Revelations In White Light

Author: Anime Ronin <diabloslayer21[at]>

Rating: PG-13 (for now due to mentions of abuse - may go up later due to swearing, blood and demonic horror)

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Summary: Challenge/Story Idea from SwordofChiyun that involves Xander getting kicked out of Scoobies after Graduation and revelations of his real father and shades of his mother's family's past.

Crossover: Yes, with Charmed and some hints of Hercules.

AN: This will not start off as a nice fic – Buffy will be portrayed as a heartless, manipulative bitch (ala S7), Willow and Giles as spineless and after this first few sections, you probably won't hear much from them until Part 3 of this story or after (much later down the road), and show a darker side of Xander for a little while. Also, some timelines are screwed with – Charmed is at where Leo is now an Elder and married to Piper, father of Wyatt and Chris (who is from the future), but Paige isn't there because Prue never died (always liked her). Finally, there is no Dawn yet.

AN2: Again, be warned, this first part has Xander unleashing his dark side, especially now that he has nothing to lose – this is only temporary and he will return to some semblance to who he used to be. If this can't be posted on XanderZone, tell me I'll post on Dark XZ and FF.Net.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

His stomach turned into a frozen orb of acid and hurt as the words of his now-former friend Buffy Summers sank in, "You what?"

"I want you gone, Xander." Her voice was like ice as she purposefully stayed away from him, her arms crossed and eyes narrowed, "You lied to me about the soul curse and, quite frankly, you're a liability to us in the field. The only thing you're good for is getting us donuts."

"But I help out! I research, I stake vampires, I even saved your life several times!" He looked over at Willow and Giles but neither of them had the guts to even look him in the eyes, "Come on, guys, help me out."

"I am afraid that Buffy is right, Xander. You do not have the training to help us anymore – I am sorry."

That icy ball began to thaw with some anger that began to build up, "Oh, like either of you tried to train me? What, was I not worth the effort or something?"

"No, you weren't." Buffy said ruthlessly, sneering a little more, "Actually, I should have let Angel kill you when he was Angelus. Oh, I know all about how you tried to protect me in the hospital, Xander, and I appreciate it, but you're still useless."

"I save you all, the whole fucking world! I thought up and made the explosives that killed the Mayor, and you call me useless? Why'd you keep me around, then?"

"Because you could make the bombs and not kill us all – now that the Mayor is out of the way, we don't need you anymore." She stepped forwards and smiled a little, "But we can still be friends, Xander – when I am at college, you can keep reminding me why I do this."

It was instinct, pure, unfettered instinct that snapped his fist out and slammed it into her nose, flattening it and throwing her away – she wanted to take the gloves off, fine by him, "Fuck you, bitch. You don't want me, then I'm gone – but next time you're laying in a pool of water, face down and dead, don't expect me to get your undead fucktoy down there to help me save your sorry ass."

"Angel brought you, Xander," Willow said in a tone that was used speak to slow children. "We all know that."

It was his turn to sneer as he walked up to her, and he reveled in the fact that she gulped and shook slightly as he got closer, "Whatever helps you and the slut sleep at night, Willow. I also know what happened that night, and if I knew then what I knew now, I would have left you and the others there to die … and I don't mean in the Master's Cave. O'Toole and his cronies had a bomb under the library the night the Sisterhood showed up, and I disarmed it without anyone every knowing about it – you want proof, ask Willie." He pushed her out of the way and shoulder-checked Giles as he tried to bar his path, Buffy's pained moans, slightly nasal from her broken nose, filling the Library as he walked out and his rage grew. They couldn't just kick him out like that without repercussions, so he hardened his heart and made his way first to Willy's Alibi Room.

20 minutes later

There was nobody there when he arrived by Willy, and the rat-faced bartender looked like he was about to shit himself, "What can I do you for, kid?"

"Get it out that the deal's off, Willy – every Scooby family member but the Slayer's mother is fair game from now on and I'm not going to stop them." He reached over and grabbed Willy by his shirt, hauling him over the bar and face-to-face, "Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly." Willy wasn't a smart man, but he knew when agree and save his own ass.

"Good." Xander dropped Willy and turned on his heel, only to find Giles standing there with a horrified look on his face, "What do you want?"

"What in God's name have you done, Xander?"

He sneered, "I'm calling off a deal that I made a few years back – all of your family members were safe and I didn't level the bar or the town. The way I see it now, seeing as I am such a liability, you and your families don't need the protection that I've provided them for the past three years." He sneered as Giles' face took a deathly shade of pallor, "Except for Joyce, that is – she's still safe." That said, he walked out of the bar and went home, where he found his father throwing his things out of the house, "What the hell is going on here?"

"Ain't it obvious, you stupid fuck? I'm kicking your worthless ass out." Tony Harris wasn't a sight to be seen – his beer belly and sunless pallor had often made Xander wonder if he were a vampire, but him being out in the sun disproved that. "I've been waiting for this day for a long time, kid."

Even as he walked to the house, he could see his mother watching with a bottle of JD in her hands, "Not as long as I've been waiting to do this, Anthony." That said, he ripped off a left hook that slammed into the jaw of Tony Harris, his father, and sent him careening into the wall with enough force that said wall shuddered – it wasn't surprising that he was that strong, as he was used to fighting things nearly four times stronger than himself.

Tony shook himself off, snarling, and charged him, a charge that was side-stepped and tripped him into the yard; even while Tony was in mid-flight, Xander walked into the house and began to remove things from their respective hiding places, things that he had stashed away for just such an occasion – so involved was this that only his mother's screamed warning told him anything was wrong.


Even as he turned and saw the chair, he wished that he was anywhere but there and suddenly there was a light feeling to his body, as if he had become oddly … intangible … and then he heard the sound of the heavy bronze planter's box slamming into the hallway wall directly behind him. It had been an odd feeling, one that felt oddly good, but Xander had other things to worry about at that point – Tony was charging him again.

Jessica's POV

It was something that she had been fearing for many years – Tony had finally figured out that he wasn't Xander's father and had decided to kick her son out, but what she had not been expecting was that her son wasn't going without a fight. Sure, she knew about Sunnydale after dark and had guess what her son had been doing a while back, but never had she guess how strong he had gotten until the first punch was landed – Tony wasn't a small man and the force that he hit the wall with was phenomenal.

She watched her baby side-step her charging husband and watched him then calmly walk into the house, pulling items and wads of cash out of cubbyholes that she had not noticed before, but then watched Tony come up back to the bronze planter her mother had given her as a wedding present.

"TONY! NO!" Her scream came too late as he flung the planter at her son, but then something happened that made her drop the bottle she had drop the bottle of alcohol that had been her security blanket / escape from reality for the past ten years.

Her son was bathed in a golden white light as he turned and saw the planter and for a barest fraction of a second he became transparent in a shower of white and gold orbs of light as the planter sailed through where his head had been. She was able to get out, "Leo," but her son then solidified and was on the move, as Tony stood dumbfounded.

The first shot that her son landed was enough to make her cringe – he hit Tony with a right in the nose that pulped the cartilage with a wet cracking sound, spun around and planted his elbow into Tony's gut with a brutal efficiency that reminded her of her brother, who had been a Marine many years ago but had also been lost in Vietnam. Tony bent over in agony and Xander threw him into the wall, where he then gave him several short shots into the kidney area. All in all, he was fighting without a care in the world to Tony's health and with a brutal nature that surprised her.

"So, you want to play rough, Tony?" His voice was cold, emotionless, but his face held a death's head grin that scared her more than she cared to admit, "Well, I like to play too." He opened the hall closet and put Tony against the door before going inside and grabbing something, "I always wondered how you would die – alcohol poisoning, cirrhosis of the liver, cardiac arrest, hell, maybe even a vamp would get lucky and I'd be there to watch, but never did I think that I'd get the chance to do this." He tossed what looked to be the vacuum machine's cord over the door and wrapped it around Tony's neck, "Tell me, Tony, what do you think about this? I could make you hurt." He looked into Tony's face, his grin becoming malicious, "I could make you die." He then pushed the door forwards and something happened.

Tony's eyes bulged out at first and his feet slowly left the floor; his face turned red and he began to struggle as her son wedged the door open, the grin never leaving his face until he came back up, and it was the dead look on his face that scared her more than anything. "You and everyone else may think I'm worthless, a joke, hell, you may not even think of me as your son, but let you tell you something, Tony – I survive because I do what nobody else is willing to do. I don't just cross lines that should never be crossed – I fucking POLE VAULT over them … and that has lead to you being in your current position." Tony's struggles began to become weaker as she watched Xander back up, his face still set into a cold mask as he looked over at her.

She looked into the twin pools of dead brown that were his eyes and felt a tear trace down her cheek, "Who did this to you, mijo?"

"Life, mother, but you and that son of a bitch had a lot to do with it." He walked right by her even as Tony's face became a dark purple color and his struggled began to cease. She watched her boy pick up a bag of things that he had collected and vanish upstairs to his room for several minutes and then come back down with several large bags … duffle bags … that were filled with things, as if he had been planning on leaving anyway, "Call the police if you want, but the Sunnydale PD is inept at best."

Even as she watched him turn to walk away, she found her voice, "He wasn't your father, Alex." This made him stop and she went on, "I was in college and a friend of mine … she and I had another friend and he and I, well." She left it in the air and, much to her surprise, he only chuckled, but there was a hard edge to it.

"So Tony was right all of these years – I am a bastard. So, do you even know his name?"

Elder's Council

There was a flurry of activity in the Council of Elders, and that was not something that happened very often – it was normally calm and sedate, like a good high, but now was not one of those times; a new being of Whitelighter potential had shown up on their scopes, as it were, only it was one that they had never seen before … and for good reason. The person had been masked by the energies of the Hellmouth and was leaving the accused place with all of the speed a '57 Bellaire was capable of.

The Elder Whitelighter looked into a viewing pool and the view of the car zoomed in until the face of the individual was in focus – it was a young man, maybe 18 or so, with dark hair, a thin, but fit, body and dark eyes, but he also wore an expression that, if anything, was the face of someone who hadn't a thing left to lose and he was going to live life to his fullest, if recklessly.

"Who is this?" A female Whitelighter looked into the pool and she smiled, "He's cute."

The Elder looked at her, "He's also of Whitelighter blood." He reached to the side of the pool and fiddled with a rock that was there, which made the picture freeze and shift to where it showed the aura of the young man, "One half Whitelighter, yes, but the other half is one that worries me."

The woman tucked a strand of auburn hair behind her ear, "Isn't that the mark of Ares?"

"Yes, it is, Sonja – while he is not directly linked to Ares himself, his bloodline is." He fiddled with another rock and the picture disappeared, only to reappear with several faces on it, the young man's included, "There, his mother is the daughter of the last High Priest of Ares, though why that meddler would want anything to do with someone on the Hellmouth is a mystery to me."

The female Whitelighter, Sonja, touched another stone and the picture faded until it was that of a baby, and then it moved forwards in time, watching that baby grow up. For the first few years, she saw, it was a fairly normal childhood, but then the physical abuse of his mother from his father and the verbal of both of his parents to him became apparent – her face became set in stone as the years passed by in seconds, pictures of beatings and screaming matches being shown were distressing not only her, but also the Elder who had first begun to look into his past. "This is … disturbing."

"I believe the word you are searching for is 'Appalling', Sonja." The Elder watched as the young man befriended the Slayer, dusted his best friend, was possessed by a Hyena spirit and so forth, but also as he saved the Slayer from death, splitting the line, "Ah, so THAT is how the split happened."

Sonja squealed and clapped her hands, "YES! I won!" She started hopping around in little circles, catching the eyes of many as she did, until she remembered where she was and blushed deeply, "Um, sorry, Elder."

"What did you win?"

Sonja blushed, "Um, well, the Guardian Corps and the Archangels all had a pool going on who was responsible for splitting the Slayer line and as he's one half Whitelighter and I called that one of her friends were connected to us and saved her, I guess I win." She crouched lightly and looked back into the pool, seeing the Halloween Possession taking place, "Janus."

"Yes, but also someone else – look at the power being used and tell me who you see."

Sonja looked at the power and her eyes widened, "Ares?"

"Yes, but on him specifically." The Elder stroked his trimmed beard lightly, "Interesting." The movie then played out, showing deed after deed until the events just after Graduation, when the change was apparently made. "Oh, my."

"Jesus Christ," Sonja muttered as the Slayer and his supposed 'friends' kicked them out of their club, even after all of his help. "That's not fair!" She watched the Slayer getting her nose flattened and whooped in delight, "Good, knock her lights out!" This got her looked at by the assembled Elders and other Whitelighters and she blushed a red color that normally could not be achieved by anyone alive, "Um, sorry, sir."

The calling off of the deal made between him and Willy disturbed the Elder greatly, as did his confrontation with the 'father', but none more so than how the father had been left and with what words had been said when the picture faded out, "I find this development … disturbing."

"But it was oddly just, considering how that tub of lard used to abuse him," Sonja defended. "Add to that they aren't even related and it raises the question of who his father is."

The Elder nodded and fiddled with another rock, which rewound time and showed a young Jessica Harris alongside a Witch and her Whitelighter, who was none other than Leo Wyatt. They watched as Leo led and guided his charge, a witch named Diana, as he was supposed to, but also watched as he and Jessica had several one-night stands that lead to her eventual pregnancy with the young man in question.

There was dead silence in the Council chambers even as a figure began to form from teleportation – the figure solidified into the form of none other than Elder Leo Wyatt, who wore a confused expression, "What?"

Mount Olympus

Ares, God of War to the Greeks, looked into his own viewing pool and smiled as his last gift to the world began to take shape – he had followed the life of his last High Priest's grandson and knew that the boy would not leave well enough alone, especially after he dusted his best friend, who had been turned into a vampire. Knowing that, he influenced several things in and around the Hellmouth, most notably the director of the Sunnydale Zoo in his acceptance of the Hyena Exhibit and it's director, the shaman, and also getting Ethan Rayne to the Hellmouth and invoking Janus, one of Rome's few true gods, because the boy, while one half Whitelighter, also held several dubious blessings / curses.

Due to his own relation to the High Priest of Ares, Alexander held the Blessing Ares, which would make him a better warrior with teaching and training, something that the Slayer and her Watcher never bothered to do, much to his and his charge's annoyance, but also held the Curse of Aphrodite, which would explain his choice in women. Through his blessing, the Hyena spirit had been partially infused within the boy, giving him better sense, reflexes, resiliency and altered his bone and muscle structures only slightly (but still within human norms), but it was the Soldier Spirit, who had once sent up offerings to Ares himself, that had been the key – the memories had been ingrained in the boy to help him in his fight, but due to the influence of the Hellmouth, those memories began to fade as soon as the Spell of Janus was over. After the boy's actions against his former friends and his 'father', Ares had seen fit to give those memories a boost, but something kept him from completely ingraining them into the boy's mind, which troubled him until he saw the source of that interference.

"Speaking of interference," the Greek god muttered as a shower of heavenly lights came down next to him and took form in the shape of Elder Leo Wyatt. "Hey, Leo – how they hanging?"

"Do not mess with my son, Ares." He had nothing against the Whitelighter himself, as they had been poker buddies for a while when things were slow and before he had been saddled with the Charmed Ones, and then his wife and son.

"Too late, Leo, and besides the fact, I have just as much claim to him as you do … a claim that I would make known to my brothers and sisters before they get their claws into your son." He looked back at the viewing pool and then at Leo, "Face it, Wyatt, that you have a son and that he's ten times the man that most of the humans down there think they are – no, he's not perfect, but any god or goddess up here would claim him as their own in a fraction of a second and not think twice about it." He shuddered, "I mean, have you HEARD what my sister Discord wants to do with him? She wants him to start World War Three by assassinating half a dozen presidents and dignitaries for the sheer hell of it. Or how about Athena or Artemis? They want him to lead and father a new breed of Amazon warrior women in modern warfare, weapons and tactics. And please, DON'T get me started on Aphrodite."


"The last time she took an interest in somebody, his name was John Holmes." He saw Leo shudder at that and he went on, "Look, all of that aside, he's a good kid – he's a little rough around the edges and is in a fight that isn't his to be in, in the first place, but he won't leave it alone because of the fact that he knows it is there and will do so until his dying breath because it is the right thing to do."

Leo only sighed, "It's not that simple, Ares – yes, he's my son, but I am married and have another son as well. Not only that, but my wife is one of the Charmed Ones – how in all that is holy am I going to tell them about this?"

Ares could only shrug as the scene below him began to play out, "Don't know, but your wife and her sisters are within a hundred yards of hum right now with two flat tires. If you're going to tell them, now is the time."

Oxnard – 2 days after leaving Sunnydale

"Stupid car." Xander tugged at the costume that he had been talked into wearing out on stage when one of the strippers had not shown up for work that evening. Still, he wasn't the worst looking guy on the planet and if he took in even a quarter of what the other guys took, he'd be out of Oxnard a hell of a lot quicker than he hoped.

"And now, ladies, tonight we have a special treat for you – in his first performance ever, Alexander Zorro!"

Ten minutes earlier – gas station

Phoebe growled and kicked the two remaining tires on Prue's car while the service attendant started to repair the other two blown ones, "This blows chunks! I mean, what're the odds that we get TWO flat tires this … town?"

"Could be worse," her eldest sister said while writing the check to pay for it all. "We could have been ten more miles down the road when it happened."

It was Piper's turn to growl as she snapped her cell phone shut, "Leo's in some big-wig Elder meeting for a while and Chris has Wyatt."

"So we're stuck?" Piper nodded and Phoebe smiled, "Well, I don't know about you, but as this place has not cold drinks, I'm pretty sure that place would."

Prue looked at the destination that the youngest of her sisters had in mind and winced, "The Fabulous Lady's Club'? A strip joint? Phoebes, please tell me you're joking." Phoebe smiled at her and started walking, which made Prue sigh, "She's not joking."

Piper, perhaps the most up-tight of them all, only smirked, "Could be worse – could be a Gentlemen's Club that we are about to enter."

"Yah – the land of socks, rather than silicone." They entered the door to the somewhat seedy place and nearly ran into Phoebe, who had stopped dead in her tracks and was staring, "Phoebe?" Prue shook her shoulder and got nothing in response, "Phoebe?"

"Whoa," she finally got, as a hand came up to point the way. "Oh, dear Lord, please tell me that is not a pair of socks."

Prue looked up and felt herself blush as the scene played out – on stage was a young man, at least eighteen but not yet twenty, in a pair of at-capacity black Speedos who was making most of the female population of the club, the waitresses and bartenders included, drool as he stepped, gyrated and teased his way over the stage, "For the love of all that is good and holy…"

"Amen," Phoebe stated while Piper merely looked reflective.

"Is it me, or does he look like someone we know?" She shrugged and went to the bar, "JD, double, on the rocks, three of them – I think my sisters might be needing it."

The bottle blonde bartender shook her head, "Huh? Oh, sure." The drinks were served up and money taken, then she went back to watching the show, "Damn, maybe I can get him to help me out?"

Prue and Phoebe were at a table as Piper returned with the drinks, "I think that he's a hit here."

Prue drained her drink while Phoebe dug through her purse for some money. When she found it, she waltzed up to the stage and tucked them neatly into to the band before getting a wink from the stripper and watching him walk off as the DJ went on, "And that was Alex Zorro, and to think that this was his first performance…" The ladies around the stage went wild and the DJ went on to announce the next performer, but by that time, Phoebe was back.

"Feel better?" Prue scowled at her youngest sister, who looked like she was the ship's cat on a fishing vessel.

"Yeah, and that was not a pair of socks." She enjoyed the scandalized looks her sisters gave her even as a figure approached their table.

"Piper?" They looked over to see Leo, Piper's husband, and could see that he looked decidedly uncomfortable, "Honey, we need to talk about something."

"What about, Leo?"

"Um, well, you see … it involves that guy Phoebe just gave twenty dollars in ones and fives."

Chapter 2

Outside of strip club – Leo has just told Piper the news, Xander has been dragged out of back by Prue and he is clothed

He cautiously stuck his head up from the other side of the parked car, an astonishingly beautiful brunette woman on either side of him, and surveyed the situation that he had been dragged into – a tall blonde man had apparently told another brunette woman something that involved him somehow and the other two were waiting on an explosion, one he was sure that he didn't want to get caught up in. Xander was a number of things, but stupid didn't happen to be one of them – the woman was just standing there, clenching her fists and looking mightily pissed off, but not saying anything, which was a VERY bad thing. "How in the hell did I get dragged into this? I left Sunnydale to get AWAY from shit like this."

The brunette to his left shrugged, "Apparently you are his son." She was older than he, maybe by seven or eight years, but not much more than that, with dark brown hair, hazel gray eyes and an almost natural pallor to her skin.

"His son? If he's thirty five, I'm a Mormon."

The brunette to his right smiled at that, "Oh that means you get multiple wives, right? Can I be one?" He and the other brunette looked at her oddly and she backed up, "What? It was a valid question." She was younger, maybe three or four years older than him, more athletic than thin, but also held a wild streak that reminded him all too much of Faith.

Any other conversation that would have gone on stopped as the woman stormed off back into the club and the man sighed dejectedly, "It's safe to come out now."

The two brunettes charge the blonde man and begin barraging him with questions, so he turns around and slips back into the club, dodging the happy hands of the wait staff and some of the patrons, and made his way to the bar, where the other brunette was sitting with a shot glass and a bottle of Maker's Mark, "Hi."

"Hello." The tone was civil, at least, but not inviting.



He looked at her as she sat and looked at the shot she had poured, "Tastes better if you drink it."

She shot him a glare and slammed the shot back, cringing at the burning sensation that she most assuredly was feeling in her throat, "S-s-smooth."

"Bullshit. MM is a sipping whiskey, or so that bastard Tony always told me." He poured himself a shot and, damning the legalities of it, sipped it, "You're taking the news well."

"So are you."

Xander snorted, "Before I left town I lynched the man I though of as my father with a vacuum cord and then my mother told me about what happened way back when, and the guy's name. Growing up on the Hellmouth has taught me there are no such things as coincidence … and to answer your question, I'll be pissed later." He poured her a drink, "So, you're his wife?"

She nodded, "Of two years, even gave him a son, Wyatt." She turned and saluted him with the shot glass, her brandy brown eyes red with tears and pain, "You have a step brother."

Before she could slam the shot back he grabbed it from her and put it down, looking into her eyes and then, gently, he pulled her close and hugged her. She hesitated for the barest fraction of a second before hugging him back and beginning to cry, heaving, body-wracking sobs shaking her in his embrace for several minutes until she pulls back, wiping her eyes as she did, and then looking up at him, her face puzzled, "Do you go around hugging strange women all the time?"

He shrugged, "Not normally, but you looked like you could use a hug at that point in time, and besides, now I get to say I have a hot step-mother. Better?"

She gave him a look, "No."

He nodded, "Alright – the walking sperm bank and I need to chat, so I'll send your sisters," he looked at her and she nodded, "back in." He walked out of the club, once again fending off hands from the clientele and staff, and was greeted by the sight of both brunettes glaring at the blonde.

"So, it wouldn't be incest, would it? I mean, we have no genetic connection to him, right?" The youngest brunette seemed persistent in the matter while the older one was doing her best not to strangle her sister.

"Ladies? Can I talk with him for a few minutes? I think your sister needs to have someone near her right now." They nodded and left, however not before the older brunette gave him a looking over that could almost be considered lewd, but regardless they left and he was alone with the man who might or might not have been his father. He was tall, maybe six feet and small change, with broad shoulders and blonde hair that was cut short, but had light colored eyes and was wearing a frown, "So, you're him."

"You look just like Jessica."

"So I've been told in the past."

Leo raised an eyebrow, "So, how have you been?"

"I grew up on the fucking HELLMOUTH, Leo, with drunk and abusive parents – how the hell do you think I've been?" He gave Leo a cold grin, "Though to tell you the truth, Tony wasn't looking so hot when I left. Did he die?"

Leo looked vaguely sick for a second and then blank for several minutes before answering, "No, your mother saved him … for some reason I think she loves him."

Xander growled, "Hmm, I guess I'll have to try harder next time. What do you think of a sniper round? How about disembowelment? Oh, or beheading?"

Leo looked very sick now even as Xander heard the crunching steps on the rocks from behind him, "Was it really that bad? Did he really hurt you that much?"

"More than you know, Leo – now, I know I seem to be taking all of this rather well, but let me tell you that it's all sinking in right now and while I may look like my mother, I do know I have her temper." Leo paled at this and Xander went on with a savage grin, "So, Leo, where the fuck have you been? Screw that – what are you?"

Before Leo could answer, the door to the club opened again and the manager stuck her head out, "Yo, Zorro – you have a set up in ten."

Xander growled slightly and looked back at Leo, who had paled slightly, "Don't think this conversation is over, Leo. I want answers and trust me, one way or another, I get them." Having said that, he stalked off towards the back.

He didn't get far, though, when he heard the youngest say, "Hey, let's get front row seats!"

After second set – last of evening

His first night of stripping and he pulled down nearly $900 dollars; that was almost half of what the used car dealer, 'Honest Pedro' had been asking for a hot little four-door number, but the guys in the back were getting rather surly about his take that night – he had, apparently, set some kind of record for the club. Either way, he had money now and some of it was thanks to Phoebe, the youngest of his apparent sister-in-laws, as she had given him a ten and Prue, the oldest of the trio, had dropped a twenty on him as well. Grabbing his bag and nodding to the manager, who winked at him in return while watching a monitor or something, he walked out of the club and towards the front parking lot, where he had been told to meet them.

As promised, they were there, but only now Piper had seemed to have lost some of her sadness and moved into anger, Phoebe seemed to be egging her on and both Prue and Leo were trying to keep the middle sister from killing the youngest – oddly enough, this appeared to be a normal situation, which scared him more than he cared to admit, "Well, this is nice."

Leo looked over and seemed very relieved while both Prue and Phoebe stopped what they were doing at a harsh look from Piper, who then looked over at him with a slight smile, "Are you ready to go?"

He looked at her oddly, "Where? My place is right down the road."

"You wanted answers, right?" He nodded and she went on, "Then you're coming with us." She walked over and grabbed him by the hand, dragging him back towards Leo and the others, "Now hold on … this might seem weird."

Before he could say anything he was hit by the very same feeling of lightness that had happened at his old house, when he was fighting Tony, and then as soon as he relented he was in someplace new – gone was the seedy strip joint parking lot and in it's place was a rather nice parlor, complete with a grandfather clock, couches, chairs and … a dark haired young man holding a baby, "Well, shit."

"Language!" Piper walked over to the young man and took the baby from him, walking back over and depositing said child into his hands, "Xander, meet Wyatt … you half brother."

"Half brother?" The young man with dark hair looked over at Leo, who nodded, and then at Piper, "Mom, what's going on?"

Piper began to explain to the guy what was going on, but Xander found himself pre-occupied with little Wyatt, who appeared to be very seriously attempting to fit the toes of one of his feet into his mouth. "Stop that, Wyatt – take it from someone who has mastered the art, you'll get more than enough practice of sticking your foot in your mouth when you get older. Trust me on that fact." The baby giggled a little and began to play with Xander's outstretched fingers, laughing as his belly was tickled and he was given goofy faces to look at.

"HE WHAT?" The other dark-haired young man present shouted at Piper, who had the patented 'Mother' look on her face while both Prue and Phoebe were sitting on the couch, watching the scene like it was a tennis match.

"You heard me, Chris – Leo is Xander's father, your half-brother and Wyatt's, and don't yell at me because my hearing is perfectly good." She walked back over and took Wyatt from him, who was starting to get fussy, "Now, you two play nice while Prue and Phoebe help me put Wyatt to sleep." The trio left them alone in the room as Leo had vanished somewhere.

'Chris' was a little shorter than he, but about the same age, with a more slender frame in the shoulders and arms and legs, but looked like Piper, rather than Leo, with dark hair, Piper's facial features and her general build, and it also appeared that he had her temper as well as he snapped, "What's your name?"

"Alexander Harris, and don't give me any flak about this, I just found out myself."

Chris sneered at him, "I'll do as I please. It's not like you can do anything about it."

As he finished the word 'about' Xander found that he was already in motion and as he finished 'it' spun Chris around and put him in a choke hold while buckling the back of his knees. Chris gasped in surprised and vanished in a shower of gold and white light, appearing behind him, but was solid enough to receive a shot to the gut from a backwards kick that sent him careening into the couch.

"Rule One: Assume Nothing. Always believe that your opponent is a highly-trained martial artist and sandbagging even if they're 70, overweight and on an oxygen tank." That was one of the first lessons the Soldier had learned in Special Forces training when it came to hand-to-hand combat, and he went on, "Rule Two: Never give away anything that can be used against you. Before then I didn't know you could teleport like Leo, but now I do and will be prepared for it next time I am forced to attack."

"Alright, already," Chris groaned, holding his stomach as he got up from the couch. "I get it – no attacking you."

"Good, because if you attack me again I won't be fighting with kid's gloves." Chris looked up at him and he continued, "I had time enough to snap your neck and no fancy teleporting trick could have saved your ass if I was right where I was, when I was, and how I was."

Chris then pouted, "Point taken."

"Good, now where's the gutless wonder? I told him I wanted answers and I want them right the fuck now."

He felt a hand hit him against the back of his head and turned to see Piper standing there with a scowl, "I don't like that kind of language in my house."

He rolled his eyes, "Trust me, Piper, when I say that's about as mild as I go now-a-days." He absently rubbed the back of his head as both Prue and Phoebe came back down, "Where's Leo?"

Piper rolled her eyes, "Knowing him, he's in the Elder's Council Chambers."

The words sparked an image in his mind and suddenly Xander felt light … and then solid again as the scene faded to black as he heard several gasps of surprise and felt a sharp blow to the back of his head.

Elder's Council Chambers 20 Seconds Earlier

"Elder, he must be allowed to speak." Leo was doing his best to convince the other Elders to hear his son's case, as they wanted to bind any possible powers Xander had.

"No, Leo, I will not allow someone who grew up on the Mouth of HELL to ever possibly become a Whitelighter." The Supreme Elder shook his head in disgust, "I mean, what would happen if he ever were able to get in here?"

As if to answer that question, there was a shimmer of heavenly lights and Xander's form began to form, but not quickly enough as one of the Guardians snuck up and slammed a staff into the back of Xander's skull, knocking him down to the ground and out, presumably.

The Elders were dead silent, as were most of the others in the Council Chamber, while the Guardian who struck Xander roughly brought him to his feet, but then something odd happened – Xander's eyes snapped open and he didn't look like a happy bunny, in Leo's opinion. He spun to face the Guardian and slammed a knee into the gut of the man, who gasped and bent over, and then came up with a hard left uppercut to the jaw that sent the Guardian sprawling to the ground of the Chamber, out cold.

"Vampires and demons hit harder than him, hell, Tony Harris hit me harder than that." Xander reached down and grabbed the staff that had been used against him, absently twirling it in his hands, "Anyone else wanna have a go at it?"

"How did you get in here?" The older Elder rose form his place on the Council, his face etched in worry.

Xander, for his part, merely shrugged his shoulders, "Don't know – Piper told me where dear old dad might be and POOF, here I am." Xander looked over at him and Leo found himself looking not into the eyes of his son, but the eyes of a person who was considering whether or not to spit him up like a goose on the staff and stick him over a slow bed of coals, "Running again, Dad?"

Leo shook the image out of his head and shook his head, "No, Xander, I was up here pleading your case."

Xander gave him a look that told him that he'd been granted a little leeway, but not much, and then turned to the Elder's Council, "And you people are?"

The Supreme Elder took a look of superiority and sneered at his son, "The Council of Elders; we govern the Whitelighters, guide them, teach them."

"Great," Xander scoffed. "Another Council who probably don't even remember what it's like to get their hands dirty. I thought that when I left Sunnydale and the Slayer I wouldn't have to deal with Watcher act-alikes."

The Supreme Elder looked more than a little affronted, "Now see here, young man, I will not tolerate being spoken to by some … half-breed … like yourself."

Xander proceeded to give the Supreme Elder the 'finger' and sneer, "Yeah, just like the Watcher's Council back in England. You can't handle someone else in your sandbox, let alone the fact that they just pissed in it, and want them eliminated. – Typical tyrannical 'for the betterment of all' mindset."

Several of the other Elders murmured among themselves while the Supreme Elder went red with rage, "I should have you executed for barging in here, young men."

Xander merely cricked his neck left and then right, "I never should have been allowed to get this far, especially as I don't know how I got here, but if that's gonna happen, grow a pair and do the job yourself." He stopped working the staff around his body and snapped it into two pieces over his knee before wielding them like Eskirma fighting sticks, "Or, we can work this out like civilized men and women to a point that you don't get your ass handed to you."

"I say we allow him to speak his peace," an Elder from China said with a slight accent. "He has made several good points and aside from that, if of our blood – he deserves nothing less." About half of the Elders nodded with the man and Leo took that point to jump back in.

"As I was saying, Supreme Elder, I was unaware of my son's existence due to the interference from the Hellmouth, as we all were for the same reason. Just because he grew up there as a normal person is not a valid reason that he should have his powers bound, or for him to be destroyed."

"He has been possessed twice, Leo," the Supreme Elder said somewhat patiently, "and not only that he has a blood allegiance to Ares of the Greek Pantheon, who has boosted and caused both of his Possessions. We cannot allow that in any member of our kind, I am sorry."

"You're scared." Xander's voice was flat, dangerous, but his eyes were accepting. "I understand that, believe me, but just because of some mitigating factors that I had and have no control over, you want to basically play God with me and bind my supposed powers or kill me. Please, stop me if I'm wrong here," he went on, raising a hand, "but I don't see where you get off doing that. The Hyena Spirit was a pain in the ass who almost raped my best friend, but I was able to stall him long enough for her to hit him … me … with a desk. The Soldier Spirit was something of an annoyance at first, but the information he has provided has saved the world three times already – The Judge, the bomb under the Hellmouth, and the Ascension of Mayor Wilkins."

"I am not contesting that you have done good deeds in your life, Alexander," the Supreme Elder admitted with a hint of grudging admiration, "but the simple fact of the matter is that you cannot be trusted to uphold our teaching with the level of professionalism needed. I am sorry."

"Then let me try. Give me a chance to prove you and your cronies wrong – if I fail, then you're right, kill me, strip me of my powers, whatever, but if you're wrong, you've got another person to help you out." Leo felt more than a little pride fill him as Xander proceeded to manipulate the situation to his advantage. "What do you have to lose?"

The Council of Elders looked at each other and one of the Elders, a slight blonde woman, stood, "We must discuss this situation and suggestion."

Leo nodded and walked over to Xander, "I will return with him when you have reached a decision, one way or another." That said, he orbed with Xander back to the Halliwell Manor and as soon as they were solid again, he sighed, "Well, that went well."

Xander, for his part, looked like he was about to lose his lunch, "Warn me when you're going to do something like that, Leo, and I still want some answers – I've pieced together a few things, but how about some conformation?"

Leo sighed, "Whitelighters are basically Guardian Angels for pure-born Witches, with rare exceptions. We are generally either born into the position, as you, Chris and Wyatt were, or are accepted after our deaths, as I was." Leo went into the ins and outs of being a Whitelighter and the powers that it entailed, but when it got to a part about protecting one's charge, Xander's expression went black.

"Let me get this straight – you can't kill to protect your charge? No matter what?"

Leo shrugged, "Those are the rules."

Xander snorted and then rubbed his forehead, "No wonder so many natural Witches die – your rules have you by the balls and increase your operational limitations."

Leo winced, "Stop thinking like a Soldier, son – you're not one."

Xander glared at him, "That's where you're wrong, Leo – I am a soldier, only it's in a war that you and yours seemed to have forgotten about. I fight vampires and demons of my own violation, and as such, I think like I do because of it. Sure, the Soldier Spirit helps out a lot, but that's the up side of what he gave me – I have his memories and trust me, I slept a hell of a lot better at night before some of the highlight reels of cluster-fuck and FUBAR missions that he went on."

Leo winced at the pure emotion in his son's voice – he'd seen what the Vietnam war was like and remembered vividly what that tone was; it was the tone of someone who had seen too much, too soon, and not had enough time to recover from it. While not quite shell shock or Post Traumatic Stress, it could become dangerous if the individual wasn't strong enough to deal with it.

"Xander, this is the last time I am going to warn you about your language." Piper came up beside him and looked at his son, "Do it again and I'll make you eat Phoebe's cooking."

Leo winced at this even as Phoebe gave a gasp of pure horror at the threat and Prue snickered at it – Xander, on the other hand, merely smiled, "She can't be any worse than Buffy – she almost burned down a stove melting butter for out popcorn one night."

Again Leo winced – the boy didn't know when to shut up and not make challenges like that.

Next morning – Breakfast

It was official – Hell had frozen over; someone was a worse cook then Elizabeth Anne 'Buffy' Summers, and he was related to her by marriage. "God that's awful," he muttered to Chris, who appeared to be doing his best to keep his pancakes in his stomach.

Phoebe, who was cleaning up a nearly-burned skillet at the sink, turned and glared at him, "What was that?"

"He said 'God, that's awful', butt pain, and he's right." Prue dumped her pancakes into the trash and winced as she heard glass breaking inside of the can, "Do yourself a favor, let Piper handle the cooking, or Chris."

Phoebe glared at her older sister, "Are you implying that I cannot cook, Prudence?"

Prue smiled, "Yes, I am. Your take out ordering is top notch, but your recipe following sucks – always has."

Xander, Chris and Leo, who had come in a few minutes before, immediately backed away as Phoebe began to wield the skillet like a deadly weapon, "Take that back, Prue."

Prue leaned forwards, "Make me."

The two began to squabble while Piper sighed and the three of them got the hell out of Dodge as quickly as possible, ending up in the living room after a few seconds of flight. The sounds of the fight made it's way into the parlor, where Leo looked at Xander and Chris sat down with a grunt, "Now, Xander, I'd like to start today with a few questions."


"How is your mother?"

Xander bit back a snarl, "Grow a pair and go see her yourself?"

Leo held out a hand to forestall Chris' outburst and sighed, "Look, Xander, you must let go of the past before you succumb to the darkness within yourself."

"Sure, Yoda, I'll do that as soon as I get a straight answer out of you as to why you bailed on Jessica."

Leo sighed, "I didn't know she was pregnant, Xander, and if I had I would not have been able to do anything about it at the time – my charge was at a critical juncture of her training and life and I could not be spared."

Xander growled suddenly, a sound that wasn't exactly human in nature and made Leo step back and Chris to vault over the couch he had been sitting on, "So, either way you wouldn't have been there to own up to what you did? And you wonder why I have a problem with all of this BS, not to mention you in particular?"

Leo held up his hands, "Look, son, if I could turn back the clock and change things, I would, but I can't, so we're going to have to work these things out as we go."

Xander nodded once, but then got close to Leo, "Alright, but I need to think on my own for a little while. Also, a piece of advice and a warning: don't leave Piper or anyone else in a lurch like you left mom, and if you do make damned sure I never find out, because I will come after you and nobody under HIM will be able to save your sorry ass." With that said, Xander stormed out of the Manor and stalked down the streets of San Francisco in the early morning hours of a Saturday.


The kid had been doing a kata for nearly ten minutes, flawlessly too, when Ares decided to approach him – Xander needed to work some steam off first and Ares knew that if that did not happen, what he was about to do would be that much harder, "Hey, kid."

The kid stopped, and Ares could see the warrior beneath the khaki pants and loose white t-shirt that he wore, "Yeah?"

"You know who I am?"

"Vaguely – Ares, right?" They shook hands, "I like the series."

Ares smirked, "Thanks – Herc thought it would be a good idea with us playing our old selves, and I can't believe that I almost shot the whole damned thing down." They shared a chuckle at that and then Ares drew himself up, "As you may or may not know, you and I have a connection through your mother – her father, your grandfather, was the last of my High Priests, and as such, you get certain fringe benefits from it all."

"You caused the two possessions I've undergone." The kid's tone was flat, but not unfriendly.

Ares nodded, "Yes – there aren't many of my people in the world, and as you were living on the Hellmouth, I felt you should get all the help you could. I arranged for the Hyenas and the shaman to be at the Sunnydale Zoo, just as I was able to get Ethan Rayne to beseech Janus to empower the Chaos spell on Halloween – both instances made you stronger, as per my blessing, and they allowed you to become a better fighter … not that the Slayer and her Watcher ever tried to help with that. Great Zeus, they irritate me, sometimes." He grinned, suddenly, "Of course, the little deal you made with the local barkeep and the demons was truly inspired, especially now that they all know about it*."

The kid smiled at that, "Yes, it was, however I'm not a perfect bastard yet – I left Joyce under my protection."

Ares could only nod, "As you should have – she's the only one who has defended you so far."

The kid nodded, "I'll have to thank her."

Ares went on then, or rather, he would have, if not for that dark brown haired brat of Leo's that came charging in and drove his shoulder into Xander's gut, screaming about something or other.

Xander rolled to his feet, only to get punched by the brat even as Leo and the Charmed Ones came on to the scene via Leo's orbing them in, "How DARE you talk to my father like that."

Ares winced as Xander blocked the next punch and returned on of his own, sending the other brat to the ground several feet away, "Not bad, Chris, but just like I told you last night, never give away something that can be used against you." He blocked a punch absently and head-butted 'Chris' back, "You gave up the element of surprise." Xander lashed out with a kick that caught Chris in the stomach, "Not smart."

Ares looked over at Leo, who was holding the trio of witches back, but also had a look of sorrow on his face as his eldest schooled his youngest in the arts of hand-to-hand combat … painfully, "Are you going to stop this?"

"No – Chris has to learn that there are some people that he's not ready to fight and Xander needs to learn that not all problems are solved with violence."

Ares snorted, "Good luck on that second one – he's one of mine, so violence is in his blood. No, he needs to learn how to be subtle, sneaky … or rather, when to be more subtle or sneakier than he normally is." This point was proven when Chris wiffed a right punch that spun him around 180 degrees ad allowed Xander to hit him with a pair of kidney shots and then slam him face-first into the ground, "He grew up on the Hellmouth – I expect that you and yours upstairs won't like his tactics, but he gets the job done."

Prue, the oldest, winced visibly as Chris came back up and the lower part of his face was covered in blood, "Why is that?"

"I've had him possessed twice, Halliwell, to make him a better warrior – the first one could have gone better, but the second went as scheduled … except for the Hellmouth energies making his memories degrade quicker than I had hoped."

The middle girl, Piper, glared at him, "You made my brother-in-law be possessed, twice?"

He sighed, "I AM the god of War, remember? By blood he's one of my warriors and I was giving him the tools necessary to survive." He grinned as Xander blocked a groin shot by Chris and returned one in kind, "He has a ways to go, but he'll be one of the best since Xena, if I get my way."

Leo then growled lightly, "He is to be a Whitelighter, Ares – that much is known."

"Not if your Supreme Elder has anything to say about it."

"Listen here, CHILD," Xander snarled to Chris, who was on the ground, stomach first. "I have had enough of your little attitude, so let me make one thing perfectly clear – I kill pieces of shit stronger than you before BREAKFAST on the Hellmouth, so if you want to take another shot at me, bring your game to a new level." He let Chris' head slump forwards and rose, his own face smeared with a little blood that was coming from the corner of his mouth, "And make sure that you don't give away the element of surprise. Thus endeth the lesson."

"Well taught, brat," Ares congratulated him even as he walked towards the group. "Now, as I was about to say before we were so rudely interrupted, I want to show you something to help you understand why you've gotten the short end of the stick your entire life."

Xander spit out a little blood to the ground and, after sparing a glance at Leo, who nodded, nodded at him, "Sure, why not."

Ares clapped his hands, "Excellent." He teleported the both of them to his own domain in Olympus and before a Viewing Pool, which was a more powerful version of what the Whitelighter Elder Council chambers had, "Now, kid, here is your mother's life."


The place that the Greek gods and goddesses had as a playground wasn't all history had cracked it up to be, or the show, either; it was actually more of a small glade, rather than a rocky out-cropping or a pantheon. He stood next to the Greek god of War, being eyed by none other than Discord, Athena and Artemis, and was looking into a pool at his mother's childhood – no, there was absolutely nothing wrong with this situation at all, as it was SNAFU.

His mother, it turned out, had a rather plush childhood with her father as the last High Priest of Ares – lots of swords, books, food, clothes, you name it, and she used said swords and books to become quite the child hell-raiser until she was about twelve, when she started to notice boys, mostly due to Aphrodite's Curse. She was happy and well to do, was destined to be married to a captain of industry, until she made one very critical mistake – she went against the wished of both her father and Ares. With that egregious mistake, her destiny was altered to where she married Tony Harris, gave birth to him in the situation that he now knew and history had played out as it had.

When he finally looked up at Ares, his face was schooled into a flat mask, "So she told you and gramps to piss off and as a result my life was a living, breathing hell?"

Ares only shrugged. "She had a destiny that needed to be filled, but as she couldn't follow a simple order like 'don't go to the party', how could we be sure that she wouldn't follow more complex orders in the future? Besides, if she HAD followed instructions, you never would have known Jessie or Joyce, and you wouldn't be one half Whitelighter."

Ares had a point, "Does she know this?"

"No, and she won't know – it's part of a deal I made with Discord a while back." Ares walked over to a tree stump and sat down on it, "I didn't like it, but it had to be done, Xander. I'm not sure if you can understand, but orders and following a chain of command are important, and your mother forgot that."

"Yeah, I understand better than most, but still, what was the point in showing me the past if it has no real bearing on the future?"

Ares grinned at that and Xander felt his stomach clench, knowing that he had just walked into a trap, "Ah, but it does. Sufficed to say, the future IS written in stone, but it's like a kind of sandstone – easily changed and worn away. You're going to have some decisions to make in the near future and some of them won't sit easy with you, but it will be done because it's the right thing to do, even if it doesn't seem like it at the time." Ares stood again and reached his hands forwards, as if holding them out for something, "Now, for a little something that may piss off your dad, but you'll need it later." In a flash, there was a sword in his hands.

It wasn't just a sword, Xander saw several seconds later, but rather it was a work of art – a black steel blade of nearly bastard length mated to a bronze-colored crosspiece and a dark-colored leather-wrapped hilt, ending in a bronze pommel, with etchings down the blade in what appeared to be Sandskrit or Persian, but as he read neither, he wasn't sure. In short, it was beautiful, and Ares was giving it to him, "Who's was it?"

"Smart kid. Actually, it belonged to one of my generals, originally, but most recently it belonged to your mother." Ares shrugged as Xander shot him an arched eyebrow, "Thought that I'd keep the sword in your family."

Xander grinned and accepted the blade, testing it and finding that it was balanced just right for his hands, "Thanks you, Ares."

Ares nodded, "I get the feeling you may need it in the near future."

He hated when people did that – it was like asking 'it can't get any worse, can it?'

Halliwell Manor

"Son, I'd like for you to meet a friend of mine, Sonja Gray." His son, Xander, carrying a rather unique sword in a black leather sheath over one shoulder, looked at the Whitelighter next to him and smiled, "She's apparently a rather large fan of yours."

Sonja was of average height, with auburn hair and green eyes, but her athletic build and sometimes … overactive … nature tended to keep people at arms length with her, so it wasn't too much of a surprise when she took Xander's proffered hand and pumped it up and down energetically, "Hi, I'm Sonja! I've heard SO much about you, Xander, do you mind if I call you Xander?"

"Um, no, not at all." Xander smiled at the auburn-haired Whitelighter and then looked at him, "Um, Leo, what's going on here?"

Leo smiled, "Oh, didn't I tell you? Sonja's going to be the one teaching you on how to use your powers properly, so make sure you get some extra sleep tonight, because tomorrow is an early day and you're going to need all the energy you can get." Xander shot him a glare that could have melted glaciers and Leo could only laugh as Sonja drew the young man off to the side to talk his ear off.

Chapter 3

Council of Elders Chamber – Two months later

"So, sirs, you see, he's either a natural or a prodigy." That pretty much summed up the G – PG thoughts of what Sonja had about Xander, as her R and NC – 17 ones were not appropriate to be vocalized or thought of in the presence of her Elders or otherwise acted upon without aide from alcoholic libations. She'd been teaching Xander Harris, son of Leo Wyatt, a Whitelighter who slept with a mortal to bear a son who had fought demons on the Hellmouth, and the kid was good at what he did – it only took him a few days to get the basics of both healing and orbing, and a few hours to get over the queasy factor of orbing, but basically anything she taught him he soaked up like a sponge and retained it

"Is that a fact?" The Supreme Elder's voice was dark and cold, like glacial ice or something, while several of the other members of the Council appeared to be accepting the praise of a student from a teacher. "Has he shown any violent tendencies? Perhaps slipping into the Darkness?"

Sonja thought back and then shook her head, "No, sir, not so much that I would be worried. Yes, he does get angry, but we all did, at one point or another, sir." She and everyone else knew that the Supreme Elder had it out for Xander, and Xander, being Xander, was too damned pig-headed to give the man the satisfaction of seeing him quit/fail/turn traitor, so when he appeared to be at a breaking point, he dug down deep and proceeded to pull rabbits out of his ass.

The Supreme Elder smiled at this slightly, "So, you believe that he's ready for a test? Or is your own friendship with your student clouding your judgment?"

Sonja bristled at the accusation slightly, which was rare as she rarely took offense to anything, "Supreme Elder, with all due respect, sir, my friendship with Alexander has nothing to do with his progress – he's a good kid, despite where he came from, and he'll make one hell of a Whitelighter."


Sonja looked down at her student and winced in sympathy as he emptied the last of his breakfast into the bay, "Feeling better?"

He glared up at her and spoke in a nearly falsetto voice, "Not yet." Xander stuck his head down over the piling again and hurled up some bile – he'd just managed his first solo orbing and ended relatively on-target, but it was the relatively that had caused the Whitelighter-in-training to straddle a 2-inch steel pipe and possibly end any chances of ever having children.

After a few more minutes of dry heaves, some deep breaths and a little healing from her, he was back on his feet and wincing, "So, Sonja, how was that?"

"Aside from the rough landing on your part, not bad for a first solo, Xander." She couldn't help but beam at him – he'd been under her training for a little over a week now and aside from a few minor miss-haps, nothing had gone wrong; he'd learned ad mastered basic teleportation of objects, had a firm grasp on minor healing, and could ride her trail when she orbed, but this exercise was to determine just how well he could orb on his own – he needed practice, but when they started out, everyone did. "You feel up to another orb?"

He winced, "Not yet." He gingerly sat on the edge of the platform they had been shooting for and he sighed, "So, teach, tell me about yourself – likes, dislikes, favorite hobbies, who and why you became a Whitelighter, all of that."

Sonja blushed lightly, "Not much to tell, really – I like kittens, hate snakes, I like to sing, surf and read, hate war and imitation crab meat." She took a breath and let out slowly, "I became a Whitelighter, or rather, I was offered the chance when I died saving my niece from a Mage who wanted her inborn powers of magic." She looked over at Xander and saw him wincing in sympathy, then smiled slightly, "She grew up, got married, had kids and grandkids, one of them named after me, and died at the ripe old age of eighty four a few years ago – it's hard to watch sometimes, but seeing as I get to help out other witches and Champions, it all balances out."

He nodded and then looked puzzled, "Wait a second – Leo said that you're a fairly new Whitelighter, that you just finished your training, in fact. How is it that …"

Sonja had the good grace to blush, "Um, well, you see … my orbing wasn't all that great. It took me nearly a month to even get the basics and another ten years to master getting objects to my hands and other places in one pieces. My healing is top-drawer, though, so you don't need to be worried, and my orbing has gotten that much better." She looked up at her student and saw his stricken look and did her best to not burst out into laughter, a challenge that she eventually lost and burst into gales of silvery, bell-like laughter that often had her in trouble or confused with a fairy.

It took several minutes for her to get herself back under control and once she did, Xander was feeling well enough to stand without wincing, "Okay, now let's go to Alcatraz."

"Nowhere with pipes, right?"

Silvery, bell-like laughter was heard again.

End Flashback

"Of that I have doubts, Sonja," the Supreme Elder said with more than a little hint of arrogance in his voice.

It was one of the Council Members, surprisingly, who lost their temper first, "Supreme Elder, given your animosity towards to the young man in question, I would think that it would be … appropriate that you step down from this panel in respects that your opinion of his and his abilities are more than a little biased."

Before the Supreme Elder could object to that, they all felt a shock of cold hit their systems and shivered as one as a large piece of flat rock flickered and showed a scene that left them all cold – The Charmed Ones, their Whitelighter, Leo, and another Whitelighter, Chris, were all captured and three demons were attacking the youngest child, Leo's son by way of Piper Halliwell, Wyatt, but the child's shield was holding up. Chris was strapped to an alter and about to be stabbed with a ceremonial dagger by a demon who looked like a cross between a bloodhound and a center for the LA Lakers, when there was an explosion heard from off of the screen and bits and pieces of what appeared to have been a door came flying in.

//"Howdy, boys. Mind if I crash your party? // She'd know that smart-ass voice anywhere, but it was something of a surprise to see Xander walk into the picture holding a sword that reeked of power from the Greek Pantheon and wearing a grim smile on his face that bespoke the fact that something was about to die … and it wasn't going to be him.

The demons, seven in total, all looked at him and, save the one who was about sacrifice Chris in what appeared to be a summoning ritual, rushed the armed figure, who began to cackle lightly and met the first one head-on with a spinning slice to the torso that had pitifully little effect.

Sonja looked up at the Elders, "Elders, we must help them! They'll die if we do nothing."

The majority of the Council appeared to agree up the Supreme Elder wore a wolfish grin on his face, "No, Sonja, we will not help them." He appeared to be gleeful as Xander was knocked back to the wall by one of the demons, but lost that glee when he saw the boy smile and use the sword to slice free Prue, Piper and Leo, Phoebe being out cold for some reason, before going after the demon that was approaching Chris.

