allowed twenty vampires into a very full and crowded room. He had no idea what kind of havoc he was letting into the club. He also had no idea that the last vampire to walk past him was going to grab him from behind. He also didn't know until it was too late that he was going to die.

From the second floor VIP section of the club Willow and Tara could see the entire main dance floor. The atmosphere of the club was as intoxicating as the drinks that were being served from the main bar. The music goads everyone here to move in some sort of the tribal dance moving in sync with the beat. They had just stepped off of the dance floor to take a rest and thought that the VIP lounge would be the best place to keep an eye on the Pierces.

They were in the middle of it all close together moving with the music. Their movements complement each other as they let the music take control of their bodies. They looked happy together smiling and talking to each other on the dance floor. If they didn't know any better they would have thought that they were a normal couple who went out and had fun together. But Tara had seen them fight vampires. She had seen them in action and she knew that they held the key to what was happening to the murders. They weren't the ones committing them but they knew something, something that could help them end the monstrous deed being done in Sunnydale.

Tara and Willow were watching them when, for some unknown reason Amanda stopped dancing suddenly. A look of concern crosses Harry's face as she gestures to the doors of the club. Tara grabs Willow's attention and points her into a direction of the doors. A group of twenty people walk in. One of them is holding the bouncer Frank but unceremoniously drops him to the floor. The way the body falls the way the body lies on the floor they can tell that he is dead. Tara looks back to the crowd to search for Harry and Amanda. She does not see them until she scans over to the stairs leading to the VIP lounge. They are half way up the stairs and the looks on their faces reminds her of the look Buffy sometimes gets before she goes into battle.

"Harry? Amanda? What's wrong?" Willow asks them.

"Both of you need to get out of here now." Harry says.

"Why?" Tara asks.

"Because a large group of people just got in here and they do not want to dance." Amanda says

"What's so bad with that?" Willow asks.

"I think they want to kill everyone here." Harry says pulling on his long coat. Looking to Amanda he throws her a silent question to which she nods.

"What?" Willow says. "You can't be serious!"

"Look Red. Just get out of here before you get hurt." Amanda says before she rushes down the stairs with Harry following quickly behind him.

Willow's face goes pale and Tara asks her, "Willow? What's Wrong?"

"She…she called me…" Willow doesn't finish her sentence because the screams and yells of people below begin to filter up to the balcony. They both rush to the balcony to see that the twenty people who had just walked in were all vampires and were now making their way through the crowd killing and feeding at will.

"Oh no!" Tara says seeing the carnage below looking at the opposite end of the room she can see Amanda and Harry pushing through the fleeing crowd. "Willow! We need to help them!"

"Protection spells?"

"Yeah and whatever else we can think of!"

They quickly chant the spells that would give them insight and protection in battle. Hopefully it would be enough. From where they were any other types of spells would be dangerous to those trying to run away. Looking down they see Amanda and Harry reach the first vampires.

Harry pulls out his sword and comes to bear on the closest vampire. The vampire thinking an easy prey has stumbled upon him does realize how dangerous the individual in front of him is. Harry's sword flashes once and the vampire is cut open from the hip to the shoulder and then once again and his head falls from its shoulders turning him to dust. The next vampire sees this and prepares for battle by picking up a barstool that had been thrown into the dance floor by the fleeing patrons. The vampire is able to hit Harry across the back breaking the stool. To Willow's and Tara's horror Harry sags to the ground apparently out of the fight. But Harry's hand flashes out and a broken piece of the stool embeds itself into the chest of the vampire turning him to dust.

Amanda on the other hand was taking on three vampires at once. To their surprise she was doing fairly well. A quick jab to the face of one vampire and a side-kick to another and the fight quickly turned into a one on one battle. Amanda's leg swings out with an inside crescent-kick knocking the vampire off balance allowing her to stake it from behind. The other two vampires have now recovered and were charging at the young woman. Had Amanda been Buffy she would have taken them both on at the same time. Amanda however was not Buffy. Amanda sidesteps the two vampires causing them to run into each other and falling to the ground leaving them open for Amanda to stake them both in turn. They are able to see Amanda look over her shoulder and cry out to Harry.

On the floor Xander was having the damnedest time trying to keep up with who was friend and who was foe. There were only three people he is absolutely sure of in the building that he could trust; Tara, Willow and Faith. Tara and Willow were both safe upstairs and out of the way and Faith was somewhere down here in the fray. He was able to take out two vampires quickly but that would soon change because now he didn't have surprise on his side. The upside however was that he was fighting much better than he would have even suspected he was capable of. At this point he might have been able to take on Adam and win. He was only barely able to hear Faith call out his assumed name and see what she is pointing at. Another vampire seeing a threat to his brood is charging. Xander side steps the vampire and cuts off its leg. A vampire that can't walk can't fight. The music in the room was still blaring, the beat machine in the DJ booth was looping a sampled drum line making it hard for him to concentrate. The beat drowns out most sounds and the bass thumping through his body is incredibly distracting but he continues to fight towards Faith until they are back to back.

Faith suddenly feels someone push up against her back and she does not have to second guess that it is Xander. Just like T'ai Chi they were now next to each other complementing each other helping each other gain focus. Now they were back to back trying to keep the vampires at bay. To her dismay the vampires tended to attack her side of the flank because her stakes gave her very limited reach whereas Xander's sword gave his a wide berth of attack albeit limited to the one hundred eighty degrees in front of him. Still despite the numbers they are able to hold their own against the remaining vampires. However she fears that once the other vampires realize that she and Xander are the only real threats in the room they will overwhelm them easily. Despite her training she has gone through the pace that she is fighting at is beginning to tire her out and it is only a matter of time until she makes a mistake that would cost her or Xander very dearly. Fighting three vampires is one thing fifteen was a whole different story. She could feel Xander despite his immortal healing begin to weaken as well. They needed help and they needed it soon. If only they could contact Adam or Cassandra.

To Tara and Willow the ferocity of the fight is astounding. Both Harry and Amanda fight with speed and agility unfathomable to them. But they see that each punch has less power behind it, each swing of the sword is becoming slower and slower and with each movement they become easier and easier prey. So Willow does the only thing she can think of she casts a spell of rejuvenation on Amanda. Seeing what she is doing Tara does the same for Harry. Looking at the pair with their renewed strength and endurance they see that they are fairing better now but it will last only so long against the horde of vampires they face.

What the hell! Are the thoughts that cross through Xander and Faith's minds as they feel like they were somehow filled with energy. Not wanting to take the second wind for granted they continue to fight against the vampires that come at them. However many of the vampires are now carrying weapons, clubs made from broken pieces of furniture now evened out the edge that they had when they were armed and the vampires were not.

A vampire charges at Faith with what looks like a leg to one of the tables by the bar. She lets the Vampire get close enough to start to swing. She has only one second to stop it otherwise the club will crack her head open like an egg. The vampire's arms begin to extend adding more momentum and strength to the swing, Faith's hands come up and catch the club at the point where it's energy is the weakest; just above the vampire's hands. Using the momentum of the swing she is able to yank the club away and while spinning in the same direction of the swing she stakes the vampire in the back turning it to dust. Before the dust falls another vampire takes its place charging through the dust of it's former companion tackling Faith to the ground. While grappling with the vampire on the ground another vampire jumps on her and then another. She can feel their cold hands trying to choke her, hold her down trying to get her into a position where they can kill her easily.

Xander sees Faith go down and then sees the other two vampires jump on her as well. Fear and rage course through his body as he screams out a guttural almost animalistic, "NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!" and he tries desperately to get to her before they are able to hurt or even kill her but there are too many adversaries between him and Faith. Cut, slash, punch, stab but still he is too far away to help her as they hold Faith down and the one on top of her holds her head to the side preparing to feed off of her. He is vaguely aware of the doors to the club opening once more. He faintly hears Willow's voice cry out something but his entire essence is focused on saving Faith, on saving the woman he loves. He fears that he has failed again as the vampire lowers its head. He fears that without Faith he has no real reason to go on. All of his fears course through his body as he fights towards her, fearing failure until he sees the end of a stake some through the vampire's chest and it explodes to dust.

Willow and Tara look to the doors again as they swing open. They suspect the worst, if reinforcements for the vampires have arrived then the courageous couple below despite their efforts to win, despite the fact that they were protected and enhanced magically by Willow and Tara would finally succumb to the larger more powerful numbers of the vampires. What they see gives them a glimmer of hope Buffy and Riley move into the room quickly assessing the situation.

Seeing that Amanda is in trouble Willow cries out "BUFFY!!!!!! HELP AMANDA!!! OVER THERE!!!!" she points to the fallen girl being held down by three vampires. Seeing where she is Buffy nods and quickly moves to help her. Riley also moves into the battle helping to alleviate some of the pressure on Harry.

Buffy sees that she isn't going to make it in time and does the only thing she can think of, she takes the stake in her hand and launches it at the vampire attempting to feed off of Amanda. When the vampire explodes into dust she knows she had hit her mark. Continuing to charge she tackles the vampire holding down one of Amanda's arms. The action frees Amanda's arm and uses it to punch the other vampire off of her. Buffy sees that she picks up the stake she threw and dusts the vampire quickly. Amanda looking back seeing Buffy is weaponless throws the stake at her. Buffy catches the stake mid-air and slams it into the chest of the vampire turning it to dust. Buffy looks over the Amanda who smiles and mouths thanks to her. Buffy sees Amanda pick up a broken piece of wood and breaks it over her knee giving her two weapons to fight with.

Xander is overjoyed when he sees that Faith is okay and since there wasn't that much pressure on him any more thanks to Buffy and the man with her he is finally able to make it to Faith. "Are you ok?" he says to her as they continue to fight the vampires whose numbers were starting to dwindle the odds now two to one in favor of the vampires.

"I'm fine." She says as she kicks another vampire in gut and then pushing him into another vampire trying to jump into the fight. "You might want to help out that guy over there though." She says pointing over to the direction of the man who had entered with Buffy. Xander nods and moves to assist the young man.

Riley is holding his own but he feels the tide of battle starting to turn against him as another vampire tries to attack him. Then he hears the word "Incoming!" over the sound of the fight. The universal word for any soldier to get down and protect yourself from what is about to hit. As he drops he hears a whooshing sound just above his head. He hits the ground at the same time as two heads do right next to his face just before they turn into dust. Looking up the Harrison Pierce, the man form the picture that Buffy showed him is looking down at him.

Harrison asks him "You ok soldier?"

Riley nods as he gets up to his feet. Looking over Harrison's shoulder he grabs a stake from his belt and says "Hostile on your six!" Harrison's face shows recognition as he drops quickly to the ground allowing Riley to stake the vampire trying to blind side Harrison. Riley helps Harrison up and says to him, "Thanks for the save, the name's Riley."

"Right back at you, Harry." Harry responds to Riley.

Jonathan had been holding back watching and reveling in the havoc his minions were creating. He was slightly perturbed that there were a couple of humans fighting back and now he is seething with rage as he is forced to call a retreat before he looses all of the vampires he arrived with. He needs to distract the enemies in order to have the remaining vampires retreat safely. Pulling out his silver-plated gun from his shoulder holster he picks out the dark haired girl as his target.

Xander catches the glint of metal and sees the gun and starts to run toward Faith, the vampire's intended target.

Riley sees Harry take off in the direction of Amanda. He sees the vampire pull a gun out and yells, "BUFFY! GET DOWN!"

Buffy hears Riley screaming for her to get down and she does so. She looks over to Amanda who is being tackled by Harry. She is curious as to what is happening until she hears three loud sounds like a thunderclap going off inside a building.

Willow and Tara see the vampire pull out his gun. Harry is running to Amanda and he performs a flying tackle on her pushing her out of the way. Riley screams for Buffy to get down and Buffy hits the deck. The sound of three shots being fired coincides with the flashes of light that emanate from the gun as the vampire pulls the trigger.

Faith can only feel her body being pushed out of the way by Xander's body. She sees as blood sprays and erupts from where the bullets enter his body. As Xander falls on top of her she can feel his warm blood spilling on her as she cries out, "OH MY GOD NO!"

Xander can feel his bones rattle from the impact of the bullets entering him. He knows his blood is spilling onto Faith. He can barely feel Faith turn him over and cradle his head.

Jonathan seeing that his adversaries now completely occupied calls for the retreat. The last of his vampire force quickly exit the building and taking one last look into the room. He sees that the slayer and her companion as well and the dark haired girl were all at the side of the fallen warrior two other girls were making their way to the group from the stairs as well. Mentally taking tally of how many adversaries he was truly up against he exits the building.

"Omigod!" Buffy exclaims.

Tara and Willow finally make it to the group and Buffy asks them, "Can you guys do anything for him?"

Willow shakes her head, "No there is just to much for us to fix."

Riley kneels down and takes a look at the wounds. Amanda sits there rocking Harrison gently saying gently over and over again "Shh. It's going to be okay. Shh. It's going to be okay."

"We need to get him to a hospital," Riley says. "The bullets probably did some major damage to his internal organs."

Coughing up blood Xander says to the group. "No! No hospitals."

"Let's take him to Giles' shop its not that far from here. He might be able to help." Buffy suggests.

Amanda reaches into Harry's pockets and pulls out a set of keys. She tosses it to Willow and says you can drive our car and you two," she says to Buffy and Riley, "can follow."

Riley moves to help pick up Harry but is waived off by Amanda who proceeds to pick up Harry by herself surprising the rest of the group. She moves to where their car is parked across the street where she remembers seeing Xander telling the valet where he wanted his car. Willow opens the back door and Amanda gently puts Harry inside. She quickly goes inside and rests his head in her lap. Willow gets into the driver's seat and Tara gets into the passenger seat. They can hear Amanda talking to Harry.

"You're going to be alright my love." Faith tells Xander.

He weakly replies, "I made a promise to you remember? I'd never leave you alone." He coughs and more blood tickles out of the corner of his mouth. Faith wipes it away.

"Yes I remember." She says smiling at him.

His hand reaches out and touches her cheek. She holds his hand to her face as he says, "I love you."

"I love you too." His hand goes limp and falls to his side. Faith continues to rock his body back and forth slowly and says, "Don't be long, don't leave me alone for long.

Tara looks at Willow and shakes her head. The sight she sees is a woman who has under the greatest of pressures finally succumbs to the shock of watching her husband die in her arms. Tara can see the now glassy eyes of her employer and the comforting rocking motion that his wife is applying to his now dead body.

"Don't leave me alone for long my love." She whispers to the dead body. Tara and Willow can hardly keep their tears from falling as they see what was once a potential ally become almost nothing in moments. Amanda continues to rock the body all the way to Giles' shop.

Chapter 9

The Past-the dark unfathom'd retrospect!
The teeming gulf - the sleepers and the shadows!
The past - the infinite greatness of the past!
For what is the present after all but a growth out of the past?
- W.W 1871

As both cars pull up to the store Buffy is the first to get out quickly making her way to the other car. She pulls up short as she sees Tara and Willow exit the car slowly. Buffy looks at Tara and then at Willow who shakes her head slowly. Buffy's hand comes up to her mouth her eye wide with recognition. Moving to the back seat door Buffy opens it slowly. What she sees is heartbreaking. Amanda is sitting there with Harry's head in her lap rocking slowly back and forth talking to him. Buffy can see Harry's eyes are wide open. Where there was once life and humor, now there was nothing. Amanda was covered in his blood that showed better on her dress than Harry's burgundy shirt but if one looked carefully they would see that the shirt was drenched.

Riley who had gone into the shop to get Giles was now returning with Giles in tow. Motioning for Buffy to move Giles peers into the car and mutters, "Dear God." He had seen pictures of men wounded during war time, he had seen pictures of Watchers injured by demons and vampires but he had never seen so much blood in real life. The sight of Harry's body drenched in what was undoubtedly his own blood shook him to his core.

Giles glances at Buffy and asks the question that he know the answer to already, "Is he?"

Buffy only nods. Looking back into the car he calls to her softly, "Amanda?" She doesn't hear him as she continues to rock back and forth. He tries again, "Amanda?" This time she looks up and sees Giles looking into the car.

"Hello Giles." She says and then turns back to her husband's form. "Could you please help me get him inside?"

Nodding Giles motions to Riley to help him with the body. Riley taking the legs and Giles taking the upper body carry the body into the shop. Amanda follows them closely and stays with the body as they set it down on a table Willow cleared away in the back.

"Amanda?" Giles says softly again trying to make sure not to startle the young woman. "Is there anyone you want us to call?"

Nodding mutely she reaches into her husband's jacket and pulls out a wallet. After fingering through the wallet she pulls out a piece of paper. Handing it to Giles she says, "That's the number for his parents." Accepting the paper he walks to the front of the store and motions for the others to follow him.

"What happened tonight?" Giles asks without preamble.

"I'm not sure but me and Riley came in at the tail end of it." Buffy says. "Willow and Tara were there for the whole thing."

"Willow? Tara? What happened tonight?"

Willow speaks up first. "Tara and me decided to go to this club downtown, Club Transit."


"Because Tara had found out that Harry and Amanda were going to be there. She thought that is we were there we might see them slip up and we could find out more about them."

"Is this correct Tara?" Giles asks her.

"Yes, I know that there was more to them so I went to see what I could find out."

"Well that is all well and good but how did this lead to that young man being shot? Who killed him."

"One of the vampires." Riley says answering his question.


"Yeah," Willow says, "The club was pretty much into the swing of things, bumping and grinding and more bumping and Harry and Amanda were both in the middle of it dancing the night away you know?"

"But I take it something happened, some thing vampire-like?" Giles assumes.

"Actually a lot of vampire-like things." Tara says. "Amanda and Harry were in the middle of the room dancing away you know? When Amanda stops suddenly, making Harry stop as well. They look over to the doors and when I turn to look the bouncer is on the floor dead and twenty people walk in eyeing the crowd."

Willow picks up the story next, "That was when we saw Harry and Amanda come up the stairs. Harry told us to leave. He put on his coat and then both he and Amanda went back down the stairs."

"Willow that's when the screams came right?" Tara asked.

"Yeah, we rushed to the balcony and there were vampires everywhere killing and feeding. Harry and Amanda rushed in, he took out two vampires quickly and Amanda took three. But the other vampires started concentrating on them and they were having trouble fighting them off." Willow said.

"We even tried to cast protection spells, rejuvenation spells anything we could do to help them, but the vampires eventually got the upper hand and had tackled Amanda to the ground. Harry tried to save her but he was too far away."

"That's probably when Riley and me came into the picture." Buffy says.

"Yeah, I screamed at you to help Amanda." Willow says.

"When I saw what was happening I ran to her but I had to throw my stake at the vamp so it wouldn't feed off of her. After that I tackled one of the other vampires and helped her out. After she staked hers she threw the stake at me and I staked mine."

"What happened next?"

"Harry went to her to see if she was ok and then he went to help Riley." Willow says.

"Riley? What happened next?"

"He saved my ass. Then I saved his. The guy was really good Giles. He took two vampires with one swing. I think he saw the flash of the vampire's gun and guessed that it was aiming at Amanda and took off running. He was able to get her out of the line of fire but he was hit."

"How many shots?" Giles asked

"Three at mid range. All three hit him too." Riley responds.

Taking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes Giles sighs. Returning the glasses to his face he walks behind the counter and picks up the phone.

"Giles what are you going to do?" Buffy questions him.

"I'm going to call the young man's parents. They deserve to see him and know that he died a hero. Then we find out what it was that he was working against and finish what he started." Giles says and dials the number on the paper.

"Hello? Yes my name is Rupert Giles I'm afraid I have some horrible news. You're son has been killed. What? No, no he's here at my shop. No I haven't called the police. If that is your wish. No, no from what I understand by gunshot. We'll be expecting you." At that Giles rattles off the address and directions before he hangs up the phone.

"What did he say?" Tara asks

"He's on his way here with Harry's mother. They both want to see him."

"What can we do?" Buffy asks.

"We wait. We wait and let Amanda and Harry's parents have time to deal with this tragedy. Amanda is already in shock and I don't want to aggravate her even more."

Seeing that all of them are in agreement they find seats in the shop and wait for the arrival of the elder Pierces. They quietly begin talking amongst themselves trying to workout all of the details of what really happened. Giles smiles grimly as he hears the young group discuss what they could have done or should have done to stop all of this from happening. In retrospect one could have done a multitude of things to prevent tragedy but at the time those options are never there. One day they would understand that but today he sees them lament the loss of yet another friend.

Adam hangs up the phone and calls Cassandra from the living room. Entering the room Cassandra asks, "What's wrong?"

"Xander just died." He says simply.


"Very. It seems that his body is being cared for by Faith and his old friends."

Cassandra sighs, "So much for our plans to do this quietly and unnoticed. Do you know how to get there?"

Adam holds up a piece of paper. "Yes, lets get going. I don't want him to wake up before we get there."

Nodding Cassandra grabs her coat and sword and meets Adam in the garage. As the car pulls away from the house they wonder how they were going to explain this to those who witnessed Xander's death. Maybe it was time to reveal who they really were.

There is a quiet murmur in the Magic Shop as the group inside awaits the arrival of Benjamin and Elizabeth Pierce. Giles decided to make himself busy by cleaning the shop up a little bit. If he was going to have guests he would at least make the shop presentable.

Willow was explaining to Buffy one of the moves that she saw Amanda perform to stake a vampire, "The vampire was swinging the club like a baseball bat you know? Amanda grabbed the bat and twisted with the swing pulling the club away. Then she grabbed her stake and staked the vamp from behind. It was so cool!"

"I wish I could have seen that, maybe if she feels up to it she can train with me." Buffy says looking remorsefully towards the back of the shop. "Anything else happen?"

Before Willow could answer the door to the shop opens. Giles not seeing who came in says, "I'm sorry we're closed."

"Where is he?" An accented voice asks.

"He is the back with Amanda. Mr. Pierce?" The man nods as a woman walks into to the room behind him. "He is back there but it isn't pretty. He was hit pretty hard and there was a lot of blood spilled."

The woman replies, "That is the least of my worries sir, I want to see my son."

Giles gestures for the pair to follow him reaching their destination he tells them, "He in there. I think Amanda is in shock, she was talking to the body while we brought him back here. I've tried to get her out but she has barricaded herself inside."

"Thank you. We'll handle it from here." The man says.

The woman walks up to the door and knocks and calls out softly, "Amanda?"

Giles hears Amanda's reply from behind the door. "Elizabeth? Is Ben with you too?"

"Yes child, let us in."

The door opens and Amanda lets the two in. Giles can hear her say "He's been hurt really bad but he'll be ok won't he?"

The rest of the conversation is muffled as the door closes behind them his heart aches when he hears the words that the young woman says. Giles lingers a while longer at the door straining to hear the conversation but to no avail all he can hear are muffles and even the louder sounds form behind the door reaches him muffled. Gile stays there for another ten minutes before leaving the family to grieve walks back to the front of the store only to be met by questioning looks. Giles looks at them and says, "Well out with it."

"Well what happened?" Buffy asks

Riley adds, "We didn't hear any kind of reaction from back there. I mean it is not everyday that your only son dies you know?"

"Well, yes. But I had told them of Amanda's condition, I think that perhaps that they are putting up a strong front for Amanda."

"Seeing her in action I'm not sure if anyone really needs to put up a strong front for her." Tara says.

Willow, Buffy, Tara and Riley nod remembering the fight at the club.

"She was awesome wasn't she?" Buffy says. Giles is surprised of the high level of praise that Buffy gives Amanda. Being awesome in the eyes of a slayer is no small accomplishment.

"She was doing pretty well with against the ten to one odds." Riley said.

"Yeah," Willow says, "Seeing her handle a stake you'd swear she is a slayer."

Faith is sitting in the room by herself. Looking at the door seeing that a few boxes and a chair were holding the door closed. Giles had come in to try to talk to her but she made him leave. After that she barricaded herself in the room. It would look good if Xander just woke up after being shot to death in front of all of them. Moments later she heard knocking at the door and it was Giles again telling her that he had called Adam and Cassandra. Faith smiles at that one. Giles actually said Harry's parents, and that they would be at the shop shortly.

She hoped that they would get here soon. Looking at Xander's wounds it looks as if they were beginning to close up. It was taking a lot longer for him to heal compared to when he stabbed himself with the knife. But then again that was one clean stab wound. These were three very bad gunshot wounds. Looking down at his prone body she begins to wonder if the internal injuries would heal first or did all the damage heal at once?

Shaking herself out of that macabre thought she looked around to find something to busy herself while waiting for Adam and Cassandra. In the corner there is a water cooler and in a nearby box there were some rags so she decides to clean up Xander and herself as much as possible. She has finished cleaning Xander's face when she hears a soft tapping at the door. She hoped that it wasn't Giles again. The voice that calls through is Cassandra's.

"Amanda?" She hears Cassandra's voice through the door.

"Elizabeth?" She calls out. She pauses a second as she tries to remember Adam's alias. "Is Ben with you too?"

"Yes child, let us in." She hears the response.

Faith goes over to the door and removes the boxes and the chair holding the door shut and opens the door just a fraction. She sees the two immortals and lets them in. While she is closing the door she says to them, "He's been hurt really bad but he'll be ok won't he?"

After the door closes Adam says, "Yes he'll be alright. Let me take a look at the wounds." He says to Faith. Removing Xander's shirt carefully Adam looks over the entry wounds. Turning Xander's body he able to locate all three exit wounds.

"These are pretty bad." Adam says to no one in particular. "But he seems to be healing normally. From the rates that the wounds are closing I'd say he'll wake up in about five minutes."

"What do we do then?" Faith asks. "As you can see here we are in a closed room with one exit out. If we leave and they see Xander alive what then?"

Adam looks at Cassandra who just shrugs and says, "It's your idea you tell her."

"Well what is your idea?" Faith says beginning to loose patience.

"I thought that it would be in our best interests to tell them who we really are."

Faith looks at Adam dumbfounded. She turns to Cassandra to see what she thinks of the idea. "Tell me he is joking."

Cassandra nods no and Faith turns back to Adam and says quietly, "I can believe that is your plan! You've lived for how long? And the best you can come up with is 'lets tell them who we are!"

"Faith I think you are overreacting here just a bit."

"Overreacting!" She exclaims while trying to keep her voice down. "Overreacting! Don't you remember what I told you about these people? They hate me! If they knew that I was in town they would have organized a search party to hunt me down!"

"You've met with them before though, albeit by accident, but they've shown that they trust you." Cassandra adds in.

"But you don't know what I've done to their lives! What I did to them no one can forgive."

At this Adam walks next to her and places a reassuring arm around her. To his surprise Faith just leans into the arm. The words he forms in his head are the words he would say to his daughter if he had one. Methos quickly amends that thought, the words he forms in his head are what he is going to tell his daughter Faith.

"Faith, forgiveness is a funny thing. It can come from the most hated of enemies and be denied by the closest of friends. Time has a lot to do with forgiveness. It takes time for wounds to heal."

"Nice thing to hear from someone who is five thousand years old." She says sullenly.

"That's my point. As mortals your time here is infinitely shorter than ours. It is that very fact that your friends out there have already forgiven you, when your time is short grudges become less and less important."

"But they were never my friends." She says quietly.

"Let's ask Xander about that." Faith looks up at Adam, "He's about to wake up."

If on cue Xander's body convulses and sits up taking in a deep breath. After filling his lungs for the first time after his death he falls back onto the table. Xander weakly calls out, "Faith."

Faith hurries to his side and takes his hand into hers. "I'm here Xander, I'm here."

"Are you ok?"

"I'm fine."

"And the others?"

"All of them are okay."

Looking around the room and seeing that Adam and Cassandra are present as well he states what has become obvious to him. "I died didn't I?"

"I'm afraid so." Adam says. "And in front of your friends no less."

Xander rests his head back on the table. "That was definitely not part of the plan." He says with his eyes closed. Cassandra and Adam both note that he is still holding Faith's hand.

"At least not the plan I cam up with." Adam chides. "Well the question now is what do we do next?"

Xander sits up and looks down at his torn and bloodied clothes. "I suppose you have a plan already worked out for this situation? Do you have any clothes I can change into?"

"As a matter of fact I do." Adam and Cassandra both find the clothes they had brought for the couple and hand the clothes to them. Changing into the clothes Faith notices something.

"Adam?" Faith asks.


"These clothes don't exactly match up with the identities you setup for us." She say gesturing at Xander and herself. Xander was wearing dark blue jeans and a long sleeve shirt tight enough to hint at his musculature. She was wearing a pair of tight pants and a form fitting tank top and a cardigan sweater the Cassandra brought for her. Though not as revealing as clothes she wore in the past they did hint to her true identity. "These clothes are things that Faith and Xander would wear. Not Harry and Amanda Pierce."

"Very astute of you Faith. You already know my intentions but for the sake of Xander here I'll repeat myself. Xander I think it is time to tell your friends who you are."

Leaning back on the table Xander looks back at Faith and sees fear in her eyes. "Are you okay with this?" He asks Faith.

"They were your friends Xander, never mine. They all hate me and I know once they find out who I really am they are going to want to kill me."

"First off I won't let that happen, secondly I don't think Adam or Cassandra will let that happen either." Faith looks to the two older immortals and sees their reassuring looks. "I'm going to be there for you through the whole thing okay?"

Faith nods quietly. Cassandra cuts explains why they need to reveal themselves now. "Adam told me that your friends came just in time to help you guys out correct?"

Faith and Xander nod. "Well we figured that they were able to find out some things that we obviously missed. Had we been working with them we could have prevented this from happening in the first place."

"I think you're right Cassandra." He looks at Faith and asks her. "You ready to do this?"

Taking a deep breath Faith nods. "Yes, but I think I should be the one they see first. You did just die in front of them you know." She says trying to make light of the situation. Xander squeezes her hand gently. She is surprised that she didn't even notice that they were holding hands.

Taking a deep breath she says, "I'm as ready as I'll ever be." Faith reluctantly releases Xander's hand and walks to the door and opens it. Adam, Cassandra and then Xander quietly follow her.

She can hear the group's conversation.

"She was awesome wasn't she?" Buffy says.

Buffy thought she was awesome? Faith thinks to herself.

"She was doing pretty well with against the ten to one odds." Riley said.

Ten to one wasn't all that bad, I had Xander with me Faith silently adds.

"Yeah," Willow says, "Seeing her handle a stake you'd swear she is a slayer."

At this point Faith decides cut into the conversation. "You're not that far off Red." She says stepping out from behind one of the shelves.

Her voice draws the attention of everybody in the room. Giles, Buffy and Tara look at her intently. She can see the all the elements are there but the reaction hasn't happened yet.

Riley asks, "Are you ok Amanda?" Faith doesn't answer as she continues to look at the three members of the group that could recognize her.

Buffy is the first to break away from her reverie. "W-What did you call her?" Buffy says not trusting her voice.

Faith decides to push the envelope even more trying to make them remember, "Come on B. You're usually quicker than this."

She sees that they have finally seen through her disguise. Calling her by the nickname she had given her the catalyst for an explosion of understanding. Giles takes off his glasses and looks at her intently and then replaces them on his face.

Giles mutters, "My word."

Willow sits back holding Tara's hand speechless.

Buffy untangles herself from Riley and slowly walks over to Faith. Buffy is nose to nose with her and is looking at her closely. She stops and stares at her eyes although a different color she can see something else, something familiar. Buffy pulls back and looks at Amanda face to face. She smiles at her with a lopsided grin and Buffy steps back.

Faith readies herself for the punch she expects Buffy to launch at her. She had caused them all so much pain and suffering while she was here. She deserves whatever retribution they have for her. She closes her eyes thinking that if she doesn't see the punch coming she won't be tempted to block the punch. What happens next is not what she expects. The punch never comes and she can feel Buffy's arms around her pulling her into a hug.

"Faith is it really you?" Buffy says to her.

Unsure of herself Faith replies, "Yeah B, it's me."

"When you disappeared from the hospital that day we thought you were kidnapped for some kind of ritual or something. When a new slayer wasn't called I knew that you weren't in danger, you just left."

"I couldn't stay B. No one would have given me a chance. You all hated me!"

"That's not true Faith." Willow tries to interject.

"Not true? Are you listening to yourself? Can you honestly say that you would have welcomed me with open arms back then?"

"But it seems that you have made a conscious effort to change Faith." Giles says.

Faith answers, "Yes I have Giles." She glances at Adam and Cassandra. Adam throws her a questioning look but Faith shakes her head no. If she was going to do this she was going to do it her way. "Once I left town I was trying to make things right. I would help with what I could. I stopped muggings, kept going on patrol and stopped what I could. But I never really belonged until I met a man who helped me get through the rough times."

"Harry?" Buffy asks. Faith nods. "I'm so sorry Faith." She says to her.

"For what B? Not being able to save him in time? For not being able to stop the vampire that shot him? You couldn't have done anything."

"But he's dead!" Willow says.

"That's why I'm out here right now." Faith pauses and gestures to her companions, "These people," She gestures at the older couple, "are Adam and Cassandra. "

"So you are not really Benjamin Pierce? But the resemblance between you and him is remarkable." Giles says.

"Well it should be. We're the same person." Adam replies casually.

"I don't think I'm following you." Giles says.

Faith cuts in, "Giles I'm going to show you something that will clear up some of your questions but it's going to open a whole new can of worms. I know I'm ready for this now but I'm not sure about the rest of you."

Buffy speaks up acting as the spokes person for the group, "Faith the people in this room have been through a lot. You should know you were here for some of it, if there's something you need to show us we can handle it. We've seen some pretty surprising things."

Faith looks around the room and sees that all are in agreement. "I'm not so sure you can handle this." Faith mutters under her breath.

"What was that?" Buffy asks becoming impatient.

"Oh nothing." Faith covers. Looking at Cassandra and Adam who both nod Faith calls out. "It's okay, you can come out now."

The look of astonishment that falls on all the faces of those present is almost amusing. Xander walks out from behind the shelves in a clean set of clothes. He is standing tall and without any hint of pain or discomfort. Most surprising to the group is that he is up and walking around at all.

"But-but you were dead!" Tara exclaims.

"You had no pulse when we brought you in." Giles says.

"I saw the bullet wounds at the club, there is no way you could have survived that, you were coughing up blood!" Riley adds.

"What are you?" Buffy says warily unconsciously moving in between him and the rest of the group. Willow just sits and stares at him.

He looks over to Faith and says, "You're right they really aren't as fast as they were then."

Looking at the group he says, "Come on guys, Buffster and G-Man I can understand, but you too Wills?"

Willow stands up slowly and walks past Buffy and right up to him. Her eyes go wide with excitement and screams out loud and throws her arms around him and hugs him tightly. The action nearly causes them to fall to the ground. The strength of the embrace is enough to squeeze the air out of his lungs.

Well at least that is what Willow planned to do just before she faints.

The room erupts into pandemonium as Tara rushes to Willow's side and Giles and Buffy approach Xander with questions coming at him at such a furious pace that he can barely keep up with them. Riley moves to Buffy's side. Xander reaches out and finds Faith's hand.

Adam and Cassandra stay back allowing the scene before them unfold naturally. Cassandra looks at the group and the looks on Xander and Faith's faces and says to Adam, "Well that wasn't so bad now was it?"

"No, not at all. They're both conscious and standing upright still." Adam replies looking at Faith and Xander but quickly adds, "For now." Chuckling as he sees them try to wake Willow up and question Xander at the same time. "Just like chewing gum and walking isn't it?" He says to Cassandra.

