The Band

Author: Katar Hol <silveragent99[at]>

Summary: With the gang rebuilding the Watcher's council, Xander begins to have grave doubts about the wisdom of Buffy and Co.

Rating: PG 13. Adult language. Action.

Type: Mystery/Action

Ships: Willow/Kennedy. Buffy/Angel. Faith/Wood. Fred/Spike. Xander is completely alone and therefore entertaining.

Author's Notes (optional): This is a standard fanfic format story. For easier reading.

Disclaimer: All characters herein belong to Mutant Enemy and Joss Whedon. This sample story is for amusement purposes only.

Latest addition

Chapter 1

Bath, England, October 2004.

Xander was in the rebuilt Watcher's council library, reading a book intently. Feet up on the table. A book on magic. But not Willow's kind of magic, no he was reading David Fisher's "the War Magician," about the exploits of Jasper Maskelyne, the British 8th Army's master of camouflage at El Alamain in WWII, when Buffy and Angel trooped in, along with Giles, Willow, Kennedy, and Robin Wood.

"Xander how many times have you been told to keep your feet off the table?" came Giles exasperated voice.

"That's an antique and far to valuable to be scratched up."

"Ah sorry Giles," is Xander's abashed reply. "I was just ah reading."

"The War Magician?" Angel asks. "How is that going to help?"

"Xander," Buffy says in a tired voice. "You promised me that you'd fix the steps out front. They're all ...

wobbily like. You don't have time to goof off." She pouts. And puts her arm around Angel.

"I don't swing a hammer real good these days, Buff,"

Xander tells her. "Why don't you get someone local to fix it?"

"We don't have that much money as you well know, Xander" is Giles reply. "What with finding all the girls, convincing their parents to send them here for training, and reconstituting the Watcher's Council.

Money is dear. And we can't afford freeloaders."

"That means you, in case you didn't figure it out already," Spike tells Xander as he enters, Fred trailing him. "It's about time you earned your keep around here."

"As opposed to you and Angel, who mooch off their girl friends for blood, beer, and cigarettes?"

"Hey, I help out, and so does Spike," Angel protests.

"A lot more than you do."

"There was that Faso demon last week we killed," Spike ticks off.

"And that the Zombie infestation before that." Angel adds.

"Oh, and don't forget those crab demons from that other dimension," Fred adds giddily. "You were so exciting, Spike, killing all those demons."

"Yeah, forgot about that." Spike nods. Then sucker punches Xander in the stomach but pulls his punch so Xander merely exhales with pain instead of falling to the floor vomiting.

Angel pulls Xander errect as he's holding his midsection "Lesson #1? Never taunt a champion."

"Especially one that saved the world," Spike crows. As both Fred and Buffy look at him fondly.

"Who hasn't done that?" Xander mutters, when Willow fixes him a look.

"You didn't save the world Xander," Willow tells him.

"I did. I stopped myself." Kennedy looks at Willow with pride. "I just needed someone to talk to."

"From what I hear you didn't rock anyone's world either," Spike smirks at Xander.

"OK, that's it!" Xander exhales. "I'm going to turn you into a dust buster special ... " when Buffy rounds on him and stops him cold with a look.

"Xander, they're stronger and better fighters than you. Don't get them mad at you. You'll only get what's coming to you."

"Buffy they ..."

"No Xander, you started it. They saved the world. Show them some respect. And besides, " Buffy purrs. "I have a special mission for you. One only you can fulfill."

"Really?" Xander asks, face aglow with hope. "A mission?"

"Xander, Willow and need ..."


"Coffee. Lots of hot coffee. And Giles needs tea," Buffy adds.

"And blood for me and Angel. Hot this time, not straight from the fridge. And don't forget the Burka weed. Adds spice. Reminds me of an ex demon I once knew" Spike laughs, as Fred pouts for him then giggles.

Xander departs, crushed and angry as Spike and Angel both laugh, while Kennedy and Giles look annoyed at the interruption. Buffy and Fred are caught up in their boyfriends gazes, and Wood looks ... thoughtful at the departing Xander.

When Xander returns with the tray holding blood and coffee, plus Giles tea, Buffy signals for Xander to bring the tray over to the end of the table where everyone's gathered. His face is full of resentment and ill grace. Wood catches Xander's attention.

"I liked the book. It's a good read."

"It's just stage magic, " Willow says. "Useless stuff. Sleight of hand. Not real magic."

"Bloody useless in a fight," Spike adds as Willow nods. "What, throw cards at a demon?"

"I thought it was interesting," Wood responds. And nods to Xander to sit down.

"We need to talk about the Human League," Giles begins. "I wish we could have Faith here as well," he looks at Wood.

"She's tired from the trip, and wanted to rest," Wood tells him. "I'll brief her when I'm done."

"The Human League?" Xander asks. "I mean I knew the 80's were dangerous, but I had no idea they were demons," he jokes. "At least it's not the Flock of Seagulls. They could go around giving bad haircuts."

Despite herself Willow laughs, then catches Giles serious look and frowns.

"I'm talking about the rise of anti-demon activity around the world, and the League." Giles frowns. "It could be very dangerous."

"My contacts at Wolfram and Hart haven't been able to penetrate the group," Angel offers. "They only take humans with a grudge against demons, or werewolves, or ..."

"Vampires?" Xander asks with an innocent face.

"Yeah," Angel replies with an edge. "Or vampires.

They're all over the US."

"And now here," Giles replies. "With the destruction of Sunnydale, and that whole affair in Los Angeles with the Sun, and Jasmine ..."

Angel looks pained, and Xander notes Wood's careful reading of that pain and his words, doled out like a telegram.

"They're in other parts of the world as well. Latin America, Asia, Europe."

"What do they want?" Buffy asks.

"Demons out," is Wood's reply.

"Yes, that's their slogan," Giles tells her. "Demons out. Usually made very forcefully at the wrong end of a club."

"But why don't the authorities do something," Willow asks. "Like, say make fun of anyone who believes in ghosties and ghoulies?"

"Two reasons," is Wood's reply.

"One is that with events in Sunnydale and Los Angeles, well it's no longer possible to convince people that the demons and the like don't exist."

"Too many people saw too much," Angel states.

"Too many people lost too much. Too many people died." Xander states flatly.

Giles clears his throat. "Well yes that too. It's a big part of it really."

"But what's the other reason," Willow still wants to know. "They could stop this if they wanted to."

"And that's just it," Giles tells her.

"Probably a lot of the authorities ARE the League,"

Wood tells her. "It's why they are allowed to operate."

"There was an incident in London last night. A demon owned restaurant was firebombed," Giles tells them.

"And the firemen stood and let it burn."

"With the demons still inside."

"That's horrible," Buffy says aghast.

Willow nods, and tells Giles "We have to do something."

"The restaurant did serve human babies," Wood tells her.

"Well, yes, there is that," Giles says as Spike laughs.

"Been there before. Lousy service. If you ask me they deserved it." Fred laughs at this.

Buffy is energized. "They're on my turf now. Slayers rule that world. They try that here and they'll get their ass kicked," she says defiantly.

"Already wiccans are going underground. Magic's not real popular, kids are getting beat up at school, people are having to hide what they are." Willow's angry. "Buffy we have to stop them."

Buffy's fired up. "We've stopped worse."

"Yes, but we've never gone up against humans before."

"We fixed Warren," Buffy laughs. As Willow turns pale and Buffy catches that. "Will, you know I didn't mean it that way. It's just, well between you, and Angel and Spike, plus all the girls ... who can stop us? Guys marching in parades with armbands? Get real."

"They're still dangerous," Angel says flatly. "You didn't see that Nazis."

"Ah, good times," Spike says dreamily. "What, death and destruction aren't a turn on? In what universe slayer?" as he looks directly at Buffy, mocking, with a come hither look that has Fred distinctly uncomfortable and Giles, Wood, and Angel all angry for their own reasons. "Best time of my life. Easy pickings and so much beautiful death. It was vampire heaven."

"There's a Human League march two nights from now, "

Buffy ignores Spike for the moment and starts to plan.

"We could beat them up, teach them a lesson, and grab a few, for you know, tort ... I mean questioning. I mean, if it's serious and it's war," she looks to Angel for support.

"The people involved are unlikely to know much," Wood offers. "You'd be torturing ... "

"Greengrocers and pharmicists who are scared and angry," Angel offers.

"Kill enough of them and they'll stop marching around," Spike smiles. "It always worked for me."

"You never fought Jasmine," Angel starts, but Buffy interrupts him.

"As much as I enjoy the thought of you two wrestling it out, we need to focus."

"We should merely observe, for now, " Giles states in a questioning tone, waiting for Buffy's approving nod, which is given. "And be prepared to intervene when we have to."

"With our own army of slayers," Buffy smiles.


Xander sat alone in the local pub. God that was horrible, he thought. What has the world come to, when he's half agreeing with a bunch of jumped up Hitler wannabes that monsters need killing. And he wasn't too sure anymore if Willow and Buffy weren't part of the monster problem. He missed Dawn, he mused, more than he ever thought he would. But he was glad she was away from this. The moment Buffy showed up with Angel and Spike and Fred in tow, he understood Dawn would be leaving. He didn't blame her. Part of him wanted to go with her, stay with the only friend he knew he had.

But, he thought as he drank another gulp of beer, she was better off without him. She needed to get out, be with boys her own age who'd see her for the wonderful person she was.

The night before she left, he thanked her once again for saving his life. Told her it was the bravest thing he'd ever seen, that Dawn was a bigger hero than Buffy, going back for him. Leading him out, when others just ran past him. That he'd always owe her.

And wanted to grow up to be just like Dawn. Only of course without the need to shave his legs. Or buy tampons. Dawn had laughed and cried and hugged him so hard he thought he would burst. And begged him once again to leave with her. But he didn't. And he started to hate himself almost as much as he hated Buffy's pet vamps. Several times he seriously thought of burning down the house with Spike and Angel and himself in it.

Be funny to see them die even if he died with him he thought. But no, he owed Dawn's heroism more than throwing his life away for that. And besides, Willow would likely just resurrect them like she did Spike he mused bitterly. Too bad that with all her power she couldn't spare her old pal Xander a new eye. Well, he was only human and not worth the effort. And there were the girls to think about. Next to impossible to get them all out at the same time and not have Angel at least figure it out. Still, a nice daydream.

Better, in it's own way, than dreams about sex. At least that daydream was remotely possible. Not much attraction for the pirate look. And he wasn't Johnny Depp. To bad all the money went for Blood and Spike's cigarettes he thought. The one time he'd brought up surgery and a glass eye Angel had talked expenses. And how he couldn't use Wolfram and Hart money for something like that. The upside of not even being in the dating pool though? At least women weren't trying to kill him. Spike was still making jokes about his last date. And how he "rescued" Xander. Even Willow laughed at them. It would be nice though, he thought with a smile ... to see Spike and Angel go up in flames.

Angel. In his own way he was as much a bastard as Spike. He made sure Xander KNEW that Willow had fixed THAT part of the curse, and he and Buffy seemed to have a contest with Spike and Fred to make the most noise during sex. Xander had taken to wearing earplugs. Oh sure Angel was marginally civil to him whereas Spike was a full out prick, but he never let Xander forget his status around Buffy and Willow. He'd always suggest Xander go out and get drinks. Great Xander thought. I've turned into a waiter for vampires. Spike at least was predictable. A joke about Anya's dissatisfaction with his performance (compared to Spike's), and some low rent physical stunt like a sucker punch. Especially if he was performing for Fred. He wasn't much better than Larry and Xander hated High School. He couldn't even make a comeback about Anya since she HAD compared him unfavorably to Spike in their two abortive sex sessions. Hell she called him "Spike" both times and closed her eyes.

During. Anya. She wasn't in love with him in the end, Xander thought, but at least all she wanted Spike for was sex. Unlike Fred she didn't love Spike (at least she told me that, Xander hung on to that thought, and she did say she did once love me a little). God he was getting maudlin. Well, he hadn't thought of her in a while. Or Cordy. He knew Angel was hiding something about her death. It stank to high heaven. Well, at least one good thing about Spike's habit of Burka weed, and Angel picking that same habit up. It masked the smell and taste of his urine. Hope you enjoyed drinking my pee boys, Xander thought to himself as he hoisted his beer mug in an imaginary toast. What worried him was he was lately thinking of ways to mask it in Buffy and Willow's coffee. Maybe he could get them to drink Espresso. The strong taste could mask the odor and ... no. Forget that. Think of something else.

Hmm, maybe he could figure out a way to trick Fred into thinking she'd caught a venereal disease from Spike. THAT would be fun. For a supposedly smart woman (Willow was always raving about how brilliant she was) Fred stuck Xander as profoundly stupid. Even Harmony had more sense. Even VAMPIRE Harmony had more sense to finally dump Spike. Which sadly, he thought, was more than Buffy had done at the end. My god, Xander thought, how low I've sunk. I've become the trickster of evil. I play pranks on monsters instead of killing them. I'm worse than ANDREW. He frowned at the thought.

"Alexander Harris?" A man, of middle height, thin build, wiry nervous intensity and a piercing gaze approached him. With him was a PRIEST in collar and clerical garb, a man in his middle twenties with an open, innocent face. A few of the locals had gathered around. Oh god, Xander thought, they're gonna beat my ass. American drinking in a locals pub. Wait. The guy didn't seem to be British. Great. Likely the Human League figuring demon lovers out. Wrong person guys he thought. My ass kicked for them. That stunk. And how embarrassing to have to go back to the vampires and tell them he got his ass kicked by a bunch of locals.

While Fred giggled and Buffy and Willow treated him like a faintly rude waiter who doesn't speak their language.

"Yeah, " he answered a bit surly. "Who wants to know?"

"Me. Cause if you're Alexander Harris I want to buy you a beer."

"Why would you want to do that," Xander asked, clearly puzzled. A beating turning into a drinking session? Well, the British were strange.

"Cause Alexander Harris is a hero," the man said.


"Wrong guy," Xander said.

"You're not Harris?" the priest asked him, face soft and gentle.

"I'm Harris. I'm just not a hero. Ask anyone," he said with a bitter laugh.

"Fuck that shit," the man said. "You fucking kill vampires, you're a fucking hero." The priest far from being shocked at the language smiled in amusement. He seemed familiar with the terms.

"You lose that fighting vampires?" the man pointed at Xander's patch.


"Same fucking difference." the man said. "Get me another fucking beer for this man."

"You'll have to excuse him. He always gets this way when he hasn't killed vampires in a while," the priest told him.

Xander's eloquent reply was "Huh?" So far this day was turning into thorough confusion. Well at least the beating seemed off. Or postponed. "Who are you?"

"I'm sorry I haven't introduced myself. I'm Father Adam Guiteau. And this is ... Jack Crow."

"Pleased to fucking meet you," the other man held out his hand as Xander warily shook it.

"And you know me how?" Xander asked.

"I know you cause I fucking hunt and kill vampires, those motherfuckers," Jack Crow announced. Nobody seemed too upset about his words or tone of voice. He lowered his voice and told Xander, "and I know you because some friends of mine in the Human League figured I should talk to you. About the Band."

Chapter 2

Bath, England, October 2004.

"Not into that Sixties stuff," Xander told Jack Crow.

"And definitely not the Seventies. You're not going to sing Van Halen songs are you?"

The man frowned. Then smiled. "That's cute. Real cute.

Now cut the crap. You know what this is about. It's about the Band."

Father Adam interjected, "the Band of brotherhood and sisterhood among those who fight evil."

"Bottom line kid. I kill fucking vampires. And I want you to help me kill two of them. Interested?"

Despite himself Xander smiled. This was like a daydream come true. But wait, this was HIS life.

Nothing's that easy. And something bothered him.

Better stall.

"No such thing as vampires. You know that."

"Knock it off kid. I've killed more fucking vampires than that blonde bimbo you call a slayer has in any of her lifetimes. And I fucking kill them, I don't fuck them."

Father Adam made a face "Jack does have a point, Mr.

Harris. Vampires are evil soulless creatures that need killing."

Xander took another swig of his beer from the mug.

Warm but tasty English beer, though more bitter than what he was used to back home. It felt good. It felt even better to have another mug appear on the table.

"Unfortunately two of them have souls now. So all is forgiven. I hear that a lot lately." Xander laughed bitterly. "Hell they even saved the world."

"So I'll build them a fucking shrine after I kill them. Padre here can even officiate."

Father Adam asked Jack quizzically "Officiate?"

"My new word for the day."

"I'm surprised you knew it."

"I'm full of fucking surprises," Jack tells Father Adam.

"Now that doesn't surprise me," Father Adam laughs.

"It's been tried before, killing them. Didn't work out to well," Xander allowed.

"Do I fucking look like a watcher to you? Or like that loser Robin Wood? Bangin some cheap ho fresh from the slam?" Jack demanded.

And then ... it hit Xander. Oh crap. He knows.

Everything. About him. About Spike and Angel and Giles and Robin trying to kill Spike that time. Someone inside Buffy's circle has been talking to this guy.

Pointed him right at Xander. Who? "Kid don't play poker," Jack tells him.

"Huh?" is Xander's response.

"So you figured I had a little help finding you? Well, good for you. Now listen up. I want you in. In the Band. So we can kill those fucking vampires."

Xander gave him a look.

Father Adam added, "We take care of our own. I know you were a member of the Church once."

"Yeah, stopped going after Father Mike got a bit weird at Sunday School. Funny how he left town all of sudden," Xander said with a deadpan expression.

Jack Crow laughed and said "See Padre. Boy knows we need to get you laid."

Rather stiffly Father Adam replied, "I take my faith and my vows seriously Jack. Seriously enough to bail out your ass on more than one occasion."

"No Padre you bailed out my ass cause when it comes right fucking down to it you have cojones of fucking steel and you're a standup guy behind all that priest bullshit," Jack replied. And added, "and I take Faith never. Who the fuck knows where that ho's been? I'd get the fucking clap."

Despite himself Xander finds himself smiling at that crack.

Father Adam continues, "Point being Mr. Harris, we're sanctioned by the Vatican. At all levels. This includes any medical care our team members need."

"What the Padre is saying is we can get you the surgery you need and a glass eye. Good enough to get you laid. And if that doesn't work I'll get you hot and cold running bimbos every day. Just help me kill those fucking vampires before they make more of themselves," Jack concluded by slapping the table for emphasis.

"It's more than what the slayer would do for you,"

Father Adam says softly.

Xander gets an angry look on his face. "You must think I'm a cheap whore, betray my friends for ... that?"

"No. I think you're a man who knows what has to be fucking done Harris," Jack Crow said to him, moving closer for emphasis. "You've always known. What they are. What a man's gotta do."

"So what, join up and march around with armbands, beat up school kids who dress funny? I said no to that little torchlight parade in Sunnydale. I'll drink your beer, but when Putsch comes to shove, find yourself another Nazi." Xander tells Crow.

"You think I'm part of that pussy parade? Bunch of losers marching around thinking they can take on vamps, demons, werewolves? Fuck those losers. They're only good for," Jack starts to take a breath when Father Adam interrupts him.

"Support and logistics. And political influence. Well like right now, Mr. Harris."

"The Bartender?" Xander is looking over at the bar where he's being watched carefully by the bartender and assorted patrons who seem very interested in what's going on.

"And just about anyone else who's useful. I tell them what to do and they fucking do it." Jack concludes.

"We just kill vampires, Mr. Harris," Father Adam tells him.

"And that's all we fucking do kid, " Jack tells him.

"That's what the Band is. The real deal behind all the bullshit that the damn League's pushing. Wanna make the world a better place? Don't burn a fucking book, burn a fucking vampire." He paused. "Or a demon."

"I'm not going to betray Buffy," Xander's face is mulishly set. "Not ever."

"And what about when one of those fucking things bites her, turns her?" Jack demands. "You know it'll happen.

Hell Buffy and Faith both have giant Angel-sized hickeys."

Xander blanches at this as Crow continues. "And what fucking happens when one of those things turns the vampire layer into one of them? What then?"

"That wouldn't happen, " Xander says stubbornly.

"Oh yeah right cause they're fucking saints. Who do you think is going to get eaten first? You? Your little red haired lesbian fantasy? Maybe the slutty bad girl you still dream about?" Crow asks.

"Willow and Faith can look after themselves. And besides Buffy's probably stronger than either Angel or Spike," Xander argues, mostly with himself.

"But what about ... " Crow pauses, "Both of them? Think she could take both of them? If they worked together?"

"Think about the younger girls, many of them don't know the danger, what vampires really are" Father Adam suggests.

Xander is thoughtful about this, and Crow seizes his opportunity.

"First thing a vampire does, is go after his own family. Think of your Miss Teen Jailbait. How quickly would Buffy go after ..." Crow leaves hanging.

"Dawn." Xander makes the statement, flat, toneless.

With implicit anger. At Buffy. At Crow. And at himself for giving away his one remaining weakness.

"She's only a plane ride away," Father Adam states.

"With lots of inflight snacks," Crow finishes. "You want that to happen?"

"What is it you want," Xander asks. "Really."

"We want you to help us find out what the fucking vamps are planning," Jack answers him, "and figure out a way to fucking kill them."

"After we're done, " Father Adam suggests, "you can join us if you like."

"Or you can have blonde, red, black, and light brown haired girls in your bed every day with them gone,"

Crow concludes. "They'd be begging for it."

Father Adam makes a disgusted face.

Crow tells Xander, "No really. They would. Guaranteed."

"Thanks but no thanks." Xander decides. "But the beer was good." He begins to rise, as Jack Crow grabs his arm.

"One more thing, kid. Keep this to yourself for now.

And if you want to find me, you change your mind, bartender will get in touch with me."

"And if I don't keep quiet, " Xander wonders.

"Then I won't be able to fucking help you kid," Crow is exasperated. "You'll change your mind, I fucking guarantee it. But tip off those fucking monsters and I'll just have to leave. And get them later, some other way. And that would be real bad for your friends."

"What's that supposed to mean," Xander asks.

"Your friends haven't tried to hard to hide some of their more supernatural orientations," Father Adam tells him.

"And without me telling these morons to go fuck themselves you'd have yourself a pitchfork and torch brigade out front." Crow tells him.

"Buffy would, " Xander begins.

"Probably kill a lot of them and end up in fucking jail," Crow predicts.

"Or on the run, like Faith," Father Adam finishes.

"Great." Xander says bitterly.

"Life's a shit sandwich kid, you just got more of a bite than most." Crow adds helpfully.


Xander spent most of the rest of the next morning trying to find out information about Jack Crow in the various books and journals in the Slayer School's library. However, the new library had only the vaguest organization and only Giles really knew where things were kept. It wasn't as if Xander could come straight out and ask, either. So Xander was reduced to reading recent looking journals and Watcher Diaries in the hope he could find something useful about Jack Crow, and he hoped perhaps the identity of the person in Buffy's circle who'd set him in Jack Crow's sights. He was slumped down behind the second set of stacks, out of sight, when Giles and Robin Wood entered the library.

"Are you sure we're alone Giles?" Robin asked.

"Yes, I'm sure. Besides yourself and Willow no one uses this library. Too many dusty old books instead of computerized databases. Too inconvenient. Sometimes I think everyone else is allergic to learning." Giles finishes his complaints. "Even Willow is only interested in more powerful spells." He pauses.

"Still. Lately she's been researching a new way to ensoul vampires."

There's a pause in the air. Both men look at each other while Xander despite himself holds his breath.

"I'm not sure I like the sound of that," Wood suggests.

"Nor do I," Giles adds.

"Then why don't you say something about it? About the League? About how nobody seems to be doing much slaying of vampires any more?" Wood wants to know.

Giles takes off his glasses, a bleak look of despair on his face. "When I was younger, I would have, you know. Risked everything. Now? Time is the enemy of heroes Robin. Even the best of us fall down into the mud when we get old."

"You were her watcher. She'd listen to you. And Faith would support you," Robin tells him.

"Were being the operative word. You know what she was like back in ... Sunnydale. After Spike, and the axe.

And the thing is ... she was right. That's the galling thing." Giles sits down wearily in the chair as Robin stands over him. "There's just no telling her that she's wrong any more. And the younger girls, well they worship her."

"So while she's taking a victory lap, and the world goes to hell," Robin begins ...

"The rest of us have to do what we can, what she allows us to do." Giles finishes.

"Faith and I can," Robin offers, but Giles cuts him off.

"That won't work again. Buffy gave these girls ... an incredible amount of power. More than any human could know. She's like a god to them. And they don't see the danger, most of these girls have never even fought a real vampire, and they don't see Spike or Angel as ...

dangerous. They think they're ... cute." Giles says with disgust.

"Until they start killing again." Robin offers flatly.

"Well yes there is that. When Buffy showed up with Angel," Giles pauses.

"Did she really expect you to accept him here? After what he did?" Robin asks.

"Yes. And you see, in the end it was made very clear.

Dawn had a huge row with Buffy, over Angel and Spike being here. Told Buffy it was her or the vampires.

Guess who's still here? And who left?"

"And you allowed this?" Robin asks.

"I had no choice. Buffy is the real power now, she runs the Council. After millennia of the Council exploiting the slayer, now it's the other way around.

