The Devil You Know

Author: eckles71 <eckles71[at]>

Disclaimer: Marvel Comics and Mutant Enemy own it all.

X-Over with BtVS & 'Daredevil'

Timeframe: Starts at Season 3 and continues.

Couplings: still in consideration.

Feedback appreciated.

Dedicated towards all the talented B/X writers out there, and TonyD.

Summery: At the beginning of Season 3 Xander gets splashed in the face with some Demon Blood and slowly starts to pick up the old 'Attributes of the Demon'

Latest addition

Chapter 1

1999; 6:08am
'Sunnydale Memorial Hospital' - Emergency Waiting Area

Faith Williams sat hunched in one of the many moulded plastic chairs offered by the Sunnydale Memorial Hospital 'Emergency Room' and tediously flicked though the 8-month stale magazine that had been sitting unread on the table beside her for an hour. She had only been in Sunnydale for a week, and already she was bored out of her mind. It wasn't the Town's fault, infact as One-Starbucks towns went, it wasn't bad. She just hadn't had a chance to really get to know anybody as yet, but of the few people she had met they seemed nice enough.

The Slayer exhaled a depressed sigh and once more placed down her collection of tabloid stories. It was 6am and instead being curled up in her Motel Room's bed she was staking out the local Hospital for any recently reported 'Wild Dog' attacks. Emergency Rooms were where the action was when it came to scoping out the possible locations for a Vamp Nests. Pretty basic reasoning actually, she was surprised why the 'Scoob's' hadn't figured that out yet. It sure as Hell saved on a lot of shoe leather. Just hang tight and keep your ears sharp for the Cop's to Radio the information given to them by the Paramedics, check the areas later under the safety of Daylight and wait for that good-old Slayer Senses to kick in and tell you where the future 'dust-bunnies' are hiding. Sure the 'Slayettes' probably had their own try and true method of working out where the BigBads were holding up, but she didn't mind. It was just a distraction to a pretty much empty day. What else was she going to do, go to School?

At the inner mention of the 'Slayettes' Faith's mind once more began to reminisce on the unusual group of people she had met a half dozen evenings back. The people she would be calling her Slaying Buddies for the duration of her time on the Hellmouth. The 'Chosen One' snorted a short and unladylike laugh as she considered each of them, their positives and their negatives. They were so polar to the individuals she was used to 'hanging' with that they were basically an alien life form to her. It wasn't that she didn't trust them - Hell, she didn't trust anyone, not even herself at times. She just wanted to get a handle of it all. These people were so in-tune with each other, the way they thought, and did things all seemed to compliment the other and it made them a more effective Slaying Unit. No wonder she was bored, the 'Slayers Incorp' had probably taken out the bulk of the bad guys. She did not resent this, she could see the benefits of teamwork, but she was so used to working solo that to be thrust into a group dynamic was a foreign concept - she was the outsider in their perfect Demon-Killing microcosm. But it wasn't just the alienation she felt whilst in their presence; it was the question of why they did it? Faith Chastity Williams was a Slayer, as was Buffy Anne Summers, neither of them had a choice in this. Destiny, Fate, call it what you want chose them to be their foot soldiers against the Darkness, so why did the 'Civilians' want to tag along?

The 'Scooby Gang' certainly were an odd group of people that was for sure. With absolutely nothing in common except the want to fight the good fight. And *that* was something Faith could respect, even though she found it difficult to respect the people themselves.

Willow Rosenberg was the first person who played in her mind when she thought of respect. Undoubtedly 'Red' was the 'Brains' of the quartet, but in the small adventures they had shared in the past seven day's since her arrival in SunnyD, she had demonstrated little guts on the Hunt's and typically hung in the background. Like a child not wanting to be selected in a Sport's Team. She was also always twitchy and seemed to anxious to please and not offend, and that just got on Faith's nerves.

She also had a problem with Daniel 'Oz' Osborne, the red-heads multi-coloured haired boyfriend, he seemed to lack commitment to the cause, and only came along on Patrols as a way of keeping his 'girl' safe.

Then there was Cordelia Chase, socialite and professional whiner. Nothing about her and Slaying added up. On every mission Faith had the misfortune to be paired with her, Cordy was either complaining about this, or complaining about that. Her Boyfriend must have the patience of a Saint.

And this bought her to Xander Harris, the raven haired streetwise Slayer smiled easily as she drew his name from her thoughts. This guy was something else, he had the Gut's Willow lacked, the commitment 'Oz' was deficient of, and the good sense to know when to talk and when not too that the May Queen was obviously devoid of. To bad he was such a klutz. Good with the wit, but not with the fists.

Faith sadly shock her head as that thought entered her mind, physically disagreeing with her blunt assessment of the young man. Her psyche then relented, allowing her to redefine the Sunnydalian. Despite Xander's occasional 'clumsiness' out in the field, Faith had to acknowledge that on the occasions when he did throw a punch, and it did indeed connect with its intended Target it was 'Goodnight Sweetheart'. Not to many normal guys she knew could knock a Vampire on its ass with a single blow, stake it before it knew what hit them, and then volunteer to go out for some more Vamp action. Christ, even fewer people that she knew could take a beating like him and still be up for Patrolling the following night.

This realization made the Slayer wonder just how many other beatings Xander had taken over the years to be able to shrug the ones that he did take at the hands of Vampires and other Demons with the degree of casualness that he treated them?

If push came to shove, Xander was someone she could respect fully out of the lot of them. The fact he was also sweet on the eyes also didn't escape her notice, to bad he had that thing for her 'Sister Slayer'.

Faith smile grew as she continued to mentally dissect the character of the male Scooby under the Hospitals florescent lights. The Guy liked playing with fire that was for sure, with Cordelia on one arm he would flirt openly with her blonde Slayer counterpart across the Library's Main Table. He was totally shameless, and without fear. But there was definitely something there as well - a spark that existed between the two, Harris and Summers definitely got off on playfully baiting each other with sexual innuendo.

The smile then reformed into her trade mark predatory grin as she considered the possibilities that Buffy and Xander were perhaps more then just 'friends'. Faith knew that after a Patrol if she didn't get the action she craved she felt the need to 'exercise' it out of her system in other ways. Xander was definitely 'Sponge-worthy'; and 'B' was a Slayer like her, maybe the two of them got 'hot-&-heavy' as well after a slow night. Definitely something she could ask her Sis about later.

Out side the Emergency doors a Police Patrol car screeched to a sirened stop, and suddenly the humble buzz of the waiting area became chaotic with Doctors and Nurses rushing to intercept the new arrival as two of Sunnydales finest escorting their charge in through the doors.

As this was the most excitement she had seen in the past hour Faith's curiosity got the better of her. Carefully she approached the Eye of the commotion as one of the Doctor's began to receive a background account of the case, as a teenage boy, whom Faith could not see clearly was being navigated by three nurses behind a curtained room.

The 35-year old Police Officer, an obvious veteran of the Sunnydale Police Force spoke in facts, and did not bore the Doc with irrelevant details. "We found him staggering out of 'Wilkins II Memorial Park' ten minutes ago. At first we thought he was High, or Drunk on something, it wasn't until we got closer that we saw his face. The kid said he found a canister from the local Army Station out in the woods somewhere, he opened it and its contents then exploded in his face. Don't know if I believe him tho, regardless, we got someone checking out the possibility. Whatever it might have been, it was definitely corrosive - like acid, the skin around his eyes is raw red and blistering. He informed us that he'd been trying to feel his way back to the Main Road for close to several hours. Damn Fool. What the Hell he was doing out that late at night is anyone's guess, he's just lucky he didn't make himself a recipient of a 'Sunnydale Special'. Anyway the Student ID in his wallet has him pegged as a Alexander L. Harris, 17years, attendee of Sunnydale High---"

Faith didn't need to hear anymore as she then made a bee line to the nearest collection of Public Telephones. And for the first time she used the phone number the English Watcher had given her a few day's earlier.

"Giles. It's Faith. I'm in the Emergency Room at the Memorial, we got ourselves a situation. No, I'm fine, but one of your kid's isn't. It's Xander. Hey, I know next to nothing - he just came in a second ago, the Cop mentioned something about face and acid. Yeah, doesn't sound good at all. You better get down here pronto."

The receiver suddenly felt very heavy in the Slayer's hand as she carefully replaced it once more in its cradle. The raven-haired 'Chosen One' then returned to where the drama began and waited for the arrival of the Watcher.



For over five hours Rupert Giles had to fight the urge of not raising his voice to the Charge-Nurse on Duty. But with each ticking second it was becoming more and more difficult. Especially as her answers to his questions were unalterable.

Xander had been whisked away mere seconds before he had walked through the Hospital doorway. Faith, who had placed herself as an incognito guard to Xander's curtained room, had told him that she had overheard, with the benefit of her heightened Slayer hearing, that the Doctors had decided to send him to various sections of the Hospital to receive an assortment of Scan's and Tests. This news relieved and terrified the Englishman. The Scans and Tests were good as it assured him that Xander's situation was being properly investigated; yet it was also bad as it provided evidence in his mind that all was not well with the young Scooby.

As Giles paced back and forth upon the lino floor tiles, the Charge Nurse approached him. "Mr. Harris, I have just been advised that your nephew has been relocated to level 4, West, Bed 416. The Doctors would like the opportunity to speak to you prior to you seeing him however, and that they will be here to speak to you shortly."

Giles gave a shameful smile to the 47-year old woman. "Err, Nurse --- I'm sorry for my --- behaviour earlier, and of the unpleasant way I spoke to you."

Nurse Anderson was slightly taken aback at the apology, given her chosen area of care she was use to the odd emotional burst of family, but rarely did she receive an apology for such occurrences. "Mr Harris it's obvious you care for your nephew's wellbeing, so please do not dwell too much on it. I've been dealing with Emergency for 18-years and in that time you develop a surprisingly tough skin." She then offered a reassuring smile to the bane of her shift and returned to her counter.

Faith then approached the British born with a raised eyebrow. "Mr Harris? Nephew?"

Without drawing his eyes from the Lifts that he was expecting Xander's Doctors to be exiting he replied in an embarrassed tone. "Yes, I told them I was Rory Harris. Xander's Uncle. I couldn't have expected them to pass on medical information to a person who just considered himself a close and personal friend."

Faith just nodded, recognizing the predicament the Watcher was in and acknowledging the worried expression on his face. Seconds later the elevator doors opened to reveal four men in white coats, two of which Faith imminently recognized as the ones who had accompanied Xander on his tests. The lead man looked to the counter and was signalled and directed by the C.N. who had left a moment earlier towards Giles. The four Doctors proceeded until they were standing in front of the Librarian and his young rebellious charge.

"Mr Harris?"

Giles nodded awkwardly.

"Your ---" The Doctor then looked down upon his notes, then raised his eyes to meet the Watchers. "--- nephew was bought in at 6:12am this morning with suspected exposure to an unknown chemical. We*"

Giles waved his hands in an effort to discount the absurdity of formality. "*What's wrong with him?"

The lead Doctor maintained his composure and then answered the question in a balanced tone. "In all honesty Mr. Harris, we do not know. Xander assured us that the substance that splattered in his face was chemical, but the remanets upon the shirt he came in with was tested, and the pathology results dictated it as biologic. Tho we can't identify what organic compound it belongs to. There seems to be some mutagenetic qualities, but for the life of us, we cannot identify its origin. This mystery is only compounded by the unusual amount of Brain activity Xander is displaying. Activity that we cannot account for. Sections of Xander's brain, areas that are typically dormant and unused due to our evolution from our simian brothers, are presently being stimulated like no drug I have ever seen on trial. It's all quite bizarre."

"Yes, but is he alright?"

"Mr. Harris, there is no easy way to term this, but your nephew is now blind. There is zero Iris response. Maybe if he got here sooner, an hour, maybe two, we could have saved a portion of his eyesight. Heck, if he got here straight away after the incident we might have been able to save all of it. But sadly --- we're sorry Mr. Harris, but there is nothing we can do. The damage inflicted upon your nephew's sight is now well beyond our scope to heal and repair. "

Giles suddenly felt 50-years older as he asked his next question. "Can, can I see him?"

"Certainly, but please - if you must see him please do so only in small groups. And try not to excite him. True, he is dealing with the loss surprisingly well, but that could be just for show. Please be careful of what you say to him."

"Of course."

As the four men left the Watcher and the Slayer's presence Giles spoke in a whispered tone. "Faith, could you please go to school and alert everyone of Xander's situation." The Librarian looked down at his watch; "They should be getting out for lunch in 15-minutes. Head to the library first, that's were they will most likely go, since I wasn't there this morning."

"Yeah, sure. Err, Giles? Are you going to be alright?"

A false smile formed, full of inner sadness on his face. "You know, I always thought that boy as invulnerable to harm. Did you know he once walked into the Master's Lair, as too with Angelus's Mansion to rescue me three months ago. And exited with narr a scratch on his body." Giles then coughed out a dry chuckle before he continued. "My father use to say that 'God looked out for Fools and Cowards', I knew Xander wasn't a coward, I guess now I know that he wasn't really Fool either - but I did hope he was." He then removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I suppose it was only a matter of time until his incredible luck ran dry." Then, like a Priest who had just lost the ability to believe in the 'Almighty', Giles then took defeated steps towards the elevator that would send him to the forth floor.


'Sunnydale High School'

Willow rattled the locked Library door for the third time that day as Cordelia and Buffy approached her and Oz in the passage way out the front of the 'Scooby Hangout'.

"Still not in?"

Willow turned to face her best female friend. "No, and I'm starting to get worried. This isn't like Giles. This isn't at all British. He has a responsibility to maintain the stereotype."

Buffy nodded her head in deep thought. "Yeah, but hey - maybe he's with Faith. You know, showing her some Slayage stuff. We can't be selfish about this; she needs a Watcher as well. And I kinda got the feeling that after the 'Intervention' Xander and you guys tried to pull on me last night about not telling you all of Angel's return, that I'm not exactly his most favourite Slayer at present."

Cordelia had now just joined the group at the tail end of the Slayers comment. "Speaking of Xander, have any of you seen him today. He was supposed to be in English Lit with me at 11 and he wasn't there."

Willow looked at Oz, who being a man of few words just gave a shrug. She then looked at Buffy who was at that moment standing on her tippee toes trying to peer through the windows that made up the top portion of the Library's locked doors. "Buffy? Have you seen Xander this morning, cause we haven't."

Buffy lowered herself from her spying, and turned to look at the May Queen who had initiated the query. "No. The last time I saw your Boyfriend was last night after he tried to sic you guys onto me and Angel."

"Buffy that's not true. Xander was just concern that you might be under a wronged influence, and that Angelus might have returned."

"That's Bull, Will. Xander was angry because he was jealous of Angel. He always has been."

"Oh get off that high horse of yours little Miss-Slay-Alot. You had an obligation to tell us as soon as Angel showed up on your doorstep with Roses and an apology. Angelus had tried to kill us all at one time or another, and what he did to Giles, Hell! If you didn't want *us* to know about it, that's one thing, but you were also keeping this secret from your Watcher as well."

"Oh yeah, Right! And Xander wasn't the least bit motivated to seeing Angel gritting the footpath somewhere. Even before Angel became Angelus, Xander didn't trust him - not totally. He couldn't trust my instincts that this was really Angel? Give me a break! No, he had to get everybody involved didn't he?"

Cordelia lowered her voice a notch and met Buffy's renowned 'Death Glare'. "Let's face facts here Buffy, you let Angelus roam free for months before you found it in you to take him down for good. And what did that take? A potential Apocalypse - that's what. Not Kendra's death, not Ms Calender's, not undoubtedly all those other innocents he either turned or fed off. It was going down to the wire, do or die time, and only then did you find the nerve to do your job. So forgive me, and forgive Xander, if our first thought upon the discovery of your 'Honey' still walking and talking - and not in Hell where you were supposed to have sent him, was that maybe he was again up to no good and that you were once more turning a blind eye to what he was doing."

Buffy remained silent for a moment, allowing the Cheerleaders words to sink in. She then looked to Willow and Oz. "Do you honestly think I would jeopardize you all if I wasn't certain? You're my best friends. I love you guy's, and I would never let anyone hurt you as long as I was around. "

"We didn't know what was happening Buffy. What Cordelia just said, it's kinda all true isn't it, you were risking our lives on your 'instincts', and you had no right to do that. We had a say, we had a Right to know Angel was back. And we didn't want to take the chance that you could be wrong - not again."

Buffy looked down at her sneakered feet and whispered out a question. "Then why didn't you say something last night?"

At this point Oz took the opportunity to speak up. "Because you didn't give us a chance."

Willow took two tentative footsteps forward and drew Buffy's chin up to face her. "You went straight into attack mode Buff, and you know Xander, when he thinks he's in the right he doesn't back down for anybody."

"Oh God. Xander! I said such terrible things to him last night."

Willow smiled remembering their confrontation in the Library seventeen hours earlier. "He's been on the receiving end of worst, don't worry about him. Trust me, when I was younger I used to have take-away dinners at his place with his parents. Just give him a while to calm down and the two of you will be as close as ever."

Buffy shock her head. "No. Last night - after. He followed me and Angel on Patrol. He was spying on us - spying on Angel. He still didn't trust him - trust me. We caught him out, and he and Angel began to get, well --- things got 'heated'. I told him something's about himself that I didn't mean. I was just so angry with him, thinking that he had a right to designate himself as my unofficial Protector. And that he had the right to question all my decisions. I said some pretty hurtful things to him." Buffy's gaze once more found the floor as she relayed the events of the evening before to her best friend.

"Angel and I were so distracted with Xander, that the Thing we were hunting snuck up on us and tried to behead Angel. But Xander saw it in time and pushed him out of the way, and I took the creatures own head off. Seconds later we got back to arguing. We must have been going back and throw for five minutes, and probably would have done so all night. That is until Xander started to complain that he got some of the Demon's blood in his eyes and that they were starting to itch and burn. I called him a wuss, a hypochondriac and a few other choice things. And then me and Angel left him there alone."

Willow's eyes widened. "Buffy, are you telling me Xander was hurt and you didn't help him?"

"It was just a little bit of blood, we've all had some spill on us at one point or another. I thought he was just milking the sympathy angle. I--- I was upset with him." Buffy turned her face to her left so she wouldn't have to look at Willow; unfortunately the person who was standing to her left was Cordelia. Their eyes met once more, and the Slayer released an answer to her earlier question. "That was the last I saw of him."

Cordelia's teeth clenched as she took a threatening step forward. "Are you stupid or something? What Willow is trying to say Buffy is that some demon Blood is toxic and poisoness. Even I know that. Maybe his eyes were hurting, and if they were it would have to be hurting pretty bad, because I can't remember the last time Xander *ever* complained about an injury."

Buffy's face conveyed pure devastation at the statements made by the 'Most Popular Girl in School' found a truth in her heart. But before she could find her voice, her sister-Slayer came running down the corridor towards them.

Faith came to steady stop in front of them all and took in all their expressions with relief on her face that she didn't need to go searching the school for them individually. "Oh Goody, the Gangs all here."

Willow quickly addressed the other Slayer in the hopes of deflecting Cordelia's anger. "Faith, do you know where Giles is?"

"Yep, up until twenty minutes ago he was with me." This statement seemed to lighten the tension for everybody. But Faith knew that what she had to say next would only bring that tension back magnified. She hated the thought of being the barer of bad news. "We've been at the 'Memorial' all morning."

Buffy shock her guilt off about Xander to ask a question to her Slaying Sibling. "Is he okay, what happened?"

"Relax, British is fine. It's Harris. Xander was bought in this morning by a Patrol Car. His face, his eyes, had been splashed with something - something biological. I don't know what it was."

Buffy grabbed Faith by the shoulders shock her angrily. "Is he alright?" Using her Slayer strength Faith reacted and pushed Buffy back more aggressively then she planned and responded to the question. "He's alive. But the Doc's say he's blind with absolutely no chance of a cure. If the Cop's had found him earlier, maybe, who knows. But they didn't come across him until 6 this morning, and but then the damage was irreparable." The silence shared between the four was nerve racking. "Giles wanted me to tell you, and to 'come get'. He's with Xander right now."

Oz silently turned and faced the three young women. "I'll --- bring my Van around."

Oz took point down the corridor, as Willow and Cordelia flanked him - both 'Social' enemies comforting each other as they walked. Finding strength in the others presence, sharing one commonality - Xander.

Faith followed both women, only occasionally looking over her shoulder to witness Buffy bringing up the rear of the group. The Blonde Slayer walked as if 'Zombiefied'. This made Faith wonder why her Slaying Sis was taking what happened to Harris so personally?

The Raven haired 'Chosen One' didn't find out that reason until they were all mid-way to the Hospital in the back of Oz's Van, as Willow and Cordelia who had just then gotten over the shock of the news she had delivered released a barrage of accusations to the fair haired 'Senior-Slayer'.

If the 'Brain' and the 'Socialite's' aim was to make Buffy breakdown in tears, then that goal was achieved in full.


'Sunnydale Memorial Hospital'
Level 4, West Wing

Faith led the anxious quartet to the West section of Level four. As the five of them past the entrance to the Ward they heard Giles voice beckon them over to where he was sitting.

As the Scooby's approached, the Librarian spoke. "He's resting at the moment; his parents arrive ten minutes ago and created quite the drama. They obviously chose not to observe his Doctor's instructions." Giles spat the last comment out in disgust, and then continued. "The nurses gave him something to settle him down; he's now sleeping off the excitement. Listen, he could be resting for some time, so why don't the four of you return to your classes and come back this afternoon."

Willow moved away from Oz and sat on the left hand side of Giles seat, unspoken, Cordelia did the same to Giles right. Giles hand searched out Willows and when contact was made, the red head spoke. "I'm not going anywhere until I see him."

Cordelia then extended her own hand and placed it over Giles. "Me either."

Oz snuck around and took the seat next to Willow's and nodded an agreement to his girlfriend's and fellow Scooby's claim.

That just left Buffy and Faith who hadn't spoken.

Faith walked over to the magazine table and took the top five off the pile and joined the group. "Hey, it's not like I hadn't anything else planned." She then sat down next to Cordelia and started to hand out the aged selection to those seated.

Buffy, still quiet, began to make movement towards Faith, so that she could take the vacant seat beside her. To her surprise, Giles removed himself from the 'hand' embrace of Cordelia and Willow, and stood up to block her. "Xander's in a very fragile state at the moment Buffy. And his physicians have requested that we do nothing to excite him. I think it would be best, given the circumstances, that you do not try to see him until asks for you."

"How --- how did you find out."

In a tired voice Giles answered his primary Slayer. "Xander told me what happened before his parents showed up. I'm --- I'm not angry with you. And to his credit, neither is Xander. Just extremely disappointed. As Xander said, and this is a direct quote - 'I knew the risks, and I don't regret a second of it'." Giles then smiled warmly upon the young woman he looked to as a daughter. "He's an extraordinary young man, and was an impressive ally. But right now his needs need to be met. And his needs are at the moment very simple ones - peace and quiet, and the opportunity to fully come to terms with his loss. I think you would be an awkward reminder. So please Buffy, go back to school or to your home, and don't try to see him until he sends for you."

"I --- I just want to tell him I'm sorry."

"He knows you would never do anything to hurt him, and that it was just a stupid accident. But Buffy the facts remain, you and Angel deserted him when he needed the two of you the most. The accident with the Demon blood is forgivable to him, but the abandonment? Buffy, you left him alone in the forest, at night, as this --- this tragedy were unfolding. It must have been terrifying for him. I would rather not have him relive those thoughts. But be assured at the earliest practical time I will let him know of your regret."

Daniel Osborne then stood up and approach to two. "C'mon Buffy. I'll take you home."

The Werewolf and the Slayer then exited through the doors they had entered less then two minutes earlier. And something told Buffy as she walked away from her best female friends, her 'Sister-Slayer', her Watcher and father figure, as well as the young man who had once bought her back to life, and had stood bravely by her side during her darkest missions. That her world and Xander's life would now never be the same again.


Chapter 2

1999, eight day's after the last chapter.
Level 4. West Wing
'Sunnydale Memorial Hospital'

Angel stood at the doorway leading to Xander's hospital room and paused.

If he was to cross the threshold he would be challenging his already unsteady relationship with Giles and the rest of the Scooby Gang. But challenge it he had to.

He knew that once his 'Return' from Hell was known his reception amongst those he called friend would be looked upon with scepticism and suspicion. And he could not expect anything less; the sins of Angelus were not ones that could be easily forgotten, nor forgiven. But he had to try. His entire existence would be of him trying to make up for the endeavours of his Demon self.

But this sin was different, this sin he committed freely as Angel.

That evening, even tho it was nine day's past, was carved deeply into his memories. Was he angry with Xander that night? No. It was only a matter of time before the truth came out that he was back, it was just he and Buffy weren't expecting this discovery so soon. But as to all things on the Hellmouth, you must learn to expect the unexpected.

In hindsight, the Vampire had to recognise it was their entire fault and that they should have come clean straight away; prolonging the inevitable would only have made things worse. And it did.

Xander's discovery of him was just an ill timed event, the fact that Xander also witnessed Buffy with him together only made a complicated and volatile situation, even more so.

The souled Vampire remembered the anger Buffy displayed as she arrived at his Mansion after Xander's poorly executed Intervention in the Library. It was all ill-placed anger, but he wasn't prepared to try and quash it. Instead he volunteered that they go in search of a Demon he had recently heard moved into the area, and had been making the 'Wilkin's II Parkland' its feeding ground. Maybe if he had tried to reason with her instead of trying to distract that anger towards Slaying, things would have undoubtedly ended differently.

Xander had followed them on their quest, and he probably would have remained unknown if the winds direction hadn't changed when it did. With his 'tailing' discovered, Buffy's anger once more came to the fore.

Things were said in the heat of that anger that shouldn't have been. And in the midst of this 'discussion', the Hunter became the Hunted.

Angel couldn't remember seeing the creature clearly, as it came up from his blindside. But Xander did, and to the Vampire's surprise the 17-year old shoved him out of harms way.

Seconds later, as Xander struggled with the monster upon the ground; Buffy then used her Battle Axe to dispatch it by cutting its head off. There should have been relief that the Demon's short rein of terror was no-more. But as the corpsed Creature melted into the Earth, as most Demons' do, Buffy and Xander once more found their argumentative 'flow' once again.

Angel stood silently as he relived those moments for the thousandth time since the 'incident'. Reflecting upon Buffy's hostility to the young man as she commented in his memories that she had to once more save his life, that Xander was a walking menace, and a threat to everybody else who knew what they were doing.

Xander remained still, allowing her words to assault him. But Angel remembered Xander's look of restraint. It was a powerful look. It was a look that spoke volumes to the sheer willpower he was focusing on himself to keep his tongue.

Angel knew that if Buffy was thinking clearly and not berating the young man she probably would have recognized his silence and ceased. But she was too caught up in her emotion towards Xander's perceived betrayal earlier that night.

This one-sided debate continued unaltered for far longer then it deserved. And it may have continued further if Xander hadn't started to rub his eyes furiously.

Angel sighed deeply as he peered into his rival's quite darkened hospital room. He recalled trying to inspect the site of the irritation, and of Buffy's cold comments to the 'Boy' who had saved his life moments earlier. Angel shock his head in sad disgust at himself and Buffy's actions that evening. Buffy, who had thought herself winning their argument, saw Xander's quick vulnerability as a ploy to sate her anger, and to make her feel sympathy towards him.

To Angel's current regret he chose to believe the woman he loved, then the word of a person he thought more of an enemy then friend. The two of them then left him where he stood. As he continued to rub his stinging eyes. Angel remembered as he and the Slayer walked away hearing Xander beg to be taken to a Doctor. These pleas then began to alter the further away they got from him into curses, curses that now echoed in his ears, curses that he was certain still echoed in Buffy's ears as well.

The following day the truth was revealed to them of what their actions had wrought to the young hero. As such, Giles had forbidden Buffy from seeing Xander, and had made those instructions to include him as well.

The 240-year old Vampire could live with the guilt, ever since the Gypsies cursed him nearly 100 years ago, guilt and he went hand-in-hand. But Buffy couldn't.

She would come to the Hospital after school and sit in the Waiting Area, observing Willow, Cordelia, Giles, Oz and the new Slayer Faith go in and out of his room. Silently praying that any second he might call out to her to come visit him. In the past week and a half that had yet happened. And Angel feared it was beginning to take its toll. He had to do something. He had to mend this gap. So he was now prepared to put aside and jeopardise the tentative relationship he was reforging with Buffy's friends and Guardian Watcher. And see the 17-year old against the wishes of Rupert Giles and the rest of his friends.

With light footsteps he walked into the room. Xander's form was lying motionless upon his bed, the top portion of his face bandaged and gauzed. Carefully he closed the door that separated the room from the rest of the Ward and prepared to speak.

"What do you want Deadboy?"

The Vampire froze in place. "How did you know it was me?"

"Easy, I heard footsteps, but not breathing. Vampires don't breath - they don't have to. And you're the only Vamp I know who would pay me a visit. It kinda narrows the field abit." With this Xander body shifted as he sat up in his bed. Slowly, he then turned his face in the direction to where the Vampire was standing. "I thought Giles gave you the 'No-Go' warning?"

In a soft and an ashamed voice he answered. "He did, but I had to see you."

"You're risking a lot Angie. Willow and Cordy are still pissed, and as to the new girl Faith - take my word for it, she's not as attached to you as Buffy is. She'd stake you as soon as look at you. And that's nothing compared to what Giles will do to you if he finds out went against his instructions."

"I know. Are you going to tell them?"

There was a taunting silence as Xander considered the question. But with a half crooked smile that seemed to be his playful trademark he replied. "No. So what do you want to speak to me about DB?"

"I'm concerned about Buffy. Xander, see really wants to see you."

"What a coincidence, I would like to SEE her as well, but I can't - can I?"

Angel drew one of the visitors chairs closer to the bed and sat down. "This doesn't make sense Xander. Giles said that you had forgiven us, so why won't you speak to her?"


"What possible reason could you have to put her through what you're putting her through?"

"What I'm putting her through? Excuse me, but who's the one in the hospital, and who isn't?" Xander's head then turned to face the night filled window, after several seconds of more silence the blind Scooby spoke once more. "Angel, answer me this question, and I'll answer yours."


"Is she doing her job? Is she reporting to Giles before and after every Patrol? Is she telling him the number of Vamp's and Demon's she slayed that night? What they looked like or what they were? Where she Patrolled? If she saw anything that bared further investigation?"

Uncertain to the purpose of the question Angel answered in the affirmative.

"So basically she's *now* doing what she's been supposed to have been doing since she started with this gig. She's being a Slayer."

This time it was Angel's turn to be silent as he considered the 17-year olds words. "Yes, I suppose she is, does that make you happy? Is that what you want to hear?"

"You know it."

"Okay, fine. She's now the Slayer-Poster child. Why the shut out. Why won't you let her speak to you?"

"Because she need's to take responsibility. Not about what happened to me, I forgive her - I do, really. Hell, she's saved my butt more times I'm prepared to admit to, especially to you. If not for her I'd have been worm food long ago. So I can't see, beats the alternative of not breathing - no offence intended."

A light chuckle escaped Ange's lips. "None taken."

Xander then turned his head to face the Vampire once more and continued. "But she's only playing by the rules now because she's guilty. Take away the guilt, and she's right back to being the same Buffy we both know and love in a matter of weeks, and she can't afford to do that."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean the Council has a way of finding out the dirty dark secrets we all keep. THEY know that she slept with the Enemy. THEY know through her actions she unknowingly bought Angelus forth. THEY know it took three months before she even tried to challenge you. THEY know you nearly exposed the world to Hell via Acathla. THEY know that after she sent you on your merry little journey Downtown she ran to the hills, abandoning her post at Sunnydale. And you better believe it, THEY*will* find out your back and that she didn't stake you. And thereby remove the threat of Angelus forever.

"What I'm saying Deadboy is that the Council now already has another Slayer. And her name is Faith. And in the strict-anal mindset of Watcher's, Buffy has screwed the pooch too many times, and maybe considered a liability to the Cause. And you do not want to know what they do to liabilities Angel. Buffy needs to redeem the blunders she has made in their eyes over the past year if she wants to see Graduation."

"You mean the Council would*"

"*Giles thinks its well within their scope. Look, Angel - there is nothing that can help me see again; the Doc's made that crystal clear. But if I can convince Buffy that I'm --- I don't know, 'hurting' or depressed. And as a result of this, she sees it as a kick in the pants and starts to take her destiny seriously. Then who knows, the Council may think she's a liability worth keeping around. And if that happens then I'm more then prepared to live with the sham."

"Why can't we just tell her and warn her that her life is under threat?"

"Because she'll resist it. And practically dare them to take their best shot, and if you believe Giles - they will. From probably a kilometre out with 100% sniper efficiency. You can't fight or defend yourself against an opponent you can't see or hear."

Angel's stare bore into the bandaging that had been wrapped around the 'boy's' face. "When did you come up with this?"

"I didn't, it was Giles idea. As soon as he heard from me what happened that night he expressed his concern that Buffy might be becoming far to jaded and 'Independent'. Independence is good, but Buffy is doing everything her way, and damn the consequences of her decisions. Of which I am an example of.

"There is also a question of Faith. Whether Buffy likes it or not she's the older Slayer - she has to set an example. If Faith goes down that line of doing things because she want's to ---" Xander's words haltered as he attempted to find the right ones and sighed deeply as he did so. "Faith has a rebellious streak a yard wide and a mile long Deadboy, and if she sees Buff do the same thing she'll think that it's A-Okay. And then it will be her name on the Watcher's 'Hit List'. I know what Giles and I are doing seems cruel to you. But in time, she'll understand that this was probably the best 'Wakeup Call' she could have received."

The next words that passed Angel's lips felt dead and hollow to him, but he had to ask for the final time. "Xander she misses your friendship so much, don't do this to her - please. At least invite her in to speak to you, even if it's just once. Let her get it out of her system. Don't make her live with this guilt - Please!"

And for the first time that evening Xander responded with true emotion and not like a robot. "Do you think I don't miss *her* friendship? Do you know what it feels like when I hear her voice talking to Willow and the rest as she waits outside, and knowing I have to maintain this deception. It cuts me up inside. But you know what, I would much rather have her out there, then inhere watching me fumble with the Water Pitcher, or bump into door's and walls as I try to make it the bathroom. I couldn't deal with that. I would much rather have her remember me for who I was, not what I am. And you said so yourself, she's smartened her act up now."

"Xander, living with guilt is not living! Trust me - this is a subject I have a bit of experience in."

"Then I guess that's were you and I differ Deadboy."

Xander then took several deep breaths in an effort to calm himself before the Vampire. Angel remained silent as he watched Xander's flushed face dim back to its normal colouring. With this task achieved the Scooby spoke once more with a deceptive chirp in his voice, an obvious ploy to break the tension that had mounted in the private room. "I'm leaving Sunnydale. I'll be attending the 'Institute of the Blind' in Los Angeles. It's all been arranged. Giles had some of his cronies from the Watcher Council flex some of their flabby British muscle and I've been accepted in mid-year enrolment."

This was not unexpected news. Everybody in the Scooby Gang had spoken that this would have to be, there were no local Blind Schools in the area. But Angel felt unexpectently saddened at hearing the words. "That's --- that's great news. A break away from the Hellmouth will do you a world of good."

Angel watched Xander's face break into a sad smile. "Yeah, goodness all around. She was right you know. I'm not her boyfriend, I'm not her protector. I have no right telling her what to do with her life, especially when I can't manage my own. She's the Slayer and I'm just a nobody. But in doing what I'm doing, I am helping her Angel. You may not agree with the methods, but it's the results that matter. And this nobody is going to help her whether she wants it or not."

"Xander she doesn't think you're a nobody, she was upset with you."

"Yeah, but if I hadn't gotten all 'holier then thou' and second guessed her. And went home instead of tracking you two, in my obsessive effort to catch you out I wouldn't be here now would I?"

Angel remain silent, unsure how he should reply.

"Look Deadboy, if this is anybodies fault it's mine. I should have just butted out and let Buffy live her own life. And I will, in a week's time I doubt I'll have an opportunity to ever speak to her again. She'll have her life, and I'll have mine.

"I don't know if Giles or Willow forwarded this info to you, but their discharging me in a couple of day's time if my tests and scan's come back clear. I've actually been here a lot longer then I should have because of all of that Brain activity they noted when I was admitted. But it's starting to die down now, so I'm no longer a curiosity for the guy's in the white coats anymore."

"So are you going to be a Going Away Party when you leave for LA?"

"Yeah, Will's organizing it. She's --- she's not invited, and neither are you. Sorry, but Giles thinks that it would be best to keep the charade going in full."

"I understand. Cordelia and you will be burning the phone lines I guess?" It was an attempt at levity, but Xander just shifted uncomfortably.

"I --- I wouldn't take that bet if I were you Overbite. We broke up yesterday. We're still friends, but she couldn't see the benefits of a distance relationship working, or the Blind thing I guess. Funny, when she thought I was turning into a giant fishman, she thought we could work it through together. But me being blind ---"

Angel patted the young man's shoulder in an uncomfortable effort to console him. "Her loss."

"Nope, mine. Look Angel it's pretty late and I'm kind of tired."

"I understand." The Vampire then removed the chair he had been sitting upon back to its original place and began to make efforts to leave the room. Before he got to the doorway he was stopped by Xander's voice.

"Deadboy, what I said about Buffy, me and Giles plan stay's in the Vault. If you tell her, and she slackens off, you won't have to worry about Giles staking you, cause I'll do it."

In a heavy voice the 240-year old eternal answered. "I won't say a word. After what I put Giles through, this is the least I can do." And as silently as he entered the Vampire opened and closed the room door behind him. As he did so he noticed something that made his brow furrow. It was the ward's Friend and Waiting Area. It was placed an easy 20-meters from Xander's room. {How could he hear Buffy talk to the others from that far away?}.

With a quickened step he left the confines of the Hospital with this question burning in his mind. The sole objective - to find an answer. And he could only think of one person who would have it. A Demon who restored the Balance between Good and Evil.


Chapter 3

'Willy's Place'

The *ping* of the microwave alerted the man behind the bar that his latest customer's order was now ready to be delivered.

Slipping on a crusty blood stained oven mitt the owner and operator of the only 'Demon Bar' in a fifty mile radius opened the door of the rapid heating marvel, and reached in. Willy Holstein then made his customary face as he once again inadvertedly smelled the coppery, sickly stench of warmed Pig's Blood.

Placing the mug down with gentle care before the Vampire sitting at the counter, he forced a smile to his more 'human' patron. Unsure whether this was the feared Angelus before him, or the brooding Angel. Either way, he was not prepared to take his chances of offending him. "So 'Bittersweet' where have you been the last few months, we missed your fangy disposition around here."

Cupping the mug in his hands Angel stared deeply into the red syrup that would make his evening meal and spoke in a growl. "Go away."

The Barman was used to being threatened, but there was something in the Vampires voice that told him that this was one of those times that scarcity would be strongly advised. And Willy did not live as long as he had, where he had, without being able to recognise good advice when it was offered, so with a back tread he withdrew himself to the opposite end of his Bar.

It was while he was answering an order from a Farrarow Demon that the human's peripheral vision took in the approach of a 5'3" red headed man as he entered his establishment and began to make his way towards the brooder that had dismissed him a minute earlier. But before he could offer the stranger any visual warning to his ill placed choice of seats, he observed the Vampire turn and talk to the 'Unknown'.


The Balance Demon walked through the door with casualness and took in his surroundings as if he was born there. His behaviour slightly reminiscent of the Norm character from 'Cheers'. It did not take Whistler's eyes long to seek out the person who had invited him to this Powwow, and when he did, he approached the vampire with a swagger in his walk, announcing his arrival as he did so. "Well, well, well. If it isn't the 'Stink Guy'."

Whistler then slid onto one of the Barstools and stared a poisoned look into 'His Choice' before he continued. "As I live and breathe - look at you. All here and the like." The Balance demon then raised his hand to signal the Barkeep who had positioned himself further down the counter and called out in a Brooklyn accented voice. "Brewskie"

The stranger then watched Willy go out back to pick out one of the lesser ordered beverages of his establishment. When the Barkeep had disappeared the pint sized restorer of Balance once more turned to face the Vampire that had jeopardised his standing with 'the Boss'. "Y'know I thought, and I gotta be honest - kinda hoping, that you were roasting somewhere. But you know what? Three hours ago my Pager went off. And it told me to meet you here. I then said to myself - 'Nah, this can't be Angel. Angel would have more sense then to ever contact me again. Angel would be out of his *FRIGGEN MIND* if after the stunt he pulled last year that he would ever - EVER, think that I would consider doing him another solid.' But guess what, the cat an' me have a lot in common - curiosity. So here I am. Talk. Make it good, and make it quick. Cause my stomach feels like heaving just by being on the same city block as you, let alone in the same room."

Angel took another sip from his mug and then put it down on the counter; the first words out of his mouth were to his surprise not an explanation for the call, but an apology. "Before I say anything, I just want to tell you I'm sorry. You trusted me, you offered me a chance at redemption and I blew it. I can only say, and I know it's not an excuse, but I got to close to her."

"Damn straight it's not an excuse. I thought that you of all people would understand the ramifications of getting your 'Rocks off'. One Pure-Happy moment Angel, that's all it takes. Doesn't matter if it lasts half a second, or an hour. Happiness is happiness. Christ Angel, it's not like you weren't warned that this could happen. The Gypsies Headman told you a hundred years ago, Hell, I told you - Warned you, even sooner then that. What does it take to get it through your thick skull - you cannot ever be truly happy. You get happy, you get evil. It's a simple equation. How could you have messed that up? You Moron!" By this stage of the conversation Willy had returned with a chilled Bottle of Foreign Beer. Expectantly, he then looked back-and-forth between the Vampire and the 'Human' for an answer before he placed it on the counter. Whistler turned to Angel and spoke. "Remember, you invited *me* here Rat-breath."

Angel sighed and looked at Willy. "I'll settle up at the end of the night. Now go." These words were enough for the Owner and Operator to twitch a smile and return back to the Farrarow Demon.

Whistler removed the cap from the bottle and raised it to his lips, but before he drank he looked sideways at Angel. "Where was I?"

"You were insulting me."

The amber fluid flowed as the Balanced Demon nodded. After two gulps he returned the beverage to the top of the Bar. "That's right. Do you realize that you are so deeply buried in it with my Boss, that if you were not already dead, you *would* be dead. My Boss was not happy with the stuff you pulled last year, as such, he was not happy with me. I am now officially in his 'bad' books. And trust me; it's not a nice place to be. Not that you would mind, for you to be put in the Book I'm in would a definite improvement to your current literary placement. Let's call your 'Book', the Evil Book. Evil being a lot worse than Bad. It's a book he only places people, and Beings, that have seriously pissed him off over the years.

"So Congrates Stink-O. You've now joined some illustrious company. Your name is now scribed next to those who never want to come face to face with 'Him' in the hereafter. The Master, Glorificus, Lucifer, Hitler, Alexander Harris, the Backstreet Boy's - man do they have a lot to answer for, Nixo*."

The fifth name had Angel do a double take, his eyes widened in shock. "*Xander?"

"Ohhh, don't get me started with that kid. So anyway, what did you want to see me about?"

Angel looked upon the Balance Demon with his still shocked expression in place. "Err it's about Xander."

Whistler's face dropped and formed a stunned expression. He then blinked a few times as he tried shaking the possibility that Angel had returned from Hell with a sense of humour. This to his mind was a doubtful scenario. "Okay, I'm out the door. Nice knowing you Toothless."

Angel quickly reached for the Balance Demon's arm as he slid off the stool, his grip holding firm to his drink-mates limb. "What's this about Xander? What has he done?"

Whistler shock off the Vampires assault and stared into Angel's eyes. "He screwed everything up, that's what he's done. It wasn't intentional, the Big Guy knows that, truth be known the 'Man-up-Stairs' actually likes the little fella, he makes him laugh." Whistler then chuckled as he lifted the bottle once more to his mouth. "He did something with a Love-Spell last year that had the 'Old Man' giggling for weeks. But still, despite everything the Kid did, well, the Boss-man can't show any favourites, y'know what I'm saying."

"What everything? What's Xander done?"

"Oh, nothing much. Just thrown off the intricate planning of four thousand years. The Kid's blown everything outta whack. He's a bigger screw-up then you are - only more so. Because what he did, made everything you did - happen."

Angel lowered his hand slowly, trying to grasp, and reason, what had just been said to him. One of the annoying little problems with Whistler was that he always talked in riddles where matters of importance were concerned. It was one of his most frustrating qualities. "What the Hell is that suppose to mean?"

"Simple, that Blonde cutie of yours shoulda died. When Summers kicked the bucket, Kendra was 'called'. Kendra was supposed to come to SunnyHell with her new Watcher and start with the slaying. Unlike Blondie, you don't have any physical chemistry for the 'Jamaican Princess'. Therefore you don't 'bounce' Kendra - thereby you don't lose your soul. This means souled Angel is around when Acathla was discovered, Angel removes threat of Acathla for good. Kendra lives another two years and dies on her 18th Birthday - it's a Watcher thing, don't ask. And then Faith gets her chance to duke it out with the dead, and does a pretty bang up job of it to. But now?" Whistler raises his arms in exasperation and once more sits back down on the stool he departed from seconds earlier. His face full of inner frustration as he continues with his play-by-play.

"And now ---. Look, when the Kid went down to the Master Lair he screwed up an ancient prophecy. Your NOT suppose to screw up Ancient Prophecies. It's written down for a reason, not as a warning of what might come, but as a Blueprint of what should come. You see, it's like a line of Dominoes. If one falls, then the one next to it falls and so on and so on. Faith is destined to be one of the Greatest Slayers in History, but now all that's doubtful. She was called too soon. The Gal has a chip on her shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore, she's still reeling from the death of her own Watcher a few weeks back, and it's damaged her more then she's let on to anybody. The Babe's not emotionally ready for her Destiny yet, and won't be for a couple of more years. Hence the importance of Kendra to play the game during the intermission."

"But that's not Xander's fault. The Power's shouldn't condemn him for one lone error, an error I agreed with and supported?"