"A lot more difficult than it seems?" Adam nods. She continues, "Yes, I would say so. Let's go help our young ones, it looks like we have a long night ahead of us."

Jonathan is fuming as he enters the makeshift lair of the Master. Bursting into the room he finds him and walks right up the Master and yells at him, "I lost eleven of my most capable fighters tonight! You didn't tell me that I was up against such resistance!"

Seemingly unfazed by the proximity and loudness of the vampire the Master waves off Aaron and Keith who have moved to pull the vampire away. "Jonathan, I did mention that you were going to distract the protectors of this city did I not?"

"Yes, but you said nothing…"

"And you told me that as long as I paid you well that you would get the job done, correct?"

"Yes but eleven! Eleven vampires!"

"I care not of your logistics vampire." The Master tosses him a small case. "That should be enough to console you for the loss of your brethren."

Opening the case Jonathan sees that it is full of money. Stacks of hundred dollar bills to be exact. The rage that had filled him only moments ago is now replaced by the cool feeling of greed.

"I'm taking your sudden change of demeanor means that you find your loss acceptable?"

"You generosity is duly noted Master." He says his eyes never leaving the case. "This will go far in alleviating the stress that has incurred due to the loss of my brood."

"I thought as much. You may leave now vampire." Nodding Jonathan backs away clutching the case closely to him. "And Jonathan?"

"Yes Master?"

"I expect you to do a good job tomorrow night as well."

"Yes Master." The vampire says and walks away into the shadows.

"Keith, Aaron." The Master calls to his two minions. They approach him. "Do not worry you both will also be rewarded when the time comes. What I have given the vampire is nothing compared to what awaits you once my plan finally bears fruit."

"Thank you Master." They both say bowing out of reverence.

"Have you procured the site for the ritual Keith?"

"Yes Master. It is an old abandoned church. Most of it had burned down a while ago so no one will suspect anything."

"We are so close my friends, so very close." He says as he caresses the jars holding the eyes and tongues of the two murdered girls. "So close."

Willow can hear their voices as she wakes up from her nap. As her mind swims up from the darkness and is able to see that Buffy is sitting next to her as well as Tara.

"She coming out of it." She hears Tara say.

"Will? Are you okay?" Buffy says to her.

"Yeah Buff, I'm fine. I had the strangest dream though."

Buffy smiles and says, "Was Xander in it?"

"Yeah he was, but he looked different. Cooler I think."

"Are you saying that I wasn't cool back then Wills?" Xander's voice calls to her.

Thinking that she imagined it she says, "I'm hearing things now."

"You're not hearing things Willow." Giles says from behind her. Willow turns around and sees Giles standing there next to Harry. Looking at him closely she realizes that he looks like Xander from her dream.

Then Willow suddenly remembers what happened. Getting up quickly she runs to Xander and hugs him as tightly as she can. Pulling away her knees buckle slightly as her head spins.

"Whoa! Settle down there Wills. You've been out of it for about ten minutes. You should be running around like that."

"But how? Where have you? What is going?" Willow babbles. Her mind is having trouble comprehending what she sees and would have continued on babbling if Xander didn't place his hand over her mouth to quiet her down.

"She still does the babbling thing huh?" He asks Buffy.

"Only when she is under stress." Buffy replies.

Looking at Willow he says, "Now Wills, I'm going to take my hand away. I want you to take a deep breath before you say anything and remember that you have to think before you speak."

He does so and Willow takes a deep breath and releases it. "Xander is that really you?" she asks quietly.

"The one and only." He says with a grin.

Willow can't hold back her tears any longer and holds Xander tightly crying into his shoulder. She feels his hand reach up and stroke her hair comforting her. Xander just holds her as she cries. Buffy makes her way to the pair and places a hand on Willow's shoulder. Willow looking up sees Buffy and quickly brings her into the embrace. The two girls were now crying together happy now that their friend has returned to them.

Looking up and smiling he pulls the two girls away from him. "You two better stop that or else I'll have to change my shirt again!" He looks at Faith and says, "Do I have that kind of effect on women? Do I just make women want to break into tears and cry all over me?"

"Well it happened to me so I don't think that I would be impartial in the matter." Faith says with a smile.

"How did you survive the shooting? I mean you were dead before but I mean you should really be dead now, right?" Willow says.

"Well that's a long and complicated story." Xander says as he stands up. He walks over to Faith and leans against the counter with her. Adam and Cassandra are both standing nearby. "A story that I wanted to tell after you came around, that way I wouldn't have to do it twice."

"Well I'm awake now Xander. Tell us your story." Willow says.

"Would you like to explain to them what going on or should I?" Xander asks Adam.

"By all means you go ahead a tell them. It is your life story after all." Adam replies.

Sighing Xander lets his hands fall to his sides. His right hand brushes against Faith's and they automatically intertwine their fingers. The movement does not escape Buffy or Willow.

"Where do I start?" Xander says to himself.

"How about the part where we thought you died in a car accident." Buffy says.

"Well I guess that's as good as a place as any. You got it wrong though Buffy."


"I didn't fake my death that night, I died that night." Xander suppresses the shiver that comes every time he remembers his first death. "My car went over the cliff and into the river I was driving beside. When my car hit the water my head hit the steering wheel and I was knocked out. When I came to the car was filling up with water and I couldn't get out until it was full. At that time the car was falling fast. I tried to make to the surface but I couldn't. I drowned. The next thing I know is I'm sitting in Adam and Cassandra's cabin."

"So they saved you died but they revived you right? Like you did for me the night I fought the master, right?" Buffy asks.

"Not quite Buffy." He says to her, his voice serious. "When they had found me I had been floating around in the lake for two days. Two days. There was no way that I could have been revived from that. I was definitely dead." Xander tells them.

"Well obviously were revived otherwise you wouldn't be here telling us this story." Giles adds.

"Yes I was revived but not by Cassandra or Adam." Xander says while holding a hand out to Adam who reaches into his coat and pulls out an ivory handled dagger. Xander takes the knife handle first and tosses it to Buffy who adroitly catches the knife. "Is that a real knife Buffy?"

"Real enough." She says and tosses the blade back to him.

Catching the blade Xander holds up his palm. "I'm going to show you something that will seem incredible."

"More incredible than you returning from the dead?" Giles asks.

"Almost. Just look." Xander takes the dagger and rakes his palm with it, opening the flesh all the way to bone. His blood dripping on the floor. Xander's jaw clenches suppressing a yell of pain. The response he gets is the one he expects. Willow and Buffy are upon him immediately. Buffy quickly grabs the knife away from him while Willow is holding his other wrist trying to stop the bleeding. Giles follows quickly behind them towel in hand intent on wrapping the hand before he looses too much blood.

He is about to tell them to stop and watch but Faith beats him to it. "No, you have to watch the wound." She says to the trio trying to help him. "Watch and then you will understand."

"Are you crazy we can't just let him bleed…" Willow's response is cut off by Giles who is motioning for her to look at Xander's hand. She looks as little bolts of electricity begin to play around and inside the wound. Tendons, muscle and sinew begin to realign themselves and heal. Dumbfounded they look on as Xander's skin begins to cover the wound once again. As the little discharges of electricity begin to fade so does the light scar that remains until it is only a red mark on his skin that is also beginning to fade.

Riley who was now looking over their shoulder is able to sum it up best when he says, "Whoa."

"What the hell was that Xander!" Buffy exclaims looking up at him.

At least their not afraid of me Xander thinks looking at the group standing their ground in front of him looking at him for an explanation. "That is the reason I revived that day. That is the reason why I am standing in front of you right now."

"What exactly is that?" Giles asks looking at Xander's hand closely. "The rate of which the damage was repaired is remarkable. Faster than even a Slayer's healing powers. Fascinating."

"Fascinating for you Giles," Buffy says, "but it still doesn't explain anything. What did we just see here Xander."

"You just witnessed the power of the quickening."

Willow interjects, "If that made sense to any one please raise your hand." Faith, Adam and Cassandra all raise their hands. "Okay since it made sense to you people would one of you care to elaborate exactly what it was we just saw."

Cassandra steps forward. "The quickening is what allows us to heal. It is the physical manifestation of our life force, our soul."

"Us?" Buffy asks. "As in you, Adam, Xander and Faith?"

"I'm not part of the club B." Faith says. "Just an honorary member."

Cassandra continues saying, "Yes Adam, Xander and myself are all Immortals. The quickening that you saw is very powerful. It is so powerful that it is able to stop the effects of time on the body."

Giles ever the researcher asks, "Stops the effects? Or just slows them down?"

"I'm not sure. If it slows it down it is slowed to a level that is imperceptible over the passage of time."

"Amazing, simply amazing." Buffy and Willow look at Giles curiously Giles found very little amazing, remarkable? Yes. Curious? Yes. Amazing? No.

"You are all Immortal then?" Riley asks, seeing them nod he continues his train of thought. "Are you demons? Gods? How old are you?"

"Demons or Gods? No we are neither. Though through the ages some of our kind have been worshiped as gods and feared as demons. Other times we are thanked as healers, generals, and politicians. We are just like you. We live and breathe just like you. Some of us are good while others are bad and many of us fall in-between." Cassandra explains.

Willow adds, "But you live forever! How can you say that? The sheer amount of time that you must endure is impossible! How can you not go crazy after the first thousand or so years watching those around you dying?"

A haunted look falls over Adam and Cassandra. Willow adds seeing that she has touched a delicate subject quickly apologizes, "I'm sorry, it's just that, I mean after seeing what…"

"It's okay Willow." Adam says. "First of all very few of us make it past a thousand years. Those that do are more than likely to survive another thousand. For those who do survive many do succumb to the madness of time. It is in that descent into madness that we loose many of our greatest individuals. If given enough time we are able to pull ourselves out of that pit of darkness, but not without the help of our friends."

The group sits there contemplating the words that Adam just said. Giles asks, "Cassandra? Are you the same Cassandra of Troy?"

Smiling she answers. "No. I was a dear friend of her Grandmother. She was named for me."

"That would make you nearly three thousand years old." Giles says in awe.

"Three thousand?" Buffy says not believing the number given to them by her watcher.

"I'm a little older than that I'm sure of it, but at the time of my first death calendars weren't really used by my people."

"First death?" Tara asks.

"Yes before we become immortal we age and live just like you do. We get sick, we can be injured just like you and the time it takes to heal is the same as any normal person. Much like the way Faith and Buffy were before they became Slayers." Cassandra says.

Glancing at Xander and Faith before returning her focus to Cassandra Buffy says, "You know about Slayers?"

"Yes, we've met a few through the years." She says motioning to Adam as she says the last statement. "Adam was able to sense that Faith was a Slayer when he first met her."

"You can sense Slayers?" She asks Adam.

"Yes actually. You and Faith give off the most peculiar signature for mortals." Adam answers easily. "It is why most vampires with half a brain will know to run in the other direction when they feel you come near."

"You mean that Vampires can sense me too?" Buffy asks. She looks at Giles who is just as dumbfounded as she.

"Oh most definitely. You didn't think it was a one way street did you?" He asks them. "The Watchers must be lacking in the research department or that particular piece of information has been lost to them."

"I'm not sure why I wasn't informed of that but I'll try calling the council to see if they know anything of it." Giles says.

"Well the short explanation is that like any type of energy the metaphysical variation also reacts with each other." Gesturing to Faith and Buffy he continues. "It will sometimes manifest itself as a cramp or a tingle telling you that something is near. After exposure to certain levels of energy you can learn to ignore the physical manifestation of the feeling and you can begin to focus on finding its source. Faith mentioned that you and her have those abilities."

"Yeah, we used to be able to find out where a vampire was within about twenty feet. If we were close enough we could figure out how many there were."

"I assume that by living here you've been exposed to many a vampire correct?"


"Now you find that certain demons and older vampires are able to bring out the physical feeling again?"

"How did you know?"

"Like I said your system has probably been able to adjust to the lower levels of energy given off by the younger vampires. But the stronger the demon or vampire the more you'll feel it. Here brace yourself." Adam says to her.

"What?" Buffy starts to say right before she doubles over. It feels like she was thrown into a frozen river. Her muscles tense unable to move and her head swims and she can barely stand straight. She wills her stomach to obey the laws of physics making sure her dinner stays where it is. As soon as the feeling started it is gone.

Riley is at her side trying to help Buffy sit up. He asks Adam, "What the hell did you do?"

"I let her feel the power of my quickening."

Buffy takes a deep breath. "I have never, ever felt anything like that. Not Lothos, not the Master not even the Mayor had that kind of power." She looks over to Faith who is grinning. "And can you tell me why you aren't feeling like you need to throw up?"

"I've been hanging around them for a long time. I'm sorta immune now." Faith answers.

"That's nice to know."

"If it helps any the first time they did it to me I nearly passed out."

Tara had been to the side when Adam demonstrated the power of his quickening. Willow looks over to her and sees that she had paled and her head was down shaking. "Tara are you okay?"

"I'm fine Willow. I just need to shake some cobwebs loose is all." Tara says. "When Cassandra was talking about the quickening I wanted to see what their auras looked like. I was looking at Adam's right before he did what ever he did. At first it was like he had a blue sheen it was small but you could tell that there was something there. Then he did something and his aura flared. It was so intense I had to pull away or else I would have been blinded."

Cassandra moves quickly to the young woman and looks at her intently. "Look at me child." Cassandra looks into her eyes and sees something. Closing her eyes she reaches out and feels with her quickening. Letting go of Tara and moving over to Willow she does the same. "You are both Wiccan?"

They both nod and Cassandra says, "This is getting more and more interesting. Tomorrow I want you two to come to our house when we train. You both have tremendous potential and I think that I might be able to help you harness much of that.

Willow steps forward and says, "Thank you we would be honored."

Riley steps into the conversation at this point. "Not to break up anything here but I wanted to get back to something you said before."

"Go ahead." Adam says.

"You were talking about your 'first death' or whatever you called it."

"Right. Well before we become immortal we must suffer our first death. Our first deaths are usually violent ones. It is the extensive trauma of the first death that awakens our latent immortality. We are born mortal but our immortality sleeps while we age and live a normal life. By dying the immortality wakes up and we revive for the first time. From that point on we don't age and we can't get sick."

"Right, but you said that very few of your kind survive past one thousand. For me immortal means forever." Riley says.

Xander speaks up. "That's right. Immortal is a misnomer of sorts. We can die. We are able to survive most anything that would kill a normal person. Stab wounds, gun shots car accidents, anything."



"Ouch." Willow says.

"Exactly what I said." Faith adds.

"So why would you want to kill each other?" Buffy asks.

"For the same reason that we are able to heal so fast. The quickening. The older or strong you are the stronger your quickening becomes. We are part of something called 'the game.' The rules of the game are simple. Fights are always one on one. No fighting on holy ground, doesn't matter whose you can't fight on it and in the end there can only be one." Adam explains.

"One what?" Tara asks.

"Immortal. The last one standing has the collected knowledge of all those who had come before them. Enough power, or so the stories go, to rule the world." Cassandra says.

"But you three are standing here together." Giles points out.

Adam answers, "When one has the potential to live forever you tend to want to have friends that you can share your vast memories with. Some of our kind live lives as hermits others hide on holy ground their entire existence living as monks or nuns. Others live for the game, those who do usually have short life spans though. Then there are those like us. One who only play the game when forced to, choosing rather to make friends with others of our kind rather than fighting them."

"Amazing." Giles says.

"Now that's out of the way are there anymore questions?" Xander asks.

Willow and Buffy look at each other knowing that the questions they want to ask are ones best asked quietly and privately. Faith catches the look and sees that she will have to answer a lot of questions outside of this conversation.

"I have a question." Tara asks.

"What is it?" Xander says.

"What is the 'awakening?"

"Where did you hear that term from?" Xander asks.

"I was able to get it from one of your legal pads by rubbing the edge of a pencil across it." Tara says handing him the paper.

"Now that is just plain impressive. Did Giles have you apply for a job to get more information on me?" Xander asks.

"Actually no. I saw you two take out some vampires a week ago. When I saw your picture in the paper I knew something was up and I had to get more info on you. The easiest way was to apply for a job at your company. I just got lucky and you hired me on as your assistant."

"So you were the other girl in the alley?" Faith asks

Tara nods. "Yes."

"Well as far as we have been able to tell the awakening is a ritual that is used to siphon power off of an energy source. It has something to do with a prophecy we found that coincides with the murders here."

"The ones that had the blood eagle performed on them?" Giles asks.

"Yes." Adam says. "We have more information back at our house. There is a reason why we have decided to reveal ourselves to you tonight."

"You mean other than the fact that Xander died in front of us all and came back to life in the storage room of my shop?" Giles says.

"Yes that was unfortunate but we were going to reveal ourselves anyway. We have been researching this prophecy for weeks now with no real headway. We have tried to stop the prophecy by trying to save the next victim but we failed. We need more people to help us stop this and we would like your help." Adam says.

"Fair enough. I see no reason why we can't help each other. Anyone disagree?"

"No." Willow answers.

"I'm with Willow on this one." Tara says.

"I'll throw my hat in with them." Riley says.

Buffy walks up to Faith and Xander and says to them both. "Welcome back."

A police car pulls up to the ruins of Sunnydale High School. The officer steps out of his car and closes his door. Pulling out his flashlight he switches it on and begins to walk around the perimeter of the building examining the chain link fence for any openings. Finding one he steps through the fence and onto the campus.

A few people had reported hearing sounds and voices coming from the old school. The officer thought that it was probably some kids using the buildings as a hideout or a clubhouse. Looking around he could see why it would be understandable for kids to think that the place was good for such things it was still dangerous. The city didn't need to have children found dead in an abandoned building there was already enough going on in the city that had the department under pressure. So he was sent to check on the old High School nonetheless.

The hallways were empty and there were some open lockers. A glass case that at one time probably held trophies and banners was now shattered and empty. The walls still had posters advertising the senior activities for graduation. Walking down the hallway he remembers when he graduated from these very halls ten years ago.

The officer's boots clack on the hard floors of the hallways echoing throughout the building. Noticing that the campus hadn't really changed from when he had attended he decided to take a look around and see the class he had once frequented as a youth.

Passing through the music room he remembers where he sat as second trombone for the school's band. Walking out of the room he sees the class where he had trigonometry and the class where he had Spanish. Walking around the corner he sees the main lab. Walking into the room he sees that there still are specimens in jars on the walls. The funny thing was that he didn't remember formaldehyde being a dark red before.

Curious he walks up to one of the jars and shakes it a little while shining his flash light at it trying to make out what was floating the murky substance. What floats to the side of the jar surprises him. A pair of eyes stares at him from behind the glass. Looking at the other jars he sees another pair of eyes as well as two tongues. Looking closer he sees that the liquid in the jars is actually blood. Shining the flashlight around he sees that there is more blood in the room. On one of the tables there are scratch marks and bloodstains. Looking at the marks the officer is able to determine that a knife made the scratches. Looking elsewhere he sees containers for food as well as other signs that people had been living in the classroom recently.

He hears a sound off to his side and quickly shines his flashlight in that direction. He hears the sound again right in front of him. It is so close that it startles him into dropping his flashlight. Suddenly he feels a burning pain and a dull ache from his right hand. He tries to flex his fingers but they seem unresponsive. The officer feels light headed and dizzy as he drops to his knees. His head falls close to where his flashlight fell and he reaches out with his left hand to pick up the fallen light. When his hand reaches the light his mouth lets out a scream of horror. On the flashlight still gripping the cool metal handle is his right hand completely severed from his arm.

The officer tries to scream more but he can feel his energy slowly waning away. A pair of dark shoes comes into his vision. He is vaguely aware of his body turning over and seeing a man standing over him.

"I'm sorry you had to see that officer." The figure says from above. The light from the flashlight glints off of something as it descends towards the officer's head. From behind the counter a hat rolls away and comes to rest a short distance away. As the hat comes to rest the shield prominently displayed on the front is illuminated by what little light is in the room. The light is also able to illuminate the small river of blood flowing from behind the counter.

The morning finds Willow, Tara, Buffy, Riley and Giles pulling up to a large house located in one of the richer areas of Sunnydale.

Willow looks at the house the surrounding property in awe. "I guess being the founder and CEO of a multinational company has its perks huh?"

"Yes it would seem so." Giles says.

The group walks down the path leading to the large double doors of the house. While on the path Riley says, "Is just me or are the rest of you nervous too?"

A round of affirmatives is heard as they stop at the door Buffy like Riley are dressed for a workout. Buffy reaches up and pushes the button to ring the doorbell. They wait a few moments until the door opens and Cassandra greets them.

"Good morning!" She says cheerily. "I see you are ready for a work out."

"Yeah. I've been training with Giles and Riley but I think a change up would good for me." Buffy replies.

Cassandra smiles enigmatically. "Well we'll start off slow then. You and Faith will match up first while I help the girls with their powers. The boys will have to figure something to do in the mean time. Please come in and make yourself welcome."

The group walks in and sees that the inside of the home is just as impressive and the outside. The house is fashionably furnished and is the perfect blending of contemporary and classical tastes. Giles is seen looking at one cabinet housing a few trinkets with interest.

"Are these pieces originals?" He ask Cassandra.

"Oh yes. Go ahead and open it up you can see that Faberge signed them as well. But I think you would be most interested in the shelf below that one. Those scrolls are from the great library of Alexandria."

Giles nearly drops the delicate egg he is holding upon hearing Cassandra's last statement. "D-Did you say the library of Alexandria?"

"Oh yes, he has quite a few more if I recall. But those are his favorites. Alexander the Great wrote one of them himself."

"Oh my." Is all the Giles can say.

Willow looks at the way Giles reacts and has to stifle a giggle. For all his grown up stuffiness Giles becomes a kid in a candy shop when antiques, scrolls and books are involved. Turning to Cassandra she asks, "When do we start training?"

"Well I was waiting for Xander and Faith to get here but I suppose I can take you downstairs to the workout area. Follow me." She says as she makes her way to another part of the house.

"Where are they anyway?" Buffy asks.

"They are running a little late. It seems they slept in this morning. They should be on their way soon." Cassandra answers.

"They sleep together?" Willow asks.

"Well their cover was man and wife. But if you want to know anything more than that you'll have to ask them." Cassandra says.

They come up to a door that has a staircase heading down to a lower level of the house. When they reach the bottom of the stairs they see that basement of the house had been converted into a workout area. To the sides there were some weights and benches. Off to one side there is a practice dummy and on the walls are different kinds of weapons. Adam is already in the middle of the floor with arm length sticks in each hand. He is fighting an unknown number of imaginary opponents. His movements are quick and furious as the sticks blur with the motion.

Cassandra says to them, "Make yourself comfortable. Feel free to stretch and warm up when Faith and Xander get here we'll get started." Cassandra walks to the nearest wall and takes down two sticks similar to the ones Adam is using. She hefts them and testing their balance. Nodding with approval she walks to the spot where Adam is practicing. She waits just outside of his range looking for an opening. When she sees it she darts in blocking one of his strikes. Adam's eyes open and he grins and the two begin to spar in earnest.

They all watched in fascination as the two moved across the floor striking at each other. The movements were all so fast that it was hard to keep up were and when the next strike would come. The sounds of the sticks clacking against each other fill the room as well as a few loud thuds as a stick was able to get past someone's defense.

The battle is becoming faster now and only those with training are able to keep up with the fight. Adam reaches out with a quick jab trying to catch his opponent off guard. Cassandra is up to the task as she parries the blow and tries for a quick head strike. Seeing her intention blocks the incoming strike with his other hand but is not able to block the kick that sends him reeling backwards. Pouncing on her prey before he can recover she tries to strike Adam while he is down. Adam barely rolls out of the way as they hear the loud clack of the stick connecting with the floor.

Buffy looks over to Giles who is studying the fight and asks him, "What style is that Giles?"

Giles isn't paying attention and Buffy calls out, "Giles?"

"Hmmm." Giles looks at the blonde slayer and realizes that she was talking to him. "I'm sorry, come again?"

"I asked you what style they are using?" She says.

"Yes, well it looks to be Eskrima. A martial art originating from the Philippine islands. It relies on speed and practical techniques for using makeshift weapons to overcome the superior strength and weapons of an opponent. That is why perhaps Cassandra is able to fight on par with Adam despite his longer reach."

"And the sticks?"

"They are actually called eskrima olisis or fighting sticks. The wood has been fire-hardened allowing them to be incredibly strong and sturdy. Being hit by one of those is akin to being hit by a lead pipe." Giles answers as another thud is heard along with an accompanying grunt of pain.

Buffy turns back to watch the two continue their fight when she sees them stop and look towards their direction. They suddenly break off their contact and walk over to one of the benches where they see some towels are draped.

"Nice of you to finally join us." Adam says.

A voice from behind them answers, "Sorry Adam but we sorta slept in this morning. Dying takes a lot out of you."

Turning around they see that Xander and Faith had arrived and were both ready for a work out.

Adam looks at Faith and says, "What's your excuse?"

"He's my alarm clock." She says with a grin pointing at Xander.

Adam mumbles something about kids not respecting their elders and Faith says, "Hey you ask a stupid question…" She lets the comment trail off as both her and Xander meet the others at the foot of the stairs.

Xander sees that Adam and Cassandra are breathing hard and have the sheen of sweat on their bodies and says, "You couldn't wait to start could you?"

"Well if you were on time we wouldn't have to have occupied ourselves now would we." Adam shoots back.

"Sorry, so what's the plan Adam?" Xander asks.

"Well I think that the men are going out for a good jog while the women are going to stay here and train." Adam says.

"Yes I'll take Tara and Willow with me upstairs while Buffy and Faith can train here." Cassandra adds.

"Then afterwards we'll sit down and share the information we have. Is everybody ok with that?"

Everybody agrees to the arrangement and the groups prepare to go off and train. Willow who is following Cassandra and Tara up the stairs shoots a look over to Buffy that says 'you better tell me everything you find out or I will do very bad things to you.' Buffy nods that she will as she follows Faith to one side of the gym. The boys had left before Cassandra and the other witches so it was just the two of them downstairs.

They go over their warm up routines in silence each one not wanting to, or not willing to break the ice first. Finished with their warm ups they look at each other expectantly.

"So." Faith says.

"So." Replies Buffy.

"You want to spar?" Faith asks hopefully.

"Sure, I'm up for it." Buffy answers neutrally.

"Armed or hand-to hand?" She asks.

"Considering the way our last dance went I think hand to hand would be best." Buffy says.

Faith pales a little and somberly says, "Yeah, I think so too."

Buffy realizes that her joke was ill timed and apologizes to her. "Faith I'm sorry! I didn't mean it that way! I mean…" Faith cuts her off.

"Don't worry about Buffy, I understand. I deserved that." She pauses. "I'm five by five." She sees the grin on Buffy's face and asks her, "What's so funny?"

"It just that was the first time you said that since I've seen you." Buffy explains.

"Some old habits die hard I guess," She says. "I think that was the first time I said those words since the first time I hooked up with Xander." Faith assumes a ready position and Buffy does the same.

"Ready?" Buffy asks.

"Ready." Faith answers back. The foot that flies to her head is almost too fast for her to avoid. Almost. She leans back and slaps the foot causing Buffy to turn more than she expects. Faith tries to move in for a closer strike but Buffy is able to twist her body with the motion of her missed kick and keeps Faith at bay with a back handed punch.

The punch is blocked the both Faith and Buffy back away from each other quickly.

"You've been practicing." Faith says to Buffy.

"So have you." She answers back.

They smile at each other as they prepare for another round. Faith is the first to strike this time as she performs a front snap kick forcing Buffy to shift her weight in order to block the punch. She quickly follows up with a flurry of punches backing Buffy farther into the workout area. Buffy sees an opening and tries to start an offensive and returns with a punch of her own.

Faith sees the punch coming and envelops the punch and using Buffy's momentum pulls her hand down and around and flips Buffy by releasing her hand. Buffy not to be out done reaches out with her free hand and turns her fall into a forward handspring and immediately drops down to her knees to sweep Faith off of her feet.

Swinging her foot back around trying to catch Faith off guard Buffy is surprised to see Faith roll out of the way and push herself back up to her feet. Charging at her Buffy tries to catch her as she gets up. Her punch is about to connect when Faith does something she would never expect. She ducks and rolls away from the fight giving her enough time to get up and prepare herself for another attack.

Faith was truly enjoying herself fighting against Buffy. It had been awhile since she had fought anyone other than Adam, Cassandra and Xander. She found that she could hold her own against Xander but it wasn't the same as fighting against someone who was about equal in size, stature and reach. Xander outweighed her, had a longer reach and was much taller than her. It made for interesting sparing sessions but she wanted someone that matched her and Buffy was giving her the match she wanted. Faith sees Buffy begin to circle her and she does the same.

They circle each other as if there was a force that kept them away from each other. If one advances the other retreats. They shadow each other long enough for them to test each other's reactions. Faith satisfied with what she sees takes two quick steps towards her opponent and decides to attack using the techniques that Xander had taught her. By closing the distance between her and Buffy, Faith is able to negate the power of Buffy's legs and her kicks. Focusing on all that Xander, Adam and Cassandra had taught her hands begin to take on a life of their own. Block moves into parry, parry moves into strike.

Buffy recognizes that Faith is trying to setup a rhythm and that she needed to break out of it quickly or else one small mistake would give Faith an opening to capitalize on. Buffy furiously looks to find a way to break the rhythm that Faith has setup and can see only one way. She lets one of the body shots get past her defense and lets it connect. Faith smiles thinking that she has beaten Buffy but realizes too late that Buffy was leaning into the punch negating much of the strength behind it. She feels Buffy's hands on her shoulders and can feel the pull of gravity change as Buffy lifts her and tries to throw her to the ground.

Faith opening her fist grabs hold of Buffy's waist and brings her free hand up and around Buffy's forearm. Twisting her body she is able to transfer some of her downward momentum to Buffy's body as well and both of them come crashing to the ground. Changing their techniques to be more suitable for the close combat quarters and grappling they start to roll around on the floor.

Buffy is able to come out on top but Faith brings her knee up between the two of them and is able to launch Buffy up and over her head. Both slayers get up again breathing hard and now tired from their fight eyeing each other warily. They both knew that this would be the last exchange. Buffy is the first to attack and starts out with a series of kicks that forces Faith back dodging and ducking most of them. Seeing that she has only one chance she decides to use a move Xander had used to take her down once. Just as Buffy begins to perform a crossing kick aimed for her head Faith surges forward with her left elbow extended out and her right hand up. With her right hand she catches Buffy's ankle and yanks hard to her right changing the direction of Buffy's momentum. She changes the direction is such a way that her elbow connects with Buffy's stomach. Upon contact she can hear Buffy's lungs expel the air contained in them. With her momentum suddenly gone Buffy falls to the ground gasping for air. Leaving Faith in her striking position, weight forward and her elbow up.

Faith is breathing hard and falls to her knees as the adrenaline in her system begins to fade. The fight had taken a lot out of her. She had never pushed herself so hard when she fought the others but in this fight with Buffy she had to prove something to herself. She needed to know that she really did let Buffy win that night that it wasn't just a fluke and that she really wasn't in control of her actions. She needed to know that forgiveness was an option for her because if she had voluntarily done all those horrible things she wouldn't know how to live with herself.

Groaning Buffy props herself up. "Man!" she says after taking a few deep breaths. "I have never fought so hard in my life." Buffy says to her.

"Yeah I know, me too." She says. "I was lucky that I was able to get that last shot in."

"No you weren't Faith. You were better the better fighter." Buffy says seriously. "I had a lot of time to think about what happened at your place that night Faith. I was able to put a few things together in my head. Looking back you were always the better fighter. Not because you were more skilled but because you had nothing to loose, you would fight with your all, not caring about your well being, just the kill. When I beat you that night I thought you had slipped up but now I know better. I know Faith."

Faith's apartment the night before graduation.

Faith's mind is screaming at her to kill Buffy. Buffy is coming at her with her knife in hand. Faith dodges easily and continues the fight with Buffy. Kill! Kill! KILL!!! KILL!!!!! Her mind pounds over and over again. The Mayor wanted Buffy dead and she would be the instrument to do it. Faith fights with Buffy almost effortlessly. The steady screams in her mind pushing her to frenzy.

Across the town the Mayor eats one of the Gavrok bugs. He can feel the changes made to his body as the ritual begins to take its course. But something unexpected happens to him. The link he had worked so hard to establish with Faith is gone. He can no longer feel her anger in his mind. The weak cries of her conscience are no longer pleading against his will. The ritual had somehow severed her connection.

Back at her apartment Faith feels as if she had been released into daylight after a year being trapped underground. With such a dazzling clarity she can see where she is and what she had done. She is still fighting with Buffy but now her mind is her own and she sees that now is the only time where she can take responsibility for her actions before the Mayor can recover her hold on her.

Pushing Buffy to the edge of the terrace she says, "Man, I'm going to miss this." Seeing the look of confusion on Buffy's face she leaves an opening that she can only hope Buffy can see.

Not disappointing Faith, Buffy is able to break her now loosened grip on her and plunges her knife into her stomach. Faith puts on a face of shock and silently thanks her sister in arms for releasing her finally. She smiles at Buffy and says weakly, "You did it."

Faith shoves Buffy away. She can feel her healing powers already healing the wound. It is not enough to kill her. In the peripheral senses of her mind she can feel the Mayor trying to call to her to control her. His question to her is 'What happened?' to which she says out loud, "You killed me."

Faith moves to the edge of the terrace and looks down. Far enough she thinks the fall will definitely kill her. The Mayor's voice calls to her telling her that she still needs her to help him. He sends her a mental image of his transformed state and the power that it brings. She knows that it is just a distraction as she can feel the anger pounding against her walls rattling her trying to assume control again

She climbs on the lowest portion of the wall and says to the Mayor's voice in her head. "Still won't help your boy though." Looking straight at Buffy she says to her, "Shoulda been there B, quite a ride."

With those last words she falls backward, gravity takes hold of her as she accelerates to the ground. In mid air she can feel the anger finally break through her defenses attempting to take control of her again but she silently tells the Mayor 'too late.' Those are her last thoughts as she hits the back of a passing truck.

"I couldn't tell at the time, I was too focused on trying to save Angel, but looking back I was able to see the subtle changes in your actions Faith." Buffy says to her. "You let me stab you that night."

Faith sits there across from the blonde slayer, quiet tears rolling down her face. Nodding Faith says, "I needed you to stop me." Chuckling she tells her, "I had always dreamed about my death you know? Every time I would either see my death come at my own hands or me forcing another to kill me. I never really thought that it would really come to that."

"I know that you let me take you down Faith but the question is why? Why the jump?"

"I'm not completely sure how he did it but Mayor Wilkens was able to take control of me by manipulating my anger and believe me I had a lot of that. The longer I worked for him the easier it was to follow my compulsions. Pretty soon I was trapped in a jar inside my own head you know? I was able to look out but I couldn't do anything to stop it. I saw it all happen B. The poison, the dart shooting angel, everything and I couldn't do anything to stop it." Faith says as she wipes another tear that falls down her cheek.

"But something freed you?"