And she let me know that if I challenged her she'd throw me out like Dawn, without a cent." Giles sighs.

"In the end I believe Xander gave Dawn most of the money he'd saved, plus some he'd borrowed from Kennedy to get Dawn to her aunt in Illinois." Giles looks at Wood, "If I were younger it would be different. But I'm just too old to start over with nothing. All the money I had is tied up in rebuilding the Council."

Wood is not satisfied. "There's something else you're not telling me."

"With what I know, about the Council. About Buffy, well ... I don't think I'd last very long on my own.

Not with all the information I have in my head." Giles pauses. "Angel told me ... he told me he was sorry about what he'd done. To me. To Jenny." Giles is very quiet. "And that he would be sorry, afterwards, but he'd lost too much already to lose Buffy too. And he'd make sure I wasn't a threat. To her. If I left."

"So you stay." Wood offers it with no judgement at all.

"And do what I can. Here and there. When no one is looking."

"The League?"

"I don't know Robin. They seem to have started up overnight. It might be different if the slayers were out publicly protecting the people, but ... " Giles trails off.

"Buffy won't allow it." Robin says.

"Buffy, Angel, Willow, Spike, and Fred." Giles says Fred's name with particular disgust. "That's the Council these days. Bloody hell."


Bloody Hell indeed Xander thought. Damn, he thought.

He never ever thought he'd see Giles afraid. Of Buffy.

But there it was. Buffy and Angel controlling the purse strings. Along with Willow, Spike, and Fred. Was Giles the one who'd pointed Jack Crow at him? Or was it Robin Wood? Faith even? It didn't seem like her style, but then Faith with her new sugar daddy was bound to pick up some of his moves. Hell he still could replay Anya's voice in his head when haggling with the local suppliers for the endless renovations that the drafty manor house seemed to require on an almost hourly basis.

Or maybe it wasn't someone from Buffy's group at all.

What was that guy who'd dated Fred for a while, had that falling out with Angel? Gunn. Maybe he was behind this. He'd been running his own vampire hunting crew according to Fred, not the most reliable person but he notably hadn't made the trip across the Atlantic with Angel.

Heck maybe it wasn't even a human at all. Maybe Dru, or one of Angel's old enemies from LA was behind the whole thing. Or Dick Wilkins had a twin brother. In which case Xander Harris was likely the big scapegoat.

He'd have to be very careful. Especially around Buffy.

He was damned however, if he'd betray Buffy to Jack Crow. No matter what. He'd handle things himself he thought. The way he'd always done.


Xander was heading to the kitchen with the remains of the afternoon tea in one of the study rooms when he heard voices in the kitchen. Normally he'd have just barged in with a joke, but this time he held his voice and approached softly, trying to not make a sound as he recognized Willow's voice wafting through the half opened door.

"Are you sure you really want to do this, Fred?" Willow asked.

"Oh I'm sure, " Fred said with a sigh. "I'm so sure that I think it's evitable."

"Huh?" Xander heard Faith's voice as he came to a dead stop. "Clue me in here Red."

Buffy laughed. "Not that again?"

"No Buffy, I know I can do it. It'll work for Fred.

Just like it did with Angel." Willow's enthusiastic.

"Just think of how strong we can be if we do this to all the girls who aren't slayers."

"Do what?" Faith asks.

"I've asked Spike to turn me into a vampire," Fred says breathlessly. "And Willow's going to anchor my soul. So I'm just like Angel. And Spike."

Both Faith and Xander are speechless. Xander's having a hard time breathing.

Meanwhile, Fred is enthusiastic. "I've always been this weak little girl, never as strong as you guys.

Well now, I'll be strong. Maybe even stronger than you. And Spike and I will be together forever. He won't even look at another girl. Just me. I'll be ...

wonderful. Just like him."

"Hey, you'll never have to worry about getting pregnant, almost as good as being gay," Willow jokes.

Faith breathes in heavily. And says to Fred, "I thought heard every stupid idea there was in prison. I mean really. All of them. But you know what? This is the champion of stupid ideas. Congrats twig. You're the queen of stupid."

"You're just jealous cause I'm with Spike. He said I'd be his new Drucilla. His new pet." Fred's pouting.

"And with my change, he wouldn't look at you. Or Buffy."

"And if it works well, hey no more problems with vampires," Willow says blithely. "Give them a soul and they'll be ... good vampires. Like Angel."

"Like Spike," Fred says dreamily.

"You know," Buffy muses, "that's not a bad idea."

"No, it's a transcendently stupid one. Can I hit her?" Faith asks.

"We could have an army," Buffy states calmly. "We could take down the Human League, hell almost anyone.

Anywhere. Make the world safe."

"B. Don't take this the wrong way. Or stick a knife in me. But have you lost your mind?" Faith demands.

"You haven't been here, " Buffy begins.

"Hello? Fugitive from Justice?" Faith answers her.

"But you don't know how hard it is," Buffy tells her.

"I've been fighting my whole life. And I'm tired. I just want it to stop. So I can live."

"So stop. And live. Let someone else take over," Faith suggests.

"I can't. Who's going to lead them without me?" Buffy asks. "You? You're on the run."

"What about Giles, or Willow?" Faith asks.

"Giles? After he betrayed me?" Buffy asks. "And Willow?"

"Not so good with the leadership thing," Willow tells Faith. "Not really my thing. I'm more of a melting mountains kinda girl. And hey, there's this neat new spell which can melt mountains in minutes, but I need fermented yak brains and they're hard to get ... and I'm babbling so I'll shut up now, " Willow finishes.

Faith pauses. "Have you talked to Xander about this?" she asks.

Buffy snorts.

"What? What is it with you and him? What, he turn you down after Spike went poof?"

Buffy's voice is grim. "Do you know what that bastard did?"

"Huh?" is Faith's eloquent response.

"He lied." Willow states angrily. "About Angel."

"Again with the huh?" Faith is confused.

"I was doing the re-ensouling spell to save Angel,"

Willow tells Faith, "and I told Xander to let Buffy know. So she wouldn't kill him."

"But he lied," Buffy tells Faith. "He lied and I killed him. I killed the man I loved. Loved more than anyone. And sent him to hell."

"All because he was jealous," Willow adds.

"I'll never forgive him for that," Buffy says. "What he did to Angel. But I did save Xan."

"I kinda told Angel about re-ensouling him and Angel figured out what happened." Willow adds helpfully.

"Angel wanted to kill Xander at first," Buffy says.

"But I was able to calm him down."

"Whoah. That's some heavy duty hate you got going on there Buffy. You sure Xan deserves all of it?" Faith is skeptical.

"Ah yeah. Let's see. Jealous loser sends man I love to hell. Let me think. Yeah. He deserves it." Buffy is adamant.

"It doesn't surprise me," Fred adds. "I had the same reaction from Wes. I finally had to tell him he'd never be the man or hero Ang ... I mean Spike is. And to leave me alone."

"Wes?" Faith asks. "He had a thing for you?"

"Yes and it was embarrassing," Fred adds. "Why would I want a loser when I have such a wonderful man, a champion, like Spike?"

"Faith, you don't understand, what I had to give up.

All of it. To be the slayer. I've earned Angel. He's all I have. I'm all he has. He's suffered. More than he can say. And it's all because of Xander's stupid jealousy. Like Wes." Buffy's tired. "Hell there's times when I've thought of becoming a vampire with a soul too. So we'd be together forever. Like we should be."

"Look, I agree Angel is a great guy," Faith begins, "and hell we all know that Spike's a better lay than Xander, that's for sure if Anya's little lectures were any indication, but this is just stupid. No guy is worth dying for. No matter how great in bed he is."

Faith's certain of this.

"Spike is," Fred states baldly.

"And besides," Willow says, "they'll both have souls.

Since when is more power a bad thing?"

"Looking at you and me, do you really have to ask that Red?" Faith wants to know.

"That was different." Willow's unrepentant.

"Besides," Buffy adds. "Things are all different now.

We need more power."

"You getting older have anything to do with it?" Faith asks Buffy.

"Maybe. I'm not getting any younger." Buffy tells her.

"And this has nothing to do with Xander? Any feelings for him?" Faith questions.

"Eww gross Faith. I mean come on, he has one eye,"

Buffy tells her, and Fred laughs.

"True enough," Faith muses, "and I wouldn't mind beating the crap out of him for hurting Angel."

"But you're evolved past that," Buffy laughs.

"Very evolved. Too bad. Guy used to be something once.

Though he wasn't good for much in the sack. Don't think you missed out on much there Red. You either B." Faith laughs.

"Funny isn't it how that worked out?" Willow muses.

"Yeah. I guess in a way we all outgrew him," Buffy sighs. "I want to hate him, and I'm really mad at him because of what he did to Angel, but I guess he can't help it. He's just ... Xander."

"Guys are like that," Fred offers helpfully. "They're pretty stupid."


As he made his way to the bartender through the crowded Pub, Jack Crow's words rang in his head.

"First thing a vampire does, is go after his own family." He owed Dawn. More than anyone. That day, she'd appeared like an Angel sent by heaven. Through falling debris. Leading him out of what was literally hell. As everyone else ran past him, uncaring. He knew what he had to do. No one to help him. No one to do this for him. Just me, he thought. Just me.

Approaching the bartender, he caught his eye.

"You know that guy who bought me a beer the other day?"

"Yeah mate what about him?"

"You see him around, tell him I'd like to buy him a beer. Real soon."

"I'll do that very thing."

Chapter 3

Bath, England, October 2004.

BLAAAAT. The sound of a tuba played very loudly and very badly reminded Xander of a demon he'd once fought with Buffy. A giant demon. Prone to flatulence. Great he thought. Of all the memories to dredge up it had to be that one. He remembered he ended up burning his clothes. They would have to have a band. BLAAAAT. The tuba player was just getting warmed up.

It was early evening, and Xander stood outside the pub with Jack Crow, watching the local branch of the Human League march down the street. They even had torches. Xander noted carefully the military escort, including armored vehicles with what looked like automatic weapons. Were these guys kidding? Did they really think anyone would even BOTHER with them.

"Bunch of idiots, hey kid?" Crow asked.

"They HAD to have a band?" Xander asked. "Can't someone do something?"

"Wish I could help you there kid." Crow winced as the tuba again made a sound like a giant demon farting.

"Even the trombones are out of tune, " Xander had to shout as the band grew louder as the brass section passed directly by them. "Where's Matthew Broderick when you need him?"


"Guy I knew once. Was obsessed with Matthew Broderick. Especially his Broadway stuff."

"Musta been gay."

"Well, kinda."

"Figures." Crow said dismissively.

Xander was sweating now from the heat of the passing torches. God he thought, how can they stand it? All that heat? The hate he thought, well maybe he finally understood that now. God help him for that.

"Let's get one thing straight," he told Crow. "Buffy and Willow DO NOT get hurt. Understood?"

"Your two little girlfriends are in bed with vampires. One of them literally. What do you think I'm going to do? Send them a fucking valentine?" Crow demanded forcefully.

"Let me put this another way," Xander grinned. He put his hand on Crows shoulder and started to squeeze.

With all the strength several years of handling lumber and hammers had given him. "I owe a girl named Summers my life. She risked her life to save me. And Willow's been my friend since I could walk. As long as they're human, not a vampire, you hurt them and I will kill you. Got it?"

Crow grinned and put HIS hand on Xander's shoulder, and started to squeeze, causing Xander to gasp. Damn the man was deceptively strong despite his thin frame.

"Yeah. I got it. Had a buddy. Got turned into one of them. But before he turned finally, he covered my ass. One last time."

Xander grimaced as Crow's grip tightened. A part of him was pleased to see Crow do the same as he did the same. "What happened?" he asked.

"What the fuck did you think happened? I fucking tracked him and his vampire ho girlfriend down and killed their asses." Crow told him.

Crap. Xander thought. This guy was scarier than Angelusßß.

Father Adam walked towards them with three mugs of beer.

"You two finished measuring your dicks or do you want to drink beer?" Father Adam asked without a blush.

"Padre, I do believe I've corrupted you," Jack Crow told him pleased at the beer and profanity. Xander honestly couldn't say which pleased Crow the most, but was glad that Crow had released his grip for the beer.

I will NOT massage my shoulder, Xander thought. Not until I'm well out of sight.

"Can we get to this?" Crow asked.

"Here?" Xander asked, as more folks marched past, some in brown uniforms, some merely with armbands. "These guys give me the creeps. Make me think of Nazis."

"Bunch of pussies," Crow snorts derisively. "First vamp they'd see, they'd running screaming for mama.

Too bad the vamp would be gutting mama and bleeding her dry on the kitchen floor."

Crow muses a bit then says, "But this is the best place to do this. Bunch of guys, having a beer, watching the parade. Make sure you tell your little slayer bimbo all about watching this idiot show.

She'll send you down here on a regular basis, just so she can know what's going on."

"What, did you arrange this whole thing?" Xander asked.

"Fuck yes. It took a lot of convincing too. Had to cut a guy," Crow offers.

Xander thinks it's a joke, but then Father Adam rubs his hand and says, "Sure hurts where you cut me Jack."

"Come on, Padre, you fucking loved it." Crow offers.

JESUS! Xander thought as he gulped his beer. Crow wasn't kidding. He cut the Priest. And god knows who else.

"Some one could hear us," Xander objected to Crow.

"Over this fucking noise?" was his response.

"So what do you want me to do?" Xander asked.

"First off, what are the vamps doing? Besides your girlfriends?" Crow joked.

"They're not my girlfriends," Xander offered. "And they're not doing much. Mostly they just hang around.

Spike drinks blood and beer, smokes a lot of cigarettes. Angel mostly just hangs around Buffy, or broods a lot. Nobody's doing anything. Not even regular patrols any more. Even training has stopped."

Xander pauses. "My work never ends though. Place is a dump. Been falling apart since King Arthur."

"They the only vamps there?"

"For now," Xander offered.

"What do you mean, for now?" Crow asked.

"Well, this girl Fred, she's talking about becoming a vamp." Xander's ashamed.

"What, the Burkle girl?" Crow asked. "The one doing Spike?"

"You seem to know a lot about us," Xander observed neutrally.

"Not as much as I'd fucking like to," Crow offers.

"That's where you come in. Did this girl say WHEN she'd become a vamp?"

"Not really. So far it's just talk. Nothing definite."

"But she was serious?" Crow asked.



"You said it."

"Any other fucking vamps around? In the neighborhood, dropping by?" Crow asked.

"No. Why?"

"Couple of kids disappeared. Both at night. Taken right from their back yards."

"You don't think ... " Xander asks desperately.

"Whoever fucking did it was strong enough to throw the father of one of the kids across the yard. Sounds like a fucking vamp to me. And a fucking dumb one too.

That's what's got the sheep all stirred up," Crow gestures to the last of the marching parade, and seemed to run out of steam as if the words had extracted all the energy out of him.

"Are you sure this Winifred Burkle is still human," Father Adam asks.

"She was this morning, I saw her in direct sunlight, " Xander tells the Padre.

"Well fuck," Crow said. "Both Angel and Spike are smarter than that. So we have another fucking vampire somewhere. Fuck."

Xander looks worried. "Maybe Buffy will kill it?"

"Or maybe she'll fucking screw it. Anything else I should know about?" Crow asks Xander.

Xander thinks about Willow's offer to ensoul Fred if she becomes a vamp; or Buffy's offhand comment about raising an army of ensouled vamps. Did Crow need to know that? Definitely not. "No. That's it. When are you going to kill ... Angel and Spike?" he asks.

"When I know I can fucking get away with it," Crow tells him. "In the meantime, take this." He hands Xander a jar with a perforated lid.

"What's in it?" Xander asks.

"Termites. Formosan Termites. Put em in places where they'll do damage. Don't get caught doing it either." Crow orders.

"Are you crazy? Do you know how much these things eat? The whole place will start to collapse within a week. And I'll have to fix it all!" Xander's complaining. "I just finished fixing the stairs." His carpenter instincts were outraged.

"So I'll get you the Home Improvement fucking box set," Crow adds. "Just wait till the vampires hear the chewing. It'll keep em up at night. Or day. And make sure you call this company for extermination." Crow hands Xander a card.

"Bandersol Fumigation?"

"Some friends of ours. That's the great thing about vampires kid. They can't do a fucking thing except kill. Any real work they need humans."

"So it's bugs for bugs," Xander said.

"And you said he wasn't smart," Father Adam reproaches Crow.

Damn, Xander thought. It WAS a smart move. Planting hidden microphones and god knows what else all over under cover of fumigation to get rid of the termites.

But he'd have to be careful. If Crow found out what Buffy was saying ... god knows what would happen. He'd have to remove some of the bugs. Without getting caught by anyone.

BLAAAT. The tuba sounded in the distance.

Chapter 4

Bath, England, October 2004.

Why didn't he leave, Xander thought. There were time when that was a tempting thought. Like, well now.

He'd just finished hanging the last of the Halloween banners, which having only one eye made a particularly difficult task. Not that anyone else had even bothered to help. Spike had offered constant criticism, in between beer drinking and cigarette smoking, Willow had simply blown past him with Kennedy in tow, and Buffy ... well Buffy lately was keeping Angel's hours. Up all night and sleeping all day. He hardly ever saw her in daylight anymore.

Still, the main drawing room looked good. He'd moved all the furniture out, set up drinks and candy, pumpkins carved out and lit with candles, and even some food for those who still needed it. Not bad for a makeshift ballroom. He'd even hooked up the ancient stereo system and found some (shudder) disco tunes that Buffy and Willow would probably enjoy. Not a bad day's work.

He stretched out the kinks in his back and arms, and admired the setting for the Halloween party Buffy insisted on having. If it had been up to him he would have had an action film fest with ... well himself most likely. And his new best friend, the DVD player he'd scavenged from the trash. Amazing. What people throw out that's perfectly good.

So, why didn't he leave? Partly he had to admit, because he was afraid of what would happen if he did leave. Dawn had made it clear that she wouldn't mind sharing a lot of things, and the way he figured it, she deserved more. More than a broken down guy with one eye, certainly, at least six years her senior. He wasn't going to be Angel. Dawn deserved a chance to shine on her own, with friends and boyfriends her own age. Something better than what Buffy ended up with. He could do that, at least.

Hey, Willow was back. With Kennedy.

"Hey Wills. Like the decorations?" Xander asked.

"You know, it needs something. I don't know what. But something," Willow mused.

"You think?" Xander asked.

"Yeah," Kennedy offered.

"Hey Wills," Xander started hopefully. "We need to talk. I know you're mad at me, and I think I know why," he began his spiel to her.

And Willow turned to him. Anger flashed on her face, replaced, with, god Xander thought. PITY.

"No Xander. I need to talk. You need to listen." Willow put her face close to his. And he noted idly, Angel and Buffy were making their grand entrance. Along with the rest of the group, the other slayers, Vi, Rona, even Faith and Robin Wood. Who eyed Spike and Angel uneasily.

"You need to get over yourself, Xander," Willow told him. "It's time you stopped your stupid jealously of Angel and Spike."

"Will," Xander protested. "That's not fair. I thought we were friends?"

"We are friends. And I still care about you. But damn Xander, do you know what you did to Angel? How much you hurt Buffy? By lying? You made everything I did, everything I became, almost ... useless because of that stupid lie. Not to mention the fact that if you'd been a man you'd have kept Anya happy and married her. And not broken Buffy's heart with Spike and Anya in the Magic Box." Willow's struggling to keep the anger out of her voice. And notably failing.

"Gee Wills. I thought you'd take my side at least. I mean ..." Xander starts to complain but Willow cuts him off.

"Take your side? All you've ever done is act like a complete jerk around Angel and Spike. I mean hello? Saved the world? Mean anything to you? What have you ever done Xander?" Willow asked.

"So that's how you feel?" Xander asked. Obviously hurt and bitter.

"Yeah. I mean a real friend would be happy for Buffy, now that the two most important people in her life are back in it. Instead of just ... well being stupid. Buffy's never going to want you Xander. You should know that by now. And get over yourself." Willow's firm.

"Will ...." Xander starts to say, "I stopped being in love with Buffy a long time ago."

"Well, you sure don't act like it. You're completely jealous of Angel. And of Spike. You're the same old dork you were in High School." Willow's now more than a little sad. And has her pity face back on. "I mean it Xander. It's time for you to grow up. Become a man. Anya was right about you. You're still ... the same scared little boy cracking jokes." Willow pauses. "Look at them, " she points to Angel, then Spike. "They made something out of themselves. They're ... special. Important. They matter. They're men."

"And what am I?" Xander asks. His tone flat, which neither Kennedy nor Willow notice.

"Someone who's gonna get left behind, if you don't grow up Xander," Willow says, departing with Kennedy sadly shaking her head at Xander as they leave.

Well, that was interesting. Nice of you Buffy, to share that little bit of special humiliation with Willow. And yeah, he thought sarcastically. What have I *ever* done?

"Anne Heche and Melissa Etheridge give you a hard time?" Rona asked Xander, as he visibly started.

"Forget them Xander. We have something else in mind," Vi told him with a smile, as both she and Rona appeared out of his blind side.

"You know they're both nuts," Rona said. "I mean completely nuts."

Xander didn't say anything, which Vi took as a signal to add, "We want to talk to you later. In private. About ... things." She giggled.

"Yeah. Things." Rona laughed. And the two of them walked away. A view Xander thoroughly enjoyed. How old were they again? He did the math in his head. Damn!

On the makeshift dance floor the music thumped, and various couples were dancing. Spike and Fred, of course. Willow and Kennedy, with Willow dancing enthusiastically if not ably. And wow, there was Buffy. With Angel. And Faith. Hmmm. Where WAS Robin?

"Having a good time?" Robin asked him, again from his blindside, as Xander yet again jumped a bit.

"That's it, have fun with guy with one eye," Xander complained. "Why does everyone think it's funny?"

"Sorry. I keep forgetting. You know they're both under 18?" Wood pointed to Vi and Rona.

"Yeah. I just did the math in my head."

"So I saw. Don't play poker." Wood advised him.

"You know, you're the second person who's told me that?" Xander asked.

"Really. Who's that?"

"Just some guy," Xander told him. "How come you're not on the dance floor?"

"Tough guys don't dance," Robin told him. Deadpan calm.

"God I hated that movie," Xander said instinctively.

"Really? The Ryan O'Neal movie?"

"The very one. And, may I note, that's the first joke I've heard you make. I must be corrupting you." Xander offered with a small smile.

"Why did you hate it?"

"Well, cause the guy ... well he didn't save those gals. They ended up dead. A man, well he's supposed to save people. Not let them die. Dead? It's forever." Xander struggled to make his feelings clear.

"I hear you on that," Wood told him. He leaned forward and whispered to Xander, "I hate the movie too. But Faith loves it."

On the dance floor, Faith was shaking it up with Angel and Buffy. God that gal had moves, Xander thought. And yeah, of course Faith would love the movie. All the gals who got killed? Gee what hair color did they have?

Xander thought. Was he jealous of ... Robin Wood? And the answer he came up with, was sadly yes. Gee, he thought. How pathetic am I? Was Willow right ... all along about me. And ... was Robin the guy who'd pointed Jack Crow at him. It's not like he had too many words for him before. Oh, well Giles was still locked up in his study. Maybe that explained it. Other than Faith who else did he have to talk to?

He'd put the termites, nasty little vermin, all over the manor where they'd do damage, and yet neither vampire had complained about chewing like he'd expected, and he hadn't found any sign that they were still alive. Even though he'd turned up the heat to ungodly measures, to the point where even Angel and Buffy complained. Well, maybe the damn things got killed off by the miserable English weather. It sure seemed like it was slowly killing him. In spirit if not in body. The only thing the gloomy weather seemed good for was Buffy and Angel's non stop sexfest, which Kennedy and Willow, and even Spike and Fred, seemed determine to best. He'd seriously asked Giles if there were poltergeist spirits like that Frat House one time, and gotten merely a withering look and a sullen "No" from Giles.

Maybe the termites were still alive. And the porn-a-thon 2004 had simply kept everyone from noticing. Xander had a daydream. Spike falling through the floor, impaling himself. Turning to dust. Followed by Angel in the same manner as he attempted to rescue ... well the Peroxide version of Angel. Oh happy day.

"Xander! XANDER!" Buffy's voice was loud and insistent. Cutting through his reverie.

"We're out of punch. And Angel and Spike have no blood!" Buffy had walked over to him.

"Make sure you put plenty of Burka root in it," Spike yelled across the room. "I like it spicy," to which Fred giggled.

Buffy was still glaring. "Well?" she demanded.

"I'm going, I'm going now," Xander said. And retreated to the kitchen.

He returned to the thump thump thump of some disco beat, with nearly everyone on the dance floor, well except Rona and Vi. Who'd disappeared in the meantime. And Robin giving the get down threesome of Angel, Buffy, and Faith dancing the evil eye from the side of the room. Laden down with drinks on a tray, Xander made his way to the table at the side of the room, when disaster struck.

CRASH. Xander fell halfway through the floor. Stopped by his outstretched arms. By some miracle the tray was still upright. And the drinks not spilled.