"You think he's hard done by? Maybe." Whistler once more took another gulp of his near empty beverage. "Hell, I like the Kid; he's got guts and a great taste in fashion. But he also has the smarts of Roadkill. Don't get me wrong, the 'Boss' likes the guy as well, infact he loves it when Mortals take action and responsibility for the fate of their fellow man. Far too many Human's these days just bury their heads in the sand and say 'that did not just happen' and go on about their lives. But the Kid, he's different. He takes charge of his Fate. And he's a strong believer in Justice. When your girlfriend ditched the 'Mouth', it was Harris who rallied the team and kept them moving forward until the Drama Queen returned.

"Xander earnt some major 'Brownie' points with that, add this to what he told the Slayer before she went and fought the Demon-you, and he's shaping to be rubbed out of that Book pretty soon - First guy in the History of Forever to do it too. The 'Big Man' even has something planned in the offing when the 'Sisterhood' comes a calling to Town in a couple of Months. Can't say too much, but Harris will be put though his paces and show everybody exactly what he's really made of. And if all goes well that night then he'll then be white-outed from those pages for good.

"But as it stands right now, he still has a way to go, and like I said, the 'Boss' can't show favourites. Before Xander went down into the Lair he was warned not too, by several people - you included, but he did it anyway.

"Harris started a chain of events that night that messed everything up. His actions led to returning Angelus to the world. It was Drucilla - your childe, one of your 'Crew', who killed the Dark-Slayer prematurely at the Library. And Dru did it on the order of her 'Daddy' - Angelus.

"Who, if you had not been listening, or can't follow the crumbs I've laid down, only came about because Buffy Summers was alive for you to have your 'Vampire Way' with her when the Judge showed up.

"What did you call him? Oh yeah, a White Knight. Well anyway this 'White Knight' has inadvertedly thrown in the trash up to a dozen follow up predictions linked to Summers death. The Big Picture. The one that my Boss has been painting into perfection for the Human Race for several thousand years. A picture, that was starting to look pretty good and close to being complete, is now starting to look pretty crappy, pappy. And why?

"Because the smuck was in love with her as well, and he didn't want to see her dead. Puppy Love - Don't it just make you want to hurl?" Whistler then took three more gulps of the expensive beer, becoming lost in his own words.

Angel swung around and faced the counter his face somber. "Xander can't do it."

"Can't what?"

"Earn his redemption with these 'Sisterhood' people. He--- he's blind."

These words caught Whistler totally off guard as he coughed the ale up mid-swig. Startled he turned to look at the Vampire seated next to him. He saw the sincerity in the Bloodsuckers eyes, and winced at the ramifications of what these words meant. After a short recess of thought, he spoke. "I guess that's it then - he's screwed."

Angel looked more determinedly at his one time Sponsor. "There must be something we can do?"

"Angel, YOU nearly destroyed the Planet. HE nearly destroyed the future. Both of you have too much to atone for."

"Emphasis on 'Nearly'. The World still turns, and with each turn brings a new day, and with each new day - the possibility of making everything better."

"A Blind Guy as a Defender of the Light against the Darkness, yeah - that'll happen. Damn shame too, cause the 'Boss' has realigned those 'Dominoes of Destiny' again, and as things looked in another 5-year he would finally have had his prayers answered and bagged himself the Slayer of his wet-dreams."

A tide of jealousy quickly consumed Angel at this statement and a question rose in his thoughts. "Which one?"


"Which Slayer is it, whose the one who will fall in love with him? There are two now. Buffy or Faith?"

The Balance Demon then cast his answer absently as his concentration began to focus on another area of concern for him. "Dunno, I guess it'll be the one who deserves him the most. Now, can we move on to something far more important, like trying to work out how I'm going to tell the Boss - again, to reassemble those damn 'Dominoes' because Harris is now no longer capable of fighting-the-good-fight anymore."

Angel picked up his mug once again and spoke before he took another sip. "Maybe he can fight. Look the reason for the meet is that Xander lost his sight fighting a Demon, he got some of its blood or --- something, in his eyes. Since then his Brain has shown abnormal activity in its Scans and Tests. And his hearing is now extremely acute."

"So what, as I understand, you loose one sense and the others kick in to compensate for the loss."

"Maybe, but he's apparently able to hear conversations between people from up to 20-meters away. That's not compensating - that's OVERcompensating."

"So what are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking - Blood, Unnatural Abilities? 'Attributes of the Demon'. I know it's rare but*" Angel was then interrupted by the laughter beside him.

As the amusement left the Balance Demon he looked at the Souled Vampire and started to laugh again. After the second outburst was contained he turned and spoke. "Where the Hell did you get that idea? 'Attributes' happen all the time."

Angel's expression then began to resemble someone lost using a Greek Map of the Roads and Streets of France in downtown New York.

"God. Have you looked in a mirror lately? I would guess - maybe not. Where do you think Vampires come from Stink-aroony, or Werewolves, or any other little bits of evil niceness that can't propagate their species? It doesn't have to be about absorbing blood. Attributes can foster themselves in other ways. So what was this Demon he was fighting?"

"I--- I don't know. Buffy killed it before I could get a decent look, and it was dark. But I think it had red skin." Angel looked down at his left wrist and took in the time; it was now sneaking onto 4:22am. In another 90-minutes the sun would be dawning.

"Red Skin? That narrows the field a bit, but just a bit. Anything else you noticed about the kid other than the hearing thing?"

"Yeah, he seemed to know where I was sitting or standing anywhere in the room. He would turn his head to face me as if he knew exactly where I was, and that was impossible because he had gauze and bandaging covering his eyes."

"Okay, Red Skin, Heightened Hearing and a kinda Radar Sense. I can work with that, let me make a few calls and find out if any of this rings a bell with my pals. You get yourself back to the kid and tell him what you suspect."

"Don't you think it would be better that we wait until we have an answer, one way or another, whether he is experiencing 'The Attributes'? I mean I don't want to alarm him if it's not true."

Whistler pushed himself off the stool, and removed his Mobile Phone from the inner pocket of his Tan leather jacket. "Nope, if what you said is on the money. Then he's just starting to manifest these abilities now, he needs to be warned and cautioned. The Kid's mentally tough, but most humans who don't get a handle on this kinda thing straight away typically go bonkers."

Angel nodded and placed ten dollars on the Bar, enough to cover his blood and Whistlers Beer. After several seconds of thought on how he was going to break this news to Xander he then extracted himself from the area he had been sitting for three hours and began to make for the front door of the Bar. But before he turned the doorknob he heard Whistler's voice call out to him.

"For the record Stink-O, I'm looking into this for him, not you."

Again Angel nodded his understanding and exited the establishment. Once he was again on the streets Sunnydale he began to make the track back to the Hospital he had left five hours earlier.


The Sunnydale Memorial Hospital
The Private Room of AleXander L. Harris
05:02am (approx. 6 hours after Angel's and Xander's meeting last Chapter)

"They're going to kill me aren't they?"

Angel stood beside Xander's bed as he watched the young man as he stood by the window sill and stared pointlessly out towards the dark horizon. He had told Xander his suspicions about him contracting the 'Attributes of the Demon' several minutes earlier. In that silent span of time the Vampire watched as the 17-year old quietly came to terms with the realities of his situation.

The 240-year old knew that this information would be the straw that broke the young man's resolve, a resolve that had forced him to remain upbeat and optimistic towards his blind plight. He had now however, taken on two life altering actualities in a chasm of under 10 day's, and the Vampire fear that this was two too many. But again he was surprised by Xander this night. The 17-year old was not prepared to show weakness, he stood resolute in contemplation. And when he did speak, the question took the Vampire by surprise once more. "What?"

"Buffy--- Faith, they're going to have to kill me now aren't they?"

"No! Xander, you've may only have contracted some of a Demon's qualities. That does not make you a Demon."

"It doesn't make me a Human either." Xander then turned to face Angel. "Before I was blind, and I could handle that. But now I'm a Blind Freak. A Blind Freak with demon blood cursing through his veins." He then walked away from the window towards his bed and towards Angel. "Can you promise me I won't kill anybody because of what I've become? No, you can't can you? I'm not Oz, Deadboy. I won't spend my life, or even a portion of it, in a Cage. I'd sooner die."

"Xander, you're not a hybrid either. You're 100% Human; you've just might have 'inherited' the dominant qualities of your attacker - that's all. And if you're asking me in some subtle way to kill you if the discovery is positive, I'm sorry. I already have too much human blood on my hands, and I have no intention of adding to it."

"There's gotta be a cure, there's always a cure right?"

"Xander, settle down."

"No! You settle down! I've just been told that I've become a freak of nature. I think I have a right to be alittle bit anxious over this"

"Xander, trust me. If there is a cure, you have my word I will get it for you."

"No, you won't."

The Alien voice caused Xander's head to cock towards his door and a defensive question raise to his lips. "Who are you?"

"Name's Whistler and I've been talking to some 'People' about your problem at Angel's request. And from what I've discovered, if I'm right, then there is no cure for you. That cure went the way of the Demon that splashed you. So it's very important Kid, that before I say anything further you give me as an accurate description of this thing as you can. Just in case I've got the wrong prep. What did it look like; Rat-Breath wasn't much help in that department."

"Rat Breath? Is he talking about you Deadboy, because if he is I think I like him." Xander took a deep sigh and searched his memory for the ten thousandth time since the incident 9-nights back. "The monster was about seven feet - maybe six and a half feet tall, solid - but a very lean solid, muscly. He had dark red skin and horns - but not big one's, they were more like stubs."

"How many horns?"

"Err, two. One on each temple."

"Bingo, it's a Portath. The last of the Great Protectors of Man."

Angel stepped forward. "What do you mean by Last, and Protector?"

"I mean that this Portath, called Erina - if by chance you wanted to know her name, was the last surviving member of her 'Tribe'. The Portath actually inspired the popular image of Satan, but because of their appearance they where hunted down. Their number's waned during the Middle Ages when the church would seek them out and burn them on Cross's. But despite their unpopularity amongst the Humans because of how they presented, they still fore filled their obligations to the Light."

It was now Xander's turn to approach the visitor who had identified himself to him as Whistler. "What do you mean?"

"What I mean kid is that there must always be a balance. For every good Demon, there's a bad one. And then there is another who kinda falls into the grey area - just to keep the Balance of light and dark working, we play on both sides of the field. Erina worked for the Light. She was a Good-Guy."

"If she was a good guy, why did she attack us? And why was it feeding on those in Wilkin's Park."

"Your answer for that Stinky is that she didn't for both. She took out the 'Nasty' an hour before you guy's showed up. And she wasn't attacking the Slayer or Harris; she was only attacking you. And that's because she had identified you as a Vampire. She saw two hapless human's being led into the woods by a creature with a reputation of feeding off of them. She tried to sneak up on you but the kid here, pushed you outta the way just before her strike. Xander then struggled with her until the Slayer bought her axe down upon its head a second or two later. Erina thought she was honestly trying to save you guy's from 'Toothless' here."

The small hospital room held an uncomfortable silence, as Angel and Xander reflected upon the significance of Whistler's words to them. Xander once more turned to face the window and spoke up. "Do I have it?"

Whistler nodded, but then quickly corrected himself to the sightless questioner. "What? The 'Attributes' thing? Yeah Kid, you do. I spoke to some Oracle friends of mine. They confirmed it; before Erina died she passed on what she could to you. Transferring for that species is actually a lengthy one, taking up to a minute. You only got a little splash, so you won't be inheriting her strength and speed, or her rapid healing, not her tail or horns, or*"

"Okay, I get the picture. How about telling me what I will be 'receiving' instead of what I won't." Xander's voice was strained at this point, a sure sign that he was on the edge and ready to explode in emotion.

"Well---" Whistler step further forward and removed his Panama hat as he did so. "Well, the hearing you've already worked out, but I have to warn you it's going to get a lot sharper. Taste will be amplified, as will your sense of touch. Bloodhounds around the World will be envious of the olfactory sense of yours as well. Your bones will become denser and lighter, and certain muscle groups in your body will intensify."

Xander turned his head to face the voice addressing him. "Why?"

"Why? Because Portath's are natural acrobats, they need strong and light bones to exercise their manurers, and the muscles to make it work for them. It's because of their supernatural acrobatics that will foster in you a sixth sense. An innate ability to know where everything is in a 360-degree radius of you. Something now you seem to be touching on unconsciously. What you got is actually better - superior, to sight, in that you will know what's going on in front and behind you at all times. Your reflexes will also be taken up several notches to account for the acrobatics the species is use to performing. And that's about it."

"That's about it? That's all you have to say? That's about it!" Xander sat on the edge of the bed as his legs began to shake and cast his head downwards. "I'm a freak."

"No Kid. You're Humanities Protector."

Xander raised his head and turned his bandaged eye's in the direction of the newcomer's voice. "What?"

"The Oracles have seen it. They said you will be Man's greatest protector from its greatest threat - themselves."

"Yeah right, even when I could see I could barely cross the room without bumping into something. Mankind's Protector - that's a laugh."

"No I'm serious, and the Oracles aren't known for their sense of humour. The --- Balance needs to be restored Kid, one of the good has been taken from that balance, another needs to take its place. You've been drafted. Sorry."

Angel then spoke; it was a whispered statement that got the immediate attention of the Hospital Patient. "We have to tell them what's happening to you."

"The Hell we do."

"Xander this is not up for debate, you need support for something like this, you can't go it alone. People have been known to go insane through this process. We need to tell them."

"And I suppose you would volunteer that we tell them everything?"

"If it will make things easier for you in the long run, then yes. We'll tell them everything."

"This is not your decision to make Deadboy. This is mine."

"Damn it Xander. This is not something you can go thru alone. You need assistance, the support of friends and people who care about you."

"I won't have them think I'm a freak."

"Your not a freak, your just different now - that's all."

"I said No - end of discussion."

"Stop being stubborn. What possible reason could you have in not telling everybody about this, give me one. Just one good reason."

"How about for starters - Buffy. There, that's a reason. You confessed yourself that she's not dealing with my blindness thing very well. Well, imagine how well she'll deal knowing that I've been infected with Demonic abilities, or that the creature she enthusiastically 'offed' a couple of weeks back was actually a soldier in the Good Camp." Xander once more resat on his bed. "Nobody gets told, nobody finds out."

"Xander you can't go through this alone."

"He won't be." The voice Whistler used was one he didn't get a chance to use often. It was one of authority. "I've been told by the Oracles that 'The Boss' want's me to take him in hand, and teach him how to 'adapt' to the change. Like I said kid, you've been drafted."

Again silence made its presence felt in the private room of Sunnydale Memorial, and again its peace was shattered by a question raised by the 17-year old. "When will I receive these 'gifts' in full then? I mean, I've obviously started with the hearing, and this sixth sense thing you're talking about, what about everything else?"

Whistler scratched his chin as he did a quick calculation in his head. "I'd say about 2, maybe 3 weeks."

"So what your saying, basically, is that it'll start to kick in when I'm in LA. That could work. Privacy, away from everybody, surrounded by strangers who don't know me from Adam."

"I don't like this, keeping something this big from everybody is not a good idea."

"I'd have thought you'd have experience at that Deadboy, considering it was you and Buffy keeping secret's that started this whole thing off in the first place."

"Exactly, and look at how well that turned out."


Chapter 4


The charcoal grey of the skies above lay heavy on the horizon, threatening the land above the Hellmouth with a deluge of water. If this had been a Shakespearean Play, then the elements would be a representation of the lead characters emotional turmoil. It was a sad time. It was the day he was to leave Sunnydale for LA, and begin an uncertain future under the guidance of a Balance Demon called 'Whistler'.

The 'Going Away' party, too which he was the guest of honour, seemed more a funeral then an actual fun gets together. There was something missing. No - scratch that, not something, but rather someone. Xander knew Buffy was not invited, it was thought best given the general feelings of Willow, Cordy, Oz and Faith towards her that she stay away from the proceedings. But there was another reason, a more sinister one, one that only he, Giles and the silent Angel knew. It was a punishment and reinforcement of what the ramifications of a careless and dismissive Slayer could expect if she was to shun her Destiny again.

It was a 'cold shower', but it was a shower that was revealing itself to be effective. Since the 'accident', Buffy had been more attentive to her duties and less blasé to her sacred trust. This change of character was necessary, as she, without knowing it, had been considered ripe for 'early retirement' by the Council.

The Ruling Tribunal had even gone as far as to hire the services of a renowned Irish Assassin, a human 'Hitman' they had used on the more extraordinary of dispatch assignments. He was cold, methodical and was looking forward to fulfilling his obligations to the Contract; it would have been a first for him to 'off' a Slayer and he was looking forward to the challenge. He was also a man with a reputation of never missing his target or failing an Assignment.

Only through Giles passionate words in a communiqué to the Tribunal was he able to sway their hand and put a hold on the 'Contract'. A hold, not a cancellation, but a hold. The Tribunal was now expecting an improvement in Buffy's attitude, and for her to no longer demonstrate the same absconding of duty she had done so easily in the recent past.

The implementation and success of 'Giles Plan' was the only option available, telling and warning Buffy of the threat would not work. You cannot protect yourself from someone you cannot see or hear coming, and that was how Assassins generally operated. Giles had been able to network with some old Watcher friends of his and he had looked into the suspected 'Mercenary's' past - as best he could without alerting certain members on the Council that he was doing so, and what he discovered troubled him. Aside from no recorded picture being available of the suspected Hitman, or general statistics, there was also his success rating - 100%.

If you were to hire this man, it was a dead certainty the target would die. And die in very creative ways. Whether it was a playing card slicing a throat, or a paperclip piercing the heart, this man could turn everyday, run-of-the-mill objects that left his hands into a can't-miss missile of death. This man hit a Bullseye every time. Thankfully though, Buffy's attitude had indeed changed, and she was taking her responsibilities seriously again. And this pleased the Watcher's Tribunal, so for the time being she was now safe from their murderous influence.

So with an unread Bus Schedule and Ticket in his side pocket Xander sat 'Shotgun' in Oz's Van as it turned into a familiar street of his Home Town. They had left Giles' home little under five minutes earlier with a single destination. A destination that happened to be a detour on way to the Sunnydale Bus Depot. Xander stared blankly forward gritting his teeth as the laboured sounds of the Werewolf's van staggered onwards.

Over the past few days since Angel's and Whistler's visit, he had been doing some self honing of his blossoming Demonesk-abilities. Doing his best, but failing each time. Tho his hearing had, as Whistler did assure him, become more acute over the days. His other remarkable senses only flared sparingly, and more often then not at the time when he needed and wanted them the least. The most annoying of these heightened senses was touch. It wasn't a bad ability; infact he had grown to appreciate its significance in everyday life, he just resented that for more often then not it bought him only physical discomfort and pain. An example? Imagine stepping out of a shower and allowing the lightest current of air to touch your flesh. This simple and innocent reality to everyday life would now chill him to the bone. And then there was the use of the towel to dry himself off, it would be at times like using coarse-grade sandpaper. Neither were pleasant experiences, but those remembered sensations were considered absolute bliss in respects to what his body was experiencing at that very second.

Oz's van travelled rough at the best of times, but mix this truth with a passenger with the exceptional ability to feel the slightest variations of texture, and those quaint vibrations caused by an overused, and under serviced engine, were like a physical torture. For most of the journey Xander remained both quiet and still, doing his best to mentally will the ambience of the Oz-Mobile away. This silence was easily miss-interpreted by the driver as the silence of a man about to face and overcome his Demon.

Xander could feel the engine slow its rumble as the vehicle came to a stop. With the customary *clank* that accompanied the Wolf's pride and joy when it ceased any forward momentum, the Bass Player behind the steering wheel spoke. "We're here Man."

The Original Scooby slowly nodded and spoke a single word. "Directions?"

Oz lent over and looked out the window of his vehicle. "Okay, umm 6-7 steps to the left is the path, then turn right, it's in a straight line for roughly 30 paces then you have*"

"*Five steps to the porch, and four straight ahead to the front door. I remember." Xander smiled as he unfolded his cane, and opened the door of the front passenger side of the Van.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing. I just don't think I've ever heard you talk so much in one go before."

"Jerk." Xander could imagine the multicoloured band member smile in return, out of everybody it was Oz who treated him the most like the 'Old' Xander, everyone else, Cordelia, Giles, Willow, even the new Slayer Faith, treated him with kid gloves. Daniel Osborne's behaviour towards him was appreciated more then he would ever admit. The light hearted tone that had accompanied the insult then became more solemn as he then asked his blind friend a question. "Dude, you sure you don't want me to help you out?"

Xander by this stage had felt the curb and was beginning to get his bearings to the earlier instructions. "Okay Oz, for starters - you can't say 'Dude', believe me Man you can't pull it off - it just sounds forced. Second, I gotta learn how to do this on my own; I can't have people keep doing things for me, unless of coarse they're European Super-Models. And third, I can't, I just can't, leave without saying goodbye, I owe her that much."

The words he heard returned, where the words he knew he would hear. "You don't owe her a thing Man. But okay - it's your call."

Giles had offered to drive him to the Bus Depot after the Party, but he wanted Oz to do it. This took just about everybody by surprise - even the Bass Player. But he needed to speak to Buffy. He had done a lot of thinking since Angel's visit, and there was something he had to tell her, something he had to get off his chest. And he knew that the Werewolf would not pass judgement or refuse his wish. So when his luggage was stowed, goodbyes made, and the two had pulled out of Giles Apartment Complex, he made a suggestion to the Werewolf that they take a more scenic route past 1630 Revello Drive. Oz was sharp, sharper then Willow if you were to believe IQ scores. So nothing needed to be said further, Oz knew what Xander was asking him to do, or rather, he *knew* what Xander was not asking him to do but wanting him to do anyway.

Xander proceeded down the footpath towards the Summer's Homestead, allowing his cane to gently swing back and forth as he did so. The ease he had transferred into the world of sightlessness had shocked everybody, he had taken to it like he was born to it. Granted, at first he stumbled, but now after over two weeks, he was able to navigate with a certain amount of confidence in the Waking World.

When Whistler had hinted to him several day's earlier at what he could expect to be able to do, it gave him a focus, a direction. The 'Sixth' Sense the Balance Demon had alluded to was by far better then any 'gift' he had received through the 'exchange' by the Demon. If he was to describe it to an outsider, he would compare it to an inbuilt Radar or Sonar system - only more advanced. He could literally feel everything around him without touching it. He knew their weaknesses, their density, what part was the strongest, and an estimate of how heavy they would be. But this sense did more then just detects these obstacles; his mind was now able to assess those obstacles in a flash with out pause of thinking. Xander assumed that this was part of the Demon's make-up; Whistler had said they were natural acrobats, and this sense probably gave them the benefit of knowing in advance if the surface they would land on would be stable enough to support their weight. Presently these forms were like blurs, or smudges in his thoughts. But Xander was confident that given enough training by Whistler he would be able to distinguish them into shapes. Sure, it wasn't sight, but it was the next best thing to it.

Did he feel bad about having these new abilities, and not share this news with everybody else. Of coarse he did. But he refused to be thought of as a freak, he knew that the Scooby's would not treat him as such, they accepted Oz and his Were ways with open arms. But this wasn't 3-night's a month freakdom, this was 24/7. And he could not handle them looking at him like that.


Buffy lay on her bed and stared at the ceiling of her room. The dark clouds outside marking her mood. Casually she looked upon the clock on her desk. It was the fifth time in two-hours that she had done so. Absently, she picked up the stuffed Pig that lay beside her and looked into its artificial eyes. "Another thirty minutes Mr. Gordo. Another thirty minutes and ---."

Her voice fell silent, as it had many times in the last couple of weeks. Dear 'Mr. Gordo' - her only friend, the only one who would hear her voice and not judge her. She couldn't talk to her mother, even tho the invitation was given. She couldn't bare to see the mixture of disappointment, and another quality present on her Mom's face. The quality was undefinable, but the Slayer felt they belonged to the eyes of someone looking at a stranger. The woman who gave birth to her now looked upon her as if she was an alien being, and not the girl she raised from infancy.

Buffy couldn't escape that look; she saw it on every face she loved. Giles, Willow's, Cordelia's, Oz's and sometimes, just sometimes over the past fourteen day's on Angel's as well. She had lost so much in the past two weeks. More then the respect and friendship of the people she cherished so much, she lost something else. She couldn't define it, but it was as if a piece of her was now held in a limbo like state. She didn't know what it was, but she felt hollow without it - empty. So she gave it a name, a name in the hopes that it would provide her with some understanding of this transient piece of her heart and soul was. She dubbed it 'Xander'. She knew that in doing so she would be illustrating some classic psychological case of self hatred and loathing, but the name seemed appropriate somehow. And it served as a powerful and pained reminder of what she would never allow to happen again.

Carefully she placed 'Mr. Gordo' back down, and looked once more upwards to her white ceiling, with only one mighty thought. This time she would refuse to cry, she had cried too often and each time it was without results. Her prayers still remained unanswered. They were simple prayers, and selfish ones. But they were prayers she made with the heaviest of souls. She wished that Xander could see again, she wished that night never happened, she wished she didn't call him all the things she called him, she wished that she had at least had stayed and helped him instead of walking away.

It never changed however; she would awaken the following day after making her plea's to whatever God would hear them and after crying her self to sleep, only to discover that things had remained the same as the day before. Xander was still blind. She would go to school each day, and face the silent wrath of her friends. Silently wishing herself a death with each unspoken exchange.

Giles was all business again, as he was when she had first met him, no longer allowing his personal feelings and opinions to find its way into any of their discussions. He had become 'colder' now, but only with her. She had noticed the odd glimmer of his paternal wisdom towards Faith when he thought she wasn't paying attention. These day's however, she was paying a lot of attention to the group and to her 'calling'. She now felt the burden and responsibilities of her 'Birthright' like no other time before in her life. She was going to prove to everyone that she cared for them, and that they would never have to fear that she would walk away from her duties again. Just like she walked away from Xander. {No! She wasn't going to cry again!}

Faith was now 'Ms. Popular' in the clique that made up the Scooby team. Giles would send her out on Patrol and encourage Faith to remain so that he could tutor her on Demon's and Vampyre Lore. It was --- unsettling, to be shunned off as she was. But it was understandable, nobody these days wanted to be in her presence. And if they were, it was more out of necessity then friendship. Faith now looked at her as if she was the coldest and the most heartless of people.

The attempt the Dark-Haired Slayer had made when she first came to Sunnydale to get to know her 'Sis' better was now dismissed by her as a wasted effort. The Raven haired Chosen-One obviously did not like what she saw in her fellow Slayer and started to hang out with Cordelia. Cordelia and Faith, now that was a mismatched pair if there ever was one. But each was able to find a unique friendship in the other.

Buffy had initially thought that Faith disliked the May Queen with a passion, but with everything that had happened with Xander the two found each other. Cordelia needed to speak to someone about her feelings towards the hospitalised Scooby and her future with him. Giles was to fatherly, Willow was his bestest friend, and that kind of emotional talk would probably have made things awkward between the two. Oz rarely spoke at the best of times, and as to herself, well, Cordelia had refused to speak or even make eye contact with her since her discovery of the origin of Xander's injury, unless of coarse it was relating to the Hellmouth. Faith was the last and obvious choice. And strangely enough, the Street-wise Slayer enjoyed hearing about the boy-scoob. And Cordelia loved to talk about 'her' Xander; she had elevated the 17-year old male into a position of a walking and talking Saint. She would speak to her fellow Slayer on-end over Xander's 'Greatness' as a Boyfriend. About his loyalty, humour, bravery, love, and the passion they would share in the Janitors closet.

If she hadn't known better, she would have suspected that Faith was milking the Beauty Queen for tasty info on her boyfriend, in a coop to steal him away. It wasn't lost on Buffy that it was Faith who made the subtle suggestion for Cordelia to politely end things with the Xan-Man. Her reasoning was that she thought that after awhile things would just get more strained between the two love birds, and that it was better for them to part as friends with an understanding that there could be no future between the two, then to draw it out and end up hating each other later. Cordelia could see the logic to this, and Willow, who never appreciated the union between the May Queen and her best-male friend, also concurred that this would be the healthiest emotional option. Even Giles gave his blessing to the Socialites decision, siting that as Xander was going away and starting, for the most part a new and fresh life, his continued relationship with Cordelia would probably be a painful reminder if what he has lost.

Buffy was not present in the room when Cordelia broke Xander's heart, she hadn't been invited, but she had overheard talk between Cordelia, Giles and Willow directly after as they congregated in the Waiting Area. They said that he had taken the unfortunate news well, and like a man. Almost as if he was expecting it, which was impossible, for the only time in which it had been discussed was either at the School Library or in the Waiting Area as Cordelia was psyching herself up. Infact, everything Xander had been put through he had taken like a man. No emotional 'Blow-ups', no pensive brooding, and if she was to believe everything she had heard from Giles and Faith he was both accepting of his condition and forgiving of her role in them.

Eavesdropping - that was how she found out about things now, no one would speak to her directly anymore.

She would sit concealed, and often overhear the tales being told about 'Xander - the Lion Hearted' to Faith in the Library, and sooner or later everyone in the group would make their own contributions to the story being told of Xander's unique nobility and courage.

These tales would make her cry, not because they were untrue, but because they were all *True*. She learnt, through remaining silent and hidden in Giles office, the true Xander that she did not bother to get to know better.

The Xander who snuck into a Frat House when she and Cordelia had been invited to a College Party, and where they were nearly sacrificed to 'Reptile Boy'. She remembered that adventure well, but she was never told that Xander was worried for her safety and had pre-empted a private investigation and surveillance of the College Kegger. Willow had only told her that Angel had turned all protective and Vampy when he had thought she was in peril, Willow had never mentioned Xander's concern. The memory of that news made her feel dirty inside, knowing that not only was Angel worried about her, but Xander was to. She remembered thanking the Vampire in front of the then 16-year old for being so concerned about her and his bravery for coming to her rescue. It should have been a shared 'Thank You', but she didn't know what Xander did - he never told her.

Cordelia also shared a story of how he had volunteered to remain on permanent watch during the night when she had been in hospital during Angelus's reign of Sunnydale, to offer some protection if the new 'Vampire King' bothered to show up. Again, this was unknown to her - no one had ever bothered to tell her this.

Oz contributed a story now and again of how Xander had come around to see her Mother everyday when she was 'Gone'. Just to make sure she was alright, coping, and giving her hope that her daughter would one day return Home. She had always thought it strange how at her 'Welcome Back to Sunnydale' Party that Xander was quick to come to her Mother's defence, and had told her if she was even aware of what she had put her Mother through. *He* would know, because he was there. He was there when she was not. Stories after stories, each from the other's perspective, and all directed towards the same individual.

All these truths made her feel like the Tin Woodsman from the 'Wizard of Oz' - Heartless, why was all this information new to her? The Master's Layer, organizing the Scooby's into a Vampire fighting unit when she went A.W.O.L. Why did she have to find out about Xander, the TRUE Xander, and not the Xander-shaped-friend, like this? And why did it trouble her greatly?

Each tale revealed a silent hero, a person who went unsung as everyone praised her, or Angel, or Willow, or Giles for their accomplishments on Missions. Xander who seemed to always be on the scene of each of these successes, yet always just one step from out of the Spotlight. A young man comfortable in the darkness of anonymity. A man comfortable in the quiet of no applause. And of a man who was now being spoken of as if dead.

A lone tear flowed down a visible track of her cheek. "Damn, I thought I could do it this time." Just then she heard a familiar *clank* outside, rushing to her window she looked out. Her eyes welcoming one of the most beautifulist sights she had ever seen. A dirty black beaten up Van.

It had been two weeks since anyone had stopped by her house; any group meeting was always at the school Library. With her Mom working more at the Gallery these days, it made a big and empty house even Bigger and Emptier.

She rushed down the stairs in an effort of welcoming the Werewolf before he reached the first of her front steps. Her stomach giddy with the thought that she could renew a friendship away from the group. As a whole they were strong in their silence and hostile distain for her and Angel. But separately, she might be able to reforge her desperate friendships anew, even thou she knew in her heart that she was undeserving of them.

She opened the front door as she heard the first footstep fall on the first step, and she froze in place, barely able to find voice as she saw who the footstep belonged to. "Xander?"

With a subtle and smooth smile the youth responded to the question. "That's me Buff. How have you been? You're *looking* good."

The Slayer didn't answer; she just catapulted her self across the short distance and embraced one of her dearest friends in a hug that would have surely have broken bones. The force of the affectionate assault nearly bowled the young blind man over, but he was quickly able to regain his equilibrium and balance himself in her embrace.

Buffy squeezed with all her might, not prepared to let this mirage of wishful thinking escape her grasp. To her surprise, Xander was not offering any of the standard quips about her Slayer strength nearly breaking his bones. He took the pressure she applied and returned a smile warmer then a spring day. Xander stood a good foot and a half taller then her, and it was slightly distressing when she noticed that he was not looking down at her, but rather straight ahead. A sad chuckle left her throat that was accompanied by even sadder tears as she was able to realise why that was. There was no point for Xander to tilt his head down any more; it would be a wasted effort on his part. He would never see her relief at seeing him again in the flesh, never see another dawn, or ever enjoy those magazines he denied possessing under his mattress.

His only, and lasting images of her, and everybody else, would be ones that had found a place in his memories. More silent tears descended as she recalled once more with clarity the last images he would have taken of her. The images of her screaming and cursing him that night the Demon came to take his sight.

Xander stiffened slightly, his sense of smell had just kicked in and he could detect a salty odour in the air. From experience he was able to identify the origin of the scent. Tears. "Err, Buff you mind if we sit down for a second."

At his question, Buffy let go of him imminently and was about to direct and lead him inside when he spoke up once more. "If I remember everything right, you have a kinda Seat-Swing in the corner of your porch, why don't we just park ourselves there?"

"S---sure." Buffy turned towards the seat and then felt a hand place itself on her right shoulder.

This startled her slightly, but Xander's calm voice soothed her. "Relax Buffy, just lead the way and I'll follow. Just like I always do." Xander offered his last sentence with a smile in his voice.

The Slayer was careful not to rush her pace, and took small steps. After they had spanned half of the distance she looked over her front lawn towards the parked Van. She saw Oz standing beside it keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings. Oz was not one to emote any facial emotion, but on this occasion he made his visual feelings very clear. It was not hatred, it was not anger, and it wasn't exactly sadness. It was worry. Not towards her, but for the man she was leading. Oz was worried for what this meeting will do for his friend.

As they reached the Swing-Seat Xander leant down and felt for the edge of the seat, he then carefully navigated himself upon it and directed himself into one of its corners. "Piece of Pie."

Though this simple sight broke her heart, Buffy did smile at the reference. "Don't you mean Cake?"

"Are you kidding, I could not touch another piece of Cake if my life depended on it."

Buffy recognized the small reference to the Party she was asked not to attend earlier in the day and released a small laugh as she joined him on the seat. Once placed beside him she spoke the words she had wanted to tell him for weeks, but became lost as she tried to search them out. "Xander, I---I've like rehearsed this a thousand times in my head, of what I would say to you if you would ever see me again. And for the life of me, I can't remember what it was I was going to say. I know there was a 'sorry' in there. A hundred sorry's. But I*"

Xander felt out her small hands and captured them in his own. "You don't have to say your sorry Buff, you've got nothing to apologise for. It was an accident. Hell, I'm lucky I'm still alive, and for that I think I'm more or less ahead of the game."

Buffy shock her head violently, dismissing her best friends words, she was unprepared to be released from her guilt that easily. "I left you Xander. I abandoned you when you needed me the most. I walked away from you arm-in-arm with Angel, and I didn't look back."

Half of the 17-year olds mouth turned itself upwards. "Yeah, no doubt about it - that kinda sucked. But y'know what. I don't think you'll ever do that to another friend again will you? So consider it a lesson well learnt."

"I shouldn't have done it to a friend in the first place!"

"Yeah, but I ain't your friend Buff. I don't think I ever was."

Buffy quickly withdrew her hands from Xander's and placed them gently on his face, she then steered his head from facing forward to facing her. "Xander, *you* are my friend, please don't think for one second that I don't love you or think of you as not being one of my bestest, longest, dearest friends I have ever had. Cause you are.

"I don't know what came over me that night, I was angry and I was confused. Please, I don't want you to think that what I said to you is what I've always thought about you, cause it's not. You were only looking out for me, trying to protect me, just like you always do. And that's one of the things I love most about you."

Just as gently as Buffy had put her hands upon his jawline, Xander removed them. "That's not what I meant Buff. I meant *I* wasn't your friend. A friend is supposed to trust the other. A friend is a person who is not in a 'friendship' for any gain other then the friendship itself. And I was never like that with you. You were right when you called me selfish, petty, arrogant, obsessive, judgemental, hypocritical*"

"*No, I was wrong. You're the opposite of all those things."

"No I'm not. You hit the nail square on the head; I'm all those things and more." Xander paused for a second and restarted his dialogue once more before the Slayer could make further objections. "Okay, you want proof. Here's proof. The Hyena Possession - I remember everything, the taunting and hurting of Willow, me 'attacking' you. I remember that stuff, every horrid detail."

"Th-that wasn't you thou. That was the Hyena Possession."

"No Buff that was me. A dark piece of me, a piece I don't like too much. The Hyena only said 'why not?' and bought it out and allowed it to roam about in my skin for a while. I 'saw' everything I was doing. When I attacked you, it was one of the most disgraceful things I have ever done, and I've fanaticised about it ever since. What would have happened if you hadn't have introduced my head to a desk Buffy? Cause I can't honestly say whether I would have stopped or not."

"Okay, okay. I forgive you, Willow she'll forgive you as well. It all happened along time ago."

"You think that's the first time and only time? The Love Spell last year, where everything went haywire - 'yuks' were had all round at the end of it sure. Taught 'old' Xander a valuable lesson about Voodoo Magic."

"Yes, it was stupid. But you didn't succumb. Willow was naked in your bed, I show up in a skimpy Rain Coat, but you did the right thing Xander and didn't take advantage of us."

"That's not what I meant Buff. I had Amy do the Love Spell to get back with Cordelia - that's true. But that wasn't the gaol, I was planning on Dumping her directly after in public. I was planning on breaking her heart and humiliating her as badly as I myself was humiliated and heart broken. That was the person I was becoming."

Buffy remained silent, taking in his words.

"And then there is Angel, aside from the whole Angelus thing and him wanting to destroy the World and kill all of my friends, he's never done anything nasty to me that would deserve the contempt I showed him nearly every time I laid eyes on him. Except for the fact that he's as hung up on you, as you are with him. Christ, I even sent him to Hell."

"No! No, Xander, that was me. I was there remember."

Xander stood up and unfolded his cane as he did so. "No Buff, I did it. You were just my instrument. Willow didn't ask me to tell you to 'kick his Ass'; she wanted me to tell you that she was going to try the Soul Restoration Spell again. She was weak, and had just come out of a coma. I didn't want to risk her not being able to pull it off. So I made a decision right there and then. Angelus needed to suffer for all the deaths and misery he caused, and if by chance and miracle Willow was successful, then Angel needed to be punished for being weak-willed and for letting his demon-self come out and play once again." Xander felt for the wooden railing as the first of the raindrops came down. "I wanted to live, and I wanted 6 billion other souls to see another day. So I lied to you. I thought if you thought there was no chance of Angel returning in time, then you would fight him like you never fought him before. Fought him like an entire Planet depended on it - because it did. I didn't think you would be strong enough to kill him and close the Portal if it was Angel. But I was wrong - you did it. I wish I could say I was motivated to doing this because of the Planet, but I can't. 80% maybe, but the other 20% was because I was jealous of him and wanted him gone."

Buffy stood up slowly and once more gently stroked Xander's chin, once again carefully guiding his face to look at her. With this task accomplished she released a solid slap across his right cheek. To her surprise Xander was able to maintain his balance to the blow, and rocked back into position he had held a second earlier.

Oz could be heard running up the footpath, but as soon as he reached the steps and the Porch, Xander held his hand up high an announced to the fuming Werewolf. "Its okay man, I've nearly finished here anyway." These words seemed to sate the Bass Player as he slowed his step forward and came to a stop.

Xander then turned to face Buffy, he could smell more tears. With a soft and gentle voice he spoke once again, carrying with it absolutely no bitterness towards what the Slayer had just done. "I don't blame you for being upset Buff, but that was the person I was becoming. Vindictive and unforgiving. When I was feeling my way through the forest for all those hours, I thought that each next minute would be my last. My brain was on fire, and my eyes felt that they were melting out of my sockets. I saw my entire life flash in my head, and your words play around in my thoughts. And you were right. I was everything you said I was. And I don't want to be those things anymore. I want to be the guy I used to be, the fella who was liked by everybody. The person I was before I met you."

Xander released a half laugh as he rubbed his cheek in the spot Buffy had slapped him. The Slayer was looking on shocked, one-part for the candidacy of his words and the other for not have being knocked on his backside from the blow. "You may find this hard to believe but Willow and Jesse weren't my only friends before you showed up. I had a lot, and thou I wasn't the 'Big Man on Campus', I was still invited to Parties, sometimes two a weekend. But then I got involved in the Slaying and most of those friendship dried up as a result. I've lost a lot over the last two years; I've become someone I loath. I didn't follow you that night to protect you Buffy, I went because I wanted to catch Angel out in his lie, just so I could stake him and do the Snoopy Dance on his Ashes with a big - singing a big chorus of 'I told you so'. Like I said earlier - I'm not your friend; I don't think I ever was.

"From the first moment I saw you Buffy I was smitten. You were like an Angel to me. I became your friend in the hopes of getting to know you better and you getting to know me better. I tried to manipulate that friendship you had for me. I used to have Willow play you, so that I could practice my best lines on her. I hated Angel because you liked him. I tried to sabotage every date you ever had. I am Petty, I am Selfish, and I am Obsessive. I was not your friend because I was trying to become something much more to you, and that's my fault. No your's. You laid the cards clearly on the table for me at the end of the first year. Saying that I would never be more then a friend to you, and I think that's when I started to get bitter and twisted."

Buffy maintained her silence, taking in Xander's confession. Unsure how she should be feeling at that moment. Angry or sympathetic?

"They say that when you love someone, they bring out the very best in you. Being around you Buff thou only seemed to bring out my worst. But I promise you, that's all gonna change now. I'm going to find myself again, I'm going to find the guy I was before I met you. But before I did that I had to be 100% honest with you, I couldn't leave in a lie. In time who knows, maybe one day you'd be proud to know me again. At least I hope so. Hell, maybe one day I'll even be proud of to know me." With this closing statement Xander then began to gently swing his cane back and forth taking steps away from the Slayer towards the Werewolf.

With his movements Buffy watched transfixed, still trying to distinguish between her anger of him with Angel, or the Love Spell, or the Hyena Adventure. Or the love that he had shown her so often in the past. As she watched Xander step out into the rain with Oz at his side directing him, it was Love that won out. She left her dry corner of the porch and rushed to join them on the foot path.

Oz quickly spun around as he heard the Slayers wet footsteps come up behind them. Buffy was imagining that the whole slapping thing would probably be broadcast directly to Willow that evening, and would only serve as another nail in the coffin the Scooby Gang had made for her. But she didn't care, not at that second. "What do you want?"

"I just want to say something to Xander, Oz. I swear I won't lay a finger on him."

"It's Okay man. Why don't you get the Van started, I've got a Bus to catch in thirty remember?"

Smugly Buffy answered. "Twenty."


"Its twenty minutes now, I've been kind of watching the time all day. Your Bus leaves at 3:15pm, that's in about 20-minutes."

The Werewolf looked reluctantly between the Blind man and the Vampire Slayer, but decided to obey his friend's final request and leave, in the confidence that if anything was to happen he would only be a short distance away.

As Daniel Osborne left the rain suddenly came down harder, the watery pellets ricocheting as it made contact with their bodies. As this happened Xander's entire facial expression changed.

The collision of the raindrops was providing his Radar Sense with an image, not a blur, or a smudge, but a shape - Buffy's shape. A wet silhouette. He was getting a sense of her stance, the contours of her face as the droplets bounced off - everything, everything except colour.

"Are you alright Xander, you look like you've seen a ghost."

"No. No, I'm fine. I just---. Err, what did you want to talk to me about?"

"I wanted to tell you that I am already proud of you. I'm as angry at you as I've ever been in my life. But I am proud of you, and I am proud to call you my friend, just as I have always been."

"Thanks Buff. But I'm not proud enough of myself yet to let you call yourself that. But one day, maybe I will be, and then we can start afresh. Best friends to the end with no baggage or hang ups about the other. Sounds good to you?"

"That sounds great to me. Just, --- just promise me that there will be a 'One Day', and that you're not just saying all this to make me happy. I don't know how I'll cope if there wasn't."

As the droplets dripped from his brow, Xander smiled the same warm Spring smile he had welcomed her with five minutes earlier. "You just keep being the best Slayer, you can be. Keep providing a shining example to Faith. And draw on the strength I know that is in you, the same strength I'm drawing on right now, and I guarantee you that 'One Day' will come. But please Buff don't rush it. I don't want you to see me again until I'm ready. Can you promise me that?"

"Promise. Only when you're ready. Any chance I'll know when that is?"

Xander then sent his hand out to her face and gently caressed her cheek. "You'll know. Till then, try and remember the good times we went through, and forget the bad ones." Xander's hand stayed on her cheek for several seconds longer after his last word. And Buffy didn't do anything to draw it away. He turned, and then gently swung his white cane from side to side, beginning to make his way towards the sound of the running engine of Oz's Van.

As he got in the vehicle Buffy watched him shift uncomfortably in his seat and grimaced a force smile as the Van lightly shock with the engines rumble. It then pulled out from the curb and left her sight as it turned a corner down her street.

As it did so Buffy Anne Summer's suddenly felt whole again. That piece of her that felt as if it were missing was back once more. Her 'Xander' had returned, and she knew she could now see anything through.

Xander had told her he would draw on her strength to get him through the coming day's, well that can work both way's to. She could also draw on his strength, just as she had always done, and then it would be as if he had never left her at all.


Chapter 5

Four Days after the last Chapter;
Los Angeles.

"Well Kid, what do you think?"

Xander dropped his Gym Bag to the floor. As it 'slumped' upon the 40-year old, dusty wooden boards at his feet he heard it's echo bounce off the distant walls. The reverberation of sound providing his still developing heightened senses an insight of the emptiness of the room he was standing in and its size.