Faith nods slowly. "I'm not sure what it was but the Mayor's hold on me was gone, I was myself again, but I could feel him pounding and calling trying to coax me back. I had to do something B! I wasn't going to let myself be lost again! I was weak before but I was strong enough to stop myself that time."

"So you left yourself open for me to stab you."


"I can't imagine the courage it took to allow yourself to die. But why the jump?"

"Our damn Slayer healing was already stitching up what you had done. I could feel my mind's defenses weakening the Mayor's assault gaining strength. If I didn't do something fast you would be facing a very pissed off Slayer and I needed you to live B."

"Why?" Buffy asks curiously.

"To make right all I had done wrong." She answers quietly.

"But you could have done that yourself." Buffy says to her.

"Come one B. You know better than that. It would take trust for that to happen, that is something that you wouldn't have offered me freely. Not after what I did to you."

"But you found that with Xander?"

Faith smiles as she says, "Yes, with Xander I feel safe. He trusts me B. He really does, and he loves me for who I am and I love him for that."

"Willow and I were able to see that you two had gotten close." Buffy smiles. "I promised that I would tell Willow everything I found out so spill, what is up with you and Xander?"

"After I woke up from the coma I left Sunnydale because I thought there wasn't anyone here that would forgive me. Well I thought there would be one person but I found out he was dead." Faith explains.

"The Mayor?" Buffy asks.

Sighing Faith answers, "No. Xander." Seeing the questioning look on her face Faith continues. "Do you remember the night we stopped the Hellmouth from opening? The time with all the she-demons running around?"

Buffy shivers thinking about that night. "Yeah well Xander had saved me from a bunch of them that night. He took me to my room at the motel and you know how it is after a fight."

Buffy's eyes go wide with surprise, "Are you trying to say, that you and Xander?"


"Oh my God!"

"That was what I was thinking right after I kicked him out of my room."

"Whoa! Hold on there. You kicked him out? I thought you were…"

"Yeah well while we were doing it something changed. At first it was lust and the feeling of the fight you know. I needed relief."

"But you said something changed?"

"Yes somewhere in the middle of it I wanted him. I wanted to be with him and I wanted him to want me. Not just for sex but a part of his life. He had saved me he stuck up for me he reached out to me when no one else would B. I wanted him to love me."

"That must have been weird." Buffy says.

"Weird isn't the word I would use B. More like scary. At that point of my life I never wanted anything like that before. I had to get him away from me you know? So I kicked him out of my room. After he left I cried B, boy did I cry and I didn't even know why."

"Xander never said anything about it at all." Buffy says.

"And he never pushed the issue with me. I think he respected me too much to try anything else. I think I hurt him when I kicked him out." Faith says. "When I woke up in that hospital bed I knew thing must have changed. I needed to find some one to help me and the only person that I could think of was Xander. I was able to get out of my room at the hospital and I tried to make my way to Xander's. When I saw that his parent's house was empty I panicked and went looking for a phone book to see if Xander was listed. I was cutting through a graveyard when I saw Willow sitting by one grave. After she left I saw that it was Xander's grave and I knew then that I had to leave."

"But you found him again." Buffy says.

"Well he actually found me." She says with a smile. "He came to my rescue when a group of vampires surprised me. He came charging in like my own personal knight. I've been with him ever since."

"How are you guys now? I mean are you guys intimate?"

"We share everything B. Secrets, meals, even the same bed. But we haven't shared our bodies with each other since that first time."

"But you love him?" Buffy asks

"More than anything B."

"Good. He need a good strong woman to support him." Buffy says standing up.

"What are you saying that you approve?" Faith asks her also standing up.

"Well in the absence of a big sister I will have to step in and fulfill those duties for him. You already have Cassandra and Adam's support so I'm throwing in with them. Come on lets go see what the other girls are doing."

Faith follows Buffy up the stairs and smiles. It felt good to have someone to talk to about her love life. She finally had a circle of friends she could turn to.

Chapter 10

What invigorates life invigorates death,
And the dead advance as much as the living advance,
And the future is is no more certain than the present.
- W.W 1881

Adam and Giles were running side by side. They were few paces ahead of Riley and Xander. Adam and Giles were talking the entire time. Giles for the most part was making good time despite the quick pace they were keeping. For Giles jogging is something that he does to keep in shape. Training with Buffy was one thing but a good run is something that really pushes his limits. It also seems that, much to the chagrin of the two younger men of the group, that he and Adam have much better stamina. They were only on their fourth kilometer and the two boys were really starting to loose ground to Giles and Adam.

Thought slightly winded Giles was still able to have a conversation with Adam. "So Xander has been with you for almost two years?"

"Yes, give or take a couple of months." Adam answers

"That must have been interesting for you." Giles smiles. "I remember Xander being quite a handful."

"That he was. That he was." Adam says. "Early on though he had quite a self esteem problem. The boy had very little confidence in himself."

"Yes I remember that as well." Giles says. "But I thought by being part of our cause he would gain confidence on his own. He did have his moments of selflessness though."

"We were able to see that but I think that at that point of time he couldn't see it himself." Adam says.

"He looks to you for guidance, like a father." Giles states guiltily

"And I look at him like a son." Adam says simply

"I should have been able to do that for him." Giles says. "I'm sure he told you about his family?"

Adam nods. "For most of them, Buffy, Willow, Xander, I became the de facto father figure." Giles says pausing a moment to catch his breath. "But I fear that I focused on Buffy the most and then Willow." A hint of sadness can be heard in his voice. "It seems that I had repeated the sins of my own father with Xander."

"Don't take it to hard. He still looks at you with respect and I found that respect is something that Xander does not give out easily."

"Thank you." Giles says appreciating the compliment.

Behind them are Riley and Xander who are trying to keep up with the two older men. "For a couple of old guys they are really in good shape." Riley says to Xander.

"Yeah, I mean I wouldn't have pictured Giles as the running type you know?" Xander answers.

"I never really got to thank you properly for the save last night." Riley says after a moment's pause.

"Don't worry about it, you saved me right after so call it even." Xander says.

"You know Xander you are not anything like the person that Buffy says you were." Riley tells him.

"Oh really? What did she say about me?"

"Well for one thing she said you weren't the best of fighters, but I guess a lot can change in two years huh?" Riley says.

"Well I wasn't the best of fighters but I was a decent one." Xander says feigning hurt in his voice. "But staying two years with Adam and Cassandra you tend to pick up on a few things."

"A few?" Riley says with a chuckle, "I think that you picked up more than that."

"Okay you're right. But a lot of that also goes hand in hand with training with a Slayer on a daily basis. Not many can say that they do that can they?" Xander says to Riley.

"No I guess not. Then again not many can say that they are seeing a Slayer romantically."

"No they can't." Xander says. "So how long have you and Buffy been seeing each other?"

"About a year. You and Faith?"

"Well if you count from the first time I met her to now I would say about three years." Xander says.

"And if you don't count all the time in between?"

"Almost a month. But you know all that time in between I told you about?" Riley nods. "Well some things happened during that time that gave us a head start."

Xander and Riley continue running in companionable silence. They were brothers in arms and now they are part of a very small fraternity of people who had loved Slayers. They see the two men turn at the next corner and realize that they were close to the house once more. Xander looks at Riley who nods and they both take off at a sprinters pace.

Xander calls over his shoulder as they pass Adam and Giles, "Come on you slow pokes! You guys are getting slow in your old age."

The two older men see that Riley and Xander pull away and Giles says to Adam, "Now we can't have them winning now can we?"

"Of course not!" Adam says and they too take off running.

Buffy and Faith are upstairs in the kitchen getting some water to drink when they hear voices from upstairs. Faith tosses two bottles to Buffy and she picks up three. Making their way upstairs they can hear that the voices are coming from one of the guestrooms.

Carefully opening the door Buffy and Faith stop short and look in awe at what they see. All around the room things were floating or rotating or even orbiting each other. Buffy had known that Willow and Tara had been able to move things before but this was amazing.

Cassandra looks up at the newcomers and smiles. "Hello ladies, I trust that your training session went well?"

"Uh, yeah, just peachy." Buffy says. Faith just nods. "So when did you guys discover the Matrix?"

Willow looks over to Faith and Buffy. "Huh? Oh the floating things? Well Cassandra showed us some types of meditation to help us concentrate."

"Yeah it is so awesome we're able to do stuff now in minutes that usually would take us hours to do." Tara puts in.

"Nonsense girls. All I did was allow you to concentrate on what you were doing rather than what you were trying to accomplish. You both have excellent potential."

"Cassandra how do you know so much about this stuff?" Buffy asks her handing her a bottle of water. Faith hands Tara and Willow a bottle each.

"Well I was raised to be a healer first. Over the years I've been a priestess, worshiped as a goddess and have been a witch. So as far as my track record goes I've got quite a bit of experience." Cassandra says. Moving to the door she motions all the young women to follow her downstairs.

Once again in the kitchen the girls all sit around the kitchen table as Cassandra busies herself behind the counter. Cassandra, done with what she was doing, returns to the table with a large bowl of fruit. She sits down with the rest of the girls and motions to the bowl saying, "Help yourself."

They all reach into the bowl grabbing some fruit and Cassandra says, "Well if you haven't noticed the men and the women are training separately. Adam and Xander thought that it would be best for both groups to work together if we were able to mix our two groups in such a way so that we would have to work with each other."

"So we ended up halving both groups in order to get us to work with each other." Tara says.

"Exactly. So did the plan work?" Cassandra says looking at Faith and Buffy.

Buffy seeing that Cassandra is expecting an answer from her or Faith answers. "Yes, definitely. We were able to work out some things today and put to rest a few others."

"Yeah we have an understanding now don't we B?" Faith jokes. Turning to Willow and Tara she says, "I'll answer any questions you have Red." Faith could tell that Willow wanted to get some answers from her and that most of those answers have to do with her relationship with Xander.

"No questions asked?" Willow says.

"None, it was the option that Xander gave to me so it would only be fair to give them to you as well." Faith answers back.

"Do you want to do this privately?" Willow asks.

"No, I trust B and Cassandra and B trusts you and Tara. So fire away."

"Fine. What is going on between you and Xander." Willow asks.

Taking a deep breath Faith says, "Jeez, you don't pull any punches do you?" Pausing she answers. "I love him." Cassandra's hand goes to hers and Cassandra throws her a questioning look. Faith nods that what she says is true and Cassandra just smiles.

"Are you sure?" Cassandra asks her.

"Positive. I love him Cassandra. I would die for him. I would be at his side even though I may age while he stays young, even though I may die and he'll live forever. Young, old, good and bad I love him."

Willow watches the exchange carefully and asks, "And Xander?"

Faith looks at her in the eye and says, "And Xander loves me too."

"How long have you been together? I mean you disappeared a couple of months ago, have you been with him the whole time?" Willow asks. Although Xander had been dead to her for almost two years she still cared for him greatly and now that he was alive again she wanted him to be cared for.

"Together? About a month now." She answers quietly.

"A month? How could you possibly say that you two are in love only after a month of being together?" Willow asks. "Have you guys slept together?"

"I know because there is something there Red. He makes me happy and he accepts me for who I am. No one ever has accepted me as is they've always tried to make me into some one else or say you should be more like so and so. Not Xander, he accepts me, he loves for who I am." Faith stops suddenly and then adds softly, "He forgave me."

"For what?" Willow asks

"Everything, everything I did to him, his friends, his life- everything. He doesn't even know the whole story of why I did what I did and he never pushed me for it, never asked me for it, he just took my word that I had changed. He trusted me when I had no one to turn to Red."

"What about the other question? Have you slept together?" Buffy and Cassandra both start to protest the question when Faith motions to them to be quiet.

"I said no questions asked and I'm sticking to my word." She says to the two women flanking her. She looks Willow in the eye and says. "Yes we have slept together but only once."

"When?" She asks the Slayer.

"The night we closed the Hellmouth. He saved me and we went back to my motel room. One thing led to another and we slept together." Faith answers.

"Then what?" Willow asks eager to find out more from Faith.

"She kicked him out of her room." Buffy says with a smile.

"What!" Willow says. Tara and Cassandra are looking at Faith with disbelief.

"Excuse me! Thanks a lot Ms. Subtlety! Could I at least tell my own life story?" Faith says to the blonde Slayer.

"You kicked him out of your room?" Cassandra silent up until now asks Faith. "Why?" Faith and Xander had always been close ever since she had met the young woman. The fact that she would kick Xander out is an interesting fact in itself.

"It wasn't the sex that scared me, that part was great…" suddenly remembering her audience she quickly covers up and says, "but it was what had happened afterwards that scared me."

Tara is now also very interested in the exchange and asks, "And that would be?"

"There was a moment where I felt that I could love him or even want him to love me back. You know how I was Red I reacted the way I usually did. I pushed him away." Faith says.

Willow sits back and considers what she just heard. Looking at Faith intently she sees that Faith is expecting some sort of judgement. Leaning forward and grabbing a piece of apple from the bowl she asks Buffy, "So how was your training session?"

"Pretty good, Faith laid me out though." Buffy says reaching for another piece of fruit in the bowl.

Faith looks from Willow to Buffy who both just continue to eat their fruit. She then looks at Tara who just shrugs and reaches for a piece of fruit as well.

Buffy asks Tara and Willow, "So aside from the floating thing did you guys learn anything else?"

"Oh yeah Cassandra taught us some really great stuff." Tara says.

"I think that most of what I taught them will apply to you and Faith as well Buffy. It will help you focus your minds enough to get the full potential of your Slayer powers." Cassandra says.

"Wait a minute! That's it?" Faith says to Willow. "I answer your questions and I'm forgiven?" Faith couldn't believe that was all she had to do.

"I forgave you a while back Faith." She says to Faith. "All I really wanted was to get the scoop on Xander and you." She says with a smile. "I haven't seen him for two years and he comes back alive and with a girlfriend? I already know about one but the other I thought I would like to hear from you."

"But you…?" Faith couldn't believe her ears. She was about to say something else when Cassandra's hand on her arm brought her out it.

"I told you forgiveness comes from the least expected places." Cassandra says to her.

Faith nods and says to the girls, "So you want to hear some dirt on Xander huh?" Buffy and Willow nod their heads enthusiastically. "Well Xander had promised to take me out shopping the day after we met so…"

Outside of the house the four men arrive on the drive way at the same time. Winded from their long run and tired they stop momentarily outside before walking inside.

"Not bad for a couple of old Brits eh?" Giles says to the two younger men who are breathing harder than the older men.

"Yes Xander, I thought you said you were keeping up with your training?" Adam jokes.

"Well you guys," Xander pauses to breathe, "cheated!"

"Cheated! How could you say such a thing?" Giles says with false indignity.

"You threw empty garbage cans into our path!" Riley exclaims.

"Is it our fault you guys are so out of shape that you couldn't dodge a few plastic tubs?" Adam says.

"The youth of America." Giles states.

"Exactly." Adam says. Xander and Riley are about to protest more when Adam cuts them off and says, "Lets go inside I get something to drink."

Upon walking inside of the house they are greeted by the sound of laughter filtering from the kitchen. Adam and Giles look worried. Seeing their looks Xander says, "Isn't that a good thing?"

Riley agreeing with Xander says, "Yeah, I mean they haven't killed each other so that's a good thing, right?"

"Of course that's a good thing." Giles says. "But…"

Adam continues, "But we are walking into a group of women who are laughing about something. Now you tell me Xander, these women really haven't seen each other in a long time and they are going to tell each other stories, right?"

"So?" Xander says not quite comprehending the point that Giles and Adam are trying to make.

Giles and Adam smile. Giles answers. "Well lets look at it this way. The only thing they have in common is you. They are laughing about some stories they are telling each other. So I'm going to ask you this Xander. Have you done anything embarrassing since you've been with Faith?"

Xander pales slightly and quickly walks towards the kitchen. Adam and Giles chuckle at the youth's discomfort and the rest of them follow Xander to the kitchen.

Faith's voice is heard saying, "…and then he changed to the cutest shade of red ever."

Xander walks into the kitchen with five pairs of female eyes looking at him with humor. "Uh oh." Xander says under his breath. Xander stares at them for a moment before saying, "So how was your work out?"

"Oh fine Xander." Buffy says a smile playing across her face. "But I think later on today we might need your help with a few errands." She says gesturing to the girls sitting at the table.

"Really? What would those errands be?" Xander says cautiously.

Willow says. "Shopping!"

His eyes widened and Xander's skin blanches at the mention of shopping. Looking at Faith he says, "You didn't tell them…"

Before she can answer Tara says, "Yeah, I think there a couple of new stores downtown. Now what were they?"

Buffy says with her smile now even bigger than before. "I think a Victoria Secrets just opened up, you want to go Xander?"

Xander can feel the heat rising to his face as he remembers the time he had taken Faith to the Victoria Secrets at the mall by his home. She had been able to tease him relentlessly and even gotten the sales girls to play her game as well. Though it was a funny memory it was still embarrassing.

"That's the color! Look he's turning red!" Faith says laughing. Her statement elicits laughs from the rest of the table. Xander tries to formulate a rebuttal but the sheer amounts of blood rushing to his head seem to have disrupted his thought processes.

Before he can say anything Adam's voice stops him. "Better just give up Xander, you're out numbered five to one and they smell blood in the water."

Xander seeing that Adam was right tired his best not to look bothered by their remarks but his red coloring was still drawing the attention from women sitting at the table.

"You're no fun Adam." Buffy pouts as she sees Xander takes Adam's advice and walks away.

"Aww come on Xander we were just joking with you!" Faith says.

"Who me? I'm fine, just a little tired from our run, that's it." Xander says to her.

Faith makes her way over to him and says, "Well I'd like to make it up to you anyway." Reaching up she brings her arms around his neck and kisses him. The others at the room smile at the action. They continue to kiss until Adam clears his throat rather loudly.

"Ahem! If you two don't mind you are both blocking the way to my refrigerator and thus blocking the way to the cold water." Adam quickly adds, "Not to mention my beer chaser."

Grinning Xander and Faith move out of the way and Adam tosses bottles of water to Xander, Riley and Giles. With his head still in the refrigerator Adam says, "Damn! All out of water." Closing the refrigerator behind him with a bottle beer in hand he says, "I guess I'll have to make due with this."

Now that they were all together Giles asks, "Well Adam what do you have to show us?"

Adam takes a file he had left on the counter that morning and hands it to Giles. "This is all that we could find on the prophecy I had mentioned last night. In there is the actual prophecy and the translation I was able to put together. Also in the back is are copies of the police reports pertaining to the two murdered girls."

"I see." Giles says flipping the pages looking at the information. "What about this here?" He says pointing to a document.

"That is all the information that we could find on the 'awakening.' From what I can see the ritual is a way to siphon off energy from anything. But all we've found is that the ritual can be done at any time."

"So you've found no correlation between the murders and the ritual?" Giles asks.

"None. But both appear in the prophecy. So that is why we're asking you to help us, hopefully you will be able to look at it at a different angle." Xander says.

"The girls all had their eyes and tongues removed. As well as some of their blood." Adam explains.

"How can you be sure, about the blood I mean?" Buffy asks. Riley had made his way over to her and was now standing behind her.

"The amount of blood on the scene does not coincide with the injuries sustained. So either the blood was taken or someone cleaned up after themselves." Adam says.

"What about vampires?" Willow asks.

"Wouldn't count on it Red." Faith says to the witch. "Since when have vamps been known to clean and precise when it comes to blood? No bite marks on the victim, no signs of struggle, each one was killed with a single stab to the stomach. Not a vamps MO."

"Then what do we have to go on?" Buffy says.

"We know that the killings happen one week apart. At first we thought it was for the awakening ritual but now we know that they just coincide within the prophecy. The stopping of the murders will not preclude the awakening ritual, but it may stop something else, but we don't know what it will stop." Cassandra explains.

"So can we do?" Tara asks.

"Research." Giles answers. "According to this we have three more nights before the next murder."

"Anyone have any more to share?" Adam asks.

"Well an hour before the attack at the club we went to see Willie. He said a pair of people came into his bar an roughed up a couple of vampires."

"That would have been Adam and me but Adam did most of the roughing up." Cassandra tells the group.

"Well he also said that a lot of action was going to hit town soon all because some guy was able to get one of the local vampire-who-would-be-master to work for him."

"He had told us just as much as well." Cassandra says to Buffy.

"Then we should expect heightened levels of activity throughout the town until this prophecy comes to pass." Giles states.

"We'll patrol then." Buffy says gesturing to Riley and herself. "We'll widen the area of patrol to get more ground covered."

"We could patrol as well." Faith says indicating that she and Xander were available to patrol.

"Tara, Willow and I can research more into the prophecy to see if you may have missed anything." Giles says holding up the folder.

"Cassandra and I will help you as well." Adam says. "Do we all know our tasks?" Adam asks the assembled group. Seeing that they all understand he continues, "Good, we'll meet at Mr. Giles' shop at six o'clock then."

The group sounds the affirmatives as many get up to leave. Willow, Buffy and Tara all have class today and need to get back to the dorms to get ready. Cassandra gets up offering them a ride to the campus so that she can talk to the two witches and Buffy about training their metaphysical abilities. Riley also gets up to leave to get back to campus to prepare for his mid-morning class. Giles and Adam are now looking over the file trying to point out possible leads and mistakes in the information before them.

Faith and Xander look on as the group dissipates. Faith looks at Xander and sees that he is more at ease than she can ever remember. "You're happy that you're home aren't you?"

"I won't lie and say that I'm not." Xander says to her.

"But?" Faith knows that he is holding something back.

"But I can't help but think that by telling them what I am that I have pulled him into a world even more dangerous than before."

"You did that with me." Faith tells him.

"Yes, but you wanted to stay with me and I felt that I at least owed you the truth. That and the fact that you wouldn't have trusted me otherwise." He tells her with a small grin.

"We couldn't have that now could we?" Faith says leaning closer to him. They are about to kiss when they are interrupted by the sound of Giles clearing his throat.

"Ahem! Do you mind doing that elsewhere?" Giles says.

"Yes, you two are giving us tooth decay with all that sweetness." Adam says.

Xander looks at Faith and says to her, "Why don't we go back to the house?"

"Sorry but no can do. I'm meeting Cassandra downtown in about ten minutes. I already have a change of clothes here and you still have to get to work." Faith says as she turns away back to the training room to gather her things.

"That was probably for the best Xander." Adam's voice next to him grabs his attention. "I don't want you being to distracted today. You'll need you rest and your wits about you for the time being. We are three nights away from the next murder and four nights away from a potential Armageddon. Things aren't going to get any easier from this point on."

Turning to look at the area that Faith had once occupied he says, "I know. I know."

The Master is walking around his new lair looking at the current accommodations. "The good thing about old churches is that many of them have these underground chambers." He gestures to the room around them. The room was like a sub basement of some sort that the entire church had been built upon. "Some times they are used mostly for storage or they are used to hold special items the Vatican has given to the church for safe keeping." The Master continues to walk around the chambers. "Think of it as a throw back to early Christianity were the Christians were forced to practice their religion in secret."

Keith and Aaron look on not daring to question or interrupt the Master when he is talking. If he wishes to speak they will listen.

"Now when this church's congregation left for greener pastures and a bigger church they took the sacraments and the items that they thought made the church special, a crux so to speak of spiritual energy." The Master pauses looking at his two followers making sure that they were paying close attention. "But these men of cloth have long forgotten why this place was erected here on this spot."

Taking out his sword the Master begins to draw lines in the sand. "The world is full of fault lines, physical and metaphysical, the physical fault lines are where the continents move and slide against each other. The metaphysical are where the spiritual energies move and slide against each other. When these lines cross immense power can be found effecting the land, people, plants and animals around it. Stonehenge, the Nasca plains, the pyramids certain places in Tibet are all examples of this phenomenon."

"As is this church. The Hellmouth is not just the portal to hell. That is only the physical manifestation, the Hellmouth is the sum of all of its parts metaphysical and physical. However it is very rare when both aspects of the Hellmouth coincide."

Seeing that he was looking at them to ask why Keith asks, "Why it that Master?"

"When they both coexist in the same moment the energy that can be released is incredible. However in order to release the power many specific things must take place. Much like the hydrogen bomb that implodes on itself so violently that it causes the plutonium atoms to separate and release the potential energy hidden within the atomic bonds." The Master gestures with his hand to the room. "So it is with the Hellmouth. Many look to the Hellmouth as the opening to the demon world. I however am a classicist and the Hellmouth is actually the meeting of all of the metaphysical fault lines in this area. A crux of dark and light energies waiting to be released and I have waited for this precise moment in time to occur my friends."

"Three nights from now all the right conditions are finally going to come into place that we will witness the release of this great energy. Three nights from now we will become the most powerful men in the world!" The Master's maniacal laugh resounds in the small room. He continues to laugh as he turns to his silent audience a row of jars sitting on a table.

Walking over to the jars he reaches out and caresses one with his hands. "And you my little ones will be there to help me." They eyes and tongues with in the jars begin to bob up and down slowly as if to affirm the Master's last statements. Seeing this the Master grins. So close. So very close.

Swing, thump. Grunt, kick. Block, dodge. The night was still young but the sheer amount of resistance that Buffy and Riley were facing were much more than they have seen in two months. The Vampires tonight seem stronger, faster, driven. They were coming at them from all sides and it was enough to corner her and Riley in an alley leaving only one way out: through the vampires. The group they are facing is the third group of vampires that they faced that night.

Riley wasn't fairing as well as previous excursions into the fire zone. Every time he blocked a punch or kick or even tried to strike out an opponent he felt a pain in his side. Remembering the particularly hard hit he had taken earlier that night he realizes that he probably has bruised ribs. The thought is only in his mind a moment as he ducks under a right cross and strikes back with a stake to the heart of the vampire. With it turning to dust he turns to see if Buffy needs his assistance.

Buffy as always was in complete auto drive. She had only one goal and that was to stake the vampires attacking her. She had come up with a pretty good plan on how to stake vampires over the years. Using her legs because of their longer reach she initiates battle with a vampire. The vampire being new and now well versed in the ways of fighting opens itself up for a quick stake to the heart. It was a formula that had worked for her in the past and works for her now. However that was against small numbers of vampires. Not more than three at once. She finds that she can't focus too long on a single adversary unless she would be blind-sided and taken out. When it cam to larger groups Buffy is more defensive waiting for mistakes that she can capitalize on.

But that wasn't happening tonight. Vampires fight with emotions running thick. These vampires did not. They were all focused on fighting and killing. Emotions allow for mistakes, without those Buffy was quickly tiring because she had nothing to capitalize on. The Vampire she had been fighting suddenly arches her back as is she wanted to touch her head with her toes. Suddenly a stake emerges from her chest and the vampire explodes in a pile of dust. Replacing her is Riley who is quickly moving to her side to provide back up for her flank.

"So honey, how's your night going?"

"Horrible. Can you believe these guys? All I want is to go out on a nice quiet stroll with my man but noooo they have to go and try to kill us. Not once, not twice but three times!"

"I can see how that can put a damper on your mood." Riley says with a grin as he stakes another vampire. There are only two left and Buffy was just about to stake hers.

Turing to face the last vampire he winces in pain. Turning too fast his body protests and he can feel the pain lance up his spine. The wince is all the vampire needs to attack. Within moments he was on top of Riley throwing punches at his head which he was trying to protect as well as his injured ribs. The stake in his hand was now long gone, dropped when the vampire took him down. If he was going to die he was going to die fighting. Using his left hand he throws several jabs to the vampire's face pushing him back slightly but the vampire catches the fist and yanks on the arm. Riley can feel his shoulder protest against the force of the pull. Though not dislocated Riley still feels the pain and cries out. Just as he thought that the vampire would tear his arm off it changes into a pile of dust and Buffy quickly goes to his side.

"Riley are you okay?" She asks him.

"Never better." He tells her.

Buffy tries to take his right arm and lift him up but again Riley winces in pain. "What's wrong?" She asks him full of worry.

"I think I bruised my ribs and my should is feeling like crap." Riley says to her truthfully. "Aside from that and the multitude of bruises I'll have tomorrow I'm fine."

"We're going back to Giles' right now. We'll fix you up good as new." Buffy says as they limp to the well lit street. "We're not that far off but I think that we're done with patrol for tonight." She tells him.

"I'll second that motion." He tells her as she helps him to Giles' shop.

Xander's sword sings through the air as a head flies past him before changing into dust Bringing up his sword for the killing blow he checks on Faith out of the corner of his eye. She was handling her adversaries as well but she was still favoring the ankle she twisted slightly in a earlier fight. Xander brings his sword across his opponent's neck severing the head and thus changing the body, like the hand before it, into dust. Turing around to see if there were anymore vampires close enough to engage he finds that the only one left was the one Faith was pummeling. An uppercut and a side kick to the vampire's chest causing the lung cavity to collapse puts the vampire down hard enough that Faith can walk over to the vampire and finish the job.

"You okay?" He asks her.

"Yeah, I'm cool." She says but she is still limping from her injury.

"What about that?" He asks pointing to her ankle.

"It'll be fine in about an hour." She tells her. Xander just continues to look at her. "What?"

"I know that you can take care of yourself Faith but I still worry." He tells her. "I don't want to loose you."

Faith looks up at the man she has come to love with such a passion. She had never had anyone ever worry about her. She would fight as if it was her last battle. She never had anything to return home to but now she did. It scared her and warmed her at the same time. Walking over to him Faith's favors her ankle again and falls into Xander's arms.

"Good thin you're here to catch me huh?" Faith says looking up at Xander.

"I'll always be here to catch you." Xander says back to her softly.

Nodding Xander helps her up and scoops her off of her feet. "Well I don't want you to hurt yourself anymore than you have already." He carries her all the way to their car.

"Xander! I can walk! You don't have to carry me the entire way.

"I would be severely lacking in my duties as knight and protector of all that I survey!" He says with false bravado. "I shall carry my lady to yon carriage." He says nodding to the car.

Sighing and rolling her eyes she leans her head against Xander's shoulders. "Fine. But if you drop me you're going to have hell to pay and I'm going to take it out on your armored ass!" She says jokingly.

"I'm not so sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing." Xander says.

"It can definitely be a good thing Xander, just play your cards right." Faith tells him.

Xander opens the door to the car and sets her down in the passenger seat. Closing the door behind him he walks to the other side of the car and gets into the car as well. Looking over at Faith he sees that he head is resting back on the headrest and her eyes are closed.

"Hey are you there still?" They had pushed themselves pretty hard tonight. Four groups of vampires in three hours, in those three hours he had broken his collar bone twice, his nose four times and shattered his wrist once. He however had his immortal healing abilities to fall back upon. Faith on the other hand although she had her Slayer healing powers it didn't even compare to immortal ones.

"Yeah just a little tired is all." Faith says her eyes still closed.

"Don't worry about it. Just go to sleep, I'll wake you up when we get to Giles' shop okay?" He says to her gently.

"You'll have to take a rain check on that last one Xander." She says in a mumbled whisper.

"Don't worry about that. You just get some rest." He tells her. Rain check or no he wants the next time they have sex to mean something. He doesn't want to have sex he wants to make love to Faith and he wants her to make love back to him. He won't settle for anything else, not this time.

Those are the thoughts in his head as he pulls the car away from the curb. The car falls behind the horizon and out of sight. Out of the shadows a puff of smoke can be seen. Stepping in to the light Jonathan continues to stare in the direction of the car that had just driven away.

He had killed the young man. He shot him three times. Yet he is still alive and killing his vampires. His blood was red and warm and his heart beats in his chest. The man isn't a vampire or a demon. He is all too alive. A seraph perhaps, the young man personified the image of an avenging angel, unstoppable in battle, unyielding direction. Truly a man to be respected. Jonathan would have to talk to the Master about his adversaries.

Jonathan is really starting to rethink his loyalties. To find an enemy as unstoppable and ruthless as yourself is truly unnerving. Immortal, unyielding and if the young man was any indication of his kind the exact polar opposite of the vampire race. Yes he would have to talk to the Master again, he would have to ask him why he would want to turn his back on his own race.

"So according to this you are Death?" Giles asks the man sitting across the table from him.

Adam looks back at the Watcher and shrugs. Giles chooses his next words carefully, "Well, it's just that you are not quite one would expect as the basis of the third horseman whose presence heralds the coming of Hell's kingdom."

Cassandra snorts at the last comment. Adam glares at Cassandra a moment before turning to Giles and saying, "I'll have you know that I was the scourge of three continents for over a millennia!"

"What stopped you?" Giles asks him.

Adam looks at Cassandra quickly before answering Giles' question. "I met someone who helped me begin my path to redemption."

"I see." Giles says looking over the information in front him again.

Cassandra interrupts his thought process as she asks "You aren't the least bit bothered by what he was?"

"Quite frankly? No. I've done things that I am not proud of that I can do nothing about." Cassandra and Adam's eyebrows rise at the last comment. "That and I've forgiven individuals who have done much worse to me personally who have claimed to have reformed or changed. What you did in the past thousands of years ago has nothing to do with why you are here now."

Adam smiles at the Watcher's remarks. "I have met so very few mortals who are as wise as you Ruppert. Those that I have told of my past usually aren't as accepting as you."

Giles smiles at the man and says to him, "Not many men have been living on the Hellmouth for five years. Living in this," he gestures around him, "can age a man."

"Yes we were able to see that when we first found Alexander." Cassandra says. "He seemed so young but his soul seemed weathered with age."

"Out of all of those who were here I think that Xander, next to Buffy, had the most taken from him. He was forced to kill his best friend since childhood to protect himself. He has helped to save the world so many times but could not receive any recognition from his peers. I wish there was more I could have done for him."

"You did well to raise him Watcher." Cassandra tells him. "Alexander still looks upon you with a great amount of respect. I think that your recognition and recognition from his friends was all he really needed."

"Yes." Giles says quietly. Deciding to change the subject Giles asks the pair, "Have you found anything more on the awakening ritual?"

"I have found plenty on the ritual, even on the ritual that the prophecy points out specifically." Adam tells him.

"And what did you find?" Giles asks him

"That the ritual is bound by any time restraints and that it can be done at any time." Cassandra answers.

Frowning Giles says, "Are you sure? So far the prophecy has been correct. The portents up until now are all occurring and the murders have been so precise that they must have something to do with the ritual."

"I'm telling you what we found in the past hours supports what I had found over the last few weeks. Something is not matching up here and I'm not sure why." Adam says.

"Perhaps a mistranslation?" Giles says hopefully.

"At this point I'll try anything, but I seriously doubt mistranslation. I proof read the translation myself and compared it with the original. I'm fairly sure that it is correct." Adam says to Giles.

"I'll keep looking through the material we have here." Cassandra adds as the two men take out the copy of the prophecy and begin to proof read the document again.

"Yes perhaps there is something in the books that we have yet to find." Giles says. Standing up straight he walks to one of the selves and studies it a moment. Pulling out a few books he walks back to the table and places the books on top. "These books deal mainly with the subject of metaphysical energy transfer. If anything on this ritual exists then it would be in one of these volumes."

Looking at the stack Cassandra takes one and opens it. She is about to read the first pages when Buffy comes into the store helping a wounded Riley inside.

Giles is the first to help Riley and asks, "What happened?"

"Tough night for patrol Giles. We were up against a lot of competition tonight." Riley answers weakly.

"Riley don't try to talk." Buffy tells him. "I think he's hurt pretty bad. He might have some broken ribs and the swelling around his shoulder is not looking good." The worry on Buffy's face is apparent.