"Oh my god," Buffy exclaimed. "What happened ... to the floor?"

"This could have been a lot worse," Spike told Angel as everyone clustered around Xander.

"You're right, they could have been spilled," Angel replied to Spike, as each vampire took a blood filled glass and toasted each other.

"A little help here?" Xander called out, as Buffy swiftly took the punch bowl and carefully made her way over to the table.

"A little help, someone?" Xander called out again, as Buffy came back, a look of concern on her face.

"Angel, what happened," Buffy wanted to know. "You could have been ... "

"I know," Angel said bitterly. "It's termites." He bent down to have a close inspection of the floor, as an exasperated Wood alone helps Xander out of the hole. "Looks like they ate through the floor joist."

"Xander!" Buffy's voice had that special grating quality Anya at her most angry and obnoxious had. "I want you to ..."

"I know I know Buff. First thing." Xander told her. "First thing in the morning I'll call. Get an inspection."

"Make sure you do your job, boy," Spike told Xander. "Instead of drinking down at the local pub."

"When I was running Wolfram and Hart," Angel told Xander, "people who didn't do their job? Let's just say that ..." Angel begins, and Xander cuts him off.

"Yeah. You told me a lot. They got handled permanently. What part of my life sucks so much that I just don't care ... do you not understand?" Xander challenges Angel. While Buffy rolls her eyes.

"Bleach!" Spike tells Angel. "The boy didn't even put the right amount of Burka root in the blood. Taste this bloody stuff," Spike challenges Angel.

"You're right, it lacks that ... musty taste that the other stuff had," Angel muses as he tastes his own and Spike's drink.

"Yeah, it used to taste great," Spike agrees.

"Xander! Did you put something in their drinks?" Buffy wants to know.

"No!" Xander honestly protests. "Just the stuff they asked me to. It's not my fault if it tastes different. I'm not like them. I don't taste the stuff," Xander registers disgust as he hobbles to his feet.

"Damn. I think I twisted my ankle."

"Can you move it?" Wood asks concerned.

"Yeah, but it hurts like hell," Xander says. "I'm going to need help getting up the stairs."

Nobody offers to help. Finally Wood in disgust tells Xander, "I'll help you up."

As Xander is leaning on Wood, Buffy tells Xander, "Xan, you need to listen."

"What?" Xander's angry and in pain.

"We've been ... well I've been carrying you. For far too long. Good god Xander you can't even organize a party very well. I mean look at this," Buffy points out the empty dance floor. "It's all ruined. Everything."

Angel starts to say something, but Buffy cuts him off. "Xander I mean it. It's time for you stop screwing up. And grow the hell up. Or you can't ... you won't be able to live with us anymore. I mean it."

And with that, the party was over. As Wood and Xander struggled up the stairs, Xander hopping on one foot and leaning on Robin Wood. And everyone else retreated to their rooms. But Xander didn't miss the shake of the head "no" that Faith gave Robin when he gave her a questioning look. What was that all about he wondered?

As they got to his room, and Xander struggled to the bed, Robin asked him straight out, "Why do you stay?"

"Well, I stay for the love," Xander joked. "I've got some bandages in the top drawer," Xander motioned towards a battered dresser that had been obviously salvaged from the trash heap.

"Really? I didn't see too much love there tonight."

Xander sighed. "I don't have any other place to go."

Wood sat down next to Xander, and handed him the bandages, helped Xander take off his shoe.

"Thanks," Xander told him.

"You could come with us," Robin tells him. "Faith and I will be leaving soon."

"Thanks, but ... well ..." Xander trails off.

"I know there's something between you two. She's mad at you for some reason. But I can handle Faith." Wood tells Xander confidently.

"Thanks. But, still no."

"What is it between the two of you? Really?" Robin Wood wants to know.

"Thing is, back in Junior Year, well Buffy, she and Angel, she .... " Xander trails off. "They were well ..."

"Intimate?" Robin asks.

"Yeah." Xander pauses. "And well, Angel being all happy like that, it lifted his curse. He ... lost his soul. And started killing people. Lots of people. He was going to end the world. But Willow, she was going to try to restore his soul. And I was supposed to tell Buffy that." Xander runs out of steam.

"And you didn't?" Robin asks.

"No. I didn't. And Angel went to hell."

"And came back, obviously. World didn't end either. Buffy lived, too." Wood observed. "What's the problem?"

"Buffy doesn't see it that way. Neither does Willow. Or Faith."

"Why?" Wood wants to know.

"Thing is, well I saved Faith's life once when she was slaying. And well, you know how she gets after slaying. But, well, Faith, she was my ... first. I wasn't very good. So she told me," Xander laughed. "And later, when she'd killed this guy by accident, I thought we had something special. So I tried to help her. She got mad at me, nearly killed me. Angel stopped her. Saved her ... soul I guess." Xander runs out of steam. "And Angel helped her later. A lot. He's a big hero. Ask anyone." Xander laughs bitterly.

Wood's silent. This isn't what he expected.

"So hey? Third wheel? You guys don't need me around." Xander laughs. More than a bit forced.

"Offer still stands. And if you don't want to stay with us, we could get you clear. Of Buffy. And her vampires," this last word Wood spits out. "You could find work, well almost anywhere."

Xander sighs. "How much you know about carpentry?"

"Not much."

"See, Buffy wasn't wrong. I am screwing up. The stuff I do, well ... most people wouldn't know. But Angel can tell. I'm sure he points it out. The repairs I do around here? Not the work I used to do. I used to be good. Real good."

"And now?" Wood wants to know.

"Not so much. A real carpenter is fast. Me? I don't swing the hammer so good these days. It takes me three times as long as it used to. Even then it's not my best work. And outside of Sunnydale, well there's a ton of guys who are as fast as I used to be, have two eyes, and hell of a lot more experience." Xander's sighing. "I don't know anything else. And I really have nowhere else to go."

"I've got some money. And people who owe me favors. I could get you settled. Somewhere away from here. Plastic surgery too, if you want it. Like I said, people owe me favors." Wood's face is soft, understanding. "I could set you up. You wouldn't have to pay me back."

Xander's simply stunned. He can't believe this.

"Why ... Why ... WHY would you do something like that? For a guy like me? Especially since Faith ... I mean not that you'd have to worry. Anya told me she had to teach me nearly everything." Xander can't figure it out. "But still ... why?"

"A girl is alive today, because you lost an eye. It doesn't matter that she never thanked you, that you're not a slayer. Or a vampire. Or a witch. You did the right thing because you are the right thing." Wood offers his hand. "And that's why."

Xander takes his hand, and shakes it, a tear running down his eye. "Thanks."

"You should leave," Wood insists.

"But I have to stay. I should have died that day. When Sunnydale went into the Hellmouth toilet. But Dawn came back for me. Led me out. Without powers. Cause ... she didn't want me to die. So I do what I can around here. For Dawn." Xander's trying to explain. "I figure you'd understand."

"Yeah I do. But you need to watch yourself," Wood tells him. "Those things don't like you."

"Ha. They can't touch me. I've got superpowers," Xander jokes.

Wood raises an eyebrow.

"When I was in Junior High, there was this book. By Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man. You know it?" Xander asks.

"I might have read it," Wood allows.

"I kept waiting for the guy to turn Invisible. Like, you know Susan Richards from Fantastic Four. Or that guy in the movie. But he never did. I didn't understand it. Until now." Xander finishes. "He was invisible cause people ... just didn't notice him. Didn't think he was ... important."

"So you won't leave?" Wood asks.

"Naw. Like I said, I've got my powers," Xander says.

"You change your mind, let me know," Wood tells Xander.

"I will."

"How was the book?" Wood points to the "War Magician," on Xander's nightstand.

"Great. Guy was really tricky. Fooled Rommel good." Xander offers.

Woods response, "I liked it too. Goodnight," left Xander uneasy. As he wondered, was Robin's offer genuine? Which he thought after some time, it likely was. Genuine. Which made things even more confusing if Wood was the guy who'd pointed Jack Crow at him. Demon hunter to Demon hunter. And as he pondered this the door opened. And Vi and Rona stepped in.

"God I thought he'd never leave," Rona complains.

"You two done with your big gay love affair?" Vi teases.

"Yeah, sure," Xander sighs. "And besides both of you are under 18."

Rona and Vi laugh. "God, do you think ... that?" Vi asks.

"Ewwww" Rona says. "I mean, you have one eye." She pauses. "No offense or anything."

"If we were going to do someone," Vi adds, "It would be Angel or Spike."

There's a heavy pause. And then Xander explodes.

"OK, you two are going to have to explain something. WHY in god's green earth do those two guys have every female in the Western Hemisphere drooling after them. Despite oh I dunno ... being evil undead monsters?" Xander really wants to know.

"Well, besides the fact that they're really hot," Vi says.

"And that they've got the whole sex and death thing going on," says Rona.

"It's that they're well ... lemme put it this way," Vi says imitating Anya's voice during her many lectures, "Xander was a viking in the sack. But Spike? Oh my god he never stopped!"

Vi and Rona laugh. Rona adds, "Vampires just never stop. They go all night. Superhuman. I mean, you've heard Buffy, right?"

"And Fred too, right?" Vis asks.

"Yeah, I heard," Xander says sullenly. "I think London heard," as the two girls giggle.

"I mean I don't blame Buffy or Fred for wanting some vampire lovin," Rona adds, "but use em and dust em, I say."

"One of these days, Buffy's going to wake up dead," Vi tells Xander. "Fred too. And I don't want to be here when they get the munchies, if you take my meaning."

"I mean, yeah, a vampire's going to be better than some guy," and Vi and Rona exchange looks. "But the downside is getting dead. Eventually. Not worth it." Rona concludes.

"So you want me to ... help you stop this?" Xander asks.

"Hell no. Buffy won't listen to anyone not undead. We want you to leave with us," Vi tells Xander.

"We fought enough. We risked enough. I never asked for this," Rona tells him.

"And I didn't either. I'm not risking my life so Buffy can boink the undead. Doesn't matter how good they are in bed." Vi says. And again exchanges a look with Rona.

"And what would be in this for me?" Xander asks.

"Well, for one thing we'd protect you. From Buffy and her vampires." Vi tells him.

"You could cook, and clean for us." Rona tells him. "We're not real good with that stuff."

"Wow, just like with Buffy," Xander responds with sarcasm. "Be still my heart."

"There wouldn't be ... vampires," Vi says. "And that's not like Buffy. Besides, we'd treat you better."

"What you mean is that you need someone over 18 to rent stuff for you. " Xander's figured it out.

"Well, that too," Rona admits. "But we could make things ... nice for you."

Vi is smiling. "See, Slayers can go all night too. And we don't bite ... each other."

Rona laughs, "Unless we want to be bitten."

They look at Xander. "We're not gay," Vi says to him, defensively, as Rona nods. "Give us a male slayer, and hey, we're all over that."

"What? It's just a safe sex thing?" Xander asks.

"Pretty much. But we could let you watch. If you did things for us." Rona's frank. "Can you travel on that thing?" she points to his bandaged ankle. "Like, tomorrow? Early in the morning?"

"I could," Xander admitted. "But I'm not. I get the feeling that if Buffy or say Angel show up, good old Xander is going to be sitting on the side of the road, with a giant Kick Me sign on him. While Vi and Rona are long gone."

"Not if you're smart," Vi tells him. "We see what you're doing. Hiding. In plain sight."

Rona laughs. "Pretty funny, peeing in the vamp's blood."

Xander pauses. "You don't want to help me? Turn this thing around? I mean, you're slayers. You've got power. Buffy, and Willow. They'd listen to you. Especially if you got Kennedy on board. We could start training again, patrols, give the vamps the boot. It could work," Xander appeals. "I know you can do this."

Vi and Rona laugh. "I don't give a fuck about the world," Rona says, "all I care about is my buddy. The person who got me out of ... Sunnyhell." Rona gives Vi an adoring look.

Vi says, "And I don't give a shit about Buffy. Or any of her friends. Even you. But we'll play straight with you. Be smart ... you can get out of this. Now."

"You in or out?" Rona wants to know.

Xander thinks. For a good long time. Then he makes his decision.


"Ok, fine. Be that way," Vi's pouting.

"Xander," Rona begins, "we're worried. About your health."

"Yeah," Vi chimes in. "Since you're staying here, we think you should stay in your room tonight."

"And not talk to anyone," Rona tells him. "You should sleep in too."

"Thing is," Vi says as she picks him up effortlessly and puts him down, a bit farther down on the bed, "Slayers are strong. Real strong."

"Lots stronger than say ... you," Rona completes the thought.

Xander thought of Faith strangling him. Buffy possessed and thinking they weren't real and knocking him unconscious. Vi's amazing strength as she picked him up like a baby.

"I'll keep that in mind," Xander says.

"It might be healthy," Rona admits.

Later, Xander thought he should have left. Vi and Rona were probably safer. Robin seemed a good guy, but who knew if he was really tied to Jack Crow. And he sure as hell didn't want Faith after him again. She'd never said one word to him, after she'd come back. Not to help with the First Evil, and not now. Well, can't blame her he thought. It's not like he was a hero. Like Riley. Or Robin Wood. Or hell even Angel. Or Spike.

But in the end, he was just too stupid, he figured. Too stupid to get out of it. He owed Dawn. And that was that. At least he had his friends. Die Hard. Die Hard 2. And Die Hard 3. It wasn't the best Halloween he'd ever had. But he was still alive. "Yippee Kay Yay motherfucker," he muttered to himself, as he fell asleep dreaming of setting Spike and Angel on fire.

Chapter 5

Bath, England, October 2004.

Breakfast next morning was a fairly placid affair, to begin with. Xander arose late, not forgetting Vi and Rona's concern for his health, and unsurprisingly found their rooms empty. He wondered idly how long it would take the others to discover they'd gone missing. He figured at least several days. Buffy seemed to slip more and more into night time mode; and spent less time each night it seemed with the others. The next several hours were spent limping about, making breakfast for himself, and telephone calls to Crow's pet exterminators. To his surprise he found that they couldn't come for a couple of days. But they promised to have someone out no later than Friday. Gee, Buffy would have his head, he thought. What the hell was Crow playing, he wondered?

Should he go to him, throw a fit? Perhaps. Then he remembered that detective story he had read, back in school. One of the few he'd actually enjoyed. "A pro would have knocked me off or let me alone," the guy had told the amateur. Well, Xander was damned if he was going to be an amateur. Not now. Better lay low. Be like the guy in the Ralph Ellison novel. Invisible. No one notices the servants. They're just ... there. And that's what he was. Just ... there.

Giles passed by, and offered to take him into town later for shopping. Faith and Wood trooped past his Kitchen command post, and Robin gave him both his e-mail address and cell phone number, to Faith's dismay and dagger like glares at Xander, who merely smiled and said thanks. He could hear the two arguing over that as they left to continue the ever present workouts the two conducted. He sincerely hoped they would not fight too much. Mostly because he figured Robin Wood was the only thing standing between him and a Faith sized Ass Kicking. If it stopped at that. He fingered his throat. It still burned inside him that it had to be ANGEL who'd saved him.

Willow came down the stairs, finally, with Kennedy in tow as always. Wow, he thought. No wonder Willow and I never talk anymore. I don't have a tongue stud. Or the right equipment he thought bitterly. There's just no more room in Willow's life for me. Like a tree crowded out by faster growing saplings.

"Are you feeling better today, Xander?" Willow asked neutrally. "Ankle OK?"

"Yeah. Hey Wills, I talked to your great great Uncle Schlomo yesterday. Invited him for Rosh Hashana." Xander offered a peace offering. "I mean I thought you'd like to see ... family."

"God Xander, why did you do that?" Willow asked. Instantly annoyed.

"Cause, he's your Uncle? And I know he lives in England. And I know you like Rosh Hashana. He was always fun when we were kids Will. Remember all that candy?"

"What's wrong?" Kennedy asks Willow. "I sense disaster here."

"God Xander, do you have a brain left?" Willow asks angrily. "We're not twelve years old any more. All Uncle Schlomo is going to do is bug me about why I'm not married yet, and why no kids? Hello? Uncle Schlomo? Orthodox Jew? Not big with the gay thing?" Willow's in near panic mode. "Oh god another rant and rave about preserving the race. Like all I want to be is some brood cow." Willow snorts, and Kennedy laughs.

"Not much chance of that," Kennedy admits.

"Xander, I ought to turn you into a rat," Willow said half seriously, half panicked. "I'm going to get an earful of how I'm betraying all the dead in the holocaust, for not getting married and having babies." Willow moans. Turning to Kennedy she says, "I mean, I know he's a survivor and all, but I mean, really."

"That bad?" Kennedy asks.

"Nobody can guilt trip like Uncle Schlomo," Willow says acidly. "Gee thanks Xander. I'd rather have root canal."

"I thought you liked your Uncle Schlomo," Xander says desperately. "He was fun."

"I love him Xander. I just love him at a distance. Where he can't complain," Willow explains. "When we were kids I told him that you'd convert, and we'd get married. It's why he liked you." Willow laughs not seeing Xander's face fall. She turns to Kennedy, "Mom's back in that whole, discover your Jewish roots thing. Not too big on the lesbian wicca deal right now. Uncle Schlomo? Even worse."

Kennedy laughs. "You should see my family. Dad's OK, but Mom?"

"Sorry Wills. I thought I was doing you a favor. Truce?" Xander asks.

"Truce." Willow softens. "Look, Xander, I'm sorry if I was hard on you last night," Willow said and looked at Kennedy for support. "But I meant every word of what I said. Seriously. What are you doing with your life?"

"Helping you Wills. And Buffy. It's what I've always done," Xander replied, puzzled. "What else would I do? Where else would I go?"

"Xander," Willow sighed. "Look around. All of us. Witches. Watchers. Slayers. Vampires. Even a physicist. Smart people. Powerful people. We bring something to the fight. What do you bring?"

"A cutting remark and funny smile?" Xander joked in a hopeful manner.

"No Xander, you're a liability. You know that. Why do you think you don't go on patrol?" Willow asked him.

"Cause ... we don't patrol at all any more?" Xander asked.

"No. It's because you'd endanger yourself. And everyone around you. God Xander we always carried you. You were never a good fighter." Willow's exasperated. "Can't you see that?"

"No you didn't. Carry me. Ever." Xander's tone is flat, a statement of fact.

"Yes Xander, we did," Willow contradicts him softly. "It's time you faced that fact. You don't ... you don't fit in with us any more. This isn't High School. Buffy has Angel, Spike, and well me to get her back. Fred and ... Giles to do research, if we need it. And plenty of slayers as extra help. And we all have our own lives. Our own ... loves," Willow looks at Kennedy, who smiles at her.

"Xander, we're not doing this to hurt you. But damn, you've got to know ... there are people here who'd rather see you go," Kennedy says sadly. "You need to turn things around. Start making decisions on your own. Cause people are talking."

"I assume you're one of them," Xander said acidly.

"No. Willow and I were the ones who argued most to keep you. Along with Giles and ... Buffy. Mostly." Kennedy responded calmly.

"Then who?" Xander asks. And answers his own question. "Oh. Them."

"It's not just Angel, Spike, and Fred," Willow tells him. It's the other slayers. They don't ... feel comfortable around you. The eye thing. It kinda ... grosses them out." Willow's sad. "They're just not ... used to it." She won't look him in the face.

"I see," Xander says stiffly. "With one eye I guess." He laughs bitterly. "Why can't vampires ever stay dead anymore?"

"Xander," Willow says with an edge in her voice, "you need to get over your jealousy. It's not pretty."

"God Willow, do you think I'm still jealous of Angel? That it was ... jealousy that made me ..." Xander starts to say.

"Lie? Yeah. I do," Willow's firm. "A real friend would have done anything to help Buffy save Angel. I would have," Willow continues. "You should have. Why do you think Angel treats you the way he does, and Buffy allows it? He's angry. And he has a right to be. You sent him to hell."

"And I guess that's the difference between us, Will," Xander says sadly. "I figured Angel was expendable, and you and Buffy weren't. I don't know why you can't see that. Or take my side."

"Because Xander, you didn't just send Buffy's boyfriend to hell, you sent this world's champion. Angel saved the world, Xander. A lot. He's special. Important. He has a destiny. You didn't have the right to take that from Buffy. You didn't have the right to undo what I did." Willow's not budging on this.

"Why can't you make Buffy just listen, Will? I mean we used to be close. Together. I want things the way they were." Xander's nearly pleading.

"We're not kids anymore Xander. You have to grow up. I mean it." Willow is emphatic. "You have to make decisions Xander," she says sadly. "And stop living in the past."

"You can't trade on Buffy's sympathy forever," Kennedy says with a sad smile. "We all know what you lost, but ... " she trails off.

"Spike wants to replace you with Harmony," Willow says flatly. "And Buffy's ... she's considering it. It might be best. It's not just the thing with Angel. Though it's part of it."

"Harmony? Are you nuts?" Xander asks. "Seriously. Harmony?"

"Harmony," Willow answers. "Spike's been in touch. You're just drifting Xander. Not really doing anything with your life. Not going anywhere. We have the mission Xander. Hell we ARE the mission."

"And all you do is make the mission's breakfast," Kennedy points out helpfully. "That's not much of a life."

As Xander was considering that, Giles came into the kitchen and announced he was going to town. And did Xander want the ride, or not. More than a bit peeved in his tone. Xander did, and Willow told him to think about what she'd said. Kennedy gave him a sad smile.

In the car, on the way to town from the manor house, Giles asked Xander what Willow meant.

"Just stuff, " was Xander's evasive reply.

"You mean the new regime gave you the shape up or else orders," is Giles bitter reply. "Oh yes, I've gotten that too." Giles was openly angry. "After all I've done."

Giles shot Xander a glance from behind the wheel. "You know who's behind this, don't you? It's Angel, Spike, and Fred. We're not vampire friendly, you see." Giles snorts. He beeps the horn, "Will you bloody move!"

And Xander considered. Giles. He'd never thought of it. But here he was, angry as hell. And Xander could see why. If anyone hated Angel more than he did it was Giles. Spike too for that matter. Could GILES have pointed Crow his way? It must burn, he thought, to have to suffer the two of them, in his council. What should be his. Not theirs. And to have to deal with Jenny's murderer every day. Hell he daydreamed of setting Spike on fire on a daily basis, and he never killed Anya.

"Willow told me I had to grow up. Stop being jealous. Of Angel and Spike. And maybe leave." Xander told Giles. "They said they carry me."

"Well, they probably do at that," Giles admitted. "Oh I'll be the first to say, neither you nor I are much in a fight. Not compared to a slayer, or a vampire. Even a powerful witch. But there's more to it than that. As you well know." He shot Xander another look from behind the wheel. And honked the horn in frustration. "A bloody lot more."

"If it makes you feel any better I've been given the same speech. By Spike, of all creatures. How I loathe him," Giles is seething with rage, and bellows out at the driver in front of him "Will you bloody move the bloody car!" And honks the horn more until the frightened middle aged woman moves her elderly Fiat out of the way so Giles can turn left.

"Bloody brilliant. Now I'm reduced to putting housewives in mortal fear of ... road rage." Giles attempts to calm himself. "You know why Buffy is angry at you, don't you?"

"It's cause ... of this thing with Angel," Xander begins, and Giles cuts him off.

"Yes, yes, I know all about it. Angel's incensed about it, but as far as I'm concerned ... he could rot in hell forever. And still wouldn't get what's coming to him. It's just bloody too bad he didn't stay there." Giles wipes his glasses. He looks at Xander, "You know of course you must never tell anyone I said that. If it got back to Buffy, well .... "

"Giles," Xander asked in small voice, "what's wrong with Buffy? Why is she acting this way?"

"Because Buffy ... because Buffy needs Angel. Or Spike. And that need, makes her sick. Dependent. On them. On the darkness within her. Within every slayer, really. And Buffy's had it worse than most. So she's especially vulnerable. And Angel ... no longer has the strength he once had to ... walk away. He's as dependent as she is now." Giles is at once sad and angry.

"And Fred?"

"Fred is mentally ill. According to Wesley. Hence ... Spike." Giles says bitterly, as Xander laughs.

"Wes?" Xander is surprised.

"Yes. Wesley." Giles states flatly. "We stay in touch. Now and then. Though he's been less than forthcoming about what happened in LA. To Cordelia. And other things."

Giles falls silent. Musing. "Something ... happened to Angel. He changed, somehow. And not for the better."

"Giles, what are we going to do?" Xander asks.

"Do? We'll do as we're told, I suspect. Buffy runs the council now, and listens mostly to Angel and Spike. Occasionally Willow. She won, a great and glorious victory. And all the younger slayers worship her." Giles smiles sadly. "Success is bloody awful teacher." Changing gears abruptly he asks, "Did you enjoy the book I gave you?"

"About Churchill? Yeah. I liked that 'In War the Truth is so precious it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies.' I thought that was cool." Xander HAD been pleased by the book. It had taught him a lot.

"Well, yes. Churchill could be a pompous old windbag. And he made plenty of mistakes, Gallipoli or Dieppe among them. The same mistake twice, really. But he knew a thing or two. Among them how to lie. Effectively." Giles looks intently at Xander.