Even though he did not need to do so, Xander gently closed his eyes. He had discovered that in doing so would sometimes sub-consciously aided him to get his bearings via his 'Radar Sense'.

The dust that had been stirred to the dropping of his bag lightly rose from the floor and playfully entered his nostrils. This caused hazard with his olfactory sense as a bout of sneezing followed directly and lasted for over a minute.

The Balance Demon that stood at the blind youth's side patiently awaited for his opportunity to say a 'God Bless' as Xander did his best to contain and administer further control over his growing sensitivity to the most mundane and typical of life's hurdles.

Once the latest sequence of 'achoo' concluded, the 5'3" Brooklyn accented Agent of the Light spoke. "God Bless, Kid."

"Dammit! This is as annoying as Hell. I can't even walk into a blasted room now without wanting to through up at what I smell. Everything is just God Damn --- potent." Xander then raised his handkerchief to his nose and wiped it, being careful not to rub to hard. As he did so the 17-year old attempted to compose himself and get back to the purpose of their journey. "Sorry about that. Okay Whis, where are we?"

The Balance Demon smiled, removing a tennis ball from his pocket. "Where do you think? C'mon Sherlock, it's time we started to develop those sensory-observational skills of yours. What does it smell like? Where are we? Make the connection."

Xander spread his arms out, instructing the Demon to give him a bit of room as he did so. He then took in a deep breath and he closed his eyes once more. "This place smells like an old sneaker that has been left out in the rain for over a year and then placed in front of a heater."

"Nice start kid, love the imagery. But try and pin it down."

"I smell --- sweat, mildew, dust, a lot and a lot of dust. Blood! There's blood, old blood coming from over there." Xander walked straight ahead following his nose to the scent, each step leading him towards a raised platform. "I also smell liniment, aannnddd sawdust also --- I think. We're in a Gym - No! No, no this does not have a 'feel' of a gym. My 'Radar' is telling me that there is way too much open space here. Blood? Sweat? Sawdust and Liniment?"

Whistler bounced the tennis ball casually off one of the walls. "You've done good Kid; want me to put you out of your misery?"

"No. No, I can figure this out. I know I can." Xander paced back and forth a couple of times taking in further breaths, each intake turning him greener around the gills.

After a minute the Demon spoke up once more. "So, what do you think Kid?"

"We're in a --- Dojo?"

"*Errrrrr* Wrong, but good guess, and close too. It's an old Boxing Studio. The former Owners of this place got vamped and started 'turning' their clientele half a year ago." The Balance Demon slid himself up upon the raise platform and entered the squared Circle bouncing the tennis ball upon its surface. "But a few months' back a dozen street kids took to Patrolling and Hunting down Demon's and Vamp's in their 'Hood'. This place Owner's and their Boxing-Posse were their first successful 'Kill'. Infact the leader of the LA Branch of the Scooby Franchise - Chucky-Boy, used to spar here in this very room. Yes siree, this was the place to be. Real 'Old School'. None of those flashy Mirrored, Chrome, Grunt Factories that are around these day's. This was where those who were serious about getting into shape came. And the Gunnster, well, he was planing on becoming the next 'Ali'. But then fate took a hand in the form of old 'Solid Blow' Henderson, he tried to 'Turn' the scrapper. The Biggest and Last mistake he ever made. The teen scarpered and came back a couple of days later with his Sis and a few of his Pal's during the Daytime. They dusted and staked the lot of them. Ha! Hell of an introduction to the 'War', huh Kid?"

"Try Staking your Best Friend."

Whistler could not escape the flat tone and the heaviness of the youth's words, but chose to remain silent to them. After everything the Boy had been through in the last two years, after all the lives he's saved due to his actions. It became obvious to the Balance Demon at this moment that Xander never thought about his successes, only his failures.

He supposed that given Xander Harris's upbringing, being told that he was a 'Loser' in one form or another nearly everyday of his life by the people who were supposed to love and protect him from such critism, that it would be easier for him to look at and accept the negatives of his existence, then it would be to embrace the positives. Xander looked at his accomplishments through a cracked mirror, and focused on every life lost, and not every life saved. After an awkward moment and a couple more bounces upon the tarped surface of the 'Ring', Whistler responded. "Yeah, well, we all have our Crosses Kid. Anyway, the place has been deserted ever since. So what do you think?"

"I think that if it looks half as good as it smells, then I'm glad I'm blind."

"Cute." The Balance Demon bounced the ball one more time and caught it. He then threw it with all his might towards the head of Xander Harris.

"Owww." The 17-year old raised his hands and violently rubbed his forehead. "What was that?"

"Your first lesson Kid. What you can't stop, you evade."

"That was your ball wasn't it? You threw your ball at me, at my head. You threw a ball at my head. You hit my head with the Ball you threw."

"Is there any other way you could state it."

"How about you do that again and I-KILL-YOU!"

"You'd have to catch me first 'Blind-Spot'. But yeah, I hit that noggin of yours with a Tennis Ball. Watch me weep. Listen Kid, I had to check your reflexes, and I gotta say, this is the face of one disappointed Balance Demon. Your still focusing on one sense at a time aren't you? Figures. That's why their off the scale when you use them. You have to rein it in Kid, and open them all up at once. Smell, Touch, Hearing, Taste and that Sixth Sense of yours are all killers separately, but you're only getting part of the picture. Your Hearing should have picked up on the sound of the ball as it sailed through the air, and your 'Radar' should have been able to tell you from which direction it was coming. You have to learn to spread it out evenly, and focus on one sense only when you have to. But hey, don't get discouraged. It's given us a place to start."

Xander approached the area where he suspected the ball had ricocheted and landed. He then bent over and started to feel for it. "I thought you were going to teach me how to be a 'Protector', and show me how to use these damn Demon abilities of mine. Martial Arts, Weapons - Swords and the like." Xander hand then discovered and grasped the furry rubber sphere that was thrown at him, and tossed it back in the direction of his 'Teacher'. "Not use me for Target Practice."

Whistler caught the ball aptly and removed himself from the Ring, approaching the Blind man. "What, you never seen the Karate Kid?"

"Wax-on, Wax-off? That's your teaching method! Please tell me you not serious?" Xander's shoulder's then sagged as the Demon's footstep grew closer. "I'm gonna die."

"Of coarse your gonna die. We all die. Death is the one certainty in this Universe - nothing lives forever. And the sooner you realise this, the better off you'll be." By this stage the Demon was once more standing beside his pupil. "Look Kid, you haven't yet mastered a single one of your amped sensors, and you think I'm gonna give you something pointy and sharp. That's a sure and quick way of accidentally cutting something off. Maybe not something of yours, but definitely something of mine. So it's not happening Champ until your ready for the responsibility. You gotta crawl before you can sprint. And judging from what I just seen a few seconds ago, youse gotta a lot of crawlin' to do. So until you learn to at least walk we're going to be playing 'Dodge Ball' day in, and day out. I think it will be the most effective - and funnest way to do this."

Xander sighed and accepted the judgement of the Demon in his presence. He then stared pointlessly to the ceiling of the Studio and spoke the question he had wanted to ask since the Balance Demon showed up in his Dorm Room at the 'Academy'. "Fine, but how are we going to do this Whistler? I'm on a 'Watchers Scholarship'. Giles went to a lot of effort to wrangle me that. I've got studies to maintain, and there's a curfew and bed check. I can't keep doing this, and that at the same time. I mean look at the facts, it took us an easy thirty minutes to get here for Christ sake."

Whistler bounced the ball a couple of times before he answered; he was expecting this question and had prepared for it. "Kid by the time you get a handle of these 'gifts' you won't have to study --- aside from the basic High School Diploma stuff. Your touch will become so sensitive that you'll be able to 'read' a Newspaper just by feeling the impressions made by the printer's ink. So Braille won't be a problem. And that Radar sense of yours will help you avoid and dodge any obstacle coarse they will put you through. Hell, once you got the basics down you'll be even quicker then you're Instructors.

"Remember Kid, that Demon Blood bath you took also improved your reflexes as well, so you'll be able to think and react almost three to five times faster then the average smoo. But for the 'Bosses sake' don't make it look too easy. Keep up the act; we don't want anybody from the Council cutting wise to you."

"But what about get*"

"*Getting here? Taken care off. By the time we get back to your private room, some magically inclined friends of mine would have established a short and temporary two-way portal from your closet at the School to the front door of this place. It needs an activation word tho, so that no-one accidentally steps through it. So try and think of a name or word you can't, and won't forget. One that has a zero chance of being spoken by anybody else."

It didn't take Xander long to select one that he deemed appropriate. "Erina. That was her name wasn't it? Erina?"

"The Portath Demon?"

"Yeah. Erina was her name right? Let the key be 'Erina', she should be remembered."

Whistler nodded, his eyes brightened with a new respect for his student. "No wonder the 'Boss' likes you so much. That takes real class Kid. 'Erina' it is." The Balance demon withdrew his mobile from his coat pocket and sent out the Password to his friends who were even then in Xander's room doing their enchantments. The Balance Demon then returned the phone back to its home. "When the Portal is activated from your end it will start an accompanying enchantment providing an illusion of your presence in the room. So if any of your Guardians poke their head in, all they'll see are you sleeping like a little baby."

"Sounds like you thought it all through."

"Hey, I'm not just another pretty face."

"On that, I'll take your word." Xander then drew a figure eight with his foot in the dust he knew was lying before him. After a brief moment he spoke once more. "So this Tennis Ball thing, when do you think I'll be able to advance to doing some actual workouts?"

Whistler smiled sinisterly and spoke as he removed a smaller ball from his pocket. "Don't worry Kid. The Tennis Ball was just a Warm-up; I never mentioned that I was going to use them for 'Dodge'. That honour belongs to these." The Balance Demon held tightly to the tiny white ball in his palm and then threw it with violent intent at the chest of Xander Harris. As the dimpled Golf Ball spanned five metre distance separating the target from the Demon. The Assaulter shouted out aloud. "Let the Games begin!"


8-Weeks Later.

Whistler closed the door to the back room of the Boxing Studio. Xander had just finished one of his workouts and had retired for the evening back through the Portal. It had been just over two months since he had taken Xander under his wing, and despite the shaky start, the Balance Demon had to admit he was proud of the seventeen year olds progress.

So here he stood - alone. Safe in the knowledge that the extra sharp hearing of Xander Harris would be unable to hear his conference with the 'Man-Upstairs'. He was beginning to dread and hate these dawdling moments. The moments before his 'Boss' revealed that he was now prepared to hear his Agent's Report. Whistler buried his face into his hands, as he contemplated how he was going to make another humbled request to his 'Boss' for additional equipment to fall off the back of a Truck somewhere. These were never easy for him. God, how he missed the day of Free Reign.

The Balance Demon took a defeated sigh as he remembered a time when he didn't have to go through these formalities. His 'Word' used to be money in the Bank where the 'Big Guy' was concerned.

When did things go so wrong for him?

Oh Yeah, when Angel - 'His Choice', got his 'Happy' on.

The Yoda to Xander's Luke, spat on the floor in revulsion at the Heavenly Name. He'd be paying for that mistake for a thousand years - easy. Unless of coarse the 'Kid' actually worked out as a Protector. And that was shaping up to be a strong possibility. Xander's was going to be his 'Get out of Jail Free-Card'; all he had to do was keep the Kid moving forward. And this was at the present stage not proving to be too much of a problem - If there was one term to describe Xander Harris it was Single-minded. But regardless, he was only human, despite the fact that the Kid no longer thought of himself as such any more. He was still subject to their frailties. But every time the Kid slipped, or was about to give up, or slacken off he would receive a 'Howdy-do' phone call from the red headed Wicca in Sunnydale, and she would relay to him the latest updates of the Hellmouth.

Last week sucked the Big One in SunnyHELL. This was good for the Demon, because every bit of bad news had Xander train harder then the week before.

Whistler knew the news he received was especially bad when Xander kept pounding into a mattressed round concrete pillar until his fists started to bleed. If not for the density and strength of his reformatted skeleton, he could have easily have broken every bone in his hands. It didn't take much coaxing after that to get the 'skinny' from the Blind man on why he was so upset.

Apparently a Lunch Lady, a very disgruntled Lunch Lady, took to mixing in some Rat Poison into the School Chilli. Twelve High School Students died earlier that week, and over 70 were hospitalised.

His old School fell into a week of mourning, not only for the twelve, but their deaths coincided with a suicide of a class mate of his. A boy by the name of Jonathon. Some inner voice of Xander's told him that if he had been in Sunnydale that day, he would have been able to have prevented it, prevented it all. He rationalized this by stating that his improved sense of smell, hearing and taste would have easily identified the danger everyone was under, and he could have been able to save the twelve plus one.

The Scooby Group had been made aware of the murderous plot, but had been spread too thin. Buffy had witnessed Jonathon in one of the Towers with a rifle, but by the time she had made it to him she was too late, he had killed himself. She had been so caught up with attending to the body afterwards, thinking that the Boy killed himself in preference to being captured by her. That it never occurred to her, or anybody else, that Jonathon was not the instigator of the Plot to 'kill everybody'. Jonathon's suicide note was not discovered until later that evening in his room. And by that time the 'Twelve' had joined him in death. It was one of the Scooby's darkest days. They had all known two days in advance, and still they failed. Xander counted their catastrophe as his own.

And it was this kind of attitude that made Whistler certain that Xander would be an excellent 'Protector'. The Kid took responsibility. Even when it was misplaced. And he used this to fuel and drive him onwards. The Balance Demon released another defeated sigh, he just wished a certain soon-to-be Champion of Humanity, or Slayer shared in that commitment. It would certainly make things a lot easier in the future if they did.

Of course with every bit of bad news that came into Xander's life, Willow would balance it off with some good. The latest good being that Faith had gotten an Internship with the Right Honourable Mayor Richard Wilkins III.

The Mayor had been promoting a youth outreach program and was hoping to get abandoned or troubled youths back onto a more wholesome and productive path. Faith, who was going though a bout of self worth, thanks to the recent attentions of the Scooby's, applied for the position.

Willow reported, based on Faith's account that as soon as the Raven Haired Slayer walked into the Interview Room the Mayor smiled at her like a Cheshire cat, offering her a Tall House Cookie and Milk, he then threw the Question Sheet into the Waste Paper Basket. Stating to those who were present that he had found the Girl he wanted.

It was an exciting accomplishment for Faith, and she took her new duties seriously. The Mayor himself would visit her at least three times a week; and invite her to have lunch, or morning tea with him, so that he could keep tabs of his 'Pet Project'. Everyone in the Scooby's was proud of her; she was truly turning her life around for the better. And it lightened Xander's heart knowing that Faith, who had seemed to have experienced a reflection of his own life and upbringing, doing so well.

He was also happy to hear that Buffy, after close to two months being on the 'out' with the group, was finally and steadily being accepted back into its ranks. It had been a rough road for her, as it was for everybody else. But Xander was glad she had been able to see it all through. And that maybe his talk to her before he left was able to relieve her of the uncomfortable burden of guilt and allowed her to do so.

Willow had said the breakthrough with the Slayettes came when she inadvertedley acquired something called an 'Attributes of the Demon'. That was how they had found out about the Plot; Buffy had caught a stray thought at school as she walked one of the corridors. And their recognized failure later that week allowed them all to console each other.

Xander of coarse had to play dumb with this title and what it meant. At any rate, the Blonde Slayer 'Attributes' were completely different to his own; hers enabled her to read minds. And without intentionally meaning too, she entered all the thoughts of the other Scooby's and was able to discover each ones true feelings towards her and her betrayal of Xander. With this knowledge out in the open, and once she was cured by Angel, she was then able to confront them all individually and talk in depth about the topic none had wanted to speak to her about. One by one she addressed their fears of, and for her.

Willow said it was rough having to talk to her former best friend again, knowing that her mind had been violated by her earlier that week. But Buffy would not let the matter drop; she had seen things in Willows mind that needed an explanation. Everyone had their 5-minutes with Buffy, everyone except Giles. Giles and Buffy spent a good half hour together in his office. And when the two finally emerge, it was if a huge weight had been removed from the Watchers burden, with Buffy smiling perhaps the saddest smile Willow had ever seen her show.

Willow couldn't say what the two discussed secretly within the Office, but Xander had an idea. And when Buffy asked Willow to relay her 'Thanks and Love' to the Blind Scooby, Xander knew for certain that the jig was up about Giles Plan and his part in it.

The only one who was not open towards forgiveness for the Slayer was Cordelia. She was still treating Buffy sceptically, but these days her attentions were, more or less, focused on the new Watcher who had arrived to assist in guiding Faith. This was the first Xander had heard of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and of Cordelia's interest in young Englishman. He wanted to be bitter over the 'relationship', but he withdrew his hostility towards the mattress beating, feeling that his first ever girlfriend deserved a normal boyfriend and not to be saddled with what he had now become.

Upon hearing this admission Whistler kept his tongue. Tho he liked Xander and his attitude towards bettering himself, he did often take offence at how the blind seventeen year old easily associated Demon's to Freaks. Some Demon's he knew were more human then human's, and some Human's were more Demon then Demon's. Hopefully, in time, Harris would become more understanding and tolerant of the other Species. And this was perhaps Xander Harris's only flaw, as far as Whistler was concerned - his bigotry. And no matter how many times he tried to reinforce that he was still 100% human, Xander would not accept it as truth, Xander always carried an underlying self hatred for himself.

At the closing of these thoughts a warm light bathed the Balance Demon in its sweet blue florescence, and he knew that he was 'On'.

"Hey Boss-Man, let me cut to the quick - we need some gymnastic equipment pretty urgently. The Kid? He's doing good, tied one of my socks around the neck of a stray cat the other day and gave it a 24hour head start. Did the whole 'Fox and the Hound' bit. Kid came back after 15-minutes with the Tabby. He's really starting to get a handle on how to use those senses of his.

"He's also getting restless to do some jumping and somersaults now, hence the equipment. Progress has been good, way better then I expected. The Kid's real committed, y'know. Yeah, I know.

"Err; could you also give me a heads up with the SunnyD crowd, anything that will happen to them that I might be able to prepare for?

"Which one? Man, that's going to cut him up, he likes her. But if she needs to be taken out of the mission for a while then a coma is the best and safest option. The Werewolf also? Geez, he's not going to take that well. I know, I know - Big Picture. But Harris, he takes things real personal like. If the Wolf goes, he's going to blame himself. And when 'Ms Potty-mouth 99' joins the Dark side, however briefly, he's going to hold himself responsible as well.

"What can I say; the kid is a born Protector. He has the need to protect those he cares about." The Whistler scratched his chin and looked once more upwards shyly. "With that said, and I really hate to say this, cause I like the Kid. But I have to tell you, he's also kinda soft. He may have grown up on the Hellmouth, but he is also kinda naive where people are concerned. I don't think he has any idea how low the species can sink when given no option."

The Balance Demon stood rigid as he heard the unsaid words being spoken to him in his mind. After several moments he uttered cracked words to his Superior. "So everything that you are putting into play is for him? He's that important? The Hellcat - everything?

"You want him to leave his pals? For how long? THAT LONG?!? He'll never do it; he has that whole honour streak in him about never leaving a friend behind. Angelus pegged him right - the Kid's a real White Knight! Okay, okay. Maybe he will, but where is he going to go. I mean we can't put him someplace deserted, he's a Protector - he needs to Protect. Suggestions? You're asking me for suggestions?" Whistler then began to pace back and forth in the small room scratching his chin. This was definitely a step in the right direction with his Boss, the fact that 'The Man Upstairs' was looking to him to make this call was definite progress. Orrrrr, he could have been given just enough rope and asked to politely hang himself.

The Balance Demon, who always had trouble thinking small, forced himself to do so. Small, but not obviously small. A place with a high density of people and trouble. That was easy - New York City. But not the whole metropolis, that would be too BIG an ask for the Kid to do, just a few blocks of it. A reasonable sized territory, with a lot of internal strife. A place that Xander could see the ugliness of Man, as well as its virtues and not be overwhelmed by the exposure. Only one such locale came to his mind. "Hell's Kitchen, New York City."

Whistler face shifted into a warm smile as his 'Boss' approved his selection. "Fine, I'll get the ball rolling. Not Yet? Why? Oh, I get it, he has to *want* to leave California. Don't worry 'Boss-man' if I know the kid as good as I think I do, when he finds out about the Wolf-Boy coming to meet ya, and the decent of the Faith Girl, you could not pay him enough to stick around." The 5'3" Balance Demon then motioned towards the door. "Don't you worry, when those things come to pass, and after another year of stewing - at the bias prompting of yours truly. Harris will not be able to bare sticking around. Just you watch and see." Whistler then left the empty room as the warm cascading blue light faded.


Chapter 6

The Los Angeles Academy for the Blind;

The young blind man gritted his teeth as he pushed open the same door he pushed open several times a day. The event as always was like fingernails down a chalk board, only more annoying, because it was a self administered and a necessary evil for entry to his Dorm room.

As the door opened two-thirds of its distance the same second left hinge released a high pitched squeak. To high for normal ears to register, unfortunately for Xander Harris his ears and hearing were far from normal. It had taken him close to a year but he was now Master of his senses and not the other way around. He could now successfully tone down stimuli, unless of coarse it came as a surprise, then all his senses would jump to attention.

He walked over the threshold into the 'Common Area' gently tapping and swinging his white stick from side to side. Even though he no longer required the use of his Cane he still regularly employed it to maintain the charade of his sightlessness. The regular taps would also aid him in the implementation of his most important sense - his Radar. The day's when things were undescriptive blobs were no more for the Sunnydalian. It had taken months of instruction under the Balance Demon but now Xander 'saw', no correction, he did more then just see - he 'felt' everything around him. He could practically 'see' through walls and other blockades if the resonance of sound was strong enough.

The nineteen year old crossed the Foyer as always, navigating with daft precision. His target - the solitude of his private dorm room. A place that was his sanctuary. When Whistler's 'friends' were doing their mojo with the portal to the Boxing Studio over a year ago they also worked it that the room be cut off from exterior sound. This 'Sound proofing' was a godsend for him as it allowed for the first time in close to a month an opportunity to sleep without being awoken by any external noise.

He had just approached the first of a dozen steps leading to the second floor when he heard his name called out by one of the Academies 'Guardians'. "Xander, hold on a mo."

The Sunnydalian paused, smiled and turned to the direction of the voice. He always had time for Mike Henderson. Michael had been his first 'contact' at the Academy. And his first real friend post the 'Incident' that took his sight. Like all of the Academy's Guardians Mike worked for nothing. He was a twenty-four year old College student who offered his services to the Academy in trade for a roof over his head and three squares on the table. He was also a weekend Surfer, cursed with all the narly references that claimed that title. Some of the other blind residences shied away from Mike because they didn't know what he was saying half the time. But Xander just considered it a challenge, and regardless of being perplexed by most of the things that came out of his mouth the blind student considered Mike to be a perfect role-model for the man he wanted to be like one day. Mike carried in him that 'oneness' and a spirituality of appreciation for the world and its entire people that seemed to inhabit the most extreme surfing enthusiast.

Xander saw Mike as one of the kindest and most generous souls he had met in along time. Always willing to lend a helping hand to someone in need. This was the man he wanted to be like, and could foresee himself becoming again. "What's the what Mike-man?"

"Hey Xan, I just wanted to tell you that you got yourself a visitor."

"I never get visitors."

"Tell me about it, that's why I decided to put the skids on ya Dude. Your Sis rocked up an hour ago, and I sent her to your room. She didn't look to good Bro, I mean she's *Hot* but she looked like eight-miles of bad road comin'."

"My --- 'Sister' (?) is in *my* room."

"Yeah, been there for over 50. You never told me ya had a sis dude. Why you holdin' out on me man? She's a sweet-fine plus."

"Look Mike, I don't know what she said*"

"That just it man, she didn't say much. She asked me for your bedroom, told me she was your Baby-S from back home and that she needed a place to crash for a couple."

"You let a Stranger into my room?"

"Hey she's not a stranger dude, she's family?"

"What made you think that? Did she show you ID."

"I asked, but she said she got 'lifted' when she got off the Train. She looks just like ya man. Dark hair, brown eyes, tight body*"


"Whoa there. Not sayin' I been noticing ya body Dude. Slip of the tongue man. Look she knew everything about ya - your birthday, the name of your parents, where you live, the school you attended - everything. Not a moron man - I asked the questions. Personal stuff and she got nothing but 'A's."

"Well, I guess that means you either actually let my sister into my Room, or a Stalker. My money is on a Stalker since I-Don't-Have-A-Sister!"

"No sister?"

"Not that I know of."

"Thhheeennnn you wouldn't object to me asking her out?"

"What say we find out who this is before you start planning your first date huh?"

"Makes sense."

The pair proceeded up the stairs with a mission. As they got closer Xander warned Mike to stay back, he then collapsed his cane in three and bound the thirds together. Brandishing it like a club ready for use. Xander then removed his key from his pocket, inserted it into the lock, turned and opened the door slowly and carefully. As the door opened he was swamped with stimuli. The first was hearing. The nineteen year old heard a heart beat, the slow rhythmic rate of an athlete. Someone who had been pushed to, and had achieved the panicle of physical conditioning. He then smelt the air and detected female pheromones, underarm deodorant and the stench of clothes that had not been changed or washed in a couple of days. The radar sense of his then took control and dominated everything else. Xander sensed the female in question hidden behind the door that he had just opened, ready for action.

The nineteen year old male quickly processed all the information offered to him by his senses, as well as what Mike had said earlier and spoke. "How you going Faith?"

Xander then heard a sharp and startled intake of air. And he knew from this that he had guessed correctly. Of coarse it could have been Buffy, but the physical description offered by Michael, accompanied with his own assessment of the extremely healthy heart beat told him other wise. "Faith, are you there?"

Two steps were then heard as the brunette Slayer removed herself from her hiding place. "Hey Harris."

"Hey Faith."

Mike Henderson then joined the two in the private room. "So you *do* know her. Man that's a relief; I thought I had let some axe-wielding murderer into your room."

Faith approached the corner of Xander's bed and smiled politely at the 'Guardian's' comment. "I don't use axes, their too cumbersome."

The young blind man turned on one of his best friends and guided him out of the room. When they were both in the hallway Xander unfolded his cane and spoke with a tense voice. "Can we have so privacy Mike?"

"Hey man, I'm all for that. You know my philosophy, but I can't. When I thought she was your sis that was one thing. But she ain't is she? The Academy has set rules in place; one of them is no females allowed in the Guy's rooms, and visa versa. It's all kinds of sucks. But that's how it is, and I don't want to loose my position here."

"Mike you know I would never do anything that would get you in deep. But I really need you to turn a 'blind eye' on this."


"Mike, please."

Michael Henderson then looked passed Xander through the still opened entrance leading to the Student's private abode. Taking in the vision of Faith still sitting on the corner of his bed lightly bouncing up and down. Unsure whether the female in question was doing so as a result of nervousness or whether she was testing out its springs. "Fine, but if anybody finds you out the story is I escorted her off the premises and she snuck back in. Understand?"


Mike then removed his wallet and took something out of one of its compartments. "Here, don't ever say I never gave you anything."

Xander palmed the three plastic rapped coined shapes, trying to decipher their purpose in his head. "Err what are these."

"Xan, you got a hottie in your room. What do you think I just gave you?"

A frightened realization crossed his face. "No! No, we're no like that. We're just friends. Nothing more."

"Oh, well keep them just in case Bro; you never know when the Dam is going to break."

Xander stayed in the hallway until he heard the footsteps of his friend descend on the staircase. He crunched the contraceptives in his fist and re-entered his room. He placed his cane beside the door as he closed it, and threw the hand held objects across the room. The projectiles flew with unchallenged precision, sailing across the four-meter gap into the waste paper bin next to his bed.

Faith was slightly taken aback for the second time in as many minutes by the young blind man as she witnessed the scene. "Wow, nothing but net." She then curiously bent forward to see what Xander had discarded. When she returned to the seating position she was in seconds earlier she had a smirk across her face. "Pretty cocky aren't you Harris, most girls liked to be asked first."

"You're not most girls Faith." Xander then paced across the floor and lent himself against his wardrobe, conscious that he was doing so to prevent any chance that the Rogue Slayer discovering the Portal within. "Now for the question of the hour - what are you doing here? The last I heard you were catching yourself some steady 'Z's."

"Yeah, well I came too a couple of day's back. Since then I've been trying to catch up on the old gang. Surprised they haven't told you about that yet. As I remember you and Red were always tight with the detailing."

"Willow and me don't speak much anymore, not since the Graduation S.N.A.F.U." Xander then removed his green tinted glasses and stared directly at the raven haired 'Chosen One'. "Is that it? Did you come here to try and kill me?"

"What? No, I needed a place I could lay low and for some reason you popped into my head."

"Gee, I'm honoured." Xander then bowed in a mocking fashion to the Slayer. "What, I'm not worth being hacked to pieces like your other victims?"

"Get over yourself Harris. I'm here because *here* is the last place your buddies will look for me. And I remember you as being a stand-up guy."

Xander pushed himself off the Wardrobe and began to focus his hearing on Faith's heart beat. It was a well known fact that when people were lying they always gave off a physical tell. Typically it was increased respiration and heart rate. "Where my friends are concerned Faith yeah I am, or I at least try to be a stand-up guy. But we're not friends Faith. My friends don't side with evil, or go about killing innocent people."

"Screw you Xander! Why the Hell did I think you would be any different to them? I don't need this crap, I've got enough problems." The Slayer then stood up before the blind man about to make her exit from his room and his life. "I didn't have to come here*"

"*But you did Faith. And I'm just trying to figure out why. I want to trust you, I want to *help* you. I do, I'm not lying there, but I need you to be honest with me. What else have you done to make the Scoobs chase you to ground?"


"See that's where you and I have a problem. You see I know when people are lying to me, and you just handed me a load. So what did you do?"

The room became electrified with tension as both occupants waited for the other to speak. It was however Faith who addressed the subject first, unsure as to why she was doing so. "I swapped bodies with 'B'. It was only for a couple of days, it's not like I wanted to have her life or nuthin. I mean do you have any idea how boring it is? Boring clothes, boring classes, *way* boring Boyfriend."

"Buffy's got a Boyfriend?"

"Yeah, a guy called Ridley I think. A two-position wonder." Faith then sat back down upon the edge of the bed. "I had a chance to be her and she got a chance to be me for a while. I guess it must have sucked big time cause she had her pals switch us back ASAP. I then got out of Dodge quick smart. Stashing in a box-car until I got here, making a beeline to this place."

Xander nodded sagely as he heard Faith's version of events. During her brief summery of the cause of her pursuit her heart rate did not increase and neither did her breathing. "I believe you Faith." Xander's shoulder's sagged a bit as if he was relinquishing a burden; he then spoke a gentle voiced question. "What was all that business with the Mayor?"

"Why, I'm sure you already know all the details. I sided with him, he tried to become a Demon and take over the World."

Xander's right side of his mouth rose. "Faith we're talking about Sunnydale, world conquest attempts kinda happen all the time there." He then pocketed his glasses and looked at the 'Chosen One' with his now pale brown orbs. Displaying to her his scar marks around his eyes, from the corrosive acid like effects of the Demon's blood that claimed his sight over a year earlier. "I would honestly like your version, cause at the moment I have only have one - Willow's. And even thou she's never lied to me, she kinda gets side tracked with her opinions and not the facts. If you want my help I need to hear your side of things. Tell me why *you* did what you did." Xander then approached his bed and sat down besides her placing his hands over hers staring blankly ahead. "Tell me everything Faith."

The Slayer squirmed at the repeated request and took a gulp of the saliva that had collected in her mouth. She then turned to look at the profile of the man offering her sanctuary, sighed and began to speak. "It all started with the job I got with the Mayor. Everything was fine, earning good, living better. It was great. I had the respect and friendship of everyone in the gang, then one day the Mayor and me was having one of our usual lunches and he drops the bombshell that he knows that I'm a Slayer. It kinda threw me, I thought about telling Giles and Wesley about this but then 'B' had to become a mind reader." Faith removed her hands from Xander's and pushed herself away from him further up the bed. "There are some things about my life that are personal, and I didn't like the idea of someone ferreting through my thoughts. So I kept my distance from her and the group until a cure was found. When it was I came in and everything was different. Buff was large and in-charge again. Like everything she did to you was forgiven.

"I stayed quiet on the Mayor approaching me thing. Later he began offering me jobs, after-hours if you know what I mean. A Vamp Nest here, a Demon Dwelling there and I got paid a hundred per head. Within a week I had enough money to move out of that Pit I was calling home and into an Apartment organized by the Wilkins. The Scoob's and Giles were really impressed with all the action I was getting too and of all the positive changes I had made to my life. At this stage I still hadn't told them that the Vamp and Demon Intel had all come from the Mayor's Office.

"Then one night he asks me to 'take care' of this problem with a guy. I thought it was just another job. I show up at his door, I ask his name and then I gutted him. I--- I thought he was a Demon or something, but he was human. An archaeologist, I dunno, he discovered some remains of a Dinosaur or something under a Volcano on one of the Hawaiian Islands - this I learnt way later thou. I freaked, I --- I hid the body, and I ran. I ran to Giles, Buffy and the rest of the crew.

"I told them everything. The Mayor, the Bounties, the death of the last guy - everything. They said that they would help me, and that it was going to be alright. Giles then told me to go home and try to get some rest as he and everybody else try an' figure out what could be done. So I did. Two hours later my door gets busted in with Wesley and a couple of Watcher Goons carrying chains and handcuffs telling me that I was to be taken away to England to be tried for Murder.

"They lied and betrayed me Xander. They said that they would help but instead they just wanted me locked up in a small room and out of the way." Faith paused in an effort to gain control of her growing fury. "On his best day Wes is a cream-puff, and I made short work of the Goon squad too. I had no where else to go, or to turn to. So I went to the Mayor. He offered me his protection, and all I had to do is help him out in the short time that remained until his Ascension. Hey, if the guy's had already stuck me in the 'Bad' Box; why not go all the way huh?"

Xander had been listening carefully to the Slayer's words as well as to her other 'tells'. During the one-way discussion her respiration and heart rate had not fluctuated. Faith was either telling the truth, or she truly believed in what she was saying. "How did you feel about killing that person Faith?"

"What is this 20-question's? You want to know my shoe size next?"

"Just answer the question Faith, and we'll take everything from there."

There was another pause, lengthier then the one before but no less tense. Again the Slayer gave in to the silence. "I told you I freaked! There was blood everywhere, on the blade, on my hands, under my nails. I panicked. I rolled him up in a carpet and*"

"*I'm not asking *what* you did Faith, I'm asking how you felt?"

"I *felt* sick inside. I wanted to throw up but it was all dry hurls. I didn't mean to kill that guy; I thought he was just another Demon that could take human form. The Mayor never steered me wrong before then. I trusted him. I --- I was lost, this had never happened to me before. So I reacted, I got rid of the evidence as best I could. But I knew what I did, and *that* I couldn't hide. I had to own up to what I did - I couldn't pin this on anybody else but myself. This was all down to me. So I went to Giles and the others."

"And now?"

"I *still* feel sick inside." At this confession the Slayer then broke out in tears.

Xander remained at the foot of the bed; fighting every instinct he had in him to comfort her. If it had been Willow, Cordelia, or Buffy he would have had his arms around them in a second. But this was Faith. And Faith had worked hard to present a tough-as-nails facade to the world. He could not presume that his 'efforts' would be welcomed or they wouldn't be interpreted by the Slayer as sympathy or weakness on her part.

As Faith continued to breakdown in tears further up the bed Xander cursed himself and grabbed the Slayer in an embrace, holding her close and stroking her Raven hair. Doing his best to sooth her misery away. After several moments Xander spoke in a calming voice. "I don't think it was your fault Faith. The Mayor was obviously setting you up. He was giving you good leads and at the last moment gave you a bad one. He wanted this guy dead for a reason, and it didn't matter whether you were the instrument of his demise or someone else was. That fella would have died.

"And as to you coming to work for the Mayor, he knew before hand you were a Slayer, I'd stake my life on that. The guy had a long term plan that was about to come to fruition on Graduation Day. He had all his bases covered, except for Buff and you. One Slayer he could have probably had dealt with, but two were unprecedented in the world. He needed one of you to counter the other, and he selected you to be the tip of his sword. He gave you no where else to turn but to him."

Without looking up, Faith spoke into Xander's chest. "You believe me?"

"I told you I know when I'm being lied to Faith. So yeah, I believe you. That other stuff I said about the Mayor is just some deductive stuff I put together based on what you said and what I remember Willow telling me.

"There is an old fable that I was told on my very first day here. It was about three blind men and an Elephant. You see this Emperor had heard news of a creature called an Elephant, he had never seen one before and he couldn't leave the confines of his Palace, so he sent his three wisest men to describe one for him. Unfortunately these three wise men were all blind. They eventually came across an Elephant and all made an effort to describe him. The first was the guy who had grabbed its tale, and he told the Emperor that an Elephant was like a rope. The second who felt its trunk said no, and that the first wise man was wrong - that an Elephant was like a snake. The third, who had felt its legs, then said that they both must have been drunk or something cause an Elephant was like a Tree Stump. All right, yet all wrong. Why? Because they only saw one part of the Elephant, and sometimes you need to see all the parts to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Faith, Giles and Buffy and everybody else didn't betray you to the Council. Wesley was eavesdropping on the proceedings and initiated your retrieval from the field. They didn't betray you. "

This response made Faith dig herself deeper into Xander's form as she continued to release the pent up emotion she had carried and the guilt she felt. Xander continued to gently rock her back and forth thinking how best to proceed from this point. Only one unhappy option presented itself. "Faith, you have to turn yourself in."

Xander was then pushed away by the female, his momentum spaning the width of the room until he could stagger to a stop. "But you said you believed me."

"And I do Faith, but you can't just kill a person in cold blood and walk away without any repercussions. However you paint it, he's dead, and you killed him. And you can't run from that, no matter how hard you try."

"So I'm supposed to walk into the nearest Police Precinct, say 'Hey my name is Faith, I stabbed a Guy to death a year ago because my Demon-wannabe boss tricked me into it. I would have come in and given myself up sooner but I was in a coma for about a year."

"Basically yeah, just leave out the Demon bit and that will be fine."

"No! I'm not going to Jail because you told me to. I've saved the world for Christ sakes! So one civilian got caught up in the War, in the grand scheme of things I still come off ahead."

"Who are you trying to convince with that line Faith? Me or yourself? You're a good person, a bit rough around the edges, but you're still a good person. You know what you've done is wrong otherwise you wouldn't feel so guilty over it all."

"I---I can't go to Jail Xander." Faith then slumped back upon the bed her legs giving out on her. "I can't."

Xander approached the trembling Slayer and knelt before her. "Faith, you were still techniqually a minor, with absolutely no parental influences. If you turned yourself in, I'm certain the courts will be lenient. Especially if you admit to being in the thrall of a powerful man."

"Oh great, I'll come off looking like some weak willed wimp."

Xander cupped her chin and looked directly at her. "We both know that's not true for you in general. But in this case it was. I do some volunteer work down at a Youth Crisis Centre after school. Filing and such. There is a guy there named Nelson, Foggy Nelson, comes in three times a week to help in the Legal Aid Section. Nice guy, smart too. He's moving to New York to start up a Practice shortly. Anyway he'll be in tomorrow. You want to know what alternatives and options are available to you legally? Then Foggy is the one to ask. You can trust him Faith because *I* trust him. You give him the word to take your Case and he's like a Pit-Bull. A defender for the little guy, especially women. If we just tell him the more believable facts of the story leaving out Vampires and Demon's then I'm certain he can wrangle a Plea Deal."

"You think he can get me off?"

Xander rubbed his thumb under her eyes, smearing one of her tears away from her cheek and answered softly. "No. You will probably have to serve some time Faith. But I can promise you this. You'll have a friend going in, you'll have a friend when your 'gone', and you'll have a friend when you come out."

Faith leaned into his hands, surprised that she had just noticed their coarseness. "You mean that?"

"Yes, I do. I won't turn my back on a friend and walk away when they need me." Xander then stood up and looked down in the direction of the Slayer. "So what are you going to do Faith? Are you going to run for the rest of your life until you eventually get caught, or are*"

"*I'm going to go with you to see this Foggy guy tomorrow, and hand myself in."

Xander smiled sadly down on the Slayer, appreciating how terrified she must be at that moment. "So what would you like to do for the rest of the night? The town is your oyster milady."

"Can we just stay in? I don't feel up to doing anything 'Wild'."

Xander then knelt once more in front of the Slayer and replied. "Sure, tonight is your night."

"Can you hold me then? Nothing else I promise, I just want to be held for once by someone who actually cares about me and to talk a bit."

Awkwardly Xander got on the bed beside the raven-haired Slayer and wrapped his arms around her. "I *do* care about you Faith."

"I know, I think that's why I came to you instead of messing up my life even worse by prowling the streets of LA. I just knew you and me had a connection of some kind, and I knew I could trust you. I also knew you wouldn't lie to me when I asked you whether I would have to serve time. You respected me enough to be honest with me."

"Foggy won't let you down Faith. He'll get you the best deal possible."

"I need friends more then I need deals at the moment Xander."

The Sunnydalian embraced the Slayer tighter in his arms. "Then you have me Faith. When ever your at your worst, you'll always have me."

Chapter 7

'The Academy for the Blind'
Graduation Day
Los Angelus

Cordelia Margaret Chase eagerly led her two former classmates and a 'Retired' English Watcher across the Academy grounds towards the Boarder's Dorms. "He came this way. Come on."

Willow who was having trouble keeping up with the long strides of the brunette slowed her pace. The Slayer who easily remained at her side matched her speed and provided the Wicca the opportunity to catch her breath to the excited pursuit of the relocated Sunnydalian.

The red head took this opportunity to turn and question her long time blonde friend on her right. "Why did he just leave?" Her questioning eyes then travelled to the Watcher and then to the once May Queen. "Why didn't he stay after the ceremony and meet up with us? Why invite us to come all this way and then --- *Cordelia* - You said we were invited!?!"

Veronica and Robert Chase's only daughter expression froze, shame breaking her flawless features a moment later as an exasperated reply passed over her lips. "Okay, okay, he didn't invite you - I did."

Buffy Summer's eyes widened in both shock at the allegation of Willow's and then to anger at the brunette beauty's admittance to it. "What!?! He doesn't know we're here?"

"No, he doesn't. And don't give me those looks, he didn't invite me either. I wouldn't have even known that he was Graduating today if Angel hadn't let it slip last week."

"How did Angel find out?"

"Because Slayer, he stops in from time to time to check up on him. Don't know why, he just does. Look, I know everything that went down with him after the Ascension was all bad news. I wasn't one of his favourite people either, remember. I've been living in this city for close to a year and not once have I visited him because of that. But this is one of those days when we need to forget everything that's happened between us, move on and bury the hatchet.

"This is a new day. This is Xander's day. He's Graduated - God, I never thought I'd say those words. He *actually* graduated. Xander graduated. And did it as the top of all his classes as well. That's a great accomplishment and I wanted to be here to share that with him. I'm tired of going to bed each night wondering what he was doing and how he was going. He didn't cut himself off from us; we cut ourselves off from him."

Cordelia then approached the small group of friends, her face flushing to the memory of her own Graduation Day. "I don't know if we were right, I don't know if we were wrong. I just know that he took it all hard and I - *we*, were so caught up in our own grief at losing Oz and everybody else that we forgot to take into account how he would handle the news."

For the first time since the old gang had gotten together an hour earlier that bright spark that inhabited her eyes dimmed. "I know there was nothing he could have offered us, despite what he said. I mean *really* what could he have done? Nothing. That's what, and I make no apologies for being honest with him. But I still shouldn't have said that to him, I should have been more sensitive. I think it probably would have been better if I had not said anything at all. But then again that's not me, 'Ms Opinion-on-Everything-under-the-Sun' standing right here. Still, I shouldn't have made him feel more useless then he was probably already feeling. We all should have taken how he would have reacted to us blowing up the School, what followed as a result of that and not have reacted ourselves."

Cordelia's eyes glazed over, seeming to look past the gathering before her and capture a sad piece of her personal history. "But we - *I* was so caught up in losing Harmony, Stacy, and of coarse Oz that by the time the words had left my mouth it was already to late, and no amount of back tracking could have replaced what I had said." With this comment she shook herself back to reality and started to pace back and forth, clenching and unclenching her fists.

"I hate this; I hate what we lost because of *this*. So tell me you don't want to mend broken bridges. Tell me you don't want to at least congratulate him for making it through in record time. Tell me you want to walk away and never see him again and I won't say a peep you were even here. But *I* am going to mend my friendship, *I* am going to congratulate him, and *I* am going to see him today."

Rupert Giles sighed and addressed Willow and Buffy. "I think Cordelia is right. Things got heated between us all, and we could have undoubtedly have handled informing Xander better then we did.*"

"*Giles, he flat out accused us all of manslaughter. He said we were responsible for the death of Oz, Amy, Larry, Clint, Harmony and everybody else. That *we* all killed them because we chose to keep him out of the loop on what we were going to do." The treble in Willow's voice broke through, she had taken the deaths harder then anyone - if it were possible, not only because of Oz but because she was the one who organized the placement plan of the explosives to offer the most effective destruction and blast saturation against the Honourable Mayor Wilkins III. "And Cordy is right, what could he have done? Tap the Giant Mayor-Snake with his stick?" The Red head looked down ashamedly at her outburst and made an effort to compose herself before the eyes of her friends.

Rupert Giles eyes trailed to the direction of the Dormitories and spoke carefully. "True. But if we had broached the news to Xander tactfully then he may not have reacted as he did. He was venting Willow. Oz and he got very close before he had to leave for LA."

The former Librarian returned his gaze to collect all three women. "There were a lot of faults on that day; Xander's blame at us for not rigging the explosives in the Library to implode and direct the concentration of the blast inwards to consume the Mayor and the foundations of the School rather then explode outwards was unnecessary. His accusations at that time were indeed unproductive. As was, obviously, our attempt at justifying them to him given the emotion bought on by its outcome. We were all doing our best to prevent afar worse fate and I loathe the results of our actions as much as the next man. But in respects to what may have happened if we didn't act when we did - when the Mayor was at his most vulnerable. I don't think Xander ever allowed himself the opportunity to understand that."