Adam takes Buffy's place as he and Giles help bring Riley to a chair where he can rest. After sitting him down Adam reaches into the bag he had brought with him and takes out a small maglite flashlight. Turning it on he shines the light into Riley's eyes to watch their reactions. See that he was not in shock he starts to examine Riley more closely.

"Now Riley I want you to tell me when something hurts okay?" Riley grunts and nods. Adam pokes at his ribs and when Riley grunts again in pain Adam stops looking at the area much closer. Poking and feeling for any breaks Adam says, "I don't think that his ribs are broken, just badly bruised. As for the swelling around his shoulder have him take some aspirin for the pain and for the swelling we'll to put an ice pack on him."

Buffy looks as Adam gives his prognosis and asks him. "Are you a Doctor too?"

"I was in a past life. When you live as long as me you tend to pick up a few things." Adam replies easily. "Riley you'll have to rest all day tomorrow, no training okay? I'll take a look at your shoulder tomorrow to see if you can go on patrol but for right now we'll need to tape up your ribs."

"I have bandages and medical tape in the back room, I'll go get them." Giles says.

At that moment Xander and Faith walk into the shop. Seeing that everyone present was attending to Riley he asks. "What happened?"

Riley is the one who answers, "A couple of vampires got lucky tonight and caught me off guard."

Faith asks Adam, "Is he going to be alright?"

"Yes, but he may be out of the game for a good day or two, depending on how his shoulder feels tomorrow night."

"Damn." Xander curses under his breath. They were already outnumbered but now they would possibly be short a man. Buffy's voice brings him out of his thoughts.

"Did any of you notice that he vampires tonight were a little more gun-ho than usual?"

"I did. They were actually thinking while we fought them." Faith answers. "It made them incredibly hard to deal with tonight."

"I noticed that too. They were using well-calculated attacks. I've never see that kind of coordination from a group of attacking vampires before." Xander says.

"Looks like whoever we are trying to stop has decided to up the ante a bit then?" Adam says.

"It would seem so." Cassandra says.

"We can't let that stop us now. We need answers and we are now two nights away from the next murder." Giles says. "Buffy take Riley home and see to it that he gets rest. We should call it a night, I'll continue to research here if the rest of you want to join me, but those who went on patrol tonight are all to go home and get some rest."

Xander and Faith are about to protest when Cassandra tells them, "Go home. We will be fine here. You two need your rest too."

Faith answers, "Fine, I was tired anyway. Xander take me home." Turning to Buffy she asks, "You guys need a ride?"

"No we're cool. I've got Riley's car parked out back and I'll drive us back to campus." Buffy says.

Buffy, Riley, Xander and Faith all leave the store. The three remaining individuals in the room turn back to their books and manuscripts their efforts now redoubled. Cassandra looking at the stack of books in front of her once again picks out a small tome to read forgetting about the one that she had set down earlier. The page that the book was turned to was that of a globe with several lines drawn on it. Surrounding the globe is pictures of the planets in a pattern around the globe. Cassandra finished reading the small tome places it on top of the open book. She takes the next book in the stack and begins to read.

From behind the book placed on top of it a single word can be seen on the page below: Hellmouth.

The Master's new lair made Jonathan uneasy. The old building is torn and charred from the fire that had consumed it some time in the past. The chamber underneath is cold and dark. The tunnels that lead to the underground room started first in what was the basement of the old church and led him down in the darkness for a while before coming to the chamber. There was one way in or out of the chamber. Jonathan hated closed spaces and this chamber was as closed as it could get.

The chamber itself was large and spacious and had an altar at one end. From the mental picture of the church above he believes that the altar is directly below the one above ground.

The Master is standing behind the altar arranging his jars in a neat row. Looking up he sees Jonathan walking towards him. "Jonathan! I trust all is going well?" He says almost cordially.

"Very well. But I have found an interesting conundrum." Jonathan tells the Master lazily.

"Well out with it vampire what is it that your feeble mind cannot comprehend?" The cordial face of the Master is now cold and hard.

"My people had several run-ins with the protectors of the city and it seems that my people are fighting a dead man."

The Master laughs, "Funny statement coming from a reanimated corpse."

Jonathan grinds his teeth at the last comment. "Well I had put three bullets into him myself. He should be dead but tonight he is alive and well using his sword to kill my people."

"A sword you say?" The Master says curiously.

"Yes, I also had the opportunity to study him tonight and I found something very interesting."

"I'm in no mood for guessing games, what did you find so interesting?"

"What I found interesting was what exactly did you do to turn your back on your own kind? The boy feels like you, not as strong but the same nonetheless. It would seem to me that your kind has sent some one here to deal with you." Jonathan says to him.

What happens next isn't what Jonathan expects. He was hoping at least for recognition but what he gets instead is a loud laugh. "My kind are a unusual beast We, unlike your kind, have a free will to choose who and what we wish to be. I have chosen this path and I chose it a long time ago. If there is another of my kind here then it is entirely coincidental."

"He knows how to kill vampires and how to fight them despite my kind's considerable strength." Jonathan continues.

"Then that is your problem isn't it vampire? My kind has been around as long as man has walked the Earth. You shouldn't be surprised that some of my know how to defeat your kind."

"Then I would ask that you compensate me for my losses in the face of this resistance."

"I will consider it. Leave now vampire." The Master says to him.

Jonathan leaves the lair. He had gotten all that he could extract from the Master without angering him. Angering the Master was something that he could not afford to do. The man is insane and would kill him and his brood without hesitation. For a master vampire Jonathan is relatively young but relying on his mind and common sense allowed him many victories and the respect of the vampires he commands. The Master is a wild card that Jonathan does not trust. The Master had caused the loss of many of his soldiers and many casualties within his ranks. Jonathan will only support the Master's madness for so long. Once it became too much he would cut his losses and leave the Master to his own fate.

Back inside the lair the Master beckons his two minions. "Keith, Aaron come here. It seems that another immortal is in town and he is fighting with those who are trying to stop us. Take care when you go out to harvest. Jonathan tells me he is strong and fast enough to fight vampires. So watch yourselves. We cannot let this one person stop our plans. When you go out take care to watch your backs."

"Yes Master." They both say to him.

Although this new information is surprising to him the Master will not let it effect his plans. He has waited so long for this moment that he would be damned if he let a single immortal stop him.

The next day Xander, Faith, Buffy, Adam and Cassandra are all training. Adam and Cassandra were pretty much cleaning the floor with the rest of them but once in a while the two Slayers would be able to get their shots in. Xander on the other hand was having better success when facing the elder immortals. He had almost thrown Adam much to his own surprise. His surprise was short lived though as Adam quickly countered the throw and Xander found himself getting to know the mat once again.

Riley was not present this morning because of his injuries but the others decided that after the fights last night some training would help them that night. Xander is now facing against Adam once again. Xander hates sparring against Adam. Not so much the fact that he looses every time they spar but the fact that Adam seems to toy with him.

Adam didn't live to be five thousand years old just because he is smarter than everybody, that played a big part of it but it is not the only reason he lived for so long. The other reason is that Adam was just that good. Every time he spars with Adam Xander sees a new move or a hint of the person underneath Adam Pierson: Methos. If Adam is good Methos is lethal. Where Adam would hesitate a second to allow for surrender Methos would kill outright. If Adam thought that Xander needed to learn a lesson of some sort while sparring the lesson would come from Methos. Adam cultivates his mind while Methos trains his body. The duality of Adam's personality is unnerving at times but Xander learned early on to cope with it.

Adam and Xander walk up to each other and bow. Turning to the others in the room Adam says, "Can everybody please move back against the walls?" Turning back to face Xander Adam says, "I have a theory I would like to test out with young Xander here."

Everyone nods and moves to the sides of the room. Cassandra throws a curious look to Adam to which Adam just nods his assurance, Cassandra looks unsure at first but nods her head as well.

"Xander I want you to know that I'm not going to hold back this time and I want you to do the same. Understood?"

"Yeah I guess so." Xander answers unsure if Adam was just joking with him or not.

"You shouldn't guess Xander. You should know." The hand that strikes Xander in the chest throwing him back a few feet is so fast that the movement barely registers in his mind before he feels the impact. Adam doesn't let up as a flurry of punches hits him all over his body. Xander still shocked at the ferocity of the blows can barely bring his arms up to block the punches hailing down on his body. Even when he brings his arms up to block the blows he is met by great pain as the punch he did not see connects with another part of his body. As soon as the flurry started it stops.

"That should be enough for a warm up right Xander?" Adam says coolly. "Now you attack."

Nodding Xander walks up to his mentor and assumes a ready stance. Xander now knowing that Adam was serious about not holding back goes on an all out offensive. Xander's foot snaps out to Adam's knee. Knowing that he would easily avoid such a tactic Xander only seconds after letting the kick go lets out a punch with his right hand. Adam now off balance from dodging the kick falls easy prey to the punch that connects to his jaw. Adam staggers back and stutter-steps and wrenches his body upright.

Buffy, Faith and Cassandra watches on as the two men are fighting. Most men Adam's size would have tripped due to the force and momentum of the strike but Adam is able to keep his balance and continue with the fight. Xander pressing his marginal advantage continues brings the fight to Adam. For the two combatants the speed of the fight has slowed to a speed where every punch and every kick can be seen easily. To the audience the speed of the fight increases to a pace that leaves even the slayers in awe. The punches become blurs as the two fighters limbs become streaks of movement.

Xander throws a roundhouse punch at Adam's head. Adam easily parries the punch pushing the blow off to the side. Xander pivoting on his front foot turns his body with the direction of the deflected blow and catches Adam with a spinning backhand. His moment of glory is short live however as Adam quickly recovers dropping to the ground performing a sweep catching Xander's right ankle before he can get his left foot down to distribute his weight evenly. The result is Xander falling to the ground.

Adam rising from his sweep brings his leg and around performing an axe kick designed to catch Xander square in the chest. As Xander falls he sees Adam's leg coming down upon him. Just before the impact of the kick reached out and catches the leg like he would a football absorbing most of the impact before hitting his body. The force of the kick however is still strong enough to break a few of his ribs upon contact.

The sound of Xander's ribs breaking reverberates in the room as the three women continue to watch the two men fight. Cassandra's hand on Faith's shoulder is the only thing that stops the young woman from going to Xander's side. Cassandra shakes her head no and watches as the young woman's emotions play across her face: worry, anger, understanding then worry again as she turns back to watch the two fighters.

Xander having caught Adam's leg twists his body violently causing Adam to flip over Xander's body as they both fall to the ground. Adam grunts as the sound of his knee popping under the pressure and the force of the throw. Adam rolls with the fall and gets up slowly his weight on his back leg. Xander too is slow to get up. Both men are now breathing hard with sweat flowing off their bodies freely. A loud pop is heard as Adam's knee heals itself. Xander grunts and stands tall as he feels his own ribs heal as well.

Xander looks at Adam and sees that his normally green eyes have turned a cold gray. Gone is the smile and good-natured mannerisms of Adam, the being standing before him is Methos, is Death. If the fight was difficult before it was now going to get a whole lot harder. Then Xander does something that surprises even him. He grins. Methos sees this and grins back.

Methos charges Xander at an incredible speed, faster than Xander could think possible, and hits Xander. The force of the blow pushes Xander back far enough that he rebounds off of the wall and right back into Methos' incoming foot. The sidekick Methos performs on Xander should have been enough to tear him in half, it should have been so fast that he could have seen it coming at him. But to Xander the kick comes at him at a speed that is almost unreal. The speeds at which his hands react are just as unreal as well as he parries the blow off to the side and is able to back away and put some distance between him and Methos.

Both Faith and Buffy stand agape watching the fight unfold in front of them. Cassandra looks on without any emotion playing across her features. Her mouth is in a grim line as she follows the movements across the floor.

Methos pulls his foot out of the wall quickly and turns to see Xander running towards him. Not one to back down from a fight once challenged Adam also charged at Xander. Like two trains crashing into each other at full speed the three women witnessing the fight can feel the force of the collision. However the force of the collision isn't felt on the physical plane but on the metaphysical one. They can feel the energies of the two men colliding with each other and violently being thrown away from their bodies. The sheer force of the meeting is enough to make the two slayers flinch. Cassandra continues to watch the two fighters but now she is using her second sight to see them fighting. The force of their quickenings surrounds their bodies like great storms and Xander's is continuing to grow just as Methos' as they each let the power course through them. Xander's grows sporadically while Methos' waxes and wanes to match Xander's. Xander is doing what is coming naturally to him while Methos' is using his considerable control to coax more of Xander's potential out to the open.

Adam had told Cassandra earlier that he thought that Xander was getting stronger. She had dismissed the statement but now she sees that Adam was in fact correct. The plan was to slowly bring out Xander's potential while training today to see what his limits really were. Looking at the two fight it seems Xander's limits are amazing. She postulates that the reason for Xander's sudden increase in power is his return home. The Hellmouth had added to his latent immortality and now it seems that it is adding to his quickening every moment he spent here. Many things learned to adapt to their surroundings and Xander is no exception. Xander's quickening adapted early on to allow him to have a normal life before dying the first time now it seems that now he was close to the source of power that had helped him survive for so long his quickening automatically started to bolster his reserves once again. Though the Hellmouth is now complimenting Xander's own power it still couldn't compare to the amount of power Methos had within himself. She could tell that Methos is still holding back.

Methos and Xander are now grappling with each other like Olympic wrestlers. Xander brings his knee up to hit Methos in his stomach but Methos blocks the knee with his own foot and brings his knee up into Xander's shoulder. All can hear the wet sounding pop as Xander's shoulder is dislocated. Crying out in pain Xander is forced to release Methos and tries to back away from him to let his arm heal Methos has other plans however.

"Come on Xander I know you have more than this!" He yells at him as he begins another relentless attack.

Xander cries out in pain as he feels his body protest against the beating that he is receiving. His arms ache and every muscle where he has been hit throbs. He feels his strength being tapped out by Methos' attack.

"Have you remembered nothing we have taught you Xander?" Methos yells over his barrage. Xander's face is a mixture of confusion and pain. "You're muscles aren't the only source of power you have!"

Xander's mind drifts to an early point of his training with the two ancient immortals.

Xander is lying on the floor huffing. He can barely move his muscles and his body screams in protests against any movement that he even attempts to make.

"Xander why are you on the floor like that?" Adam asks.

"I can't keep going. I'm not strong enough. My body is too tired." Xander gasps between breaths.

"The Vikings had a belief that Odin would induce a berserker rage to aide the greatest warriors in battle." Adam tells him.

"Rage is a source of power as well but most important is will. You have to will yourself to continue. Look deep into yourself and find that source of power. Use it to help you continue on."

Xander closes his eyes and focuses on his inner self. Not sure what he was looking for he opens is eyes and finds that he is refreshed and ready to go again.

"You see? There is more to power than just muscles." Adam says with a smile.

Xander is brought back to the present as another kick catches him in his side sending him flying across the floor. Closing his eyes again he focuses on his inner self. This time however he finds his source of power. His quickening, in his mind's eye, is a blue sphere glowing and brimming with power. Lightening crackling over its surface. He reaches out to touch it and a bright white light flares and engulfs him. Opening his eyes he sees that Methos is almost on top of him once more but this time Xander is able to take an offensive of his own.

Seeing the renewed strength in his student's body as well as his eyes Methos says, "Good. I thought that you had all but given up on me."

"Not quite." Xander says through clenched teeth. He could feel Methos' presence more than ever now. It matched his and he knew that is was still greater than what he could feel. In his mind's eye Xander embraces the blue sphere making it a part of him self.

Cassandra gasps in disbelief as Xander's power flared even stronger again. Faith turns to her and says, "What's going on? What do you see?"

"Power. Pure power." Cassandra says as she witnesses Methos matching Xander's power once more. They are fighting fluidly now movement no longer confines them as they move through space with such seamless fury that they could very well be fighting in a room lined with swords and knives and they still wouldn't even get a scratch. They are fighting on a level beyond anything she had ever witnessed before in her life it was amazing. Their blows were now so powerful they were registering physically, the shockwaves they generate when their blows connect could be felt in the room.

Xander was movement itself. But even in this state he could not move as fast as he wants, he still feels confined by the limitations of his body, which he has far exceeded already. Punch for punch, kick for kick they trade off never stopping, never pausing. Sweat pours off of them as they move around the floor coupled in the deadly waltz kept in time only by the pounding of their blood in their ears.

But like a candle that is about to burn out Xander's power flares once more in a flurry of punches taking one last offensive. Methos counters back but is too late to stop himself when he realizes that Xander had just tapped his own power out. His backhand connects with Xander's head twisting it around the foot he had thrown a split second later connects with Xander's back. Without his focus and power Xander's body looks almost like a rag doll being tossed around. His neck turns and a loud cracking sound can be heard. Before even gravity can take hold of his limp body the kick to Xander's back connects and his body almost folds in half as it flies away from Methos.

Xander's eyes are open and glossy before he even hits the ground. Adam is running to his side already straightening out his body so that his immortal healing can properly align his bones.

Buffy screams at Adam, "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!!!"

Faith doesn't even attempt to scream as she just tackles Adam to the ground and proceeds to pummel him. By the time Cassandra pulls her off of him he too is also dead.

Faith runs to Xander's side where Buffy quickly moves over to let the other Slayer get closer to her loved one. "Oh Jesus! He broke him in two!" Faith cries out.

"Faith it's okay." Cassandra tries to calm the slayer down.

"OKAY!!! Xander trusted him! He is like a father to him and then he beats him to death? No it is NOT OKAY!"

"I knew this was going to happen Faith. What I didn't know was that Xander wouldn't be able to sustain the amount of power he was putting out." Cassandra explains.

Faith stands slowly along with Buffy right behind her. "You better have a good explanation Cassandra." Faith says coolly her eyes staring daggers at her.

Just to her side Buffy is also mirroring the look on Faith's face as she says, "You better do it quickly too because two pissed off slayers are two things you definitely don't want to see."

Taking a deep breath Cassandra looks at the two and decides that she doesn't want to be pummeled to death either and says. "Fine but you just beat the one who has the answers to your questions to death." She says pointing to Adam's prone figure. "If you really want to know why we did this I'd say wait for him to come back and you'll get your story."

Faith looks at Cassandra then to Adam's body. "Fine. We'll wait. This better be good or a swear to God…"

"I understand. Just wait and all your questions will be answered." Cassandra says.

With that Buffy and Faith tend to Xander's body while Cassandra tends to Adam's. It they had to wait for their answers they would wait. As long as it takes, they will get their answers.

Adam's body jerks up as he breathes in deeply. Adam is about to ask what had happened to him when he hears a growl come from his left. Turning his head he can see Buffy holding Faith back who is trying to make her way over to him. Faith finally shakes herself loose from Buffy's grasp and comes face to face with Adam.

Looking down at him she says, "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you right now."

"How about I'd just get back up?" Adam says sarcastically.

"Don't try to make this any less than it is Adam, plus I'd probably just kill you over and over again until I felt better." Faith says coolly.

"Then I would take over and do the same thing." Buffy adds now standing at Faith's side.

"If you both did that then you would never find out why a simple sparring session finished with Xander dying." Adam says. Cassandra helps him up and assists him over to a bench where a bottle of water waits. Taking the bottle he chugs the water down in a few gulps.

Looking at the two Slayers Adam begins. "The quickening is a source of great power. Our kind fight each other to the death in order to gain other's quickenings. However for many the power of the quickening is latent and does not manifest itself until we take the head of another immortal. However there are a few immortals that have learned to use the power within."

Checking to make sure that he didn't loose anyone Adam continues, "Xander has a tremendous amount of power for his age. Power which has been manifesting itself little by little ever since we arrived here in Sunnydale."

"The time of the gathering is at hand and the first ones to die will be the young immortals, like Alexander." Cassandra tells the girls. Faith's expression changes from anger to worry as she remembers what Xander had told her about the gathering. One left.

"But Xander is different than all of the other young immortals in the game right now." Adam explains. "He has the power to match an immortal fifty times his senior. If he could learn to tap into that reserve Xander could very well survive to be the one!"

"But what about you or Cassandra? You are both stronger than Xander, don't you want to be the one?" Buffy asks.

"No. Two thousand years ago I had resolved myself that I would not win the game. No matter what I did not want to be the last." Adam answers.

"We have lived for so long and to go on as the last immortal is just to much to ask." Cassandra says.

"But it's not too much to ask of Xander?" Faith says glaring at them.

"No." Adam answers simply. "We both have lived through some very dark times." He says gesturing at Cassandra. "Should one of us or the other ancients win the game we would be tempted to return the world back to those dark times."

"Xander has great potential and in order for him to survive he needs to realize at least some part of that potential." Adam tells the two Slayers.

"To do that you had to beat him to death?" Faith says harshly.

"What you saw there is just a small piece of what he could do. The problem is though so far the only time he has been able to manifest his power is when he is under pressure or duress and only then. Something happens unconsciously to him during that he allows himself access to his power."

"But this is the most that we've been able to draw out of him though." Cassandra continues. "His body hasn't been trained to handle that kind of overload."

Adam gestures to Xander. "You two should take him upstairs to the couch or a bed where he'll be comfortable, his bones should have knitted together by now so it should be safe to move him. We'll stay down here and clean up."

Faith glares at Adam still. Sighing Adam says, "I'm sorry I killed him, it shouldn't have gotten that far but it did. I'm sorry."

Faith is still angry, he can tell, but she accepts his apology and she and Buffy pick up Xander's body and take him upstairs.

Cassandra moves closer to Adam and asks, "Why did you tell them all that?"

Adam looks at the door and the stairs leading up to them and says. "Because the truth is something I think they wouldn't take very well."

Chapter 11

All parts away for the progress of souls,
All religion, all solid things, arts, goverenments-all that was or is
apparent upon this globe, falls into niches and
corners before the procession of souls along the grand roads of
the universe.
- W.W 1856

Xander wakes up in a dimly lit room. He knows he is lying down as he stares up at the rough ceiling. Looking down on himself he sees he is wearing the dark brown robes a monk would wear.

"Franciscan monks to be exact." A gentle voice to his right says.

Xander gets up looking around the room. A monk's quarters he thinks to himself. As soon as the thought came to him Xander thinks how in the world would he know what monk's quarters looked like?

"You wouldn't. But lucky for you I do." Xander turns to face the source of the voice. A man dressed like him with the brown robes. How did I get here? Xander thinks seeing that there are no doors or windows to the room.

"Now that question can be taken so many ways. How did you get here as in the planet? Well I would say you were born. Are you talking in a philosophical sense? Then I would ask you are any of us really here?"

Xander glares at the man in front of him. He is just as infuriating as Methos Xander thinks.

"I would say that Methos could be a bit more infuriating than me, but then again  I hope he can. It would be terrible to know that I am as infuriating as Methos."

"Would you stop that!" Xander talks for the first time. Apparently he didn't need to talk but having a not so internal monologue was really starting to creep him out.

"The whole reading minds part? Or the talking all together." He closes his mouth and Xander can still hear his voice in his head. "Or if you prefer we can talk like this." His mouth remains closed.

"The mind reading part." Xander answers. "So I'll ask again. Where are we? What is this place exactly?"

"This is a mental construct that you created." The man says to him.

"How? I've never seen any of this before." Xander says curiously.

"Well you may have created it but when I arrived here there was nothing. Guessing that you wouldn't protest I filled in the blanks." Motioning to the room he says, "This is the result. Not much but quite homey if I remember correctly."

"You arrived here and you made all of this?" The man nods, "And who exactly are you?" Xander asks him

"I am Darius."

"Darius?" Xander asks. "Okay Darius why did you bring me here?"

"Don't you remember what I told you? This is your mind." Darius says to him.

"But you made it look like this." Xander says to him.

"Well I didn't want you waking up floating in the middle of nowhere." Darius answers.

"I guess that is a good thing at least." Xander says. "Well what do I now that I'm here?"

"What do you want to do?" Darius asks him.

"I want you to stop answering my questions with more questions for one thing." Xander pauses to see if his companion is going to say anything. "Second I would like to know why you are here if this is a construct of my mind."

"I am Darius." Darius says simply.

"We have established that but why are you here? I've never seen or met you before this…this…moment."

"But what you don't understand is that this moment doesn't exist."

"I don't understand. If this moment doesn't exist then why am I here?"

"Methos thought that I should meet you and so here I am. But don't worry about that now. When you wake up this place and this conversation will only exist in that place between sleep and consciousness, where dreams begin to fade away into nothingness." Darius says.

"So Methos told you, a guy who is able to change my mental construct, to meet me in this place that doesn't exist?"

"Yes." Darius says to Xander as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

"Why? What purpose could that possibly serve?" Xander's voice echoes in the construct.

Darius smiles a mysterious smile and says, "Methos has been sending me candidates for years. But I must say that you show the most potential out of all of them." Darius looks Xander up and down. "You could very well be the one."

"The one what? What am I a candidate for?" Xander asks confused by the cryptic answers he is receiving from the monk.

"Your destiny of course." The walls around them begin to shimmer as they start to fade and turn to black. Darius walks over to a large candle that he never realized was there. "Our time here grows short Xander. It was nice meeting you."

As the room fades closer and closer to darkness Xander says, "Will I see you again?"

"Perhaps, but not anytime soon." Darius' voice begins to fade as well. The only thing that remains is the steady glow of the candle, the rest is darkness.

"Why?" Xander yells into the darkness.

From the darkness a whisper reaches him and it tells him, "Because I'm already dead."

Xander's eyes open to the sight of a dimly lit room. He is lying in a bed and can sense someone near by. Methos' voice greets him. "Good you're finally awake."

Sitting up gingerly he sees that Adam had setup a chessboard at his bedside and is studying it intently. He turns to Xander and asks him, "How do you feel?"

"Like a truck hit me." It was the truth. He hadn't felt this much pain since he had woken up from his first death. Looking out of the window and realizing that it was dark outside he asks, "What time is it?"

"Close to midnight."

"Midnight!" Xander sits up quickly but groans as his body rebels at the sudden movement. "I should be out patrolling!"

"What you should be doing is sitting back and letting your body heal itself." Adam says turning back to the board. "Spinal and neck injuries are the ones that take the longest to heal."

"Spinal and neck? What are you talking about? The last thing that I remember sparring with you and then something happened and I blacked out."

"So you don't remember anything about the fight?" Adam asks him. Xander shakes his head no. "I thought as much. I broke you neck and severed you spinal cord in two places. You died instantly."

"I remember you telling me that you weren't going to hold back…"Xander says concentrating trying to coax the memory from his mind, "But every thing after that is just a blur. I…I think…no. That's all that's there. What happened?"

"I had tried to release some of your potential but it sort of backfired. Your body couldn't sustain the amount of power you were using and you drained yourself. Before I realized it I had killed you. It shouldn't have gotten that far. I'm sorry."

"Hey don't worry about it. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger right?" Xander chuckles. He realizes that the other members of their training party were missing. "Where are the women?"

"Since you were unconscious they went on patrol. Cassandra and I stayed back to watch you in case you woke up, ."

"How did Faith take my dying at your hands?" Xander asks. "She can be a bit over protective sometimes."

Adam chuckles and says, "She beat me to death after tackling me to the ground. If the head trauma didn't kill me it would have been the broken neck. You better hold onto that one Xander, otherwise I'd hate to see you have her as an enemy."

"I plan on doing just that." Xander says with a smile. Turning he says more seriously, "Adam?"

Looking from the board Adam answers, "Yes?"

"Have you ever loved a mortal? I mean right now you what you and Cassandra is great but…"

"What you have with Faith is limited?" Adam answers.

Xander nods his head. Adam tells him. "Love is an emotion that is not restricted by time or age. It is something that will come equally from a mortal or an immortal. The only difference is that the time you have with a mortal becomes all the more precious. I had loved a woman who was dying of cancer, rather than focusing on her death I made the most of our lives together."

"But how can I do that when she is a Slayer? I mean she was never expected to live past her twenty first birthday!"

"But unlike my situation you can do something about it, you can help her fight, you can help her with her destiny. I couldn't do anything other than watch the cancer ravage her body. You have the ability to make her live longer and if it's only for just a day cherish that one day that you have gained."

Seeing the logic behind the reasoning Xander nods his head and lies down and closes his eyes. "Xander?" Adam's voice calls him.


"You were talking in your sleep. Were you dreaming?"

Xander thinks back. There was something but he couldn't make any of it out. It was like he was chasing something just around the corner every time he had thought that he had caught up it turns around the next corner. "I think so. But I can't remember what it was about. Why?"

"Just wondering." Adam replies.

"What's with the chessboard?" Xander asks him.

"Just something that I've done in the past to pass the time. I setup the board against an opponent that isn't there and I play him. I'm black and he's white. Right now it's white's turn."

"Mind if I make his move for you?" Xander asks.

"Go right ahead." Adam says gesturing to the board.

"Knight takes bishop, mate in four." Xander says before falling back down onto the bed to sleep.

Adam moves the piece and contemplates his next move. Looking at the board and then Xander who is asleep on the bed Adam says, "Mate in four? Are you serious Darius? After all this time have we finally found what we've waited so long for?" Xander's breathing is even and steady. His peaceful and calm exterior belies the power that lies within him. It also belies his destiny, which if everything plays out the way it has been foreseen, will come to pass very soon.

Buffy and Faith have been patrolling for most of the night and had made a very good showing for it. Between the two of them they had taken out twelve vampires and neither of them had so much as a scratch to show for it. Buffy watched as Faith ruthlessly laid into the vampires that they came up against. She hadn't seen the other Slayer fight like this since the first time Faith had come into town.

Buffy is facing off with a vampire of her own and was able to quickly dust it before it became anymore of a threat. Hearing the sounds of a continuing fight her attention turns to Faith who is facing off with a vampire as well. Only the difference here was that Faith was only blocking, not taking any offensive at all. Buffy is about to help her when Faith looks over to her and nods her head no.

Confused Buffy holds off her attack and watches as Faith suddenly grabs the vampire's jab with her left hand and with her right hand strikes the vampire's arm just above the elbow. A loud crack can be heard as the vampire's arm breaks at the joint and hangs loosely at his side. Faith's foot snaps out and hits the vampire just below his left kneecap and breaks his leg. The vampire screams out in pain as he falls to the side. Faith brings her foot up and down hard on the vampire's remaining foot breaking the arch.

Faith takes the vampire's remaining arm and stretches it out to its complete length. Still holding onto it wrist Faith puts her foot into the shoulder of the vampire and yanks hard. Another crack and crunch is heard as bone breaks and cartilage is torn. Faith then takes a stake out and stakes the vampire in the heart. The look on the vampire's face is one of thanks as he is put out of his misery.

"You ok Faith?" Buffy asks the other Slayer who is now resting up against a wall, her breathing a little labored after the fight.

"I'm five by five. I just have a little frustration to work off you know?"

"You want to talk about it?"

"Honestly? No. But I have a feeling that you're not going to let it go until I do." Faith says sighing.

"Well, what is it that has your more aggressive side roaming out and about unchecked?" Buffy asks. "And don't tell me it was what happened in the training room today. We both know that Xander is going to be okay and Adam had apologized before already. So what is it that is really bothering you?"

"I'll give you three guesses." Faith says sarcastically.

"Does it rhyme with Xander?" Buffy says.

Grinning Faith answers, "Got it in one." Faith switches to her best Scarlet O'Hara impression, "Now how did you figure out what was botherin' lil' ol' me?"

"I've been in the same boat. I remember when I reached a point in my relationship with Angel where I realized that he would outlive me. That I would grow old while he looked the way he did for the rest of my life." Buffy pauses a moment before continuing, "Then I realized it Angel would probably never get to see me live to be that old. I wasn't even supposed to live past my eighteenth birthday! So I figure that you have found Xander but there is a catch. He's immortal you're a Slayer. He'll live forever while you'll die. Stop me if I'm wrong here."

"Keep going, when you finish I'll tell you how close you are." Faith says.

"I think that sometime in the middle of the night when you should be sleeping you wake up and you think about him. You think about what you could possibly have and what the future will hold for you and then you close your eyes and the tears come. Tears for the things that you never could have and never will share. Just because of who you are and who he is."

"Jesus B. you're hitting the nail pretty close to the head you know?"

"I'm not finished yet. I'd also bet that you think of Xander and you worry. You worry for his safety regardless of his skills or training. You worry the person you are will have an effect on his life and effect that can be deadly. You worry that maybe once you won't be able to protect him, to shield him from the harm that we attract naturally. You worry that one day one mistake you make will cost him his life."

"Damn." Faith says as she slides down the wall until she is sitting with her back against it. She leans her head forward and then tilts her head back and lightly bangs the back of her head against the wall. "Damn, damn, damn!"

Buffy walks over to Faith and sits herself down next to her and waits for the other girl to begin talking. In the lights coming from the street lamps she can make out streaks of tears on the other girl's face. Faith chuckles and tilts her head to face the blond Slayer. "Out of all the people in the world we probably have the most fucked up lives."

"'How do you figure?" Buffy asks.

"We are able to get our lives to the point where we think nothing can go possibly go wrong. Then something happens that makes us realize how fragile the balance we've created really is."

"You mean Xander dying this afternoon?"

"Yeah. I mean I have a guy who can't die and said that he would never leave me. You know?" Faith leans her head against the wall again. "But he's part of this game where he has to fight people to the death."

"I thought that you knew all this already though." Buffy says trying to sooth her.

"I did. But I really didn't really think though that one day he would go up against someone better than him, someone that would kill him. I had accepted the fact that he is going to out live me. It actually made me happy that someone, far from now would be able to look back and say that Faith lived her life and that she lived it by her rules. You know? Someone like Xander who would remember the truth making sure that I didn't live on in some watcher diary as the wayward Slayer."


"But I never even thought of the possibility that I might outlive him."

"So when Adam beat him today the whole 'there can be only one' thing really hit home?" Buffy asks.

"Yeah. I'm the Slayer right? I'm only supposed to live to see my twenty-first birthday right? Well that's just around the corner and I know the odds of me living past that date."

"But what about…"

Faith cuts her off. "But what about you B? I know you are not about to compare yourself to me. It didn't work before and it won't work now. We're not the same people B. You've had so many factors that I never had. Not that I'm bitter about it B. I was at one point but I got over it."

"That may be true Faith but if you get right down to it we have more in common than you think. We're both Slayers. Not many can say that. You're as close to a sister I can get."

"What about Red?" Faith asks. "You two are pretty close."

"Close, yes. I'd never hold a grudge against Willow. But she can't understand what it is to have the weight of the world thrown on your shoulders. She can try but it's never the same. You on the other hand know what it's like to be plucked out of your life and thrown into the fire."

"I guess you could say that." Faith says with a grin.

"I know I can say that. We're more alike than you think Faith. That's why I know you can make yourself a life with Xander. I made myself a life here with friends, family and a social life. I even tried out for the cheerleading team! I know you can make your life be what ever you want it to be."

"But how! I can't protect him from other immortals! I can't even feel them! How can we have a life together if I have to look over my shoulder every moment looking for the one immortal that might take his head! I just found him B! I don't want to loose him."

"Thinking like that you might as well have already lost him." Buffy says to her. "You're already giving up what you could have because of what you're afraid of what could happen."

"I'm not afraid of anything." Faith says with false bravado.

"Right and vampires don't exist."