"Like, telling the truth so badly no one believes it? Or the truth but not the whole truth?" Xander offers hopefully.

"So you did read it?" Giles is surprised.

"Yeah. Not much else to do but watch DVDs."

"And the lesson of that is?" Giles wants to know.

"Don't tell Buffy anything?" Xander offers hopefully.

"Well, not if you don't want Spike and Angel to throw you out on your arse," Giles offers as he pulls the car over to let Xander out. "And me along with you. Or worse. There's always something worse."

Xander stood there, for a few minutes, thinking. And at the end, he figured that Giles was just too careful, or scared, or both to come right out with what he wanted. Great, he thought. That was the most depressing thing he'd dealt with all day. That Giles of all people would come to that. Well, he mused. Things had hit rock bottom. He was wrong of course. And that was when Jack Crow caught up with him.


"Goddam kid," Crow said in his blind side ear. "You look like your best friend dumped you."

"Well, she sorta did," Xander said with a sour look. "And stop doing that. I hate it when Spike does it. It sucks even more when you do it."

"Point fucking taken kid. Come on," he gestures to a waiting car. "I've got something that will cheer you right up."

Xander gets in the car, and a man he's never seen before drives them wildly through Bath's streets, till the car arrives at a solidly middle class section of town. There's a police barrier, and troops around, even an armored troop carrier, and an angry, buzzing crowd, but the car is waved through, and arrives in front of a nondescript house with a large truck on the lawn, it's back doors open and various implements Xander recognized being handled with expert care by a very rough looking bunch.

"Let me run it down for you. So you understand exactly what we're dealing with," Crow begins, as Father Adam joins them. "Couple of Mormons were going door to door, doing their thing, when they got here. Vamps pulled them in but it wasn't easy for em. And the neighbor across the street saw them. Called the League. Who called us."

"So it's a nest," Xander says. "How many?"

"Acoustics says around ten, maybe twelve. Hard to tell. Nobody's alive in the house." Father Adam says.

"Angel or Spike ever visit here?" Crow asks.

"Not that I know of," Xander confesses. "They haven't left the manor in weeks, if that means anything."

"So we've got another fucking Master, making new vamps," Crow grouses. "That's fucking great. Listen, when we bring them out, I want you to stay in the van. Just in case. And look at the pictures on the monitor. You recognize anyone, you let us know on the radio. It's important." Crow continues.

Father Adam explains "We think these are new goons, because they're stupid, and hungry, and there would be a lot more people dead or missing. But we're not sure."

"Either there's a master who's really fucking smart, like Valek, and this whole thing is just bait to draw us out, or the master is really fucking stupid." Crow offers.

"And we'll catch them and kill them with the others," Father Adam finishes the thought.

"From your lips to gods fucking ears, Padre," Crow makes a mock prayer, while Father Adam helped put on a chain mail neck protector like the one he wore, and proceeded with the rest of the crew to advance on the house.

While one remaining crew member stayed with Xander in the van, and explained how to work the monitor and radio, Xander pondered Crow's methods, and compared them to Buffy's.

Buffy didn't fight that many vampires at a time, and rarely took on a nest of more than a couple of vamps without backup. Usually ... well when it came right down to it her boyfriend, and Willow. With Xander in the rear, as always. She mostly fought vamps one on one, almost like a duel. And with a quick thrust of a stake, the vamp was dust. Gone. No fuss, no muss. The few times he'd fought vamps without Buffy, when she'd left them for LA after Angel's sadly not permanent death, and later after she herself had died ... things had been different. Chaotic. And not very easy. Even for one vamp at a time. But they'd never hit a nest. Well, except for Riley. And now Xander saw why.

Even on the monitor, watching what Crow was doing, the process was incredibly brutal. And terribly effective. Using the sunlight to their advantage, and mirrors to move it around to where it was needed, they assaulted the house like a small army. Covering each other, and skewering vamps with crossbows. Crossbows connected to a powerful cable and winch arrangement that dragged the vamps out into the sun. Where they shortly burst into flames. And were consumed. Inside the house, he saw through the monitor Crow's team use automatic weapons on the vamps. It didn't stop them, but did stun them often so that they could be skewered with a crossbow. Hell they used Pepper Spray and even Tasers. Anything that worked. All so that they could drag each vamp out into the sunlight. And watch it explode like the fireworks he and Willow had played with when they were kids.

And as he was watching this, he wondered, why they didn't do this sort of thing with the slayers. He could help with that, he'd be as good on a winch as anyone. He could hold a mirror, handle a crossbow. All of that. Hell, even Dawn could help. And they'd have all the advantages. Daylight. The one card vamps couldn't counter. EVER.

Oh. Daytime. Angel wouldn't be there. Spike wouldn't be there. Meanwhile Buffy for all her talk of war, fought one vamp at a time. Like an old fashioned duel. When, Xander considered, what humanity needed was brutally efficient killers like Crow. And his men. Why wouldn't Buffy see this? The need, and the gain? All the lives saved?

Crow rode the last one out himself, like a rodeo rider on a bucking bronco. Even from the truck Xander could hear him "Die Motherfucker Die Die Die!" as he shot his pistol dry into the vamp. Man certainly threw himself into his work, Xander admitted.

Xander shook his head. He didn't recognize anyone. Not a soul. Or, he guessed, soulless monster. Crow came into the truck.

"What? Are you done?" Xander asked.

"No. Recognize anyone?" Crow asked.

"Not a single one. Sorry," Xander offered.

"Watch kid. And learn." Crow offered. "Anything on the acoustics?" he asked the crew member who'd stayed behind with Xander.

"Yeah. At least one, maybe more. In the walls. Thermals aren't picking them up. Too cold. But they're moving. We can hear them," the crew member reported.

"Fucking vamps will get in the walls, they have a chance. Like fucking cockroaches. Only one way to fucking deal with it. This was a normal nest, I'd just fucking burn it down. The houses this close though?" Crow laughed. "You're gonna love this."

A giant tracked demolition machine, with pneumatic claws and a jackhammer rumbled up to the house. Followed by a crane and a large crew.

"Jesus Christ, you're going to tear the house down," Xander exclaimed.

"Don't fucking worry kid. Owner won't complain. He's dead." Crow sat back.

And Xander did the same, watching with amazement what happened. The crew were efficient, in sawing through the roof support structure and attaching the crane's heavy chains to all four corners. In less time than he thought, the roof was off, and on the ground, where other workers sawed it into pieces and Crow's crew carefully turned over each piece, making sure no vampire hid among the ruins of the roof.

"Like fucking roaches kid. Gotta turn over every fucking board and stone." Crow advised.

Next came the walls, and after all the walls were down, and the last three vampires had burst from the ruins into the yard, burning into nothingness with nowhere to hide, Crow grimaced.

"You tore the whole house apart," Xander accused.

"Yeah, I tore the house apart. So they'll fucking rebuild. Don't say I don't do anything for the working man. Hey, maybe you can get a job here." Crow joked. "I tear em down, you rebuild em?"

"Really funny," Xander was still offended by the house's destruction, though he could see the need. "Am I done?"

"Not yet. You need to see what's inside."

As they approached the house, what struck Xander was the smell. It was awful. And one he'd smelled before. Though never this bad. Blood. Lots of it. And decay.

Amidst the ruined shell of the house, walls torn down, roof gone, and only the frame still remaining, the bodies looked especially pathetic. The man, in his late forties, looking a bit like Giles. A woman the same age, whom Xander took to be his wife, sprawled next to him. Both of them had their throats torn out. And blood all over the floor. But it wasn't the adults that bothered Xander the most. It was the children. A girl, maybe two years younger than Dawn. A boy of eleven, who looked like he'd died trying to defend the youngest. A girl, no more than six. With red hair.

Willow used to look like that he thought. When she was little. Willow looked like that.

And in that moment Xander decided. It didn't matter he thought ... how this started. What he intended ... originally. Why he'd gotten involved. What happened before. This was what it was all about. He had to stop this. He couldn't LET something like this happen again. No matter what. Whatever he had to do.

"Kid. Seriously. Don't ever play poker." Crow said. "Cause what you think? Written all over your face."

Xander said nothing, merely stared at the children's bodies, sprawled out in a row in one of the rooms.

After a while, Crow said softly, sympathetically, "It's always bad with kids. You wouldn't be human if it didn't get to you. You'd be one of them."

After a pause, Xander said, "And that would be a bad thing."

"A very bad fucking thing. My old partner? The one I told you about? Took me three weeks to track his vampire ass down, him and his vampire ho. Know what? Most standup guy I knew, ended up snacking on Mexican street kids in Monterrey. New goons love kids cause they're easy to kill, but they don't have as much blood in them. So they gotta kill more."

Crow pauses. "I figure he killed between twenty five and thirty kids, him and his ho. Between em. Hard to tell."

Father Adam, who'd accompanied them, nods silently.

"Don't fucking kid yourself, this is what vampires are," Crow motions to the bodies. "This is what they fucking do. They may look like us, sometimes, and act like us. But they're all fucking monsters. They all need to fucking die. To stop this. I don't care who they're fucking. Or how many fucking souls they have."

"You're right." Xander says flatly. "I did have to see this. I wish I hadn't. But I needed to see it. I know what I have to do. I have to kill Angel. And Spike." He points at the bodies. "To stop this from ever happening again."

"No kid. I'm going to fucking kill them. You're just going to help me." Crow insists.

"Deal," says Xander, and shakes Crow's hand.


Across the street and down the road, Harmony Kendall listened to her vampire followers incinerate in the sun, one by one. She was too frightened by what she heard, even if she couldn't make out the voices. One sounded familiar but she couldn't quite place it. Who were these people? The slayer never attacked by day. It was a good thing she'd gotten hungry and went "shopping." And that she'd drunk the owner's liquor cabinet dry after she'd drank the owner dry, and had fallen asleep. Otherwise she'd be with her crew. Her crew! she moaned to herself. It was going to be a present for Spike. So he'd take her back.

She had to get to Spike. He'd help her. He'd know what to do.

Chapter 6

Bath, England, November 2004.

When Giles returned for Xander in his car, Xander gave him a highly edited version of events, but enough of the details so that Giles knew things were serious. Among other tidbits was Xander included was the taking of the bodies, uncovered, through the crowd and the reaction that little stunt generated. Gee thanks Jack, Xander thought. Dial up the pressure to make something happen. Why did he have a gut feeling that whatever happened would fall heaviest on him? Xander did not, of course, give Crow's name, much less that he'd been working with him. He had to play it carefully.

When they arrived back at the manor, Giles shouted Buffy out of bed early, and Xander found himself relieved to see her in sunlight, and still wearing the cross on the necklace Angel had given her all those years ago. Fred too appeared in the wan sunlight of late afternoon, so she too was still human.

There was a great deal of commotion, and as the Manor's library was prepared for a conference, the first one Xander had been invited (well, to be fair commanded) to attend since Angel and Spike's arrival, Xander pondered how they had arrived at such a terrible state.

Why *were* Buffy and Willow, and hell even Faith and the others acting this way? What had happened to them? And then it hit him. The realization.

He nearly fell down when he realized. He became weak and dizzy. Fortunately no one noticed. As usual. It was a cold feeling down his spine. Of course.

Everyone was becoming a vampire. Oh, not a full blood drinking one like Spike or Angel. But they were adopting the same ... way of thinking, of behaving, as a vampire. To Xander it felt all too familiar. He himself had succumbed, back when Dracula ... did whatever he did to him. And made him a thrall. Dracula's bug eating man bitch. Much the way, he hated to admit it, Angel and Spike had enthralled Buffy. And even Willow, Faith, and the other slayers. Even he had fallen into old patterns. Just like with the Dark Master ... damn! Dracula. Heck Spike and Angel probably didn't even realize what was going on.

And he understood, finally. What had happened. Why Dawn had left, after much screaming and shouting with Buffy, when Angel and Spike had appeared with Buffy after her trip to LA. Dawn knew Buffy ... well better than anyone. She knew, Xander thought, better than anyone how Buffy behaved around vampires. What part of Buffy Angel and Spike called forth. And left rather than see it all over again.

He understood what had happened to Willow. WHY she'd resurrected Spike, even though he'd complained bitterly that it was a risk she shouldn't take. Spike wasn't worth it. But there was no arguing with Willow about it, she'd made her decision and that was that. Why Willow thought he was still jealous of Angel (or Spike). It made sense. Even Faith wasn't immune. When it came right down to it, Xander figured Faith would choose Angel over Wood. Poor guy. He probably didn't even know.

And that was the thing. Vampires had very little loyalty to their own. Oh sure they'd stick together, sometimes, but betrayal was their second nature. And everything they did was based on ... power. Who had it. And who had the most of it.

Angel and Spike, they probably didn't even know. What was happening. How could they? Everyone around them, thinking like them, acting like them, adopting their values? It would seem ... natural. God he thought ... no wonder Buffy had gone off the rails, Willow right along with her. And Dawn, Giles, and himself ... pushed to the side. Buffy just didn't want to be human any more. Sadly, he thought, neither did Willow. And they didn't even know it was happening. Hell he didn't. Until he'd met Jack Crow. And seen things that ... brought him back to the man he used to be.

Giles called it right. Vampires always made Buffy lose her judgment. Angel and Spike's arrival matched oh so neatly to Buffy's gradual abandonment of patrolling, the slip in training, and her keeping night time hours. The way she just stopped listening to everyone but Angel and Spike.

Something had happened to Angel, back in LA he thought. He wouldn't talk about Cordy's death, why she ended up in a coma, and why he was so ... angry at her. Cordy may have been a pain in the ass, but she was a good person. Something went very wrong with Angel in LA. Something changed him. Changed him to where he didn't want to be human any more. Just a vampire.

If Angel had been like he used to be, maybe even with Angel and Spike both here, Buffy might not have been so ... bad. But it was hard to tell him from Spike most days. Except for the hair, Xander thought. It was always the hair.

Idly he wondered if he'd had a pompadour, or peroxide hair, he'd ended up with Buffy. Probably not, he thought. Too human. Buffy didn't like herself much these days. She was more comfortable with the slayer, not Buffy. Xander finally realized how much Buffy must loathe herself.

They were seated, all around the great table in the middle of the library. Angel and Buffy at the head of the table, Spike and Fred to the right of Angel, and Willow and Kennedy on the left. Further down, Faith and Wood sat. Close to Xander and Giles. Xander noted with an odd bit of satisfaction that no one had noticed even now that Vi and Rona had left. He didn't plan on enlightening them either.

"Tell me again what happened," Angel commanded. "From the beginning, and leave nothing out."

Xander started, confident that the tale he and Crow had agreed on would hold up.

"I was at the Starbucks, cause well, homesick. And a guy came in and started talking about vampires, how some vampire hunters were pulling vampires out of a house. And everyone went and looked. It wasn't far."

"Wait, " Buffy asked. "There's a Starbucks in town?"

"Yeah Buff. Just like home. They even have Frappacinos, and chocolate chip cookies." Xander answered. Chocolate chip cookies were what he missed most about home. Well, that and football. Soccer just sucked for him. Especially since Spike was always going on about Manchester United, and what a traitor Beckham was. Which was stupid since Beckham was that girl in the movie. The tall blonde one he thought. Or maybe it was the cute Indian girl. Whatever, he thought. Spike was an idiot. Only an idiot could like soccer. Unless girls were playing it.

"Wait a minute, cookies?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah Buff, cookies. Chocolate chip cookies," Xander answered.

"Hmmm ... and now my cookies are all baked," Buffy said with a smile at Angel, and at Spike. "Isn't that funny?"

Angel had a carefully blank expression, as everyone else tried to figure out what the hell Buffy was talking about.

"Xander!" Angel interrupted his reverie with more than a hint, Xander thought, of irritation at Buffy. "Get on with it."

"OK, so I went and looked. I climbed up on a light pole, you know the old cast iron ones with the decorations on the bottom. If you keep your feet on them you can climb up, and see over the crowd." This was true, Xander knew. He'd done it himself just to test it. And yes, he could see over to where Crow's crew had been cleaning up, putting away their equipment.

"And across the street, there was this big truck. They had a winch. And a bunch of guys with crossbows, mirrors, guns, and a lot of other stuff. They'd haul a vampire out and he'd go 'poof' like a firework. Kinda cool." Xander hurried on as Angel gave him a dirty look.

"Then they stopped for a bit, and went into the truck. After that a crane came and the sawed the roof free and lifted it up. Brought it on the ground, and sawed it up into tiny pieces. Turned it over to look for vamps. Oh and a demolition machine came, and they tore down each wall, looking for vamps. Got three that way. It was a real show." Xander concluded.

"Did you see who was in charge? Could you hear them, did they say anything?" Angel wanted to know.

"Naw. I was across the street. And I got there late. Most of the vamps were already toasty by the time I got there." Xander answered. "I didn't see any faces, they were too far away. And I couldn't hear anything. Crowd was pretty noisy."

"I don't like people hunting vamps in my town," Buffy pouted. "That's my job. It's for slayers, not civilians. Hey wait a minute. Did these guys look like ... Riley?"

"Naw Buff. I don't think they were soldiers. They looked pretty rough. Long hair. Kinda all mixed up. More like ... bikers. They worked as a team though. They knew what they were doing." Xander answered honestly.

"How many burn marks on the ground?" Robin Wood wanted to know.

"More then ten. Maybe fifteen. I don't know for sure. But at least that many. Plus five they took out while I was there, and three from the walls." Xander replied.

"So thats around eighteen to twenty three vamps dusted, well burned. That's a whole nest!" Faith exclaimed.

"They're insane," Buffy exploded. "Civilians. Taking on a nest. It's stupid. Even I don't take on a nest. And I've got Angel, Spike, Willow, and a whole bunch of slayers behind me! This has got to stop!"

"You can't argue with results," Robin replied approvingly. "Seems to me they did alright."

"And what happens when civilians get hurt? Or the vamps get angry? The only way to do it is one vamp at a time," Buffy retorted.

"Right with you on that B," Faith agrees. "That's what slayers are built for, honey," she pats Robin's hand reassuringly. "That's what we're born to do."

"How did they control the crowd?" Angel wants to know. "You're sure they weren't military. Or paramilitary? I had guys like that working for me at Wolfram and Hart."

"That's the most disturbing thing," Giles cuts in. "Tell them Xander."

"Yeah, well the police, and the military were there. They seemed to be taking orders from these guys. Controlling the crowd. Moving the heavy equipment in to knock down the house. And they were wearing armbands. Human League armbands. But the guys doing the vampire toasting, they left their armbands at home with their marshmallows," Xander finished.

"The League. I've told you for months they were a threat, but you wouldn't listen. Now you will," Giles says flatly. "They may be the greatest danger we've ever faced."

"Pffft!" both Willow and Buffy make a rude noise.

"Hello? Defeated the First Evil? And A hell god? Pretty much everything after that is a piece of cake." Buffy laughs. "They're a bunch of middle aged guys marching around with armbands. They're going to threaten me? Angel? Spike? Willow?"

"Buff, Giles is right," Xander replied. "These guys, they seemed to be tied in with the League. And they had army guys, and the police working for them. It was pretty scary, and afterwards ..." Xander trailed off.

"What?" Angel wanted to know.

"They brought the bodies through the crowd. Uncovered. So people could see what happened to them. It was pretty bad. And the kids ... the crowd was pretty worked up." Xander concluded.

"Could it be that demon? The one that started MOO?" Buffy asked. "I hate it when my old enemies start returning from the dead."

"Tell me about it," Xander muttered under his breath, drawing a venomous look from Angel and a "watch it" from Spike which Xander ignored.

"I don't think so Buff. People recognized them. They were a whole family. Plus a couple of missionaries that got grabbed when they came to the door. They'd lived there for years. It was real." Xander said with regret. "I saw it. Pretty gruesome."

"So you see the danger?" Giles said to Buffy. "What this could do?"

"Yeah. They could get their asses kicked by me and Willow if they don't stop what they're doing." Buffy replied confidently. "We kicked some Initiative ass."

"You were dating Riley at the time, and the Initiative was a very small operation that was written off," Giles said angrily. "None of you understands what is happening."

"Why don't you fill us in, G?" Faith asked as Buffy was about to jump on Giles. "Explain it."

Giles takes a deep breath, and stands up, begins to pace up and down as he speaks, more passionately, forcefully. "Ever since Sunnydale ceased to exist, and the events in LA, the blocking out of the sun, the beast, and Jasmine ... well it was no longer possible for the world to pretend that certain things didn't exist. Vampires, demons, werewolves, even witches," Giles nods to Willow, "the general populace knows they exist. That they are real. And they are ... afraid."

"They should be," Buffy says. "That's why there's slayers. Us. To keep things safe."

"You don't understand. None of you do. The world is changing. This country is changing. Things that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago, are now accepted. There are laws against using witchcraft to harm people, and firearms are now permitted, where once they had been banned. Fear, and anger, are driving people to extremes. It may be only a matter of time before events begin to spiral out of control." Giles says.

"Hold on a minute, Watcher." Spike interrupts. "I know this country as well as you. And fear, it makes people stupid. Easy to deal with." He laughs. "They'll run around in a panic, and get picked off. One by one. Simple." He laughs. "I've done it before. Fear is always good for a laugh."

"Besides," Fred adds, "We can take on anybody. We're strong." She glances at Spike for approval, who to her dismay is fixated on Buffy.

"No Spike, you do not know this country. You don't shop in the markets, talk to people on the street. You have no idea of what people are capable of." Giles is firm. "And you, Fred. Can you and Spike stop a nuclear warhead? Because it may come to that, in the end."

"I can," Willow says. "I could stop it. Change it into, pigeons or butterflies. If I wanted." She looks at Giles, clear and focused. "I'm that powerful. I could turn the men who'd give the order into rats."

"What about every man?" Buffy laughs.

"That too." Willow says, and looking at Xander, then Giles and Robin Wood with Faith's eyes narrowing. "Of course, I wouldn't ... and even if I would, I'd change them back, and of course you guys too, so everything would be OK. OK?" Willow runs on, with Kennedy finding it cute.

"You'd better not," Faith mutters.

"Hey, what about me?" Spike asks.

"Oh, the spell wouldn't affect vampires. Just men," Willow assures him.

"Ah well. That's alright then." Spike is mollified.

"Guys, I don't see what the problem is," Xander asks. "Why don't we just find these guys and team up? I mean they kill vamps, we kill vamps. What's the problem?"

"Hello Xander?" Buffy asks. "Daytime? What would Angel do? Or Spike?"

"Laundry maybe? There's a lot of it," Xander jokes. "They could fix the staircase in the front too."

"I don't do bloody home repairs. That's your job," Spike grouses while Angel nods his head.

"Don't be silly Xander. I need Angel and Spike to get my back. They're the only ones I trust with that," Buffy tells him. And Xander notes that Willow's face falls at this.

"Besides. I don't trust them. Only the slayer has a right to kill vamps. When it comes to vampires and demons, I'm the law. Not them." Buffy insists. And Xander notes that Giles, Wood, and Faith are less than enthused by this statement.

"And they probably wouldn't trust you, either," Wood notes.

"What's that supposed to mean," Angel asks with an edge in his voice.

"Simple. Buffy sleeps with vamps. Two of them. They kill vamps. They're not likely to trust her. Especially with the people around her." Wood is calm, matter of fact. "It's probably only a matter of time before they move against you."

"Spike and Angel have souls," Buffy insists. "If they try and hurt them I'll ..."

"What, let Spike and Angel kill them? Or kill them yourself? These guys don't hunt in the night time." Wood is angry but controlled.

"That was your fault. You attacked Spike. What did you expect? You're just lucky you didn't get killed, " Buffy is angry. "And what, you wanna go help these guys?"

Faith looks at Angel, then turns her gaze back to Wood. "No one is going to do anything." She looks at Spike and Buffy, coldly serious while putting one hand on Wood's shoulder. "Nobody. Unless they want a showdown with me."

"That include him?" Buffy asks pointing at Wood.

"It had crossed my mind," Wood admitted. "But Faith ... is not human. She's a slayer. And has ... a past. We'd all be targets." He states calmly.

"And that's what I've been bloody trying to tell you. There's not a person amongst us, save Xander, who could talk to these people, work with them, be trusted by them. Vampires, slayers, witches, even Robin and I ... all suspect. Guilty of magic where magic is not to be trusted, and with many of us having human blood on our hands." Giles states firmly, while Faith and Willow look abashed.

"Look at it this way, you protect and slept with two vampires that murdered a lot of people. Maybe even people they know. Like their families," Robin states with controlled anger. "That makes you nothing more than a problem ... to be solved."

"And she ... she murdered two people. In cold blood," Buffy points to Faith. "She killed two people."

"You're right, I did," Faith replies evenly. "Just like Willow. It doesn't make us very trustworthy. Not to them."

"You were wrong, Buffy, about the First Evil. That wasn't war. Not real war. This is," Giles says. "A war between humanity and everyone else. God help us all."

"War," says Spike musingly. "You know I really enjoyed World War Two. The Nazis? They knew how to have fun. And their leather coats? They always looked good." He sighs. "Those were good days. The Nazis were the only humans I really liked."