Willow looked at Giles tears brimming in her emerald eyes. "But he was right Giles. And that's what I hate the most about it. He was obviously right. We crammed so many explosives into the Library for the Mayor that it didn't occur to any us what additional damage or harm would be done when things went 'blowie'. All those people --- all our friends. To make it through the Mayor's attack, the Vamp squad that came after, only to be crushed by debris from the School when we set the charges off. We should have thought of that - *I* should have thought of that. If we did, if we told Xander before hand he would have pointed that out to us and then maybe Oz wouldn't --- wouldn't have been one of the ones."

It had taken many months Post the Mayor's death for the Red-headed witch to speak of her former Boyfriend's passing. But with each day that came, and with the help of the new developing friendship of Tara McKay, a fellow Wicca, she was making it through her grief easier.

Buffy reached out her arm and placed it around her second longest standing friend. "There wasn't enough time Will. You remember how fast things were moving back then. Faith's assassination attempt of Angel, discovering the venue of the Mayor's Ascension. Preparing everybody. It was absolute chaos. We had zero time to consult with anybody, let alone Xander. I wanted to hate him for blaming us on everything that went bad that day, for blaming us for Oz. But there was something about it all that just wasn't right." Buffy took a deep breath and gazed into the welling green eyes of her friend. "He forgave me so easily when I --- he forgave me Willow. It made no sense that he would act out as he did."

The Slayer added a little pressure to her one-armed embrace to reinforce what she was going to say. What had only now had been a theory in her mind. "Xander is one of the most stubborn guy's I know. Stubborn, Loyal and Proud. When we said he couldn't have helped us with the Mayor, we were practically telling him we no longer thought he had anything to offer us. Xander is a guy who would jump into any dangerous situation if he thought it could help anyone of us out. A loving mixture of stupidity and insane bravery. He wanted to contribute, and we were basically telling him he couldn't anymore - at any level, even in the advice area. We were practically asking him to get angry with us.

"It took me having to do this millenniums Doc Frankenstein's lectures on Psychology to guess what caused us to split. Up until then I just thought he was being hurtful. I knew we upset him with the news and everything, but I think we were all kinda expecting him to be the same Xander he was back in Sunnydale. You know, the same guy who makes lite of the darkest threat. The same guy who offered us his shoulder to lean on when we couldn't stand on our own two feet. What happened with Oz I think just rammed home that he couldn't help us anymore. That --- that we all thought he was 'less' then what he was, and that he had exceeded his usefulness to us as a member of the Scooby's. That would have hurt his pride no end." Buffy surrendered a small smile at the expressions forming on the Wicca and Watcher's face. "Hey, Maggie Walsh may have been a Mad Scientist Nut Job, but she was still a genius on Human Behaviour. And I learnt a lot from her, one of which was this - I think Xander was blaming himself more then he was blaming us. I think the Ascension just clarified to him that he cannot ever be what he was before, and that he will always have to be protected by others. And as we know, Xan hates people try to protect him."

Willow looked towards the Slayer, even though she still held an upset anger towards the male-Scooby she had to admit the sting of what had happened between the two had long ago faded. Tara was indeed good for her. "I miss him Buffy, not just Oz but Xander as well."

"Me too Willow, me too." Buffy then encircled her other arm around the Witch. "But we can fix that today."

"And did you she how hot he was? I mean Yummy, with emphasis on Yum." The red-head and bottle blonde jerked their heads up and looked at the brunette in disbelief.

Willow looked up stunned, the Slayer rolled her eyes. "Way to ruin a beautiful moment Cordy."

"Damn Beautiful Moments, Hello 'Salty Man-ness'. What? Oh don't tell me you two didn't notice him. I saw you both do a double take when the Principle read out his name and he went up on stage. It was the Swimming Team all over again. You were both practically drooling in your laps for Christ's Sake."

"*Ahem* is it necessary for me to be here while your having this conversation?"

The May Queen, Witch and the Slayer ignored the Englishman.

"I --- I was just surprised, I wasn't expecting him to have dyed his hair dark red, that's all."

Cordelia smirked at her graduating partner. Enjoying the uncomfortable fidgeting of the dreaded and feared Vampire Slayer. Amazed at how having her admit that she actually paid attention to how different, and to her mind more improved, Xander was had got the Slayer behaving like a 'girl-with-a-secret-crush'. Cordelia's mind then became fuzzy; her Xander would have also enjoyed this spectacle. Knowing that he had finally succeeded in making his cold hearted schoolboy fantasy notice him as a man and not just as a best friend.

This amused smirk she carried slowly drifted away as these thoughts reinforced themselves to the reality of Xander's now forever situation. Her Xander would now *never* enjoy such a view, and it was all because of the Slayer in front of her. With this knowledge something dormant rose within her as she coolly replied Buffy's embarrassed comment. "Personally I think the hair suits him, and those dark tinted glasses really give him that mysterious and sexy edge don't you think?" Buffy looked at the former Sunnydale cheerleader with a puzzled expression on her face. Cordelia met the expression and tilted her head slightly and fained a curious question to the Slayer. "You like your guys mysterious and sexy don't you Buffy?"

The twinge of an almost long forgotten hatred grew within the Seer for the 'Chosen One'. A hatred that would never truly be extinguished. A hatred that's origins could be traced back to what this person had once done to her Boyfriend in a forest nearly two years past.

She had moved on with Angel, but Buffy would always be a different matter. This *person*, who was at that very second trying to stutter out a reply to her question, would be forever exiled from her warm thoughts. For no other reason then because it was Buffy's decision to leave Xander alone and suffering his blinding fate that night without a care.

Bitterness easily rose again in her throat and found a voice as Buffy's cheeks blushed. "Y'know what I would suggest, I would suggest you enjoy your fantasy O' Chosen, because that's all it will ever be. Once upon a time I'm sure you could have led him around by a nose ring, but not any more. He'll never want to be with you, not in a million years, no strike that - not in a *Billion* years, not if I have any say in it. Not after what you did to him and put him through." Cordelia levelled her eyes off at the Slayer. It was a cold look that spoke a library of restrained hate for the one it was directed to. "So please look all you want, keep drooling away until you drown in it. Create a little make believe world in your mind of him if you wish. But know this - he deserves far better then you and what you could ever offer him. He always did."

A heartbeat elapsed as Cordelia took in a breath, and then continued with her spiteful words. "The only power you ever had over him was your looks, now that's no longer a factor anymore. You never paid any attention to him before, you never bothered to see how great he was - well that was your mistake. You'll have to now compete with what you have on the inside, and from what I've seen of you in the past - you've got nothing of worth."

Such comments would have been typically delivered in a private, or at least in a whisper in company, but Cordelia spoke it aloud for Willow and Giles to hear out right. The playful and embarrassed banter between the two suddenly became a lot more personal and hurtful. With the May Queen drawing first blood.

Buffy turned quickly to look at Willow and Giles who had heard the words. Both were acting distracted, but she knew they had heard them clearly, and she knew that the fact that neither had immediately rebuked Cordelia for saying them, or had come to her defence meant that there was a piece of them both that had also never forgiven her for her part in Xander's blindness as well. Regardless of the assurances she had received from them in the past that this was now no longer true.

Buffy then turned her head to once more face the one who had falsely invited her there that day. "I don't need your forgiveness for what I did Cordelia; I just need Xander's. And I already have that. I had that two years ago. When you all still hated me, he forgave me." She then took a single step forward to the brunette that easily towered over her. "And that's what's got you bothered isn't it Cordy - He forgave me, and he did it so easily as well, didn't have to think twice. He-Forgave-Me. He had the right to hate me forever and a day and I wouldn't have blamed him if he did. But he couldn't do it. Me - Total Forgiveness."

Buffy tried to fight a condescending smile as it formed on her lips and failed miserably. It was liberating to finally speak of this out in the open. Before today she felt sorry for Xander, but seeing him again and how he had taken a drastic handicap and turned his life around was rousing.

With a defect that would have crushed others he became a Valedictorian with a smile of the year 2000. He achieved more academically being away from Sunnydale then if he had kept his sight and had remained. His future was open for him and the way he carried himself when he accepted the handshakes and the applause promised that it was going to be a bright and positive one. A warm glow had settled in her stomach when he made his acceptance speech - 'Face your fear!' That's how he started his address, and that that was how he finished it too. Its delivery had past 10-minutes ago and that warm proud feeling still hadn't left her. People used the word 'Hero' to describe her and what she did, but seeing Xander stand tall with that beloved half-turned smile of his accepting the affirmation of his Peers made her redefine herself. At that moment he became her's; he was what would now inspire her. He was her Hero. And she would *Face-Her-Fear* and finally speak her mind without being afraid of the consequences. "How *I* feel about Xander is none of your business. How Xander feels about *me* is none of your business. It's only *our* business. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm terrified at the thought of seeing him again, two years is a long time. We've both been through some major changes in those years - all of us. Xander most of all. But one thing I know and which will never change - he'll still be *my* Xander, the same person who had forgiven me for what I did to him." Her smile dipped a fraction and her voice took on a more icy tone if it were at all possible. "Do you think he'll be as magnanimous of you, and what you did?

"Sure, because of me he lost his sight." Buffy's voice grew to became little more then a growl in her throat. "And I hate myself in way's you cannot possibly imagine for doing that. But you, you broke his heart. He couldn't see any more and you dumped his ass because of it." Buffy made sure her stare penetrated the former cheerleader's very soul before she continued. "If I was in your place there would be no money or power on this Earth that would have compelled me to do what you did to him.

"If I could I would gouge out my own eyes right now and deliver them to Xander on a silver platter if it allowed him to see again. But you? How can you offer him a heart to replace his broken one when I doubt you ever possessed one to begin with?" Buffy tried to push herself past the brunette and head towards the Dorms. Towards a Xander she had not spoken to in close to eighteen months. To her surprise the Beauty Queen refused to budge.

"Where do you think you're going, we're not yet finished Slayer. You've always thought that about me haven't you? That I was heartless. That I couldn't love? When Xander gave me that beautiful pendent on Valentines Day, and I stupidly broke it off with him at the Bronze. He told me what you had said to him when he showed it to you. That you were right, that you and Willow both thought that I didn't have it in me to care for anyone but myself, and that you all thought I was not deserving of him. But to think you *actually* thought I would break up with Xander because he was blind? God! How superficial do you think I am? If that mess with that Love Spell taught me anything, it was how much I felt about him when I thought all these crazy women wanted him as well - sorry Willow. Hell, when there was the possibility of him growing scales and getting gills I still wanted to make guppies with that Moron. I loved that Doofus. Do you even understand that word - L-O-V-E.? I parted with Xander for other reasons."

"Yeah, distance between LA and Sunnydale is quite the Bitch isn't it."

"Not as much as what you are Slayer." Cordelia stood fast, her hazel eyes locked with the Slayers blue. This was not a battle of limb but of will, and neither was prepared to back down for the other. The two maintained this silent stance until the former beauty Queen released a tense and bitter sigh. "Fine, it looks like this is going to be burying the Hatchet all round day." She then looked over to Willow and Giles who were still doing their best to present the false illusion that they were not noticing anything, "Oh give it up, we know you're listening." Her eyes then rested back upon the Slayer. "You want the truth, well here it is - I was Broke, my Dad was Broke, my Mother was Broke. In '99 the IRS came and took everything we had, my car, my jewellery - Everything."

A light pink rose in the May Queen's cheeks as embarrassment of the Chase dirty little family secret revealed itself to all. "It was a scary time for me, I had problems - Real problems like where we were going to live after the Government sold our home, and everything in it. I didn't want Xander to find out - he had enough on his plate thanks to you."

The anger that had stayed steady in the Slayer's fist gave way to the shame forming in her heart. "Why didn't you tell us?"

"Two reasons. One - it was none of your business, and two - because you would have pitied me, and Cordelia Chase is pitied by no one. I was forced to earn a wage after classes to help with paying rent on a halfway decent Apartment. *I wore a name tag for Christ sake*.

"Why do you think I never went to the end of School Prom, it wasn't because of lack of offers. I had dozens. I just didn't have a suitable dress, they were all sold to cover Daddy's Tax 'discrepancies'. Or didn't my absence ever register with you when you and Angel were there dancing the night away? What about when I started to stop hanging out at the Library after school with everybody? If you think it was to avoid being in the same room with you then your only half right.

"The only person who knew the truth was Faith, this was back when we were still friends and she wasn't trying to kill us all of coarse. It was her idea for me to leave Xander. She said if he found out about my problems then he would have shoved his on the back seat and put mine upfront. Xander needed to focus on himself for once - not me, and not anybody else. The Psycho-Slayer may have only have met him a few weeks earlier, but she was right. She knew Xander cold. So I broke up with him in the worst and most heartless way possible Buffy. While he was still in his hospital bed coming to terms with an uncertain future, I dropped him. And you know what surprised me - he didn't hold it against me in the least, he was still civil to me right up until he left for here. I broke up with him because I did *love* him, which is more then you could ever say.

"I doubt you know what it's like to love someone so much that in order to do the best thing possible for them, you have to walk away and distance yourself from them totally."

Buffy tried not to reveal on her face an old sad memory to Cordelia's words. {Angel & Xander they had both done that. Angel moved to LA, and Xander left to find himself again, to make him worthy of my friendship and love.}

"I couldn't drag him into what I was about to go through. He had faith in me as a person and not as a socialite rich bitch I was. I wasn't going to disappoint him. And I wasn't going to let something like 'no-money' beat me either. That Cordelia died along time ago, roughly the same time she realized that she was in love with a social pariah dork called Xander Harris. I loved Xander so much I wanted to make myself into a person he deserved, and not the Ice-Queen everyone remembered. Has anyone offered you that kind of love?"

{Xander} Buffy looked carefully around her, taking in the faces of the people in her presence and shock her head. "No. No one has ever said they loved me that much." The Blonde tried to smile apologetically to the brunette, trying to offer some measure bygoneness. "I'm sorry Cordelia, I thought that*"

"*You thought wrong. I love Xander, I always will. He helped make me the person I am today - Total Seer here. Important job people. Direct link to the PTB. But I'm not in-love with him any more. I love him to death, and a piece of me will forever love him, but I'm not 'in' love with him. Your right about one thing Slayer, we've all changed. I'm not the same person he once fell for, and I bet he's not the same guy he was either. I bet he's even more incredible now. One of the first visions I had was a gift from the Powers.

"They gave me a brief glimpse of the man I'm destined to be with. It was hazy, but he was Tall, Dark and I guess Handsome, I doubt I would have looked twice otherwise, and that's as much as I know. That, and the fact it wasn't Xander." Cordelia's eyes left Buffy and found her booted feet suddenly interesting, she then continued with an almost ashamed tone in her voice. "I once tried to channel Xander's future out of curiosity and the best I got was a sense of importance and that he was meant for someone else. Someone who was not me. Since then I kinda moved on with my life, but I've never forgotten him. He's destined for someone truly worthy of him. And you know what I say - Good for him. Whoever it is will be the luckiest girl on the Planet, and you don't have to be a bon-a-fide Seer to know that. And you can bet your Stake I'll do anything to make sure that that person isn't you. I'd much rather have Willow or Giles jump him then have you pull out that skimpy raincoat of yours. Oh yeah, he told me about that. Slut."

"I say."

"Hey, GAY remember!"

Buffy again levelled with her nemesis. "Xander and I are not an issue Cordy, I've got Riley and we're --- happy together. I want Xander to be happy as well, as happy as I am with Riley." The blonde looked over the group; this discussion wasn't accomplishing anything except getting peoples emotions worked up. And she didn't want to go in to see Xander with everyone one edge. On edge was what caused the Post-Ascension problem in the first place. "How about we both pull in our claws and see the person we're come here to see?" One by one the small group nodded and began their way across the lawn towards the Boarder Residence.

With deceptive calmness the three women and Giles walked up the front steps leading to the Dorms. As they opened the door's they were not surprised that the place was as silent as a tomb. Infact they had half expected it, as most of the staff and other students were in attendance at the Graduation across the quad.

There was however movement from behind the front reception desk. The motion was of a young man who they had noted walked off with Xander when their friend had accepted his diploma.

"Can I help any of you lovely ladies, and pleeze, pleeze say yes."

Cordelia smiled sweetly, she was used to dealing with such flattery from the male of the species. "We're looking for a friend of ours, Xander Harris."

The young man became alert to the name, and smiled in a warm yet cheeky manner. "The Xan-miester strikes again. God, doesn't that guy know any plain chicks?" Cocking his left eyebrow to the 5'8" brunette beauty Mike directed his questioning to the most striking of the three present. "So how *good* a friends are you, cause he and I are --- well we're tight, and I'm sure he would have mentioned if he knew three ladies as*"

Giles step forward blocking the desperate Romeo from his appreciative view of the Blonde, Red-head and Brunette. Assuming a very stern and fatherly tone in his voice as he offered the women in his presence his parental protection. "Are you typically so crass with visitors?"

Without losing his stride Michael Henderson returned his smile and answered the Watcher. "Generally no, but your Xan's buds. And I'm his bud too, so that kinda makes us all buds by association. And buds can say things to each other without the other bud being offended by it. That's how it works in this country English." Mike then side stepped the silenced librarian to now stand in front of the very welcomed females.

Willows face beamed like an amused cherub as Giles face started to redden. Totally forgetting her anxiety moments earlier, observing her Mentor remove his glasses and pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration to typical 'American Rudeness'. {Oh yeah, this is definitely one of Xander's friends.} Calmly her eyes drifted back from the Watcher to the mid-twenty year old. "We're not Xander's 'buds' we're his family."

This statement illicited nod's of agreement from a strawberry faced Giles who was doing his best to hold his tongue, and at that moment the cool tempered Buffy and Cordelia. But to Willow's and everybody else's surprise the young man barked out in laughter.

"I am sooooo not falling for that twice. The last babe who used that line nearly got me fired." Mike settled himself and extended his arm out to Willow for her to shake, and continued around the four person group. "Sorry for not introducing myself, Mike's the name, and all I can say is if you and her were Xan's family then that dude has serious incestuous problems."

Buffy blinked twice at the unusual comment. "Incest? What? What are you talking about?"

Still with a mirthful chuckled Mike looked at Buffy and answered her question. "Last month, Xan's 'sister' showed up."

Willow looked around to the other faces in confusion. "But Xander doesn't have a sister."

"I know that --- now. But back then I didn't, not until Xan-ster decided to clue me in on this little fact, after I had let her up to his room of course." The Guardian shrugged, it was all water under the bridge now, and no real harm was done so he felt a certain amount of freedom sharing this information. Something he was not prepared to do whilst Xander was still an official student. "I can say all this now because the guy has graduated so there's little chance that the Academy can expel him. But yeah, his 'sister' spent the night up there with him.

"Generally we don't let stuff like that happen in the rooms, y'know, males and females of the opposite sex being together. But like I said - Buds. And it ain't no fun if a Bud can't get some. Man, was she hot. But not you guy's hot; she was a different kind of sexy-goodness. She was Biker-chick hot. I woulda made a play for her myself but the Xan-Man said she wasn't in a 'good place'. Something to do with the Cops or something.

"At any rate our boy 'Galahad' stepped up to the plate and Xand an' her spent the entire night alone in his room. Just the two of them.

"And when they both came down those stairs the following day, man, I've never seen a grin that wide on a girl before. It was like a world of problems had been released from her shoulders. The Xan-man must have worked overtime with his magic if you get me. Cause I can only think of one way that kinda tension release would have happened that fast." The Academy's Guardian gave them all another cheeky smile to emphasis what he was saying, yet not saying at the same time.

Giles looked dumfounded at the young man. "Are you saying they ---*"

"All I'm sayin English is I gave him three packets of 'Protection' myself, and the fact that he didn't return a single one the following morning tells me everything I needed to know. He denies anything happened of coarse, but hey - that's Harris, a gentleman to the end. And I think that's cool, not anybody's business but their own."

Cordelia and Buffy looked at one another, each mentally prompting the other to ask the question that they both wanted to know. It was however Willow who took the bull by the horns and asked. "Did this 'sister' have a name?"

"Hey, sure, of course she had a name. And a bod to get attention to. Lean and sporty, kinda like yours." Mike casually gestured towards Buffy. "She called herself Faith."

Buffy's hands lashed out at the Academy's young Guardian and lifted him roughly off the ground. Suspended in air via the Slayer's un-natural strength. The Chosen One demanded. "Where-is-he? WHERE?!?"

"Hey, hey - Lover not a Fighter*"

"*Buffy put him down, NOW!"

Hesitantly the blonde looked to her Watcher, and then slowly lowered the startled young man to the ground, embarrassment quickly over shadowing her rage. "Sorry."

With a stunned and forced smile the young man slowly backed away from the blonde Slayer, when he was once more by the reception desk he was sitting at a minute before he picked up a Walkie-Talkie. "I want you off the premises. All of you. Leave now, quiet like without raising a scene and security doesn't have to be involved." The earlier mirth in his eyes was now absent, there was no doubt that he would indeed contact the Academy's 'Rent-a-Cops'. "I mean it. You don't come onto our premises and threaten Staff or Residents. Not in the Rule Book Sweetheart."

Giles raised his hands in an effort to pacify the still shocked Guardian. "Please, Buffy made an error in judgement. She and Faith have a very 'complicated' history."

Mike bought the handset to his mouth and held it there. "I don't give a flying fuck. You think I'm gonna let psycho girl stay. Deluded-plus, man."

"Please, I assure you that it was just a momentary lapse in what is generally very good behaviour."

Slowly he bought the Walkie-Talkie down again as he judged the sincerity of the Englishman's words. "Okay, so I can't bluff you, consider yourselves lucky that I hate Ratting. But I will if you give me no choice." He then once more placed the instrument upon the alcove desk. "If you're friends with Xander that's one thing, but I can take that kinda a friendship only so far. I respect the Xan-Man, if you *are* his friends that say's a lot about you. But don't make me have to choose between my job and my friendship. Cause Xander or not I will not allow any disruption here.

"The Dude has earnt my respect in every way you can imagine, so for him I always look in the other direction. That's what Bud's do. But what I don't respect is someone prepared to clobber a guy's brains out because he said an 'F' word. You don't like Xan's girl, I suggest you deal with it. Cause unless you do I can guarantee that friendship with Harris won't last this visit. And if you want to side off with Xan, you'll have to side off with me as well, and then twenty to hundred other people at this School who also owe him." The twenty five year old then directed his eyes to the Slayer and spoke in a grim authoritive voice. "You pull that same stunt on him that you did with me and your feet won't even touch the ground Sweetness."

Buffy met the young man's stare, still rolling with internal anger at her discovery of Faith with Xander thou she couldn't as yet understand why. Buffy spoke out without fear in her voice to the man's threat. "You think you could stop me? Yeah, you did a great job a second ago."

"Buffy, please!"

The Guardian walked from around the protection that was offered by his desk, his eyes never leaving the petite blonde. "Not me. Xander. One of the finest Wrestlers this school has ever had. Never lost a match, not even to the sighted kids. He could put you in a hold before you even knew you were in one, and then use your head to open every door on the way out of the building. You maybe scoffing down the roid's little girl - which by the way I don't approve of or recommend you continue with, but strength is not an issue if you don't have the leverage to use it."

At this statement Cordelia began to rub her temples in confusion. "Wait, wait, and wait! Are you telling me Xander is some kind of a --- a Jock?"

Michael smiled at the confused expressions forming on everyone's faces and directed his answer to the surprised brunette. "We do more then just educate, and teach the students the basics of coping with their handicaps in Society. Physical fitness is a key component; as it helps provide confidence and teaches co-ordination. What? You never read one of our Information Packages before? You got a friend in attendance and you don't know what he does or done? Man, that is so weak." Michael Henderson again laughed and shook his head in disbelief at the dumbfounded expressions on the four. "The Xan-Man is our 'Golden Boy'. Wrestling, Weight Lifting, Gymnastics - especially Gymnastics

"I'm telling you, put that guy on the Rings, on top of a 'Horse', or on the Mat and you would forget he couldn't see. The Xan-Miester bought in more first place trophies singly, then the entire school combined in over a decade." With this statement he directed them with his left hand to the trophy case at the base of the stairs.

Like sleepwalkers the four approached the wooden cabinet. Within lay ribbons, medallions, plaques and trophies, accumulated in Xander's two years away from them. Two-thirds of which had 'A. Harris' etched upon them.

Willow backed away, finding it difficult to grasp everything that had been said, or she was seeing. "This is impossible. Xander isn't an athlete, sure he had that stint in the Swimming Team but he was just there to make up the numbers. He doesn't know anything about Gymnastics, Wrestling and Weights. And---and he's Blind, how could he possibly compete and win - he's Blind!"

Giles looked down upon his red-headed charge. "I think you have to take this in perspective Willow, Xander was maybe competing against other blind people."

By this stage Mike had joined the small group, yet kept his distance and a weary eye upon the blonde in their ranks. "Oh no, he went against sighted people as well. You'd be surprised at the advancements made in the last ten years to allow the handicap or disable compete on an even playing field. Weight lifting is a natch, Xander may not look it but he's as strong as they come, *all muscle*. Say's he's got blessed with good an tough bones, anyway everything else is kinda directed by high pitched alarms, if the participant strays from the designated area, or begins to go off coarse - it squeaks away and they're able to right themselves so that they don't stray to bad. Not that Xander ever strayed much. He has definite 'Special Olympic' Potential. Must have been approached by a hundred perspective Agents this year alone, turned them all down flat.

"If he wanted he could have made a decent living, inspiring other 'Special' people, and with a mug like his - endorsements, chicks, money, fame. The Works. But him, he keeps saying not interested, got more important plans with his life then make Money and being a Sports Celebrity." Carefully he navigated himself besides Cordelia. "If you want my personal opinion however, I think he was holding back. He did just enough to win. But not enough to stand out and decimate the opposition."

Cordy looked at the man five-years her senior. "How would you possibly know that?"

"Like I've said, we're Bud's. I used to attend his sessions in the Gym, spotting him and stuff, making sure he didn't get in over his head. I know what he can do when he puts his mind to it. Dude is unstoppable when he wants to be - real determined. And I can't think of a time when he ever went all out, sometimes he would come off the mat, or finish after a lifting session and he wouldn't even be sweating or breathing hard. Sometimes after the meets, they had to call in the Doc's just to query and make sure he was actually blind. Impossible it might be to believe, considering that he walks around better then me, but the Dude really can't see squat."

Michael Henderson looked upon the group once more and balanced his options. "I'll go up with you and speak to Xan first. If he's cool, we're cool. But word to the wise and the stupid. Don't dis 'the Faith'. Guy writes to her like every week, sometimes twice a week. As I said, you got a problem you leave it at the door." The twenty five year old then led the small collection of silenced friends up the stairs to the third level and room sixteen.

Gently he knocked on the door and awaited the invitation to come in. The door closed, leaving the Scooby's in the hallway. Cordelia spun on her heels. "Nice one Buffy."

"He slept with Faith."

"You think I'm an idiot, that I didn't get that."

"So, aren't you upset?"

"Sure I'm upset. She was my best friend remember. But getting us kicked off campus won't help anybody in finding out why she was here and where she is now."

Giles took a deep sigh. "Again, I fear I must side with Cordelia on this point. At the moment our congratulations for Xander must go hand-in-hand with the necessity of knowing where we may find Faith. There is a Rogue Slayer about and our prime priority must be in her apprehension. And Xander appears to be the only one aware of where she may be found. So to this end we must convince him to share this information with us, for his, our and possibly the World's safety."

Giles had just finished his sentence when the 25-year old opened the door and motioned them into Xander Harris's private room.

As the door closed behind the four the young man removed a pendent from around his neck and spoke "Presto-Chango". The façade of 'Michael Henderson' shimmered away into nothing to reveal the smirking Brooklyn accented Balance Demon known to many as 'Whistler'.

For close to two years he had been forced into an uncomfortable role. A delusion of identity necessary for attaining his end. By day assuming the false character of Mike - Xander's trusted confidant. And by night 'Whistler' - Xander Harris's Crabby Instructor. For what seemed an age he gently nurtured the young Sunnydale born, carefully guiding him along the path that the youth desperately sought. He could have been successful in achieving this as Whistler, but Xander had made it clear on his opinion of Demon's on a whole. There was not resentment, but there was distrust. The Blinded teenager would accept his instructions on a combat front, but as to a personal level he needed the direction of a fellow human being, hence the creation of all-American nice guy Michael Henderson.

For the week prior to Xander's arrival in LA the Balance Demon went to great pains to ensure, via 'The Powers' influence, that he had a job on the Academy Grounds. One that would present him with daily contact of his new Charge. He then had a mystical pendent manufactured to present a false illusion - a portable 'glimmer' (by the same people who had Voodooed Xander's Wardrobe). A pendent that was sufficient enough to fool even Xander's growing heightened senses and to make him believe that Whistler and Mike were two separate individuals.

Looking back now it was perhaps the wisest investment in paranoia he ever made. He was not going to have another Angel, not after the 'Guy-Upstairs' was prepared to give him another shot at the big time. This time he was going to be keeping an Eagle eye on his responsibility, and to make sure he developed properly and in a fashion that was approved upon.

The only drawback was that he had to be so sickly sweet and noble in the 'To-the-soon-to-be-Protector's' company. Two things the Balance Demon was not by nature, but for the sake of Xander becoming the good and decent guy he had wanted to be the Demon was prepared to fake his way through.

Did he feel bad that he was betraying Xander's trust, that Xander was being manipulated by him, that he was moulding the young blind man with a friendship that didn't exist. Sure, alittle. But he had a job to do, one that required Xander to reach his full potential as a Human Being, and if he had to lie and deceive to make that happen - then he would. It was all part of the new 'Big Picture' the Boss-man had in place.

When the 'Powers' placed upon him the burden of convincing Xander to move to New York, away from his friends and Hometown of Sunnydale. The Balance Demon knew his fake persona of 'Best Bud' would be ideal in facilitating this. Then by organizing the sending of a mental command by the 'Voodoo-Guys' to the fugitive Slayer with the simple instruction to seek the blind youth out, then allowing Faith to enter Xander's room, and then permitting her to stay the night in that room with his Charge. He knew he was encouraging a bond to be formed between the two. A bond that the Balance Demon knew would not be easily broken - By anybody.

Everything was falling into place.

Now with the Scoob's showing up when they did it couldn't have been more perfect if it had actually been planned for. All it took was one slip of Faith's name and the Blonde Slayer was prepared to go to town on his skull. Prior to letting the Visitors into 'the Kid's' room he had mentioned to the Occupant that 'Mike' had revealed the secret of Faith to them. Xander didn't like it, but he had gotten used to 'Mikey's' gabby ways. The Pin's were all lined up now, and all it took to get a 'Strike' was for someone to speak out negatively about the Raven Haired Slayer.

Xander would protect Faith's location with his life; he had after all given her his word that he would keep this info from the other Slayer, Scoob's and the Watcher's Council. And the White Knight was a man of his word.

The Scoob's knowing that Xander knew where the 'anti-slayer' was would be a fact they would not allow him to keep to himself. And they would do next to anything to extract that information.

Irresistible Force meets and Unmovable Object.

Instant rift. But not an irreparable one, with any luck it would just be temporary. And hopefully the other Slayettes would leave with a respect for the Kid's position in not telling them anything.

Whistler tossed the pendent up in the air and caught it with his right hand. Smiling up to the ceiling the Balance Demon spoke to nobody. "Didn't I say I would deliver? Ya gotta have more faith in me Boss-man." With these words, he proceeded down the Hallway and back down the stairs to make sure that Xander's Flight was confirmed from LA to NY.


The door closed lightly behind the three young adults and the retired Librarian. The room was dim, barely supporting any light at all. It was a simple room, with only the basics to make life bearable to the three women. A bed, a desk, a humble wardrobe and a Xander.

The nineteen year old stood in the centre of the room with a stone expression on his face. His very posture presented itself as a challenge to the arrivals. "You could have called ahead." The rigid and impassive face then quickly broke into a broad warming smile as he extended his arms out. "I would have been able to get you better seats at the Ceremony."

Cordelia was first to answer the call of physical closeness. Possibly more likely to prove to the Slayer that Xander held no grudges towards her. The young beauty practically leaped into the blind mans arms. All her former concerns towards Faith momentarily forgotten. As she embraced him, he rapped his arms around her and kissed lightly her forehead. "Willow? You have a growth spurt or something?"

Playfully the brunette Seer battered the blind man's arm. "It's me you Dork."

Offering the infamous smile that was perhaps the one constant in the universe aside from gravity and 'Good guys finish last', the red haired male spoke. "I know, how could I forget your favourite perfume - 'Undeniable'. It cost me close to a month's savings to get it for you, remember?"

Cordelia dug herself impossibly deeper into Xander's chest, again possibly to drive home a fact to the Slayer present. "I remember you complaining about how expensive it was."

"Hey, for a seventeen year old it was a lot of money."

"You didn't think I was worth it?"

"No, I was more thinking about how much extra play I would get in the Janitors Closet. It does smell nice on you thou."

"I only wear it now for very special occasions."

"So this is a special occasion?"

"I've only worn it six times since you gave it to me two and a half years ago. That should tell you how special this rates for me."

Xander drew her head back from his chest and daintily ran his fingers down her face, tracing over her nose, cheeks and lips. "You're still breathtaking. I hope Deadboy's treating you well"

"Could do with a Raise."

"Then get him to give you one. And don't take no for an answer."

"Lost cause, the Detective thing isn't exactly booming at the moment."

"The Girl I dated didn't believe in lost causes. The Girl I dated would stare DB in the face and say 'I'm worth it, gimme more money.' That's what the Cordelia Chase I remember would do."

"See there we have a slight problem, I'm not that Cordelia any more." She stood back and ran her fingers through Xander's deep dark red hair. "And you're not the same Xander either by the looks of things, like the new 'Do' by the way."

Xander frowned for a second, then he suddenly remembered his hair. A few day's after his arrival in LA his hair had altered colour. He was still new to the Teachers so they never picked up on it, infact he himself hadn't realized the metamorphosis until Whistler had bothered to point it out. It was the final manifestation caused by the 'Attributes' and he was grateful it wasn't horns and a tail. "Yeah well, you know what they say. A change is as good. By the way I heard about your recent 'Change' from Overbite."

"Yeah, local girl makes good. Personally I think the PTB was smoking some Wacky-Tabacky. I think*"

Xander bought his finger to her lips to still her mouth. "I think they made a great choice."

"You do?"

"Of course. You love telling people 'I told you so'." For this comment the Red-headed Blind man received another playful slap across the shoulders from his first official Girl-friend. "Oww, that one actually hurt."

Standing besides Giles Buffy's face dissolved from her carried anger to hurt. She wasn't expecting Xander and Cordelia to shift so easily back into their former roles of Lovebirds, not after everything she had said out side to Cordy moments earlier. Xander's behaviour presented no animosity at all to the young woman who had ended their relationship whilst he was still in a Hospital Bed.

The blonde watched, transfixed by her sadness as the two smiled and laughed, holding each other. There was tenderness and care in how Xander held Cordelia; it wasn't as clumsy, or as grabby as she remembered witnessing him to being in High School. His body moved and moulded perfectly with Cordelia's as the two gently swayed back and forth. It was not sexual, it was a comfortable action. And for that she felt a small measure of relief. And once again she could not explain why that was.

After another minute Xander released himself from the Seer's embrace and spoke towards the door of his room to where the other three visitors were standing. "Now, I'm missing a Willow-type Hug. Is there a Willow-type person around? C'mon, surely my second favourite red head is present?"

Cordelia stepped back and stood besides Giles and next to the Slayer as the Wicca awkwardly stepped forward. Obviously unsure how she should behave. But the moment Xander's touch found a home around her waist such indecision became lost to her. It was automatic as the youth-long friend burst out in tears and ramblings.

Witnessing this upsetting scene Buffy had to fight her own impulse not to snatch the Witch in her own arms and comfort her as she did when Oz's body was discovered. Since the loss of Bass Player, the Slayer and the Witch became closer then they had ever been before in their lives. The bond they once shared when they were in High School paled into insignificance to the one that now existed. When one hurt, the other felt her pain - that was the depths of how close they had both become.

But again to her surprise the Willow-esk ramblings that were coming forth from the College Roommate's mouth were not ones of misery but ones of happiness.

Everything was a surprise.

Was she the only one suitably enraged that Faith? Her mortal enemy Faith, the Ying to her Slaying Yang was in this very room a month earlier and no one seemed to care. That she and Xander had done the mattress mumbo together, and both Willow and Cordelia were hugging him. That Xander knew where the psychotic Slayer was and hadn't bothered to inform any of them.

The young man remained silent, not interrupting the quagmire of words and sentences, gently rocking his fellow, yet brighter, red headed friend in his arms; much like a father would do to his crying baby child. Again there was nothing sexual about the activity, only a strange supportive expression of tenderness and love. When Willow began to slow her mixture of words and sobs, her sentences began to make sense. Carefully Xander wiped a few stray hairs from her forehead and smudged the tears on her cheek. He then kissed her brow in the same brotherly fashion he had done to Cordelia a moment earlier. "Are you okay Will's?"

With this question, Willow offered her first coherent sentence after entering this room. "I'm sorry Xander. I'm so, so sorry."

Again in silence the Slayer and Cordelia watched the reunion, as Giles approached Xander's desk and picked up something of interest. No one in the room was prepared to speak or interfere in the dialogue between the long-time friends.

"What's to be sorry about?"

"How about everything."

"Oh, that. Don't blame yourself Will, I was a Jerk. Not just any Jerk, I was the King of all Jerks. I shouldn't have come down so hard on all of you. I just felt so --- so*"

"Useless? Buffy said you were useless."

A surprised chuckle left Xander's mouth at the claim. "What?!?"

At that moment the muscles in the Slayer's throat strained, as one of the longest surviving Slayers squeaked out a reply. "No, not like that, I said you felt useless. You-*Felt*-Useless! Not that you *were* useless."

Xander smirked in the direction of Buffy's voice. "Oh, that's a relief. Wouldn't want to be thought of as useless now would I?"

"Your not!" Buffy buried her head into the palms of her hands as she contemplated why she was even apologizing to him. She should be angry - she was angry! He slept with Faith. *NO*, that's not it - He knew where Faith was. To be upset with Xander and Faith being together meant that she was jealous and she wasn't jealous, she had Riley. Riley was everything she wanted in a Boyfriend - Normal, Smart, Dependable, Loyal, Considerate, Capable, sure he was a little dull at times, predictable, judgemental. And the mental list of negatives continued as Willow began to speak.

"I'm so proud of you Xander, I never thought I could be this proud but I am."

Again like with Cordelia Xander began to track his fingers down Willow's face. Trying to get an impression of her features. His Radar sense provided the male Scooby with an idea of shape, but they were all silhouettes to him. They did not provide him with the definition of features he so desperately desired at that moment. "Nothing to be proud of Willow, I just did my best. That's all. That's all any of us can do in the end, isn't it?"

"But you were Valedictorian and on top of that you won all those trophies and awards."

The young blind man stiffened and backed out of his oldest friends embrace and nervously put on his green tinted glasses. "You, err, saw them huh?"

Cordelia was honestly surprised by the witnessed reaction, for a moment there it looked as if Xander was actually ashamed of his athletic accomplishments. The Seer quickly looked about the faces of the others in the room. Willow - Surprised; Buffy - Surprised; Xander - Ashamed; Giles - Slight Anger and Disappointment (?). "Okay Doofus what's going on? What's wrong with being proud of all those First Places?"

"Nothing, nothings wrong." Xander scratched the back of his head. "Look, at the end of the day it's just tin. Next year it'll be somebody else's name, no biggie. So guys please don't make a huge deal out of it. I competed, and I won, that's it."

"Xander, you didn't compete, you kicked serious Butt."

"Cordy, I was just competing; besides nobody really pays attention to that kinda thing. I wanted to know how I would measure up against another person. People at the top of their game."

Carefully the former Cheerleader approached her former Boyfriend curiously. "Why are you so defensive?"

"I'm not defensive; it was just a personal thing." Again Xander stepped back, this time his shift revealed an open half packed suitcase upon his bed. "Look, I made a promise to someone very special before I left that I would take this opportunity and become the best person I could possibly be. Mind, Body and Soul. That's all I was doing. See, nothing. What's to get defensive about?"

Cordelia didn't need the reference of 'someone very special' to draw on her conclusions of who that someone might have been. Buffy again fidgeting to her left told her that her conclusion to be true. And from this more heat grew within her. "You were *perfect* just the way you were Xander. If this 'person' gave you the impression you weren't already good enough, then*""

The blind red head raised his voice before Cordelia could speak any further. "*I* decided. Nobody else. I needed to change Cordelia. I *had* to change, otherwise I doubted I would have been able to stand becoming the person I was already on the road to becoming." There was a tense silence for a moment before he continued with his explanation. "The Mind, that was easy. Without Willow being there to copy her Homework or bug for the answers to questions I didn't know I had to finally think for myself. It ended up I wasn't as stupid as I always thought I was. I picked up on things very fast too; it was if my mind began to work on another plane of problem solving then what it used to.

"The Body, well that was different. I trained in the Gym nearly daily after classes, but being a Scooby for over two years meant that I had kinda gotten used to only 3-4 hours sleep a night. So I err, got a Special Instructor and I put in additional 4-6 hours at night when everyone else was sleeping. That's how I got so good so quickly. I was putting in more time then anybody else. Anyway, the physical stuff was a good distraction; it provided me the chance to lose myself for a bit, to forget about the things that 'we' were going through with the not talking.

"Sometimes Angie would stop by and give me the low down on everything you guys were doing. Like Cordy becoming the pipeline to the PTB, Willow going all 'Happy and carefree' with other girls. Buff and her spankin' new Boyfriend. Sometimes he would even help me out by sparring with me. It did help, gave me the chance to release some of that bottled aggression I had at not being there for you guys when you needed me.

"Y'know sometimes DB can be a pretty decent fella, when of coarse he's not scoping out your neck. Anyway, going up against a Vamp really didn't give me much. I needed to test myself on other people, to see how I would measure up against them."

Giles spoke for the first time since he had entered the room, clutching onto something in his fist tightly. "I suppose that would explain why you won so many competitions. You had gotten so used to competing against Angel, and with his Vampire strength and speed an ordinary human probably didn't pose much of a challenge. But what about Bed Checks, surely a place as regimental as this one participated on the most basic of security measures?"

"Yeah, but I found away to get around them. It's not as much as what you know, but who you know."

The four visitors looked at each other with the same thought to Xander's accomplish. The man who had shown them in - Mike. He did say he hated to 'Rat' and that he always looked the other way where Xander was concerned.

"The Soul, now that was the hardest." The statement stirred more silence in the already quiet room and had all eyes returned to him. Xander took this silence as his que that he had their attention and continued. "The Mind and the Body were kid's stuff compared to that. I always thought Deadboy was over doing it with the whole broody thing. But I think I finally got it. I had sin's I had to make up for, things that I had done which were inexcusable, and I didn't know where to start."

Willow had by this time joined her female friends; Xander had always been the most forthright person she knew. Even when she was angry and upset with him she knew he always tried to do the right thing, and to hear this she could no longer hold her tongue. "What are you talking about? Xander you have nothing to be ashamed of except for your fashion sense."

A gentle smile spread over his face. "No Willow, I have plenty to be ashamed of. Buff knows what I'm talking about; I wasn't as good of a person as everybody thought I was. And if you guys knew the truth about me I doubt you'd ever want to speak to me again." Xander let the sentence hang as Willow, Giles and Cordelia looked expectantly to Buffy for an explanation. Through his radar detection the blinded youth 'felt' the air currents generated by the Slayers hand gestures that she would inform them all of it later. This truly surprised him, that she hadn't already shared this info with them earlier. But he couldn't bare listing his collected 'evils' again, not with a whole audience at least, one-on-one was different but a group was too much. "Anyway, three days a week I did some after school work down the road at the Catholic Church on the corner. They have a Youth Crisis Centre on premises where they council kids thinking about committing suicide, they dealt with the runaways, abused kids - sexual and physical. As well as young pregnant mothers. Its rewarding work, but I couldn't make that, y'know, 'connection' to what I was doing.

"That is until four weeks ago. I was asked by someone to help them out. And I did. She came to me, she didn't have to, but she did. We talked; we talked until the morning light. She told me things about herself that I doubt she ever shared with another human being." Xander paused for a moment, lowering himself to sit on the corner of his bed, the thick green tinted lens of his glasses staring blankly ahead. "I once saw her as this incredibly powerful force of nature type person, but in those twelve hours we were together I started to see her differently. I started to see her as she truly was and not the façade she had always tried hard to present. I saw her as the person she never wanted to be seen as; I saw her vulnerable, fragile, scared and frightened, unsure of what she should do and where she should go. I saw her in all her human weakness, and all I wanted to do was help her. To protect her." Xander chuckled again, only this time there was a sense of sadness as he did so. "I had been told I was a 'Protector'. Never got what that really meant till now." Xander removed his glasses, and in the waning light of the afternoon that slid in through the blinds of his window, the visitors could see the light pink blistered scars around his once, but now dead chocolate brown eyes.

When the blind youth spoke again, it seemed more he was speaking to himself and his own musings then to the others in the room. "A Protector and a Slayer." Another sad chuckle left his throat with this pondering.

"So this person was a Slayer? It was Faith wasn't it?"

Calmly Xander again looked in the direction of the voice addressing him. "Yes Buff it was. Please don't insult me by acting all surprised, Mike told me before you came in that he let it slip, sweetheart of a guy but the dude's got a big mouth. Yeah, Faith came in confused and scared at what she had done. She needed a friend. And I wanted to be that friend for her."

"Where is she Xander?"

"I can't tell you that Buff. I gave her my word. But you're safe from her, and she's safe from you. That's all I'm prepared to tell you. You don't have to be afraid of her."

"Afraid? You think I'm afraid of that --- that skank? Every time we've faced off, she's the one who runs or loses. I'm not afraid of her!" For the first time she entered the humble room the blonde Slayer approached Xander, and with her voice she tried to convey to him as gently as possible her thoughts on the threat of Faith and the steel of her conviction to this judgement. "She's dangerous Xander. She's a killer. You have to tell us where she is before someone else dies."