"Don't start with me B." Faith says.

"Have you ever thought that maybe Xander doesn't need protection? That maybe what he needs is you to be there for him? If you haven't noticed Xander is able to take of himself now."

Sighing Faith answers, "I know but I'm a Slayer. You should know better than anybody that protective streak that comes with the territory."

Smiling Buffy says, "Tell me about it. For the longest time the second thing on my priority list to make sure that my friends survive to the next daybreak you know?"

"What happened to change your mind?"

"Xander's death. I couldn't save him and it killed me. I was supposed to make sure that they would all live you know? But Xander's death made me realize that all my friends do what they do by choice and that there is nothing I could possibly do to stop them from helping and there is nothing I could do to save them all. I should have learned that lesson with Kendra and I had another chance to learn that lesson with Mrs Calendar but it took Xander to make me realize the cold hard truth."

"So what do you do now?"

"I just sit back and enjoy the time we have together. What else can I do?"

"When did you become the big sister type?" Faith says wiping the last remnants of tears from her face.

Buffy smiles. "I dunno, I've always wished that I had a younger sister to share things with but I'm an only child so I never got to experience that."

"Well you'd make a damn good one B." Buffy smiles at that and pulls the other girl into a hug and they sit there for a moment. Pulling away Faith says, "Let's go B. I'm starved."

"Yeah sure and I guess it helps knowing that Xander should be awake by now huh?" Buffy says eliciting a blush from Faith.

"I told you B don't start with me."

Buffy and Faith arrive at Adam's house twenty minutes later. Seeing that the lights were on they walk right up to the door only to find Cassandra waiting for them with the door open.

"Xander is sleeping still but he woke up earlier and he's doing fine." She tells them once they are close enough. "I didn't want you guys to wake him by accident."

"You felt us approaching the house?" Buffy asks.

"Yes. I've already been able to attune myself to you Buffy. You're presence is much like Faith's." Cassandra says simply.

The trio walks to the kitchen and the two Slayers sit at the table. Cassandra goes to the kitchen to get some food for the two girls to eat. Returning to the table Cassandra places a plate with some finger foods onto the table. The two Slayers are able to pick out and eat what they want to eat.

Faith asks, "So how is Xander holding up?"

"He's fine, his body healed itself perfectly just a bit longer than we expected. He should be up and about by tomorrow."

"Good, that last murder is supposed to take place tomorrow night right?" Buffy says. "How are things going on the research front? Have Adam and Giles found anything else on the ritual?"

"Unfortunately no. Their research shows that the Awakening ritual can be performed at any time and the eyes and tongues aren't even mentioned in any of the texts."

"Then why go to all the trouble? Just to throw us off the trail? Seems a bit over kill don't you think?" Faith says.

"Exactly my point." Adam's voice draws their attention to the entrance to the kitchen. He can see Faith bristle slightly at the sound of his voice, "Faith I didn't mean to kill him. Our training got out of hand. But I want you to know that he is like a son to me and I wouldn't do anything to purposely hurt him."

"I know Adam. It just that it's hard to get the mental image of you snapping his neck or the way he looked after he hit the ground out of my head. I'm not holding any grudge against you."

"You're just a little uneasy around me, I understand." Adam says. Continuing on the previous line of reasoning Adam says, "Neither Giles, Cassandra or myself have been able to find any connection between the murders and the ritual other than the prophecy we found."

"We're running out of time here. Tomorrow night another girl is going to die if we don't stop whoever is doing this." Faith says.

"But we can't so anything if we don't know what we're up against. In order to stop what is going to happen we need a plan, to have a plan you need information. Information that we just don't have." Cassandra says.

"So what do we do? Patrol larger areas? We still can't cover the entire city even if we all patrol by ourselves." Buffy argues. "I don't want to have Riley or Xander for that fact to patrol by themselves." Faith nods her agreement.

"I understand what you are saying so I'll go out on patrol as well. I think that Giles and Cassandra along with Tara and Willow should be able to continue the research without me." Adam says.

"We could use the extra help but it still wont cover all the possibilities." Buffy adds.

"We can only hope to get lucky. Right now I'm all out of ideas for stopping this. If we don't find something soon we may have find ourselves facing a very powerful enemy." Adam says.

"Have you looked into the possibility that the two have nothing to do with each other at all?" Faith questions.

Adam looks at her and says, "I'm not sure that I understand your line of thinking."

"I mean we know that the Awakening is going to happen and you don't need any kind of sacrifice for the ritual to work right?"


Buffy catches onto Faith's train of thought, "So what if the parts and sacrifices are for something else? Something that would either strengthen the effects of the ritual or help it along faster?"

"I don't think any of had ever considered that. It would make sense, the Awakening ritual takes anywhere between four to eight hours depending how much power one is trying to siphon. I need to call Giles." Adam says and abruptly turns to leave the room.

Cassandra asks Faith, "How did you draw that conclusion?"

"I'm not sure. I guess you could call it a post-slayage insight." She answers. "But it still doesn't mean we'll be able to stop the murder from happening tomorrow. We don't' even know if we can find the guys responsible!"

"That plus all the added vampire activity the past few days I'll be surprised if we even get to finish our patrol rounds tomorrow." Buffy adds.

"So it's a choice between the greater of two evils." Cassandra says. "One the one hand stop the murders and let innocent people die. On the other stop the vampires and let another innocent die. Either way people will die. So what do we do?"

"We do both to the best of our abilities." Xander's voice draws their attention to the entryway. "We can't save everyone but we can try to save as many as we can."

Faith gets up from the table and rushes over to Xander. Buffy watches as the two share soft words. She smiles as she sees a look of concern and worry that she had never thought she would ever see on Faith's face. Xander's look of complete adoration for Faith does not go unnoticed as he brings his hand up to her face and caresses Faith's cheek with his thumb. A gesture of tenderness that she noticed he used often with Faith. She was happy for both of them. Faith had hidden pain and so did Xander but together it seems that they are able to cope.

Being the third wheel was something she did not plan on being tonight so Buffy stood up to leave. "I have class tomorrow so I'm going to head back to campus. I'll see you guys in the afternoon so we can plan our patrol routes okay?"

"Buffy why don't you stay here tonight?" Cassandra suggests. "It's already late and Faith can give you a ride to campus tomorrow."

"I don't want to impose." Buffy answers.

"Don't worry you can have one of the extra rooms." Cassandra answers.

"And you can use some of my clothes to sleep in tonight and to change into before you go to class." Faith puts in.

Buffy already tired from the night's work grudgingly accepts the offer. "I want to hit the showers first though before I go to bed."

"Yeah me too." Faith adds.

Xander stands there with a far off look on his face. Cassandra calls him but does not respond. She tries again louder this time but still no reaction. Fearing that he had fallen into another catatonic state Faith shakes Xander hoping to get some reaction out of him. She is gentle at first but quickly becomes more forceful when she sees Xander barely responding. She is about to slap him when she sees him grin widely.

"Xander! What just happened there?" Faith asks him.

"I'm sorry the mental image of both you and Buffy showering must have overloaded my senses." He says grinning. Buffy giggles at his remark as does Cassandra. Faith only rolls her eyes.

"If you ever do something like that again I will personally see to it that you get some sense knocked into you. And you two." She says to Cassandra and Buffy, "Don't encourage him."

"Sorry." Xander says still grinning. "I couldn't resist. Let's get you two into bed." Xander says to Faith and Buffy.

Faith looks at Xander curiously. "What about you are you going to bed?"

"I've been out of it for most of the day. I'm to wired to get back to sleep. I figure I'll help Adam and Giles do some research."

Curious Buffy asks, "Giles is coming here?"

"Yeah I heard Adam asking him to come over tonight to start a new line of research. Since I'm up I figured I'd help them out." Xander answers. He can feel Faith's hand squeeze his ever so slightly. Seeing the look of veiled worry on her face he squeezes back assuredly. "But I'll probably go to bed shortly after that. Researching with Giles usually put me to sleep before. Think of how it would be tonight! Two British research maniacs for the price of one!" Xander jokes.

Faith says, "Fine but don't stay up to late." For Xander the words translate directly to don't leave me for too long, I won't be able to sleep without you anyway.

"I won't I promise. We have a murderer, possibly two, to stop and a horde of evil vampires to stop from feeding off of the innocents of this fair town. I'll need my beauty sleep." Faith and Buffy both snort as they go up stairs to take showers in the bathrooms up stairs.

Once they are out of sight and earshot Cassandra asks. "Are you sure you are up to this? None of us expect you to do this."

"I have to Cassandra, it's who I am. I did it when I was a normal mortal and I'll do it for the rest of my life."

"Even if it'll kill you? Even if it means you'll be leaving behind Faith?"

"If it saves her life then especially then." He says walking to the den where Adam waits with his research.

Aaron sits in the corner of the Master's underground lair. Keith sits across from him doing exactly as he is. Preparing for tonight. He cleans the knives given to him by the Master.

"So tonight we bring the last one." Aaron says trying to pass the time.

"Yes. One of us will." Keith says confrontational.

"Keith the Master promised that we would be rewarded equally." The Master found Keith like himself. Three hundred years ago Aaron had died after a night of drinking. A group of men who he had insulted in his drunken stupor took it upon themselves to even the score after he had left the pub.

He had put up a good fight for a drunken fool. The first one received a right cross for his troubles. However the second and the third and the fourth one were able to tackle him to the ground. They held him down so the fifth one was able to walk up and pull out a dagger. With that dagger the man gutted him like a fish. The man, a noble, felt slighted by remarks that Aaron said to him in the pub so he did what any noble would do in his situation. He defended his pride and in doing so he gutted Aaron who was a low class nobody.

When he woke up he felt the Master. Looking up he saw his face and his outstretched hand. Aaron reached for that hand and sealed his fate. The Master told him of his plan and his destiny and offered him a part of the grand scheme. For the first time of his life Aaron had a purpose, meaning and direction in his life. The Master has given him everything that he has, all that he is and even a chance at revenge.

Aaron grins as he remembers the look on the nobleman's face as the very knife that gutted Aaron gutted him. A very poetic revenge indeed a revenge so sweet that it is one of his fondest memories. He remembers the day that he and the Master had found Keith. His body surrounded by stones and his body bloodied and bruised.

The Master explained to him that Keith would be a part of his family as was Aaron. Keith like Aaron would take the same responsibilities and would reap the same rewards as he. Together they would follow the Master to their destiny. A destiny now close at hand. He and Keith would finally get what they deserved for their years of servitude. They would finally rise to power as the Master had promised. All they had to do is bring him the last ingredients of his ritual.

Giles is pouring over his books and assembled notes. The new line of reasoning had forced him to completely rethink his line of research. They had spent days trying to find a correlation between the information that they found in the prophecy and the information they had found about the rituals mentioned in the prophecy. Yet every time they had come up empty handed. A promising avenue of research would always return the same information. Each possibility a dead-end.

Giles growls in frustration. All that wasted time! Now he needs to start over. A life hangs in the balance and he might not find what they need in time to save that life.

"You should really take it easy Giles." Giles looks up to see Xander holding a mug out to him.

"What is this?" Giles asks taking the cup.

"English breakfast. I thought you could use a pick me up and I figured that you wouldn't want any coffee." Xander explains to Giles.

"Thank you." Giles says as he gratefully sips the tea.

"No problem Giles." Xander says pulling up a book looking through it hoping to find something that would aid them in their search. Xander stops a moment and asks Giles. "Giles how can you do it?"

Confused Giles looks up from his book, "I beg your pardon?"

"Day in and day out, research while we go out and fight. I mean when I realized that I missed patrol last night and that Faith and Buffy were out there by themselves I was worried out of my mind. How do you cope?"

Giles takes off his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose. It is a motion Xander is very familiar with, he knows that Giles uses it as a stalling tactic as he gathers his thoughts before speaking.

"I won't lie to you and say that it's not difficult. Every time any of you went out to fight I thought that it was possibly the last time I would see any of you. Even when I went out with you I thought it could possibly be the last night we would see each other alive."

"So how did you cope?"

"I just keep telling myself that what we are doing is something that needs to be done. If we don't do this then horrible things will happen. But one of you was ever killed when trying to stop a demon or a monster I don't know how I would cope."

"What about me? How did you feel when I died?" Xander asks the librarian.

"I was happy." Seeing the hurt look on Xander's face Giles quickly explains. "I was happy that you died living your life. Not at the hands of some vampire but because of something that happens normally." Giles pauses a second to reconsider his words, "I'm not sure that came out the way I wanted it to. I mean I was saddened by your passing and…"

With a slight grin Xander says, "I think I got the gist of it Giles."

"It's just that I'm getting old and I don't think that I'll ever become a father and you kids are the closest things I will have to being a parent. Buffy and Willow are like my daughters and you were…are like a son to me. Even though I might not have said it Xander. I was proud of you then and I am proud of the man you've become."

"Thank you Giles." Xander says quietly. "You don't know how much that means to me coming from you."

"Well I felt that after you had died a lot had gone unsaid. The group as a whole opened up a lot more not wanting to waste another moment hiding things from each other. We realized that one of us could die at any moment and didn't want to have things left unsaid." Giles explains. "Because of that Buffy and Willow have grown much closer, almost like sisters."

"I could see that pretty easily." Xander says with a smile. "How about we get some more research out of the way?"

"That sounds like a good idea."

Giles and Xander sit together in companionable silence. The only sound that can be heard is the turning of the pages as they finish one passage after another. They continue on like that until Xander casually breaks the silence.

"So how are you and Joyce?"

Without looking up from his book Giles replies, "Well she does worry that I'm staying up too late researching and not getting enough sleep but I tell her if I don't do it no one else will…" Giles looks up and sees the grinning face of Xander. "Well that is…I'm sure that is what she would tell me if I was seeing her… ah that is…"

"Giles! You are dating Joyce Summers?" Xander says the grin never leaving his face. Giles had fallen for his trap and true to form the normally eloquent Englishman is now floundering around for his words. He would have continued on floundering but gratefully Xander stops him. "I just wanted to see if it was true or not Giles, calm down."

"Well, yes, but how did you find out?" Giles asks.

"I didn't, Faith told me." Xander says easily looking down at him book again. "I find it strange for a group that has opened up so much that you neglect to tell the girl who is like a daughter to you that you are dating her mother."

"Well you see our relationship is a complicated one." Giles begins.

"Aside from being both parental figures to Buffy?"

"Yes that and we had an interlude of sorts." Giles says uncomfortably.

"An interlude? I'm assuming your not talking about a classical music piece, correct?"

"If you remember the incident with the band candy?" Giles asks.

Xander remembers the time, "So when you were your younger alter ego you and Mrs. Summers?"

"I think you get the picture." Giles cuts him off.

"Well I do now and let me tell you I wish I didn't, it's a bit too…weird for me." Xander tells him.

"Think of how Buffy would take it."

"Right. Gotcha. No telling Buffy about the watcher-mother relationship."

"Thank you. Xander could you look through that book over there and see if you can find something about tonight or tomorrow night?" Giles asks pointing to a stack of books.

"Why? I thought we were trying to find more information on the rituals."

"Well all the information we have says that the ritual does not require the sacrifices. But we couldn't find a reason for the sacrifices themselves so they must be for something else right? So the only thing I could think of is the time frame."

"The time frame?"

"Yes I was able to find with Adam last night that the sacrifices allow for the Awakening ritual to be accelerated, or in other words the recipient is able to absorb more power over a shorter period time. So I was hoping that perhaps some event is going to occur that will give off enough energy for the Awakening to be worthwhile."

"But we still don't have anything that will help us find that last victim?"

"Unfortunately no. We only know what we've known for the last week, it's going to happen tonight."

"Damn. Anything else that could be helpful?"

"My research has been less than fruitful."

"I'll be here until the others get here in a couple of hours to patrol. Adam will be here in an hour or so. When he gets here we'll all continue to research as much as possible."

"Hopefully it'll be enough." Giles says.

Jonathan stands before his undead procession. Tonight he would take a more proactive part in occupying the warriors of the city. His contacts had been able to tell him early on that the Slayer and her boyfriend were two of the warriors he would be up against this night. Although the thought of fighting a Slayer was appealing, she was not the opponent he was looking forward to meeting. The seraph, as Jonathan had began referring to him as, was the opponent he hoped he would face tonight. Tonight was not so much about aiding the Master in his scheme, it was more for Jonathan to push himself to his own limits. As a vampire he had been relatively unchallenged to years. Very few could be considered his peers. At last he would finally be challenged by a true test of his true strength.

Looking out to the assembled vampires, fifty or so he estimates, he addresses them, "Tonight we will go out and do what we have all week. But tonight I too will dirty my hands with the blood of our victims." Pausing a moment before continuing. "Our quarries will all be in the same place at once before we attack. We are to contain them to this general area. I do not wish to loose anyone of you tonight. If you find yourself on the loosing end of a battle retreat and regroup, do not throw your lives away."

"You can kill and feed on all those you come across but do not let our prey get past you. If I find that any of you have let them through you will answer to me! The man who fights with a sword is for me only. If anyone of you find him, keep him occupied until I can reach your position. When I reach your position you will all leave him to me and me alone."

"Our prey waits for us in town inside a store called the Magic Shop. We will wait for them to leave the shop and then break into two groups. One will follow the first pair and the other will follow the others. Remember your team and remember your targets. Above all else remember the man wielding the sword is mine. Let's move out!"

The vampire procession growls their acceptance and begins to file out of the old building. The sun has set and the vampires can feel their demons cry out for blood. Tonight they would have it, but would be their victims or their own?

Giles, Adam and Xander have been researching for hours as Buffy, Riley, Faith, Tara, Willow and Cassandra enter the shop. Cassandra makes her way to Adam and quickly picks up a book from the stack next to him. She quietly asks him if he had gone through the book already. When he shakes his head no she opens it to it's first page and begins to read. Willow and Tara follow her lead.

Seeing that Cassandra and the two witches were there to take up his load of the research he gets up and stretches. He walks over to Faith and sees that she is dressed for patrol. "Did you bring my clothes?" He asks her.

Holding up an overnight bag she says with a smile, "Of course, wouldn't want to you to out their naked now would we? Although I wouldn't complain much about it but I think it'll be a bit cold out tonight."

"Wouldn't want me to catch cold now would you?" Xander says. It was a loaded question if he had ever heard one.

Faith not one to back down to any challenge responds by leaning close to him and whispering into his ear, "I can think of a few ways to keep you warm."

Xander turns a bright shade of red as al the mental pictures he could associate with Faith's words play in his mind. Despite all of his training and the confidence the confidence it brings he still ad trouble interacting with the females of the species, especially the incredibly beautiful, strong and confident Slayer branch. Why was it that all Slayers were incredibly beautiful he muses.

"What no witty response Xander?" Faith asks him.

"No, no witty response." He tells her. Mirroring the movement that Faith had done earlier he leans close to her ear and whispers, "But maybe if we can stop the whole end of the world thing I'll show you exactly what kind of response I have."

The wide-eyed response of surprise was exactly what he was looking for. Taking his clothes from he out stretched hands Xander walks to the back room to get ready for patrol. Faith watches is retreating frame shaking her head and chuckling. If anything Xander is an equal on the field of verbal sparing, she may have a few rounds in between but Xander would always try to get the last punch in.

Faith walks to the table to where Giles and Adam are sitting still going over books and passages. Cassandra who had entered with them was spreading out a scroll for Tara and Willow to examine it more closely. "Should you get ready for patrol Adam?" Faith asks him pointing in the direction Xander took to get changed and prepared.

"I am ready." Adam says.

Faith looks at him curiously. He is wearing clothes that he wears to the office. A tailored suit and the with the familiar duster hanging lopsidedly of the back of the chair. She looks over to Riley wearing what he calls his work clothes. Dark turtleneck sweater and dark pants, not unlike what she had brought for Xander, the telltale black straps across his back told her of a little extra fire power that Riley brought with him to help even out the fact that his ribs were still sore.

Buffy, like herself, was dressed in a way that wouldn't be constricting to their movements. Buffy had a pair of pants on, though very flattering to her figure Faith was able to see things that no other person would have picked up. The pants are made of a material that is able to stretch. They were also re-hemmed in such a way that would allow for greater ease of movement especially for kicking. Faith was able to pick these nuances easily, her old watcher had taught her how to sew and Faith had altered a few things in her wardrobe in order to make a life a slaying easier.

"Adam, I think that when Armani designed that suit he didn't have patrol in mind." Faith points out.

"I'm sure he didn't." Adam says absently looking at the book in front of him.

Giles looks up and sees Faith's point. "Adam I think that Faith does have a point. You might want to wear clothes that are more…suited to fighting."

Sighing Adam stands up and loosens his tie and takes it off. Placing it on the table he unbuttons his jacket and takes it off as well. They are surprised to see that like Riley Adam has a harness holding four daggers close to his body. From his belt hangs another sheath that holds another knife. Unbuttoning the sleeves and rolling them up they see that he is wearing wrist guards as well. Looking at both Giles and Faith he shows them that now without the tie and jacket he is wearing a dark shirt, dark pants and is indeed ready to fight.

"Never mind." Faith says quickly.

"Uh, yes. Quite." Giles adds.

"Thank you." Adam answers going back to his research.

Xander returns and he too is now ready for patrol. Buffy and Riley move over to the Xander and Faith who are now standing by the table where the older members of the group were researching.

"So what's the plan?" Buffy asks.

"Other than try and save the world?" Faith says jokingly

"Well that's the easy part. We all know that we need to save the world, it's figuring out how to do that is the hard part." Riley throws in.

"Exactly. How are the ribs?" Xander asks him.

"A little sore but I'll get by." He answers.

"Here are your patrol routes." Adam says handing them a map. "Buffy and Riley you are going to take the east side here by the campus." He points to the map. "Faith and Xander you both will take the north side of town where much of the town's night activity takes place."

"What about the south and west sides?" Riley asks quickly falling back onto his military training.

"I'll handle the west side and stick mostly to the parks in the area. There are too many warehouses on the south side of town, not many targets for them to find. Between the three groups we should be able to cover all the bases." Adam tells them.

"When do we go?" Xander asks.

"You four should head out right now. I'm going to stay here just a little while longer to finish the translation that I started. I'll be done in about ten minutes."

The four young warriors nod and begin to file out of the shop. They exchange a few words before breaking out in two separate directions. Unbeknownst to them they were being watched. In the shadows several figures look on as the group of four changes to two groups of two. One of the dark figures points in the direction of Buffy and Riley. Several of them nod and move through the alleys and shadows to cut off the pair, the rest of them move off in the opposite direction to head off Xander and Faith. Tonight would prove to be a difficult night for these mortals.

Jonathan is about to follow the group chasing after the seraph but when the door opens to reveal a third person. He is dressed in all dark clothing. His stance belies what Jonathan can recognize as a predator. This new man walks off in a third direction. Something about the man piques Jonathan's interest and instead of stalking his intended prey he follows this unknown man.

"Riley don't look back or to your right." Buffy says quietly as they continue on their patrol route.


"I can feel that we're being followed. Two behind us and on to your right."

"Are you sure?" Riley asks quietly

"Of those three yes. They're the only ones in my range. If there are any others they I can't feel them."

Riley quickly scans the area. "We shouldn't engage them here. We need to get to an open area."

"By then we might be up against more of them though."

"Better more of them in an open area instead of a closed one where we could get trapped."

Buffy agrees with them with him as they continue to walk. She throws a quick glance upwards and sees shadows jumping from building to building. Looking over to Riley she can see him fingering and unhook the latches on his shoulder harness. The motion is almost a casual one allowing easy access to the weapons they hold. She absently pricks her finger across the point of the stake inside of her jacket pocket. If it was a fight they wanted a fight they were going to get.

Across town from them Xander and Faith are having a similar conversation.

"There are a whole hell of a lot of them." Faith tells Xander quietly.

"What do you think we should do about it? We can't stop. We're supposed find and stop the next murder."

"I know, but this could turn really ugly."

"So we'll deal with it the same way we did back at the club."

"Uh Xander?"


"You do remember that you died that night right?"

"I did? It must have slipped my mind." Xander jokes.

"Seriously Xander, I don't want you dying on me tonight okay? I don't know if I could handle fighting these things without you."

"Don't worry, I promise I won't die tonight."

"That's a relief."

Faith can feel them intruding on the edges of her senses. They are surrounding them. At least five of them at the most twelve if they decided to attack them at once they would have their hands full to say the least. She hoped to God that none of them carried guns like the last time. She didn't want to see herself or Xander get shot tonight.

Jonathan continues to follow the man as he strolls down the street keeping an eye out for something. Jonathan chuckles to himself thinking that the man is looking for one of the Master's minions Aaron or Keith. Those two were strong but quite possibly the most incompetent followers he had ever seen. The Master had plans for them but he didn't know what and he could tell that those two didn't know either.

He had come out this night planning to confront the young man he had 'killed' at the dance club. However something about this man made him change those plans. The man was a walking contradiction. His appearance said one thing while his actions and mannerisms tell a different story. He doesn't look dangerous but all of his accumulated knowledge and instinct screamed at him otherwise. In Jonathan's experience puzzles such as these always proved to always be lucrative sources of information. So it was from the shadows that Jonathan follows the walking puzzle.

Giles picks up another small book and begins to read. Cassandra is going through her own large tome still trying to find something useful. Anything at all, something is here waiting form them to find it. But he didn't know the first place to look. He can hear the front door bell ring as someone enters the shop. Cursing himself for not locking the door behind Adam as he left the shop he gets up to dismiss the person who had entered.

"I'm sorry but we're closed…" Giles says walking from behind some of the stacks.

"Sorry Rupert but I had to come by after what you told me what was happening." Joyce Summers says, her voice startling Giles.

"Joyce! Why?" Quickly running to the door and looks out to make sure that nothing had followed her. Locking the door he turns back to Joyce and says, "Joyce you know it is dangerous to be out and about at night."

"I know but I wanted to get here before Buffy left. What you told me last night made me worry about her and I had to come here." She says her voice full of worry.

Giles removes his glasses and pulls out a small cloth to clean them. Replacing the glasses on his nose he says, "I'm sorry Joyce but they left about thirty minutes ago."

"Is it true though? If they can't stop the murder tonight the world could possibly end tomorrow?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Will they be okay?"

"I can't tell you for sure but we can only hope."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" She asks him.

Giles stands there for a second staring at her. "Joyce I don't think that you really want to get involved with this."

"You don't think I…Rupert I can take my daughter keeping me in the dark all these years but I will not let you stop me from helping her now. You of all people should know that!" Joyce yells at him.

"Let her help with the research." A voice calls from behind the stacks. Cassandra walks out holding another book in her hand. "There is nothing more tenacious than a female protecting her young Giles. Let her help protect the young woman you both call daughter."

"Thank you." Joyce says to the woman handing her the book. "My name is Joyce, as I can see you already know that I'm Buffy's mother."

Smiling Cassandra introduces herself. "I'm Cassandra. Has Giles told you everything?" Joyce nods. "Then I would be what you would consider Xander's mother."

"Nice to meet you." Joyce says. Turning to Giles she asks, "So what do I do first?"

Seeing that he is out numbered Giles tells her, "Go through that book and look for any references about the Hellmouth or tomorrow's date."

"And if I don't' find anything?" Joyce asks him.

"Then you pick up another book and go through that one." Cassandra answers. Nodding all three of them walk back to the table and resume their research Joyce isn't surprised when she sees Willow and Tara already at the table. Hopefully between the five of them they would find something soon.

Everywhere they tried to go they found themselves blocked. Kill the first vampires and move to a different position and find themselves facing a new group of vampires. If they wounded some of them their brethren would pick them up and pull them out of the fight and replace them. They were being contained. If they tried to push past a certain point they would be forced to fall back and regroup. They were being toyed with. Buffy hated being toyed with.

Riley was holding up pretty well considering his condition. His ribs were not an issue every time they engaged any of the groups of vampires but she could tell he was feeling some pain still. He still favored his side but while fighting the adrenaline rush allowed him to push past the pain helped him hold his own.

Despite all that Buffy still worried for him. "You okay?" She asks.

"Yeah." He answers his mouth a determined line. "I'll be fine." He tells her. Looking around seeing that they were passing a particular building for the fourth time he says, "We're going around in circles. We can't even get past Peltason."

"I know." Buffy growls in frustration. As they begin to move again she can feel more vampires approach their position. "Damn! More of them are on our the way!"

"Shit." Riley says pulling out and stake and his combat knife preparing for the next of what seems an endless night of battles. "I'm ready."

"So am I." Buffy tells him as seven more vampires walk into view from the shadows around them.

Standing back to back Riley says, "This night just keeps getting better and better."

Faith can hear the sound of Xander's sword cutting through the air and undoubtedly vampires as well. This was their sixth fight that night. Her clothes were covered with the dust remains of vampires. She had killed more vampires tonight than she could care to remember and they just kept coming.

Dusting her adversary she is able to look over to Xander to see how he was doing. Xander's face is a mask of cold determination. The entire night she didn't see Xander utilize the powers she had witnessed the afternoon before. If what Adam had told them that he couldn't consciously call upon the powers as of yet. What they had seen was an unconscious manifestation of what Xander had hidden beneath. With or without the power he was still more than match for the vampires they fought tonight. The last vampire from the attacking group finds that out very quickly as a four-foot piece of steel severs it head. Exploding to dust before Xander can finish his follow through the area becomes deafeningly quiet once more and only sound that they can hear is that of their heavy breathing.

Xander is the first to break the silence. "They just keep coming don't they?"

"Like rats from a sewer." She says with a smile. "How you holding up?"

"I've seen better days." He says truthfully.

"You and me both cowboy, you and me both." She says walking over to him. Taking his face into her hands she studies the cut above his eye as it closes with a few sparks. Wiping the blood away she kisses the spot where the wound was and says, "There all better."

Smiling at her Xander says, "Thanks, I needed that."

"We're not making any head way are we?" She asks him.

Shaking his head he says to her, "No. They've been keeping us contained to a two mile span. We haven't been able to get past them. Every time we try to push forward more of them come."

"I hope Buffy and Riley are having more luck than we are." She says mostly to herself.

"I don't think they are." He says. Surprised she looks at him questionably, "They're following an attack plan, keeping us busy. When was the last time you saw vampires attack with this kind of coordination?"

Faith couldn't think of a single moment. He was right. But now that they knew this how would it help them? "So what do we do now?"

"I don't know. At this rate we can only hope that Adam is having more luck than we are."

"What makes you think he's not being attacked like we are?"

"This is his first time on patrol. My bet is that they only planned on two groups, not three. If that is the case Adam is the only one who has a chance of stopping the murder."

"By himself? You know that he can't stop them if there is more than one of them."

"I know."

"Then that would mean…"

"The end of the world will come tomorrow night." Even as he says those words Faith can feel more vampires approaching their position. Low growling and movement draw their attention. More vampires step forward. Faith raises her stake to a ready position just as Xander raises his sword. The steps to her right catches her attention in time for her to avoid being blind-sided by the vampire attempting to rush her from the shadows. It was then the vampires attack.

Blocking the first punches and staking one vampire quickly she hopes that Xander is right and that Adam is having more luck than they are.

"Are you going to follow me all night or are you going to o come out and introduce yourself?" Adam calls out.

"Very perceptive, I thought you hadn't noticed me." Jonathan says stepping from the shadows and into the light of a nearby street lamp.

"I've known that you've been following me ever since I left the store. I was hoping that you were the person I was looking for and that by following me you wouldn't be out and about killing innocent young girls. But unfortunately I find that you are the person I'm looking for after all."

"Sorry to disappoint you. Let me introduce myself, I am Jonathan." The master vampire is surprised as he sees recognition on the face of the man before him.

"Ah the master vampire? Can I safely say that the increase of recent activity can be attributed to you?"

"Yes, you could say that." Jonathan says as he reveals his true face. "But I don't even know who you are."

Pulling out his Ivanhoe the man says to him, "I am Methos."

The sword surprises Jonathan, his instincts were right after all. "Now this gets more and more interesting. I was hoping to face off with a certain sword wielding individual but you are not the one I had envisioned."

"Well you wanted to fight the pup but instead you found the alpha male. I can assure you that I will be much better sport than he would have been."

"We'll see about that Methos." Jonathan says reaching for something in the shadows for something Methos could not see. Jonathan unsheathes his scimitar and brings it to bear on Methos. "I can tell you that I will be much better sport than my minions would have been."

"I wouldn't have it any other way." Methos says with a smile.

The two circle each other waiting for the other to move. Taking in their stance, their amount of tension in the other's muscles. The movement of each other's eyes. For Jonathan he sees a seasoned warrior, a man not afraid to kill. What surprises him most is the complete and total lack of feeling or emotion in the man's eyes. Any being would show at least one feeling. Fear, anger, apprehension but this, Methos, had nothing. His eyes were devoid of any emotion.

Jonathan grins, it had been so long since someone had challenged his mettle. Methos grins back and says to him, "I hope you don't think this will be easy."

"Oh, quite the contrary, I hope this will be as hard as I hope it will be." Jonathan strikes first and furiously as the scimitar cuts through the air with a flash.

Methos brings his Ivanhoe to block just as quickly, "I hope I don't disappoint you." He says slowly forcing the blades down and to the right.

Jonathan disengages his blade and decides that witty comments were only going to distract him from the task at hand. He tries again to attack with a series of thrusts with a slice to the head. All of which were blocked easily and then parried with a quick thrust to the stomach. Darting backward Jonathan is only barely able to dodge the incoming thrust.

"What no witty comment?" Methos says with a grin. "Surely you're not afraid of me?"

With a growl Jonathan attacks Methos again this time with more force than before. Methos brings his blade up again to meet his own blocking them easily. It was then Methos started his own offensive. The change is direction and momentum was so quick that Jonathan barely had the time to keep up with it. Methos' sword came at him with a speed and vengeance that would have sent a lesser demon scurrying away with fear. Jonathan, to his credit, is able to stand his ground as the blade came at him with speed and accuracy he never thought possible.

Strike after strike came at him, Jonathan looks at Methos and his stance hoping to find an opportunity that he could capitalize on. He continues to block until the opportunity he is looking for presents itself, not wasting any time Jonathan goes on the offensive and attack's Methos' side. As soon as the attack begins he is almost thrown back by the counter attack. Not willing to give up his advantage Jonathan continues to lay into the slightly off balance opponent hoping that Methos would trip or make another mistake that he could capitalize on. Jonathan was about to smile in triumph but instead he screams out in pain as his shoulder feels as if it is burning from the inside.

Pulling out a dagger that Jonathan didn't notice was there before Methos smiles at him and says, "Holy dagger." He points at the smoking wound slowly beginning to heal itself. "That must itch like crazy."

Jonathan growls at the last comment. He realizes that he can't fight him until his should heals so he decides to even the score. Reaching to the holster strapped to his back he pulls out his gun. He brings it to bear on Methos and pulls the trigger. The hammer clicks into place and the gunpowder ignites sending the projectile at Methos. The chamber housing slides back as the shell is ejected from it and replaced by another. It slides back again and again as two more shell casings are thrown away from the gun.

Methos stumbles back as the first bullet hits him in the chest. The second and third bullets push him up against a nearby wall. Bending forward but not releasing his grip on his sword Methos leans forward in pain.