Spike notices everyone staring at him "What? I mean it was true. They always had good looking uniforms!"

"Spike," Willow asks acidly. "What's my last name?"

"Er ... I forgot?" Spike admits.

"Rosenberg? Mean anything to you?"

"Er ... I should shut up?"

"Unless you want to be peeled like a grape. I can do that you know," Willow says with a flat calm.

"You're not hurting Spike," Buffy says immediately before Fred can say anything.

"Yeah, you're not hurting him," is Fred's quick addition.

"If he shuts up I won't," is Willow's calm reply.

Spike starts to say something, then looks at Willow, and Kennedy who's ready to leap into the fray. And decides to shut up. Xander notes the look of disappointment on Angel and Fred's face when Buffy leaps to Spike's defense.

"So what are we going to do?" Buffy looks at Angel and asks.

"Maybe Xander could talk to these guys," Kennedy states to the surprise of everyone. "I mean, he's human. He doesn't sleep with vamps. He's not a slayer. Or a watcher. Or a witch. Maybe he could get some information?"

"That's an excellent idea," Giles is enthused. "Are you sure you're up to it, Xander?"

"Hey Giles. You know me. I always help out. But I don't think these guys are the friendly type." Xander offers.

"But you could infiltrate the League. Join. Find out what you can. We need more information. Right now we are blind, and all our sources are useless," Giles waves his hands in the direction of the books. "Prophecies and accounts of demons, vampires, and other creatures ... mean nothing when dealing with ordinary men and women pushed by fear and hate."

"Can't we ask Riley?" Buffy wants to know. "He could have information."

"And he could also be part of the League. It's a risk we cannot take." Giles insists. "At the least, we risk getting information that is misleading if not false, and at the worst we risk drawing the League's attention when we know little about them."

"I'm willing to risk it. After all, how can they hurt us?" Buffy wants to know.

"B? How many people are you willing to kill? Up close so you see the life go out of their eyes? You want to join the club me and Red got going?" Faith asks with a lifetime of intensity in her face and voice. "Is that what you want?"

"No," Buffy admits sullenly.

"I'll ask my contacts at Wolfram and Hart," Angel says. "But this isn't the kind of thing they'd know about. Secret society and maybe government stuff ... it's not what we used to deal with."

"I'll look up information on the Internet," Fred said, "maybe I can find something out."

"That's all well and good," Giles says forcefully, "but Xander is likely to be our best source for information on the League. What they plan, and who their leaders are."

"I like the idea. It makes sense," Wood says.

"Sure. Sounds good to me. What about you, B?" Faith asks.

Buffy thinks about it for a moment. Then agrees, "OK. But once we find them? We teach them what the slayer really is. And why they shouldn't mess with her."


And that was that, Xander thought. He was in a very dangerous game. A double game inside a double game. When he'd started this whole thing ... he never intended, he thought, what would happen. It had started, he admitted to himself, because he was angry. Angry at Buffy and Willow, and most especially at himself for just not counting anymore. For anyone. Dawn had felt the same way. God, he thought. I didn't want this.

But now he had to make sure Jack Crow felt he was working for him, and him alone, while convincing Buffy and the others the same thing. And use anyone and anything to get what he really wanted. Which was to save Buffy, and as many of the others as possible, from turning into vampires for real. He had to do that. No matter what the cost.

It wasn't, he thought, because he was in love with Buffy. That had passed in High School. It wasn't even that she was his friend, or hero. That had passed as well, when Buffy made it clear that no matter what happened, Spike would always come first for her. Over him. Over Giles, who'd earned better than that. Over even Dawn. Her own family.

No. It was because his only friend, the greatest hero he'd ever known, was a sixteen year old girl who'd been scared out of her mind. He'd felt her hand tremble as she led him out. But she still came back. For him. He just owed Dawn and that was that. A man pays his debts. No matter what.

Well, Willow, he mused. You wanted me to grow up. How do you like me know, he wondered? Because Buffy had to be stopped, that included getting rid of Spike and Angel. Not because he hated them, though he did. Or that he'd have a chance at Buffy (he wouldn't). Heck he didn't even want a chance at her anymore. But because Spike and Angel made Buffy sick, sick enough to think about raising an army of souled vampires, and turning herself into one. Not to mention allowing Fred to consider the same.

And Willow? So far he hadn't seen any sign that she had reservations about Buffy's insane plans. On the contrary, she seemed willing ... well when it came right down to it, willing to resurrect either vampire. Or both. Willow had to be dealt with. One way or another, Xander thought grimly. No matter what the cost.

Because a man pays his debts. Always.

But first he needed to talk to Angel.


As Xander was waiting around in the Library for Kennedy to drive him to town, to attend the night's scheduled Human League rally, Angel was sitting at the head of the table, everyone else scattered to the winds. They were alone, Xander and Angel. And this was the perfect time to talk.

"Angel? Got a minute?"

"What?" Angel wants to know.

"These vampire hunters? They ... dangerous? Could they hurt ... Buffy or Willow?" Xander asks softly.

"Yes," Angel's answer is short and curt. "What do you think? That they're nice guys? Most of these types had someone in their family killed. Sometimes their whole families." He laughs. "I once wiped out this guy's family. I thought it was funny. He chased me for years. Got his revenge, too. Sort of." Angel muses.

"So why don't you just leave then? Draw them away, you and Spike?" Xander protests.

"Oh, you'd love that, wouldn't you Pirate Boy? Give you Buffy all to yourself," Angel is angry. "All you've ever done since Spike and I arrived here is complain. Your jealousy makes me sick." Angel looks Xander straight in the eye. "Buffy didn't want you with one eye. What makes you deluded enough to think that she'd want you with one? I mean ... really?"

"You think I'm in love with Buffy?" Xander asks incredulously. "Are you insane?"

"No, but I was when you sent me to hell, so you could make time with my girlfriend." Angel retorts. "And I mostly got over that. Well, except for the wanting to torture you to death part." Angel gets up in Xander's face, tells him with a hard edged tone, "try something like that again, so you can be with Buffy ... I'll work out my issues. I know you. I know how weak you are. Maybe you should remember that. Who's stronger. A guy who worked for me once forgot it. I blew his head off with a shotgun when he begged for mercy. Something to keep in mind."

"Wrong sister," Xander says evenly. "Or did you even notice?"

"That's just sick," Angel says, disgusted. "You're older than her. It's ... disgusting," he spits out the word.

"And you and Buffy? When she was sixteen? That was just peachy?" Xander challenges.

"World of difference. She's the slayer. I'm a champion. You ... you're just a guy with one eye." Angel tells Xander with disdain. "If I ever catch you with Dawn ..."

"You'll what? Poke my eye out? Been there, done that, got the eye patch. Thing is, I figured out that she deserved a hell of a lot more than me. A chance to be happy. With boys and friends her own age." Xander pauses. "You're always going on about how strong you are. Yet here I'm the only one who was man enough to let a Summers girl live her life the way it should be lived. Guess I'm the one who's strong, and you're the one who's weak." Xander snorts.

"You don't have any right to judge me," Angel says angrily. "You have no idea of what I've lost."

"I figure this," Xander taps his eye patch, "gives me the right to judge. I've lost a lot more than you, Angel. You won everything. The girl. The power. All of it. While I get ... my eye poked out. And the only girl to ever sleep with me and not want to kill me right afterwards is dead."

Angel draws himself up. "I've lost more than you. I'd trade places with you in a second, if I could get back what I had. One eye, being human, all of it. In a second!"

"Cordy?" Xander asks. "Is that what you lost?"

"Part of it," Angel admits. "And more."

"Why did you pull the plug on her?" Xander asks plaintively. "I mean, she was your friend, right?"

"Because it was my call. My decision. No one else had the right. Not you, not Wes, not Gunn. Sure as hell not Fred or Spike," Angel is very angry. "Cordy was not EVER going to wake up Harris. Not ever. And even if she did, she wouldn't want to. She did things, things she'd never forgive herself for. I sure as hell didn't!" Angel shouted. "Even if it wasn't all her fault."

"What are you talking about?" Xander is confused. "Cordy? What could she do?"

"It's more like who," Angel says. "And that's one more thing I lost."

There's a moment of silence, while Angel stares at something only he can see. Finally, he makes a decision.

"I'm not leaving Harris. I made that mistake once already. It's not like Buffy would ever choose you. Or anyone else. But Spike." He spits out the name. "Without me she'll just go to him. You want that? Cause that's the choice. Me. Or Spike. That's what Buffy is. That's who she is." Angel's firm. "And besides I earned the right to be with her. I gave up ... more than you'll ever know."

Xander bows his head. "It was an idea."

"A real stupid one. Anything else?"

"Yeah. You must have some idea of who these guys are, what should I look for?" Xander asks.

"These guys sound like either free lancers, or the Vatican," Angel sighs. "I hope it's not the Vatican."

"Wait. The pope kills vampires? For real?" Xander is incredulous.

"Not the pope. More like his pet vampire hunters. The Vatican has always had them. Real pieces of work too. The worst of the bunch is Jack Crow. His father turned into a vampire, attacked and killed his mother. Crow killed him." Angel recites the litany of events.

"Sounds horrible. Guy must have been shook up." Xander's horrified.

"Jack Crow was ten years old when he did this. Just imagine what he's like now. In his forties. If you meet him ... watch yourself. He's almost as dangerous as ... me." Angel makes the implied threat.

"I'll do that," Xander promises.


Well, Xander thought. All in all that went well. What he was doing was dangerous. If Angel even suspected what he was doing, he'd literally rip his head off. Spike would as well, he mused. And he didn't think Buffy or Willow would stop them. If they didn't do it themselves. Jack Crow, well from what Angel said, he'd be capable of almost anything. And wouldn't like being used.

But Dawn had said he had a power, back in Sunnydale. And he did. Two of them in fact. The first was seeing, knowing, hell observing his friends (and enemies) over the years. Xander felt he knew them better than himself sometimes. Their strengths, and their weaknesses. The second was the power, well more like the habit he had, of just not being noticed. Everyone thought he was useless. A Zeppo. No powers and therefore worth nothing. Just like Dawn. He could use this. To manipulate them. Without them ever noticing, if he was careful.

And while what he had to do was very difficult, it wasn't impossible. The only thing that had surprised him in that meeting was Kennedy. He didn't know her that well, and her suggestion that he infiltrate the League wasn't what he expected. From her. He figured Giles would suggest it. And he probably would have, given the priming Xander had given him in the car. Until Kennedy stepped in.

He'd have to work closely with Kennedy. She wasn't as stupid as she sometimes seemed. But she could be useful. She had buttons all over her to push, most of them named Willow. Along with her pretty obvious hunger for power.

Willow. For all her power, well she seemed to get stupider the stronger she got. Like the Hulk in the comics. And, he sighed, he also understood the irony of it all. It wasn't just Angel and Spike's effect on her. For years she'd ached for him to just notice her, as a girl and not the six year old wearing footie pajamas. And he had. Just not in time. Now the shoe was on the other foot. Willow felt she'd outgrown Xander. And he was six years old again, in Willow's mind. Wearing footie pajamas.

Makes more sense, he thought sadly, than admitting how badly you screwed up. Like almost ending the world. Now that she had Kennedy, Willow was desperate to maintain the illusion of control. That everything was fine. That she was a goddess. And Xander just a goof.

And that was OK, he thought. My magic against hers. That book the "War Magician," showed how some stage magician helped fool Rommel. Fooled him completely. So he could fool Willow. Just so long as I keep wearing footie pajamas. It'll be one big magic trick.

Buffy, he considered, would be easy. She hardly ever was Buffy anymore, and the slayer? Not very bright. As long as he played her loyal follower he could do almost anything. Buffy ignored him most of the time ... well like he was Dawn he thought sadly. Spike? Well when he wasn't busy having sex with Fred he was drunk most of the time. Xander wasn't worried about Spike. Or Fred for that matter. Fred was so busy fooling herself about Spike she didn't have any time to look around. And observe.

No, it was the others that worried him. Giles, Wood, Faith and Angel.

Giles however, had his own prejudices. It had to come from a book to be real, Xander thought bitterly. And he doubted Giles could even conceive of what Xander was doing, much less that someone who wasn't a watcher or a super cool slayer's son could do it.

Gotta watch that, Xander thought. Jealousy could get him caught. If he let even a careless word slip. Besides, Faith wasn't worth it, he consoled himself. She'd throw herself at Angel first chance she got. When Robin wasn't looking. And as much to spite Buffy as anything else. Heck, that was half the fun of being with Robin for her, Xander thought.

Robin Wood? Well he was smart. And most dangerous for Xander, a real outsider. He'd never seen Xander as a total Zeppo, a High School loser, the way Buffy, Willow, Giles, Faith, and even Angel had. That memory didn't color his perceptions, he didn't have that as a distraction working for him. The one thing Xander had going for him was that Faith would likely color his views on one eyed ex carpenters. He'd have to avoid Robin Wood as much as possible. Though he did have one giant button. "Spike."

Faith didn't have a real high opinion of him, she'd not said one word to him when she returned to help out in Sunnydale, and let's be honest, he thought, there wasn't any reason for her to do so. She and Robin lived in the magical world of heroes and champions and powers and destinies. A slayer and the son of a slayer. He wasn't anything. Nothing like her. He wondered if he hated her? Faith? And really all the slayers, even Buffy. Or especially Buffy. Even Willow?

And the answer was, yes, he did hate them. All of them. Much as it shocked him. Still he thought, better to know it. And control it. He'd have to. Oh he still loved them. He just hated them too. And that hate seemed to be growing each day. He'd have to be careful not show that, though. It could get him dead real quick. As his pathetic need for Faith to tell him she was sorry for what she did. He couldn't allow her to see him as a real person. Just a ... servant. Who's useful from time to time.

Angel was the one who was the most dangerous, and also the easiest to deal with. Because he'd won. Completely. Over Xander. He had the victor's contempt for the vanquished. As long as Xander acted like his damn man bitch bug eater, he'd be fine. Angel didn't even know, he thought, how many buttons he had to push. Labeled "Spike and Buffy" or Cordelia. He sure as heck revealed a lot more than what he thought, Xander mused. There was something about LA that just stank. Particularly with Cordy. As long as Xander appeared to Angel as the same High School loser he'd beat out for Buffy's love, well he could be manipulated, probably the easiest.

He'd need to find out more about Angel in LA. He'd use various sources. But he needed to get in contact with the only person he trusted.


Kennedy had driven him in near total silence to the rally, lost in thought. He'd have to work on her later, he thought. He wanted to let her stew, thinking about how Willow and she would run things. Instead of Buffy and her pet vampires. Kennedy dropped him off at the rally, and promised to return there or his favorite pub in two hours. Failing that, he'd use his cell phone, which he reminded himself the English called mobiles, to call her. She'd pose as his girlfriend, a requirement in the charade that had her extra grumpy.

The rally was in the middle of the town square, and traffic was blocked off in all directions. The streets were thronged with pedestrians, and Xander could see the bonfire up ahead. The damn armbands that the League wore were everywhere. And gave Xander the creeps. Too much like Nazi Germany, he thought. But then, everything's changed he mused. And not for the better.

"Hello Mr. Harris. Enjoying yourself?" Father Adam asked him from a shadow on his left, where he'd been lurking.

Xander jumped a bit. "Geez, cut that out will ya? Really not funny."

"You here for the rally?" Father Adam asked.

"Yeah. Angel wants me to investigate. Infiltrate the League. He even mentioned Jack Crow, as maybe being the vampire hunter. You guys really work for the Vatican?" Xander's amazed. "Do you get funny hats?"

Father Adam looks annoyed. "No. Now put this on." He holds out a climbing harness.

"What the hell do I want to put that on for?" Xander asks.

"So you can fucking climb up here and see the fucking show," comes the voice of Jack Crow from a rooftop above them.

"Besides, it's not safe down here," Father Adam admits, and Xander notices he has on a climbing harness as well.

Xander reluctantly puts on the harness, and in short order is hauled up along with Father Adam to the roof, overlooking the square. On the roof, Jack Crow and a number of his men are concealed, with camouflage blankets matching the roof making them nearly invisible.

"It's heat and odor concealing, and sound deadening too," Crow answers his unspoken question. "They use this crap for hunting deer. We're after something bigger. Let's get ready."

And with that, Xander is stowed away next to Crow under his own camouflage blanket.

"Angel sorta thinks it might be you in town. And I'm supposed to get inside the League." Xander whispers.

"Yeah. Figured. Now watch the show." Crow instructs.

And Xander watched. The usual lineup of speakers, some more hate filled than the rest. Part of him hated to admit it, but even with the distance, the tinny loudspeakers, and the accents of the speakers, he found himself caught up in the hate. Filled with a rage that made him want to go out and kill every vampire, every demon, even every slayer or witch he could find. If he had the power.

Suddenly, he knew the danger. It was so easy to hate. And simple. A crowd filled with hate was easily as powerful, and just as dangerous, as any vampire. And for what he had to do, he just couldn't afford that luxury. Of hate. Or love either, for that matter, now that he thought about it. Not when he was going to do the greatest magic trick of all time. Make Angel and Spike disappear. He just hoped he wouldn't have to make Willow disappear too.

And while musing on this, Xander saw it. Or rather, them. The shadowy figures around the rally. Moving, well just far too fast for any human. Some looked like vampires. Others, demons. Xander started to say something, but Crow cut him off.


"But they'll get massacred!" Xander whispered his protest.

"How many fucking times I gotta say no, kid?" came Crow's harsh whisper. "You never ever fucking fight vampires or demons at night. You always do it during the day. Even fucking demons don't see too well in direct sunlight. And that's an advantage. It's not like we got a lot."

"But ..." Xander protested.

"The crowd pulled a few vamps out of their crypts at around 2 pm," Father Adam adds softly. "But most of the local vamps got away. Someone must have tipped them off. So now it's their payback."

"And we sit and watch?" Xander whispers back.

"Yeah. To see where they go," Crow whispers back. "I got airplanes up there," he points to the sky. "Infrared, microwave radar, the works. We just need to find the other nest. And see how many came out tonight."

So they watched, and the slaughter, Xander observed, was not as bad as he thought it would be. People knew what they were, and while they were frightened they fought back. Most of the crowd, it shocked him to discover, was armed. With everything from Axes to assault rifles. And there were plenty of military men in attendance, and THEY were armed. In the end flamethrowers and heavy machine guns took their toll on the vamps, though there were a lot of dead on the street. More than twenty five vamps had taken part in the attack, Xander discovered, and nearly ten demons. Most of the demons had ended up dead, though a few had fled with the vampires. One of Crow's men had a monitor that tracked their progress, from a feed supplied by a plane overhead. Xander noted the tunnel where the vampires and surviving demons fled. The human survivors occupied themselves by kicking to death an injured demon, and beating the demon bodies with sticks, pipes, whatever was handy until a military man stopped them. By putting his pistol to the main demon kicker's head.

That seemed to get their attention. And quickly, military trucks moved in, and carted the demon bodies away. Presumably for study, Xander thought bitterly. Another Maggie Walsh, somewhere in the weeds?

Crow wouldn't let him down off the roof for another two hours. It wasn't safe, he claimed, and the two vampires that had moved down the street after an hour seemed to confirm that. Where the hell HAD those two things been hiding, Xander wondered?. By the time he got down off the roof, and called Kennedy on his mobile, she was fuming. He hurried over to the pub to pick her up. Before she carried out her threat to kill every man in the bar. They'd made a mistake. They'd tried to pick her up.

Chapter 7

Bath, England, November 2004.

Timing was, Xander thought, nearly everything. Timing is what killed his chances with Buffy, and let's be fair, Willow. Timing was what ruined his relationship with Anya (well maybe), and timing got his eye poked out.

Maybe, finally, timing would work for him. If he was careful.

He'd made sure to hit the Internet Cafe right before closing. His message to Dawn had the hidden message in the usual way, like they'd agreed on when they'd started ... this whole insane thing. He'd told her to check up on Angel in L.A., particularly Cordy. And her medical history. See if she'd been ... pregnant. And for god's sake don't leave a backtrail. Since he'd have to give this to Jack Crow. He knew he could work Crow, if he had to. But for now he needed Crow to believe he was useful. And leverage him against Angel.

Xander considered what to do carefully. Crow was a hard man. Maybe the hardest and most dangerous man he'd ever met. More than the Mayor. Or even Angelus in his own way. Crow would never trust Xander. But he could think Xander was useful.

What was it that Angel had said to him? "She did things, things she'd never forgive herself for. I sure as hell didn't!" And the clincher, "It's more like who, and that's one more thing I lost." Gee, didn't THAT sound familiar Xander thought glumly. Had he ever forgiven Anya for Spike? Or dying and leaving him ... alone? The answer he thought glumly was no on both counts.

If Angel had a thing for Cordy, and caught her with some guy, that would explain a lot. Especially if her pregnancy resulted in complications. Like a coma. And Angel pulling her plug. How in the hell had he gotten the legal right to do that? Oh yeah his evil law firm. Wolfram and Hart could probably get Santa Claus indicted, and Osama off.

Gee, who'd have thought that Angel was a bad guy to be around, he mused. Wow Buffy you really know how to pick your boyfriends.

Timing could work for him now, with Kennedy. He'd been late enough that she had to have had at least one beer. She may be a slayer but she's still just a tiny thing. Being a little bit drunk would help him. Kennedy was dangerous. She still had a brain. Suggesting him for spy duty shook him up. But he couldn't leave it too long, he thought as his cab pulled to the pub. Or she'd clear out the bar then focus all that anger on him. And maybe really see him for what he was.

He made a mental bet with himself. If she remembered that he'd saved her life, he'd have a drink at home. Just one, this time. Otherwise he'd go cold turkey.

He paid the cabbie and went inside, shrugging out of his heavy parka as he moved from the cold November air to the warm, cigarette smoke laden air of the pub. The heavy beat of the music thudded up the soles of his boots, and he didn't fail to catch the relieved looks on the faces of several cute girls as he moved past them. Relieved in that he didn't try and talk to them. Wow Harris he thought. Real chick magnet you are. With your one eye and all.

Kennedy was in the back. Naturally. A group of young men stood at a table several yard away from her, laughing at a guy rubbing his jaw. Well, at least she didn't break it. They wouldn't be laughing then.

"Where the hell have you been, Xander?" Kennedy asked furiously. "That guy tried to pick me up."

"Hey Ken, relax," Xander said noting with gratitude that Kennedy's beer was half gone. "You look ... hot. And it's not like you have a sign on or something."

"You're still late. And he wouldn't take no for an answer." Kennedy is half-mollified, half offended still. That she would be thought straight, Xander guessed.

"We have bigger problems right now," Xander said, and gave a highly edited version of events.

"So you're telling me that you just hung off a fire escape and didn't help those people?" Kennedy asked incredulously. "You didn't do anything?"

"Unlike Angel or Spike," Xander snapped back, "I'm not bullet-proof. Besides, it looked like they were expecting trouble. A lot of demons got killed, and more than a few vamps. Unless you wanted me to help the vamps?"

Kennedy made a face. "Of course not. I just didn't think you'd be ..." she trails off.

"What? Afraid? I sure as hell was. Of that mob. And the army guys who helped them. I didn't figure catching a bullet would get me anything other than dead." Xander complained. "Ken, people knew. They knew what they were facing. And they fought back. Not a slayer in sight either to lead them. Things are changing."

Xander looks speculatively over at the guys still laughing at their buddies misadventure with Kennedy. "We have to be careful. Do stuff that makes folks think you're a vampire, you're likely to get ... "

"A stake through the heart?" Kennedy asks.

"Something like that. People aren't the same anymore." Xander sighs heavily. "No one's the same anymore."

Kennedy takes a sip of her beer. "Buffy will handle it. With Angel and Spike." She looks at Xander with interest.

"Angel," Xander snorts derisively. "And Spike. Yeah that'll go over big with torches and armband crowd."

"God Xander," Kennedy exclaims, "Willow is right about you. You really do need to have a de-lusting spell done on you. It's kinda pathetic really, being jealous with Buffy. You know that you've got no chance with her?" she laughs. "Not with Angel or Spike around. No offense," she adds quickly.

De-lusting spell. De-lusting spell. Of course, Xander thinks. De-lusting spell. Why the hell didn't I think of that before? This could solve everything. And get Angel, Spike, and Jack Crow the hell out of Bath. Before he went crazy and burnt down the manor. Or blew it up. With everyone in it.

"Xander? Hello Xander? You're drooling. Not very attractive," Kennedy adds helpfully.

"Huh what?" Xander asked.

"We were talking about de-lusting you, so you don't try and dry hump Buffy's leg all the time," Kennedy cracks. "And so Angel and Spike don't end up ... " she trails off in a serious tone.

"What? Pounding me into the ground?" Xander asks.

"Something like that."

"You'd let that happen?" Xander asks.

"Yeah," Kennedy says. "Listen, you're a nice guy and all, but Willow believes in these guys," she says with more than a hint of bitterness. "Xander, if you keep trying to get with Buffy they will hurt you," she concludes, "and you don't have anyone to get between them and you. Not like say with me and Willow. I'm the string that keeps her kite connected ... to the earth. You're just some ... guy." She concludes.