Returning her gentle yet steeled tone Xander out reached his hand and combed it through the Chosen One's golden hair. "She's no more dangerous then you are Buffy. She made a mistake, and she recognized that. And in doing that it was a start. It was a small start, but every journey begins with that first small footstep." The Blind man felt Buffy's hand raise and catch his as he made a third motion through her locks. She could have stilled the action, instead she squeezed. Squeezed hard. For a moment it seemed that the earth stopped its rotation for the two and an unfortunate understanding was reached between them both.

With his free hand Xander once more placed on his glasses. A pointless exercise for someone blind, but Xander always found it helped trigger something within him. With the glasses off he was who he truly was; the person he chose to be. With them on he became different, stronger, determined - relentless to what had to be done. In his mind he became a person few would challenge, and fewer still could beat. This was his Warrior-Self; this was the Protector he DARED to be.

The lack-lustre concealment, the emerald tinted lens framed 'mask' offered him the anonymity and liberation to be someone else. It was an obvious Jekyll-and-Hyde Psychosis. One he took deep and dark pleasure in at times, but it was also one that could quite easily have him question his own sense of identity. Who was he really? A Man, or the Man who hid behind a mask? With his jaw clenched and bearing only a slight row of teeth Xander spoke in a hush that carried. "Look I'm not going to debate on the right and wrongs of what she did, but what did happen came from a place of fear, betrayal, and loneliness."

"She tried to kill Angel."

"Who hasn't in this room?"

"That was not Angel, that was Angelus!"

"So?!?" Xander then paced across the room, away from the Slayer and stood in front of his Wardrobe, placing his hands upon his hips, his face grim and chiselled. "You guy's didn't give her a choice but to side with the Mayor. She thought the Watcher's were going to take her away and chain her up in one of their dungeons or something. She thought you guy's turned her in, that you went back on your word to help her."

Cordelia Chase raised her voice to participate in the argument forming. "That wasn't us Xander. That was Wesley."

"Exactly, but did any of you try to clarify that to her? No. Maybe if you took five-minutes out during one of those 'Showdowns' Buffy and explain to her what happened*"

"*She killed an Innocent Xander. A person who didn't deserve to die."

"Oh, like you've never killed something that didn't deserve it? That nothing has ever been caught in 'friendly fire' where you were concerned?!?"


For the briefest moment Xander's lip twitched upwards, poised as if he had a secret to reveal. A point to be made. With his jaw clenched, and an etching forming on his face identifying a silence akin to a Herculean effort Xander spun pointlessly away from the gathering. "I'm not going to go there with you Buff, and you should be eternally grateful that I'm not.

"Sure, Faith made a mistake, a big one. But she's paying for it now and she needs friends to see it through. And I told her she could always count on me as being one."

"She's evil Xander. She's tried to kill us all, and you're taking her side." In the mind of 'Buffy' Elizabeth Anne Summers the die was already caste. She now had to voice the question that was forming in her mind since before she walked into Xander's private room. "Was she really that good of a Lay that you're prepared to side with her over us?"

That was it.

That was the comment that changed everything in the room.

A comment that had Xander spin back on his heels.

The Slayer who had stood down ADAM, and faced the Master in his own Lair, had to fight the temptation not to step back in surprise like Willow and Cordelia at the expression on the blind man's face.

"For the sake of our friendship I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. And that you weren't just implying that I would take advantage of someone who was in an emotionally vulnerable frame of mind. So for that I'm going to say this once, and only once. And then I will expect you not to raise it ever again. Faith and I have not had sex, we talked. End of discussion. She needed a friend; she was reaching out to me and was asking for my help. And unlike some in this room, I'm not the kind of person who will turn their back and walk away from a friend when they are calling out for aid."

The statement stung the air, and there was no way that it veiled anything other then what it was. A painful reminder to the Slayer of what she did to him two years ago, and emphasis of what he was not prepared to do to Faith now.

The blonde's voiced seemed stalled and shattered when she spoke again. "Willow, you're good with the magiks. Make Xander tell us where she is."

There was a two second lapse as the female red head processed what she was being asked to do; but before she could answer; her stuttered words were silenced by Xander's. "Don't do it Willow. You do this, you take my Will away from me and I promise I will never forgive you. There is good and there is evil, please believe me Willow. Faith is not evil, she was just mixed up."

The refined and gentle voice of Giles carried from across the room. "Xander, Faith is a Slayer. As such she falls under the jurisdiction of the Council. Her fate must be decided by them not you*"

"Shut-up Giles! As much as I respect you, do not bring the Council in on this. And don't you dare say I'm not involved in this cause I am involved. I made Faith a promise. A Promise. Don't you get that? Don't any of you understand? I gave her my word. And as you yourself always used to drum into me - 'A man is defined by their word'.

"And this is one Slayer the Council won't put in their crosshairs."

Buffy's voice found renewed strength as Xander engaged her Watcher. She once again propositioned Willow to cast a truth and obedience spell.

And again Xander's voice rose up to challenge. "Willow, you do this and you will be going down the same path as Amy's Mom. And we all know how she ended up, don't we. Doing what Buffy is asking you to do goes against everything you're about. Don't abuse the gift you have, cause if you do one day Buffy will come for you just like everybody else who manipulates magic to reach their own end. Just like she did with Amy's Mother."

An expression of startled fear crossed the Wicca's face as she turned and looked at her best female friend. Indecision mounting within her. Was she prepared to cross that line? Was Xander right? If she kept on using the magic's she found an ease in using out of laziness to do things the normal way. Would she one day look behind her and see a thousand such lines in the sand and her best friend in front of her prepared to end her life? She didn't like Faith, but she trusted Xander. Even in her darkest times, times when she tried to hate him she still believed in him. And she knew he was right.

Up until now all the spells she had caste were necessary one's to vanquish some diabolical evil scheme. But this was different. Xander made his choice. Was it stupid? In her opinion yes, yes it was. And it was suicidal, but from Xander's perspective she knew that he would be seeing it as some gallant gesture to help a Warrior of the Light get back on the path she strayed from. And as much as she loved them both, Xander and Buffy, she was not going to be part of this. This was Xander's decision, and right or wrong he would have to live with the consequences. Sadly she turned to the Slayer and sadly announced. "I'll be outside in the Hall. Congratulations on Graduating Xander."

Cordelia quickly approached her one time boyfriend and kissed his cheek before she addressed the Chosen One and her Watcher. "What the Witch said goes for me was well." She then turned to Xander and spoke as up beat as she could. "Look after yourself Dork, and watch your back. Faith is wicked-good at stabbing people there."

The door closed heavily behind the pair. There was a small sense of accomplishment in Xander's face and tone of voice when he spoke again. "And then there where two. If what you're going to do is try and get me to tell you where she is, then save your breath and leave. I'm not giving her up. People have given up on her too many times and I'm not going to add to that number."

From the six foot distance that separated both champions, the blinder of the two heard the Slayer's teeth grind. "Cordelia's right Xander. When she's got everything she needs from you, she'll slit your throat from ear-to-ear. And she'll be laughing when she does it."

"Then that will make thing more interesting between us, won't it?"

"You think this is funny? You have no idea what she's capable of!"

"Why won't you give her a chance? The two of you have so much in common. You both lost your first Watcher; you both had this destiny thrust onto your shoulders. Why are you so stubborn about letting her redeem herself?"

"Because she doesn't deserve it. She screwed up and there are some things that can't be forgiven."

Like a silent sentinel Rupert Giles remained in the corner of the room, attending to his namesake and what he was trained to be at birth - A Watcher.

Xander once more removed his glasses, and held them loosely in his hand. "We forgave you Buff. When you took your impromptu 'Vacation' after Acathla. The Scoob's gathered to pick up the slack. But not one of us was a Slayer. Out of ten Vamps we fought, four would get away. And you bet they would be drinking someone later that night. If you were still in Sunnydale like you were suppose to have been we would've been 10 for 10. People died because you weren't where you were supposed to be, people died because the Slayer deserted her cause. I take no pleasure it mentioning this Buffy; I'm just trying to illustrate a point. Your human, you make mistakes. And guess what, Faith is human too. The evil thing would be to never forgive her, the good - to give her a chance.

"I told you on a wet day nearly two years ago that I wanted to be a Good person again. Doing this for Faith - in *helping* her, she is also *helping me* be that person."

These words were followed by silence.

Then more silence.

And when that silence was broken it belonged to a female. The voice of the Slayer of Vampires was soft and full of troubled emotion. "We make our choices Xander. I had to leave. But I still came back. I know what I put on you guys to do when I was 'gone' was incredibly selfish. But after everything that happened that year I couldn't stay. And yet I couldn't stay away either." There was a deep breath between sentences as Buffy came to a resistant decision. "I've tried to make up for that nearly everyday." Slowly she turned and began to make a path to the door. "I owe you Xander, but now we're even. Faith is your responsibility; she's your 'Angelus'. What she does falls on you and you alone. I pray you're right, but if you're wrong and I come across her - I-Will-Kill-Her, make no mistake, and there is nothing you could say to stop me. And that's because if she goes bad again she would have already have killed you." The sound of the door opened and closed leaving a chasm of more silence.

"And then there was one."

Giles stepped forward, speaking with every tread he took. "I am not going to hamper you with my opinion Xander*"


"---Only to say that Faith is dangerous and cannot be underestimated."

"If all your gonna do is bad-mouth her like everyone else, well, you know where the door is."

"No Xander, I remained because I wanted to talk to you about another matter." Giles tossed the vial he had picked up from Xander's desk into the opened suitcase. The rattling of pills in the plastic container as they landed caught the blinded youth's attention.

"I --- get headaches, and those help with the pain."

"I see. This may not interest you; but I used to be a big fan of Horseback riding when I was still in England Xander. As such I am more then familiar with that particular brand of medication."

"I get really, REALLY big Headaches."

"The dosage on that Vial is enough to put a normal person in a coma. I doubt even Buffy's metabolism could process it safely. Who supplied it to you? Was it that 'Special' Trainer of yours? Is he giving you anything else to enhance your performance, say in athletics? Is that why you looked so ashamed when Cordelia pressed you about your Wins? Have you been cheating Xander?"

The sub conscious action of placing on his glasses once more provided him with the two seconds he needed to think of a reasonable answer. An answer that would explain everything and not reveal to the man he looked to as a surrogate father as the 'Blind Freak' he had become. Unfortunately none came instantly to mind. "Lota questions there Giles."

"And no answers I see."

"No answers, sorry."

As with his Charges who had left moments earlier, the Englishman approached the door leading out of the simple yet functional room. When he got to the doorknob he paused and turned, addressing the defeated and drained form of the man he remembered being so proud of when he was still but a boy. "Don't be sorry for me Xander. Be sorry for yourself. You my boy are a sham; you rightfully took achievements from others more deserving. People who sweated honestly for recognition. I truly thought you were far better then that."

Without another utterance the door opened and closed, and Xander was once more alone in silence. He couldn't challenge Giles on his words, they were all true. With his Radar, increased bone density and lightness, and his other growing abilities he as good as cheated. But he had to compete; it was one thing to receive praises in a deserted Boxing Studio and another to compare yourself to seasoned athletes.

Again he removed the golden rimmed framed glasses from the bridge of his nose, only this time he crushed them in his grasping hand. Throwing the bent metal, supporting the broken fragments of the still embedded green lens violently across the short distance of the room and hearing his sunglasses, his 'mask', shatter further into oblivion on the opposite wall.

His jaw clenched and unclench, as he fought hard not to scream in frustration. When did he become the bad guy? Why was him trying to do the decent thing for Faith make him a villain?

The seconds spasmed into minutes, and after four he finally got his inner anger under control. Softly he replied to the Librarians finishing comment. "I'm trying Giles, I really am trying." He then once more approached his suitcase and recommenced his packing. With only one aim, to be New York bound as soon as possible.


Two Months Later;
'Hells Kitchen'
New York City.

The sirens wailed as they always seemed to do when night fell in the 'Kitchen'. They either belonged to an Ambulance, Fire Engine or Police Patrol Car. And the sound was a constant presence in the neighbourhood.

Regardless to the origin of the noise the lone figure remained still like a statue, staring out over the metropolitan horizon. Taking comfort in the awful noise. It meant many things to many people, but to Xander Harris it meant that the City's Servants were doing their duty to keep its people safe.

He respected that, there was a kinship within him for these people, these silent heroes. And desperately he wished to join them in their endeavours, but not yet. When he had everything, then he would make his presence felt.

Felt but not seen.

The Slayer was a myth. A Legend spoken down from Vampire to Vampire, from Demon to Demon. And Buffy, regardless, had benefited from the Darkness's fear of her title earnt in the blood of others who came before her. He did not have generations and hundreds of years to make a name for himself. He had to be dramatic and his presence too ridiculous to be believed as real. He did not have time on his side, he had to make himself a legend from the get go. He had to have people whisper his name in fear and awe. From the darkness he had to make the cruel afraid of their own shadows.

He remembered as a child reading an old Batman Comic and memorizing the familiar and popular words that 'Criminals were a superstitious and cowardly lot'. Maybe Bob Kane was onto something with this statement? If Villains were terrified by something as innocent as a bat, then what he had in mind would have them all pissing in their shorts.

Down the street he sensed another purse-snatching.

A block away he could detect another pointless fist-fight in the back alley of a nearby Bar.

These were the mundane crimes, and they were everywhere. Everywhere and without an end.

The kind of crimes most Champions like the Slayer and a certain Souled Vampire rarely acknowledged happened in the real world. So caught up in their Supernatural lifestyle that it never occurred to any of them that these people were victims too and needed to be protected by a different form of Darkness.

Always seeking the big adventure, the worthy adversary to test their metal.

They may save the World, but he would save the people in it.

He would protect those that these Champions refused to. The everyday people. The innocent's from different forms of monsters.

He had been in New York for just over a month and a half, and it had been close to two since the people who were once his whole life walked out of his private room at the Academy. Some with respect for him, others with disappointment.

Since then he had started working at a Counselling Office in one of the toughest neighbourhoods, in one of the toughest Cities in the World. Offering guidance and City aid for those in need.

Shortly after his arrival and quite by accident he bumped into Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson at a Coffee Shop just up the street from where he now worked. 'Foggy' had put his shingle up around the corner and since that day the two made it a regular thing to meet up for lunch, dinner or afternoon coffee break.

It was strange how seeing a familiar face, or in his case hearing a familiar voice, in a city of strangers offered him the companionship he lost when he left LA. And he was pretty certain Foggy felt the same way as himself. When they both worked at the Youth Crisis Centre in LA they barely knew each other, except for the odd greetings and pleasantries. Now seven weeks on they would bicker, play practical jokes and bait each other openly in public like they had been doing it for years. Like they were both brothers.

Foggy had originally come from Manhattan. The Nelson's were Queens People, and it didn't take long for Foggy to introduce him to his large family, and a desperate mother who wanted a grandchild to spoil. For Foggy, who was ten years older then Xander, offering him to his mom for 'adoption' was a necessary tactic to help him avoid the embarrassing 'hook-ups' his Mom had planned for him now that he was back home and no longer out of her reach in Los Angeles.

He had been thrown to the Match-making Wolves.

The Blind man became her 'special project', a project that deflected much interest from her eldest and only son. Xander didn't mind it at all, he liked Mrs. Nelson, and it was --- nice, belonging again. And thou he would never admit it to Foggy; he had to confess that the six girls she had set him up with in the past five weeks were all very nice and special people. People he had a good time with. And he was certain that they would make some man very happy one day. They were just not 'Special' enough for him.

He was not trying to be difficult; he knew loneliness, that was where he ruled. He was not seeking anyone out; he was just looking for a distraction until that 'One' came alone. That special 'One' that did not have the face of Buffy on it. This was still a sore subject, personal wise, being reminded that the blonde Slayer had laid and left their friendship at his door because of Faith.

It was stupid and it was childish.

He still wrote to LA County Female Penitentiary, care of inmate Faith Williams religiously every week, keeping her informed of his life (minus certain details of course) like a good friend would, offering her encouragement when he thought it seemed appropriate. But it wasn't easy; Faith had shared so much of her life with him, told him of just about every dirty little secret she kept. He had secrets to, big ones. It was only fair, tit-for-tat, but for the first time in a long time he was afraid. What if he told her about the 'Attributes of the Demon' thing and she no longer wanted his help? That she would back away from his support? Faith was only human, how could he expect her to deal with that?

For each of Mrs Nelson's 'Blind' dates he would ponder how these women would react to the truth of his life and what he was now. A Protector. It was a role he had not sought, but embraced now all the same. A person with Demon corpuscles circulating in his system.

Yes these women were all special and incredibly giving, but to expect them to understand this truth was too much. Yes, they were special; they were just not what he was looking for in a partner.

What he wanted he could never have.

What he wanted was to be normal again, or to be with someone who could understand his responsibilities. A woman with the sophistication and grace of Cordelia, the Intellect of his Willow, the energy and vitality for life of Buffy and the Street Smarts, Independence and Humour of Faith. Such a woman does not just walk in from off the streets. Such a woman would be to Perfect to exist in real life. But still Mrs Nelson tried and he loved her all the more for it.

With the cocking of his head to focus on his loft Apartment, Xander straightened himself from his crouch-kneeling position and made his way across his extended balcony. He opened the door to his domicile, and spread his sensors over the interior. He was pleasantly surprised to hear some one rummaging though his fridge. Knowing that it could only be one person. That was because only one person had the key. "Took your time."

From within the refrigerated compartment the Brooklyn voice travelled. "You I ain't speakin' too."

"Short visit then?"

"Don't you have any Salami or something? I'm trying to make a have decent sandwich and all I see is Rabbit Food!"

"To spicy."

"Oh, so the rest of us have to suffer because of your exaggerated tastebuds? Not to considerate Blind-spot."

"You want meat there's a Deli on the Corner."

"This time of night? In this neighbourhood? Are you out of your freakin' mind? I'm not settin foot out of this place till mornin'."

This complaint could go on all night; Xander knew this because once it did. The Balance Demon was like a Dog with a Bone when he had a gripe, and the topic for the evening was obviously going to be sandwich meat. "I got some 'Smoky-Bacon Potato Chips' in one of the top cabinets if you will lose the 'tude."

"The 'tude' is stayin. I'm owed the 'tude'. The 'tude' is what you got comin' for what you put me through." The sound of the upper cabinet door opened and the packet of comfort food seized and ripped open. Nothing but pure intent and hatred could be heard as the Balance Demon deliberately ate with his mouth open. The crunching of the crisp chips was like finger nails down a chalk board to the unseeing Champion of the people.

The crunches resonating in the blind man's ears was almost too much for him to bare, but when a dozen stray chips struck his immaculately clean floor, a floor devoid of any dust and dirt it became waaayy too much. Enough was enough. "Okay you Imp from Hell. You're here for a reason. What is it?"

Smirking and wiping his now greasy hands on Xander's off-white coloured shirt as he passed by on the way to the centre room. The Balance Demon spoke. "I got the goods. Everything, right down to the helmet."

This was it. This was what Xander had been waiting for. The twenty year old did his best not to display his excitement. It was like Christmas and he was a six year old boy running down to the tree. "Well? We're are they?"

"On the table your Majesty, sheesh!"

"Okay, what's with you?"

"Oh I don't know? How about a thank you."

"Thank you? I've been sitting on my hands for six weeks waiting on this stuff, and you want a thank you? Who did you use to deliver this stuff, Snails-r-Us?"

"For your information I went to great lengths in getting this gear together. Why we couldn't have gotten you a magical weapon I don't know?*"

"*Because I don't trust magic. Magic and me are not a good mix. I wanted something physical, something I could rely on working."

"Hey, I'm just sayin that I know this Toft Demon, he does some pretty reliable work at reasonable price. When he makes something, it's guaranteed to work as it should, when it should."

"No Magic!" Xander reverently picked up the hard wood and hollowed item from out of a holster on the table. In a pinch he could use it as a stake against Vampires he supposed, but that was not its only purpose or function. It was to be his weapon - his 'Billy-Club'.

On the side was a stud shaped as the devils head. He held it down for a moment and the 30cm rod extended to a 1,250cm Cane. He pressed it again and the length retracted. He turned the device around in the opposite direction pointed it to an un-pictured wall and quickly depressed on the stud again for a split second. This time a small grappling hook shot out and embedded itself into the concrete surface with a support line attached at its end.

Taking another handful of chips out of the packet the demon spoke with his mouth half full. "What you got there Chief is pure Adamantinum."

"Never heard of it."

"Few have. Expensive and very rare. Government regulated. That hook will never blunt and that line will, though it may seem as fine as piano wire, will easily support up to three tons of weight. There is also a sealed off compression unit gizmo at the base that can send that hook flying at about seventeen meters a second with a reach of about 25-metres. And as long as the end is properly anchored can draw in on it's retraction a dead weight of up to 500pounds."

"Hang on a second; if its Government regulated how did you get it?"

"I get things, I make stuff happen - it's my job."

"I asked you how you Imp!?!"

"Remember that heist couple of weeks ago. Made every Paper in the Country. You know the one - that Tech place in California which was storing a few items that was gonna go up in the next Space Shuttle. A revolutionary micro-winch, and some other little do-dads*"

"STARK ENTERPRISES! You ripped off Stark Enterprises!?!"

"Hey you needed it - I got it. It's what I do. And in no way is it traceable back to you, so relax. Besides that Tony guy is a Billionaire, he can afford it."

Xander shock his head in stunned disbelief. "I don't believe you. I *really* don't believe you. Tony Stark is a good guy, a Humanitarian. He gives to all those Charities."


"SO?!? Don't you have limits?"

"Kid. I do what I gotta; besides that Tony Guy ain't exactly an Angel. He started his Company by selling weapons of destruction. Items that killed other people were based on his designs. It's only in that last five years that he's developed a conscience." The Demon dropped the now half eaten bag of chips on the table. "And its cause I do what I gotta that you have this." Whistler then placed in Xander's outreached hands a leather suit. "It's fire retardant, lined with Kevlar padding, and totally water proofed."

Again Xander tried to hide his glee. "It's heavier then I expected."

"That's the Kevlar. Remember to compensate for the weight when you do your stuff."

"Okay who did you steal this from?"

"Absolutely, Friggin' No-one. This I had to Order and Buy. Do you honestly think there is someone out there with something like this in his wardrobe?"

The Blind man ignored the question as he began to eagerly strip off his clothing and get redressed in his new Red Leather Outfit.

"You have no idea do you?"

Xander began to get a little irritated. "What are you talking about?"

"The Suit! Do you have any idea what I went through to get this damn 'Special' suit of yours?"

"Aren't you the one who just said 'I get things - It's my Job'? Cause I seem to remember someone saying that a minute ago."

"Listen up Buckaroo; I went way beyond the call of duty to get that for you. Do you have any idea what kinda 'specialty shops' I had to go to find one that sold full body leather outfits? SEX SHOPS that what!"

Xander burst out laughing, practically in tears.

"Yeah, you yak it up Blind-spot. I had to go into these places with your measurements. It was one thing with stuff I could pass it off for me, but this I couldn't. I'm 5'3", your 6'1". 'Yes Mister Purveyor of BD-wares, I would like a full red dyed leather outfit for my Special Man Friend. Oh yes, could you also make him look like A HORNED DEVIL!!!'

Xander never laughed so hard as he tried to picture the scene in his head for his Mentor and Instructor.

"I was called a Pervert by a Pervert! You ask me where the 'tude comes from - there's your answer."

Xander tried to stifle his laughter as he continued to change. When he was done he fastened the Billy Club Holster around his waist and placed the weapon with in. Carefully he picked up the Horned Helmet and put it on. It fully covered his skull cap and the front half of his face ending at his nose, it was tight and form fitting. Moulded perfectly to the shape of his head, ruby reflective plexiglass lens in place of his eyes. He wanted concealment for his face, and now he had it.

He had to live in this neighbourhood and he had seen the repercussions of Buffy going out on Patrol with out trying to hide her identity. Nearly every Vamp and Demon knew what she looked like and some even knew where she lived. He was not going to make her mistake. If he was going to make any they would be all his. "Well what do you think?"

"I think that if you cark-it on the first night then this is really going to be embarrassing to explain."

"Wearing this, if I cark-it it's going to be embarrassing regardless of whether it's my first night or not. So I guess just for that reason I had better stay alive, huh?"

"Sounds like a plan. You look good kid. Real Batman."

Under the mask Xander smirked his trademarked lopsided smile. Real confident, the Mr Hyde in him was beginning to rise up again. "Not Batman, call me Daredevil." The red suited man began to make his path towards his balcony door, when he got to the doorway he stopped and turned into his kitchen and opened one of his draws, removed an item and tucked it into the top of his clasped boots.

Whistler, who had followed him ask him curiously. "What's that?"

"Lighter Fluid, can you think of anything better then fire to brand the Devils name in the Kitchen?" Once more opening the door leading out to the night air, and the siren sounds Xander walked forward without fear of the threats that now awaited him.

When he got to the edge of his Balcony he out stretched his arms and took in his neighbourhood with his full array of Sensors. *His* Neighbourhood. This was his home, and he was going to protect his home.

Down the street he heard a cry, another Streetwalker being shook down for either a free service or more of a cut by her 'Manager' for having a good evening client-wise. That wasn't going to happen, not tonight or any other night that he walked these streets. The man in Red took a deep breath and ran forward towards the end of his balcony leaping over the barricaded edge plummeting four stories of the eight story building.

Whistler came running over to the edge praying that he wouldn't see a red smudge on the streets below. He didn't, what he saw was a guy in Red Leather sail through the air on a line. "Oh Yeah Kid. You go get 'em."

Chapter 8

One Week before the end of Season 5 of BtVS
1630 Revello Drive, Sunnydale.

The telephone rung to life like a screaming baby bought into the world. Its sound would have gone unanswered if not for the fact that a fifteen year old girl had stumbled out of her room two-minutes earlier to answer one of nature's most desperate calls.

Any and all civility had left her; she had only gone to sleep four hours earlier so she was in no mood for this. She was way to young to have bag's the size of suitcases under her eyes. She needed rest dammit. This was Saturday; God could keep Sunday, but today was her day. Picking up the phone she growled into the receiver. "Unless the World is coming to an end call back."

"Dawn, is that you?"

"Cordelia? What are you doing, do you have any idea of the time?"

"A little after 8:30"

"Exactly, that's like the equivalent of 4am on a week day, couldn't you have called after 11?"

"Coulda, but this is big. And I wanted to be the barer of the bigness that is this."


"Not this time, why do you ask?"

"Cause when you call, or when Angel show's up, it's never in the realms of anything good. And right now we kinda have our mitts full with a Bimbo Hell-God."

"Hell-God? Sounds pretty big, our nemeses of the year are a bunch of lame assed Lawyers".

"Lawyers? You have my condolences but we'll keep the Hell-God thank you."

"Bet Giles's been making you all hit the books pretty hard huh?"

"And how. He thinks everything can be found in the good old printed word. Don't matter that 2/3's of the stuff ain't English. How did you guys do it when you were my age?"

"Donut's. Lot's and lots of donuts. You'd be surprised at what a rush of Caffeine and a decent amount of sugar-pastries will do for you."

"Aside from ruin my complexion? Kinda makes me miss Xander even more then I already do - Where is he when you need him?"

"New York."


"He's in New York."

"Yo---you're sure. I mean you're absolutely positive. You wouldn't lie to me about that?"

"Got the proof in my hot little hands."

"He like dropped off our radar after he Graduated. Not a hide nor hair or word to anybody. I know things didn't go well, but I thought that he would have at least have kept tabs with us."

"Well blame 'Miss Bufftastic'. She's the one who gave him the ultimatum. The whole 'Faith or Us' deal."

"Still. Willow and me didn't do anything; we even supported his stupid decision. He coulda dropped us aline once in a while. We both thought Faith had diced him up into little bits and had fed him to stray dogs somewhere."

"What did 'Her Highness' think."

"Buffy? Y'know her. You don't talk about something, then it didn't really happen. As you can guess she doesn't talk about him, Giles neither for that matter. I mean I know why Buff went all gung-ho with the 'you better tell us where you're hiding the skank'. But Giles has been equally upset at Xander since then and he won't discuss why."

"Yeah, when he came out of Xander's room and joined us in the Hall it looked like the Goof had torn out his heart and jumped up and down on it. I guess he was more upset about the Faith/Xander pairing-thing then we were."

"I guess. Anyway how long have you known Xander was in the Big Apple?"

"Six months."

"What?!?!? And you didn't tell us?"

"Hey if I told you, you would have told Willow, and Willow would have blabbed to little Miss Perfect. And then she would have made Xander's life a living Hell with the whole "Faith, Faith, Faith' thing. Besides, I don't think after you guy's picked up the morning Paper I'd have the opportunity to do some pre-gloating on the 'Stupid-One borne to every generation'."

"What are you talking about? Naah, scratch that --- how did you find out he was in New York? Willow tried a couple of locator spells but he was out of range, I guess her Magiks couldn't reach as far as the other side of the Country. But you, how did you do it? Find a new-and-improved spell?"

"Nope just old fashion detective work and alotta dumb luck. Wesley caught an article in the Bugle about some kinda vigilante demon attacking Bad Guys, and operating in the Midtown area of Manhattan. Something the locals dubbed the 'Daredevil'. Angel went to investigate. When he was there looking into the whole Devil-thing - is it Good or Evil deal, he said he came across Xander one night."

"Is he okay? Did he ask about me?"

"Angel say's he's fine. In fact Mr Tan-less said he was impressed. Really, really impressed about how well Xan is doing. In his new calling and everything else connected to his new life. Y'know I kinda got an inkling that he was actually pretty proud of our favourite Sunnydale Dweeb.

"As too everything else that happened with this Daredevil clown his lips remained sealed, and believe me I've tried hard to unseal them. Wesley was annoyed as all hell, dipping into what I laughingly call 'the company funds' to get the Boss-man there and all Angel would say was that this Devil-guy was definitely on the side of goodness. No contact details in case of trouble, no species identification, no*"

"I don't want to hear about some lame-Daredevil-jerk, tell me more about Xander. What's he doing, is he seeing anyone*"

"Whoa there puberty-girl. You want that info, then check out the New Yorker, or the Daily Bugle or any other major Newspaper."

"What are you talking about? What's that got to do with Xander?"

"Just check it out. When you see it, you'll know it. By the way - make sure Buffy sees it as well, and tell her I said - 'don't you hate it when I'm right'."

"What the Hell is that suppose to mean?"

"Just get the Paper, and tell her. She'll know what it means." With this the LA based Seer then hung up the phone.

Dawn Summer's stared down at the instrument that had delivered such a curious communiqué, and all concerns about getting some extra sleep were lost to her. Placing down the receiver she sped out the door and across Revello Drive to her neighbour Mr Lee.

Mr 'Stan-the-Man', as he liked to be called, always had his newspapers delivered, and she was certain one of them was the Bugle. She also knew that he usually read them when he was having his breakfast, so by this time of day he would've been finished with them.

At her arrival the eighty five year old retired cartoonist happily handed over his read morning copy of the New York based Newspaper. And with sincere thanks Dawn Summer's once more sped across the road to her own house to investigate upon Cordelia Chase's strange words. She didn't get far into the paper before what the Seer wanted Buffy to see was staring her straight in the face. It had made page one with a follow up on page three. Page three was the one with the photographs. She desperately read the accompanying story and with each word her teenage heart broke a little more.

"BUFFY! WILLOW! TARA! BUFFY!" Her voice broke the morning silence of the Summer's home as the three young women all came running down the stairs with the Vampire Slayer taking the leed. Willow and Tara had volunteered to move in with Buffy post Joyce's death to help with keeping an eye on Dawn and to assist with the finances. Of course there was the Glory factor - keeping everyone together so that no-one went 'missing' seemed like an excellent strategy. Giles had decided to stay at his Apartment in the concern of how it would present to neighbours if he moved in with four young women.

When they entered the kitchen, and the origin of the desperate call from Dawn, they saw her holding a horrific look and pointing to a Newspaper upon kitchen table as if it was the most evilest thing in creation.

Buffy quickly approached her sister and wrapped her arms around her. "Dawn? Dawnie, what is it? Was Glory here again? It's okay, I'm here I won't let anything happen to you, I promise."

Through sob's Dawn answered. "It's horrible. It's wrong, what's he doing with her? He's supposed to wait. He's ruining everything I've been planning. I---I wish I was dead!"

"Don't say that, don't ever say that. Everything is going to be okay. Let me take care of it. Now tell me what happened, who's this 'he', what did he do to you?"

Willow looked up from the Paper that was still opened to the offending page. "Err Buff; I don't think it was anybody here. I--- I think it was this." The red-headed Wicca pushed the opened Daily Bugle towards the Slayer as Tara assumed Buffy's position and held the fifteen year old lovingly.

What took Buffy's attention was the photograph, her eyes then travelled to the story beside it, after skimming the tale for a couple of seconds, her eyes drifted back to the black and white picture once more. "That --- that's Xander. What's Xander doing in a Newspaper and who's the person he's dancing with?"

Willow reached out and retrieved the paper she had offered her longest living female friend. The red-head began pursuing the column trying to identify any relevant information that addressed Buffy's questions. "It say's here the woman he's dancing with - I didn't know Xander knew how to dance, if he can't see how can*"

Buffy's face was like impassive stone, still staring at the blank area of the table the newspaper and the black and white print of the photograph had occupied a few seconds before. It was Willow's query that awoke her back to the present, and impatience for her answers grew as stirred within her forgotten memories of the exiled scoob swam in her head. "*Hey we didn't know he could do gymnastics either, but he could. What's dancing compared to that? Now-what-does-the-damn-thing-say?!?"

Willow quickly returned her attention to the paper in front of her after the sharp words issued by the Slayer. "Ohhhhhkay, looks like Ms Grouchy-pants got out of bed instead of Buffy." The burning look the red-head received in response to this comment was enough for her to bow her head and return her attention back to the article. "Errr right. The woman he's treading the light fantastic with is the only child of a multi-billionaire Nicholas Natchios - Wow, a Billionairess. Her name is Elektra Natchios, and she and her father, as well as a contingent of Bodyguards were attacked by an unknown assailant after they left the Function that Xander was attending. It was a 'blanket' assassination attempt which seemed to have failed; failing meaning that this Elektra Natchios person was the sole survivor and witness. The photograph in the paper was the last one taken of her that evening prior to her leaving, and Xander just happened to have been in it.

"Reports are kinda sketchy on what actually happened with the 'Hit', but the killer was either a guy dressed in dark Red, or a bald headed male riding a Motorbike. Either way both had split the scene before the NYPD got there. The Driver and Bodyguards were killed with shurikens, and the prime target Mr Natchios died as a result of a thrown wooden item impaling his chest and stabbing him through his heart." Willow's eyes flowed further down the print. "The newspaper identifies the person she was dancing with as Alexander Harris, like we didn't know that already. Anyway the Paper positively ID's him as a gentleman Elektra had *especially* invited to the high class Charity Event.

"Umm., people close to the 'Roman Holiday Heiress' say that she came across Xander in a Coffee shop after she had given her minders the slip. 'Roman Holiday Heiress'? How did she earn that stupid nickname.? Oh here it is. She got that moniker from that movie with Audrey Hepburn. The one where Audrey is a European Princess who comes to Rome and ditches her Bodyguards so she could go slumming and do the whole normal tourist thing. Apparently this poor little rich girl makes a habit of doing that, I mean, losing her minders and then walking the streets like an ordinary woman. Kinda like the 'Princess & the Pauper' - only their both the same person.

"During one of these excursions into 'normality' she and Xander met and --- and" Willow looked up from the Bugle with a devilish smile on her face. "And 'friends' close to the Socialite say she said he tried to 'Pick her up'. Now *that* would have been worth seeing. Anyway, after that little verbal disaster Xander followed her outside and the two then began to hit it off." Willow returned her eyes back to the paper. "Close friends say that Elektra was imminently impressed by Xander after that, and the two became surprisingly close in a short period of time. These reported 'Friends' say that they think she's pretty serious about him because she's never actually pursued anyone before; it's usually the other way around.

"She even went as far as paying for, and sending him an Invite to the $3,000-a-plate Black & White Ball at the 'Grand Hotel', a property owned by her father. Two invites actually, one for himself and the other he gave to a friend of his. These sources say that he is said to be a serious change from her typical suitors, y'know - Princes and other Billion/Millionaires and son's of Captain's of Industry.

"I guess that kind of attention from the most eligible the planet has to offer is not really surprising considering she is considered to be in the top ten of the most eligible and desired Singles in the whole World" Willow paused for a moment totally stunned at this reported claim allowing what she had just read out sink into everyone in the room, including herself.

She then spied further down the newspaper trying to find any other reference to Xander. "Oh here. It say's Xander works as a Social Worker/Councillor in the neighbourhood of Clinton in Manhattan. He's highly respected with his work with local adolescents and youth gangs. Encouraging them to stay in school, and spearheading initiatives to get them active in community activities and exposing them to various civic pride projects. As a result he has received Awards and Commendations of Achievement from the Mayor of New York himself for all his efforts.

"Since he started working in the Midtown area and gotten involved with the community, crime and other nocturnal offences in the neighbourhood have dropped by a staggering 38%. Police are officially tight lipped about the drop, only some prepared to go on anonymous record accrediting the decline to some urban legend protecting the area." The red-heads eyes skimmed further down the article, avoiding any references to wealth and industry left jeopardised by the loss of their leader, Nicholas Natchios. Desperately trying to find any additional information about her oldest living friend. "Ah, the locals have even dubbed him 'The Angel of Hell's Kitchen', which is a nickname he reportedly shuns away from." Willow again looked up from the Paper smiling. "Xander being called an 'Angel' by everybody, ouch, that's gotta hurt the old ego."

From across the table Buffy nodded at the jest, but did not betray any amusement on her face. "I think we are all agreed, that this 'Electric' person is obviously evil."

From within Tara's embrace Dawn voice was raised. "Yes! Evil, she must be killed."

"Err, Buffy, Dawn not sure I want to get on the 'Blood-lust' Express here. I mean what's your basis for that? Shouldn't we be happy that we know where he is finally and that he appears to be doing really well for himself?"

The Slayer got up from her wooden chair and stood beside her sister. "My 'basis' is that only women of evil are attracted to Xander. It's the whole 'So it shall be written, so shall it be done' thing. Need I remind you of his strike rate? Preying Mantis Lady, Ampata, Cordelia, and Faith. That's a hell of a lot of badness in a short dating life. If he was here in Sunnydale, and if he didn't have to have to go away because he was --- because he couldn't see anymore, I bet you dollars to donuts he would be dating a Demon right now. That's how his horny-luck works out."

"I---in all-all fairness B---buffy I don't think Cordelia is evil."

The Chosen One turned to face the honey-haired significant other of Willow. "You didn't know her in High School. She may act all sweet and nice now, but trust me; you haven't seen the real Cordelia Chase. Will, I want you to do a search for me on this person. Drag out any possible inconsistencies that may reveal her to being something that I can kill."

"Buffy, don't you think you're over reacting. I mean your acting like your jea*" The cold look that passed over the table stalled the witches words and she quickly corrected herself. "I---I mean aren't you the one who said 'let him dig his own grave'?"

"Willow, she was the sole survivor of an attack that killed everybody except her. You don't find that the least bit suspicious? She could have hired a Goon squad to off everyone she was travelling with except for her. Just to inherit all that cash Daddy dearest has."

"But Buffy, her own father?"

"Well --- well maybe it's something else." Buffy stared at the upside down Paper, hoping that it might reveal some unsaid clue to her. "Oh, I got it! Look at the facts Will; it's all there in black and white. Her Father was impaled through the heart with a wooden item. I'm thinking 'Staked' would probably be a better word for it don't you. How many Assassins use stakes? And if the Daddy is a Vamp, what about the daughter?"

"Err Buffy, there was a Body. Don't Vamps go, y'know, ashy?"

The Slayer bit down on her lower lip on her obvious error but was unprepared to give up her line of thinking. "Okay, maybe he's a sympathizer. Just like my Hemley pal Ford was before he got turned. That would make him evil. Maybe somebody staked him before he became a Vampire and could turn his Daughter, and thereby before Electricity-girl could change Xander."

"Buffy, I think your grasping at straws now. Maybe Mr Natchios *was* targeted for Assassination and his Killer just got creative."

"I still think it's suspicious that the only survivor to an effective Hit is the sole inheritor. Like it's unheard of that some rich kids have gone as far as to have their parents killed off for the sake of getting their inheritance sooner rather then later."

Dawn left the loving confines of Tara's embrace and stood defiantly beside her sister addressing the seated red-head. "Makes total sense to me."

"But still Buffy, Dawn, don't you think you're over reacting, it's just like you did with Xander the last time."

"That was because of Faith. I've got nothing against Xander except his stupidity and his shanky taste in women, everything else I'm good with." The Slayer's voice softened, not by much, but it was enough for her to express her genuine concern to the red-head. "I just want to make sure he's okay Willow. I'm responsible for him being how he is; I know that I can't change that. But it doesn't mean that I don't want him to be safe. Please find out if this woman is a threat to him, and then we'll take it from there."

Beside Buffy the teenage voice of her sister addressed the kitchen. "Of coarse she's a THREAT! Look at her. Their both from different sides of the Tracks, with zero in common. She's Caviar, he's Crackers. It's a pairing that doesn't mix. Look at that photograph of her! She's going to break his heart, can't you tell? She has that 'man-eater' look in her eye. Don't any of you see that? She's going to have her 'bit of rough' for a couple of dates and then go back to the Tuxedo crowd.

"What could she possibly have in common with Xander - NOTHING! He's blind, she's probably doing it to show him off to the camera's on what an equal-opportunity-whore she is, and when everybody has finished patting her on the back for being such an good hearted Individual for agreeing to be seen with a person with a handicap - she'll dump him cold. Leaving Xan a broken shell of his former self."

The teenager observed the looks she was getting from the other three at her outburst, but she didn't care. She was used to it by now. It wasn't exactly a state secret that she had a crush on him. She was just waiting for the right and perfect moment. That being when she turned eighteen and could use her Savings and the Trust Account established by her Secretary-chasing Father to go off in search of him. She knew that they would all laugh at this later when she wasn't around, calling it adorable or cute, but again she didn't care. This was true love. It was meant to be. And with this thought another realization crossed her - Yes! It was meant to be! How could she have been so stupid?

Dawn Summer's smile slowly stretched from ear-to-ear as she spoke once more. "Y'know what, I'm now fine with it. Willow call of that search thing; let her break his heart, that way he'll get all gun-shy and stay out of the dating game for a while. Then in three years when I'm eighteen, I can pop up on his doorstep and help him forget her by showing him my caring and nurturing side. See, this way everybody wins, and nobody loses."

Buffy took a sigh and addressed her little sister. "I don't think Xander would appreciate you*"

"*Please Buffy, if you think I'm going to let you swoop in and steal Xander from me then you are seriously deluded. You had your chance to be with him and blew it. Besides, why would he want bony old you, when he can have firm young me?"

"Oh, you do not want to go down that road little sister."

"Buffy, face it. Your version of helping him forget probably involves a club and inducing amnesia. And I am not your 'little' sister, I'm same height as you now and I'm getting that little bit taller with every passing day. I am also the 'Key' if you've forgotten, I have existed on this plain a thousand times longer then you have. So don't throw the age thing there either."

"Well I guess that makes you far too old for him then."

"Oh yeah, well --- well maybe Xander likes older women, ever think about that?"

The Slayer bought the middle and index fingers of both hands up to her head and massaged her temples. For her it was too early in the morning after Giles Book-a-thon the night before to be dealing with all of this. First Xander, and now the delusions of a lustful fifteen year old girl. "Dawn, for just one day could you not act like such a --- a child. Xander is way too old for you, and even if he wasn't he never once showed you the least bit of interest when he was around. So wake up to the reality that everyone else in this room has accepted. Xander didn't love you except in a sister-type way; you were just the annoying twelve and thirteen year old kid that played at being his shadow whenever he was here."

"He didn't think I was annoying - he liked me, Mom said so. And I'm NOT A KID! For the record I *never* followed him around like a shadow, he just happened to be where ever I was. Did it ever occur to you that maybe he was following *me* around and that he knew me so well he would be where ever I was going to be before I got there? We talked and had fun together - he was great. He treated me like an equal, and didn't look down on me like some sisters did. I *understood* him."

Down came the fingers from the temples, and even Willow could see that Buffy's patience had run its course and she was about to blow. But before the Wicca could say anything to distract or deflect the impending venomous response the Slayer spoke. It was these times when Buffy in her anger could differentiate between the truth she knew as opposed to the truth her mind believed in. At this point she was more inclined to lean towards the truth she knew. "NO YOU DIDN'T! *I* understood him, you understood everything through second hand memories. *MY, - OUR MEMORIES*. Not your own."

The stress of the last month took their toll as Buffy continued to berate the sister of her body. Riley leaving her, her Mother dying, Glory, Spikes unwelcomed declaration of love, Dawn not really being her sibling despite the evidence of her mind telling her so. And now Xander being discovered in New York as a successful helper of people and dating a prized catch. It was all too much for her to take in within a too shorter timeframe, and as always it was the ones she loved the most who took the brunt of her hostilities. "Xander visited me Dawn, he liked *me*. That's why he would come over. To see *me*. Not you - Never you. You were not even here. You didn't even exist until four to five months ago. Don't you understand that? Listen Dawn - I love you with all my heart. But Xander probably doesn't even know you're alive. He wasn't here or apart of our group when the Monks made you. You might have memories of him, but he won't have squat of you. So why don't you start acting like the infinite age you say you are, grow up and get over it."

Dawn's lower lip began to quiver as she tried to gasp out a reply. Her expression the mirrored one she wore when Buffy had slapped her a week and a half earlier when she tried to bring their mother back as a Zombie. She tried to spit out a retort to the painful words that were spoken to her but failed. Leaving only one option left to her - fleeing the room in tears. Tara looked disappointedly at Buffy and then chased after her surrogate sister. Leaving only the red-headed Wicca and Buffy alone in the Kitchen.

"That wasn't very nice Buffy. It was actually bordering on cruel with a hint of pure evil in it. After everything you told her when she discovered the truth about herself. About her still being your sister and our friend because all those memories of ours make her 'real' to us. What you just did Buffy was beyond wrong. You know how she feels about him, what you just said to her was uncalled for. And FYI - not all people evil wanted to be with him y'know. I wanted to 'be' with him since I was five if you remember. Does that make me evil?" Silence welcomed the Witch's question. "You should go and speak to her, apologize and make it right."