"Desert Eagle .45" Jonathan says with a smirk walking up to Methos. Three shots had put down the other one at mid-range. Three shots at close range should have torn Methos apart it seems that Methos was a lot stronger than he seems. "Now you tell me if those three slugs in your body itch like hell."

Jonathan is about to shoot Methos in the head when he feels something hit is gun hand. Looking up and seeing Methos standing tall and upright with an evil grin on his face Jonathan brings his arm up into view. Instead of a hand the sight of a bloody stump greets him. Looking down at his feet he sees his hand still clutching the gun about to depress the trigger.

Looking closely at Methos again he sees the three charred holes on his shirt but he realizes that there is no blood. Seeing that he is confused Methos decides to enlighten him, "Kevlar." He says to him with a smirk. "To be fair I'll only use one hand." Methos puts the sword into his left hand matching Jonathan's stance.

Growling at him Jonathan backs away. Methos says to him, "Tell me why is it that your kind likes to growl?"

Finding his voice for the first time since the fight started Jonathan answers, "Call it instinct."

"Instinct? Then tell me this vampire what does your instinct tell you now?" Methos says taking a step towards him.

"That I should run away and save my own life."

"And your pride?"

"That I should stay here and face my fate and fight you until I die, like a master." Jonathan says to him hoping that he can buy himself enough time to have his body heal at least partially.

"I know that all of this isn't your doing, so tell me. What, or should I say, who is behind it?"

"I don't know his name, I only know him as the Master." Jonathan says, his should almost healed. He just needed to stall him for a few minutes longer.

"The Master? That doesn't tell me much. Where is his base of operations?"

"Why don't you go and fuck yourself!" Jonathan screams at him as he lunges at him with his sword. A Methos side steps the blade and brings his own blade onto the weakest part of his opponent's sword; where the blade and hilt meet. As the Ivanhoe connects with the scimitar Jonathan watches in fear as the blade falls from it's handle and clatters to the ground. Now holding nothing but the hilt, the vampire over stretched and off balance falls to the ground unceremoniously after a quick kick to his side.

"Now you are going to answer all my questions demon." Methos says to him a low voice. Seeing that Jonathan is grinning once more Methos says, "Don't you understand that you are beaten?"

"I know that, but apparently you don't understand something."

"What would that be?"

"It's already one o'clock." Jonathan says. He revels in his only victory of the night.

Methos looks down to his watch and curses, he was right. Looking up he sees that the Vampire had run away. Cursing again Methos takes off in the direction of the Magic Shop hoping that the others were able to succeed where he had failed.

Jonathan allows himself a small smile. He had one small victory tonight, it was a small one and it had cost him hand but it was a victory nonetheless. Looking at the stump that was now his arm he begins to think that perhaps now was the best time to cut his losses.

The Master sits at his altar eagerly awaiting the return of his two minions. If the vampire had done his job they should both be returning soon. He could not see the sky but he looked up anyway gazing as if he could see the stars and the planets above. They were so close to position. If all goes well he will be able to finish what he had started all those centuries before in that coastal city by the bay. Nearly two thousand years ago had passed since he had tried to realize his destiny. It cost him his student and his life when he realized that he had mistranslated the scrolls he had found. He could still remember the searing pain as the ash burned his skin as he jumped into the bay and how he was literally boiled to death as the heat turned the bay into a huge pot, killing all those above and below the surface.

It was a lesson hard learned, one that he had to live with in patience for almost two thousand years. Now he was close once again to his dream, to his destiny. In the background he listened to the sounds of Rachmoninov's prelude number two. The sound of the piano, forceful and beautiful at the same time, much like the power he would gaze into tomorrow night. As the piece becomes more and more forceful and chaotic he smiles in anticipation of the chaos that he would release. The piece mirrors his excitement and emotion perfectly.

As the piece reaches its climax he hears the approaching footsteps of Keith and Aaron. As the last few chords of the piece die away the Master asks them. "I trust all went well?"

They both hold up their containers. "Good! Tomorrow you both will share the power that is coming to me. Together we shall be the most powerful beings on the planet!"

Keith and Aaron both smile as they place their containers on the altar. Finally they would receive their payment for centuries of loyalty. Finally the Master's plan will be achieved.

Inside the Magic shop Joyce Summers was starting on her fourth book. The group assembled hadn't found anything helpful

That is until Joyce opened up her book. Almost halfway through her book she fell upon a page that had a picture of the Earth along with the planets and stars in the sky. Below the pictures there were a series of dates. Thousands of years apart from each other but something caught her eye. In the middle of the list there was one date that stands out from the rest. The date written on the page is tomorrow's date.

"Ruppert, I think I found something.!" She says excitedly.

Looking up from their places at the table the other four move to see what Joyce had found.

"My word." Giles says quickly scanning the pages. "My word." He repeats as he finishes.

"Well what did she find?" Willow asks him.

Wondering also the importance of the passage Joyce asks, "Yes Ruppert, just what did I find?"

"You just may have found the break we were looking for Joyce." Quickly rereading the pages he looks at the date prior to tomorrow's date. Looking at Cassandra he asks her, "What happened August twenty-third seventy-nine AD?"


"What happened on that day?"

"I don't know I can't just recall days that far in the past!"

"What are you getting at Ruppert?" Joyce asks in confusion.

"Just tell me what happened that summer!"

"Ah…seventy-nine. I…I can't remember." Cassandra tell him.

Moving over to one of the stacks Giles pulls out an almanac. "August twenty-third, August twenty-third," He says flipping through the book. "Here!" Scanning the page he frowns. "That can't be right, nothing happened that day."

"What were you expecting?"

"A catastrophe of some sort. Something horrible."

Taking the book from him Willow looks at the page. Turning to the next page she finds what he could not. "Uh Giles?"

"Yes?" Giles asks her.

"Is this catastrophic enough for you?" She says handing him the book.

Reading the date out loud he says, "August twenty-fourth?"

"Read the passage in the middle." Willow instructs him.

"Eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroys and buries the city of Pompeii." Giles looks at the sentence again and says, "My word." Dropping the almanac on the table he picks up the book that had pointed them in the right direction. He reads it more carefully, taking a pad of paper and a pencil laying on the desk he jots down the information he needs.

Standing up he goes into the back room leaving the four women behind confused. Giles returns to the front of the shop with a pair of binoculars in hand. Walking to the front door of the shop he pauses and looks back and says, "Joyce in the drawer underneath the cash register is a map of Sunnydale. Get it out for me."

Joyce nods and walks behind the counter. Through the glass of the door they can see Giles look up at the sky and bring the binoculars to his face. Cassandra looks at him with curious eyes. In the city is not the best place to stargaze. The lights always interfere out shinning the dimmer stars in the sky. Giles turns back and returns to the pad of paper he left on the table.

Looking over his shoulder Cassandra sees the watcher writing down what she can only call mathematical equations. She is startled when Giles looks over his shoulder and says to Joyce, "Joyce did you find that map?"

Walking over to him she says, "Yes, here it is." Giles unfolds the map and goes back to the back room and returns with a compass and a box of pushpins. He quickly pushes the pins into the map pinning it to the table.

Looking at his calculations one more time he puts looks at the compass and measures out an unspecified distance. Handing the pad to Willow he asks, "Do these numbers look correct?"

Willow nods and answers, "Yes."

Pushing the sharp spike into the map he draws out a circle. Replacing the compass with a red pushpin in the center of the circle he looks at his work.

"Giles, what exactly did we find?" Cassandra asks him her patience running thin.

Looking up he tells her, "We found the area where the end of the world will begin." Pointing to the red circle drawn on the map.

Adam is running towards the Magic Shop when he sees Xander and Faith ahead of him. He runs up to them Xander feeling the quickening of his mentor first turns around. "Adam?"

"Did you two stop it?"


"The murder did you stop it?"

Faith answers, "No. We ran up against some heavy resistance."

"Shit!" Adam spits out. "Come on!" He says as he takes off running. Faith and Xander take off after him trying to keep up.

Almost at the front of the Magic Shop Adam sees Riley and Buffy walking from the opposite direction. Running to them he asks, "Did you stop the murder?"

"No we were knee deep in vampires and then suddenly nothing." Riley tells him.

"Yeah for the first hour all we did was fight vampires and then nothing. What's happening" Buffy asks him.

"I couldn't stop it either." Xander and Faith were had just arrived behind him in time to hear his comment.

"What does that mean?" Faith asks. "Does it mean we failed?"

"No." Adam says grimly. Opening the door to the shop he walks in with the assembled group of young warriors. "It just means we have to stop whatever it is trying to end the world tomorrow night."

"But we don't even know where all this is going to take place!" Buffy exclaims. "Finding the site where the ritual is going to take place is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack."

"More like finding a needle in a stack of needles that look exactly like it." Adam says to them.

At that point Giles clears his throat drawing the attention of those assembled by the door. Looking up they see Cassandra, Giles, Willow, Tara and Mrs. Summers.

"Mom!" Buffy exclaims. "Giles! Why is she here!"

"You can ask me why I'm here Buffy, you don't have to ask Ruppert." She says to her daughter with a hint of annoyance.

"Fine, what are you doing here Mom?" Buffy asks.

"Helping you."

"I can't have you helping us Mom, it's too dangerous and…"

"How dare you tell me what I can or cannot do to help protect my own daughter!" Joyce Summers says. To the younger members of the group they all can see now where Buffy's look of resolve and fierce determination come from.

"Giles! Tell her that it's too dangerous!"

"NO!" Giles yells. "If it wasn't for you mother's help we might not have found what we did tonight."

"What?" Buffy looks at her mother who now had a smug look on her face.

Adam cuts in, "Look you can have your family dispute later!" Turning to Giles Adam says, "We didn't stop the murder but we can still stop the person performing the ritual. What did you find?"

Motioning for them to follow they walk to the table where they left the four researching previously. On it is a map with a circle drawn on it. Giles points at the circle and tells them, "We just made the stack smaller."

"What is this?" Adam asks him.

"Joyce found a passage in this book about planetary movements and their effects on the metaphysical." He says handing the book to Adam.

"So what's the deal?" Xander asks.

"On this page in particular it states how certain planetary formations can effect the Hellmouth. Or in particular the position of the Hellmouth." He points a line out to Adam, "Here it says the distance the Hellmouth moves is directly related to the position of Neptune to this star cluster." He points at the picture. "I've calculated the distance to be exactly four miles off center of it's current position." Pointing at the red pushpin Giles says. "This, is where the Hellmouth is located. The location of the old high school, and this is the area of a four-mile radius. Somewhere on this circle is where the Hellmouth is going to be tomorrow."

"When do the formations come into the right alignment?" Faith asks him looking from the book on the table to the map.

"Sun down." Giles tells them.

"That's over twenty-five miles to cover!" Adam says. "We need to narrow down our search."

"Well we know that we need to stop whoever it is doing all this from taking power from the Hellmouth."

"I found out that the person who is doing this calls himself the Master." Adam adds seeing the curious looks he says, "I'll explain later."

"Well what do we know?" Riley asks

"He plans on opening the Hellmouth." Adam says.

"Well what does it take to open the Hellmouth?" Joyce asks curiously.

They all look to Giles who ponders the question. "A spell of some sort usually." Giles says out loud.

"What does the spell have to do?" Cassandra asks.

"Usually it has to do with releasing a huge amount of power. Remember when the Master sent Luke out to collect energy for him?" Willow says recounting the first night they all fought together.

"Yes, the Harvest." Giles says. "The Master was going to use all that power to open the Hellmouth and release himself from his prison."

"And the last time this happened Mt. Vesuvius erupted." Tara adds.

Adam looks at her intently. "Mt. Vesuvius? Are you sure?"

Giles answers, "Yes the date listed for the last time the planets were in this formation is the day right before the volcano erupted." Giles explains. "We assumed that it was a side effect of a failed attempt to open the Hellmouth." Picking up the pad of paper that had his equations he shows the group. "I did the math and found that the last time the formation had occurred the Hellmouth was pulled directly underneath the volcano."

"How do you know that the attempt failed?" Riley asks the Watcher.

"Obviously because the world wasn't sucked into Hell." Giles says. "Something went wrong. According to all the information we found. In order to open the Hellmouth you have to be in the center of it."

Giles can see Adam throw Cassandra glance. "Would you like to share what is on your mind?" Giles asks sharply. He had not gotten a lot of sleep lately and tonight's stress was not helping any.

Cassandra is the one who answers his question. "It is somewhat of a myth among immortals that the eruption of Vesuvius was caused by an Immortal battle."

"A quickening?" Xander says. "How old was the Immortal that lost his head? That had to be one hell of a quickening to have caused a volcano to blow it's top."

"The battle was rumored to have taken place inside one of Pompeii's temples." Adam says simply.

There is only one thing Xander could say to that statement. "Oh."

Buffy hears Xander's comment and asks, "For all of us non-Immortal people here could you explain what exactly encompasses 'Oh?"

"The temple is holy ground. We are absolutely not allowed to fight on holy ground. It is a cardinal sin of immortality." Xander explains.

"So according to our own folklore the eruption of Vesuvius has a direct correlation to the breaking of one of the rules we have been taught never to break." Cassandra explains.

"For over five thousand years it is one of the few things I have always followed." Adam says adding to the seriousness of Cassandra's explanation.

"Could that be a possible connection?" Tara asks? "I mean it's only myth and legend right?"

"Well yes." Adam answers.

"Maybe it was the botched ritual that had cased the volcano to erupt not the immoral fight on holy ground." Tara reasons.

"That would narrow down our search considerably." Giles says, "But we shouldn't ignore any other location that could possibly house the ritual."

"I agree." Adam says.

"I thought as much as have looked to see if there was anything that could possibly be the location for the ritual. Surprisingly enough though most of them are churches." Giles explains.

Looking down at the map Buffy points at one location and says, "You can cross this one off of the list."

"Why do you say that?"

"It was the old church that Spike used to heal Drucilla. After it collapsed it was one of the buildings that was burned down in the fire two summers ago."

"Fine that leaves us with nine sites to visit tomorrow." Adam says after counting up the sites on the list and marking each one with a pushpin. "One for each of us to visit."

"So tomorrow night we either stop the ritual or we all die?" Tara asks her hand finding Willows.

"Unfortunately yes." Giles answers.

"There is nothing more we can do tonight. I suggest that we all go home…"Adam's voice trails off not willing to finish the sentence. They all understood. If there was something you needed to do, or needed to get out of the way do it tonight because tomorrow you might not have the chance.

Willow nods and tells them. "I'll take this one, I have a gap between classes so I should have the time to get there and then back without any problems."

Tara points out the site that she'd take "I'll have this one. I just have work tomorrow but I think that I can get my boss to let me have the day off." She says looking at Xander.

"That won't be a problem." He says to her.

Willow and Tara get ready to leave the shop together. Willow stops by Buffy and tells her, "I'm not going to be at the dorm tonight Buff. I'm going over to Tara's we want to spend tonight together. So if you want to use the room you can go ahead…"

"Thanks Wills."

"I'll take this one." Adam points out.

"I'll check this one out." Buffy points to another.

"I don't have any discussions tomorrow so I can take this one here." Riley tells them.

Cassandra points to a site. "I have a errand close by I can stop by to take a look at the place."

Buffy is about to leave when she realizes that her mother is going to be alone tonight. "Mom I'm going to stay with Riley tonight is that okay with you?"

Buffy's eyes widen in shock as her mother's arm wraps itself around Giles' waist. "I'll be fine Buffy, I understand. Don't worry I won't be alone tonight."

Giles seeing the look of surprise on her face tells her. "If we survive past tomorrow we promise to explain it to you. But until then just be happy for us knowing that we're not going to be alone tonight."

Buffy, although curious of their pairing, nods her head in acceptance. Seeing that her mother is okay she moves to leave the store. Before leaving she turns back and faces her mother giving her a wink. Her mother returns the wink and Buffy and Riley leave the store together.

"Joyce and I will visit this one. It is close to her studio and I'll make sure that she is okay." Giles says pointing to the marked spot.

"And we're going to see the last two." Faith says. Xander is about to say something about splitting up and saving time when she cuts him off, "If that is the last day we will ever be able to spend together I'm sure as hell not letting you out of my sight."

"Fine." Xander says.

The last three couples leave the store and out front Joyce says the only thing that can come to mind. "Good night."

The assembled group thinks over the words nodding their heads. This was possibly that last night could possibly call 'good.' If they couldn't stop the ritual come sundown tomorrow then it would mean tonight is truly the last night for the world. With those thoughts in mind the world's only chance at survival went their separate ways to spend the rest of the night with the ones that they loved the most.

The sounds of beating orchestral music can be heard as Wagner fills the underground lair of the Master. Tomorrow night would mark the turning point in his life where he transcends his existence as an Immortal and would become a God. He laughs to himself as he prepares his sanctuary for the ritual. His time is close at hand. The end of the world is a small price to pay for Godhood, then again once he became a God he could create the world in such a way to suit himself! This thought strikes an odd chord in his mind and makes him laugh out loud. His laughter soon overcomes the music being played in the room. As his laughter grows in strength it encompasses everything until nothing else can be heard.

As a God no one could stop him. As a God none could oppose him, and as a God he would rule all. The world would be for him and for his enjoyment only and nothing could stop him. Nothing.

Chapter 12

Adam is lying in bed next to Cassandra. He watches her as her chest rises and falls evenly. Her face is peaceful and unmarked by conscious thought. It is these moments that he had found Cassandra most beautiful. He could remember watching her sleep when she was his slave. Even then he could recognize her beauty; it had taken him three thousand years to be able to see her in this state once again. Carefully moving out of bed Adam leaves the room pausing one moment at the door to look upon Cassandra one more time.

Walking to the den where he keeps all of his accumulated research Adam opens a drawer and pulls out his original notebook that had all of his original research on the prophecy. Opening the notebook he flips the pages until he gets to the point he is looking for. His first complete translation, everything he had shown to Giles and the others. Turning the pages to the end of translation he sees the passage telling of the warrior stopping the beast and closing the passage hell.

Turning the page once more Adam looks upon the passages that he has not shown anyone, the continuation of the prophecy.

"A his return shall be but a dream." Adam reads. "And from that dream he shall fall into the darkness."

Adam replaces the book in the drawer and sits at his desk. Closing his eyes he can remember Hamlet's first soliloquy in the opening scene of act three. To die, to sleep; to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.

The last passage of the prophecy does just that, give him pause. Pause because it points in a myriad of possible directions. Pause because it refers to the young man he considers as his son. Pause because he doesn't know how to stop it from happening. Pause because he doesn't know if he will be there to catch him before he falls to far into the darkness.

Darkness. It is a word that represents a thousand years of his life. It is a word that represents that eternal sleep of death. It is a word loaded with so much imagery and simile that it could mean anything or nothing at all. Had he made the right decision in keeping this from them? This information would only hamper the greater need of stopping the Awakening. It could possibly cause the death of one of the others and that was something he wants to protect Xander from as long as he can. But what if there was something he had missed? Something that he couldn't possibly foresee? No! Second-guessing is something that will not do anyone any good.

Turning the light off and walking out of the den Adam walks to one of the only windows in the house that is facing east. The first rays of light were beginning to break over the horizon. In the back of his mind he can feel that Cassandra had just woken up. He could feel her concern as she found the bed empty. He could feel as she walks out of the bedroom to stop at the top of the stairs seeing him in front of the window. Looking up he gestures to her to come down.

Walking down the stairs careful not to miss a step in the darkened house she makes her way next to him. His arm drapes itself around her waist pulling her closer to him. She looks out of the window seeing what he sees. The first crest of the sun now slowly rises above the horizon in a blaze of brilliant reds, pinks and oranges. The light reflects off of the stray wisps of clouds only accentuating the beauty of the scene.

Cassandra whispers as they watch the sun rise together, "It makes you pause, doesn't it?"

Adam thinks on the words a moment before responding truthfully, "Yes it does. Yes it does."

They stand like that until the sun is almost completely above the horizon and the sky begins to change to its normal brilliant blue. A new day had begun, full of life and promise. The thousands of citizens of Sunnydale would soon be up and about going on with their lives as they did everyday but they would never know that their entire lives rely on the actions of a handful of people, and the decision of one man. Adam only hoped that his decision was the right one.

Xander's eyes slowly open as the first rays of light filter through the blinds hanging from the window. The morning starts just as all the others had started. The sunlight shining through the window, the first sounds of life, the birds chirping, and Faith lying at his side, her head resting lightly on his chest. Her hair spread out like a halo of brown and gold. He feels her breath slightly warming his skin.

He doesn't remember when his hand started stroking her hair, he just knows that it is and it is that simple movement he knows true happiness. He can remember waking up every morning with Faith and feeling this contentment. This morning is different though. This moment is different; this moment Alexander Harris feels a completeness that he had never believed possible. Stroking Faith's hair gently Xander closes his eyes and remembers what had happened when they had arrived home last night.

Xander and Faith had avoided a physical relationship despite the fact that they had already made their feelings known. He loved her and she loved him. His entire life Xander had thought that love was, to quote a song, just a word. A word that he could never, even in his own mind, bring to use in the same sentence as his own name. However he had found that elusive emotion and in a place that he would have never have ever thought of finding it: Faith. Faith the young, rebellious Slayer, the tough girl with the attitude and the power to back it up. His first. It wasn't exactly how he had pictured his first time with a woman but the experience itself was something that would always stay with him.

Last night however what he and Faith had shared was something that would make him all but forget their first time together. Their first time together was a hormone driven, spur of the lust driven moment in their hectic lives atop the Hellmouth. They were still wearing the masks that hid their true feelings and the person behind them back then. But last night would erase all that. For Xander their first time was last night. It was the first time Xander and Faith let go of the façade, dropped all the walls and all the pretense and gave in. For years Xander could remember hiding his feelings, masking them with humor, a mental slight of hand, misdirection and then poof, his true feelings were gone and replacing them is the Xander everyone all knew and loved.

His thoughts are interrupted as he feels Faith's head tilt up. Looking down he can see her sleepy eyes looking up at him, he had never noticed it before but her deep brown eyes had light golden specks. Smiling he realizes that her eyes were probably the best representation of Faith he could ever find. Faith behind the tough and dark front truly shines with a personality and soul that Xander feels privileged to have been one of the few to have seen.

"What are you thinking about?" Faith says seeing Xander's smile. "Last night?"

"I was but right now I'm think how much you can really learn from a person just by looking at their eyes." Xander softly says his hand never stopping stroking her hair.

Her eyes soften and she takes a deep breath closing her eyes. Her face is a contented one as she lightly pushes her ear up against his chest. "You know I fell asleep last night listening to your heartbeat." She says with a small smile. "Thump, thump." She says lightly tapping his chest, "Thump, thump. Steady, sure," she pauses as she relaxes again into him, "comforting, accepting."

"Faith I..." Xander searches for the words that would perfectly describe his and feelings the swirl of images that he can feel in his heart but his mind and tongue fail him. "I..."

"Shhhh. You don't have to say anything Xander. I already know." Faith tells him. "You know that I never thought that I would find this in my life? That I would never be in this place."

"What place would that be?"

"Here, in your arms, not scared, knowing that you will be there when I open my eyes." Faith sighs, her head still resting lightly on his chest.

"If you didn't know that today would possibly be your last day on Earth would last night have happened at all?" The thought had been floating in Xander's head for a while now, was what they shared last night mutual or was it something that only occurred because it could have possibly been their last chance to be together.

"Don't go there Xander. What happened last night would have happened even if the world weren't going to come to an end. You know it and I know it." Faith slides up the bed to come eye to eye with Xander.

Closing his eyes and sighing he tells her, "I know, I just needed to hear you say it. Everything in my life I've had to work for, nothing has ever come easy, accept for now. I was wondering what did I do to deserve this."

"I think we're finally being rewarded for a tough life."

"You think so?"

"Yeah. Xander, no matter what happens I want you to know that right now is the happiest I've ever been and if I die today I'm going to die knowing that someone loves me and that..."

"You're not going to die alone?" He finishes for her. Looking at him she nods. He continues, "For the longest time the thing I was most afraid of was dying alone, nice to know that isn't going to happen now."

"Xander, if we beat this thing tonight, promise to me that you wont leave me. Promise me that you're going to be there."

"Hey, what did I tell you? You won't be alone anymore, I promise." He pulls her close to him once again, a movement that is both inviting and comforting.

Her head tucked in beneath his chin she says, "I'm so afraid that I might loose you just when I finally found you."

"You won't." He says sitting up and lifting up Faith as well in the process. He points at the window and says to her, "See everything out there? See that?"


"The world. We got a whole world to explore together Faith and I'm not about to let anyone take that chance at happiness away from me, I'm not about to let anyone take you away from me."

"Hold me." She tells him mirroring the words she had said to him so long ago. Only this time she loved him, only this time he didn't have to let go.

The only light in the Master's lair is provided by the tongues of flame burning on the torches on the walls. The Master is on the floor drawing the symbols he needs for the ritual. Using the blood of his victims he draws a large circle with five smaller concentric circles inside. As the dirt and dust soaks up the blood the colors and the geometric shapes remind him of the Indian sand paintings. Drawing a short line he makes another circle, smaller this time, and draws three concentric inside. Moving to the side the Master does the same mirroring what he has done on the other side of the first circle.

He begins to place torches around the design on the floor, nine in all forming a circle. Stepping away he looks back on his work with a smile. Everything is as it should be, just as it was two thousand years ago. Closing his eyes he remembers the dimly lit temple at sundown. The bodies of the priests and patrons he killed to have the freedom to complete his ritual unabated, he can remember it all as if it were yesterday.

Walking behind the designs and to the altar the Master adjusts the small cauldron. Next to the cauldron are the various ingredients that he needs for his plan to work. Among the ingredients are the eyes and tongues of the young women he had killed. Assuring that everything is in place the Master walks back to his chair to prepare himself for sundown.

Willow sits in class for once not paying attention to the professor and his lecture. Instead she is glancing at her watch every five minutes. As the professor continues to babble on about double and triple integrals Willow can only think of the nearby site that she must visit today, the site that could possibly hold the ritual and house the coming of the end of the world.

The words of the professor are drowned out in her head as she looks around at her classmates, each of them not knowing what will transpire hours from now. She is saddened that each one of the people in her class weren't privy to the knowledge that she has, otherwise they too would have spent last night or even today spending time with their loved ones. Willow looks around and see that it is up to her and her friends to make sure that these people will have that chance to see their friends and loved ones again.

Seeing that the professor had finished with the lecture and was writing down the homework assignment on the overhead. Jotting down the assignment Willow puts her notebook into her backpack and makes her way to the doors.

Riley is trying to focus on the stack of papers sitting in front of him. As a TA his main job to teach and grade the papers of his discussion groups. As an ex-covert-ops soldier part of a secret branch of the United States military designed specifically to combat supernatural occurrences, Riley can only think about going to the location he had picked out last night.

Looking at the papers he could care less what his students really thought about Jungian analysis, after awhile the papers all started to look the same. The body of the papers all had the same points and it was once in a great while where he would see a truly stellar paper that went the extra mile to explain the procedures and the thought behind them. He would usually at least give his students the benefit of the doubt and set the bar fairly low. However today Riley was in a less forgiving mood.

His students were now working on dream analysis. Dreams. For Jung the symbolism found in dreams form the basis of analytical psychology. Dreams and the understanding of the creative process point to the typical modes of expression forming the base psychic patterns common to human being as a whole. But if he and his friends were not able to stop the ritual before sundown the dreams that all his students have written about would amount to nothing. Hopes and actions only accounted for by the unconscious lost. Nothing.

Maybe just maybe if he graded their papers just a little harder, instead of analyzing their dreams he would force them to go out and try to realize them. Maybe then they wouldn't have any dreams that would die with them when the end of the world came.

Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath he pushes the papers to the side. Looking out his window he sees that it is overcast today. Getting up from his desk he walks over to the coat hanger on his wall and pulls on his jacket. Walking over to his desk and opening a drawer he pulls out a piece of paper that he wrote down the address of his destination.

Turning to walk out of his office he thinks that if they are successful tonight, then his students will have more than enough time to realize their dreams instead of analyzing them.

"Grande white chocolate mocha, extra hot." Buffy tells the barrista. Upon arriving at her location she found that the entire site had been built upon and a Starbucks now stands on the lot. Not one to pass up the opportunity for a good cup of coffee Buffy decided to make the best of the situation.

Handing the barrista her cash for the drink she walks off around the coffeehouse to see if there were any potential places the ritual could possibly take place. The Starbucks isn't that far from campus and she can see the multitudes of students with their books on the tables or on their laps as they sit on the various couches and chairs inside.

There was no way that the ritual could be taking place at this site Buffy thinks to herself. Too many people were in the area and somebody would have noticed a guy carrying around missing body parts. At least she hoped so. When her order was called at the espresso bar she walked over to it grabbed a sleeve and began to walk around the premise casually. There had to be at least ten people inside the building at all times, customers and workers together. There were no stairs that lead up or down and the only back rooms were storage and restrooms.

Walking out of the store Buffy is able to relax just a bit more. That was one possible location crossed off. Looking at her watch she sees that it is only eleven o'clock. Hopefully the others have already visited their sites or were on their way to visit them, if that was the case they should be able to find the place long before sundown and save the world with time to spare. In the back of her mind though Buffy knew that the chances of that happening were very unlikely. If living on the Hellmouth had taught her anything it was to never take anything for granted.

Sipping her coffee she reflects on all the small things that she now finds so endearing. Spending time with her friends. Arguing with Giles just to see him get flustered. Spending time with Riley, even just going to school. The life of a Slayer is a short one and she plans on making the most of the life that she has. She had survived the Master, Collin, The Mayor, The Ascension and countless other things she would be damned if she is going to let this thing beat her. She still had her life to live.

Cassandra is sitting on the outdoor patio of a restaurant surveying the square surrounding the location she had chosen last night. The square is surrounded by a multitude of little stores, a flower shop, an antique dealership, a vintage clothing store and a small market with fresh fruits. The square is wide open and there are many entrances and exits. In the direct center of the square is a fountain shooting water up to ten feet into the air above a post-modern bronze statue. Logistically the square was large enough for the ritual, but it was too open, too susceptible to attack and the fountain in the middle would be an impedance for the placement of the ritual.

Sipping her green peach tea Cassandra looks at the people as they walk around the square. Small children running around their mothers not too far behind, mothers with strollers walking with their babies despite the cool weather. Men in suits walking from a nearby business for lunch no doubt. Cassandra sits back and smiles. One of her favorite pastimes is to sit and people watch.

As people walk by she would be able to tell small little things about them. The way they walk, the way the hold themselves, their voices, their facial expressions and if one would walk close by she would be able to feel the emotions that they were feeling that instant. Anxieties, apprehension, happiness, worry, sadness, elation and a numerous amount of the shades in between.

If there was one thing that Cassandra would miss other than the close circle of friends she has established over the years, it would be just being able to watch people as they go on with their daily routines. The sound of laughter and squealing draws her attention back to the fountain where she can see to small children, a boy and a girl are playing with the water. The girl squeals with laughter again as the boy playfully splashes the girl once more. The laughter grows even louder when the girl begins to splash the boy as well. The sight brings a smile of Cassandra's face watching the innocence of the to youths. Closing her eyes and reaching out to them she can feel no malice, no bad intentions, no anger, just pure happiness and contentment with that moment. Content playing with the water, content being splashed despite being wet, and content with just being alive.

Cassandra's smile turns into a chuckle as the boy showing off his amazing skills of balance falls into the fountain and submerges himself into the water. Coming out of the fountain he looks like a wet dog, his hair hanging below his eyes and water dripping off of him. The young girl shares Cassandra's reaction as she points at him and laughs. Her laughter turns into squeals once again as the boy pulls her into a bear hug drenching her with water as well.

Waving to the waiter to bring her bill Cassandra looks upon the children once more. They have something that was taken from her at an early age by the harsh times. Innocence. Innocence to laugh. Innocence to live life without any qualms or worries. Things that were taken from her first by the harsh environment that was the desert of the Bronze Age, then again when the Horsemen tore through the desert destroying her people. A wry smile plays across her lips as she thinks of how it was a horseman that had allowed her to find part of that lost innocence. The irony of her situation never ceases to amaze her. As she counts off the amount of cash for her bill she looks at the children now being scolded by their respective mothers. She may have lost her innocence at an early age, but she is only now finding it once again. Looking at the children Cassandra knows that in order to preserve their innocence she and the others will have to stop the ritual tonight and to do that she is willing to give up her own once again.

Tara can see that her search is going nowhere fast. She had spent the better part of an hour looking around the premise of the church she had chosen last night. She had been walking around the building looking at the entire lot. The garden outside, hedges neatly trimmed. Small statues kept clean over the years by the priests who rotate into the parish every so often. But the priests have been far and few in between the ones that have remained, or rather the ones still alive have tried to keep the garden clean and presentable.

The gravel path she walks on crunches beneath her feet. The walls surrounding the church are overgrown with dark ivy giving the illusion of nature's protection. Following the path to the front of the church Tara walks through the open doors into the church. She is greeted by a smell that she remembers from her youth. A faint sense of lingering incense and smell of the wood pews almost overwhelm her.

Walking down one of the isles her hand passes lightly over the tops of the pews. Pausing at one of the pews she reaches down and pulls up a book of hymns. She flips through the pages seeing the notes and words on the page all of them praising God and all his glory. God has not abandoned this town. Not by a long shot, the fact that Buffy and the rest were here fighting against all that is evil, but it would take God's help if they are going to stop the Awakening.

Walking around the outer walls of the church she looks upon the Stations of the Cross as she passes each. Each one showing a scene as Jesus is led to his death on the cross. Each a symbol of the pain and suffering he had endured as he carried the cross to the place where he would undoubtedly die. She stops and lingers at the station of Jesus' crucifixion.

"We're lucky for that one." The voice behind her startles her. Turning quickly she sees that one of the priests, dressed in the traditional white collar and black had come to stand next to her.

"Excuse me?" She asks the priest, unsure of the meaning behind his statement.

"The crucifixion. We're lucky that had happened." He says with an enigmatic smile.

"I'm not sure I understand where you are going with this. Each station shows Jesus suffering and in pain. How is that lucky?"

"I thought as much." The priest answers mostly to himself.

"Thought what?"

"When I saw you walking around the garden it seemed like you were looking for something. I was right, you were looking for understanding."

"Understanding of what?" Was this priest responsible for the murders she thinks to herself.

"Of the church. I could tell you didn't go here. I didn't recognize you from any of the other parishioners." He answers her unsaid question. The priest points to the stations and then the station of Jesus' crucifixion. "Yes Jesus felt pain, yes Jesus suffered but Jesus did it to sacrifice himself. He sacrificed himself to save the rest of the world. You see it's not about the pain or the suffering its about willingly sacrificing yourself for the greater good. If Jesus could do it what is stopping you?"

Nodding in understanding Tara says, "I think I understand now, thank you."

"Don't worry about it young lady. I'll be outside in the garden if you have anymore questions." The priest tells her before turning and leaving.

Sitting down in one of the pews Tara looks up at the statue of Jesus hanging on the crucifixion. Sacrifice. The priest's words hit home. Willow, Riley, herself, their lives never even dependant on Slaying or stopping vampires. But time and time again Tara is able to see the things that they do to help Buffy and Giles with their quest. Tara is able to see the sacrifices they make on a daily basis, the chance at a normal life, school, and a personal life just so the forces of darkness and evil would take over the world.