Xander's face falls. And he lets Kennedy see all the hurt and anger he has. She did forget, he thinks. And carefully keeps the contempt he has for her away from his face. And the bit of triumph in predicting her actions. Even smart people he thought, have blind spots. Figures, he thinks to himself, that the guy with the biggest blind spot of all would spot them. Kennedy just couldn't conceive of an ordinary human being saving the life of a slayer. But why should she? Neither Buffy nor Faith could think of that either.

"OK, two questions. First, why does everyone think I'm jealous of Angel and Spike?" Xander asks bitterly. "I mean, why?"

"Hello? Cause you're always acting all nasty and obnoxious to Angel and Spike, and whenever Buffy listens to them you get mad. You're jealous." Kennedy concludes. "And it's stupid, cause you'll never have a chance with Buffy. Even I can see how hot Angel and Spike are, and get the whole sex and death thing. I do. I really do."

Xander laughs to Kennedy's consternation.

"Ken, are you attracted to those guys over there? They're not bad looking," Xander points to the group of guys who had been laughing over their buddies abortive pickup maneuvers with Kennedy, and were now intently checking out some of the girls at the bar.

"No of course not," Kennedy says in exasperation, then with delight says "Are you gay?"

"Of course not," Xander replies with exasperation. "Why the hell would you think that?"

"Ah, cause you hung out with Andrew?" Kennedy smiles at him.

"Andrew and Dawn were the only ones who would talk to me," Xander says, "and they both left. Andrew to his aunt's and Dawn to UCLA."

"So then what's your point?" Kennedy asks befuddled.

"Point is," Xander says, "I don't want Buffy. Any more than you want those guys. Or than Willow wants me. She used to be in love with me, you know, when we were kids. But now she's just my friend."

Xander looks directly at Kennedy, "You're not jealous of me, are you? With Willow I mean?"

Kennedy laughs and laughs, "Why would I be," she blurts out. "Will's gay. And you're ... "

"A guy with one eye," Xander concludes.

"I'm sorry," Kennedy says remorsefully. "I didn't mean it that way. It's just that the idea that I would be jealous of you is ..."

"As stupid as me being jealous of Angel and Spike," Xander concludes.

"They why do you act like such a jerk around them?" Kennedy genuinely wants to know.

"Cause they make her stupid," Xander replies bitterly. "And Buffy doesn't listen to people she should."

"Like you?" Kennedy asks sadly.

"Like Willow, and Giles, and you, and hell yes me," Xander says angrily. "We earned the right to be trusted."

"No we didn't," Kennedy says quickly. "When she needed us most, we let her down. Only Spike and Angel got her back. That's what Spike says, anyway."

"Spike's an asshole," Xander is bitter. "He tried to kill us, kill Buffy dozens of times. And she cuts him slack and more slack."

There's a bit of silence and Xander continues.

"You still haven't answered my question though," he wonders, "why anyone would think I'd even WANT Buffy."

"Spike and Angel do," Kennedy shoots back.

"Spike and Angel are vampires," Xander replies testily. "I don't drink blood. And I'm not in love with Buffy anymore. This isn't High School."

"It's not like you have a lot of choices," Kennedy says sadly. "I mean with your eye, it's not like you're gonna have a lot of dates. But at least the demon gals will leave you alone now," she tells him. "At least that's a plus." Her laugh is forced and Xander's not buying.

"What? Too ugly for demon chicks?" Xander asks bitterly.

"Kinda. It's why everyone thinks," she says, and corrects herself, "thought anyway that you wanted Buffy. And with Spike and Anya, " she trails off.

"And so that's why?" Xander asks. "Cause everyone felt I zeroed in on Buffy ... "

"She's a girl. And she's straight. She doesn't run screaming away from you. And you were in love with her."

"That was a long time ago, Kennedy. I was in love with Willow once too." Xander sighs. Seeing Kennedy's look, "I mean, I still love Willow. I just don't love her, if you know what I mean. I mean aside from the gay thing. Kinda hard to be in love with someone that way after they've skinned someone alive right in front of you."

Kennedy gives him an astonished look.

"What? She never told you? She skinned him alive, and then incinerated him. The sight of it, the smell, well, I was sick three times. I still love Willow, she's my friend. But I never forgot what she did. You shouldn't either," he adds.

"She would never," Kennedy protests with a pale, aghast face, but Xander interrupts her.

"She could. And she did. I was there. I saw it. So did Buffy. So did Anya." Xander is silent for a while and then muses. "Anya yelled at me for being sick. She told me later I was a big baby, she'd done worse to people and laughed as they died. I never forgot that little tidbit either."

"You're joking," Kennedy says, appalled.

"No. Anya was a lot of things. But decency and compassion weren't high on her list for most of her life. I understand that now. We never would have worked. Anya just didn't mind killing people. She kind of enjoyed it for a long time." Xander's voice grows soft and sad. "That was just who Anya was. Willow too, for a while. And you just can't turn that off like a switch. That was just Anya."

"But it wasn't you," Kennedy says understandingly.

"No, it wasn't." Xander says. And seizing the moment asks, "But please, tell me. For real and no kidding. Why the hell do women fall all over Angel and Spike, and cut them all sorts of slack. I mean, really. The stuff they've pulled? You wouldn't believe. I just don't get it."

"You get the whole sex and death thing, right?" Kennedy asks.

"You mean the Peter Pan deal?" Xander responds.

"Peter Pan?" Kennedy's confused.

"Yeah. Peter Pan. Run off with the lost boys, just like the movie. Never have to make decisions. About life. Growing older. Making choices. Growing up. Just drifting in the present, no tomorrows. Everything in the now. Real attractive if your whole life is a failure. Yeah, I get that, I really do." Xander's angry.

"What the hell are you talking about, Xander?" Kennedy is angry, "Buffy is the slayer. Maybe the greatest slayer ever."

"And a complete failure as a human being," Xander retorts. "She makes me look like Steven Spielberg."

Xander sees Kennedy's confused look and plows ahead, "Look, Buffy came back from the dead, and ..."

Kennedy interrupts him, "Wait a minute, she came back from the dead?"

"Yeah. Willow can do that. Sometimes," Xander adds with a hint of bitterness. "Buffy died fighting this hellgod. So Willow brought her back. Only things weren't so good. Dawn had really lost it, and needed Buffy more than ever. Willow started going off the deep end, Buffy could only find fast food work, she hooked up with Spike, and I left Anya at the altar."

"No wonder she wanted Spike over you," Kennedy snorts in disgust.

Xander's angry. "Your Dad ever hit your Mom, when you were growing up?" he asks.

"No. Of course not," Kennedy's indignant. "My Dad is a wonderful man. He would never do that."

"Well, mine did. A lot. Even me, for a while," he looks away. "On my wedding day, one of Anya's old victims gave me a present. A vision of me beating and killing Anya after we got married. I just wasn't ever going to let that happen. Not ever."

Xander looks firmly at Kennedy. "It's not like anyone was there for me. Not even Giles. When I needed them most. Don't ever judge me. You don't have that right."

"What about Willow?" Kennedy is defensive.

"She was too wrapped up in getting back with Tara to even notice what was going on," Xander snorts. Noticing Kennedy's distressed look he adds, "You're always going to be competing with her Ghost, Ken. Just accept that no one can compete with a memory, and be her ... kite string."

He hoped that button got pushed. He planned to push more.

"But you still haven't explained why Buffy's life is a failure?" Kennedy complains.

"Hello? Fast food? Friends in melt down? Dawn stealing for attention? Plus of course Spike raping her in her own bathroom." Xander snorts.

Kennedy looks appalled, and Xander quickly adds, "Please please don't tell Willow. She was there, she saw nearly everything, but she just didn't understand. She doesn't know."

"I don't believe you," Kennedy's shaken. "Buffy wouldn't ..."

"Buffy did. And that's why Dawn had that screaming fight with Buffy when she brought Angel and Spike back. It was as much Spike as Angel. Dawn and I both know. And now you, but no one else. Please don't tell anyone. Not ever." Xander pleads.

"For gods sake why?" Kennedy wants to know, desperately.

"Because I don't want Willow on a rampage against Spike, with Buffy trying to kill her to protect him. You know she would. And I love Willow more than I hate Spike," Xander ends pathetically. "Please don't tell anyone. For Willow."

And, Xander thought to himself, start thinking about how much better things would be if you and Willow ran them. Instead of Buffy. Kennedy was smart. But she hungered after power like he did after Buffy in his Sophomore year in High School. Well, High School was definitely over.

"Is that why you started drinking too much," Kennedy asks, softly.

"Well, part of it, when Spike and Angel came back." Xander admits the truth.

"Well, time to stop it." Kennedy insists.

"I know. Notice no beer for the pirate?" Xander jokes. And inwardly is elated. More buttons pushed. And Kennedy getting ideas. It's always easier to lead someone down a path when it's their idea in the first place. Kennedy was right where he wanted her. And all with the carefully shaded truth. That Churchill was one hell of a liar, Xander thought. Using the truth like that.

"So what you're saying," Kennedy trails off.

"Buffy doesn't like being Buffy much. She'd rather be just the Slayer. With a vampire, not a real guy she'd have to make choices with. So yeah, I get that." Xander finishes up.

"It's more than that, you know. It's the whole romantic thing, a guy who never gets old, is dangerous, and exciting," Kennedy says a bit breathlessly. "I'm gay and even I can feel it."

Kennedy pauses, and then says, "Besides, there's the whole slayer demon thing."

"Huh?" Xander asks.

"Willow told me, that when Buffy went back to get more power from Robin's ... whatever it was, the guys who made the slayer did it by putting a demon into a girl. So every slayer's got a demon in her. It's probably what calls them to Angel and Spike. Well, that and that they're hot." Kennedy concludes.

Xander has a hurt face. "Buffy never told me that. Or Dawn."

"Well," Kennedy says, "Did it really matter? Could either of you have helped? The people who needed to know got told."

"Who was that?" Xander asks testily.

"All the other Slayers. Willow. And Spike. Oh and Angel and Fred." Kennedy adds.

"So Fred gets told and Dawn and I don't?" Xander's incredulous.

"It's not like you could ever understand," Kennedy tells him flatly. "Willow's a goddess, and Fred is getting good at magic. Angel and Spike are vampires."

Goddamn, Xander thought. I deserved to know. Dawn sure as hell did. She may not have been a slayer, or had the potential to be one, but she risked her life same as me. All for just a pathetic need to have just a word, or a smile, from Buffy. And Xander considered. If Buffy, and the other slayers, were demons inside, were they even worth saving? Should he even bother?

He turned it over in his mind. Glumly he thought, they probably weren't worth saving. And them being demons, well it explained a lot. But he owed Dawn. She was the only real hero he ever met. So it was that simple. He couldn't wiggle out of it. Well, hell, maybe the de-lusting spell would work. No one would get killed. And he could go drink himself to death, just like that movie with Nicholas Cage. Now there was a happy thought. No hookers though. They'd probably turn out to be demons. Make him dead and tortured. Possibly in that order. You just couldn't trust demons, Xander thought. They always turned on you.

"What about Giles. Or Robin?" Xander asks.

"Buffy didn't think they needed to know," Kennedy admits. "But I'm sure Faith told Robin anyway. They're real close you know."

"Yeah, I know," Xander says with a hint of revealed bitterness in his voice and face. "Real close."

"Oh god," Kennedy laughs. "You're jealous of ROBIN." And she laughs. "Wrong slayer. Who knew?"

"I'm NOT jealous of Robin Wood," Xander says stiffly. "He's a good man. He lost a lot. Stuff I couldn't imagine. He deserves Faith. I'm happy for him. It's not like she had much to say to me anyway."

"You two have a history?" Kennedy asks.

"Yeah. She killed a guy. Maybe by accident, or on purpose. She went sorta nuts. I went to help her. She thought it would be funny to kill me. Almost got it done, but Angel stopped her. Saved her, I guess. Along with me." Xander mused. "Guess it took a killer to know one."

"More like only a vampire can understand a slayer," Kennedy replies. "You're just a guy. You could never understand who we are, what we do. You can't live in our world, Xander. I'm sorry but it's true."

Maybe, Xander thought. But you can't live in my world, Kennedy. Not you. Not Faith, and definitely not Buffy. I'm human. Like Dawn. Or Giles. Or Robin. Things like compassion, decency, love make us who we are. A demon couldn't experience them any more than a vampire could ever create anything beautiful and lasting. It took a human being to build something, paint, make music, things like that. Demons were good for killing. But that's it.

This was our world, he thought. It belonged to us. Not them. It was time they learned that.

"Is that why Buffy forgave Spike everything, and me nothing?" Xander asks.

"No, it's more complicated," Kennedy sighs. "You know I was named after the Kennedys?"

"I thought it was the MTV VJ?" Xander jokes. "The really annoying one?"

"No. My Dad is an Investment Banker. Pretty rich. We used to visit Hyannisport."

"OK, in English this time?" Xander asks.

"I grew up visiting Caroline and John. I used to run into him in the City," Kennedy tells him. "We were at the wedding. It was beautiful."

"What City? L.A.?" Xander asks.

Kennedy snorts. "There's only one city, Xander. That's New York. We lived on the West Side. But I'd run into John and Carolyn in the Village." Kennedy pauses, "You don't understand how important John was. How important the Kennedys are."

"OK, you've got me hooked. Explain to me why some guy who's born with a silver spoon up his ass and never did anything other than run his plane into the ocean is so important, and what it has to do with ..." Xander trails off.

"Angel and Spike?" Kennedy asks. "Sure. Cause the Kennedy's are important, not for what they do, but who they are. They're our royal family, and John was our prince."

"I thought that was Freddy Prinze Jr., " Xander jokes. "He was pretty good in Scooby Doo."

"Real funny Xander," Kennedy smiles. "People forgive the Kennedys everything they do, because of who they are. They symbolize what we all want to be. They're the best and the brightest, the important people who fight and suffer for the people. They play by different rules than ordinary people. They're entitled. Because they suffered. For us."

"What in the hell ... are you talking about?" Xander asks. Because he had no clue what Kennedy was trying to say.

"It's noblesse oblige, Xander," Kennedy sighs. "It means ..."

"I know what it means," Xander replies stiffly. "I'm not stupid."

"So they suffer, for the people, and they're forgiven. Everything. The way they should be." Kennedy muses. "They're a beautiful dream, Xander. Just like, well Willow and me. Or Buffy. And her vampires. They're what life should be, instead of what it is."

More like a frickin nightmare, Xander thought to himself. Ho ho, he thought. All JFK Jr. ever did was point his plane into the ocean. Taking his coke head wife and sister in law with him. Wow. The rich really are different than us. They use expensive drugs instead of booze or crystal meth. That's about it.

And all Angel and Spike were good for was killing things. But that was it. Expect them to live like a man, and they fall down. Every time. They always have. And always would. It was time, he thought, that someone showed them they were dead things. That didn't belong here. Not in this world.

Well, he thought. This was interesting. A whole new side to Kennedy. And for all her power, she's just as easy to manipulate as the rest of them. As long as she saw him the way he needed her to see him. He still had to be careful, he thought. Be extra pathetic.

The conversation died for a moment, and he waited for Kennedy to fill the empty space with conversation.

"Xander? Do you think that you and Anya could have ever made up? You know, got back together?" Kennedy asks plaintively. "Do you still miss her?"

Xander thought for a moment, both on the truth and what Kennedy was really asking. Which wasn't about Anya. But about Willow and Tara. He decided the truth was in order here. And for the first time the unvarnished whole truth.

"Made up? Got back together?" Xander asks. "No. Not ever." He sighed.

"Why?" Kennedy wants to know.

"Because," Xander answers, "I wasn't what she wanted, and I wouldn't settle for ... " he breaks off. "Look, I told Anya, much later, why I left her at the altar. About my Mom and Dad, how I could never be like that. Even about Buffy and Spike, what he did to her. And you know what she said?" Xander's a bit angry.

"No. What did she say?" Kennedy asks.

"That at least Spike was a man. A man who didn't run out." Xander snorts. "Of course, when things got bad he did run. Went off and got a soul and wasn't around when he could have been useful."

He pauses. Then confesses, "See that's the thing. About Anya. She never chose. Me."

"She was going to marry you, idiot, until you ran out on her," Kennedy is angry at Xander's words.

"I told you I wasn't every going to be the man my father was. No matter what it cost. Simple as that," Xander says flatly. "But that's not the point."

"So what is the point?" Kennedy asks more than a bit put out.

"The point is that Anya screwed up and ended up human by accident. I was just something to pass the time until she died in sixty or seventy years. She didn't choose me. She didn't give up anything for me. I was just the consolation prize. Her second choice. I always knew it too. I thought if I loved her enough things could change, but they never did."

He sighs, and goes on. "When things got bad between us, she tried to kill me lots of times. And had sex with Spike. Even Buffy wouldn't let me stake Spike after what he did. Anya didn't have that problem. And she wasn't sorry after either. Not ever. Later, she screwed up again. And was human. Sort of."

"I thought you two had made up?" Kennedy is puzzled.

"We had sex twice," Xander says flatly. "The first time was breakup sex on Spike's cot. She insisted. And she told me she didn't love me anymore." Xander looks at Kennedy who gives him a pitying look. Good he thinks. It was true. All of it. And the more pathetic I look the more you'll overlook me. Who I really am.

Xander continues. "The second time was after my ... eye. She never said she was sorry about it. Or anything like that. I just wanted someone to ... touch me. Tell me I was still ...." Xander stops speaking for a moment. Then he resumes, "none of you besides Dawn would look at me. Or touch me. So anyway, Anya got scared. And horny. But she wouldn't look at my face. She closed her eyes. And said his name again. When." Xander spits the last words out with bitterness. "She screamed it. I don't think she even realized. And after, she didn't want to touch me. She went off with Andrew. But she said she liked me."

All of which, Xander remembered with sadness, was absolutely true. True to every detail. But would Kennedy really understand what he was saying? He didn't think she could.

Kennedy gives him a look filled with compassion and pity, and puts her hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Xander."

"Yeah well, so am I." Xander says bitterly. "Thing is, I just don't think demons and humans can live together. Ever." He looks at Kennedy straight in the face. "We just can't live with them. There isn't any compromise. There can't be. Not ever. They always ... "he trails off.

"Do you still love her?" Kennedy asks in a sad and quiet voice.

"Of course. And I miss her every day. And I hate her, too. Every day." He laughs, bitterly.

For dying, he thought, and leaving me alone. Though she would have left anyone, he realizes. For never saying she was sorry. For telling him, by not saying those words, that he was worthless. Less than Spike. Less than even Andrew. All cause he hadn't slaughtered and raped his way across the world like Spike. Because he was just human.

Only now, he realized, he wasn't less than they were. He was more. And they were less. All of them. All the demons, slayers, vampires and witches. He'd have to be careful. To not let them know how much he ... hated them. And never underestimate them. Like they did with him. He'd have to be smarter than they were.

"So which do you do more? Love? Or hate?" Kennedy tries to joke.

"Ask me tomorrow. Or the next day," he laughs. And continues, "Thing is, though, she was only the second woman I ever slept with. And the only one who did it with me more than once. So yeah, I know for sure she didn't love me. She told me enough times. But she could at least touch me if she pretended I was someone else at the end. It was more than anyone else ever did. That counts for something, I guess." Xander looks away for a while at something only he can see. "I never was much of a man. But at least for a few moments I was something, with her."

Xander falls silent.

"Thing is, though, Ken. You're here. Tara's not. No matter how much a ghost is in bed with you and Willow? You're the one she holds at night. Not Tara." He smiles at her. "Don't worry. She'll probably forget about Tara completely in a year or two." Which, he thought bitterly, was true. He'd never be able to fool Tara the way he was fooling Kennedy. Willow picked strength and beauty, and not much else, he found himself concluding. But then Willow always needed someone else to complete her. While he never really had anyone, he realized. Even with Anya. He finally understood Willow's desperate embrace of Kennedy. And why Willow thought he was still in love with Buffy. Willow just couldn't imagine being alone, unloved, forever. He could.

Oh sure, Kennedy was decent enough. But scratch the surface of her spoiled rich girl exterior, and you got ... more surface. That's all she was. Whereas Tara was always more. He missed Tara. Now, he thought, more than Willow did. Maybe only Dawn missed her as much.

"So no more demons for you?" Kennedy smiles sadly at him.

"No. Humans just can't live with demons. Not ever. Trust me on this." Xander tells her assuredly.

There's an awkward pause, and then Xander forges ahead.

"Let me ask you. I know about Buffy's plan. The army of souled vampires. Answering to her. Created by Willow. I overheard. I think it stinks. What about you?" Xander asks aggressively of Kennedy.

"Well, I don't know. It's risky." Kennedy is evasive.

"Damn right it's risky. For Willow. I don't want you stabbing her if she loses it. Not for anyone. Willow's my friend. No vampire is worth the risk. Not even Buffy is." He states the last defiantly. "We wouldn't need this stupid plan if you and Willow were leading the council. You and Willow are stronger than Buffy. Stronger than Angel too. Or Spike." He spits the last name out.

Kennedy looks at him, amazed. "Willow would never go for that. Not after the last time." Kennedy sounds regretful.

"I know it," Xander says. "That's why I don't want you to say anything to Willow. Not yet. Promise me."

"What the hell do you have in mind, then?" Kennedy asks petulantly. "Just sit back?"

"No. Her Uncle Schlomo? Remember? He's visiting?" Xander reminds Kennedy.

"So what? He'll just drive her nuts." Kennedy is annoyed. "And I'm the one who has to deal."

"Willow's Uncle Schlomo is a rabbi. But not just any rabbi. He's big on the Kaballah."

"The what?" Kennedy asks. "Is that something about kosher food?"

"No," Xander answers. "The Kaballah is mystical magic stuff. He's a big cheese with it. He can talk to Willow. Make her understand. Why it's not a good idea to risk ... "

"Going all black eyed and evil?" Kennedy finishes for him.

"Yeah. And why she needs to be a leader. With you," Xander hastily adds. "I trust you Ken. I know you'd be a good leader for us. And Buffy, well she's had to struggle too long. She needs time to just be Buffy."

"I'll think about," Kennedy says to Xander. "No promises."

But inwardly, Xander was elated. Kennedy had bought into it. He had appeared pathetic enough so that she didn't consider him anything more than a sad, beat up hound dog. Like one the one Uncle Rory had, when he was a kid. That dog looked just pathetic. But he'd found Mrs. Cavalos, when she'd wandered off. Poor lady had Alzheimers. Uncle Rory's hound dog had found her, and sat there licking her hands, when all the police dogs had failed. It had been the talk of the neighborhood for weeks. Of course, the neighborhood was all gone now. Along with Tara and Joyce's grave. And Dawn's pictures of them. And Anya. He still missed her. That was the greatest loss of all. Some victory you have their, Buffy, he mused bitterly.

Of course, the trick was that he was truly pathetic. It just wasn't all he was. But Kennedy couldn't see him for who he was. Even with two eyes to his one. And she was already wrapping up her noblesse oblige mind around the idea of taking over, with Willow. For the good of the group, of course. And to protect the people. Among them the sad and pathetic Alexander Harris.

Funny, Xander thought. Not having anyone special in his life, well now that he thought about it, ever, meant he really didn't have much to lose. Just his life. And it's not like it meant anything to him anymore. He was OK with dying. Just so long as he could see Angel and Spike die first. The only thing that bothered him was, he wasn't sure if he wanted to see Buffy and Willow die too. And he didn't feel guilty about that either.

But he owed Dawn, and that was just that. He shrugged his shoulders mentally. Oh well.

Kennedy finished her beer, and as she drove unsteadily back to the Manor Xander finally recalled the details of Chappaquidick and Mary Jo Kopechne from his American History class back in High School. Well, more like Willow's cheat sheets. He spent most of his time doodling in class. Pictures of Buffy and Willow. What a waste of time. Isn't it funny, he thought, how the ordinary people end up paying for the Kennedy's sins. The girl Teddy had an affair with and left to drown when the car went over the bridge into the river, afraid of the scandal. The baby sitter, all of sixteen, another Kennedy had sex with. The woman who got raped, by that other one. God damn, he thought realizing it. The Kennedy's were just like vampires. A not very comforting thought as he mused on his own status. Kennedy puts us in a ditch, he realized, he would end up drowning and she'd come out like roses.

Noblesse Oblige my ass, he thought, as they pulled into the Manor's drive, and he got out a bit shaky. Kennedy even forgot about my saving her life.

And then, she surprised him. By hugging him. By kissing him on the cheek. And telling him, "Xander, I'm sorry about your eye. I talked to Willow. She said she can't fix it. I'm so sorry." And hugged him again before telling him good night and admonishing him to be careful around Angel, Spike, and in town.

Xander tossed and turned in his bed. Unable to sleep. She HAD forgotten he'd saved her life. But she was still human. Goddam. Why couldn't things just be simple? Why couldn't he just hate her like the others. Why couldn't he just hate Anya, and not love her memory too? Maybe that de-lusting spell could work on him. It would be good, he thought, to not feel anything. Not hate, not love, not anything. Just exist. Like the wind and the rain.