"But Supreme Elder, they are the CHARMED ONES, not to mention two of our own and a third that is in training!" An Elder from the end of the Council table, the same Whitelighter from Chine who had spoke up for Xander the first time around, stood and didn't appear happy, "Would you leave them there to die?"

"Absolutely." The voice wasn't that of the Supreme Elder, but rather it was of Ares, the Greek god of War, and as Sonja spun to see him, she saw that he wasn't alone, and not one of the three Greek deities were very happy. "After all, he DID set this entire thing up, didn't you, oh Supreme Elder?" Ares' voice was mocking at the 'respect' he had shown, but none of the tension in the room lessened as the picture showed Prue and Piper taking one demon apart, Leo orbing out and Xander killing another before being slashed across the stomach by the claws of another demon.

"I DID NO SUCH THING!" The Supreme Elder's voice was defensive in all ways, but Sonja fancied that she could hear just a little guilt in his voice as Leo orbed into the Council Chamber.

"Treason!" Leo Wyatt, father of Wyatt and Xander, not to mention future father of Chris, did not appear to be a happy bunny, as the saying went. "You set this up, Supreme Elder, and my family is about to die because of it."

The entirety of the Council was not looking at the Supreme Elder, who appeared to be sweating a great deal and stammering, "O… of course I did not, Leo. Why would I do that?"

"We don't have time for this, Leo." Ares walked forwards with the other two, who Sonja could now place as Artemis and Athena, "He's one of mine, so I can help him with their help, but it has a price – I don't know what this will do to his mind, so it may end up you and the others will have to put him down."

Sonja began to panic slightly, "What are you going to do to him?"

Ares looked at her, "Basically we're going to cram the rest of his training into one spell and then fuse the two other spirits with his own – now, if they were all human spirits, then I wouldn't be worried, but seeing the Hyena has been there the longest, I'm not sure how … stable he will be once this is over. That's why I'm offering Leo the choice because," Ares looked at the 'screen' and saw Xander fighting a demon weakly, "if we don't move now, he's dead."

Sonja looked over at Leo, who appeared to have a pained look on his face while the other Elders present merely looked intrigued at what his decision would be; Leo finally sighed, "Do it."

Ares nodded gravely and looked at the two goddesses, who nodded in return, and all three raised their right hands in the air and said right hands began to glow as they spoke a single word that bespoke of power, command and just a tad bit of fear.


Warehouse – ten seconds before

As far as rescue plans went, his could probably have been better – break in, free the hostages and fight our way out; honestly, it was a plan worthy of a Slayer's lack of mental preparation and he could only blame himself for that even as the blood began to peter out and his heart was hammering to keep it flowing.

Suddenly, there was no pain, none at all, and he felt lighter than air, lighter than orbing, actually, and he felt a soft, warm glow hit him and … nothingness. From then on, the being that had once been known as Xander Harris knew no more.

Council of Elders

"Did it work?" Sonja looked at the floating body on the screen and saw the wounds reversing themselves, but there was no movement from her friend and the question still stood as she glared at Ares, "Did it?"

The Greek god of War looked at her and shrugged, "He's alive, but aside from that, I can't tell you." Ares then sighed, "We've done all we can do, so make sure whatever happens, it keeps us all alive." With that, he and the other two deities vanished with a sparkle of light.

"Holy God," one of the Guardians said in fear as a nearly-animalistic snarl came through the screen's 'speakers' and Xander looked up – his eyes were glowing yellow green, his body was bulking up and his movements were controlled, disciplined, brutally effective by rights of a soldier.

The assembled Elders, Guardians and Whitelighters watched as he tore through two more demons, Prue and Piper taking out two others, and then stalked the last of the bloodhound demons with a savage grin on his face, //"One, two, Alpha's coming for you. Three, four, better lock your door."//

//"Stay away from me, you freak!"// Sonja could only blink as the demon backed up in fear and Xander, who had called himself 'Alpha', was still advancing.

//"Aw, name-calling isn't nice, pup. // Xander surged forwards faster than Sonja could blink and tore the throat out of the demon even as Leo orbed out to collect his family. //"Guess you won't be calling anyone else names from now on."// Leo showed up in the picture and grabbed his family, not to mention the unconscious Phoebe, and orbed them back to the Halliwell manor even as Xander grunted, fell to his knees and clutched his head.

"You see, he is not worthy to be a Whitelighter. He obviously has no control of his mental faculties and, as such, I say he be destroyed." This upset several people in the Chamber, Sonja perhaps most of all, but it was when Leo came back that a declaration was made that history would write shifted the balance of power in the Heavens.

"Then you will have to kill me first, Supreme Elder. I will not allow my son to be destroyed, regardless of what you say or feel."

"And then me, Supreme Elder," Sonja chipped in and stood next to Leo. "I never abandon my friends."

The Supreme Elder looked befuddled for a moment and then raised his hands, as if to strike them down, but dropped them when the man of the hour orbs in – Xander is still looking pained, Sonja could see, but looked to have also regained his faculties from the grim look on his face.

"Guardians, destroy him!"

Xander looked over at the closest Guardian and stretched out his arms, offering his body to the Guardian Angel, "Do it – I won't stop you."

"…No. I refuse to follow an order that I do not believe to be just. Semper Fi, sir."

The Guardian stepped back and allowed another to take his place, but none did – in fact, not a single member of the Council stepped forwards to destroy Xander, so the Supreme Elder merely snarled and raised his fist to the heavens, gathering power enough to possibly level a large city. Even as he threw his fist forwards and released the bolt of energy, something odd happened, something that Sonja would remember to her last days, she was sure – the bolt of blinding white light sped forwards, but slowed, became dimmer and eventually vanished all together as the other Elders of the Council squared their shoulders.

"NO!" The Supreme Elder raised both of his arms this time, but no power would gather there, so he rushed forwards, hands outstretched, as if to strangle Xander, who had sunk to a knee at that point. Before he got there, though, he slammed into a barrier of pure magic, rebounding only to strike another barrier, quickly finding himself boxed in by the magics of the other Elders and his own being suppressed, "What are you doing!?"

One of the older Elders, a man who looked surprisingly like Milton Bearl, walked up and smiled, "We've been waiting for you to make a mistake like this, Max." "Consider yourself under arrest and removed form power."

Sonja moved forwards and knelt next to Xander, who appeared to be holding on to consciousness by a thread, "Xander, are you okay?"

He looked up at her and for a briefest instant, his eyes glowed yellow green, but then his puppy-dog brown eyes came back, "Sonja? What's going on?"

She looked back at the Supreme Elder and saw the others of the Council stripping him of his power and banishing him, "Justice, Xander." She raised her hands and smiled, "Sleep, my friend. The world will look better in the morning." She put him under and began healing any of his obviously non-healed wounds even as Leo walked up.

"Is he going to be okay?"

She shrugged, "Only time will tell."

Halliwell Manor – 3 days later

He felt something cold on his forehead, something cold and wet – he knew that it wasn't Kit, the cat that seemed to hang out around the manor these days, as her toung was warm, rough and preferred his cheek to his forehead, and as he was in a horizontal position, she would have to have been either on his chest or his throat, and seeing as there was no warmth there, it wasn't her. That deduced, he let out a small groan in hopes that whatever it was would identify itself properly.

"Xand?" Sonja? "How do you feel, kiddo?"

He took a breath and opened his eyes slightly, feeling a little pain as his tensed different parts of his body to check for injury – aside from being stiff and sore, he didn't feel too bad, "Been better, my beautiful Guardian Angel." His eyes opened a little more and then all the way as Sonja and her normally immaculate hair came into view as Sonja with serious bed head / Miss Frizzle hair. "Nice hair, Sonja."

She blushed and put her hands through it somewhat self-consciously, "Well, I just got here, and…" she stopped talking as a grin spread across his face and scowled slightly, "Jerk."



"Old Maid."

She looked scandalized, "OLD?!" She poked him in the chest, HARD, "I am not even one hundred years old yet, INFANT, so don't you DARE call me OLD!"

He grabbed her hand and massaged it slightly, not to mention the spot that she had jabbed, "God, never change, Sonja."

She looked at him for a split second and then her lower lip began to quiver and she broke down ala Mihoshi on Tenchi, bawling oceans of tears and slamming her face into his chest, clutching him in her patented and feared 'grip of sure and painful suffocation' for several moments before calming herself enough to get off of his chest, which had been thoroughly soaked, "Sorry."

He only smiled at her and sat up slowly, his abdominal muscles protesting greatly until he was on what amounted to a sitting vertical base, "How long have I been here?"

She wiped her eyes, "Three days – you took a pretty bad beating and even our healing couldn't help you all the way."

He looked at her, "Sonja, what aren't you telling me?"

She looked sheepish, "Why don't I go get Leo? He'd be able to explain it better than I can." She patted him on the chest and was out of the room quicker than he could protest.

In just under two minutes Leo walked into the room and held Wyatt, who was doing his best again to stick his toes into his mouth, "Awake, I see."

"Wyatt, what have I told you about waiting to put your foot in your mouth?" It did Xander good to see the baby stop and then looked at Leo, "Apparently. What happened to me?"

"I had to make a choice – Ares, Athena and Artemis could complete your Whitelighter training, but also merged your souls … at the risk of driving you insane." Leo looked into his eyes and looked to be pleading for forgiveness, "It was the only way you were going to survive that set up."

"Set up?" Xander's blood pressure started to rise as he fought his way to his feet, muscles protesting the entire way, "That whole situation was a set up?"

"By the Supreme Elder, yes."

Xander was literally seeing red, "Where is that son of a bitch?"

"Banished and stripped of his power." This did little alleviate the rage that was building so Leo apparently decided to try another approach, "Beware the Dark Side, my son. You are very close to crossing that line."

Unable to pass up such an obvious opening, Xander snarked back, "Look, Leo, Yoda you are not. I know the Dark Side – I walked it a long time ago, and I know how easy it is to go down that road."

Leo looked perturbed, "You walked the Dark Road?"

Xander nodded, "When I made the deal with those demons in Sunny D to keep our families safe, I made a deal to … ignore … certain things and signs that they were sending up." He frowned and then smirked, "I guess that's why I was able to forgive Faith for walking the path too … and why I'm probably never going to trust Buffy or the others ever again."

"Leo?" Prue took that opportunity to stick her head into the room and smiled, "Piper's looking for you – something about a leaky faucet?" Leo nodded and orbed out of the room, allowing Aunt Prue to take his place, "How you feeling, kiddo?"

"Better, even more so that Phoebe isn't trying to get me in the sack every chance she gets." They shared a grin at that thought – he was technically their nephew by marriage, so step-nephew or not, he was off-limits and Phoebe had not been pleased with that.

"You know, I couldn't help but overhear you talking about a girl named Faith." He gave her a look and she went on carefully, "Is she the Slayer that lost her way?"

"Yes, through no real fault of her own – yes, she killed a man, but the stupid fuck was dumb enough to charge a pair of Slayers in the middle of a fight. Tragic, but don't expect me to shed a tear over him."

Prue gave him a look, "Sonja told me what saw happen between you and Faith – she was your first?" He didn't respond with anything other than a look, so she went on, "You'd give her another chance?"

"Yes, she deserves one."

"And Buffy? Does she deserve one?"

He snorted, "She deserves a 9 millimeter in the skull, but as that is not too likely to happen, I'll have to say that I may one day forgive, but I will never forget."

She held up her hands as if in surrender, "I'm not asking you to, but just ask yourself what you would have done in their position."

"Trained me, first of all, and secondly to stop being so hypocritical about who is and is not WORTHY of their help." He started to walk around a little, his muscles stretching and aching, but the ache was lessening as he did, "Prue, I'm not going to shit you here – IF I get sent back to the Hellmouth, don't expect me to be helping them with anything less than a world-ending event. They burned me once – I'm not going to let them do it again now that I have something they might want."

"What are you talking about?"

He sighed, "Buffy's all about power – if she can't have it herself, she wants to be able to control the person or people who have it; Willow is a mistress of manipulation, I know because I taught her most of what she knows, and Giles is too loose with how much say he has in Buffy's life. To put it in other terms, Giles is the LT, Buffy is a Sergeant First Class, at best, and Willow is a Specialist. I was a PFC, maybe a Corporal, and while the Sarge was in control of the squad, the LT let her run the entire outfit – I knew better and she found a way to get me off the team so I couldn't call her on it." He saw her blank look, "She was scared, Prue, that I would find a way to make sure she didn't get lost in the power – and rightfully so. No, I wasn't trained, but as they never took care of that, and I was able to do things on my own that none of them were capable of, I think she saw me as a threat to her power."

"That's kind of thin, Xander."

He shrugged, "It's a theory, Prue – and unfortunately, it's a good possibility."

"Hey," Piper stuck her head into the room and looked at Prue, "you're supposed to be watching Wyatt, Prue."

"Oh, crap." She hugged him and dashed out the door, Piper taking her place. Figuring it was a set up, he went along with it.

"Aunt Piper."

She winced, "I'm only five years older than you, Xander – don't call me that." He gave her an insufferable grin and she sighed, "Feeling better, I see."

He grabbed some clothes and yawned before starting to pull them on, "Like I told Prue, I've been better."

She nodded, "Alright, so on to business." She slapped him on the shoulder, "I KNOW you swore earlier, so that takes care of that." He rubbed his shoulder and muttered something about abuse before she went on, "Are you going to turn to the darkness – yes or no?"

He blinked, "To the point, aren't you?"

She shrugged, "It saves time. Answer?"

He sighed, "We all walk in the darkness at one point or another, Piper, and I'll try not to walk there again and don't you DARE use that Yoda line on me." She smiled sheepishly as Chris walked into the room, "All I can tell you is that I'll use my better judgment."

"I, for one, won't be sorry to see you go."

"You're just saying that because I kicked you a… butt twice." Chris shot him a dark look, "Don't go there, Chris – I know the road is well-lit for easy traveling, and before you call me a hypocrite just shut up and listen to me." Both Chris and Piper could hear the conviction in his voice and said naught a word, "Like I've said several times – I've been down that road, and if you follow me, I WILL stop you and drag you off of it." That said, he pulled off the sweats and t-shirt he had been wearing and grabbed a towel, clad only in his boxers, and stalked off for a shower that he sorely needed. Before he got there, though, Chris stopped him with a question.

"What if you slip off the edge again and walk the dark path?"

Xander could only snort, "I'm sure the line to take me out will be around the block with you at the front, Chris. Whoever comes, though, better be expendable."

Council of Elders Chamber

He could only smile as the kid orbed into the Elder's Council chambers wearing a pair of black BDUs, combat boots, a t-shirt and looked like he had just gotten out of the shower without the chance to comb his hair; Xander Harris had never been one to let the opinions of others really dictate what he did or felt and Ares always had liked that about him, "Hey, kid. You all there?"

Xander nodded, "All my cookies are accounted for – not all in one piece, but they're all there. Thanks, Ares."

He shrugged, "Hey, I couldn't let one of mine get killed like that. On the battlefield in single combat, Tartarus, mass combat is one thing, but saving his family is another." He held out his hand and the sword that had been in the kid's family for over two thousand years appeared there, "I think you dropped this."

Xander caught the blade, "Thanks – I get the uneasy feeling that I might be needing it soon."

"Warrior's instinct." He chuckled as Leo and Sonja entered the chamber, the former with a grim look on his face and the latter with a half-smile that bespoke of someone who knew something that nobody else knew, "What's wrong, Leo?"

"He doesn't like who one of his charges are," Sonja said cattily, giving Leo a vicious smile. "After all, she's the first person to ever actually get close to killing him."

Leo growled, "Son, if she lays a hand on you, defend yourself."

While Ares himself was in the dark, apparently Xander wasn't as he gave a slightly dark look at his father, "She was in a bad place, Leo – don't tell me you never made a mistake and regretted it later."

Before Leo could answer, the Council walked into the chamber and were seated, "Alexander Harris-Wyatt, while your training as a Whitelighter has been completed though in a rather … unique means, given your background we see fit to assign you a charge on the Hellmouth, one Tara McClay. Also," the new Supreme Elder said with a grim look, "we are assigning you to look after the well-being of one Faith Williams, the Slayer. Help her in her road to recovery, Alexander, and know that as things are moving, keeping both of your charges well will be difficult, especially with your past animosity towards Buffy Summers and her group."

"Whitelighter or not, they try anything and I'll teach them a lesson none of them will soon forget." Ares smiled at the neutral tone Xander used with the Council – he wasn't threatening anybody, but rather giving them all fair warning of what would happen if the blonde Slayer or her troupe of trained chimps tried anything, "So tell the Powers That Be to keep her on a leash or she'll get put down."

The Council of Elders murmured at that but order was restored by a sigh from the Supreme Elder, "Alexander, I am afraid that I must ask that you work out your problems with Miss Summers and her cadre without use of force – your own training and experience, not to mention the magical merging of the other two souls in you, have made you the most dangerous Whitelighter to ever exist. Don't make me regret allowing you to continue your training. Meeting adjourned."

Side Story
The Innovator of Mt. St. Summers

Flashback – in Sunnydale, during part 1

Joyce could feel the heat rushing to her cheeks as Buffy finished telling her exactly why she had kicked Xander out of her 'Scooby Gang' and it hit Joyce that while she had always suspected that the bleach that her daughter used on her hair might have messed with her mental processes, this story of utter betrayal merely proved it.

"Mom? Are you okay?" Buffy looked worried, Willow as well, but Rupert Giles, the school Librarian and Buffy's Watcher, appeared to have some idea of what was about to happen and took several quick steps back.

"No, Buffy, I am not." She pinched the bridge of her nose and then glared at her daughter, "So let me make sure I have this perfectly clear – because of the fact that you, Willow and Rupert didn't want to train Xander, and he has no real powers in magic or destiny, you kicked him out of his own group?" Buffy looked perplexed, but nodded, "Did it ever occur to you that without him, you might not still be around? None of us might not still be around!"

Buffy sighed, "Mom, he had some skills, yes, but now we don't need them anymore, or him."

It came as instinct – Joyce slapped her daughter; Buffy looked shocked, as did Willow and Giles, as the red handprint formed on her cheek and Joyce felt her annoyance with her daughter turn into pure rage, "So, use them and lose them, right? Gee, I wonder where you picked that up. Oh, wait, I do know – YOUR FATHER! God, Buffy, WHY do you do think, that I divorced him? Not only did he screw his secretaries, he hired them for their contacts and he then fired them once he had them! You're no better than him, none of you are."

"You slapped me. Nobody has EVER slapped me, ever hit me … except …" Buffy's voice trailed off and Joyce felt a smirk on her face.

"I know the demons have, but I also saw the bruises on your nose, Buffy – I guess Xander has a harder punch that you give him credit for." Turning her glare to Willow, who had stepped up to defend her daughter, Joyce snarled, "And you! His supposed best friend – you turned against him, BETRAYED HIM, and I bet you don't feel the slightest bit sorry about what you did do you? No, of course you don't – that might require a soul and a conscience."

"I … I … I'm not like that. I have a soul!"

"Do you?" Joyce sneered at Willow, who began to back up and cry, "Do you know what Xander did for you, for all of us? He made a deal with DEMONS to keep your FAMILIES SAFE! ALL OF US, SAFE! Now, as I understand, I am the only one still under his protection – gee, I wonder why?"

Willow gaped at that, obviously grasping at straws until she found one, "He … he strung up Tony. His own Father!"

"A drunk and abusive asshole – trust me, child, nobody would have missed him. Frankly, I'm surprised that Xander didn't slit his throat and invite several vampires for a quick drink – not that I put it past him, but did you ever think to image what kind of effect that being raised and beaten by a man like that would have had on him? I am sure that Xander is capable of murder and in the case of Tony Harris, I'd call it justified." That said and Willow now crying as Buffy also began to weep, Joyce turned her ire on Giles, who was almost out of the room, "FREEZE, BRIT BOY!"

"See here, Joyce, that I will not allow such verbal assaults upon my person to happen."

Joyce rolled up her sleeves, "Oh, I am thinking more along the lines of physical assaults, Rupert. You, I hold you personally responsible for all of this – you knew of Xander's home life, you KNEW he would not let the fight go, and yet you did nothing to help him. WHY?"

Rupert drew himself up, "Joyce, I do not see why I must explain myself to you, but let me assure you that had I know that Alexander had made a deal with the local demons to keep our families safe, I would have done something to help him in return."

"Well, you SHOULD have know – it's exactly the kind of thing he would do. My GOD, Rupert, what if he hadn't done that? Would I be alive? Would your family be alive? Would Willow's family be alive? Probably not – but I ask you another question, Rupert. If Xander was so useless, so worthless, then WHY DID THE DEMONS FOLLOW THEIR DEAL WITH HIM? WHY?"

Giles rubbed his ears, as did Buffy and Willow, and answered with an almost snide tone, "Tell me then, oh wise and powerful Joyce, why did they not double cross him?"

"Because they were scared of him." Her voice was as cold as a glacier and she went on, "They saw in him what they used to see in Buffy – the face of death. Sure, they know how far they can push her before she starts pushing back, but did you ever see them push Xander? No, and I'll tell you why – he scared them and I was there to see how much he scared them because I was the first one they came after!" They all gaped at her and sighed, "Oh, please don't look so surprised – they came after me to get to you, Buffy, but unfortunately for them they ran into Xander first – he tore them apart, Buffy, and left one alive to deliver the message. THAT is why they kept the deal."

"He lied to me about Angel's soul spell! He said that Willow told me to kick his ass when she was really going to try the spell again."

"He wanted to make sure the world kept spinning, Buffy – God, how stupid did you make her?" There was no direct answer, but the bulbs in the room dimmed slightly as lightning flashed and thunder rolled in the cloudless skies outside of the house, "He wanted to make sure that you did your job – case closed."

"But … but … he did it because he was jealous." Buffy's voice was weak and Joyce lost all will to fight, so she just sighed.

"Believe whatever you want to, Buffy, but take my advice – if he ever comes back, PRAY he is in a good mood when he gets here, because if he is not and you approach him with your attitudes, don't expect to walk out of the experience … expect to be carried out." With that said, Joyce spun on her heel and went to the kitchen, grabbed her purse and keys, and stormed out of the house – she needed a drink.

End Flashback

She picked up the ringing phone and held it to her ear, "Hello?"

//"Hello, Joyce."//

Joyce found it hard to keep her grip on the phone as a voice that she had not heard from all summer came through the receiver, "Xander?"

//"In the flesh, as it were. How are you, Joyce?"//

She sighed, "I've been better – I have the killer headaches of late and add to that both Buffy and Willow moping around, college starting and Giles having seemingly walled himself into his home."

She heard him chuckle, //"What did you do, Joyce?"//

She blushed, "Um, well, I tore them all new ones when they told me what happened to you? I mean, kicking you out, and all."

Xander sighed on the phone, //"Joyce, are you alone? Is there anyone else around you right now?"//

She looked around, "No, why?"

//"Stay put and for God's sake, don't scream."// The line went dead and suddenly Joyce heard a tinkling of sound. She turned to look at what it was and saw a shower of white and gold lights shower down from the roof, only to form into Xander's body and face, a face that was smiling. "Hi, Joyce. Miss me?"

Joyce did the only thing she could think of – she fainted.

Chapter 4
From Betrayal Comes Hope and Light

Sunnydale – 30 seconds after side story

He looked down at the angelic being sent to earth in his arms and briefly wondered if Joyce would mind him taking care of the problem that was causing her headache. Thinking she would not, he let the healing powers that came with being a Whitelighter flow through his hands and into her body – like magic, as that is what it probably was, he could feel the dark mass of sickness within her shrink and disappear, but he also watched as her face became younger, less lined, the few strands of gray at her temples fade and felt her body firm up as she was laying on him. He figured he had knocked about five or seven years off of her features, and smiled, "Beauty never looked so good."

Joyce groaned slightly and shifted in his embrace, turning to seek the warmth as it were, and then opened her eyes, "Xander?"

"Hi, Joyce. Sorry about that – I should have warned you." He helped her to a sitting position and then to her feet, "Feeling okay?"

She nodded and put her hand to her forehead, but then frowned and felt around her face before looking into a near-by mirror and gasping. She turned around and for the barest instant he thought that he was going to get slapped, but then Joyce rushed him and hugged him harder than he had been hugged in a long time, babbling 'thank you' and other things that made no sense to him for several minutes before she pulled back and planted one on him but good.

It took several minutes for his brain to reboot and kick-start his automatic functions into gear "Wow."

Joyce smiled for a few more seconds and then took on a serious look, "What did you do to me, young man?"

"Not enough, if that response was any indication," he muttered. Straightening, he smiled at her, "I orbed in, you fainted and while you were out, I saw that you were sick, so I took care of it." He shrugged, "In the process you lost about five to seven years of physical age, so don't question good fortune."

She pecked him on the cheek again, "Thank you, Xander. Now, where have you been, young man, and what was that strange light you came in with?"

He allowed her to lead him over to the couch and for the barest instant he felt like the guy in The Graduate, but shook those thought right out of his head – Joyce was who he wished to be his mother, so no naughty thought despite the fact that she was drop-dead gorgeous, "What would you like to know?" She gave him a look and he grinned sheepishly, "It's part and parcel with the Whitelighter gig – orbing with heavenly lights and healing with angelic power."

Joyce blinked at him for a moment and then haltingly asked, "And what IS a 'Whitelighter'?"

He shrugged, "The long and the short of it is we're guardian angels for natural witches and Champions, occasionally."

"And you became a Whitelighter HOW?"

He winced at the tone in her voice, "Well, NORMALLY, we die and are offered the choice, but as my real father was a Whitelighter, I am half and have been trained … mostly." He massaged his temples, "Normally it takes about four months to get the training and a few years on probationary duty to refine what you know, but I was in a fix, so … a friend used some magic to speed up the process. Not the best idea at all, but it was the only one available to us at the time."

"So, you're alive?"


"And a Whitelighter?"

"Asked and answered, Councilor."

Joyce took a breath and let it out slowly, "So, you're here for Buffy and Willow."

"No." She blinked in shock and he went on, "A natural witch, not a practitioner, Joyce, and someone else who walked the dark path because it was all she knew. I don't care if Buffy or anyone else likes Faith or not, she has a job to do and will do it, but she will also be getting help in the process." Before he went on, he heard the front door open and felt both Buffy and Willow walk in, "Gotta go, Joyce. I was NEVER HERE." With that, he orbed out of the room and into his new house, procured for him by the Elders – he had something else to take care of first … something far more personal than his betrayers.

Residence of Anthony and Jessica Harris


He smiled, "Mom." He accepted her into a hug even as she began to cry – it was a good thing that he had worn a dark shirt, as her tears probably would have stained a lighter one with the amount of base she was wearing to cover the bruises on her cheek and temple. As he hugged her, he let his healing powers take over and work it's magic on her, cleaning the toxins and alcohol from her body, a surprisingly small amount, actually, and healing the wounds she wore, sold and new, until she pulled away.

"You found him, then."

"It was more like he found me, and I've been given two charges to look after here in Sunnydale, mom." He resisted telling her about Ares and the others, but he would never get the chance as a voice from the front room bawled out for more Jack Daniels, "He's still alive, I see."

Jessica looked down, "I love him, Alessandro; I couldn't let him die."

Xander looked into the other room and could see the sickness within the form there, "You're going to have to – liver cancer, among other things." Xander, for the barest fraction of a second, contemplated going into the room and gloating over Tony, but no, that was something Harris Sr. would have done – he'd just not do anything simply because if he did, Tony would fritter away that chance too.

His mother apparently knew this as she sighed, "How long does he have without your help?"

Xander shrugged, "A week, maybe two, but no more than a month."

"And you will not help him?"

"No, mother, I will not – there are principles involved in such things and curing him as much as I could goes against most of mine." There was a good chance that he would catch hell for turning his back on the man who had, though it could be argued as far as the term goes, 'raised' him, but then again, it could just as easily go the other way.

"I see. What should I do, then?"

He looked at his mother and made sure he had her attention, "Get out of Sunnydale – never return. This place is evil and trust me when I say I know evil because I walked that path, mom." She gasped and he went on, "I did it to protect you and that son of a bitch, along with others – I'm not a Saint, never claimed to be, but trust me, I've seen evil and I don't want you near it."

Jessica nodded, "I … I will leave, after…" she didn't finish the sentence.

He nodded, "Good." He drew himself up, "Now, for the not-so-fun parts of this trip – college and … revelations."

Residence of Rupert Giles

Even after three cleaning of his glasses, Giles was still sure he was seeing things – in broad daylight, not two and a half feet in front of him, stood the figure of Alexander Harris, wearing a grim look, dressed in blue jeans, a white shirt, boots, a black jacket and wearing black gloves. It had been months since he had heard from the young man, one whom he had, now that he thought about it and could admit it to himself, failed and betrayed in the past; a young man whom had made a deal with the devils, so to speak, to keep their families safe and, just as easily, broken that deal for all save one, proving that even though he might not be powerful or a man of destiny, he was dangerous, "Xander."

"Rupert." Xander's tone was cool, clipped, not at all friendly, but that was to be expected. There was an air of power about him, a competence that Giles could see in Xander's eyes, but also a look that reminded him all too much of 'Ripper' at his most calculating and dangerous.

"Would … would you like to come in?"

"No, I would not." Again, not surprising, "I am here to deliver a message to you that you will pass along to Buffy and Willow – I am back in town and enrolled at UC Sunnydale, I am still hunting on my own and I live on my own. DO NOT attempt to contact me for any reason, any where, any time – if I hear something I think you need to hear about, I will contact you, but outside of that, don't expect me to go out of my way to say hi."

"That … is understandable. We … we were wrong, I was wrong, Xander. You contributed more to our group than we could have possibly imagined and I would like to offer you my apologies."

Xander sneered at his offer, "Thank your lucky stars you aren't in the military, Rupert – they would have you up on charges of Conduct Unbecoming, Dereliction of Duty and if you were lucky you'd stay off of the firing squad … provided you ever made it to trial. Tell Willow and Buffy that I am not someone they want to cross – I don't play nice, regardless of what my bosses want me to do, and I have people I am looking out for, one of them we all know. She's under my protection, so if Buffy or the Council wants her, they had better send somebody expendable because I shoot to kill." Xander finished his little speech and turned on his heel, walking away from the door and leaving Giles standing there, gaping, door wide open.

His mind took the clues offered and came up with the person's name whom was under Xander's protection – Faith; most assuredly the Council would want to get their hands on her, but more so Buffy would try and do more harm to the rogue slayer and, if Xander were to be believed, he would kill to protect the dark-haired Slayer.

"Good Lord in Heaven – what have we done?" Of course, no answer came, so he shut the door and went to the phone, dialing a number, and awaiting a response.


"Buffy, it's me – Xander's back … and he is not in a good mood. Get Willow and meet me here." He cut the connection even as he heard Buffy call for him to wait, to repeat what he had said, trying to order his thoughts.

25 minutes later – Giles Residence

He looked at the two young women in front of him and finished his tale, "And then he told me that he will kill to protect her, and I have no doubt in my mind that he would." Buffy, for her part, looked horrified at the meaning of it all, but Willow, dear, sweet Willow, looked enraged.

"He must be possessed. He'd never hurt us! It's not in him." She rose to get something and he stopped her with a sigh.

"Like we would never have hurt him?" This froze her cold and she then looked at him, her eyes wide and expression hurt, "Willow, I am afraid that we must accept the fact that, while not out enemy, Xander is no longer our ally, and we have nobody but ourselves to blame for it."

The redhead deflated at that, falling back into his couch with tears coming into her eyes, "But he's supposed to be there for us; he's Xander – loyalty incarnate."

"I do believe Apathy incarnate would be more precise these days, Willow. Be that as it may, do not attempt to contact him overtly – if you see him and can do so, follow him, but do not help or be seen by him. I want to know what kind of mentality he is in and if there is any way for us to get back in his good graces." Before he went too much further, the phone rang and he picked it up, "Rupert Giles residence."

//"Rupert, it's Jason, mate – we have something you might want to hear."// Jason Flemmings was an old college friend of his from the Watchers Council and if he was calling, it meant something 'of the bad' was in the air.

"And that would be?"

//"The bloody seers and oracles we have here are all saying that a major player on the Hellmouth has come back, the kid you blokes pushed out, but he's got some serious backers now – higher up than anything we've ever seen before, The Powers That Be included."//

Giles felt the blood leave his face all at once and acid begin to stockpile in his stomach, "Please tell me you are not telling me what I think you're telling me, Jason."

//"No conformation yet, but we think your bloke Harris is a Whitelighter … and he's a different kind of one, too. Apparently he was the cause of a big shift up there and now new rules are coming into play, apparently. I'll send you what we have, but take it from me, old mate, that it sounds like this kid ain't someone to cross. Cheers."//

Giles set the handset down on his telephone back into the cradle and muttered, "Bloody Hell." His day and perhaps their entire situation had just gone from bad to worse.

UC Sunnydale Dorm – Smith House

He watched her from about five meters away under the guise that he was studying the campus map – she was tall, maybe five feet ten inches, and while not skinny, she was slim, possibly athletic at a buck sixty or so, with fair skin, blonde hair streaked with brown, as opposed to brown streaked with blonde, and a simple flower-child dress and blouse, carrying a satchel while looking around for something. Steeling himself, he walked over and plastered a confused look on his face, "Excuse me, can you tell me where the book store is?"

She looked at him and her light brown eyes, while having entire oceans of shyness in them, locked on his, "I-it's in that building o-over th-there."

He looked over where she was pointing, turned back and smiled, which made her blush lightly and look away, "Thanks. Xander."

She blushed a little more and looked back at him, a small, shy smile on her lips, "T-tara."

"A pleasure to meet you, Tara. Thank you for the help." He nodded again and walked off, knowing that she was watching him as he left, but also silently reeling from the amount of sheer power he felt in her – it was tightly controlled, disciplined, which was odd for a natural witch her age, but it heartened him slightly as he steered himself in the direction of the book store.

In just over an hour, thanks to a long line of students and only one register open despite the fact that four other employees were available, he was on his way back to his house, books in several bags, and wondering just what the hell he was getting into. Leo and Sonja, no doubt with a lot of prodding from Prue, Piper and Phoebe, had enrolled him in college and signed him up for a vast array of classes – Psychology 101, College Algebra, British Literature on top of his Composition 1 class, American History before 1870, Photography 101 and, undoubtedly Phoebe's doing, Theatrical Dance Studies. Seven classes that, while none of them were particularly hard, would eat up a lot of time as far as being able to watch his charge and continuing to hunt vampires.

"Xander Harris!" He froze and looked around, spotting a figure that was storming towards him and, while familiar, he couldn't place a name to the face.


"Where have you been?"

He narrowed his eyes, "That's a personal question – who are you?"

The brunette looked more than a little affronted and scoffed, "Oh, I see – go to the prom with them and then promptly forget about them. Men haven't changed at all."

"Anya?" He internally sighed – this wasn't going to be easy, "What do you want?"

She smiled at him, "I wanted to know where our relationship was at, currently. I'm human now, and I have needs that need to be filled, so seeing as you're my boyfriend, I want you to give me orgasms."

One could have heard a penny drop on the semi-deserted street and he briefly toyed with the option of orbing back home, but that would tip his hand too early, "Boyfriend? Since when?"

"We went to the prom together, so we're boyfriend and girlfriend and, as such, you owe me orgasms." He reached forwards to grab his shirt, but he took several quick steps back in hopes of putting some very necessary space between them.

"Now hold on one damned second, Anya. We are NOT boyfriend and girlfriend and, as such, I owe you no orgasms."

"But you went to prom with me!"

"That wasn't a choice, Anya. Going to the prom with was a decision made on a lack of options – harsh but true. That aside, we have NOTHING in common, so it would be a completely unfulfilling relationship."

"But we'd be able to have lots of sex, right? That would make it fulfilling."

"For you, maybe, but what about me? Maybe I want something more than sex – Hellmouth forbid that I actually have a nice, normal relationship for once." He continued backing up, but she kept in step with him, "Look, I really hate to do this, but no, I am not your boyfriend, I am not giving you orgasms, end of discussion." That said, he took his one escape out – he orbed.

35 yards away

"Willow, tell me I did NOT just see that."


Willow looked at Buffy, "Tell me I did not just HEAR that, Buffy." Buffy looked at her and it was very apparent that Anya had just yelled what she had yelled, so she went on, "Giles?"

Buffy nodded, "Giles."

Sunnydale Hospital – that evening

She looked so peaceful that it hurt him to do what he was about to do – Faith would wake up on her own accord in a few weeks, but as he would be in class, he would speed up the process with a little help from his dad. The power poured out of his hands and into her body, healing anything that had not been healed already and gently nudged her away until she gasped slightly and slowly opened her eyes.

It took a minute, but she got them open and looked over at him, moving her lips several times until he put a straw there, which she greedily sucked on to get water into her mouth. Once she finished the glass, she let go the straw and rasped out, "Boy … toy?"

"The one and only, Faith. Feeling any better?"

She winced and looked around, "Where?"

"Sunnydale Memorial – you were in a coma for a few months and I just woke you up." He took a seat in the chair next to her and held her free hand, which she clutched tightly, "Take it easy, Faith – you're not going to be hurt, not while I'm around, and I won't let anyone who would hurt you get close."

A nurse took that instant to walk in and start running through Faith's charts, telling them that the doctor would be by to sign her out in a little while, and that the contact numbers would be called, which is where Xander put his foot down, "No, absolutely not."

"Sir, we DO have policy here, remember?"

He got into the nurse's face, "Yeah, I know, and if those numbers are called, certain files that I have in my possession about medical procedures, VERY ILLEGAL medical procedures, that this hospital has preformed and other medical mishaps that have occurred, will be submitted directly to the Attorney General and trust me, lady, that I don't make idle threats. Everyone here will be prosecuted to the law's fullest extent and none of you will ever see the light of day again."

The nurse gaped at that and Faith softly snickered from her bed as the nurse nodded and rushed out of the room to stop the calls from being made, "Damn, Boytoy, you bluffed her good."

He smiled at her, "Who said I was bluffing, Faith?" He sat back down and took her hand again, "So, have any interesting dreams while you were out?"

She shuddered and he immediately regretted asking the question, "More like nightmares. I just want a chance to make things right, Xand, if nothing else then to apologize to Red, B and the others."

He snorted, "You can, if you want, but trust me, they got what they deserved and more." He caught the look that she sent his way and he squeezed her hand, "I'll tell you when we get to my place – it's not a nice story."

She nodded and the doctor took that point to come in and start the discharge papers – Mayor Wilkins had set up a fund to pay for the medical bills and after a few obligatory cautions, not to mention a fearful look sent in his direction, the doctor sent them on their way.

They walked out of the hospital into the darkness f night, stealing off to the side while Faith tugged at the loose sweats she had been given to wear while Xander looked around, "Faith, I want you to keep ahold of your stomach contents after I do this – vomit's tough to get out of carpet." Before she could say anything, he orbed them into his house and caught her from falling as the queasiness hit her; she looked pale, shaken and more than a little sick, but the glare she sent him made him smile sheepishly, "Well, let's just say I'm not the guy I used to be anymore."

Giles Residence

'That confirms what I feared, then." Buffy watched her Watcher clean his glasses again and sigh, "Xander is a Whitelighter."

"And for those of us who have just said 'huh'?"

Giles glared at her mildly and she shut up, "Whitelighters are what amount to Guardian Angels for witches and champions – and as he is not here to guide and guard the two of you, that means that at least Faith is under his protection, and perhaps another witch in town."

Buffy tried to wrap her mind around the thought of Xander protecting somebody, well, not so much protecting them, but rather protecting them as an 'angel', Whitelighter, whatever, and it just could not compute, "So, he's not possessed?"

"Quite the opposite, Buffy – he's been granted angelic powers to protect and heal his charge or charges with. How one becomes a Whitelighter is still something of a mystery, but sufficed to say, once one has attained such a rank, it is just nigh of impossible to lose it."

Buffy crossed her arms and began to pout, "So what if he has all of these super-cool supposed powers – he should still help us."

She heard both Giles and Willow sigh – it irked her that they thought that she was dumb; she was NOT dumb, but just a little slow on the uptake every once in a while. Was that such a crime?

"Buffy, need I remind you that YOU were the one who initiated his being kicked out of our little group? Granted, I did not try and stop you, nor did Willow, whom he probably feels most betrayed by, but you were the one who took charge even after he did save us all with his idea to destroy the Mayor."

"An idea that didn't save Oz, Giles. An idea that still made Angel leave, Cordy to leave and us to be left holding the bag!"

"An idea that kept us all alive so that you can bitch at him, Buffy," Willow chipped in with a sad tone of voice.

"Exact – HEY!" She looked at the sad-looking Wicca with a look of betrayal, "I thought you were on my side."

"I was, Buffy, but now that I think about it, I wonder if we did the right thing." The redhead looked like she was about to cry, "He's been my best friend since Kindergarden, Buffy, and I betrayed him like that – do you honestly think he would lift a finger to help any of us, me especially?"

Buffy snorted, "Of course he would, Willow – he's Xander, loyalty incarnate, remember?"

It was Willow's turn to snort, "No, that WAS Xander, Buffy. Trust me, nothing short of an apocalypse will get him to help us – we burned him, badly, and now just because he has some powers that you want, you want him back. He won't give us another chance to hurt him."

Buffy rolled her eyes and looked over at Giles, who appeared to agree with Willow, "Can you get the Council to make him work with us?"

"No, Buffy, I can not do that due to the simple fact that Xander works for people who are more powerful than the Powers That Be!" Giles sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, "Buffy, regardless of what you may want, there are certain people in this world who do not and will not bow to you – it appears that Xander is now one of them, so move on with it."

Buffy stomped her foot slightly, "Fine, but I don't have to like it." With her inner child satiated, she looked at Willow, "So, do you have your classes registered, yet?"

Xander's Home 1 hour after arrival with Faith

She sipped at the drink that he had passed her, something that smelled vaguely like coffee but was blue in color and, according to Xand, would restore her body a little quicker than her Slayer healing alone would. He'd been kicked out of the Scoobies, found his real dad, was a GUARDIAN ANGEL, for fuck's sake, and now he was sent back to keep an eye on her, to help her walk the road of redemption; fate, it seemed, had a wicked sense of humor. She'd killed two people, one of them accidentally, one of them not so accidentally, and tried to kill him too, but all the time he kept reaching out to her and actually getting information out of her on several occasions that she had him dead to rights, then he'd pull a Houdini and vanish into thin air. She snorted at the thought of her boss and how angry he had been at those reports – not so much at her, but at the fact that he'd failed to recruit X along with her at the same time.

"You alright, Faith?" She looked over to see him looking at her, worried, but then smiled and eyed the clothes he was wearing – jeans, t-shirt, boots and they made him look wicked good.

"Five by five, boy toy. Thinking how the boss went ballistic when he realized he should have gotten the two of us as a package deal."

X chuckled, "Aw, we couldn't have him take over the world THAT easily, now, could we? Granted, it probably would have been fun, but all things being equal, I prefer how things turned out – we're here, safe, alive, and not having to worry about your old boss waiting to stab one or both of us in the back at some point."

She chugged the last of her drink and then smiled at him, "True enough. So, who else have you told about this whole Whitelighter thing?"

"Joyce only; the others will figure it out soon enough as both Buffy and Willow watched me orb out of a confrontation with Anya earlier today."

Faith winced at that, "You know, you could have asked me to the prom, boy toy. Damned sight safer than going with that … person."

He nodded, "Probably, but hindsight is twenty-twenty, right? Let's move on from that. Besides, we have class in two days and you need clothes."

Faith growled, "Your bosses are taking some SERIOUS liberties, Xand. I barely finished high school, and I'm a Slayer – girl doesn't exactly have a lot of chances to finish college, you know."

"Rules of the house, Faith, as I explained them to you – we both go to school and keep an eye on my other charge, but don't tell her what I really am."

"Then why'd ya tell me?"

He shrugged, "Honesty is the best policy, and add to that if I did something like orbing in on you, you'd slay me before I got the chance to stop you."

She winced, "I'd like to think that's not true, but given my tack record …" she left it hanging as she stretched out in the plush chair, relaxing in the feel of it as she, surprisingly due to the past few months in a coma, felt sleep touch the edges of her mind. Her eyes took that opportunity to snap open and she hauled herself up as a thought struck her mind, "What about B and the Council?"

Xand, she saw, smirked smugly and leaned back with his own cup, though she could smell the hot chocolate from her position nearly ten feet away, "They'll leave you alone if they know what's good for them – I've already warned Giles about what I'll do to protect you and Tara, and I know he won't risk Buffy under any circumstances, so if the Council shows up, either they did a spell or someone else called them."

She gave him a slightly worried look as she stood and joined him on the couch, sinking into his side, "Do you really think I'm worth all of that, Xand?"

He wrapped an arm around her shoulder, "I know you are."

3 days later – Monday, 0730 Hours

If Xander ever had the chance, he would go back in time and find the individual that thought that starting school before the time of 0900 was a good idea, and then he would proceed to break every bone in the bastard's body – he was still recovering from the shopping spree that Faith had gone on and was, quite frankly, still wiped out from the shocks that came from Faith and her dragging him into the Victoria Secrets store. She'd modeled half a dozen different colors of no less than two-dozen different outfits for him, probably to see if he could die of blood loss to his lower extremities or from embarrassment, and before they left he had been told by three different employees and one passerby that he was one lucky son of a bitch … and he had to agree with them on that score.

With a yawn and the knowledge that Faith was in far less-better condition than he (she'd not had her coffee that morning), they walked into their shared American History class – they had an identical schedule due to the fact that Buffy's and Willow's reactions were an unknown factor, so if he needed to protect Faith, he would be present to do so. They took adjoining seats near the middle of the class, which was set up like a regular classroom with desks rather than amphitheater seating, and Faith reached over and snagged his coffee cup, yanking it towards her and draining it completely in one go as other students walked in and snickered at the sight of her handing the empty cup back.

"Thanks, boy toy."

He grumbled something at her, feeling more than a little affronted at the loss of his coffee, but soldiered on as he heard a surprised gasp off to his left. He looked over and saw Tara, dressed much as she had been a few days before, save in earth tones now, and smiled at her, "Greetings, Tara."

She smiled shyly back at him, "H… hi, Xander." She took the seat next to him, and it struck him odd that he was the meat in a babe sandwich, but it was an observation that he kept to himself.

"Who's she, Xand?"

He looked at Faith, "Proof that there are good people left on this planet, Faith. That's Tara, and she helped me out the other day finding the book store."

Faith smiled a little, "Well, you're good people, Xand, so if she's good for you, then she's good for me. Hiya, Tara, I'm Faith, Xand's friend."

Tara blushed as Faith reached over his desk to shake hands and Xander knew why – Faith had worn a pair of jeans that morning, but also a low-cut halter top with her new bomber jacket and knew that Tara was being treated with a fantastic view … Faith nearly topless. That said, Tara reached over and weakly shook hands with Faith before leaning back and blushing heavily. He looked at Faith and she winked, smiling as several more people and a Professor walked into the room.

"Alright you barely educated miscreants, in your seats and be quiet. I am Professor Jacob Snyder and … oh no."

Xander could only grin as the twin brother of now-deceased Principal John Snyder looked directly at him, "Oh, yes."

1 hour later - 0830

"I don't fucking believe it!" Faith raged next to him while they walked to their next class, Psychology 101, "That troll is back!"

"He's the Troll's twin, Faith, and remember, he's the nice one … as much as that might change things." He moved the bag on his shouldered his bag into a different position, "Besides, we got to meet Tara today – it can't be that bad."

Faith smirked, "Kind of a church mouse, if you ask me. Girl's gonna have to change that if we're gonna hang together and go trolling for bikers."

He smiled at her brashness – he knew that her stories of balling out bikers and everyone else were just that, stories, and she had admitted to him after he saved her from the Sisterhood of Jhe that he would be her first. He had been honored and it turned out for the good, but still, the thought of Tara in leather, trolling for bikers was a compelling image.

"Maybe we can get her to take you for a few test drives, boy toy? See if she likes stick and all."

He chuckled at that, knowing from his briefing with Leo and Sonja that Tara preferred women over men, "Let's not push the issue, Faith – she must come with us willingly, and then we'll break her in."

Faith snickered at that as they walked, but his eyes kept scanning – he could feel Buffy and Willow's life force signatures in the general vicinity, and knew that they'd be keeping an eye on him and Faith, though if Buffy had her way, she'd attack Faith and be done with it.

"Ten o'clock high, boy toy," Faith warned him, letting him see both Buffy and Willow watching the both of them walk, and then improvised on it as she slipped her arm around his waist, a movement that he reciprocated as she leaned in and whispered, "Let's fuck with their minds a little, Xand."

"Yes," he whispered back and felt her shiver. "Let's." Even from the distance the pair were away from Buffy and Willow, he could swear he heard Willow's outraged squeak of disapproval and some patented Willow-babble, which for a split second warmed his heart and then chilled it as the memory of her betrayal hit him hard.

He must have tense a little as Faith squeezed him around the waist, "C'mon, stud, let's get to class."

Same Time – Psych Building

"That bitch." Willow was practically radiating waves of anger and Buffy, for a split second, felt as if she were happy it was not directed at her, but then did something that she never thought that she would do – defend Faith.

"She's his charge, remember? Besides, I doubt they're sleeping together – there has to be a rule about that."

That seemed to set the redhead's temper to a slow simmer from a rolling boil, but she still growled, "If she hurts him, I'll … I'll … I'll do something very not nice."

Leave it to Willow to make a Willow-ism out of a perfectly good threat.

One Hour later – 0930 after Psych class, no Walsh

"I'm going to kill Phoebe for this."

Faith looked at her companion in work and life and did her best not to break out into giggles of pure glee – Phoebe, who was apparently an Aunt of his, had somehow signed him up for a Theatrical Dance class that he was apparently going to drop, but he looked SO cute in his dance uniform of sweats and a tank top, headband and sneakers, but he was also the only guy in class. "Well, you won't have to troll too far for a date, boy toy. Every eye here is on you."

He glared at her and she repressed another bout of giggles, something that would ruin the reputation she had built, "Laugh it up, Faith, but if I recall correctly, YOU were the one who was crying at the end of Old Yeller."

She jerked her head up, "First off, you have no proof of that, and secondly, I DARE you to watch that movie and NOT shed a tear. Travis had to wax his own dog – that's harsh no matter how you slice it." She'd never had a dog, but always wanted one and was sure that, had she been in Travis' place, she would not have been able to pull the trigger.

"Class," the professor, a woman of middle years and in dance regalia, clapped her hands. "I'd like to welcome you to Theatrical Dance and I am Miss Davis. Now, as we have a single male in this class, we will be doing a self-penned number I like to call 'No Longer A Slave To the System'. Mister Harris, you will be the unfortunate soul who gets to don the padded suit that we, the liberated women of the world, shall punch, kick and toss. I do hope your health insurance is paid up."

Faith could only laugh as Xander growled clenched his fists – he was being relegated back to being a punching bag, again, but Faith knew he'd get in his hits when he could.

90 minutes later - 1100

"I still can't believe you got kicked out of class, Xand."

He was still smarting from the fact that he not only was the only guy in class, but every female, save Faith, had taken a groin shot on him once the suit went on, "Faith, not now." He just wanted to enjoy his early lunch in peace and then go to his last class of the day, College Algebra.

"Not now my ass, Xand. Your broke the Professor's nose!"

"She had it coming! I'm sorry if she thinks it was malicious intent, but you rack a guy in a padded suit and then go to break his nose you had BETTER be ready to get something in return. Besides, I fixed it, didn't I?" He blamed it all on Faith and Phoebe – Faith for drinking his coffee that morning and Phoebe for making him take the class.

"That and a nickel would get her a cup of coffee in my day, kiddo." He let his head sink to the table as Sonja's voice came out from behind a secluded pillar and her body followed it, "Still, I won another bet because of you, so it can't be all bad."

"Faith, Sonja, my teacher. Sonja, Faith, The Vampire Slayer. What bet did you win this time, who made it and do I get a cut?"

Sonja smiled, dressed in her habitual jeans and t-shirt, looking just like an undergraduate should, "If you'd get kicked out of your Dance class, Ares started it and no, you don't." She stuck out her tounge and sat next to Faith, who offered her a fry and a grin, "Thanks, Faith. So, you're the one who's slated to…"

"AH!" Xander cut her off, knowing of THAT particular bet – Faith, Tara, Willow and Joyce were all at the top of the list of who would get married to him, with as-yet-unnamed person in a tie for second and Anya ahead of Buffy, who sat in last place. With Tara and Faith as his charges, he blamed their being on the list solely on his father, Leo, "No giving her ideas."

Sonja smiled unrepentedly and Faith looked like she had gotten the gist of what was being said and laughter bubbled out of her even as Sonja went on, "Okay, anyway, I just came down here to see how you were doing and to get an update on your charges."

"Faith knows because I told her and Tara seems like an okay girl – powerful and she has a lot of discipline for someone her age, but it is holding."

Sonja nodded again and nabbed the few remaining fries from his burger while Faith polished off her own, "Good. Now, about Tony Harris – what are you going to do with him?"

He shrugged and took a drink of his Coke, "It's his time, Sonja – I am not going to take some sort of moral high ground and extend his wasted life."

Faith blinked at that and Sonja frowned, "Are you sure that is the decision you want to make?"

"If I heal him or someone else does, what do you think he's going to do, Sonja? Become a better person? Quit drinking? No, he won't change – ever."

Sonja's face didn't show approval or disapproval, so she just nodded, "I see. Buffy and Willow?"

"Have been warned."

Sonja looked at Faith, "Sore subject?"

Faith snorted, "As betrayed as he fells about Willow, damned straight it is."

"If you two want to talk, I can leave." Faith was right – Willow had betrayed him worse than anybody and he was still smarting about it, probably always would.

"C-can I sit here?" He turned, surprised, and came face to tray with Tara McClay, and instantly wondered just how much she had heard.

"Oh, Tara, hi. How long have you been there?"