Buffy nodded sadly and surrendered a sigh. "I know; I don't know where all that came from and I promise I'll speak to her later about it. But I had to put that nonsense out of her head. We don't have time for her crap Willow. We're facing possibly the biggest battle of our lives, way bigger then ADAM, the Mayor, Angelus or the Master combined. We're going up against an actual Hell-God; with the only positive advantage we have being that Satan's Bimbo is totally clueless as to where the Key is. Doesn't she get that? She should be totally focused on this. But instead of preparing, she's daydreaming about Xander and her. Where are her priorities?

"Look, I love her Willow, I really do. But sometimes she makes it really difficult for me. This infatuation with Xander has to stop. Besides, it's not healthy for her; she should be trying to start developing relationships with boys her own age. No strike that, she should be thinking about joining a Nunnery. Not anchoring herself to men older then her. I don't want to see her hurt. Not that Xander would hurt her of coarse, as guys go he's one of the few I would trust Dawn with without question and with her life. Even with the rift going on between us."

Buffy buried her head into her hands. Her entire world was crumbling around her, and right now she needed a break, a pause. she wanted peace. But the Hellmouth would not afford her this, and with Glorificus on the hunt for the 'Key' she knew that the peace she desired would come at too higher price for everybody. And then of coarse there was Xander. *Her* Xander. If she failed, the world as she knew it would undoubtedly be no more, and then the recipient of the greatest mistake of her life would no longer be in the arms of someone that 'deserved him' If she owed Xander anything after what she did to him she would owe him this in the least - an opportunity to live a long and loving life. Sure there were unaware Billions of people counting on her and the other Scooby's, but that figure was too high to get her mind around. So instead she just focused on one . maybe two. Xander and Dawn. She would stop Glory's threat for Xander and Dawn

Xander, again that name rattled itself in her memory. No matter how many times she tried to ignore its whisperings, it was always present. Taunting and mocking her with the possibilities that had never happened between them. In her peripheral vision she saw Willow look at her expectantly; she had been silent far too long after starting her justification of actions against her sister so she continued half-heartedly. "If you've ever snuck a read of one of her stupid Journals you'd be amazed at what she's written about him. It's---it's---" The Slayer gave up trying to rationalize the youngest of the Summer's female clan thoughts and just presented her own. "She's got this exaggerated image of him Willow. In her mind he's like some Dark Avenger or something, this --- this angry and noble warrior of the Night protecting the little guy from the evils of the world. And for the life of me I don't know where she got that insane idea*"

"*Maybe the Monks did link Xander's memories and self with hers like they did with the rest of us. Maybe she got to see a special side of Xander's soul."

"Oh, and Xander sees himself like that? Like some Batman-wannabe? Pleeze, if your right I'd be more worried about Xan's mental health then I am for these false impressions of Dawn for him. Besides, we both know Xander isn't like that at all, blindness aside; Xander could never be like that. And I think that if she actually ever met him in person he would be a monumental let down for her.

"She's crying now. But I'd much rather see her cry now at the truth, then having her hurt more latter and worse when things don't work out like she's got it in her deluded imagination. Xander is way too old for her; any guy Xander's age is way too old for her."

"I didn't hear you complain about age when you were dating Angel."

"Yeah, but I would cry myself to sleep some nights knowing the impossibility of it. I mean, having an eternally youthful lover when 17 sounds all romantic and great, but what happens when you're thirty and he still looks 22, or fifty, sixty and so on and he still looks like he did when you first met him. There will come a point where immortal age does become a barrier. I don't want her to make the same mistake I did or know that kinda pain."

"Five years isn't the same as eternal youth Buffy. When he's 23 she'll be 18 and that's acceptable by all standards of morality in today's society. You shouldn't crush her hopes, no matter how 'out-there' they are. Believe me; I know what it's like to be her age and madly in love with Xander and him being oblivious to it. It sucks big time. Give her a couple of years, she'll come around, just like I did, until then rubbing her face in her feelings won't help. How would you have liked it if we did that to you with Angel?"

"You *did* do it with me and Angel."

"Yeah, exactly. And did it change anything? No, it only made you more resistant."

"The only difference is that I loved Angel, it wasn't a kiddie crush."

"That's probably how Dawn sees her feelings for Xander."

"Angel was different." Buffy combed her fingers through her morning hair. "I will always love Angel, and his shadow falls over and follows me all the time. At least that's what Riley said before he left to play commando in South America. He thought that I was holding myself back from him, blaming it all on my Angel-experience. He had the symptom, but not the cause. I moved on from my relationship with Angel, he was a necessary part of whom I am and who I've become. But our break up wasn't Angel's fault."

"Then wh* --- Xander?"

Buffy tried to keep her face emotionless to Willow's squeal of surprise at deducing Xander, but she couldn't do it, a small chuckle left her. "Hard to believe, huh? Don't you remember how things started to go down hill with Riley and me after LA.? He began secretly going to that 'Vamp whore house' to get some excitement back into his love life? All I've ever wanted was a normal Boyfriend, someone who knew everything about me and wasn't afraid of my destiny. I thought Riley could be that boyfriend, but when I saw Xander again. When I saw him walk up and guiding himself to that podium at his Graduation Ceremony---, Cordy was right - I *was* drooling.

"He carried himself with such confidence, and assurance. It was then that I realized something. I was noticing him again. Just like I was starting to notice him before he left for the Academy. Those damn memories resurfaced. He had always been at the front of my thoughts, but as he stood up there, I *saw* him, I actually *saw-him*. I don't know if it was that whole 'absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder' thing, but it was like I was looking at him with new eyes. And then I remembered everything he's done for me, for us. All the stories you guys told Faith when he was recuperating in Hospital - everything. And at that moment I realised that I cared more about Xander's happiness then I did about Riley's."

Buffy then gently closed her eyes. "And when he gave his speech, I heard his Heart talking, and it was like he was speaking directly to me." Like waking from drifting sleep Buffy's eyes fluttered open and she then began to write her name with her index finger in the finish of the Kitchen table, allowing her thoughts to gatherer in the silence Willow was providing. "I didn't know how I felt, but when we were making our way across the quad my heart beat faster at the thought of seeing him again. I just wanted to see him, move on from the whole 'Graduation-Mayor Snake Business', and be there for him, and maybe --- who knows?

"But then Cordy had to go off and ruin the mood directly after by telling me she had seen that 'Xander was meant for someone who deserves him'. It was then my quickly beating heart just stopped dead in its tracks."

Willow's brow creased. "Why?"

"Willow, do you honestly think I deserve to be with him? Bare in mind this is a guy who through my actions can now never see again. Bare in mind all the numerous times he's practically thrown himself at my feet and I just either laughed it off or ignored them. I had so many chances - so many opportunities, and like Dawn said 'I blew it!' And when that Mike guy told me about Xander and Faith I got --- got*"


"*Upset. Let's just say I was upset, okay. Anyway that's why I asked him*"

"Don't you mean TOLD?"

"Fine. When I *told* him to decide between her and me. He chose her, Willow. It --- it just reinforced everything that Cordy said - that I wasn't worthy. Look, I might not deserve Xander, but Faith sure as hell deserves him even less." Buffy began to pace the kitchen as she rehashed her thoughts and feelings nearly a year past. "I had hoped that it was a sex thing - I could deal with it being a sex thing, but when he got offended and stressed to us that all they did was just talk, I---I believed him. And it destroyed me inside. Faith doesn't talk to 'Guys', she sees them as Sexual Playthings - Jokes, and nothing else. The fact she spent the night with him and all they did was chat told me there was a side to her I didn't know, a side that Xander had easily found. That he was able to make some kinda 'connection' with her.

"I didn't want to believe that, so I demanded he choose again. I didn't think he would do it, not under the threat of losing But he did. He chose Faith - again."

"Buffy, he chose his 'word' over you. It's not the same thing as choosing people. Xander can be a complicated guy, but there is one thing that is simple when it comes to him. When he makes a promise, he'll keep it. Come Hell and high Water, he'll keep his Word and it was unfair of you to even try and get him to break that Word."

"I know, but I was so angry and --- and desperate to hold onto him. He was my Xander, *our* Xander - not hers!" Buffy turned her head down from the green-eyes of the witch. "He hurt me Willow, in siding with my evil-twin I felt that he was siding against me. I cared for him a lot Willow, but to have him say 'no' to me." Buffy walked around the table. "I never saw myself as a selfish person, okay maybe a little bit at times, but when he said he wouldn't give up Faith after everything she's done to us - to me especially, I felt betrayed by him.

"And I bought that betrayal back to Sunnydale and Riley. If I couldn't trust Xander 100%, then how could I ever believe in Riley or any other guy? I held myself back because of what happened with Xander and me. Riley thought it was Angel, but it was Xander." Buffy then picked up the Paper and looked closely at the couple it showed. "I miss him Willow. I know I instigated it all, but I still miss him." The Slayer placed the Newspaper again in front of Willow and placed her hand gently on her friend's pyjamaed shoulder. "I'm sorry for snapping at you earlier."

"It's okay; you were surprised - shocked even. I was in the same boat you were Skipper."

Buffy smiled and again looked down on the smiling black and white picture lying on the Kitchen Table. "He looks happy, that's good, and that's all that really matters." Willow glumly nodded aware of the weight that had just been shared with her. The Chosen One then leaned in closer to her oldest friend ear. "Find out everything you can on her, just in case I *DO* have to slay her."

"Consider my Modem already buzzing."

With this Buffy left Willow to start her investigation uninterrupted as she went out onto the porch and the awaiting morning sunlight.


25-minutes later outside on the Porch.

Buffy pushed herself back and forth in the swing seat, casting her memories into the past to the second last time she spoke to Xander and the emotions that had even then begun stirring for him within her. With the sound of the front door opening she was caught and drawn back to the present world.

Tara stepped out, and shuffled uncertainly forward. It was obvious from her expression she had something that she wanted to say, but after a life-time of emotional abuse caused by her family it had left her timid to take any initiative. It was heart breaking to see, so the Slayer decided to start a dialogue with the Wicca in the hopes that the subject would present.

"Is Dawn okay?"

"S---she's settled down. Still upset though. It might be a good idea to apologise to her. Just for bygone's sake. You still have to live here to---together after all."

"I'll do it later. If I apologize now she might think it was forced out of me."

"G---good idea. She's with Willow at the moment, going through some Net Sites. Most of them are Tabloid stuff, but Will thinks she's come across a co---couple of reliable ones." Tara looked over the railing of the porch to the garden bed below. "Buffy."


"You do realize that Dawn has strong feelings for Xander, don't you?"

"Yeah, I know she 'thinks' that she does."

Tara remained silent for a moment, allowing the statement of Buffy's and the emotion of it to settle. "I've never met him myself, but Willow and Dawn th---they think he's one of the best things since sliced bread. I've never even laid eyes on him except for the photos of him in Willow's Album or the ones Dawn has on her desk. He looks sweet, with very kind, gentle and wise eyes. But you don't have any pictures. Why is that?"

"Dawn took most of mine - the good ones of him atleast. Besides, I don't need them. All I have to do is close my eyes and I can see him anytime I want."

"You must then have a---a lot of strong memories of him then. Yet I've never heard you talk about them much."

Buffy stopped the motion of the porch swing, and looked up at Tara's face. She was just in the process of dissecting her own thoughts on that matter herself, so she found it easy to quickly respond to the question. "My thoughts on Xander are pretty complicated. There have been times when he was with us that I've never been so angry, or frustrated, yet at the same time annoyingly cared about anyone as dearly as him. We've only had a few spats together, and I hated everyone because they took our friendship to the verge. To a place where everything could have ended. I hated that place, but we came through stronger as a result with a better understanding of the other. There were a few times when he has scared me, and many more when I couldn't believe I could feel safer in anyone else's presence but his.

"He's made me laugh and he's made me cry. And then there are other moments when I don't know how or what to think of him. But I was always grateful for him for just being there, even if he wasn't saying or doing anything. The fact that he was with me, supporting me, watching my back - that was enough. I don't need photographs to be reminded of Xander cause there hasn't been a day go by, or an experience I've had where I haven't been reminded of atleast one thing about him - Good or Bad. Like I said, complicated."

"What are your most vivid me---memories?"

Buffy scrunched her face at the unusual question, but decided to play along. Tara was like that at times, she never took the direct route. She just lay down the track and let people make the discoveries and journey in their own sweet time. "At the best of times when I think of Xander, I think of my first true friend in Sunnydale. I think of a guy who bothered to stop on his way to class and have the courtesy to help a new girl pick up their stuff after some oaf had knocked their bag off of them. I remember his first words to me - 'Can I have you.'

"I think of a guy who after only meeting me a couple of times fearlessly followed me right into a Vamp Nest in the dead of night alone because he was worried about me and wanted to make sure I was safe.

"I think about the hurt expression on his face when he asked me to the Spring Fling Dance and I refused him. Then later on how he braved the Master's Lair with Angel and bought me back to life.

"I think of the little trinkets and gifts he's given me when he was here and which I was so caught up in my own world to notice their true intent.

"I remember him when he was possessed by the Hyena and as Soldier-guy, how --- I don't know, how intense and magnetic he was as both.

"I remember how impressed I was with his bravery when he stood infront of Willow, telling Ampata that if she wanted to kill her or anyone else that she would have to start with him.

"I remember him saving my life at a funeral home when Angelus 'turned' a class mate just to send me a dumb pointless message.

"I remember him being present and pulling me to safety when the fish-guy Swimming Team were getting either frisky or hungry for me, and when I was sick in the Hospital facing off with Mr. Boogie-man how he was also there to lend a hand.

"I remember how my heart practically stopped in my chest when I came running back into the school library after Angelus and I had fought just before Acathla and seeing him lying so still up on the dais.

"I *"

Tara held up her hand to stop the Slayer from continuing. "*I ge---get the point. You do realize that you barely drew breath during all that?"

Buffy smiled lightly and nodded sadly. "Yeah, and I wasn't even half way through."

"You cared a lot f---for him."

"Still do, even after everything."

Tara returned her gaze back to the garden bed. "Buffy, if you cared so much about him w---why didn't you ever pursue it? It's obvious from what you said inside a few moments ago that you knew Xander liked you a lot, and I got the impression that you kinda liked him as well. S---so why didn't anything ever happen?"

"I was different back then."

"Y---you couldn't have been that mu---much different, I mean y---you were able to acknowledge his fo---fondness for you. So why didn't you ever try and pursue something with him? Di-did you think you were better then him, that he was not in your league?"

"Of coarse not. Never!"

"So you have thought about it?"

"Sure, of coarse I have. After Riley left, and then after Mom died, I've taken the odd hundred hours to look back on my life and everything in it. All the mistakes and the turns in the road I never took, either because I couldn't be bothered or were too afraid too. Xander is one of those forks. A pretty major one actually. I often wonder how my life, and his, would have been like if I had the courage to accept his offer to the Spring Fling or if the Blind-thing never happened. But I had Angel."

"Ju---just Angel?"

Buffy began to push the swinged seat again; she knew what Tara was looking for - an explanation, the truth. It was a fishing expedition that was only after one particular fish, so she decided to give it to her - complete honesty. "Not just Angel, Willow as well."

"So Willow st---stopped you?"

Buffy smile seemed like a smirk as she remembered back all those years. To a time when her life was so much more innocent and simpler. "In the beginning I thought Xander was sweet and funny. He was a blast, a goofy-blast; I liked hanging out with him alot. He marched to the beat of a different drummer entirely, and I thought that was pretty cool of him. In the cut-throat popular world of High School cliques - that takes a lot of guts. He coulda mixed well with anybody if he wanted to - he was 'Mr Likable'. Sure the Jocks used to give him a hard time, but they would eventually come around - look at Larry. The guy hated Xander's guts with a passion, then Xan interrogated him when we were doing a search for Werewolf-Oz and after that Lar was more then cool to Xand. Infact I remember Larry trying to become even better friends with Xander, but Xan was quite happy with the status quo they had. Evidence that given time anybody could respect and like him.

"Everyone in School knew Xander Harris. The Brains, the Jocks, the Popular crowd, the Rockers, the Tough and the Weak. When he went Alpha-Prime in my first year in Sunnydale he had some of the toughest kids in School follow his lead. He was their Pack Leader. Every single one of these four was trouble with a capital 'T' and quickly followed by 'Rouble', yet they all fell right into line behind Xan and what he was dishing. I guess they saw in him a strength that they didn't possess. Right there I should have realized there was more to him then the jokes." Buffy then took a deep sad sigh. "He coulda mixed with anyone, hanged out with anyone. But instead he allied himself with the outcasts like Willow - not that Willow isn't cool, or great, or anything, but back then she was abit of a Social Leaper."

Tara smiled; she knew Willow's geeky history and her alienation because of it. She had experienced something similar when she was growing up, that was why they were so perfect for each other in her mind. They had both shared a history.

Buffy quickly righted herself and frantically spoke to move on from what she had just said about her best female friend. "Anyway, Willow's 'leperacy' infected him as being one of the Loser-Crowd and he didn't care, he still lived his life how he wanted to live it - gotta respect that. I trusted him more then just about any guy I've ever met, before and since. I shared stuff with him and I had no problem getting personal. He made everything enjoyable for me, School, Patrol, and Research Nights. He wasn't a guy - he wasn't even really a sex to me, he was just a Xander-shaped-friend, one of the best and dearest persons I've ever met in my entire life. The fact he helped me out of a jam afew dozen times with the life saving - that also kinda endears a guy to you.*"

"You didn't see Xander as 'a sex'?"

"I tried not to; I thought it was best that way. It would have been awkward if I did."

"Because of Willow? Willow stopped you from accepting Xander as a --- a 'better' friend?"

Buffy kicked back the swing to increase its momentum. "Not really, I mean she didn't ask or anything. But back then I was the new kid and Willow was majorly hung up on him. She was actually pretty scary on how much she knew about, and thought about him. We're talking personal stalker type personality here. Anyway, if there was one thing I bought with me through experience from Hemley - you don't go snagging your best friends guy, not unless you want to keep that friendship. Even if that guy doesn't even know about it. Willow was then, as she is now, my best friend. I didn't want there to be any friction between us. So I thought he was cute with a geeky-studlyness to him and left it at that, doing my best to mentally remove any thoughts of genitalia. Of coarse that was only more difficult when I saw him for the first time in Speedo's, but---."

"But ho---how did Xander feel about Willow?"

Buffy looked at the Soul-mate of the Wicca with amusement, even after a year she was still terrified that Willow would wake up one day and want to be with someone else, someone she thought was better then her. "He thought of Will like a sister, and that was the problem. When they were together they went like peas and carrots, I show up and it's 'Willow who?' I wanted so badly for them to get together, and I thought that they would make a cute couple. But Willow was certain that he only had eyes for me. It was flattering, but Will was my best and my first 'real' female friend so I wanted her to be happy. So hence the 'no encouragement' thing other then just friendly banter."

"You wanted Willow to b---be happy, but what about Xander, and yourself. Didn't the two of you deserve to be happy as well?"

Buffy looked down at her lap as she considered her answer. "I was, and am the Slayer. Most don't make it past their first year; I know cause I almost didn't. What kinda friend would I be if Xander and I got together and then one night I got bumped off by a Vamp or some other BigBad? Xander is the one who would have to deal, not me.

"I could cope with the closeness of our friendship. I liked the closeness we had, but when he asked me to the Spring Fling instead of asking Willow - that's when things got way too real. At least that's what I thought, so one of us had to pull away. I decided that person be me. I did the whole 'No - I like you as a friend, and I don't want to ruin our friendship.' routine. Not surprisingly he didn't like it; I don't think any guy really likes it. But it had to be done; I didn't want to ruin what we had. Xander was too important to me to risk losing him because of the threat of us maybe breaking-up or something. I wouldn't have been able to deal with that. Kinda funny now that I think about it, considering that's what we eventually did anyway. Maybe we didn't break-up romantically, but a break is still a break.

"Anywho, under normal circumstance I probably would have caved, called him, apologized for blowing him off and then agree to go with him to the stupid dance, but only as friends. Yet instead I find out about a Prophecy predicting my death. And after that my mind was kinda somewhere else.

"I had tried to drive him away, and still he came into the Master's Lair after me. That was so --- so brave and so stupid all at the same time. Even with Angel as support, he could have been killed. And that wasn't the first time he did stuff that brave and stupid either.

"So on the first summer break away from Sunnydale I decided that Xander and me just couldn't - shouldn't, happen. I was the Slayer, he was Mr. Joe Normal, he'd just get killed if he kept trying to jump in and save me all the time. And if he died because of me --- I --- I wouldn't have been able to have lived with myself.

"Ironic huh, here I am saying I never planned on doing anything that would threaten Xander's safety and health yet it was me who took Angel and walked away from him when he needed me the most. He said he's forgiven me for that, but I never will. I. I will never forgive myself for hurting him like that. I.I.when I think of him that night sometimes I remember him pleading to be taken to a Doctor, and as the further away me and Angel walked from him how the both of us heard his pained pleas turn to the vilest curses." Buffy's face became tired, and before the witch's eyes the Slayer seemed to have aged 20-years in a heartbeat at that dark memory. "I should have known he was hurt, really hurt. He wouldn't have shouted those things at us. me if he wasn't in pain. If I had let Angel act, if we had gotten him to the Hospital. He would now be able to see. But instead we walked away, and those 5-6 hours of him stumbling through the forest cost him his sight." After a couple of seconds the Slayer recommenced her synopsis of her life with Xander, mentally preparing herself not to take anymore emotionally painful detours.

"Where was I? Oh yeah, besides, I also had feelings for Angel as well, and unlike Xander - Angel could take care of himself in a fight. I thought that when I got back, if I focused all my attention on Angel and ignored Xander then he would get the message and back away from helping me with my 'Night-Job'. Then Willow would be able to screw up her courage and ask him out. But instead he fell into Cordelia's arms, and then Will to Oz's.

"Everything was good all-round except by this stage Angel had gone psycho and become Angelus. Yep, everybody was experiencing happy coupledom except me. Xan was still able to pry himself from Cordy's embrace to go on Patrol with me every now and again, which was both nice and fun. There were a few 'moments' between us when something could have happened, nothing did though. It was just how we were, always skating near the thin Ice, yet both too unsure what would happen to our friendship if we dared skating on it. He was with Cordy, so that whole Hemley thing digged in again. And Xander was too loyal and devoted to betray her like that."

Tara followed the story with nods, she had theorized most of it to what had been said to her over the year being with Willow, and hearing Dawn talk about male Scooby. And there was of coarse her own instincts and intuitions, which were always more then a little acute in reading people. It was reassuring to know that she had sized the background story accurately and had guessed she had gotten approx. 80% of it right. But now came the difficult part, what she came out here to talk to Buffy about. "Dawn really cares for him Buffy."

"I know." Buffy again looked down to her lap.

"She seems to thinks it's your fault."

Buffy looked up shocked, she then stood up and spanned the short distance separating the two females. "What are you talking about? I have never encouraged her, infact I can cite examples when I have tried to throw a bucket of cold water on her."

Tara's face remained calm and her voice soothing. "Buffy, I h---have just spent twenty minutes with her, talking. Ever since she's discovered what she is, and where she came from three weeks ago---." Tara left Buffy's company and sat on the lightly swinging seat the Slayer had just vacated. "---she has begun to question a lot of her identity. That's normal for most teenagers, but it's even worse for Dawn. Because she feels as if she has no personal history to draw on. She even questions her own behaviour and personality.

"Buffy, Dawn's consciousness wasn't drawn from your mother or father, she came from you. Technically it's like what you said inside, she's never actually met Xander, and yet she's love-struck by him. She knows, SHE KNOWS Buffy, that that could only have come from one person - You." Tara McKay gently pushed the swing back, and then allowed it to rock forward. "Xander is the one thing in her existence that she knows you have never had, and like all younger sisters she wants to break away from the trail her eldest sister has forged ahead of her. She wants more then anything in this world to achieve something you have not, and she wants Xander."

"Kinda takes sibling rivalry to a whole new level doesn't it."

"Buffy it's not about being one up on you, she LOVES him, she honestly feels as though she loves him. And she wants to be with him. That's why she's so combative and threatened by you when you do, in those rare occasions, talk about him. Or when you tease or rebuke her about her feelings towards him. Because it simply reminds her that these feelings had originated from you.

"She desperately wants to claim this affection as her own, and she wants them to be apart of her. Completely and totally independent from you. But that to her can't happen, because she is now cursed with the knowledge of her creation and that there is an obvious part of you that also shares in her emotion for him as well and is simply suppressed within you. Just waiting for the opportunity to come out and steal her one Heart's Desire from her."

Tara's eyes penetrated the Slayers, trying to drive home a point that needed to be desperately made. "She has come to terms with a lot in the last few weeks Buffy. Joyce dying, her conception, the fact that she has a God hunting her down. But you have to remember that she might an immortal ball of key-like-energy, but she has the consciousness of a fifteen year old. And as a fifteen year old she sees the world as such, like 'mine and yours', 'have and have nots'. She's latched on to Xander as a brighter tomorrow, and with everything that's happened she needs to believe in that tomorrow."

Awkwardly Buffy joined Tara on the swing seat. "With an actual Hell-God in Town, I think we can all take lessons from her in believing in a brighter tomorrow. I think about Glory and --- and I think that we're not going to make it through this. I've fought her Tara, she's stronger then me, faster then me, invulnerable to every blow I've thrown at her. And she's a God, how do you stop a God?"

"Love. I think Glory's downfall will come from love."

"Do you really believe that?"

"Every victory we're had so far has stemmed from that. The love of one another to never let the other down. You'll see, when the dust settles on Glory it will have been love that defeated her."

Buffy smiled at the Wicca. "You may not have met him, or him you. But I bet Xander would like you."

Tara returned the soft and sad smile offered. "I think I would like Xander too."

Buffy looked out to the street almost afraid to ask the questions about Dawn, and ashamed that she had to actually pose them. "Do you believe her? Dawn, I mean. Do you think it's my fault that she feels what she feels? Does she hate me because of it?"

"Buffy, she doesn't hate you. She loves you. And she loves Xander as well. Xander is --- is --- everything to her. You might have provided the spark, but the memories she shares with you, with Willow, Giles and Joyce and everybody else here who has had the opportunity to have met him only fanned the flames. Her love for him is her's, and her's alone. And that's the problem, it's alone. She remembers, like you do, like everybody did - even I guess Angel, Xander's affection for you, and only you - not her, YOU!

"What she's afraid of is the competition of *your* flame for him, and the possibility of him still holding one for you. Loving Xander as she does hurt's her, and she welcomes the pain it causes because it makes her feel human. Human, Buffy. Not a Dimensional Key - HUMAN. Loving Xander makes her feel human, and with what you said inside it was like you were trying to take that clinging grasp of humanity away from her."

Before Buffy could offer a reply Willow's voice called out from the Dining Room. "We got something!"

Hesitantly the two young women looked at each other, without further prompting both then removed themselves from the swing-seat and began the track to join Willow and Dawn.

As the entered the Dining room they witnessed Willow directing her finger over her 'Mouse-Pad' and Dawn pacing back and forth chewing on her thumb nail mumbling to herself. "She's not human. She can't be. She's too perfect to be human. She --- she's IN-human. That's what she is. Inhuman."

Willow looked up worried, passing a glance over to Buffy directing her towards Dawn with a look.

As Dawn turned from her pacing she saw Buffy and Tara standing at the entrance way. She imminently halted her frantic movements and folded her arms in front of her. Doing her best impression of Willow's renowned 'Resolve Face'. "Well, we got the information you asked for. We can kill her now."

Willow's voice was heard from behind the screen. "We can't kill her! Buffy, she's human. At least she looks human with respects to all the data I've found. Birth Certificate. Licences - Car, Motorbike and Airplane. Education History. I've never come across a Demon who has gone to this much effort before. She's just --- accomplished, that's all."

Buffy approached Willow and the Laptop. "Okay Cyber-Witch, define 'accomplished' for me aside from all of the above."

Before the Wicca could speak Dawn interrupted as she to approached the computer. "She means that this Elektra is a freak of nature. You know how old she is? Twenty five. Twenty five and has the world on a string. Show her Willow; show her that site you pulled up before."

At Dawn's insistence Willow slid her finger over the square box on her key board, directing the icon with her actions. She then hit the enter key and the previous site address arose and displayed a web page dedicated with all of Elektra's stat's as well as colorized full face photo. "She spends two-thirds of the year on her Family Estate in Greece, which is why she's not exactly a house hold name over here. But in Europe she's beyond hot property. We're talking Princess Caroline type 'Hot Propertyness' girls and --- well, I guess girls. She's attended Yale, and graduated with Degrees in Economics and Business Management, sliding in the top 1% of her respective Classes.

"Even if she didn't have Daddy's bucks to fall back on she'd probably be good enough to earn a six figure salary in her first year out. 'Natchios Enterprises' are a Private Holding that is worth Billions in the Hotel Industry, and it's the second major shareholder of 'Fisk Incorporated' one of the largest and most profitable Export/Import Companies in America. 'NE' are heavy donator's to Children's Hospital's the world over and she has kinda become its 'Public Face' for charitable works. Hates publicity, only agreeing to be photographed with respects to bolstering the profile of Causes she and her father's Organization support. The media strangely enough respects this wish. Sure the odd paparazzi may take a picture of her now and again, but when no Newspaper or Magazine are prepared to pay for out of 'School' shots it becomes a waste of their time and film so they generally leave her alone.

"She speaks five languages fluently, and has Black Belts in three recognized Martial Art Disciplines, and is reported to be a Master of another two which aren't so recognized, but just as, if not more deadly. Buffy, in all fairness - this woman is *incredible*. And there's more."


Shyly Willow looked up to the Blonde. "Yeah, much more. Let's just say that black and white in the Bugle did not do her justice." The Wicca pressed another Icon on the screen and a coloured full body picture of Elektra appeared in a sheik Silver Evening Gown.

"Oh.oh wow. She's.she's.I mean I thought she was attractive before. She looks kinda a cross between Cordelia and Faith doesn't she?"

Willow nodded. "Actually I thought she looked like an athletic Cordy, but now that you mention it. Yeah, yeah she does."

Dawn's voice was heard again addressing Willow. "Show her! C'mon Willow, if you're going to show her that you might as well show her the other thing as well."

Buffy and Tara looked back and forth between the fifteen year old and the computer hacker. Both talking in time with the other and posing the same question. "What other thing?"

Willow sighed and pressed another icon with the word 'Rio' on it. Once more there was a colorized full body picture of Elektra, only this time instead of a gown she was viewed in a bikini playing beach Volleyball at a Children's Charity Event.

Buffy's first reaction to the perfectly bronzed image was to look down at her porcelain white skinned feet, her eyes travelling up to her own waist. "C'mon, legs do not go up that high!" Her hands then found a place on her butt, and then slowly drifted up to cover her breasts. "She had to have had work done - no-way are they all real. They're to perfect to be real. She had to - HAD TO have had work done. No woman is that perfect!"

Willow looked sideways to the teenager and spoke directly to the Slayers queries. "That's what Dawn was saying before you walked in." Willow then pressed another button and the screen went blank. "I've check Buffy, granted it was a superficial search, but everything seems to point to human."

"What about the whole inheritance angle?"

"Nada, reports are she loved her Father with a passion, pretty scary at it too. There is a story floating a couple of sites of a Reporter who approached and questioned her at a Social Function about a rumour they heard that her Daddy was somehow linked to Organized Crime. She sent that guy to the Emergency Room for even implying that her Poppa was in anyway corrupt, and he ended up eating his meals through a straw for months after. Buff, her Dad is her entire world. He practically raised her on his own when his wife, and her mother, died in front of her about fifteen years ago. And get this, her Mom - she was blind. So there's your connection to Xander. She probably had an appreciation for Xand's physical condition and wasn't stigmatised by it like most people are by the handicapped.

"I'm sorry Buffy--- Dawn. I wish I could tell you she is up to no-good but I'd be lying. She's just what you both said earlier. She appears to be Perfect."

Under the watchful gaze of both Willow and Tara, Buffy turned to Dawn. The two looked at eachother, one wishing to talk the other wishing to not hear. Two stubborn minds and hearts locked in battle against the other. If there was any doubt to the fact that these woman were of the same body and blood it was expelled at this simple sight. Awkwardly the eldest borne pulled her little sister into a hug; at first Dawn struggled against it, but quickly gave up under Buffy's superior strength. "I'm --- I'm so sorry Dawn."

"No you're not."

Buffy paused for a second and then answered. "Your right Dawn - I'm not. I'm glad, not ecstatic, but glad that Xander seems to have found someone and is doing well for himself. No matter how much opposition he faces Xander always seems to beat the odds and rise above it. But this doesn't mean I'm not disappointed for you though.

"Dawn, I want you to know something. And I want there to be no misunderstanding between us. I love you; I don't ever want you to think that I don't. The things I said earlier - I said, no excuses. I also want you to know something - I did Blow it. You're right, I do love Xander. But it's a confusing kinda love Dawn. It's a love with a lot of history and complications. But your love for him? Your love for Xander is unquestionable, and I envy that.

"And it's because we both love him in our own crazy way that we must do the best thing for him, and ourselves. Let him go Dawn. Let us *both* let him go together. I only want the best for Xander, and if you truly care for him as much as I do, then you want the best for him as well. And if everything we've leant about this Elektra person is correct then it appears that she is the best there is out there."

Dawn's eyes began to glisten. "Bu---but she's not the best for him, I am! We're meant to be together. I know it. So what if she has Degrees in Economics and Business Management. So what if she's well off. So what if one of her formal dresses and a single piece of her jewellery cost more then this house and all our stuff combined. So what if she has three to four Black Belts --- and she's prettier and --- and has bigger boobs. So what! Just give me a few more years and I'll be just as good, if not better looking then her and I'll have bigger boobs as well. And you can teach me self-defence Slayer-Style. And I'll study harder and then --- then you can be Xander's sister in-law and --- and." The first tear dropped from her eye, and her sentence cut off.

Buffy gently caressed Dawn's cheek, smudging the tear away. "Dawn, to me and everyone with eyes in this room you *are* prettier then her, and your going to breathtaking when you get older - that you can take to the Bank. And when this Glory mess is over I promise to teach you some 'Slayer Style' and as to your boobs, hey, yours are bigger then mine so what are you complaining about?" Buffy lent into the embrace deeper with a girl she thought of and always would think of as her little sister "But regardless, I do want you to study harder in school, okay?"

Willow and Tara left the two holding each other. After a couple of moments of comfortable silence the Slayer spoke once more. "Tara told me about your theory regarding Xander and me. Like I said a sec ago, there's a bit of truth in that, but it's a confusing love Dawn. You needn't be threatened by it or me Dawnie; I would never do anything to hurt you intentionally. And Xander and me --- well I kinda burnt any bridges with him when I started to treat him like he owed me more then the friendship he offered. You penned it right, I---I blew it big time.

"Not that him and me really matters anyway. Cordy told me once that Xander was destined for someone who deservers him. And I don't think I could ever deserve him. Someone as special and great as he is, is well beyond my reach. But you? You could. Maybe not Xander, but there must be someone out there meant for you. Maybe someone closer to your own age perhaps? Without piercing or tattoos of any kind, or cockney English accent and hates the Sunlight type person. And when you do find that guy you have my solemn promise - I will be behind you a thousand percent. No baby photos, Potty Stories, or embarrassing screening process."

"Y---you mean it?"

"With all my heart." The two released each other and looked at the other. And for the first time Buffy wasn't seeing her little sister, she was seeing a young woman. And for Dawn, she was seeing the same qualities that made Mom her Mom represented in Buffy's face. The two held that look for the other, trying to memorize it before they returned to the Chaos of preparing for Glory.

As the two walked out of the Dining room Dawn remembered something. "Oh! Cordelia wanted me to tell you something."

"Cordy? When did she phone?"

"This morning, she's the one who told me about the Newspaper article, and to make sure you guys all saw it."

Buffy sighed; she should have been expecting that call. "Okay, what did she say?"

"Err--'Don't you hate it when I'm right.' What did she mean by that?"

"Nothing that I didn't already know. But you know Cordy; her month wouldn't be complete if she wasn't calling and riding me about something. C'mon let's join Willow and Tara in the Kitchen and have some late morning Breakfast."


The blonde Slayer stopped again, turned and looked at her youngest sister. "Yeah?"

"You --- you didn't blow it."

Hank and Joyce Summer's eldest looked at the youngest with a puzzled expression on her face. Dawn smiled, sadly and with a hint of wisdom beyond her years she spoke again. "With Xander, you didn't blow it with him. You never ever tried. You were too afraid too. How can you fail at something when you've never tried for it?"

It was a pointless gesture of forgiveness and understanding being offered by the fifteen year old, but Buffy's heart felt lighter at the question it posed. "You know something Dawnie, as little sisters go I think I'll keep you."

"And as Big Sister's go, you barely pass mustard. But I'll keep you too. Just as long as we have a carved-in-stone and etched-in-blood understanding that if Xander ever becomes single again I have first shot."

"If Xander ever does become single again, he'll still be too old for you. But the first shot is all yours to make." Buffy then offered an amused smile to her five year junior at the comment she was about to make. "But you better make that shot count, cause who knows, maybe I'll take second."


Two Weeks later.

It has started slowly and tenderly as a kiss. A kiss so gentle and soft it would almost be wrong to term it as such. It had felt closer to a feather being brushed across her lips; a feather from the wingtip of an Angel. The barest touch of his lips against hers caused her heart to swell with an alien emotion - Love, and it was accompanied with a passion she had never before experienced. It was deep, it was true, it was addictive and she craved more of it.

Her heart's swelling had placed a pressure on her chest, and the pressure building within her caused her chest to tighten to the point that it grew increasingly difficult to breathe. It was an ecstatic pain that she welcomed openly. She gasped against his lips, sliding her trembling hands up into his dark fiery hair. Pulling his head closer to hers, she felt the pressure in her chest melt away as his lips began to press more firmly to her own. This was bliss. this was was as if their souls were beginning to merge as one.

She slowly tilted her head to one side, and he tilted his to the other as the kiss gradually deepened. She wanted to feel him; so she arched her body up against his. She wanted to taste him; so she parted her tongue across his lips.

His strong arms had slid around her waist as she deepened herself closer to him, with this action he pulled her even closer. His hard chest crushing her breasts. This primal act of domination over her body made her knees weaken with desire.

His lips instantly parted when she brushed her tongue over them, and his own tongue had slipped out to meet hers in a passionate battle. A war that neither could lose, yet both would fight to the end to win. She twirled her tongue around his before he moved his tongue to explore her mouth. As he had trailed the very tip of his tongue along the roof of her mouth, all the way down to her bottom lip, she had trailed her hands down over his broad shoulders, and down his muscular upper arms. Both explorations continued until neither could bare it anymore, and he was the first to pull away.

She moaned at the loss of his lips, and she moved a hand to grip his hair again; a sure sign that she wanted him - that she needed him. Her pitiful moans of wanting were instantly replaced with a satisfaction-filled groan as his soft lips began scattering passion-filled kisses down the right side of her neck.

Tilting her head to the left to offer him better access, she allowed her eyes to drift shut again so that she could focus completely on the blissful sense of his touch. His lips seemed to leave a trail of fire as he continued on his way down towards her collarbone; and as he reached the hollow of her throat he ran his tongue back up over her neck to where his lips had been pressed just moments before.

The feeling of his tongue against her now salty skin provoked an intense sensation within her that could only be called 'orgasmic'. She gripped his hair even tighter, enjoying the soft feeling of his red locks as they slipped between her fingers.

She gasped as he flicked his tongue against her earlobe before he took it between his lips, sucking it gently and then carefully nibbling at them. The pulsing sensations caused her eyes to flicker back into her head, and she nearly whimpered. Only he could draw such noises out of her; noises that she could not recognize as her own.

Her eyelids felt as though they had little weights attached to them as they closed, and she smiled ferally against his lips as they were pressed to hers again. From somewhere behind him she heard her name being called out from a great distance. 'Faith? Faith?' With each passing second the sound grew louder, and as it's noise grew she remembered. Remembered where she was and what she must be doing right at that moment.

With another released bitter groan, the female inmate of the Medium Security Woman's Prison of L.A. County, Classification No#3547881 awoke with a grumbled question. "What's your problem Dee?"

From the bunk below, Faith's 'Room-Mate' hushed out an answer. "It's 3am in the morning. Maybe you can make it through the day with only 3-4 hours sleep a night but I can't. I've got Laundry Duty today."

The 19-year old brunette angrily rolled to her side, and after a silent five minutes she rolled to her other side just as upset. Desperately trying to find a comfortable position to fall once more asleep. Neither was any good. How could she go back to sleep with the memories of that damn dream still circulating in her thoughts?

In a fit of surrender she slipped off the top bunk landing on the cold cement floor, she then began as quietly as possible commenced her morning exercises three hours early in an anxious effort to drive out her pent up energy bought on by her dream.

She decided to begin with her shadow boxing routine, using the soft dampened light filtering through from the Guards Peep-Hole into the Cell. Facing off to an invisible opponent she began applying deadly force in every one of her repeated blows to the vacant air in front of her. Each energy-wasted strike connecting to an imaginary opponent with a certain red-headed blind male's face on it. {How could he make me feel like this? I *like* him, he's my bud - my best friend, I don't feel anything else for him --- do I? No! He's a guy, a great guy granted, but still just a guy. And guys are only good for one thing. After that you push 'em out of bed and go to sleep. Besides there no way Xand could measure up to --- to that. That was intense, that was--- that was *incredible*. Way beyond anything he could do, right? Naah, he couldn't be that good, could he? No - don't go there girl. Besides he's my friend, thinking like that will just screw everything up between us.}

From the lower bunk bed, Dee looked tiredly at her younger friend's blurred actions. In the warm light of dawn this would have been pretty cool to watch, but in the harsh darkness of the morning night she lost all emotional sensitivity for her cell mate. She just wanted to get some sleep, was that too much to ask? Dee thought out her options, she could ignore her bunk mate's restlessness and try to force some slumber upon herself or ask her to stop so that they could have the 'Talk'. She should have had 'The Talk' with the newbie the moment she was first assigned to share her 'Hole-away-from-home'. But procrastination was always what she did best.

The aged inmate decided that she wasn't going to get much sleep with Faith's activities going on beside her, and of coarse she felt more then a wee bit responsible. She had seen this coming for awhile now; Faith was going through the year-itch. Every convict experienced it, some sooner some later, but it was a guarantee that it always happened within a year.

Dee remembered when she went through her 'itch'; she was told that when she got over the hump of the first the following years would flow by. Every woman in a lock-up goes through moments of restlessness and Faith was not an exception. Yeah, she could see this coming a mile off. The tetchiness, the depression, they were all the tell-tale signs. Faith was missing men.

She should have talked to her about it earlier, but the 38-year old didn't want to intrude. She felt confident that Faith would come to her in time, but the youth only got more and more private. Repeatedly reading over her collection of letters and staring at the same Newspaper article that she had torn out from the Bugle two weeks earlier.

On a tired elbow the 'Lifer' drew out the question she should have asked a fortnight earlier. "Okay Dear, let's hash this out so one of us can get some shut eye. What's his name?"

In a mixture of quiet blows and silent kicks the Raven haired prisoner paused and spoke. "What are you talking about?"

Dee sat up on her bunk, no matter how much she tried to conceal it, the emotions filtered through the young woman's words could not be disguised. They were strong emotions too, emotions that made up anger and hurt. Dee was undeterred; she was determined to see this through. "Who were you dreaming about? You don't have to be ashamed or embarrassed Sweetie. Your moaning would have woken the dead, and if you want my opinion it's a much improved change from your usual 'nightmares'." Dee swung her legs around the edge and sat up, hunching forward as not to hit her head on the bottom of the bed above her. "I assume he has a name. I think of Kevin Costner or Richard Gere myself; it helps me get through the day and makes me look forward to the night. No shame in it. It's a natural defence. You're a young sexually primed gal and you've been takin' out of the game. It's is the mind's way of letting you know you've still got a sex drive and it hasn't shrivelled up from lack of activity. Patty down the corner thinks about Wesley Snipes all the time. We all do it, not all of us about Snipes, but we all have our fantasy hunka-hunka of burnin' love. So who's yours? Damon, Affleck, Cage? Talkin' about it, joking about it will make it easier for you in the long run. Trust me, like I said I know what you're going through."

Faith dropped the offensive pose. "It was nobody. It was just a stupid dream. Everybody knows dreams don't mean anything anyway." Faith stepped away from the centre of the small room and leaned her back against the concrete wall. Slowly she slid down the wall until she was sitting square on the floor, with the same thought in her head {unless you're a Slayer - then they can be Prophetic. NO! Dream, stupid Dream - that's all it was.}

The Slayer could do battle with many things and had over the years. But she knew deep inside of her that this was a foe she could not defeat on her own. No matter how her instinct told her to keep her own council she knew that it would consume her if she did not seek out someone she trusted to confide in. She searched out Dee's face in the shadowed dark of the room. Dee she trusted, but to share this only made her vulnerable. Vulnerability on the Outside was cool - she could cope with that. But vulnerability on the Inside made her a Target. So the question remained - How much did she trust Dee? {No, I'm not going to be Fate's bitch, I'm not going to keep this inside. That's what the old Faith would do - bottle everything up until she exploded.} Dee, like Xander, was offering herself as a friend and an ear. And she needed that. She needed to talk to someone about this before it started to eat her alive.

She had been in emotional turmoil for over a week and she could not explain why. No - wrong, she had an explanation. She just didn't want to believe it. Because to believe it meant something she swore to herself she would never be, at least never over a guy.

She spoke again almost against her will, her words a whisper of an expelled realization. "I should be happy for him, but I ain't. I *hate* him. But I can't hate him - why can't I hate him?" Like an injured child Faith looked at Dee through the darkness, hoping she could offer an answer to her desperate questions. And prayed that her diagnosis was not the same as her own. "He's my best friend Dee, why can't I be happy for him?"

It was hard to believe that Deirdre McPherson had taken a blade to her abusive husband; she was one of the gentlest and most motherly person Faith had ever met. Possessing all of the nurturing instincts that came from motherhood. But that did not make her a pushover, there was still that edge in her that was not diminished by twelve years of incarceration, a ferocity that would never die and only seemed to come out when they were in the Yard playing Basketball. But right now the soon to be twenty year old looked upon the convicted murderer like a long lost mother figure. With a gentle, soothing tone Dee responded. "Who's 'him' sweetie?"