Standing up and walking towards the doors she had entered through Tara glances once more at the Station of the Cross where Jesus is crucified. Sacrifice. Is she ready to sacrifice herself to save the world? Thinking about her friends and the brave choices they make everyday Tara is able to answer her own question. Walking a little taller as she leaves the church Tara knows that if it came down to it she would sacrifice herself over and over again if it meant saving the world and her friends.

Joyce Summers is walking down the sidewalk back to her gallery. Walking next to her is Rupert Giles, father figure to her daughter, friend, protector and now lover. Looking at him as they walk together from the church they had chosen to visit the night before Joyce realizes that Rupert has been more of a husband than Hank Summer ever was.

She can that he is worried that they didn't find anything at the church they had spent a good hour searching through the building, looking for anything that could hold the ritual he is so worried about but came up with nothing.

"You shouldn't furrow your brow like that Rupert it doesn't suit you." She says as they walk.

Giles was looking down at the sidewalk intently as if he was looking for something, in actuality he is trying to think if he could have missed something. So when Joyce had finished her question naturally he didn't have any idea of what she said. "Pardon."

"When you think like that, you tend to hunch over and furrow your brow. It's a throw back to your cave man ancestry."

Quickly straightening his posture Giles replies, "Well you see it's just that we didn't find anything at the church and I was going over the layout in my head, perhaps we missed something a door, or a secret passage through a confessional..."

"You're babbling Rupert." Joyce tells him. "We went over every inch of that church, if there was something to be found we would have found it. The others are going to meet at the shop in an hour, one of the them had to have found something."

"You're right Joyce, it's just that I was hoping to, what I'm trying to say is..."

"That you wanted to find the site and put an end to the ritual yourself?"

"Exactly, that way the others wouldn't have to be put in danger." Giles says finally able to put his thoughts together.

"And if you are out numbered twenty to one and you die before you can tell the others where you are?"

"Well if that was the case then I would have let the others help deal with the situation."

"Rupert whether you like it or not you can't keep taking risks like you used to do." Joyce tells him as she reaches for his hand. "You have someone who cares for you deeply and if anything happened to you that person would be lost."

Giles squeezes Joyce's hand. "I know Joyce but I already told you that what I do is inherently dangerous." Giles pauses and looks over to Joyce, "But I will try to keep myself out of too much trouble for your sake."

Smiling Joyce answers, "I care for your safety a great deal Rupert but I wasn't talking about myself."

"Then who?"



"Yes, Buffy. Like it or not you are the closest thing she has to a father. If you were killed or harmed in anyway and if she wasn't able to help prevent it Buffy would fall apart."

Giles contemplates Joyce's words. His relationship with Buffy had indeed evolved past that of a Watcher and Slayer. Indeed he had been there for watch her grow and blossom into a young woman. He had been there for every major point in her life. Every tragedy and every triumph he had been there for support and celebration.

"Buffy is a strong young woman Joyce, she takes after her mother. But I seriously doubt that she would fall apart on my account."

"You didn't see her after my divorce from Hank. I thought that Buffy would starve herself to death if I didn't force her to eat. Rupert you are more of a father to Buffy than Hank ever was. If you die or something was to happen to you...I don't think that Buffy will be able to live through loosing a father again."

Giles stands there soaking in the words he had just heard. After a short pause he says, "Joyce I am not a young man anymore. I had thought that I was past the point in my life where I would have the chance to raise a family of my own. Buffy has given me that chance, to have a family, to be a father. Now you have come into my life and..."

"Now you have a second chance?"

Startled from hearing his thoughts being voiced by Joyce he says, "How did you know?"

"Rupert you think you are the only one that has been given a second chance here? Buffy was given a second chance at being a daughter and I have been given a second chance to be with someone. After arriving here in Sunnydale I had resigned myself to a life of watching my daughter grow up and away from me. Now I have someone to watch Buffy and to possibly grow old with."

"I guess we've all been given a second chance at life haven't we? Faith, Xander, Buffy, Willow, Tara and now us." Giles pauses in thought thinking of how to put his next words. "But now it seems that someone is trying to take it all away."

"Trying Rupert, trying. That's why the others are trying their best to put an end to this before it can take anything away from anyone."

"But we only get one chance at this Joyce. We miss that chance and the whole world suffers."

"That's right Giles, WE only get one chance at this, not you, WE. Just because you didn't find the site for the ritual doesn't automatically mean the world will end. One of the others has probably found it already and when we all meet at the shop we'll know exactly where to go and what we have to do."

"You're right Joyce." He answers her his hand pushing a stray piece of hair behind her ear. "Let's just hope that we will have more time to make the most of our second chance."

Nodding Joyce and Giles continue to walk down the street towards her gallery. It is a street that she knows well. She can name every shop owner and she can tell you the details of their lives. She can recite the names of their children, their hopes, their dreams and everything in between. The man she walks down the street with can say the same for her. He knows her hopes, dreams and fears. She has been given a second chance at a happy life and she will do everything she can to make that last.

Adam is not in a good mood. He had gone through that damn church nearly four times, and each time he came up with nothing. He was hoping to find the location of the ritual today without the others so he could deal with the situation expediently with the explosives he had in the trunk of his car. However that was not the case and he was now on his way to meet the others to see which one of them had found the correct location.

Parking his car he recognizes several cars belonging to the others. Stepping out of his car and walking to the entrance Adam can see through the window that all of them are waiting inside. Walking up to the door and pulling it open Adam walks inside. Xander is the first to speak.

"So what's the plan Adam?"

"Plan?" Adam says confused.

"Yeah, you know entrances and exits, targets and all that good stuff." Buffy says.

"I know what a plan is." Adam says slightly irritated.

"Then tell us what your plan is." Xander says.

"To say that I have a plan would imply that I know where the ritual is taking place. Since I don't and one of you undoubtedly does I cannot come up with a plan until one of you tells me where the damn ritual is taking place." Adam is momentarily pleased with the silent reaction he is getting from the group. That is until he sees their collective expressions. They range from shock, worry and confusion. Afraid of the answer Adam asks, "What's wrong?"

"Adam, you don't know where the ritual is taking place?" Xander says all humor and jest gone from his voice.

"No, my site was a bust." He looks from Xander to Cassandra to Faith. Each of them holds a very somber look. Looking at Giles and Joyce he sees a shared look of worry and fear. The others, Willow, Tara, Riley and Buffy have a look of confusion.

"Your site can't be a bust." Buffy tells him almost sounding desperate.

"It was. I'm sorry but the ritual isn't going to take place at that church."

Cassandra quiet until now says, "Adam we have been waiting here for the past half hour. Every time one of us walked through that door the first thing that we asked them is 'did you find it?' Every time each one of said no."

"Xander and me were the last ones to arrive before you. Our two sites turned up empty. So we all just assumed that being the only one not here that your site had to be the one."

"So we are back to where we were last night? No leads, no direction?"

"Unfortunately yes." Giles answers. "Perhaps one of us missed something?"

The chorus of protests and explanations the hit him at once. The garbled noise is enough to give Giles a headache. Holding up his hand to silence them he says, "Enough!" Removing his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose he continues, "Obviously we missed something, now what we need to do is find out just what it was we missed."

"I agree." Adam replies.

"Where do we start?" Faith asks them.

"Research." Giles answers.

"But we only have three hours to sundown!" Riley exclaims.

"Then we'll have to find the answer in less than that wont we?" Adam tells him.

The group finds seats inside the shop as Giles begins to hand out books. The tension in the room is almost tangible as the sounds of turning pages and pens scribbling down notes fill the room.

The Master is sitting on his chair, eyes closed, head tilted back to face the ceiling. Through his closed eyes he can see as the planets move along their slow elliptical paths to a point where they will ultimately bring him the power he has thirsted for his entire existence.

He can picture the moons of Jupiter the last pieces of his galactic puzzle box sliding ever so slowly into place. Ganymede the cupbearer of the Gods moves silently into place, ironic now that the large moon is now the cupbearer for his ascension into god-hood. The last piece that he can see falling into place is Ananke, goddess of fate. How poetic it is to the Master seeing that the moon named after the goddess of fate shall oversee his transition.

Even now he can feel the rumblings of power beginning to draw themselves to the underground cavern. He can feel the palpitations of the Hellmouth's resistance to move from it's anchored spot. They have been growing in power and intensity as the two moons move ever closer to their destinations. Flashes of energy fill him with a taste of the power that awaits him. His pulse beats louder and louder in his ears as his blood reacts to the familiar sensation he had felt so long ago. His body craves for the power, his blood sings for it, and his mind wishes to embrace it.

His mind begins to backtrack to the last time he had attempted to release the power of the Hellmouth. He was so close that day but one small mistake had cost him terribly. He could feel the power coursing through him, his nerves trembling with raw power, but as soon as he had felt it enter him it quickly was pulled away. He could remember his throat becoming hoarse and feeling the tissues within tear and bleed with the force of his scream. NOOOOOOO!!! He was so close, he could feel the power taking him but it was stripped from him leaving him empty and worthless. So close. It was then that the sky turned black and the sky began to rain down smoldering debris burning those who touched it to the bone.

By the time his healing had allowed him to recover from the ordeal of the ritual he could see the billowing cloud floating its way casually down the side of the mountain with deadly intent. He knew he had triggered something and that he needed to get out of the temple and to the docks as soon as possible. Outside a fine layer of ash had begun to cover all that was exposed to the elements. Breathing in the air he could feel his lungs burn and the smell in the town was becoming stronger and stronger and the cloud continued to roll down the mountain.

Running as fast as his legs could take him he ran to the docks. He ran past the buildings, the people walking through the streets not caring who he knocked over, who he hurt. He just ran, he didn't tell anyone of his responsibility for the cloud of smoke and fire that continues to descend on the town. He is at the docks when the cloud consumes the edge of the town, buildings and blocks vanish within the cloud. The searing heat from the cloud extends far beyond the reach of the cloud itself as unassuming people feel their flesh melt off of their bones as their blood boils within their own bodies. They are the lucky ones who die quickly, the ones who are trapped inside or protected from the heat are the ones who will suffer, being buried by the ash slowly as the fumes from the cloud kill them slowly. Causing them to pass out and be buried alive by the ash.

He launches himself from the docks and into the warm salty water of the ocean. As his body breaks the surface of the water he can feel the great heat nip at his heels. It was at that moment he was able to recall one of the lessons he had learned from his teacher before he killed him. The ocean is salty, it is for that reason the waters of the ocean will never freeze. His teacher was right, the salt prevented the ocean from freezing. But it didn't prevent the ocean from boiling. As the heat from the cloud reaches the water instantly a layer is vaporized into the atmosphere. The heat excites the water like a wave pushing downward claiming his body with excruciating pain.

Pain was his reward for failure. Pain was his reward for not completing his task and pain was a reminder that next time failure would not be an option. His opening his eyes he can see the water around turn red as his blood flows from his nose, ears and fingernails as they tear off from the heat. His vision too fades as the tissues of his eyes begin to succumb to the heat.

His eyes opens and once again he is greeted by the cool interior of the underground cavern. Looking down at his hand he sees his finger nails long since re-grown. Failure. Looking at the design he had drawn on the ground he knows that this time there will be no failures. This time he will finish what he had started so long ago. This time there will be no stopping him.

"Are you sure that you calculated the distance correctly?" Adam asks Giles for the fourth time.

Frustrated Giles answers, "For the fourth time, yes! After Willow went over it the first time I thought that you would have thought that I was correct. After Cassandra went over the calculations and confirmed that they were right you seemed to accept that. But after YOU went over the calculations the third time and saw that they were right I thought you would have shut up and accepted that they were in fact correct. So, WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME AGAIN!" He screams at him.

"BECAUSE THAT IS ALL THAT I CAN BLOODY THINK IS WRONG!" Adam screams back at him. The frustration that the entire group is feeling is coming to a point with Adam's exclamations.

"HEY!" Faith yells over the both of them. "Arguing at this point would be useless!"

"Not to mention counter productive." Cassandra adds as she continues to read from her book.

"Completely." Joyce adds.

"Thank you from the peanut gallery." Adam says sarcastically.

"Well at least the peanut gallery is still researching." Buffy rebukes.

"And what good is that doing us? We are less than half an hour away from sundown, in thirty minutes the world will witness the beginning of the end. So you tell me what your research is going to get you in thirty minutes."

Xander trying to be the voice of reason asks him, "Adam, how can you be sure that the calculations are wrong?"

"I've been through these books with Giles probably four or five times. You are not going to find in two hours what took us two weeks."

"But you went over the calculations yourself, even you said that they were correct." Xander tells him.

"I know but we are missing something. I know it." Adam tells them.

"Then why don't we go over it again just to make sure?" Giles says finally acquiescing if only to try to push forward in their search for an answer.

Faith decides to help Xander and play the peacemaker. "Well what do we know about the calculations?"

Giles answers, "When the planets get into a certain formation the Hellmouth becomes unanchored and it resurfaces at a equidistant location from the center."

"So we know it moves off center, so how do we know how far it goes?" Cassandra asks.

"According to the passage that Joyce had found two moons of Jupiter will slide into place and their distance from the Earth's moon will give you the distance the Hellmouth will move from center."

"Okay now we have gone over the calculation three times we all agree that the Hellmouth will move somewhere four miles off center."

"So what are we missing? We all went to a possible site for the ritual right?" Tara asks

"Could the center of the Hellmouth be moved into the air? I mean we've been looking at this from a two dimensional point of view. In three dimensional world the circle becomes a sphere." Willow says to them.

"No the ritual requires a symbol of some sort to focus the energy on, it would be to difficult to have the symbol in the air. That plus the passage doesn't mention anything about three dimensions, just two, it says it will be a circle off center." Giles quickly dismisses Willow's thought.

"So the symbol has to drawn on the ground?" Buffy asks.

"Yes, it should be placed at the exact point where the Hellmouth will resurface. That's why I was able to come up with that list last night."

"What made those places special?" Riley questions the Watcher.

"The open spaces, the easy access and the fact that it was easy to get to the direct center of the Hellmouth."

"We can all attest to that." Cassandra says, "My site was a open square of a sorts, but it is too open making it hard to defend an attack if they knew someone is trying to stop the ritual. And definitely too open for someone to not notice a man with missing body parts drawing a symbol on the ground."

"I think that was the case for all of our sites." Riley says. "Either the space is too open or too public for anyone not to notice anything."

"So what are we missing? Where can we find the ritual?" Willow asks the assembled group.

"I know I checked every crack in the floor at my location." Riley says defending himself.

Sighing Adam answers, "As did I, as did we all. But still leaves us without the whereabouts of our mystery man and his ritual."

"Why can't all bad guys be like the Master? I mean he was easy enough to find." Buffy says out loud mostly to herself.

For Buffy and the others the statement falls to the wayside another statement of sarcasm that has come to be expected from blonde Slayer. For Xander however it is a lightning bolt of realization and with that realization he says the only word that he can coherently form.


Faith concerned by Xander's reaction asks, "Xander? You okay?"

Xander's eyes grow wide, as he looks side to side at something that isn't there as if he trying to take in something the rest cannot see. "SHIT!"

Xander bolts upright and moves behind the counter. Tearing open one of the drawers he digs items out in search for what he is looking for. Another drawer is opened and its contents join the rest of the other drawer's contents on the floor. He continues to pour through the drawers until he finds what he is looking for.

Giles seeing the mess he is making says, "What are you thinking Xander?"

With the item he was looking for in his hand he walks back to the table and gestures for the others to look at what he has. Unfolding the piece of paper he is holding they all see it is the map from last night with the circle designating the search area.

Pointing at the center of the map Xander turns to Giles and asks him, "This is where the Hellmouth is normally located correct?"

"Yes, that is the exact location of the library." Giles answers.

"Wrong! That is what we've been missing! The library isn't the direct center of the Hellmouth!"

Giles pales as he realizes his mistake, "My word, you're right it isn't."

"Then where is it?" Riley asks not liking where the conversation is going.

Xander turns to him and tells him, "It's about a hundred feet directly below the library. The ritual is going to be held underground." Xander looks at the clock on the wall and sees that time is quickly ticking away. They need to find the ritual before it is too late.

The Master can feel a slight tremor as the Hellmouth is slowly loosing its battle versus the celestial bodies above. He can almost see the last tendrils of energy anchoring the Hellmouth to its position stretch and tear as the planets above continue to pull it away. As the last tethers holding the portal in place begin to snap that amount of energy flowing within the cavern continues to rise. He needs to prepare the ritual now or he will miss his opportunity yet again.

"Keith! Aaron!" He barks out. "Prepare the sacrifices and the ritual, when you are done prepare yourselves for your parts and wait within the circle I have drawn for you."

The two Immortals scurry to fulfill the Master's wish. They had noticed a subtle change in the demeanor of the Master over the past few hours. His usually calm and cool composure had slowly melted away to reveal apprehension and an edginess that they had never before seen. His eyes, when they were open, were wide scanning the room searching for something, sometimes he would find it and would stare at it for long periods of time before closing his eyes and muttering to himself.

Aaron though shaken by the change did not voice his opinion, the Master has his reasons for everything and opposing him now would be a mistake. The Master is no longer a reasonable being, he had gone past the point of no return and all that matters now is his quest. Aaron believes in the Master and will follow him on the same path, no matter where it leads. The Master had promised them power and he believes that the Master will deliver.

"Willow, do you think that you can find a geological survey of Sunnydale on the net?" Adam asks.

"I can try. Give me a sec." Willow responds as she opens up her laptop and plugs it into the wall jack that Giles uses for the credit card machine. The tones of her modem fill the room momentarily and then quickly die out as her connection to the internet is established.

"If I remember correctly a survey of the town was completed two years ago." Giles tells her.

"Yeah I remember, they were pretty surprised to find that underground chamber underneath the school." Willow says as her fingers type away at the keyboard. The images on the screen show that she is traversing City Hall's web page.

"Good job Willow you're into City Hall!" Buffy says to her.

"Not really it's just their web page." Tara tell her.

"But you can access their intranet through the web page so with a few code crunching programs here and...presto! You're inside City Hall's main server." Willow says with a smile.

"Great job Willow. Now can you pull up the map?" Xander asks her.

"I'll try to find it. It's probably in some kind of CAD format it might take a second or two." She replies.

"Not too long I hope, time is of the essence." Giles says.

"Let the woman work." Cassandra scolds them. "Nagging her won't make her work faster."

"Thanks Cassandra." Willow says as her search finally pulls up a hit. "I think I have it." She says as she opens the file.

Joyce leans in and asks her, "Can you zoom in on the section that we searched?"

"Sure." The picture enlarges and re-centers on the site where Sunnydale High School's library once stood. The surrounding area is outlined in blues, greens and reds.

"What does the color code mean?" Faith asks from behind her.

"The blue is for the higher levels, hills and stuff. The greens represent sea level, which covers most of the area. The reds show anything below that, the brighter the red, the lower."

"So this area in the center is the Master's old lair?" Buffy asks pointing at the map.

"Yes." Willow answers

"Then that area over there on the left is where the ritual has to be." Faith says.

"I would assume so." Giles says.

"Which site is that? Who was the one that checked it out?" Adam asks.

"It's the old burned down church. No one looked at the site. Since it was burned down we dismissed it as a site." Riley tells him.

"We can get there in five minutes. How do we get under the church?" Xander asks.

Willow studies the screen as it pans up and then left. "Here. There is a passage that leads from the cemetery to the church. Its all underground."

"Well what are we waiting for let's go!" Xander says as he and Faith are out of the door. Adam and Cassandra quickly follow.

The rest of the room gets up to leave with Giles and Joyce the last ones left in the room. "Joyce I think you should head home it would be safer for you if..."

"Safer! If I am going to die I want to die with my daughter! I want to die with my family near! That means you, Buffy and me! I am not about to go to my death alone!"

"Joyce I just want you to be safe."

"I'll feel safe if I'm near you. Now lets go."

"Very well. Let's follow them."

Close, so very close. The Master can feel the power beginning to course through his veins. Keith and Aaron are standing in the circles he had drawn for them. The cauldron was now ready for the sacrifices. One by one he opens the jars and pours their contents into the boiling liquid. As they touch the surface of the liquid the reaction is almost instantaneous.

The three inhabitants of the cavern can see the ethereal smoke rise from the cauldron. Like the mist that rises from the headless body of a fallen opponent the smoke travels around the cavern and surrounds them. The smoke tries to touch them as if trying to find if it is trying to discover if the beings in its presence are worthy of what it will give. As if the smoke approves of the vessels before it, the smoke goes straight up and begins to circle them above their heads.

As the small caravan pulls up to the cemetery the occupants within each car prepare themselves for battle. Buffy and Faith check their stakes, the Immortals finger their swords, Riley checks and then rechecks his weaponry and Tara and Willow go through the exercises shown to them by Cassandra.

Giles hands Joyce a cross and a stake. "Use the cross to keep the vampires at bay, if you have a chance push this through their heart." He tells her gesturing with the stake. Seeing that she is scared he quickly adds, "Don't worry I'm going to be there with you, but just in case I wanted you to know how to defend yourself."

Jonathan is sitting waiting for the time when the warriors will attack the entrance to the Master's lair. Unconsciously trying to flex his missing hand he turns to the last of his brood.

"Leave this place. I will deal with the mortals. Now go." The assembled vampires are hesitant to leave their leader alone to deal with the mortal warriors especially in his weakened condition. Seeing this Jonathan sighs, "You're loyalty is appreciated but unneeded. Now go."

Reluctantly the other vampires leave. Closing his eyes Jonathan can no longer feel his brood close by and smiles as he hears the sound of a car, no many cars pull up to the cemetery. He can feel the power emanating from the group. He can feel the Slayer, stronger this time for some reason and he can feel the presence of both the man who had taken his hand and the young man plus one other. He can see them rushing over to his location looking for the second entrance to the Master's lair no doubt. Just as they are about to reach his position he walks out from the shadows. The group comes to a sudden stop.

The sound of metal sliding against metal greets him as one of them, the one who had taken his hand steps forward with his sword raised and ready.

"Good, I was wondering where you had run off to. Saves me the trouble of finding you later."

"Kill me now and you'll never find the entrance to the Master's lair."

"The Master? I killed him years ago." Buffy states.

"Not the vampire master, the Master is like them." He points to Xander and Adam with his useless stump.

"Like us?" Adam asks.


"Look I hate to break up this tea party but where is the entrance?"

"Through that crypt, the second and third drawers are actually a door. Open it and the tunnel will lead you right to them."

"Them?" Riley asks.

"His lackeys are in there as well."

"What are we waiting for? Let's go! We only have a few minutes left!" Willow exclaims.

"How do we know he's not lying to us, what if it's a trap?" Faith says eyeing the vampire.

"You'll just have to trust me then wont you? If your red-headed friend is telling you the truth then you don't have the time to waste on me or my supposed plans." Jonathan says with a smile.

Giles grits his teeth before replying, "He's right, we don't have the time. We'll just have to trust him."

Bowing slightly Jonathan says to them, "Good luck to you all, until next time." With those words Jonathan disappears into the shadows. His plan of action is sound, either attack them and die or let them attack the Master who was more than likely planning to kill him anyway. For Jonathan it is a win-win situation. Should they survive he would live long enough to exact his revenge, should they die it is one less thing for him to worry about.

Back inside of the crypt Giles is in front of the drawers that Jonathan had pointed out. "Well lets see here, there must be a seam or a hinge of some sort if this is a door." He says feeling around the drawers.

Buffy gently pushes Giles out of the way, "We don't have the time to look for the quiet way in, Faith?" Buffy asks the other Slayer. Nodding the other Slayer stands next to Buffy and readies herself as does Buffy.

"One three?" Faith asks.

Nodding she tells her, "On three."

"One. Two. THREE!" Buffy counts out and on three both let out with powerful sidekicks hitting the supposed door at the same time. The door creaks and protests against the force of the strike as the door bends at the point where they struck it. The door is rips off of its hinges and lands with a loud crash just inside of the long hallway.

"Well yes, I suppose that would be the most expedient way inside." Giles says sarcastically, "But unfortunately you two just alerted them to our arrival."

"We don't have the time to worry about that now." Xander says hefting his sword and stepping through the opening.

"He's right, we need to get in there right now." Riley says.

"These are for you two," He tells Faith and Buffy pulling out a Roman Gladius for each of them, they both take the swords and nod their approval. "Okay everybody watch your heads, keep low and once inside expect the worst." Adam tells them as he Cassandra and Faith follow Xander into the passage.

Inside of the chamber the three figures standing within hear a loud crash. Keith makes a move to go and investigate but a restraining hand from the Master stops him.

"You leave this circle and you forfeit all that I have promised to you." The Master tells him with a glare. Keith hesitates for a moment and then nods re-sheathing his sword standing once again in the middle of the circle. "It doesn't matter anyway Keith, they will be too late to stop us."

The sounds of approaching footsteps echo within the enclosed chamber. The sounds becoming louder and louder as the group approaches the main chamber. But for the Master it is too little too late. "Prepare yourselves." He tells Keith and Aaron simply. Like robots unable to disobey their master the two men snap to attention, backs facing the Master.

The Master looks at them and quietly lifts his sword. "Now you shall finally be rewarded for your dedication. Now you will become the most powerful being on this planet!"

Keith and Aaron smile as they await for the power due to them. Centuries of work and dedication, blindly following the Master on his quest to fulfill his destiny, will finally be justified. Soon they will rule beside their master as they ascend beyond their Immortal flesh and bone.

Master continues to talk as the steps come close to the chamber, "You will become the most powerful beings on this planet by becoming a part of ME!"

The two Immortals only have a split second before they realize what the Master meant by that last statement. The realization comes to late as the Master brings his sword across his body with incredible force taking both Keith's and Aaron's heads with a single stroke. The maniacal smile that plays across his lips is evident even as a voice booms across the chamber catching his attention.

"YOU FOOL!" Methos yells as the two bodies sag to the ground, "This is still holy ground!"

"I know!" The Master replies without a hint of fear or apprehension. "The alignment has been realized! Witness the power of the Hellmouth!"

The group looks up at the cloud circling overhead and then at the forms rising from the fallen bodies of the Immortals on the floor. The chamber begins to tremble lightly at first and then more violently as the two clouds of smoke begin to intermingle. The Immortals realize what is about to happen and are the first to react.

"Everybody find some cover!" Xander yells grabbing Willow and Tara pushing them to the ground. Giles does the same with Joyce and Methos and Cassandra move also to find cover.

"Why don't we attack?" Riley asks him, moving towards the Master.

"No! Faith find some cover with Buffy!" Xander tells her and moves to stop Riley. Xander pushes Riley down behind one of the large boulders inside of the chamber but is too late to find cover for himself.

Just as Riley is safe behind the rock a bolt of blue lightening coalesces from the clouds of smoke that swirl above the Master. As the first bolt descends a second and third form seconds after each other and begins to rain down on the Master. The force from the quickening throws Xander across the room and against one of the walls of the chamber landing close to where Faith and Buffy had found cover. They both reach out to him and pull him to safe cover as the quickening continues to ravage the room.

Joyce hiding with Giles from the onslaught of the quickening looks up at the ceiling of the room. The power and force of the quickening is taking its toll on the underground chamber. Small cracks are turning into large ones and portions of the ceiling and walls begin to crumble and fall to the floor. If this doesn't end soon the entire chamber will collapse in on their heads.

Meanwhile Methos and Cassandra are looking at each other with worry. Cassandra voices her fears, "Something is wrong."

Xander now protected by the shelter found by the Slayers groggily pushes himself up. Looking at Faith and Buffy he tells them, "The Quickening doesn't usually take this long, something is happening."

As bolt after bolt hit the Master the energy of the quickening continues to grow. The foundation of the old church above cracks and buckles as the power of the quickening begins to be at odds to the natural energies that are present. The energies begin to fight with each other destroying almost everything that they touch. However something changes, the Quickening begins to harmonize with the natural energies present. Instead of opposing each other the energies begins to meld into one and like quicksilver snake all around, flowing like liquid fire rising more and more to its peak. The energy continues to grow outward causing pavement to buckle and trees to be uprooted until it reaches its breaking point. Like a star that has met the end of its days the energy can either explode in a brilliant supernova or collapse in on itself, its once great light now unable to escape what it has become; a black hole. The energy slowly begins to recede back towards its center ever gaining power and fury. Until it collapses onto the spot which gave birth to its great power.

Inside the chamber the walls are falling all around them, the ceiling without its support begins to crash down on top of all of them. Tara looks around and feels a sense loss, they had come so far only to be stopped by the walls falling on top of them. Buffy looks on and feels a sense of failure they did not even get a chance to fight against the madman who started all of this. Xander looks on with a feeling of uselessness. Years of training, of becoming more than he was amounts to nothing when it really came down to it. Cassandra looks on with a sense of dread, one that is mirrored by the look on Methos' face. They look up and see the ceiling falling down on them. As the huge rocks and debris fall towards them the group braces themselves for what will undoubtedly be their demise. Some huddle together not wanting to be alone in their last moments, others close their eyes making peace with themselves, but Methos does neither. He looks up to defy the bone crushing boulders daring them to strike him down. What he sees surprises him.

The rocks slowly begin to slow their descent downward turned to a frighteningly slow crawl. He is about to show the turn of events to Cassandra when the energies from the quickening collapse on the chamber with a brilliant white flash blinding all those in the chamber momentarily. When they are able to regain their sight they can see that the chamber is gone. The rocks that had once been overhead are now gone and replaced with the night sky and the stars above. Their awe is cut short by the frenzied laughter from the man who created all this havoc.

The Master continues to laugh as he screams, "THE POWER! I CAN FEEL IT!"

Though they are below ground level the open aired room begins to fill with a strong wind causing all of those present to shield and squint their eyes against the strong gusts. The light that had filled the room only moments ago has refocused itself onto a single spot on the ground before the madman's feet. At first it is a tiny pinprick but, as the seconds tick by the point grows wider and wider. From the center of the point of light red lightening spews out replacing the white lightening of the quickening. From the portal the sounds of moaning and wailing can be heard, the sound of a multitude of souls crying out for mercy or respite from their eternity of suffering.

The Hellmouth, like the universe, is born in a great explosion of energy and is now continuing to expand destroying all that is in its way. The Master by using the ritual of the Awakening is siphoning the power of the Hellmouth like a leech, and like a leech the Master's body begins to change bulging and expanding as if his body is trying to contain the multitudes of energy it is absorbing. They look on as the look of ecstasy on the man's face is replaced by a look of pain and pure horror.

The Master doubles over in pain as the power courses through his body. Something is wrong, horribly wrong. His body won't stop absorbing the power of the Hellmouth. He tries to search his memories for a way to stop the power transfer but he can't. It is in that search of a way to stop the power he had so desperately sought out for over two thousand years that he finds the reason why his body continues to absorb power from the Hellmouth. There in the depths of his mind he can feel another presence, another conciseness is eating away at his own. It like the Hellmouth is expanding, taking control of his body and slowly eating him out of existence, laughing at him the whole time.

"NO!" The Master screams as his body contorts once again as his clothes tear from his body as it expands beyond the confides of the fragile cloth. As he doubles over again the bones of his spine are visible as they begin to protrude from his body. His skin stretches as the bones try to break free of their flesh prison. The sound of tearing canvas joins the sounds of the wailing as the bones finally break free and through his skin. His groan of pain blends in completely with the sounds that already come from the Hellmouth. His body stretches like putty as the power from the Hellmouth continues to fill his body, his arms, legs and torso becoming larger to accommodate the bulkiness that had formed early on from the onslaught of the Hellmouth.

The hair from his head falls out as he reaches up and claws his eyes form his head in long and painful swipes. As he throws the lifeless orbs away he bends over once more clutching at his head where once again his skin begins to bulge at his temples. His hands and feet grow once more loosing two toes on each foot and two fingers on each hand. The nails on his hands and feet grow impossibly long and turn into talons and the skin on his head finally rips and releases the growth underneath. On either side of his head are long horns that fall downward and then forward the points extending nearly a foot in front of him. Looking up the group can see the once empty and bloodied are replaced by glowing yellow orbs. Opening his mouth once again to scream those watching the grotesque transformation can see a piece of flesh fall from his mouth. His tongue, much like his eyes, falls to the ground unceremoniously bitten off. His teeth fall out by the handfuls as they are pushed from his gums by the razor sharp protrusions growing beneath them.

With one last scream the voice of the master changes to a deep low roar. It sounds as if several sets of vocal cords are now making the sounds that come from the monster. Its hands rest on the ground as he crouches over like some distorted image of mankind's primordial ancestors. From its wrists a single long blade like bones shoot out extending its range another three feet. As the entire transformation is taking place his skin shifts and changes colors like a chameleon; green, red, purple changing colors slowly fading from one to another until stopping finally on black. The being now over seven feet tall jet black from head to toe with the exception of it eyes which now glow yellow like blazing suns sitting in front of the black backdrop of space.

With a final roar the transformation is complete the being once known as the Master straightens up to his full seven plus feet. Standing tall it is an impressive sight to behold. Flexing its wrists the bones protruding from its arms make a clicking sound. Single drops of liquid form at the base and follow the length of the bones towards the tips until they fall to the ground with a slight sizzle and a small string of smoke as the liquid burns all that it touches.

Xander, Methos and Cassandra stand up from their shelters and come out to the open; Faith, Riley and Buffy do the same. Giles, Joyce, Willow and Tara are the last to come out and stay farther back knowing that the six warriors will do the majority of the fighting. The dark beast eyes them with its glowing orbs and lets out a feral growl, behind it the Hellmouth growing ever larger. Riley being the closest is the beast's first target. Moving much quicker than he would have ever suspected a being of that size to move Riley is nearly caught off guard by the beast fast attack. Only years of training and pure instinct allow him to survive the first encounter by leaping backwards at the last moment. The blade protruding from the beast's wrist is only able to tear at the fabric of his shirt. What should have been a small opening quickly turns into a larger one as the liquid that now covers the skeletal blades eat through the fabric. Quickly removing the shirt before it can burn his skin Riley pulls out a knife and prepares for the demon's next attack.

The demon if fast to press his attack again but with Riley more prepared he is able to duck and counter the beasts attacks. The others stand back waiting for an opportunity to join the attack to help the young soldier, at first it seems that Riley is holding his own against the larger opponent, he even is able to score a solid hit burying his knife deeply into the torso of the demon. Backing away with knife in hand Riley smiles triumphantly, perhaps they wouldn't have to much trouble at all with this one. However they all look in horror as the Hellmouth flashes brighter momentarily and the wound of the beast begins to heal like an immortal's would this time however the familiar blue and white lightening is replaced by black and red. The beasts once again pulls up to his full height and throws itself at the closest target once again; Riley.

Riley is prepared once again to go toe to toe with the demon especially after gauging its strength and speed from their last encounter. Riley is prepared for another evenly match fight where his strategic capabilities will allow him to defeat the monster. However what the demon brings is something that Riley does not expect, the attack is faster and stronger than before. Riley barely has enough time to react to the movements of the demon let alone think of any viable stratagems. As the fight continues to rage on the other realize that something has changed and that Riley is now on the loosing side of the battle.