She blushed and shrugged, "A-about t-ten seconds."

Faith kicked out a seat next to him, "Have a seat, Tiger." Xander couldn't help but smile – Faith only named people like that if she liked them and Tara, he could see, was blushing furiously as Sonja laughed her silvery tinkle.

"T-t-thanks." She took her seat and picked at her food for several seconds before turning to look at him, "A-are you f-f-following m-m-me?"

He arched an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

"Y-y-y-you ask me f-f-for help, then you have two classes with m-m-me on the same day and …" she blushed as he looked confused.

"Two classes? I only remember one."

Sonja smiled, "Because she didn't go into the Dance class – I saw her back out just as you and Faith walked in."

Tara shot Sonja a betrayed look, "Sonja!"

Sonja smiled, and then looked at him, answering the obvious question on his mind, "She's my roommate, Xand. Oh, and I've gained five pounds thanks to you."

He gave her a grin, "Hey, you have to decide when enough is enough on the Twinkies."

Faith sighed and kicked him in the shin, "Not another one."

He nodded, "The golden goodness of the Twinkie has stuck again. Now, Sonja, why are you in town? You could have told me, you know."

She nodded, "But I didn't because of you dad – apparently he wanted it to be a bit of a surprise."

He sighed and then looked at Tara, who appeared to be choking down some of her macaroni and cheese, "And I have not forgotten your question, Tara; my classes were chosen for me, as were Faith's and she and I are stuck together – your being in my classes are purely coincidental." How he kept a straight face during that bald-faced lie was a mystery to him, but he did.

Tara nodded and then forced herself to swallow the half-cooked pasta and glue they called cheese, "This is awful."

"I would say we could rise in revolt due to the way they destroy perfectly good food," Xander commented, pushing around the last of his fries, before grinning at Tara, "but I have it on good authority that half of what you see in the lunch line is strictly inedible and has been since the time of Christ, which is when they made it." Faith and Sonja both laughed at that and Tara choked on a bit of pasta, doing her best to not laugh as he mentally marked up a notch on his score board. "Well, ladies, as fun as this has been, I have to get to class early – my advisor wants to see me. Faith, stay out of trouble."

She snorted, "And who's going to keep you out of trouble?"

He gave her a wounded look, "Moi? Get into trouble? Never happen."

Sonja snorted this time. "Alcatraz."

He glared at her, "That was SO not my fault. You were the one who put us there, Sonja."

She held up her hands in defense, "How was I supposed to know there would be a tour at that time?"

Tara looked over at Faith as he and Sonja went back and forth, "Are they like this all the time?"

Faith shrugged, "First time I've met her, but knowing boy toy, it was somewhat his fault."

Tara then looked at him as Sonja stopped, having heard what Faith had called him, "B-b-boy t-t-toy?"

Office of Professor James Hendrix – Advisor

"Your record, Mister Harris, is somewhat astounding, if a bit worrisome." His advisor was looking through a Manila envelope that reeked of the deceased-Mayor's office, "Seventy three accounts of warnings from the Sunnydale PD for being out after dark, several assault charges, all of which were either dropped due to insufficient evidence or the true criminal was found, and one theft charge from the Sunnydale Armory that was dropped due to insufficient evidence." James Hendrix was a white, overweight male of middle years, not like the man who had once shared the same name.

Xander arched an eyebrow, "And this concerns you why, precisely? Either I was being set up, am a night owl or perhaps the best criminal in Sunnydale – take your pick."

Professor Hendrix sat back in his chair and stroked the cropped bear on his jowls, his face drawn into a frown, "Perhaps, perhaps not, Alexander. I do have another theory, though – you could be a hunter of demonic entities who patrols the streets and graveyards at night in hopes to destroy the newly-risen creatures commonly known as vampires."

To his credit, Xander kept a straight face, "Prove it."

Professor Hendrix smiled, "I cannot, at least not without jeopardizing my entire teaching career. What I would like to know is why you do it?"

"Provided that I even had the slightest clue what you were talking about, I would have to say that I think that things in Sunnydale are not what they seem to be – too many people disappear or die outright from things that have no reason to happen here and if someone were to look closer, they'd see things that needed to be done and do them." Xander could feel that Professor Hendrix didn't have any magical abilities and was under no compulsion, so he began to be more than a little worried.

"Of course you do not know what I'm talking about, Xander." He loosened his tie and exposed his neck, revealing the scar from a vampire bite, "Just as vampires do not exist."

"For future reference, they're called 'gang members on PCP'." Xander got to his feet, "I'm sure we'll speak of this again, Professor, but I have class to get to."

"Good luck, Mister Harris. I feel you may need it before too long."


Xander left his Advisor's office and went to his College Algebra class, sleeping through most of it, and was going out of the door when he got the 'call' from upstairs. Looking around and finding an empty place, he orbed up to the Elder's Chambers and came face to face with his dad, "Hey, Leo. What's up?"

Leo looked rather disturbed as he toyed with a pencil that was in his hand, a tell that it was not good news, "It's Tony Harris' time, son."

Xander's face went into a flat mask, "So? Send the Andrew Tess is always talking about or somebody else to go get him."

Leo shook his head, "No, we can't do that. Take him to the Gates, son, and let Peter handle it from there – consider this your last test."

Xander took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, "Don't tell me he's going to heaven, Leo. There's no way he's … pure … enough to get up there."

Leo just shrugs, "That's not up to me, son. Go."

With a sigh, Xander orbed to his old house and into the kitchen, where his mother was sitting at the dinner table and crying, "Mom."

She looked up, startled, "Xander? Mijo? Can you save him?"

Xander merely shook his head and she started crying, but he hardened his heart and walked into the living room; Tony was in his recliner, beer in one hand and remote in the other, his face pale and dripping with sweat. Frankly, he looked like shit, "Hello, Anthony."

"So, you're back, you worthless shit."

"It's time, Anthony." He orbed the remote and the beer into his hands and set them down, "You know it and I know it."

Tony, surprisingly, only nodded, "I guess it is – you gonna drop me into Hell, ain't ya."

Xander only shook his head after only a second of hesitation, "It's not my place to Judge, Tony - that's God's job; I'm just here to set up that meeting." He reached out and, in a flash, Tony's body dropped back into his recliner, but in that same instant the soul of Anthony Harris stood next to him and was enveloped in a muted white light. Without a word he orbed the both of them up to the Pearly Gates, where there was, surprisingly, no line to wait in, only a pedestal and an old man in front of a computer.


"Anthony Harris."

The old man, who was wearing what appeared to be a white robe over jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt, typed in the name and, after a moment, frowned, "Another one – that's four today." He looked up and at Xander, "You're not going to like this one, kid."

Xander's lips drew into a thin line, "He's not getting into heaven. There's no way between here and HELL that can happen after everything he's done to mom and me."

Peter merely shrugged, "Not my call, Chief, and no, he's not going to heaven." He looked over at Tony, who was sweating heavily, "But he's not going to Hell, either. To Purgatory with you, Anthony Harris." In a Flash, Tony was gone and Xander, remembering what little he could about the hierarchy of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, silently cursed. "Them's the breaks, kid."

Without a word Xander orbed back to his mother's house and called the police, who came with an ambulance and took Tony away while his mother packed her things and left the arrangements to him. He called Faith and told her what had happened, telling her not to expect him home for a few hours, and then started on the lines to Sunnydale's numerous 24-hour embalmers and funeral homes. He was surprised that he felt as bad as he did – Tony Harris had abused him for more than half of his life and his mother for longer than he could remember, but he had put food on the table and all that shit and for some odd reason, Xander found that he just wasn't able to hate him like he was once able to.

"Because you're growing up, Xander." He never felt Sonja orb into the room, so that meant that she must have walked, "Happens to all of us eventually."

He felt her arms go around his waist and her cheek press into the back of his neck, "I want to hate him, Sonja. I want to rip him out of Purgatory and send him screaming into Hell where he should be … but I can't. Why?"

"Because it isn't in you to be a monster, Xand." Faith walked into the room and he could only look down at the floor, "You grew up harsh, man, I know it because I did too, but you ain't like him. You'd never go that far, but you can't send somebody to hell like that."

"I sent Angel to Hell, Faith. I sent him because I didn't tell Buffy about the resouling spell." He looked over at her and was surprised to see her blurred slightly by tears, "What kind of person does that make me?"

"A good one, son." Leo orbed into the room, "By not telling Buffy about the spell she fought harder and longer than she would have if you hadn't. You saved the world with a lie, son – it's not often that an untruth is a good thing, but in this case, it was. That aside, Faith is right – you're a good person at heart, and that's why you were sent back here because as much as you would like to, you can't let things go undone."

"I got sent here to watch after Tara, Leo – Faith, if she woke up, I would have tried to help either way, but Tara was in a package deal."

"Maybe she was, maybe she wasn't son. Even we don't know what the Fates have in store for us – perhaps you were destined to come back here and find Faith, meet Tara and help guide them both along the path light and redemption. Perhaps you were meant to be with that woman who accosted you, Anya, and become a construction worker until Sunnydale imploded upon itself. The point is that we don't know anything other than what is in the here and now – so stick to what is and what might have been."

Xander looked up at his father, "You've been reading Prue's and your wife's college philosophy books again, haven't you. That sounds like something they have published in there."

Sonja giggled at that and Faith looked confused while Leo glared at him, "What, you think that I can't come up with something like that on my own?"

"Do you want an honest answer to that?" The voice wasn't his, Sonja's or Faith's – it was his mother's. "You never could come up with anything that insightful to save your life, Leo."

Leo looked pale, "Jessica."

"And that's our cue to leave, guys." Sonja orbed and he walked over to Faith, walking her out of the door and looked back at his mother, watching as she and his father talked for the first time since before he was born, and then orbed himself and Faith to their apartment.

"EEK!" He saw a flash of blonde and earth tones, then blackness as something hit his skull and he was knocked out.


Previously in this chapter

"And that's our cue to leave, guys." Sonja orbed and he walked over to Faith, walking her out of the door and looked back at his mother, watching as she and his father talked for the first time since before he was born, and then orbed himself and Faith to their apartment.

"EEK!" He saw a flash of blonde and earth tones, then blackness as something hit his skull and he was knocked out.

Start Part C

Xander's and Faith's place – unknown amount of time later

The world hurt – that was as much as he was able to decipher from the sensations that came with waking up after being knocked unconscious. He could fell he was on a horizontal base and could hear two people nearby speaking in hushed tones, both of them female and one of them he identified as Faith. The other sounded oddly familiar, but not like Sonja, Piper, Prue or Phoebe, and definitely not like Willow or Buffy, so who was it?

"Boy toy? Xand? You okay?" To her credit, Faith's voice was pitched low and her soft hand announced her presence before she got there.

"Ow. What in the name of all that is good and holy hit me? A Mack truck?"

Even though he had not opened his eyes yet, he could feel the grin on Faith's face, "Tiger hit ya with her book bag, stud." The grin apparently vanished as her voice took a serious tone, "You five by five?"

"Four by three and a half, but I'm getting there, Faith." He slowly sat up and, just as slowly, opened his eyes to see a worried Tara sitting on his couch, her eyes and cheeks red and puffy from crying, and he groaned, "How much does she know, Faith?"

"Saw you orb us in and knows we have some magic mojo on us, but nothing too specific." She handed him a bag of ice and he put it to the side of his head, which worked to quiet the jackhammers that were going full-bore right there. After a few minutes he opened his eyes again and Faith spoke, "You gonna tell her anything?"

"A little." He stood, with Faith's help, and walked slowly to the couch before sitting on it. Tara, for her part, looked pale now and was trying to stutter out an apology, never quite getting past the first word, so he spoke, "Tara, it was an accident – nothing to be sorry for."

She was still pale and her cheeks were still puffy, but now she wasn't stuttering as badly, "What was that?"

"One of my abilities – I can teleport myself and several hundred pounds of stuff or people to places that I know in a cool rendition of heavenly lights, Tara, and I can heal … a little bit, anyway." He massaged his temple slightly and grinned, "Remind me never to sneak up on you, Tara."

"Y-you're n-n-n-not m-m-mad?"

He shook his head gently, the pain ebbing away, "No, I'm not mad at you, Tara. I should have checked my landing area first, but I didn't and you got me fair and square."

She was silent for a moment and then looked at him, but not into his eyes, "What else can you do?"

He shrugged, "I'm alright at making potions, and I can sense energies, like Faith and you and a few others, but aside from that, I do have a cool trick that can heal people gradually over time, like they normally do only a few times faster than normal." Figuring it was safe, he used his own healing abilities and took away the last of the pain, watching Tara flinch only slightly as he did.

"And Faith?"

He looked over at her and she took up the question, "Mystical enhancements make me stronger and faster, heal quicker and I have better senses." She shrugged, "No big."

Tara looked down at her hands for a moment and he was about to speak when she did, "W-why can't you t–t-tell me t-t-that you're a-a Whitel-lighter a-and she's a-a Slayer?"

He was silent, but Faith took that point to laugh long and loud – this was a situation that he had not thought of, let alone prepared for, and he found himself at a loss to what to do. Faith, though, seemed to have it all well in hand.

"Yeah, I am a Slayer, Tiger. Boy toy here helps me out with some healing and orbing, but also to keep me honest."


Faith took a breath and he reached over to squeeze her hand, which she did right back, "Last year I slipped off the path, you know? I was evil and Xand kept trying to get me back over to the good guys – I nearly killed him once and he still kept it up, so he kinda got stuck with me."

"And as we're being so honest, I was no saint myself." Tara already looked like she was scared, but when he spoke, he seemed to calm just a little, "I made deals with demons to keep my friends and their family safe, but when they kicked me out I rescinded it for all of them but one. I nearly killed my step-father on purpose, I … I've done a lot of things and I actually regret some of them, but now with Faith, I have to keep us both in check and that's not easy."

Tara's face was a study in contradiction – she looked relieved that he and Faith had opened up to her, but she obviously looked worried about what they hadn't told her; she looked hopeful that she could tell them her secret but also slightly reserved at that same fact. Seeing this, he leaned forwards and held his hand out, "Tara, now I realize that this may be a bit of a shock, but yes, I am a Whitelighter. I have nothing against you and if you want, I can help you … if you are willing to trust me."

Tara's face scrunched up into an undecided look for a moment and she then took his hand, "C-can you protect me?"

He nodded, "I'm not bound by many of the normal Whitelighter rules, as they have changed recently, so yes, I can protect you." She smiled and squeezed his hand while Faith looked a little disturbed by it all.

"Xand, can I talk to you for a sec? I have a question that might upset her." She pulled him out of the room and in a low voice, voiced her concern, "We're playing the line pretty close here, Xand. What if B and Red find out about her and us?"

"If they do, they deal with it, or they deal with me, Faith." He cupped her cheek and he felt her relax slightly, "I can't let ether of you get hurt, so tonight we can take her out on a light patrol and break her in gently."

Faith smirked at this, "And then I get to see if she's as much of a wildcat as I think she is."

Xander could only groan as Faith walked out of the room and he hit his head against the wall – this was going to be a LONG night.

That night – Restfield Cemetery 2100 hours

After a little explaining, she had gotten Tara to ditch the 'flower child' clothes in favor of some jeans and a jacket and saw that the girl had it going ON – long legs like a swimmer, slender but fit torso and arms, and, were it encased in leather, a backside that could give her own a run for it's money. She'd seen X checking Tiger out from the corner of his eyes, but also keeping another eye out for trouble – he too had changed clothes, but into what she had pegged as his hunting clothes of black BDU pants, combat boots, a dark t-shirt and a long leather coat that held a butt-load of weapons and one she definitely wanted to get her hands on, a sword that seemed to radiate power. He'd told her where it was from, had been given to his family via the Greek god Ares nearly two thousand years before, and even Tara seemed a little dubious until he explained his family background. She figured it to be juiced to the max for some kind of wicked power, but while an encounter with a trio of vamps proved that, while a single cut didn't do it to dust vamps, it caused the vamps to be basically human as far as healing went, which was a big plus.

Faith liked how Tara had handled herself at first – a little scared and easily frightened, but the church mouse seemed to grow several hundred times in size after firing off a fireball to flambé a runner that had gotten a jump on them all. Tara McClay, Faith surmised, had a lot of potential in her and, even if it killed her, Faith would bring it out.

"Yo, X, you picking anything up? Cause I'm getting nothing but us."

Xander only nodded, "A couple of norms around, but something is really off about them." He'd pointed them out several times, and from what Faith could see they were just a bunch of frat guys in military clothes with bug zappers for weapons – what they could possibly do to them, she wasn't sure, but it appeared that they were just following them. It was when he stopped and cocked his head off to one side that he began to worry, though it wasn't for them as the grin splitting his face told her that it was a vampire, "Come on out, Spike – I know you're there."

"Droops! How the hell are ya?" The president of the Billy Idol fan club walked out from behind some trees and leered at her and Tara, "Still hanging around with the hot girls, I see, mate. Maybe I can borrow one for a while, or both if you don't mind."

Before she could pound the vamp, X laughed and it wasn't a nice one, "Oh, that's right – Dru dumped your sorry ass for a Chaos Demon, all antlers and slime, if I recall." This made the vampire growl and vamp out, which caused Tiger to shriek, but X calmly slammed his boot into the vamp's gut and grabbed it by the throat. His hand glowed for several seconds before he let go and when he did, 'Spike' looked decidedly unwell, "What's the matter, Spike? Eat someone that didn't agree with you?"

"What'd ya do to me, ye wanker? I haven't felt like this since …"

"You were mortal?" All humor was gone from Xander's voice as he walked forwards, his back to her and Tara, but she was sure that there was a grim smile on his face, "You see, Billy Boy, I'm not exactly the person I used to be anymore." He orbed to the other side of Spike, who looked ready to pass out, and yanked him back by the hair, "I'm a Whitelighter now, for all the good that will do you in your last few moments on this planet."

"What'd ya do to him, X? He looks like he's ready to toss his cookies."

He smiled at her and she could feel Tara come up beside her, so she looked over and saw a look of horrified fascination on her face as X began, "Well, Faith, I told you about my ability to give people prolonged regenerative capabilities, basically boosting their own healing rate by two or three times, but not too much. Well, I just used it on Spike here, but as he is a vampire, an unholy creature of darkness, and my healing powers are basically Holy magic, I put the regenerative hurting on him – his own body is tearing itself apart cell by cell and by sunrise, he'll be nothing more than a pile of dust." He smiled somewhat proudly and kicked Spike in the back of one leg, sending him to his knees, "When you get to hell, Spike, tell the I sent you – they'll set you up with a few old friends of yours."

Spike's face came up and Faith recoiled at the sight – his pale skin was broken out in sores and pustules, his eyes were completely white and looked like grapes that had been in the sun for a day or two, and smoke was beginning to wisp out from under his clothes, "Help me, ladies. Please." His voice was less than a hoarse whisper as he slumped to the ground and twitched, still smoking, and just lay there.

Faith looked over at Xander, who was smiling grimly, "X, you gonna dust him or not?"

"Let him cook, Faith – he has two Slayers under his belt and I think it's … fitting, that he die like this. Add to that the fact he almost bit Joyce a while back and I'm tempted to let him get back to 100% before doing this again."

Before Faith could say anything, Tara pushed forwards and stuttered a single word, "I-ignis!" A ball of fire erupted from her hand and before it impacted, she turned and glared at Xand, who had arched an eyebrow, "I don't like cruelty." The iron in her voice surprised Faith and that her stutter was gone, but Xander wore a smile on his lips.

"Then you would have hated him – he used to torture his victims by impaling them with railroad spikes, which is where he got his nickname, or rather, one of them. He was also a poet, a bad one by all accounts, so his other name was William the Bloody Awful Poet."

Tara, for her part, didn't budge, "No cruelty."

Xander sighed, "Alright – no cruelty." He turned and kicked the ground, "Take away all my fun, why don't you."

"Tiger," Tara looked at her, "do yourself a favor and get used to it – I talked to Sonja earlier and Boy Toy's cookies are all there, just not in one piece."

Tara looked at her oddly, "W-why do you c-call him t-that?"

"Boy Toy? Because before I went evil, that's what he was – we screwed one night and he got to me, you know? Even after I went bad, he kept trying to get to me and what he did get out of me saved the world."

"B-but do you, I m-mean, a-are you a-and he?"

Faith smiled, "Not from my lack of trying, Tiger, but truth be told …" Faith trailed off as she though and then shrugged. "He's the first guy in a long time I've had as a friend and not a guy who was looking to get inside my pants. I like that and I don't want to mess it up." She felt a smile tug at the corner of her lips even as Xander came back towards them, his face drawn into a hard mask, and the smile vanished, "What's wrong, X?"

"Those assholes that were following us just got slaughtered by some demons – I'm not sure what happened, but it looks like they were trying to capture one of them with some over-sized bug zapper, or something." His mask broke a little and under it she could see a cold fury that made her shiver a little, "I thought that the rumors were just rumors, but now I'm not so sure."


"Some military black ops shit here in town concerning demons – I want to get some more info, so get Tara back to her place safe, Faith. I'm going to keep an eye on you from up there, but you keep an eye out around you – you see anything out of the ordinary for Sunnydale, just call out and I'll be there."

Faith felt herself nod before she even thought about it, "Got it, Xand."

He looked over at Tara, "Be safe, Tiger." She blushed and he chuckled before vanishing in a column of white light and orbs.

Tara looked at her and, after a moment of looking unsure, hit her in the arm, "L-look w-what you got h-him to c-call me."

Faith could only laugh.

Council Chambers

Xander watched as Faith dropped off Tara and then made her way home, not being followed or even being observed as he did, and stopped watching as she locked the door, stepping back with a sigh, "What in God's name is going on down there? Capturing demons is the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas."

"Humans have been known to test that limit, Xander." Sonja's voice came from behind him and her arms went around his waist, her cheek on his shoulder, "Day didn't go as planned, did it." It wasn't a question.

"It's not every day that you have to half-lie to your own charge after she knocks you out, so not, it's not been my best day." He turned around in her embrace and held her close – they had gotten close as teacher and student and kept that closeness as best friends without benefits, as it would have been too strange for the pair of them, "Am I in trouble?"

"If you were, you got out of it with getting rid of William the Bloody Awful Poet, Xand." She nestled her cheek into his chest and sighed, "What are your plans for tomorrow?"

"School and research, mostly. Why?"

She shrugged, "No real reason."

Before he could answer, though, he stiffened in discomfort, "What the hell was that?"

"One of your charges." She let go and they looked at the viewing rock, as he had taken to calling it; Tara was being dragged out of her dorm room by the same assholes that had been following them that night and looked to be unconscious. "No."

"Oh, HELL NO!" He instantly orbed near her location but hung back as he knew that, if he were to follow them, he'd know where to look for them if they got to be too much of a pain in the ass. Absently, though, he orbed his sword and another little surprise to his person as he followed them to the UC Sunnydale camps and under Lowell House.

Even though he didn't hear her, he knew she was there, "Faith, why are you here?"

"Sonja gave me the heads up, Xander. How're we gonna get our girl back."

"I am getting her back – you are getting out of here." He turned and glared at her, "I don't expect them to hand her back over without a fight, Faith, and if there is any killing going to be done, I am going to do it." He could feel what had been The Hyena snapping at the edges of his mind, urging him to protect his pack and kill those whom had harmed one of his own, and the Soldier was bristling at the thought of what was going to happen to Tara – he could FEEL his mind being pushed to the breaking point and knew that if he didn't move now, he would go in there and cause a blood bath that would make a slasher film look tame in comparison, "Faith, GO HOME! I don't want you to have to see this."

She gave him a defiant look and crossed her arms. "Make me."

"Go, son." Leo orbed in behind her and orbed out, a grim look on his face.

Xander only smiled … and it wasn't a nice smile, either.

Initiative Base, Examination Room

Tara kicked at her captors again as they tried to stick her arm with a needle – she had been in her room and they had burst in, hitting her with some kind of energy or taser that knocked her silly for a while, but while in a semi-conscious state, she heard them saying she was a 'HST' and an 'experiment waiting to happen', and she felt more than a little fear. She had run to California to get away from her father, who had implanted in her mind that she was a demon, like her mother, and lived in fear until she met Xander, finding out just what he was. She knew that he would never help a demon ad, as he helped her, she couldn't be one – simple logic, really. But now, when she needed him the most, she could only mentally shout his name and pray that he heard her.

Strangely enough, her prayers were answered, but from the look in his eyes, Xander wasn't about to leave anyone alive.

Several doctors and soldiers stood shocked as he solidified, sword in one hand and a knife in the other, and that was their last mistake – he tore into them with an animalistic fury that scared her, decapitating, disemboweling, amputating arms and hands, all through out the entire room until only three remained – him, herself and the head doctor, who looked oddly familiar.

"Who are you, young man? You are in a great – ARUGH!" Tara watched as the doctor pointed a finger at Xander and lost her hand at the mid-forearm with an almost contemptuous swipe of his sword.

"Who I am is none of your concern, madam." His voice was like ice, cold and hollow, but his eyes blazed with a fury that was almost poetic, if she thought about it; it was as if he were an avenging angel from God, smiting the wicked with his wrath to save the fair, chaste blonde maiden … and she REALLY needed to lay off the sappy romance novels. "But if you must call me anything, call me … Death. You have attacked one of my charges and, as such, I have been sent to arrange your meeting with HIM, so that he may decide your fate."

"Mercy, please." The doctor, whom she now recognized as Doctor Walsh, a professor of Psychology at the school, dropped to her knees and begged, for all the good it would do her.

"Mercy is for someone who is worth redemption, madam." Even as he raised his sword for the final strike, Tara could see his eyes become dead pools of brown, "And I'm the wrong person to come to for mercy to begin with."

"NO!" Another soldier, a little older than Xander, actually, barreled into Xander, or tried to, as he orbed and the man passed through him, slamming into the wall. After a few seconds, the soldier shook the cobwebs out of his head and spoke, "I won't let you kill her."

"Who the fuck are you?"

"Captain Riley Finn, US Army."

"Since when did it become the Army's policy to kidnap and possibly torture it's own citizens in obvious illegal medial facilities, let alone do some of the shit I've seen around ere?" Xander turned to Doctor Walsh, who had sunk to the ground, very pale now, "Oh, and that Frankenstein of yours, ADAM, don't worry about finishing him – a few friends of mine from on high are taking care of it as we speak. ANSWER ME, CAPTAIN!"

Riley Finn, Tara saw, jumped to attention and barked out, "Hostile Sub-terrestrials are in our mission specifications, sir. She shot fire from her hands and, as such, she must be an HST."

Xander only sighed, "God, and I thought that the Marines had the market cornered on SHEER FUCKING STUPIDITY!" As if without thought, Xander cut the bonds that had been clasped around her arms and turned back to Riley, who looked very pale right then, "Be advised, Captain, that if I EVER see you again, on campus, in class, walking across the fucking street, you will die. Tell your Commanding Officers what was really going on here … or I will."

"And who are you, precisely?"

Xander got into Riley's face, "That's need to know information, Captain, and you don't need to know." That said, Xander pulled back and knocked the soldier out cold before turning to Walsh, who didn't look too hot, but had put a tourniquet around her arm to stop the bleeding. "Now, where was I, Tara?"

"You were about to leave Walsh to us, sir." Another being orbed into the room, but this one was armed with what she thought was a long stick with a blade on one end of it, "The Elders want to have a word with you PDQ, sir."

Even as several other beings orbed into the room, Xander nodded, "I want one of your men to sit on her until I get back – nobody but myself, my father or Faith gets within five feet of her."


Xander looked over at her and his eyes were no longer dead – they were bone tired, "Tara, I'm sorry this happened." She nodded and he went on, "As this has happened, I probably won't be your Whitelighter anymore, so good luck with whomever you get assigned to." He hugged her, even though he had some blood on him, and she hugged him back. When she let go, he orbed away and one of the others came to her.

"Ma'am? Are you okay?"

"Huh? Oh, I'm fine." With that, she passed out.

Elder's Council Chamber – 2 hours later

He looked at the assembled Council of Elders and knew that, regardless of what intentions he had gone in with, he probably was about to get his powers bound for eternity, now. "May it please the Council, I would like to speak in my defense." The Supreme Elder, a Milton Bearl look-alike, nodded and he stepped forwards, took a breath, and let it out slowly, "I know there isn't a damned thing I can say to change any of your minds about what went down a few hours ago, hell, in the past day. My primary charge found out who I was, sort of, she was captured by that bunch of idiot soldier-wannabe's who had that hunk of demon, human and electronics held together with duct tape and bubble gum, and I went in there with homicidal intent to get her back and a half-assed plan. I deny none of this – all I ask is that you at least show mercy on both of my Charges, as I told Faith to go back home and I let Tara basically find out that I am a cold-blooded killer."

The Supreme Elder nodded and took a puff on his cigar before adjusting his glasses, "Alexander, I, for one, cannot blame you for what you have done so far because I did the same thing about fifteen hundred years ago, though for very different reasons. However, I cannot allow you to act so recklessly in the respect that you are a Whitelighter and killed eight people today; regardless of the fact that I like ya, kid, you will now be punished, though not to the fullest extent of our law. I hear-by strip you of the title of Whitelighter and any powers that you may have due to said title, for the duration of the rest of the year. If, by that time, you have shown me that you can be trusted, you will be reinstated to your title. In the time being, Sonja will take over as the Whitelighter of both Tara and Faith, but as you and the latter live together, you will not be removed from the home or the institution of higher learning." He hit his rock/gavel on the table and stood, "We are adjourned."

R&R, please.

Xander felt something leave his body even as Leo and Ares, not to mention Chris and Sonja, walked forwards, "Well, that went well."

Leo only nodded, Sonja smiled sadly, Ares said nothing but Chris smirked, "I guess you aren't that much of a Whitelighter after all, are ya? Not surprised – once bad, always bad."

As he wasn't constrained by the rules anymore, Xander looked at Chris and slammed his foot into Chris' groin so hard that the boy's body came off of the ground several inches before he collapsed into a fetal position, "Maybe not, but talk down to me again and I'll make sure the family photo has one less person in it."

"That was uncalled for, son."

"Says you – he's been busting my chops since day one and I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being looked down on and told that I'm not good enough and then those same people accuse me of not performing my duties like a true Whitelighter should when it suits them." He sat on a boulder and sighed, "Why is it so damned hard to walk this path?"

Ares, surprisingly, given his background, was the one who answered, "Because it makes you be honest with yourself, kid. Still, regardless of that fact, we need to have a little chat, but not until after class tomorrow. Trust me, you'll like this." Ares then orbed himself out of there with a laugh and Sonja sat next t him with a shiver.

"Ten'll get you twenty that he's up to no good."

"I don't take sucker bets." He slipped his arm around her and she orbed them to his and Faith's place, where she and Tara were waiting on the couch, "Hi."

"Boy toy, what's going on here?"

He took a breath and let it out slowly, "I've had my powers bound for a while, Faith, and someone else has been assigned to watch over you and Tara. Temporarily, I am no longer a Whitelighter."

Faith stood to argue and Tara looked ready to kill somebody, but Sonja interjected, "That's only partially true, Xander. You were BORN a Whitelighter, or rather, half of one, so you still have limited use of your powers, but they will take a bit more out of you than they normally would." This dampened the homicidal vibes he got off of the two and Sonja looked at him with a somewhat grim look, "Be that as it may, if you want to be a true Whitelighter, you must find a balance to somehow do your job and not slip into the Darkness."

"My Charge was in trouble, Sonja, and you told me yourself that a Whitelighter should do whatever they must to protect or save their charge – I didn't WANT to kill those people, but they put Tara in danger, and probably would have put Faith in danger as well, so I'll live with what comes with it."

She nodded, "Good – I see you picked up what I was trying to tell you that day." She leaned back into the small love seat she had orbed them to and smiled, "So, what's good to watch on TV around here? The Elders won't pop for basic cable near my place, so I'm stuck with local and PBS."

"Well, Sonja, we have basic cable, but I feel like going out for a little while before I turn in." Xander got to his feet and pulled on his jacket before grabbing his sword, "You know, seeing the sights and getting reacquainted with the local wildlife."

"Willy's, stud?" Faith got to her feet and smiled, "I could use a little tussle myself."

"No, you don't, Faith." Sonja frowned, "You and I have to get up early tomorrow for some serious chatting, so you get to your bed and I'll get Tara back to hers." She looked over at Xander even as he stashed away a few party favors, "Be careful, Xander."

He gave her his most winning smile, "Aren't I always?"

She gave him a glare, "Do you REALLY want me to answer that, kiddo?"

He gave her his most winning smile before packing away a few more party favors into his jacket and walked out of the door, bound for the bar and he knew that it was going to be FUN!

Willy's Bar

Willy Hart could be accused of a great many things – most of them were too evil to even think about, but nobody had EVER accused him of being stupid enough to not know when to duck and cover … and this was one of those times. Through the front door of his modest bar walked a specter of the past, a person who had once earned the fear of the local demon populace by showing a will to not only deliver a message, but to kill the messenger as well, and that was BEFORE he had become a Whitelighter. Now, though, he had his hands full of another, more tangible specter of the local demon populace, or rather, the bane of the demon populace, Buffy Summers, The Slayer.

"You BASTARD!" Willy watched as the Slayer took swing and kick after swing and kick at the kid, Alexander 'Xander' Harris, but also saw her miss time and time again as he blocked, dodged or simply redirected the shot that was meant to take his head off of his shoulders.

"I would once say that you were wrong, Buffy, that my parents were married when I was born." He blocked on last savage shot meant for his gut and spun her around, a knife materializing in his hand and was then pressed to her neck as he held her close, back to front, "But as it turns out, I'm the product of a one night stand between mom and a Whitelighter – imagine that."

"You have a lot of guts coming here, Xander. I should kill you for being back in my town."

Harris laughed at this, as did several of the demons that were at the bar and watching the show, "Gee, Buffy, are you mad at me?" He looked up and smiled at Willy, "Is it that time of the month already?"

Willy winced at this, as did many of the demons as the Slayer screamed and slammed her head back, but hit nothing but a shower of sparkling white light, a shower that was repeated by Willy's side as Harris solidified himself, "Willy, good to see you again, man. How's business?"

"G-good, kid. How're you?"

He shrugged, "I've been better, but I've also been worse, so I'll call it even keel and good." Harris grabbed a bottle of whiskey and poured two shots, placing one in front of a female vampire and raising the other to her, "To your un-health, M'Lady," and slammed the shot back as the Slayer got to her feet and the vampire smiled, slamming her own shot back as well.

Harris looked around and saw a small poster with the word 'WANTED' printed on top and with the faces of Sheila and Ira Rosenberg, Tony and Jessica Harris, though the former had been crossed out and had 'DECEASED – NATURAL' over it, and two blank spots with Harriet and David Chase on it. Also on the sign was '$50,000 EACH, DEAD OR ALIVE' and this got Harris to look over at the barkeep and smile, "Do you want to tell me anything, Willy?"

Willy gulped, "Uh, well, you said they were all fair game, except the Slayer's mom, so we kinda put up a pool on who, where, when, why and how they each bought it."

The kid looked intrigued, "Any takers?"

"Several, but the Slayer stopped them."

"You're damned right I did. You son of a bitch, you almost got Willow's parents KILLED!"

Harris smiled, "But you didn't need me anymore, Buffy, so you and your families didn't need me anymore, or the protection I had extended to them. I did kind of explain this to Giles, so maybe you're not as fast on the up-take as I thought you were."

"To Alexander Harris," a demon at the end of the bar raised a beer. "The only human I know that could piss off the Slayer more than we can and possibly walk out of the fight."


Buffy growled, "They left Sunnydale because of you, Xander. They left because you couldn't cut it."

"But I could cut it, Buffy – why do you think they were scared of me in the first place? I mean, surely your mom told you about that fight, right? Or how about the one after that? Or the one after that? There was one more, but two of the demons were smart enough to talk the others out of it, so I really don't count that one."

"What are you talking about?"

Harris laughed to the rafters, sounding more than a little unhinged as he did, "Oh, so that means that you never heard of those two poor Polgara demons that came after your mom, then. Ask the guy who just toasted me – he was there."

The demon, a large, slimy, antlered Chaos demon named Mike, nodded, "It wasn't pretty, Slayer. Let old Mike tell you a story."

Flashback – S2, after Halloween but before Thanksgiving – voiceover by Mike/Matt Damon

Harris had made the proclamation a while before, but several demons didn't think he had the juice to back it up, so they made a go at the Slayer's mom, your mom, but he was waiting on them. I kind of tagged along that time, to see what the whole thing was about, as I just got into town, but I am glad I wasn't those poor guys that night – the first Polgara demon he killed from about ten feet off with a shotgun, drum-fed and automatic, you know? Ripped the poor demon from stem to stern in about five seconds flat and then he dropped it, cause he was out of ammo.

Polgara demon number 2, Craig, I think, charged him and got a pair of what I think were .45's to the skull, but the kind just stood there as Craig kept coming, you know? Emptied the rest of his mag into him and the Polgara dropped about two feet in front of him, dead as a door nail. That's when Dino, a vampire I knew, pulled us all back, cause he knew that the kid wasn't playing, so we ran. 'Till he called off the protection that was the last time anyone knows about someone going after your family, or your crew's family, Slayer.

End Flashback

"Then why didn't you attack after then, huh? Scared?"

"Hell yeah we were scared, Slayer. In case you didn't know, he," Mike poked his finger at the kid, "is a sneaky, underhanded, no-good son of a bitch! I, no, we all thought he had just stayed low, you know, waiting to see who would be stupid enough to try it, but after those two vampires tried your witch's family and you tore them apart, well, it wasn't worth the risk to get the green."

"Is that a hint of respect I hear in your voice, Mike?" Harris sent the bottle he had opened sliding down to the Chaos demon, who caught it and saluted him before draining it in one go, "You see, Buffy, I wasn't as … useless, I do believe that was the term you used, as you thought I was."

"But you used guns!"

"And bows, and knives, and swords, and even a car and a mailbox, once, but that was a separate issue. Be that as it may, I will use and have used any and all means necessary to protect my friends and my charges, Buffy. Oh, and that reminds me," he looked over at Willy, who shivered, "Tara McClay, Faith Williams and my mother are now under my protection too."

"I'll get it out, kid, promise."

"Splendid." He looked over at the Slayer, who looked outraged, "Problem?"

"You're protecting that murderer? WHY?"

The kid, to his credit, only shrugged, "Because she is my friend, Buffy, and I protect my friends. YOU, on the other hand, and Willow, for that matter, have means at your own disposal to protect yourselves."

The Slayer fumed, "I don't know that Tara girl, but Faith is a Slayer like me, so she can protect herself."

"Undoubtedly she can, but we don't want anymore accidents to happen, now, do we? Like tonight, those assholes under Lowell House who kidnapped Tara?"

"Riley? What about him?"

"Secret Military base, black ops, capturing demons and studying them for some God-awful reason. Killed a few people to get Tara, but she's safe and the project, I have been told, is being moth-balled." He took another shot of Irish whiskey as the Slayer worked her mouth a few times, but no sound came out, "Holy shit, that's good stuff. Willy, who's your supplier?"

"Um, that was a special case deal – I've got three more, two c-notes a pop."

"Put me down for one and store it – I'll pick it up tomorrow." Willy nodded and made a notation as the kid turned back and looked at the Slayer, who looked incredulous, "What? We DO have to keep the economy going, right?"

"You KILLED people tonight? Did they have souls?"

"They were about to dissect a human being with the ability to use magic – the soul idea is debatable." Willy had to agree with that one – even if he had sold his own soul a while back. "Besides, what do you care? You have your groupies, your ego-massagers, you ego-WHORE, so what do you care what I do?"

The Slayer said nothing, she just ran over, grabbed the kid and threw him from the other side of the bar to near the door, where he hit hard and rolled to his feet. She was again on the attack, but apparently he had been setting her up the entire time – for every punch she threw, he landed two, for ever punch she dodged, he landed a kick, for ever move she used, he had a counter-move and eventually ended the fight with a chop to her throat and slamming her face into a near-by pole, knocking her out cold.

He looked, for the barest second, like he was going to leave her there, but the kid sighed and slung the Slayer over his shoulder, "Have a nice night, Willy, gentlemen, ladies." With that, and the Slayer still slung over his shoulder, the kid vanished in a halo of white lights and a slight tinkle of sound. Things in Sunnydale, Willy knew, were about to heat up, and the outcome probably wouldn't be good.

Summers Home

Joyce jumped slightly when Xander 'orbed' into the room, but frowned when she saw her daughter slung over his shoulder, "What did you do to her, Xander?"

"Knocked her out to keep her from killing me." He dropped Buffy onto the couch and waved, "Toodles." He then orbed back out of the house and Joyce sighed.

"I must speak to that young man about proper manners."

Next morning – 1000 hours, Photo 101 is over

Xander yawned while Faith, who had not left his side since telling her of what had happened the previous night with Buffy, grunted – neither of them were morning people, or rather they were, from 1 to 5 am, rather than 7 to 11 am. Faith seemed to have liked the photography class, for all four minutes she was awake for it, and he knew that it was Prue who had set him up for this – she had taken no more than two rolls of film of him over the two months he had been at the Manor and they had turned out rather well. Their next class was Composition I, which would be followed by British Lit and then lunch and home – they wouldn't see Tara that day, as she was in science classes all day, but it was who he would see that worried him.

"You alright, boy toy?"

"Worried is all, Faith." He hugged her sideways and she squeezed him back, "Buffy won't be pleased with the fact that I not only kicked her ass, I did it in full view of the demons in Willy's Bar and I made it look easy too."

She stopped their forwards progress and looked at him, her eyes dark and serious, "I won't let her hurt you, Xander. If she goes to do it, I'll stop her."

"Only if I ask you to, Faith. I can afford to be kicked out of college – you can't." He pulled her into a hug and buried his nose into the crook of her neck, something she did to him as well, and inhaled the unique scent that was Faith before speaking, "Promise me."

"I promise, Xand." She pulled back and they started walking to class, hand in hand, and when they got there he was in for a rather unpleasant shock.

Sitting in the third seat from the front on the right side of the class, nearest to the windows, was Willow. She looked up ad her eyes narrowed, but when he felt his own eyes narrow, she put on a hurt look that he allowed himself to actually be hurt by for only a split second before the feeling of utter betrayal hit him like an aircraft carrier at full speed. He and Faith walked to the rear of the room and sat next to each other, both pulling out the things they would need, but apparently Willow wasn't going to let things stay where they were as she stood and walked over.

"I'm sorry, Xander." He could hear, no, FEEL the sorrow in her voice, but he did not let it affect him at all, "I can't tell you how sorry I am, for betraying you like I did, I mean. I just … I just didn't want you to get hurt, so I sided with Buffy."

"That's nice to know," he stated flatly without looking up, pretending to find something in his textbook interesting.

"Would you at least look at me?"

He obliged her and put every ounce of emotional pain and heartbreak he could into his eyes, "There, happy? And even if you are not happy, how the FUCK do you think I would feel? You betrayed me more than I want to THINK about, let alone ever forgive – if that makes me a bad person, then fine, let it, I can take it."

"But we've been friends since Kindergarden, Xand." Tears began to well up in her eyes as she began to shake, "You did the whole Yellow Crayon thing for me, you were at my Bat mitzvah, we even Fluked together!"

"But I never betrayed you – Cordy was none of your business and neither was Faith; you had your chance, Willow, and you lost that chance, so that made us even. But when you sided with Buffy without even giving me the benefit of the damned DOUBT, you ENDED our friendship. You know I would have done the same thing for you, had the situation been reversed, and my point still stands – I did nothing wrong. You were the ones who failed to make sure that I could contribute something, even if it was teaching me how to research properly." He slammed his book shut as he noticed, from the corner of his eye, the crowd at the door growing, "So screw it – I can't change the past and neither can you. I don't want you in my life unless I can prove beyond a shadow of a fucking doubt that you won't stab me in the back like that again."

"But you'd let HER in your life and run that same risk?" Willow's temper flared and her eyes narrowed, "She betrayed us!"

"Are you sure about that? Are you sure that I wasn't having her playing both sides the entire time? You should know by now that I am a lot smarter than I let on, Willow, and that I play to win – sure, she got those two guys killed, but like Buffy said with her little sting with Angel to prove that Faith had gone bad, the ends justify the means." He dropped his voice to a harsh whisper and went on, "I was getting information out of her about the Mayor when we needed it, so if you or Buffy think you're getting her or having the Council go after her, they and you had better be damned well prepared to go though me as well … and be prepared to lose a few people in the process."

Faith and Willow both worked their mouths for a moment before the former sobered and looked at the class, "Drama skit they're practicing, folks – whaddya think?" As a response they got a rousing round of applause as the students, now sure of no possible violence, filed into the room with the teacher following them.

"Now that the theatrics are over, class, I am Professor Caine, and I would like to say welcome to Composition I – I am a tough, but fair, teacher, and while I expect excellence from each of you, I also accept that not all of you will become the next Thoreau or T.S. Elliot." With that said, the professor, a mousy looking man of early thirties, started to hand out a class syllabus the size of a small phone book.

Even as he accepted his, he caught Willow giving him a look that plainly said 'this is not over'.

After British Literature 2 hours later

Faith could still hear her boy toy swearing fluently in several languages that he seemed to have picked up, Oriental by the sounds of them, at his apparently luck – Red had been in both of their classes that day and she had tried at every point to get X to forgive her and to drive a wedge between him and herself. By some odd act of a god she wasn't sure existed, they had been paired up in the second class to do a 'getting to know you' deal and she had told the red-haired witch that she and X were cool, that she would never hurt him again, but also gave her a warning that X was seriously angry and had a short fuse now – to not cross him by doing anything with magic, as she flat-out told the witch that he could sense it now, and that made the witch deflate, as if she had already been planning something. It was at times like that, that she could see why he had been so pissed at his old crew – they wanted to make themselves happy and damn everyone else.

"It's a risk all goodie two-shoes run and fall into, eventually." A figure orbed into the room and Faith recognized him from the television series, though there were some minute differences – not as much leather, hair was shorter and he was smiling slightly, "Faith, The Vampire Slayer, I presume."

"Ares, Greek god of war." She accepted his hand and shook it.

"Xander Harris, deposed Whitelighter and dedicated pain in the ass of all things evil." She groaned at the horribly lame joke, but Ares just chuckled at it, "I take it you wanted to talk to me about something, Ares."

The Greek god smiled, "Yes, I did, and I want Faith to hear this too – well, in a nutshell, as you have had your TITLE of Whitelighter removed, that makes you something of a free agent, a mercenary, if you will, and I would like to employ you on a time-to-time basis, myself and others within the Greek pantheon, to perform … jobs, that we are bound by ancient laws and oaths to not do."

Faith looked over at X, who had a speculative look in his eye as he nodded, "Like?"

Ares just smiled, "Oh, little things – find this here, deliver that to this person, kill so and so because they're going to destroy the world, you know, stuff like that." She winced and he went on, "All good things, nothing … well, as far as good and evil go, those are relative terms and gray areas, to be certain, but you would have the right to refuse any job you like without any explanation, but if you do start one, we expect you to finish it."

"Now hold on just one second," interrupted a rather annoyed voice as another individual orbed in, a man who looked oddly familiar – blonde hair, tall, somewhat large in the chest and shoulders, but more athletic than anything. "Ares, I thought we had a deal concerning my son." Faith blinked at this as Xander sighed and Ares grinned.

"Correction, Wyatt – we DID, but that was when he was a Whitelighter – now that he is not, he is fair game. I mean, you can't expect him to sit down her and go to school the entire time, do you, Leo? What's that saying – all study and no play makes Jack a social outcast?"

Leo growled and Faith found her way to X's side, "Is it me, or is this really weird?"

"Weird compared to what, Faith? Vampires, demons, ascension-minded Mayors, angels, Whitelighters, gods from the Greek pantheon …" he let the list hang as she could only nod – a god and an apparent father arguing over the fate of a son wasn't exactly that news worthy in their line of work.

Several other people orbed in, or rather, one orbed several in, and Faith could only growl – five in total, three knock-out babes, one holding a baby, and a surly-looking kid who immediately got the hell out of Dodge with only a glare sent at Xander, "And they are?"

"Family – oldest to youngest, Prue, Piper, Phoebe and Wyatt." He embraced all three women, which made her more than a little uneasy, and then took the baby from the middle woman, which caused the baby to giggle, "Family, this is Faith, The Vampire Slayer, my former charge and my friend."

She did the meet and greet thing with the ladies while 'Leo' and Ares argued back and forth, Xander taking care of Wyatt, who appeared to be trying to put his toes into his mouth and X was telling him about how he'd get the chance to stick his foot in it later on in life.

"So, Faith, how long have you know, Xander?" The oldest, Prue, seemed okay, if a bit too serious, but that was okay with Faith.

"A little under a year, all said and done." She wanted to keep her answer simple and to the point, but no plan survives first contact with the enemy, as her first Watcher, Linda, used to say.

The youngest, a hottie named Phoebe, grinned, "Do you know what he was doing when I first laid eyes on him?" Faith shook her head and Phoebe smiled hugely, "He was on stage, STRIPPING."

Faith felt her jaw drop and her face redden slightly, "Boy toy was a stripper? And he didn't tell me?" She glared over at X, who she could tell was blushing even though he was looking away, and she growled, "I didn't even get a free show out of it."

"Between the two of them," Piper, Leo's wife and Wyatt's mother, said with a smile as she indicated her sisters, "he made over eighty bucks that night, and Phoebe spent the next two weeks trying to propose to him every chance she got."

"Prue did too, once," Phoebe defended herself, glaring at her sister as Prue began to chuckle and Faith felt her jaw and face go back to where they were supposed to be. Frankly, though, the exclamation didn't make her feel any better, though.


The youngest, a hottie named Phoebe, grinned, "Do you know what he was doing when I first laid eyes on him?" Faith shook her head and Phoebe smiled hugely, "He was on stage, STRIPPING."

Faith felt her jaw drop and her face redden slightly, "Boy toy was a stripper? And he didn't tell me?" She glared over at X, who she could tell was blushing even though he was looking away, and she growled, "I didn't even get a free show out of it."

"Between the two of them," Piper, Leo's wife and Wyatt's mother, said with a smile as she indicated her sisters, "he made over eighty bucks that night, and Phoebe spent the next two weeks trying to propose to him every chance she got."

"Prue did too, once," Phoebe defended herself, glaring at her sister as Prue began to chuckle and Faith felt her jaw and face go back to where they were supposed to be. Frankly, though, the exclamation didn't make her feel any better, though.

Same time, Ares and Leo's position

"Hang it all, Ares – you want my son as a free agent so that you can get around the rules and so the Elders make sure to ban him from the Corps; this way you and any other pantheon can use him as a mercenary!"

Ares, for his part, tried to look wounded, "Would I do something so devilishly sneaky, Leo?"

"Absolutely." Ares could only grin as the father and Whitelighter stewed in his own juices for a few seconds and then glared at him almost impotently, "I can't stop you or him, can I."

Ares' smile faded a little, "Leo, believe it or not, I am thinking about the big picture and Alexander's best interests – he is not a traditional Whitelighter by his own admission, and wouldn't be even if we had not done that spell; he would have been kicked out of the Corps on his own merits and I'd still be doing what I am doing right now, only you wouldn't have a leg to stand on." He reached up and stroked his goatee slightly, thinking, "This way, he isn't technically violating the Elder's wishes to stay out of trouble, but rather he is ensuring the relative safety of the world in certain instances and removing possible and obvious threats to Whitelighters, your charges and other Champions alike!"

Leo stopped growling for a second and then sighed, "Ares, if my son gets killed because of one of your half-baked ideas, I will find a way to kill you." With that said, Leo orbed away from the home and Ares could only smile, half-amused as he knew Leo would find a way to do it.

"Are you two finished?" Xander walked over with Leo's technically middle son, Wyatt, in his arms and had a slightly lop-sided grin on his face.

"For now, kid. What do you think of the offer?"

"I'd want full details on who I am working for, what they want, why they want it and about the people I'd be taking it from."

Ares nodded, "Sound thinking – you'd mostly be working for we of the Greek pantheon, occasionally with the Nornes and Oberon's Children, but the Asian and Egyptian gods like to keep their work in-house, for some reason." At Xander's look and Wyatt's confused gurgle, Ares shrugged, "Nobody can figure out why they do what they do – personally, I think it's that they have a problem with the way we do things. We take pride in our work and do it with style."

Xander only nodded, "Well, that's true – if the show was anything to go by, well, not everybody looks good in black leather armor like Xena."

The mere mention of the name brought a smile to Ares' face, "Now THERE was a general, kid – she had the looks, the attitude and sheer chutzpa to pull it off every time, even with a week without shaving."

Xander grimaced, as did Wyatt, "TMI, Ares. So, what's our first job?"

"Nothing until next week – something about blackout dates, I think, but it's going to be fairly easy." He grinned and orbed out of the house and back to Olympus, "I mean, it's not every day you get sent to steal back the Golden Fleece."

Outside Xander's place

"Are you SURE this is the place, Willow?" Buffy grumbled, looking at the small but nicely appointed house, "Could you be wrong?"

The witch shook her head sadly, "No, I traced him here, Buffy, Faith too, but there are some major players in the house – I have never felt that much power in my life."

Buffy snarled, "So, he has major-powered help and he's holding out on us – I should kill him for that too." She started forwards and Willow could only sigh – this wasn't going to end well.

With a mighty kick, the Slayer blew the door off of it's hinges and stormed into the house as full speed, but not two seconds later she exited the building via a window, also at full speed, and arced through the air gracefully before slamming into the very full trash cans on the curb, being covered in home waste.

Out of the door came Xander, holding a baby, and then Faith and then a mid-twenties woman with long dark hair and an irritable frown on her face, "Just who in the hell do you think you are breaking into my nephew's place, little girl."

"I'm the Slayer and he's going to pay for humiliating me like he did last night."