"Xander. The guy who writes to me, the only one who writes to me." Faith bowed her head, not in shame but in confused contemplation over her mixed feelings. "This is all going to total shit. The guy has done good; he doesn't owe me a damn thing. So why do I think he does?" The prison-bound Chosen lifted her head and looked deeply into the face of her cell-mate. "I can't understand it Dee."

Dee got up from her bed and sat down on the floor next to Faith, allowing the younger to rest her head on her shoulder like a mother would do to her distressed child. "Has anything happened? Did he say something in the last couple of letters to you?"

"You know what he wrote as much as I do. He hasn't said anything, and that's the fuckin' problem."

Dee nodded to the first sentence; living as close as they did to each other it was considered both wise and good manners to share things, thereby cancelling out any negative will. And Letters from outside friends and family were like gold. And to the opinion of Dee, Mr. A. Harris's letters were even more precious. Precious, because they were intact. There weren't any blacked out lines made by the prison censors. Out of the 59 collected correspondences of Faith Chastity Williams from the same sender, not a single one had ever been marred by the dreaded thick Black Felt Tip Pen.

Each one came like clockwork, never missing a week and they reinforced in her mind that there were still gentleman left in the world. Of which in her opinion Xander Harris was surely one. His scribing did not follow the typical post other women of Faith's age got. There was no sexual references about 'kissing that, or touching this'. Not that you would ever know for certain, these letters were usually blacked out or shredded by employees of the Penitentiary. Xander's words carried in them an obvious care and respect for the young woman he wrote to. And in Dee's harsh world to read something written with such intent made this 'gentleman' a Prince among men.

It was the second sentence that threw her. "What do you mean he hasn't said anything?"

Faith pushed herself off the ground the two shared and went to her shelf, there she opened the lid of her shoebox container and removed the papered article Dee had observed Faith reading so many times over the past fourteen days but had never pressed for an explanation. Faith then reluctantly handed over the thin piece a paper into her awaiting hands. "Read this."

The story was of a Billionaire Industrialist who had gotten assassinated in New York with the only survivor to the 'Hit' being his daughter. Beside the article there was a black and white photograph of the young woman taken moments before at a Charity Function. Dee had to tilt the image just right against the fractured light sneaking in from the cell door to get a decent view of the printed photo without seeing through the newspaper. What see saw was an exceptionally attractive woman and a dashing young man with dark glasses dancing away on a Ballroom floor. The blurb below the picture reading 'Last photo taken of survivor of tragedy Elektra Natchios thirty minutes earlier as she was seen dancing with her new beau and respected Social-Worker Alexander Harris.' The pieces then came together. Faith was jealous. It must have been her amused look that gave her thoughts away to the nineteen year old as she began to pace up and down the floor.

"Don't say it Dee."

"Say what?"

"You think I'm jealous."

"Are you?"

"I --- I honestly don't know. Am I? I've never been jealous before. I've never given a damn enough to be. I just don't know. He's all I think about now. It's sick-obsessive." Faith quit her walking. "It scares me to Hell, Dee. What if I do, y'know, *like* him? Look at her, she's gorgeous and loaded - Christ, I'd 'do' her and I'm not into that kinda thing. Except for that one time, and that was just because I was curious. I can't compete with her."

Dee lifted the picture up to the light once more, her attention no longer focused on the socialite but upon the man she was dancing with. "Damn, he's a handsome son of a bitch ain't he?"


"Sorry sweetie. I've never seen a photo of him before, I've always had a kinda mental picture of him from the way you described the boy and all, and it wasn't anything like this."

"Yeah, he does scrub up well don't he?"

"And how." The thirty-eight year old placed the article beside her and took a deep breath. It was advice time now, and what she had to impart she knew would not be liked or welcomed. "Don't do this to yourself Faith." She then lifted the printed article into her Cell-mates awaiting hands. "This boy is hanging out with a different crowd then you and me." She then watched as Faith look longingly at the printed photograph, folded it up carefully and replaced it back in her Shoebox container. "Girl, I maybe a big Fan of 'Pretty Woman' but that shit doesn't happen in real life. He's not gonna come here waving some sword around like a big old White Knight, take you out of this Castle Dungeon and lift you up onto his White Steed for you both to ride off happily into the sunset. Don't get me wrong, I think your Boytoy is Mr Wonderful, a real keeper, and he cares buckets about you. But you should never shit where you eat. This boy is your lifeline on the outside. So don't screw that up with stupid ideas about the two of you. Fantasise about it sure, but recognize it as a fantasy."

"Don't call him that."


"Boytoy. He's not my Boytoy, he's hers."

"Faith are you even listening to what I'm saying? Your Lawyer got you a sweet deal; you're not in this for a long haul like alotta other people in here. You'll be eligible in two years, maybe a year and a bit if you're lucky. You play your cards right and you'll still be gettin' outta here with all your pieces still firm, so don't blow it. This Boy is your outside meal-ticket, don't mess it up by getting all possessive."

"You think I don't know that? You think I haven't thought about that? I should be writing to him telling him 'Nice pick. Don't let her leave to early in the morning.' But I can't. I wanna be happy for him but it just ain't working. Instead of happy, I'm pissed." The incarcerated Slayer began to pace again. "Look - I know he's not my property; I don't own him, so why do I feel like this bitch is taking him from me?" The Slayer then punched pointlessly the air in front of her. "I *had* my chance to hook up with him and I blew it. Blew it big time, and now it's all I seem to think about. The possibilities of what didn't happen."

"Blew it? What chance? You never mentioned to me a chance."

"The night before I handed myself over to the Cops. He and I shared a night together in his room. Just him and me alone with three condoms just itchin' to be used." Faith then sat back down beside her cell-mate, a light smile breaking through her sadness at one of her most treasured yet still most conflicted memories. "I asked him not to try anything; but I really wasn't expecting him to do it. I was just waiting for something, a grope, anything to get the ball rolling. But he kept his mitts to himself - all night. All friggin' night! I've never been with a guy all night when there hasn't been somethin' goin' on. All we did was talk and this was, funny enough, just as good for me."

"Faithie, if you wanted to 'play' with him why didn't you give him the green light?"

"I dunno, I didn't want him to think I was that ezy I guess."

"So you're telling me you asked him not to make a pass and he respected you enough not to do anything?"

Faith thought about what was just said for a moment, she then nodded and smirked. "Yeah, yeah I guess he did."

"Sweetie, I'm going to give you some free insight and advice on stuff you already know. This boy cares about you, he knows everything you've done, and he still writes rain or shine. You'll be surprised how many gal's boyfriends here don't even do that. What you got in him is precious; don't complicate it with the dreaming and 'what if'. If it's meant to be Fate will some how find away of putting you two together, don't try and force it. And when that time happens plant any bitch that's insane enough to get in your way. But until that happens, don't think those thoughts about the two of you." Dee placed her hand at the crown of the Slayer's hair and gave it a good rub, leaving it more tangled then what it was. "If it happens, it happens. You just gotta have 'faith', Faith."

The Slayer smiled and again rested her head upon her 'roomies' welcoming shoulder. "Y'know what the worst thing about this is? He hasn't said anything to me about her. His letters are sometimes all what keep me going without feelin' the need to go totally Postal with the Warden's.

"I love his letters, him and the disaster dates Old Ma Nelson sets up for him. He tells me everything and he doesn't spare the details. He actually lets me be part of his life Dee - even in here; do you know how many people have ever let me be part of their life without it being some kinda 'charity' gesture? One, just him.

"But him an' this Elektra chick, not a single peep in any of his pages. I've had three letters from him since the article came out, and not a word on her in any of them. Infact no word on anymore Ma Nelson-Dates - Period. Look, I don't begrudge him from having a 'good time' with anybody. But I thought we had a trust thing going between us? If he had said somethin' I would be cool with that. The Bitch is hot; he'd be insane in the membrane for letting a dish like her pass him by."

There was an uncomfortable pause by the rogue Slayers as she felt something almost un-natural happen to her {Was that? Am I starting to --- tear?}. Faith bought her finger up to her eye and allowed a watery droplet touch the tip of her index finger. She then moved her hand in front of her face and was momentarily mesmerized by the sight of the clear tear still poised on her finger.

This was funny; it was the funniest thing to have happened to her all year.

After months of bad food, back breaking labours in the Kitchen and Laundry, and reining in her natural inclinations to be free and fighting every temptation not to use her Slayer birthright to break away and escape her imprisoned home. It was the sight of seeing Xander with another woman and hypothesizing on the extent of that relationship between him and the stranger, and him and her that threatened to break her.

The fallen 'Chosen One' laughed.

It was a laugh that could have been born from the mouth a crazy person, or a woman on an emotional edge of heartbreak. And in this laughter more tears flowed from her. After several moments the Slayer broke her jovial reaction and addressed a worried, and slightly terrified Room-mate. "He coulda told me Dee. But I had to read about it in the Paper. In the *Fuckin'* Paper. What other things are going on with him that he's not letting me in on?"

With concern in her eyes Deirdre stroked Faith's hair, and watched as the Slayer pushed herself angrily off the paved floor. Picking up the shoebox beside her, she then placed it back on her shelf carefully. As she slid the box deeper into the shelf away from the edge, Faith came to a decision.

Before Dee's eyes the fallen Slayer's shoulders squared away and it seemed as if a new woman had entered her cell-mates shell. In an eternal instant that spanned several heartbeats Faith stood with her back to her only confidant. She knew what she wanted, deep down she had known what she wanted for a long time. Only now did she realise the depths of her feelings and how far she was willing to go to achieve them. She bought the back of her right hand up and smudged her cheeks free of the tears she cannot ever remember shedding for anyone before in her adult life and spoke to the rooms only other occupant. It was cocky and self-assured, carrying a tone Dee had never heard issued from the lips of the nearly twenty-year old. "That's it. Enough of this Polly-Anna crap - I'm tougher then this. It's way time I went back to my roots. Harris may not have been mine when I entered, but he'll be mine when I leave."

"Faithie, you don't wanna do anything stupid. Let it be. A bird in the hand is worth more then two in the bush. Stick with your own kind, I luv ya sweetie, but this gal has you out classed. Give him up. Have sexy dreams sure, but you don't fuck with friendship this good."

"Why not Dee? What have I got to lose? Nothin', that's what. And I don't intent to fuck anything up - I only plan to make it better. Everybody needs to strive for something in this shit-hole. I gotta aim for somethin' worth havin when I blow this place."

"Yeah, I'm all for that Sweetie. But you shouldn't pin your hopes to just one guy, even if he is top-shelf."

Faith shook her head at her friend's opinion, and a nearly forgotten feral smile passed over her lips, a smile that hadn't touched its corners in months. "For ages Xand has been writing and pressing me to start that 'High School Diploma' by Correspondence deal, and beggin' me to get involved in developing a marketable work skill while I'm here. Starting tomorrow, I'm doing just that. I'm gonna make him take notice of what I'm doin' and I'm gonna make him proud.

"If little 'Miss-Have-it-all' wants him, then she'll have to come through me to get him. I saw him first, and I'll have him last. See Dee, at the end of the day, it all comes down to three simple words for me. SEE - WANT - HAVE!"


One Month Later.
In Xander Harris's Apartment;
Clinton. New York City

The Balance Demon walked back and forth upon the spotlessly clean wooden floor of the rooftop Apartment occupied by Xander Harris. He was not in a happy place. He had news, and it wasn't the good kind. These days he only showed up on Xander's doorstep when called. It was always by invitation, and it was usually related to him getting extra info for the Protector or to be given the 'Suit' to repair. This was the first time in a long time he had dared cross the threshold of the incredibly private and reclusive Blindman's Apartment without being asked.

Whistler looked down at his wrist-watch and shook his head. Yes, this was not good. It hadn't been good for some time. Six weeks to be precise. When Xander's alter-ego Daredevil bought down Wilson Fisk, aka 'The Kingpin of Crime', over a month earlier the Pimpy dressed Demon was riding and living on nothing but adrenaline and success for the first week.

That night had done it. Word had come down from above that Harris had achieved the impossible, the first person in the History of History to have his name removed from the Man-Upstairs 'Evil' Book. And Xander's success was the Balance Demon's own. Sure the Kid was the one who sweated and bled for the accomplishment, but he was there with him nearly every step along the journey. Instructing and guiding the young Protector through the years.

And in the opinion of Whistler it was recognition long overdue. From the shadow's he had watched Xander slowly change the 'Kitchen' into a neighbourhood you could once more go out at night in. As Xander's 'To-Get' Guy he would show up once a month to get the low down on what's happened in the past four weeks and provide him with the skinny on any stuff worth knowing. The 'Kitchen' was his old stomping grounds, and as such he heard stuff, useful stuff. Stuff that Xander would enact upon and stop as DD.

Pre-'The Kingpin's Fall' was great times, things weren't complicated. It was all black and white. But now.

Everything should have been gravy after DD's triumph over Fisk, but instead it just became worse. You see the trouble about taking out a major Player like the Kingpin it creates what is known to people in the know as a 'Power Vacuum'. And a vacuum needs to be filled, and after that night nearly every Minor Gang Boss in the five-boughs saw in themselves as being in the possession of the qualities necessary for filling the 'Big Mans' vacuum.

The result - Gang Wars, and a lot of them.

In order to combat and hold back the tide that was already churning on the streets, Xander had to Patrol longer and harder then he ever had before. The standard 4-hours a night drifted to six, and then from six to eight.

In one night Xander had made a Criminal Empire crumble. And in its settled rubble and aftermath there could be found an assortment of Human Rat's and Vultures doing their best to gnaw on what was left in an effort to maintain their very 'street' survival. This survival would often come at the expense of the innocent.

Sure, sometimes people can surprise you. Sometimes it's a good surprise, and sometimes it's a bad one. But lately all Xander was experiencing were the bad ones, and it was beginning to take its toll. A toll that happens far too often to people placed on the frontline of any combat situation without the opportunity to vent their frustrations and allowed any peace. It also presented the question - What happens to a Protector who loses their faith in the people they are trying to protect?

That night a month-and-a-half past would be remembered by the Balance Demon as the night Daredevil faced his greatest trial to date. In one evening he had challenged three powerful fighters, walking away from each exchanged hurt and damaged but moving forever forward onto the next battle when any other person would have curled up into a ball and wished all their pain away. Emotional, Physical and Mental.

The first that night was Elektra; she had mistaken Daredevil to be the killer of her precious father, and she was going to gain retribution for her daddy's demise. She fought Xander with the ferocity and passion of a Tigress. In that chaotic stand-off Xander's alter-ego never lifted a hand against her other then to block and deflect the many blows directed at him.

His efforts to try and reason with her on the reality of her father's true murderer left himself exposed for an instant, and an instant was all she needed to drive her Sai through his left shoulder. As he slumped to the ground in shock of the injury, she removed his mask. When she saw the milky eyes of her lover from three nights earlier staring up at her only then did she realize that this man was innocent and was telling her the truth. She knew he was telling the truth because the man she chose to share her body with would never lie or hurt her. It was at this tragic moment when Fate cast its hand and delivered into her presence her fathers true Assassin. And in that brief conflict she lost her life as her own weapon was used by her parent's killer to end her own existence.

The second battle occurred fourteen-minutes later in the neighbourhood Church between himself and the sociopath responsible for the murder of the only light in his life. It was a stand-off that was bound to happen. With Elektra's blood drying on his leather gloves Xander threw himself into the fray like a man possessed. Bullseye bought his own unique insanity to the exchange, and in his clumsy attempts to defeat the 'Devil' he discovered Xander's one weakness aside from his 'Heart' - Sound. Despite being crippled by the noise of the Church Bells and the percussion being inflicted upon his senses from the Irish Assassin, Xander refused to give up and fought on.

He momentarily was able to gain a minimal advantage and sensed a Sniper fire a shot from across the street. With a well timed shift of his body he allowed the Irish-man to move forward just in time for the bullet to penetrate both of the Killer's hands. As Bullseye pleaded with the 'Devil' for mercy, Xander discovered he had none in him to offer. The Irish born killer had killed his lover without mercy, so why should mercy be afforded to him? Consumed by rage at the memory of Elektra's lifeless body still lying in his arms he pushed the injured Hit-man out of one of the stained-glassed spires to the street below.

At this point a normal man would have withdrawn and allowed themselves time to heal from the injuries inflicted upon him. But by this stage Daredevil was fuelled with only an anger to have this night finally done and for the one responsible for his despair to pay dearly.

Limping into the master office of 'Fisk Incorporated' Xander faced his true nemesis - Wilson Fisk, the prior unknown 'Kingpin of Crime'. Damaged and still bleeding he fought the greatest battle of his life, first Fisk and then himself. This was the final trial of Xander Harris. Despite Fisk's size he was no slouch. Bruised, and nearly broken by the previous one-on-one's had left DD vulnerable to the most basic of attacks. The Kingpin did not offer finesse like the others, just pure brute force and the will to use it. As he lay beaten with the Kingpin towering over him, he was delivered an inspired flash. This 'epiphany' was accompanied by the imagined voice of his Elektra to win. With this new found strength he fought on and humbled the most feared man in New York.

It seemed somehow appropriate that the most feared man in the City fell to their knees before one who was said to be without fear.

He had the Kingpin defeated and at his feet, expecting the delivery of death. At this crux no-one would have blamed the blind man for taking the Kingpin's life, after all of the evils that he had perpetrated in the climb to establish his Empire of Evil it would have been deserving.

But as Xander stood above his injured foe he realized something, something that he had nearly forgotten. Vengeance and Justice were two separate ideals. And he was about Justice, and Justice had to be served.

Police were already gathering to storm the Building and claim the Kingpin as theirs. Fisk was defeated, and if there was justice he would be spending his remaining days in a cell knowing that it was just one man who bought him down - and a blind man at that. And if there wasn't justice? Then Daredevil would be waiting for him when he got out.

There was nothing to be gained in ending the Criminal Masterminds life, when it was much more fitting and just to have it drawn out in a humiliated defeat. Xander felt satisfied by this result and walked away seconds before the NYPD stormed the room.

That was his final test.

Xander fought his own drives to take a life, and instead of vengeance he was able to deliver Justice.

In day's of old, it would have been a night worthy for epic songs to be written in its honour. Yet despite his freedom from the 'Book' and everything else he accomplished in those two hours that evening. All Xander took away from that incredible night and achievement was that it cost him the life of the only woman he had allowed himself, had *dared* himself, to get close to in over a year.

Maybe if he had had a chance to bury her he would have had some closure. But there was a problem, there was no body. Even though Xander had heard the last beating of Elektra's heart the Blindman refused to accept her demise until he had an actual form to grieve over.

Whistler wished he could tell the Hero the truth. But the truth at present didn't work into the Plan's of the 'Boss's' Big Picture. The truth was that Elektra's Body wasn't missing from the City Morgue, it was stolen. And out of everyone in the City it was the Balance Demon who would know this most of all, afterall, he was the one who stole it.

The secret location of the Billionairess body had to remain just that at the moment - a Secret. Xander had to be kept off balance with the possibility of Elektra's survival; the cunning placement of a brailed copy of his girlfriend's Lucky Charm was enough to do just that. It was enough to have him dare to believe in her return to him.

The Power's still needed Xander to do something, and Elektra would be their bargaining chip. He was now out of the 'Book' and was a free Agent to do what he pleased. So they needed something to help prompt him along. Xander's feeling for Elektra was perfect fodder to have him do what they instructed. Otherwise, just like Buffy and the Sunnydale Crew he would never leave the Kitchen while the streets were bought into a Turf War. And they needed him somewhere else. They needed him in LA, and then maybe the Hellmouth.

It was times like these that the Balance Demon felt conflicted, he owed his allegiance to 'The-One-that-must-be-Obeyed', but that didn't mean he didn't feel for the Kid. He had walked this planet for over three hundred years, and he had seen a lot of Slayers and Champions come and go. And none of them even came close to meeting the 'Kid's' drive and commitment.

Harris went up against guys who were faster, smarter and stronger then himself some nights. But at the end of the day it was always good old Horn-Head left standing and victorious. Why? Because he never gave up. He *refused* to give up. That was his greatest strength, and possibly his most powerful flaw. Because this flaw drove him to go back into the night still injured from the previous evening. He was not a Slayer or a Souled Vamp. He didn't heal faster then the average person, when someone hit or cut him he still hurt, and he still needed precious time for his body to knit it self back together. Xander's bones were nearly unbreakable, but the rest of him was as fragile as any human. Instead of taking any time away from his evening responsibilities to recuperate he just tossed-down more and more Pain Killers and suited up for another evening of abuse.

The Back of Xander Harris over the course of the year had become a landscape of scars, burns and other assorted injuries. And not once had he sought medical attention to address any of them. If questions were asked by colleagues or friends towards his odd bruise or stiff movements he would present the same tired excuse - 'he got mugged'. It was believable because a blind man walking the streets of New York made a tempting target.

Then out came the little white pills again, the suiting up, and leaping out into the streets to add to his collection of scars.

Xander's commitment to the populus of the 'Kitchen' and the rest of New York was inspiring, but it was also slowly killing him. He was getting tired, and the injuries he had sustained were not getting the chance to naturally repair themselves. These old, slowly healing injuries were retarding his actions on his Patrols, thereby creating new ones to his body as a result.

But it wasn't just the physical pain that bothered his Mentor; or the emotional one that Xander possessed in not knowing the fate of his Lover's body, it was that Whistler's prized student's judgement was now becoming suspect.

Three nights earlier he had allowed a sniper to 'Walk' with only the delivering of a stern warning about ever coming into the 'Kitchen' armed again. Xander allowed himself to be sympathetic to the Marine's politics regarding the punishment of the guilty. Given the circumstances leading up to the encounter between the 'Devil' and this punisher the Demon could understand Xander's reluctance to hand Castle over to the authorities. The origin of Frank Castle touched Xander deeply. But regardless, it was not a call Xander's could make, he had no right to decide who was free of the 'Peoples' judgement, and who wasn't.

The Blindman was drowning in something of his own creation, and instead of taking a 'Time-out' to get perspective and re-charge the old battery he felt that he had to face it all alone.

Everyday, and every death that came from the 'War on the Streets' his actions with the Kingpin birthed preyed deeply upon him, and the story of the fate of Castle's Family was enough to have him doubt his own effectiveness upon the low-life's.

Frank's story was a sad one. A week earlier Franklin Castle's wife and two sons accidentally walked into a Gangland Hit on a neighbouring 'Family' member. As the only witnesses to the crime they were killed to keep them forever silent. It was to be Picnic on a pleasant day in Central Park. Frank was on leave from his Unit to celebrate his Birthday with the people nearest and dearest to him. Instead of laughter and cake on a perfect day, Castle's day of birth would be forever marred and remembered with only the bloodshed of his family.

More innocent victims of the Gang War that commenced with the Kingpin's downfall. More sin's Xander carried in his heart and on his head as a result. And this particular sin gave birth to a man now sitting on the razor's edge of right and wrong. The now AWOL Marine Sargent's victims in the past couple of day's were few, but significant. All had been members of note in Organized Crime Families and with their deaths these 'Families' were in disarray. Castle's targets were people so far up the criminal food-chain that it could take years of surveillance and wasted resources for the Justice Department to build a case that would even have them sweat.

Castle had a more direct policy in dealing with such animals; it was quick, uncomplicated and deserving. And there was a dark piece to Xander that understood its calling. After all, Justice and Punishment were interlocked with one another. And this frightened the Balance Demon, and concerned the PTB greatly.

Xander was a Protector. He had dubbed himself as the people's Guardian-Devil. He inspired hope to those who had none. When citizens in jeopardy looked to the city skyline they did not want to see an Angel descend, they wanted to see him - a Devil. Someone to come to their rescue and be prepared to fight the fights they couldn't or dared not to. Unfortunately, everyone was now looking to that skyline, and Xander was just one person. The Power's saw this growing dependence to Xander's alter-ego so they put the ball in motion to create another Champion of the People.

With the increase of patrolling hours by the Protector the Urban Myth of the 'Daredevil' was becoming harder and harder to keep fictitious. His trademark of leaving blazing DD's could be found all over the City some nights. Even the police could not downplay his possible 'existence' satisfactorily anymore. The Media Community could smell a story bigger then the guy who miraculously appeared two weeks earlier who could walk on walls and spin webs. People now curious to the dramatic figure of 'Spiderman' wanted more, and the Devil provided that 'curiosity' in abundance.

Thanks to the previous articles written by Ben Ulrich over the past year it was established by many that this 'Daredevil' had been the 'Web-Head' Predecessor. This made him a more romantic picture to some. People all over the City wanted to know about the older and more mysterious vigilante.

Every major Publisher began a campaign to be the first to break the story of 'The Devil of Hells Kitchen'. But each Reporter placed on the case failed to come up with any fresh evidence that would support the existence of such a figure. The only suggestion he even existed were the same old flaming DD's. Every other witness approached just offered stone silence. You see, the 'Kitchen' took care of its own, and the Devil they decided was theirs.

The costumed vigilante protected them from the night, and the community of Clinton New York saw it as appropriate payback that they would protect him from the New's Vultures.

But sadly his popularity amongst the residence of Clinton did not change anything except to occasionally bring a crocked smile to his face when his dear friend 'Foggy' Nelson continued to debate with him on the existence of the vigilante. This internal humour however was only momentary, Xander was still suffering, physically and emotionally, and if he continued at this rate he would be quickly introduced to a Body Bag, and the 'Man-Upstairs' didn't want that.

At least not yet.

'The-Big-Cheese' could tell the path Daredevil was going to go down and on the night of his greatest accomplishment presented his Demon Charge with an order. Hence the theft of Elektra's Body. The Protector needed a holiday away from his Night-time persona. He needed to be Xander Harris again. He needed to be the Man, and not the Mask. He also needed to help Faith. The missing body guaranteed this.

At this moment of his musings the balcony door swung open and an exhaustive figure entered. The red haired Protector staggered forward without the typical grace and coordination he was known for. With his left hand he unbuckled his jacket and allowed it to slip from his frame and heavily slump to the floor.

"Gee-zus; what the Hell happened to you, you go ten rounds with a Tank?"

"No, just a guy dressed like one." Xander continued to stagger forward ignoring the Being he referred to 'Imp', keeping track of the number of his paces. After he had reached 14 he turned right and walked directly into his bathroom. The Blind youth raised his left hand to his shelf and began to feel for the brail impressions upon his numerous medication vials. When he found the one he sought he tipped the contents into his limply extended right hand and then tossed all the five small white pills into his mouth. As he crunched down on the Pain Killer's he tossed the empty container in direction of Whistler. "I need you to get me another full bottle Imp, preferably by tonight."

The Balance Demon looked down at the container he had caught. "Didn't I just fill this prescription for you last month? This should have lasted you another two."

The Protector the snapped at his teacher "Yeah, well it didn't." Xander removed his horned helmet and placed it upon the mannequin head he had in his 'Combat Room'. "And my tunic needs to be repaired, get that taken care of as well."

Whistler had already picked up the leather jacket, but upon hearing the demands being issued to him threw it to the floor and kicked it across the room. "I didn't sign on to be you 'Alfred' Blindspot. *You* don't tell me what to do - I tell *you* what to do!"

Xander had by this stage stripped off most of his garb. A Blind-person generally has no modesty when it comes to nakedness. But even semi-clothes-less the twenty year old still presented as an intimidating figure as he made his way out of his sealed room striding towards the direction of the Balance Demon. "If I were you Imp I would not push me right now. I just went toe-to-toe with a guy who accused me of ripping off his Boss. Remember that 'Untraceable' item of yours? Well guess what - it got traced."

"You're kidding - Stark?"

"Nope, his Bodyguard."

"THE INVINCIBLE IRON-MAN!?! You went up against Iron Man?"

Xander's voice lightened at the startled response by the Demon. "No, he went up against me. There I was just swinging back from settling matters between the Dragon's and the Gambados and he snagged me. I didn't even have time to react; he just flew in and plucked me off the streets. This guy *really* doesn't like people stealing from his Employer, takes it real personal like. Geez, you'd think it was stolen from him."

Just then dawn crept over the city horizon and its morning light entered through the curtained window of the room Whistler saw clearly for the first time the injuries Xander had sustained that night. His left eye was sporting another bruise, there were several cauterised cut's across his mid section and upper left arm and his right shoulder was red and swollen. "Iron Man did that to you?"

Xander grabbed a sheet that was draped over the couch, rapped it around his mid-section and made his way back to his private room and turned on his shower. "No, the eye I got from a very, *very* lucky Dragon." As the door closed Xander continued with his tale. "Interesting thing about Lasers Imp, their part of the Spectrum - *I-can't-see-the-spectrum*! That's when I knew he was testing me. Putting me through my paces. I couldn't have beat him if I tried, I considered myself lucky just to stay two feet in front of him.

"After five minutes he decided to put an end to it. Told me that if I ever needed tech to contact Stark direct and tell him that it's 'Red-Man' calling. And that if he ever finds out that I stole from Tony Stark again that 'He'll rip my arm off and beat me to death with it' and just to prove he wasn't kidding he decided to dislocate my right. And to prove there was no longer any hard feeling between us he then put it back into its socket. Sweet Heart of a Guy! So forgive me if I have no patience for pleasantries."

"Kid you went up against the Invincible Iron Man, emphasis on the INVINCIBLE part."

From the closed room a heavy and tired statement carried. "I didn't beat him."

"You still lasted five-minutes Kid. That's a glass half full where I'm standing." Whistler again approached the red leather-Kevlar interior Jacket and traced his fingers over the scorch marks undoubtedly caused by the Lasers Xander had referred too; there was no doubt about it. This could not be taped up, it had to be either repaired or replaced. That meant he had to go back *there* again. "Your Jacket is toast - Again. You know, they've put me on their mailing list. Sending me brochures and other stuff through the post. My Mail-Carrier is starting to give me looks."

Over the running shower Xander answered. "Boohoo. Also contact Mr Lui."

"Not another one?"

"Yeah, another one. I must be the only guy in the City with a Dentist on retainer." The shower ceased and Xander stepped out and grabbed another one of his vials. These pills were lessor strength to the Pain Killer's he had downed five-minutes earlier.

At seeing this the Balance Demon could not hold his tongue any longer. "You're not serious? Not more, for God's sake call in sick. Sleep it off."

"Can't, I've got three cases coming in this morning. I'm needed."

"No, you're not Kid. You only think you are." Whistler placed the dark red leather jacket upon the table in the Dining Room and approachedthe dressing Blindman. "You need a break kid. This is killin' you. If you could see your reflection you'd know it. Christ man, you've lost at least five kilo's since I last saw you, easy."

Xander stopped buttoning his shirt and replied. "Stop acting like you give a damn. I was just your meal-ticket into your Boss's good gracious. I don't owe you a blasted thing any more, nor your Employer. I'm free-and-clear, you said so. What I do with my life and time are mineto do with as I will. I do what *I* want, not what *you* want."

Whistler rubbed the back bristles of his neck. This was it - do ordie time. "You'll take a break now or I swear I'm cutting you off."


"The Med's, your dry as of right this friggin' second if you don't take a vacation. Let's see what you can do without that sweet, beautiful medicated fuzz on the brain?" Whistler didn't see Xander's left arm strike out at his throat, but he did feel the force as he was driven to the wall with it and pinned.

"What are you implying Imp? You think I got a problem?"

The grip lessened, not enough to release him but enough to let him talk. "Kid you been downing that stuff like TicTac's. So I'm askin', do*you* think ya got a problem?"

Xander responded, and each word was punctuated with the squeezing of the Balance Demon's throat. "I can handle it, I don't take anymore thenI need."

"Kid, you've become a Junkie for the stuff. Ever since Elektra disappeared. I know your hurting, but believe me kid, there's not an opioidin the world that will take that kind of pain away. Deal with it - she's either gone or dead."

"She's not dead. She's alive."

"Yeah Kid, Body's get up and walk out of the Morgue all the time. Happens in *Sunnydale* a lot."

Whistler was expecting the blow that followed his retort, he was prepared for it. The only saving grace was that it was delivered by Xander'sright arm, and that appendage was still healing from its earlier dislocation. But regardless, the punch still hurt like a 'mutha'. "Don't even joke about that!"

From the floor the Demon looked up to his assailant. "Kid you need a break. You *deserve* a break. Leave this town for a while. You do this and I swear I'll look into where your girl is at."

There was a moment in Xander's face, a brief moment as he seriously considered the Balance Demon's words. With his anger momentarily subdued,the Blindman shook his head. "I---I can't. I'm needed here."

As Whistler got up he continued to speak. "Kid, the Boss has got your back. He want's you to leave town for a while, even went to the trouble of getting you a suitable replacement."

"Replacement? What replacement?"

"I guess you haven't been keeping up with the Headlines. Here." Whistler handed over the previous day's Daily Bugle to the skimming fingers of the blindman.

"You have got to be kidding? This guy? I ran into him last week, he's all flash and yap. Everything a joke to him. He can't handle my territory, he's not tough enough."

"Funny, that's what I said about you before you started in the Kitchen, and you turned out okay. Besides this kid has an almost deeper and longer streak of responsibility then you do."

His mood slightly calmer Xander handed the Newspaper back. "I'd hate to see the Demon that bled on him."

"Um, it wasn't a Demon. Just a very naughty Spider that a certainhandsome Balance Demon we both know let out of its cage at the right moment. One itty-biddy bite did the trick."

"I---I still can't. Even with the possibility of Elektra, I can't leave. I started this mess, I got this War rolling, I haveta see it through." Xander turned his back on his one time Teacher and returned to his room to finish dressing.

Whistler shock his head completely disgusted with himself, he had used the Elektra card too quickly. That only left three other Aces to play,and if he wanted Xander in LA he had to play them all now.

Xander strolled out of his room four minutes later dressed and into his kitchen. Preparing to get an early start to the day like he usually did. Removing a Protein Shake from his refrigerator the twenty year old got down to mental business, he wasn't going to let Whistler holding back on his medication stop him from doing what he thought was right. If Whistler put up the 'closed for business' sign, it just meant he had to go elsewhere. And on the streets of the Kitchen there was a 'Pharmacy' on every street corner. You just had to know who to shake-down. {I don't have a problem; I just need the stuff to get me thru the night}. In his head Xander was already meting out the most reliable and safest Dealer's in the neighbourhood. 'Twitch-Dawg' always has good product and was very discreet and reliable. {Oh God! Is the Imp right? Was Giles on the money. am I becoming too dependent to this stuff? NO! I can handle it; I need this stuff to do my job.}

As Whistler entered the kitchen Xander spoke out a request. "There's a new Mystery Player. The Dragon's were talking about him last night before the Gambados paid them a 'social' call. A guy calling himself 'The Rose'. Find out all you can on him."

"Kid, you *need* a break. Go to Los Angeles do your Devil stint there for a while. A change of scenery."

"I'm sorry; but didn't we already have this conversation? Besideswhat does a change of scenery do for me, I'm blind remember."

"LA need's you."

"New York need's me more. LA has Angel and his Fang Gang."

"Wrong. Rat-breath has abandoned his post. He's taken a sabbatical to Thailand."

This news honestly surprised Xander. "What are you talking about?Deadboy wouldn't do that."

"Yeah, well Rat-Breath was thrown by the news of the Sunnydale Slayerkilling herself."

The glass Xander was holding slipped from his grasp, as he staggered back in surprise, shaking his head. "No, Your lying. She.Buffy's not dead. I'd.I'd know it if she was."

"Happened one month ago. She jumped off of a Building, Tower or something. I don't know which. But she's deader then Elvis now. Boss-man even confirmed it for me. Real blaze of Glory, saved the World doin' it."

"W.why didn't you tell me."

"Cause you were barely coping with Elektra being gone a week earlier,this would have set you off the deep end for sure. Kid, I'm serious, your needed in LA. Buff-tastic is gone; we need a Slayer in Sunnydale. That only leaves Faith. You gotta ensure she get's paroled. You're the only one who can do it. You're the only one she'll listen too."

Xander bent down to pick of the fragments of his glass and to soak-uphis shake. It was more to distract himself with busy-work then it was to accept what had just been told to him about his first love. "What areyou t.talking about she's doing fine. I got a letter from her the otherday. She's studying and doing a secretarial course. S.she's doing really well."

"Yeah, well a lot can change in a space of a day. For example, yesterday she led a Prison Protest on the poor conditions in the Laundry Room.A Protest that eventuated into a Riot by some of the less level-headed 'Sisters' of hers. For this, and being singled out as one of the gal'swho initiated the damn protest thing she was placed in Solitary for eight weeks. So don't go expecting any love letters from her in the near future.

"The Drac Pack also need's you to help with Angel's slack until he gets back. Look Kid, your needed on all fronts over there. LA and Faith. And believe you me, Faith will need you most of all for when she gets out of the 'Hole'." The surprise of the Slayer's passing had knocked the resolve from the Blindman and the Demon could see him wavering. So like the 'Closer' he was he finished the deal with the repeated promise. "Look Kid, you do this solid for me; and I swear I'll find out where Elektra is hid."

"Wh.what about my job, my friends?"

"That Foggy guy I'm sure will understand you wanting to help your Faithie out. And as to the Job, take Family Leave; I can arrange it so you can be away for as long as you need. Trust me, I make stuff happen, it'swhat I do. You just focus on what *you* have to do in LA."

Xander nodded his head, still completely numbed by the news of Buffy's month long demise. Walking into the lounge he pressed a button on hisphone's memory. It was still too early in the morning to get anyone inthe Office; they didn't show up until after 8:30. Xander was usually there first there and stayed the latest. He got the voice of Heather on their answering machine. And there, for the first time ever he left a message that he wasn't coming in due to sickness. As he left this messagehe began stripping off his clothing. After he hung up he approached his private room. Opening his reinforced Sensory-Depravation-Chamber, he sunk into the warm water, closing his eyes as the hatch closed over him and falling asleep naturally.

Out side of the Chamber, and safe from the heightened hearing of his Student the Balance Demon sadly smiled to himself. He then looked to theceiling and spoke aloud. "I just want you to know - I feel completely crummy with myself for doing what I just did. And I hope that in some small way the Kid benefits from all this we're doing to him." Whistler remained quiet in the hopes of getting an answer. He didn't.

Xander remained in this coffin-like-apparatuses for three day's and nights. When he eventually emerged he physically felt like a new man, butthe emotional pain was still present. Whistler had packed his bags, arranged his leave and made reservations on the earliest flight across the country to Los Angeles.

But most important to Xander were the Pill's. Upon his suitcase was a fresh supply of pills Whistler had threatened him with withholding if he didn't go. Without thinking Xander broke the seal on one of the Vial's and tossed back a couple of the white shaped miracles. {For the Pain.} His life these days's was always about the Pain, in one form or another.


That very moment in the Headquarters of the Watcher's Council - England.

Quentin Travers walled the halls of the Watcher's Council as if he owned them. He didn't, but that didn't subtract from the impression that he gave that he did. Outwardly the true representation of all things British, cool, collect and methodical. Underneath however he was seething in anger.

He always wondered why Glorificus came to the Hellmouth. There wasno logic or benefit for a Hell-God to make a Journey to such a dank destination. There had to be a purpose. There was always a purpose to a Being of elevated powers actions. And Glorificus, or Glory as she preferred to be called by this generation had existed for hundreds of years previously without ever exposing herself to the light of day. What was in Sunnydale that was so important to the Goddess that she would traverse the Globe from the safety and security of where she was to claim it? The answer was discovered by accident no more then 22-minutes ago in a 14th Century Passage by a low level Watcher's apprentice, and had been delivered to him less then 6-minutes earlier.

The Key.

An instrument of infinite power that could tear down the walls of reality. And the Slayer, the now *dead* Slayer, knew where it was. Shehad to; otherwise the God would have killed the Chosen One without consideration. Silently the Senior Watcher cursed the rotting bones of the Sunnydale Warrior and the head of her reinstated Watcher. Such a Prize should have been delivered to the Council, such power was theirs to protect and use. Not some self-important air-headed blonde bimbo and a disgraced Watcher.

Quentin Travers stabbed at the button on the wall Panel and waited the arrival of the elevator. When it opened he entered, inserted a specialkey and pressed for the Sub-Sub Basement Level. Rarely did anyone enter this far down, you needed an authorization 7 Card to get to the Sub-Basement, and for the Sub-Sub Basement you needed a more significant rating.

When the doors opened the aged Senior Watcher exited. He stood infront of those gathered like a vindictive General, his eyes telegraphing toall that he expected no challenge only compliance. "Did he get here?"

Hesitantly one of the members approached. It was no mystery as towho he was referring too; there was only one subject that had arrived of late. "Umm, yes, yes Sir, he's here."


"I'll show you." The recent graduate of the Watcher's Academy awkwardly led his superior down the corridor to the awaiting room. It was a lengthy walk so he decided to bring the Seasoned Watcher up to speed on the subject. "We extradited him without to many problems. He was in adrifting coma. We secured and stole him away before the American Authorities knew who he was. The damage he's sustained is quite. extensive sir. We have had one of our people inspect him, his arms and legs are allbroken - they can heal. But it's his back that is the main concern. We have invested the services of a Warlock by the name of Glandell he*"

Following only two steps behind the thirty year old the Senior answered. "*I am more then familiar with Glandell thank you. He does excellent work."

"Yes sir, he does. He believes the back can be repaired given time, the speaking of the right incantations, and the rubbing of a liniment he's made. The mind however sir is beyond his specialty I'm afraid."


"Sir, the man is insane. In the rare times he has been conscious he claims that he fought the Devil in a Church and that he knows his secret.The secret of how to hurt him."

"Insane you say."

"Yes, sir. *Very* Insane."

"An Insane Psychopath, I never thought I would see the day. Relax Simmon's this man has always been 'unhinged'. It's reassuring to find out that nothing has changed."

The young man slowed his step and stood infront of a door. "Sir, I do not know what Project you have in mind for him. And I mean no disrespect to your position. But this gentleman is uncontrollable, I don't know how but even in a full body cast he was successful in killing three ofour retrieval unit. Sir, I humbly propose we just cut our losses and make him 'disappear'."

Travers looked the thirty year old up and down. "You show a lot of courage in challenging me on things that are beyond you Simmon's. I'mnot sure I like or am impressed by that. The man you have behind this door is worth a hundred of you in my eyes. Let me tell you a bit about this 'Uncontrollable'. He had an illustrious career as one of our Prime Agent's, that is until we had to rescind a contract on him.

"He was asked to kill a Slayer, and believe me given this man's record he could have done it. Demon's and Vampires were old challenges to him. He wanted something he could put on a Resume so to speak. He desires a challenge worthy of his God-given abilities, nothing more and nothingless. The sanctioned death of a Chosen One would have been an accomplishment of note. When the Council informed him that we changed our mind, a decision I did not support by the way. To say he was disappointed wouldnot do that word justice.

"He left our services, but not our watching. Freelancers of his calibre are rare so we kept track of his progress. And now we have him again, if we can repair the damage inflicted upon his body then his twisted sense of honour will be indebted to us. I did not know what we were going to use him for, that is until ten-minutes ago."

"Sir, Glandell say's his recuperation will take time, a year even. Can your Assignment wait a year?"

"Simmon's for the assignment I have planned I am prepared to wait five years if necessary, as long as we get what we have to get. And trust me; this man will get it, if he has to kill an entire Town of innocent people, women and children all. He will get it. Of that you can be sure." Quentin Travers then bypassed his junior colleague and entered the room of an extraordinary Irish-borne Assassin.


Chapter 9

(One Month after chapter 8)

The two men sat across from other and engaged in their standard friendly banter. The Californian sun shone unremorsely outside as an age-old discussion was affianced within an air-conditioned Dinner.

"I'm telling you, forget about the Alligators in New York, can you imagine the size of the ones around here? It's warmer right? Lizards like the warm. They must be gigantic."

The blind red headed male smiled and shook his head. "I still don't believe there are Alligators in the sewers of N.Y., no-way."

"Come on, my cousin knows a guy who works in the Sanitation Department. He say's he's seen them down there and he'd know."

"Which cousin?"

"My cousin Frank, you know, the tall one."

"Oh, that helps."

"You've met him, his breath always smells of cheese."

"All your family's breath smells of cheese, yours included. I don't think you really have a cousin Frank."

"Yes, I do. He's the one who cheats at Scrabble. Tall, cheese-breath cousin Frank."

"I can't believe the lengths you will go. You've invented a fictitious cousin Frank to get me believe in fake Alligators in the Sewer's. Where is your shame, Councillor?"

Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson leaned forward halfway across the table and addressed the smirking sightless male. "Same place as my conscience. Look, I didn't make him up, you met him at my mother's birthday party a week before you left. C'mon, you gotta remember him; he was that obnoxious fella who was trying to get you to 'pull-his-finger'."

Xander paused and tilted his head upward in mock pondering. "Uunnnnllllleessss you made up the Alligators to reinforce the idea that you have a cousin Frank who doesn't really exist, hmmm are you feeling okay, Foggy? Feeling totally sane there, buddy?"

There was an awkward pause, one that broke the rhythm that was how they always spoke to one another. When the verbal jousting continued there was a troublesome tone that travelled. "Actually Xand, as you've mentioned it, no. I'm not okay. I'm feeling a little depressed."


A dread formed in the blindman's soul, as he now felt apprehensive where their light conversation had now turned. He didn't FEAR the unexpected navigation of words and tone; there were very few things these day's he allowed himself to be afraid of. But the soft and hesitancy of created syllables made by his dearest friend accomplished an unwanted and nearly unfamiliar trepidation within him.

He counted very few people these day's as ones he would willingly and gladly lay down his life for without either question or a challenge. To fight for? Yes, there were plenty of people he would fight for, and if his death was the end result of whatever battle he chose to take up, then he would do so without regret. But again, fighting and dieing was not quite the same as simply surrendering. Too willingly give-up and surrender your final breath for another person was something much different then fighting for them.

When he was years younger and years stupider he would have thought such a notion for a stranger, or a friend, both Dramatic and Romantic. He certainly remembered confessing these types of intentions to Willow about Buffy and herself prior to the 'Incident' that took his sight. He remembered telling the redhead childhood friend how he would have given up his life for them both in a heartbeat if it saved them from harm. But that was a long time ago, and at their last meeting with him they had left him with a reconsideration of that earlier claim. These days however, he considered himself wiser, and the midnight streets of New York's toughest neighbourhood made him a lot harder and harsher in his judgements. Life was precious, and you did not give up on a commodity that valuable unless it was justified or thought deserving.