Later, he dreamed of Anya. Who told him she loved him still, and kissed him tenderly, then laughed at him and tried to kill him with a sword. And laughed again with Spike when he caught them together, in his dreams. Sometimes Anya wore Buffy's face. And sometimes Faith's. He screamed when Spike put the sword through his eye. The one Caleb put out.


Chapter 8

Bath, England, November 2004.

BAM! BAM! BAM! Someone was hammering on the door, and the pounding penetrated Xander's consciousness, matching the pouding he thought bitterly, in his head. He awoke with a start, thick cotton in his mouth.

"Huh? What?" he spat out thickly.

"Xander, get up! They're here!" Buffy's voice came through the door.

"Who?" This early in the morning Xander was not his most brilliant. "Who's here?" Maybe someone to shut all the racket, he hoped vainly.

He stumbled to the door, dragging clothing on with sleep numbed fingers and faced Buffy with sleep still on his face and his one eye. "Huh?"

"Xander! The exterminators are here. I don't know how to handle them. And it's your job!" Buffy pouted.

Oh great, Xander thought. He'd forgotten all about them. Now he'd have to handle them while figuring out how to handle everyone else. How many plates could he juggle at once?

"I'm surprised you're up this early, Buff," he attempted a bleary smile. "You're usually up at the crack of noon."

"I haven't got to bed yet," Buffy snapped. "Angel and I spent the night out, I want to get to sleep. That's why you're here Xan. To handle the daytime things."

"What, romantic staking for two?" Xander joked.

"No vampire fighting. Not ... now," she paused. "I'll handle them, well later. It was just a wonderful," she smiled and thought on the memory of it, "romantic stroll in the moonlight. Oh. And a picnic." She finished, "Angel is so wonderful. Everything is just perfect now, for everyone." Then her gaze narrowed as she took in Xander's disheveled state. "If you're going out drinking, you should know better than to compete with a slayer. You'll lose every time. It's not like you're Angel. Or Spike." Buffy frowned.

"Huh," Xander asked puzzled. And more than a bit angry, being compared to Spike and found wanting. "I only had one beer. Kennedy was the one driving like Nick Nolte."

"Xander," Buffy began with a measure of impatience in her voice, crossed arms and general manner resembling, Xander thought, his first grade teacher scolding him, "you've been drinking too much. If you want to crawl inside a bottle, don't expect me to protect you. You have to pull your own weight around here. I can only, well we can only carry you for so long."

"Who's we?" Xander asked, his face sinking.

"Angel and Spike? Who else does anything around here," Buffy asked. "It's not like you can fight. Or save the world."

"It was only one beer," Xander protested, angry, when Buffy cut him off.

"What are those empty whisky bottles?" she gestured to the empty soldiers on Xander's dresser behind him, silent witness to what Xander had to admit was a drinking problem.

Xander said nothing, and after a pause, Buffy forged ahead.

"Spike thinks you're a drunk. And you should go," Buffy declares flatly.

"And what do you think?" Xander asks sourly.

"I think you have a lot of problems, Xander," Buffy says softly, sadly. "With life. With vampires. Mostly with yourself. Spike and Angel, they're heroes. They saved the world, and me, a lot. They're the only ones who had my back. It's time you accepted that. And who you are, what your place is. You can't compete with them. Not ever. You need to stop trying," Buffy concludes, pity in her voice.

"And what about all I did?" Xander asks bitterly. "You know, when your big hero boyfriends were killing people? Or trying to kill you?"

Buffy just laughs. Then turns serious. "Xander, that was High School. You can't live on that forever. It's pathetic to even bring that up. I know this hurts, but you have to hear it. Anya was right. Angel and Spike are men. And you're acting like a pathetic scared little boy who just makes jokes. It's time you grew up. And stopped living in the past." Buffy ends with a hopeful smile of encouragement.

Buffy turns and walks away, leaving Xander standing there dumbfounded. And desperately trying to hide his anger. She pauses midway down the hall. "I'm tired and going to bed. Handle this. PLEASE. For your sake."

Well, Xander thought. That went well. Now if he could just keep from blowing the whole manor up the next time Buffy opened her idiot mouth, things would go well. Where was Jack O'Toole when you needed him?

He thought back to the first time he'd seen Buffy, back in High School. Funny, he thought. Back then he would have given almost anything to be with her. Now, well he'd give almost anything to NOT be with her. He'd probably catch the magic syphilis again. Who knew where Spike had been? Probably with every undead skank and demon in the Western Hemisphere he thought sourly. Thank god he used a condom with Anya. And thought, but not without guilt, though he was ashamed to admit, less guilt than before, that perhaps Anya fit into the demon skank category. She'd done Spike. And made it obvious she wanted a sequel. Before, he had to admit it, settling for him.

The termite inspection proved to be a fairly straightforward affair. The damage to the manor was extensive, worse than Xander thought, and arrangements were made to fumigate the manor the next day. Predictably, Angel groused about it, particularly moving into the Coach House next to the Manor during the process (and sharing quarters with Spike), but Giles fearful of his books raised a fuss. For some reason Angel was particularly worried about about some prophecies Giles had in his possession, "Nyazian" or some such crap like that. Some crapola about a Sans-Shoe or whatnot. Likely in French, Xander felt. You can never trust the French, he figured. Hell Spike was always bragging about some French artist he was related to.

Xander thought prophecies were a bunch of garbage. They only came true if you believed them. And he never believed them. Not ever. His world was ruled by more than a bunch of dead guys writings. Dead guys, who if you believe Giles, weren't even Human or very nice to start off with.

But, anything to get Angel and Spike out of the Manor and away from Buffy would be good. Everyone else would stay in a hotel that night. Xander was looking forward to seeing Angel and Spike experience a Jack Crow special. Hell, he'd work the winch himself. Be fun to see them burn.

Just the thought put a smile on his face, as he looked over several of the hard faced men in the exterminator's crew. They had to be part of Jack Crow's organization. Then, his face filled with horror. As he realized the immensity of the damage the termites had done, and the colossal repair job that was ahead. It wasn't a question of fixing a few floorboards. Structural members were involved. He'd be working on the place till he was seventy, he thought grimly. Unless he had help. Buffy would scream about expenses, along with Angel. But even those two, he hoped, would see the need.

Which was, Xander thought upon reflection, the whole point of Crow insisting on those nasty little buggers. Damn Formosan Termites. They'd chew through concrete. Gee, he wondered. What were the odds any helpers he'd hire would also be a hard faced bunch? Answerable to a guy named Crow?

Time to give up the plan to disable any listening devices or cameras he'd find, he mused. It had always been a risky idea anyway, and now it looked like any he'd remove would just get replaced. These guys would be here for weeks, he realized. He thought admiringly, that Jack Crow was dangerous. A foul mouthed blustering lunatic, but dangerous all the same. He could think, ahead. Most people, just didn't.

With all that, it was eleven in the morning by the time Xander got to Bath's city center, looking for a particular occult bookstore. He needed information and supplies for his de-lusting spell. And he couldn't use Willow, or anything in the Manor. Too risky.

He jumped at Crow's unexpected hand on his left shoulder. "Don't fucking do that!" he hissed. "It's so not funny."

"Don't worry kid. I'll kiss and make up with what I've got to show you. Come on, you won't want to miss this," Crow whispered.

So Xander followed Crow into the backseat of another anonymous sedan, and the driver pulled them through a series of seemingly random turns until they reached their destination. An innocent looking part of Bath's outlying business district. Except of course, for the military personnel with Human League armbands blocking the way. And, as they were waved through the blockade, backhoes, water trucks, and some of the hardest looking men Xander had ever seen, harder by far than the crew at the Manor. There were even a couple of tanks. Father Adam was waiting for them.

"So you made it after all," he said excitedly to Xander as he followed Jack Crow to a group of men. "We have the fiber optic cable all ready." And Xander noticed, what appeared to be massive mirrors unfolding. Connected to fiber optic cable encased in armor. With giant lenses on the other end of the cable that would flood the darkest tunnel with sunlight. "I've just finished blessing the Water Trucks," Father Adam noted. And Xander started to understand the plan.

"This is so beautiful," he said with a smile. "I'm glad I'm here to see it." Xander had a mental image of Spike and Angel, bursting into flames as the sun hit them. Or boiling into smoke as the holy water acted like acid on them. He couldn't decide which fantasy made him the happiest. Well, he thought, maybe both.

They walked over to a large truck, and entered the back, which was filled with electronic equipment, including several rather proficient and annoyed looking technicians, and a few empty chairs just waiting for them in front of large, expensive looking monitors. This was much more than the stupid home-brewed stuff that the Trio had put together. Crow had some serious backing, Xander thought. A lot more than just the Pope's too, come to think of it. Uncle Sam? Mother Russia? Maybe both? What Buffy had done had to have scared a lot of people. Probably every fake Tarot reader and the Psychic Friends Network had felt what she and Willow did. That could scare a lot of people. A lot of important people, Xander thought glumly. Just great, he groused to himself. More complications.

"Here's the deal," Jack Crow laughed as Xander made himself comfortable in one of the vacant chairs. "We tracked the bastards last night to their lair. Someone is pushing these things buttons. There's a Master Vampire somewhere. They don't normally attack crowds. Especially not now. It's stupid. Are Angel and Spike behind this? You know, your little blonde honey's pets?" Crow snickered.

"It's not them. And she's not my girlfriend. Sometimes I don't even think ... " Xander trailed off. "Why exactly am I here? Not that I don't enjoy a good show like everyone else. But still, hey why?"

"Good fucking question. You're here cause I want to know what the fuck is going on in that Mansion. And not just stuff I pick up from my bugs. Things about the monsters and the idiots that fuck them that only you know. And I want you part of my team. So you can get payback." Crow laid it out. "Watch those fuckers turn into dust. And take your pick of a honey."

"Payback on who?" Xander asked.

"All of them," Father Adam answered to Xander's surprise. "All the godless, soulless monsters that inhabit this beautiful planet our Lord gave us."

"Technically both Angel and Spike have souls," Xander began, before Father Adam cut him off. Boy, he mused, the Father was in an unusually talkative mood. Something's got him stirred up.

"No vampire, soul or not, is filled with our Lord's grace. Even the lowest of the low, the basest human being, can embrace our Lord, and his symbols." Father Adam said passionately.

"Even fucking me?" Crow joked.

"Even fucking you," Father Adam laughed back. "The Lord loves you just as much as the rest of humanity."

Father Adam did his best to ignore Crow's muttered "no fucking wonder then" and pressed on. "For a vampire, the mere touch of Christ's symbol burns. And so he must in turn be burned, or returned to dust. By men and women of Faith. You understand, don't you? Vampires and demons are evil. No matter how fair they may look at times, they must be driven from this earth. It's God's plan. It's why you and I and Jack Crow are here."

"Amazing fucking grace, Padre," Jack Crow smiled.

Xander started to get a cold feeling down his spine.

Part of him, hell most of him really wanted to jump on board here with the Padre and Crow. Start burning out vamps and demons like crazy. It's not like a single magical creature ever even ... well cared about him. Not ever. Or not really. He was at best a consolation prize or a shoulder to cry on for all of them. Buffy, Willow, Faith, Anya, Kennedy, hell maybe even Tara. And he felt guilty about that last name. Tara had always treated him decently. Probably he realized with a start better than Willow did lately. And he realized he just plain missed her. As a friend.

And there was Dawn. A scared teenage girl who wanted more than anything to have Buffy just pay attention to her. And who risked her life to save him. Dawn may not be now anything special, or magical, but she didn't start out that way. And Dawn *wanted* to be nothing more than human. Even knowing, he figured, that Buffy just couldn't love her that way. He missed Dawn a lot, he realized. As a friend. More even than his left eye. Because she loved him. Not "that" way, of course. But she did love him. He'd be damned if anything would ever touch her. Certainly not Father Adam's little crusade.

This is how it starts, he realized. It was just so damned easy and seductive to have a wonderful day for an auto-de-fey. Maybe this was how the Inquisition got rolling. He'd have to be extra careful. Crow was even more dangerous than Angel or Spike. Cause he could seduce Xander into being something he knew he shouldn't. Doing things he mustn't. Despite how easy it was to hate. All of them. Hell look at the Padre. He seemed a good man. Full of Faith. Ha he thought. He'd had his fill of Faith himself. And admitted to himself that part of him wanted to hurt and humiliate her. When he didn't secretly fantasize about her tearfully apologizing and telling him she loved him. Just for being him. Screw that. Stick with the fantasy that made some sense, Harris, he mused. Just make sure to leave it a fantasy.

Well, maybe he'd have a chance at things after all. As long as he didn't take things too far.

"So you in the fucking crusade, or not Harris?" Crow asked as Xander realized he'd been staring into space.

"In, what the hell." Xander answered with a start. And he was in. Just in his terms.

"No, Xander. Just the opposite," Father Adam smiled.

"So I'm thinking you want to know some details ... " Xander started.

"For the price of admission." Crow finished for him.

Xander mused for a second, and said, "OK. Why not. No it's not Angel and Spike behind this. It's not anyone. At least that we know about. You know how things are around Buffy. But Buffy ... she ... " Xander paused. "She wants to raise an army of souled vampires. Put them under her command. And with the vamps and all the slayers, sorta rule the world. Oh, and she's talking about becoming a vampire herself."

"Jesus fucking Christ!" Crow exhaled. "Is she fucking insane? No don't answer that. Of course she fucking is." Crow was worried and Xander knew he had to spill more.

"I've talked to Kennedy, Willow's ... " he trailed off as Father Adam looked at him.

"Yes, I know. Her lover. The Witch who likes to skin people alive," Father Adam noted, as Xander visibly blanched. "The Vatican has detailed information on Miss Rosenberg."

This little tidbit didn't make Xander any more comfortable. Being Catholic, he didn't trust the Vatican. Not one little bit. Hell he didn't trust Father Adam, if it came right down to it.

"Kennedy isn't too down on the whole 'Army of Darkness' thing. She doesn't think risking Willow going all ... " Xander was interrupted by Jack Crow.

"You mean Willow trying to end the world again. Cause she's got a taste for evil?" Crow laughed.

"Yeah. I mean, no, Will's not like that, she's got problems and she's trying to deal with them." Xander protested.

"You mean by sticking her head up her girlfriend's ass. Just like at that whorehouse in Tijuana, Padre," Crow laughed at Father Adam.

"Anyway, Kennedy thinks it's a bad idea. She thinks most of Buffy's ideas are bad. She mostly wants to ... "Xander is again cut off.

"Rule the fucking world herself? With her witchy lesbo girlfriend?" Crow snorted.

"Yeah. Sorta." Xander had to admit. "At any rate nothing is too organized. Buffy sleeps most of the day, and doesn't do much more than screw Angel's brains out. Angel and Spike are fighting all the time over Buffy, and Spike's screwing this girl Fred who used to work for Angel. She's talking about becoming a vampire too."

"Winifred Burkle?" Crow asked.

"Yeah, that's her," Xander admitted. "Giles is pissed off and thinks Buffy's an idiot, and hates Spike and Angel. But no one listens to him. Except for Robin. And only Faith listens to Robin. And then only if the great Angel isn't around." Xander snorted. And continued, "Buffy won this great victory so all the other slayers follow her."

"Except for Vi and Rona," Father Adam pointed out. "They took themselves out of the game."

"Do you know where they went?" Crow asked intently.

"Don't tell me you lost them," Xander was incredulous. "How could you lose two slayers?"

"They're smarter than the blonde bimbo," Crow admitted. "Or the brunette bimbo too. Pulled a real slick move. Tell you about it sometime. But we have to know, are they going to ground, or just sitting out the hand and getting back in the game later?"

"They're out," Xander said flatly. "They wanted me to come with them. Be their butler or something, I guess. They just don't want to slay anymore. So they're done."

"Not all of em are stupid," Crow said to Father Adam. "See, some have a brain or two."

"I never said they didn't. I said they were godless. Demon infested." Father Adam said sadly. "Even them."

And Xander got the idea that maybe Jack Crow had wanted to use Vi and Rona. In his own personal vampire killing machine. A guy like Crow, he realized, lived for only one thing. To kill vampires, and then kill some more. He'd work with fucking Richard Ramirez, the Nightstalker, if he figured it would get him more dead vamps. But Father Adam was doing God's work. It was damn near close to what Crow wanted. But not, he realized, in the end the same thing. This could be an edge for him. Later. There would always be a later, Xander realized.

And it hit him that he was in some endless card game, playing to protect his friends and the world, and cashing out time would happen when he died. Well, that was depressing. But at least now he knew who his friends were. Well, one of them anyway.

Father Adam would have balked at using a slayer or two. They'd lack the human touch that even Xander had, fallen away from the Church as he was. Father Adam would never trust anyone that wasn't 100% human. And who knows, maybe he'd end up being the Pope's pet Inquisitor. If not this Pope than the next one. Join the Crusade!

"One other thing," Xander added. "Angel let something slip. I don't know if it means anything. But I kinda get the idea that he was in love with Cordy. And that she was maybe pregnant before she fell into a coma. And not by him," Xander laughed. "Not that Vampires can have kids."

"They can, you know," was Father Adam's eerily calm reply. "With a demon. Or a slayer."

"That's the fucking danger kid." Crow barked out. "So maybe your old girlfriend Chase screwed around on the vampire? You have any girl that didn't go for vampires? What? Your dick too small?" Crow laughed.

Xander just shrugged. Stubborn like a donkey that's been abused too much by it's owner, and won't move a step further. Crow realized he stepped too far, and apologized.

"Hey kid. Just fucking with you. They're all fucking whores anyway. Live a little and you'll learn that. There isn't anything they've got that you can't get from another. Fuck em and forget about them. Then fuck another one." He looked at Xander. "I promise you I'll get you laid in the best fucking whorehouse this fucking country has to offer. Which isn't saying much. Most of these fuckers don't even have all their teeth. But what the hey?" He finished.

Xander, despite himself, smiled a bit at Crow's innate inability to be even a little bit couth, as the Padre winced at the words. And tried not to show it.

"I fucking offend you Padre?" Crow asked.

"A little." Father Adam admitted.

"Well, I've got just the thing to make it all better." Crow laughed. And pointed to the screen.

Xander could see that Crow had the whole town wired. Every surveillance camera, every motion sensor, alarms, and traffic cameras had been "borrowed" by Crow and his techs. Several were flipping between traffic cameras, commercial and government surveillance cameras, and what looked like some of Crow's own private cameras placed around town. Xander realized that there were some cameras already in the Manor. And tried to memorize the views. Just for later. In case.

Thinking back on how he witnessed Anya's little sex adventure with Spike, how humiliated he had been to see that in front of Willow and Buffy, Xander winced. Anya sure knew how to get even, he figured. Maybe it was time for him to learn from that.

But what drew Xander's attention, and the Padre's, was a central display with what looked like ground sensing radar, an overlay of the city sewer system, and remotely controlled robotic cameras with full spectrum infrared, ultraviolet, and what Xander figured were radio waves and X Ray "false color" visuals.

"Wait a minute, thats ..." Xander started to say, as Crow picked up.

"Fuck yeah. Full spectrum. Everything from Gamma Rays to Ultra Violet. Full robotic cameras. We can see more than the fucking vamps. That's those fuckers there," Crow gestured to the screen where Xander and Father Adam could see several dozen figures outlined in shimmering blues and whites.

"A normal man, well he'd show up as red and orange," Father Adam began.

"Because of the heat," Xander was getting it.

"While a vamp will be your basic room temperature monster," Crow was triumphant. And Xander wondered yet again WHY both Buffy and Anya were so eager to have Spike's cold arms around them. He himself found Dru repulsive that one time, and thanked god that love spell didn't go even further wrong.

"Demons show up too, even half demons," Father Adam noted helpfully. "Their body temperature is the same but background Gamma and X Ray radiation pass through them differently. And for some ungodly reason they emit a curious amount of radio signals."

Father Adam looked straight at Xander. "We could have easily picked out an ungodly demon like Anya, for example. Any time."

"Cause our cameras are see all, know all. More than the naked eye, no fucking goddam offense," Crow noted.

"Anya. In the Lord's name man what were you thinking?" Father Adam was asking him intently.

"It's not like I had a lot of women wanting me," Xander protested, "And she was human when we started, uh that is, " he tapered off.

"For god's fucking sake, Padre, leave the man alone. He's learned his fucking lesson about them. You can't fucking trust a demon, a witch, or a fucking vampire laying slayer. A hard fucking lesson to learn but he fucking got it." Crow stated emphatically, gesturing with his hand and knocking some papers over, which he then retrieved from the floor, conspicuously turning away from Xander to do so..

And Xander knew, even though he couldn't see Father Adam, that he was being judged carefully by his expression. So he had a barely perceptible nod and a flash of anger at Crow's words sliding across his face. Damn. Crow for all his bluster was *still* being careful with him. Testing him constantly. And Xander thought back on Crow's calling him a "man" instead of "kid." He's good he thought.

And then it hit him. The power. Of all of this. He finally understood. Well, damn near everything. What his power was. What Crow's was. Even Father Adams. All of it.

It all made sense. Why Anya was so puzzled the time he asked her why demons never built anything. Why they never made well, anything. No songs, no poems, no paintings, no buildings, no monuments. All they ever did was kill things, or use magic. Vamps weren't any different. Why would they build things, Anya asked? Why would they even want to? It was something humans did. Cause they weren't as strong.

It's why Angel and Spike were always on his ass about fixing the Manor. It's not like they could do it themselves. They could see it had to be done. But they were like ... a first grader in a car. They could see their parents driving. But they couldn't do it themselves. No matter how much it was explained to them.

He understood, even, why Spike was such a bad poet. Poetry required, well work. Building things. With words. Not something a vampire could do.

It's why Buffy dismissed the Initiative so easily. Once she knew she could kick their butts, she was done with them. She didn't understand how a trained man with a machine could be ... powerful. Because of the machine. And knowing how to use it. Even though she'd used a machine to blow up the Judge. That's all the anti-tank missile was. A machine. Hard to think of yourself as special he thought, if all you're doing is pulling a trigger. Anyone with knowledge and training could do it. Hell he and Dawn could have done that.

He even sadly understood, finally, why Willow used more and more magic, and less and less of the computer. She probably forgot all she ever knew, and was likely going to be challenged to just turn it on soon.

His power, hell every human's power, was technology. And knowing how to use it, better than anyone else. And all the things that went along with technology, and building things. Like leadership, fighting in groups, strategy and tactics. Things that for all their sheer physical power, Angel, Spike, Buffy, and even Willow now just couldn't do. They weren't human.

And with what Crow and Father Adam had put together, as a system, with early identification of every demon, vampire, and likely though they'd been careful not to mention it, witch and werewolf, well it changed everything. It gave humans, finally, all the power. They could see the enemy first. Find all his strong places. And kill them. Very very dead. Xander wasn't sure he liked all of this.

But he damn sure liked being on the plus side of the power equation. Finally. He grinned. Crow saw it, and understood.

"You ready for some fun? Harris?" Crow asked.

"Ah sure," Xander answered.

"Then lets do it," Crow nodded to one of the techs. Who gave an order over a microphone. As the group stepped out Xander could see the earth geyser upwards in two places, neatly isolating the sewer system where the vamps were hiding. Then all hell broke loose.

Xander marveled at it all. Just the sheer spectacle of it. He'd never seen anything like it. In unison, groups of men lifted off the manhole covers and holy water was sprayed down. Then the armored fiber optic cables streamed light down into the tunnels, as men with body armor and new armbands lowered themselves down into the tunnels, with flamethrowers, holy water hoses connected to the water trucks, and the light. The glorious light, Xander thought. He raised a questioning look at Crow.

"The armbands? They're fucking ours. The Band. Not that fucking useless League. We're the pros. They're amateurs."

Too goddam right, Xander thought. And realized with a start he had to keep Dawn as far away as possible from Crow's cameras. No telling what they'd pick up. Well, she was safe in the US. Away from him. And Buffy. And all this insanity.

Vampire after vampire was dusted, either in the tunnels, or winched out from a corner by a man with a crossbow attached to steel cables. Xander was enjoying the sight of seeing a vampire turn into flames and then dust and wishing he'd brought marshmallows for smores, when a shout got his attention.

A number of onlookers had gathered, and one little girl of no more than fourteen had broken through the line and was screaming at the men winching out the vampires. She had light brown hair, falling to about shoulder height, and was just a slender bit of a girl. Xander recognized the Wiccan symbol that the girl was wearing on a necklace. Tara always had on something like that. And it struck him that Willow never did. Despite himself Xander felt sorry for her. The police with the League were manhandling her. And she reminded him a bit in her scared desperate manner of Chloe. He wished he could have saved her. It wasn't right, the way Buffy just let her die like that. Not right at all.

The girl was shouting. "Leave them alone! They're not hurting anyone! And you'll wake it."

Xander walked over to where the girl was being restrained by several of the Human League armband wearing policemen who'd failed to keep her behind the lines.

"Hello? Evil vampires? They kill people. Ask me how I know." Xander joked to the girl as he pointed to his eye patch.