Xander, Willow could see, shifted the baby away and smirked, "But you made it SO easy to do, Buffy. You don't think when you're mad and that makes you too easy to defeat." He handed the baby off to the woman, who was apparently his aunt, "Hold Wyatt, Prue – this is going to get ugly, so get dad down here." In a flash he was moving forwards and slammed into Buffy, his fist doubling her over at the waist and flinging her back several feet before he slid to a stop and she slammed back into the trash, "You want to play rough, Slayer, fine by me, but leave my family out of it."

Willow watched Buffy get to her feet and scream, covered in garbage and even having a half-rotten banana peel on the top of her head, before charging him. It was like a train wreck, really, in that Willow knew what was coming but couldn't take her eyes off of the carnage that was about to take place.

"Boy toy's going to take her to school, Red." She looked over and saw Faith standing next to her, a smirk on her lips as Xander side-stepped Buffy and slammed her into the brick facade, HARD, "He's got her to out-matched it's not even funny."

"Then he needs to be working with us, Faith – we can help him and protect him." Xander, she saw out of the corner of her eye, grabbed Buffy as she stumbled back and preformed a snap suplex that hit Buffy high in the shoulders and neck area.

Faith looked at her, a look of pure shock on her face, "'Protect' him? Honey, I'm not sure what you're smoking, but you need to lay off of it – he can take any of you out at his worst and with you at your best, hands down and even playing by the rules." Buffy rolled to her feet and caught a leg that Xander flung out, but had that leg was a pivot point and allowed an inzugurri to the to hit her in the jaw for her troubles – honestly, it was looking more like a wrestling match than a fight.

"But he shouldn't have to fight, Faith! He's normal!"

Faith laughed, "He's never been normal, Red, and I can prove it – he's been possessed twice, both of them were still there, they've been merged with him now and he's just taken a job with the Greek pantheon to get something for them in a few weeks." Willow felt her jaw drop and Faith went on, "Not to mention he rates a natural nine and a half below the belt, if you catch my meaning, and that was last year – no telling what he's like now." She winced as both fighters got back up and Buffy actually landed a punch, but it was a glancing one that he turned into a spinning elbow into the back of her head even as Willow felt all of her spare blood run to her cheeks.

"So, you're sleeping with him? Typical."

Faith shot her a glare and a snarl. "We sleep together on the couch after a cocoa, yeah, but no sex – that's one of our rules … for now." Xander was folded up by a kick to the gut and then went airborne by a hard uppercut, "Basically, we're friends – try looking that definition up some time."

"I was his friend, Faith, and I made a bad choice – I want to make up for it and he won't let me!"

"Do you really expect him to let you hurt him like that again?" Faith got into her face, or rather, Willow found herself looking at the bridge of Faith's nose, "Face it, Red – you fucked up and he won't let you get close unless he wants you to … and right now that won't happen until your Slayer over there gets over herself and realizes that she ain't the only kid on the block anymore."

"But you were evil and he's giving you the benefit of the doubt – I should at least rate that much."

"But at least I let him know where he stood, Red. You've known him for over half of your life and you STILL haven't figured out the rules he plays by – he had you and B figured out in about two seconds, he's cool like that. In case you know it or not, you manipulate people to get your way and B's a power-hungry bitch who's going to get a lot of people killed if she doesn't check herself really quick."

"How DARE you talk about us like that, you SLUT!" Willow gathered her power to blast Faith, but quickly found that power slipping away as three chanting voices entered her mind.

"-bind her power, by the Power of Three, so say WE!"

"NO!" She could feel the power that she had accumulated over the years being bound to her body, her connection with the Earth slipping away until she was just Willow again, not the Wicca Willow Rosenberg, witch-supreme. "Who are you?!"

"The Charmed Ones, honey," the oldest, Xander's aunt, stated bluntly and Willow felt her blood turn into ice even as Buffy went down to the ground, Xander's knee falling into the small of her back. "We've got Faith and Xander under our protection, just in case someone like you tries anything magically."

"You have no RIGHT to bind my powers like that! She was evil – she deserves to be destroyed!"

"So was Angel, Willow, and you let him live." Xander's voice shocked her out of her rage and she turned to look at him – his face was partially bloody and his features schooled into a grim look that told her that not only was she in trouble, she would be lucky to ever get her powers back. "And don't you DARE start with that 'he has a soul' crap because, as I recall, so did HITLER! That aside, he sealed his fate when he killed Jenny – you are just really lucky that she got a better job offer."

"Too true, Alexander." A hauntingly familiar voice said as lights came down from the sky and formed a just-as-hauntingly-familiar figure that had once been Jenny Calendar. "Though this time around, Willow is my express student in magic, as she is now my charge."

Willow could only blink as a man went over to do something to Buffy, and then did the only other thing she could think of – she passed out.

Chapter 5
Thus Ends An Era … But For Whom?

Xander's Front Lawn – 10 seconds after last chapter

Faith felt more than a little uneasy as she watched B's wounds disappear and her stomach clenched as the blonde's eyes snapped open and showed nothing but bloodlust. Fortunately for her, the both of them, actually, Leo was on top of it and did something to put the possibly mentally–unstable Slayer out of commission as another Whitelighter, a dark-haired woman who could give her a run for her money in the sexy department, walked over and gave Xander a big hug.

"Good to see you again, Alexander."

"Good to be seen, Jenny." Jenny? Dead because Angelus broke her neck, Jenny? This was getting way too weird, even for Sunnydale. "So, you're here to teach Willow how to use magic properly?"

"For the time being, Xander." The woman tucked some hair behind her ear and turned to look directly at her, smiling as she did, "And who is this lovely young woman, Xander?"

Faith felt her cheeks redden as Xander smiled and walked over, slinging his arm over her shoulders, "This is Faith, the Vampire Slayer, Jenny – we keep each other honest and she keeps stealing not only my coffee, but my boxers, too."

"They're comfy!" Faith's hands flew to her mouth instantly, the words registering to her mind and making her already-red cheeks turn darker.

Xander merely chuckled while several others openly laughed as her hard-as-nails mask slipped slightly and squeezed her a little more, "Why do you think I wear them?" Before she could give him a rather lewd answer, he looked at his aunts and smiled, "Is the binding permanent?"

"No, it isn't," the middle one, Piper, who was now holding the baby, said with what sounded like a sigh of relief. "Once she re-learns how to connect with the Earth and to do it the right way, we'll loosen the bindings on her powers. This one, however," she looked over at Buffy, who was still out cold, "is something of a dilemma."

"Yes, it is." Faith spun around and saw G-man standing there, his eyes downcast and he wore an air of regret around him, "Buffy's allowed her power and her anger to go to her head – short of killing her or stripping her of her powers, there is little we can do."

Faith felt her lips draw into a hard line at the mention of removing B from the whole Slayer gig, "Can't we get her help? I mean, isn't this part of the whole gig, that we all lose our self once in a while?"

Leo walked back over and shook his head, "No, because the Slayers were never meant to last as long as Buffy has, let alone allow the line to ever be split – harsh but true. Add to that she had deep-seeded power fixations before she was called and you have a perfect recipe for disaster when that power is challenged." He looked over to where her sister Slayer was laying on the couch and sighed, "I need to consult with the Elders and, if needs be, The Powers. Neither will like it, but I think that Buffy has proven that she can no longer be trusted."

Faith was about to come to B's defense when Xander began to chuckle, as if he found something oddly amusing, "Actually, Leo, I think I DO know a way that we can get her to see things from a different perspective and offer her a choice at the same time." She looked at him and his face broke into a devilish grin, "And then she'll know how it feels to be the Zeppo."

Elder's Council – later that day

"Why have you summoned us here, Elders? Don't you think we have better things to do with our time than to chit chat with glorified watch dogs?"

Xander couldn't resist the opening, "Like watching a Chosen One, Buffy Summers, a Slayer, possibly lose her mind because of her own inadequacies?" The beings that stood before the Elder's Council, a total of seven, glared at him as one and he smiled back at them, "Howdy."

"Alexander, please do not antagonize our colleagues," the Supreme Elder said with a carefully hidden that clearly said 'at least not in front of everybody'. "Now, as Alexander has pointed out, Slayer Summers' mental stability is the reason for this meeting – she seems intent on killing young Alexander here and, despite the fact that he is technically on probation with the Corps, he has provided us with several ideas that not only keeps her alive but possibly makes a better Slayer out of her."

The Powers That Be, headed by a man who looked exactly like Vince McMahon, growled as one and he 'Vince' stepped forwards, "And what are these supposed possibilities, Supreme Elder? She is a perfectly good Slayer, and would be even better if your golden child there had not tried to save her in the Master's Cave, as I am sure she could have done so on her own."

The Supreme Elder stiffened at this, "While Alexander may be one of ours, he is far from perfect and he was human at the time – your Slayer would have died if not for him. That aside, he has suggested that you place her on a probationary period and temporarily strip her of her powers to allow her a choice. She had never liked being the Slayer and if she chooses not to be one, allow her to leave and place the full essence into Slayer Williams."

"A Slayer who is rooming with Alexander," another PTB, who looked like Carrie Fisher and even has on the white robe and 'cinnamon bun' hair do. "He cannot be trusted."

"You're still pissed at me, aren't ya?" Xander was under the full force glare of all seven entities of the Powers and he could only grin, "Me, a powerless human with no destiny, royally fucked any plans you had made and, not only that, did it with style."

"How DARE you speak to us like that! Do you know who we are?"

"Yes, and frankly, I am not impressed." He stepped up even as Leo tried to grab his shoulder, "I'm offering you a chance to fix several things that have gone wrong, reunite the Slayer line and, if all things don't work out as planned, get rid of me in the process."

"How about you let us take care of them, Alexander," the Supreme Elder said with a slight groan and sent him out of the room with a wave and a bit of power.

Sonja was waiting there and she sighed, "Not making any friends in the Powers, Xand."

"Wasn't trying to, Sonja. Still, I do find it slightly comforting that even as a deposed Whitelighter, I can still annoy the brass with the best of them." He reached into an interior pocket of the light jacket he had worn to the meeting and pulled out a long, cylindrical piece of beef jerky and stuck it between his teeth like a cigar, "I love it when a plan comes together."

"Hannibal Smith you are not, kid." Sonja snaked her hand into his jacket and grabbed the other one he had stashed there and took a bite out of it, "Besides, they haven't agreed to anything."

"But they will, Sonja, if you think about it – they are willing to risk that Buffy will quit being the a Slayer in order to get two fully-functioning Slayers on their roster, even if one of them hates the other one for one reason or another." He absently munched on his jerky and began to walk around, "Now, if they do take her powers away, and she still wants to be a Slayer, she'd probably be forced to earn them back by doing menial tasks and labor to do so, which will teach her humility and, as such, pull her head out of her ass."

"Something that you would enjoy, I am sure."

"Of course, Sonja – she'd get a chance to see what it's like to fight the demons of Sunnydale without Slayer powers, in essence, she would be fighting as I was for a while and if she survives that, she'd realize that my point was valid and not only that the world does not revolve around her, but that she was wrong in trying to limit her allies on the field of battle by not preparing them properly."

"And that would, in essence, teach her to think before she tries anything stupid like that again?"

Xander snorted, "No, the bleach she uses on her hair has already eroded the ability to not think stupidly, so it would have to teach her to actually listen to people who are trying to help her." He snapped off another piece of jerky and chewed on it for a second, "Of course I could be absolutely wrong and have made a complete ass out of myself in front of the bosses, but that's never stopped me before."

Sonja stopped him as he passed by and pulled him down to sit beside her on a large rock, "Xander, all BS aside, what are you going to do if she wants to be a Slayer and needs to re-earn her powers?"

He looked at her and stuck the jerky back in between his teeth, "Well, ma'am, I'd stay out of her way and help only if asked by her and if it is done so in a very polite manner."

Sonja elbowed him in the side, "Goof."


"Let's not start this again, alright? Besides, we have company." She pointed to the doors of the Council Chamber and they were opening to show Leo, who motioned them in, "Shall we?"

"We shall." They walked in and found the Powers were still there, though none of them looked happy, "You bellowed?"

"It has been decided that Slayer Summers will be offered the choice if she wishes to retain her title of Slayer – if she does not, she will be removed from the Hellmouth and sent to live with her father, but if she does, you must work with her, Alexander. Think of it as part of your punishment."

"Alright, but make sure she understands that if she takes an attitude with me, I'll leave her sorry ass in the middle of a fight and not lose any sleep over it." This upset several of the Powers, but the leader looked pleased, "What are you smiling about?"

"I always knew that you would be capable of leaving her behind, Alexander, but I never though that you could be so callus as that. I like it. Are you sure you won't come and work for us?"

Xander snorted, "Hell no – I have too much pride and self-respect to be led around by the nose or short hairs and made to do things that cannot be explained to me for any other reason than 'we said so' or 'for the good of all mankind'." He noted that none of the Powers took offense to that and while he was speaking Buffy had been brought into the Council Chambers, looking quite upset.

"Slayer Summers, you should know that your actions of the past few hours have, quite frankly, forced us to do something that we never thought we would need to do – your powers as a Slayer are here-by removed from you." She looked outraged as a ball of pure white light exited her body and came to rest inside of a crystal that one of the Powers, a woman who looked more than a little like Michelle Yeoh, "Now, as you have always bitched about, you never wanted to be the Slayer – it chose you. So, your choice is if you want to continue to be the Slayer or not – if you choose yes, then you will be assisted, but not in command of or under the command of, Alexander Harris, but if you choose not to, then you will be removed from the Hellmouth and sent to live with your father. Choose."

Buffy looked blank for a moment and then huffed, "Look, you're right, I never wanted to be the Slayer, but let's face facts – it's all I have ever done that actually made a difference. Yes, I made mistakes, lots of them, and I learned from them – I want another chance, but if you think I am working with that loser, you have another thing coming!" She glared at him, "Why didn't you ever come to us and tell us you were a Whitelighter? We could have used you like that."

"He was not a Whitelighter at the time you and Miss Rosenberg betrayed him," 'Vince', the lead Power, said with more than a little anger in his voice. "And add to that he has saved the world three times, you a countless number of times and brought you back from death once, and I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone who should have been at your side from the first. However, be that as it may, if you do not do as you are instructed, then you will never reclaim your powers – as things stand now, you are weaker than Alexander was at his best on the Hellmouth and will remain that way until we see that you have truly begun to learn your lesson. Abuse your powers again and we will remove them from you permanently." Buffy gulped at this and nodded. "Good. Now, Elders, for your news."

"Alexander, we believe that while you have great potential to be a Whitelighter, we cannot allow you use Deadly Force as you have done so in the past. So, that having been said, you will not be allowed back into the Corps as a Whitelighter." Several of the Elders growled at this, as did some of the Guardians, but the Supreme Elder went on, "However, we have looked at the rules of the past and see that as times have changed, so must the rules – a new breed of Whitelighter will be needed for the coming times and you have been chosen for a template, as it were. You are free to work as you see fit, for whom you see fit, but know that if we do need you, we ask that our requests be given prescience over those of others."

Buffy stared at him in shock and then that shock turned to anger, as if she were thinking 'how dare he get off with a lighter sentence than me' or 'I should be the template, not him', but he could only smirk at her. "Will-do, Boss, but I do have one question concerning Buffy and my … partnership; what happens if she tries to kill me again? You of all know that I might not let her live this time, Whitelighter or not, Probation or not." This wiped the angry look off of Buffy's face and brought several well-hidden smiles to the faces of most of the Elders.

"As long as Miss Summers knows what she is doing, I trust your judgment, kid. We are adjourned." With a hit of the rock/gavel and a feeling of lightness, Xander found himself and Buffy back in his den, and he was morbidly pleased to see that she was about to blow chunks.

"Trashcan's right behind you." She turned and made a deposit, being noisily sick for several seconds before coming up, wiping the bile from her mouth, "You get used to it, eventually."

"How long is that?"

He shrugged, "Took me a few hours of constant orbing, but I did it so often that it became second nature." He sat down and she cleaned up her mess before sitting down across from him, "So, what the hell is your problem, and don't give me that shit about you wanting to protect me or that I had nothing else to give to you and the group, because, frankly, it's getting old."

She looked taken aback for several seconds before she sighed, "Alright, I'll admit that I was hasty in treating you like dirt – you were doing the best you could and we weren't exactly going out of our way to make things easier, but you don't know what it's like to have that kind of power at your disposal!"

"The Hyena? Soldier Boy? Either of these ringing a bell, bottle blonde? I was physically stronger than you the first time with the Hyena and a six year old was emotionally and mentally stronger than you the second, Summers – I know more about it than most would think."

She looked affronted, "I was NOT that bad as a Noblewoman."

"A DEMON, A DEMON! That's not a demon, Buffy - that's a car." Again he felt more than a little morbid pleasure when she turned red in the cheeks and ears as she admitted he was right, to an extent. "Look, regardless of what you think or what I think, our bosses want us to work together, as a team, and as much as I hate to admit it, they are right."

"Fine, but don't expect me to work with Faith – she betrayed us."

"Like you betrayed me, but you don't get a say in the matter, so deal with it – she's the only real Slayer we have right now until you quit or earn your powers back and that won't happen until you learn to accept the past, look at what is in the now and move on with everyone but vampires, or have you forgotten Angelus?"

She winced at that, "That's not fair, Xander, and it was a completely different matter at that."

"You're right – you never wanted to sleep or have sex with Faith, did you?" She blushed and he went on, "As long as you have double standards like that, Buffy, you'll never get the slightest inkling of power back, end of discussion." He got out of his seat and went to get a drink, no asking if she wanted anything, because he needed to blow off a little steam. How DARE she bring Faith into their problems without first thinking of the whole Angelus factor, something that he still couldn't, and probably would never, get over. Of course, she let more than a few things slide, as had he, with his deal with the demons to keep people safe.

"You're right." Buffy walked into the kitchen and grabbed a glass out of the dish rack, "I do have a lot of double standards, and I haven't forgotten about what Angelus did to this town, or Jenny, but I loved him and until you know what it's like to love somebody that much, you'll never understand what it's like to have to send them to hell."

"Ampa the Incan Mummy girl, Cordy, Willow, and Faith – I loved them all in different ways, but I will be DAMNED if you think you can use love as an excuse to not do your job." He took a drink of the cola he had grabbed and glared at her, "What else are you going to try and use as a defense now, Summers?"

She gaped several times until she seemed to steel her backbone a little, "What about me? Didn't you love me?"

"Once, but now I can barely stand the sight of you, or do you think I've forgotten about that dance you gave me at the beginning of Junior year just to make Deadboy jealous?" She flinched at that and he sighed, "Look, we can go back and forth all fucking night if we want, and all we'll do is open up old wounds that should stay closed – let's get past it and work together."

She looked up and he was somewhat surprised to see tears in her eyes, "Can we ever be friends again?"

He finished off the drink in one go and crushed the can before answering her, "Only if you pull your head out of your ass, learn a little thing called humility and stop acting so damned superior to everybody – the world does not revolve around you just because you are or were the Slayer, so get over it and yourself."

"Such a nice attitude, Alexander." Sonja orbed in and had a somewhat mocking smile on her face as she looked towards Buffy, "And everyone wonders why it is that you brought her back to life in the first place – could it be her absolutely winning personality?"

Buffy bristled at Sonja's response, "And you are?"

"This is Sonja, my teacher and friend – trust me, she may not look like it, but once you get her angry, be somewhere else." He walked up behind the auburn-haired woman and hugged her back into him from around the waist and she lost the tension he could see in her body, "So, what's the first job?"

"Standard patrol, no magical weaponry or powers for either side – if you can both survive without getting killed or killing each other, it would be a start." She turned around and gave him a peck on the cheek before pulling away, "Later, Xander." With that, Sonja orbed out.

Buffy smiled at him somewhat cattily, "Kinda cozy with her, aren't ya. Does Faith know?"

"Yes, I am, yes, Faith knows, and no, it is not that kind of relationship – more than likely she was just trying to get a rise out of you and it worked." He left the kitchen and went to the rather small attached garage the home had and started pulling things out of a cabinet.

"What are you doing, Xander?"

"You noticed that the garage is kinda small, right?" She nodded and he smiled, "Follow me and find out why." He stepped into the cabinet and then out of it into what had been most of the original garage and was now a storage depot for weapons and other things they might need.

"Jesus, Mary and the other guy – Xander, what is this place?"

He gave her a mock-surprised look, "Why Buffy, don't you know an armory when you see one?" He pulled off his light jacket and then pulled on a shoulder harness and started loading a screw-on suppressor and several magazines underneath the arm of it before sliding an H&K USP .40 caliber pistol under the other arm.

"Why are you taking a gun along, Xander? I don't like guns."

"I don't care if you like guns or not – Sonja said no magical weapons or magic, so that leaves out my family's sword and my healing powers. You can use stakes if you want, but I don't like to get that close. I mean, we're not all Slayers, now, are we?" He never stopped moving and shrugged on a long duster before sliding several stakes into the pockets and the rest of his kit – holy water in pressurized canisters, like the riot police-issued mace and pepper spray, several flash packets that held small incendiary charges surrounded by flammable substances, a cross and several small med-packs he'd procured at the military surplus store a while back.

Buffy just watched him for a few moments before packing away several stakes and crosses and some holy water he had in squirt bottles, but then looked at the far wall and the sword hanging there, "Ooh, dibbs!"

"Freeze, short stack – that's my family's sword and it's enchanted – no go for tonight."

Buffy pouted and kicked the concrete, "I never get to use the cool stuff."

He looked at her incredulously, "Do you even remember the Judge? I got you an AT-4 anti-armor, man-portable rocket launcher to take him down with and you say you never get to use the cool stuff?"

She shrugged, "Okay, so I rarely get to use the cool stuff." She went along to a workbench and picked up a modified Bowie knife he'd picked up some time back, "Cool."

"Leave it – the edge doesn't hold very well and even if it did, you'd be better off taking a short sword instead of that monster."

"Do you have ANY weapons I can use that aren't magical, half-assed, broken or that I don't like?"

He narrowed his eyes slightly and went to the same workbench and, after rooting around for a second, brought out a double-edged Randall knife, "Try not to cut yourself with it, Buffy."

She smiled, "Pretty." Frankly, it never amazed him that she was so taken with weapons – show a Slayer a new toy and she's like a kid in a candy store.

Cemetery, later that evening

"Is it a freaking vamp and demon holiday and we weren't told about it?" Buffy whined a little and then kicked up a small clod of dirt as they walked through the cemetery, "Why aren't there any vamps?"

"Because you're giving they a lot of notice that you're looking for them with as much noise as you're making?" Even from her hiding spot, Sonja smiled and held back a giggle as her student lazily snapped off a one-liner at the former-Slayer's expense. She'd swear that he was a genius with some of the material she'd heard him come up with – kind of like a young Jerry Lewis but without the physical comedy in it as well.

"Oh, like you're being so quiet over there, mister 'I tripped over a headstone'."

"Compared to the racket you're making, I'm practically fucking invisible." Xander had attached the suppressor to the end of the barrel of his USP .40 and held it casually as they continued to walk in silence for several minutes.

"Rumor has it you killed Spike."


"Is it true?"

"No, Tara, my other charge, killed him with a fireball – I made him suffer first."

Buffy stopped at this, "Why?"

Xander didn't. "He deserved it."

"Again with the why?"

"Two Slayers to his name, an untold number of victims, how he earned his name and not to mention the fact that he wrote that awful poetry." Sonja had to hand it to him – when he was right, he was right, as she had read some of that awful poetry as well.

"Did you like making him suffer?"

"On some level, yes, and before you say that makes me just as bad as him, let me tell you why – he's a vampire, a creature of darkness, and by birth I am a Whitelighter, a being of light and good. Now, the old saying is that to do the right thing, you can't always do the good thing, but they have that backwards – to do the good thing, it isn't always the right thing."

"And that applies here for what odd reason?"

"Justice, Buffy – all of Spike's victims got a tad bit of justice out of the pure agony he felt for those few moments before Tara burned him." He continued walking even as Buffy stopped, "And in the end, right or wrong, Justice is all that separates us from them."

Sonja could only sigh as he disappeared into the shadows of a small stand of trees, leaving Buffy standing in the middle of an open patch of gravestone-littered ground. Normally Xander was kind of upbeat and a jester, but it was statements like that, that made Sonja remember just how much he had seen and how much he knew about life.


Warning: Physical Buffy Bashing in this part - be warned that it's for her own good, or so my Muse tells me.

Next Day – Empty Warehouse

"Tell me again why SHE needs to be here?" Jenny could only sigh at the anger in her charge's voice – it was amazing that she had not already slipped onto the dark path already.

"Because I asked her to be and you have unresolved issues with her – until you let go of your anger you will never be able to properly tap into and control the powers that you want to use. Like it or not, I am the teacher, again, and you are the student, again, but this time I am already dead and I won't have to worry about some pesky vampire losing his soul and snapping my neck to where you don't get the instruction in the magical arts that you need." She walked over to a set of candles and absently lit them while Faith, the Slayer and Xander's friend, perked up.

"How'd you meet up with Xander again, Lady J? I thought the two of you ran in different circles."

Jenny sighed, "We did, and don't call me that. He is, or was, a Whitelighter, and I, at the time, was in the Guardian corps, or rather, I was a true Guardian Angel. One day he orbed into a school that my charge was in and we bumped into each other."

"And what happened?"

Jenny blushed, "Well, to be perfectly honest, I slapped him at first, but then I tried to hug him in half."

Willow perked up, "Why'd you slap him?"

Jenny felt her cheeks burn some more, "Because he orbed into the lady's room, Willow." She then giggled at the memory, "He turned the most darling shade of red when I told him where he was and didn't even orb, he just ran right out of there." Faith laughed at that one and Willow merely turned red at the possibility of it happening, "Of course I apologized to him later on, as he did to me, but sufficed to say, we have put it behind us now."

The lessons went on for nearly an hour before Willow hit her first stumbling block – Faith's constant snickering; Jenny knew that Faith was doing it to irritate the bound-Wicca, and it was working so well that Willow finally screeched and turned on Faith, "What in the nine hells are you laughing about?"

"You, Red – you're trying so hard to get your mojo back that you're looking past the obvious reason for why you lost it." Jenny winced at what was about to happen – Faith was nothing if not direct.

"Oh? And what is that obvious reason, you slut?"

"Your anger, Red. Not to sound all cheesy, but your anger leads to the Dark Side and if you don't come out with what's eating you, it will fester and grow until you explode – trust me, I know of which I speak." Jenny blinked at the sincerity in Faith's voice, but apparently that did nothing to alleviate Willow's anger.

"Fine, my problem with you is that you took Xander away from me! I was supposed to be his first, no some slut who bangs every guy she can find. Xander was supposed to be there for me if Oz didn't come back, and now that he's gone, I can have Xander, or I could if you weren't in the picture."

"Goddess, Child, do you actually LISTEN to what you are saying?" Jenny walked up and slapped Willow good and proper, "You wanted Xander, yet when you were with another person, you wanted him to be alone and miserable on the off chance that you broke up with your boyfriend and needed someone to fall back on. That aside, as I understand, you and Xander had your chance, but he broke it off and suffered more than you did with Cordelia voicing his family's dark secrets over the entire school while Oz didn't speak to you for just over a week and a half."

"That, Red, was so fucking low that you'd need binocs to see a snake's dick. And for your information, me and X, that was our choice, not yours – you had your shot and you blew it, or rather, you blew dog-breath, if the rumors are true." Jenny stepped back as Willow's face went completely red, "If not for you, X and I could have been good for each other – neither of us had any real friends and you still kicked him out of the group like the cold bitch you really are."

"SHUT UP!" Thankfully Willow didn't have her magic, but she still had her fists and feet as she charged Faith and swung with all of her might, but Faith was waiting on that and put her charge in a choke hold, a very painful one.

"Give me a reason, Red. I've killed before, and so has boy toy – neither of us would lose any sleep over it."

"Faith, let her go." Jenny looked over at Rupert, who stepped out of the shadows that he had thought he had been hiding in, and sighed, "She needs help, not throttling."

"I am not so sure about that, Rupert – most of you needed a swift kick in the ass back then, yourself included." That said, she orbed behind him and planted her steel-toed boot right into his posterior, which caused him to howl slightly and clutch the offended area as she orbed back, "Really, Rupert, what in the hell were you thinking?"

"I wasn't thinking, truthfully, Jenny. Granted, if I knew then what I know now, I would have done more to help train … no, to actually train young Alexander, rather than allowing Buffy to buffalo me into a rash decision."

Jenny looked at Faith, who still had Willow in the chokehold, "Let her go, Faith." Faith dropped the redhead and Jenny turned back to Rupert, "Yes, you should have, but let me tell you something, Rupert – I got to see Xander do several things without your training that, quite frankly, scared me back then and still do now, but know that he never needed your help, only your approval."

Rupert sighed, "What else did he do besides make deals with demons?"

Jenny shuddered at the memory, "He tortured a vampire to death over the course of an entire night for information about Angelus and the Judge – he used methods that no country or people have used in nearly two hundred years, Rupert, and he never once FLINCHED at the screams those techniques got."

"I could have told you that boy toy was hardcore, Gypsy Girl – watched him work Willy the Snitch over for some info and even a few vamps were cringing at what he did." She walked over and Jenny could see the haunted look in her eyes, "But knowing what I know now, I don't think that was Xand – I think it was that Soldier he was possessed by, or someone else, 'cause the way he did it said he'd done it before and wasn't afraid to do worse."

Rupert had turned a rather pasty color of white and Jenny was sure she wasn't far behind him, but she cleared her throat, "Not that I would have expected anything less of him, as he was trying to protect his so-called friends, but the fact remains that he was more than willing and capable to walk within the darkness to protect all of you and he never got so much as a 'thank you' out of anybody. Quite frankly, I'm surprised he let you all live as long as you did." She heard Willow moan slightly and turned, "Are you in a better mood now?"

"What hit me?"

"Faith choked you because you needed some time to cool down – do you want to attack her again and have your powers stay bound or are you going to let go of your anger and start being a real Wicca?"

Willow opened her mouth several times, no sound coming out, before she looked down and very ashamed, "She knew what she was doing, didn't she." It wasn't a question.

"Yes, she did – she pushed your buttons so well that you didn't realize what she was doing until just now." Jenny looked at Faith, who was smirking slightly, "I ask that you not do that again without telling me first, Faith – that was rude." Faith looked only partially remorseful and Jenny looked back at Willow, who was looking up now, "Now, are you ready to start again?"

Later that evening – X and F's place

He fought briefly with another pair of chopsticks that was going for the last piece of Mu Shu Pork, but while he and whoever own the chopsticks were busy, a third person there snuck in and grabbed the pork bit. He followed the bite of meat up and saw Jenny's face smiling, "That's cheating, Jenny."

"He's right, Lady J."

"Ditto, Jenny – I thought we were friends." Sonja always did have a bit of a child in her, but Xander had to stop himself from laughing as she went into a full-on pout over the lost bit of pork.

"We are, Sonja, but remember what I said about eating around Xander – get what you can, when you can. I swear he's a garbage disposal on legs."

"No, that's Faith after she's had her little visitor," Xander snarked, to which Faith flipped him the bird. "It's true, Faith."

Jenny chuckled and looked at Sonja, "So, what's on Buffy's agenda tomorrow?"

"Another patrol, again with no weapons, only this time she'll have Xander as backup, unlike tonight." Sonja smiled slightly, "It'll be good to see how she does."

"Help!" Willow came barging into the door, "Buffy's really hurt!" Xander, though he didn't realize it, was out of his chair with Faith right behind him a split second after Willow's shout for help came and they reached the front door at about the same time to see a rather grisly sight – Buffy had been beaten several different shades of unholy hell, had bloody gashes all over her body, and what was left of the shirt she had worn was completely sodden with blood, "Help her, please."

"Fuck," was all he could say while he brought his power to bear, instinctively healing the worst of the wounds, which happened to be a ruptured kidney, a lacerated lung and numerous broken ribs, while Sonja and Jenny backed him up – he had found that the more he used his powers without the energy boost he got as a Whitelighter helped him build energy reserves and tone down the energy used in the act of orbing and healing.

"And then some, boy toy," Faith chipped in as she held Willow back, who looked both ready to pass out from the sight of the blood and dead worried from Buffy's plight.

"Get them out of here, Faith," Sonja snapped, taking over for him as he ran out of energy. Faith grabbed him by the arm and dragged both himself and Willow into the living room, plunking them both down on the couch and giving them a look that said 'stay there'.

The three of them sat in the living room, not speaking, as the two Whitelighters worked on the former Slayer, and then Xander spoke up, "Let me guess, she ran her mouth off to the demons and fought like she was still the Slayer, right?"

Willow looked at him, her eyes red from crying, "It was like nothing worked for her, Xander. They bounced her back and forth like … like a ping pong ball, or something. Why didn't she hurt them?"

"Because B ain't the Slayer anymore, Red. She got cocky about her own abilities and that got her fucked up more than normal." Faith looked at him, "I bet you're just loving this, Xander."

"On some level, absolutely – now she gets to see what I used to go through every night, but I'll admit that I don't want her dead."

Willow gasped, "What? What are you talking about?"

He gave her a look that said 'duh', "She's fighting demons the same way I used to – no training, no powers, and she nearly got killed because she got cocky, unlike me, as I nearly got killed because nobody would train me." She looked down in shame and he went on, "She needs to lose the superiority complex before she really pisses someone off and they kill her outright."

"They nearly succeeded, Xander," Sonja said, coming into the living room and dropping on to the couch next to him, leaning onto his shoulder. "She had five, six more minutes to live, tops."

"Goddess, no."

"Yes, and we don't know just how quickly she will heal from here on out. She no longer has any residual Slayer healing and while some of her fighting skills seem to still be there, she no longer has the muscle or mental control to use them."

"I take it back – she's worse off than when I was normal."

"Be that as it may, somebody needs to teach her what her limitations are now, and guess who just got elected?"

He looked at Sonja, "You?"

"No, you." She patted his cheek and laid back down where she had plopped, "Good luck – you'll need it."

2 days later – after class

Buffy ate the padded mat that was on the wall for the fifth time in as many minutes – she and Xander had been sparring, in hopes of getting any remaining Slayer fighting potential out in the open, but so far none of it had shown up and he was tossing her around like a rag doll.

"Off the wall, cheerleader." She turned and glared at Xander, who smiled back in a very nasty way before speaking, "If you want to quit, do so not because I am NOT going to let up on you, Buffy."

"But it's hard!"

"Everything worth doing is difficult to learn, Buffy, and this time around you WILL learn it, instead of having it given to you on a silver platter." She shot forwards and lashed out with a kick, but he caught that kick and pivoted, throwing her to the ground with a thump and a grunt, "I can do this all day and night, cheerleader."

"This was so much easier when I was the Slayer."

"But you're not the Slayer – get over it and move on." She winced at the glacial note in his voice and nodded that he was right – she wasn't the Slayer and he was teaching her in hopes of keeping her alive.

She flew at him again and after a few moves, her back was against his front, her arms were clutching his right arm, which was around her neck and choking her while his left was against the back of her head, "THINK before you attack, Buffy, and you won't have to worry about being surprised like this."

Even as he spoke, she could feel his choke hold on her tighten to the point that it HURT! "Ack!"

"You know how to get out of this choke, Buffy – DO IT!"

Even as spots began to form in front of her eyes from the lack of air, she stomped down on his foot, though it had little effect, and shifted to where she was sideways to him and threw an elbow of her own into his gut, which got a grunt out of him and loosened his grip enough for her to push him away. He fell on to some piled up mats and sat there while she got back her breath enough to glare and speak, "You could have KILLED ME!"

"If you can't take somebody who is only a strong as me, what hope in hell do you have of taking out a vampire?" His honest question brought her up short – he was nowhere near as strong as a vampire and he was kicking her ass, so how was she going to fight a vampire? "Stop thinking like a Slayer and use what you know you have, instead of what you wished you had."

She sulked slightly, crossing her arms over her chest and pouting, hoping he would take things easier on her, but he merely stood and started a furious assault on her that had her pressed against the wall in under four seconds and his arm across her throat again, but this time he was looking directly into her eyes and he wasn't happy, "If you do not take this seriously, I will kill you myself, Buffy. Do you understand?" She nodded and he backed up, allowing her to slump to the ground and cough several times.

"Take it easy, Xander. It's not like this is boot camp or something."

She flinched as he looked up at her and grinned a horrifically evil grin – she had apparently given him an idea and she knew that she would live to regret it.

1 ½ days later – Saturday, 0430 hours

Dressed in cammies, combat boots and a t-shirt, Xander stood next to Buffy's bed with a cast iron skillet in one hand, a metal spoon in the other and looked at the spell components of a silence spell merge in the bottle he had put them into – outside of the room, nobody would hear a thing, which would ensure that the ungodly noise he was about to make and his possible murder would never be known until the door was opened. Taking a deep breath, he repeatedly slammed the spoon into the bottom of the skillet and placed both right next to Buffy's ear.

"OFF YOUR ASS AND ON YOUR FEET, SUMMERS! KNEES IN THE FUCKING BREEZE, FIVE MINUTES!" He could remember the Soldier's old DI waking him up like that back in boot in the early 60's and knew it would be effective, but how effective was anther thing he would remember for the rest of his life.

From a dead sleep and horizontal position, Buffy Anne Summers erupted from her bed and seemed to hover in mid air for several seconds before crashing to the floor painfully, dressed in a shirt that sported cows, shorts that had ducks and socks that had bears. She came back up in a stance as he continued banging the pot, looking around for the attack.

"GET READY FOR THE DAILY DOZEN, SUMMERS! RUNNERS, SHIRT, SWEATS, NOW! FOUR MINUTES THIRTY SECONDS – MOVE YOUR ASS!" That put her into motion as she yanked on sweat pants and hopped on one foot as she tried to blindly pull on a sneaker and a sweatshirt at the same time and then tumbled to the ground painfully for a second time with a groan, "THIS ISN'T SUMMER CAMP, THIS IS BOOT CAMP! MOVE IT MOVE IT MOVE IT MOVE IT!" She inched her way to the door like a worm and finally got her shoe on and her sweater on, glaring at him.

"Stop yelling at me, Xander. My hearing is perfectly good."

"Summers, while in this phase of your training, the first and last words out of that hole of yours had better be Drill Instructor Harris – you don't like doing things the easy way, we'll do them the hard way … the RIGHT way. Now, do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Sir? I'm a drill instructor, Summers, so don't call me 'sir' because I work for a living, now off you ass and on your feet." He had to admit that he was taking the DI bit too far, but it was fun to be on the end of things he was on for once. He followed her down to the porch and smiled, "Now, for calling me sir, drop and give me fifty push ups, and be quick about it – we still have our daily dozen and a run to do."

She glared at him but pressed out the fifty push ups and followed him move for move on the dozen calisthenics that he ritually did every morning, though not so damned early, and then set out at a jog as his watch beeped on schedule – 0545. They ran for nearly an hour and by the end of it she was doing her best to stay on her feet and breathe while he felt good a warmed up as they came back to the Summers front lawn, where she collapsed directly on top of the morning paper.

"Tired, Buffy?" She didn't even have the energy to glare at him so she just flipped him the bird, "Good, you're not too tired to do the extra one hundred push ups you owe me for that gesture, then. Hell, I'll even do them with you." He got down into the ready position, which she slowly assumed, and smoothly pressed one out, "One." She matched him all the way up to fifty, but then fell flat on her face, "Keep going, Buffy, or you start over."

"I can't – I'm not strong enough." She mumbled into the ground and then looked up at him, bits of grass stuck to her face, "Is that what you've been trying to get me to realize? That I'm not strong enough?"

Still in-position, he quirked an eyebrow, "What makes you say that?"

"I physically CAN'T do this right now, because I never took my training seriously enough when I had my powers, and you're punishing me with this … torture to make me see that, right?"

"Half right – no, you never took your training seriously enough when you had your powers because you were cocky, overconfident, but now that you don't have your powers, you have to be twice as serious as you should have been before and push yourself to your limits and then beyond them. How the hell do you think I lasted as long as I did?" She glared at him and re-assumed the position, so he pressed out another, "One." She groaned.

It took ten minutes to get the one hundred out, having to stop twice, but Buffy finally did it – if nothing else, he had to give her the fact that the stubborn streak that came with being a female in the Summers clan had been the only thing keeping her in the position and pushing them out. As it ended up, he carried her back into the house and put her in the upstairs bathroom, clothes on and all, and turned on the shower on her, which got her moving with a shriek, as it was cold, and then he orbed to his own place, where he cleaned up and waited for Faith to wake up. He knew that if he had tried the same tactic with her, she'd have him spitted up over some slow coals and rotating for several hours, occasionally basting him before feeding him to some lucky vamp – different tactics for different people.

"Hello, Sonja, Jenny." He didn't even need to turn around as two Whitelighters orbed into the room – he could still feel energy signatures and he knew theirs by heart, "Coffee's ready and I think we still have some fruit left."

"Yes, Drill Instructor Harris," Sonja said with a playful tone, her face appearing over his right shoulder as he calmly read the sports page. "I'll have you know that you had just about every Whitelighter up there laughing their asses off this morning with how you got Buffy to admit that she needed to take things seriously if she ever wanted to get her powers back."

Jenny took that point to stick her face over his left shoulder, "And you made us both rather tidy sums with your tactics as well, Xander."

"Do I get a … share?" Before he could finish and punctuate the sentence, he felt them both kiss him on separate cheeks and he smiled, "I'll take that as a no, then."

"That WAS your share, Xander," Sonja pointed out as she walked over to the coffee pot and poured herself a cup while Jenny took the main news section of the paper. "Unless, of course, you'd like MORE than your share, that is."

He looked at her oddly and let it pass, but mentally made a note to ask Ares something – something wasn't right on the Hellmouth, and as usual in his love life, it could only get REALLY ugly, eventually.

Chapter 6
By Dawn's Early Light

Two days after last chapter –Xander's living room

"Are you SURE that Aphrodite has nothing to do with this, Ares?"

The god nodded, "Kid, she wants you for herself for some reason, and she doesn't like to share – somebody, or several somebodies, up there are messing around with the minds of the ladies down there and you seem to be their target."

He smiled as the kid's shoulders slumped, "Why me?"

Ares shrugged, "Your guess is as good as mine, though it all appears to be heading towards you … loosening up, as it were. I mean, if it were me, I'd be all for what those two offered you yesterday." He grinned as Xander went blood red in embarrassment – the two Whitelighters had been more than a little obvious about what they wanted to do to him the previous afternoon, most of it involving a great deal of sweating and primal instincts.

"They're my friends and colleagues, Ares – I DON'T like people messing with their minds like that." Ares smiled as he saw the kid's face harden into a stone mask and he saw more than a little fire enter his eyes – it was a look he had often seen on the faces of his Generals in days long past and, if things went according to plan, he would see in days to come as soldiers were led to the field with him in mind, "Find out who's behind this, if you could, and tell me – I want to have some rather pointed words with the individuals involved."

Ares smiled, well, smirked, as he rarely smiled, "Will-do, kid." Orbing out of there, he went directly to Olympus and landed right in front of his sister, "Discord, we need to have a little chat."

The leather-clad goddess of the same smiled brightly, "And why would that be, brother?"

"Because you're about to piss off the one person we can't afford to piss off – the kid knows someone is messing with the heads of those two Whitelighters and he's starting to take it personally. You and I both know that won't end well, especially if he finds out you and the others are behind it."

"What about Aphrodite?"

Ares shook his head, "You know she wants him for herself – he knows that too after I told him, but that leaves a very short list of people up and around here who are willing to do this kind of thing. Get Cupid, Hestia, that idiot brother of mine, Strife, and yourself on a leash, sister – if he comes up here, it won't be for tea and cakes."

Discord pouted, "But brother, we're just trying to get him to relax a little. I mean, Cupid already hit that lesbian Wicca, Tara, but she seems resistant to it, Faith, who already loves him, and the mother of the former Slayer, Joyce, a few times, and he can't risk it anymore!"

"Then tell him to stop! Let the arrows wear off and start again after he gets us the Golden Fleece back in a few months – we need him as much as he needs us." With that said, Ares went back to his viewing rock and watched as Alexander laid down for a nap, not knowing that he was about to have two guests, "I hope you know what you're going to be in for, kid."

Back at the house

He knew it wasn't Jenny or Sonja as soon as the body pressed to his side – Jenny had a scent of spice to her and Sonja of honey, and as both of them had been confined to San Francisco until something was found out as to why they had tried to do what they had planned yesterday, that left only a handful of possible females. When the other heat pressed against his side, he knew who it was immediately without using anything but his nose – Faith always had a subtle scent of leather and musk about her, and that was on his right, so who was it that smelled of wildflowers on his left?

"Boy toy? You awake?" He cracked an eye open and looked at the raven-haired Slayer, who smiled prettily at him, "You okay today?"

"Tired." He opened his other eye and was surprised to see Tara there, a content smile on her lips and her eyes closed, "What?"

Faith smiled, "Well, see, I got Tiger over there to admit to herself that MAYBE you might be on the level and to give you a try, you know, as a friend. She likes girls because of her brothers and her father – kinda like yours and mine."

He didn't even think about it as his arm slipped around Tara's shoulders and she shrank into his side a little, causing him to growl slightly. They stayed that way for several minutes until she poked her head up and pecked him slightly on the cheek, blushing furiously afterwards and sinking her head back down to hide.

"Tiger, if you're going to kiss him, do it like this." Before he could protest, Faith was laying into him and did so until oxygen became a very serious issue, which was about thirty seconds later, which caused them to part almost explosively, "See? Like … that."

Before things went too much further, he sat up and shook his head, in hopes of clearing the healthy amount of lust that the kiss had brought out of the woodwork – Faith had always had that kind of effect on him and she knew it too, "Faith, what's with the sudden interest?"

She smirked, "Boy toy, I'm always interest in you, remember? I mean, game on, four times in two hours that one night? Day-yum!"

He stood up as several pieces of the puzzle came together, "I'll be right back – I need to see a goddess about a murder." Without giving them the chance to stop him, he orbed himself to Olympus, which was a little further than he was used to, and after a few moments of breathing exercises to regain some energy, he walked amongst the Greek pantheon and quickly found the one he was looking for, "Aphrodite, we need to have a talk."

The blonde in nearly-see-through pink silk and lace lingerie smiled brightly and patted the divan next to her, "Sure thing, cutie – you ready to turn yourself over to me, then?"

"No, I want to know what's going on down there with all of the weirdness and the girls – the last time something like this happened I had all of the women in Sunnydale baying for my blood."

She nodded, "I remember – I powered the spell, remember?"

"And this time?"

She shook her head, her blonde tresses flailing back and forth for several seconds and she smiled, "Sorry, cookie, but not this time – whoever is doing it, though, is subtle, and in case you haven't noticed, subtly isn't exactly our normal thing."

He groaned and sank his face into his hands – with Sonja and Jenny alone, it was kind of amusing, but with all of his friends, save Giles, who was the only male around, suddenly hitting on him in the past few days, it was no longer funny, "Any clues as to who or whom is doing this?"

She shrugged, "Several, but nothing that I can tell you, toots. Sorry." She suddenly smiled and leaned into his side, her lips close to his ear, "You know, seeing as you're already here, I do need some … company, so if you don't mind."

"Gotta go." He orbed, regardless of how tired he felt and how alluring the offer was, to Joyce's house, where Buffy and Willow, thankfully, weren't home. He landed on Joyce's bed and fell back, utterly exhausted, too tired to really think for several minutes, and when he was able to, his thoughts drifted to Buffy and her training, which he was overseeing.

Since his little stunt a few mornings before, she had been awake and dressed for training by 0545 every morning, not wanting a repeat of the pot-banging and shouting he had used to wake he up with before; she wasn't the Slayer anymore and she appeared to accept that as she delivered what he demanded and, when more was asked for, she did as good as she could – she wasn't so winded after their daily dozen and could actually breath at the end of their runs, but she still couldn't run correctly, using all of her body to do so, and that would come back to haunt her when he started adding weighted packs tomorrow morning.

"Xander?" His head snapped up and he saw Joyce standing in the doorway of her room, clad only in a pink terrycloth robe, with a confused look on her face, "Why are you in here?"

"Had to bail out of a rather … embarrassing situation, Joyce. Sorry." He sat up and was relieved to see that she didn't appear to be effected, but that relief faded as her confusion turned to a smile tinged with more than a little sex behind it and she walked into the room.

"Don't feel sorry at all, Xander – you're welcome in my room anytime." Her hands went for the tie and neck of her robe and he orbed directly to his armory, all of the humor he had ever felt at the situation vanishing and being replaced with anger – Joyce was, for a time, his mother-figure, the Alpha female of his Pack, and now she appeared to be acting weird too. Whoever was doing it had just crossed over the realm of good fun and mild annoyance – they'd just made it personal.


"Congratulations, Discord – you and the others have officially pissed him off." Ares looked at the small collection of gods and goddesses and smirked, "At least I won't go down with you guys."

Discord looked over at Cupid, who shrugged, and then back at Ares, "Can't you talk him out of it, Ares? I mean, it was all in good, clean fun!"

"Until you brought Joyce Summers into it, Discord. I mean, Tartarus, even the Fates know better than to mess with her, and that was before Alexander." He looked back at the viewing rock and saw his young warrior arming himself for bear, strapping on pistols, knives, armor and his family's sword, "At least he's going to give someone a fighting chance, then."

Discord gulped, Strife began to panic, Hestia merely fainted by Cupid looked supremely confident, "All we have to do is to remember that river in Egypt is our friend – denial."

Ares gave the winged god a pitting look and shook his head before looking back at the rock, and frowning at what he saw, "Leo?"


"What in God's name is going on, Leo?"

Leo looked at his son with sympathy and shook his head, "Nothing you need to worry about, son – other things have that particular honor right now."

"Oh, fuck, now what?"

Leo grimaced at his son's choice of words, given his current predicament, and smiled wanly, "The Elders have a job for you in Houston, Texas; a natural witch and her daughter need protection and we in the Council can't … officially … be involved. Her ex husband is a dark wizard and wants to sacrifice the baby, so we want you to protect her until midnight tomorrow evening, a whole day and a half." Leo handed over the location of the witch and a photo, "Be careful, son – this wizard is dangerous."

Xander looked up at him and grinned, "So am I, Leo." With that said, Leo watched Xander orb away and sighed, "Ares, what in the Creator's name are you and your siblings doing up there?" Even as he asked the question, Leo felt a sudden surge of power and something hit his mind like a Mack truck, making him pass out as he stumbled and fell.

Houston – Southeast, near I-45 and 610

Monica Tomas looked at the young man who materialized right in front of her, clutching her baby tighter as he shook his head to clear it and adjusted his leather duster to the mid-December chill (all 60 degrees of it). He was tall, maybe six feet, with dark hair, dark eyes, a slightly weathered complexion and she could feel the power pouring off of him in waves as he walked closer, "Monica Tomas?"

"Who wants to know?"

"Call me Xander – I've been sent to help by some friends." He looked around and saw that nobody else was present in the corner of the supermarket that they were in, "I've been told your ex wants you baby for a sacrifice and I've been sent to stop him."

Monica was not a particularly religious woman in the sense of believing in an all-powerful God – she was a witch, a natural one at that, and believed in he Goddess to protect her and her child, and she was not picking up anything deceitful off of the young man as she approached, "And what are you?"

He shrugged, "I was once a Whitelighter, but apparently my bosses don't like the use of Deadly Force, so they technically fired me. I work free-lance now – good guy, just for whoever can pay me."

She drew back and hissed, "A MERCENARY!"

Again he shrugged, "I've been called worse – look, let's get someplace less public so I can give you the low-down, okay?"

"I need groceries and my baby needs diapers."

He sighed, "Fine – I walk with you and hold the baby while you get your things, or if you don't rust me, the other way around." She only passed him the cart in response and led the way, holding her little girl, who had slept through the entire thing.

To his credit, though, he was kind of cute, and he knew his way around a store as he picked up things that, while not exactly the best brand, were good and saved her money, something that was in short supply as of late. He was carrying weapons, a mark against him, she could tell by the way his coat hung and how he grabbed for the inside of his coat when a man approached her and she thought that he might be after her baby, but he was also acting like a calm, cool professional, another mark for his side. By the time they hit the checkout isle, Monica decided that whoever 'Xander' really was, he was on the level.

It was a short walk to her place, a tiny one-room apartment that wasn't much, but it was a roof over her head and nobody asked questions of who she was or what she did for a living. As soon as she was inside, Xander put down the groceries and pulled out a pistol, screwing a silencer on the end of it and checked everywhere before pulling the shades and locking the door, never putting the gun away while she changed her daughter, "So, how old are you?"

"I'll be twenty in about six months, ma'am."

She felt herself go white, a great feat as she was sporting the natural dark skin she got from her Hispanic mother's family, "Twenty? Dios, how old were you when you … died?" She could place the feeling she got off of him now – he was a Whitelighter, or had been one.

"I was born one, and I was a Whitelighter for just over five months, technically." He laid the gun on the table and began to put away the groceries after looking around for a few seconds, "So, what can you tell me about your ex?"

"That bastard wants to kill my baby!"

He gave her a look, "First off, duh, that's what I'm here to prevent – secondly, keep your cool so you don't use your powers in anger. Now, what else can you tell me about your ex – habits, ego, education, what?"

"Alejandro grew up here in Houston, down near Pasadena, and was in a gang until he was in high school, when he dropped out and started into drugs and magic, black magic." Monica ran her fingers through her curly hair as her daughter kicked happily, bare from the waist down but clean, "He's a perfectionist and never lets anything get in his way."

"Magic type?"

"Power-based, and he's not shy about using it in crowded areas. He likes to run his mouth a little and gloats a lot when he scores a hit – do you really think you can stop him?"

He tossed her the diapers and she put one on the baby, "If he comes here, we'll find out. What's her name?"

"Diana Marisol Tomas and she's also a witch – telekinetic, so keep an eye on your keys, she likes keys."