Buffy is the first to react and pulls out the Roman Gladius Adam had given her prior to entering the passageway. Running at the demon she hopes to distract it enough to give Riley time to recover and help her force the monster to fight on two fronts. Swinging the sword with hopes to blind-side the monster Buffy is surprised when the demon's arm comes up and blocks the sword with the bone blade attached to its wrist. Violently knocking Riley into a wall with one powerful blow the demon turns its head to face Buffy squinting its yellow eyes at the petite blonde Slayer. Its full attention now turned on Buffy the demon begins to lay into her as well.

The fight begins the same way it had with Riley, with Buffy supposedly having the upper hand in the battle. She would score several hits and apparently wound the demon severely only for it to heal itself and become much stronger than it was before.

Methos watches for his chance for an opening when something catches his attention. Every time the beast is wounded it heals itself and becomes stronger and faster than before and every time it would heal the Hellmouth would flare stronger and grow even larger. Suddenly the realization hits him the beast's power comes from the Hellmouth no matter how much they could wound it the Hellmouth would only heal the beast. Methos quickly considered the possibilities and quickly devises a plan of action.

"Cassandra!" He exclaims grabbing her attention. "I need to get to the Hellmouth! Distract that thing long enough for me to reach it!"

Cassandra looks at him with incredulous eyes, "What? Are you crazy! What do you think you are going to do? Close the Hellmouth?"

"No I can't do that by myself, but I can contain it at least for a little while." He tells her.


"The demon is getting its power from the Hellmouth. Its power will continue to grow unless we cut it off from the Hellmouth." Seeing that she understands Cassandra moves to Faith and Xander to devise a plan of action with them.

Seeing Cassandra moving to them with sword in hand Faith and Xander move to meet her halfway. "What's the plan?" Faith questions as they converge.

"We distract it." Cassandra says simply.

"Cassandra if you haven't noticed that thing is getting stronger as time passes, so if we are going to do anything we should kill it." Xander says to her.

Just as Xander says that Buffy scores another devastating hit on the beast, plunging her sword down to the hilt into the monster's chest, the tip of the sword sticking out of it's back. The monster screams out in rage knocking the small Slayer aside the dark beast plucks the sword out of its body as one would pick a splinter from their palm. As it pulls the sword out of its body it tears out pieces own internal organs. Pieces of its lungs and intestines hang from the wound, blood flowing freely. It flings the sword at stone wall and embeds the blade halfway into the wall.

The Hellmouth flashes brighter than it ever has and like some grotesque movie put into reverse the internal organs slowly climb back into its body like slow moving molasses. With a brilliant flash from the Hellmouth and the red and black lightening crawling all over its body the monster once again heals itself. With another ear splitting roar and another flash of the Hellmouth the beast is whole again, more than what it was before. The demon grows in size and stature again the power and energy of the Hellmouth pulsing in tune with its own.

Cassandra seeing now that its power had surpassed ever her own she knows now that they need to buy Methos the time he needs before it becomes too strong for any of them to stop.

"Faith, you take right. Xander blind side him from the rear." She tells the young couple.

"What about you?" Xander asks her.

Cassandra pulls out her sword and lets the power of her quickening flare. Xander is taken aback by just how strong she really is. "I'll distract him."

Cassandra quickly moves to confront the monster. Sword drawn she goes after it head on. Xander faces Faith and gestures towards the battle and tells her, "After you."

"Thanks." She says sarcastically before circling around the demon to come to bear on its right side. Xander follows suit and circles around the opposite direction. Through the now open ceiling of the chamber the clouds above rumble as if Heaven above has finally realized hell had truly returned to the mortal realms.

Cassandra could feel the monster's power as she approaches it. Seeing Faith and Xander circle into position as well as seeing that Buffy was slowly returning to her feet, Cassandra raises her sword against the beast.

Cassandra's quickening captures the demon's attention. Planting its feet on the ground evenly it turns to face Cassandra. She raises her sword and rushes towards it using the power she had gained over the millennia to help her deal with the monster. As her sword connects with the bone blade she can feel the power reverberate in her arms and shoulders hard enough that she almost drops her sword.

Faith unnoticed by the demon darts in quickly and stabs the beast's flank and quickly darts out of the way. The beast roars but as it heals Cassandra can feel it strengthen.

"No! Don't hurt it! You'll only make it stronger!" She tells them

Xander nods as he takes the fight to the demon. Being careful to avoid the razor sharp bone blades Xander is able to distract the demon with hit and run tactics stunning it for a moment long enough for one of the others to also land blows on the monster. From the corner of her eye Cassandra can see Methos quietly slipping by them and towards the Hellmouth. Whatever he had in mind better work and it better work soon. If not they will soon be facing an enemy they would not be able to defeat.

Faith continues on with her hit and run tactics in hopes of buying more time for Cassandra and Methos' plan. However she can see that her luck could run out at any time. Every hit they score on the demon the stronger it gets. Every attack could turn into the last. To her right she can see Xander darting in and out just like herself, careful to avoid the blades extending from the demon's wrists. To her left she can see Cassandra setting up for another attack and just beyond her Buffy is struggling to stand. Glancing back at Xander she appreciates the form and grace contained in his frame. No wasted movement, every bit of energy is used to combat the evil in front of him.

Focusing back on the fight at hand she sees an opening for her to capitalize on and darts quickly in for a quick jab of her Gladius underneath the demon's guard. However she notices now that the effects of her attacks as well as the attacks of the others are effecting the demon less and less. Backing away quickly the demon barely misses her, it seems that its speed as well as strength are increasing.

Caught up in her own thoughts Faith doesn't see the demon's hand reach back and thrust itself at her. The monster catches her by the neck and slams it's fist into the cave wall suspending her above the ground by her neck. Looking down in horror Faith could swear that the demon was grinning at her as she feels its fingers tightening around her neck. Her muscles protest under the pressure as her blood begins to sing in her ears.

Horrified Cassandra rushes to help the young Slayer only to be rewarded by a backhand that sends her flying into the wall.

As Methos approaches the Hellmouth the screaming and wailing emanating from the portal grow louder and louder. The screams remind him of his horseman days, times where men, women and children all would beg him for mercy and then cry out just before cutting them down. Quickly focusing on the present looks into the maw of the Hellmouth and can feel the power flowing through the portal. Power that the other Immortal so desperately sought out but eventually turned him to the monster he is now, uncontrollable and evil. If they stood a chance against that thing he needs to cut off the demon's source of power, the Hellmouth.

Quickly glancing over to the battle raging on close by he can see the demon is unimpressed by the strength of the attacks. It looks like a giant swatting at mosquitoes. Looking at the Hellmouth once more Methos closes his eyes and begins to focus. Centering his being Methos reaches for the support of the techniques that have ingrained themselves onto his brain. Once ready Methos glances once more over to the battle only to see Cassandra swatted away like a fly and Faith being held against the wall by her neck, her face contorted with the struggle to break free. He can see Xander rushing to her aid with his sword raised to strike. Methos knew what he was aiming for long before Xander even reached the demon.

"Xander! No!" Methos yells at him.

All that Xander could see and hear is the sounds of Faith struggling to break free from the demon's grasp. All he could see is her legs kicking and dangling above the ground each kick becoming weaker and slower. All he could hear is the gurgling sounds coming from her as she struggles to force air through her constricted airway. All that Xander can think is that he needs to save her. Raising his sword and rushing the demon he is barely aware of Methos calling out his name. He can barely feel the blade of his sword passing through the monster's arm. He can barely hear the sounds of the monster's roar as its arm sags to the ground held in place only by its tough skin and tendons. Quickly catching the falling Slayer Xander pulls her out of harms way and next to Buffy who was able to make it to Riley's side.

The beast roar's out in rage as it holds its nearly severed arm in place, it blood covering the floor at his feet drenching the dirt turning it to a dark thick mud. The Hellmouth flashes again pulsing with power knocking Methos over. The demon's arm reattaches itself to the bloody stump, red and black sparks traveling up and down the arm and the rest of its body. The demon's body grows once more but its physical presence is a mere fraction of what its true power. Now stronger than ever before the demon looks back and forth for the one responsible for nearly loosing its arm.

Methos seeing that if he doesn't cut off the demon's power now they will never be able to defeat it and sets his plan into motion. Closing his eyes and focusing the power of his quickening he erects a barrier around the growing Hellmouth. As the edge of the portal hits the invisible barrier Methos grabs his head and screams in pain and anyone watching can see a brief flicker as the Hellmouth slows down and then continues to grow outward.

Willow and Tara who had held back knowing that their strengths wouldn't help in this battle, but they might be able to help with the battle Methos is waging against the gates of Hell.

"Adam? What can we do to help?"

Through gritted teeth he tells them, "Help me."

"How? What can we do?" Tara questions him.

Grabbing their hands in each of his Methos once again opens up his mind and his powers this time using the two girls as support. The both gasp audibly as they fell their reserves deepen and augment with the added power of Methos' quickening. For both young witches the power they draw upon is like water from a well. The longer they practice the more proficient they become the deeper the well becomes and the more power they can draw upon. Now coupled with Methos the well changes into an ocean, vast and unending and in the middle of that ocean is a small volcano trying to break free of watery depths. Using the water of the ocean to contain the volcano as it grows the girls understand what it is they need to do. Opening up heir minds using the techniques shown to them by Cassandra the two girls open up their minds and throw in all they have to help Methos.

Once again the barrier flickers as the Hellmouth makes contact with it. Willow falls to her knees from the sheer impact and ferocity of the clash her hand nearly sliding out of Methos'.

"No! You need to stay in contact with me or the barrier will fall!" He exclaims to both of them.

"Can we help as well?" A voice calls to them over the roar of the Hellmouth. Looking over his shoulder Methos sees Giles and Joyce coming forward carefully.

"Yes. Make contact with one of us, open your mind, and concentrate." He tells them as Giles puts a hand on his shoulder and Joyce on Tara's arm. Again the effect is almost instant, as the barrier grows stronger with the extra power Giles and Joyce.

Xander seeing that Faith and the others are fine turns to see Methos, Willow, Giles, Tara and Joyce all clustered together near the Hellmouth. Cassandra who was knocked to the side is now on her feet making her way to the group near the Hellmouth. Behind him he can hear Riley stirring with Buffy tending to his wounds. In front of him he sees the golden orbs of light in front of the black backdrop stare at him. The beast raises its arm as if to dare Xander to try to hit him again.

Xander raising his sword squares off with the monster and prepares himself for battle. Thinking back to his early training with Methos Xander remembers what he had learned about strength. Momentarily fluttering his eyes shut he searches for his power, power he knows is there, power he will need to fight against the demon. Deep inside the recesses of his mind he sees a blue sphere crackling with energy. Reaching out for it he can see a spike of energy jump from the sphere and onto his hand. Opening his eyes he sees that monster has decided to take the fight to him.

The beast using its inhuman speed takes a long and powerful swing using its bone blade as a scythe. Xander using speed equal to that of the beast is able to block the blade and push it off his guard just in time to parry the straight stab being attempted by the beast's other hand. Moving to push his advantage Xander performs a long upward slash opening the beast's torso from hip to shoulder spraying its blood onto him.

The Hellmouth flashes brightly but the demon does not heal quickly as it did previously. Methos' barrier though strengthened by the additional power of the others falters still and once again the Hellmouth breaches the barrier. Like a damn bursting the power held back by the barrier rushes to its intended target, the demon pauses a moment as the power fills it healing and empowering it. Feeling the difference in the power flow the demon looks over to the Hellmouth and sees the small group next to it, recognizing them as a threat to its power the beast changes tactics and runs towards the small group intent on killing each and every one of them.

Pulling out his sword Methos tell the others, "Move away I'll try to keep it away from all of you!"

Xander sees the demon's change in target too late to do anything but to run after its retreating form. Just as the demon is about to reach where Methos is standing solitary feet apart sword ready two figures rush out and tackle the demon to the ground. Faith and Cassandra's forms wrestle with the beast on the ground long enough to buy time for Xander to catch up.

Cassandra yells to Methos, "Don't stop! I could feel it weaken when you put up your barrier! It's still getting stronger!"

"I need more help!" Methos yells back quickly erecting the barrier once more as Faith is flung from fight landing close to where he is standing.

A feminine voice calls out, "What can we do to help?"

Turning around he sees Buffy supporting Riley. Nodding he tells them, "Just make contact with one of the others while they are touching me." He drops to his knee as the power building up inside of the barrier clashes against his consciousness.

Faith picks herself up and goes to the older immortal's side and helps him up. Once he is standing again she tells him, "I'll do all that I can do to help."

Nodding he motions to the others to try again. As they add their own power to his own he can feel his reserves deepen to a point where he feels that he can contain the power within. But no barrier is full proof. He can still feel the power of the Hellmouth slowly seep through his barrier grating against his senses the entire way. He needs more help or else the Hellmouth will flare once more and break through his barrier. If that happens he doubts that he can erect a barrier strong enough to contain the Hellmouth once more.

The demon is able to straddle Cassandra to the floor and raises its arm, flexing its writs to make the blade stick out even more. As the blade descends on Cassandra's neck she doesn't close her eyes, she doesn't flinch, she awaits her fate like a warrior, accepting death. But her death never comes, instead a blur of motion and a gust of wind along with the weight of the demon being removed alert her to a change. Turning her head she can see Xander coming out of a roll after knocking the monster off of her.

Sparing a glance over his shoulder he yells at her, "Go! Help Methos! I'll try to hold him off!" Nodding Cassandra scrambles to her feet and makes her way over to the group helping Methos. Placing her hand on his shoulder she too opens her mind and allows her own energy to flow into the group. The barrier grows stronger stopping more power from escaping the Hellmouth. However she can see the strain on Methos' face as he continues his effort to stop the Hellmouth from expanding, beads of sweat form on his forehead and his brow is creased with determination.

"Methos, let us help you." She tells him. "You can't do this all on your own."

"No! They won't be able to handle it!" He yells at her.

"Yes, but we can." Giles tells him. Seeing that the rest are all in agreement Methos nods his head and opens up his mind.

Meanwhile Xander has his hands full fighting the monster on his own. He needed to keep the thing away from the others so they could stop the Hellmouth from opening further. Duck, dodge, strike, pull back, strike these are the intricate steps to the deadly dance with the demon. Every strike becomes stronger and stronger, each one getting closer and closer to killing him. Whatever they are doing he hopes that they do it quickly.

Loosing ground to the monster as it approaches Xander continues to back away hoping to lure the monster away from his friends. Xander grins as he sees that the demon is following him away from them allowing them to complete what they intend to do. His grin fades once he feels the cold stone wall of the chamber against his back. The monster continues to press its attack with renewed fury seeing that it has the advantage over the young man. Xander dodges the fist aimed for his head the blade sinking easily in the rock behind him chipping away shards of rock that bite at his face. Blinded temporarily by the pelting rocks instinct alone tell him to duck once more as he feels the demon's other fist rush past and bury itself back into the rock behind him.

Rolling out of the way Xander gains some distance and time for his wounds to heal. Looking on as the demon rips its hands from the rock wall Xander knows he is loosing the battle. Reaching deep within he feels the core of his being, the power of his immortality and embraces it making it an extension of himself, using it as he would use a sword.

Methos opens up his mind and the power and the visions the Hellmouth that we're filling him now trickle down to the rest of them. They see all that Hell contains, they can see all that awaits on the other side of the portal. They also see Death, they see Methos, they see Adam and the numerous other identities he has assumed over the years. They see Death riding with the other Horsemen; they see another vision of Adam as a doctor. Most importantly they see Adam using all that he is to construct a barrier to stop the growth of the Hellmouth. They can feel the pain he feels as time after time the Hellmouth tries to break free, they can sense his determination as well as his confidence in Xander. They all sense there is something more but they cannot see what it is, they only know that Methos' entire being is focused on surviving this battle. Seeing all these things strengthens their reserves all the more allowing them to focus their power to aid the old immortal.

"Just a little more." Methos mutters to himself. Reaching deep with in his reserves he pushes one last time flaring his power one more time just as he can feel Xander doing as he faces the demon down. The extra push is enough as it sends a powerful reinforcement to the barrier locking down the Hellmouth. As the portal pushes and prods the barrier around it the strain on the group increases at a drastic rate.

"That should do it." Methos says through gritted teeth. "For now. The rest is up to Xander."

Xander can feel the sudden change in the room. The energy once pouring from the Hellmouth is now missing making the room seem maddeningly calm. The demon roars with rage as it is cut off from its source of power. Xander reaches out and sees that though cut off from its power the demon's strength itself remains unchanged. As the demon moves to destroy the small group standing near the Hellmouth Xander rushes the monster with sword raised.

Bringing his sword across the demon's arm sliding underneath the skeletal blade Xander flicks his wrists and arms up and over forcing the demon's arm to follow suit yanking it back as if its arm were attached to a leash. Putting himself between the demon and his friend it is now Xander who presses to attack. Blow after blow, block after block each one increasing in power and intensity as the two figures move back and forth across the room. Every time Xander thinks he sees an opening it closes right away and he is forced to retreat under the barrage of blows the demon throws at him.

Breathing hard, his clothes in tatters, Xander thinks there is no way he can beat this demon. Sparing a quick look to the others he sees that the Hellmouth continues to push against the barrier Methos put up. He can see the looks of pain and determination on their faces, he needs to end it, and he needs to end it now. Facing the demon seeing that it too is breathing hard Xander raises his sword again, closing his eyes he can see the blue iridescent sphere that is his quickening, spreading his arms and falling into the sphere he feels it engulf him and at the same time he engulfing it. Opening his eyes Xander feels a deep calm and confidence he had only felt in his deepest meditations. Opening his mouth with a battle cry Xander rushes at the demon, the demon not backing down rushes at Xander as well. Xander runs with the point of his sword down and behind him and the demon's arm raised and poised to strike. As they move closer to each other the demon begins its down stroke as Xander begins his up stroke. When they reach each other a loud clang fills the room as Xander comes to a stop his back to the demon as does the demon its back to Xander.

Turning around ready for another strike Xander grins as the demon raises its hand once again to strike only to find that the blade is not there but sitting point stuck in the ground between them. Xander continues to push his attack and lands a thrust through the shoulder of the monster. Quickly pulling away he sees something that gives him hope. The wound closes, but not with the red and black sparks from before but the blue and white ones of an immortal.

Glancing over to Methos who nods Xander realizes what Methos with the help of the others has done. By cutting off the demon from its power source it forces it to revert back to its old source of power, the quickening. Though it is still stronger than the normal immortal Xander at least knows how to deal with them. Raising his sword in a silent salute to Methos he thanks him.

"Hurry!" Methos yells at him. "We can't keep this up for much longer!" As if to prove his point the Hellmouth once again flashes brightly causing the barrier to flicker as well as forcing Methos to his knees.

The beast and Xander meet once again in the center of the chamber. The blows they land are bone shattering and can be felt throughout the room. Xander is able to land a multitude of small minor cuts slowing the beast down buying him more time for the beast to make a mistake. Looking once more over at his friends though he knows he must make his move soon. The demon continues to swing and punch at Xander who only moves out of the way dodging the attacks. Both combatants begin to show the signs of battle. Movements are a fraction slower reactions seconds late.

Backing away for a moment respite the two run at each other once more. Their eyes show that this will be the last time they will meet. One of them will come from this alive. The group watches in apprehension as the two figures run at each other full speed. Everything is in slow motion as the two move closer and closer to each other. Just as they are about to meet they look in horror as Xander trips and looses his balance. They see the grin on the demon's face widen as it senses victory. The demon aims its final blow at the head of its foe.

For a split second they think all is lost as Xander falls and the demon raises its arm for the killing blow. But in that split second Xander's look of horror turns into a cold grin he suddenly changes the path of his fall twisting his body around and bringing his foot back to the ground causing the demon to miss and pass Xander. Using the foot he had planted on the ground Xander shifts his weight enough to bring his body across the back of the demon's body swinging his sword at the same time he severs the tendons behind both knees of the demon. Screaming in pain the monster falls to its knees, its legs no longer able to support it's weight. Rolling with his fall and planting his feet Xander raises his sword charging and screaming at the prone demon. With a single swing and a final yell he severs the head of the demon.

Suddenly room falls silent. The demon's body slowly reverts back to its human form as well as the severed head. Sighing with relief Xander falls to his knee and takes a deep breath.

"It's finally over." He says to himself.

"Xander!" Faith's voice calls out drawing his attention back to his friends.

What he sees confuses and horrifies him all at the same time. The barrier Methos had put up is still there containing the Hellmouth now threatening to break through the barrier.

"I killed it! Why is the Hellmouth still open?" Xander yells.

Cassandra answers, "The Hellmouth was its source of power not the other way around! You kill it the Hellmouth remains."

"How do we close it?" Xander asks.

Methos his face pale with the effort of keeping the Hellmouth contained points to the air and says, "With that."

Looking above his head he can see the swirling smoke of the quickening. Of course! He killed an immortal demon so there will be a quickening. "How will that close the Hellmouth?"

"Just like it opened it. This is still holy ground." Methos says simply.

Nodding his head Xander quickly moves to the Hellmouth. "Open it."

They all back away quickly as the first bolts of the quickening hit him. One after another the power strikes him and the Hellmouth. The power and intensity continues to increase as the quickening now matches the fury of the Hellmouth.

"The planets have moved out of alignment shouldn't the Hellmouth close?" Buffy asks above the noise.

"No that would only move it back to its original position. We need to close it now." Giles answers back.

They all watch as the power of the quickening grows even greater than the Hellmouth. Xander while being struck by the lightening runs to the Hellmouth and jumps rising impossibly above the portal. Right when he reaches the center of the Hellmouth a beam of light strikes Xander engulfing him as the winds and noise rise to frightening levels. Soon the light engulfs them all. They can feel the power of the quickening forcing the Hellmouth closed the energies battling against each other. As the Hellmouth closes all those present can feel the Hellmouth reach out to them and pull something away. Only Methos and Cassandra are prepared for the onslaught and throw up their personal barriers. The others however aren't so lucky.

In the middle of the chaos stands Xander, the focus of all the energies around him. He can feel the energy of the Hellmouth weaken as the quickening overwhelms it. As the quickening continues he can see the memories and feelings of the man who had called himself the Master. The lust for power and the pain of loosing control as the demon took over his body and mind. But on the outskirts something different hits him. He sees the time he went shopping with Faith, the times they sparred and the time they admitted their feelings to each other through Faith's eyes. He can feel Willow's feelings when she realized he had returned, he could see how Buffy realized first Faith's return and then his own. He watched through their own eyes his sparring with Adam. He sees how he saved Riley in the club, he even sees how Tara spent her days as his assistant and how she had found out he and Faith would be at his club. Giles and Joyce's point of view seeing him and Faith at the cemetery, he was seeing it all and he screamed out.

He is seeing the memories of his friends as if he had killed them like an immortal. He could feel all their memories of him and his return to Sunnydale flooding his mind. The last memory he sees from each of them is the bright light of the quickening and then nothing. Nothing, exactly what they would remember of him or of his return. His mind fills with the memories of the love he and Faith share and he cries out. He cries out with a pain that he never thought possible. When he was forced to kill Jesse the pain he felt nearly destroyed him. What he feels now makes that pain pale in comparison. It took him his entire life and death to find what he had found with Faith and now that was stolen from him. When the quickening stops he would loose his friends and his love. He would be back where he started, alone.

Searching the memories as they continue to flow into him he finds that none of them come from Cassandra or Methos. All of the memories are from the others. Reaching out beyond the storm of the quickening he can feel the two older Immortals resisting the pull of the Hellmouth. Relieved that he isn't truly alone he waits out the rest of the quickening.

Bolt after bolt hit him ricocheting off of his own body and onto the Hellmouth batting it into submission. Xander tries to widen his stance in order to deal with the force of the bolts hitting him relentlessly only find that his body is floating off of the ground. Looking down at his body he can see the burns that are left after each bolt hits him. As soon as they heal they are replaced by new ones as searing bold after searing bolt tear into him planting the seeds of power inside of him.

And just like that, it's gone.

Xander drops to the ground landing hard and falling over. His body is spent and his breathing is labored. Methos and Cassandra move to him and can see his back expand with every intake of air. Xander struggles to his hands and knees as the two older immortals come to his side to help him.

"You did it Xander! You closed the Hellmouth!" Cassandra says to Xander proudly.

"Thank Adam, if it wasn't for him I wouldn't have been able to take that thing down." He says his head still down.

"You did the hard part." Adam jokes patting Xander's back. Xander looks up at Adam and he can see the streaks of tears on Xander's cheeks.

"They won't remember me." He tells them quietly.

"What do you mean?" Cassandra asks.

"Their memories, all of it, it all in here." He says getting up tapping his head. "When the quickening hit me I saw it all flash by. All of it, they won't remember me." He tells them sadly.

"How?" Cassandra asks him.

"Something was different with this quickening it sought out the others, it took the memories away from them."

"I could feel it probing, I was able to resist it though." Adam tells him.

"Yes, I felt it as well." Cassandra adds.

"We'll talk more about it later." Xander says waving it off. "Where is Faith?"

"She was over with the others." Adam says pointing back to the area he had last seen them standing. Xander looks over to where he is pointing and runs to the area. Confused Adam and Cassandra turn to see the group on the ground unconscious.

Xander places two fingers on Faith's neck. Feeling a strong steady pulse he moves to the others. Seeing that each of them is fine as well he moves back to Faiths side. As he is checking her over once more he hears a few of the others stirring.

Adam moves to Tara and places his fingers on her neck, "Her pulse is getting stronger," He tells him, "She'll wake up soon."

Cassandra doing the same with Joyce replies, "Joyce will be waking up soon too."

Turning back to Faith Xander once again feels her pulse. Slow but steady. The rhythm reminds him of the way the heart monitor in her room had beeped in time with her pulse when she was in a coma. "I don't think she'll come around for a while," He tells the other two before adding quietly, "she had the most taken away from her."

Groaning Tara stirs and her eye flutter open. Closing her eyes again and opening them she tries to sit up with Adam's help. "Ben?" She asks the older immortal, "What happened?"

"We won." Xander says his eyes never leaving Faith's face. She looks just as she does in the early morning hours while she sleeps, peaceful and beautiful.

"Harry? Is it over?" Willow says as she too wakes up. Hearing Willow call him by his assumed name breaks his heart and nearly brings Xander to tears.

"Yes, its over. We won. The Hellmouth is closed." Xander says finally tearing his eye away from Faith's prone form. The others were waking up as well and were sitting up. They were all dazed but were fine and that was what counted. At least that is what Xander should have been thinking as he looks at the subtle change in his friend's reactions and interactions with him. He could see it mostly in their eyes, they looked at him as Harrison Pierce not Xander Harris, and it broke his heart. At least this way they would be safe from him and his life. No Immortal would use any of them to get to him, from that at least they would be safe.

Buffy looks over to Faith's form and asks, "Is Amanda okay?"

"She'll be fine," He answers her, "she's just exhausted from the fight." Picking Faith up he tells them, "We'll be leaving town soon, we did what we came here for. We just need to tie up some loose ends and then we'll leave."

Cassandra and Adam remain silent as they watch Xander pick up Faith and make his way down the long tunnel to the cemetery to where the cars are parked. They quietly follow him down the tunnels hearing the voices of the others behind them talking softly of what had happened. Their version of the night was that Harry with the help of Amanda and his parents were able to kill a demon that escaped from the Hellmouth and with the help of the others they were able to close the Hellmouth. No Immortals, no quickening, no lost friends returning from the grave, nothing. Their minds filled in the blanks left by the quickening with memories that were logical and convincing to them.

Adam continues to look at Xander a he hears the others talk about the battle. He can only guess at what is going through his mind right now. His friends have lost him twice and they won't even know that he returned to them.

Adam gets in to the driver's seat as Xander places Faith in the back of the car and sits in the back with Faith's head resting in his lap, his hand stroking strands of hair from her face.

Looking out the window as Adam starts the car Xander tells the others, "Good job guys. We'll have to do this again sometime."

Giles smiles and replies, "In all honestly Harry I hope we don't."

A slight grin tugs at the corners of his mouth, "I hope that is the case Mr. Giles." He looks at them all one last time before the car pulls away, "Good bye."

The others watch as the car pulls away holding the Pierce family; industrialists, millionaires and demon hunters. Giles removes his glasses to inspect and clean them and says, "Quite a group of individuals."

"Yeah," Willow answers. "But Harry seemed so sad."

As the car falls below the horizon the group feels honored to have been able to meet the Pierces. The fact that they exist and do the things they do makes it easier for them to live their lives knowing that there are others out there fighting against the evil of the world. As the car vanishes into the darkness they wonder why they each feel an emptiness and loss.


Faith awakens in a strange room in a strange bed. Her eyes adjust to the dark as she sweeps her eyes around the room. Finding a lamp she turns it on to get a better look at the room. The furniture is brand new, it looks as if has been barely used. Walking to the window she tests it to see is if it will open. It does easily but looking out the window she is on the second floor of a house with no easy way down. Her legs feel weak so jumping is out of the question.

Suddenly she can hear voices filtering through the door. "She should wake up soon." A male voice says, it is English like Giles.

"Should we go and check up on her?" a female voice says.

"No let her rest. She'll need time to adjust." Another male voice says. There was something about the voice though that was familiar.

Looking up from the door she comes face to face with a mirror that she didn't notice was there before. But the face that looks back at her is different. Her hair normally a dark brown now is streaked with gold and moving up closer to the mirror she sees that her brown and gold eyes are gone and are replaced with green ones. She punches the mirror in horror screaming out. She hears the rush of footsteps up the stairs. Backing away to the corner where the floor lamp she had turned on stands she grabs the tall lamp and readies herself for what will come through the door.

The door opens and a man and a woman walk in carefully. The man is the first to speak, "Put the lamp down, we don't want any trouble."

"Trouble! Trouble! What the hell did you do to me! What is this some kind of life swapping brain washing thing?" She yells at them.

"No it's not that, just calm down and we'll explain." The woman says soothingly.

"And what did you do to my hair! Or my eyes!" She yells. As they move closer to her she brandishes her weapon forcing them to back, "Back off! You don't know who you're messing with so you better just back..."

"Let me talk to her." The other voice says from the hallway. The other two move away as the other figure walks through the door.

Faith drops the lamp in shock as she gets a good look at the man standing in front of her. He shows no signs of apprehension or fear as he approaches her. His hair is shorter, his shoulders are broader but his eyes, his eyes are the same.

"Xander?" She whispers. "Is that you?"

"Yes Faith, its me." He says with a small grin. She give out a small cry as she falls into his arms, her head against his shoulder, tears flowing down her cheeks. Just as she did the first time. Xander looks over his shoulder and motions for the others to leave the room. Hearing the door close behind him he pulls Faith away from him and looks her in the eyes and simply says to her, "I forgive you."

"Xander, what's going on?" Faith asks him, "My hair, my eyes..."

"Let's sit down Faith. I have something to tell you. You might not believe it at first but what I'm going to tell you is the truth. Okay?"

"Sure." She says uncertainly.

With that Xander begins his story. He won't tell her about their relationship, if he found her once he'll find her again, but for right now he just wants to have her in his life. So he'll make the same offer to her as he did before and like before he'll follow the path that their relationship naturally takes. He remembers the promise he had made her that morning, that if they beat what ever it was they were facing, he would never leave her alone. He would keep that promise, even if she didn't remember making it with him.

At one point of his story Xander remembers one time when Adam handed him a book to read. "Walt Whitman?" He asked him, "Poetry?"

"Yes Xander, poetry." Pointing at the book.

"Leaves of Grass." Xander reads carefully.

"It is a book about loyalty, patriotism, love, loss, nature, and journey. It is the story of a man's journey through life. It's a good book."

Now Xander can see that a chapter of his own life has just finished and a new one is just beginning. Just like that Xander faces the unknown unafraid, and confident that his destiny will lead him down the right path, a path full of loss, loyalty and love. A path on which he gladly continues the journey that is his life. Looking up at Faith he cannot help but smile for his journey will be an interesting one to say the least.

I would like to thank all of you who have supported me as I wrote this story. To all those who provided reviews and feedback thank you for helping to fuel my addiction to writing. Just because this story is finished doesn't mean that I still don't want feedback. Loved it, hated it, suggestions for the next story? Send me feedback! I love hearing from all those who have read my work. Hearing how others view the story is very important to me as an author to see if I was able to get my vision across, so please send me your feedback and opinions. I worked very hard on this story and hope that it was enjoyable for all those who took the time and effort to read it in its entirety. I really want to include Dawn in the next story so if any one who could help me getting more information on her as well as the story surrounding her and Glory I would really appreciate it. I'm going to take a short break from this alternate universe to help work with some other projects I have promised to help others with but you can definitely expect more from this universe and me in the future. Just below these notes is a little teaser for what you can expect from the next installment. Enjoy and good reading!





Flames surround him as he looks around. Buildings burn to the ground, cars over turned and sideways are engulfed in flame in the middle of the dilapidated street. Bodies lay dead in the street arms legs and even heads missing. Blood pours from the bodies running down the street and into the gutters, the blood falling down the storm drain. A broken fire hydrant spews water into the street. As he walks down the street he looks at the bodies. Some of them wear police uniforms, others wear the tags of television stations. Women, children and men's bodies lie prone before him. Behind some of the bullet-ridden windshields of the cars sit individuals staring out with glassy eyes, unmoving.

Xander looks up and can see a helicopter trying to move in and get a closer look at the scene below. Xander watches as he raises his arm and takes aim with a gun, firing at the junction where the rotary blades meet. Xander can feel a smile play on his lips as he watches the blades suddenly stop rotating forcing the craft to plummet into a building igniting into a ball of flame.

He can hear the sounds of approaching sirens behind him. Replacing his gun in the holster he pulls out a small device as the police cars move come to a stop at the mouth of the street the officers stepping out using the doors of their cars as a shield. Smiling he pushes a button on the small box in his hand the buildings to the left and right of the police barricade change into towering infernos as they explode, catching the police cars and the officers in the blast killing them all instantly.

Turning he sees a figure step out from behind the smoke, she is deceptively small but he knows better as he addresses her. "Buffy! So good to see you again!"

"Harry? Why are you doing all this?"

"Harry? Are you talking to me?" Xander says sarcastically. "I know you couldn't possibly be talking to me."

She can see the look in his eyes, unfocused, wild and she finally understands, "You're insane."

Laughing out loud he answers her, "Insane? You are the one calling me someone that I am not."

Trying to buy time in order to come up with a plan, "Then who are you?"

"Alexander LaVelle Harris." He says simply. The pure look of shock on her face is soon replaced by horror as she sees that whoever he was has pulled out a gun. With a cold smile he depresses the trigger. The hammer falls causing the gunpowder to explode within the shell casing. As the bullet is propelled from the gun with a flash the chamber slides back ejecting the empty shell.

The bullet hits her squarely in the chest knocking her back falling to ground unmoving. From his position Xander holsters his gun. Looking at the prone figure of the blonde Slayer he says, "Pity. I always thought she would put up more of a fight."

Xander walks over to where his motorcycle awaits. He smiles as the stolen Suzuki GSX 1300R Hayabusa starts. The four-stroke, liquid cooled engine exploding with sound drowning out all the other sounds on the street as he rides away. Within seconds he is gone leaving the body of the young woman he once called friend behind yet another body strewn about on the street already filled with so much blood and gore.