"Don't be stupid. They only hurt bad people," the girl insisted. "Vampires are friendly. And you'll wake it. It's why they went down there."

"There's no such thing as a friendly vampire. A raping one, yeah. A crazy naked raping one, hell yeah. But not a friendly one. Take it from me, I know," Xander told the girl. Who was now desperately crying. "You're going to wake it! It'll wake up! You can't ..." she began.

When a roar that shook Xander from his toenails to his fingernails ran through the ground to the sky. The ground itself burst up from about the middle of the sewers, and a huge figure moved forward. Directly towards him.

"It" had evidently awakened, Xander groused to himself. And just his demon magnet luck, it was making a direct line for himself and the girl, who seemed frozen with fear. The police miraculously vanished, as did much of the crowd, who suddenly found themselves with urgent errands elsewhere.

"It" was over twelve feet tall, and seemed to be made of rock. Or something like it. Flamethrowers, machine guns, and crossbows from Crow's men weren't having much effect. It had fricking HORNS on it's head, Xander realized. Sorta like that thing Angel was always talking about. "The Beast" and how he defeated it. None of which he believed for a second but Buffy, Willow, and Faith lapped it up.

"It" roared something which Xander recognized as being something like "where's my brother?" I don't fucking know, Xander joked to himself. Maybe in the ugly farm. This one seemed never to have left it. It sure as hell had seconds of ugly soup. And had been hit plenty by the ugly stick. The scary thing was, he assured the girl, that this guy was probably the good looking brother.

"Time to go," Xander said, and started to drag the girl away who seemed rooted to the spot in fear.

"It's useless. No one can escape it," she cried.

"It" moved faster than Xander had seen anything. And in a giant stride was right on top of him and the girl. Panicked, Xander threw the girl down and covered her body with his own.

It wasn't something he even thought about, just did. And the thing, whatever it was, seemed puzzled by this. Not what he expected. Then the laugh. Rumbling deep from within it, like an earthquake.

"Puny human. You and the female will scream beautifully as you die, torn to pieces to celebrate my reign. And your blood shall draw my brother to me, as he ..."

"It" stopped talking for a bit. As "It" noted something it had never seen before. A very large and powerful tank rumbled forward with it's gun pointed straight at him.

"Stupid humans. Your weapons are useless against me, I, the brother of the beast," "It" began. When the tank fired. And the ... whatever it was, Xander mused, shattered into bits of dust and rock with a sound that was louder than the end of the world.

"Nothing like a high explosive round to kill a fucking rock demon," Crow joked, and gave the thumbs up to the tank commander sitting in the turret. Who Xander noted wore a Band not a League armband. "Like we fucking didn't know that fucker was there?" he snorted.

"What?" Xander shouted as he realized that he his ears were ringing louder than they'd ever been.

"Your hearing will come back soon," Father Adam materialized by Xander's right shoulder. "Sorry about that we had hoped to use liquid nitrogen on him while he was still asleep. Extreme cold makes rocks fragile"

"How many did we lose?" Crow asked.

"Only two. Ramirez and Johansson." Father Adam answered.

"Fuck. Coulda been worse though," Crow mused.

All this Xander heard, as if under some deep ocean. An ocean that rang constantly inside his skull. That would be just great he thought. Deaf and missing one eye. Girls are gonna love me now, he figured.

And at that moment, the young girl underneath him shouted, "Get off. Idiot!"

Xander got off. And helped the mulishly angry girl to her feet. "Be a lot simpler if your lot hadn't woke him up. He could have slept for a long time."

"And fucking killed some other poor fuckers months later," Crow joked.

The girl wriggled out of the grasp of the miraculously returned policemen (now that it was safe, Xander groused to himself). And ran out to the crowd. Just before she disappeared into it's depths, she turned. And gave Crow, Father Adam, and Xander the finger. "Pervert!" she shouted at Xander, telling the crowd "I bet he tried to feel me up. "

Well, Xander thought. That went well. His magic touch with girls and women seemed intact. He was maybe deaf for life. Or at least would hear bells inside his head forever. He was stuck in some insane card game for the fate of the world, and all his friends. With players he only dimly understood. How could it get any worse?

Good god, Xander realized with true horror. Angel might have been right. Maybe he DID fight a "beast." It was worse. And he still hadn't gotten the ingredients for that delusting spell.

Chapter 9

Los Angeles, California, November 2004

Dawn sat inside the Starbucks, nursing her latte while people watching. Damn, she thought. He's late. Oh well. The scenery was nice. She sighed as a very attractive young man walked past the window, then jumped a bit as barista ran the Cappuccino machine, making a huge racket.

"Caffeine isn't good for you, Dawn. It makes you all jumpy." Wes drawled as Dawn jumped again. Damn, she thought. Now she knew how Xander felt when someone sneaked up on his blindside. Wes was definitely in full Batman mode today. Not the wimpy watcher of yore, which she reflected sourly, she didn't really remember anyway.

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Caffeine is my friend, Wes. It helps me study late at night. And wake up in the morning."

"Too many parties at USC?" Wes asked with a raised eyebrow.

"No. More like ROTC takes up a lot of time," Dawn replied with a bit of a snark. When Wes raised an eyebrow she snorted, "Hey, it's not like I'm made out of money, and it helps pay the bills for college."

"The Council," Wes began, and Dawn held up her hand cutting him off.

"Buffy *IS* the Council, and I left cause we weren't getting along. You know how that is." Dawn looked at Wes intently.

"Angel." Wes said just the word, and Dawn nodded.

"And Spike. He's just as bad. For her."

"So you left," Wes finished the thought, his lack of comment on Spike speaking volumes to Dawn.

"Yeah. And it's not like I could ask Giles after ..."

"Buffy treated him the way she did," Wes said sadly. "Yes, I know what that's like." He stared off into the distance.

"Xander ended up spending most of the money he had left, and borrowing the rest from Kennedy, just to get me back here," Dawn concluded.

"Home?" Wes asked.

"This isn't home," Dawn said bitterly. "That's in a giant hole in the ground." She paused for a moment and said sarcastically, "But hey, great victory. Let's have a parade."

"You could have tried UCLA. Or other schools. ROTC ? The military? That's a big commitment. Your life won't be your own" Wes told her.

"I know. But thanks to Buffy's Euro-trip I'm no longer a California resident. And I couldn't get in. I tried. You know how many people apply to UCLA?. So with out of state fees and going to school in Davis or the 909, USC was a better deal. I mean, have you seen the Valley? It makes Sunnydale look like Beverly Hills. And the Marines will pay," Dawn said, "Maybe even for grad school. And I'll belong. To someone." She had a distant look with a small, secret smile. "Maybe I'll become Miss Captain America, like Riley. And kick vampire ass all the time." Her smile became broader, and for a brief instant the entire room was lit up as her face changed from shy and sad and quiet to brightly beautiful.

"So Semper Fi it is then?" Wes asked.

"Ourah!" Dawn joked. "Plus it pisses Buffy off that I'm becoming a Marine. Bonus points for that. As long as I don't die some stupid and senseless death."

"There is that," Wes nodded. "But that's not why I'm here is it?"

"No. It's Xander," Dawn said. "He's in trouble. And he needs information about Angel. Angel's acting all weird, and Xan, he thinks it's about Cordy."

Wes noted the "Xan" version of Xander, and remembered the girl's crush on the boy when she was just a child of twelve or thirteen. He had to admit, she clearly wasn't a child now. He hadn't even recognized her at first, and noted the admiring looks several of the patrons were giving Dawn. They'd all gotten older, he concluded. Without anyone noticing. Well, except for Angel. Or Spike.

"Cordy?" Wes gave Dawn a blank stare.

"Come on Wes. Don't give me that. You know damn well Cordy didn't get pregnant by herself. It wasn't the miraculous conception. There was a guy there somewhere." Dawn snorted. "And what happened to the baby? And why did she kill that girl? Or that family?" Dawn wanted to know.

"I see you've been busy," Wes noted. "How did you get that information?"

"I got Cordy's fingerprints and ran them on the FBI's database through a friend who's an intern with the LA District Attorney. So that gave me the girl. And the other victims. Then I impersonated a Social Services worker on the phone when I talked to her doctor. I kinda gave him the impression that I was also on the Wolfram and Hart payroll. And I got her medical records," Dawn concluded triumphantly. "So I have most of it. And I can get the rest. But I'd rather hear it from you. Hell you were there, Wes," she looked intently at him with her big blue eyes, guilelessly as she oh so casually placed her hand on his to the jealous stares of several of the male patrons and a few of the female ones.

Damn she was good, Wes thought. Had she been older, say Lilah's age, she'd probably have worked him. As it was, he remembered her "Xan" and she was just too young. Her midriff baring outfit was just too calculated, as was her low cut shirt. He'd gotten too old, he thought. He just didn't like being played anymore and it simply irritated him instead of getting him hot and bothered.

Dawn's face fell as she noted a flicker of this pass across Wes's face. "Didn't work, huh?"

"No. I'm afraid not." Wes admitted curtly.

"Damn," Dawn said quietly. "This place is awful. Do you have any idea how hard it is when every girl is some wannabe modelactresswhatever? They're all perfect. Perfect teeth, perfect hair, perfect bodies. And they all have huge breasts," Dawn snorted, as Wes couldn't help but notice the spectacular cleavage of a woman walking past the front window. "Like her."

"They're not real. And it's not you. It's just ... you're too young."

"You and Cordy were hot and heavy for a while in Sunnydale. Back when she was my age. What happened?"

"We kissed. And nothing happened, that was the point." Wes confided.

"But if I was older?" Dawn asked hopefully.

"Yes, it would have worked. You would have played me." Wes offered sympathetically. "You're really quite beautiful."

"Thanks Wes. You're a gentleman. And a scholar." Dawn laughed, happy that Wes paid her the compliment.

"Not that there's much use for it these days," Wes complained.

"I'm listening," Dawn said. "Tell me a story Wes. About how Cordy turned into some murderer. While she was pregnant. And who the father was."

"It's all quite complicated," Wes said sadly.

"Tell me what part of our lives isn't?" Dawn asked, happy that Wes had decided to tell her what he knew.


Harmony watched the street from the flat she'd been invited into. The man she'd picked up had been happy for her company, well, until later. Before she killed him. Now she was stuck here all day, and she'd have to find another place to stay tonight. And his body was beginning to stink. Ewwww. She wished she'd been able to dispose of it. Well, at least he had QVC on his satellite TV. She'd have to order something with his credit cards.

So far she'd done well. "What would Spikey do?" she thought. Then she'd done it. Well, except for the screwing Buffy part. There were some things even she wouldn't do. Not that she'd mind sharing her big Blondie Bear with another woman. Or making out with another woman if that would turn him on. And with her body, why wouldn't it? But the icky slayer? No way Jose. Buffy was just too awful to have sex with.

But Spikey's habit of moving around a lot when in evil mastermind mode seemed to pay off. Having her minions attack that crowd hadn't worked out. Who knew the cattle would fight back? But she wasn't there when they did. And that rock demon, the brother of the thing Angel was always talking about, it had gotten destroyed. She was sure of it. Her minions were supposed to wake it up. She'd heard a loud bang and supposed that some human had destroyed it somehow. Even though that was supposed to be impossible. But hahaha, she wasn't there when it happened. So, all good. And QVC. Maybe she'd get a Thighmaster. Hee Hee. A Thighmaster for her evil mastermind self.

She had to get to Spikey. He'd help her become a real evil mastermind. Save her from the humans hunting her. Maybe she could even arrange for an accident to happen to Buffy. Then she could console him. Maybe offer a threesome with Fred. Spike liked Fred. And Fred liked Spike. She could always, she mused, turn Fred. It might be fun to have her own playmate. For when Spike got bored. He often got bored. Maybe with Fred and herself she could keep him from being bored. She thought to herself how much fun it would be to feed off Fred. She'd tried being good. It didn't work out. It was so much more fun to be evil. And she was blonde. So she figured she was entitled. Maybe if she turned Fred she could hit Fred when Spike hit her. Spikey did get angry at her, when she said the wrong thing. It would be nice to be able to hit someone else when Spike got angry. Which usually happened around Buffy.

She peeked out the window briefly. Oh my god. There was Xander. And he was entering that Occult Bookshop across the street. This was so good. Xander would lead her to Buffy. And Buffy would lead her to Spike. She'd kill both Xander and Buffy. Have a threesome with Spike and Fred, and turn Fred. Then kill everyone else still left alive. This England was so much fun. Maybe she'd meet Austin Powers. He was supposed to live here. She wondered if the shop across the street had unicorn figurines. She hoped they did.


Xander entered the shop, and noticed the sign "Curios and Relics, Samuel Blake Prop." Hmm he thought. Maybe this Samuel Blake was a proper English Gentlemen. Another Giles. That could be both good or bad, he supposed. He hoped it would be good.

The bell jangled as he stepped through the door, just like, he felt with a pang of guilt, regret, and nostalgia all rolled into one, the bell on the Magic Box. It had been a long time since he'd been there. The last time was when Anya was looking up spells during Willow's rampage. All things considered, he thought, he was sorry Anya was dead. But he didn't love her. And he knew now for a fact she didn't love him. How could she? Doing all she did and never even being sorry for it? Not one little bit? He missed her, still, but realized with a start that he missed Tara and Dawn more. Not as a girlfriend, but simply a friend. He could talk to them, Dawn lately a lot more and about more than he used to. He didn't have that now, and remembered ruefully he never had that with Anya. Damn bell was making his one eye tear up. Hell.

He looked around the shop. It was full of dusty books, and questionable items he sadly recognized from the Magic Box days. It didn't look like there was anyone around.

"Hello? Anyone here?" Xander called out.

"Susan, would you help the customer please? I'll be right out," a man's voice came from the back, from another room who's dim doorway he could see behind the counter.

"Dad!" came the voice of a teen girl, who's angry and petulant tone made Xander wince. It's not like he heard that more times than he could count.

"Susan," came the man's voice, angry now, with more than a hint of urgency. "Suzy!"

"All right!" the girl replied. "I'm coming."

She walked into the shop from the back round. Both Xander and the girl started, recognizing each other. "You," they both exclaimed in unison.

"Daddy!" came her cry. "It's that awful man from earlier today," she yelled back towards the open door.

Xander felt a feeling of dread. Naturally the man would be around 7 foot two inches he thought, and built like Shaquille O'Neil's older, stronger brother. All ready for a good game of kick the Xander. That's what you get, he thought bitterly, for saving a girl's life. Too bad Angel and Spike weren't around he thought. Then it would be just perfect.

The man who appeared in the doorway, however, was not what he expected. He could have been Giles's older brother, as he was a man in his late forties or early fifties with graying hair, a professorial manner, and stooped shoulders. He had on a pair of dress slacks, and Xander noted, a cardigan sweater with carefully mended sleeves. His shirt, though probably fine it's day, was worn at the collar, and peeking through underneath the sweater, Xander could see the cuffs were in the same state. He had on his face though what surprised Xander. A smile, not a grimace filled with anger.

"This is the man, are you sure?" he asked his daughter, who had a surly look on her face.

"Yes Daddy, I told you. He was with the vampire hunters. Killing the poor vampires!" she practically shouted.

"Well then, I owe you my deepest gratitude then, sir, for saving my daughter's life. I've heard enough from her and others to know I have you to thank that she's here with me today," the man started to tear up as he extended his hand to Xanders, and then crossing over to him simply hugged Xander with a fierce, emotional embrace.

Pulling back, and collecting himself (just like Giles, Xander thought), he told Xander, "I know Suzy has this romantic view of vampires as friendly sorts, but we know what kind of thing they are. I'm Samuel Blake, by the way." He held out his hand, and Xander awkwardly took it.

"I'm Xander, I'm ... " he started when the girl interrupted him.

"You're with the slayer aren't you? The slayer and her vampires? Then why are you hanging around Jack Crow? Aren't you going to get in trouble with Buffy?" Suzy asked puzzled, with some of the sullen anger deflating out of her.

"Uh huh?" was Xander's puzzled reply. Did EVERYONE know his business? So much for secrets in Bath. His missing eye throbbed with phantom pain.

"You'll forgive my daughter. She sometimes forgets to engage her brain before her mouth," was Blake's apologetic but somewhat curt reply, and Xander could see his irritation with his daughter.

"How in the hell did you know ... ?" Xander asked, and the girl answered him.

"I'm an adept. With power. Real power," she said proudly, fingering the wiccan medallion hanging from a chain on her neck. Xander recognized it as Tara had worn a similar pendant. "Anyone with any power at all knew just what Buffy and Willow did. Well and Kennedy too. It was kind of hard to keep track of all the names and faces though. It passed by so fast."

Xander looked lost and Blake explained with a sigh.

"What my daughter is trying to tell you is that what Miss Rosenberg did was felt all over the world. Those like me with only a touch of power saw things dimly, like through a very dirty window. Some like my daughter saw more than most. Such as names and faces. And all the Wiccans here know of Buffy, and her ... vampires. We can feel their presence. Psychically speaking it's quite distinct. Like a feedlot." That last word was spat out by Blake. "But that's not how she knows you. Or your name at least."

"I'm sorry for calling you a perv," the girl stated flatly, with no sincerity at all, prompted by as Xander saw a look from her father. "I understand now that you were just trying to save my life." The words came out in a sarcastic, insincere monotone.

She shot a look at her father. "Though I could have just put him to sleep again like they did all those years ago if that awful Crow had given me a chance. He's a horrible man."

"Again, I want to thank you, Mr. Harris, for saving my daughter's life. But I hope you haven't thrown your lot in with Mr. Crow. And you're not here to burn down my shop. He started the League here you know. All to smoke out the vampires. Regardless of who gets hurt." Blake said this with arms crossed, and a hint of resignation. Well, this was an interesting tidbit, Xander mused. Who'd have thunk it? Crow using people to kill vamps. He was genuinely shocked. Well no he wasn't. Not much shocked him now.

"Again with the huh?" Xander asked, glancing nervously at the door. Which was soon filled with a group of very angry men pouring into the tiny shop.

All wearing Human League armbands. They had a desperate, frenzied look on their faces. Xander figured he looked like that, well when he saw Anya screwing Spike's brains out. Sometimes he figured that little image would never go away. Part of him wanted to hurt and hurt and hurt someone, anyone, back just so they'd feel the same hurt. And part of him was deeply ashamed of that deep desire. Hence he thought, his friend Jim Beam. And Jack Daniels. The only friends he really had, and he couldn't afford to see them. Maybe later, he hoped. Or, these guys could kill him. Right now he didn't much care which happened.

The group of men must have read that on his face, and seemed to hang back, finding shelter behind the leader. A florid faced, very angry man with thinning hair, a bit of a paunch, and rough, calloused hands. Xander had seen hands like that. Some of the master carpenters he'd worked with had hands like that.

"It's time Blake. Time for you and your shop to go. Time to get rid of these books. These things. Their things!" the angry, florid faced man shouted, while the crowd behind him murmured their assent. "It's what drew them here!"

"You know I follow the way, Micah. And we have nothing to do with those demons, vampires, and monsters." Blake was firm, undaunted by the crowd. "We've been here for years. And you're just frightened. Like a child."

Xander noticed the girl start chanting, and the words seemed uncomfortably familiar. Willow had used words like that, he remembered. Blake quickly gave the girl a look that said, "stop that immediately." And she subsided. Though Xander noted she had her hands in a gesture. One that reminded him of what Willow had used to rip Warren apart. Wonderful.

"Those things are in the daytime now. I saw them, it was horrible. It took a tank to stop one of them. And you ... you and your hellion daughter are stirring them up. This ends now," the man shouted as he moved forward, and the crowd behind him, emboldened, started to pull items from the shelf, knocking over books, curios, and the rest of the contents of Blake's shop.

Xander had enough. He remembered the man. He'd been one of the incredible disappearing crowd. Not that he blamed them much. He'd have run away too. But he had to look after that girl. He couldn't have just let her die now could he? He wasn't a hero, not like Willow, or Buffy, or Faith. Nothing special. But still, even he couldn't just let a little girl die without doing something. Even if it was useless. Which of course it was.

"What the hell do you think you're doing," Xander asked. "Didn't you get the word this place, these people, are protected?"

"Who are you to give orders, Yank?" the surly man asked with a sneer. Blake and his daughter flanked him, but gave him each a questioning look which he ignored.

"The guy who was there when his good buddy Jack Crow blew up the bad rock guy with a tank. Speaking of which my ears are still ringing. I've got dust in places I don't even want to think about. And I'm in a real pissed off mood. So get the hell out of here," Xander concluded with a dark look on his face more than hinting at violence.

"He's only one man. And he's only got one eye," a voice from the back pointed out, Xander thought, real helpfully.

"That's right. I'm only one man," Xander said, as he drew out the Birthday present Dawn had given him. He knew she stole it, from somewhere, but he didn't care. It was the only present he'd gotten in years. Everyone else just forgot his birthday. Well, let's be fair. They never remembered it in the first place. Except for Willow and after Oz even she forgot. The knife was small, but concealed nicely behind his cellphone. He figured the blade looked bigger to the crowd than it was.

"Only one man, and yeah, only one eye. But I'm the guy with a knife. And I'm willing to use it, take it all the way. I figure I can get at least two of you before you take me out. Then you have Jack Crow to deal with. He doesn't love me," Xander laughed bitterly, "but he sure as hell needs me. He'll probably cut off your heads. Or worse, use you as vampire bait. When he finds out I'm dead."

"He's bluffing," the voice came from the back.

"It wont' be you that gets cut," came another voice. "He's got a knife."

"We're the League. We run this place," came another.

Xander could see he needed to do something.

"And I'm with Jack Crow. The Band. You answer to US. You think I won't kill you?"

Xander walked right up to the angry, florid faced man, putting the knife back in it's sheath behind the cellphone on his right hip.

"You think you run things? Here? Really?" he said sarcastically to the man, then turned away to look at Blake and his daughter. He remembered how Angel had done this to him, and Spike. And hit the man in the stomach. Hard. Very hard. And hit him again, and again, and again. As fast and as hard as he could.

His stomach felt soft and giving to Xander's fist. Like hitting a pillow. Xander liked hitting him. The crowd behind the man could see that. And drew back. The man, Micah, folded up around Xander's fist.

The man fell down to his knees, ashen faced, vomiting, but Xander wasn't done.

His voice hoarse, angry, he shouted, "You were told. I gave you an order. It came from Crow. You didn't listen. That's gonna cost you." And swiftly, he grabbed the mans right arm, and in one swift motion lifted up his hand and reversed it. He felt the man's wrist snap with a sickening sound and feel underneath his own vice like grip.

He shoved the man away from him, tears in his one eye obscuring his vision. "He was told. This isn't a game," he shouted. "Get him out of here. And remember they're protected."

The crowd dragged the man out, and the room was left with their smell, cigarettes, whisky, and vomit from the departed Micah. Xander felt like the room smelled. Tears streamed down his one eye.

"So you're Crow's man eh, and we're needed?" Blake asked sullenly as the silence ached in the room, the three of them, Xander, Blake, and Suzy all looking at each other.

"No. I'm my own man. And Crow doesn't even know you exist. I think." Xander paused. And sniffled a bit. Had he been crying? Stupid, stupid, stupid he thought. What would they think of him? Crying like a stupid useless idiot. Like Andrew, he thought bitterly. He was sure his tears had lost them any respect he might have gained.

"I just didn't want them burning you out. Or worse." He looked at the girl. "I had a friend who used to wear that medallion," he gestured at the Wiccan symbol on the girl's pendant. "She's gone now, but I still miss her. Sometimes I think only me and one other person remember her." Xander was close to weeping now.

"You mean Tara McLay? She was our friend too," Blake looked at him with sad eyes filled with compassion. "I think we need to talk."


Fred walked down the street in Bath. It was getting dark, but she lingered at shop windows, looking idly for something that would cheer her up.

Spike was sniffing after Buffy again, and she had nothing to offer him. Even a threesome with Buffy would just have Spike focused just on ... her. That blonde bitch. She missed Harmony. Harmony would share. Hell, she'd probably even turn her. And the three of them could live forever. Never getting old. Always having fun. She wouldn't even need a soul, she thought. Harmony could love Spike without a soul. And that awful Buffy loved Spike without one, for a while. Why did she need it?

She needed to find a friendly vampire. One who could help her out. Then Spike could hit her harder. And more often. Without those bruises. Sometimes she thought Spike wouldn't stop hitting her. But he was always sorry later. And was nice to her.

Would it be so bad, she wondered? Angel and Spike killed lots of people. And Buffy loved them even more. So did that girl Faith, with Angel at least. Fred giggled. She'd love to have an orgy with Angel, Spike, and Faith. That would be fun. Maybe they could kill something, or someone. Someone small who wouldn't struggle. Like a child. She looked speculatively at the passing children, hands held firmly by parents rushing to get home while the sun still shone.

Maybe, she thought, if she offered a friendly vampire some food, she could strike a bargain. Too bad Harmony wasn't here. She'd turn Fred, she just knew it. And they could share Spike. He was worth it.

But one thing bothered Fred. She knew she loved Spike. With a desperate, hungry need. But she couldn't say why.