Xander smiled a little, "Don't they all. What about you?"

Monica shrugged, "A little mental persuasion, nothing much – I walk a fine line between the light and dark."

"We all do." He reached over and ticked Diana's tummy, causing the girl to giggle and kick her legs a little, "She's beautiful."

"Thank you."

They sat in companionable silence for a while, watching the basic cable that the apartments provided but he would occasionally check the windows and orb away for a few seconds, but come back and nod that all was well; she learned that he'd grown up on La Boca Del Inferno, the mouth of hell, and had been fighting vampires since fifteen, but while he had been a Whitelighter, he was no saint. All in all, had it not been for the guns, Monica was sure that she would have liked for Xander to stay around, especially with how well Diana responded to him, always giggling and cooing while only occasionally trying to steal his keys.

In a flash, though, things changed as her door was kicked in and Alejandro stood on the other side, wearing a huge grin, "Miss me, baby?"


Ares chuckled darkly, "Oh, this ought to be good."

Apartment in Houston

His suppressed pistol came up and he drew a bead on the man's forehead, "Alejandro, I presume?"

"And you are, vato?"

"Alexander, but please, why be formal? Call me Xander." He stepped over in front of Monica and a now-wailing Diana, "Why don't you do us all a big favor and leave now – I won't let you get Diana and you didn't bring enough men to go through me to take her."

Alejandro smiled and flung both hands at him, staggering him with a weak telekinetic wave, "Homie, I can control magics you can't begin to believe – do you really thing that pop gun is going to stop me?"

"No, but this will." He orbed just behind the wanna-be and kicked him in the back of the head, knocking him to the ground before bring his gun up and pressing it against his temple, backing his thugs away, "Monica, get Diana and come over here – we're leaving." Monica quickly gathered her things and the baby before joining him, "This is your one warning, Alex – don't come after her." With that said, he orbed the witch, himself and the child to the other side of town and put them next to a bus stop, "Do you have any family he doesn't know about?"

"No, he knows them all."

Xander cured, "Fuck! Alright, you're coming with me." He grabbed her and orbed back to the house, or rather, he tried to, but something blocked him and they only got to the city limits, "Perfect – just perfect."

"What's wrong?"

"I'm being blocked by a higher being, or a lower one – either way, we're confined to the city limits." He reached into his jacket and grabbed his cell phone, hoping his intended call would go through as he dialed.


"Aunt Piper, it's Xander. Is dad there?"

"Xander? What's wrong?"

"I'm being blocked – I can't orb and my temporary charge's ex is on our ass. Where is he?"

"In a Council meeting – I can't feel him and I get the feeling you're on your own."

"Thanks." He closed the cell and sighed, "Goddamnit! Will NOTHING go right on this mission?"

"Dunno, vato," said a voice from behind him as he instantly orbed with Maria and Diana in tow to the other side of the city, landing them inside of a football stadium with 'Abshire Stadium' and a large twelve-point buck on the ground.

"Let's move – I don't want him to be able to pin-point us."


Ares grinned even as Discord groaned and Hestia growled, "This is going to be a long day, kid."


Unbeknownst of Ares' prediction, Xander proved him correct – for the next 20 hours he orbed himself, Monica and Diana to a random location for several hours, allowing himself time to rest and Monica to change Diana or feed her, before they came to rest near what smelled to be a beer brewery in east Houston, Budwiser, according to the sign, in an abandoned house that was moderately defensible, but had a magic shop nearby. After a quick trip to said shop for components, Xander brewed up several minor protection potions that would mask their presence for eight hours, at most, before needing to be re-applied to the perimeter of the house.

"So we're safe?" Monica held her slumbering daughter, who had actually slept through most of the ordeal, and looked decidedly worn out.

"For now." He took off his duster and rolled it up into a pillow before taking Diana from Monica, "Get some sleep, we still have 16 hours to go before you and she are safe." Monica nodded and laid down on the floor and instantly fell asleep, so he looked down at Diana, who had just woken up, "Looks like it's you and me for a while, kiddo."

Diana giggled and cooed for several moments before she tried to use her powers to grab the car keys in his pocket – he didn't stop her and let them dangle over her for several minutes, the reflecting light and slight jingling causing her joy and excitement, but then put them back into his pocket before yawning and falling asleep herself. His phone took that point to go off.


"Xander? Piper; Leo's told me why you can't orb out."

"And that would be?"

"The demon that wants the sacrifice has a barrier around Houston that allows people in, but doesn't let them out and Whitelighters are generally powerless there. How are you holding up?"

"Well enough – Monica and Diana are out cold and I have a protection and cloaking spell up for about six more hours before we move again." He absently jiggled Diana, who made a noise in her sleep as he spoke, "Any ideas on just how this guy got the demon to power him?"

"No clue, but then again, most of the magic users down in that part of the country are hard to track, due to the large number of inactive Hellmouths and natural magical barriers."

He winced – great, more than one Hellmouth to deal with, "Thanks, Piper."

"Is she cute?"

"Huh? Monica's alright, Piper."

"The baby, doofus."

He looked down at Diana, who was sleepily opening her eyes, "Gorgeous, but she has this thing for keys."

Piper chuckled through the phone, "Talk to you later, kid."

He put away the phone and looked back down at Diana, who was now more awake than before, "What?" The baby cooed a little and he shrugged, "Well, you are gorgeous, you know." She giggled and kicked a little and he sat down, "Looks like we're stuck here for a while, Baby D – know any good stories?"

6 hours later

Monica yawned and held her daughter while Xander poured the last of the potion around the house again before taking her place on the ground, pistol in hand and one eye open as he relaxed a little; he had told her why they couldn't orb out of town, which really depressed her, but then stated that they were more than halfway there – ten more hours to go and they would both be safe … for the time being. She knew he meant it to be comforting, but the thought of someone else coming after her child didn't exactly fill her with confidence.

She and Diana played the past few hours back in her mind over a special mother/daughter mental link they had and she was heartened that Xander had not let Diana go once and had even encouraged her to use her powers in a constructive manner. She blushed lightly at some of the connotations of the phone call, but also of his conversation with Diana afterwards – he may have been a mercenary, but he was cute and good with kids, "I wonder if he's single?"

"By choice rather than lack of options, Monica." She gasped and looked over at Xander, who still had one eye open and gun in hand, but he was now smiling, "I really don't need to sleep, remember?"

She blushed as Diana began to giggle, causing her to look down, "Traitor."


Ares looked over at Aphrodite, who smiled innocently at him, and he shook his head disgustedly – would they NEVER leave the kid alone?


Like cold molasses being poured out of a jar, the hours slipped by and Xander found himself becoming rather restless – he was out of concealing potion and had already moved himself, Diana and Monica to far east Houston, across the Ship Channel, to Galena Park, and from there to far west Houston, near the clubs on Richmond, and it was nearly midnight now – 11:49, to be exact, and he was hoping that the next eleven minutes would go faster so he could get the hell out of there.

"Are we safe yet?"

"Not for another ten minutes forty three seconds, which is fifty seven seconds less than the last time you asked me, Monica – I am not trying to sound rude, but be quiet."

She nodded nervously as Diana kicked out a leg and gurgled slightly, "Sorry, I just want this day to be over."

"You and me too, honey." Xander spun and put two bullets into an ephemeral body that was Alejandro, who smiled and looked where he had been 'shot', "Nice grouping, man. Shame you work for the other side."

"Do us a favor and just leave them alone, Alejandro – you get to keep your ass I one piece, I don't have to worry about being shot, it's a win-win situation."

The ephemeral body became more solid, "No can do, chief – if I don't deliver the brat, the demon takes me instead."

"Figures you'd get caught by that clause – never make a deal with demons." Experimentally he put a bullet into the body again, but this time instead of going straight through, the bullet slowed greatly and barely made it out, "Well, well, well, it looks like you aren't as go-through than you want. Let me guess – you personally have to make the sacrifice?"

"Yeah – don't shoot me again or I'll rip your head off."

Xander shrugged, putting the gun away, but orbing behind the mage again and slamming his foot into the upper back of the mage, shoving his semi-solid body forwards before orbing back in front of him and snapping off a hard left jab – right cross combination punch that flung the mage back a little further and mashed his nose flat, "See, I didn't shoot you."

The mage got back up and snarled several oaths about Xander's parentage before rushing forwards, completely forgetting about his magics, and actually scored several very quick punches and a kick that pushed Xander back, "I'm gonna make you bleed, white boy."

"I've been told by bigger, better and more evil than you, wet back, so bring it." Xander blocked another shot to the head and countered with quick jab to the bread basket followed up by a head butt to the severely-mashed-but-healing nose of Alejandro, mashing it back down and causing the mage to howl in agony.

The minutes ticked by as they went back and forth, Alejandro becoming more and more solid as they did and weaker and weaker, not using his magics at all as they went at it like Crypts and Bloods, but the entire time Monica was screaming and Diana was wailing at the encroaching darkness of the room.

"You can't stop him, White boy. He's invincible!"

"First off, that's White Knight, and secondly, I've taken out supposedly invincible people before and guess what? They're all dead." He slammed his foot into the groin of the mage, who gaped and slid to the ground as off in the distance he hear a bell begin to strike the hour and felt a massive surge of power, "Oh, shit."

"I have come to take my meal, mage." It wasn't a dark, deep, malevolent voice that spoke, but rather the kind of voice you expect to hear from one of the kids on Barney and the kid looked like one too.

"You're kidding me, right? A Barney kid?"

The being shrugged, "Guy, he IS the incarnate of evil, remember?" The kid, a young white male with blonde hair and blue eyes, looked over at Diana, who wailed more as Monica clutched her daughter closer, "So, I guess you're not just going to hand her over, then."

Xander looked at his watch and saw it was 11:59 and fifty-four seconds, "Sorry, but I would have to say … no. Nothing personal, you understand."

The being shrugged, "Of course not." It looked over at Alejandro, who was half-standing at that point and smiled, "So I guess you get to take your daughter's place, Alex. How fun!" He raised his hand and the pair of them vanished even as several people began to orb into the room.

"Harris?" Two guardians walked over, both of them armed, and the first one nodded, "We're here to take over until a Whitelighter is assigned to Diana."

Xander nodded, "Cool." He looked over at Monica and Diana, who had quieted down, and walked over, putting away his weapons as he did, "You guys are going to be okay, right?"

Monica smiled and nodded but Diana began to fuss again, so the mother handed her over, "I think she likes you."

"Then she's a bad judge of character, then." He held the baby and looked into her dark eyes as she quieted down, "Honey, I'm gonna have to go – trust me, you can do a lot better than me to hang around with." He was oddly sure that she looked more than a little petulant at the idea and he sighed, "Look, if I can, I'll come around and checkup on you, okay?"


"Don't take that tone with me, young lady – you may steal keys, but you're not too old for me to take over my knee." She looked a little contrite about it but merely kicked her legs as he handed her back to Monica, "I'll give you a call in a few days, Monica – keep her safe." She nodded and he looked at the Guardians and then left in a shower of white lights.


Xander looked around at the living room and frowned – something wasn't right; something in the air was different and he wasn't sure what even as the front door opened and he heard Faith come in, talking to somebody.

"Let me tell ya, D, he's wicked cool, but don't cross him 'cause he's not afraid to push back."

"Bus is he cute, Faith? You never told me that." The voice was youngish and female, with the same Boston inflections on the words that Faith had, and directly behind him, "Never mind – if his butt looks that good, the rest of him must be great." She was thing, but had some muscle to her, and while she had a fine look to her face, almost elfin in nature, her highlighted brown hair was as unruly as Faith's with slight waves and curls in the bangs.

"Hey ya, boy toy, meet Dawn, Baby D … my sister."

Chapter 7

X/F/D's Place – morning

He knew who it was even before he opened his eyes – for the past two and a half months Hope Dawn Williams, sister of Faith Williams, had been doing her best to get into his pants, despite the fact that she was only fifteen years old; she had grown up in Boston, but had been raised by one of Faith's aunts, away from the hellhole that had been Faith's home, and aside from having a penchant for crawling into bed with him, an act that Faith seemed to mirror as well, she and Faith seemed like night and day. Where Faith was emotionally closed off, Dawn let it all hang out, and visa versa, and while Faith had toned it down, somewhat, Dawn seemed to attract guys like flies to honey and didn't seem to notice. When he did ask her about her name, why she didn't use 'Hope', Dawn merely snorted, and returned with how cheesy that sounded to her and her family 'Faith and Hope' – like it was a sitcom or something. As much as he hated it, she was right, so he called her Dawn.

Speaking of which, "Dawn?"

"Yeah, lover boy?" She had taken to calling him that after the second day of Faith calling him 'Boy Toy' and while Faith and Sonja, now back in her right mind, as were the other ladies, thought that it was funny, Willow, Buffy, Jenny, Joyce and Giles most certainly did not (Tara was staying a neutral party in it all).

"While I seem to not be able to deter you from sleeping with me in the same bed, I do ask that you remove your knee from my bladder." She shifted the offending joint and he sighed, "Where's Faith?"

"Buffy wanted to work out this morning, said something about not wanting you to drive her into the ground anymore with her training."

Xander merely snorted, "She still can't accept that as a half-Slayer, she can still get her ass handed to her by me."

"You can hand me my ass anymore, lover boy … or handle it, if you think you can."

He sighed and rolled out of bed – when she started making semi-serious remarks like that, open grabbing and partial flashing weren't far off, "I need to grab a shower, ALONE, Dawn – see ya at breakfast.

When he emerged into the kitchen twenty minutes later, clothed and ready to go, he was not surprised to see Dawn munching on cereal, Faith guzzling coffee and both Buffy and Willow chattering – he had finally come out and told them how betrayed he had felt because of them and if they ever pulled a stunt like that again, he would kill them. This had gotten some sore remarks from Buffy but both Willow and Giles had owned up to their past mistakes – as it stood, Giles was teaching Faith researching, Willow was being taught by Jenny how to focus her spell energies, ont to mention her new girlfriend, Tara, as she had finally gotten around to tapping into the powers of the earth correctly, and was also teaching Dawn the rudiments of hacking, he was teaching them all down-and-dirty fighting and weapons usage, or rather, 20th century weapons usage. Joyce had taken both Dawn and Faith under her wing and was a mother figure to them all, though she still flirted outrageously with him over the 'robe incident', which Buffy was at first peeved over but eventually shrugged it off after the true culprits were uncovered. Discord, he could understand, Strife and Cupid as well, but what in the name of hell was Hestia, Greek goddess of the Hearth, thinking? Her only excuse was that she needed to let her hair down a little, to which he had replied that if she wanted to relax, look into Yoga. He was still a little sore over the entire deal, but the others had taken it too in stride, though Sonja and Jenny both told him that 'the offer' was still on the table.

"Sup, boy toy?" He looked at Faith and she smiled, "You feeling okay?"

"Right as rain. Why?"

"Because we have company." She pointed past him and into the living room, "Wicked babes, the both of them – you stepping out on me, Xand?"

He rolled his eyes, "No, Faith – if it's who I think it is, it's something I promised to a while back." He reached the coffee pot, grabbed a cup and some toast while Dawn came over and tried to grab his backside, but he orbed just as she got within range and landed in his favorite seat, looking at the trio of Greeks, "Greeting."

"Hey, kid – have a nice vacation?"

His protecting Monica and Diana, whom he had seen just the day before and was growing up fast, had earned him some major brownie points with the Elder's Council, not to mention piss off several members of the Powers That Be, and, as such, he had been given a nice vacation, "Yes, I did, but I get the feeling that the vacation is over."

The grin that Ares habitually wore vanished and he knew he was in trouble, "Yeah, it is. Look, Xander, I shit you not that this is a very dangerous assignment and if you don't want it, we'll understand."

"In broad strokes, what can you tell me?"

Athena took it up at that point, dressed in her toga and armor, but thankfully she had left her owl at Olympus, as it seemed to like perching on his shoulder and pecking at his temple, "Have you heard of the Golden Fleece?"

"As in Jason and the Argonauts?"

The goddess nodded, "One in the same. Do you remember the Initiative?"

He growled, "More than I want to."

Artemis took it over at that point, dressed in her leathers and armed, but on this occasion her pair was not as tightly braided as she normally wore it, "The remnants of the Initiative have stolen the Fleece, not to mention some of our other great items, from the families and resting places we have taken to hiding them over the past centuries and are trying to corrupt them to their own ways of war. This cannot be allowed to happen."

He nodded, his mind instantly going over the possible outcomes if some of the more recognizable things the Greeks had ever produced fell into the wrong hands, "Location?"

"Classified, but we can get you there." Ares sighed, "Look, this mission will involve the termination of numerous individuals who will be Tartarus-bent on keeping you away from those items. Can you live with that?"

"I'll learn to. Weapons?"

"Onsite procurement outside of what you bring with you, but I'd suggest bringing armor with you as well, Alexander." Athena stood, along with Ares and Artemis, and paid a hand on his shoulder, "Be ready to go in six hours."

He nodded and they vanished, allowing him to turn to the kitchen but was faced with Buffy and Willow and neither of them looked happy, "What?"

"You're going to go kill people?"

"More than likely." He brushed past them and went directly into the Armory, which he had been filling out as of late, with all-around weapons and started to strap himself into Kevlar as Buffy and Willow charged into the room, Faith et al on their heels.

"You can't do that! They have …" He turned and pegged Buffy with a glare that told her, no, DARED her to finish that statement, "It's not legal."

"So is about 90% of the shit we do, Buffy. Look, I'm doing this job because I promised them I would – end of discussion." He orbed on standard BDUs and then strapped a tac holster to one leg, and then the other, filling them with the H&K USP .40 calibers with suppressors and adding numerous ammo pouches filled with full magazines.

"You could get KILLED!"

He looked at Willow, "So could any of you when you go out hunting vampires, Willow." Into the pockets of his Kevlar vest went odds and ends, but also several packets of pre-shaped C-4 with timers and detonators attached, "We're doing the same job, only my end of things gets more than a little dirty." He packed away several throwing knives and his favorite, a double-edged Randall knife he'd taken off of a vampire a while back before healing him to dust, "Now, if you don't mind, I am kind of on a schedule here."

"You're not going." Buffy took her patented 'Me Slayer, You Worm' stance and he looked at her for all of two seconds before snorting and going back to his work, "Damn it, Xander, what's so important about these trinkets."

"The Golden Fleece is NOT a trinket, Buffy – add to that those Initiative assholes have it now and are going to use it for themselves, something that is more than likely not good."

"What if it's to save their soldiers?"

"What if it's to make that Frankenstein of theirs work? Remember that? What if it had been allowed to go active? You're out-ranked on this one, Buffy, you all are."

"What about you? What makes you so much better than us?"

"Because out of all of you, Buffy, I am the only one capable of cold-blooded murder." He glared at her and walked over, pulling a pistol and, after racking the slide, putting it between her now very-wide eyes, "I'm the only person here capable of pulling this trigger and not losing any sleep over it – THAT is what makes me perfect for this job." He saw pure terror in her eyes as he eared back the hammer on the pistol and beads of sweat begin to pour down her face, "Now, are you going to back off NOW or do I shoot you?"


"How very over-the-top of him, Ares."

He snorted and looked at Athena, "It worked, didn't it? Slayers, or, well, half-Slayers, tend to have an over-inflated sense of themselves, which is part of what got her canned in the first place and he knows how to deal with them."

"Faith seems nothing like that." Artemis seemed to have taken an unhealthy interest in the dark-haired Slayer and her little sister, but Ares knew that it was for reasons of pure greed on her part. She wanted the pair of them for her new army of Amazons and knew that they'd never leave Xander's side, which secretly irritated her.

"Because she knows that if she does get like that, she'll be taken down or out." Ares watched Xander prepare for the coming altercation with a calm that reminded him of his soldiers before a battle – they knew who they were going up against, where they were going and what the odds were of them getting back, but their minds also knew that once the battle was joined, there was nothing they or anyone could do about the randomness of chance and chaos. "Give me a dozen generals like him and I'd rule my own little corner of the world."

"Until you got greedy, brother." Ares turned and saw Hercules standing in his attire that he wore on Earth, jeans, shirt and shoes, but also wearing a grim look, "He's going, then."

"We'll get him into the instillation, but after that he's on his own."

Hercules nodded, "So, on a somewhat separate note, how's your new High Priestess?"

Initiative Instillation – Mission Start

Not ten seconds into the beginning of his mission and there was already a problem – apparently the people who planned the instillation were idiots because they had posted the entire floor plan of the place on a wall, which he memorized, but also everyone in the place that was not armed spoke only Italian, one of the few languages he didn't know how to make himself known in. Fortunately, though, the understanding that came from looking down the barrel of a gun was very clear – he knocked out and locked up a dozen people in the first few rooms and proceeded down a hall, pistols suppressed and at the ready even as kittens, no, full-grown tigers began to fight in his stomach.

"Halt." He went on pure instinct, turned and fired once, putting a single .40 caliber hollow point into the skull of the solider that was standing behind him, weapon drawn. He reacted without thought and drug the dead soldier off to one side, stripping him of anything that might look useful, including card keys, actual keys, the man's MP-5, mags and his lone flashbang grenade.

The next hour was a blur to him – instead of going directly for the centrally located items, he stopped off into the security rooms and took out cameras, guards, unlocked doors and checked the locations of people, things and if there was anything he needed to know about because, aside form the odd guard, it was WAY too quiet in the instillation. Finally, though, when he was sure that everything was set, he went into the storage room and grabbed the items that Ares and the others had sent him after – The Golden Fleece, Sandals of Hermes, a dagger coated in Hind's blood and something that looked like a gem-encrusted Rubik's cube. Of course, that was when the shit hit the fan.

"Very impressive, young man." He turned, weapons drawn, and came face to face with an older gentleman in a nice suit holding a pistol, no, a freaking hand cannon, "I must say that I am impressed, though, truth to tell, after you brought to light our Sunnydale compound to rescue that one young woman, I would have thought that you would have left us alone."

"You have no right to use these things, sir, and their owners wanted them back."

The man nodded, "Be that as it may, you are not leaving with them in your possession, not even with that teleportation trick of yours. You see, I made sure that after the Sunnydale debacle, we read up on you, Mister Harris, and it was a fascinating read, I must say."

"I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage, sir – who are you?"

"Call me George, or Oversight, if you must."

"Okay then, George, what happened to that doctor I took the hand off of? Last I saw of her, she wasn't looking too good."

"Maggie was … dealt with, appropriately, Mister Harris. She cursed your until the moment she died."

"Aw, my heart's just broken right in two, see?" Taking a chance, he reached into his pocket slowly and drew out one of his little gadgets, which looked exactly like a pack of smokes, "Want one?"

"No thank you, son; I quit last year – disgusting habit, I must say."

Xander shrugged, "To each his own." He lit up the first smoke and took in a deep lungful before slowly letting it out and looking around, taking note of the several dozen soldiers that had come in, weapons trained on him, and recognized one of them, "Well, hi, Captain Cardboard! How's the arm?" Riley Finn growled and his finger tightened on the trigger just a hair too much, firing a shot that struck Xander in the shoulder and spun him around, but thankfully the vest he was wearing caught most of it, "Oh, that sucks – breaking the ROE's already? Not smart, son, not smart at all."

"What makes you say that, Mister Harris? We have you outnumbered, out gunned and in a tactically superior position."

"True, but I have you in ways that you can't believe, or did you think that I'd come in here without hedging my bets?" With that said, he mashed down on his right heel and triggered the remote detonator he had placed there, which set off the C-4 he had placed in several key spots around the base, "For future reference, don't leave pipes exposed, because all it takes is some C-4 to really fuck your day up the ass."

Fire alarms started to wail and by reflex, all of the soldiers began to fire even as he felt a feeling of lightness around his body – the sudden impact of so many bullets, calibers ranging from 5.56 mm, 9mm, 7.62mm, .45 cal, and the odd 5.7mm, on his body and in unprotected areas brought forth an agony that blossomed throughout his body even as he felt someone orbing him and the items out of the base as the ruptured gas lines began to detonate in the base armory, causing massive damage and what felt like a magnitude 7 earthquake shake the floor.

When the feeling of lightness left, all he was left with was the agony he was in as bloody gushed out of his body, coating the stone surface he had fallen to, and blurrily saw someone rush over to him and brush the hair out of his face before sucking back a breath.

"Alejandro?" Even as his world began to fade to black, he saw his mother's anguished face and noticed the robes she was wearing – the robes of the High Priest/Priestess of Ares.

"Mamma?" The world then faded to blackness of unconsciousness and possible death.


Ares looked down at the image of his High Priestess covering her son with the Golden Fleece, it's magical healing abilities doing all it could to save him, but in his heart of hearts he knew it would not be enough. Xander would die if he didn't intervene, but the only option left was one he swore to himself he'd never take, not after the last time a mortal had gotten their hands on the stuff. Unfortunately, though, his only choice was the lack of options as he went over to a central table and grabbed the few remaining pieces of the slightly gelatinous substance and sighed as the others in the Pantheon looked at him and nodded.

Road outside of Sunnydale – months later

To say that it had been a trying few months would be the understatement of the fucking century – first off, boy toy had vanished off of the face of the planet, not even Red's locator spells could find him, neither could his real dad, Leo, or anyone else up there, and then these strange guys dressed in armor started to come out of the fucking woodwork and trying to find 'the Key', which turned out to be her own baby sister, Hope Dawn Williams. Apparently some monks had made with the mojo and not only implanted her in the group, but an entire set of memories that involved her that had never existed before – it was like two lives, but if Faith had her choice, she'd take Dawn any day of the week. It had been a mindfuck on everybody, D included as she was taking it the hardest, but what really made it bad was that her best friend wasn't there to help her keep level.

The guys, who were called the Knights of Byzantium, or something, started hunting them down once they figured out who Dawn really was and apparently weren't afraid to attack right in broad daylight, which lead to their current predicament – they were on the road out of Sunnydale in a jacked RV, G being looked after by Red and Tiger, as Sonja and Jenny were out to lunch somewhere, not able to help at all, B was busy up top and Joyce was driving while she was the last line of defense for Dawn.

"We're going to die, aren't we, Faith." Dawn had lost about ten pounds in the past month, weight that she didn't exactly have to lose at all in the first place with as skinny as she had been, and looked like a scarecrow with baggy, sunken eyes and slightly hollowed cheeks.

"No, we ain't sis – they didn't bring enough people to get past me." Unfortunately, Faith knew that unless they got a miracle in the next few hours, they'd be fucked, hard, "We'll make it."

"There! Pull in there, mom!" B yelled through a broken window and pointed out an old gas station and Joyce followed the directions, allowing them to pull in and bail inside of the old place, Red and Tiger putting up some kind of magical shield. "Is everyone okay?" Since B had gotten her full powers back, she'd been a little overbearing, but remembered to check herself more often than not.

"No, we're not – these knights have wizards of their own and they'll break through our barrier, eventually." Red walked over and sat down next to D, who leaned into her, "I wish Xander were here."

"Ask and ye shall receive." There was a shower of golden sparks and a solid form dressed in black leather stood before them, one that had Faith first blinking and then drooling – X stood before them, decked out in full leather armor that looked just like the stuff Ares wore on the television show, with his family sword at his side, his hair longer and a somewhat cocky grin plastered on his face, "Hi guys, miss me?"

"Where in the HELL have you been?" B tried to take his head off with a punch, but to everyone's shock, he caught it with ease and held her hand there with a cold look at her.

"Olympus, if you must know – I'll give you the details later, but right now I have some Knights to kill." He came over and hugged her close, which she weakly returned as tears began to form, and then stooped down to hug D, who held on for all she was worth until she let go and fell into Red's side, "Don't worry – there's nobody out there who can kill me."

"What makes you think that, Xander?"

He looked over at Joyce and smiled, "What can kill a demi-god, Joyce?" With that said, he orbed out of the small garage area and to the other side of the shield, sword out, and began to tear into the knights with quick, brutally final attacks that left the opposition all dead – one could call it poetic justice, that the men who said they were doing God's will were being taken out by someone who called himself a demi-god, but she and B, who joined her at a window, though she was standing on a crate, saw that several arrows that were shot into him merely bounced off and that he displayed a strength that none of them could possibly begin to eclipse.

B was the first one to speak, "Well, great, Xander does it again."

"He always saves us, B – it's in his blood."

"Not that," B snapped. "He's stronger than us again! Why is it him that gets all of the breaks?"

"How about we listen to his side before we judge, Buffy." G-man looked more than a little worn out, but some of the herbs that Tiger had given him appeared to have kicked in, "There are very few ways to become a demi-god, as we know he was not born as one, and none of them are particularly easy."

"Nah, it was real easy, G-man," X said, orbing back into the room with a bloody sword in one hand and a rag in the other. "Only problem was making the choice – and after you do make it, one way or another, you always question that choice because you can't un-make it." Faith saw X raise his hand and instantly they all found themselves back in B's house, and both Sonja and Jenny were waiting there, looking very worried as they went to work on the numerous cuts, scraps and wounds they had as X cleaned his sword and then sat down, his armor creaking slightly and D becoming fused to him at the hip.

"So, Xander, you said something about explanations?" Joyce looked ready to pass out from shock, but settled for sitting down in her chair as X smiled that smile of his.

"Yeah, you see, it all starts out that night I went on the recovery mission. You see I nearly died..."


Flashback – 3rd person POV, movie-style

&You see, the guys who ran the Initiative back there had been studying me, you know, just on the off chance that I came there to the stuff. Well, I got the things but they were waiting on me, so I activated a backup plan that I was going to use to level the base, but when that happened, they filled me full of holes and someone orbed me to my mom, who was the new High Priestess of Ares. After that, well, I only know it third-hand. &

"Lord Ares, I beseech thee to help my son, your servant by blood."

"Oh, be quiet, Jessie – I'm here." Ares looked at Xander, who looked on the verge of death, and then at the pieces of Ambrosia in his hand, "Kid? Can you hear me?"


"Look, I need you to be damned sure about this – not even I can save you, but this can, and there's a price."


"Ambrosia, last of the stuff, and it'll make you a demi-god, at least."

End Flashback - Sunnydale

"Ambrosia? DEMI-GOD?"

Xander looked over at Giles and sighed, "Yes, Giles, as I stated before."


&Now, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted…&

Ares looked down at the dying kid and saw him nod before taking the last of the Ambrosia and feeding it to the kid, a bit at a time, until it was all down his gullet and starting to work it's magic – at first, it looked as if he were too late, but soon a soft light started to be emitted from the semi-healed wounds on his body and once those had finished healing, the light spread to encase the body entirely. The last person to be given the food of the gods, or rather, that had taken it, had been Calisto, and he knew how well that had not turned out, as Ares had been the one to abandon her when she asked for his help against Xena all those centuries ago – she wasn't the most stable person to begin with, but the same could be said for the kid, so if he went bad, what would they do?


"Will live – its all a question of how his cookies stay this time around."

End Flashback

"This time around?" He looked over at Willow and smiled sadly at her look of confusion.

"When I was still in training as a Whitelighter, the former Supreme Elder basically set up a hit on my family, the Halliwell's, to ensure that I'd show up and buy it too. Ares, Athena and Artemis did a spell to not only complete my Whitelighter training, but also fuse the two other spirits within me – only catch was that my mental stability wasn't assured after the fact."

Faith chimed in at that point, "Yeah, his cookies were all there, just not all in one piece, Red – I've seen him come close to losing it once or twice."

"But … we exorcised the Hyena, remember? I mean, he never tried to get me again."

"You don't completely erase a spirit that powerful, Buffy – kind of like a hard drive in that you may erase a file, but little bits and pieces of it are still there, if you know where to look and what to look for." Willow and Buffy blanched at his words and he went on, "Soldier Boy provided the martial and weapons training, not to mention some of the tactical skills, but the rest of those skills, some physical attributes and a lot of my … nasty nature, comes from laughing boy himself."

"And you didn't tell us this WHY?"

"Because you didn't need to know, Buffy, and more to the fact, Giles knew and I swore him to secrecy, so get over it." He hugged Dawn a little as she shivered and absently teleported in several bowls of fruit, putting a selection of cherries, melon sections and pear slices in front of her, "Eat up, Dawnie – you need to put a little weight on."

She looked up at him and snarled, "Are you saying I'm too skinny?"

"More than too skinny – a girl your age, general structure and level of activity needs to have about twenty to thirty more pounds on her, some of it muscle, some of it not."

"I swear if you're trying to make me fat I'm going to kick your ass, lover boy." She growled at him, but then her stomach growled at all of them as it registered that food was before it and not being put into it, "Quiet, traitor."

They all sat and ate in companionable silence for about twenty minutes, the fruit all being consumed and neither Dawn nor Faith leaving his side, but he could tell by the look in Giles' eyes that he'd figured out something else was up, "Go ahead and ask, G-man."

"How much longer are you going to be allowed in Sunnydale?"

Faith whipped her head around and he sighed, "Until tomorrow, noon – general consensus that I can't be around for what's coming because it's make things too easy for you guys and I'd put several old treaties between this dimension's deities and several other dimension's deities in jeopardy."

There was dead silence for several moments, even Jenny and Sonja were quiet, and finally it was Dawn who spoke, "So where are you going?"

"In the US, for starters – why I'm going to be told when Leo and the Supreme Elder get here, but I'll probably to keep me close enough to feel if anyone is really cheating." He looked over at Tara, who had not said a thing yet, "What's your view on this, Tara?"

She blinked and then looked down, obviously embarrassed, "Um, well, I-I am still getting u-used to you b-being a g-god and all. Demi-god, a-actually."

He grinned, "You and me both, Tara – I've spent the past three months or so learning everything that I could about it and I'm not even a fraction of the way there. Of course, that hasn't stopped anybody from naming me a patron god of people on Earth, though – I think that Discord and Strife were both thinking they were funny when they chose my new people."

"You're the patron god of telemarketers?" He looked up at Willow with a stricken look and she blinked, "Hey, I do remember that shouting match, you know."

"We were seven, Willow, and no, not telemarketers."

"Twinkie makers?"

He glared at Buffy, "No, but I do wish it were so. No, boys and girls, I am now the patron god of snipers – silent killers, tactical thinkers, precise marksmen and occasionally foul-tempered when they miss; Hyena Boy and Soldier Boy, and me all rolled into one, or so I was told."

"I say, huh?"

He sighed, "Buffy, snipers need to have a firm grasp on several concepts before they ever are asked to take a shot – first off, they have to know the weapon they are using and at what point he needs to be at to make the best use of that weapon. Second, he has to get to that point on foot or by some means that does not alert the intended mark, which alludes to stealth and practical thinking on where to shoot from. Third, he must be patient, willing to wait minutes, hours, hell, even days for the shot on the mark, he has to get into the mark's head, which means he's able to predict the mark's moves, and also do things in his head that will affect the shots taken."

Dawn looked up at him, smiling, "So if I become a sniper you're gonna be my patron god?"

He gave her a slightly suspicious look, "Marines?"

"Of course."

"Then maybe, but first you'd have to get past Faith, first."

The older sister snorted, "Yeah, like I'm going to let her kill people from a mile away or so. No, if she's going to do that kind of work, she's in the trenches with the rest of us." Dawn stuck her tounge out at Faith, who sneered back and then also stuck her tounge out at the younger sister while Willow raised her hand, as if she were in class.


"Um, how is it that you're a patron god if you're only a demi-god?"

He shrugged, "Not sure, but like I said, it was tagged on to me a while back."

"And it was rather fitting, kid." Ares took that point to orb into the room, but also with the Supreme Elder, who had his cigar in his mouth, "But now on to business."

"Yeah, like where you're sending my Xander to." Dawn glared at Ares from her spot next to him and Faith, from the other side of him, glared at Dawn while both Buffy and Willow snickered a little, Giles looked amused, Jenny and Joyce were laughing aloud and even Tara was giggling.

Ares looked at him and he could only shrug as the elder Whitelighter nodded, "Los Angeles, for now. You come back for school at the beginning of the Fall semester – we'll have your cover story hammered out by then."

"How is it that I'm with the Greek Pantheon and yet you're hammering out my cover story?"

"Bureaucratic paper shuffling – you're still on our payroll until tomorrow, noon, but then the Greeks get ya."

Ares smiled, "You even get your own little corner up Olympus up there, kid – unfortunately, you're right next door to Aphrodite, so I'd be careful if you sleep there."

Xander only nodded and sighed, "Why me?"

Jenny looked at him oddly and Sonja smiled sweetly, "Do ya really want an answer to that?"

After a second's pause, he decided he didn't.

Next Day

If he thought Dawn and Faith were bad before, they were even worse that night – Dawn had shown in little more than a shirt with Faith in even less and he'd been forced to seek refuge on the couch after forcing himself not to do anything, as he was sure he wouldn't be able to stop if he started. He really didn't need to sleep, but he cat-napped and at dawn both Buffy and Willow were at his door, bearing gifts in the form of donuts, coffee and a mother, Joyce, to be precise – she made sure that he'd packed everything he would need, though he could teleport or make whatever he had forgotten, and she basically mothered him into submission and wrangled promises out of him of frequent calls and e-mails, as had the rest of the gang, save Sonja and Jenny, who promised to stop by on occasion.

Finally, though, he had his stuff packed and things ready to go as the girls broke down into weeping willows, though the original Willow was just as weepy, as the clock struck 12 and both Ares and the Supreme Elder, Josef, as it turned out, showed up and whisked him away – he didn't like the fact that something was going to happen and he wasn't going to be there to protect his girls, but Ares had been most adamant about that, as had several others higher up the food chain, one of them being Metatron, so he sucked it up and went along with the plan.

As it turned out, he wasn't going to be too far, Los Angeles, to be exact, and when he was told with whom he would be working with for the time being, he had laughed so hard that tears had come to his eyes and he'd fallen to the ground. He was about to do something that he'd never thought he'd get the chance to do again – annoy Deadboy - and he'd get to do it for an entire three months! As he orbed into the Hyperion Hotel, he decided that, yes, while life was occasionally harsh and cruel, sometimes it was just SO sweet.

Almost in accordance to his arrival, the radio sputtered to life with an old AC/DC classic, Highway to Hell, as the Fang Gang, which consisted of Captain Forehead, Cordy, a guy named Gunn, Wussley, an Agonic demon who ran a demon karaoke bar called Caritas, named Lorne, which got a snicker out of him as he'd been a fan of the show long years ago, a fresh-from-another-dimension super genius named Winifred Burkle, though she preferred to be called Fred, and an ex-cop named Kate Lockley.

"Hiya, Deadboy! Miss me?"

"Harris?" "Dweeb boy?" "Mister Harris?" "Who's white boy?" "Hi, tall, dark, and leather-clad." "Hands in the air!" "Um, who's he?" All of the answering cries, shouts, questions and greetings came as one, but he could only grin – he was going to make Angel's life a living, breathing Hell for the next few months.

"Alexander, if you please. We demi-gods DO accord a level of respect, you know."

Chapter 8
Actors, Demi-gods and Vampires, Oh My!

LA – Hyperion Hotel, 10 seconds after last chapter

Cordelia Chase, once she picked up her jaw from the ground at the statement that the being in front of her little group of friends, colleagues and co-workers had made and spoke, "Demi-god? You? Yeah, right."

Alexander 'Xander' Harris, her former boyfriend and constant verbal sparring partner throughout most of Junior and High schools, smiled at her and vanished in a sparkle of golden lights, only to reappear between herself and Angel, her boss and friend, "Yeah, I am, but only for about the past three months." He gave her a winning smile and then turned, only to level Angel with a hard left hook that sent the souled vampire sliding across the marble-tiled room and crashing into the far wall, "Stop checking my neck, overbite."

"I say, Mister Harris, that was not called for." Wesley Wyndam Price, former Watcher and current PI, chastised Xander, who merely arched an eyebrow in their general direction.

"Says you, Wussley – he's got that and a hell of a lot more coming to him over the next few months."

"Hey, he may be a vampire, but he's doing good, now." Cordy knew there was no love lost between Kate and Angel, but she also knew that deep down the ex-cop liked the vampire.

"Doing good won't bring back all those people Angelus killed – trust me, I got to meet every single one of them from both times around." Cordy held her gasp in at the icy tone of voice that she heard Xander use – she had heard it once before and had prayed she never heard it again, "None of them ever got justice, even after his little stint in Hell, and every ounce of pain he feels makes them all feel just that much better about where they ended up."

"Whoa, those are some seriously negative vibes you got there, sweet cheeks. Your karma can't be doing too good."

"Yeah, like Lorne says, lay off the boss before we pop you one." Gunn, Cordy knew, was trying to compensate for what had happened a few months before at Caritas, all of those demons being slaughtered and all, but she also felt she needed to step in.

"Gunn, not now – even before Xander's apparent status upgrade, he could take you in hand to hand." Angel, unfortunately, beat her to it, "Hell, he was the most viscous guy back in Sunnydale I ever met, myself included."

"Only when I had to be, Captain Hairgel." Cordy winced at the name, as nobody but Lorne really called him anything other than Angel or Boss.

"So, why are you here, Xander? Aside to annoy me, that is?"

"I was told to stay out of Sunnydale until August by my bosses, something about some major shit hitting the fan and I'd unbalance the scales too much, so they put me here for the time being."

Angel nodded but Cordelia was in the dark as he went off on another train of thought, "A demi-god, huh? Roman?"

"Yes, and Greek."

Angel nodded, "Patron god?"

"Yeah, of snipers, of all things – still, it could have been worse." Xander walked over and sat on the edge of the desk, crossing one booted foot over the other and allowing Cordy to take in the rest of his outfit – snug black jeans, a black shirt that fit him like a second skin, bands of black metal around his wrists, a black belt and there was a black leather jacket over his shoulders.

"Geez, who dressed you?"

"Discord, actually, with some help from Strife and Aphrodite – you know, the show really gives her a bad rap, as she's actually not all that bad. A little on the meddlesome side of things, and her clothes aren't slutty."


"Discord. Aphrodite they got right on the mark, well, they almost got it as there were parts of her wardrobe they couldn't get past television censors."

Gunn apparently perked up at this, "Really? Like what?"

Xander only grinned and Cordy fought down a groan, "Sorry, but that's between me and her."

"Scoring with a goddess? You go, white bread."

Xander only snorted again, "No, I did not 'score' with Aphrodite, though the offer is still on the table, according to her – my little part of Olympus is next to hers and it's an unobstructed view." Gunn walked over and slapped Xander on the shoulder, calling him a magnificent son of a bitch, while Cordy felt a tap on her shoulder, looked over and saw Kate.

"Is this for real?"

"Xander's from the Hellmouth – never discount anything."

"But how would he become a demi-god? I mean was he born one?"

"Probably not – Tony Harris was the town drunk and Jessica, well, nobody knew much about her at all, but divine she was not."

"Neither of my parents were, Cordy. Tony wasn't even my father." Xander walked over and smiled sadly, "Mom was friends with a witch a while back and her Whitelighter and she got friendly – nine months, three minutes later, and there I was."

"So you're half human, half White-whatsit?"

"Yes, I was, and it's Whitelighter, which is basically a Guardian Angel. I was trained as one, became one and then had my title stripped from me after I used deadly force to protect my charge – I worked as a free agent between Pantheons and the Elders and almost killed on my last mission. Ares gave me the last of the Ambrosia and, well, here I am."

Cordy nodded while Kate looked floored, "What about Jessica and Tony?"

"Mom's the new High Priestess of Ares by rite of blood, her father was the last High Priest, and Tony died of Liver Cancer about six months ago."

"Is he in hell?" Cordelia instantly regretted her question as Xander's face went black as a thundercloud and he snarled, "Alright, don't answer, I get the gist of it. So, what are you going to be doing around here? Filing? Footwork?"

He shrugged, "Staying out of trouble, mostly – if you guys need help, just ask, but not with any miracles, okay? I don't do those for anyone outside of snipers."

Kate huffed, "And where are you going to be sleeping?"

"I don't need to sleep, technically, but if I did, I'd do it on Olympus. Don't worry, my stuff's just stored here until I finish redecorating up there."

Her ears perked up, "Redecorating? Oh, what style? New-age chic? Modern bachelor? God, please tell me you're not going Spartan." Xander and Kate only sighed.


"So what do you think, Angel? Should we trust him?"

Angel looked at Wesley, who was still smarting about the 'Wussley' tag that Xander had used ad nodded, "I can feel the energies pouring out of him like water out of Lake Mead, Wes – he's on the level."

Gunn nodded, "No doubt, boy's got a pair of brass ones one him – took C over an hour to get anything out of him on what's going to be 'in' next season and we all know how she gets when she has to wait." Angel and Wesley shuddered at that, "Still, I saw some of the hardware boy's bring in too and even if it isn't top of the line, it's in good shape."

Angel had seen the vast array of knives, swords and annex Xander had unpacked from several long storage boxes he'd teleported in and while Angel himself couldn't hold them, due to the fact that gods had used or held them and power had leaked over, burning his hands, and he really wanted to get his hands on the sword in Xander's jacket, "Yeah, they are."

"So are you going to let him work here?"

Angel shrugged, "He said he'd work on the cheap, which is good, and he'd also help out with Fred, if he could."

Wes nodded and Gunn grunted, "Yes, though she seems to want to justify Taco Bell's opening for the century with as much as she talks about them."

"Yeah, girl has some seriously crazy cravings, man." The sound of Fred squealing and someone getting leveled to the ground, hard, cut anything else that would have been said off. The three of them ran to the door and looked into the foyer to see Fred on top of Xander, hugging the life out of him while babbling her thanks, a bag with the Taco Bell insignia on it on the ground not far away and contents spilled to the ground.

It took Kate and Cordy several minutes to get Fred off of Xander and Lorne and Gunn another few moments to get Xander to stand on his own feet and keep Fred away from the supposed Mexican food, which had her snarling slightly and threatening dismemberment to Gunn, who was backing away from her – all in all, Angel found the entire scene quite humorous as Xander snuck behind Gunn, grabbed the bag and tossed a bean burrito at Fred, which she caught in mid air and was tearing into by the time her dainty feet hit the floor.

"I find this seriously disturbing, Angel." He looked over from Fred, who was doing a credible impression of the Tasmanian Devil, one of Angel's favored cartoon characters, on the burrito to Wes, who looked more than a little green at the display. "Are we sure all of her … mental faculties … are there?"

"She's survived for several years in a hell dimension, Wes – give her some time to recover. This could just be a phase."

Next morning

"Phase my ass," Xander grumbled as he stuck his head out of the door of the room he had been given to check for Fred, who had ambushed any and everyone who was suspected to have Taco Bell on them and were subject to nearly being strip-searched – while Gunn didn't seem to mind all that much, Xander quite liked his clothes where they were.

"It's clear." Kate Lockley smiled at him, now in better humor that she had been able to get some sleep, a shower, some fresh clothes and some coffee, and motioned him over, "She went to sleep a few hours ago."

"I'm just glad I didn't get her one of everything and enchant the bag to refill whenever it was emptied."

Kate cocked an eyebrow at him, "You can do that?"

"Apparently – I'm kind of new at this, so it might or might not work." He caught her looking longingly at the coffee machine and he sighed, "No, I won't endanger our coffee maker just for the sake of trial and error." Cordy had given him the low down on what had been going on for the past few months in LA and how each member of the team had come to be with them – Kate was the first, with Gunn not too far behind, to join Angel Investigations after the death of Doyle and Wes' introduction. "So, how are you this morning?"

She took a sip of her coffee and shrugged, "Felt nice to sleep on a bed and not the ground and I'll never take showers for granted again." They shared a chuckle and he went to grab himself a cup of coffee, "So, what about you? What are you going to do today?"

"General overview of the city, try and get to know it a little, and then I'm going to Olympus to check to see if there's anything here in town I need to be worried about."

Kate looked at him curiously, "What's it like up there?"

"Depending on what part you're in, it's not too bad – every god and goddess has their favorite spots to be, so there is a variety. I have a glade area with some trees and some rocks, but it's nice enough."

Kate nodded, "What about right now?"

"Daily dozen – care to join me?" She grinned at him and they went through a morning workout in the basement over the next two hours, a little slower than he normally did things, but then again he altered the gravity and air pressure around him so that he could actually feel himself being pushed to his limits while Kate worked as well as she could. Gunn came down to work on the free weights Angel had put down there, looking at them oddly as they worked out, but not joining them, but spoke up as they finished their cool downs.

"So, why are you here, man? I mean, of all the places you could go, why here?"

"Because I was assigned here by my former boss and my god by blood – the why's and how's are not important enough for them to tell me, but I get the impression that something big is going to go down in the near future and they are hedging their bets."

"Your god?"

"Ares – my family was connected to him by one of his old generals, which is why he took an interest in me. When he gave me ambrosia to save my life, well, I owe him a bit one, now." Xander began to towel off and tossed Kate one, who followed his lead, "I guess, technically, he is my half-brother now, but until I pay him back, I owe him."

Gunn nodded and followed them up to the lobby, where Cordelia and Wes were in a spirited debated over the evils of coffee and the benefits of tea – a look at Kate told him that it was a normal occurrence, so he let it go and went to grab a cup of the stuff for himself.

"See? Xander likes coffee!" He sighed again – he may want to annoy Deadboy, but being annoyed by being brought into Cordy's little crusade, well, it was annoying.

Later that day

Xander looked around his glade and sighed contently – he'd managed to keep Cordy out of his area, thus keeping it in line with what HE wanted, and while it wasn't the Ritz, it was good enough for him.

"Hey, cookie!" He looked over and saw both Aphrodite and Discord walking towards him, like mismatched salt and pepper shakers, and smiled as they each took up residency on one of the divans that he had conjured up, "Nice place."

"Thanks, Aphrodite." He walked over and sat in his own chair, which was an old leather smoking chair, and propped his feet up on a rock, "What's up?"

Discord smiled prettily and he knew something was indeed up, "Oh, not much, just wondering what you plan to do for the rest of the afternoon. You see, we, and a few others, need some help with a few decisions and none of the guys up here will give us an unbiased opinion."

Xander was nobody's fool – he knew a setup when he smelled one, "If you think I'm getting mired in your little beauty pageant, you're crazier than I am … and that's saying something." Both goddesses pouted and turned on the puppy-dog eyes, which he winced at due to their godly beauty on top of the 'pure innocents' they extruded, but somehow held firm, "No, I saw that episode with just Artemis, Athena and you, Aphrodite, remember?"

Aphrodite sulked in her seat for a moment before sighing, "I never should have agreed to be part of that show – now NOBODY will ever tell us who has the best butt."

He perked up at this, "Best backside? You're all goddesses – how can anyone have a better backside than one another?" His mind drifted for a second and then he smiled, "Hold on, I'll get you a judge."

Hyperion Hotel

"Gunn!" He orbed into the lobby and smiled at the black young man, "I need a judge for a beauty contest – look, but don't touch. In or out?"

"Didn't you just get back from Olympus?"


Gunn grinned at him, "In."

Next morning

"Give me a reason I shouldn't kill you, man."

Kate looked up to see Gunn walking into the office, slowly and wincing with every step, and looked over at Xander, who was nursing some coffee and reading the newspaper, grinning from ear to ear. "What'd you do to him, Xander?"

"I asked him a question and he gave me an answer – it's that simple."

"Simple? I thought it was a beauty contest!"

"And it was … so to speak." Xander, Kate saw, had a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he put down his part of the paper and drank the rest of his coffee, "That aside, I hope you've learned your lesson – beware Greeks bearing gifts of an unknown nature."

"I should kill you for getting me into this – they won't leave me alone!"

"Why do you think I gave it to you? You asked me if I scored with a goddess, well, depending on whom you choose or do not choose, you might get that chance."

Kate sighed, "Did you do what I think you did? I saw that episode, you know, and it's a no-win situation."

"Ain't I a stinker?" Xander grinned at her even as the doors to the hotel opened and several people walked in, "Who're they?"

Kate growled slightly even as Gunn got up, "Wolfram and Hart lawyers."

"Is Angel is? Of course he's in, it's light out." Lilah Morgan sneered at Kate and for an instant Kate found herself wanting to take the lawyer's head off with an axe, "Wolfram and Hart wants to buy this … quaint establishment, and we need his permission to look around."

"And if the boss won't let ya?"

"Then we get a court injunction, Mister Gunn. Your employer has only leased this place, so that gives us some legal ground to stand upon."

"No, it doesn't." Xander stepped up and was grinning as he produced something from his back pocket, "I was going to wait to spring this on Deadboy, but as it's pertinent now, this is the bill of sale for this building, property and all, and it's in his name." He handed it over to the lawyer and Kate felt her jaw drop slightly, "He owns it free and clear now, Miss?"

"Lilah Morgan, Mister?"

"Alexander will suffice." Kate didn't miss the cool tone in his voice as he took the deed back, "Tell Mister Wolfram and his business associate that I'm going to be keeping an eye on this place for the next few months and that if anything … let's just call it unfortunate, like arson, B&E, a localized earthquake, or anything of the sort, should happen, I will be visiting them and believe me when I say that the conversation that we'll be having will not be one they'll survive."

"And who are you to threaten our employers?"

It happened in a flash, literally – Xander stood up straighter and began to glow an eerily powerful light that seemed … perfect, his clothes, which had been jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers, morphed into leather pants, a leather vest that was studded with silver, a belt and a sword at his side as he stepped forwards, "Allow me to fully introduce myself – Alexander, patron god of Snipers, Greek Pantheon. Now, leave here for suffer." His tone was icy and filled the promise of pure agony if ignored even as Cordelia entered the lobby from the street.

"Uh, what's going on here?"

"Cordy, get out of the way, girl – I think X-man is about to paste the lawyers." Gunn's grin was purely savage as he stepped back and Kate found herself joining him.

"I shall do nothing of the sort, Gunn, not this time." Xander reverted his clothing to what it had been, save now he kept the sword at his side, and smiled chillingly at the group of lawyers, whom, Kate was pleased to see, looked more than a little worried, "This time I need them as messengers. If there is a next time, they'll be the message." He waved a hand and all four lawyers vanished in a sparkle of lights and not with a whisper of sound.