True, as Daredevil, people --- no! They didn't even deserve the right to be called people, Christ - not even Human. After all, what kind of human gets joy at seeing and inflicting harm upon another?

Scum, they were scum. And as Daredevil he let the scum die.

But he never killed them.

Yes, he would chase and sometimes beat them to a point of haplessness. Then, maybe, allow circumstances to take over. Permitting their fate to be decided by a Higher Power. Yet, he never lifted a killing hand. Even if this was popularly believed to be fact amongst their brethren. This was a false truth that he encouraged, fore sometimes a dark message needed to be made.

And this message had to be delivered with 'Postage Due' to the criminal element of the streets he both loved and reviled. Making it clear with each 'accident' that the Devil would allow only so much evil in his City.

If a cab struck a granny-killer while they were fleeing him, or whether a Drug Dealer to children lost their footing while trying leap from building to building in an effort to escape his wrath. It didn't bother him, they were just more stories and more messages to the masses.

None of it bothered him for the most part, and he still slept at night with his precious cotton-ball and medicated brain, nestled and resting easily in his Sensory Deprivation Unit. And as long as he received his Absolution from Father Flanagan for his nocturnal 'activities' he knew that his Soul was safe. But though his Soul was preserved, there were days that pained him. Pained him with repeated thoughts and the vocal negatives voiced and shouted within by his callused conscience.

Conscience, Purpose, Responsibility and Duty constantly at war for dominance within his mind. It would have driven him mad if he was not able move beyond it all and embrace his life as a dual one. Xander Harris and Daredevil. One respected, the other feared.

His existence was like a double headed coin, on one side there was the responsible and affectionate Social Worker, whilst on the other an adventurous personality that lived his life by a private code. A code and a life of violence, a life of anger. When he put on the Mask all his resentments came out and he became a different and more dangerous person. His hatred and 'fire' released itself from him with every blow he gave and took. Hatred towards the scum that victimized the underdogs. Hatred towards being made a 'Protector' without ever getting a say. Hatred at the Demon-corpuses circulating in his system. And hatred at his Blindness and alienation from people he used to love and call his best friends.

When he placed the Mask on he let this hatred and anger drive him. It gave him strength, and it gave him a balance to the saintly life he lived during the daylight as Xander Harris.

But which of him was the real man, and which of him was the Mask?

He wished he knew, but what he did know was that he received a certain satisfaction when he felt a villain's arm break under his administrations. In the Dog-eat-Dog tribal mind frame of the New York City Gangs, nobody ever bother to feel sorry or mourn these pervaders of the Innocent.

The last man he remembered being 'present' for during their passing was an enforcer for the now jailed and fallen Kingpin of Crime; it was a man who had evaded a brutal Rape conviction. But in his escape from one form of Justice, this scum had made himself avail to another. The Devil's Justice. 'Street Justice'. This 'creature' had fallen onto a subway track in his effort to do him in. It would have been a simple act for his alter-ego to extend out his red gloved hand and pull the Rapist safely free, but a piece of him wouldn't let him do it. What followed in panicked seconds after this dismissive action, and as the 'C' Train bared down the Tracks, made him glad he was blind, and regret that he could hear.

Sure, there were deaths he could live with, for these were deaths of people who didn't deserve the life they had squandered with their evil intention. And yes, true, he was often in a position to help and possibly save them from what fate was about to deliver to them is Spades. But he would choose instead to turn and walk away, deafening himself to their pleas for mercy, and aid. He did to them just as someone very precious to him had once done to him. He followed her example, and allowed fate to claim them in whatever form that it would take.

He never *killed*!

He never took anybody's life that wasn't trying to take his.

He wasn't the Bad-Guy.

He just let these walking, breathing Waste's die. Sure, he knew he walked a fine razor edge between right and wrong some nights. But for a man whose now natural balance, thanks to the 'Attributes', was supreme to all other's, who else but him could walk it safely?

It wasn't until he had been both exposed to the Vigilante, Frank Castle, and the obnoxious nobility of Spiderman did he understand his place in the New York methos and of the darken path he was walking down. He was both these vigilante's opposites and lessor-sames. But he was not like the Punisher, nor the media-hungry Web-Head. He still had faith in his fellow man to ever assume the pessimistic outlook of Castle, and he wasn't as naive as the Web-Slinger in his philosophy that 'The Good Guys always win'.

Castle had a death wish, and it was only a matter of time before it was granted. And he silently hoped that it would take years to come about and that this 'Punisher' took as many Scum as he could with him.

And as for Spidey, well, he was very much like a Boy Scout. A person who seemed to have been protected from the Evils of the World all his life, and only now realized that Bad People do exist and not just as a sound bite on the 10 o'clock news. The Web-head fought the 'Flashy' Bad Guy's, the ones with their Goblin Gliders, and pumpkin bombs. But there were far greater evils hidden in the back alleys that Spidey had no idea existed.

But he did.

The Web-Slinger was only after the glamour, and it seemed the notoriety that came with being a 'Page One Sensation' of the Daily Bugle. He had only met him a couple of times as DD, but each time he was offended by his unique innocence and smart-mouth. Responsibility - the Guy who wore the Web's had no idea what responsibility truly was, he probably didn't even know how to spell it. The Hero Gig was just a big rush to him. He had a power some would kill to have; yet he squandered it by trying to make the photo section of the Newspaper. Even getting upset when he, as DD, exposed his webbed camera's film of the two of them talking. Sure Spiderman may have wanted his face splashed under a Daily Bugle banner, but that didn't mean that the Devil wanted the same attention as the Glory Hound. The bounty for a clear photograph of 'The Devil of Hells Kitchen' had reached $5,000, and he'd be damned if he was going to make it easy for anyone. He needed the mystique, if the scum were able to identify that he was just an ordinary man in a suit the fear factor he had inspired would be lost.

It took all of 5-minutes to get that through the Web-slingers head and to enforce with him that the type of power and strength 'Webs' possessed he had a certain responsibility to use it rightly, and not use it to boost his own notoriety and fame. To his surprise Spiderman said that he understood and apologized for trying to take his picture. And thanks to his own heightened hearing, he knew from the Web-head's heart-rate that he was telling him the truth and that he was sorry.

But still, in the back of the blind-man's mind he wondered whether the Web-slinger really took on board what he was told. He prayed that he did. He'd hate to think that Whistler went to all that trouble for a person who wasn't deserving. Regardless, and no pun intended, but both Castle and Spiderman had opened his eyes to his own approach and tactics.

As DareDevil he treated the Streets as if he owned them. They were his, and his alone. And anybody who committed a Crime on 'his' Streets had to pay the Rent. To give the Devil his due, so to speak. And Heaven help them if their crime eventuated in someone's death or harm. Sometimes if he was in a good and charitable mood he would bargain with the low lives, turn his head the otherway for a night if they provided him with information that would lead to a bigger score and evil. It was the price of living in the Kitchen; everybody gets alittle burnt in Hell.

Yes, not *all* life, but some lives were indeed valuable to him, and the people who he let die did not value it on the same scale as he. He would fight any battle to the death, but he would not give up on his life unless it was to someone he felt deserved it. Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson was undoubtedly one of these few people in his mind that was deserving of this type of sacrifice. 'Foggy' Nelson had become more then a friend, he had become a brother to him. The Family Nelson had even gone as far as embraced him as one of their own under its reigning Matriarch.

Anything that concerned his 'Brother' also concerned him.

But still, he wasn't prepared to abandon their verbal-sparring that easily. He had missed Foggy's unique charm and company, and he relished selfishly these short visits the Attorney would make to LA to visit with Faith.

The Barrister came to the land of Sunshine because of a humble request by him. He had asked Foggy to find a way to get Faith out of Solitary, and after two day's of being on the Case this was achieved. She had served only one-month confinement for organizing the Laundry Protest. And was able to escape responsibility for the Riot that followed when the New York Shyster pressed that the security footage of the incident displayed the brunette Slayer coming to the immediate aide of the Prison Guards when things had gotten violent.

She was released under point that if she was not then several News Networks would be informed of the travesty. When she came out one month earlier then she expected Foggy then used his forward momentum to push for early consideration of Parole with the Board. Citing that her heroics that day, as well as her good intentions for improvement of the rights and welfare of her fellow in-mates, displayed someone who had proven to make a positive step in character.

Since then Foggy flew in once to twice a month to confer with Faith, preparing her as best he could for her impending 'Parole Hearing', and organizing a strong case for her release in six-month time. Half-a-year may have been plenty of time for an average case, but Xander was insistent that the strongest presentation be made to ensure early release. Foggy's intentions for Ms. F. William's Parole were pure and true, but there was an ulterior and hidden desire by the blindman to urge for her immediate freedom. This desire was originated in necessity.

With Buffy now dead the world needed a Slayer. It needed Faith. Yes, he could have arranged a 'Breakout' if circumstances got dire, but reports from Willow to Cordelia was that the 'new' Scooby's were holding their own on the Hellmouth thanks to the use of something they dubbed the 'Buffybot', and the assistance, surprisingly, of Angel's Grandchilde - Spike.

Based on this info he believed they could hold off the near monthly-Apocalypse that always seemed to spring up until Faith's legitimate freedom was made available. This would also provide the brunette Slayer an opportunity to start a new life without the burden of wondering if the Authorities were hunting for her again.

Like clockwork the Manhattan Lawyer would front up to the front window of 'American Air' at JFK Airport and there awaiting him, Prepaid, was a round-ticket from NY to LA and back again. His legal expense and flight all covered by an unknown contributor and benefactor to Faith William's cause. A man whose unbouncible cheques read - 'Mr. Whistler Getts'.


Xander Harris had tried to avoid becoming 'serious' at hearing the defeated and tired voice of his dearest friend. Doing his best to maintain the standard light attitude and sounding unaffected by his present concerns he replied. "That's good; it's good that you are able to talk about these things. Helps clear the cobwebs, and get a different perspective to you ample woes. Hell, if I were you I'd be depressed as well."

Unswayed by the comical tone returned at him the stout Councillor continued. Remaining single-minded on the topic at hand. "You see I have this friend, a really great friend, sure he's been a bit of a pain in my Rump on more then one occasion, but a Hell of a nice guy. A friend who always goes that extra mile for others when their in need, yet refuses to yell out when he himself needs a hand. A man who hasn't gone on a single date in close to three-to-four months."

Xander dropped his paper napkin onto his plate as a signal to the waitress that smelled like beeswax that he knew was watching him that he was finished with his Garden Salad. Lowly growling out a reply as he did so. "I'm sure he has a good reason."

Foggy lowered his voice as the waitress walked away with the removed plate. "Xander, you barely left your place when Elektra disappeared." With the mention of her name and the word 'disappear' Foggy noticed his best friend stiffen and become uncomfortable. Normally he would have stopped the sensitive inquiry right there, but sometimes you have to do the whole tough-love thing. And in his humble opinion Xander Harris was long due for an 'Intervention' of this sort, so he pressed forward. "I thought that when you went on 'Leave' from the Kitchen to come back here to California you would start a fresh page in the Harris Life Story. But according to Cordelia you don't leave that freaky Hotel that ain't really a Hotel."

"Hey, I got a gal with serious abandonment issues and an indispensable need to lock herself up in her room and graffiti her walls. Someone who's only now starting venture out. I have to be there for her just in case. Plus she's pretty skittish at the moment. The one person she felt protected and safe has thumbed it to Asia, and I can't just leave her hanging for the sake of me trying to build a pathetic social-life. She needs to know that when she does step out of her room that I'm there, that *someone* is there to support her."

"I'm not saying that what you're doing with Winifred ain't amazing or worthwhile and I'm sorry if you think I'm prying, but I'm getting worried about you, Man. I mean there are place's you can send her if *"

"NO! I'm taking care of this, besides there is not a Hospital in the World that will make her feel better or safer. She can do this here, placing her with strangers and in an unfamiliar environment would be detrimental to her progress."

"Hey, I just said I think that the stuff you're doing is amazing, didn't I? So quit it with the biting off of my head. I'm not sure that you've noticed, but Fred's latched onto you in a major way. Cordelia, Chuck and Wes all think that you gotta start stepping back now with her or things are gonna get messy."

"I know what I'm doing."

"Yeah, your avoiding."

"What's that suppose to mean?"

"Nothin', I mean --- it's nothing. We're just worried that your taking too much on with her, your suppose to be on Leave remember. Soaking up the raise, relaxing and chillin' by a Pool somewhere. Don't force me to bring my Mother into this."

Xander smiled and offered a light chuckle to break the gloom he was feeling. "You won't, you hate calling her."

Foggy returned the chuckle and smile with an unseen grin and childish mirth in his voice. "Yeah, but that's only because she keeps going on about you. You're the 'favourite' son she wishes she had. The guy who could do no wrong in her eyes. And when I tell her what's been going down with you of late then she'll find some way to blame it all on me, just like she always does. Why? Because she thinks I'm a bad influence on you."

"You ARE a bad influence on me."

"But it won't stop me, Man. See how far I'm prepared to go, I'm actually considering calling my own Mother for advice. So, will I have to call her up and tell her that the reason I haven't kept up todate with the family visits in the last month is because I've been flying back and forth between NY & LA trying to help you out? That I'm worried about you and I don't know what to do? Will I have to stoop so low as to give her the Hotel's phone number?"

"NO! Err, no, don't do that. For the love of God and Country. I love your Mom, Foggy. I do, but only in small doses. If you give her the number to the Hyperion, I swear to all I will hunt you down and make you pay."

"You do realise that threatening a Court Appointed Attorney is a Felony or something in this Country."

"Felony, or somethin'? And your charging how much an hour? I mean it Foggy, you give her my number and --- and the first thing I'll tell her is that your 'projecting' your frustrations and that your desperately lonely and want to finally settle down."

"You wouldn't dare!"

"Oh bad choice of words pal-of-mine, you'd be surprised at what I would and wouldn't dare do. So if you're game to test my fortitude. Then I promise you that by the time your Plane touches down back home she'll have a line of single women staking out her successful Lawyer-son's Office, just waiting for you to make an appearance."

"You're not playing by the rules, Harris."

"Since when have I ever played by the Rules? Y'know, I can almost hear her shrill voice right now. 'It's about time you DID settled down Foggy. You can't be a Bachelor all your life, Foggy. I want Grandchildren to spoil, Foggy'. You bring your Mom into this Foggster and the kid-gloves come off and the Brass-Knuckles go on."

"C'mon man, you know I only have eyes for my Cinnamon Haired Seraph. Cordy is the One, I feel it in my bones."

"Oh I bet you feel something for her, but it sure as hell ain't in your bones."

"Now you watch that potty-mouth of yours; you happen to be talking about the woman I lust." There was humour in his tone that did not disguise the merit of his true intent to the LA Seer. "Xand, --- your cool with all this aren't you? I mean, about me asking Cordelia out and everything? I mean, I know the two of you use to date, and I don't wanna cross any boundary of Buddy-and-ex thing."

"Foggy, I'm cool with it, really. She's a catch and a half, but to be honest the two of you have yet to actually go out on a date together."

"She's just playing 'The Game', that's all."

"Is that the same Game where you ask them a hundred times in a hundred different ways and they still say 'No'?"

"She's just playing 'Hard-too-Get' and Cor is not Bush-League, she's all Pro. So she's making me sweat for it. Still, I think I'll have her worn down by the hundred and sixty-seventh ask."

"Fog, I'm telling you this as a friend who is truly concerned for what little ego you got. Ask one more time and then bow out with good grace. Desperation is never viewed popularly amongst the females of the species."

"Say's the guy who can probably get any woman he wants. I bet your not even really Blind, it's all just a ruse to get them all mother-henning you. Admit it."

Xander lowered his eyewear a fraction to reveal the milky brown of his eyes for the person across the table. "Oh how I truly wish that was all so. Foggy, just take the hint, if she hasn't said 'Yes' by now, then she won't."

"Nah, I get this major vibe from her. I know she's interested, she just doesn't say it. She gives me these looks, and sometimes she smiles at me when I say something particularly witty, she thinks I don't see her laugh, but I see her. I really think she likes me."

"She *does* like you, your very likable."

"I mean, LIKES-me, likes-me."

"Foggy, you know I would never hurt you. So believe me when I say what I'm about to say is harder for me then anything you will ever know. But I really don't think the two of you will ever make it together in that way. You're in strictly 'Friend-Territory'. End of Story, and take it from me, no matter what'll happen you're always going to be stuck there. You can be funny, hell, you might even save her life, be available to her with the Heart-to-Hearts, being the shoulder that she cries on when she's overwhelmed by stuff. But you've now and forever-more been designated a 'Foggy-shaped-friend', and take it from me - that brands you for life. You will have a snowball's chance of her ever noticing you as a real Man once you've fallen into that Zone, you'll just be considered one of the girls."

Xander bought his juice to his lips and look a slight sip. "Cordy is a High Maintenance Gal and I love her to death, just as much as I love you, Pal. But she's not your 'One'. You couldn't exist in her life, just as she couldn't exist in yours. Your just --- far too 'Normal' for her. Not that being normal is a bad thing; it's just not what she's into. I'm sorry."

Xander could almost hear the great heart that he knew beat inside his best friend practically stop at his words. And he loathed himself that it was he who had to throw the unwanted splash of icy-cold water on the face. Secretly, he couldn't have been happier if his two best friends got together romantically, but she was a Seer and Foggy was a Lawyer. She was dedicated to fighting Demon's and Vamps in LA and he just as much defending the innocently abused at Trial in the Big Apple. It would have been a Love-Match best never to happen, if only to avoid the eventual heartache that would undoubtedly follow for both.

With a deep sad sigh the NY best friend contributed after a significant silence had followed. "So sad. So, so sad. That you would dare be honest with me. Couldn't you let me live with the fantasy?"

"Wouldn't have been healthy, sorry."

"You couldn't put in a good word for me? Say that I can cook, Iron, or am great on the dance floor?"

"No, that would be dishonest. Besides I know for a fact that you burn water, your Mom does your Laundry for you, and you were tragically born with two left feet."

"Oh! That's just great. You're not even prepared to lie for me now? Thanks a lot buddy. I mean, if the roles were reversed and I knew a knockout who desperately wanted to make little Harris's with you, or at the very least do lots and lot's of practice on the kinda stuff that leads up to that kind of thing. You just know you could bet your last Sour-Cream smeared Bagel that I would be in your corner prompting you along with whatever type of favourable deceit I could offer in the cause."

As these words settled across the distance that spanned the two, Xander's sensitive hearing picked up on Foggy's now excited heartbeat. With almost a groan at the obvious deception being played out he sombrely asked the question. "Foggy, is there something you want to get off your chest?"

"Wh---what do you mean?"


"I mean it, I have absolutely no idea what your talking about."

"Yes you do."

"Really. No, I don't."

"What's your Mom's number again? New York 555-*"

"FINE! Fine. I'll tell you then, I think it's time you started seeing people again. Throw yourself out there."

"Okay, I'll do it."

"You will?"

"Sure, when I get back to the Hotel I'll ask Cordy out for dinner. How's that?"

There was a pregnant pause on behalf of the N.Y. Attorney before he re-engaged with mirth within it. "You couldn't afford her, I make three times as much as you and I don't think she's the kind gal who goes Dutch. Besides, you wouldn't do that to me."

"Then back off. I'm not ready for anything yet, especially for any of the women you would pick out for me."

"Who better? Is it not true that we're thick and thin?"

"I'd prefer to think of ourselves as sturdy and buffed, but go on."

"What I'm saying is that I think I have a bead on the kinda girl who would make you turn your head. Figuratively speaking of course, because as you know, your blind and everything that goes with all that."

"Thanks for pointing this out to me, I was seriously starting to consider suing my Optometrist."

"Anyway, yuks aside. Knowing you as I know you after all these years, I believe I have come across someone who will pick you up out of the emotional gutter. Just your type too."

"Type? I've got a type now?"

"Yeah. She's a fixer-upper."

"Oh, she sounds *real* promising."

"Get over it, she's a looker too, and on that you will have to take my word. Plus she comes with the kind of background your kind falls in love with. The 'badly-done-by-wanting-to-make-herself-come-good' type of gal. She'll give you the chance to put the spit and polish on that tarnished Armour of yours."

Xander stiffened for a second at the knightly reference in remembrance of the last time someone had once referred to him as such. "What's that suppose to mean?"

"It mean's that she's a Maiden in peril and you love coming to their rescue. She's got problems and you get off helping people with problems. She's even got a sassy 'edge' that will keep even you guessing. Trust me Xand, she's just what the Lawyer ordered to help you pull your socks up and move on and up. I think even dear old Mom would approve her for you."

"The Ma Nelson seal of Approval? She sounds almost too good to be true. And you know what that means Fogster - that's very often the case. I'm not interested, or --- or ready. Appreciate the thought, but I just can't --- I just don't wanna get involved with anyone at the moment."

"But she's hot, she's sexy, she's*"

With a bored tone, the Man without Fear interrupted. "*She's Faith."

A silence passed that lingered for four seconds before the Attorney formed a stuttered reply. "How do you DO that!"

With an air of smugness the red-headed male smiled at the befuddled and cuddly friend sitting across from him. "Simple deduction. You know I'm here for a while, so it would have had to be someone in LA. I know for a fact that you wouldn't be siding with this person if it was Cordelia, and as to Fred, well --- I believe your right, I think she is starting to develop a reliance to me, but I'm on top of it, really. Strictly professional on my end. Besides, I think Wesley would object if I took a more active interest in her for --- personal reasons. So, that kinda limits your exposure to the female population in this State to one - Faith."

"Not necessarily, it could have been one of her Guards."

"Is it?"

"---- No."

"Then I rest my Case. And as it is Faith, again Foggy, I'm sorry but I can't and won't get involved with her. It would be --- unethical."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Because she was, technically, my first ever client."

"Back in the day, maybe, but that was years ago and you weren't even practicing. You were just a 19-year old with a big heart who was helping out a friend who did something really regretful."

The Blindman shook his head regretfully. "I know stuff about her, Foggy. Certain stuff, confidence stuff. She's shared this information with me, she has told me truths about herself that she has never offered anyone else. She has made me her Keeper. I can't take that important role, one she has entrusted me with, for granted or use its knowledge and my familiarity of her history as some quick and easy way to 'score' with her. Which is what she may believe if we got involved and things went bad? It would be a betrayal. And I won't add to her list of perceived betrayers."

The Lawyer nodded unseen by the man who he was reluctantly agreeing with; the most annoying thing about Xander was he always tried to see things from a victim's perspective. But there was something more; this was far to neat a decision to have come too on the spur of the moment. There was an uncomfortable element present. An element that broke through 'The Angel of Hell's Kitchens' poker face façade.

It was fear. Xander was afraid.

Inwardly the chubby Lawyer laughed; this was a red-letter day to be sure. The fearless Alexander Harris was finally discovered to have a fear. But what could it have been? Faith? Was he afraid of Faith? Sure she was a killer, but there was something else. Something his intuition wouldn't release, maybe it wasn't the female in-mate perse; maybe it was what she represented. Progress. Simple progress. Maybe he had called it right earlier and she was indeed someone Xander could possibly see himself being able to move on with, and leave behind the lost ghost of Elektra Natchios to history.

The spectre of the short-lived affair with the Billionairess had marked his friend well, and who could have blamed him, Elektra was stunning. But there must come atime where the past must be left to the past.

Still, that didn't answer his question - Did Xander have unresolved feelings for the incaserated brunette?

He remembered years back when Xander had first introduced her to him at the Church they both worked as Volunteers. Xander on the Crisis-Phones and him as free Legal Advice to the penniless masses. She was young and overwhelmed at what she had done, she looked as if she hadn't slept in days and her eyes carried a sorrow of tears that was being willed not to fall. He and this strange and silent woman had asked for his help to represent her in the Case of Murder. It would be his first big time Defence, up until then it was all penny-anty stuff, an eviction here, an assault there. Even when he tried to advise the two against their selection of him, Xander discounted this council stating that he was confident that he would do the best he could.

So he did.

He had the Court Records sealed and the Court Room closed on the grounds that she was still barely under the age of 18 and a minor when she committed the Murder in question. He also wavered a Jury trial, opting Judgement to be made by the sitting Judge. This was to expedite the proceedings and gamble on favouritism. Presenting that Faith had turned herself in and was not contesting the Manslaughter in the Second Degree Plea.

A Jury Trail would have taken longer and it ran the risk of the Jury member's not taking the sad history of the defendant and her willing surrender to the Police into account. All his efforts were looked upon appreciatively by the Prosecution, especially as Faith was not challenging the charge and was pleading Guilty by defect.

A Deal with the District Attorney was made, and accepted.

The Sentence was 10-years in a Medium Secure Facility with the possibility of Parole in four. It was a truly a good deal, it was infact better then any they could have hoped for or expected. If she was apprehended instead of self-delivering herself to the Law she could have easily gotten a 25-year stretch.

The name Faith William's never made it to any newspapers, she disappeared into the System without a trace with only a serial number and a sealed file, and throughout the entire proceeding's Xander did not miss a second of her Trial.

He was there sitting at their table and when the Assistant District Attorney presented their 'Agreement', the blindman was holding the cuffed female's hands under the table. Offering her his confidence that she was doing and agreeing to the right thing.

He should have seen it then, but he was distracted with preparing and putting into place the best defence he could. But now in hindsight, now with everything that he'd learnt of this man over the years. Maybe it was obvious. Maybe Xander liked her in the same way he himself liked Cordelia Chase, but was to afraid to express it.

This thought easily settled in the back of the shyster's mind as he leant forward across the table. "I don't believe she would think of you of the take-advantage-type, Harris. I think she sees you like a lot of other people do. A pretty decent guy, and we're a rare and dying breed."

Xander rubbed the back of his neck. "Anyone but her, Foggy. It's not that I don't think she's special, she is. I just don't want to take what we have and ruin it."

"Ruin it? Look, I just thought that you two would be exactly what the other needs at the moment. But if you don't think you could mesh with her, then I guess I owe her and you a 'Sorry', cause I honestly thought I was doin' some good by you both. I guess I just got carried away. No big."

The Blind Social Worker however wasn't distracted by the obvious attempt to apologise for the romantic subterfuge, but remained silent as his best friend continued. "But still Xander, as much fun as it is to play match-maker, I am still worried about you. Cordelia's worried too. Everyone's worried about you. You really need to do something to draw you away from what happened in New York. Elektra left you and your heart got burned. That kind of thing happens to the best of us, and in my very experienced opinion the best way to tame that bucking horse of loneliness is to get back on as soon as the saddle sores have healed. I know it's rough. First Elektra leaves you, then this other one at around the same time*"

"*Buffy, her name is - was, Buffy."

"Yeah, --- Buffy." The tone softened at the repeat of the Sunnydale Slayer's name. "She really meant a lot to you, huh?"

The hair on the back of Xander's neck settled for a bit, now that the Faith topic had been ceased and he felt alittle more relaxed. But the Buffy subject was by no means a more favourable direction; still, he had settled his feelings for the senior Slayer long ago. And though he still felt a pain in his heart when he thought of her and of their last parting. He was relieved that she died a Hero she was, and that there was atleast a body to lay too rest. He only wished and hoped that one day he'll receive the same courtesy that was extended to her. "Once upon a time, Foggy, she was all I thought about."

"Yeah, Cordy told me you had a major thing for her when you were both dating eachother. She really must have been something, cause Cor - Wow! How could you be with her and day dream about someone else."

"Easy, Buffy was one of a kind, and I wouldn't go as far as to say I dreamt of her all the time. Fantasised sure, but dreamt? Never. You have to understand, she had this light inside of her, this energy. This quality that I don't think she ever knew she had. But I was never anything more to her then a good friend." Xander wiped the edge of his mouth with a paper napkin as a slow small smile formed. "Remember what I said about being cursed to being a 'Foggy-shaped-friend', well I know all about the 'shaped-friend' business because I was hers.

"It hurt, Foggy. Not lying, it hurt bad. Having all these feelings for her and not getting them returned. It made an emptiness inside of me grow and I did quite a few things I'm not proud of as a result of it. But then I had my 'accident', and everything after that in my life changed. I had a revelation of the person I was, and of the person I wanted to be.

"That 'light' inside of her dimmed for me alittle after that, but it was still there. I stilled cared for her greatly and I tried my best to stop thinking of her. I did, I really, really did. I tried to stop loving her as much, to stop missing her. I used to distract myself with the various challenges surrounding my new sightless-situation. But I couldn't stop, even after what happened at her graduation and then what happened at mine. She still mattered to me, Foggy. I guess I carried that with me all the way to New York City. But then one day on a Thursday morning just over four months ago a woman came into my life who stopped me thinking of her, even if it was for a couple of weeks."

"Elektra." The name didn't escape the stout barrister like a question, but more as a recognition.

Xander nodded and offered his friend a smile that carried a lot of unhappiness. "That's right. I don't know if she was my 'One' Fog, but if she wasn't she sure was a damn sight the closest I've ever been to it. I used to think Buffy was the 'One', then Cordy, and then --- ahh, forget it, it doesn't matter."

"Who? Buffy, Cor, then who?"

"I said it's not important. Just teenage hormones, and I'm not a teenager anymore. It's stupid, and I'm not the kind to encourage delusions, yours especially."

"Mine? Wh--- ah-ha! I knew it! I KNEW IT! You had the hots for her! I just knew it!"

"Why not a little louder Foggy, I don't think they heard you all the way at the Five-Points?"

"What's the deal? You liked her, she, I think, likes you. What's wrong with this equation?"

"Because, as stated, I feel it's unethical and, AND I'm not the same guy she first met all those years ago, I'm not Foggy. I'm different to how I was, I'm --- special."

"Your also pretty full of yourself by the sounds of it."

"No, I mean since the accident, I *"

Foggy wiped his mouth with one of the dispensable napkins before he spoke freshly. Yet despite everything that was being verbally communicated at that moment the man who held the alter ego of Daredevil heard his friends voice pitch slightly at the introduction of the raven haired Slayer's name, and his heartbeat once more quicken. He could also detect the odour of sweat beginning spread over his friend's body. "Listen to me, Xander. You have to go see her. I can't keep doing this, playing your go-between. She knows your in LA, she showed me your 'Return Address'. She knows you're here. So for God's sake - Visit her, and stop avoiding her! If you don't want to romance her that's fine, Christ, I could be calling this all wrong for all I know. I just know that she asks about you at each of my visits with her and the look in her eyes is not the look of someone just enquiring into a friend. Look, Xander, just one visit. For me."

"Look, I want too. But it's not that simple."

"It is that simple. Your just making it complicated."

"I let her down, Foggy."

"Then lift her back up again. Geez, typically it's you on the other end of this kind of conversation."

"I just don't want to hurt her."

"Then don't. At the moment, as she is right now, if she was released tomorrow? She'd come out through those gates probably in worse shape then she was when she went in. And that wouldn't be 'The Systems' fault Pal, that would be all yours."

"Well, that sure came out heavy and harsh."

"Well consider it Payback for the whole Cordelia-Fantasy crushing thing you did a moment ago. You may think of her as your client, Xander, but truth is, that's all in your mind. She was just a friend who you helped out. Christ, if she's anybodies Client, then she's mine. That's a legalised fact. I Defended her at Trial, I got her the Plea Agreement, and I'm the one walking her through the Parole Process. She is still my Client, Xander. And I always look out for the best interests of my Client's. So, if I have to be the Bad Guy then I can be the Bad Guy." The Attorney waited for his own plate to be removed before he spoke up once more. His words were carefully selected this time and more softly applied. "She needs the contact, Xander. She's always asking about you. And this neglect*"

"*I'm not neglecting her. I just --- I'm afraid. Okay, there I said it. I'm afraid. She's important to me on a lot of levels, Foggy and I just don't know how best to approach her now."

"Here's an idea, how about approaching her as a Person!"

"It's not that easy. It's complicated, Foggy."

"Then treat me like a moron and simplify it for me."

The request cause young blind man to stare pointlessly at the counter behind the green-tinted sunglasses before he answered. "What if in my intervention I just make things worse? I don't know if I can 'reach' her like I did before."

"You know what your problem is Xander, you think too much."

"Better then not thinking at all. I have to be sensitive about how I deal with her. I don't want her to get the wrong idea. I care about her, and I know from her return Letter's that there is an element in her words to me that tells me that she cares about me as well. Care's maybe alittle bit too much. Faith is a very sexually aggressive person, Foggy, and I'm --- I'm not ready for that kinda 'thing' yet, especially with someone I --- I don't exactly know how I feel about. And I won't be pushed in to anything, by anybody. Besides, there are ethics --- boundaries of Care. And yes, I know you said she's not my client. But I can't help thinking and feeling that she is. I can't breach that, Foggy, or be perceived of taking advantage of her. What if she DOES think I'm taking advantage of her, huh? Did you ever think about that? She's been out of 'Male-Circulation' for a while now, and for someone as --- as*"

"* Sexually Aggressive?"

"Thanks, yeah. As sexually aggressive as she is, Pee-wee Herman would look pretty good to her. I have to approach her just right or I'll end up ruining everything."

"Ruin? Xander with every day you waste writing her Letters, your ruining things with her more then you can justify in that head of yours. Just speak to her, 'Face-to-Face'. Look, I'm not saying that you're right about her, and I'm not saying you wrong. But*"

"*But what? Help me out here, Fog? You want this so bad, tell me what I do incase I screw things up. Or haven't you thought that far a head? Are you just seeing the bright side? Is it you who is AVOIDING the possibility that things won't work?" To the question he again heard the heart across the table once more quicken, and the perspiration continue. Foggy was so easy to 'Read' sometimes it was embarrassing.

The Councillor once more took a deep sigh, knowing full well that he couldn't avoids Xander' s uncanny ability to identify the truth in all peoples words. He knew what that focused face on his friend meant, it was his 'Lie-Detector Face'. "Fine, your right. I haven't considered that, it's all puppy dogs and roses on my end. But Xand, sooner or later you got to stop hiding in yourself and let someone in again. Elektra came, and now she's gone, Buddy."

"I --- I know. Logically I know this, but in my heart --- my heart tells me different. What we had it was --- You know what it was like, Foggy. It wasn't just another whirlwind romance and 'friendship' arrangement by your mother. Elektra was the other part of my Soul. Elektra and me, we didn't fall in love. We *were* in Love. The moment we introduced ourselves to the other, we belonged Heart, Body and Soul to the other. When she 'disappeared' on me, I --- I couldn't talk to anyone about what I was feeling. I mean who would understand that kind of thing? So I didn't say anything."

"Yeah, that's what I figured. But you could have spoken to me, y'know. I would have listened; I would have helped if I could."

"You did help, Foggy. If you weren't there watching out for me at the beginning I could have gone completely off the Rail's. You didn't push it either, and I can never thank you enough for all of that. But you wouldn't have understood either. Elektra saw the truth of who I am; who I really am when no-one is looking. And she didn't shy away from what she saw."

"Still ---, anyway --- just see her Xand, for me. But more importantly, for yourself."

And there the topic ended as most of the pair's conversations did. In quiet ponderings and comfortable silence. Both unwilling to raise the subject again or to make the first move to leave the establishment that had served them both lunch and the opportunity to catch up with one another like old times.

But alas time waits for no-one. As they left, Xander, placed his hand upon the Lawyers familiar shoulder and the two moved through the streets of LA to the Hyperion Hotel. Laughing at old jokes as they did and like no time had passed in their separation. When they both reached the lobby, Franklin Nelson, gave his blind companion a manly hug and departed to catch his flight back to Manhattan.

As always, Winifred, sat at the top of the stairs spying the goings on below. Eagerly awaiting Xander's return and freedom from the NY stranger. Even though Xander had vouched to her Foggy's goodness, he was still a Lawyer and Cordelia had warned her of a group of Lawyer's who worked for Demon's and after spending years hiding and avoiding all things Demon related she was not going to take the chance of associating herself with someone who might be in their employ.

With his release and Foggy's departure her face brightened and she began too run and jump down steps to meet her blind protector. Ever since Xander had arrived at the doorstep of the Hyperion, the Texan female felt safe. She wished she could've properly explained it to the others, but she couldn't. It wasn't a crush, even though she had over heard that word used by the others to describe it. It was something else.

Xander didn't seem to push her to get over her fear of crowds and open spaces. He seemed to recognize that her fear was justified and reasonable. Where the others - Cordelia, Charles and Wesley were pushing for a quick fix solution Xander was sensitive, gentle, encouraging, and he always knew exactly what to say and when to say it. He also seemed to her as someone not afraid of anything. And it was this 'courage' that made her feel safe in his presence, more safer then she could remember feeling with Angel and she was confident that despite the regretful handicap forced upon her new Champion, that he would never let any harm befall her.

The afternoon eventually drifted into the evening as Fred continued with her tales of the Dimensional Demon World she had been sadly and temporally banished too the interested ears of her sightless protector and champion. The tales only being broken by side sarcastic comments from Cordelia Chase as she attended to the administrative role of 'Angel Investigations' near by. Upon 6:30PM the double doors of the Hotel opened to the presence of an African-American Gang Leader and Demon Killer, and former Watcher to Faith Williams, Wesley Wyndum-Price.

"I found the Den!"

An English accent corrected what was just stated. "WE found the Den."

"Fine, 'We' found the Den."

Xander could hear Cordelia pat some invoices in the 'Overdue' Folder and sense her walk around the Reception Desk to the claim. Slowly, the blind man drew himself away from the company of the once-displaced Texan Physicist and extended his cane out to guide him in approaching the Demon Hunters. Of course the cane was all for show, his razor Radar Sense negated the need for it, but in these times he thought best to re-enforce the understanding to all that he was sightless. "Is this the Pretar Demon you guys were talking about yesterday. The one you said smelled like burned, over-ripe bananas?"

"That's 'Pra-ter' Demon, Xander. And yes it is. This beast has been terrorising and feeding off of transients in south end of the City for the last Month. And this afternoon Charles and I decided to check out the site of it's last attack and we got lucky. Quite lucky, actually. We found some tracks, nearly obscure as they were, by the nearest fence and followed them several hundred yards back to it's den."

Cordelia took the blind man's arm and guided him unnecessarily to a seat and stayed by his side. It was her effort to keep him included in things, she still remembered how upset he was when during the Graduation many years ago that he had been kept 'out of the loop'. And she was not prepared to make that mistake again. So whenever possible she did her best to involve him openly in discussion of their demon-slaying activities. At first Wesley and Charles objected, but as the day's past since he unexpectantly arrived, post Angel leaving them to grieve Buffy's passing, they both gave in to the Seer's glares and pressure. "Do you think we'll be able to take it by surprise?"

Wesley's voice tried to force an air of confidence to the same gathering. "I think so, there doesn't appear to be any escape route available to it. Seem's to be one way in and a one way out, a rather simplistic habitat by accounts."

Xander raised his right hand before he spoke aloud. "So what your saying Wesley is that the only way for this thing to make any form of escape would be to charge past you all? Err, how big and dangerous is this thing exactly?"

"Err--- Bigger then some, smaller then others. But I think we can handle it, if no unnecessary surprises come our way of coarse."

With a snide tone the streetwise member of the group added. "Yeah, surprises like our Halloween Suit wearing Hotdog."

"In all fairness Charles, his timely intervention has saved our lives on more then one occasion."

"Yeah, I get that bit. But don't you think it suspicious that he, like, show's up just as we are about to throw down with some Beastie. Like he knows where were gonna be and when. Then goes an' steal's our thunder by taking out whatever it is we're hunting, then after he goes and does the whole disappearing act without saying a word to any of us. Just suspicious is what I'm saying."

"I think he's dead-sexy. Did you see him smile at me last week when we went against that Vampire-Gang?"

"How many times do I gotta tell you girl, he smirked at you - not smiled. Smirked, and that's because you slipped on your backside when we kicked the Layer's door in."

"My heel broke, and I didn't slip, I tripped. Tripped over you if I remember."

"The door was rotten, how was I to know my foot would go clear through. That kinda thing throws off a guy's rhythm."

To Cordelia's side the Blind red headed male chuckled at the amusing argument as Wesley tried to intervene. "Regardless, I'm sure we all looked like rank amateurs to him. This man is indeed an extremely skilful combatant. One that we could definitely benefit from having direct access too. I'm able to recognize 17 forms of combat, and his moves are a blunt amalgamation of several of them. Boxing, Wrestling, Aikido to name a few. He has taken aspects from all of them and meshed them into a unique style all his own. Only wished I knew which philosophy he embraced, it would make dealing with him so much easier when, or if, we ever get a chance to talk to him."

"I know the 'Style'." Eyes returned to the African-American. "It's street. Though it's no street I've ever seen. But this guy is street through and through." A group of raised eyebrows then crossed as they tried to decipher what was just said. So the Vampire-Hunter reiterated. "Listen, I don't know what philo-thing the guy got himself following, but I can tell you this - Dude's a Street Fighter. An' let me tell you there ain't nothing more dangerous then a street-fighter. And 'Mr. Halloween' here is probably the best Street Fighter I ever seen. An that makes him dangerous in my book."


Charles Gunn looked at the young female wannabe actress-slash-model who asked the question and the now very interested blind man to her left. "Cause usually at the start of their career a street fighter are just fighters don' what they gotta do. But after awhile they start to be all about the fight. And it's then that they evolve from just being a normal guy whose good in a brawl ta bein' somethin' else. It's the fight you see - It's what defines them now, an it's a love-hate thing, one they can't give up. They need the rush and the challenge.

"If you were to go up to a Hardcore Street-Fighter an tell 'em to walk away, get married, raise a kid or something. Their mind and heart would be all for it, but a week, a month, maybe a year an they'd be right back. They need to be King of that Hill, an' prove there ain't no body who can do what they do better then them!"

For the first time Xander's voice was raised without the usual humoured tone. "And you're a expert on all this? How is that exactly? How can you judge a person who by your own admittance you have never spoke too?"

"Cause I know the type. My cousin, Tyrone, thought himself a street fighter, he's now paralysed. Me and my sister were able to talk him out of the game a couple of years back. Said he was goin' to go on vacation to get his head and shi* er, stuff together. Went to Canada of all places to do dat. Wanted to see how far North he could drive.

"Anyway he was runnin' low on the dollars, and found himself in a Dive of a Truck Stop out in the middle of nowhere. Saw an opportunity to make some gas money by wining a couple of fights in a Cage-Match. Total Thunderdome Style. Y'know, the whole Two go in, one comes out deal. Anyway he went up against a guy who thought himself a bit of a street fighter too, only this street fighter was way better then Ty. After, Ty, with his temper and arrogance, thought there was something fishy about the Fighter as the blackeye he gave the Dude in the Ring had already healed over after 10-minutes.

"Does he go to the Manager with his suspicion's? Nope, not Ty, he just wanted the money he thought he had been cheated outta. Pulled a freggin' Switch on the man. The worst mistake he ever made, I reacon. Witnesses to it all say that Ty was the antagoniser, and that it all went down so fast that Ty musta got himself stabbed with his own knife in the struggle. Tyrone tells another story though, say's the guy grew a foot-long blade out the back of his hand.

"Who do you think the Mounties believed? A Canadian Citizen who was about to be 'sticked' cause he was a better fighter, and who had witnesses attesting to the fact? Or a Brother from LA, with a rap sheet of Violent Offenses claiming that he was stabbed by some --- claw?

"This guy we got here, the one imposing on our job's. He fights like he's got nothing to lose an something to prove. He goes all out, People. Takes blows that would put you and me in the morgue, and he keeps on goin'. This guy's stamina, and skill is *Extreme* and it's totally beyond me, Hell, I bet he could even give the Boss a run for his money.

"Look, I'm just saying that a guy like this is dangerous to be around, cause if all you do is live for the fight you begin to not care what it is your fighting. One day this guy might turn around after a slow night out, look us up and down an' then say to himself - why not?

"He may have stepped in and saved our hash a couple of times, and for that I'm grateful to the guy - I am, really. But in the same breath the guy's got no loyalties to us. We don't know squat about him. I mean he's seen our faces, and sexy or not, Cordelia, we ain't as yet seen his. He's got us at a major disadvantage here."

There followed an uncomfortable silence, as everybody considered what was said and Xander Harris did his best to maintain his own silence and not defend the motives of the 'stranger' to everybody.

Slowly Wes began to start the dialogue anew. "I think that there is an element of truth in what Gunn just said."


"No, Cordelia. Let me finish. At the moment this gentleman is indeed an unknown variable. He appears just when we need him the most, on some missions - nothing. On our other's, however, we get action. It is as if he lies in wait and then makes his presence known just as we are about to be harmed or if we make a miscalculation or mistake in some way or another. What are his real motives in helping us? If he is invested in Demon Slaying as we are, why does he disappear without saying anything to us after he has 'saved the day'? Why doesn't he at least tell us his name? There are too many question marks."

Xander gripped tightly the handle of his cane to the point that his knuckles turned white. "What do you propose?"

"Well Xander, as you've raised the subject, I suggest at our next encounter, before he departs, I could 'accidentally' shoot him in the calf. That way we would be able to seize an opportunity to speak to him as we bandage the wound." To this suggestion the youthful Watcher looked towards the surprised and startled faces of Charles Gunn and the PTB Seer. "Well, it's only proper to help him out after shooting him."

The blind man's grip tightened trying his best not to laugh at the unknowing forewarning he had just received. "Most people don't like being shot at, Wesley. I wouldn't recommend it. Infact, I would strongly discourage the idea. What if you miss?"

"I won't miss. Besides, like I said, I'll make it look like an accident."

But before Xander could interject once more with his recommendation, from his far right a once a nearly forgotten voice was raised from the Basement Access. "Did anyone miss me?"



Authors Post-script:

Angel's back, and if you thought everyone was happy to see him again you'd be mistaken. Marvel Comics always did the gratuitous Hero vs. Hero thing whenever Titles clashed. Now it's my turn. :)

Humanity's Guardian vs. the People's Protector.

Angel vs. Daredevil

All out, hold nothing back brawl - not training!

This is for real, people.

Who will walk away the winner? The Vampire with a Soul, or one very pissed off Zeppo?

Oh yeah, Xander will follow Foggy's advise. Review people. Coin of the Realm!!!!!