"Where'd you put them down?"

"Oh, trust me, Kate, they are not enjoying themselves right now." From the grin on his face, Kate found herself believing him.

Unknown desert

Lilah looked down at her companions, who had not made the trip standing up, and sighed as she reached into her briefcase and pulled out her cell phone, which, thankfully, had a signal, and dialed. "This is Lilah Morgan, I need a pick up at my location and inform the Partners that there is a new player on the field, and he's not on our team."


Hyperion Hotel

"So it's really Angel's?" He looked over at Kate and smiled as she looked at the deed, obviously trying to see if it was or was not a fake.

"Yeah, as much as Captain Forehead and I may not like each other, he's fighting the good fight and he needs as few distractions as he can get." Xander leaned back on the column he's taken up residency by and yawned, "Still, that's not to say that I won't take a shot at him every now and then – need to keep him on his toes and all."

"I'll keep that in mind, Xander." He looked over and saw Angel standing in his doorway, dressed as if he'd just woken up, which he probably had, and walked over to look at the deed, "Where'd you send them?"

"The Mojave, I think. I'd have gone for the Sahara, but then I'd have to deal with the Egyptian Pantheon and most of them are real pricks who can't take a joke." Sure, Anubis wasn't a bad guy, a little harsh sometimes, but then again, death was the ultimate fairness – rich, poor, famous, unknown, healthy, ill, all were equal in death, but Ra and Osiris both had ego problems that needed to be checked at the door. Isis, on the other hand, was Osiris' wife and she was fully hot.

"You chat with gods from other pantheons, just like that?" Cordelia looked at him and he shrugged.

"Some, but for the most part, no – I worked for Anubis once, and one of the Norse goddesses once too, but that was it, nothing spectacular. So, what's on today's agenda, Lord Hair-gel?"

"Are you ever going to stop calling him names?"

"Never, Kate – it was one of the few things I had back then and I'll never let it go. Just be thankful you don't have to listen to the higher ups call him things – it's make your hair turn white and curl even more than it is right now." She shot him a scowl, as her hair was looking like a Slinky had been attached to her scalp, lots of them, and then he looked back at Angel, "So?"

"Well, I just got conformation last night that Drusilla's in town – everyone be on your guard, you especially, Xander."


"Drusilla's always had a thing for him, something about him being her 'Kitten' after a botched love spell back in Sunnydale."

"Something Aphrodite will NEVER let me live down – I swear, you make ONE mistake and it haunts you for eternity."

"She's the reason you're still alive, remember, Xander? She kept me from killing you."

"Keep telling yourself that, Sir Gels-a-lot, I had you right where I wanted you." That was an out-and-out lie – Angelus had, back then, had him dead to rights that night when Dru had saved him.

"Sure you did, Xander. Anyways, be careful – you and Kate are going to be staking out a –"

"Vampire?" He smiled as the souled vampire groaned.

"No, a location that has been known for demonic drug dealers. Do not engage the demons – this is recon only." Angel stared directly at him, as if to get the point across.

"Fine! No fun for the blonde babe and me – got ya." He looked at Kate and smiled, "So, your car or mine?"

East LA – noon-ish

Kate found herself slowly liking Xander more and more with every passing second – on the outside he was an annoyingly sweet and smart-assed guy, like every other guy just out of high school and with no particular place to go in life, but under that, like with the deal with the lawyers, there was a solid core of pure power and … something that she couldn't put a name to that told her that the smart-ass and sweetie was just a mask, only part of the total picture. It didn't hurt that he wasn't hard on the eyes, but even Kate knew that he was just trying to fit in and keep busy, that he was worried sick over what was going on in Sunnydale.

"Possible contact." The voice in her ear was Xander's but he wasn't in her car, which was parked down the street from the brownstone building that was the suspected drug depot/dealer hideout. Xander was actually somewhere in the area, with what looked like a sniper rife, a scope and a tactical radio, which she had the other end of, "Trio of Latino males, last one has a little something extra under his shirt, make it a .45 or there about."

"Copy that." Kate checked through the binoculars that she'd brought along and saw that, indeed, the trio of young men had approached the building, but only one was armed, "Is it just me or does this seem like a set up? Only humans have showed up so far."

"That's because we're only looking aboveground, Kate – I expect there are sewer accesses to the place that we can't see." He had told her beforehand that he would not be using his powers more than he absolutely had to, so it was a possibility that he was right and that he was wrong, "Two exiting, Asian males, same ones from before but their pockets are bulging."

Kate looked again and nodded, "I bet you can count the number of hairs I missed when I did my roots the other night, can't you."

"Fifteen, all in one clump near the back of your head." She scowled, knowing he was messing with her, but absently she checked the mirror and saw nothing. Shaking her head, she raised her binoculars again and went back to looking.

Hyperion Hotel, that evening

Gunn looked at Kate as she and Xander came in and instantly knew that she was at her wit's end about something, "Hey, 5-0, you alright?" Kate shot him a glare and Xander made a cutting motion over his neck, telling them to drop it until she was out of the room. She dropped her report/notes on Wes' desk and then stormed off upstairs, Xander taking a seat and sighing, "What up, X?"

"She saw something today that really upset her, Gunn, upset me, too." Xander reached into English's desk and pulled out a single malt scotch, poured a shot and drank it straight, "15 year old girl went into the place and we could see the track marks up her arm – we were close enough to hear her screams, Gunn, and Kate told me to not take the shot."

Gunn felt his stomach tighten as Angel entered the room, Fred not far behind him, English following her, "Why didn't you?"

"We were told not to engage, remember? I had a clear shot at that son of a bitch, too."

"What happened, Xander?"

"Ask Gunn, Kate and I are going to go get blitzed." X walked out of the office and up the stairs to Kate's room, opening the door and Gunn could hear the loud rock music playing a sure sign that she was hurting, and then closed the door behind him.

Gunn looked up and then at Fred, who was looking at Angel like an adoring puppy or something, before looking at Angel, "Don't expect Kate to be too talkative, boss."

"We heard, Gunn – Angel was just offering Xander an out, as it were." Wesley Wyndam-Price was a lot of things to Gunn, but one of them was surprisingly human, given his admittedly snobbish background. "I know that Xander will help Kate, though – it's what he does."

"Yeah, but I know if he really wanted to shoot, Kate couldn't have stopped him." Gunn looked over at Angel, who had taken the edge of a desk, "Trust me, he's so mad right now I'm not going near him – he'll dust me and not think twice about it."

"But he's your friend, right?" Fred spoke haltingly and then looked down in embarrassment as all heads turned towards her. Gunn found himself oddly drawn to the woman, despite the fact that she had more brains in her pinky than he knew what to do with.

"No, he's not my friend – never has been, never will be because neither of us will allow it."

That struck Gunn as weird – X had made friends with Kate, Lorne and Fred easily enough and while he was fairly civil to both English and the boss, he knew that the demi-god wasn't going to go out of his way to be friendly, "Why's that, boss?"

"Because he's doing his best to prove himself wrong – he sees me as nothing more than a vampire, soul or not, and he believes with every ounce of his being that I'm going to screw up and send the world to hell, given how close I came to doing it last time. A lot has happened since then and he's growing up, but then again, so am I."

"So when he calms down he won't dust you?"

Wesley snorted this time, "Mister Harris would dust Angel regardless of his mood or Angel's accomplishments and not lose any sleep over it – I never understood it at the time, but Xander's view of the world, while simplistic, was possibly the clearest of all of ours back in Sunnydale. If it's evil, destroy it."

"That's an understatement, Wes," Angel said with a snort of his own, making Gunn look over and feel like he was in a tennis match. "Back in his sophomore year of high school, when he had no training or anything, he forced me into taking him to the Master's Lair at stake-point after telling me that at the end of the day, I was a vampire and that he wanted me to prove Buffy right in thinking that I was a person and not a corpse."

"Harsh, man, but that's not an answer – why isn't he your friend, vampire thing aside? He told us about the werewolf he was cool with, even a few demons he was okay with, too."

"Because when I never really paid for my crimes as Angelus, when Buffy released me. Sure, a century in a hell dimension, but for Xander, that will never be enough." Gunn and everybody had been told just who the boss had been and would become again if he lost his soul, and it scared Gunn more than he wanted to admit that a kid without any powers had stood the big bad wolf down.

"Then why do you trust him?"

Gunn looked at Fred again and saw some new strength in her body and heard it in her voice as Angel began to speak, "Because he's capable of doing whatever needs to be done without letting his emotions get in the way, Fred – if any of us needed to be taken care of, permanently, he'd do it so nobody else had to be burdened with it, and that was before his upgrade."

Fred's nose wrinkled a little, "He doesn't sound like such a nice guy now, actually."

Gunn shrugged, "Nice enough, Fred – I got to judge a Greek goddess booty contest and yeah, he punked me a little without telling me, but it all worked out. He's in there with Kate, helping her, and even he and Princess C can be in the same room and not kill each other."

Wes snorted again, "Trust me, they're saving up for a good occasion, Gunn – I watched them leave the library one day arguing and came back the next morning as if no time had passed at all, picking up right where they left off. I'm not sure what she ever saw in him, but Cordelia is a good judge of character." Wes looked around again and frowned, "Speaking of whom, where is Cordelia?"

"Photo-shoot, something about getting into a magazine or something important," Gunn said with a flip tone. "She'll be all night, apparently it's a nighttime cityscape shoot." He thought back for a second and asked, "Then why are you and X not friends, English?"

"Cordelia is the reason – she was a Senior and I fell in love with her on sight, Gunn. I wasn't sure how she fell for a buffoon like Mister Harris and I asked him that question to his face – he told me in no uncertain terms to stay away from Cordelia, I refused and we've hated each other ever since."

Angel snorted, "No, he dislikes you greatly – he hated me, I know the difference."

Kate's Room

Xander could hear the conversation in the lobby as clear as a bell as he watched Kate belt back a fifth shot of scotch; he could tell her plan was to drink herself into unconsciousness, but he also knew it would not solve her problem, "Wanna talk, Kate?"

"What's there to talk about? We had to watch and listen to a girl sell her body for her next hit, and we couldn't do a damned thing about it." She forewent the shot glass and drank straight from the bottle, taking a long pull before putting it down and gasping for air as the alcohol burned her throat, tears coming to her eyes, "Did you want to take the shot?"

He reached over and grabbed the bottle, setting it aside, "Absolutely, but then that would have caused more problems than it solved, Kate." He got out of the chair and took a seat next to her on her single bed, looking at the door, "Look, we were asked to do a job and unfortunately the rules of engagement said that we were not to react unless reacted to – cut and dry, Angel had us by the balls."

"He had YOU by the balls, Xander. In case you didn't notice, women don't have them – he had me by the-" She didn't finish as Xander put his finger to her lips and enforced a little of his will upon her alcohol-addled mind.

"Kate, I know you're hurting, but you need to remember that we can't save them all – that was true when you were a cop and is even more true now." He saw a tear spill from one eye down one cheek and pulled her into a hug that unlocked the floodgates for about five minutes. She sobbed into his shirt and he held her, rubbing her back and wondering exactly why she was taking what had happened so hard – had she been victimized, known someone who had been raped, or was it a woman thing? He wasn't sure, but even as the tears stopped and she pulled back, he knew that it was going to stay with her for a long time.

"Thanks, Xander, but I wanna go to sleep right now."

"Probably best – you're going to have a fuck of a hangover tomorrow morning."

She groaned, "Why'd you let me drink all of that?"

"Because if I had tried to stop you, you would have resented the hell out of me and it would have taken longer for you to break down like that." Even as he spoke, though, he could feel the sands of sleep claiming her and he carefully laid her down on her bed, covering her and shutting off the lights before leaving to the lobby.

"Is she okay?"

"She will be, Angel. Let her sleep in tomorrow and she'll be over the worst of it." He flopped into a seat and sighed, "So, why the fuck didn't you let me take the shot, Angel?"

Angel winced, "Because we're letting the LAPD take these guys, Xander – it's not our normal bag, if you catch my drift."

"Do you REALLY think they would have found me or Kate, Angel?"

"We're not assassins, Xander, nor are we the law – accept it and move on."

Xander snorted, "Angel, I won't accept it because you know that I can't. What the hell do we have the law for if there isn't justice?" The question hung there even as the clock continued ticking – nobody answered.

Next afternoon

"Hey, Cordy." The actress/secretary looked over from where she was sunbathing in the courtyard to see Xander walk out in a pair of cotton shorts and a tank top, obviously intent on working on his tan as well.




"Harmony Lite."

She goggled at him, "Take that back!" She saw him grin and scowled, "Fine, be that way about it."

"How'd your shoot go last night?"

"Fine, until they saw the scar on my stomach." She looked down and saw the lump of flesh that was left from where a piece of ¾ inch reinforcing steel, commonly known as rebar, had gone through her entire body when she'd fallen down a collapsed set of stairs, only to find her then-boyfriend, Xander, and Willow kissing.

Xander walked over and looked at her stomach, a frown creasing his face, "Hmm, how about that." He reached down and put his hand over the scar, closing his eyes for a second before removing it to reveal nothing but unblemished, yet tanned, flesh, "I figure if nothing else, I owe you that much, Queen C."

The simple gesture changed her thought patters for a few moments – the scar was one of the few things keeping her from breaking into true stardom, which she had been told by several directors, and she'd need to work for Angel for a few more years before she had enough to take off and get plastic surgery. Now, though, with a simple touch, she had a shot, so she looked up at Xander and smiled slightly, "Thanks, but why?"

He shrugged, "If memory serves me correctly, I gave you that scar by proxy, so it's my responsibility to take it away." He silently went back over to where he had set down some of his things and laid down on the chair, basking in the sun and leaving Cordelia to her thoughts even as someone else came out of the hotel, that person being Kate and she too was dressed for sunbathing.

"Hey, Cordelia, Xander." She took up a position between the pair of them and slowly slathered on some sun block, a lot of it as she had worn a bikini that was cut high in the hips, low in the front and was held together by what looked like dental floss, which surprised Cordelia.

"Nice bikini, Kate."

"Thanks, Cordy – I've been wanting to try it out for a few weeks now and today seems like the perfect day." Cordelia, however, knew that the bikini was brand new – she'd helped Kate move into her room and had never seen those tiny pieces of fabric before, so she had bought them this morning when she went out or had hidden it somewhere.

"Sure, Kate. So, Xander, what's up with you today that Angel gave you both the day off? Tired already?"

"Nope – Lorne somehow got me to volunteer to work at Caritas tonight, something about free margaritas with a song, or something. Is some of the singing as bad as Angel says it is?"

Cordelia and Kate snorted in unison, "Like he's one to talk, but yeah, it gets pretty bad sometimes."

Xander groaned and thumped his head back, "Great, just great. Is there any way to get out of it?"

"Nope!" Cordelia chimed in with Kate, both of them having been suckered by Lorne once already for serving at Caritas on free margarita night. Agony shared was agony halved, as the saying went.


Next afternoon

"Hey, Cordy." The actress/secretary looked over from where she was sunbathing in the courtyard to see Xander walk out in a pair of cotton shorts and a tank top, obviously intent on working on his tan as well.




"Harmony Lite."

She goggled at him, "Take that back!" She saw him grin and scowled, "Fine, be that way about it."

"How'd your shoot go last night?"

"Fine, until they saw the scar on my stomach." She looked down and saw the lump of flesh that was left from where a piece of ¾ inch reinforcing steel, commonly known as rebar, had gone through her entire body when she'd fallen down a collapsed set of stairs, only to find her then-boyfriend, Xander, and Willow kissing.

Xander walked over and looked at her stomach, a frown creasing his face, "Hmm, how about that." He reached down and put his hand over the scar, closing his eyes for a second before removing it to reveal nothing but unblemished, yet tanned, flesh, "I figure if nothing else, I owe you that much, Queen C."

The simple gesture changed her thought patters for a few moments – the scar was one of the few things keeping her from breaking into true stardom, which she had been told by several directors, and she'd need to work for Angel for a few more years before she had enough to take off and get plastic surgery. Now, though, with a simple touch, she had a shot, so she looked up at Xander and smiled slightly, "Thanks, but why?"

He shrugged, "If memory serves me correctly, I gave you that scar by proxy, so it's my responsibility to take it away." He silently went back over to where he had set down some of his things and laid down on the chair, basking in the sun and leaving Cordelia to her thoughts even as someone else came out of the hotel, that person being Kate and she too was dressed for sunbathing.

"Hey, Cordelia, Xander." She took up a position between the pair of them and slowly slathered on some sun block, a lot of it as she had worn a bikini that was cut high in the hips, low in the front and was held together by what looked like dental floss, which surprised Cordelia.

"Nice bikini, Kate."

"Thanks, Cordy – I've been wanting to try it out for a few weeks now and today seems like the perfect day." Cordelia, however, knew that the bikini was brand new – she'd helped Kate move into her room and had never seen those tiny pieces of fabric before, so she had bought them this morning when she went out or had hidden it somewhere.

"Sure, Kate. So, Xander, what's up with you today that Angel gave you both the day off? Tired already?"

"Nope – Lorne somehow got me to volunteer to work at Caritas tonight, something about free margaritas with a song, or something. Is some of the singing as bad as Angel says it is?"

Cordelia and Kate snorted in unison, "Like he's one to talk, but yeah, it gets pretty bad sometimes."

Xander groaned and thumped his head back, "Great, just great. Is there any way to get out of it?"

"Nope!" Cordelia chimed in with Kate, both of them having been suckered by Lorne once already for serving at Caritas on free margarita night. Agony shared was agony halved, as the saying went.

Caritas, that evening

Xander's hand instinctively went for the sword that was not at his waist, wishing to throw it ala Azeem in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, at the stage and end the existence of the Chaos demon that was butchering AC/DC's 'Highway To Hell' – of course, half of the crowd was shouting encouragements, the other half death threats, and Lorne had a particularly pained look on his green face as he turned, "Xander, a double scotch, please."

Xander winced – depending on what Lorne ordered, it was an indication of what or how bad the reading was; a double scotch wasn't all that good, so he filled the order and added a free margarita with it, handing it to Lorne as a female demon came up to the bar, "What can I get you, ma'am?"

"Scotch, neat, and your number."

He smiled and poured the drink, "Sorry, but my number isn't available." She pouted her full red lips and batted some big brown eyes, but accepted her drink as he handed it over, but at that point he felt an over-bearing pressure in the back of his mind, which caused him to grimace. "What the hell?"

"You're getting a call for help, kid." Ares came into being behind him and most of the patrons stopped dead in their tracks to look at the Greek god of War, "A sniper's asking for help."

Xander nodded and flashed into his own 'work clothes', sword included, and looked at Lorne, who nodded, and then orbed away towards the call.

Houston, Texas

SWAT officer Bill Jackson breathed in and out as he peered through his scope at the sight before him, his finger on the trigger of his rifle as he absently sent up another prayer to anyone who was listening for a clear line of fire. Some numb-nut had taken a woman hostage and was on the 610 loop bridge over the ship channel, threatening to throw the both of them off to their certain deaths – he was demanding all kinds of shit, but all Bill needed was for the guy to move six inches to his left or the woman to stop moving. 300 meters and change, no wind, and he had a level playing field.

It happened so quickly that Bill almost missed it – a feeling of serene peace came over him as the woman stilled and the man moved to his left, as if to say 'wish granted' and Bill squeezed the trigger of his rifle, which bucked against his shoulder and loosed a 7.62mm round at the hostage taker. In under a second the projectile covered the 300+ meters and caught the guy in the left pectoral and continued on through the body out the right side of his chest, lifting him up, back and away from the now-free woman and over the railing of the bridge as the flatfoots went in and grabbed the woman.

"One shot, one kill." It had been taught to him in sniper school as a Marine and it applied to him now – he felt bad that he had to take the shot, but the hostage was safe and that's all that mattered.

(Out of phase with time – Houston, Texas)

Xander watched the sniper calmly note the time and placement of the shot taken in his booklet before putting his rifle and kit away, looking at peace with himself. He'd come to terms a while back that he was a patron god of killers, in a way, of a sect of marksmen and women that were the best of the best in timing and placement, but he also realized that there were other people out there who were also snipers – terrorists, mafia, even miss-guided schmucks who had been 'wronged' and would get their revenge by way of the gun one way or another. Unfortunately something else that Ares once told him about being a patron god came up at those memories – he had to grant the wish or make the shot happen, but it was up to him if it worked the way it was supposed to.

"Not easy, is it, kid?" Ares orbed in, but was also joined by Artemis and Athena, and all of them looked grim at what had transpired.

"No, it's just starting to set in just what my job is and who it is that will be asking me for help."

Athena nodded, "Yes, you are a patron god of life takers, Alexander, but also of life savers."

Artemis snorted and shook her head, "It's not that romantic or idyllic, Athena, and you know it – he has people on both sides of the line, we all do." Xander knew that one of Artemis' new Amazons, something she had just started doing as of late, had turned already and was using her new gifts for profit instead of the betterment of the new Nation, and that hurt her deeply. They'd chatted about it idly over the hours he'd spent on Olympus a while back, and there were hidden depths to the goddess of the Hunt. "It will be a test to see just which prayers he answers and which ones he answers correctly."

He looked at Ares, who shrugged, "You get to answer them all, it's your job, but how well you answer them is completely up to you."

Xander nodded as the SWAT commander came over and began to chew out the sniper for taking an unauthorized shot, "His career is over, isn't it."

Ares nodded, "Yeah, its toast – he'll bounce around as a rent-a-cop for a while before his true calling comes into being." Xander looked at him to explain but Ares kept silent about the 'true calling', and Xander didn't feel like pushing it, "Well, kid, back to the bar for a while – you have drinks to fill and people to meet." Artemis and Athena smiled and vanished, not too long before Ares made himself scarce and left Xander in the sweltering heat of Houston.

"Hmm, I wonder how Diana is doing. No keys for her, though." With that thought, he orbed over to look in on baby Diana and smiled as she giggled, kicking her feet before trying to telekinetically lift his sword from him – some things never changed.


Hyperion Hotel – Next morning

"Angel Investigations, We Help The Hopeless." He watched Cordelia's face, which was already fuming for some reason or another, go from bad to worse, "No, sir, we are not that type of establishment – good day." With that, she slammed down the phone into the receiver.


She looked over at him and glared, "No, Free Clinic. I swear, Wes, people see the angel on the card and suddenly think we're anything BUT what we're supposed to be."

Having questioned the 'angel' from day one, Wes knew that Angel was more than a little skeptical of it, and he found himself even more skeptical but had brains enough to not say anything.

"Well, if you'd have just clipped out the picture of a REAL angel instead of a five year-old's scribble, you wouldn't have that kind of problem, would you?" Wes looked up at the snark and saw Xander standing over by the coffee pot, still dressed as if he had just come 'off the clock' and holding a cup of coffee.

"HEY! I did the best I could, you know." Cordelia got out of her desk as Gunn, Kate and Fred came into the room.

Wes could only look at the new arrivals and groan, "And they're off." The seer and the demi-god went into verbal warfare that lasted for nearly an hour – she'd call him names, and he'd say, 'oh, real mature, Queen C' before sticking his tounge out at her, which would set her off again, though this time she'd bring his family into it, which he would then do so in kind, which nearly brought her to tears. Quite honestly, Wesley had thought that after the destruction of the high school, he would never be forced to listen to that kind of squabble again, but apparently he was wrong.

"They are really going after it, aren't they?"

"No, Gunn, this is merely a warm up – trust me, when they do go at it for real, you'll know it." Angel walked out of his office and winced as Xander not only deflected a verbal jab, something about his mother and a donkey, but turned it around and hit Angel with it, "Can we kill them and call it an accident, Wes?"

Both parties involved turned and shouted, "HEY!" before turning back around and going back at it.

Kate looked slightly amused as she walked over to the coffee pot and poured a cup, "I think it's cute, personally."

Cordelia snorted and turned, "Please, you think Xander's cute – we've seen you making cow eyes at him and that bikini you wore the other day? Yeah, right – I bet that is all part of some plan to get him in the sack."

Wes rolled his chair back as Kate spit out the mouthful of liquid, splattering it all over his formerly clean desk before glaring at Cordelia, "Not true! Yeah, I think he's a nice guy, and in those leather pants of his, sure, maybe, but no, he's a co-worker." She and Cordy then went at it as Xander pulled himself away from the fight, a smile on his face.

Wesley found himself, along with Angel, Gunn and Xander, entranced by the two young ladies verbal spar in that special way that all males found themselves unable to look away from a pair of women who were fighting – it was intoxicating, if a bit crude, and even as Cordelia made a rash comment about Kate's hair, which caused Kate to fire back about Cordelia's occasionally inappropriate attire on missions, and it degenerated from there. Fortunately, though, or perhaps unfortunately, depending on whom you asked, fate took that point to intervene in that the phone rang, a phone at Xander picked up.

"Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless." He nodded, once, twice, and then began to write down on a tablet next to the phone, "Alright, I'll have a few people over there to assess and we'll get back to you on that – thank you." Xander ripped the paper off of the tablet and looked at Kate, "Yo, Police Girl, I've got something for you, Gunn and Wes." Wes sighed – he had caught an episode of 'Hellsing', an animated cartoon from Japan, and one of the characters, a former police officer, was called 'Police Girl' by her sire, whom she called Master. He knew that Kate hated the name, and Wesley suspected that Xander only called her that because of the fact.

She snapped her head over and snarled at him, ending the fight between her and Cordelia, who was looking smug, "I'll get you for that, Harris."

The demi-god only smiled cheekily at her, "If you wear that bikini from the other day, I'll let you do whatever you want to me." Gunn chuckled at that, Angel only grimaced and Wesley found himself getting to his feet and walking towards the garage – there was actual work to be done and he liked his shirt; human blood was a pain to get out of cotton and the blood of demi-beings was even worse on the material.

Four days later – 1900, Thursday – Hyperion Hotel

Xander walked next to Kate, whom had indeed gotten back at him that afternoon for his nickname of her as 'Police Girl', and they sat on a small sofa in the lobby of the old hotel with a grunt – she'd accompanied him to Caritas, where Lorne had gotten him to tend bar again, but this time she handed out his number to every female demon who asked and there had not been a thing he could do to stop her. Since then, his phone had been ringing off of the hook at his new desk and Cordy was getting fairly miffed that they were calling for him and not to become new clients.

"Are you as tired as I am?" He looked at her and arched an eyebrow, so she sank into the sofa and against him with a sigh, "We never work for Lone again if he says it's going to be a slow night – deal?"

"Deal." He and Kate got along very well, kind of like how he and Joyce, Dawn, Faith, Jenny and Sonja got along, but where, save the first of his listing, there had been the potential for romance with the others, he and Kate knew that if anything happened between them, it would be on a purely friends and platonic level, which was both a good and bad thing. She was a smart, funny, attractive and mature woman of 28 and could have any man she wanted if she put her mind to grabbing one, but he'd noticed that she was a bit of a pit bull in that when she got on something, like the supernatural, she didn't let go and often burned bridges when she got like that (something that got her fired from the force, as well). "Tell me, Kate – why aren't you married?"

She only shrugged, "Never found time, actually – job, life, and all, I probably saw Mister Right and, with my luck, handcuffed him."

He chuckled at that, "Kinky – personally, I'm not into B&D, but whatever floats your boat, honey." She glared at him as the door opened and a voice called out … one that had haunted him for a while, actually.

"B&D is fun, but I'm more of an S&M girl myself." The voice was smoky, sultry and just positively oozed with sex, but it also had a darker edge to it that spoke of age, experience and having committed atrocities that she longed to commit again.

He stood but didn't look at her, "Hello, Darla – when'd you get back to the world of the un-living?" All living beings gave off a specific energy pattern, regardless of if they were human, animal or demon, but undead beings gave off a void that showed up as a general blackness in the area, and he knew that there were two vampires in the room.

She was dressed in a red knee-length dress, silk by the looks of it, with pumps and she had her hair cut to shoulder length; her face was made up, pale and she was sucking on a lollipop with a grin that said she knew something he didn't, "Not to long – you look familiar. Do we know each other?"

Her companion was dressed in a pair of stretch pants, a loose blouse and she had on a funny looking bucket hat made of straw that had flowers on it; her pale skin, long dark hair and red lips had also been in his dreams many times, but not associated with the hate he felt for the other woman as she clapped her hands childishly and spoke, "Oh, my Kitten is back! And he's all filled yummy energy, from his daddy and others, he is."

He couldn't help but smile, "Hello, Dru – how've you been, Princess?"

She looked around at the hotel and shrugged, "Mummy hasn't been good lately – her Spiky is all dusty now and Grandmummy wants to be with Daddy."

Kate was on her feet by now, her sidearm pulled, "Who are they, Xander?"

"Darla and Drusilla, Angel's Sire and Childe, respectively. While Darla's older, Dru's more dangerous because she's a seer and … not all there, which makes her unpredictable."

Darla laughed at this, "But that's what makes her so much fun, Xander, and I remember you now – you saved the Slayer from you friend, right? Oh, he tasted so good, so sweet – virgin blood is always the best."

Kate looked at him as he idly contemplated wiping her off of the face of the Earth, "How are we?"


Dru giggled at this but Darla looked unsure, "SNAFU?"

"Situation Normal, All Fucked Up."

She smirked at that, "How very … human."

He shrugged and waved a hand, bringing into existence a large table set for tea, "Would you care to join us, ladies? It's hardly proper for us to converse without refreshment." Dru squealed at this and hopped around while Darla and Kate looked at him oddly before sitting, allowing the insane vampiress to serve them, "So, Darla, how does it feel to be a vampire again?"

She shrugged and sipped her tea, "Not bad – how is it to be a demi-god?"

He arched an eyebrow, "You know?"

She smiled, "It's all the buzz around the demon community about the demi-god who tends bar at Caritas."

He nodded, "Hey, a guy needs to make ends meet these days, but speaking of Caritas, I heard about what you and Dru did to those lawyers two nights ago – that was truly inspired, Darla. I now see where Angelus got it from."

She preened slightly at the praise, "Why, thank you, Alexander – tell me, would you like to join us?"

"Hold on a second, lady," Kate interrupted, her tea finished. "Why are you here? What do you want?"

"Grandmummy wants Daddy to come back to us, she does? It's been so lonely without him and my Spike, with his nasty soul and my baby's dust – Kitten, could you bring him back for me? Please? For Mummy?"

He smiled sadly at the insane vampire, "Sorry, Dru, but I have orders from my bosses to stay out of things."

Dru simply nodded, "I understand, Kitten, but Daddy and Spiky are coming back either way – it's going to be all of us in one big happy family again, it will! All dances, and parties, oh, and presents – I so love prezzies, especially the juicy ones, like eyeballs and hearts."

He looked at Kate, who looked at Darla, and both gave the vampire a look of sympathy, which she freely accepted as the doors opened again and allowed the rest of the Fang Gang to enter, looking rather worse for the wear, "Hey, guys – the gang's all here."

"Darla? Dru?"

Darla turned around and then smiled, "Hello, Angelus."

"Daddy!" Dru ran to Angel and hugged him mightily before backing up and hissing, scratching like a cat would, "Not-Daddy smells bad, he does."

Cordy snorted, "You run through a sewage treatment plant and tell me how good you smell afterwards, oh Insane One."

Dru just sniffed in distain, "There's no need to be snide, ducky. Just because you haven't been courted by a gentleman and now you sell yourself means nothing to me." Xander looked at Kate, who wore a wince of surprise as both Gunn and Wes tried to hold back Cordy, who was sputtering with rage as Dru went on, "Come now, Grandmummy, we have parties to attend and people to eat."

Darla smiled indulgently at her and looked at Angel, "What were you thinking, Angelus?" She turned to leave but Xander orbed himself in front of her, "What do you want, boy?"

He smiled, "To give you a gift, Darla." He placed on hand on her cheek and the other one over her unbeating heart, allowing the energy to flow through his hands and into her, "May it do to you what it did for Spike." With that done, he orbed back to Kate's side as Darla looked at him oddly, but then she left with Dru prancing at her side, at which time he frowned, "When did she come back, Angel?"

He shrugged, "A few months ago, just before you came here. What was she here for and why didn't you stake her?"

Xander only shrugged, "As to the first, she was looking for you, something about wanting to bring back Angelus." Cordelia, who had simmered down just a little, hissed at that, as did Wesley, but Gunn, Lorne and Kate looked slightly in the dark, "As for the second, well, I had other things on my mind at the time."

Angel gave him an arched look, "Other things?"

Xander narrowed his eyes, "Get your mind out of the gutter, Deadboy – revenge is what I was thinking. Why do you think I gave her some of my energy before she left?"

Wesley looked at him oddly, "What would that do, Xander? I mean, your energy is a Holy type of energy and … she's a vampire …" As Wesley trailed off, Xander only grinned as Gunn grimaced, Cordelia gasped, Kate frowned and Angel and Lorne both gasped, "My God, Xander. That's cruel."

"Cruel? That's monstrous!" Angel surged forwards and grabbed him by the front of the shirt, "What would you do something like that?"

"I guess you would know about being a monster, wouldn't you, Angelus? Besides, it'll take a while before it really kicks in."

"Something that won't happen, kid." From behind a pillar stepped a figure that he knew and didn't like – Whistler, "Darla has a destiny that she needs to complete, so take back your energy and keep the hell out of LA for the next few days."

Xander orbed away from Angel, who shouted and nursed his burned fingers, and walked up to Whistler, "On who's authority do you tell me that, demon? The Powers That Be? In case you didn't notice, I don't answer to them."

Whistler, to his credit, stood his ground, "Not this time, Kid – HE is the one telling you, I'm just the messenger."

HE never got involved in their own trifling matters, but when HE did, there was no ifs, ands or buts about what the orders were, because they were orders, "Alright, but tread carefully around me, demon – I don't care if you balance good and bad or plates and basketballs on sticks, because in the end, you're still a demon." That said, Xander pulled back his energy from Darla, orbed himself to his room, grabbed a few things and then orbed himself to Olympus for some down time … and to sulk. He never got to have any fun anymore.


In times past it had been a common pastime for her, but as of late, with her new Amazon nation running around, it was now – Artemis found herself bored out of her skull as she sat down in the glade that belonged to the oft-absent demi-god Alexander, the one person on Olympus that didn't seem to mind her invading his personal space. Currently, she was seated on a rock, dressed in her leather armor but without her weapons, her chin propped up on her right fist, which was held in place by her right elbow being on her right knee, and she sighed at what had happened that day – she'd been brining back her Amazon nation for the past year and it had gone off swimmingly at first, but then her Amazons began to morph into several things that they had never shown tendencies before; a god-less, barbaric culture of warmongers on one hand, political minded thinkers on another and women of no warrior-minded thoughts whatsoever despite being blessed with the body of one. It was disturbing that her grand idea was failing all over again, though this time for different reasons.

"Are you okay, Artemis?" She jumped slightly and turned to see Alexander standing there in denim pants, a light cotton shirt, boots and with a bag in hand, looking somewhat confused.

"I am as well as I can be, Alexander. I am sorry for disturbing your area."

He shrugged and sat down in the overly comfortable chair that he had made, one she knew as comfortable as she had fallen asleep in it several times in the past, and shrugged, "No problem, Artemis – what's wrong? You look … disturbed."

She smiled slightly, heartened that someone didn't mind her mood as of late, "Bored, mostly, but yes, I am also disturbed – my Amazon nation is … failing. Again."

He got out of his chair and produced a large white bucket with a handle, turning it upside down and sitting on next to her, "How? I thought things were going well?"

She nodded, drawing her ace into a pensive frown, "They were, but then the tribes began to … separate, mutate, become something that they were never intended to become." She blew out a breathy sigh and went back to resting her chin on her fist, "In all, this sucks."

He snickered at that, as he should have, seeing that he'd taught her the word in that context, "As I am sure it would – how can we fix it?"

She looked over at him, somewhat surprised, "We? You are offering me your help?"

He shrugged, "I've been kicked out of LA for a few days after stepping on a few toes, so I need something to keep my mind on business." He 'zapped up', as he often called it, a writing set, a spiral of bound paper and a wastebasket, "So, what are the problems with each of these so-called tribes? What are the pros and cons of each?"

She looked at him and blinked, "And how would doing this help us?"

He shrugged, "Something one of my teachers in high school told me once – once you know what you have to work with, it's easier to come up with a solution … or something like that."

Artemis blinked at the simple, logical answer and then dictated to him what the strengths and weaknesses were of each tribe – the warriors were strong, brave and very skilled with the sword, but they lacked the structure of leadership and they often found themselves talking themselves into situations that they couldn't get out of due to the fact that their equipment was too thinly stretched. The political Amazons had some skill with the sword, but more with their minds and their speech, and while they kept in practice with weaponry, their maintenance and physical skills were sorely lacking. The 'non-warrior' Amazons had great upkeep of their weaponry, rudimentary leadership, and were adequate thinkers, but none of them knew one end of the sword from the other in battle, always worrying about their hair, nails and skin, not to mention their clothes.

Alexander took all of this down and then smirked, "So let me get this straight – you have a camp that wants to fight but can't think, you have a camp who wants to think but can't fight, and you have a bunch of teenaged girls who won't fight and like to flex their muscles but not get dirty, right?"

She nodded, "I tried combining aspects of all three already, but the group tore itself apart, with each faction putting itself above the other."

Alexander frowned, "Well, that sucks, but do they know that YOU are in charge? That at the end of the day, you are the reason they are Amazons?"

She nodded, "That is within the creed they know by heart."

"But have you ever enforced it?" This made her blink and he went on, "Have you ever been forced to take them over your knee, if you will? I mean, before it got too abusive, I got spanked more than a few times as a kid and I think I was better for it myself."

Artemis glanced at him, "Have you ever TRIED to 'spank' an Amazon warrior woman, Alexander?"

He grinned, "No, I like all of my parts where they are, thank you very much, but that's just a figure of speech – you know what you have to do, so do it."

She hated enforcing her will upon others like that, but she saw the logic in his words, "And what if they leave me?"

He shrugged, "Artemis, in this day in age, people are too damned fickle if they don't get enough of everything they want. Problem here is that you've given them all they want, but haven't given what they need – a good swift kick in the ass."

She looked at him oddly, "You are wise beyond your years, Alexander – if they do turn on me I am going to hold you responsible for this."

He shrugged and flashed into his leather armor, "Don't give them a chance to – you're their goddess, make them realize they are here to serve you."

She nodded and called her weapons to her, wondering why she hadn't tried any of this before.


"Kansas? The birthplace of the new Amazon Nation is … Kansas?" She looked over at Alexander as he stared around dumb-founded, "Why?"

Artemis merely shrugged, "Where else can anything odd happen and nobody notice?" He looked at her for a moment and then nodded, allowing her to go on, "That aside, my most numerous followers are here in Kansas, so this is where I started them." She led him to a large, mostly abandoned barn that she used as her gathering place and proceeded to summon her warriors from the surrounding area – they came in one drove and filled most of the floor of the barn, totaling nearly two hundred from around the state, and all were dressed in a myriad of clothing and armor as she smiled, "Greetings, my Amazons."

"What do you want?" Artemis stiffened at the rudeness in the voice of one of the elder Amazons as she stepped forwards, a war-like one who held an axe in her hands, "And who is he?"

"My name is Alexander, patron god of Snipers, CHILD," Alexander said with emphasis on the 'child' as he stepped forwards, his face set into a grim mask. "And I am here to help your Goddess with your insubordination."

The girl snorted, "As if a man could do anything with an Amazon." She walked even further forwards as dread began to fill Artemis, "Well? What are you going to do?"

Alexander moved in a flash, faster than mortal eyes could see, but slow enough for gods to see – he stepped back, pulled his sword and slashed it forwards, barely nicking the girl's throat before allowing the momentum to carry him around to where he could place a boot in her chest with only human strength, sending the rude child back into her sisters. It hurt Artemis to see her child hurt in such a way, but it was apparent that Alexander would be teaching a lesson that day, "THAT is what I shall do, Child. Know that I am here of my own free will – your Lady Artemis did not ask me here, nor does she wish to see any of you die, but die you shall if you continue this pattern of behavior."

"That is enough, Alexander." She stepped forwards as the rude child got back her, clutching her throat, and walked to her, her eyes narrowing as she did, "Would you presume that you lead this Amazon nation, Child? Would you presume that you are more fit for this job than I, someone who predates your entire species by millennia?"

The girl's mouth opened once, then twice, and by the third time, with her neck still oozing blood, she gave voice to whatever she was going to say, "Why did you do that? What has the Amazon nation ever done to you, Alexander?"

She watched him square his shoulders to them as he looked around, his eyes sizing them up as if they were the newest recruits in the military, "That, Child, has nothing to do with the Nation – that was for you and you alone. You see, Artemis and others have helped me a great deal in the past year, and for that, I am both thankful and in her debt. The way you were treating her, you and the rest of your sisters, is quite honestly the most deplorable show of ingratitude, not to mention sheer stupidity, which I have ever seen out of humanity. She MADE you, ALL OF YOU, and THIS is how you repay her? With your indifference? With your lackluster performance and petty infighting?" Alexander snorted, forcing Artemis to hold in a very pleased smile as she knew he was speaking down to them to force them to bring up their level of performance out of sheer pride, "Know that if you were my people, I would have killed you all by now out of sheer rage, and Lady Artemis' temper is much shorter than my own."

"I think you have scared them enough, my friend." She looked at the mass of cringing, shameful and almost-crying girls and sighed, "Perhaps I was overzealous in my goals of a new Nation – perhaps I was not thinking clearly when I chose you all as my first new Amazons. That, however, is the past, one that not even I can change – all we have is the future, and a glorious one it shall be. I expect nothing less than excellence out of each and every one of you – you shall learn from your mistakes and from the others, you shall learn how to be AMAZONS, much as the women who came before you, and you shall now be forced to EARN that right to be called as such." With a hard heart, she removed her blessing from all of the girls present, each of whom screamed in mental agony that soon passed; she turned away and found Alexander facing her, the look on his face telling her that he knew that as much as they were hurting, she was hurting far greater and deeper than she was. She gave him a weak smile as he came up to her and gave her a hug that lasted for only a second before they broke away and turned back to the girls, all of them now getting their wits about them and looking at her, their eyes asking her why she had done that. After a moment to let them compose themselves, not to mention to reign in her own anguish, she spoke again, "Know that if you wish to be Amazons from this point out, you shall be required to earn that title – no more free rides."

"Would you accept us, Alexander?" One of her former Amazons, a stout young woman who worked on her father's farm and still wore her hair in pigtails, "Are we good enough for your Corps?"

"No, you are not." They all took a step back at that, allowing him to continue, "My own people are killers, people trained in the art of stealth, in the ways of killing and of pre-emptive thought – they need to be in position and ready to take down their targets before their targets know they are going in that direction. None of you are that kind of person, nor do I ask you to become one – my own Corps of people shall rise when it is time for them to do so, but for now, do your best to become Amazons, earn that right and glorify not only yourselves, but those who came before you. Do this and I am sure that Lady Artemis will reward you as she sees fit – spurn her, show signs of deceit and treachery and you will pray that she gets to you before I do." With that, he turned to her, she smiled and him and he vanished back to Olympus – in the back of her mind, she heard his howls of laughter as he landed in his own glade and repressed a smirk as her new candidates looked at her expectantly.

"Now, are we all settled?" The girls nodded, some meekly, and Artemis felt her lips curl into a smile, "Good. Now, we train. Start running and do not stop until I get tired."



Ares watched as the demi-god howled in mirth at the rather masterful performance that he had just given – when Artemis and Xander had both left, he knew something was up and had gone to watch it all, and watch it he did. Several more of his brothers and sisters joined the viewing and smirked at the reverse psychology that was used to bring Artemis' Amazons up to a new level, a level that they were now earning in that they were running their collective asses off as a group. As the kid got himself back under control, he sat up and looked over, at which time Ares spoke, "Having fun?"

The kid broke out in a grin that Ares found was worthy of … himself, "Absolutely, Ares – why didn't you ever tell me that doing stuff like that was so much fun?"

"And spoil all of your fun? Perish the thought, kid. Still, that one Amazon did put up a good question – what about snipers? They could be female to start with, and then we could incorporate males as the ranks of not only the Amazons but my forces build as well."

Xander frowned, "Hmm, that means that I'm going to either Europe, the Middle East or Asia for them – American military forces don't allow for snipers or Special Forces to be female." Ares remembered when that particular decision had been handed down, about the Special Forces being a 'men only' thing, and how royally pissed off both Artemis and Athena had been – almost led to World War III in the process too. "Where's Athena? I need her input on this."

"She's in her cubbyhole, kid – be careful. Last time I was in there I almost sat on some battle plans older than your concept of democracy and … well, she was pissed." He absently rubbed the spot where she had told her pet owl to attack him, which was right at the juncture of his neck and shoulders. Damned bird wouldn't quit, either.

"Thanks." The Kid vanished in a sparkle of light and that left Ares with a rather odd decision – should he tell the kid about Athena's bird or not?

2 minutes later - Athena's Lair – Olympus

Xander looked around, brandishing the handgun that he'd zapped up after being dive-bombed by something with wings, brown in color and moving very quickly, and casually looking to see if Athena was about – damned Ares probably knew about whatever had attacked him and left him to figure it out on his own. "What the hell were you?"

"An owl, Alexander – a Great Horned Owl, if one wished to get technical." Athena, dressed in her habitual armor and with her hair down at the moment, walked out of the shadows with the brown thing, which indeed was an owl, on her shoulder, "Do put the gun away, Alexander – it does little more than irritate him."

Xander eyed the owl, which clicked his beak at him, and tucked the gun into the back of his pants, "Fine – I have a question for you, Athena, and it involves some of the people you have tagged as your future leaders." She arched an eyebrow and he told her, in broad strokes, what his plan was as far as snipers and the Amazons went, "So?"

She frowned for a second, the owl on her shoulder hooting before she stopped frowning and smiled a bit, "It has promise, but why only women?"

"To fill out the Amazon ranks for now, plus they'd have natural camouflage as women amongst them and Artemis would have the option of using them as well. Ares will get snipers as well for his Corps, but he'll have other means at his disposal." Athena's famed presence wasn't getting to him at all, it was that damned owl and it's eyes, that piercing stare, and it was bugging the hell out of him, "So, anyone you can spare right now?"

Athena tapped her finger to her lips for a second before going back to her scrolls and books, rummaging under this and pushing aside that until she came up with a list of three names, a short list, but it was a list none the less, "Here – they are ready for the taking and Artemis can begin training them post haste."

He took the list and smiled, "Thank you, Athena." He looked at the owl, which hooted at him again, "Watch it, Feather Duster – I shoot to kill." Athena laughed at this as the owl hooted in annoyance, at which point he left back to Kansas, where the Amazon-wannabes were already treading a path in a field, some of them looking ready to drop while others were still as fresh as daisies.

"Greetings, Alexander." Artemis was smiling now, a pretty smile at that, one that brought out the green in her eyes as the sun reflected off of her auburn hair and warmed her skin, "What brings you back so quickly?"

"I might have three more for you – snipers, all trained." Artemis looked interested as the idea whirled in her mind without him saying a word, "So, how about it?"

"A good plan, but how would they fall as far as jurisdictional conflicts go? I like my prayers."

"As do I – kind of a rush, actually. Either way, if they are needed to take a shot, I get the prayer, but other than that, they're all yours." She smiled at that, "So?"

"Whenever you're ready, so shall I be as well." He nodded and orbed back to Olympus for a little hunting of his own – with six billion people to look through, three was going to be a tad bit of a challenge.

2 Hours Later – Kansas

Officer Alexa O'Malley looked at the other two women whom had appeared out of thin air next to her and saw that not only did the appear to be as in the dark as she was, neither of them looked particularly happy – one was swearing fluently in Russian and the other was wearing the military uniform of the Israeli Defense Force. She shook her head in disgust and muttered, in her Irish-accented voice, "What the hell happened this time?"

"I happened." She spun around and beheld a sight that she would remember for the rest of her born days – a young man, maybe twenty, dark hair and eyes, dressed in leather armor and boots, with his feet propped up on a square bale of hay, calmly reading a manila folder that had her name printed across the label and 'Boston Police Department: Personnel File – CONFIDENTIAL' printed across it's face. "Ladies, I bid you welcome to Kansas – the how's and why's of your being here aren't important yet, but there is something important about each of you, something that you the other two with you – you're all trained snipers, skilled in the arts and I would like to ask for your help."

Alexa looked at the other two women and didn't need a translator to be able to read their minds, so she spoke, "Bollocks! Who are ye?"

He looked over at her, "Alexander, patron god of snipers, Greek Pantheon." As if to prove the point, he snapped the folder closed and vanished from sight, only to put his hand around her mouth from behind her a split-second later, "Now, if I let go of your mouth, are you going to promise to not scream or inflict bodily injury upon me?" She nodded and he let go, only to appear in front of her again in a flash of light, "Now, to help with your questions, I've put up a temporary spell that makes us understand each other, so ask away."

"Am I being held prisoner? I wish to contact my embassy." The woman, Russian by her accent, was a tall, thickly built woman with dark brown hair, harsh gray eyes and had a cruel scar that went from the outer edge of her left eye down to the top of her high cheek bone, only about an inch in distance, but it was a wide scar that drew the attention of everyone.

"They don't know you're gone, Major Vostoff, and if you refuse this offer I'll erase your memory – you'll never know you were ever gone. If you do accept, though, another and myself shall make it appear as if you've been transferred to the United States on a training program." He looked at her again and frowned, "Did you REALLY hit that guy in the chest from over a kilometer away with that light of a round?"

The woman snarled, "Yes, and if you want proof, I shall use you for him, da?"

The man, Alexander, merely chuckled at that, "I like you, Major – you remind me of someone I once knew." He shifted his gaze to other woman in the part, who appeared to be whispering a prayer, "HE can hear your prayers, Sergeant Hamil, but there's no need to ask for HIS protection – you're perfectly safe with me." 'Sergeant Hamil' was a shorter woman, just over five feet tall, with broad shoulders, a surprisingly thick build in her arms and legs, and a muscular torso that was evident even under her uniform even as she pulled off the beret she wore and checked the braid of black hair she had there.

"So there IS a God?"

Alexander nodded, "Nice enough being – kinda weird when you first have the meet-and-greet, but once you get used to it, it's like talking to your immediate supervisor and the CEO all rolled into one."

"Aye, but you're from the GREEK pantheon, right?"

Alexander only shrugged, "Hey, what can I say – even we have our bosses. Now, to why you are here – do you remember the tale of the Amazon warriors? Women of such skill and prowess in battle that Caesar had them wiped out in hopes of eliminating a threat to his Empire?" Alexa nodded, as did the Major and the Sergeant, "Well, they've been restarted by Artemis, and I am here to ask you three to join their ranks as Snipers."

Alexa couldn't help it – she laughed, "And Da always said that the job'd get tae me sooner 're later."

"I assure you, Alexandra, that the job has not cause you to 'crack', as your father put it to you." Another woman, this one in leather armor as well, but holding a bow and with a sword at her hip, appeared out of a flash of light and she had an odd twist of a smile to her lips, "It appears that I do owe you your winnings, Alexander – you called it perfectly on their reactions."

The man smiled a little and was enveloped again in light, only now his armor was gone and he was in a pair of jeans, a shirt and boots, looking rather relaxed, "They weren't all that difficult to predict, Artemis."

'Artemis' narrowed her eyes at that, "You'll pay for that."

Alexander grinned, "I'm looking forwards to it." This got Artemis to blush a little and even got a chuckle out of the Sergeant, but nothing out of her or the Major other than a smile, "So, ladies, in or out?"

Later – Kansas

Artemis watched as the new trio of potential Amazons ran past the girls yet again, making even the most hardened youngsters look like they were standing still, and smiled again – slowly, her new nation was taking shape, and with only a little prodding from the youngest of her family; Alexander had a great gift for speaking to people in that he'd gotten Major Svetlina Vostoff of the Russian Army and Sergeant Julia Hamil of the Israeli Defense Force, not to mention Officer Alexandra O'Malley, formerly of Belfast, Ireland, and currently of the Boston PD SWAT team to agree to become Amazons after some cursory training. He'd done so with a cool look about his face even as he used a boot knife to peel an apple, calmly shooting down any questions raised about what kind of work they would be doing, if it were illegal, the kind of pay they would get in relation to the other Amazons (Major Vostoff was a materialistic little thing, if Artemis could say so herself), and this that and the other without ever taking his eyes off of them while peeling the apple. She personally got a kick out of it when, after all that work to peel the apple into one ribbon, he fumbled it and it hit the ground before he could stop it, making him swear and getting a laugh out of the candidates and herself as well before returning to Olympus.

She didn't even turn as Athena came down from Olympus next to her and spoke, "Impressive, Sister, but will they hold together?"

Artemis only shrugged, "Time shall tell, Sister."

Athena stepped forwards and peered into her eyes before smiling slyly, "You like him, don't you."

Artemis hesitated, knowing just whom 'he' was, and then feigned innocents, "Who?"

"Alexander. Not that I blame you, Sister," Athena went on as Artemis felt a blush begin to form on her cheeks. "He's young and has many new ideas, not to mention he is quite attractive to the eye in that he's not technically related to any of us save Ares, whom does not 'swing that way'."

"Alright, I'll admit it – he's cute, but far too young for me. Besides, we're friend, nothing more." Even in her own heart though, Artemis wondered if that was all she and Alexander were to become.

Hollywood – 3 days later

In three days Xander had been teleporting and recruiting his ass off – fifty-three new Amazon recruits, though most of which were not snipers, and fifty male recruits for Ares' own Corps, the first of which was former Houston SWAT sniper, William Jackson. Now, though, the recruits were being trained, more were being scouted and he was, while still being banned from LA proper, bored out of his skull. He'd come to Hollywood that morning, walked the Walk of Fame and recognized more than a few of his favorites on the ground, been to Mann's Chinese Theater and stood in the Duke's boot prints, hell, he'd even stopped by the wax museum and stared Freddy Krueger in the eyes before walking on to see the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz in wax. Honestly, unless one was a prostitute, an actor or a producer, there wasn't much reason to be there except to spend an obscene amount of money on over-priced clothes that you wear only once.

Currently, however, he sat just outside of Pink's Hotdog Stand, contemplating the 'Free Wednesday Night Legal Service' while munching on a fully-loaded hotdog; he occasionally saw the odd celebrity, dressed down in hopes of not getting recognized, and left them alone while just sitting next to a building that housed a florist, but mostly kept dodging people who mistook him for some guy named Nicholas Brendon. Honestly, did he look so much like the guy? Nah, Xander thought after a second – the guy was probably better looking and definitely got paid more.

In the end, though, he found himself walking every street and just lazing around until nightfall, at which time he found himself up on the HOLLYWOOD mountainside, just beneath the 'H', just sitting there a sulking some more – damned Whistler and The Powers That Be for not being able to take a little joke. Just because he wanted a sliver of revenge for Jessie against that, in this case, actually blood-sucking bitch, they had to get all pissy and go to God, of all people – it's not like the Big Guy didn't have enough on his plate, let alone having to set in on what amounted to a squabble between some school children over who hit who first. Naturally, though, just as he got good and ready to skip out of sulking and go into Angel-level Brooding, somebody screamed, awakening the White Knight within him.

He arrived to the scene of four young man, about his age or so, looking and laughing at a young women who was hanging on for dear life to a rock that jutted out over the cliff face – seeing no cameras or extra people, Xander knew this wasn't a stunt or a movie shoot, and from what he could see in the auras of the four males, they were all high on something as he approached them form behind as quietly as a cat. Without any sense of guilt or mercy, he clubbed the closest one over the back of the head, knocking him out and moving to the next before the body hit the ground, whom got a chop to the throat to keep him quiet.

"What the fuck?" The leader of the now-duo turned in time to get a fist to the face, smashing his nose flat, and go to the ground in a screaming heap while the singular goon looked at him and took off running, not caring about his 'friends'.

"HELP! Please!" He jogged over to the edge, knowing he'd teleport her if she fell, and reached down to grab her wrists, hauling her up while making it look like he was actually struggling for a second. When her feet touched solid ground, she buried her face into his chest, keeping him from seeing just who she was, and wrapped her arms around his stomach, squeezing hard for several minutes before she stopped crying long enough to look up, "Thank you."

She was about five feet four inches tall, slim but not skinny, with mussed dark brown hair highlighted with blonde streaks, a light dusting of freckles on her pale cheeks, freckles that were obscured with her makeup and tears, and with pretty gray eyes – her clothes were that of a club hopper and it appeared that she had been on the run for a while as her legs were covered in light bruises and her hose were torn from brush and scrub. Even through the tears and the smeared makeup, he recognized her as the rising starlet in the nation's newest sitcom, one that he'd never actually seen because he'd never gotten around to it, but from what'd he'd seen on the commercials, it was supposed to be getting good and juicy, "No problem. What were you doing up here without your bodyguards or something?"

She looked down and pulled back, "Getting away from my bodyguards, mostly, and those executives that wanted to show me around tonight – I swear, I'm nothing more than little pet to show off to others to them." She stamped her dainty foot, which was in a low heel that went with her skirt, and top, or so he though, and growled for a second before stopping and looking up at him, "And what were you doing up here?"

He shrugged and stuck his hands in his pockets, "Saving you?" The look she gave him told him she needed more than that, "Sulking, mostly – I did something that I felt needed to be done, but … an associate to our firm said that it couldn't be done like that and made me take it back. It pissed me off and I've been barred from LA proper for a few more days while some things go down."

She quirked a manicured eyebrow slightly, "Your Firm?"

"Private Investigation Firm, Angel Investigations." Due to the explicit instructions he had received from Cordelia, he made a card in his pocket and then handed it to her, "We deal in … special cases."

She looked at the card for a second and then snickered, "Oh, I get it – this is supposed to be an angel, right?"

"So Cordelia says, ma'am."

She shrugged, "Call me Cecile, and my sister draws better than this, and she's four."

"Art never was Cordy's strong suit." He walked her down the side of the small mountain and once there they made the call for her people to pick her up, "So, are you going to be okay? Anything else broken, bruised or otherwise injured?"

Cecile shook her head, "Nah, I'm cool, but actually I'd like you to come with me tonight – these big wig parties are SO DULL!" She sat on a rock next to his and looked his clothing up and down, "You feel like changing those?"

"Not really – I don't like dressing up outside of what I think I am, and right now I think I am a … normal guy who is graced with the astounding beauty of an upcoming actress who needs more attention on her, rather than whom she is sitting with."

She gave him a grin, "Wow, nice answer, but I think you didn't read far enough into the question – we're going to get you at least a shirt." He knew that tone, one that said 'you had better know to shake your head yes', so he complied, but then thought that it was odd that even as a demi-god, he was still answering to The Tone. Was it a male thing? It would be his luck that it was probably so.

Club Jericho – 2100

Cecile sat next to her savior as he, at her manager's insistence, played the part of the 'glaring bodyguard', something that he played very well in his jeans, boots and a nice black silk shirt that she'd picked out for him in wardrobe – he was about a foot taller than she, almost two hundred pounds but very little of it, if any, was wasted on fat, and the kicker of it was, he wasn't an actor or a model, let alone a wannabe actor or model. He was just Xander, a name she knew was short for Alexander as her little brother also went by it, and it was also surprising just how many people called him 'Nick' or 'Nicky B' – yeah, he looked like the guy, but it was a bit of an impossibility for him to be the actor because A) the man was married, and B) in Canada, or so the reports said. With a smile and a pass-by to another wannabe-Romeo, she stepped next to him, "What do you think?"

The music around them wasn't exactly pounding, but it was loud enough that his voice was muted slightly, but still able to be heard, "Nice enough, but not really my style."

She gave him another smile, "I know, but we do have to please the bosses, right?" He gave her a grin as a woman with a microphone and a camera came over for a quick interview, which she answered absently until one question came up.

"So who's your date?"

"Not my date – temporary bodyguard and a friend of mine, and NO, he is NOT Nick Brendon. His name's Xander." She smiled as the woman made notes of this and then went to Xander for a few questions, some of them he answered honestly and a few she saw him hedge on, like what he really does for a living.

"So, have you had any acting jobs?"

"Ah, no, not really an actor." The woman looked a little shocked by that, but went on with a few other things, which gave Cecile a wicked idea.

"Actually, Xander," she chipped in from behind the reporter, "I have something that you might like – let's go talk to my manager, okay?" Without waiting for an answer, she drug him across the floor to where the big wigs were sitting and looking over notes, pictures of other actors and generally were touting their own glory, "Yo, Vinny, I think we've got our sage of coffeehouse wisdom."

Her manager, balding and trying to hide it with a comb-over, overweight and in a very bad suit, blinked, "We do?"

Xander looked at her, "You do?"

She smiled just smiled at the both of them.

Next Day – Set 43

"And CUT! Great scene, kids." Xander groaned as the hot lights dimmed slightly and he put down the pitcher he had been washing in the sink for the past twenty minutes – who knew acting was such hard work? He'd somehow been talked into being on Cecile's show as a 'sage of coffeehouse wisdom', a part that was on scene for all of thirty seconds on a half-hour show, and it had taken them the better part of four hours to get all of the shots right, and that didn't count the technical problems and flubbed lines, though most of them he ad-libbed for laughs when Cecile got her's wrong.

"Are we done?"

She smiled at him as she grabbed the tepid coffee from behind the counter and drank it all in one go, "Yeah, we're done – thanks for the save, Xander."

He shrugged and took off the apron, "Nothing much to do, though any aspirations of acting that I did have just got flushed and have been taken over by a new-found respect for true actors." She beamed at him slightly as they then walked to where his stuff was stored, "Keep going, Cecile - I see good things in your future."

She hugged him, "Good luck with the PI thing, Xander." She was about to say more, he knew that because he could hear her thoughts just rambling along at nearly Willow-babble speed, when the director shuffled her off to the next scene, so he merely waved goodbye and walked out of the door, wincing at the brightness of the sun before his eyes acclimated and he continued walking on. It was about seventy feet from the door, though, that it hit him – a hard, burning sensation in his gut that nearly drove him to his knees and caused him to instantly orb back to Olympus, where he fell to the grass in agony.

It took several minutes for him to regain his breathing and another few for his feet, but the pain subsided, "What the hell was that?"

"The dark side of the job, kid." Ares walked out from behind a tree and had a grim look on his face, "You're being called … but for the other side of the game."

An absent through not only called his armor, but sent Ares a 'thank you' as he orbed to where the call came from … where his blood was frozen solid – it was a kid, maybe fifteen or so, and he was sporting what looked to be a commercial AR-15, scope mounted and with no less than a dozen 20-round magazines on either side of him. Clean cut, glasses, freckles and sporting a rather impressive black eye, Xander couldn't believe what the kid was asking for – a single clear shot to get at the school jock/jerk that had been making fun of him for nearly a decade. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

The kid jerked and looked up, blinking at what he apparently saw, "Who the fuck are you?"

"Alexander, patron god of snipers, and I want a fucking answer, kid – what do you think you are doing?"

The kid's face twisted into a snarl, "Getting even, what does it look like?"

"At least one count of pre-meditated homicide via terrorist means, not to mention a minimum twenty-five years in a Federal Penitentiary, if I remember law correctly … and that's if the cops don't shoot you on sight." He orbed the gun out of the kid's hands and unloaded it absently, "Besides, 'getting even' isn't a good answer … what's your name?"

"Brian Kalwick, and it's all the answer I need."

Xander couldn't help it – he slapped the kid in the back of the head, "Listen to yourself, numb nuts – you want to kill a bully for doing his job instead of either talking it out or letting it go?"

"I did talk it out with him, and he talked back with his fist, or didn't you notice this." The kid, Brian, pointed to his black eye, and grabbed the gun back, loading another mag, "Besides, if you ARE the patron god of snipers, you have to answer my wish, so where is it? Where's the clear shot?"

Xander looked over at the scene and then shrugged indifferently – school football field, where the team was lined up for pictures, with a chainlink fence in the way, "Looks clear enough to me – a real sniper wouldn't have any problems with this shot, so my end of things is held up."

Brian leveled the gun and put his eye to the scope, "Then leave – I don't need you anymore, then."

"Think about this, Brian – you're 16 and if you ever see the outside of a prison again, you'll be at least 40. That aside, do you really think you're ready for the kind of pressure it takes to live with killing somebody?"

"I'm ready for anything." The kid's voice went flat and Xander reacted as the trigger started to be pulled – he froze time, just not Brian, "Huh?"

"I froze time, jackass." He reached down and bent the barrel of the gun back in a 'U' shape, "Now try it – I won't be part of this … stupidity."

The kid lashed out several dozen times, with ill-aimed and timed punches and kicks, screaming incoherently about not understanding and not being fair, but Xander knew that was he was doing was just short of the ultimate fairness (which happened to be death) – he was keeping one Brian Kalwick from making a mistake that he'd never live to regret. After one last kick, the kid dropped to the ground and began crying, sobbing, actually, rocking himself back and forth with his knees drawn up to his chest until he stopped and looked up at him with red eyes, "Why? Why did you stop me?"

"Because it's my duty to stop stupid people like you from making stupid mistakes and using my name in the process – like it or not, Brian, you're going to have to deal with that jock, but not with a gun. That's cowardly, and I can see in you that you're a lot of things, but a coward isn't one of them."

"But he makes fun of me."

"So? Been there, done that, had it done to me too – get over it and get some counseling if you need it. Yeah, you got picked on, but trust me when I say it could always be worse."


"I could have let you take the shot. Think about that for a little while, Brian, and make the right choice." With that, he orbed away and back to Olympus, where a smiling Ares met him, "What?"

"Nice job, if a little dramatic." The god of war sat down on a rock and grinned a little more, "I mean 'That's cowardly, and I can see in you that you're a lot of things, but a coward isn't one of them'? That's sounds like someone from an After School Special."

"Save it, Ares – I wanted to keep the kid alive and out of prison." He flashed back to his normal clothes and shook his head disgustedly, "If anyone ever has any reason to think that the Human race will never survive, there's proof enough of it – stupid people with bad ideas and armed with guns."

Ares smirked, "You DO realize that you just described most of your countrymen, right? Well, their ancestors and with how they 'won' their entire country."

"Yeah, I know – it makes me sick, actually, but there's not a damned thing I can do about it, so why bother worrying?"

Ares nodded, "So, what now? Your probation is lifted."

"Then back to LA – I have people I need to check on tomorrow." With that, Xander bade him farewell and orbed back to the Hyperion, but found Deadboy to be the only one there, and with sketches of Darla all over the place, "Oh, shit – now what?"

Angel looked up from a new drawing and grunted, "I fired them, just like I'm firing you, now get out of my building."



Angel watched as the current bane of his existence gaped a few times and then settled into an expression of controlled anger, "Excuse me? YOUR building? You may own the company, but I think you need to check the REALLY fine print on that bill of sale I gave you, Deadboy – this is MY building until I turn it over to you." Angel didn't bother – the brat probably just zapped it in there, which would make looking pointless.

"Get out of my business, then, Harris – you no longer work nor are you welcomed here." Angel went back to his drawing and immediately regretted it – Harris ripped the tablet out of his hands and blew him back without seeming to move from his spot, which made Angel fly back a few feet and skid to a stop at Xander's feet, whom then kicked him HARD, which sent him flying across the room into a wall.

"Let's get one thing straight right here and now – I never worked for you, Vampire, and if you think I'm going to let you drift back into your bring an asshole state of mind, then you have another thing coming." Gone was Xander Harris, pain in the ass geek, and in his place stood Alexander, God of Snipers, in his armor and with his sword unsheathed and pointing at his unbeating heart – Angel felt his inner demon quake slightly as he stood up and Alexander went on, "Now, what's going on? What did Darla do to you?"

"Nothing, boy, and I would kindly ask you to put that pig sticker away before I take it away from you and …" Angel trailed off as he saw all emotion leave Alexander's face, meaning all of the anger, and backed up slightly, "Alright, let me rephrase that."

"Please do."

"Darla and I have a bond that you can't begin to imagine, Xander – she is my Sire, and even with my soul she still has a strong influence on me. I don't want anyone else getting hurt because of that, so I let them all go."

"And hurt them all very much so in the process. You know, for someone who's seen the past two and a half centuries, you really are stupid, aren't you, Vampire." The former Zeppo walked towards him and Angel felt his inner demon do the best it could to take control so it could run away from the openly seething demi-god, "Did you possibly consider that, now that she's been reborn, Darla doesn't have any more power than you allow her to have? DRU turned her, so she is your grandchilde, technically, and anything that might have been there before is GONE! Great Zeus why did you let vampires become so stupid and such drama queens?"

Angel silently simmered, "As opposed to?" Xander didn't answer him, stomping off to the lobby, where he was swearing fluently in Ancient Greek, Latin, and Egyptian. Angel merely at in his office, wondering if what Xander said was true – yes, Darla had been sired this time around by Dru, thus making her his grandchilde, and thus erasing the Sire/Childe bond. Angel then sighed – once again Xander proved his way of thinking not only wrong, but had also proved to him that shoe leather was about as much fun to eat as crow.

Xander came back into the room, now dressed in his regular clothing again, "Where are they? Where would Cordy and the others go?"


"This sucks."

The entire room stopped and looked at the speaker, as those two words, in that order and in that connotation, had never passed their lips – it was a milestone, a defining moment and an omen all rolled into one. All was quiet for a few moments and then that silence was broken as Kate snorted, "Amen, Wes."

Cordelia looked up from her mimosa as Lorne idly flipped through the selections of songs for something to sing in the silent club, "Where in the hell does he get off telling us all of that stuff?"

"You know all vampires are drama queens, Queen C." Kate arched a dark eyebrow as Xander orbed into the bar, in his dress-down clothing, and took a seat next to herself, slinging an arm around her shoulders and drawing her close, something that Kate reveled in for a moment, "That aside, it's really shaking up his entire sense of the world and his memories."

"Really? And why's that?" 'Snippy' could have described Cordelia's tone rather well, 'bitchy' was another word, but Xander appeared to take it all in stride.

"Think about it – what if for as long as you've ever known them, your parents are in one set pattern, and then one day, out of the clear blue, your mother is suddenly your granddaughter; trust me, even on the Hellmouth and with out families, that's more than a little weird."

"So you're defending him?"

Xander looked over at her, "No, in fact I'm going to kick his ass once all of this is settled, but how about we deal with getting you guys back to the Hotel, settled back in and then we'll deal with this in a truly adult fashion."

Lorne looked up from his music selections, "I say we burn everything in his closet." Cordelia perked up at this, and Kate had to admit that she did too, but Xander only sighed, as did Wesley – Gunn, incidentally, was asleep.

Kate looked over as Xander got to his feet and went behind the bar, "So, where've you been?"

He gave her a lop-sided smile, "Aw, did you miss me?"

Even as Cordelia snorted, Kate scowled, "No, in fact it was rather quiet without you and your sense of humor around." She smiled at his wounded pose and went on, "Actually, I was just kind of curious."

Xander shrugged as he poured himself a cola, "Not much – restructuring the entire Amazon nation with Lady Artemis, recruiting snipers, recruiting more Amazons, recruiting more snipers and Warriors for Ares, the usual." He drank the cola as if nothing happened.

Wes goggled at this, "The Amazon nation? When did this happen? Where did this happen?"

"Not important, Wes – all that is important now is that it's functioning properly and slowly becoming the force it once was."

Cordelia chipped in her two cents, "Alright, WHY are you doing this? I mean, we have thing under control, right?"

"Right … for now. There's a war coming, Cor, and it's one that will be so large that every deity in every religion will be gathering their warriors in a place and at a time when they are needed to hold back the tide – only thing is that nobody but God knows when and God isn't telling us anything, so we're preparing."

Cordelia went on as Kate got to her feet and went around the bar, "And why did this nation need restructuring? Isn't Artie a goddess or something?"

Xander looked at Cordelia oddly, "Don't call her that, Cordy – she hates it. And for your information, do you remember how much of a snot Buffy could be back in the day? All holier than thou and shit like that?" Cordelia nodded, her eyes dawning with some sort of recognition that Kate didn't know of, "Imagine an entire nation of girls like that, and others, and you have a problem when they suddenly start thinking that they are in charge, rather than Lady Artemis. I went with her to speak with them, played the heavy, and she took away their powers as Amazons, making them EARN the right, and so far it seems to be working."

Kate frowned a little, "So, you're loaning out your people to other gods?"

"Essentially, but it's more like they are allowing my people in their own armies – female snipers in the Amazons, male in the Warriors, stuff like that." He finished off his cola and washed the glass out, "Besides, it would be a logistical nightmare for me to keep an entire Corps of people at the ready on their own rather than having them seeded within other groups – much easier on myself and the others."

Wes then stood, "So, I take it you have come here to tell us that we are once again welcome at our joint venture?"

Xander nodded, "Yeah, but I'm also here for my shift as bartender." He pulled on an apron, "Somewhat surprisingly, I'm actually kind of good at it."

Later – Hyperion Hotel

Angel, Xander was happy to see, looked like a puppy that had not only been kicked repeatedly, but had also been tossed in a clothes drier without the heating element and put on the extended drying cycle. Currently Cordelia was being led away from Angel by Gunn, whom had torn into the souled vampire first, then Wes, then Kate and then Cordelia, which left Lorne, but said individual was still at Caritas, working on the books. He knew that the Master Vampire with a soul was generally sorry about what he had done, but still, Angel-Bashing was almost as much fun as verbally gutting Buffy on occasion.

"Hey, Kid." Ares teleported down next to him, spooking most present, and he grinned, "I've got some good news, and I've got some bad news, Kid – which one do you want first?"

Xander sighed, hating it when conversations started like that, "What's the bed news, Ares?"

Ares' grin grew a little, "You just drew babysitting duty."

He cast his mind back to the recent births of any and all deities, reincarnations, their actual children and such, and came up blank as to anyone who would need a babysitter, "Alright, I'll bite – what's the good news?"

"The Amazons are the ones your babysitting." He could feel Gunn perk up at this even as he sighed, "Artemis, Athena, and the rest of us have a big Multi-verse Deity meeting to get to, Full gods only, and someone needs to keep watch over the kids."

"What about Hercules? He's only a demi-god, too." The thought of being in charge of a bunch of girls, to most males, was a godsend, but with a bunch of girls who had a major mad-on with him, it would get very ugly, very quickly.

"Sorry, half-pint, but you've got the ball this time – don't drop it or them." With that, Ares teleported away and Xander sat down with a sigh.

"What the hell am I going to do with that bunch of heathens?"

Kate looked at him oddly, "You're a demi-god, right? MAKE them respect you."

Xander snorted, "They were once, and now want to be again, Amazons – trust me, anything with the 'Y' chromosome, regardless of their rank, is pretty much screwed." He sat down in his chair and sighed, "What else can go wrong?" He groaned as the others looked at him, not believing he had said that, and it was at that point that the doors opened, letting someone in.

"Where are you, Harris! You owe me an explanation for vanishing from the parking lot – literally!" Standing in the lobby was Cecile Hawk, dressed in a pair of jeans, a tight t-shirt and wearing a snarl on her face as she walked up to him, "I want answers."

Even in the back of his mind, he was sure he could hear both Strife and Discord howling in laughter.

Chapter 9
End Game

Flashback – Hyperion Hotel

"Not. One. Word." He looked, quite frankly, ridiculous in the getup he was wearing, but he had told them that the Amazons hated him … and this was proof of it – his hair was spiked up and the ends were colored pink, blue, yellow and green, there was what appeared to be glitter clinging to his body, several different colors of makeup and lipstick on his cheeks and hands, and the clothes were something straight out of the Queer Eye boys' closet.

"I thought you were dealing with the Amazons, White Bread?" Gunn, Kate could tell, was on the verge of losing it, as was Angel, but Wesley had tucked out of the room and she was sure he was howling in laughter by now.

"I'd have been off better if I was, Gunn – they, the older ones, would have just killed me." Xander sighed and pulled out a handkerchief, beginning to wipe off what had been done to him, "What was Artemis thinking with choosing eleven year olds to train properly and putting ME in charge of them for the night?"

Kate couldn't help it anymore, "You know, Xand, that color of red really brings out your eyes." He scowled and walked off, flipping her the finger and making her call out, "Is that a promise or an offer? I'll being my cuffs for either, you know." Xander's only response was the slamming of his door. She absently licked her finger and scored two up on her imaginary scoreboard before sitting back down, "It has been a good day."

Cordelia raised her head from her desk, now sporting a rather large black eye from the 'apartment from hell', which had actually been haunted by not one, but two ghosts, and scowled, "Just sleep with him and get it over with, Kate."

Kate snarled at Cordy but said nothing – Xander had been a rather large friction point between the pair and the actress couldn't see that Xander was only a friend … and occasional movie snuggle-buddy.

End Flashback

She snuggled next to her buddy, Xander, and sighed as Cordelia dabbed her eyes at the movie playing on the big screen – the guys had all done a 'rock-paper-scissor' deal and Xander, somehow, had come out with the proverbial short straw and had been forced to come along with Cordy, Fred and herself to see the new Leo movie. He had complied after Gunn had said something about 'The Code' and she could tell by the positioning of his body, let alone the occasional snort, that he was not having fun … and Kate, somehow, just could get herself to care as Leo walked out on screen in a towel, which caused the younger female in the crowd, not to mention a few older females, to sigh.

Xander, on the other hand, snorted, which caused Cordelia to look over and glare at him, "Be quiet, Xander! This is the best movie I've seen in a while."

"Great Zeus, here you three are, ogling him like a side of beef, and yet you three get pissed at us guys when we want to catch an old re-run of 'Baywatch'! Talk about your double standards."

Kate looked over at Xander, "Well, if you wore just a towel I might be willing to let the ogling of Pam Anderson go."

Xander smiled and disappeared for a second before reappearing … in just a towel, "Don't bother saying anything, Kate – nobody but you can see me."

Cordelia growled, "Grr, where'd he go?"

Kate looked over at Cordy and then smirked, "Business, I suppose – we all know how much of a hard ass he is about that … and has a hard ass in general." Fred, whom had been somewhat noisily sucking on her drink, choked as Cordy goggled and Xander snickered, but all of them stopped as some of the other ladies around them turned and glared, shutting them all up for the rest of the movie.

Later – Hyperion Hotel

Xander grinned at Cordy as Fred babbled on and on about the movie to a disinterested Gunn as Kate went about pestering Wesley, a new past time of hers as of late, and Angel read over the news paper until Cordelia exploded.

"Alright, Dweeb Boy, I want to know if you had anything to do with the movie being ruined! Did you zap the thing and the projector explode or what?"

He gave her a very innocent look, "What, can't random acts of unexplainable coincidence happen and it NOT be related to the supernatural?"

Cordelia growled, "If it was just the projector, then yes, but the film BURNED UP, and that reeks of tampering."

He smiled again and leaned back, kicking his feet up on the desk, "Sorry, Queen C, but I'm not the culprit – you'd have to go to someone a lot higher up than me." He reached into the desk and pulled out several things before making them vanish to Olympus – his exile from Sunnydale would be up the next day and he would be back, but he also had an uneasy feeling that something was happening and he wasn't able to go and do anything about it.

"So, what are you going to do when you get back to Sunnydale, man?" Gunn took the opportunity to end Fred's babbling when she stopped to take a breath, "I mean, you're a demi-god and all, so what're you going in for?"

Xander snorted, "School – apparently there were some new rules agreed upon when the Pantheons got together a few weeks ago and now all deities, full or half, that have come into their power within the past five centuries are now required to get at least one four-year college degree." He leaned back in his chair and grinned, "On the flip side, though, we get to keep our powers and one of my rather neat ones is the ability to learn via osmosis." He'd tested that once by 'reading' a Cosmo magazine and when Cordy had asked him one of the questionnaires, he had aced it by memory of the answer key.

Cordy smirked at this, "As opposed to how you'd fall asleep on your books and not learn anything back in high school?"

"Precisely, Cor – maybe you DO have a brain in there." She shot him the finger and he grinned back, "Sorry, but according to you, Kate and I are already doing that and I'm a one-woman man now." Her scowl darkened for a second and then she nodded, at which time the object of their micro-debate came out of Wesley's new office and had a bit smile on her face, "What'd you pester Wes into doing now, Kate?"

She gave him a mock-wounded look, "Xander, are you accusing me of using my occasionally annoying tendency of being like a pit bull for forces other than those of good and light?" Gunn snorted in time with Fred, Cordy, who had been drinking form her water, choked, and he looked at the former detective with an arched eyebrow, "Fine – I was able to talk Wes into letting us come down to Sunnydale to check out a few things in the Magic Shop, that place that Giles opened up a few months back."

Xander opened his mouth to say something but felt the now-familiar pressure of a call for help fro a Sniper and sighed, "Sorry, Katie, but duty calls." Without waiting for a response, he teleported to the source of the call … and was floored for the first time since that kid with the rifle when he saw who was calling for help, "G-man?"

Sunnydale – abandoned building

"Hello, Xander." Giles never raised his eyes from the scope that had been painstakingly mounted atop of the hunting rifle that he had purchased a few months before in hopes of getting rid of Glory.

"Explain. NOW."

With his free hand, he changed the magnification on the scope from 2X to 3X and zeroed in on his target, a medical intern named Ben, "Glory, a Hell Goddess, in currently in her human form and vulnerable – help me." Giles heard nothing in response but felt a calm pass over his racing mind as the stiff crosswind died down and Ben looked up. Without waiting, Giles squeezed the trigger and felt the .380 Remington buck under him, working the bolt of the weapon as a red plume of blood erupted from Ben's chest as he had been walking out of the hospital.

With dispassionate eyes, he saw the pool of blood from the young man's body grow from beneath him and sighed, sitting up from his prone position within the building and looked over at Alexander, who wore a decidedly blank expression as he spoke, "Nice shot – next time, aim for the crimson line."

Giles blinked as his mind raced to place the term, "Crimson line?"

"Between the gums and the eyebrows – shoot someone there and when they hit the ground, they're either dead or a breath away from dying. A good doctor can still save him, as you've left him." Alexander teleported the rifle into his hands and, after removing the scope and the ammunition, snapped the weapon in half with his bear hands, "Now, tell me what the fuck just happened, Giles."

"Firstly, there will never be a second time, God willing, and secondly, I do believe that explanation will need to be given at the Magic Box." Giles felt a small sliver of fear go down his spine as Alexander snarled at him, but then reigned in his temper and nodded roughly, teleporting them both to the back room of the magical supply store. Their sudden appearance stopped the rather physical sparring match between Faith and Buffy, which was being watched by Dawn, and all three then collapsed upon the demi-god in a group hug that he did not return – he was still glaring and demanding an answer with his aura of power and anger.


Giles coughed and took off his glasses, "Well, there is not much to say other than even with both Buffy and Faith, our chances of defeating Glory were slim, if that, so once it was proven that she did indeed have a human … vulnerable … form, it was merely a matter of time before everything fell into place."

"But why call ME, Rupert?" These five words caused that sliver of fear he had felt earlier come back and it brought it's entire family to take up residency in his spine, "Granted, you're not the first person I've helped in a situation in the past few months, Giles, but this is pushing the lines of the rules WAY too far."

"I needed to eliminate Ben in order to kill Glory – how is that bending the rules, Xander?"

"First of all, right now and in this capacity, it's ALEXANDER," the demi-god said as the girls backed away, seemingly grasping at the severity of the situation, "and secondly, you didn't just bend the rules – you broke them. I wasn't supposed to come back here until tomorrow, Giles, and now that I've thrown things out of balance, something will need to happen on the other side to balance to work against this." The dark-haired young man ran his hands through his hair, "What happens now is out of my hands, Giles … and you have nobody else to blame but yourself."

"Xand? What's going on here? Who did G-man shoot?" Giles looked at Dawn, who looked very worried as she slowly approached the still-seething demi-god.

"Medical Intern Benjamin Davis, who was the mortal form of the Hell Goddess Glory, toots." Giles whipped around and saw Whistler standing in the doorway of the back room, fanning himself with his hat, "And Alex is right – you just opened up a whole new can of worms, Watcher."

"Don't call me 'Alex', demon – only Artemis, Demeter, my mother, Prue and Aphrodite can get away with that." This got Dawn's attention but Giles was rather pleased to see the Balance Demon gulp slightly at Alexander came towards him, "Now, what are your Powers planning now?"

"I … I don't know – I'm just the messenger, kid, not a thinker." Whistler stepped back a little more and then drew himself up, "Look, the point is, is that something's going to happen – soon. Don't be too surprised when it does."

"Know that if Joyce Summers is harmed in any way I will not hesitate to kill your precious Powers, Demon." Alexander walked forwards, bathed in a burning radiance that became brighter than anything, "I saw evidence of their tampering when I came back to Sunnydale the first time, and if I see it again, they will not live to regret it."

"Tampering?" Buffy came forwards and grabbed Whistler by the lapels of his jacket, "What kind of 'tampering'?"

"I … I don't know!"

"A tumor in her brain." Giles looked at the now-only-glowing figure, "They went and gave her a brain tumor and tried to make it look entirely natural."

"And you know this how?"

Alexander smirked at Buffy, "Because as powerful as they think they are, The Powers That Be aren't as powerful as I am, and I am the weakest of the Greek Pantheon, of almost every Pantheon, actually. I remember when I healed her that something wasn't right, but now I can see the signs of their poorly-disguised tampering."

Giles turned on the Balance Demon, who was being held off of the ground by a seething Buffy, and growled, "Go – we shall deal with the situation that comes, but if you value your life, you shall never return here except under the most dire of situations." Buffy dropped the Balance Demon and said demon vanished before his feet hit the floor.

From his position, he heard Faith walk over to Xander and speak, "Xand, is everything okay?"

"For now, Faith – for now."

Giles had to wonder just how long the 'for now' would last.

Next Day - Summers Residence

Buffy looked over at Willow and saw her friend scrunch up her nose in a negative fashion, "What?"

"Um, Buffy, why are you dressing up like this? I mean, is there some sort of new hotness around that I need to know about?"

Buffy arched an eyebrow, "Uh, I thought you were kinda gay, Wills."

Willow gave her a look, "Answer, now. Resolve face, see?"

True enough, the vaunted Willow Resolve Face was there and Buffy sighed, "Xander's coming back today and I want to look nice for him."

"Nice? Buffy, you're dressed like a slut – Faith has more clothing on at any point in time that you do now!"

Buffy flinched back and looked down at her leather pants, halter top that left her mid-rift bare and exposed some of her cleavage, "This isn't slutty ... is it? I mean, on a level with Faith's level of sluttyness? Is that even a word?"

Willow sighed, "Buffy, what are you doing this for? You know that even though, after you take into account everything that we did to him, Xander might still love you, he is not IN LOVE with you, not anymore."

Buffy's heart, which had picked up at the first part of the sentence, wilted into almost nothing at the end – true, Xander had once had the major hots for her, and who could blame him, but now it was very apparent that he wanted nothing from her except friendship … and a guarded one at that, though that didn't surprise her at all. She sighed, "What's wrong with me, Willow? Am I not attractive to anything of the male half of the species? Should I go gay like you?"

"Well, you are hot, but if it's Xander you want, that boat sailed a long time ago. You had your shot, but you were too busy mooning over Angel and look were that got us." Buffy winced, but Willow went on as she went to the closet, "And even if that whole kicking him out thing didn't happen, do you really think that he'd let himself be miserable while he was waiting for you to get a clue? No – trust me, I already learned that lesson, and it took Jenny slapping me in the face to get it across."

"But Faith said she and him weren't like that! If I can't have him, then she and definitely not that sister of hers, Dawn, can't have him – simple as that." Ever since he had left, the younger Williams sister had been 'Xander this' and 'Xander that', saying and planning out their eventual wedding, something that both Faith and herself had agreed on would happen over their own dead bodies, but if it wasn't either one of them, and most definitely not Willow or Tara, as the pair of them had gotten together a few months back, then who was it, "Do you think that he and Sonja or Jenny are…?"

Willow sighed, "No, Buffy, though I'm sure that Jenny would only say yes to get your nose out of joint, and Sonja, well, who knows what Sonja's capable of. Look, either way, you don't have a shot at him, so either find someone else, stay alone as your own best friend or go gay."

"WILLOW!" Ever since letting her new nature out of the closet, Willow had become a lot more frank as far as sexual references went, and this one left very little room for misinterpretation.

Willow only shrugged and pulled on her own blouse, one that she had borrowed and Tara had said she liked, "Well, it's the truth – now, get dressed, or redressed, because we have a dinner to get to; it's not every day that Giovanni's has a place open for a group this large, and I've got a hankering for some lasagna."

Buffy groused and stripped off her clothes, leaving her in only her panties and a bra, "I hope its pork lasagna, then."

"I'm not kosher anymore, Buffy – I'D eat Herbert, if the tables had been switched."

Later – Giovanni's

Xander watched with a hidden smile as Dawn and Buffy glared at each other from across the table, while Faith glared at the both of them, and Willow was busy fawning over Tara, who was sitting next to him and animatedly talking, sans stutter, about how wonderful her classes had gone and what she was learning about with her magic.

"So, Xander, I want the scoop," Willow broke in as Tara took a breath. "Was that really you as the guy at the coffee house on TV?" He winced and she pounced on that, "It was! When did you become an actor?"

"Ah, I wasn't really – I was needed to be absent from LA for a few days, so after doing a few favors for Artemis and Ares, I stuck around Hollywood to sulk for a while. I ran across her being attacked and we sort of hit it off – she told me about the part and told me to be at the studio the next day. No big." He spoken to Cecile over the phone and on the Internet over the past month and knew that not only had her show been picked up for another season, but that she was also up for an award for a female lead in a dramatic role.

"WAY big, Xander," Dawn broke in, smiling slightly, "especially if you can get me her autograph." Her smile turned into a frown when he pointed his finger at her and created a picture of Cecile for her, autograph and all, "Now, that's cheap."

Anything else that was going to be said was cut off by a ruckus at the next table, where two guys had been adamantly discussing the ins and outs of some game, but it had quickly escalated to a shouting match. Neither of them was what Xander saw as a real 'threat', save for being able to talk one's ear off, and thus took it lightly until one of them, a skinny blonde kid, pushed the other one, an older dark-haired kid, back.

"Warren, first off, there is no way a Cleric could beat a Fighter, Mace of Smiting be damned, and secondly, I won't let you talk down to me like that."

"Damn it, Andrew, can't you get it through your skull that Clerics have a greater power base than a Fighter? Sure, he can hit things faster, but can a Fighter heal himself and others, not to mention do all that cool stuff with the Domains?"

This went back and forth for several minutes until Xander finally got tired of it and turned around, "Guy, chill. If you two want to have a lover's spat, fine, but do it somewhere else."

Andrew shot to his feet and pointed a finger in his face, "I'm not gay!"

"I don't give a rat's ass if you are or not – if you're going to argue, take it somewhere else." Xander turned back around and could sense what 'Andrew' was doing, "And don't even make faces and point fingers at me, shit for brains – I'm not afraid to go back to prison again." He heard a strangled 'eep' from behind him and felt the guy sit down so quickly he was sure there was a small sonic boom, but held in a grin while the others at the table did not.

Faith chuckled and Tara elbowed him in the side, "That wasn't nice, Xander."

"You're right, Tara, but it was a lot of fun." She stuck her tounge out at him and he arched a brow at her, "Do that again and I'll have to steal you away from Willow."

On cue, the redhead scowled, "Hey! Right here, you know."

Tara smirked a little, a look that was completely alien on her face, but he liked it, "Oh, you would, would you? And what would I be getting out of the deal?"

He gave her a sexy grin, "Well, I could make your every wish and desire come true, Tara, your every fantasy become reality."

Tara sniffed, "Most guys say that, but they are sorely lacking on the delivery."

Faith, along with Dawn and Buffy, were laughing at this, "Go Tiger!"

He ignored them, getting close enough to whisper into Tara's ear, "Yeah, most do, but I have the stamina of a god, baby – think about that." She blushed heavily as Giles choked and Joyce, who was sitting next to him, snickered.

They continued to chat during dinner, having fun as if all of the happenings of the past few days had not happened, and generally cut up, but aside from the occasional 'covert' look of lust from Buffy, one he once would have enjoyed but now shook his head at, and an even less covert look of unbridled lust from Dawn, one that he definitely ignored, but he did not miss the dark looks he got from the pair of geeks, nor did he miss their parting words as they left the restaurant.

"We need to make Harris' life a living hell, Andrew; our honor as Dungeon Masters calls for it … and I know just who to hurt first."


3 days later – SCU Campus Quad

Tara walked between Xander and Willow, Faith just off to Xander's side, and was happy for the first time in a long time – they had gotten over a few things in the past few days, namely Buffy's resentment of Giles killing the mortal form of Glory, but with a demi-god backing him up, the bottle blonde Slayer had nothing to stand on, and along with some of the happenings in LA and around with Xander, they were all up to speed. Tara liked the feeling she had around him, one of safety and security, but more importantly there was a feeling of a pure power that tickled her mind and helped her focus on her own control.

"So, Xander, are you going to be taking another dance course this year?" Tara giggled at the look Xander gave Willow, who had been told by Faith about the teacher who had gotten her nose broken, "Well, I'm just saying, you know…"

"Forget it, Wills – the only dancing I'm ever going to do again is-"

"Stripping!" Faith chimed in before Xander could say anything else, and Tara giggled even as she blushed at the thought, "You know, I still haven't gotten a free show, Xand."

"Only if I can watch, too." The other three stopped and stared at her, "What? I can look, you know? I'm gay, not dead." This got some more laughter out of the group until a pair of people walked towards them, both of them very familiar as the pair of people who had almost ruined dinner the night before.

"Harris! Where in the hell have you been?" She could feel the oily nature of the dark-haired one, Warren Meers, and shuddered as he grinned, "I mean, you disappear for a few months and all of a sudden you come back like you own the place?"

"Meers, back off." Xander's tone was darker, dark enough that the other guy, Andrew, backed off without hesitation, "I got back into the dale that night, and we were out for a bite to eat – the last thing we wanted to hear an argument about was some squabble between two Uber-geeks about some lame game and it's even lamer character setting. Now, if you want a real game to argue about, stick with GRUPS or BESM." Tara blinked at this, they all did.

Meers, though, went back on the offensive, "Don't mess with me, Harris – you're still a push-over like in high school and I'm more than capable …" Warren's voice trailed off as Xander dropped his books to the ground and cricked his neck left and then right, loosening up.

"Don't stand there and flap your gums, Warren – step up or step the fuck off, but be really sure about what you want to do, because I'm not afraid of you." Tara could feel Xander doing his best to keep the power away from him, but some of it was leaking out and it was making her quiver a little.

"Hey, guys, chill." Faith stood between them, "Xand, we both know you'd murder him if it came to trading punches, and Meers, if you can't see that boy toy isn't playing, then you're crazier than I am."

"Shut it, slut!" One could have heard a pin drop in the quad, even the birds and crickets had stopped making noise as Faith went from disbelieving to shocked and finally to angry, but unfortunately for Warren, Xander beat her to it and grabbed the geek by the throat, lifted him off of the ground a few inches and spoke very softly.

"Meers, trust me when I say that right now I could snap your neck and get away with it, with the lawyers I know and have on retainer. Now, you are going to apologize to Faith and then you and your little butt buddy are going to walk away from here and never speak to or about us EVER again." The power was definitely there now, and Tara could feel the hair-trigger that he needed to release it and wipe both Warren Meers and Andrew from the face of the Earth … and probably most of Sunnydale, too.

Andrew took that point to step in, "H-hey, he didn't mean it, man. He's-he's just a little mad that I proved him wrong last night about the Fighter being the superior character to the Cleric." Tara sighed in relief when Xander dropped Warren on his ass and gave the pair of them a look that blatantly said 'LEAVE', and they scurried off, leaving the quartet there as the students and the world got back to their normal lives.

Tara reached over and hugged Faith, who was shaking in anger, and stroked the brunette's hair as that anger turned to grief and she began to cry, a real rarity for Faith; Willow stood next to Xander, stroking one of his tense arms as he too shook with fury, but it took a little longer to convince him that homicide was a good option, but the wrong one. Eventually, though, the status quo was restored with Faith finding sanctuary in Xander's arms in an embrace that surpassed that of lovers, while Willow walked over and wormed her way under her arms – Tara knew that this was not over, she could still feel the oily mass of Warren's mind starting to cook up something, but she could also feel him gloating, as if he had done exactly what he had planned on doing.

In silence, they walked to class and Tara feverishly hoped that Meers wouldn't do anything stupid like anger Xander any further … or herself.

Later – Magic Shop

Even as Faith punched away on the dummy, she felt her residual anger at the dweeb lessen and eventually disappear – she had long-since made peace with her past, what she had been forced to do to make enough money to get food or clothes, but still, where in the hell did Meers get off calling her slut in front of everybody? She'd been tempted to tell Xand to snap the kid's neck, 'cause she could feel it in her bones that he was ready to do it, but he didn't do it at the time and, after class, had said he'd be back later before heading for Olympus for some stuff.

"You're dropping your left, Faith." She spun around at Xander's voice and smiled that he was in his 'work clothes' but lost that smile when she saw the gorgeous auburn-haired woman behind him, also in leather armor.

"Who's the babe, Xand?" Her heart clenched as he smiled – they weren't anything like soul mates, like Fang and B were back in the day, but still, it was nice that she could sleep with him if she just needed to hold or be held.

"Artemis, Patron Goddess of the Amazons, Goddess of the Hunt, and occasional bane of my existence."

The woman, Artemis, gave him a speculative look, "It's not my fault you can't say no to me, Alex, and you and I both know I had nothing to do with what those mini-Amazons did to you that night."

Xand then did something she never thought she'd see him do – he whined, "I looked like a freaking Ken doll, Artemis!"

"But it was a cute Ken doll. Now, go – girl talk." Xander cringed and teleported away, even as Artemis turned back towards her, "Remember that, Faith – no matter how old, how powerful or how mischievous, all males run when you mention that girl talk is about to commence."

Faith nodded, "So, what do ya want, Artemis? Last time I checked, I didn't answer to you."

Artemis nodded, "That is correct, Faith, you do not, but that is why I am here to offer you a choice. Do you know why you were called?"

"Because K-girl got iced." Harsh way to hear about it, but it was true.

"And how did Kendra get called?"

"'Cause B died – what's this about?"

"I am here to offer you the chance to take the target of being a Slayer off of your back, returning the full essence to Buffy, and becoming one of my new Amazons." Faith felt her jaw drop, but Artemis went on, "Now, Alex, 'Xander' as you call him, is well aware of the offer I have made you – he is very protective not only of you, but also of his friends and he made it quite clear to me what would happen if you got hurt or were forced into this choice."

Faith's brain finally kicked back into gear, "An Amazon? Me? How's that possible – Slay chick, remember?"

"Yes, but to be perfectly blunt, Faith, you are an average Slayer at best, and why settle for being mediocre when you could be one of the best? All I am doing is making the offer – you can do with it as you will and not even those blasted Powers can make you change your mind."

"What about D? If I say yes, they'll probably make her a Slayer just to get back at me." D may have been a pain in the ass nine times out of ten, but she was family, and Faith never turned her back on family that she claimed.

Artemis' face split into a grin, "That's already been taken care of, Faith – Alexander is quite persuasive when he puts his mind to it."

For some other reason than already knowing X, Faith trusted the woman/goddess, "So, what would I be doing?"

"Leading, for the time being – there are many young women who once held this power and couldn't handle it, Faith, and while you also had some problems, you've worked through them."

"Because of Xand, mostly – sure, I did some of it, but if he wasn't there, I'd've done something stupid by now and been capped … or worse." Faith made no bones about it, that with X having given her a second chance, B would have gone after her and the shit would have hit the fan – not like she didn't deserve a second chance, after what she'd heard about Fang back in the day, "But either way, why me?"

"Because these girls need guidance, and both Alex and I think that you are just the woman for the job, among others. Not all of them came from Middle America, or America at all, and you are whom I think some of them can look up to."

Faith nodded, seeing the point, but then went back to something, "Now, Xand said that you, Demeter and Aphrodite could call him Alex – why? You got something for him?"

She was a little surprised to see the goddess blush lightly, "Well, not as much as Aphrodite does, but he's nice enough. I mean, he's … why am I explaining myself to you? You like him just as much as the rest of us, if not more."

It was Faith's turn to blush, "Well, yeah, but he and I can't be like that, you know? He's, like, the first guy I've been around in a long time that just wants to be friends with me … and I like that." She stuck her thumbs into the waistband of her sweats and let her hands hang there, "So, when can I start? Being a Slayer is cool and all, but like you said, I've got a bit target on my back, and I gotta protect D."

Artemis smiled widely, raising her hand, which was covered in a golden glow, "You can start now – this will hurt, but in the end, it will only be momentary." The golden glow hit her and Artemis was right – it hurt a lot.


Ares stood next to the kid and watched Faith lose her Slayer powers and become a full-fledged Amazon, then looked over, "So, how do you feel about this?"

"It's her choice, Ares, and I stand by her decision … and I hope the Powers try something stupid." Ares couldn't help but chuckle at the thought – The Powers That Be had always been a little too full of themselves, but that point had been shown rather well when the kid came into power, let alone when he had gone with Artemis to tell them of their plan to make Faith into an Amazon. They had been furious and had told him, the both of them, that they couldn't do anything, and according to Artemis, the leader of the Powers then made the mistake of poking Alexander in the chest and telling him something to the effect of 'our rule is law – break it and there will be consequences'.

To this day, nobody was sure just where the quickly amputated finger of that Power had gone to – the kid had acted so fast that the finger was missing for several seconds before the pain hit the leader.

"I don't think they'll do anything overt, kid – I think you put the fear of the Creator and the Fallen One into them."

"Still, it's that 'anything overt' that I'm worried about, Ares." The kid changed into his regular clothes and then stretched out, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I am needed to go baby sit."

"I thought that you said you'd never sit with the Amazons again, kid?"

Xander smiled, "Nah, not them – Monica, down in Houston, needs a sitter for Diana, and I figure the baby's as safe with me than with anyone else, and I come on the cheap." He teleported away and Ares only laughed, as he knew the kid liked hanging around with the baby as much as the baby liked being around him.

Later that week – Magic Box

Faith was amazed at how her new powers were working – she was holding her own against B as if she was still a Slayer, but there wasn't that … pressure … that came with it. It was, quite frankly, fucking cool!

Buffy pulled back, breathing heavily as she did, but her hands never left the ready position, "How'd you do it, Faith? You're not supposed to be as strong as me."

Faith smirked, "I know how you think, B, and …" she trailed off as her ears picked up a tinkling sound and then laughter … baby laughter. "What the f-"

"Language, Faith." Boy toy walked into the back room carrying a dark-haired brat on his shoulder, who was giggling and cooing it's head off, "Diana's not old enough to hear that kind of language." He turned the baby around and Faith felt her heart melt as those brown eyes pierced her own and she giggled, "This is Diana, daughter of a friend of mine, Monica."

B cooed at the baby, who looked at her like she was an idiot, "Hi-eee, little girly! I'm Buffy, the Vampire Slayer."

Diana looked up at X, who shrugged, "Hey, I never said they were mentally older than you."

B glared at X while Faith found herself smiling a little, "Hey, that's not nice!"

X shrugged, "Truth hurts, sometimes – Diana's a lot older, mentally, than most of us, and she hates it when I try to baby-talk to her." The baby, Diana, kicked her legs at this and babbled something, to which X nodded, "I know you're smarter than you look, Diana, that's what I'm trying to tell her."

"Stud, you can understand that?" Faith wasn't 100% sure, but she was almost positive that Diana glared at her for calling boy toy 'stud', like she was claiming her property.

"Most of the times – part of the Greek pantheon package." He turned Diana around and began rubbing her back, "So, how's training?"

Faith could only shrug her shoulders, "Not bad, X – found out that B's easier to scout than I thought."

B scowled at her, "I was just going easy on you, Faith."

X snorted, "Don't do that, Buffy – remember what I taught you? Never give anyone half a chance in combat because that half a chance is all they might need to kill you." Diana, from his shoulder, sneezed, and he turned to her, "Bless you, and you're right."

Faith looked at her former Slayer sister, "Do you think it's odd that X is having a conversation with someone who can't even walk yet?"

B just rolled her eyes, "Not really – that was his level of communication for so many years …" her voice petered off as Xander turned towards her and glared, "Well, it's true."

He snorted, "Like you were so much better? I could barely follow you from one end of a sentence to the other, WILLOW couldn't follow you from one end of a sentence to another, half of the time."

Faith walked over to him and then behind him to look at the baby, who opened her eyes to stare at her, "Hey, kiddo – I'm Faith." In response, Diana yawned, "Yeah, kinda rough, isn't it. Trust me, it only get worse."

"I don't know about that, Faith." Jenny orbed into the room and Diana perked her head up, "Three are perks to being older and wiser." She tickled the baby under the chin, which got a giggle out of the tot, "We get to tell the younger of the species what to do, and we also get to have more unadulterated fun than they do." In response to that, Diana sneezed on her, which made Jenny jerk her hand back even as Xander began to chuckle.

"Yeah, I forgot to tell you that she has her own way of responding to anything, girls." Xander rubbed the kids back as Jenny wiped her hand, "Once, I asked her opinion on the spread at a football game and she peed on me – I thought it was an accident until she did it again the next hour. It just takes a little getting used to and interpretation." In response to that, Diana burped and Faith had to agree with boy toy – it was taking a little getting used to.


Basement 'Lair'

Jonathan looked at Warren and the zealous look in his eyes before looking at Andrew, who had a slightly less zealous look to him, and spoke up as the single voice of reason, "Guys, do you really want to do this? I mean, yeah, Harris was always a loser, but remember, he's ripped now, and he'd kill us!"

Warren looked at him, "Man, we are all Dungeon Masters! He can't harm us!"

Jonathan sighed, "Warren, pull your head out of whatever fantasy world you're living in and get into this one! This isn't D&D or any on-line world – this is the real world and if you're going up against Harris, then you're going to be dragging his friends into this and trust me, he's going to come at us with both guns blazing … literally, if the rumors about him are true."

Andrew looked at him, "Jono, if you don't have the stomach for this, then get out and leave your Character Sheets – only real men are going to do this."

Jono froze – he loved those character sheets and knew that the pair of them would cannibalize them if he did leave, "Look, all I am saying is to re-think this supposed unbeatable plan of yours – think about the logistics of it and tell me that it's feasible."

Warren looked at him, "Well, then, why don't you plan this, Jono? Seeing as you KNOW how to do this …" Warren left the sarcastic remark hanging and Andrew snickered, which pissed him off a little, "Well?"

"Where has he been these past few months? He said in class that he'd been in an accident, so there must be records – if we catch him in a lie, then we have him cold." Warren and Andrew both blinked at this, and Jonathan grinned, "Well?"

2 Days Later

Dawn smiled as she played with Diana in the front of Buffy's mom's house – Joyce had been really good to her and Faith, treating them like they were her own, and deep down Dawn appreciated that. Buffy, of course, tried to put her in her place, but neither Joyce nor 'Alexander' would stand for that, so she got to act like a normal kid, and as a normal kid, she was currently stuck babysitting for Xander, who was on his way back from class – Diana was a cool baby, but she missed that hunk of man that her sister was shacking up with, even if it was completely non-sexual in nature, "So, did you see that shirt Xander was wearing earlier?"

In response, Diana drooled.

"Exactly, kiddo."

"DAWN! GET DOWN!" She had barely enough time to blink before her chest and shoulder erupted into a fountain of red and an ocean of pain … pain that she quickly succumbed to as Diana's wails filled her ears.

2 Minutes Before

Xander couldn't shake the feeling of unease as he and Faith walked back with Buffy towards Joyce's house – it had been nagging him all day since Warren had flagged him down from across the quad and then 'shot' him with his thumb and forefinger, wearing an evil smile. Something wasn't right, and he wasn't sure what to do about it aside from warning Buffy, Faith, Willow, Tara and Giles, with Dawn as his next target.

It happened quickly – as he and the others reached 1630 Rovello Drive, a car, a little shit of a thing, screeched up to them and Warren piled out while his buddy Andrew, and another guy who looked scared shitless, sat inside … and Warren had a gun, "Eat this, Harris!" The gun, a .45 caliber Glock, came up and spat fire even as the girls dove for cover and he erected a shield … but then Meers changed his target ad fired in the general direction of Dawn and Diana, whom he had been talked, rather easily, into watching that day, and fired.

"DAWN! GET DOWN!" Even as he froze time, it was already too late – the bullets hit Dawn twice in the chest and she fell back, with Diana wailing as Warren got back into the car and drove off.

Faith's scream filled his ears as the sounds of sirens faded into being and the Sunnydale PD came running – he ran to the fallen teen and began applying pressure even as the cops rolled up and started to get in the way. They searched them all for weapons and, after finding nothing, asked what had happened.

"YOU LET THE FUCKING GUNMEN GET AWAY YOU FUCKING SHITHEADS! WARREN MEERS AND HIS FUCKBUDDIES! GET THEM BEFORE I DO!" Faith's scream jolted the cops into action, but Xander knew that the case, like so many others, would come to naught as the minutes rolled by and Dawn slowly slipped away from them – he could not use his powers even if he had the choice to, as her being The Key, still, kept her from being healed by anyone but HIM and her own natural healing.

Finally the ambulance arrived and Faith accompanied Dawn to the hospital, while Jenny came and took Diana back to Houston – the shock he had been feeling then began to leave as Willow and Tara cried and Buffy joined them, and in it's wake it left something that he had never truly known before. Rage – pure, unadulterated rage, and even as he changed into his armor and went to Olympus to pick up his new toy, he felt a savage smile crossing his lips; the Patron god of Snipers was about to take the field … and not even HE could save the poor bastards that had just waltzed between his crosshairs.

Later – Evening

Warren looked at Jono, who was freaking out, "What's your problem, Jono? We just hit Harris where he lived – his friends."

"You just committed ATTEMPTED MURDER YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE! This isn't some damned game anymore, Warren; this is REAL LIFE! Do you think that he's going to let the inept Sunnydale PD come after us? NO! He's going to come after us, Warren, and I for one don't plan on getting caught by him – I'm through, done, gone!"

Warren blinked, "But, what about your character sheets?"

Jono turned around and looked at him, "Character sheets? I'm a little more worried about saving my own life than about those damned things – keep them, I'm gone."

Jono left and Warren looked at Andrew, who was calmly drinking a cola, "What's his problem? I mean, its not like we did anything bad, right?"

As if in response, the wall across from Andrew exploded and, a split second later, Andrew's chest exploded into a mist of flesh, bone and blood, covering Warren's face and everything around him.

Across the street

Alexander worked the bolt of the sniper rifle he'd brought along and calmly looked through the godly-modified scope that allowed him to see and hear anything he was looking at, "Surprise, mother fucker!"

"Xander!" He looked up and saw Anya Jenkins, one of the few women in his life that he truly hated, storming up to him, and pointing her finger at him, "I want ORGASMS!"

Calmly he shifted the rifle to where the bore rested in line with her chest, "Leave. Now."

"You're a demi-god, you have the stamina and strength of an entire small country, and you are going to give me –" Anya's rant was cut off as he pulled the trigger of the rifle and it roared it's war cry, the round flew through the air at supersonic speeds, but not fast enough for him to catch it juts as it hit her blouse-front and stopped it's forward motion, though it continued spinning and burning away at the material.

"Anya, this is your last warning – Leave. Me. Alone. I am conducting business here, and if you interfere with said business EVER again, I will not stop the bullet."

She blinked at him once, then twice, and then took a step back, "Why did you shoot at me? I just wanted to have orgasms." He snarled at her and she shrieked, turning around and running away, but then in an act of near-compassion, he teleported her away to where he had been dragged one night by both Aphrodite and Discord – Chippendale's of NYC. She'd be happy there and, with any luck, she would never bother him or anyone in California ever again.

He turned back to reacquire his target, but found that Meers had run out of the basement of his parent's home and was on the lamb, "Damn it!" Even as the sounds of the sirens hit his ears, he orbed himself to Joyce's house, the rifle to Olympus and, after a quick change, himself to the hospital, where Dawn was in surgery. Meers could wait – Dawn took precedence, as did his friends.


Waiting Room

Willow watched both Jenny and Sonja sit next to Faith, a comforting hand on each shoulder as they spoke calming words to the furious Amazon, words that worked for a little while, but Willow could see the burning desire to go and find the guy responsible, but to not only do that, but then rip his spleen out and eat it. Did it make it wrong for Willow herself want to sharpen the knife to use in that act?

Her eyes turned as she felt a rush of power and saw Xander teleport into the room, a trick he would never teach her by his own admission, and she could tell he had done something important – his face was drawn in an expression that she was used to, a blank one, and he only used that when he'd done something. "Xander?"

Faith appeared in his arms instantly, but Willow never saw her move, and she started sobbing into Xander's chest as he held her, murmuring into her hair, neck, and cheeks as he rubbed her back gently, just like he always did, until Faith calmed down and he led her back to the chair, "Any word?"

Jenny shook her head, "Nothing yet – we know she will live, but outside of that, it is anyone's call."

Willow saw his shoulders sag as he sat next to Sonja, "Why didn't I see this coming? This is a little rash, even for Meers, but it's exactly what would have happened."

Buffy spoke up from Tara's side, "What do you mean?"

"Buff, Warren would have pulled a gun on one of us eventually – his mind can't take that we'd kick his ass even though he is a supposed 'evil genius', and he's mentally unstable enough to pull a stunt like this. Fortunately, though, we don't have to worry about him for a while."

Sonja narrowed her eyes and Willow was glad that she wasn't in Xander's place, "What did you do?"

"One of Warren's companions, Jonathan Levinson, bailed on his own terms – apparently Meers is playing out some sort of scenario from D&D in his own mind, where he's a warrior of some kind and we're all evil, or some shit like that, and is out of the picture, but Andrew is out of the picture too … permanently."

"You mean that you killed him." Sonja's voice was level, but Willow knew what was coming as she heard Buffy gasp.

"He had a …" she trailed off as he turned and looked at her. "What were you thinking?"

"To be perfectly honest, I wasn't – programming took over and I put a fifty caliber round into his chest from a few hundred feet and several layers of brick out. If Anya hadn't interrupted me, I would have gotten Meers too."

Willow blanched at the mention of Orgasm Girl, "You didn't kill her, did you?"

He gave her a look, "Thought about it, even processed it in my mind, but I told her to leave, gave her an ultimatum and when she did I teleported her to New York City Chippendales to keep her the hell out of my hair."

Sonja whapped him on the arm, "That wasn't nice, Xander – what did those Chippendales ever do to you?"

"Raised the bar too high for us mere mortals to ever clear?"

"You're not mortal, Xander," Jenny pointed out as a smile flittered across Faith's face.

He snorted, "Semantics, Jenny. Either way, two of the three have been dealt with, and Warren's going to have to wait until Dawnie's alright."

Willow looked over at him and then at Faith, who was smiling slightly, then back at Xander, "But you're not leaving him alone, are you." It wasn't a question.

Xander smiled, and it wasn't a nice smile, "You know, I never though I'd see the day when I would admit that I learned something from that son of a bitch Angelus – killing somebody is one thing, but when you break them first, that makes the death so much sweeter."

In the pit of her stomach, Willow felt a ball of acid form.

3 days later

Dawn opened her eyes and saw Xander sitting to her side, eyes closed, and his body contorted in a position that, were he a normal person, would have had to have been most uncomfortable, but she also saw Faith next to him on the small couch, tracks from dried tears on her cheeks and her arms clutching him tightly. It was kind of cute, actually, but Dawn knew that IF, and that was a big if, they were to ever get together, he'd hold her at arm's length because of his immortality.

"Maybe he will, and maybe he will not." Dawn turned her head to the other side and came face to face with a sitting Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt, in full armor, and wearing a smile, "Hello, Dawn."

Seeing she had explicit orders from the doctors not to talk for a few more hours, which is when they would remove the tube down her throat that was helping her breathe, she only smiled.

"I bet you are wondering just what I am doing here, right?" Dawn only arched an eyebrow, which prompted Artemis to go on, "Well, as you know, you are The Key, but that time is at an end, Dawn. I am to be the conduit by which that power is to be removed, leaving you as a normal teenaged girl." Dawn smiled at this, but Artemis went on, "Now, with that done, you can be healed by Alexander, as per an agreement we have with him, but I would like to offer you something – I would like for you to be an Amazon."

"She's very young, Artemis." Dawn knew that Xander was a very good actor, and it was proven that he could look asleep but be very much awake, but with his eyes now open, Dawn could see the unasked question of 'why are you doing this'.

"Yes, she is, but as you know, Alex, there is a war coming and I want to be the first to offer her a place by our side as a warrior and a possible leader."

"Then why not let Athena get ahold of her? Let's face facts – Dawn's smarter by accident than Faith and I, when I was mortal, put together were on purpose, and if she were taken under the wing of Athena, she'd become even smarter and put it to good use."

Dawn smiled at the wounded pose that Artemis took up, her green eyes filling with crocodile tears, "Don't you trust me, Alex?"

"With me – Absolutely. With Dawn I trust two people with her – Faith and God." He split himself in two, one still in place and looking asleep, but the other was in his armor and stood next to Artemis' side, "She's important to Faith, which makes her even more important to me."

Artemis took on a teasing look, "You like her because she has the hots for you."

He shrugged, "Not only that, but she likes my jokes and my cooking, too."

Dawn smiled a little more as Artemis arched a delicate eyebrow, "Your cooking leaves much to be desired, my friend."

"We can go back and forth with that point all day and night, Artemis, but how about we make her a normal girl, first." He looked at her and teleported to the other side, "Now, Dawnie, this may hurt a little, but after that, I can heal you and we can blow this Popsicle stand. Ready?"

Dawn nodded and Xander joined his hands with Artemis' over her body, entwining his fingers with hers as they closed their eyes and smiled slightly en tandem – Dawn felt a slight tug at her heart as wisps of green 'smoke' came off of her body and collect into a ball in their out-stretched hands; oddly enough, it didn't hurt at all, it just felt like she was a little drained. When they were finished, it was about the size of a Koosh ball, only an ethereal one with green swirls and silver sparkles in it, which she was able to say a single word about, "Pretty."

Artemis took the ball as Xander began to heal her – she knew he couldn't do the entire job himself, as he was more of a 'patch them up' kind of guy now, but it would be enough for her to get out of the hospital by the end of the day with a little creative editing of her charts. When he was finished, he teleported the tube out of her throat and she took a breath of sweet oxygen on her own, but soon fell into a coughing fit from the antiseptic smell of the air and the odor coming from the blood-drenched bandages on her chest, which she removed as Xander politely turned around as she got out of the bed slowly and then pulled on some clothes that Faith had brought her the day before.

"Dawnie?" She turned and was instantly enveloped in Faith's embrace, the Amazon-enhanced strength not being as bad as the Slayer-enhanced strength, but it was formidable. After a few moments, Faith let her go enough to look her up and down, then back at the others, who were containing the green energy in a prism of clear crystal of some kind, "What's going on?"

"I'm not the Key anymore, Faith – I'm normal now."

Faith looked at her, "You ate B's cooking and survived – you'll never be normal, kid." Dawn had to give her that, if nothing else, but still stuck her tounge out at her sister for good measure.

Over the next hour she was processed out of the hospital with only the occasional odd look, but more often than not it was the scowl from Xander that kept too many questions from being asked – during that time, Dawn gave a lot of through to both offers that had been made, joining either Artemis' or Athena's growing corps. She could see both the positives and the negatives of both actions and honestly couldn't make up her mind – who would she side with?

Olympus - 2 days later

"Oh, Al-lex." Xander didn't have to open his eyes to know who was standing around him – in two days both Athena and Artemis had been working him over to get Dawn to make a choice, but he had made it abundantly clear that he would not push her to either side, which they had taken to mean that he was playing hardball and, as such, started playing as well. Athena had gotten her owl, whom he had started calling either Feather Duster or Hooter (this got snickers from all of the others save the owl) to actually be nice to him, while Artemis had started to just hang around him with, not pushing or doing anything, just being overly friendly and very affectionate. When that didn't work, they had gone to open seduction via words and gestures, which made it hard for him to concentrate on his school work – Athena could lick the red off of a candy cane in one go while Artemis liked to dance provocatively – and as he woke up from a pleasant nap, he could smell them both on either side of him in a way that reeked of when Cupid, Discord, Strife and Hestia had gotten involved in his love life a while back.

"Ladies, why are you both in my bed, presumably naked?"

Artemis' voice was like honey in his ear, "Oh, there's nothing 'presumable' about it, toots." She pressed into his side and he could tell she wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing, "Now, stop playing hard to get."

"Yes, Alexander," Athena said from his other side, also pressing into his side, "Make a choice."

He sighed and sat up, teleporting to the small basin that he had set up off to the side, "Do you two ever give it a rest?"

Artemis laughed slightly, seemingly completely at ease in her nudity, "Not one bit. We both want Dawn as part of our own Corps, but as you can persuade her …" she left it hanging and he sighed.

"Artemis, I told you and Athena both that I am not going to influence Dawn one way or another – if she wants to join either of you, she will do so on her own." He turned around and looked at the pair of them, arching an eyebrow at the sight, "Now, are you two TRYING to lose your 'Virgin goddess' status with me, or what?"

Athena smiled somewhat slyly, "Well, I ride both sides of the fence myself, but Artemis has told me that she's been having these dreams…" She was quieted by a glare from Artemis, but then grinned as Xander groaned, "Kid, trust me, you could do worse." She teleported her clothing and armor on her and then stood, "Now, as I know you won't be working for Artie, I have other things to do." She teleported away and Artemis growled.

"I hate it when she calls me that." She pulled the blanket on the divan around her shoulders and sulked, "I mean, I let Apollo get away with it because he's my brother, but then EVERYONE things they can get away with it."

Xander sat next to her, "I don't call you that and you know it, Artemis. Now, why are you so hard up with trying to get Dawn? Is there something I need to know about?"

She shook her head, her auburn tresses framing her face, "No, but I guess you could think of her as a token piece – she's made of the Key energy, and whoever empowers her is guaranteed to get a great General out of her, so Athena and I are really gunning for her." She sulked a little more and leaned into his side, "That's selfish, even by our standards."

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, "Yeah, it is, but at least we know you have her best intentions at heart." They sat there for a while, silently contemplating the universe until two energies appeared within his area; one of them he knew well, but the other one was new to him.

"Well, well, well, isn't this touching?" Ares said with an evident smirk but the companion merely shook his head – he was large, bulky and had the classic looks of a playboy, but there was also something familiar about him. "Don't they just make the cutest couple, little brother?"

"Quit teasing them, Ares – I'm sure Dite will get them enough when she finds out about this." The stranger walked forwards and stuck out his hand, "Hi, Hercules."

Xander stood and shook his hand, "I thought you looked familiar – I guess you really got into that episode where you're Kevin Sorbo, who is playing Hercules, who is playing Kevin Sorbo?"

The older demi-god laughed as Artemis put some clothes on under her blanket, "Yeah, that was a little weird, but it works out for the better. So, you're the new guy who's making so many waves."

Xander just shrugged and sat back down, "I take care of my friends as well as I can – if I ruffle a few feathers along the way, oh well."

Ares chuckled at that as Artemis sat back down, leaning back into him, "True enough – now, what are you going to do with the Meers kid?"

Xander smiled slightly, "Play with his head a little, get him to do something stupid or illegal, possibly both, and then be waiting there to take him down when he does it."

Artemis nudged him in the ribs with her elbow, "You're supposed to wait a few centuries before you become vindictive, Xander."

He shrugged and put his arm back around her, "I'm impatient – problem with today's youth. Only real problem with the idea is that I have to actually miss him if I take a shot at him."

"And being the patron god of Snipers, that's going to be next to impossible, right?" Ares took up a chair and shrugged, "Just be careful what you do, kid – it could come back to bite you in the ass."

Little did Xander know how very true that micro-prophecy would come to be.

UC Sunnydale – 6 weeks later

Outside of the odd vampire and demon, it had been a very quiet six weeks for Buffy – her grades were coming along better, her mom and Giles seemed to be getting a little closer, and Dawn was completely recovered from her ordeal with being shot. It had taken a few days to process what had happened between the time of the shooting and Xander's appearance, but she had come to accept, but not like, that he was not going to let things with the shooting slide and while she couldn't make him bend to her will like she had once been able to do, she knew that he would not let anyone hurt them if he had a say in the matter.

Even as the walked up to where the aforementioned Xander, Faith, Willow and Tara were standing, she wondered just how she had been blessed with such good friends – sure, she probably didn't deserve them as much of a bitch as she had been, but all in all it was coming along nicely. Willow and Tara were deliriously happy together, Faith and her sister, Dawn, the older sister now an Amazons while the younger decided to go with Athena, had pulled back from their lusting over Xander after he told them that it was kind of embarrassing at time with the way they fought, and he himself was on good 'friendly' terms with their goddess, Artemis – she herself was the only one lacking in any male companionship, but that was more out of personal choice than anything. Things just couldn't have been better.

"Harris!" She looked over to see the very disheveled face of Warren Meers, a fugitive from justice (thought it would be a sign of the apocalypse if the SPD actually solved a case) and a general pain in the ass, and he was looking quite angry as he approached Xander, "I'm going to get you now, Harris."

Xander just yawned, "What now, Warren? Exploding marbles? Poisoned playing cards? God forbid you do something original."

Warren, on the other hand, wasn't so blasé about it as he began to chuckle manically, "I'm going to shoot one of you – you'll never see me or find me, but I'll kill one of you." With that, Warren walked away and Xander frowned.

"What is it, stud?"

"He means it – he's finally snapped and he's stopped fucking around." Buffy blanched as Xander unconsciously transformed into his 'work clothes', "Tell everyone to stay in tonight, guys, and away from the windows – you don't answer the door, you take the phones with you, and keep close."

With that, she saw him faze out of time and then go somewhere that her Slay-dar could not pick him up on, so she summed it up in a short sentence, "I hate it when he does that."

Later – Summers Household

Willow bounced the young natural witch, Diana, on her knee as Faith and Dawn played a game of chess off to the side of the magically-sealed-from-bullets room; Faith was now in competition with her sister in just about everything that she did and Willow found it slightly unnerving when the pair of them turned anything into a race, like washing dishes or folding socks.

Diana gurgled at her slightly and then began to squirm uncomfortably, having not yet mastered the process of speech, though she was getting closer as every time she saw Xander she burped out a 'Der', "Something wrong, Diana?" The baby sneezed at her and began to groan lightly before contorting her face and wailing. Willow quickly checked the baby's diaper and, once that was considered clear, tried to feed her, but she wouldn't take anything.

"What's wrong with the brat, Red?"

"I don't know, Faith." Willow picked Diana up and put her on her shoulder to burp her, but then felt a murderously hard pressure hit her just below the sternum and send her out of her chair as the wall in front of her exploded inwards. Diana was sent sailing backwards, but what happened after that Willow didn't know as her world went black with agony.

Outside Summers Residence

Tara, who had been hustling along side of him and Buffy as they went into the house, screeched and hit the dirt as the resounding report of a rifle reached their ears, as did Buffy, who was on his other side; he instinctively threw up an energy shield around the entire house, but in the pit of his stomach he felt it was already too late as Diana's wails and a sudden thud from the upper floor told him that someone had been hit.

"WILLOW!" Dawn's screech spurred him into directly teleporting up there as Buffy and Tara began running, but by the time he got there it was already too late – Willow Rosenberg, his oldest friend in the world, his sister and one-time future wife, lay on the ground, a good portion of her chest missing from what looked to be an explosive round having hit her. Diana wailed, covered in Willow's gore, but was unharmed, Faith was holding up Dawn, who was sobbing, and all he could hear from Buffy and Tara were horrified gasps as his world came crashing down around him. The sobs and wails became echoed as time began to slow down around him and the color bleed out of the sight in front of him until it was black, white and gray. He could distinctly feel all parts of his mind slow down as his knees gave out and he hit the floor, but the sudden jarring of that hit, which seemed to take hours to hit him, kick-started an instinct buried and burned so deeply within his mind that as color returned, a low snarl escaped his throat – protect Willow. He had failed to do that, she was dead and the person responsible for said act was on the loose.

"NO!" Tara's screech and a sudden influx of pure, dark power and an out-flow of grief and anger washed over him, but he didn't care – his Willow was dead, so he just bound the power he felt pouring in and out of Tara with a thought and turned to her in time to see her face lose it's black eyes and black veins, still contorted in grief and anger, and he just put his hand on her cheek. Tara looked up at him, her inner magical balance completely throw off and blown to hell, and she slapped him as hard as she could, but he barely felt it, and then she did it again, and again, and again and then started throwing the odd punch and kick, but he just stood there, feeling the black power within her fading away until she began to sob and fell into his chest, where he caught her.

"Xand? Who did this?" He looked over at Dawn, whom Faith had let go in order to restrain Buffy, and saw that she had Diana her arms and was stained with Willow's, blood, "Who did this?"

"Warren Meers, Hope Dawn Williams." Athena, Artemis and Ares all teleported into the room, Hectate with them, and none of them looked happy, "He did it to get even with you all, and he had help."

"Who helped him?" Xander barely recognized his own voice as he let Tara go and transformed into his new clothes, which he termed his hunting clothes – his armor was nice, but impractical for the rigors of being in the field and working, so he'd updated it to a standard military blacksuit with concealment charms, infinite storage in the pockets and a modified .50 caliber M-82 made of titanium to lighten the load, and with heat-absorption rings to both help hold down the barrel, cool it off and it also made the whole thing look pretty damned cool … but now was not the time for ascetics. "Please tell me it was The Powers That Be."

Ares shook his head, "No dice, kid – they're crazy, not suicidal. Some joker we took care of a while back calling itself the First Evil has made the boy loose his cookies completely." Ares looked down at Willow as Hectate went over to Tara and embraced her, "First, take out Meers, then we'll deal with the First Evil."

Xander snarled as he heard the sirens of the police begin to fill the air, "Oh, he's going to be dealt with, Ares … eventually." With that Alexander teleported away from the crime scene, on the hunt and out for justice … out for vengeance.


Willy's Bar

Willy felt the urine run down his leg as the kid walked into the door – it had gone through the entire demon community like wildfire what had gone down earlier that day and nobody, especially not Willy, was going to start something with anyone associated with the Slayer or Harris.

The demons in the bar all kept a wary eye on Harris as he stalked in, his face colder than a glacier and harder than granite, "Willy, where is he? No bull shit, no bad leads, I just want to know where he is."

Willy gulped at the kid's calm, level voice, "Look, Xander, buddy, I've got feelers out everywhere, and when I know, you'll know. Trust me, if we'd seen this coming, I'd've told ya, man." The kid looked around and ever demon in the place shook their head 'yes', agreeing with him, "Give me until morning, and you'll have that Meers kid."

"He won't have to wait." Willy shrank back at the voice of the other kid, Levinson, who sat in a corner booth and was nursing a beer before standing up, a little wobbly from the alcohol, "Warren's pissed, man, and he took it out on your red-haired bitch." Willy shrank below the bar, most of the demons around the kid getting the hell out of Dodge as the air temperature dropped about fifty degrees in a single second, "But then again, he always was jealous of you, Xander. Surrounded by girls, always getting the – URK!"

In a flash Harris had Levinson by the throat and dangling off of the ground by a good foot, or so Willy guessed as he peeked over the bar top, "Jono, I am giving you to the count of one to take that back and BEG for forgiveness."

"Let him go, Xander." Willy looked at the door and saw the blonde Wicca, dressed in jeans, a blouse and holding a bag in her hand; he knew that Harris and her were friends, but when Harris dropped Levinson to the ground and she walked up to him, Willy felt a pang of sorrow and sympathy for the half-drunk loser, "He's mine."

"Don't lose yourself, Tara – I bound your powers before, and I can do it again."

She glared at the demi-god, "I'm in control, Xander – I just want some answers." She reached down and, after pulling some powder out of her bag, sprinkled it on Levinson's chest and mumbled something that had an instant reaction – Jonathan Levinson screamed in pure agony as he writhed on the floor, sober as a priest on Sunday, "Now, Jonathan, do I have your attention?"


She smiled, "Good – now, where is Warren?"

"Why … why should I tell you?" Willy and all of the demons winced in unison and ducked out of the sight of both people as the kid's screams of agony began anew – it did not do well to piss off a witch and someone who could boost her power.

After a few minutes, the kid shut up and Harris spoke again, "Now, Jonathan, we can do this one of two ways – my way, which is the hard way, or her way, which is the REALLY PAINFUL way; your choice, chief."

The kid gasped on the floor for a few more seconds before he let out a strangled cry, "Your way! Don't hurt me, please!"

"Not going to happen, shit head." Harris reached down and grabbed Levinson by the hair, picking him off of the ground, and then dragging him over to a wall and pinning him there with a long knife through the gut – Levinson shrieked for several minutes as many demons made for the door, Willy wishing he could do the same, and then Harris started 'questioning' the wounded geek again, "Now, where is Meers?"

"Y… you said hers was the painful way."

Harris' voice was like ice as he spoke again and Willy prayed to every god and goddess he could think of that he never heard that voice again, "No, I said she was the REALLY painful way – I can only kill you, Levinson, she can make you suffer for hours and never lay a finger on you. Meers. NOW!"

Willy ears rang for days with the emitted sounds of agony from Jonathan Levinson, and he spent hours cleaning up the mess left behind – humans got messy when they were gutted, especially by a demi-god after he's promised the leaving Wicca that 'he'd take care of it'.

Next Day - Vineyard

Warren looked up at the image of his master, whom had taken the shape of his dead friend, Andrew Wells – the ghostly image had told him where to be, when to be and what to bring in order to get even with Harris, and it had all worked out. Willow Rosenberg was dead, Harris was completely clueless and now his Master had empowered him to where not even the Slayer girl, or the Amazon for that matter, could harm him – Harris had rules to go by, and so did the blonde girl, too, "Master, our plan is working!"

"Of course it is, you fool! Now, tell me, what do you think of taking out Dawn Williams next? Would that not gut them completely?"

A shred of his sanity remained as he shook his head, "Master, that would be foolish – Harris has protected her from far worse than me, empowered or not, and he'll stop us."

'First Andrew' nodded, "You're right – the child, then, Diana. She will be the next to die."

"I am afraid not, First Loser." Warren turned around as four people teleported into the room on beams of golden light, like Star Trek transporters, one in black leather armor and male, a female in brown leather armor, another female in white and silver armor and a fourth someone robed in a deep black cowl, "You see, you've crossed the line this time, and now it's time to pay the piper."

'First Andrew' morphed into 'First Willow', "Really? And how is that going to happen?"

"First, your minion here dies by my hands." The cowl was pushed back to reveal the face of Alexander Harris, her face blank and his eyes blazing a golden color as the robe disappeared and it left him in black combat fatigues, holding a cruel-looking knife in one hand, "Then we take care of you, First Bitch."

Warren sneered at him, "You can't touch me, Harris! You have rules that you can't break!" Warren then started to laugh what he considered an evil laugh, more like a cackle than anything, but that petered out quickly as Harris just smiled evilly at him and allowed his eyes to glow a feral yellow green color.

"Cub, do yourself a favor now and stick your head between your legs and kiss your tail goodbye, because I'm going to enjoy keeping you in agony for the next few days." Harris tilted his head back and let out a cackle of his own, this one far more bone chilling than Warrens on, he had to admit, as, after throwing the knife into the ground, he then began to walk forwards.

Warren felt a slight quaver in his voice as he took a step back, "What is he?"

Harris grinned, "Didn't the First Chump tell you? I'm a demi-god, son, Patron God of SNIPERS – how in the fuck do you think I took out Andrew?" A wave of power slammed into Warren and he stumbled back even as Harris chuckled again, "Do you have ANY idea how badly you've fucked up, Warren? You killed Willow, but not just any Willow – you killed MY Willow; in the past day I have thought up of dozens, no, hundreds of ways for you to die, and each one of them is messier and more painful than the first."

"Don't let him get to you, Warren," 'First Willow' said before shifting to Andrew again. "Remember I made you stronger!"

Warren smiled at that and straightened his clothes, "Yeah, that's right. Let's see how tough you think you are when I level the playing fields, Harris." With that, he walked over to Harris, who only arched an eyebrow as the other three present snickered for some reason – he'd have to find out who they were later on and deal with them, too – and slugged Xander in the face … with depressingly little effect. Angered by this, Warren did it again, and again, and again until he felt bone-tired nearly ten minutes later and backed off, putting his head between his legs and taking deep breaths to slow his heart down a little.

"Finished?" He raised his head and, instead of the mangled piece of bloody hamburger he was expecting to see, he saw the same face he had started with, only this one had no glowing eyes and only an arched brow, "Good. Now, Meers, what was that you said about being on a 'level' playing field? I am a Greek DEMI-GOD! You being jacked up … possibly jacked off … by that weak excuse for an evil ghost and believing that you're anywhere as strong as me is, quite frankly, one of the best jokes I've heard in a while."

Warren drew himself up, anger building again, "No, you're not better than me, Harris – I'm the best! I'll beat you!" Warren threw himself forward and the last thing he saw was a field of black tread with the gold word 'WOLVERINE' in them before his world went black.

Vineyard – five seconds later

Ares looked down at the crumpled form of Warren Meers and then up at his friend/brother, Alexander, who was smiling at himself, "Don't tell me you're done already."

"Of course not, Ares – I plan on keeping him alive for a while so that he can feel all the pain I have over the past twenty four hours, repeatedly, if possible. Now, don't we have the First Ditz to deal with?"

Ares held back a smile while both Athena and Artemis snickered as the First Evil growled, "My name, insect, if the FIRST EVIL!" It transformed into a representation of Tony Harris and 'he' growled out, "Boy, you're nothing more than a waste of space, pathetic, and you're going to die here!"

Xander just yawned, "Blah, blah, blah, boring – let's just get this over with, shall we?" The kid walked over and joined hands between Artemis and Athena, who joined his own hands, and they pooled their power together to seal away the First Pest.

"What do you think you are doing, Ares? Nobody is capable of sealing me away forever!"

Ares smiled as their power reached a first plateau and then broke through it, "Oh, we're not sealing you away, First Schmuck – we're doing something far more … inventive." Their power reached a second plateau, held there for a second and then broke through again, "See, we were bantering this idea around a few hours ago in the mall and, get this, a seven-year-old gave us the idea of not locking YOU away, but locking away only part of you." The power reached a final plateau and held there as the four divine beings held it in place with more than a little concentration.

The First Evil laughed, "Really? Then tell me, oh great and powerful god of War, what aspect of me are you going to bind?"

Ares grinned as the four of them broke apart and the ball of energy hung there in space, "Your ability to project your astral form into the moral realm, First Poser – without that, the emotional attachment is no longer there and …" Ares let the statement hang there as the First Evil's face, or technically 'Willow's' face became shocked and horrified, "Okay, I love you, buh-bye!"

The ball of energy rocketed forwards and slammed into the body of the First Evil, shattering it and sending it screaming back to it's own dimension for a year, but after that year it would be allowed to return, only without it's 'shape-shifting' capability for the next ten millennia, effectively cutting it's persuasive power off at the neck.

Once the light from the explosion dissipated Ares turned around and found the kid smirking at him, "What?"

"An Animaniacs quote? Mindy from Mindy and Buttons, to be precise?"

Ares looked at him somewhat affronted, "Hey, the dog puts up with so much crap that it's worth seeing him quit in that last episode!" Xander just shook his head at him and then looked back at Meers while both Athena and Artemis laughed slightly, "What do you have planned now, kid?"

Xander just smiled, "Oh, I'm sure I'll come up with something."

2 Days Later – Middle of the Mojave Desert

"Why the hell can't I come up with anything?" Xander sat, perched on a large rock in the classic 'Thinker' position, dressed in a pair of shorts and a tank top, letting the sun beat down on his back and toast him slightly as he tried to think up of a justifiable reason to torture Warren Meers to the bring of sanity, heal him, and then do it again in a different manner to where he would be nuttier than squirrel shit at the very end – Dru would look sane after he was done with him.

Tara had been MOST vehement about killing Meers as slowly and as painfully as possible and, for not the first time, Xander thanked Hectate for stepping in and binding Tara's powers for the duration of the thought process, not to mention going so far as to put a protective shield around the shit. Faith and Dawn had began to purposefully dull and rust knives of all shapes and sizes for skinning the shit, Buffy was walking holes in the linoleum trying to explain things to Joyce about why there was a bullet hole in her house, blood all over the floor and more than a few angry/homicidal people in the house, not to mention one Warren Meers trussed up like a Thanksgiving Day turkey in her basement. Even Diana, whom Monica had called him about, had been throwing all sorts of things around with her powers, keys mostly, and sending her mother dark, violent thoughts until he had gone to calm her down and explain the situation. He'd even gone so far as to go down to Willy's Bar and to poll the demons there and around Sunnydale on the best ways to torture somebody – they got rather inventive and somewhat detailed and gruesome, but he had a vast repertoire to draw from now.

"Not as easy as you thought it would, is it, Alex?" He looked over and saw Artemis, in a blue thong bikini and on a towel, sunning herself next to him, then felt several more people orb in around him, "Killing someone is easy enough, but torturing someone is much more personal, isn't it."

"Yeah, it is. Hi, dad, Aunts Piper, Prue and Phoebe." He turned from his occasional bedmate to his family, all of whom looked more than a little upset with him, "What brings you here?"

'Aunt' Piper walked forwards and took him by the earlobe, twisting it slightly, "What are we doing here? What in the hell do you think you're doing, young man?"

"Feeling massive a-MOUNTS of pain!" He writhed slightly as she twisted a little more and then let go, which allowed him to reach up and massage the offended part of his body, "Was that necessary?"

She glared at him, "Don't take that tone with me, young man – what in the hell do you think you're doing, contemplating torturing this Warren Meers?"

His face went flat, "He killed Willow with an explosive round and under the influence of the First Poof; he dies in a way that I see fit, end of story."

Leo looked at him, "First 'Poof'?"

"The First Evil, Leo," Artemis said as she turned over and began oiling up her front.

Leo blanched, "It's free?"

"Not anymore – we took away its ability to project itself in a emotionally-linked form." Xander absently reached down and held the proffered bottle of suntan lotion as Artemis went about her business, "Be that as it may, I made a promise with myself a long time ago that clearly states that if Willow is ever harmed, I kill the person responsible – that hasn't changed just because my job title has."

Prue and Phoebe held Piper back as Leo frowned, "Sonja told me that you had become more than a little dark – I had hoped that it had not gone this far, but I see that I was wrong."

Xander snorted, "Leo, give it a rest – Sonja is just still smarting about Willow being killed because they were actually good friends, despite the babbling arguments they often got into. Point of fact is that I can't come up with anything bad enough for him – not even Phoebe's cooking is bad enough." Even thought he had been perfectly serious about the entire affair, Prue snickered a little and Phoebe let out an affronted 'Hey!' before going back to hold Piper.

Leo looked over at Artemis, "Can you talk some sense into him, Lady Artemis?"

She snorted, "I have trouble enough keeping my Amazons from storming the house Meers is in and taking the git out themselves – apparently they all thing Alexander is 'to die for' and 'utterly gorgeous' and are willing to do just about anything for him." She turned and pinned him with a glare as he felt a smirk come to his lips, "Don't think you can start poaching from my heard, Alex – poach me, if you want, but not them."

He knelt down as Prue and Phoebe snorted at something, "I'm going to hold you to that, Artemis, you know that, right?" She gave him a dazzling smile and he stood back up, seeing now that Piper was holding both of her sisters back, "So, are you happy now? I can't think of a single thing to do to him physically – that means that nothing is going to happen to him at all."

Leo nodded slowly, "Well, it's a start – Prue, Phoebe, stop glaring at Artemis." Xander winced as Artemis returned the glare of the two Charmed Ones, but Leo went on, somehow being overly calm while standing in the middle of 'Ground Zero', "How is everyone taking things?"

Xander snorted, "How do you think? All of them loved Willow and all of them are coming up with ways to skin the poor SOB alive." Xander shook his head and then stopped, a thought striking him, "Hold on a second – I think I have the inkling of an idea forming."

Artemis looked up, "Disemboweling him?"

Xander grinned evilly as the plan took further root, "I won't have to lay a hand on him, Artemis." He swooped down and kissed her on the forehead, "Bye!"

Summers Home – An Hour Later

Tara watched as Xander strung up Warren by his wrists from the overhead pipes, stripped him to the waist, an act that got a giggle from Dawn as the geek lacked anything close to a physique, and then slapped him awake sharply, drawing a cry of surprised pain from said geek, "Wake up, loser."

Warren was a bit blurry for a few moments but when he did finally come out of it, he snarled, "Harris, what do you want?"

Xander just smiled that smile of his and Tara, for a split second, felt bad for the dweeb, "To skin you alive, to make you go nearly insane, restore your sanity and do it all over again, but as that has a definite end, I'm going to have to get a little creative. You see, Warren, I know you know I am a demi-god, but above that I am of the Greek Pantheon and we have a bit of a reputation when it comes to retribution; I have a bit of an obligation to my brothers and sisters in arms to make you pay with something … interesting."

Warren sneered at Xander, "Torture me all you want, I'll never tell you anything."

Xander just rolled his eyes and shook his head, his voice, Tara surmised, weary with both a great deal of contempt and aggravation, "Warren, trust me, if I wanted information out of you, I could make you sing like a canary, something I can do anyways, but no, I'm going to give you a few things, actually, things that your own wildest imagination could only wish for." Tara watched Xander cut his own palm and smear his blood over Warren's entire face, "Now, that blood will make you at least partially Immortal – as long as the sun is up, you cannot be harmed but you will still continue to age. A part of that is quick regeneration, so if you do get hurt at night, you'll heal quickly.

"Now, before you go and think that I'm letting you go, well, you're partially right – I am letting you go, but you'll never be free of me; I have set within your mind a list of things that, when one of them is either preformed or infringed upon, you will feel pain like you have never felt before. I'm leaving it up to you to figure out just what is on that list, but for the rest of your natural life, this will be true." Tara felt her face go slightly green at the implications of what was going to be a very long time in agony, but Xander went on, "But as they say in Economics, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch – say goodbye to your voice, Warren." A golden light came from Warren's throat and he opened his mouth, but only expelled air was heard, "Bet that sucks, right? Well, you haven't even felt the worst of it – I'm also placing an impregnable sound field around you that nobody but us or the divine can hear anything from you, so be careful where you drop in agony, as we wouldn't want people to accidentally get hurt, now, would we?"

"Xander, this is cruel," Tara heard herself say even as the implications of it all came down upon her.

Xander gave her a slightly warm smile, "Tara, honey, gorgeous, beautiful Wicca of a sex-pot, you haven't SEEN cruel, yet, and you won't out of me." Tara blushed brightly as Faith and Buffy snickered, Dawn 'harumphed' next to them and Warren rattled his chains, "Now, back to Warren – seal thine lips, foul beast of burden!" Warren's lips fused together and his eyes bugged out as his body wracked in agony, "Ah, I see you found the first of my little restrictions, and it's an oldie, but a goody – Thou Shalt Not Take The Name of Thy Lord God in Vain. Think it and you hurt, savvy?" Warren nodded and Xander went on, "Now, don't go thinking that your old friend Jonathan is going to save you, because he is a little busy being dead right now." Tara jerked her head up and stared in disbelief at Xander, as did everyone else.

"Now, if he had come to us and told us about what you had planned at all, even the mere mention of a gun-involved plan, I would have let him go with a light punishment, but as he did not, I am sorry to say that he had to die, not that it would have made any difference in his case – cancer isn't a nice way to go, and bone cancer, which he had the first stage of, wouldn't have been pretty. FYI, I gutted him while he was pinned to the wall by one of my boot knives – squealed like a stuck pig, he did, and if you don't believe me, ask Tara, she was there for that part." Warren's eyes went wide again and he was wracked with agony once more before going limp in the chains, "Now, I'm not a complete bastard, Warren – every once in a while you will get a full day off from the pain, but you'll never be told when those are. Now, another thing I'm going to give you is a nice job and a place to live – we can't have you being homeless, now can we?"

Dawn took that point to speak up, bringing much-needed relief to the room, "What job are you giving him, Xand?"

He smiled kindly at the former Key, "Well, he's going to be working with kids, Dawnie – I've got him a job at a hospital in the neo-natal ward handling babies; he'll change, feed and burp them all and, the best part is, he's going to be there for the rest of his life with the references that I've supplied him." Warren kicked his feet some more and rattled his chains, glaring furiously at Xander but then went stiff in agony as his eyes bugged out – Tara was starting to feel a little bad for him, "Ah, there's another – never call a lady, let alone any female, the 'B' word."

Tara snarled a little and then dashed forwards, slapping he geek as he hung there helpless. With that done, she marched straight out of the basement and went up to the room where Willow had been killed, collapsed on the bed and began sobbing her eyes out. She wanted to see the prick die, horribly, for what he had done to Willow, but this was a fate far worse than death – as she continued to cry, she wasn't sure whom had gotten the worse end of the deal, her or Warren.

Woot! One more part to go, but it's the hardest part - I've always had a problem with ending fics. So, what do you think of this prolonged punishment? Feedback, please - my muse is starting to look a tad too thin.

<April> Are you saying that I was starting to look fat before I went on this diet, Nick?

Of course not, April - you looked nice enough but now you're all skin and bones, like thos supermodels that could be blown in half by a strong sneeze. (Ahem) Ignore us, we're crazy.


Chapter 9

2 Days Later - Graveside

The Rabbi finished his ceremony and was led away by several parishioners as the sun went down, which left Xander, Buffy, Tara, Dawn, Faith and Willow's parents, Ira and Sheila, alone at the private service - both the parents and the Rabbi had been a little worried about doing the ceremony so close to sundown, as they all knew of what went on after dark in Sunnydale, but frankly Xander wasn't in any frame of mind to care. He'd probably broken several dozen rules of decorum and property when he'd told the Rabbi, point blank, that the service WOULD be held at the appointed time, and if necessary said official would physically drag the holy man by his ankles to get him there - his Willow deserved nothing less.

"Alexander, why is the grave marker not engraved?" He looked over at Ira, who like his wife wore the deepest black, "Do you not have any more respect for out daughter than this?"

Idly he wondered how much of a mess it would make for a small nuclear explosion, about the size of a soft ball, to go off in Ira's torso, but he dismissed it with a snarl and removing his sunglasses, "Ira, let me tell you one thing right now - Willow meant more to me on this planet than you or anyone else could ever know; I left it unmarked because I was going to get your blessings before engraving it and if I EVER hear you insinuate I didn't love her I'll make you-" Xander was cut off by Tara's hand on his shoulder, her calming energies assuaging his own raging ones. She'd gotten back in control of herself after a few hours of crying, and now it appeared to be of the status quo.

"Xander, we all know you could kill him with one hand and both legs tied behind your back, but he just lost his daughter - let him … have some time." She looked like a wreck, truth be told - it had been revealed to Ira and Sheila just what her relationship with Willow was and while neither parent wanted to believe it, it had taken his own assurances as to the voracity of the claim to calm them down into believing.

Ira looked at him and looked like he was about to wet himself, "Kill me? You?"

Sheila stepped between them before Xander could do anything, "Stop it, both of you - if you wish to do this, at least have the decency to do it somewhere else." This made Xander stop and step back, allowing Ira to collect himself, at which point is when she turned back to him, "What did you want to show us, Xander? What did you want to put on there, Xander?"

Not wanting to hide anymore secrets, he turned and waved his hand at the granite marker; on one side, in English, were the dates and Willow's name, and on the other was the same, save in Hebrew, but on the other two faces of the obelisk were several glyphs of warding and protection that would never allow the marker to wear or be broken as long as he drew breath. When he turned back to Ira and Sheila, they were both white as ghosts but seemed to accept what had just happened, "Well?"

"You … you're also a witch?"

He shook his head, "No, Sheila - wrong gender to begin with, I'd be a Warlock, and … I'm a few steps higher up the food chain than that now." He looked over at Tara, who's eyes were tearing up even as Dawn held her with Buffy and Faith, "I've had a few nominal and major promotions over the past few years, so I am currently a demi-god of the Greek Pantheon."

All things being equal, Sheila took it better than he thought she would - she passed out; Ira caught her before she hit the ground, glaring at him, but channeled that anger into one question, "Then why didn't you stop my daughter from dying?"

"I said I am a demi-god, Ira, not GOD - I didn't know what was happening, though I probably should have, and for that I am sorry; I know, sorry doesn't bring Willow back, but guess what, don't you think I've already run that through my head already?" Xander paced around for a second, his anger and frustrations building, and then spun back around, glaring at Ira, "Yo know what? Fuck you, Ira - you and your wife abandoned her a long time ago, hiding behind your jobs and your speaking tours, so don't try and pin this one me. If either of you had even the slightest inkling of what it meant to be a set of real parents then you would be able to accept that some things happen for bad reason and nobody under HIM can change that." Xander found himself shaking with pure rage as Tara and the others stepped back, "You feel like attacking me, go right ahead - I don't give a flying fuck, but you and Sheila had better damned well take your own level of being guilty here. You two should never have left Sunnydale as you did - Willow graduated high school and you two were gone before the ink was dried."

"Yes, we were, Alexander, but don't try and pin this on us - you should have protected her! My baby is dead because of you and -" Ira didn't get any further as Xander lashed out and belted him across the mouth, holding Sheila in place with his mind before putting her over next to the girls. When he got back to his feet, he was a little shaky and looked at him with a little fear, "You hit me!"

Xander could have cared less at the shocked look of incrimination on the older man's face, "Your point?"

Ira glared at him, working his jaw several times before he sighed and looked down, tears finally coming to his eyes, something that hadn't happened in all of the time he and Sheila had been in Sunnydale, "Why is she dead?"

"I suppose I could give you some great and convoluted speech on bad things happening to good people and wrong place at the wrong time, but essentially a nut with a gun hit her in the chest with an explosive round and killed her - harsh, but descriptive. I have dealt with said nut and now you and Sheila are going to go on with your lives." He turned away to leave, but Sheila's voice came to his ears.

"We're not proud of what we did, Xander, but you have on right to judge us. You're not a father, a parent."

He didn't even bother to turn around, "Not in any concept you are capable of understanding, Sheila - I've helped father a new breed of warriors in the past year and I am the closest thing to a father a natural witch down in Houston knows." He sighed and then turned and looked at her, "If I am ever blessed with children, though, I'll know who not to look at for an example as to good parenting - you, your husband and my own parents." With that, he teleported away to Olympus and, once there, broke down and began to cry.

Cemetery - same time

Faith looked at Red's mom as she seemed to process everything boy toy had told her, then dropped in her two cents, "He's right, you know - I'm an Amazon and they, my people, treat him with just as much respect and adoration as they do Lady Artemis, something about him laying the smack down on us a while back."

Sheila turned and looked at her, "What do you mean 'your people'? The Amazon Nation was destroyed by Rome centuries ago."

"And Lady Artemis restarted it a year or so ago - didn't start off too well and we kinda got out of hand, so X-man decided to help out and put us in our place, showing us that we got too big for out panties and Lady Artemis made us EARN our titles as Amazons, instead of giving it away like she started to." Faith grimaced slightly, "I kinda got the shaft on that, just 'cause I was a Slayer before I traded up, and a lot of the girls resent the hell out of me because of it."

Ira, she saw, was wrapping his mind around things just a little quicker than his wife, when he asked, "And this makes him … what? Some sort of leader?"

"He's the patron god of snipers, Mister Rosenberg," Tiger spoke up from behind her, walking forwards. "I asked him about it, once, why he didn't object to it, and he told me that even though the job was for life-takers, it was also a necessary job - he's grown up a lot in the time I've know him, and I trust him." That was saying a bunch, coming from Tiger.

"So what about this baby he was talking about? He has a child out of state and has the nerve to tell us how to be parents?" Sheila was starting to fume a little and Faith headed that one off at the pass.

"Nah, Pipsqueak isn't his - she's cool, a natural witch, like Tiger over there," she pointed to Tara, who blushed, and went on, "but she's not his. Protected her a while back and since then he's been helping her mom take care of her when he can - I even heard her call him 'da' one time, when he thought we weren't around, and he told her that he'd be honored to be that for her." Faith smiled a little at the memory, "Diana's almost one and a half now, picking up words left, right and center, but he's cool with it, you know?"

Ira shook his head as if to clear it, but in truth it probably only mixed things up even more, "This doesn't make any sense to me - why is all of this happening to Alexander? Why our daughter?"

B spoke up at that point, D next to her, "Fate, chance, chaos, who knows, Mister Rosenberg, but the fact of the matter is that your daughter is dead and he can't do anything about it - trust me, he's already tried." Faith shivered at that memory but B went on, "Now, with all of this out of the way, why did you two leave? I mean, what purpose did it serve?"

"It made Willow grow up a little bit, become more independent," Sheila said with an air of smugness. "I know … how … oh, I see. We did abandon her, didn't we - we found out about the 'real' world and we ignored it." Faith wasn't sure just how the woman had gotten from point A to point ZZ, but she was there, "So, magic is real? Vampires and demons, too?"

Faith sighed - this was going to take a long time.

Later - Sunnydale

Faith was snoring next to her, having fallen asleep a good hour ago, and both Tara and Dawn were also asleep on the other couch with Buffy between them, piled up like a small litter of puppies, and at that, Joyce had to smile - her kids were happy, well, as happy as they could be, and safe, and this made her smile.

"Joyce, how do you do it?" She turned and looked at both Ira and Sheila, the former having spoken, "You seem to take this all in stride …"

"I've had lots of practice - I found out the hard way about this world and I didn't take it well, I must admit. I finally came to terms with it and … well, I'd like to say that I see things clearer, but honestly all I do now is accept life on life's terms - according to Xander, I am supposed to be dead now from tampering from the higher ups, he changed that some time back."

"He does that a lot, doesn't he," Sheila said with a small grin on her face. "I remember when Willow first introduced us to him, this skinny little boy with dirt all over his face, and I could tell that she was going to do her best to marry him one day."

"In my defense," Xander's voice came out of nowhere as he teleported into the room, dressed in his armor now, "I was five, Sheila, and neither Jessica nor Tony gave a damn about if I ate or not, let alone bathed." Joyce winced at the remark, not being able to fathom being so negligent to a child, but that was the past.

Sheila and Ira both winced also as Xander sat next to her and put his arm around her, pulling her close and planting a kiss in her hair, which brought a blush to her cheeks and a smirk to Sheila's lips, "Older women, Xander?"

"Compared to Artemis, Joyce is a babe in the arms of eternity." Joyce smiled at that, having heard about how Xander and Artemis had an 'agreement' between themselves, but also at the part about her being so 'young'.

Ira took that point to speak, "So, where is this Diana that Buffy and Faith were going on about? I'd very much like to see your adopted daughter."

Joyce looked over at Xander, who was frowning, "She's not my daughter in any way, Ira - sure, she's calling me 'da' and 'pa' all of the time, and one day I'd like to know what that is really like, but Monica and I talked it over one afternoon when she heard it and I am just 'Uncle Xander' … and to answer your question, she's with her mom and grandmother in Houston." Xander drew his arm back and sighed, "So, what's up here, you crazy kids, you?"

Joyce smiled, "We were just talking about how I take all of this in stride, or at least, that was Sheila's question to me."

He smirked, "Oh, from what I've heard and seen by rewinding time up on Olympus, you've lost it more than a few times, Joyce. I mean, 'Freeze, Brit Boy'? That's … inspired." She looked down and blushed at her small mental meltdown nearly two years before after she had found out about his expulsion from the 'Scooby Gang'.

"Well, I was very stressed at the time, Xander, and those headaches you cured me of weren't helping my sanity at all at that point," she pointed out to him, which he nodded at.

Sheila just sighed at that point, "Joyce, you are a much stronger woman than I am - I'm sure I would have snapped at that point."

Joyce opened her mouth to say something but then felt Xander tense at her side, sighed and looked over, "Work?"

"Yeah … but this one's different." His face was decidedly worried as he stood and summoned his sword to his side, "Bye, guys - hope to see you soon." With that Xander teleported away … but what Joyce didn't know was that it would be the last time she would see him for a very long time even as both Faith and Buffy jerked awake, Tara yelped and Dawn shrieked.


Amazon sniper Alexandra O'Malley looked through her sights and zeroed in on her target's left eye even as she felt a calming presence come over her, "About blurry time you showed up, boyo."

"What's going on here, Alexa?" Xander was a good kid, kid being the operative term after finding out how just how young he really was, but he did know how to ask stupid questions on occasions.

She heard her Lady Goddess speak up from behind her, "Remember the war we told you about, Alex? The one that would decide if good or evil wins the day? Well, this is a scouting party for them … and we need to make a decision - do we take one out and possibly start a war or do we let them go and give away our defenses?"

Alexa felt him squat next to her, "Snipe One - on target?"

"Yes, sir."

"Chance to miss?"

"Low - no cross-wind, I am up-range and above grade of him."

She heard him take in a breath and let it out slowly, "Let fly, Snipe One - you are red and free." Alexa smiled and squeezed the trigger of her sniper rifle, feeling it buck beneath her and spitting out a round that hit her target dead on, killing it. Little did she know then that she was firing the first shot of a war that would last far beyond her lifespan … and would be one that win or lose, Humanity would probably not survive in tact.

The End